Guys Who Read

In this post I’m going way to take a break from my usual Regency/Jane Austen topics, and linger a while in our modern world.

If you’ve been following me on this blog or on social media, you already know I love to read.

I always seem to have a book in my hand, or in my purse, or in my car, so I can make ready use of any free moment to get “just one more chapter” in.

About a week ago I realized something odd: When I think of avid readers, my mind naturally goes toward women. When I want to talk about a book, I talk about it with my girlfriends.

When I think of book clubs, I gravitate toward book clubs made up of women.

But the truth is, men read a lot, too.

Want proof? There’s an Instagram account titled “Hot Dudes Reading” you need to visit.

The account is aptly named. I didn’t have to scroll far to find plenty of examples of attractive men with books in their hands.

There are photos of military guys reading . . .

And guys reading in libraries.

There are photos of dudes reading while listening to music …

… and others who read while lowering their carbon footprint.

Some of my favorite photos are of guys who clearly get into the books they’re reading. They show it by biting their nails . . .

. . . secretly wiping away a tear . . .

. . . and holding the book a little closer as the story gets tense.

And then there’s this dude:

What could be sexier than a handsome guy reading a book while taking flowers to someone he loves?

The answer is this guy:

Oh, my heart! Yes, he is definitely a “hot dude reading,” and I’m a little bit in love with his pup, too.

I’d like to point out that viewing the photos on this Instagram account expanded my thinking considerably. I’m now much more aware of the fact that women don’t hold a monopoly on reading good books; and the next time there’s an opening in my book club, I’m going to suggest a guy fill it.

If you’d like to expand your horizons, too, and see more photos of Hot Dudes Reading, click on the link below:

 

10 Books that Changed My World

During the long winter months I keep my house closed up to ward off the cold; but once the days get longer and the temps get warmer, I open up the house and begin my annual spring cleaning ritual.

I also start a “donate” box, where I collect clothes and household items I no longer use or need.

And every year I stand in front of my bookshelves and try to decide whether I should, could or can bring myself to add one of the books in my collection to the “donate” box.

It’s a hard decision, but I always manage to cut a few books from the herd and add them to the box.

Of course, there are some books in my collection that have had such a profound impact on me, I would never consider giving them away.

Here, in no particular order, are the top ten fiction books that changed my life:

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

I was twelve years old when I first read Pride and Prejudice, and it (and the author) have held a special place in my heart ever since. I can’t explain why this book touched me so deeply, except that it has everything I want in a novel: humor, tragedy, mystery, adventure, travel, romance, suspense, villains, heroes, and a heroine who represents the ideal young woman I often wish I could be more like.

Besides that, it’s just a darn good love story.

My tattered, well-worn copy of P&P.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

When I was a kid, as far back as I could remember, there was always a copy of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in our bookcase at home. They were a set that belonged to my mother, which she purchased together when she was twenty years old.

I began reading Jane Eyre one summer afternoon when I was in middle school because I had nothing else to do, and ended up enthralled by a world of mystery and romance. At the center of the story was a plucky young woman with whom I strongly identified. Jane may not have had grand plans for her life, but knew who she was, and she was always true to herself—and that was the lesson I took from the novel.

Yes, this is the cover of my copy of Jane Eyre. This edition contains reproductions of the creepy but compelling original woodcut illustrations.

Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer.

This was the first book I read in which the author built an entire world that was previously unknown to me. I was captivated by the language, the manners, the wit, and the active, multi-layered plots Heyer created.

Regency Buck was only the first of Heyer’s books I read; it didn’t take long for me to scoop up all her other titles, too. They’ve held a place of honor on my book shelves ever since, and I reread at least one of her novels every year.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

First, the story contained in the pages of this novel is wonderful. Second, Lee’s writing style is magnetic. But the lessons I learned in this book about life and courtesy and how to treat other people have stayed with me since I first read this classic in high school. It’s one of the few books I read regularly every couple of years.

How Green was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn

I was eleven years old when I discovered this beautifully written gem in my school’s library. I checked it out for one capricious reason: the borrowing card was clean—no one had checked the book out before, and I decided I wanted to be the first.

I took it home and read it. I was so touched by the story of the Morgan family, and their simple, honest ways that How Green was My Valley instantly became one of favorite books. In fact, I checked it out of the library so often, the librarian questioned me about it after the fifth or sixth time. But that’s how good this book is; I just couldn’t get enough of it then, and now that I have my own copy, it enjoys a permanent place on my keeper shelf.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis.

