Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Scarlet R by Judy Greber aka Gillian Roberts

Judy Greber is a peace-loving woman who lives in Northern California with her husband, her ancient cat Mehitabel (does anybody recognize that name?) and the world’s cutest puppy. Judy has written four mainstream novels.

          Judy mutates into Gillian Roberts when embarking upon crime.  Gillian’s supposedly penned sixteen mysteries, including the award-winning Amanda Pepper series, all of which are about to be released in e-book form by Untreed Reads. (And Caught Dead in Philadelphia, the first in the series is now available in every e-format and from Untreed Reads itself.)

          Gillian—(or maybe Judy?)—recently finished a “novel with murder” set in 17th century Mexico. When/if it’s published, the ego and the alter-ego will battle it out as to whose name goes on the cover.

by Gillian Roberts
 I’m not calling it a bucket list because it isn’t a list—it’s a single item, and it isn’t something I want to contemplate doing before I die—it’s something I’m about to do right now.         I want to read.

        Of course I already read, but right now, I want reading to be my answer when anybody asks me, “What do you do?”

        I want to say, “I read. In broad daylight.”

        Not that I’ve ever stopped reading. I’m never without a book, and if I were forced to choose between reading and writing, or, like some other writers, unable to read fiction while writing it, I’d stop writing fiction. But I have nonetheless accumulated hundreds of unread books. These are physical books, p-books as my sons call them. We aren’t going to talk about those electronic volumes accumulating on my Kindle. Nobody but I can see them. They don’t totter in huge piles or fill up the secret insides of a large cabinet or fill bookshelves.

 I should feel guilty about my book-buying problem, but I don’t. Diamonds aren’t my best friends. I have a pathetically small collection of shoes, and when stressed, I do not seek out retail therapy.

But I do buy books. New books, second-hand books, paperbacks and hardbacks. I also borrow them from the library and from friends. (Those don’t accumulate. I do try to get them back to their owners promptly.) But if there is a way to acquire good things to read, I do it.

Then one unhappy moment, I looked at the huge inviting stacks and did the math. Assuming I can read 50 pages an hour (which is definitely not always true and depends on the book) and assuming the average length of all the books still unread here is 350 pp,(which is also not necessarily true) how long would it take me to read what I already owned?

I counted how many books I had and multiplied how many hours reading them might take.

Then I factored in my age.

This was a sad moment of truth. At the rate I’m going, if I don’t buy another book (and what are the chances of that?) I will have read down the piles when I’m 247.

Raped by reality, a good friend used to call moments like this. 

Given that a writer seldom actually (willingly) retires, is never given that gold watch and told to go forth and enjoy indolence, there would never be that fabled easy-chair and long hours with books. I would be stuck with my usual reading pattern. That would be having it as that final activity of the day, enjoying a book in bed until my eyes crossed and I accidentally dropped the volume on the head of the poor old cat curled on my lap.

Either I could hope to be the new Methuselah or I could accept the idea that I’d never make a real dent in the bookpile.

And then I had a heretical idea.  I’d (finally!) finished the new book, dressed it warmly, packed it some food for the road and sent it off to find its place in the world. As usual, I then thought about what I wanted to do next, which also as usual, meant what did I now want to write.

And then I actually thought outside the box, or more accurately, outside the manuscript.  What did I really want to do next? The answer was clear: I wanted to read other people’s writing, not when I was at the point of exhaustion and the day’s work was done, but in the daytime.

This, to me, is a heretical, daring and guilt-inducing idea.

While buying books is not fraught with guilt (I’m helping my profession if nothing else) reading them in broad daylight is. The Reading Nazi’s rules clearly state that reading for pleasure while the sun is shining is allowed under only five conditions:

1.                  You are on vacation anywhere, especially on a beach or by a pool.

2.                  You are on a plane, train or bus, getting yourself to somewhere else.

3. You’re taking a course and the book is required reading. (That is the real reason to be a lit major.)

4. You are reading to small children. You’re being useful: they can’t read them themselves and also, often as not, it eases them into naps. (While they are napping, however, you cannot read for your own pleasure—that’s a time to get things done.)

5. You’re reading pleasurable books to the old or infirm. This is a good and virtuous thing and for somebody else’s enjoyment, so this is allowed.

Aside from those exceptions to the rules, daytime reading is for utilitarian reasons. It is okay to read a useful text before dark. Consulting a cookbook, doing homework or research, checking a word in the dictionary, solving a problem with a helpful how-to do-it magazine article, reading the news--not Hollywood gossip—all of those are permitted.

But reading for pure pleasure when you could (and should!) be Doing Something Useful—that’s forbidden. Downright sinful.

I come from a family of readers and I’m sure nobody ever told me these things or set down these rules but they are firmly imbedded in my old brain. Are they in the atmosphere, floating around? Do other people feel that way?

In any case, that’s why breaking the rules will be so exciting.

