A Second Independence Day

 

    The last Saturday in April has been declared Independent Bookstore Day, I assume by the American Booksellers Association, although I can’t find anything to confirm that. Regardless, April 28, 2018, is the day to give a cheer for independent bookstores, those locations owned and operated by humans rather than huge corporations. (Another caveat—sponsors are giants like Harper Collins, Penguin Random House, and Ingram, which, granted, aren’t bookstores but are big guys as opposed to little guys bookstores.)

I have some favorites here in Denver. The one that springs to mind is West Side Books, owned by a friend of mine, with an eclectic mixture of used, new and collectibles. Owner Lois Harvey and her friendly staff help you find nearly any book you desire plus some you never thought of but decide spur-of-the-moment you can’t live without. Lois, indeed, does all the activities mentioned in the p.r. materials about the commemoration. She sponsors readings, art shows, special events, exhibits. You can drop by for five minutes or linger five hours.

West Side is just one of hundreds of indie bookstores across the country. Independent Bookstore Day is a one-day national party. Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers. They are entire universes of ideas that contain the possibility of real serendipity. They are lively performance spaces and quiet places where aimless perusal is a day well spent.

In a world of tweets and algorithms and pageless digital downloads, bookstores are not a dying anachronism.  They are living, breathing organisms that continue to grow and expand. In fact, there are more of them this year than there were last year. And they are at your service.

 

 

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What I Write and Why I Write

I read to escape and I write to do the same. I’ve devoured books since I was a child and discovered the joy of writing in middle school. I wrote articles for our local paper for several years focusing on school events and happenings. As I look back, I never considered writing as a career. It was always a fun hobby but not something I thought of as a real job. I retired a few years ago and have since dedicated myself to a second career as a novelist. I write in two genres–women’s fiction and mystery. I love the escape reading a great book offers.

I find the same enjoyment when creating characters and stories. My women’s fiction series is set in the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington state. While on a trip to the area, I saw a woman on the ferry with a golden retriever. As I watched her, the beginning of the story for my first novel, Finding Home, took root. In the Hometown Harbor Series, I created a community of people in one of the most beautiful settings I’ve visited.

Each of the stories features a different woman, who is in the midst of a journey of self-discovery. I love to read series and enjoy novels in which characters are intertwined and appear throughout. In these works, I’ve tried to create a place readers want to visit. They’re the type of books readers can curl up with and get lost in, while sipping a cup of tea. I also purposely created characters that were a bit more mature than those in many modern novels. The women in the series are easy to relate to and have problems readers in their forties, fifties, and beyond will find familiar.  The fifth book in this series, Finally Home, releases on June 20th.

My favorite types of books to read include mysteries and thrillers. While on a trip to Nashville, the idea for a mystery series was hatched. I created a lovable bachelor detective who lives with his aunt in the exclusive Belle Meade area in Nashville. My main character, Coop, and his dog, Gus, along with his right-hand woman, Annabelle, find themselves in the midst of twisty murder cases. I released the second book in the Cooper Harrington Detective Series, Deadly Connection, late in 2016. I find writing in the mystery genre to require a more detailed outline and process than the more character-centered women’s fiction genre. I enjoy the challenge of creating a twisty, but believable plot for the murder mystery.

I’ve discovered visiting new areas and travel inspire my ideas. I love character creation and spend a lot of time interviewing my characters so I’m able to develop them for my readers. I’m also a people-watcher and pay close attention to how people act and what they say. It’s a great exercise for building characters or coming up with a new personality.

In person I like no drama. Creating stories and characters fills the void in my otherwise predictable and prosaic life. I’m having much more fun in this next chapter of my life than in my pre-retirement years. I wish you the joy of finding many good books to fill your days. I’d love to hear from readers, so please connect with me by visiting my website at http://www.tammylgrace.com/.

– Tammy Grace

(Tammy L. Grace writes romance and mystery books. Visit her at http://www.tammylgrace.com)

 

The Thoughtfulness of Fiction and How It Impacts Our Mental Acuity as Well as Ideas, Beliefs, Perceptions, Even Behavior

c. Jonathn Kos-Read

c. Jonathn Kos-Read

Have you ever read a novel and felt as if you’ve left your surroundings for a new world? This is one of the ways I use to decide if a book’s made a major impact on me. The process by which this happens isn’t simple, not a matter of exciting action or steamy love scenes. A combination of writing style and language, plot, compelling characters, and an unfathomable mixture of interesting ideas old and new are some of the qualities that go into what’s called willing suspension of disbelief.” In essence, although I know what I’m reading is imaginary, I react as though it’s real. And it changes me in ways I haven’t measured, provides knowledge, even, dare I claim?, wisdom.

Some of the books that have done that for me are Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities, Hunger Games, Main Street, Caramelo, Doomsday Book, Revolutionary Road, and The Things They Carried. These probably aren’t your choices, but you might have your own favorites.

Or you might not read fiction. I know people who refuse to on the grounds that it’s not real, not for serious-minded people, it’s fluff.  Stop and think a minute though: fiction is more truthful than nonfiction because it allows us entry into other people’s minds and emotions. It presents thoughts in action and practice. It’s the closest thing we have to eternal life since every eon, each individual can be represented.

