Books for Autumn

It is October, darlings. Bright blue weather and foreign winds sweep through the fields, white pelican birds with black under-wings break their journey for a few weeks on the lake, darkness falls earlier and earlier, and the fairy-grasses (what are these actually called?) turn deep purple and seem, in the early morning when they’re laced with dew, to be the only things left growing.

It is sweater weather, bonfire weather, adventuring weather. It is reading weather.

There are several books I really want to read this fall (you know, for the vibes). Some are new; some are rereads. Whether I will actually read a single one of them remains to be seen. But I am filled with the need to bask in autumn vibes, and talking about these books definitely does that.

The Perilous Gard

I randomly get urges to reread this at all seasons of the year, but especially November. You’d think it’d be October, when the book takes place, but no, it’s November. Possibly because of how cold and chilly it all is, up north in a secluded castle in Derbyshire.

It’s also autumnal because of Halloween. This isn’t a fun story about Halloween—pranks or ghosts or even kids being stupid. No, I mean like original Halloween stuff. Human sacrifice.

Also one very stubborn young woman who does not plan on letting this happen if she can help it—but can she?

She’s delightfully skeptical. She’ll figure out the rational explanation for all this if it kills her. And if it takes thinking of the ballad Tam Lin as a garbled account of real history or listening patiently to the ramblings of a half-mad minstrel (I love Randal by the way) or following the oak leaves out to a tree that is alarmingly bare of leaves, she will rescue her true love from the Queen’s plans for him.

This book is spare, elegant, thoughtful, and frightening in a much subtler way than a book about any sort of monsters but humans themselves could be.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

I just feel like this ought to be read in November.

I am a fan of Oscar Wilde, this was his one novel, novels are my favorite literary form, and I finally decided I did want to read it after spending many years of my life not sure it was worth it, so why not this November?

The Scorpio Races

What is more autumnal than man-eating horses and a healthy dose of loneliness?

Well, cold beaches, I suppose, and a hungry ocean. Festivals, November cakes, really really hoping your cat’s gonna be okay.

I like this book for Finn, but also for George Holly (the chipper American, out of place among all these close-mouthed, thrifty islanders—but they’re fond of him and he’s fond of them, because he’s a good sort and he wears red shoes), but also for Puck and Sean and Thisby itself.

This book feels exactly like a certain type of October. It reminds me of days when it’s not too cold, and you go out, and the woods are bright and bare but the fields are pale and the wind soft: and no noise you hear is as loud as the silence; and it comes to you that your whole life is simply one of the noises and never touches this silence. The silence is always there; you are just rarely aware of it.

I like that, but also, I admit, I just like horses.

Beowulf

The fall-ness of this one seems self-explanatory to me. Monsters coming into the hall at night. Heroes roaming out into the fen in quest of said monsters. Feasting. Fear. The joy of battle. Removal of arms and display thereof in public places. Good stuff.

Boys of Blur

It’s a Beowulf story, you see. Maybe not quite a retelling, but close. It’s more of an early fall (or even late summer) story, but oh well. I read it recently, and I’ve been wanting to reread it to see if I’ll appreciate it a bit more the second time around.

There’s football (so, fall) and family (good, bad, crazy, found, and otherwise), and Grendel’s mother living deep deep in the muck beneath the sugarcane fields, drawing life from death and eternity from a spring. There is envy like a deadly poison and graves standing empty that should not be empty. And three scared boys. (Who are not safe from envy’s poison either.)

The Lantern Bearers

It’s fall, so what could be more apropos than a book about the fall of a civilization?

I don’t know if this book is actually autumnal (I really don’t know what it’s about except a soldier who remains behind in Britain when the last Roman company pulls out, I think?), but in my head it is, and so I want to read it. My mom says it’s really, really sad. It’s Rosemary Sutcliff, so I believe her.

…Come to think of it, Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing has always given me autumn vibes. The muted colors, blazingly brilliant yet touched with frost, and whatnot. The sudden flick of pen or phrase (like the sudden flick of breeze or falling leaf) that chills you with nameless sadness where a moment ago you were smiling in deep summer content.

The Hobbit

Although Bilbo’s journey takes a year, I associate it immutably with fall.

It just…is so autumnal. The Elves singing in Rivendell, and the emergence into the cold but free and sunlit Wildlands on the other side of the Misty Mountains, and the spiders in Mirkwood, and the dragon soaring in fire and ruin from the lonely mountain to the town on the edge of the lake, and the treasure, and the battle, and the Eagles, and Bjorn—doesn’t it all just scream sweaters and flannel and pumpkin spice lattes?

I’ve been aching to reread The Hobbit for a while. Now that autumn is here, the time is ripe.

I also will probably want to reread The Lord of the Rings after I reread The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings is a fundamentally autumnal work too. I feel very Bilbo-ish every fall, but when I get the urge to read The Lord of the Rings is always spring, for some reason. Also The Lord of the Rings is long, so we’ll see.

This fall I also intend to memorize “When the Frost Is on the Punkin.” I memorized it halfway last fall and never finished for some reason, but I’m going to try and have it by my dad’s birthday (in November) and recite it for him. I know this sounds like something you’d do for your dad’s birthday when you’re six, but though I have progressed past the age of six, my dad on the contrary has not progressed past his fondness for hearing poetry recited. Especially poetry he really likes, and “When the Frost Is on the Punkin” is one of his favorites. (One of mine too. It is autumn-in-the-country incarnate.)

I would also like to rewatch Penelope with my sisters and give Over the Garden Wall a try.

So those are my literary plans for fall! Now it hardly matters if I carry them out, since I’ve blogged about it and the fall aesthetic has been served. Hope you guys are cozy! If you have fall book recs (or otherwise need me), I will be curled up with a London Fog and a good book, watching the leaves fall.

A Tolkien Tag

Well, folks, it’s Tolkien Blog Party week, and that means celebratory dancing and feasting amongst the Boffins, Bracegirdles, Hornblowers, and Proudfoots (ProudFEET!). I am once again insanely busy this week (it’s always the weeks I want to blog that I can’t), so I have once again not written that Meriadoc Brandybuck Appreciation Post I’ve been meaning to write for years. But Hamlette, who is hosting all this hobbity goodness over at The Edge of the Precipice, has a Tolkien-related tag, and I can at least fill that out!

Who first introduced you to Middle-earth?

That would be my dearly beloved aunt. I cannot remember when I first knew that she was a Lord of the Rings fan, because I always knew it. That is My Aunt, who reads Lord of the Rings and murder mysteries and always gives me wintergreen flavor Lifesavers. I remember being a little kid, flopped stomach-down on her bed, peering at the cover of the book she was reading, and asking, “What’s that?”

She told me it was Lord of the Rings, one of her favorite books. Which I knew already because I had eyes and a working memory. I told her I meant what was it about. I think she said it was too hard to explain and I’d read it one day for myself.

So I levered myself up on my elbows and peered down at the pages. In my upside-down reading I gleaned something about giant spiders, soldiers with weird names, and a tower. “Spiders,” I said, with an emotion that was not admiration.

My aunt explained to me that there were giant spiders in the book. I did not see the point of this. She amended that it was one (1) giant spider, singular. I did not see that this made a noticeable difference in the inadvisability of the situation. She liked this book?

My aunt explained that it was a very good book and this was just an intense part. The hobbits—

“Hobbits.” Worse and worse! I didn’t even recognize the name of this (likely nasty) bug!

My aunt tried to explain hobbits to me. Without noted success. At least they weren’t bugs. They were being chased by the spiders. And by the soldiers with weird names. And they were carrying a ring and that was important for some reason.

I flopped myself back off the bed and went to find some other way to alleviate my boredom.

The Christmas that I was twelve (…it might have been eleven, now that I think about it), we spent it at my grandfather’s house. We generally did this. My aunt, as usual, brought books to entertain herself in between cooking the turkey and the pumpkin chiffon pie, and one of these was The Hobbit. She’d never read The Hobbit. Tried, never gotten through it. Since Lord of the Rings was her favorite book, this hardly seemed right. A quiet Christmas holiday seemed the perfect time to right this wrong.

Ah, but she reckoned without me. For I looked upon the cover and thought it looked like an interesting book. An innocent enough beginning, but it did not end there. Oh no—for I opened to the first chapter. And I read it. I did not find it particularly interesting, but I had nothing else to do, so I read the second chapter.

Very little of the world outside Middle-earth existed for me for the next three days.

The next fall, my mom and I watched the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring in small snatches at lunchtime on Tuesdays while my little sisters were at co-op. A few months after that I checked out the three volumes (all different editions) of The Lord of the Rings from the library. I was fortunate enough to get sick after doing this, and I spent six days lying in bed reading blissfully.

It is the hardest I have ever fallen for a book, I think. Even The Silmarillion, following soon after, enchanted me with its remote and mythic sadness in a way no other story had—and I was a passionate lover of such tales as those of Roland and Oliver, Beowulf, Cu Chulainn, the Norse gods.

Many thanks to my mom and my aunt, the best friends a little bookworm could have.

Has your love of Middle-earth affected your life?

It depends what you mean by that. Have I ever made friends or had new and exciting experiences directly because of my love of Middle-earth? No. (Though there was that one time I hammered out Elrond’s exact percentage of elf-to-human blood with a relative stranger in IHOP at 1 a.m….)

Has it affected how I think about things? My taste in literature? My philosophy of story? The way I write? Yes.

It’s led to fun times hanging out with my mom. And arguing with my aunt over what makes something “fantasy”—her liking Lord of the Rings and disliking fantasy doesn’t mean it isn’t fantasy. Magic rings and wizards and elves, anyone? (My aunt: “Yes, but—*stops, perplexed*”)

It’s led to me being one-sixth accepted into the brotherhood of nerds when I did robotics—I had at least seen Fellowship, although I hadn’t seen Two Towers or Return of the King or any of the original Star Wars trilogy.

It’s led to me being told, far too many times, how much I look like Legolas.

Or “that elf from those movies your mom likes,” as my dad puts it.