So what am I going to do next? I’m going to read. Anything, any time, anywhere. I’m thrilled by the prospect of all those good books awaiting me.

 But aside from the pleasure of what I’ll find between those covers is the guilty pleasure of what’s already in my head. Habits are hard to break, so I’m sure I will be constantly on the lookout for a great gaunt man in Puritan garb, ready to make me wear the scarlet “R” for the sinful pleasure of reading for fun in the daylight.

Who could ask for anything more?


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Jude - Hey and Welcome!!!

I loved reading this and you made me chuckle out loud. I am notorious for reading during the daylight hours. And if you could see the dust bunnies here you would believe me. And would probably tell me it is past time to put the books down and grab a vacuum cleaner! and I would have to agree.

That puppy of yours?! That ADORABLE puppy? Have I mentioned before how very smitten I am with that puppy?!! I think Harley would be smitten with that puppy too.


danielle-momo said...

Well Judy you can put the scarlet-R on me too.
Can't do a thing or go some place without a book. Reading in daylight is more enjoyable than at night because you are less tired.
Enjoy your reading !

jenny milchman said...

What a fantastic post! I too laughed out loud. I am hoping you wind up Methuselah so there is no problem, but since you can't 100% count on that, I say, break all the rules. Read in daylight! Read when there are a ton of other things that need doing! I'll wear a scarlet R along with you.

Just as soon as I'm done editing :)

N. J. Lindquist said...

I SOOO relate! Books have been my best friends since I was able to turn pages on my first board books.

There is a time for everything...

Bobbi Mumm said...

Judy, what a fantastic post! Yes, I have to steal away to my bed with a book because my upbringing says 'if I'm sitting around the house reading people will know I'm not working'. I also had that instilled, somehow, at a young age.

lil Gluckstern said...

Having enjoyed your books in the past, I'm thrilled to see you advocating breaking the rules. I'm semi-retired, so I should have a spotless house, all my chores done, but no, I'm learning to read in the daytime or anywhere. I take my kindle everywhere and catch up on a short story or two. I bring the charging chord just in case there's an earthquake here in the Bay Area, so I will not be without a book. I'm starting to give away books, because I did the math just like you, and I figured someone should enjoy them:) And Kay; that is some snazzy outfit you're wearing-or don't they say that anymore?

Gillian Roberts said...

It is sooo lovely to be among my people! I just knew I'd find kindred souls here. (Or are you all "enablers", encouraging my depraved ways?) Judy

Shirley Wetzel said...

Hi Judy, great to hear you are writing again - but don't let that get in the way of reading!

I'll wear that Scarlet R too. Even though almost all the books I read are "work" because I review them, I get to choose which ones to review, and somehow I always end up with my favorite authors. Yours were some of the first, and I loved every Amanda Pepper you wrote.

Anonymous said...

I totally loved this!!!! Sometimes I read in the daytime too!


Phyllis said...

Gillian (I know you best as the author of some of my favorite books.)

I will be happy to join your day time reading enablers as I am both a day and night READER, and have never regretted it. And like some of the other posters, I never go anywhere without one or more books.

So banish that guilt, and proudly read in public while the sun shines!

Anonymous said...


Enjoyed your post and applaud your decision to read, read, and read some more.

Re Amanda Pepper: TILL THE END OF TOM is one of my favorite books and I just quoted the opening line as one of my favorite openers on
Jean Henry Mead’s Dec. 1 blog:

"My mind was on Steinbeck; my foot was on a hand." --TILL THE END OF TOM by Gillian Roberts.

Love it!

Pat Browning

Gillian Roberts said...

Thank you all so very much! This has been fun. I think we need t-shirts with the Scarlet R on them...and then we need to go out and read in public places when everybody else is working...Could we be the Occupy Park Benches and Read movement?
Thank you, Pat, for mentioning that first line. You must know how great it feels (and how rare it is) when a truly good sentence happens upon us, and that one made me chuckle when it appeared. And--how tidy is this?--if you look in your copy of Till the End of Tom, you'll see that I thank Shirley Wetzel because a part of her review of Claire and Present Danger gave me an idea for Till the End of Tom's plot. Having a reviewer help you with the next book is truly, truly rare!
Thank you, Kaye, for inviting me, and thank all of you for making this such a pleasure. Here's to lots and lots of terrific reading!

Lucy Burdette said...

Hi Judy/Gillian, this is exactly exactly exactly how I feel! Gotta keep buying books though because what if you're not in the mood for any of those on the stack? it takes a certain frame of mind to choose what comes next...

I think this would be a fabulous New Year's resolution--read more books!

Phyllis said...

Lucy, this would be a resolution I could keep!

Gail said...

Judith/Gillian: I have long been an avid Amanda Pepper fan. I will be attending the Mystery Writers' Conference this July in Marin and am delighted that you will be there, too. Reading is a joy, whether it be in the Lazy-Boy, by a pool, or in the wee small hours... It is a good occupation!