Traveling Much in Graceland

I’ve been challenged this year in a lot of ways, not the least of which is creatively. To think new thoughts, we need to give our minds new content to chew on. That is a prime directive among the people who research innovation and break-through thinking. To figure out that Lady Louisa Windham had written a racy book, I had to go to a convention full of librarians and books and publishers in a city I’d never visited before. The idea “popped” into my head after three weeks of stewing, and three straight days of talking, seeing, and thinking about books in a way I hadn’t previously.

I did not know what Hamish Murdoch’s defining trauma was (The Trouble with Dukes) but once upon a time I did read–and love–the story of Ferdinand the Bull, a peace-loving fellow caught in a bad moment taken out of context. From the children’s classic to Regency romance was a short hop, but it was a hop in a direction that required connecting two very different genres.

So here’s 2020, and the only places I’m hopping are the same old grocery store, the same old bank, and the same old horse barn. For extra excitement, once a month I go to the same old gas station. The sideways and inside-out ideas are not exactly flooding to the front of my imagination.

So I am digging into biographies (Byron at the moment), taking Zoom writing classes, and casting around for ways to dive down not the rabbit holes Amazon’s algorithms think I’ll be most likely to consume, but the ones that might teach me something interesting that my readers would enjoy seeing wound through a good romance.

The current frolic has to do with champagne–how it’s made, when it became popular, why the British took to it more avidly than the French at first. (Because–this delights me–the British used coal-fired furnaces to make their glass bottles, while the French were limited to wood fires. The result was a British bottle that could safely hold much more effervescence than its weaker French counterpart. Wheee!)

I’ve been thinking a lot this year about how we’ve become so politically divided, and I’m wondering if the algorithms of “most likely consumption” aren’t partly to blame. The Amazons, Netflix, and Googles of the world don’t give me one nanosecond to think about what off-the-beaten-track idea or topic might interest me. I watched three episodes of Mrs. Bradley’s Mysteries, so I MUST want to watch thousands of episodes of Midsomer Murders next. Right? RIGHT?!!! (I tried Midsomer and did not like it.)

If all we’re exposed to is what we’re apt to binge watch, and not what stretches our imagination or piques our curiosity, we lose the habit of considering new ideas. We become algo-blind to the world’s variety and contrasts, and out of shape mentally for the effort it takes to look for challenges and novelty. One of the most delectable series I’ve watched is the Nicolas Le Floch mysteries, set in the final years before the French Revolution. The algos would NEVER have found those stories for me, and I only came across them because Joanna Bourne passed them along to me.

When you’re tired of the same old, same old, how do you discover new entertainments? Have you come across any pleasant surprises in that regard lately? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 e-gift card from the online retailer of your choice.

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40 comments on “Traveling Much in Graceland

  1. I am watching When Calls the Heart in Netflix. My daughter reminds me that the actors wear makeup and the clothes ( for the most part) are gorgeous. I like that it’s set in simpler times 1910 in western Canada. The main character leaves her wealthy family and travels to teach in a settlement in Canada. There’s drama, love and laughter. Not every situation ends happily and Elizabeth learns a lot about herself…a self discovery of sorts.

    I am loving the Crown and look forward to the Queens Gambit.

    I am reading suspense and mysteries..a much needed change up in my reading.

    My daughter and I are watching tv..taking turns trying out different movies and series.different ideas and perspective.

    And I am switching out my dog walks. We’ve discovered new neighborhoods and new places to explore. And Laci is getting more experience as we walk over bridges, walk on the sand and sidewalks and meet new people. So, there are some positives as we navigate through the next few months.

    • When I got serious about watching my step-count, I found new walks that surprised me. I’ve lived in the same house for nearly 30 years, and I’m still learning things about my extended neighborhood. Not all silos are courtesy of big tech, Grace Ann.

  2. Like you, I’m a creative person who thrives on *new-stuff-to-me* to get the creative juices flowing. Choosing new repertoire for my chamber choir requires a vast amount of knowledge about the repertoire–and I DO have that knowledge–but a shove in a completely different genre also helps. In normal times, that would mean doing my usual research or bouncing ideas off my Peers or listening to a bit of Jazz.

    What I’ve chosen to do during These Times is to listen to music not usually in my sphere. I’ve been listening to Leadbelly and Sinatra and lots and lots of Queen. And what do ya know, my juices are flowing.

