BOOK & BLOG
April 21, 2008
Books of the Week: “Diary of a Provincial Lady” by E.M. Delafield and “Hello, He Lied” by Lynda Obst
I didn’t plan to read two books that are worlds apart; it just happened. HELLO, HE LIED is Lynda Obst’s account of her tumultuous career in Hollywood as a producer, and how she got there. Since it was published in 1996, I wonder what she would tell us in an update. Then, she felt that the lot of women in Hollywood was much improved. Perhaps she wouldn’t feel so positive today. But that’s a digression. Obst’s struggle and the daily tension of her job would drive me into a nervous breakdown, but she’s made of sterner stuff, and her account of her daily battles is intriguing, if exhausting. For a snapshot of how Hollywood works, HELLO, HE LIED can’t be beat.
DIARY OF A PROVINCIAL LADY would seem at first glance to have nothing in common with Obst’s book, but on reflection I think there are some similarities. First published in 1931, Delafield’s book deals with the day to day thoughts and problems of an intelligent middle-class woman in England during the time between the wars. Her income is down, her husband unresponsive, and she has to cope as best she can with all kinds of catastrophes that are thrust upon her. She handles issues from the maid’s quitting to the unexpected production of kittens by a cat her daughter’s smuggled in the house, deals with the vicar’s wife (who pops in for a visit and stays and stays and stays), and buys an evening dress on impulse when she can ill afford it, just to keep her spirits up. I can sympathize with her problems just as I could sympathize with Obst’s as she struggles to keep afloat in a dog-eat-dog world. The Provincial Lady’s problems may be on a different scale, but they are just as real.
I recommend both books, but obviously they’re for different reading moods.
This is my busy season since I almost always have a May book. Before I began working in the publishing industry, I didn’t know it had seasons, but it does, just like the movie business. There are Spring books and Fall books and books that come out in between. The Sookie books are Spring books, and they’re the ones for which I tour. (I might do a couple of signings for the Harper books, but nothing as elaborate -- and this year, there isn’t a Harper.)
Since I’m Guest of Honor at Malice Domestic, I have two big events coming up instead of one. Malice is the first mystery convention I ever attended. In fact, until I got nominated for an Agatha seventeen years ago, I had no idea there were mystery conventions, that readers actually got together and discussed the books they loved and hated, that writers could actually meet these readers face to face. It was an enchanting and terrifying experience to talk to people who had read my books and had opinions about them. I made friends then whom I have kept for all these years.
Since that Malice Domestic in 1991, I’ve attended so many mystery conventions I couldn’t begin to remember them all. I’ve also become a frequent guest at romance conventions and science fiction conventions, and this summer I’ll attend a conference for horror writers. I’ve met wonderful readers and writers who put me in awe; and I’ve also encountered a jerk or two in both categories. But on the whole, talking to my readers and to other writers is an overwhelmingly positive experience. So many people don’t read anymore; it’s just outstanding to walk into a roomful of individuals who enjoy the printed words, who revere the people who produce them, who have intelligent opinions on the quality of the words they’ve read.
Touring is very much like a convention stretched out long into little segments. You meet the people in a more up-close and personal way, in smaller groups, and instead of sharing the spotlight with a panel of other writers, you’re in front of the group all on your own. There’s a lot of fun in this. The questions can be entertaining, the compliments of the attendees can make you want to get back to writing with renewed enthusiasm, and it’s always humbling to meet the people who buy your books, from the booksellers to the individual readers. Every now and then, as at conventions, you meet the reader who asks you the rude or unanswerable question, but that’s pretty rare.
So in the coming weeks while I’m on the road, I hope to meet some of you who are reading this, and I hope you enjoy the book you’ve come to buy. I’ll do my best to have a conversation with you, and I hope you feel turning out on a busy evening was worth your time. Until then
© 2009 Charlaine Harris