What to read, what to read!

I've spent many years reading just exactly what I wanted to read. I won't even let friends press their most beloved books on me, because my to-read shelves are sagging with books by Ross Macdonald and Fritz Leiber books. (time to clean house!)

But those dudes are dead, and Miss Snark tells me I need to read *new* books. Books published this year (pretty much).

Fine, I say. I put aside the book I was reading and I started Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (It's good, too.) MS: uhhhh...

But I have a question about the next one. What sort of new books should I be choosing? Award-winners? Books by first-time novelists? Bestsellers with rotten reviews? Books from the publisher I hope will buy my own book? Should I skip over the latest Sue Grafton or Robert Parker? (yes)

If you are trying to get published for the first time, read first novels, published this year. If you are writing mysteries, go to Sarah Weinmans's invaluable blog Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind and look at her right sidebar. Read those too.

Read every Edgar Award winner, every year. Read the finalists in a couple categories too.

And of course, read this blog. That just goes without saying, right?

And am I the only person in the world who didn't like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Morrell? (err..Norrell, sorry)


Miss Scarlett said...

Re: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Morrell.

Nope, in the words of this (one-star) Amazon review, entitled "Cure for Insomnia"---"I am an avid reader, and enjoy the fantasy genre. However I found this book impossibly slow and boring. I gave up after two hundred pages, and I almost always finish books that I begin. It seems that most of the reviewers enjoyed the book. Perhaps I have poor taste in books, or Susanna Clarke has lots of relatives."

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Anonymous said...

Norrell, Miss Snark. And I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it. I liked it, but was totally amazed that it was published: a first novel of great length with pictures and footnotes and everything! And blurbs likening it to Austen and Dickens! (Great writers, sure, but from a marketing point of view I'd be surprised to hear someone say, "If only I could pick up 800 pages in the style of Dickens"!) It made me think anything is possible if someone believes in your work enough.

Miss Snark said...

well, I got to page 300 and nothing had happened. Nothing much happens in Dickens either but he's more interesting to read cause he was hilarious. JS and Mr N wasn't.

However, opinions vary. I'm right of course, but that doesn't mean everyone else is wrong.

Lee Kottner said...

Oh, yawn-making. An emperor's-New-Clothes book if ever there was one. It's big! It's portentious! It uses stilted language! It must be good. I didn't like the 19th Century the first time around. Why replicate the horror? Can someone please explain the mysterious attraction of this book? Shouldn't a book about magic and magicians be at least a little fun?

Anonymous said...

Nope. Nothing happened for, like, 800 pages!

Definitely a book that needs the Readers Digest touch.

Linda Adams said...

Amen to reading books published this year! I ran across a writer who thought to get published she had to write a romance novel. The problem was that the last one she had read was twenty years ago. She had no idea that the genre was no longer "bodice rippers" and had some very diverse subgenres, so she wrote the book based on the twenty year old ones she remembered. It really pays to read current books.

By the way, Romantic Times Magazine is a good resource for finding books in all genres.

SAND STORM said...

Should I skip over the latest Sue Grafton or Robert Parker? (yes)


Robert Ludlum,
David Morrell,
Stephen Hunter,
John Le Carre,
David Baldacci
James lee Burke
Lee Child
Tom Clancy
Harlan Coben
Stephen Coonts
Robert Crais
Jeffery Deaver
James W Hall
Nelson DeMille

sheesh these gin drinkers:)

Mags said...

Ahh, I loved JS&MN; it was like Jane Austen on 'shrooms. If Jane took mind-altering drugs, she wouldn't write Kubla Khan like Coleridge, she would write a comedy of manners about wizards with really effed-up footnotes. I got such a huge kick out of it.

Cornelia Read said...

And while you're at it, add a few women to Sand Storm's list:

Joshilyn Jackson
Harley Jane Kozak
Laura Lippman
Denise Mina
Martha O'Connor
Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine
S.J. Rozan
Barbara Seranella
Karin Slaughter
Louise Ure
Ayelet Waldman

Anonymous said...