Have you ever dressed up like a Tolkien character?

No. Unless there’s a Tolkien character who goes around in hoodies and skinny jeans all the time that I’m forgetting.

What people in your real life would you want in your company if you had to take the Ring to Mordor?

Ooh, I like this question! Nine of ’em?

  • My sister Palestrina // good in a crisis, knows martial arts, we work well together, suffers from the kind of steely determination that makes Sherlock Holmes look weak-willed
  • Palestrina’s friend Patrick Mahomes // not the football player, just looks exactly like him; works out; EMT and currently in paramedic school; super smart; also kind, observant, and fun to hang out with
  • Palestrina’s other friend (also mine) Zwingli // super short and cheerful, definite hobbit vibes, can fix things, surprisingly strong, kind of a protective person in a good way if you’re walking down the dark alleys of a sketchy city or Mordor
  • my dad // can fix anything, boundless energy, strong, very good humble person so we don’t gotta worry about Boromir shenanigans
  • my friend H // matches Palestrina on the steely determination scale, went camping one time for two weeks with her and Palestrina and we conquered ALL OBSTACLES, eternally and determinedly cheerful, can shoot a bow, ran cross country
  • Gun Husband Man // custom-builds his own guns, repurposes his own ammo, single-handedly keeps his fridge stocked with venison chili, has very good aim (terrifyingly good), is generally a Large Strong Man who would Come In Handy
  • Best Old Lady Friend // you’d understand if you met her. Don’t mess with old fashioned Missouri grandmas, not the real genuine articles anyhow
  • my friend M // studies far far too much true crime, would therefore know what the bad guys were gonna do long before they did it, hates humanity and would be a nice antidote to the others’ cheerfulness
  • Helicopter Pilot Guy // met him at a gun range one time, bandaged my hand for me which was super nice, did it effectively which was even nicer, seems smart and therefore useful

What Middle-earth location would you most like to visit?

Rohan, I think. It’s my favorite. I’d get to meet Eomer and Eowyn, who are also my favorite, and then I could visit Fangorn too, because it’s right on the border and might as well be counted as the same place. I need some Ents in my life. Horselords and rolling plains and remote hills full of secret stone paths and sung alliterative poetry also make a good addition to one’s life.

Are there any secondary characters you think deserve more attention?

Heaps. Beregond is fantastic and I love him, Eomer is one of my favorites and needs more love, technically Treebeard also doesn’t get as much love as he deserves, I’ve wanted to write a post for years about Merry because I feel like he gets so much less love than the other three main hobbits and he’s my favorite, and that’s just in The Lord of the Rings. In The Silmarillion, Maedhros is my favorite character. He’s so good—I mean as a character, not as a moral example—and honestly almost every character in The Silmarillion is underrated. Even Galadriel. Galadriel from beginning of Silmarillion to end of Return of the King is such a cool character with such a cool arc. Fingolfin! Hurin I also like a lot. (Bitterness is such an endearing character trait, you know?) Ungoliant? How about Ungoliant? Super underrated villainess. And in The Hobbit, can we get a standing ovation for Bard? Because the fellow’s simply fantastic. (Bjorn is also so, so cool, and almost none of his coolness makes it into the book…even though it did somehow, because you do know, from reading the book, that he’s cool.)

Also there needs to be an Appreciation Week solely for Farmer Giles’s gray mare, of Farmer Giles of Ham.

Would you rather attend Faramir’s wedding or Samwise’s wedding?

Sam’s wedding seems like to involve far more country cooking and country dancing. I would like both, please.

Faramir’s wedding might be awesome, though. Sort of a once-in-a-lifetime event. Only chance to survey the wonders of Gondor’s great city as an anonymous face in the crowd. Pomp and ceremony and splendor. Ancient traditions. Beautifulness in general.

I’ll still go to Sam’s wedding. Then I can talk to Merry, and be comfortable, and dance.

How many books by J. R. R. Tolkien have you read?

Hmm, I’m going to interpret “book” as “work” and make a list here:

  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Silmarillion
  • The Children of Hurin
  • Roverandom
  • Farmer Giles of Ham
  • Smith of Wootton Major
  • Leaf by Niggle
  • On Fairy-Stories
  • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
  • a good chunk of his letters that I spent far too long looking through in the library one time…?

So that makes ten, really. Eleven if you count Mythopoeia. The only one I still mean to read that I haven’t yet is his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

I love literally every single one of his things I’ve read, too, except Leaf by Niggle. “Love” might be slightly strong for The Children of Hurin (so. sad.) and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (fun? pretty? but not much more), but even those I really like and am happy to own.

Are there any books about Middle-earth or Professor Tolkien (but not written by him) that you recommend?

I haven’t read any, so no, I fear not. A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War sounds interesting, if you’re into that kind of thing. I’ve heard good things about Joseph Pearce’s Bilbo’s Journey and Frodo’s Journey.

But I am not into those kinds of books, myself, so I have never read them.

List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotations from the Middle-earth books and/or movies.

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And many that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

———

“I remember it was long ago—in the time of the war between Sauron and the Men of the Sea—desire came over me to see Fimbrethil again. Very fair she was still in my eyes, when I had last seen her, though little like the Entmaiden of old. For the Entwives were bent and browned by their labour; their hair parched by the sun to the hue of ripe corn and their cheeks like red apples. Yet their eyes were still the eyes of our own people. We crossed over Anduin and came to their land; but we found a desert: it was all burned and uprooted, for war had passed over it. But the Entwives were not there. Long we called, and long we searched; and we asked all folk that we met which way the Entwives had gone. Some said they had never seen them; and some said that they had seen them walking away west, and some said east, and others south. But nowhere that we went could we find them. Our sorrow was very great. Yet the wild wood called, and we returned to it. For many years we used to go out every now and again and look for the Entwives, walking far and wide and calling them by their beautiful names. But as time passed we went more seldom and wandered less far. And now the Entwives are only a memory for us, and our beards are long and grey.”

———

“Almost felt you liked the Forest! That’s good! That’s uncommonly kind of you,” said a strange voice. “Turn round and let me have a look at your faces. I almost feel that I dislike you both, but do not let us be hasty.”

———

“I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

———

“As for myself,” said Eomer, “I have little knowledge of these deep matters; but I need it not. This I know, and it is enough, that as my friend Aragorn succoured me and my people, so I will aid him when he calls. I will go.”

———

Frodo bowed low. “I am answered,” he said, “and I place myself at your service, if that is of any worth to one so high and honorable.”

“It is of great worth,” said Faramir.

———

Yet it is told among the Eldar that the Valar endeavoured ever, in despite of Melkor, to rule the Earth and to prepare it for the coming of the Firstborn; and they built lands and Melkor destroyed them; valleys they delved and Melkor raised them up; mountains they carved and Melkor threw them down; seas they hollowed and Melkor spilled them; and naught might have peace or come to lasting growth, for as surely as the Valar began a labour so would Melkor undo it or corrupt it. And yet their labour was not all in vain; and though nowhere and in no work was their will and purpose wholly fulfilled, and all things were in hue and shape other than the Valar had at first intended, slowly nonetheless the Earth was fashioned and made firm. And thus was the habitation of the Children of Iluvatar established at the last in the Deeps of Time and amidst the innumerable stars.

———

“You’ll live to regret it, young fellow! Why didn’t you go too? You don’t belong here; you’re no Baggins—you—you’re a Brandybuck!”

“Did you hear that, Merry? That was an insult, if you like,” said Frodo as he shut the door on her.

“It was a compliment,” said Merry Brandybuck, “and so, of course, not true.”

———

“But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours: to go or wait.”

“And it is also said,” answered Frodo: “Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.

“Is it indeed?” laughed Gildor. “Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.”

I Finished a Book! ft.: Jennifer & Fred snippets (and a bit of music)

So, I finished the first draft of my novel the other day. Pretty cool feeling, too bad it only comes once every two years.

…In my defense, there was a good chunk of those two years I also spent working on ANNA. ANNA has been my project for a long time (like, eight years? or so?), and while I’ve definitely made progress, at this point I’m just like, “Eh, I’ll finish it one of these days! No point tossing my hat over the fence!” But I can’t stop myself from periodically working on it, which means, apparently, that I take two years to write a first draft.

At any rate, it’s better than last time. I think when I finished The Dream-Peddler, I hadn’t finished a novel in five years? The rate I’m speeding up, next book will take less than a single year. It’ll be like I’m eleven again, guys!

So, this first draft I’ve finished. I talked about it once before, when I’d just started it. You can read that post if you want (it’ll talk about stuff like where I got the idea and all that), but this post is where we celebrate because I finished.

I’ll tell you what the book’s about, though. It’s a slice-of-life historical fiction set in 1967 in a small town in Arkansas (it’s based on a specific town, actually, but its name will remain undisclosed, and I still need to do some more research to really make the setting authentic, if I’m quite honest with myself), and it involves baseball, cousins, too many strong-minded women all living in one house, Simon & Garfunkel (and other good music), and plenty of Southern Baptist cooking. There’s also a sardonic fellow named Fred: he’s from the big city (Little Rock, y’know, it’s such a big city), he just got back from Vietnam (not that he mentions this…at all), and he’s grown fonder than he bargained on of several of the aforementioned cousins and/or strong-minded women. Think Okay for Now, but Southern and the narrator’s a nineteen-year-old named Jennifer who reads too much.

Also it’s not as good as Okay for Now, but do not hold me to impossible standards, okay.

I can’t tell you how many words or pages it is, because Microsoft Word refuses to tell me this information for stories that still reside exclusively in the cursive-littered pages of my blue spiral-bound notebooks. Rude, I call that.

I also can’t tell you its title. I call if Jennifer & Fred, for obvious reasons.

Anyway, amidst busyness and life changes and fractured attention spans, what got this book written?

Dear friend, I’m glad you asked. The answer is: music.

Music is (obviously?) a central element of the story. Not (for once in a story written by me) in the sense that the characters are musicians of one sort or another (though Frances does sing), but simply in the sense that the enjoyment of music is a thing. Nothing beats making music yourself, but I do in fact sometimes just…listen and enjoy. And so, I can now say, do my characters!

