How do you choose what book to read next?
An idly chosen book often surprises me with insight into my work-in-progress—so often that I now believe it’s not happenchance. So I’ve been experimenting with letting my subconscious choose the books I read for relaxation. A recent example–I’d chosen a crime novel to take on a trip, but at the last minute switched it out for a copy of Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Angle of Repose that had jumped into my hands at the University Bookstore a few months earlier. (I’d puzzled about that purchase—I’d already read the book, why did I need a copy?) Settling down to read on the plane I was soon fumbling in my bag for a notebook. Stegner’s novel is about a troubled marriage (actually two), which is what I’ve set up for The Hero’s Wife, the book that will follow A Triple Knot (the book about Joan of Kent I’ve just sent off to my publisher). As I re-encountered Susan and Oliver, so clearly incompatible, I heard Edward of Woodstock (aka the Black Prince) in my head grumbling about how little Joan appreciates how steadfastly he loved her through two decades of jumbled marriages. He’s nothing like Oliver or Susan, but it was as if Ned (we’ve grown close) was reading over my shoulder and empathically expressing his own pain. Oh. That’s why this book now.
Unpacking in my sister-in-law’s guestroom (same trip), I sat down on the floor to peruse the bookcase beside the bed. What treasures! Loads of fantasy, which I’ve been drawn to this past year. I’ve been reading around in Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment and Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde while reading fiction by Suzanne Collins, Ursula LeGuin, Graham Joyce, Teri Windling, George R R Martin, Susan Cooper…. I drew out John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things and half the afternoon disappeared. So I borrowed it from her. This time it was Lucie Wilton reading over my shoulder, seeing Alisoun Ffulford in the character of David (Alisoun, in case you don’t recall, is a prickly young woman in the Owen Archer series). The boy at the heart of the story shares a rigidity like Alisoun’s, isolating himself from the very people who might comfort him in his profound pain. Lucie was nudging me—you see? That’s at the heart of the book you’ve begun, Alisoun’s prickly armor.
Are my characters choosing the books I read? Who is so keen on fantasy, I wonder?