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Saturday, February 04, 2017

Be Adventurous - Don't Get Stuck in a Rut!



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I go through phases with books. Almost the whole time I was a kid, the books I read were about animals – any kind of animal, really, but mostly horses and dogs. I still have the tiny book with the little one-paragraph reviews we had to fill out to be part of the summer reading program at the Logansport library when I was about nine. I read way more books than I needed to get my certificate. Almost every one of them was about animals – black stallions and Irish Setters that were lost in the wild and little girls who wanted a pony more than anything (which described me, incidentally ).
Into adulthood, I never lost this tendency to toward obsession about certain types of books. For many years, I read everything on the New York Times best seller list. It was one of my claims to fame then (though no one found it exceptional but me) that I’d read every best seller for several years running. No discrimination there. I didn’t care what the book was about, I read them all. Making the list was my only criteria.
Then we moved to the country and I went through my non-fiction period. I was rather smug and self-righteous about my new-found turning to “just the facts, Ma’am” reading list. I looked down on those people who read simply for enjoyment when they could be Learning Something. Most of these books were in a similar vein to my Bible of the time – “Five Acres and Independence”.  They, along with our subscription to the then  new magazine, Mother Earth News, taught me how to milk goats and plant gardens (placing plants so that the dreaded anti-environmental herbicides  and fertilizers were never needed), making my own butter and creating a compost pile. It turned out that our commitment to self-sufficiency was never up to the standard Mother Earth demanded.   I discovered I was too attached to thermostats for heat and that by the end of the garden planting, I no longer gave a darn about matching plants. I just wanted them in the ground and to get done (which is why my cucumbers mated with my melons (or, anyway, why some species crossed ethnic lines because I’d placed them too close together and they fell in love). We did have chickens but we never dammed our creek so as to tie into the electric grid and free ourselves of REMC.
I went through a Louisiana spell with no clue why. I knew everything there was to know about that state. Although I’d never been there, I was convinced that I must have been a New Orleansian in a previous incarnation. For quite a while, it was the Civil War that captured my attention and then later, the Vietnam War.
Quite a few years ago, I settled into mysteries and that’s where I have mostly stayed. Not only did I get trapped in that genre but even certain authors within it. In short, I didn’t care to read anything that wasn’t by a writer I already knew I liked. Adventuresome, I was not. I’d go to the library and never even look at titles, just author’s names. If Ed McBain or Martha Grimes wrote a new book, I got it.
Oddly, my very favorite novel for about a decade was “Lonesome Dove”, which I’d got only out of desperation because my favored authors were letting me down by not writing books quickly enough to keep up with me.  My experience venturing out of my chosen area to find my favorite book taught me nothing. Once Lee Child and Ian Rankin and Robert B Parker came out with new offerings, I fled right back to mysteries again.
Until fairly recently. Once again, my favorites were selfishly producing too slowly. I could find nothing that sounded appealing so, reluctantly, I got a novel, “The Steep Approach to Garbadale” by a Scottish writer, Iain Banks. “The Steep Approach to Garbadale” overtook “Lonesome Dove” as my all-time favorite book. Iain Banks, I discovered, has been one of Britain’s most popular authors for years. His first novel, “The Wasp Factory” has been acclaimed one of Britain’s top five books of all time.  I got another of his books from the library, then ordered the others from Amazon and have loved every one.
In addition to his novels, Iain Banks is a hugely successful writer of science fiction, writing under the name Iain M Banks. I’d always thought I hated science fiction but I don’t know why.  As far as I knew, I’d never read a science fiction book or seen a science fiction movie.  But because I was so enthralled with Banks’ writing, I took a risk and let him lead me into new territory –science fiction – and learned that wonderful writers are wonderful writers no matter what the genre.
Even more recently, I took the advice of several friends and reluctantly began the Outlander series. I didn’t think romance/history/time travel was my cup of tea at all but lo and behold, I fell in love. Now, maybe Diana Gabaldon’s books are my favorites. Or maybe an even newer discovery – Chronicles of a Legend – The Pirate Captain, by Kerry Lynn.
There’s a moral here – about ruts and how you can cheat yourself out of some of the joyousness of life when you let yourself get stuck in them.



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