Tuesday, April 12, 2011

GUEST POST: Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Reading at the End of the World

Hello Outfiteers!

We have a special treat today. It gives me great pleasure to introduce Julia Spencer-Fleming. Julia has been nominated for or won pretty much every award there is, and with good reason. Her new book, One Was A Soldier, comes out today, and I can't wait to get my hot little hands on it.

Besides her thoughts on the maddening downward spiral that seems to be our world today, Julia is also offering a remedy--the one most of us fall back on, the kind that comes between covers. And this isn't metaphorical, either. Julia has a couple of advanced copies to give away. To enter, all you have to do is post an answer to the question she poses at the end.

Enjoy, friends!
-Marcus Sakey


READING AT THE END OF THE WORLD
by Julia Spencer-Fleming

I used to start my days by listening to Morning Edition on NPR. Then after I got the husband and kids off to school, I’d sit down at my computer and enjoy my first cup of tea while reading the New York Times and HuffPo and whatever news items looked interesting off my Twitter feed.


Not any more. I think it started with the relentlessly bad economic forecasts - or worse, the happy-happy good news on Marketplace about the recovery of stock values and the rising market. It’s hard to cheer on Wall Street when you’re listening to this while driving past closed businesses and houses whose for-sale signs are two years old.

Then it started to seem like every other story made me want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over my ears. Revolutions. Rockets. Radiation. I began to dread the dulcet tones of Scott Simon and Renee Montagne. I’d let my eyes skim over the headlines and instead open “news” stories about comical crimes or fashion bulletins from the Spring Collection. I know the world’s going to hell in a handbasket, I’d think. Now show me the goddamn baby red panda video.

Some people escape into television, but most of the programming seems designed to drive home the point that we’re sliding into a culture of voyueristic debasement as we repeat the history of empires before us and fall from within. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out 3rd century Rome had a wildly popular “Baia Shores” play starring Snookia and Casus Averus.

Music can elevate you for a time, yes, but my family objects after the first couple hours of Gilbert and Sullivan or the Metropolitan Opera. Besides, five minutes after blissing out to the sublime Nessun dormi, I’ll remember that arts funding is going down the drain, along with teachers’ salaries, decent bridges, and the space program. Next thing I know I'm in the pantry, making lists of what we need to stock up on when society collapses.

I need something upon which to sail away for hours, until that nasty kink beneath my shoulder blade unloosens and I can contemplate the future without wanted to stab myself in the eye with a spork. There is no frigate like a book. Yes, indeed. But what to stock in the library at the end of the world? Cutting edge experimental fiction? The Man Booker shortlist? 19th century Russian novels?

Hell, no. When everything is circling the bowl, I want a complete escape. I want happy endings. And I want a guarantee that I'm going to enjoy the read.

For the first, I’m partial to apocalypses, disasters and dystopias. Reading about a future immeasurably worse than anything I forsee is very soothing. Flesh eating zombies? You bet. Plague wipes out nine-tenths of the earth’s population? I’m there. Mysterious force leaves most of America an uninhabited wasteland? Oh, yeah, baby. Spending a couple evening trapped in a dying community surrounded by vampires helps put those school board meetings in context.

Know what else I stock in the hold of that frigate? Romances. Specifically, romances set 200 years ago, when the telegraph was a still-undreamed of technical innovation and Napoleon threatened all of Europe. I can deal with Napoleon; he’s dead and his penis is stuffed and owned by a professor at Columbia. Between the covers of a Regency, he’s a convenient bogyman, adding a shiver to the story of love, loss, adventure and, inevitably, a happily-ever- after.

The last thing I want when I weigh anchor are old friends. I find myself revisiting my favorite fictional places; Barrayar and Aurora, MN, Three Pines and Longbourn House. I already know where I'm going, I know I'll enjoy the trip and I know I'm in good hands. No uncertainty, no disappointment, no risk; just pure satisfaction, like sinking into your own freshly-laundered bed after a long day. I don't know if we're going to be stuck in Libya for the next eight years. I don't know if Michele Bachmann is going to run for president. But I do know that Margaret Maron will always deliver a story that makes me forget these dreadful possibilities for a few hours.

Where, dear Reader, do you find your escape from reality?

Julia Spencer-Fleming is the Agatha and Anthony-award-winning author of the upcoming One Was A Soldier, the seventh Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter.


