Craig Johnson is famous for his mystery novels and has created quite a following with his AETV series named for his main character in his novels. Longmire is the Sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming and is always presented with some amazing lawbreakers to round up. What makes Steamboat so interesting is that it is an abrupt departure from his typical storyline and tells the tale of a rescue flight to save a young Japanese girl’s life. It is filled with the strung out intensity of risk that Craig Johnson is famous for. These characters are on the brink of disaster for at least half the book, and his ability to carry that intense drama is truly impressive as a writer’s skill. Plus, I bet even the most hardened of you will get a lump in your throat by the end of the story.
One of the things about non-fiction books that is always challenging is how to keep the reader engaged. Killing Jesus, by Martin Dugard and Bill O'Reilly, is effective in doing this by the level of detail given to the daily life and politics of Judea after Jesus’s birth and during his ministry. Weather you are Christian or not, you will be fascinated and also appalled by the information provided. It is a history lesson wrapped in a moral tale that has had more influence on the world than any other event in human history.
Velva Jean Learns To Drive and Velva Jean Learns To Fly by Jennifer Niven are two fine modern literary works that I have just completed reading. I am a big fan of fiction and tend toward mysteries but find a lot of pleasure in reading more literary works and non-fiction at times. Niven’s novels were an incredible treat!
Her theme is largely sexist, and I say that with the utmost respect in a positive way. She chronicles the life of a young girl living in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina in the Great Depression era. Life in Alluvial is confined by the ring of mountains surrounding her, by the superstitions of the mountain folk, and by the assumptions of a culture that dictates what a woman’s role in life should be. Velva Jean is just ten when she finds Jesus and is baptized in the Three Gum River. Her dreams and her feisty nature are at war with God and with the limitation of life laid out before her.
I guarantee you that you will get a lump in your throat as often reading these books as you will get angry at the abuses perpetrated and stereotypes that are manifested in the characters. For a true learning experience about what the women’s lib movement of the 60s really was about when it began in the 40s, take the time to read these novels. You won’t regret it. I can’t wait to read her latest in the Velva Jean series called Becoming Clementine.
Amy Tan, in her first book The Joy Luck Club, explores something we can all relate to: parent-child relationships...specifically those between mothers and daughters. In interviews she shares how influential her mother and Chinese heritage has been for her writing, but, when reading this book, it is clear that Tan is speaking to the issues faced by all mothers and daughters across ethnic lines. These characters are real and relatable. I see myself in the anguish of Jing-Mei and Lena, and I see my own mother in Suyuan or Ying-Ying. Worse yet, now with daughters of my own, I see myself mirrored in those over-protective mothers as well! This book speaks profoundly of a culture clash as well, in this case the Chinese vs. the American worldview. While that is accessible by many readers who share a similar ethnic disconnect, it is equally relevant to the inevitable divide between the generations, which can sometimes make children feel as though their parents are 'from another country'.
As a writer, this book speaks to me profoundly. My identity is largely tied to being either a daughter or a mother, both of which tend to be emotionally charged roles. Writing through these experiences is cathartic, but also helps keep vitality and realism in my characters. Like Tan, my work tends to draw from life and model characters after aspects of real people...often people I am close to. This is writing what you know in the most visceral sense, and is clearly something Tan has taken honed to an art form.
A year ago my wife and I were team teaching a class on Paradise Lost by John Milton. This is a piece of literature that at one time was a mainstay in American schools, but today is sadly neglected. I have to admit that the first time I approached Paradise Lost, it seemed a little daunting. After all, I was a scientist. What could I possibly gain from reading “ancient” poetry? I was sadly mistaken. It is an amazingly beautiful piece of artistry, and I am ashamed to think I may have never had the joy pouring over its pages, finding myself completely absorbed and in awe of Milton’s genius.
One of the most fascinating parts that captivated my attention was when Michael, the archangel, takes Adam on a journey into the future to see the consequences of his sin. One is left completely caught up in the emotional tension as Adam must come to grips with the consequences of his choice. It left me wrestling with the question of what if Adam had only known the actual consequences before he had actually sinned, what then?
This work affected me deeply as a writer. My most recent work, Justice, is a series of three novellas. The first one, Knowing, was influenced in part by Paradise Lost. The second, Providence, deals with the sovereignty of an all knowing God, and the third, Guardian, examines the human need for meaning and purpose. Although interconnected by the characters, each novella takes place at a different time and each can stand on its own story.
It is a work of science fiction, suggesting the possibility of time travel and the ability to see into the future. It is wrought with paradoxes which is a little ironic. Although I always map out my writing before I begin, this work began as nothing more than a sketch. I found myself in wonder as I encountered surprising discoveries on each successive page.