Binge reading

by Alex

I’m at that indescribably delicious time – just having turned in a novel AND a novella and not having gotten revision notes yet – in which theoretically I could read anything I wanted right now. Anything. Not for research, not for plot problems, not to make sure that my new project hasn’t been co-opted by a recent bestseller (although maybe that’s more of a screenwriting paranoia than a real author concern).

No, I can read anything I want to right now. In fact I better start reading something pretty soon or all those “shoulds” are going to start whispering at me. “You really should do your taxes while you can, or you’ll be scrambling in September.” “You really should update your mailing list before the anthology comes out.” “You really should organize your office so you can at least walk in the damn door.” You know – the “shoulds”.

Or what might happen – as did yesterday, a national holiday, I might point out – is that Michael will get caught up in something, which in this case delayed our river outing for a couple of hours, and I could have been reading and instead that OCD voice started whispering and I ended up writing four pages on the new book before he came home and dragged me out.

Not that that’s a BAD thing – but I’m one of those people who doesn’t relax well so enforced relaxation is important for continued mental health (recklessly assuming that health has anything at all to do with my mental state).

And it’s not like – heh – I don’t have enough books around the house to choose from. In fact, just having come from ALA, I have a brand new stack of ARCs, and there’s that TBR shelf of my friends’ books which in the last two years has morphed past “shelf” through “bookcase” into “bookcases” and on into “room”. I overheard Michael talking on the phone to the architect of our new old house that he’s renovating, and he said, “Look, basically, would you just put a bookcase anywhere there’s space?”

(So when you hear people joking about building a house for their books – IT’S NOT A JOKE).

But I’m having a hard time settling on a book. Now, I admit I often read a dozen books at a time – which is maybe why I can’t relate to the authors who say they can’t read books in their genre while they’re writing because they’ll start picking up on someone else’s style. Not a concern when you’re reading a dozen styles in an hour. But while I have this (relatively) guilt-free time that I could be reading, I’d really like to just sink into a book, one book, and lose myself in that way… you know, that way that made us all become authors to begin with.

I guess you could call them guilty-pleasure reads. Or comfort reads. Or binge-reads. Or maybe that’s the entire definition of “beach read”.

I think for me a binge-read is something that has nothing whatsoever to do with what I write (even though, of course, great writing is always an inspiration for writing). In the past (and I have to admit, still) it’s been Ayn Rand – THE FOUNTAINHEAD followed by ATLAS SHRUGGED and WE THE LIVING (if I’m really on a binge). Sometimes I’ll sit down and reread the entire LITTLE HOUSE series, or Jane Austen. I’ve had more binges than I can count on a YA series from the 50’s by Leonora Mattingly Weber – the Beany Malone series, and going to Denver for Left Coast Crime made me want to reread that all over again. It’s been a while, but I used to binge on Louisa May Alcott, and maybe that’s just what I need right now – in fact, I could throw in that biography that I’ve been hearing so much about as well. Madeleine L’Engle – at least once a year. Anne Rice’s THE WITCHING HOUR (maybe because I don’t think I’ve ever read the whole thing – so I keep finding interesting new things about it.). It might be time again for a Bronte binge.

Now, those are binge reads I’ve had for years and years and years. More recently, Ann Patchett and Lionel Shriver and Barbara Kingsolver have been satisfying binges for me.

But you know who really, really does it for me when I need a binge? Anne Rivers Siddons. Not in my genre at all, except for her classic ghost story THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR, but I discovered that one after I’d worked my way through nearly all of her beach read Southern women’s fiction (which is I think what she writes, but it’s so out of my own genre I don’t even know what to call it.). Siddons writes about the South from the 1920’s to the present, sometimes in family epics, sometimes in women’s lit (wife finding her husband in bed with a younger woman, and consequently finding herself), sometimes in historical stories about the vast social changes of the 1960’s. No matter what she’s writing about she had a certain languid – maybe I should say Southern – eroticism, and a keen sense of history and social and emotional dynamics and she’s a smashingly good writer – you just lose yourself in whatever she writes. I’m particularly hankering after a book called COLONY, in which the Charleston heroine marries a Boston banker and becomes the unwelcome fish-out-of-water in a colony of Boston Brahmins on the Maine coast. When I write that synopsis I just want to laugh because it is SO not my kind of thing on the surface, but somehow Siddons’ writing just hits all my pleasure centers.

(I don’t think I’ll even get into the fact that I’m now the fish-out-of-water living with a Southern man from a summer beach colony and with a whopping family saga of his own…)

So even though in this precious down time I’d love to find a book that I haven’t read before that would completely take me away from all this, I think I might just mosey over to my Siddons shelf today.

But I’m also up for suggestions for something new to take me away. What are YOUR binge reads?

Happy holiday to everyone…

18 thoughts on “Binge reading

  1. ArkansasCyndi

    I’ve been on a Robert Crais (Elvis Cole novels), devouring them like an addict. Unfortunately, I read his new one this week in one sitting, so I have nothing for A YEAR. Withdrawal will be rough!

  2. R.J. Mangahas

    Binge reads? Where do I even start on this one. Let’s see. Here’s a VERY partial list.