28 comments:

Roger Wright said...

I find that escape in stories. The kind that reach inside me, touch something mysterious and then pull up something ordinary. Like just now when I took off my glasses and rubbed the bridge of my nose just like your character Russ would do.

Or when A Marcus Sakey character walks down a street in Chicago I’ve walked down a million times and because he’s being chased by bad guys, I can feel him breathing hard and suddenly there is no such thing as Michelle Bachman, the governor of Wisconsin or any of the assorted real life characters who have made careers preying on the vulnerable.


And in my own stories here.

http://open.salon.com/blog/chicago_guy

Trying to make sense of that barrage of information you spoke to by picking out a moment and writing about it until I can breathe a bit easier and say to myself,

“Oh, now I get it.”

Bethany K. Warner said...

Good stories will probably always be my number one escape.

After that, gardening/yard work has a certain cathartic escapism to it, the mindless repetitive motions of pulling weeds or mowing the lawn.

Lately, it's also been BBC television shows on DVD. "Life on Mars" anyone?

Nikki B said...

Well, as crazy as it sounds I do get a relaxing escape when reading murder mysteries ;)
Sometimes listening to an audio-book of a lighter read, in fact the way I was introduced to audiobooks was about 15 years ago when my grandmother passed away. I needed to drive about 4 hours and was afraid of getting emotional, so I thought listening to a book in the car would take my mind to a different place. It worked and I've been hooked ever since (but still read real books of my favorite authors).
And on a final note, the escape is that much better when reading while sitting near a body of water!

Becky said...

Reading to my kids is the best escape from reality!

John said...

My escape from reality is generally being lost in the alternate world of a good book; science-fiction or fantasy, mystery or thriller, history or biography, I have plenty of old faves and even more newly discovered ones to more than serve as my escape pod. My overarching concern? these books are being written faster that I can keep up with (and I am not a slow reader by any means!) and my TBR pile keeps growing! However, if that was the worst of my problems I would be an uncommonly happy individual! :-) Thanks for listening!

John.

Gretchen Beetner said...

I definitely find my escape in books. I read pretty much anything but I find I can get really lost in a super long book. I recently read The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb. It was a fairly depressing subject but the characters were so well written I enjoyed spending so much time with them. Plus depressing books make anything I've got going on seem much better by comparison!

Anonymous said...

A good book and a good glass of wine!

Jacqueline Carney said...

Yes, a good book, a glass of wine and a sofa full (or better yet, a beach lounger) of dogs.

Linda Rangus said...

One of my favorite literary escapes is having tea with (i.e., reading about) the genteel and eccentric residents of Barsetshire in Angela Thirkell's novels, set in the England of the 1930s-50s.

bc2mc3 said...

Like you, I feel most comfortable in those venues we get to visit over and over again....Virgin River series, Chesapeake series with Sheryll Woods and any other contemporaries that have mutable characters leading to multiple books. Reading Jill Shalvis at the moment and am waiting for the next Emily March with Heartache Falls.

bookworm56 said...

Escaping in a good story, whether reading for myself or to children, is always a positive way of escape for me. It is nice to honor the words that someone else took the time to put on paper.

M Hart Healy said...

There is nothing better than being lost in a good book to take you away from the daily grind. It's better than Calgon!

kathy said...

I cannot imagine a better means of escape than what is offered by a well-written book. I suppose you might call a good story my drug of choice. Like you, Julia, I want a happy ending and a guaranteed good read when I need an escape, but until I began to think about your question, I hadn't tallied up how many different ways I've found to escape with a good book.

I have worn copies of favorite books I reach for whenever I need a 'comfort' read...and I have mint condition, first edition copies that I'd never read. But I'd grab that box of signed first editions on my way out the door if a hurricane ever forced me to evacuate.

Audiobooks on an mp3 player keep me entertained when I do housework, exercise, and even when I'm just out running errands. And just for fun, I put a copy of an audiobook version of Pride and Prejudice on my cell phone.

I keep my Kindle filled with books and within reach because it’s so easy on the eyes after a long day. I’m rarely without the Kindle if there's even a chance I might be stuck away from home waiting on someone or something.

Finally, I take comfort in the fact that I have a TBR pile. I’m the kind of reader who likes having unread books to look forward to. Each one holds the promise of an escape at some future time.

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