Julie Anne Long
I read constantly and across all genres, but I read far fewer historicals than I used to (and I used to wallow in them), in part because I’ve learned that my muse needs to be fed something very different from what I’m writing—it’s a sort of flint for my creativity to strike against, if that makes sense. And my first responsibility to my readers is to write a great book, so when I’m starting work on a new book, I fish around for a book or two to read that’ll help prime my creative pump.
First off, I want the writing to be fabulous. And by that I don’t mean…oh, lyrical descriptions of s manor houses or what have you. For me, prose is utterly secondary to (or rather—I should say it should only be the delivery medium for) a voice and vision and world view that creates a reading experience so immersive that I feel a little disoriented, almost drunk, when I lift my head from the book, as if I’m surfacing from a deep sea dive or a vivid dream. I don’t really need a happy ending, but I like the ending to feel right. And I may or may not want to read a particular amazing book again. Some pack such a visceral wallop I may never read them again, because I never want to risk altering the way I felt when I first read it. Others I’ll read a half dozen or so times or more. I might critically parse books as I read them, questioning a plot direction, for instance, but I ultimately judge a book on its net impact: was I entertained throughout? Was I moved? Does the story linger? What ultimate feeling was I left with? I’m a pretty egalitarian reader—I don’t really think a “light” book has fewer merits than a “heavy” one, and I don’t believe one genre is superior to another. A good book is a good book; a dull book is a dull book. If it takes you away, it’s done its job. If it transforms you, better still. Reading is a GOOD thing.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS just…blew me away. And if you haven’t read it, and if you don’t think reading about two teenagers who meet in a support group for terminal cancer is something you want to read…well, start reading and try to stop. It’s gorgeously romantic—a true love story in every sense of the word—but it’s very witty, a bit dark, compassionate, tragic, profound, philosophical, intelligent, compulsively readable, and ultimately uplifting. John Green accomplishes all of this with a deceptively light touch. I know better than to use the word “effortless” to describe anyone’s book—even if a writer is propelled by instinct and hard pressed to dissect his or her process, so is, say, a panther when it leaps. I suspect little chunks of the author’s heart and soul are the kindling for a book like this. But it’s utterly effortless to read. Fair warning: it’ll likely wreck you, but in the best way.
CLOUD ATLAS is a set of linked stories that leap from genre to genre, from era to era, from voice to voice, absolutely seamlessly, with wit, skill, depth, enormous intelligence and grace without ever losing the narrative thread or my attention. The writing is quite simply astonishing. They’ve made a movie of it (Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Halle Berry, among many others are in the cast), and I can’t wait to see how they try to pull it off. And if you’re a child of the 80’s, I’d recommend Mitchell’s BLACK SWAN GREEN, a story of a boy growing up in England in that era, his challenges at school, his parent’s disintegrating marriage, so much more. It’s lovely, funny, wrenching and gorgeous, and a bit more traditional in format that CLOUD ATLAS.
THE BRIGHTEST STAR IN THE SKY (hated to see that book end) or IS ANYBODY OUT THERE, my favorite so far of the Walsh sister books, and another book that’ll wreck you, in a good way.
Other books that I devour: M.C. Beaton’s light and addictive Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth cozies; anything written by Alexander McCall Smith, who writes with such compassion and intelligence and humor and has a fabulous sense of place—his wit is a little edgier and more satirical in his Scotland Street series, and I love it; Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell books—excellent writing, some dense history, wonderful characterizations; I’ve been on an noire kick lately, gobbling up Raymond Chandler and Vera Caspary, both brilliant and unique writers; I love Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti mysteries set in Venice; and lately I’m catching up on David Sedaris books I’ve missed.
Thanks so much to Julie Anne Long for sharing these recommendations. I asked Julie to be a part of the feature because her Pennyroyal Green series finds just the right blend of romance and humor. I always laugh when I'm reading these books, but the love stories really deliver as well. My favorite is probably How the Marquess Was Won, but What I Did for a Duke was a huge fan favorite as well.
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