Jennifer is not a musician (she sings adequately), but music is still a big deal to her. Specifically the music, in the story, of Simon & Garfunkel.

I’m gonna write a post on Simon & Garfunkel sometime. I am. I have my title and everything. Just you wait.

But for now, all I’ll say is that Simon & Garfunkel is my favorite musical group to have ever existed. Bar none. I’m sorry, Vivaldi, I am, but them’s the facts.

So, naturally, because I love them and because they featured in the story, Simon & Garfunkel was listened to during the writing process. I think I listened the most to the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album—slightly anachronistic since it didn’t come out till 1970–but I also listened to the “Sounds of Silence” album (the one Fred owns) and “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.” “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme” felt particularly appropriate, perhaps because of its anti-war bookends, or “The Dangling Conversation,” or just the fact that there’s so much cooking in the book.

Now, normally I don’t listen to music while I write. I don’t really understand how people do, honestly. It’s only a distraction. Either I am writing or I am reading or I am watching a show or I am listening to a piece of music. I can’t do multiple of them at once, unless I want to do both badly.

But for the two weeks before I finished, I stayed up late almost every single night to work on Jennifer & Fred. And for the three days before I finished it, I wrote almost the entire day. The day before I finished it, I started writing at 4 in the evening and didn’t put down my pen and tumble into bed till 1. When I got up at 7, I fed the animals (forgot about myself), started writing at 8, and threw my pen down with great joy at 5:30 p.m. because, at last, I had finished.

This leads me to the interesting fact that I think you get better at writing by practicing. I don’t mean this in quite as obvious a way as it sounds like I do: I mean I was writing for three and then four and then five hours at a time, and it was hard, but I wanted to finish so I kept going. And then I was able to write for, practically, two days and a night and day straight, and there’s no way I would’ve pulled that off if I’d just tried to do it off the bat.

It’s hard for me to give myself grace when I don’t write as much as I wanted to, or take advantage of the time I have. But if I at least take advantage of some of the time, if I at least push through some of the difficulty and write longer than I would have if I’d given up…I will get to where I want to be. I will stop taking six years to finish a book. I will be able to make noticeable progress in my writing. It’s hard, but doable, if I expect the right amount of myself at the right pace.

Just putting that out there for anyone who ever feels the same way.

Anyway, the other thing I wanted to say about all that extra writing is that it was hard, and sometimes I resorted to music to keep myself going.

And for some reason it worked.

The music, more even than Simon & Garfunkel, that got me through those last few days of writing was none other than an album I’d never listened to before from a band I’d never listened to before: Ghost of a King, by the Gray Havens.

I heard a snippet of the titular song recently and it made me look up the album, which I then proceeded to listen to on repeat while I wrote a story about kids playing baseball in the 1960s.

I don’t know, guys, but it worked.

I’ve always avoided the Gray Havens, because I like folk music, but I listened to an Arcadian Wild song once (yes, I should give them another shot) and didn’t like it and decided that’s not the kind of folk music I like. I like real folk music, and modern people writing music in what’s considered a folk style are Not Good At It. It thus logically followed that the Gray Havens was not worth listening to.

(Jennifer & Fred, smirking happily in finished-manuscript form, begs to differ.)

Well, I’m not sure the Gray Havens – at least not this album – sound all that folksy. I’m not sure if I like their style or not. (I have recently realized, thanks to a question asked of me, that I really don’t know what my musical style is. I know lots of things I like and lots of things I don’t like and there are not a lot of unblurred genre-lines to be had there.) The point is, though, that though I’m not sure what I’ll think when the first blush of grateful enthusiasm has worn off, I really liked this album.

A couple stand-out tracks:

Ghost of a King – it’s just kind of beautiful. Upbeat enough to be interesting. And where it went surprised me. So I followed the ghost of a king/With every step I tried/To see beyond/For a trace of the riverside, but restlessness/Was my prize

Ghost in the Valley – this is possibly my favorite track off the album. Short and sweet. Perfect for one of my characters. I don’t really know why I love it so much, I just do. The valley/Came bursting into bloom

This My Soul – okay, I always wondered why, when there are so many aesthetically beautiful aspects to Christianity, when fairy-tales can do it indirectly, why can’t songwriters write Christian songs that are poetry? This song sounds like poetry, not like doctrinal cliches squeezed into rhyme. The music is also perfect for the lyrics. Light and dark – the grief and the loss with the joy and the hope (and the parallelism, which, though I’ve heard it before in many and many a sermon on Romans 5, is cool and different to see in a song) – are perfectly balanced. I really love it. Then man from the dust came reflecting/All goodness and beauty and life/But he lowered his gaze as he listened to the face/Of low desires

….okay, I was going to do only three, but I have to mention Diamonds and Gold because it’s just a JAM.

A list of other songs that were important in the making of this book:

The Sound of Silence – because it’s Jennifer’s intro to Simon & Garfunkel, like it was mine. (I’ve linked the acoustic version from “Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.” because it’s my favorite, but the version in the story is technically the full-band version from the later “Sounds of Silence” album.) “Fools,” said I, “you do not know/Silence like a cancer grows/Hear my words that I might teach you/Take my arms that I might reach you”/But my words/Like silent raindrops fell/And echoed/In wells of silence

The Village Green Preservation Society – because it’s basically Jennifer’s family’s theme song, whether they know it or not. God save strawberry jam/In all the different varieties

Save the Life of My Child – because I listened to this one a lot. It wasn’t released yet in 1967, I’m pretty sure, but its Themes are Relevant, Don’t You Know. Also it’s just sonically cool. “Save the life of my child!”/Cried the desperate mother/”What’s becoming of the children?”/People asking each other

And lastly I have to include the yet-again-anachronistic Graceland, because Jennifer is a self-insert in certain ways and that song is…relevant, not sure how else to put it.

Okay. Now that the self-indulgent prattling and music is out of the way, we can get on to the self-indulgent snippets. I hope you guys enjoy this post? But it’s fine if you don’t. It’s kind of a mess, and I just needed to share my excitement.

Snippet #1:

I looked at her, consideringly. Sometimes, I thought, perhaps Frances’s beauty – the boldness of her eyes, the fierce red sweep of her hair, the golden creamy tan of her skin – was a disadvantage. You did not feel sorry for beauty like that.

Snippet #2:

It was raining, cold January rain, when I walked to the bus stop to pick up Aaron. I had got absorbed in a drawing and, looking up at the clock, realized I’d be late if I didn’t leave immediately. Up I jumped; on went winter coat; on went, after a glance out the front window, galoshes and raincoat. The cat came twining about my ankles. I bent swiftly to pet him. “Sorry, old boy, I haven’t got time to pay attention to you right now. You don’t happen to know where an umbrella has got off to?”

He mewed in a manner that suggested he considered my excuse insufficient and my question frivolous.

Snippet #3:

I looked back at him. Too well I recognized the awkward set of his shoulders, the veiled misery in his eyes as he gazed without hope on the scene where battle was to be joined.

(I like this sentence because it’s about turning away from the potluck table with your plate filled and trying to decide where to sit. The most accurate sentence I have ever written.)

Snippet #4:

Frances wanted us in our church clothes. I, however, did not want to wear my church clothes. I changed quickly into a yellow dress – undoubtedly far too casual for Sunday company in Aunt Mary Jamesina’s day, but this, I reminded the phantom of Frances in my mirror, was not Aunt Mary Jamesina’s day any more, now was it? It was quite a nice dress, maybe almost good enough for church if you were truly newfangled. Which we were not, but this wasn’t church either, now was it, Frances? And in the right light, at the right angle, if Frances wasn’t in the room for comparison, it made me look rather pretty. (Not that that mattered. Also Frances was going to be in the room. Also who was I trying to impress? Surely not Mr. Busse, already my good friend and Cora’s devoted slave; or Mrs. Busse, the kindest lady in the state of Arkansas; or – heavens – the saturnine nephew from Little Rock? “Just self-respect and natural pleasure in a neat appearance,” I said to the mirror, giving my ponytail a final tug.)

Snippet #5:

We waded up the aisle and outside, where we waved hello to multiple acquaintances, glowing in Sunday finery. I looked down at Aaron; he didn’t look bad, himself. He’d finally acclimated to wearing a suit. The sun shone on his tawny hair, brushed neatly away from his face; his countenance was clean; and the scuffs on his shoes had been newly disguised with boot-black. “You just may grow up to be a credit to the family,” I said to him.

He grinned up at me.

“When we get home,” I said as we walked down the street, bright with spring sun and gloriously almost-hot on my bare arms, “you and I, Aaron, are going to make sandwiches for everyone. Then we’re going to eat ours. Then we’re going to clean out the old spare room.”

“Okay,” said Aaron, not unwillingly. “Will you throw with me some?”

“Yes,” I said. “We’ll take a break and do that.”

Spring cleaning and baseball, I thought. Spring had gotten into my blood as wildly as ever it had gotten into the Mole’s, and the reason why was not to be sought for in this earth – presumably. What earthly thing could inspire one with a passion to wield a duster, or the desire to fling one’s arms in the air (at the mature age of nineteen) and whoop and holler?

Snippet #6:

“Well, Miss Jennifer,” he said. “How have you been since I saw you last?”

Technically, when he saw me last, I had been asking forgiveness for breaking his kitchen window, on behalf of Tommy, Stuart, Raf, and Marcie as well as myself. The boys wouldn’t admit they were scared; they said he’d be nicer if I went, because I was a girl. Marcie was more honest and had advocated running away. I remembered the trouble in Tommy’s face when she said that, staunch and worried beneath his baseball cap, and smiled. He probably would have gone if I hadn’t, his sense of honor being what it was. It was not quite finicky enough to prevent his allowing me to beard the lion for him, however.

“A model young woman,” I answered firmly. “Only I’ve taken up baseball again, so – you’d better enjoy it while it lasts.”

Snippet #7:

“Well, if you’re not going to be our coach – ” said Hank.

