My apologies to anyone trying to read my blog in the last couple of weeks. We were having technical difficulties and it took a while to solve them. Also, I’ve been off to writer conventions—The Pacific Northwest Writers Association in Seattle and the Chanticleer Reviews in Bellingham—getting refueled. My own latest book, Home Fires, was a finalist in the PNWA Nancy Pearl Award contest and won an honorable mention in the Readers Favorite International Award for realistic fiction, which have clearly distracted me also.
However, thanks to my persistent tech guru, Kate Williams, I’m back on-line. The title of this blog is a bit of a misnomer, since I’ve been buried in books (and authors) all summer, and left me wondering anew how readers can possibly make choices. I understand why readers cloister themselves in one genre or another and close the doors to keep the hoards at bay even though I think they greatly restrict themselves by doing so. I also wonder how many people have given up reading, overwhelmed, on the one hand, by the demands of the tech revolution and by the flood of self-published books on the other. One statistic I picked up (sorry, I didn’t note the source) reports 80% of Americans haven’t read a book in the past year, but 85% want to write one.
Make of that what you can. For me, the first figure says the social world of the Internet has flooded our lives—it has flooded mine—washing away the hours we used to spend reading, and the second says everyone has a story to tell. We’re going to have to regain our footing, wake up to the lost hours, and focus on those spots in the digital world that feed our particular needs, letting the rest slide by. If human history is any guide at all, sharing stories is one of those basic human needs. Another truth picked up at the conventions: word of mouth remains the most effective way to spread the word.
So please, if you’ve read a good book, share the news—not only to your friends, but with your local library, your independent bookstore, and the web as well. You don’t have to be a computer guru to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Finally, comment on this blog. Tell me the best book you’ve read this year, and I’ll post the news here.
Let me start the ball rolling (again) by adding a book to the list of novels I started earlier: novels whose characters are caught up in the crises of our times. Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.
The time: August, 1944. The setting: the historic walled town of Saint-Malo, on the Brittany coast north of Normandy, occupied by the Germans. The characters: twelve-year- old Marie-Laure, blind since she was six, takes refuge under the bed as allied bombers seek to drive the Germans out. Her great uncle, who is her sole remaining guardian, has not returned. In a hotel five blocks away, Werner Pfenning, a German private, seeks shelter in the cellar. “Is this it?” he calls out. No one answers. A third and equally important character: the radio. Finally, an enormous diamond, Marie’s father and others are determined to save from the Germans despite its legend that anyone who possesses it is cursed—the possessor will live forever but calamities will befall his or her loved ones until it is returned to the sea.
Doerr takes us to the past to trace the stories of Marie and Werner, gradually bringing us back to this desperate scene and the post-Normandy defeat of the Germans. The deeply personal development of these characters brings the trauma of war home—we live it. We are pulled through with the characters by hope in the form of the radio. Doerr opens the story with a quote from Goebbles: “It would not have been possible for us to take power or to use it in the ways we have without the radio.” But the “us” in the quote is far more universal than Goebbles intended; the radio gives everyone power. This, along with the Braille Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, which is Marie’s vision of the world beyond, become the light we cannot see. And the role played by the gem? Read the story and conclude for yourself whether you believe the legend or not. Whether you do or not, you won’t regret the read.