Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Desert Island Reading : : Anne McAllister

Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my mind there is an echo of someone on a desert island in the middle of a vast ocean saying, "Water, water everywhere -- and not a drop to drink."

I'm sure I should footnote that, and I would if I knew who said it.

And yes, I can probably find out who said it on Google, but I don't have time because it is one minute to midnight, and I have to finish this and go to bed so I can get up and go to the dentist.

Life is what happens when you are making other plans -- John Lennon said that (as have I on occasion) -- which is why I am going to the dentist bright and early in the morning.

But I digress.

What made me think about the water quote was that I just spent a week by the water and I had time on my hands and for once I could actually read - for pleasure.

There were plenty of books on the shelves of the house I was staying in. And some of them were really Worthy books.

But honest-to-goodness, there wasn't one I wanted to read.


Because they seemed uniformly to have unhappy endings. They were books about miserable unhappy unfulfilled people who encountered other miserable unhappy unfulfilled people who in the course of the book anguished and sighed and made each other cry and pretty much feel even more awful. And while they might think about doing something about it, life was too terrible for them to manage. And so they didn't. They just got more miserable for 300 or so pages.

And then, at the end, they either offed themselves or sank further into depression. Usually, though, they died. And not believing in the Ever After, in case you wondered.

So much for happily ever after.

And all I could think was, why does anyone read these books?

Because, I guess, they are Worthy. And they are often very well-written by authors with a good command of spare elegant insightful prose. And certainly these books have something to say about the human condition. Without question, they have their place in the pantheon of English and American literature.

But God knows I do not want to read them on vacation.

On vacation I don't want to be reminded about the misery of the human condition. I don't want to read about the plague overtaking the world while time runs out and, in the end, everyone is dead, and won't that just teach us to be better custodians of the earth?

Etc. Etc. Etc.

While I'm not Pollyanna-ish enough to believe that everything is going to be hunky-dory forever, I do manage to keep a reasonably optimistic attitude on life -- even when it sucks.

And I like the books I read to pay lip service to that same notion.

I like stories in which good triumphs over evil. I like characters who strive and struggle and love and believe that they can change. I like to spend time with people who care. They can hurt, they can cry, they can kill (in a good cause) but they had better not be killed.

My emotional landscape -- in the books I write and the books I like to read -- doesn't allow that. It isn't part of the bargain I make with a writer whose book I take off the shelf and agree to spend time with. It isn't part of the bargain I make with readers who buy my books.

Is that unrealistic? Probably.

I don't care. I can't control real life. Not enough of it anyway. But I can control what I read.

I'm not in high school anymore. I'm not taking The Nineteenth Century British Novel. I'm not signed up for Modern Drama.

I don't even belong to a book club because I don't like to talk about books. I like to read them. And books with "questions to think about" at the end of them make me grind me teeth.

So I took one look at all the books on the shelves and I went to the bookstore where I bought books that I wanted to read -- books that might be classed as 'popular fiction' (as if it were a bad word -- or two bad words), but IMHO, books that would feed my spirit, not depress the heck out of me.

I came back with several.

I read The Bourne Sanction (bodies, bodies everywhere. But definitely not Jason Bourne's).
I read Gabriella Herkert's Catnapped and Doggone (more bodies, but Sara and Connor were still alive at the end).

I read Janet Evanovich's Fearless Fourteen (Stephanie, Joe, Ranger and Grandma -- even Rex the hamster stayed alive). I read Hester Browne's The Little Lady Agency and the Prince (no dead bodies at all).

And I had a great vacation. I felt much happier. Refreshed. Envigorated.

And not only because I got to spend my non-reading time with my one year old granddaughter whose smile could light the world.

So, tell me, if you were on a desert island for a week -- or two -- (without access to my smiling granddaughter, though you're allowed to bring whomever else you want to brighten your life) what sort of books would you bring along to read?

Titles are fine. Authors are good. The type of books you like I especially want to know.

Post a comment and on Thursday Gunnar the Proust-reading dog (whose taste in books does not even remotely reflect mine) will pick a winner who will get a copy of some book of mine with a happy ending -- your choice, as long as I can find it in the attic or on the shelves. Or Proust, if Gunnar will part with it and the winner is of like mind.

Check my blog or here at the end of the comments to see who wins.


Margaret McDonagh said...

