The LDR International Book Club

Books that Matter

In Which Beth Keeps Her Books by David Malki!

“You do realize you have two copies of this book?” said the Barnes and Noble’s cashier. She held up the offending copies of  Jo Walton’s Farthing.

My boyfriend and I nodded, grinning. I had a feeling we’d be asked why.

“You can’t share?” she asked.

“We live a bit too far away for that,” I replied.

And it’s true. The Atlantic Ocean means that reading a book together simultaneously requires two copies. While we do have a fairly fluid library, we’re two bibliophiles. We enjoy reading books, we share favorites with each other. When I moved back to America, we wanted to come up with something we could do together apart from watching TV shows.

So we started simple. Both of us are fantasy/science fiction fans. We looked to an author who we both enjoy (and a book in his collection he hadn’t read yet): Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. We started slow, a chapter or two a week as he is finishing his PhD and I was interning/job hunting. Plus, we weren’t sure how well it would work.

Every couple of days we would read a chapter or three and then discuss what we liked/didn’t like about it, with the aim of finishing before his visit so we could watch the miniseries together during his first visit.

Mission accomplished!

We’re now in the middle of Farthing, an alternative-WWII murder mystery largely taking place at a wealthy home in the English countryside. It’s fun to read a book at the same time as a friend, to discuss what’s going on. “Can you believe what happened? What do you think will happen next? I really don’t like this part” are common phrases from us while we Skype.

Now, we think about which books to read well in advance. We’re thinking of reading Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker soon, and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s fun to pick out a book and say, “we might both enjoy this, let’s read it together!”

Our international book group is a great way for us to talk about things we both love: books and reading. We still recommend each other books to read (from he, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, from me, Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother). But we have books that we read and discover together, even across the Atlantic Ocean.

Books that Matter: Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Guest Post by Haley Whitehall)

Books that Matter

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce the first ever guest post at She Thinks Too Much! Today’s post is written by Haley Whitehall. Haley writes a great blog about the writing process, creativity, historical fiction and language. You can read it here.

Without further adieu, here is Haley’s post!

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was the first book I’ve read by the riverboat pilot turned writer.  I remember reading this book for the first time in the 5th grade. I read it quickly because I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. My real love of the Civil War era began in the 5th grade. Many things (and books) contributed to this and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was one of them.

Twain’s classic tale, often referred to as the Great American Novel, captivated me. The story of Huck, a teenaged misfit, who floats on a raft down the Mississippi River with an escaping slave, Jim, supercharged my imagination. Twain’s colorful characters and regional expressions kept me thinking even past the last page. Made me think what I could write about the time period.

When I read it the version had the N-word. I am going to weigh in a little on the controversy over releasing a cleaned up version of the book that changes the N-word to slave. First of all, not all of these people were slaves. Second, Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884 when the term was widely accepted. It is a primary source and changing it diminishes the literary value of the novel.

The N-word served as a conversation starter about the racism that existed during that time period. I wanted to learn more. I lived at the library for the next three years devouring every Civil war and Antebellum book I could find. Now I am a historical fiction writer and I owe that in part to Mark Twain.

Most of all, I learned from his writing style. Huckleberry Finn not only inspired interest in the nineteenth century U.S, but it also inspired my writing voice. I learned to write slave dialect by reading Mark Twain’s books. I learned how to weave in historical detail and the mindset of the time into my characters and setting.

They say that in order to be a better writer you need to read, read, read. For me that started with Huckleberry Finn. Come to think of it, it is about time I reread it again!

Haley Whitehall


Books that Matter: Smiley’s People by John Le Carre

Books that Matter

So, why not one of the other three Le Carre books that I’ve read?

Because this one…this one really got my gut. Le Carre’s books all manage to grab me, particularly because of how human his characters are. No one is entirely perfect, entirely good or entirely bad.

I really liked Smiley’s People because it was very much George Smiley alone. We really got to see how he operates and functions as an operative, and how he acts as part of his own mission, rather than one ordered by the Circus. Of course, characters like Toby Esterhase and Peter Guillam show up to help out in their own ways, but this book truly belongs to Smiley.

Another reason why I enjoyed this book so much is because of how we could see some of Karla’s motivation. He becomes more of a character in this book, rather than the threatening, murky photograph he is in the previous two books of the trilogy.

Moral conundrums and espionage, two of my favorite topics to read about. Le Carre is the man for that.

Books that Matter: Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McClosky

Books that Matter

Not my usual choice. Make Way for Ducklings is my favorite children’s book. It’s a cute story about a family of mallards who go to live in the Boston Public Garden.

I love this book for the illustrations, not so much for the story. The ducks are adorable, the city itself given such character. I grew up by a pond, so we always had ducks swimming in our backyard. Going into Boston as a child inevitably meant visiting the Public Garden, where there is a statue of Mrs Mallard with her ducklings.

But the illustrations! As a child, just as today, I would spend hours looking at the pictures, seeing how such character would come through in the illustrations. Understandably, it won a Caldecott award.

Books that Matter: Over to You by Roald Dahl

Books that Matter

It wouldn’t be a book list of mine without something by Roald Dahl. The difficulty was choosing which of his books to highlight, as I enjoy so many of them.

One kept sneaking back into my mind–Over to You, his collection of RAF inspired tales. Not the first of Mr Dahl’s books that I read, but the one that I have read most frequently.

This book is a collection of some of his earliest work. There’s an elegance to it, a lyricism that delivers a punch straight to the gut. There’s humor in some of the stories, such as ‘Madame Rosette,’ but there is a poignancy to  others that stays, such as “They Shall Never Grow Old.”

I discovered this book shortly after developing my interest in the RAF and the Second World War. It was a fitting match, stories that captured camaraderie and sorrow.

I’ve read most of Dahl’s other adult stories, but these are the ones that stick with me the most.

Edit: Holmes has asked me to clarify something: it was she who reintroduced Mr Dahl into my life, NOT the RAF. However, I stand by my “I chose this book over the others” because of the RAF.

Books that Matter: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Books that Matter

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux was the first book by a French novelist that I finished. I remember reading this book the summer before starting my freshman year of high school and loving it. I hadn’t seen the musical, I wasn’t familiar with the story at all (apart from an episode of Wishbone I may have seen six or seven years before).

Leroux’s tale captivated me. The story of a disfigured, mad genius living under the Paris Opera House…just the sort of exciting, nailbiting stuff I loved to read (I haven’t read the book in five or so years, but I read it pretty frequently my junior year of high school). It was suspenseful. It got me thinking, wanting to write stories of my own. I wanted to know more about Erik, Christine, Raoul…I found them to have an interesting dynamic. Love triangle and all that.

Most of all, I liked the style that Leroux wrote the story in (or more correctly, the style it was translated in). My copy was almost journalistic, before it switched to a more traditional story. And I liked the opening, with the narrator finding the gold ring beneath the Opera House. The style worked brilliantly for keeping me on the edge of my seat, even with later readings.

I need to get my copy back. It’s been too long.