Monday, June 30, 2008

Books and Roses

One of the good outcomes of the writing class will be a book group. I like reading widely and recommendations from others are often the best way to learn both about the books and about another book-person.

I recently read my first Ian Rankin, one of the Inspector Rebus series that are quite famous. Deservedly so, I think, after reading The Falls. I am not a book snob, but many best sellers ldisappointme. The Falls, with all the requisite nods to the genre, manages to have an interesting, suspenseful story of some depth. Even if I did not like the tough-guy, alienated, semi self destructive hero with a heart of gold cop genre, I would have liked that story.

In contrast, a collection of stories from his early years: Beggar's Feast, was disappointing. It was like reading my own friends' works--good but not yet deft. When I returned the short stories to the charity shop, I found two of the Rebus series, including Knots and Crosses, his first Rebus book. (The charity shops up here operate as an extension of the library for many readers.) Reading Knots and Crosses was my treat for my post-writing holiday. It was a very good read. I can recommend it, but, again, it was not as complex or smoothly crafted as The Falls.

I find that cheering for two reasons. First, even Ian Rankin had to practice and continue to study his craft. Second, within a genre there is room to grow.

I love short stories. As a reader, a good one is like eavesdropping with both initmacy and a safe distance. As a writer, I like --well, now that I am not actively doing it, I can say that I like it, making something complete in a very short space. A character limned in a few words is as much a pleasure to execute as a perfect drop shot and both, apparently, take a lot of practice.

Many times I have wriggled under the question of listing favorite books. I usually dodge that by saying that it is the latest ones that I have read or that there are too many. I don't recall anyone asking what are your favorite short stories? Well, here are a couple favorites of mine:

Anything by O. Henry
"Smeddum" by Louis Grassic Gibbon (If you are an American reader you'll need a Scots dictionary for this one but it is not too hard for dialect and worth it, I think).
Kate Chopin's stories

I am reading a Margaret Oliphant story right now. I think it will probably make the list, but I'll suspend judgment til I have read it all the way through.

Roses. I like roses. As with books, stories, cats and people, I prefer the sturdier ones. Sturdy means self-reliant. Roses that need trimming and de-bugging and mineral spas for their roots have never been my cup of tea. I have admired roses from afar as I planted calendula and marigolds and half-wild prairie flowers and bulbs that will come back again for years asking nothing more of me than the occasional dividing.

And so the roses that linger after the roof of the cottage is gone and the doors and the windows are empty frames, meet the sturdy criterion. I admire them for that. But for all that they make me sad. They seem now to be remembering something that everyone else has forgotten: This house once had a woman who had a birthday and I was planted for that occasion or when the young couple moved in here, I was a house warming present. Relic roses are a story that I can't quite hear.

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At 3:44 AM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

You'd think with all the books in our house I'd never lack for something to read, but lately I have been. So I'll try the ones your recommend. BTW, I'm going thru Outlander for the second time and admiring Gabaldon's storytelling skill more closely this time, while also being aware it is plot, plot, plot, not depth (at least not this novel and not yet)

At 1:49 PM, Blogger Hayden said...

I share your love of O'Henry.

Just this morning, staring out into the pale light, I contemplated a yellow rose bush and reminded myself that I must try to take a start from that bush with me when I leave. Regardless of drought I never water it, it never gets diseased, and right now it has a good 9 or 10 full bodied roses in bloom. Only during the 5 months of "winter" does it cease. This sturdiness is a good bit of what I want from a rose!

At 12:28 AM, Blogger TerriRainer said...

LOVE Gabaldon!!!!

That being said, I thought that using roses to tell the story of their life in a particular location intriguing! Maybe that is something you could keep in your file (mental or otherwise) of future stories to write!

:) Terri

At 10:12 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Well, there is a lot to be said for a good plot. I know what you mean about having a houseful of books but just not the exact right book for a particular time.

At 10:14 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hayden, It is important to take your rose bush! I remember reading a book about houseplants (Thalassa Cruso was the author perhaps??)in which she and her fmaily all kept track of where they had been and people they had loved through plants and cuttings.

Yes, indeed, huzzah for sturdiness in plants and people--especially a California rose going to Michigan.

At 10:15 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

roses for folks is great idea. I once read a piece of fiction entitled at least in part Rosa rugosa--the queen of sturdy roses. As I recall the first half of the book was brilliant.


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