I really enjoyed your post, Anne. By the way, your quote at the beginning about 'water, water everywhere', is from one of my very favourites - The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.

Anyway, books. I couldn't agree more about really depressing books about some deep and dark human condition that leave you feeling wrung out and miserable. Sometimes I read to learn, obviously, and enjoy it, but reading is a gift and should always be a pleasure. I can't bear labels and am not interested whether books are "worthy" or "literary" or supposedly "popular fiction" as if that was to be sneered at. I want to be entertained, whether that be crime, romance, humour or vampire/shapeshifter. And I want a satisfying, happy ending.

If I were stuck on a desert island, I would HAVE to have piles of books by Christina Jones and Christine Feehan. I'd want some Jill Shalvis and Lori Foster, some Clive Cussler and Agatha Christie.

If my trunk was big enough, I'd have some Medical Romances by many of my colleagues, Anne McAllister's Code of the West series, (and the McGillivarys of Pelican Key trilogy is a must, too), and I'll stick the Ancient Mariner in there as my "worthy" token!!

Dozens of others I could mention that I couldn't live without but I'd be here all day.

Mags xx

Aideen said...

Yes, 'worthy' books certainly do have their place but I'm not sure that place is on any desert island.
If I was to be forced to loiter in paradise for a couple of weeks my book selection would pose no problems for me.
Definitely some Marian Keyes. That woman has made me laugh in some of the most inappropriate places. Hilarious, truly. Nora Roberts would have to tag along and I wouldn't be fussy about which of her books to bring. She's so generous everyone gets their happy endings.
Naturally, all Harlequin M&B authors would be most welcome. Specialising in happily ever afters guarantees their place in my selection without question.
What more could a girl want on a desert island?

(maybe a tall, dark brooding hero who's speciality lies in the application of sun tan lotion on those hard to reach places...)

Another great post,

Donna Alward said...

I love category romance on vacation. If I'm on vacation, I want to leave troubles behind, not ponder the great clues to the universe. I do enough of that already and nearly give myself a panic attack. I seriously think if more people had an optimistic outlook on life and a bit of hope rather than darkness, a lot of the problems would take care of themselves.

If not category, I would a few single title contemporaries or a few great regencies. I love them. And if I am particularly ambitious, I will take a book on writing with me, and feel like I'm working even as I'm sunning myself at the lake. :-)

PJ said...

I only take romances on vacation and only romances with happy endings. I'm on vacation to relax and I want to be entertained but I don't need to think or heavily ponder. It's vacation, for goodness sake. I'd take Roxanne St. Claire, Janet Evanovich, Christina Dodd's paranormals, Teresa Medeiros's historicals, and assorted other romances. After reading her sensational August debut, TRIAL BY FIRE, I'd take anything by Jo Davis!

Lois said...

Well, I really as a whole read only two types of books, science and romance. So either way I get a not depressing ending. (can't really lump the science in with the HEA of romances -- I tried, but couldn't LOL)

But I would have my favorite science books (won't get into those, since arguably people are here for romances/fiction) but romances. . . uh, what a list. . . hmm. Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas, Marianne Stillings, Lauren Willig, Susan Mallery, VIcki Lewis Thompson and Jacquie D'alessandro, Jane Austen are just some authors that I can see around me that I would take some or all of their books. . . then there are plenty of category ones, especially off the top of my head H. Presents and H. Romance that I would want too! :)

So, this just shows that none of us really can be stuck on a desert island because we'd all want our entire libraries with us! LOLOL


Anne McAllister said...

Mags, yes, of course -- the Ancient Mariner. Why didn't I remember? Er, perhaps because I was reading something else under the desk when we were supposed to be reading Coleridge?

Yes, absolutely -- "books that leave you feeling wrung out and miserable" -- what a great description. Thanks.

Christina Jones is one of my faves, too. And I hope your trunk is big enough to take the Code of the West AND Pelican Cay!

Aideen, Marion Keyes! I've laughed at her books as well. Definitely a good idea. And I'm right this minute re-reading a Nora Roberts from 10 years ago. Lovely book. I do like your idea of the tall dark brooding hero (though he would also have to make me laugh) capable of putting suntan lotion on for me. Excellent suggestion!

Donna,I love regencies, too. Especially I love the "comedies" among them. And in fact I think I want to reserve an entire week on my desert island for just me and Georgette Heyer (and maybe Aideen's tall dark brooding hero).