“Thought you wanted me to pitch.” Max dropped the baseball he was holding and caught it again in the same hand, a bored, practiced motion.

“You could do both – “

“Thanks, no.” Someone else would have laughed derisively, but for Max it was a smile instead – quiet and self-assured; it stayed out of his voice, so you’d miss if it you weren’t looking at his face – and the expression of his eyes, though hard enough, was certainly not derisive.

Snippet #8:

You didn’t know who Figaro was!” I pointed out.

“Why should I? A man who sings in Italian!”

Oh!” Frances and I gasped in unison. “Where is your taste?” I demanded.

“Don’t let her give you a hard time,” said Frances. “She doesn’t go in for anything exciting. I played ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ for her once, and then she put on a Bach two-part invention and said she liked it better!”

“I do,” I smiled.

“If it was a cantata – but an invention!”

“It’s so complex, though,” I said. “You can’t unweave the parts; they’re – they’re – I love listening to it.”

“The most basic sort of fugue. The most boring – “

“The most interesting,” I corrected. “It’s a fugue. That is the most interesting.”

“And Haydn,” said Frances. “What heathen prefers Haydn to Beethoven?”

Snippet #9:

He trotted after me. “I don’t get to steal bases?”

“Don’t be greedy, Vincent.”

Though he was behind me, I felt him grin.

Snippet #10:

“You missed supper,” said Fred, coming a few steps forward. “Frances is at the school, making sure you and Mrs. Hazlett aren’t locked in mortal combat while Aaron, whose grades launched a thousand ships, sits by. After dashing around town for a while like an idiot, I remembered you’d once said something about Andersen Park. Cora told me where it was. I didn’t remember anything about a whole baseball team, though.” And he looked around curiously.

I noticed, when flipping through for snippets, how very much of this story is composed of play-by-play narration of baseball games and practices. We’ll see how much of that stays in, since a transcript of a baseball game does not a story make. For now…I finished a book. And I’m just a little bit pleased about it.

Summer Reading in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twenty-Two

Summer is not really gone yet, probably, but the walnut trees out in the front pasture are shivering free of a little swirl of yellow leaves every time a slight breeze blows, and we haven’t had a 100-degree day in at least two weeks. The horse flies are still terrible, and it doesn’t exactly feel like autumn in the air—but it feels like autumn’s coming.

Even Susie, who’s a Very Old Dog these days, perks up and wants to go trotting up-pasture by herself when the evening cool hits.

With the change of seasons, I bring you reviews (of a sort) of the books I read this summer.

Doomsday Book

connie willis

(In which Kivrin, a medieval history undergraduate at Oxford, wants to time-travel like all the Twentieth-Century historians do. Mr. Dunworthy is very extra sure that this is a terrible no good very bad idea, but Kivrin does it anyway.)

Goodness:

  • I hadn’t realized just how badly I wanted to read historical fiction about medieval people.
  • Especially historical fiction that doesn’t romanticize or infantilize medieval people, because when it comes down to it they’re just people.
  • Like you don’t understand how hard this hits me in the wish fulfilment!!! I want to be able to do what Kivrin did!!! It’s my eternal heartbreak as a student of history, exacerbated the further back you go in history, that I can’t!!!
  • Mr. Dunworthy is a dear delight. Just a dear, you guys. (Except when he’s not…but mostly he is.)
  • Colin is also a dear delight. Twelve-year-olds in fiction are often very poorly written. Colin was not. Colin was wonderful.
  • Connie Willis’s prose works so well for me. It’s this close third person that slips effortlessly into (still grammatically correct) stream-of-consciousness.
  • Also the metaphors, guys. Not on a prose level, on a symbols-in-the-plot level.
  • It made me happy that Mary was just. A competent, thoughtful person who quietly did helpful things that continued to be helpful down the line and…she was a dear.
  • Finally, FATHER ROCHE. This character is…kind of a triumph. I don’t know why it’s so hard to write a good, gentle character who’s utterly lovable instead of utterly boring, but Connie Willis did and it was beautiful. Also it’s hard to write a faithful Christian when you’re not yourself a Christian (judging from how very many bad examples I’ve seen of this, anyhow…), but Father Roche’s faith isn’t mocked or even shown as a weakness or necessarily wrong? and it was balm to my heart.

Not-so-goodness:

  • There was a lot of well-used parallelism, but a few of the metaphors and comparisons ended up feeling a little too forced.
  • The one that got me the most was Mr. Dunworthy comparing Kivrin to Jesus and himself to…God the Father? I guess? It came so out of nowhere and was such a weird comparison if you thought it through.
  • Also, y’know, not compatible with Christian theology. which isn’t really my issue, nobody says Mr. Dunworthy has to be a professing Christian, but it’s worth mentioning because it was weird.

Overall:

Probably the only time travel book I will ever unequivocally love. (I mean…okay. To Say Nothing of the Dog. But I still have quibbles with the time travel there.) I don’t know if I’ll reread it, but I’m so glad I read it once.

The Wanderer

sharon creech

(In which Sophie, her cousin Cody, her other cousin whose name is like idk Brian or something, and several of their uncles sail across the Atlantic Ocean in a boat that’s…probably? seaworthy? hopefully? maybe?)

Goodness:

  • The ocean
  • Sailboats
  • Especially old sailboats that need a little fixin’ up (I have one of these)
  • COUSINS
  • Did I mention the OCEAN
  • Did I mention they SAIL ACROSS THE OCEAN
  • It’s terrifying and glorious
  • Unreliable narrators are my jam, sometimes
  • Family. Blood and otherwise. It is a beautiful thing.
  • (Bompie’s stories <3)

Not-so-goodness:

  • I…don’t know. There were probably some things I didn’t like, but I don’t remember them.

Overall:

There are gorgeous little kids’ books about family and stories and trauma, and then there are gorgeous little kids’ books about family and stories and trauma that involve SAILING. When forced to choose, always choose the latter. The success with which this book captured much of the unquantifiable magic of sailing made my little sailor’s heart very happy.

The City Between (books 1-10)

w. r. gingell

(In which two fae and a vampire adopt a human pet, Detective Tuatu your friendly neighborhood stressed-out cop doesn’t think this is okay at all, and there’s an old mad bloke in a holey T-shirt who pinches people’s drinks. The pet herself, narrating for us in cheeky Australian slang, just wants her house. That’s all. She just wants her house.)

Goodness:

  • Ah heck. There’s no way I can list all the things I loved about this series.
  • I’m rereading and first of all the FORESHADOWING. the DOUBLE MEANINGS. the CHARACTER SEEDS PLANTED.
  • There is weirdness but it’s not supposed to be not weird?
  • Character development, the most organic and beautiful to watch (especially Pet, but all of them)
  • Between Floors
  • Pet
  • Pet and JinYeong annoying the crap out of each other
  • Pet forcing her psychos to accept hugs
  • Zero being Zero
  • Athelas drinking tea and being sneaky
  • Also Athelas’s shadow, which is just a little darker than a shadow ought to be
  • Detective Tuatu and how normal and stressed he is and how he’s just a solid human being
  • Morgana
  • Also Daniel, the grumpy dad friend
  • Upper Managment as villains
  • The Family as villains, especially Lord Sero with the little truth-worm thing, it’s terrifying
  • North Wind’s backstory
  • Reveals
  • Speaking of Lord Sero, the way fae tropes are done in this is great. I’m a sucker for a well-done take on the fae.
  • Some of the monsters are really creepy in a fun way. Sandman! Peryton! Changelings!
  • Houses that are…not alive, but not not alive
  • The fact that there’s no romance in the first several books (it would be completely out of place as far as Pet’s character development goes); and when there eventually is a possibility of one and I was sure I would loathe and despise it if it happened (so I kind of had faith it wouldn’t? because I have faith in how W. R. Gingell handles her characters?), it still didn’t happen; and then when it finally did happen, somehow I didn’t loathe and hate and despise it? I even kind of enjoyed it, mildly? was both amused and impressed by the general health of it? I was right to have faith in how W. R. Gingell handles her characters, but now I have even more faith because she managed that.

Not-so-goodness:

  • I’m not a fan of urban fantasy in general, and some of the monsters just weren’t my favorite. I still enjoyed those books, though.
  • Books 1 & 2 were a fun time, but not as epic as the rest of the series
  • There was a plot twist that kind of depressed me. It ended up being resolved so, so well, but…I kind of went through life in a haze for a few days. It’s been a long time since I emotionally connected to a book like that, yikes.
  • I wasn’t all that interested in Abigail and her group for whatever reason.
  • Maybe because of that, books 6-7 were a bit of a mid-series slump for me.

Overall:

It frustrates me not to be able to put into words how much I loved these books? The character growth, the character voice in the prose, the twisty-ness, the themes…I just can’t. W. R. Gingell is officially one of my favorite authors and I don’t know how to explain what makes her books so uniquely powerful to me, but they are.

Proof

bill bright & jack cavanaugh

(In which American lawyers in the 1850s turn out to have all been part of an evil secret society, all except our redoubtable protagonist Harrison Shaw, who isn’t much of a lawyer anyway…apparently. But God.)

Goodness:

  • 1850s New York City is a pretty cool setting. Would like more books set there.
  • Harrison’s good-person-but-flawed character was handled with some subtlety and realism. I appreciated it.

Not-so-goodness:

  • The setting wasn’t all that…immersive.
  • If you think the above description of the book is weird and confusing, that’s just because so is the book.
  • The ending was literal Deus Ex Machina.
  • People’s personalities don’t change because they become a Christian.
  • Victoria and her father were both completely over the top and ridiculous.
  • Prose was…eh
  • Warm seats
  • Is that even possible though
  • I feel like it’s not
  • But I don’t care enough to check
  • But is Harrison stupid, though? Because how did he not notice?

Overall:

……..eh.

The Unteachables

gordon korman

(In which grouchy, disillusioned teachers and troubled kids have each other’s backs, and thus a whole lot of kazoos end up at the bottom of the river.)