A friend at church handed me this book and said, “You have to read this.” So I did. Then I read the rest of the series, and spent endless hours talking with my friends at church about the symbolism and metaphors and meanings in the book. Then we’d seize on passages in the novel and search our Bibles for scripture to reinforce the point we thought the author was trying to make. In a sense, this book taught me and my friends how to exchange ideas, make our arguments, and research on the fly.

Add to that the fact that the book is (on the surface) a wonderfully written story of adventure and good versus evil, and it easily earns a place on my top ten list of all-time classics that everyone should read at least once in their life.

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dosteyevsky

When I first read Crime and Punishment, I had no idea it was written in 1866. To me, it could have been written in 1910, 1940, or even 1960; the story is that timeless.

This novel reads like a mystery, although there’s really no mystery here; we know from the outset that the main character commits murder. The author’s master stroke is the way in which he manipulates our emotions about the murderer. Should we hate him? Root for him? Feel compassion for him? That’s part of the mystery!

From this novel I learned a lot about human nature: that the face people present to you may not represent who they really are; that good people do bad things; that remorse doesn’t always lead to redemption or even forgiveness.

Animal Farm, by George Orwell

This is not a children’s book. I read it in high school, again in my twenties, and a couple more times since then. The odd thing about this book is that no matter when I read it, it seems to present a commentary on the current state of affairs in the world at the time. On the surface, it’s an entertaining story. In reality, it’s a warning about what can happen when we ignore what first appears to be a  gentle, slight slope of moral decay.

If you haven’t read it yet, I don’t want to give the story away; but I think it’s a book that everyone should read today, right now, this minute.

Testimony of Two Men, by Taylor Caldwell

This is the book that made me think, “I’d like to write a novel like this someday.”

Taylor Caldwell doesn’t just write, she paints word pictures that bring her stories to life. From the settings, to the clothing and furniture, she draws me into her books and lets me see what her characters see and experience.

In Testimony of Two Men Caldwell’s skills are on full display. It has everything I love in a novel: family drama, an engaging hero, doomed romance, and tidbits about the time period that are skillfully woven into the story. My well-worn copy is on my keeper shelf.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

My mother read Little Women to my sisters and me when we were young. We were four sisters, so it was easy for us to identify with the March sisters. I remember that I wanted to be as pretty as Meg, as brave as Jo, as gentle as Beth, and as talented as Amy.

My mother read to us from the very same book she read when she was young; it was given to her by her Aunt Helen at Christmas in 1936. My mother had just turned twelve years old. As she read to us, it was clear how much she loved this novel and the characters’ stories.

My mother was a busy woman, who always worked full-time outside the home when we were growing up; and when she got home at night, there were meals to prepare, cleaning to do, an ill husband to nurse, and a million other cares and worries for her to tend to. When I think of all she was up against, I cherish my memories of the time she took to read Little Women aloud to us.

I have to admit, there are many more novels I considered for this list; but in the end, these are the books that really spoke to me. They changed my thinking and my outlook on life and how I wanted to live it. They taught me about strength of character, honesty, and standing up for what is right; about love and commitment, and enjoying life’s simple pleasures along the way.

What about you? Have you ever read a book that made a profound impact on you? Please share it!

Mr. Darcy: A Man with a Plan

Hello, and a happy weekend to you!

Today I’m posting on the Austen Authors blog, talking about Jane Austen movie adaptations. Do you know, some of my favorite scenes in 1995’s “Pride and Prejudice” never appeared in Jane Austen’s original novel!

Here’s a hint about one of those scenes:

I hope you’ll join me at Austen Authors and share your favorite movie scenes, too! Just click on the image below.

A Place of Comfort and Rest

I consider myself a pretty lucky person. I have a wonderful family, great friends, enough home improvements projects on my list of things to do to keep me out of trouble, and a job I love.

Still, there are times when life gets a little crazy; and sometimes it seems like there’s a lot of commotion and noise in the world that’s unsettling and troublesome.

Every once in a while I have to tune out all that noise and find my own way to bring balance back into my life.

Portrait of a Lady at a Pianoforte Holding a Manuscript, by Adele Romany.

For Mary Bennet, in my novel Mary and the Captain, her way of coping when things looked dark was to play the pianoforte. Playing music was the one satisfying outlet she had for expressing her emotions when things went wrong.

Were Mary alone she would have given vent to her feelings with crashing chords in a storm of correct and incorrect notes; but despite her heightened emotions, she had enough mastery of herself to know that she could not play the beautiful pianoforte at Netherfield as she was used to playing her old spinet at Longbourn. She was compelled to play with restraint, yet she still found solace in her music. Soon she began to feel better and her music softened in turn.