    I’m also reading different genres from my usual (but am still working on Robert and Constance–a chapter a night–and LOVING IT!)such as mysteries like the two mystery series by Kate Fitzroy and the Below Stairs series by Jennifer Ashley (am thinking I should try her other mystery series, Captain Lacy I think it is, has anyone read them?). I like mysteries, I just haven’t consciously chosen to read ’em before the Pandemic. And we’re watching TONS of mysteries–I think the appeal is puzzle solving ’cause we can’t solve COVID-19 and it feels good to solve SOMETHING!

    Take care, Grace, and hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving!

    • Captain Lacey is my book boyfriend, and when he’s too busy sleuthing, Sebastian St. Cyr takes his place. They are both great series, and part of what I love about them is that they focus on the Other Regency, the one where the population was swarming into cities that had never had to develop infrastructure for such density of habitation, the one where civil rights were suspended, immigration was a desperate measure, women were brutally oppressed and children exploited… that Regency, which was more real than Mr. Darcy’s fairy tale, and nowhere near as easy to write about well, but both Jennifer Ashley and CS Harris do just that.

  3. Google really came through for me when I wondered who figured out that rat poison could be used as blood thinner. Warfarin was named for the alumni association that funded the research.

    However, my kids told me to put some random stuff in my search bars to get some different ideas. Sharing an account while the kids were growing up lead to some variety in what was suggested.

    While serendipity is more fun, word of mouth is more reliable. I found Anne Gracie’s books because Grace Burrowes took a trip down under.

    • Word of mouth is still the most powerful book discovery vector going, despite all the Amazon algos and Google search biases. Librarians know this, and they out-perform the algos at every turn.
      But when we aren’t hanging out in the break room with co-workers, can’t meet our book club for lunch, and can’t even swap titles with our spin class… I do wonder if word of mouth is still at work.

      • I can recommend Goodread’s groups for connecting with other readers and discovering new books. I belong to one for historical romance and have found lots of good books through our ‘chats’.

  4. I rely heavily on word of mouth from other people whose interests and tastes are similar to mine. My SIL, for example, is a great resource for books I’ll like, but not for movies. I’ve got another friend who, if she enjoyed a particular book, means I should stay far away from it, haha. But if I can’t find something I want, usually that means I’m being pulled back to my comfort reads and comfort activities, and I’m ok with that. Snuggling back into well-worn “friends” is a great thing often

    • It’s odd how bad my daughter has been at suggesting movies for me to watch–really, “How could you ever…?” bad, but then, I’d be equally clueless trying to suggest music for her.
      For books, I’ve leaned on other authors for suggestions and one of my abiding joys is visiting Joanna Bourne to raid her reference library. Ah, well… maybe soon.

      • I do love to see what authors use as their reference books! I have found some fascinating reads that way, and I always enjoy learning more about time periods that interest me

  5. I find we have gotten good advice on TV shows to watch from friends. Lately, we have been binging on 3 British shows: Last Tango in Halifax, Doc Martin, and The Durells in Corfu. They were all recommended by multiple friends. I have also just started The Crown, and being a long time Anglophile, I am already feeling drawn in. We have also heard good things about Queens Gambit, and will probably visit that soon. Bookwise, on one hand I feel like I am in a bit of a rut. I gravitate toward Regency and Highland time periods in my reading, though the occasional contemporary or paranormal fiction slips in. But on the other hand, I read to escape and if these are the eras that provide the best escapism in these crazy times, I look at it like I view chocolate…it keeps me sane!

    • The more I read (and watch), the more I find I can usually enjoy something about a book, even if I’m not likely to scarf up the rest of the series. Half of what appealed to me about The Brokenwood Mysteries, for example, was simply that it was set in New Zealand, and the culture and scenery are marvelous.
      I will nosh on those series you mention, because I’m almost done with Endeavour, and winter is barely begun.

  6. I’m finding foreign news leads to all sorts of intriguing bunny bunkers. From footage of a new find of mummy cases in Egypt to all sorts of nefarious characters, banking scandals & plots (LOVE when reporters are able to cite sources so I can dig deeper), to clicking on random items of interest that pop on YouTube or my library’s free bonus offerings that don’t count against the pathetic limit of 10 digital borrows. (Curse you trad pubs for jacking the price of borrows beyond the budget of poorer counties!)

    Once I get my hands on a good research tome on the subject of interest, the bibliography in the back is a treasure trove of additional reading. I’m currently deep in the labyrinthine world of offshore banking, money laundering, & government shenanigans around the world that actually foster these systems while bleating about the folks who dare to work hard & get rich.