Goodness:

  • I ended up liking this book. That’s high praise, because I started out Very Not Impressed. I respect any book that can win you over.
  • Parker
  • Mr. Kermit being so horrified by the lady’s (can’t remember her name) kindergarten-style teaching methods
  • The logic behind the kazoo incident
  • Teachers standing up for their students
  • Forgiveness
  • Cars

Not-so-goodness:

  • Mr. Kermit’s attitude problem seemed a little…extreme? Would any adult handle that this poorly? That struck me as unrealistic.
  • Present tense is the devil’s invention, I tell you.

Overall:

Fun middle-grade book with heart. Not my new favorite, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

West of Yesterday

lena clare cook

(In which a traumatized man adopts a traumatized boy while traveling through Old West Arizona, an appropriately desert-y setting for this book about traumatized people reaching their limits and a man who cannot cry.)

Goodness:

  • I’m just going to quote Megan’s Goodreads review: And can we just discuss for one moment how Scott was only able to draw close to someone who had suffered as much as he had? I think it says something really profound about the Cross. Why did God have to become man and die, anyway? Was it because we needed a Savior who understood our pain?
  • So yeah, Alan and Scott
  • Also John Stover being an honorable person who’s secure enough that he can take a punch and not feel…emasculated, I guess? ‘Cause here’s the thing: standing by your convictions (especially when it comes to defending those who can’t defend themselves) makes you a good, strong man. That’s it. That’s the requirement.
  • Matt Rennahan being so quiet and so loyal and so conflicted and so unable to cry
  • The slow reveals through slowly-expanding flashbacks of everyone’s past, everyone’s exact culpability, and how it all fits together
  • Wade’s fall arc
  • The town’s name being Ayer, which, because I am dumb, I did not realize was Spanish for yesterday until the narrative explicitly said so (in my defense, I was saying it “eye-yer” in my head, so it didn’t occur to me)
  • Scott wanting so badly to see the ocean
  • The ending

Not-so-goodness:

  • So, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but I don’t like present tense.
  • I do not like it, Sam-I-am.
  • I think a lot of Lena Clare Cook’s writing would be much lovelier in past tense. It would flow more smoothly. It would be more obvious that certain sentences should be removed because they’re just restating what we’ve already learned.
  • Beth doubting John annoyed me so much. Do you know your husband, woman??? Do you think he’s the kind of person to be easily bamboozled, or to put y’all in danger without cause???
  • I wanted to like Alan, but…apart from his relationship with Scott, he’s so lost in his own misery that he’s uninteresting to read about. It’s not interesting to read about a fish lying apathetically on the beach drowning, flinching when a fisherman comes by but only out of reflex, even if this fish has a very tragic backstory.
  • I don’t know if this is a flaw or a personal preference, I honestly don’t. But for me, books need to give you space to breathe. Books that are unendingly brutal, dark, agonized, violent…are just not going to hit me as hard as books with soft scenes in between the brutal, dark, agonized, and/or violent bits. The constant emotional pitch at which I am kept is exhausting – it’s numbing – and I check out.

Overall:

Wanted to like it more than I did. (Western that fully embraces the gunslinger dad trope?! Yes please.) Worth it for Scott and Matt.

The Magician’s Elephant

kate dicamillo

(In which the world is broken and it cannot be fixed. But hey. Elephants and sisters and the Matiennes exist, so it’s not a bad deal.)

Goodness:

  • Elephants
  • Leo the policeman who has a mustache and asks “why not? could it be?”
  • Gloria his wife
  • The book just felt like Christmas
  • I love the whimsical way Kate DiCamillo uses adverbs
  • The nun. I forget her name, but she was wonderful.

Not-so-goodness:

  • Kate DiCamillo’s books are never…funny enough for me? Or not funny in the right way?
  • The characters are also always too…generic. Like. They are humans more than individuals, if that makes sense? Her books are about humans and humanity, and it’s more like Delving With Compassion and Keenness of Sight Into the Human Experience than it is like getting to deeply know an individual human. I much prefer getting to deeply know an individual human.

Overall:

Lovely and worth reading and not quite for me.

Castle & Key

w. r. gingell

(In which Susan and Emmett gotta escape Bluebeard’s haunted Gothic mansion, but they keep chasing ghosts of each other nearly off staircases and balconies, and the mansion wants them to betray each other. Not to mention it’s actively trying to kill them.)

Goodness:

  • Emmett being large and silent and having a rueful sense of humor.
  • Susan and Isabella’s sister relationship
  • Susan’s favorite problem-solving method being Frontal Assault Via Kiss
  • Haunted manor that you can’t get out of, the mistress of the manor always dies, the servants tend to come to gruesome ends too, blood sometimes drips down the walls at night, it’s fine
  • The master just Brooding
  • How it’s a Bluebeard retelling but the main characters are just two of the random servants who are only there because neither of them could forbear charging into danger to make sure innocent people don’t get hurt
  • CHOICES
  • Lovely themes regarding choice and identity: like, unhealthy environments and manipulation warp people, but in the end your choices are your own, and it’s your choices that matter. “We all chose what we all chose.”
  • You go, Mr. Oswald. Burn it all down.
  • The denouement was perfectly cozy.

Not-so-goodness:

  • Not that it’s a flaw, but I wanted more Isabella.
  • I didn’t like how it was too obviously a Bluebeard retelling to not be a Bluebeard retelling but…not enough of a Bluebeard retelling to satisfy my particular standards of exactly how much faithfulness I want to the original in a retelling? Which is completely personal.
  • It was part of the whole thing with the manor and all, so I get it, but I really do not prefer quite so much romantic playing at cross-purposes and misunderstanding and angst. Even if the characters were all quite mature about it. Again, personal.

Overall:

This book was cozy to read on a night when I couldn’t sleep because I felt awful. It reminded me that just because your sister doesn’t act like she wants your approval (what self-respecting sister would?), she probably really values it. It reminded me why free will is so important to me and why personal tragedy is never just about you and why when you give up on yourself it’s never just yourself you’re giving up on. It was witty and twisty and good-humored and a little bit insightful about humans. I liked it passing well.

Adam of the Road

elizabeth janet gray

(In which Adam, a minstrel’s son in I-think-late-thirteenth-century England, loses first his dog and then his dad and this book would’ve been a lot shorter if they had cellphones in ye olden days.)

Goodness:

  • GUYS IT’S MORE MEDIEVAL HISTORICAL FICTION
  • Hence why I’d been meaning to read this for forever.
  • MEDIEVAL ENGLAND. AS AN ACTUAL HISTORICAL SETTING. NOT A LOOSELY-INSPIRED FANTASY SETTING FULL OF BLAND DESCRIPTIONS AND STOCK CHARACTERS.
  • An eleven-year-old kid who is an actual eleven-year-old kid
  • How Adam is just like “thanks, but I’m a minstrel” to every single offer that gets made to him. The kid knows what he wants.
  • How Roger is a flawed-but-still-good-and-loveable father
  • The nuance in all the characters Adam meets, actually
  • How much Adam loves his dog
  • DID I MENTION MEDIEVAL HISTORICAL FICTION
  • Sir Simon deserved better, he’s a darling

Not-so-goodness:

  • I really enjoyed reading it while I was reading it, but any time I’d set it down I had absolutely no desire to pick it back up again. Don’t know why.
  • The characters could’ve been deeper? I’m not complaining, though; I still enjoyed it.

Overall:

I found this book at a thrift store at least a year ago. I’ve been meaning to read it ever since, and honestly now that I have I don’t know if I want to keep it or not? I will at least for a while, because I’m just so pleased to read some historical fiction set in medieval England. Because there’s ACTUALLY NOT THAT MUCH OF IT. At least that I’ve read; if someone has recs, I am all ears. (Also it’s a solid little book.)

“I Should Have Read That Book” – either a tag or what my guilt-wracked subconscious says every time it looks at one of my many, many thrift store purchases sitting unread on the shelf

Sam tagged me for this. Many thanks, Sam!

//a book that a certain friend is always telling you to read

I don’t know about “always,” but Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days has come up as a book I need to read a fair number of times. This from Becky, who does in fact recommend the best books. (The Perilous Gard, for instance.)

I have no idea why I haven’t read it yet, to be completely honest. I’m shockingly fond of Princess Academy, middle-grade fantasy that doesn’t write down to its audience is literally the best thing that exists, I love the premise, and the library has it. I don’t know. I do really need to read it. I do really want to read it.

But have I? No.

C’est la vie, for sure, but why is la vie so c’est?

(Sherlocks among you have noted: Sarah does not speak French.)

//a book that’s been on your tbr forever and yet you still haven’t picked it up

The Ball and the Cross. It’s a problem. I need to read it. I love Chesterton. It’s people’s favorite Chesterton. I KNOW I’LL LOVE IT. I LOVE CHESTERTON. I’ve been meaning to read it for years upon years, and STILL it hath happened not.

I mean, for a while that was because I didn’t own it and neither did the library, but I’ve owned it for a while now.

I have no excuse.

//a book in a series you’ve started but haven’t gotten around to finishing yet

The Penderwicks at Last, by Jeanne Birdsall.

I read the first four books years ago (loved ’em), but I’m hesitant, guys. Even Batty is grown up in this one? I don’t know if I can handle it.

//a classic you’ve always liked the sound of but have never actually read

Ooh! How about The Brothers Karamazov? I adore Dostoyevsky and have heard things about that one that make me think it’s a particularly good work of his.

I don’t know why I haven’t read it except that it’s long and my aunt (who got me into Dostoyevsky in the first place) says she could never get through it because everyone had sixteen names and she lost track of who was who.

There are a looooot of classics I want to read but haven’t yet, though. The Count of Monte Cristo. The Mabinogion. War and Peace. Little Dorrit. The Divine Comedy. The Aeneid (in its entirety). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The full Ulster cycle. North and South. Waverley. I COULD GO ON.

//a popular book that it seems everyone but you has read

To Kill a Mockingbird. Literally everyone on the face of the planet has read it and says it’s the most wonderful thing to ever come out of American literature. To which I say, “Well, how dare you say that when Huck Finn exists. I will not be listening further to anything you have to say.”