    — Elmore Leonard– Stephen King– Joseph Finder– Raymond Chandler– Langston Hughes– Maya Angelou (finished her book of poems in one sitting)– Franz Kafka– Edgar Allen Poe– H.P. Lovecraft– William Shakespeare– Douglas Adams– Anne Rice– J.K. Rowling– Sara Gran– Lawrence Block– Neil Gaiman– Jeffrey Deaver– Poppy Z. Brite– Ray Bradbury– Terry Pratchet– Dennis Lehane– Members of Murderati (read the blog, read the books!)– Various stage plays and screenplays

    Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to drag that out too long. There is another book that I thought is really worth mentioning titled WHEN THE ELEPHANTS DANCE by Tess Uriza Holthe. It takes place during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during WWII. It tells the story of a family hiding in a bunker. In order to pass the time, the family tells stories to keep themselves occupied. There are several reasons I like this book. First, the characters are mainly Filipino. When I was growing up, I would be hard pressed to find any books with a Filipino in a role other than a house servant. Second, the individual stories of the book plus the story of the family and what they were going through during the occupation was were all just amazing. There was a part at the end that brought on some tears just because it was so moving (this could have been in Rob’s post on Wednesday).

  3. billie

    Ellen Gilchrist, Diana Gabaldon, Proust, Colette, Anais Nin, Charles Frazier, Michael Ondaatje, James Salter, Lawrence Durrell.

    Funny, I was thinking this week it might be a good time to read Gabaldon’s Outlander series from beginning to end, again.

  4. R.J. Mangahas

    Oh, GUILTY reading? I see. Well, on the list, I would have to say Terry Pratchet, Poppy Z. Brite, Anne Rice, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman. Off the list, Jim Butcher, Simon Green, Laurel K. Hamilton and a few other sci-fi/fantasy writers. I generally don’t read these for whatever reason, but if the story is good, I’ll read it no matter what the genre is.

    Also on (and off) the list I would have to say the thriller/suspense writers, only because it reminds me that I should be working on my novel. 🙂

  5. Kaye Barley

    Alex, our binge lists are surprisingly alike. Ooooh, the guilty pleasures of Anne Rivers Siddons; my favorites being PEACHTREE ROAD and DOWNTOWN, because, I think, she shows us an Atlanta I loved, but which is gone forever. Other guilty binge reading writers (guilty because I get nothing else done when I’m on this kick!) are Dorothea Benton Frank, Pat Conroy, Sandra Hill’s Cajun Series (hot, hot, hot!), Jan Karon, Margaret Maron, and Kay Thompson’s Eloise books.

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Kaye, I LOVE those two – PEACHTREE ROAD and DOWNTOWN – have read both of them at least a dozen times by now. Now that I know we share that guilty pleasure I will have to check out the others on your list!

    RJ, you must write very similar stories to mine. I can’t believe how much crossover there is on our lists.

  7. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Alex,When I get time to read non-work-related books, it all feels like a binge!!

    But the authors I return to for great fun are:Dick FrancisRobert Parker (early Spenser — not his new stuff with any of the other protags)Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder series (I adore it)C.J. Cherryh, Lois McMaster Bujold, Orson Scott Card (especially the Ender series and the Seventh Son series), Philip Pulman’s Golden Compass TrilogyI always go back to Alice Hoffman, Madeleine L’Engle and the Narnia series

    Oh!!! There’s just so much. Thank you for reminding me since I’m still very much in writing and editing mode right now.

  8. Becky LeJeune

    My guilty reading at the moment would have to be Stepehnie Meyer’s Twilight. I have a huge stack of titles to review but my teenage sisters have been hounding me to read it! I bought a copy but haven’t had a chance to squeeze it in.

    Anything else without an upcoming release date (everything I buy in the stores) would qualify as guilty reads as well, including my recent purchase of The Collector and Updike’s Witches of Eastwick – hopefully I can read that one before the sequel comes out this fall.

  9. toni mcgee causey

    Oh,Alex, I so enjoyed your post. And am cracking up at Michael having to drag you out before you got too deep into another project.

    I long for that binge reading period, but I’m not going to have one for another couple of months while I’m finishing this book. I read a lot of genres, so it’s a real guess as to what I’ll end up with during that time. This time, however, I may be reading up on research, so I’ll probably be including tons of nonfiction, which is fascinating, but not quite the same as binge reading.

  10. Louise Ure

    My guilty binge reading? Larry McMurtry, in all his guises.

    And RJ, we have the same love of Tess Uriza Holt’s work! I think I first noticed her simply because of the similarity of Ure/Uriza connection. Then I realized that she, like me, was a graduate of the writing classes at Corte Madera’s Book Passage bookstore.

    Then I read that book. My God, I was stunned. To imagine that it was a first novel! And since I was then writing my own first novel, I used her for inspiration. WHEN ELEPHANTS LEARN TO DANCE is still on my nightstand, and will stay there forever as a reminder that dreams of writing do come true.

  11. Elaine Flinn

    Aha! I just knew you were an Ayn Rand fan! Love her books and revisit them every couple of years. When I get into a writing funk, I turn to Maugham…and Thomas Perry…

  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Pari, Spenser is a guilty pleasure for me, too. Parker is like potato chips – you can’t read just one.

    Becky!!! You’re so right – this would be a perfect time for me to read the TWILIGHT series, too. Thank you!!

  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Yes, EE – Rand has been a total guilty pleasure since college (when the clerks at Cody’s in Berkeley used to tell me “Shame on you” every time I bought another…)

    I’ve never even heard of Tess Uriza Holt, but those are some powerful recommendations… will have to look for her.

    Toni, you’ll get there. Man oh man, I know where you are, though… be good to yourself, sweetie.

  14. Elaine Flinn

    No disrespect to the venerable Cody’s – but, Alex – I’m not surprised to hear that from ANYONE in BERSERKLEYVILLE. Yes, that’s what locals call everyone there (and I was one for many years)and still do.:)


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