    A prurient interest in nosing into people’s barns (don’t ask) now has me following some folks renovating theirs into houses or building their own off grid paradises. And THAT actually gave me a solar battery answer to hurricane season power outages. Useful bunny burrow, that.

    • Oh, the library pricing controversy….
      How about, if we are going to curse trads, we ALSO applaud trads, for keeping bestselling titles out of KU, while still making them available to libraries. And furthermore, let’s curse KU, which has destroyed product value,increased Amazon’s market control, excavated enormous piles of reader privacy, and reduced author earnings?
      Amazon loves that the debate is couched as “Greedy trads/greedy libraries!” when in fact there are many other ways to approach the discussion. Libraries, for example, claim to drive discovery… so did KU, until somebody surveyed KU readers, and found that many of them NEVER buy a book, and a majority buy very few books.
      That’s not discovery I want, to be honest.
      Libraries make the same claim, “We drive discovery!” but they haven’t produced the data to prove the claim. The Panorama Project is trying to do that, for which I applaud them.
      I am all for supporting libraries rather than major, highly profitable corporations that pay no federal taxes, but in the library/trad debate, the finger-pointing is only helping one party, and it’s not libraries and it’s not trads. My two.

      • Good points! All I know is my income is nowhere near sufficient for all the reading I want to do, and never will be unless I win multiple lotteries, so I’ve haunted libraries from the time I was old enough to be allowed to pedal unescorted off my street to the nearest a mile away. But then I’m the sort who will go buy keeper versions of things I want to revisit.

        I’ll agree that KU is the bane of our existence the way it plays into the contingent wanting “free” everything & never looking at the hidden costs to make those goodies available. Treating brain food like junk food & pricing it even cheaper was a horrible precedent to set.

        Thanks for the suggestions above. Just got my hands on a StCyr book to try & cackling gleefully that there’s lots more where that came from if I like it as much as I think I will.

  7. I absolutely LOVE the bit about the British champagne bottles. And how I’d dearly love a nice glass of French champagne at the moment. I think the last time I actually had one was when I recklessly bought a bottle for the great Y2K fin de everything!

    Anything Joanna Bourne recommends is an auto-go for me, but it sadly looks like Nicolas Le Floch can only be watched by buying the individual episodes from Amazon. I’ll have to add it to my ‘hope-to-catch someday’ list. Meanwhile, home-from-college-son has us watching Emily in Paris.

    • You can find some of Nicolas on YouTube, but I suspect the subtitles are missing. YouTube does a pretty good job of policing piracy, so I assume those versions are legal.
      There’s more about the champagne… Madame Cliquot discovered in 1815 that you could get the dead yeast sediment out the wine by gradually inverting the bottles, than submerging the neck in icy brine. Subsequently uncorking the bottle results in all the frozen sediment extruding itself from the bottle, and without all the waste and mess that previous approaches caused.
      How did she figure that out? Did some champagne accidentally freeze in upside down bottles? How did that happen and can I use it in a book?!

  8. I read almost all genres of romance fiction as well as cozy mysteries. I am now getting into historical mysteries (some written by romance authors). I also decided to use my pandemic time to read some of the “great books” I had never had time for so am working my way through the NPR and BBC lists, as well as some “dead white men” who aren’t on their lists. Plus the Great Library Read from Overdrive has introduced me to books I would never have picked up. And some books introduce me to/induce me to read others. For instance, I started reading “The Game” by Laurie R. King that is related to Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim” that I had never gotten around to reading. So I decided to stop the King book and read “Kim” and it was a revelation (because I was originally confusing it with “The Jungle Book” and couldn’t imagine how it related to a Sherlock Holmes book) and also enhanced my pleasure when I returned to the King book. I get introduced to new TV shows by a partner with a heavy remote control finger who always has the TV on and something may catch my attention as I pass by. So, actually, I haven’t really suffered from “same old, same old” because I don’t stick to one thing exclusively. I’m lucky, I guess, or else I just can’t make a commitment to one thing.

    • I will go to my grave believing that to have abundant free time, and control of the free time you have, is an important form of wealth. Sounds like you have just that!