PJ, I haven't read Jo Davis, but on that recommendation, I'll be checking her out. Thank you!

Lois, I see your point. Perhaps we should only spend our holidays on desert islands that come with libraries! I like that idea. And thanks for all the good authors you recommended. Some I haven't read, so I'll add them to my list to check out.

Anonymous said...

I tend to read more anthologies while on vacation. Short but filling stories. I don't really want to think too much whole relaxing. :) If I had two weeks of uninterrupted reading... I'd like to go back and re-read the whole Dark-Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon.

Anne McAllister said...

Jen, I like your notion of going back and re-reading an entire series over a vacation. I wonder how much, though, I would like lugging all my Tony Hillerman books or all 14 Stephanie Plum hardbacks along on my trip. Maybe I should put in a bid for teleportation, too!

Estella said...

If I were on a desert island i would like to have books by, Nora Roberts, Mary Kay Andrews, Christine Feehan, Carla Neggers, Lucy Monroe, Janet Evanovitch and also many more authors.
Don't want any Worthy books.

Jane said...

I love HEAs, but I also love action packed romantic suspenses. Some authors I would take along with me are Allison Brennan, Karen Rose, Julie Garwood, Lisa Kleypas, Heather Graham and Colleen Gleason.

Anne McAllister said...

Estella, thanks for reminding me about Mary Kay Andrews. I love her books. I think she has a newish one out I haven't read yet. Must check!

Jane, no reason action/suspense can't have an HEA! In fact most all of them do because they often deal with the good-guys vs the bad guys and the good-guys win. That's an HEA to me. Certainly The Bourne Sanction fit that description. It was all about action and suspense! I'm not familiar with all the authors you listed. Will check them out. Thanks!

Pat Cochran said...

Hello, Anne,

Desert island time is rest and relaxation and entertainment time
to me! I would be reading Romances:
regencies, medicals, contemporaries.
Not even a token "worthy" tome for
me or anyone else in the party!

Pat Cochran

Virginia said...

If I was on a desert island for a week or two, I would take lots of historical romances with happy endings with me. Elizabeth Hoyt, Shari Anton, Samantha James, just to name a few. I love about all historical authors. I read a little of everything.

Dina said...

Great post Anne.

I would probably never think of going to an Island tfor rest and relaxation, lol. I'd have to being lots of books to keep myself company.

Anne McAllister said...

Pat, how right you are -- relaxation time is exactly what last week was. Now I'm back to the slog. But I have the energy to do it because of all the good vibes from that week (and those books).

Virginia, thanks for the mention of some good historical authors. I mostly read regencies when I'm in an historical frame of mind, so it's good to have names of people who write across all eras.

Dina, give the desert island some thought. We spent a couple of weeks on Harbour Island -- one of the Out Islands in the Bahamas -- and it was fantastic (very laid back, low key and lots of reading time -- not to mention great scenery, warm water, pink sand and lots and lots of space).

maryciao said...

If you don't mind adding another genre, I suggest bringing the book
Dancing for Joy
to the others suggested for the desert island sojurn. It's a wonderful-- and joyous--collection of poetry.

Thanks for all the suggestions!

Anne McAllister said...

Mary, a book called Dancing For Joy sounds EXACTLY the sort of book that should go on our desert island jaunt. It's not going to be depressing with a title like that! Thanks for the suggestion. I'll look out for it.

Anne McAllister said...

Gunnar says he is giving away a book to Maryciao for her excellent suggestion about Dancing For Joy. So Maryciao if you will go to my website at and click on the "contact Anne" link to email me, we can discuss which book Gunnar will be sending you!

And thanks to everyone for the brilliant suggestions for desert island reading. I'll add some of them to my next desert island -- or Lake Chelan sojourn!

maryciao said...

Hi, Anne, and all,
I'm delighted about receiving a book! One-Night Love Child would be appreciated. I'm stuck at home with a back problem for a while, and it will be lovely to take a virtual trip to Elmer and visit old friends.

Since it's summer, I'll share a quote from one poem, Blossoms:

"O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard"
by Li-Young Lee
in Dancing with Joy


PS Hope I'm only sending this once, as I don't think it went thru the 1st time.

Dina said...

Congrats Mary, I loved One Night Love Child. :)