In 2016 I read some fantasy novels, historical fiction, historical non-fiction, and a couple of teamwork books. I don’t count all the online reading I do for research. I’ve always been a history buff, and have recently been into historical fiction more than any other genre.
I like to go to used book stores and thrift stores and rummage through the stacks. You never know what you’ll find on those musty shelves. This year I found The Fencing Master by Arturo Pérez – Reverte at the local Goodwill store.
The Fencing Master is set in Madrid in 1868 during the Spanish Revolution that disposed Queen Isabella II. While the politics taking place in Madrid are a strong backdrop to the story, it really centers around the fencing master Don Jaime and his adherence to the older social structure of honor and fencing. This way of life has been all but displaced by the rise of firearms and a more liberal political order. The story is a clash between the old and the new and much of the tension is internal to Don Jaime.
The narrative does drag a bit when it focuses too much on the politics, but makes up for it in the characterization of Don Jaime and the focus on fencing. This book gives the reader a good understanding of the fencing culture of the Early Modern Period in Europe, just like Moby Dick did for the American whaling culture of the 19th century.
I enjoyed the story because of the strong character of Don Jaime, the historical backdrop of the Spanish Revolution, and the fencing content. It captured the essence of the fencing era from an interesting retrospective viewpoint.
Filed under History, Reading
When I joined Goodreads a few years ago, I felt like I should write reviews for the books I read. After doing this for a month or two, I changed my mind. I still will rate a book (as long as I finished reading it, and if I liked it enough to read it then it will get a decent rating), but don’t typically write a review unless I really liked it. We all have our niches. I enjoy writing and reading, but I don’t enjoy writing book reviews. I have two main reasons for not liking to give them:
- “If you don’t have something nice to say . . .” – Remember when your mom told you this way back when? In the writing world, I’m more interested in gaining readers than I am in evaluating the writing of others. Don’t get me wrong, I have posted reviews on Goodreads of the books that I enjoyed, but I prefer to keep my criticisms to myself. Honestly, if I didn’t like your book I won’t finish reading it or probably read any others you write. I’m not sure either of us are gaining anything if I tell you so. Writers’ egos get bruised enough without me adding to it. Then I was thinking that I owe it to other readers, but decided that was my own hubris talking.
- I am brutally honest and critical by nature – It is in my DNA. I tell people all the time, “Don’t ask for my opinion unless you really want to know what I think.” If I don’t like it, I’ll tell you so. I’ll also tell you what I don’t like about it and why. I don’t mind giving feedback as long as the recipient realizes this is what they are getting. For example, doing critiques in a writing group because they asked for it and hopefully are looking for input to make their story better. Even if the author is a friend, I couldn’t give them a good review if I didn’t like the book. That being said, a book review is typically done for someone you don’t know. Since they didn’t ask me for my opinion, I don’t want to give it unless it is positive (see reason #1). Of course, if I don’t know you, it has to be really good for me to take the time to write about it because I’d rather be writing my own stuff.
I don’t mind receiving book reviews as long as they are productive in nature (not that I have a choice either way). Like anyone else, I prefer a positive review, but as long as the criticism shows thought (like they read the book) it doesn’t bother me. There is nothing worse than receiving a low rating with an explanation like “I didn’t read it.” If you didn’t read it, don’t review it. Are any of our opinions that important that we should kick someone we don’t even know in the gut? I prefer to torture the people I know who ask for it. Does that make me twisted?
Stenson Blues, My second book in the Kingdom of Haven series, is now available at Park Road Books. Park Road Books is an independent bookstore in Charlotte. They host several book clubs and are constantly hosting author events. They are supportive of local authors.
I encourage any avid reader in the Charlotte area to stop by and check out their selection. If you’re not into paper, they also have an e-book selection available on their website. While you’re on the website, check to see when they will host an author or a book club. You can find my books on their shelf, and hopefully see me there in the near future for a book signing.
Filed under Reading, Writing
My philosophy has always been that there are too many books out there to spend the time to re-read. I’ve only consciously made a couple of exceptions to this rule.
A few years ago I re-read Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. In my opinion, this is one of the classics of science fiction and it was one of the first books that I remember having an effect on my world view. In other words, it made me think. I probably read it in my early teens and I decided to read it again as an adult to see if it still elicited the same response. It is still a powerful book, if you grok Heinlein.
I have also read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius a few times, and will probably read it again. There are few books worth the time to read them repetitively, and this is the one I choose. Marcus Aurelius was a roman emperor and a Stoic philosopher. This is a great combination as far as I’m concerned because I have always been interested in the Roman Empire, and I’m pretty much a Stoic by nature and inclination. If you are looking for words to live by, look no further than: He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.
These are the only two books I have purposefully read more than once, but the list grew by two more in the last year. The titles don’t really matter because it was more a result of my mind slipping with age than a conscious decision. So twice in the last year I found myself reading a book that I had read in the past. Maybe you’ve had that feeling a few chapters into a book where you realize you’ve read it before. What do you do? To quote Marcus Aurelius:
Whatever the universal nature assigns to any man at any time is for the good of that man at that time.
In other words, just go with it. I recognize that I have to accept this occasional slip as I get older. Also, a little flexibility in my book reading philosophy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have a feeling the universal nature is not done with me yet, so I might as well accept what comes next.
An exception to this rule, of course, is my own stories. We call them revisions, but it’s pretty much re-reading the story multiple times to find errors and make it better. Maybe if I call it re-writing it will make me feel better about it.