I mean, it’s probably good, I guess? Truly everyone has read it. I think the only reason I haven’t is that my mom doesn’t like it and so she didn’t include it in my school curriculum or anything.

But I just…don’t care. I don’t care that I’m missing out. I’m not interested. Also (with reservations) I trust my mom’s taste in books.

Also it would be a shame to read it now after making it for so long without, you know?

//a book that inspired a film adaptation you really love but you just haven’t read it yet

Ella Enchanted!

Okay, just kidding.

The Big Sleep is hard boiled detective fiction penned by Raymond Chandler, a pretty famous writer of hard boiled detective fiction back in the middle of last century, I think. The black-and-white noir film The Big Sleep, which stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, is based on it. I didn’t actually know that when I watched The Big Sleep (which, by the way, I adore) for the first time.

And like, I do like mysteries and I do like Philip Marlowe (Bogart’s version of him anyhow), and I do like books better than movies in general, but…I’m hesitant.

For one thing, I don’t think it’s a story that needs for you to be completely inside the character’s head, so a book wouldn’t necessarily be better. There also might be less of Lauren Bacall’s character?? And she’s great. I’ve heard that it has weird stuff, and Marlowe is more morally grey, and women-flinging-themselves-at-his-head (which only occurs once in the movie, in a really weird little scene) (I mean besides Carmen, poor kid) is apparently a common event in the book.

All of which I can do without, frankly.

//a book you see all over instagram but haven’t picked up yet

Changing “Instagram” to “the blogosphere” (for I inhabit the one and absent myself wholly from the other), I think a good one for this is Kara Swanson’s Dust!

One the one hand, I really want to read it because hello, Peter Pan!

On the other hand, the fact that Peter Pan is one of my favorite books makes me hesitant about picking up anything that has to do with it. Especially because it’s a book that means things to me, you know? I think the Disney movie is great, but too many people take their idea of Peter Pan from that, and it’s not the same at all. It’s the original Peter Pan that I love, and I just don’t trust anybody to do it right, honestly.

But people do speak highly of Dust. And a really well-done Peter Pan retelling would be the best thing I’ve ever read.

I be conflicted.

Thanks again, Sam, for the tag! That was fun. This tag neatly walks the line between “fun” and “insanely stressful.” Anyway I’m supposed to tag people, but…gosh I haven’t done this in so long. I don’t know who likes tags, hasn’t been tagged, etc, etc. Please steal it if you want it. And let me know in the comments what books you’ve been meaning to read since the cradle and still haven’t! And tell me if I ought to read any of these sooner rather than later. I won’t necessarily listen to you (as this tag perfectly demonstrates), but I’ll be happy to know your opinion and you’ll be happy to give it, so it’s a win-win, verdad?

(Sherlocks among you have written query: Does Sarah speak Spanish? It is hard to tell. Must wait till observed vocabulary has expanded beyond one word, for accurate results.)

Peace, my friends! Hope school has started up with a swing and a hit, for those of you in school. Don’t forget to enjoy summer while it lasts. ✌️

The Importance of the Main Character (in which I compare Wyatt Earp unfavorably to David Balfour)

Okay, so I’m typing this post out and then I’m going to post it (I am less busy than I was earlier this summer, but not as less-busy as I’d hoped and, indeed, expected), so fair warning that this will be a ramble and may or may not end up on any sort of Point.

It’s just something I’ve been thinking about for a while now, main characters. One doesn’t (or at least, I don’t) generally go crazy over the main character of a story. Not that one doesn’t like them, value them, or invest emotionally (if it’s a really good story) in them – just that they’re not my favorite ones. My favorite one is usually one of the side characters. (See: Harry Potter. Everybody likes Harry, but nobody goes crazy over him. This is a bad example because I haven’t read Harry Potter, but whatever.)

Similarly, a lot of people like antagonists and devote most of their interest and affection to the antagonist. (See: Loki’s fanbase as opposed to Thor’s. This is a good example because I have seen all four Thor movies and boy howdy. Do I have opinions. Mostly that these movies are a mess, except for The Dark World, which is pretty good actually, #unpopularopiniondon’tkillme, but hey I’m a long-time fan of Norse-mythology Loki and Loki and Thor as reluctant allies is my favorite thing in Norse mythology too.)

Anyway, it can kind of make you think main characters aren’t important. They’re important as a vehicle of the plot, maybe, but they don’t need to be loveable. As long as there’s a side character or an antagonist for readers to latch onto instead, the hero can just…be there.

But guys. Stories where the hero falls flat are bad. They ruin the experience. I know this, ’cause I watched Tombstone.

I watched Tombstone because my sister Palestrina (this is what I’m calling her, from now on, on this blog, I’ve decided) has a friend who loves it. And he wanted us to watch it, because when you love a movie you want to show it to people so they’ll love it too. This is life.

So the three of us stayed up late one night, sprawled on the couch, and watched Tombstone.

At first, Palestrina and I were massively bored. Gradually, we got – not less bored, but more actively antagonistic toward the film. Stupid Wyatt Earp was such a stupid person. It got to the point it was just annoying. He doesn’t care about his wife at all? Is she his wife? I guess she’s his wife? She’s literally succumbing to opium addiction before his eyes, and it’s just kinda…incidental to him. Okay.

Oh, pretty new lady, we like her now? You have a wife, dude??!?

Oh my gosh, are you fifteen??? Why are you having a teenaged identity crisis? Can you do anything? Can you make up your mind? I think your wife just ran away and died of an overdose, you just…you don’t care? Not gonna mention it at all? Do you remember that you were married? She was blonde, if that helps…

Ugh, stupid new lady is also so childish. Maybe you’re perfect for each other? Ugh, I don’t care – can we just get back to Doc Holliday? We don’t care about you, Wyatt. Stupid Wyatt, you’re so boring and pathetic.

Toward the end, the movie got kinda good. It was a good ending, if only the movie had at all deserved it. If only the movie had at all deserved to be graced by Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday.

Cuz. Y’all. That was a Performance. Palestrina and I went from “oh? we maybe kinda like this guy?” to “oh, we totally like this guy, that’s unfortunate, he’s not the most upstanding citizen but he’s kind of great” to “oh my goodness we love this guy so much.”

He was such a good character. (“Hell, I got lots of friends.” – “I don’t.”, anyone?) He was a major player in the film, especially the climax. And yet he couldn’t save the movie.

That’s because Wyatt Earp was the main character, and Wyatt Earp was a boring, pathetic excuse for a human.

Changing tacks, one of my favorite books is Kidnapped, along with its sequel David Balfour (known to some as Catriona). Pixie (other sister) and I are often to be heard squealing over one of the characters – Alan Breck Stuart, to be precise. He bears the name of kings and is willing to back that up with his sword any day of the week. If you want to disappear into the heather or winkle somebody out of something you need, learn from him. He composes songs in Gaelic, plays the bagpipes, and is very good at all of it and thinks himself even better. He is the most loyal friend in creation, a wily Jacobite of great notoriety, and a very fox for slipping through his enemy’s fingers time and time again.

So, like, obviously he’s got lots to recommend him. Obviously he’s going to outshine David, your average good kid off on unexpected adventures. David is good, and solid, and reliable, and principled. He doesn’t fly up into the boughs if you accidentally say something that could maybe a little bit be construed as insulting if you squint at it sideways, or charm village lasses out of boats, or hold off an entire ship’s crew with his sword. (He just raises an eyebrow while Alan does it.) But David Balfour is, nevertheless, kind of the backbone of the whole story.

Not just because the plot happens to him: because the themes happen to him too and because he chooses to be who he is. That is, good and solid and reliable and principled. That is, somebody who keeps the promise he made to a grieving woman. That is, somebody who won’t leave his friend behind. That is, somebody who’d much rather be home and comfortable and well out of the festering mess of retributive politics but can’t be bribed, bullied, maneuvered, or intimidated out of bearing witness to the truth, because he promised, daggonit, and he knows what really happened.

David, unlike Alan, doesn’t go out and grab adventures by the fetlock (as Amy March might say), but when they come his way, they don’t bowl him over either. He’s fundamentally loveable because he’s fundamentally a good person. And he’s a real good person, with the requisite doubts and failings.

Doc Holliday and Alan Breck have a lot in common. They’re both a little further outside the law than their respective main characters. They both have grave moral failings yet are loyal-unto-death friends. They’re both larger than life in their quirks and personalities. Of course Doc overshadows Wyatt, and of course Alan overshadows David.

But where Kidnapped becomes a better story is where David does not, in turn, overshadow Alan. Wyatt overshadows Doc. He overshadows him by being the main character, stealing screen time from the character I actually want to see, showing his mediocrity with painful clarity next to Doc’s brilliance. The presence of David does not take away from my enjoyment of Alan.

Even though Alan is the favorite, it matters so very much that I love David too.

I’ve been reading (well, devouring) the City Between books, and here again it’s the same principle. The characters you think about, the ones that are obvious, are the surrounding characters: Zero the emotionless large icy fae with large knives and a birthright Behind, Athelas the sneaky old tea-drinker steward who kills okay he kills and he’s really good at it but like how often how many people what do we mean exactly here, JinYeong the pouty vampire with impeccable fashion sense. Even Tuatu the normal detective who’s very stressed out because he may be normal but the cases he keeps ending up with are NOT and there’s a GIRL and she’s really annoying but she’s also in a bad situation and he is Worried About Her.

They all center around Pet. The main character. The human girl. You don’t think about her as much, consciously, but she is vividly her own character, with her own quirks and desires and values and personhood. The story wouldn’t be anything even resembling what it is now, without Pet centering everybody. Without Pet being, in fact, Pet: her ornery, compassionate, sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued, coffee-addicted, completely loveable self.