My method for drowning out the noise and bad news in the world is much different from Mary Bennet’s.

I take a break. I unplug for a day or two—no television, no social media, and, most importantly, no political ads!

That’s what I did last week; and I have to say, it’s surprising how much less stress I feel by simply “getting away from it all” and spending some quiet time with family, friends, and a couple of books.

What about you? Is there a place you escape to in order to shut out the world’s noise? A place of quiet and peace where you can hear yourself think? Or is there an activity—like Mary’s piano playing—that calms you and helps you feel centered?

I hope you’ll leave a comment and let me know how you cope when technology, world events, and life in general get to be a little too much.

And if you’re interested in learning more about my Jane Austen inspired novel Mary and the Captain, just click on the book cover.

Halloween and Hyde Park

It’s October! That means it’s time for me to buy bags of Halloween candy and pick out all the Almond Joy bars so I can hide them to eat later in private.

October also means getting ready to dress up in costumes, tour haunted houses, and choose the foggiest night of the month to whistle through a graveyard.

A crush of fashionable Victorians at Hyde Park.

In reality, I’m not spooked by graveyards. In fact, there’s a graveyard in the heart of London that has always intrigued me.

Marble Arch, Hyde Park, near the pet cemetery.

It’s a graveyard that was created specifically for pets. It dates back to the 1880s, with grave markers that span three centuries.

Hyde Park Pet Cemetery, photographed early 19th Century.

Since I’m an animal lover who has all too often suffered the loss of a beloved pet, I find myself drawn to the Hyde Park cemetery. If I ever doubted that I had anything in common with the Victorians, all I have to do is look at the grave markers to feel a kinship with them and the devotion they had for their furry (or feathered) friends.

A grave marker for Zulu, at Hyde Park pet cemetery.

The cemetery has hundreds of markers, all loving tributes to Brownie, Jack, Spot and Josie.

Some epitaphs are simple and heart felt, like one for Josie that reads: “In loving gratitude for his sweet affection.”

And for Pompey, who was “loyaler than any of my husbands.”

But my favorite is a tall headstone for a dog named Prince, who served in the military: “Marine Commando of Anisor. He asked for so little and gave so much.”

There are hundreds of pet cemeteries around the world; but for me, there’s something special about this pet cemetery tucked away near a corner of Hyde Park. It’s a well-cared-for, loving tribute to generations of mankind’s beloved animal companions. And there’s nothing spooky about that.

My little Byron. R.I.P.

 

It’s Official!

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m now an author on the Austen Authors blog!

I’ve been reading the Austen Authors blog for years, and I’ve always enjoyed the Jane Austen inspired stories its members create. So you can imagine how “over the moon” I was when they asked me to join their roster!

My debut post appears today and you can read it here. I hope you’ll join me on the blog as we chat about royal weddings past and present. See you there!

 

 

New Journal Find

I’m a slow writer. I freely admit it. There are times when I envy other writers who can produce four or five (or more!) books a year, and have them all hit best-seller lists (an indication that those high-producing writers are publishing quality stories). But I’m the proverbial turtle when it comes to the writing race.

Still, I like to document my progress. I keep a journal open on my desk, and every day I write down things I do related to my writing career, like the number of new words I write each day, or the research I conduct.

Here’s the journal I kept last year when I was writing Mary and the Captain:

There’s nothing fancy about it; 300 lined pages, which gives me plenty of room to document my progress on a new page every day. Here’s an entry for a book I’m working on right now:

And yes, I use stickers to show when I’ve met a daily goal.

I’ve come to rely on stickers. They keep me focused. They motivate me. I hate having to turn a page in my journal if I haven’t first applied a sticker on it. To me those stickers validate that I’m doing my work and meeting my goals.

On average I go through two journals a year. Here’s a new one I picked up this week at my local Tuesday Morning store:

The cover has a soft, suede-y feel. I can’t wait to begin writing in it (although I think I should finish filling my current journal first).

And here’s the pen I just started using to write in my journal. It’s brand new; I picked it up as a souvenir at the theater when I saw Hamilton:

Journals and pens and stickers may not seem like very much; but combined together, they help make writing fun. They’re also my way of rewarding myself for plowing ahead, meeting my goals, and writing my book . . . no matter how slowly I do it!

 

 

A Brand New Month and Kitty Bennet

It’s February. I know, I can’t believe it either.

