Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Reading and writing

As you can see by the "good reads" gadget by the side of this post, I've been reading books on a couple of themes recently: British detective fiction and writing style. Might be an odd combination, but that's what I'm enjoying these days.

I've come to enjoy detective and mystery books a lot recently. I read P.D. James's book about the genre, Talking about Detective Fiction, to get an insight about why I enjoy these books so much. I can't remember much about James's take, but she did give a brief history and critique of the genre, showing that it's got a decent history--in England and in the U.S.

I used to think that reading mysteries and detective novels was a particular vice of librarians. Seemed like many librarians I know like to read mysteries or detective fiction--it was a librarian who turned me on to the Stephanie Plum series, way back when the author, Janet Evanovich was on 8 or 9. (The books always have a number in them--One for the Money, etc.)

Now I'm wondering if it has something to do with the age I am. I'm getting a bit tired of one particular "novel" shape: young woman comes to terms with her past in order to move on into her future. Maybe because I no longer really identify with that young woman. Of course there are plenty of other novel shapes, but that's a common one, especially among women writers.

With detective and mystery fiction, the books are mostly about people at work--detectives, police officers, curious folks, bail bondsmen (like Stephanie Plum!). Like those protagonists, that's where I am now. I've pretty much found my "work"--writing/teaching. I find it interesting to hear stories of people at work--the conflicts they encounter, the difficulties they push through, the ways they go about their work.

I have other books on my reading list, too, of course, but I think good detective novels will probably be part of my reading for a while.

Know any good ones?

OK. The other topic: writing style. I'm reading lots of books about this topic as part of some research I'm doing for a class I'll be teaching in the future. Name of the class? Grammar and Style. Doesn't that sound fun? I'm so excited!

I get two reactions to the title: "sign me up!" and "how boring"

I've done reading and research on this topic before--in grad school--and I took an awesome course on style with U Iowa Composition guru Jix Lloyd-Jones. It's fun to go back to old texts and ideas--and to encounter new ones.

An old text I just re-read (as you can see from Good Reads): Strunk and White's Elements of Style. What a hoot to read--what a delight! The subtle humor, the excellent advice, the conflating of good style with good morals. I happen to be reading my Kalman version--the one with the goofy watercolor illustrations, which add a layer of surreality. But of course, the best part is the way the voices of William Strunk and E.B. White practically radiate off the pages.

I'm also in the middle of a book whose existence I can't believe I failed to notice until now. It's called Stylized: A slightly obsessive history of Strunk & White's the elements of style, by Mark Garvey, and author and editor. I am loving this slim biography of The Elements of Style! Like his subject, this book is a delight to read--its style is lively and voiceful while adhering to White's advice to "1. Place yourself in the background." It's not "just style," though, but also riveting content: biographical material about both Strunk and White, excerpts from letters, descriptions of how the book was received, interviews with current writers (many write for the New Yorker), and pictures.

I think the thing I like best about this book is that I want to have written it. It's the kind of nonfiction book I would LOVE to work on: one with a narrow enough focus so as not to have to be encyclopedic, one that would allow me to do various kinds of research--in archives, in books, and through interviews, and one that would be on a topic that I love.

(The author begins the book by telling about his large collection of Strunk&Whites, different editions, etc.)

But since I don't yet have a topic for this type of writing (yet--I feel sure that I will have a topic at some time in my life), I'm going to have to stick with something less formal. Maybe a blog, for example.

I've dropped off on blog posting for a few reasons. One is my nephew Louie's death, which kind of knocked me out of circulation for a while. Just didn't feel like writing. Another is that I've been feeling a bit directionless in my blogging. Nesmith Family Blog was created so that everyone in our family, especially my boys, would have a place to post what they wrote . . . and I think I'm the only one posting these days. And my posts seem to be repeating themselves, seasonally. Didn't I post about planting my garden last year?

So I need to find a direction, a topic, a focus for writing. Maybe I'll start a new blog. Not sure. Maybe until then, I'll just challenge myself to post a couple times a week here on various topics. It's good--to write for oneself and one's non-paying readers, especially when part of one's income comes from paying readers . . . But I hope I find or figure out a direction for my writing. I'm confident that something will appear.

1 comment:

starwatch keeper said...

Jane, as always, what you write about is interesting--even when I'm not a fan of the topic (British detective stories for ex ;) )
Bossypants by Tina Fey isn't a novel, but it is a great read on the 'flowering woman' theme.
Would love to meet with you at Brewed!