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I stopped reading commercial fiction because I stopped trusting the author to transport me.  I had stumbled on too many flaws: holes in the plot, predictable narrative structure, wooden characters, harm to women and children as an engine of plot, outmoded models of womanhood, failure to challenge the status quo, etc.  If the whole point of reading commercial fiction is guilty pleasure, too much of the pleasure had had to give way to tripping on what had appeared to me to be glaring mistakes of craft or politics.

Then Jenny Colgan came into my hands, placed there by Marian Misters at The Sleuth of Baker Street.  Hurrah for hand-sold books from independent booksellers!

I had gone in looking for a mystery that featured trees.  It’s an odd ask, I know, but I was reading The Overstory by Richard Powers and just loving it.  I wanted that plus murder mystery.

Marian suggested a mystery set in a bookstore with a tree growing inside it.  SOLD.  Bookshop as setting pretty much guarantees reading pleasure, right?  She warned me, though, that the book contained magic.  She was right to warn me.  I enjoyed the book, I even enjoyed it enough to go back the next day and buy the next installment, but I’m done now.

When I enthused about the bookstore setting, Marian also suggested Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop on the Shore, and this is a book I not only enjoyed but can wholeheartedly endorse.  There are some snags of chronology, the narrative structure is not at all innovative, there is a heteronormative romance with the predictable push/pull of attraction, harm to children is an engine of plot, and there is–spoiler alert–a happy ending.  None of this mattered because it was all done deftly, and I was utterly swept up, and then I went out and bought three more of her books (The Bookshop on the Corner, the first in the series, and her two boarding school books, Class and Rules, which I enjoyed enough, but I’m probably done now.)


So, the matter of trust, it turns out, is not about the author but the genre, and I found an author I trust.  Jenny Colgan delivers a good, guilty pleasure.  Her female protagonists are feisty and independent, and that’s enough to counter any arguments I might have with other aspects of the genre.

And the bookish ingredients are wonderful.  Her booksellers are really good at putting the right book in a lost reader’s hand.  Her narrator is really spot on about the fallout from cuts to library services, about the very slim margins in bookselling and about the precarious balance of a bookshop’s quality assurance and ability to stay afloat.  The mobile bookshop creates community wherever it goes.  There is a jaw-dropping private library around which a whole manor is built.  Some of the bookish content is trenchant commentary and some of it is utterly romantic, but there are actual lives to be saved and transformed by books–selling them, reading them, recommending them.

Obviously, it was the bookish ingredients that brought me to these books, but it was such a delight to revel in the joys of commercial fiction.  I took comfort in the assured structure.  I loved the happy ending.  I longed for the book-loving hero to sweep the book-loving heroine off of her feet.

And I’m now on the lookout for more excellent authors of commercial fiction who will sweep me off my feet.

If you’re tempted to read these, and if it matters to you to read in order, begin at the beginning with The Bookshop on the Corner.


This post is brought to you by Kerry Clare, who pushed me back to blogging with her Blog School. Check it out.

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Dear Blog

Dear Blog,

I am so sorry for my long absence.  It’s not you, it’s me.  Or it’s February, which has turned into March, which since they are months require capital letters, but if they didn’t, I’d have used them, because even though there hasn’t actually been a winter, it’s been Winter, you know? 

I saw the year’s first snowdrops today, though, so perhaps pathetic fallacy will out and I will soon sprout new posts.

I just want you to know that I do think about you often, even if I have not made it to the pile of posts waiting to be written. 



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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

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Happy Bloomsday

He can find no trace of hell in ancient Irish myth, Haines said, amid the cheerful cups.  The moral idea seems lacking, the sense of destiny, of retribution.


Here is a piece from Salon.com about Ulysses as tweets.

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I can read in red.

I can read in blue.

I can read in pickle color too.

Mississippi, Indianapolis and Halleluja, too!I can read them with my eyes shut!

That is VERY HARD to do!

But it’s bad for my hat and makes my eyebrows get red hot.

SO … reading with my eyes shut I don’t do an awful lot.

And when I keep them open

I can read with much more speed.

You have to be a speedy reader

’cause there’s so, so much to read!

from I Can Read with My Eyes Shut

Dr. Suess

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image credit

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  May the bottles you upend and the books you read give you a wonderful new perspective on things.

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I don’t know if you are guilty of the p-word, but I was thrilled to discover that humans are not the only ones to do it:

Behaviorists developed an animal model of procrastination with implications for human work habits.  When they trained a pigeon to press a lever for food and required it to press a high, fixed number of times before getting the food, it pecked slowly at the beginning of each series as if it were putting off the hard work it had to do.  The scientists found that they could get rid of this slowdown by making the rewards more frequent, or by spacing them randomly. (115)

Mo Willems’s Pigeon

Even better, there may be an evolutionary advantage:

Procrastination has a long evolutionary history—even pigeons do it.  Why should that be?  Part of the reason is that procrastination is sometimes advantageous.  Ancient Egyptians had two hieroglyphs that have been translated as “procrastinate.”  One meant harmful laziness in completing an important task, such as tilling the fields at the appropriate time in the Nile flood cycle.  The other hieroglyph denoted the useful habit of avoiding unnecessary work and impulsive effort. (117)

from Alice Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain

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