But even though time seems to be flying by, I’m really looking forward to a new month, since everything I hoped to accomplish in January didn’t quite happen as planned.

On January 4th I came down with the flu, and it really took me out of commission for about two solid weeks. I needed a third week of home confinement just to ensure I looked presentable before going out in public again.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get much writing done during the month.

But some good things happened, too . . .

First, I began plotting a new Jane Austen inspired story that centers on Kitty Bennet.

Lydia (Julia Sawalha) and Kitty Bennet (Polly Maberly) in BBC’s 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.

In Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Kitty is a minor character, who never really gets a chance to show readers who she is. In fact, Kitty is really little more than a follower; her personality is constantly overshadowed by that of her younger sister Lydia. I’ve always been intrigued by Kitty (just as I was by her sister Mary, who also got short-shrift in P&P). I’m hoping this new story will give Kitty a chance to shine and find a Happily Ever After of her own. I’ll keep you posted in my progress.

The other great thing that happened in January: I scored tickets to Hamilton! Here’s my happy dance:

I absolutely love going to the theater and seeing live performances; it’s even better when I can make an evening of it by having dinner at my favorite restaurant before the show.

But before I put on my best clothes and head downtown for a night out in Denver, I have some serious writing to catch up on. I have publishing goals to meet this year and I’m already behind on my daily word counts.

So today I’m going back to work with a vengeance and, if everything goes right, I’ll soon be able to report to you on my progress. In the meantime . . .

Happy February! I hope it proves to be a great month for you!

A Special Month for My Special Friends

In my last post I described an old English tradition called Whip Dog Day. It’s one tradition that is best forgotten.

Today I want to talk about a twentieth century American tradition that is best remembered. It’s celebrated every year throughout the month of October. I’m talking about Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.

This is a celebration I can really get behind. I’ve had several pets during my long life and almost all of them joined my family after I found them at a shelter.

Let me introduce you to a few of my family members who came from dog shelters . . .

This is Byron, a corgi/basset hound mix, who is probably the smartest dog I’ve ever known.

He knows lots of words in Human, which is impressive when I realize I don’t know a how to say a single word in Dog.

Here’s Keats, a corgi/Dachshund mix:

He, too, was a shelter dog. He’s not as smart as Byron, and he had some very concerning behavioral issues when I first brought him home; but once he settled in and learned to trust me, I discovered something I hadn’t expected: he’s unfailingly happy all the time. An added bonus: if you toss a squeaky toy to him, he will be your devoted slave for the rest of his life.

Based on my photos, you may have noticed some trends in my preference for pets.

I tend to adopt dogs with black fur, because I once read that black dogs were less likely to be adopted than dogs with lighter hair color.

I tend to adopt dogs who have been at the shelter the longest. They are more likely to have medical or behavioral issues that make them less desirable for adoption. And that means they are more likely to be put down than other dogs.

I also tend to adopt dogs that no one else seems to want. So far, it seems no one wants dogs with satellite dishes for ears, but I do.

You may also notice that I have a predilection for naming pets after 18th Century Romantic poets.

Byron.

Keats.

By all rights, the next dog in line for adoption should be named Shelley, just to complete the triad.

That was my plan . . . But then something unexpected happened. Lacy came into my life.

Lacy, too, was a shelter dog when my cousin adopted her a few years ago. But when my cousin fell ill and had to be hospitalized, Lacy came to stay with me.

It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement; but a few days soon turned into a few weeks, then months, as my cousin remained hospitalized.

Unfortunately, my cousin never left the hospital; she passed away last February, and Lacy became a permanent member of my family.

Lacy blends right in, and since her arrival, I’ve realized that my dogs and I have a lot in common. We’re all motivated by treats and praise.

We all have short legs. And we all hate the vacuum cleaner.

But the key thing my dogs and I have in common is that we want to be loved, and we have plenty of love in our hearts to give back. With those kinds of benefits, there’s no reason anyone should believe they have to wait until October rolls around again to adopt a shelter dog.

I adopted Byron in the month of June. Keats came home with me during May of 2015. And Lacy became mine in February of 2016. So I can say from a place of experience that any month is the right month to bring a new pup home.

So even though today is the last day of October—and the last day to celebrate Adopt a Shelter Dog Month—there are plenty of reasons to visit your local animal shelter in November (or any other month) and find that special dog just waiting for you to take him or her home.

I’m tempted to go visit my Denver shelter in the next few weeks myself, just to see if they might possibly have a dog that would make a good addition to my own family . . .

. . . A small dog with black fur who wouldn’t mind answering to the name Shelley.