  9. I found a murder mystery show called “Brokenwood” (out of New Zealand or Australia… not sure which) but, I can’t remember precisely how or who recommended it. I love the quirky characters.
    I think word of mouth is the best way to find new books or movies or tv. (Agreeing with Make Kay on avoiding recommendations from some friends, but trusting others!) But, the creativity almost _requires_ going out and experiencing. Museums are wonderful in this regard. But, in these days of staying home, then it means travel by tv/video or doing online learning… taking classes in things that sound interesting and/or challenging.
    I haven’t had a lot of time for new lately, but I am a great proponent of trying. Trying and listening are great life skills, imho. 🙂

    • If you like Brokenwood, you might like Dr. Blake, which is set in Melbourne in the late 50s. Exceedingly well acted and beautifully set!

      • Oooooo! Thank you!
        I put Nicholas Le Floch on my TBR list… (as well as the Ashley Gardner from last week or the week before and Donna Andrews from a month or two ago.) This site is a treasure trove of recommendations.

        And, I see down below there is a recommendation for Phryne Fisher by Kerry Greenwood… that’s going on my list as soon as I finish typing this! LOL… there’s so much here to try… I love it!! I may need to ask for an extension of lockdown just so I can get all the new treasures read! ;p (jk)

        I’m a fan of “Costume Mysteries/Dramas/Comedies”… if it’s costumed, I’m in! 😀

  10. When it comes to books, I subscribe to lots of book lists/columns, so I get input from a whole variety of people about books to read. Often, while reading one review, I’ll come across the mention of another author who sounds interesting, so I’ll make a note. I also ask friends for recommendations, and the library’s website always has some of the favourites of people who work there. With all of these sources, I have blundered across some wonderful books and tried some I wouldn’t have otherwise.

    Being in a book club can also work in the way, because if the members take turns recommending books, you’ll end up reading things you never would have chosen yourself.

    Also, trying a book in a genre you don’t usually read can spark your imagination, too: fantasy, biography, history …

    • Oh, what you said… the blundering and wandering. I don’t read horror, but I did read a couple Stephen King titles just because his prose is so spectacular. Two was my limit though, then it’s back to mysteries and biographies.

  11. I will never live long enough to read all the books I have purchased over the years and still purchase. Gave up on the library when Amazon became available. Now buy only e-books because of space. Wonderful Amazon allows the opening of books to see if one likes the author’s style of writing.

    I find suggestions for new books nearly every where I read. i.e. Newspapers, other books, on Amazon’s opening page for books, from authors, and from your email today for example. I would rather read a book than watch television but I do watch. I like the judges shows on day time TV. I may have to go to court some time. These shows may help me to bring my evidence and to know what is GOOD evidence.

    I would love to see the French TV series you mention but sounds like to much effort to me and I can buy to e-books for the price of one episode on
    the show. I recommend the 6 books of “The Game of Kings” (first book title) by Dorothy Dunnett, and Eileen Dreyer’s “Barely a Lady”. Clever books!!! I never miss a book by Grace Burrowes – have them all!!

    • I heard a rumor that Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles had been optioned by BBC, but so far…. still waiting, Beebs.
      And PS, all the major e-tailers will let you browse the ebooks (unless the author forbids it), just as libraries and brick and mortar stores do too.

      • I’m so excited for the Bridgerton series on Netflix. For this alone will I try Netflix for a month. In the past when I’ve had access to Netflix everything I’ve wanted has had to be rented and I refuse to do that.

        My recommendations are: The Phyrne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood. Australia in the late 1920’s. The TV shows were great for background but nothing beats the books. Also about 180 degrees away from 1920’s Australia is Western North Carolina the Father Tim books by Jan Karon. A confession that I am not religious but I loved these and they are on my re-read list when nothing else seems to satisfy (and I’m waiting for a new Grace book).

  12. I’m lucky that reading never gets old for me, and I read all sorts of books from different genres. I’l try new authors based on friend’s recommendations or reviews from bloggers or authors. As for new TV shows to binge, I don’t really pay attention to those ‘based on . . . ‘ suggestions since I’ve seen how very wrong they can be. 😉

  13. History. I’m addicted to history. It’s one of the reasons I found your books. Historically accurate fiction is a passion, but I’m even more addicted to true history. While it’s not the happy ending stuff that the fiction brings, it’s more than a little thought provoking. My most recent reads are Isaac’s Storm (Larson) and The Johnstown Flood (McCullough). To truly understand how far we’ve come in our understanding of things that were never thought possible, we have to know where we started. While neither of these books has anything close to a happy ending, the ability to see how far we’ve come in predicting and preventing things that were once thought impossible is amazing to me and unending in its thought provocation.

