Readers on Reading – Jill from Florida

Jill is a friend of mine. She’s a delightful woman who always has a smile on her face and is always ready to lend a hand. And she runs an excellent monthly book club discussion. 

Please tell us a little about yourself. I’m a 65 year old grandmother, very engaged in community service. I read 3-4 books at a time, switching between them like programs on a tv. I read a little of everything, fiction and non-fiction. I also moderate a book club in my neighborhood, with 8-40 attendees. We read a broad range of genres.

In your opinion, what is the power of fiction? Fiction inspires and informs us.  Fiction writers do extensive research for us, and then entertain us with a story woven around the events of the time, whether the events are real or fantasy.  Fiction gives us a way to escape, to learn and to dream.

What kind of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of? I could never limit my reading to one genre.  I need to move between historical fiction, classics, thrillers, murder mysteries, sci fi, fantasy and various non-fiction.  I don’t really ‘steer clear’ of anything, although I sometimes find it difficult to suspend my sense of reality long enough to truly enjoy science fiction or fantasy novels for very long.  Occasionally, I object to reading too many stories of women dealing  with regimes like the Taliban or Saudi Arabia or too many WW2-based stories in a row.  I love to read stories with clever plots, complex characters, and interesting themes.

What aspects of an author’s writing make you feel like you’re ‘immersed in the novel’s world’ and/or ‘transported in time and place’? Details!  The devil is, I’m sure, in the details for an author. But for a reader, details pull our minds into the story.  What did the characters find on their dinner plates? What were they wearing? What was the room like that they were in?  What smells came wafting in the window? What were the background noises, the music?  How did the light hit the scene around the characters?  How were they reacting to all those stimulants?

Which books read in the past year or so stand out for you and why? Hillbilly Elegy [J.D.Vance]—it says so much about our current culture and societal problems.  The Accidental President [A.J. Baime]—I’m from Missouri and enjoyed reading about Truman, our Missouri president.  The Girls of Atomic City [Denise Kiernan]—I had no idea that the production of the hydrogen bomb was so big an undertaking and that an entire city was built up to support the research and production—and that it was a huge secret!  I also enjoy the writings of a Haines, Alaska writer, Heather Lende. She’s an obituary writer for the Haines and Anchorage newspapers and has published 4 or 5 books now. She has made me eager to spend a month or three in Alaska.

How do you decide what books to buy? What influences your book purchases? I am a big fan of several book critics and reviewers.  Elaine Newton and Jean Lewis give me a long list of books to look forward to each season! I also read the NYT book review section every weekend and check in with Book Bub and Goodreads online.

Is there anything about where you live or your particular background that influences your fiction choices? I have lived, most of my adult life, in big cities, and have lived among many people from other cultures. I enjoy books that let me explore those cultures more and  live vicariously with families all over the world, or who have come to the US from all over the world.  I’m intrigued with the experience of immigrants and refugees.

Is there anything else about reading fiction, the kind of books available today, or the way reading is changing that you’d like to comment on? I embrace technology and read most of my books on my Kindle. I love being able to carry my entire library in my handbag. I love being able to travel with stacks of books to read at the tips of my fingers.  I also love being able to find out about new books online.  I rarely hold a  physical book in my hands and find it awkward now.  Travel guidebooks, cookbooks and picture books are really all I have on my bookshelves now. I remember taking a book 20 feet up an apple tree, so that I could rest on a limb, against the trunk of the tree, munching apples and reading up in the leaves. When I was a child, my fondest dream was to live in a library.  I have been known to read all night long, only putting my book down as the sun began to light the sky.   Oddly, I didn’t read To Kill A Mockingbird until just a few years ago, and it might be one of my all time favorite stories now.

Many thanks for your insights, Jill. 3-4 books on the go at one time is too much for my brain!! Looking forward to our April book club discussion of The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Readers have their say …

Two readers, Bonnie and Carol, share their perspectives on reading. Bonnie has worked in eight states and two foreign countries and from data entry to retail management. She’s 78, lives in the US and reads mostly mysteries.  Carol is 49 years old and has a PhD in genetics, She also lives in the US and tries “to always have reading material with me in case I’m stuck in a line.”

What is the power of fiction? Bonnie says “one good aspect is expanded vocabulary” while Carol says “fiction takes you to a different time and/or place real or imaginary.”

What kind of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of?  Bonnie prefers “a good police procedural, legal or political mystery.” She doesn’t care for “dystopian, paranormal or sci-fi.” In contrast, Carol like stories that “take place in the Middle Ages, ones that integrate the King Arthur legend” and also Scandinavian noir. She doesn’t like those set in the old West or traditional mysteries.

