Your Reading Life

Good for Book Clubs

We RIFers are voracious readers and we love to tell a good story. Your Reading Life features personal essays, reader reviews — anything that embraces our literary lifestyle. Pull up a mug of your favorite cozy beverage and join in on the conversation.

Your Reading Life Good for Book Clubs

7 Variations on the Epistolary Novel

The epistolary novel, even the very term, smacks of anachronistic formality—one might expect characters to “call upon” one another in such stories. But the letter form offers fiction writers all kinds of fascinating angles through which to not only observe characters but to present them. If I begin reading a novel and the first thing I come across is a salutation, I immediately have to figure out: who wrote the letter? To whom are they writing? What is their relationship? And why is the person writing? These are dramatic questions for a reader to be asking, and all this just from the sight of “Dear…”

Moreover, the epistolary novel is commonly defined as a novel made of letters, but it can include any kind of documented communication pertaining to the characters. And so with each variation of the “letter” comes a new set of implicit usage guidelines (e.g., we write very differently in an email to a friend than in, say, a formal resignation letter or a note-to-self reminder), which we the readers, as cultural participants ourselves, understand and completely relate to and which knowledge the author exploits for the sake of intricately and practically revealing character through a notion called “discrepant awareness,” which really just means dramatic irony, which really just means that some characters are aware of things while others aren’t, but the reader knows everything except for how the story unfolds and thus creates the tension of which great stories are made.

To show you what I mean, here are seven variations on the “novel in letters,” from diaries to Instant Messenger, from yearnings to God to notes in the margins of a library book. (Technically, there are only three types of epistolary novels—mono-, dia-, and polylogic, i.e., one character’s documents, two characters’, or several, respectively—but those are narrative POV distinctions and I’m interested in the forms these works use, which is totally different and so screw the academics—here’s my list.)

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

The Art of the Cliffhanger

Peter Clines, author of the science fiction graphic novel series Ex-Heroes, reveals his secrets for writing the perfect cliffhanger.

I love a good cliffhanger. One of those moments when you leave the audience dangling with nothing but their own guesses to explain what happens next. I like writing them, reading them, and watching them. A well-done one is wonderful on a bunch of levels.

As my own writing style’s developed, I’ve kind of become a fan of what you could call the “sliding-up-to-the-cliff” cliffhanger, where the reader’s given all the clues and facts and left on their own to make that last, inevitable step.

All that being said, when someone recently asked me about cliffhangers, my mind immediately went to the obvious place. And that place was Doctor Who.

This isn’t much of a shock, in retrospect. While lots of you know the newer show, the original had a very different format. Back in the olden times—when I counted my age in single digits and British sci-fi only came to us through the Boston PBS station—Doctor Who tended to be two hour stories broken up into four half hour episodes. And each of these episodes would end on a big cliffhanger with a shrieking musical stinger.

It didn’t take me long (well, okay, maybe a year or two—again, barely stretching into double digits) to recognize a certain pattern. You could call it a good ground rule for a cliffhanger—our first point. Pretty much every episode would end with things suddenly getting somehow worse. The disintegrator ray makes the robot grow for some reason. The Doctor attempts to distract Sutekh and finds himself severely outmatched. One of my favorites had the Doctor delivering the ominous closing line “I thought I’d locked the enemy out. Instead I’ve locked it in… with us.”

Your Reading Life Good for Book Clubs

RIF’s Favorite Reads of January

Here on the East Coast, we’re still recovering from the near-thirty inches of snow we received last week (thanks Jonas!), but you won’t hear us complaining. We loved spending our wintry weekend hunkered down with our noses in a good book. Here are the books we’ve been loving this month. Click on the images to shop our picks, then let us know in the comments what you’ve been reading!

Your Reading Life Good for Book Clubs

Bookmarks as Tombstones

As an avid reader, I too must face the inevitable issues of the practice. Which book to choose? Catch up on the classics? Or stay relevant with a recent release? Should I push myself to finish the one I’m currently reading or find something more compelling? Am I giving up too soon, though? What will people say if they find out I couldn’t finish it? And how am I supposed to read a hardcover in bed, anyway? And where do I put all these damn things?

But maybe the most pressing predicament of the practical reading life is this: Where the hell are all my bookmarks?

This is how it goes every time: While reading I’ll suddenly need to stop, so I look around for something—anything—to stuff between its pages. At first I’ll grab whatever’s near me—McDonald’s receipts, overdue bills, wedding invitations I have no plan on accepting—and use those, but you’d be surprised how quickly that sort of day-to-day flotsam runs out. Frustrated I enter my library, thinking, I’ve shopped at a million bookstores and have been given a million bookmarks—how can I not find one? When I don’t need one, they of course seem to spill out of the shelves, a library’s version of a leak.

Your Reading Life Good for Book Clubs

The Instagram Account You Need To Follow

In between reading books and talking about books, Team Read It Forward has found another way to showcase the literature we love: Instagram!

We think the visual platform is the perfect way to share what we’re reading and celebrate the beauty of books and their alluring and colorful covers at the same time.

Introducing @bookbento, a browse-able bookstore of recommended reads and arresting book jackets paired alongside a still life of delightful objects. A veritable feast for the eyes!

Check out a few of our favorite @bookbento images below and click the snapshot to buy the book. Then follow us on Instagram, and create your own book bento with a beloved book. Be sure to tag it using the hashtag #bookbento so we can see your vivid and vibrant shots!

Happy reading…and scrolling!

Your Reading Life Good for Book Clubs

Advice From My 80-Year-Old Self

What advice would your 80-year-old self give to your present-day self? That is precisely the question artist Susan O’Malley asked of more than a hundred ordinary people of all ages. Then, she transformed their responses—bits of advice, reminders, calls to action and words to live by—into vibrantly hued, visually arresting images. The result is a compendium of wisdom that proves you don’t need to be an octogenarian to think like one.

Sadly, the brainchild behind the project, artist Susan O’Malley, didn’t live to see it reach completion. O’Malley died unexpectedly in 2015, at only 38 years of age. Her friends, family and surrounding community have found comfort in her artwork, and the text-based images from Advice From My 80-Year-Old Self are one of the many legacies she leaves behind: extraordinarily optimistic reminders to live each day to the fullest.

Your Reading Life Good for Book Clubs

15 Cozy Book Nooks To Curl Up In

Hello, winter. With your howling winds and nose-diving temperatures, you give us the perfect excuse to stay inside where it’s warm and curl up with a great book. Check out these divine book nooks for inspiration (prepare to pin!) and then go carve out a corner of your home or apartment where you can relax and read.

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets for Making Your Resolutions Stick

Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin shows us how to actually commit to those pesky New Year’s resolutions we all made a few days ago…

It’s January, the season for resolutions. Almost half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and I certainly always do.

New Year’s resolutions often involve a change in a habit—usually, one that falls into the Essential Seven:

1. Eat and drink more healthfully (give up sugar, drink less alcohol)

2. Exercise regularly

3. Save and spend wisely (pay down debt, donate to worthy causes)

4. Rest, relax, and enjoy (enjoy the moment, stop checking email, spend less time in the car)