If the story centered around some bland character without Pet’s fierce individuality or uneasy moral qualms about what exactly her psychos are up to, it wouldn’t matter that Zero is stern and intriguing, Athelas MY FAVORITE CHARACTER TO EVER EXIST IN LITERATURE (I don’t know why I have such problematic favorites, I’m sure it says NOTHING about me as a person), and JinYeong a clueless, wrathful teenager in love. The story wouldn’t work. If you haven’t read the City Between, you’ll have to take my word that this is so, but if you have you know. Pet is a necessity.

David Balfour is a necessity.

Because Wyatt Earp is stupid and pathetic, Tombstone throws all its potential down the drain.

(Wyatt is so stupid and pathetic. I can’t stand him, ugh. I can’t stand that I can’t even hate him, because he’s so pathetic he isn’t even worthy of hatred. Just had to get that off my chest. Again.)

So basically…I guess what I’m saying is, I feel like I’ve slowly come to the very obvious epiphany that the main character is a really important part of the story, actually. And also that good main characters might be a little harder to write than you’d think (and when you do a good job, it might get overlooked), so I greatly appreciate Robert Louis Stevenson and W. R. Gingell and anybody who writes a good one.

What do you guys think? Is this the most obvious thing that has ever been written in the history of reading books and writing stuff about them? Can you think of main characters who seem less cool than the cool side characters but are really cool, actually? What do you think of Tombstone, David Balfour, and the City Between?

In Which Children and Plot Twists Disappoint Me But Pretty Words Do Not: Reviews, in Mostly List Format, of 10 Books

I think there are 10, at any rate. These are the books I’ve read so far this year.

(Hi and what’s up, guys. Been a while. May be a while again, not sure. My summer is busy, which means blogging time is hard to come by…but I do have a working laptop now, which means writing posts is so, so much easier.)

Cytonic

(a book about aliens & stuff by Brandon Sanderson)

Where Skyward was Star Wars: A New Hope* and Starsight was Ender’s Game, the classic sci-fi Cytonic is modeled after is less obvious…but I think I’ve decided it’s Star Trek. Not quite TOS, so maybe TNG? I haven’t watched enough Next Gen to know, really.

*[ok so my sisters and I rewatched the Star Wars trilogy, and we enjoyed the whole thing, but we were like wow, the first one really is a quality story]

Good Bits:

  • That signature Star Trek-ish philosophicalness. M-Bot’s identity crisis comes to a head, there’s Chet and his whole character, Spensa once again questions her beliefs, that plot twist…also people having memory loss from the nature of this in-between reality place, what is reality actually? And just. Questioning the origins and implications of things. Even though it comes from a completely different place than me (and makes assumptions I don’t necessarily agree with), it’s fascinating.
  • The setting (also Star Trek-ish?) is literally the coolest sci-fi setting I’ve ever read. Ever. The nowhere, the belts, the in-betweenness, the different-and-slightly-untethered relationship to time—I was silently screaming inside while I read it. IT’S SO COOL.
  • Chet. I love him. Explorer through the “nowhere,” very bold and gallant and amnesia-afflicted. Calls Spensa “Miss Nightshade” and M-Bot “abomination.”
  • Doomslug is still the best blue-and-yellow-striped galaxy-travelling snail.

Bits That Drove Me Batty:

  • Sanderson’s prose in general is not all that good, but this was extra not all that good.
  • Why, pray tell, was there not more Jorgen?
  • The plot twist was cool in some ways, but mostly it was a letdown. It explained too much, I guess? Or was too mundane an explanation for things that seemed way cooler before? I don’t know. The climax fell quite flat for me because of it.
  • And DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON WHAT THE PLOT TWIST DID TO CHET—
  • Spensa pre-character growth was endearingly and stupidly defiant. By this point she’s just…annoying? She’s supposed to have improved, but I liked her better even at the beginning of Book 1: she was unique and she was driven and you understood why. You cringed when you knew she was about to do something stupid—and you knew she was going to, because she was Spensa. Now she’s slipped into Generic-YA-Heroine-ness. Do you know how much I hate it when good characters do that???

In short: I will read Book 4 (I’m even excited about it), but what I like best about this series is Book 1. It’s exciting, endearing, Star-Wars-y, and it has all the good characters in it and an epic ending (with a plot twist that does knock your socks off, in all the right ways). I see no reason one couldn’t just read it happily as a standalone.

The Tall Stranger

(a book about shooting people, also building a good life for your family or something idk, by Louis L’Amour)

I’m 99% sure I read a shorter novella form of this a long time ago and L’Amour expanded it into a novel. I remember the plot twist. Also I remember my identical feelings of disgruntlement about it.

Some Opinions in No Particular Order:

  • The main character is boooooring.
  • Oh, of COURSE he’s related to him.
  • This is a fine trope, it really is. But I DO NOT LIKE IT, SAM-I-AM.
  • “I’m a MAN so I’m gonna do MANLY THINGS” (sometimes it just gets to a point where it’s hilarious)
  • The bit where he crosses the ridge in the lightning storm is awesome though. L’Amour’s love of the land and gift for vivid scene-setting always comes through somewhere, seems like, even in his most mediocre novels.

Plain Tales From the Hills

(a short story collection set in the hills of British India by Rudyard Kipling)

This is the first I’ve read of the set of Kipling books my sister got me. The titles of all the other ones are in normal letters with the appropriate capitals, like: “Soldiers Three,” “Barrack Room Ballads,” etc. But this one, for whatever reason, is in all caps: “PLAIN TALES FROM THE HILLS.”

Rendering me unable to know if I was supposed to capitalize “from” or not. Why.

Anyway, there were a few duds (including the first story), but OH BOY CAN KIPLING WRITE A SHORT STORY. His prose, you guys, his PROSE—*weeps*

Qualities of Kipling’s Prose:

  • Reserves judgment (I love when authors write like this, and Kipling does it to the extreme, so you genuinely have no idea what he actually thinks; he’s kind of just making fun of everyone involved, including the narrator)
  • Makes my mom laugh, sentence after sentence, when I read a bit of “The Rescue of Pluffles” to her over the phone
  • Ironic
  • Comic
  • Descriptive
  • Horrifying
  • Patronizing
  • Mock-disapproving
  • WHATEVER IT NEEDS TO BE FOR THE STORY. IT’S SO GOOD.

One must also love the recurring characters, particularly Mrs. Hauksbee.

A Sampling of Favorite Passages (or, the 3 passages I remembered to write down):

Very many women took an interest in Saumarez, perhaps because his manner to them was offensive. If you hit a pony over the nose at the outset of your acquaintance, he may not love you, but he will take a deep interest in your movements ever afterward.

from “False Dawn”

When a man is a Commissioner and a bachelor and has the right of wearing open-work jam-tart jewels in gold and enamel on his clothes, and of going through a door before everyone except a Member of Council, a Lieutenant-Governor, or a Viceroy, he is worth marrying. At least, that is what ladies say. There was a Commissioner in Simla, in those days, who was, and wore and did all I have said. He was a plain man—an ugly man—the ugliest man in Asia, with two exceptions. His was a face to dream about and try to carve on a pipe-head afterward. His name was Saggott—Barr-Saggott—Anthony Barr-Saggott and six letters to follow. Departmentally, he was one of the best men the Government of India owned. Socially, he was like unto a blandishing gorilla.

from “Cupid’s Arrows”

His business was to stir up the people in Madras with a long pole—as you stir up a tench in a pond—and the people had to come up out of their comfortable old ways and gasp—“This is Enlightenment and Progress. Isn’t it fine!” Then they gave Mellishe statues and jasmine garlands, in the hope of getting rid of him.

from “A Germ-Destroyer”

To Say Nothing of the Dog

(a book about cats, sleep deprivation, and overbearing women in all time periods by Connie Willis)

This book features:

  • So much Victorianness
  • And so many Lord Peter references (that whole “you look just like Lord Peter in that boater—oh, Ned, it’s just like Harriet and Lord Peter!” sequence, oh my)
  • Time-lag (“One of the first symptoms of time-lag is a tendency to maudlin sentimentality, like an Irishman in his cups or a Victorian poet cold-sober.”)
  • The narrator’s sleep deprivation being embedded in how the book is written
  • Me being very very sleep-deprived while I read it and therefore every nonsensical thing Ned thought making a disturbing amount of sense to me—yes, yes, that’s exactly how the world works, I am not questioning any of this, why would I?
  • Professor Peddiwick and his excellent theories on the importance of the great individual in history (and his unparalleled hatred for Overforce)
  • A most impressive butler
  • A pure-hearted bulldog, by name Cyril
  • A man taking care of cats who does not know how to Cat. (He thinks if you put them down they hop back into your arms upon request, a misapprehension which leads to Problems)
  • Really, really funny writing. So very deadpan. I love that kind of writing
  • Time travel

I should by all rights hate it for the time travel, but I don’t. The thing is that they don’t make you think about it too hard; instead they make worried speculations that they don’t know the answers to, wave their hands a lot, and say: “chaos theory!” which soothes me considerably. Plus it hits me right in the wish fulfillment—historians who have developed the technology for research purposes??? They get to go back to these historical eras and learn about them and actually see and meet the people???

The Legend of Sam Miracle

(a book about a time-travelling priest and a vulture-man with pocket watches chained to his heart and a twelve-year-old gunslinger with snakes instead of arms, don’t ask, it’s by N. D. Wilson okay?)

Things that gave me glee:

  • The Ranch Brothers. Bless these borderline criminal orphan kids, looking after their brother Sam
  • Glory. Can authors trying to write strong girl characters, and just real, smart kids in general, take notes
  • “His father had always been as sure as sunlight, as full of laughter as the great gold maples in fall.”
  • Sam just being Confused, about everything, all the time (relatable)
  • Father Tiempo
  • “Time is the Poet speaking the next word.”
  • The Southwest (the desert ❤️)
  • The high stakes and the intensity and the pain
  • Cindy being horrible
  • The fact that I had just watched Tombstone before reading it, so I heard all of Doc Holliday’s dialogue in Val Kilmer’s voice (and saw it coming out of his face) and it was grand
  • N. D. Wilson’s writing is just beautiful, always, and I love his sense of setting and scope and meaning and morality

The Fatal Flaw:

  • TIME TRAVEL DOES NOT MAKE SENSE AND YOU CANNOT MAKE IT MAKE SENSE NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO
  • TIME TRAVEL IS FURTHERMORE A NATURAL EVIL AND AGAINST THE NATURE OF REALITY
  • TIME TRAVEL IS FURTHERMORE A MORAL EVIL IN THAT IT UNMAKES THE CHOICES OF HUMAN BEINGS AND I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS, NO SIREE BOB I WON’T

So in case it wasn’t clear…I really hate time travel.

