Reading 2017: Readers’ Chat

Back in June of 2016 I had a lovely conversation with Stephanie Hopkins, of indieB.R.A.G. and Layered Pages, one which contemplated different angles of the reading experience. I decided to re-blog it here for the benefit of my and other readers, and merge it into a series focused on my progression of reading between that year and this new one.

To get us started, Stephanie’s interview elicits a few responses that will be re-considered in future entries of the series, some answers or ideas of which I already have thought about, others that have yet to arise. Here’s how our summer chat went.

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Lisl, why do you blog?

I’d like to say it’s a way for me to journal without actually having to use pen and paper—I’m often so lazy about writing in an actual book, despite loving the idea of it. The flaw with that answer, however, is that I don’t blog much that people might perceive as journal-y.

When I first considered the idea of a blog, I knew I wanted whatever I blogged to help me think more deliberately, to articulate ideas rather than experience them instinctively and without further growth. And I wanted to write. I’d always loved reading and writing, and research and writing analytical papers in university to this day remains one of my happiest set of memories. I wanted to do something that picked back up on that.

vivaldi's muse
Vivaldi’s Muse by Sarah Bruce Kelly, subject of one of my first reviews, remains a favorite to this day. (Click image)

A few years ago I started to write book reviews and found the challenges of doing this led me from idea to idea and also kept my mind active, always contemplating something or other, always learning. It kept me looking for meaningful angles, and this is where my training with close readings came in, something we did in our literature classes with a particular professor. I also became a little more confident about stepping outside my comfort zones in terms of reading material, and I more easily began to see threads even in genres that before I might not have chosen quite so quickly.

I’m also happy to say that writing for my blog, even when 80% of what I end up with never gets published, has helped me toward my goal of writing creatively—this had been much more challenging to me than analytical writing—and has also led to many rewarding partnerships and alliances, including being a part of an indie writers’ community where we help each other.

How many books a year do you read?

Well, I never really thought about counting until the end of last year. I’ve had a Goodreads account for a while but wasn’t really recording anything on it apart from remembering to add a book here and there that I wanted to read. Then when 2016 began I saw the reading challenge and decided to pick a number and aim for it. To be perfectly honest, I have zero interest in competing with anyone for numbers—there will be loads of people who read many more books than I, and that’s absolutely OK with me.

What I saw in the challenge was a chance to add a little more discipline to my life, even in a smaller fashion. I also liked the idea of looking back at my reads last year, and thought it would be nice to have a set of steps leading me from one attraction to the next as 2016 progresses; at the end I might see a pattern of thought or recall events surrounding those choices—a bit of nostalgia.

What are your favorite genres?

Phew, that’s a bit rough! From childhood I would say anything to do with King Arthur and Merlin, but I also developed a serious interest in history and historical fiction, especially the Wars of the Roses era. But I also am a longtime fan of ghost stories and like to read accounts of travel around the world, especially humorous ones. I’m quite fond of other genres as well, but I think perhaps these are my favorites. You might get a slightly different answer next month!

Where are the different places you read?

I’m not sure if you’ll believe this, but I often read standing up. Because I never really paid attention until recent years, I’d assumed it resulted owing to discomfort following an injury in a car accident. I also have this crack about the designers of chairs hating humans—so many seats are so uncomfortable! My mother, however, says I was always a restless reader.

I do adore an overstuffed chair, though, and sometimes I’ll curl up in the corner of my sofa, and I especially love this if it’s snowing or raining like mad outside, which I can see from that spot.

What thrills you the most about reading?

The-Crystal-Cave
The Crystal Cave, a perennial favorite.

There are some characters who completely speak to me, and Merlin was one such. Though I had books from an early age (albeit not a lot at first), my mother told me tales of Merlin, so I didn’t actually read about him until later. Once I did start to, it was as if he had been waiting for me and I chased him everywhere. Becoming part of his world when I picked up a book made me feel thrilled and at home at the same time.

When a character gets that close to me, I feel a crucial part of my soul being filled and it is very rewarding. Naturally I want to write my experiences, and that leads to further discovery of that character as well as myself.

I want also to say that now is a really marvelous and remarkable time for storytellers and readers alike: the independent and small publishing community, as I have discovered, is simply chock full of tales so thrilling and magical and thought provoking it takes your breath away. Imagine reading book after book after book that wow you enough to either write about them or tell people, “You must read this!” Humans have an instinctive desire to be told stories, and this market, unfortunately ignored by traditional publishers (and their loss!), is filling that coded desire in a big way.

Name your favorite childhood book. 

Oh, wow, it would have to be The Crystal Cave. I’ve read that book so many times I’ve lost count. But I also was a fan of Nancy Drew Mysteries and Trixie Belden, another mystery series I first discovered on my auntie’s old shelves.

What is the first thing you consider when buying a book?

Ha! The one thing we are always told not to—the cover!!! Whether it’s a book I spot in passing or a title I deliberately seek out, I always examine the cover, perhaps as an attempt to get an advance glimpse inside that world.

In a story, what is the most important aspect of that story?

Well, is has to be believable, have a sympathetic character and a riveting plot. Even non-fiction should capture me, so to speak, as opposed to being just a lot of fact-filled pages. You might be interested to know I recently re-visited this very question, combined with a bit of walking down memory lane, and decided to write about it, which you can find here.

