Take a Fiction Break

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As I wrote this, it was National Library Week and my husband, Jack, was watching paint dry, um, I mean watching golf. This used to annoy me, but now it pleases me as it means he has turned off the news and stopped hurling outraged—and sometimes obscene—comments at the big screen.

I am trying to convince Jack that we need to drastically limit our news intake. (Except for aNewsCafe.com , which I love and trust not only as it’s local, but largely because the nature of the format allows for open concourse and rebuttal.) Anyway, I’m suggesting a Media Diet—good for your health, way better for your blood pressure.  We used to take some pride in being well-informed. We read several newspapers and news magazines as well as watch the nightly news, both local and national. But has this made us happy and healthy? Well, no, quite the reverse.

I even wrote some light verse about it.

When information about our nation
Seems mired in lies and hype and strife.
One might surmise that it is time
To opt for a simpler life:

Take a fiction break my friend,
Take a fiction break!

It’s possible we might be a bit more sanguine if we read/heard about current events without wondering if we are being manipulated or misled. I’m not saying that one could ever suspend judgement—yellow journalism has existed for centuries—it’s just that modern media is so pervasive and seemingly inescapable that one must be constantly vigilant. I feel quite exhausted by it all, how about you?  Hmmm  . . . yeah, I thought so. If you’d like to join me in some prime escapism, featuring different lands, different times, I do have a few suggestions. Take a fiction break, my friend!

First up is Kristin Hannah’s atmospheric new novel, The Great Alone, set in 1974 Alaska. A former POW, traumatized by the Vietnam war, takes his wife and 13-year-old daughter “off the grid” to live in a tiny frontier community in a cabin with no plumbing or electricity. The title is inspired by the Robert W. Service poem, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.”

“Were you ever out in the Great Alone
When the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in
With a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf; and
You camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world,
Clean mad for the muck called gold”

I loved the descriptions of the rough and resilient people and the wild and gorgeous country that might allow you one mistake, but never more than one. This is essentially a love story with lots of family drama, but it avoids getting too soapy. And if you were one of the millions who enjoyed Hannah’s previous bestselling novel, The Nightingale, I guarantee this one will not disappoint. This 2018 audiobook is narrated by Julia Whelan and is fifteen hours of pure entertainment.

Do you need to get further away? And out of the twentieth century? Then try Only Killers and Thieves, an absolutely transporting novel set in 1885 in the Australian Outback. Paul Howarth’s debut novel is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy—brutal and raw, but so savagely vivid that you can’t stop listening even as you cringe. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) The adolescent McBride brothers, surviving on a small cattle ranch in the middle of a crippling drought, are at the center of an Australian epic of empire and race, vengeance and guilt. The audiobook is eleven and a half hours and perfectly performed by David Linski.

I have read quite a few WWII books, mostly set in Europe. But White Chrysanthemum differs in that it tells of a Korean girl abducted—like thousands of others—by the Japanese to serve as a “comfort woman” in a military brothel for Japanese soldiers. The author, Mary Lynn Braet, was inspired to write this story after visiting her mother’s native village in Korea. I knew that Japan had invaded Korea in 1910 and that the Koreans were not allowed to speak their own language and lived in their own country as second-class citizens. I did not know that the white chrysanthemum is the symbol of mourning in Korea. This tale of two sisters is heartbreaking, but I guarantee for ten and half hours you’ll forget your own woes.

Three books, all published this year, all receiving literary acclaim for great fiction, what else do they have in common? Well, they are all shocking, tragic and graphic, but then, so is the news, my friend. So is the news.

Hollyn Chase
Since her retirement, Hollyn Chase has served as VP of operations at Chez Chase--she also cooks and vacuums. Darling Jack, her husband of forty-two years, gets to be President; they agree that this is because he works much harder than she does. Being the VP is not all glitz and glamour, she does many mundane things. But she does them happily since she discovered that listening to audiobooks makes the boring bearable. Because her mind is always occupied, she's stopped plotting to overthrow the government. Her children, who rarely agree on anything, are both happy about this. Besides her addiction to fiction, she's fairly normal and sometimes even nice.
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23 Responses

  1. Yep — fiction is one of my favorite escapes. Thanks for the recommendations. The Great Alone keeps popping up on my radar. I’m currently enjoying life in England in the 1920s with Laurie King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series – endearing, smart characters with just the right amount of suspense. But I especially enjoy the wit and (ah, yes!) the civility. Take me away. 🙂

    • Avatar Sue Crandell says:

      Just finished Laurie King’s Locked Rooms. It’s the first one of her’s I’ve read. Set in foggy SF after the earthquake. A satisfying read. ( I’ll share if anyone wants to borrow it) . I love Cara Blacks mysteries set in Paris. They’re in the Shasta County Library. Kinda like Nancy Drew for grownup girls.

