To Read Or Read Again

Our bookshelves are sagging. One of these days they are going to fall forward, brackets pulled out of the wall by the weight of all the words.

We’ve taken lots of books to the thrift shop over the years. Some were awful, some were good, but not so good they became best friends. Those are on the shelves.

I know there are people who never re-read a book once it’s finished. But my family isn’t like that. When we find books that we love, we treasure them and read them over and over.

It’s like having a visit with a best friend you haven’t seen in a long time. They may tell you a story that you’ve heard many times over the years. But you want to sit with them, treasuring being in their presence again, even if you know how the story ends.

So which valued friends are weighing down my shelves?

Elizabeth Peters (and in her persona of Barbara Michaels). Mary Norton. Stephen King. Robert A. Heinlein. P.J. Parrish. L. Ron Hubbard. Agatha Christy. James Heriot. John Sandford. Victoria Holt. Elly Griffiths. James S. A. Corey. J.K. Rowlands. Winston Graham. Ann McCaffrey. David Weber. JRR Tolkien. Meg Gardiner. C. J. Box. Barry Lopez.

And on and on and on. I just pulled out a Harry Potter this morning. The book has been read by all three of us so many times that the binding is separating from the pages. Same with some of my Elizabeth Peters books that are almost thirty years old. Same with one book Brite and Fair by Henry Shute, which is almost a hundred years old and still makes me laugh out loud when I carefully turn the fragile pages.

A couple of the Elizabeth Peters books I’ve replaced with newer copies that are sturdier. But I still reach for the well-read ones. Because when I open the old ones, it’s not just the story. It’s the memories of all those who borrowed the book. It’s the finger smudges from all who have read it. It’s the treasures you find inside from dried flowers to breadcrumbs.

All things that show me the story is loved and part of a larger family.

So do you re-read books or are you unable to return to them after finishing?

And what old friends are on your shelves?

Genre Originality

I’ve been wondering lately when the requirements of specific genres in writing slide over into the realm of clichés. Which leads to other questions. How do you keep a reader who loves the genre from getting bored? How do you stay within the confines of a genre and yet write an original piece? How do you keep a genre-specific story from becoming predictable?

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I obviously love mysteries. As a mystery reader, I know the basic road map the story will take. I expect a series, a hero’s journey, meaning a protagonist who struggles against self as well as plot, and a climatic ending. What makes me reach for a new author is a setting I haven’t yet visited, a mystery that isn’t based on the discovery of yet another young woman’s body, and an ending that isn’t just the protagonist facing down death. I mean, it’s a series, right? Do we really think the author will kill off the main protagonist? Of course that happens, but it’s rare. So if there’s no chance of killing the golden goose, there’s no tension at the end because you know the character is going to survive. Give me something more to worry about.

The things I look for in mysteries are those things that keep the genre from becoming boring for me. The things I try to avoid are those things that feel like mystery-series clichés.

In apocalyptic genres (think Stephen King’s The Stand) there are always the disparate groups of people who eventually come together. There’s conflict between the characters as well as whatever outside danger is stalking them. You’re always going to find characters like the athlete, the brooding type with a past, the woman from a broken relationship, the overweight nerdy type, etc. You get the idea. The unique twist is usually whatever is out to kill them all. Oh, and who survives. This genre has more freedom to kill characters off.

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As an aside, Stephen King is a master at developing characters. His are the only books I read where I flip to the end to see who survives. I don’t want to get emotionally involved with someone who’s going to be killed off mid-story.

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Readers of specific genres expect those rules to be in place. They know what they are going to get when they open the book. The only surprises the books should offer up are the unique twists the author adds. The underlying plot structure should be predictable, to a point, so the reader gets what he or she loves out of that genre.

Of course there are always the books that overlap genres, combine genres, are genre-less, or even create a whole new genre. But you get what I’m saying here, I’m sure.

The challenge for a writer within a genre is sticking to the rules while breaking them at the same time. But not breaking so many that the reader is left feeling cheated. And not sticking so closely to the rules that the author is bored.

And avoiding becoming a cliché.

What’s with the random photos not connected to the blog subject, you ask? Maybe an apocalyptic genre story in its infancy, set in the mountains.

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