An End to My Book Diet

Between last September and December, I went on a book diet. Anything I’d preordered before then was still fair game, but other than that, I tried not to buy any books. No popping in to my local shop for that new thing I’d just heard about. No long, slow used bookstore hauls. It’s been a pretty dramatic change in my behavior.

I did end up getting one small-press novella (that has since sold out) and a cheap used copy of something from of an author I’m collecting. But overall, I stuck with it surprisingly well.

The idea behind the book diet was to give myself time to work through my existing to-read list, but once I stopped buying books, I realized I was grabbing more random picks than usual from the library. So while I did get around to some of my backlog,  I also learned that I seem to have some need for novelty when it comes to book selections.

A visit to the library is easier on my poor, straining shelf space than hitting up the bookstore, so from that perspective, the book diet was a success. But I still need to work on prioritizing some of the books I already have over the ones that I don’t.

 

The Prisoner of Zenda

The Prisoner of Zenda is one of those books that I thought I knew all about long before I read it. (I was totally wrong.) Even if the title doesn’t ring a bell, it’s been adapted enough times that you might be familiar with the basics of the story.

The hero, Rudolf Rassendyll, travels to a small, isolated European country because he’s curious about its connection to an old family scandal. He meets the new king, who’s a distant cousin, and the two are nearly identical. When the king gets poisoned the night before the coronation, Rudolf takes his place to keep the throne from going to a popular rival. And then there are hijinks.

The Prisoner of Zenda, illustration by Charles Dana Gibson“God save the King!”

Old Sapt’s mouth wrinkled into a smile.

“God save ’em both!” he whispered.

It’s got everything I look for in an adventure novel: sword fights, romance, double-crosses, a scene-stealing villain, snappy dialogue, and more sword fights. There’s some depth to it too, though. Rudolf faces down most of the temptations of ruling a nation, but another character is forced to remind him that he isn’t the only one with a duty to fulfill. And while he overcomes a lot of obstacles by being brave, smart, or good at stabbing things, the bad guys still might have won if they hadn’t completely misjudged Rudolf’s motives.

Since Rudolf is a first-person protagonist, we get this great balance of bravado and vulnerability from him. He’s risking a lot for a man he just met, and some of the king’s critics have valid concerns about his rule. But Rudolf begins the book by telling his sister in law that “to a man of spirit… opportunities are duties.” He’s the only person with a chance at making things right, and if he fails, the princess he’s fallen for will be forced to marry a traitor.

I can’t say a thing about the ending without spoiling it, although to me it felt like things wrapped up in the only way they could.

zenda cover

I have a beautiful old copy with illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson, but you can get The Prisoner of Zenda for free in various ebook formats.

The sequel is a little trickier, but I’m totally in love with that one too. I’ll explain why once I’ve had a chance to read it again.

Book Diet – 2017

I’ve always been that reader who can’t pass a used bookstore without going in, and I’ve had to set a firm one-bag limit during my county’s yearly library sale. But when I reorganized a few shelves late last August, I finally realized just how many unread novels I had lying around.

Some of them I recognized right away. There was a short stack of vintage fantasy I picked up at the thrift store down the street and a couple of larger piles of adventure hardbacks from estate sales. I found a book that I borrowed a few months before, two dirt-cheap ebay purchases, and a handful of wild looking picks from this $1 book warehouse in the area.

But there were other books that I’d completely forgotten about. Why did I have two copies of Joseph Conrad’s Victory? And why had I ever thought I’d read those sleazy-looking spy novels? Yes, the lead character is apparently a “Killmaster,” which is hilarious, but skimming the first few pages makes it obvious that those books are never going to be my thing.

It was definitely time for another book diet. I stopped buying books in September, and the plan is to keep that up through December. In the meantime, I’m working on my to-read piles and grabbing new releases from the library. I didn’t cancel anything I cared enough about to preorder, and I might bend the rules if I hear about some really limited edition that’s sure to sell out before the new year. But other than that, I’m not buying books.

Thanks to some strange law of the universe that makes every one of my library holds come in at once, I haven’t gotten through as much of my book stash as I planned to. But now that I know exactly how many unread books I have lying around, it should be easier to resist some of my more questionable book-buying impulses. Maybe next year I’ll just skip the library sale.

Horror Stories You Can Read Online

If you’re looking for something to get you in the Halloween spirit before this weekend’s round of costume parties and horror movie marathons, try one of these:

The Cask of Amontillado, by Edgar Allan Poe
I love the tight focus and the thoroughly cold-blooded narrator, and I’ve always wondered what Fortunato did to provoke such a drastic reaction.

The Yellow Wall Paper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I like this story best when I imagine that the ending wasn’t inevitable, that things would have gone differently if only anyone had listened. Point-of-view madness makes it the scariest one of the bunch.

The Mask, by Robert W. Chambers
Art and alchemy have tragic effects on a love triangle. This one went in a different direction than I expected, but my inner mean person wishes it had ended a little sooner.

The Haunter of the Ring, by Robert E. Howard
After a meeting with friends provokes a strange reaction, one of the characters explains that he’s afraid of an inherited curse. This story hooked me quick and kept the twists coming.

For maximum effectiveness, be sure to read these in a dark room during a thunderstorm.