  2. Avatar john says:

    None of these are available at the local library.

    • Avatar Hollyn says:

      The library is pretty good about ordering the books their patrons request. Give it a try. I get the vast majority of my ebooks and audiobooks from the SF library. Big libraries are richer and have larger collections.

      • Avatar john says:

        I have requested titles you suggested but the library says they do not have the funds to purchase. Not all can get to SF to get a library card there.

  3. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Both Hollyn and Erin are keeping my Kindle credit card tipping toward maxing out. Thanks, both of you.

  4. Avatar s. keller says:

    Boy, can I relate to your first two paragraphs. AND – “But has this made us happy and healthy? Well, no, quite the reverse.”
    Thanks for the recommendations.

  5. Avatar bruce vojtecky says:

    I search through the book section of Goodwill Stores of which are numerous in Phoenix. With prices of hardbacks in excellent condition running between 1-3 dollars I can afford them, especially on every other Saturday when it is 50% off day on everything. Currently I am reading Hot Money by Dick Francis, one of my favorite authors.
    Interesting side note. I ran into another shopper checking books on his IPOD. Apparently he finds books in Goodwill stores and sells them on Amazon. No wonder traditional retail stores are going out of business.

  6. Avatar Carrie Dokter says:

    I am currently reading Ten Women by Serrano. One of ten free books I received on my kindle. I read every day. I just can’t be without a good story. Our grown up children are the same. I really enjoyed The Nightingale. Thank you for these suggestions, I am sure to purchase them.

  7. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    Those introductory paragraphs are solid gold. As for the recommendations, I might chase down “Only Killers and Thieves,” based on the Cormac McCarthy comparison. I’m sure “White Chrysanthemum” is great, but it covers dark territory that I just don’t want to visit right now.

    I stopped watching local TV news decades ago, put off by the banality. About a decade ago I gave up network/cable news as well—though I’ll admit to watching about 5 minutes of Fox, CNN, or MSNBC every now and then just to confirm that it’s still the same poisonous shit-show comprising 10% news and 90% pandering. I’m less successful at avoiding rancorous online political opinion sites, but I don’t really seek them out, either. I’ve stopped visiting the Record Searchlight’s website on a regular basis mainly because I can’t seem to avoid looking at the comments, which tend toward horrifyingly mean-ass and stupid.

    I prefer partisan political opinion offered up through the lens of humor: Jon Stewart’s show back in the day, and now John Oliver’s show on HBO. I normally read the British news magazine “The Economist” for relatively balanced news coverage from the perspective of (regarding the USA) a somewhat baffled ally. Since Trump, I’ve not been keeping up with The Economist, though. Their coverage of Trump and the rise of authoritarian nationalism in Europe is bummer-inducing.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      Wouldn’t it be great to start a television news program similar to the very civilized A News Cafe? Siiiiigh.

      • Avatar Hollyn says:

        What a brilliant idea. And I think Doni would do well on TV—she talks as well as she writes!

      • Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

        Hmmmmm. Public access TV comes to mind……nd not in a good way. 😉

        • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

          So true. I don’t have children; so AM Public Television is completely lost on me. I’ve often wondered if all the morning shows geared toward children are actually viewed by little ones and if they are money-makers for the stations. So often, such things as programming continue just because that’s how it’s always been done. Would the viewership – and donations – be higher if commercial-free, non-yakkety-yak news were being presented?

    • Avatar Hollyn says:

      Thanks for your kind words.
      I adore John Oliver and when I’m in the mood I go on YouTube to see what Randy Rainbow is up to. I think you’d like ONLY KILLERS AND THIEVES if you’re a McCarthy fan.

  8. Avatar Judy Salter says:

    You are splendid. I always like reading about books you like. Thanks for these new ideas.

  9. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    Thank you Hollyn for the recommendations. When you recommend a good book or author to someone, you are giving them a gift. I’ll make note of your selections.

  10. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    What a beautiful piece of writing you have shared with your substantive ideas like a “Media Diet” and solid replacement recommendations. I particularly applaud your use of “judgement” rather than the Americanized “judgment,” which has never seemed logical. The Brits have it right.

  11. Avatar Dale says:

    Thanks for forwarding your column… I did NOT want to delete it from our newsletter, but was outvoted.