When Books Were Love

by Gale Albright

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Aunt Marjorie Nell was a big fan of mine.

That’s why I figure she may have embellished stories about my alleged brilliance when I was a tot. She taught me to read when I was just three years old, because I told her “I want to read like you do, Jaumie.”

She was thirteen years old when I was born and she spent every minute away from school taking care of me. She was the only one I allowed to wash my hair (without squalling), and apparently, teach me to read.

I don’t know if I was really that young when I learned to read. I think Aunt Marjorie gave me too much credit, but I learned early and fast. I loved words. All kinds of words. I talked them, sang them, heard them on the radio. I found them in conversations and I found them in books.

Books were magic. Books were love. Books meant I was sitting on Jaumie’s lap while she read to me with her gentle East Texas twang. They took me to magic, foreign places while I was cuddled and safe with my biggest fan.

When I got big enough to read books by myself, I rode my bicycle to the Carnegie Library in Tyler, Texas. I loved the smell of the library. There was a sun-dappled holiness about the place. People spoke in hushed whispers as light streamed through the windows, illuminating the ivy plants perched on the windowsills.

Books—their touch, their smell, their heft–meant I was immersed a safe, happy place where you could fly to the moon; go on adventures with Freddy, the talking pig; witness the struggles of Black Beauty; go on the run with Tom Canty down the mean streets of Tudor London; and travel with Doctor Dolittle.

Fast-forward about a million years or Time Marches On.

My lifetime love affair with books turned me into a true Luddite, scoffing at electronic readers, literally clasping hard copies of books to my heaving bosom, filled with the sweetness of self-righteous indignation. I swore, repeatedly, that never would any &%$*# electronic reading device darken my door (you get my drift).

Until I listened to Mindy Reed speak about containers versus content.

Ms. Reed was the featured speaker at the June 8 Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas program on current publishing trends. The meeting place was Recycled Reads, a part of the Austin Public Library. Recycled Reads keeps books and other materials out of landfills once libraries have weeded them from their shelves. It is part of Austin’s Zero Waste Initiative.IMG_3097

Ms. Reed, Recycled Reads manager, librarian, editor, and co-proprietor of The Authors’ Assistant, said readers have had a “romance with the book. There’s a romantic connection with books–we love them. But you can’t love all of the many donations of bestsellers that go out of style.”

The store recycles between twelve and fifteen tons of material a month. It has recycled 865 tons in the six years since its inception. How, you may ask, do we get so many recycled books?

According to Ms. Read, look to the New York Times bestseller list. Publishers strong-arm book stores to pre-order books. The list is based on the numbers of pre-orders sent out to stores. Some are sold. Many others are remaindered, resulting in a colossal waste of resources. These publishing practices make a negative impact on the environment. It is a bad, old-fashioned distribution mode for books

Ms. Read pointed to a display of plastic cups, glasses, coffee cups, etc. assembled on a table in front of the audience. “If you are thirsty, you want water. You don’t care if you get it from a fountain, bottle, or glass. They all contain water that will quench your thirst. Think of that when you talk about the rise of the digital age in publishing. Does all of that need to be put in this type of container? It’s about content as opposed to container.”

I do have a romance with the book. The sight, feel, and smell of books trigger endorphins, for all I know. I associate them with escape, peace, and happiness.

E-readers don’t exercise that special magic, but they do have what kept me coming back to books all those years ago. The stories. Or, as Mindy said, content versus container.

I thought I would never give in, but I have decided (one of these days soon) to buy an e-reader. Can e-books help save the planet by making less waste for us to pour into landfills? Yes. Is that important? Yes.

I don’t feel romantic about e-readers, but, when you’re thirsty, do you care if you drink your water from a crystal goblet, bucket, dipper, or paper cup? The first priority is to get some water. Or some words.

If using e-readers will help save the planet, I can do my part by giving back some love to the universe instead of extra trash.

Classic Summer Reads

Love the summer, and it’s finally here! Summer means sun block, sassy water and a good book. To me a great summer read (or poolside or hammock book) has a dreamy setting, romance, suspense, mystery and adventure. I like substance, too—I don’t want a light, forgettable story, but one that will stick with me for a while and challenge me.