As usual with slap-your-face obvious information, this perspective, known for centuries to readers and writers, now is being substantiated through various studies. Yes, reading fiction stimulates and strengthens certain areas in your brain. Yes, reading changes behavior. Changes can be positive, assisting you to function and relate better in the world.  Or they can be negative, encouraging aggression and cruelty, setting you and those around you up for a world of trouble.

I began thinking more about the impact of fiction on real life when I read a novel about a poet and a group of immigrants in Sweden. The Shadow Girls, by Henning Mankell, starts off comedic with the protagonist Jesper being urged to write a thriller by his money-hungry publisher, escalates until nearly everyone, including the hero’s stock broker and his 90-year-old mother who staffs a phone sex service, is trying his hand at a manuscript. Then Jesper accidently meets three young women, immigrants from Iran, Russia and Africa (two of them undocumented), whose lives intrigue him. He becomes determined to give their stories a voice. They want to tell their own tales, thank you very much, and through a mélange of narrative, writings from their classes, and inner dialogue, we learn a little of the terrible and distinctive circumstances of each, along with their dreams for a future. (Mankell is best known for his Kurt Wallender police mysteries.)

I started grasping emotionally how the state of homelessness, powerlessness, nonpersonhood affects the girls in the novel, giving me a better perspective on my small efforts to support immigration reform here in the US. And I wished everyone on all sides of the immigration debate would open themselves to the world in the book’s pages, because in some small sense, you are what you read. 

A strong argument against dystopian, spy, and war novels, littered with bodies like abandoned soft drink cans, and for thoughtful, positive, compassionate novels with happy endings.

Nosy Nelly Snoops With No Shame

The books that stick in my memory are those that have real people in real life situations, even if they’re fantasies or mysteries. They face problems, defeat them or are defeated by them, live, learn, change. I love immersing myself in their stories, and I laugh or cry with them. Years ago I rode the bus while reading A Tale of Two Cities, and tears streamed down my face when Sydney Carton faced the guillotine. I bonded instantly with a woman pouring over The Joy Luck Club while waiting for car repairs.

In other words, I’m a Nosy Nelly. This antiquated term means someone who’s so interested in other people’s business that she sticks her nose in everywhere. Since I don’t dare indulge myself by peeping in my neighbors’ windows, I restrict myself to books. Since my life has a finite limit and I’m not a time traveler, books let me make endless trips to fascinating eras and equally entrancing personalities. Since I’m not a millionaire, I don’t spend a penny on my voyages through books.

Visual artists enable their viewers to see things in a new way. They open their eyes. In the same manner, writers enable their readers to think about the world and life in new ways. They open their minds. So my cupidity* for knowing about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people brings me rewards in addition to entertainment. How could I learn how a soldier in Viet Nam dealt with the armed conflict except through The Things They Carried? Catch a glimpse of a future I hope we can avoid in The Hunger Games? Get a sense of an immigrant’s situation in London in the course of White Teeth?

I’m neither limited to a single lifetime nor restricted in any other way. That’s why I read.

*Cupidity: greed, strong desire

Elucidate, Elucidate!

Despite our lip service to valuing diversity, I find that one group continues to be held up to ridicule.  People with a higher education often can be identified through their speech and writing.  For some reason, responses to them are not infrequently derogatory, negative.  Even the names by which they’re labeled are belittling: egghead, four-eyes (based on the stereotype appearance with glasses), effete intellectuals according to one American vice president, bookworm, geek, know-it-all.  

Why is that?  We don’t call down talented athletes.  Outstanding actors, musicians, artists are praised and mentioned as good role models. Business leaders are quoted, courted and rewarded.  Can you imagine the reaction if you called a basketball star “spider legs” or a top model “mask face?”  

Yet folks feel perfectly free to scoff at an individual who makes use of an unusual word.  Do I sound overly sensitive?  Well, I am.  During a recent meeting, I said another member of the group could elucidate* the content of a paper we were reading. Whoops of laughter greeted my word choice.  

I’m old enough now to shake off that reaction, but I remember times growing up when I’d hide not only my vocabulary but also my obsession with reading and the positive reactions of teachers to my academic efforts.  I never thought of myself as particularly bright or skilled, but I slowly and painfully learned to do nothing to draw attention to my brain. 

Was it because I was a girl?  Maybe in those far-away days.  Things have changed somewhat.  Now little boys know without being told that reading and academics are more a girl’s province than theirs.  They are much more likely to be reluctant readers, and by the time they hit high school, then college, they’re opting out of education.  (See http://www.readingrockets.org/blog/55245/ for one point of view on the issue.)  

But regardless of sex, brainiacs shouldn’t have to struggle to be proud of themselves and their talents.  Hide their lights under a bushel.  Disguise their true selves.  

Sages of the world, would one of you elucidate?  Elucidate!  Just how did this state of affairs come to be and how can we change it?  

*Elucidate:  clarify, explain, to make clear especially through explanation