What aspects of an author’s writing make you feel like you’re ‘immersed in the novel’s world’ and/or ‘transported in time and place’.  Bonnie says she’s “too busy getting to the next page” to have thought about this.

Which books read in the past year or so stand out for you and why? The Burning by Shannon Esposito stood out for Bonnie. She was “totally immersed in this book!!” Carol lists two novels: “I recently finished Beartown by Fredrik Bachman. The storytelling and characters were so wonderful. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I loved the personal growth of the main character.”

How do you decide what books to buy? What influences your book purchases? Bonnie chooses based on “favorite authors or a fascinating storyline“. Carol is similar: “I usually buy books from authors I’ve read before. I can also be suckered in by the blurb on the back of the book.”

Is there anything about where you live or your particular background that influences your fiction choices? Bonnie’s reading is influenced by a father involved in politics, the jobs she had at two attorney’s offices, and by being married to a cop. Carol loves Scandinavia which draws her to Scandinavian noir.

Thanks to Bonnie and Carol for sharing their thoughts. I now have more books to add to my TBR pile.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION – OR READING IN GENERAL –  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Reader Interview Series – Sue from East Anglia

Woman Reading - Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Woman Reading – Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Sue from East Anglia is the 9th interview in this reader series. I, for one, am enjoying hearing from readers about their personal preferences and backgrounds. Definitely an eclectic mix of viewpoints!

Tell us a little about yourself.   I am female, and 51 years of age.  My education has included studying for two history degrees and a postgraduate course in library and information studies. Now living in East Anglia, in England, I am a historical researcher and librarian (I do wear the spectacles, but don’t have the bun of the stereotype!).  Pastimes include walking in the countryside, visiting art galleries and museums, and making pasta.

Please tell us about your reading habits and preferences.    I’ve never actually counted the number of books I read per year, maybe I ought to start… It is usual for me to have several books on the go at once, a mixture of fiction and non-fiction and also a mix of print and e-book.  Although initially skeptical, I do enjoy reading my Kindle (which is especially convenient when travelling).

How do you decide which books to buy? What influences your purchases?    The cover of the book has to appeal to me and reading the publisher’s blurb will help with the decision when buying. Nowadays a tagline on an author’s website can also grab my attention, such as ‘two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him’ (Anna Belfrage),  and ‘JF Penn – Thrillers on the edge’ . If I’ve read a book on the Kindle which I’ve particularly enjoyed, I will buy the print version.

What do you like about historical fiction? What don’t you like?    I enjoy being immersed in another world – set in time and place, believable characters, and a strong story. I’m not keen on the ‘alternate history’ subgenre of historical fiction.

What types of historical fiction do you prefer?    I thought I tended to gravitate towards the seventeenth century in historical fiction, though a quick analysis of a few favourite books shows a wider range (see below). From the examples below it also seems that I have predilection for novels set in the present and the past, which is quite a surprise. I prefer books which are set in a real place.

Do you have historical fiction books or authors you would recommend to other readers? Can you tell us why?   A few favourite historical fiction books:

  • The Children’s Crusade by Henry Treece, which I loved as a child (13th century)
  • The Marsh King’s Daughter by Elizabeth Chadwick (13th century)
  • Possession by A.S. Byatt (Present/Victorian)
  • Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory (17th century)
  • Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (12th century)
  • A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin (Present/15th century)
  • Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott (Present/17th century)
  • Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne (Present/16th century)

All the authors are great writers and storytellers.

In today’s world, there are so many opportunities to talk and learn about books – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, book clubscan you tell us about your experiences, where you go to talk or learn about books, why you enjoy discussions about books?    I haven’t ventured into the world of social media as yet, nor onto Goodreads. Though as a Historical Novel Society member, I rely on the society website, newsletter and quarterly magazine to learn about new historical fiction. Individual author blogs and websites, and other blogs such as http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.co.uk/http://the-history-girls.blogspot.co.uk/ and http://writinghistoricalnovels.com/ now also feature in my reading habits.

What advice do you have for writers of historical fiction?    Not really advice – but I relish knowing what inspired the author to write about a particular subject.  I like to know which characters are based on real people and which are purely fictional. The inclusion of author’s notes, genealogies, maps, sources, timelines and even bibliographies are a definite bonus for me in a work of historical fiction. (I note that the majority of the books mentioned above do include author’s notes)

Is there anything else about reading historical fiction that you’d like to comment on?    Historical fiction (from both traditional and indie publishers) seems to be in a healthy position at the moment, long may it continue.

I agree, Sue. Long may it continue! And many thanks for adding your perspective to the mix.