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Sunday, August 9, 2009
Unexpected Favorites by Neil Plakcy
Neil Plakcy is the author of Mahu, Mahu Surfer, Mahu Fire and Mahu Vice, mystery novels set in Hawaii, as well as the romance novels GayLife.com and Three Wrong Turns in the Desert (coming September 29 from Loose Id). He edited Paws & Reflect: A Special Bond Between Man and Dog and the gay erotic anthologies Hard Hats and Surfer Boys.
Plakcy is a journalist and book reviewer as well as an assistant professor of English at Broward College's south campus in Pembroke Pines. He is vice president of the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
Unexpected Favorites by Neil Plakcy
If you know me as a writer of a police procedural series featuring a gay cop in Honolulu, Hawaii, you might make some assumptions about what I like to read. For the most part, you’d be right. I love mysteries, an affection I nourished throughout my teen years on a steady diet of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, and other classic detective authors.
I read almost everything that comes out in the gay mystery niche, which is bigger than you might think—there were 19 nominees for the Lambda Literary Award for best gay men’s mystery last year. It’s not a stretch to assume I’d read other gay fiction and at least a few books from the best-seller list. Delve a little deeper into my background and find that I was an English major in college, that I have a master’s in creative writing and I teach writing at a college, and you can see that I might appreciate James Joyce, Jane Austen and George Eliot.
But I have a few unexpected favorites, too. There’s a fantasy trend that runs through my reading, from Tolkien to Rowling to Neal Stephenson, whose works encompass historical and speculative fiction. Naomi Novik and her Napoleonic dragon series, and the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, feed that appetite.
Those British mysteries honed my appetite for Anglophilia. I read the R. F. Delderfield historicals in high school, as well as the village stories of Miss Read, a pseudonymous country school teacher whose books are as charming as Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Ramotswe series, without quite so much murder and mayhem. (Though when the gypsies bring their carnival to Fairacre, watch out!)
When I ran out of library books at home, I could always dip into my mother’s teetering stack of Harlequin romances, and from them I developed a taste for chick lit and humorous romance. I love what are called “Aga Sagas” in Britain, big thick romances by Jilly Cooper and others, named for a kind of stove.
Maybe that’s what led me to Laurie Colwin.
For the most part, I don’t reread books. Colwin is one major exception. Happy All The Time is like comfort food to me, something I dip into over and over again. Colwin’s charm, insight into human behavior, and the way her domestic details illuminate character draw me back to her whenever I need a boost.
I’ve worn out one paperback edition and replaced it with a newer one. I’ve read and enjoyed her other books, including the two collections of her Gourmet magazine essays called Home Cooking. But Happy All The Time is the book that draws me back. It’s the story of two young men of wealth, education and privilege, living in 1980s Boston and New York, and the women they fall in love with. It’s a simple story, in the end, but the characters are so vivid, the locales so perfectly evoked, that it somehow transcends its simple material.
I’ll bet we all have one or more of those unexpected favorites. What are yours?
What might your friends or fans be surprised to learn that you read?