I’ve always been a fan of Louise Penny, but for the past few months I’ve been reading her work in an intentional way, trying to understand what she does and how she does it and how I might do it too. There are probably 100 things I’ve learned from her, but to focus on 3.
First, food is important. Reading Louise Penny is like being invited to a feast. The smells and tastes of delicious food fill the pages, as in The Cruelest Month: “Gamache’s coq au vin filled the table with a rich, earthy aroma and an unexpected hint of maple. Delicate young beans and glazed baby carrots sat in their own white serving dish. A massive charbroiled steak smothered in panfried onions was placed in front of Beauvoir….” And so on.
2. Her characters are fun to spend time with, even the evil ones. They’re funny, insightful, honest. Of course at the heart of this all is the great Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, and she never misses an opportunity to show you how great he is. For example, there’s a brief scene in The Cruelest Month when Gamache is playing with his dog, Henri. The dog, unable to contain his excitement, jumps up, but when Gamache commands him to lie down, he does. Immediately. “There was no doubt who was the alpha dog.” I loved this because it was just a brief moment, but it created such a strong picture of this man in my head, and she does that over and over.
3. She offers wisdom. I must have underlined something on every page. Brilliant little insights that linger. For example, “She noticed that his cuticles were ragged. Worry always finds its way to the surface.” Or, “Our secrets make us sick because they separate us from other people.” Reading Louise Penny is like walking through life accompanied by an insightful friend.
How about you? What books have you learned from?