If you want to be a genre writer by all means read what's published, but if you want to find your own voice, read what you will.

Arethusa said...

I didn't finish Norrel either and eventually sold it to a used bookstore. I wanted a book written by Susanna Clarke and instead got one written by a rabid Austen fan and while that's sweet, I've got lots of books by the real thing in my apartment (somewhere).

M. G. Tarquini said...

Re: Norrell...

I picked it up, read the first three paragraphs. My eyes crossed.

I delved into the middle of it. My brain stopped firing.

I meant to read the last page, just so I could pretend I'd read the thing, but the store's fire alarm sounded, forcing me to save some widows and orphans instead.

Harry Connolly said...

Miss Snark, thanks for the tip.

I do get read of books I've read (sometimes) but not books I haven't read yet. That would be crazy.

And JS&MN is terrific. I knew I'd like it after I'd read the first two paragraphs on page one. It deserves all the praise it's received. But hey, de gustibus and all that.

archer said...

Nothing much happens in Dickens either but he's more interesting to read cause he was hilarious.

Hey! The howling mob chasing Sykes and his dog across the rooftops? The clock chiming away Fagin's last hours? Jo's slow asphyxiation from TB as the doctor prays with him? Murdstone's horrible confrontation with little David Copperfield on about page three? Anyway, I know you love Dickens cuz you said so yourself.

Anonymous said...

Norell bored me to sobs within half a chapter. Not my cup of arsenic at all. But hey, other people love it and that's fantastic. No grudging the successful author her fans. But those of who don't fall into raptures over it have as legitimate a view as those who do.


Anonymous said...

JS&MN: I was surprised it hit so big. Not exactly a catchy cover or title, not a style most people would cotton to.

I was able to finish about 100 pages before realizing not a freaking thing was going to happen over the remaining stretch of dead tree product.

I respect that the writer was able to hold that distinct style for such a length, but for 800 pages I want some ACTION.

So I re-read the last Harry Potter, which was more exciting and does triple duty as not only a book, but a most dandy walnut cracker AND step stool for those high shelves. Got my money's worth there!

Anonymous said...

Spouse and I listened to our local library's audiocassette version of "Strange & Norrell" (read by British actor Simon Prebble) while driving to weekend place in upstate NY last summer. We had to return it and re-check it out of the library a few times before we actually finished the whole thing. Spouse just could not get into it at first, though I liked it. By about the 4th or 5th cassette (there are 18 cassettes -- 32 hours total), however, we were both definitely hooked, and hated that the story had to end. We are looking forward to the sequel Ms. Clarke is said to be working on.

River Falls said...

I loved JS&MN from the first page. (But my academic background is in 18th century Brit Fic, so there you go.)

Sal said...

Cornelia Read said,
And while you're at it, add a few women to Sand Storm's list:

Joshilyn Jackson
Harley Jane Kozak
Laura Lippman
Denise Mina
Martha O'Connor
Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine
S.J. Rozan
Barbara Seranella
Karin Slaughter
Louise Ure
Ayelet Waldman

... and note that if you're writing a book like Ayelet Waldman's Mommy Track mysteries, you're writing a far different book than a Karin Slaughter or a Martha O'Connor.

More reading:
Martha Conway
Mo Hayder
Denise Mina
Tess Gerritsen

Mama Rose said...

I liked the few pages I've read of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, but I haven't finished it yet. So the jury's still out here.

I think what to read depends on why you're reading it. If you're reading for entertainment purposes, read what you want. If you're reading as research to see what's selling, I'd choose both recent books and long-time authors who are still selling. I think that if a writer's whole backlist is still selling after ten years or more, you can get an idea of how to build a career. A lot of the new books will end up being "one-hit wonders". Reading both kinds of books gives you a deeper perspective, I think. :)


Leslea said...

That book was billed as a Harry Potter for grown ups...I fought my way through the first chapter and then said to myself "this is NO Harry Potter." Not anywhere near as engaging as JKR's writing. Blah, blah, snore.