Cornwall

On just such a bay in Cornwall, Rebecca De Winter drowned.

Sometimes I browse the bestseller lists for the latest beach book, but I like to read the best of the past, too. Here’s a short list of classic summer reads. Two are extremely famous and two are relatively obscure. The latter two are free for your Kindle!

Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 Gothic romance, is an archetypal suspense novel with all the right ingredients. Manderley is probably the most famous mansion in all of fiction, and Maxim de Winter is the perfect brooding, rich, handsome romantic hero with a mysterious and tragic past. The climax is a real nail-biter. If you’ve already read Rebecca (like a few million other people), you can try the less well-known Progress of Julius, also a great beach read.

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, ignited a firestorm when it was first published in the US in 1958. The subject is controversial, the style is highly subjective, and the book is often listed as one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century—if not one of the best novels ever written in any language, period.

Youth, Conrad

Youth, by Joseph Conrad

Summer is a novella by the great American author Edith Wharton. First published in 1917, it starts out with all the promise of a fine and atmospheric romance: a young girl living in a remote New England village meets a mysterious young man from the larger world. A romance follows, but it bears no resemblance to the modern genre. Rather, it is a stark, unflinching work of literary genius that will haunt you.

Youth, by Joseph Conrad, is also a novella. Just 70 pages, it will carry you off on a desperate and epic voyage through storms and vast emptiness at sea. Sail from London to Bangkok on the barque JudeaDo or Die! Just reading it is a magnificent adventure, and it’s short enough to finish in a single summer afternoon.

Elizabeth Buhmann

Enjoy the sunny weather! And don’t forget to take a good book with you to the beach.

Elizabeth Buhmann is the author of Lay Death at Her Door, a mystery/suspense novel about an old murder that comes unsolved when the man who was convicted of it is exonerated.

Murder as Entertainment

By Elizabeth Buhmann

croppedA well-known contemporary philosopher (and friend) once asked me what I was reading. As usual, I was in the middle of a murder mystery. When I said so, he was aghast!

Murder, he said, was a dreadful crime, a terrible thing. How could I possibly think it was fun to read about it??? He was appalled at my insensitivity.

I saw what he meant, and it gave me pause—but I have to admit, I kept right on reading murder mysteries. I love them. In fact, when it comes to fiction, I’m not entirely happy with a book in which no one gets killed. I don’t like books about war and mayhem, but I do like a nice one-on-one murder.

Cover-Lay-Death-BuhmannWhen I sat down to write my own novel many years later, there was no question what it would be—a murder mystery, of course. But I remembered Bob Solomon’s chiding remark and gave it some fresh thought.

I found that as a writer, although I am not going to give up on murder as entertainment, I do feel an obligation to treat the subject with respect. And for me, this entails a serious exploration of the motives and emotions that could lead one person to kill another.

I don’t write about psychopaths or serial killers (though some very good writers do). I am not interested in extreme abnormal psychology so much as in human emotions we all share. I am drawn to a murder story that gives me a glimpse of how familiar feelings and yearnings could come together in a situation that results in murder.

I chose to write a standalone suspense novel as opposed to a detective story because, from a detective’s point of view, we are at arm’s length from the murder story. In detective fiction, the main story line is all about the discovery of truth. The drama is about an agent of justice and his quest to identify the killer and his or her motive.

Don’t get me wrong—I love detective stories! But I wanted to get closer to the drama that led up to murder, so in Lay Death at Her Door I chose for my protagonist one of the main actors in that drama. Kate Cranbrook didn’t commit the 1986 murder that provides the central mystery of the book. But she was a key player in that story.

Kate witnessed the murder and was herself raped and beaten. Her testimony sent an innocent man to prison for the crime. She knew the truth about what happened, lied to protect herself, and spent the next twenty years living with the knowledge that she’d committed perjury and was an accessory, however unwilling, after the fact of murder.

Kate is also a key player in the story of how the murder is solved. Her own character drives the ultimate unraveling of her secret life and the exposure of the long-hidden truth behind the old murder. My protagonist is not a champion of justice, to put it mildly. She is a deeply flawed character mired in a sordid personal history. But in her, and in the final revelations of the book, I think we glimpse a capacity for darkness that is recognizable to all of us.