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Many thanks to Stephanie Hopkins and indieB.R.A.G. for being one of the rewarding partnerships in my reading and writing experience! 

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Next up: A look back at Reading 2016

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Book Review: Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog

Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog

by Rossandra White

Winner of Feathered Quill’s Silver Award for Memoir

IndieFab Finalist in Foreward Reviews’ 2014 Book of the Year Award

Beverly Hills Book Award Finalist 

Someone once told me that releasing a first book is akin to hanging one’s soul on a meat hook in a display window for all to see (something like that), and I had to admit that was a pretty good assessment. So when I first received Rossandra White’s debut work, Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog, I remember thinking it was rather brave of an indie author to release a memoir as her first book.

But White carries her own in this fantastic tale that opens to the morning rhythm of a battered relationship, related in a wry tone that immediately grabs the reader with its spirit, honesty and affection. She likes when she has her semi-estranged husband’s company in the morning and the dogs Sweetpea and Jake’s loveable antics are on display, though the couple’s opposing perspectives continue to drive them apart.

Then, just like that, she comes home from work that evening to a note that reads: “Gone to Mexico. Adios.” But it’s happened before. She isn’t shocked. What gets her is the non-conversations they have as she tries to understand.

 “Okay, so are you finally going to tell me what’s going on?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why do you keep doing this?”

“Doing what?”

 And so the author brings us on a trip down memory lane via stories set in Laguna Beach and her native South Africa, acquainting us to her past experiences with so many of those who have been important parts of her life, including her husband. She tells it like it is, accepting blame as well as assigning. Her style is spare, words economical, yet they are powerfully packed with emotion and layers of element that beckon us to follow her, then wollop with detail that springs up seemingly from nowhere.

Within minutes the three of us were walking down our rustic dead-end street toward Laguna Canyon Road and the beach, the dogs trailing their leashes. I had to pass Larry’s green van, dubbed the “Love Cage,” parked in the vacant lot next door, a forlorn sight without the battered VW beside it. That van was where we first made love. It was our motel on wheels for a trip up to Northern California ten years earlier to reunite with his two youngest adult daughters, missing for seventeen years after his ex-wife kidnapped them.

Of course, this suddenness reflects many of White’s own experiences, which she deftly analyzes, looking for clues pointing toward the reasoning behind different events, and succinctly illuminating what she finds. In this manner she transports us through episodes, including with her mentally and physically handicapped brother, Garth, back in South Africa and her beloved pets, one of whom, Sweetpea, is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

The book’s compact size is a testament to White’s skill in storytelling, which for some other authors takes a much larger space to do. And it isn’t only economy, but also how she navigates two parallel threads that run linearly until they meet, also representing a time when she herself made the necessary choices regarding addressing the issues once and for all, including her own role within them.

White’s honesty is searing, but the compassion inherent within—from the author but also others, including her husband—and her writing style brings readers into the story as we journey through the years from childhood and miles of South Africa to California. We are so connected with her telling that we shudder or rejoice at her triumphs, embarrassments, fears and achievements, even smaller ones that reflect her coming into her own.

The contradiction reflected in White’s title—the holding fast while still letting go—is a state of affairs the author lives with and we see through most of the work: conversations that say nothing, living apart in the same house, attention weighted with neglect. This plays out in other ways as well, such as her own dedication across thousands of miles, and as she begins to recognize a great deal more self-sufficiency in those she is tasked with caring for, the bearers of whom provide her, in their own unique ways, with a sort of comfort in return.

It is telling to say that the day I received the book in the mail I read five chapters on the way home. The compelling narrative finds in readers a little bit of who each of us are as we seek out our own paths. White subtly deconstructs the past, her journey laden with frankness and humor as her language wraps around us, settling in comfortably in its ability to mirror our own experiences, at the same time being very much her own story. Punctuated with photos giving glimpses into her childhood, as well as matching stories throughout the book, Loveyoubye is a story of growth and forgiveness, an examination of the meaning of love and how to care for one’s self as well as others. Poignant, heart-rending, sweet and funny, White’s dexterous vision and storytelling strength brings together and reconciles opposing worlds, a union that comes with a cost, but one she brilliantly reveals without regret.

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About the author…

Rossandra White, a fourth generation South African, spent the first twenty-three years of her life in Zambia, where she had a baboon for a pet and learned to tell a log from a crocodile. She is the author of the memoir Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog, published by She Writes Press, and two, as yet, unpublished novels, Monkey’s Wedding and Mine Dances, set in Zimbabwe and Zambia respectively.

whiteShe lives in Laguna Beach with her two Staffordshire Bull Terriers, where she writes and blogs about the wild old days of her childhood in Africa as well as the wild new days of her life in America.

Readers can keep up with the author at her website, Twitter and Facebook.

Loveyoubye may be purchased at AmazonBarnes & Noble and Kobo.

Added notation: Monkey’s Wedding, set in 1950s Zimbabwe, is now available at Kindle and IngramSpark.

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Author image courtesy Rossandra White

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The author provided a copy of Loveyoubye in exchange for an honest review. 

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