    I once volunteered to help organize a fund raiser for breast cancer research. As part of my preparation, I made a list of all those I knew personally who had received a cancer diagnosis. There were 35 people on my list. What was eye opening to me was that those with more recent diagnosis survived. The survival rate in my more recent experience showed me how the research I was helping to fund had a direct impact on me and those I care about. What we couldn’t do 30 years ago, we’re doing with regularity now. Lessons learned. Inspiration found.

    Have you ever seen the movie What God Made with Alan Rickman? It’s about blue babies and discovering that what was once thought impossible, taboo even, could be accomplished. So much of what we accept as what has to be, is not what has to be.

    And I won’t even get started on world leaders and wars. So many life changing innovations come from the most tragic events in history.

    If I need a new perspective, I look back to history and all of the gifts that were spawned out of hard learned lessons. It’s truly inspiring.

    • Excellent point. The obstetricians who discovered forceps kept quiet about them for three generations, fearing that anything used to shorten labor or increase chances of survival would be viewed as interfering with divine plans.
      Of course, that was men deciding women and babies should suffer and die… Don’t get me started.

  14. I get a daily email with articles from Atlas Obscura “The definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders”. Always something that interests me there.

    On Netflix I recently watched The Crown (season 4), The Queen’s Gambit (really different – loved the 60’s setting & fashion & the chess), Virgin River (rewatched season 1 before watching season 2). For lighter fare I watch the Hallmark Christmas movies.

  15. Hey y’all. Yes, I am from the south. I have to admit, I don’t know anything about movies and series. I have no cable, satellite, antenna, or internet. If I sit outside, and the cloud cover and barometric pressure are just right, I can use my neighbor’s service–yes they do know. So I read–a lot.
    We have a wonderful library system in most of Georgia. If you go online any book may be requested from any library in the system, and it will be sent to your home library free of charge.
    I tend to just poke around in my favorite genres. I do a search of a given genre, and look til I find something I haven’t read. If it ends up being something I like okay, I read it and any others in the series. If it’s blah or I hate it, I can return it. If I love it, I start buying books in the series. I found your books poking around in a book store. After reading The Virtuoso, I realized my mother had read it and loved it. If I really, really love the book, I see if it’s on CD or MP3CD. I like to listen to books on CD when I’m doing housework or handiwork.
    I love non-fiction too. I’ll just wonder about a subject and order books from the library. If I like the subject and it’s colorful, I may get a coffee table book. I’m an artist, so I’m always purchasing new reference books.
    Sometimes I read something in fiction that I just can’t figure out. For example, from reading about your main characters’ corsets, drawers and such; I have several books coming in the library system about the history of underwear. That just made me think– I need to ask a librarian to order a book about kilts. How are those things folded?

  16. I’ve been reconnecting with my first love–the natural world–and sit by the lake for hours, communing with egrets, wood storks, Egyptian geese, turtles, Muscovy ducks, and herons. Is there anything that brings more peace, joy, and rejuvenation to a fractured soul than a gossamer spider web glistening with dew? Or the chittering of a squirrel? Or a nest filled with turquoise eggs?

  17. I am not much of a tv watcher. Read, read, read. However, a friend recently recommended a movie JINGLE JANGLE. It was full of fun, singing and old time good guy eventually wins. Some wonderful new actors and a few old school surprises. It help me break out of a hum drum routine that started 5 years ago with my diagnosis of multiple myeloma. Enjoy life and explore new things. As long as you are alive this possibility is available to you!

  18. My husband and I are tired of most of the “entertainment” offered on Network TV. Just for the heck of it, we decided to try “The Masked Singer” on FOX. Now we are hooked. It reminds me of the old-fashioned variety shows where entertainers from all aspects of the industry would come onto a show like “Merv Griffin,” “Dinah Shore,” or “Mike Douglas,” and do something that is traditionally not what they are known for. We are having fun watching the previous seasons and trying to guess who is behind the mask.

  19. I fight against being guided by an algorithm very consciously. I am a contrarian by nature and being herded is something I can’t stand. I love the freedom to intellectually roam wide and far, and I am always delighted to learn about a topic I hadn’t previously even known existed. Having two very curious kids, I am constantly being told about things I would never have encountered otherwise. In some cases I could do without the info, but it sure does make for no dull moments.