Mistress Wilding

(a book about the Monmouth Rebellion and why you should probably equally steer clear of politics, gossip, marriage, and treason by Rafael Sabatini)

This should be a movie. It would have great action sequences, set-pieces, and dialogue, with minimal adapting. I also think the character arcs (which are great, if a little brushed over in favor of excitement) would show to advantage in the movie format.

Characters in this book who need to stop being headstrong fools and have a little humility:

  • Anthony
  • Ruth
  • Richard
  • Sir Rowland
  • Gray
  • Monmouth
  • EVERYONE, pretty much

Blessings be on the heads of:

  • Trenchard
  • Diana

…for they are, respectively, surely the only reason Anthony or Ruth survives anything in life.

Island of the Aunts

(a book about kidnapping children and de-oiling mermaids by Al Gore Eva Ibbotson)

My Reasons for Reading Such a Disappointing Book:

  • I’ve been meaning to try Eva Ibbotson forever
  • It was 25 cents at the thrift store
  • I like whimsical middle-grade fantasy

Disappointments:

  • The characters started off interesting, with potential, and then…were never developed or focused on any further
  • I’m sorry but I just don’t like cartoon villains
  • The portrayal of Lambert, which is something that’s begun to bother me more and more in kids’ books. It’s not that he was an awful little snot with no appreciation for the Things That Truly Matter in Life; it was that he could never be anything different. It wasn’t that he refused the enlightenment achieved by Minette and Fabio; it was that he was incapable of receiving it. Apparently. Some people are just inferior. (To be clear, I do believe some people are evil. There are moral differences in people, but there are not differences in worth based on what you like and don’t like, are interested in or not interested in.) Like, as a kid I read so many books that treated people like this. And I feel like it really messed with my perception of reality and human worth? So I do not believe it’s an attitude that should be present in children’s books.
  • The author was trying to inspire wonder and delight in nature, and she just failed because (I think) there were no margins? Like, the kraken was the greatest most wondrous thing there could possibly be, so of course it fell short. It wasn’t the tip of the iceberg, it was the iceberg, and suddenly, when the iceberg was fully exposed, it wasn’t that impressive anymore. This is all??? This is the pinnacle??? There needed to be More than the kraken. (I think this is a principle that applies broadly to stories? There always needs to be More than what you show, if inspiring wonder is one of your aims. Maybe.)
  • Also the conservation messaging. Like golly gee, I’m not a tough crowd here, conservation is something I really care about and I think people should care about, I think everyone’s life is enriched by nature and a love of it…so to make ME bored and weirded out by the conservation elements of your story is quite a feat, but Eva Ibbotson accomplished it without breaking a sweat. Somehow.

Sorcerer to the Crown

(a story about magic and idiot British aristocrats by Zen Cho)

Reminds me of:

  • Georgette Heyer
  • W. R. Gingell (a little)
  • Faulkner (in that sometimes yes, you can use fifty-five words to say “please pass the mustard” but should you?
  • Weird feminists (because women are powerful because BLOOD or something)
  • A Sorcery of Thorns (because the heroine was unscrupulous Chaos and I loved it)

It was overall quite enjoyable.

Decline and Fall

(a book about an unfortunate schoolteacher by Evelyn Waugh)

Things Considered, in This Book, Suitable Matter for Farce:

  • Racism of so many varieties (including racial slurs)
  • Religious doubt
  • Sex trafficking
  • Death
  • (of children)
  • Suicide
  • Also murder (with saws)

Anyway, this book was hilarious. And so dark.

Writing style: understated British comedy—“That is the man who shot my son.” “Oh, how too shattering for you! Not dead, I hope?”

(The fate of Tangent in general, guys. Treated in matter-of-fact parentheses. I don’t know how to explain how dark it was.)

Main classic British mid-century trope utilized: Main Character Who Does Nothing But Things Happen to Him and His Life Falls Apart While He’s Infuriatingly Passive But Also Endearingly Normal.

Most relatable line: “The next four weeks of solitary confinement were among the happiest of Paul’s life.”

Margot Beste-Chetwynde can go and die.

So she was a bad human being, but I can’t decide if she was supposed to be charming? I mean, her character’s introduction was “eccentric racist socialite,” so maybe not. Maybe she was supposed to be as painful as she was, but Paul, being but a Human Male, was fascinated and we were supposed to pity his fascination. (Pity is what most things that happened to Paul evoked, so.)

As far as prose goes, this Evelyn Waugh fellow certainly has a Gift.

Liesl & Po

(a book about a girl and a ghost and many coincidences by Lauren Oliver)

A good book, but disappointing. (I just…wanted it to be better? And more my thing? There were a lot of elements that muted my enjoyment that weren’t necessarily bad; they just weren’t my Vibe, if you know what I mean.)

Things That Weren’t Bad (But I, Being Unreasonable, Insisted on Disliking Them Anyway):

  • Cartoonish villains
  • Kinda one-note characters? (Like do I really demand deep characterization from my whimsical middle grade? Apparently yes, at least if it’s a book about the Human Experience in some way. I’m not even a little bit interested in some universal human experience; I’m interested in each human’s experience…but this means that if your character is a stand-in for The Average Human Dealing With Human Stuff, I will be unfortunately bored.)
  • The whole…Vibe??? I feel like the kind of person who really likes A Series of Unfortunate Events would really like the vibes of this. I happen to loathe the vibes/setting of A Series of Unfortunate Events (that sort of comically macabre steampunk variation on our real world??), so…
  • Ghosts (even though there were nice things about how this book did them)
  • Coincidences

Things That I, in My Magnanimity, Admit Were Good:

  • Henry Morbower. Bless this man. My favorite character. Should have been in it more.
  • The prose was lovely!
  • The good characters, although pretty one-dimensional and all that (in my opinion), were without a doubt dears. Which I do appreciate.
  • Po Amused me.
  • Mo. Bless this man as well; bless him for his insistence on boys who need hats getting hats, his large heart, his small brain, and all strays (animal or human) he adopts.

Things it reminds me of:

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (as aforementioned)
  • Oliver Twist (one of the only Charles Dickens books I don’t like…heh)
  • this webcomic (because…steampunk? I guess?) (also this webcomic is excellent and should be read) (and should be caught up on by me) (oops)
  • Winnie-the-Pooh (because Mo is just that wholesome)

Well, and that’s it, you guys. I have…not read that many books this year. What are outros I hate them

Confessions Read-Along: Books 8 & 9

’Sup.

This post is late, but hey. Being disciplined is for Lent. It’s Easter now.

Kidding, kind of?

Here is a new, beautifully celebratory, Easter-colored version of the graphic:

Ain’t it purty? Let’s all take a moment to appreciate Megan’s graphic design skills.

But anyway! Augustine’s Confessions! I read Book 8 and wow, you guys, the whole thing is so great I don’t even know what to say.

The story of Victorinus? “I shall not believe it or count you as a Christian until I see you in the Church of Christ.” Victorinus’s rejoinder: “Is it then the walls of the church that make the Christian?” (Somebody studied his rhetoric.) But, eventually: “Christ might deny him before his holy angels if he was too faint-hearted to acknowledge Christ before men.” This reminds me, first, of some of the things my mom told me as a kid getting ready to be baptized, about the importance of an outward, public profession of faith (rather than merely an internal, private belief), and also that quote by C. S. Lewis or somebody about how courage is the form taken by the other virtues at the testing point. Christianity is not merely intellectual; it is also in living, in the blood of the martyrs and the sweat of the nervous man ashamed to admit before people who will mock him that he believes in the risen Christ but more ashamed yet to deny his Savior. That stuff is kind of the same deal as courage, I feel like: the form your faith takes where it intersects with the resistance of the real world, the testing point: the proof of its vitality. (I could be way off with that analogy, though. Just a thought.)

But not just Victorinus’s story. The garden scene??!?!? Augustine’s reluctance being finally broken? The joy? Alypius’s conversion? Monica being told? Just EVERYTHING?

So, 3 takeaways:

  • Get you a friend like Alypius.
  • God’s grace, y’all. *words fail*
  • “Can you not do what these men and these women do? Do you think they find the strength to do it in themselves and not in the Lord their God? It was the Lord their God who gave me to them. Why do you try to stand in your own strength and fail? Cast yourself upon God and have no fear. He will not shrink away and let you fall.”

I also read Book 9 (high time). Which, besides Augustine tying up loose ends in his life (like quitting teaching rhetoric) and heading back to Africa, is mostly an account of the end of Monica’s life. And a loving son’s…eulogy, I guess you could call it. And a repository for this (needed) reminder: “Yet if any man makes a list of his deserts, what would it be but a list of your gifts?”

Takeaways here:

  • Get you a mom like Monica…?
  • Also be a mom like Monica

And that’s a wrap for this read-along. Kind of weird that it’s over. Thanks for doing it with us?? (Thanks to Megan for semi-suggesting it, and running along with undiminished enthusiasm when I pounced upon her suggestion like a cat upon a dragging shoelace??) I’ve loved it so much. I’ve wanted to read the Confessions for forever. Doing it with other people is the way to go, apparently. Not only as far as keeping on track (ish), but also the interesting conversations and new insights!

Obviously, there are four more books. I may or may not read them, since my copy is due back at the library Very Soon Indeed and I am, moreover, Very Busy Indeed. If I do read them, I might do a post? But for now, this read-along is officially over on my end, and will be on all counts as soon as Megan posts her last ones!

I decided it might be a good idea to compile a list of all the posts for reference, just in case that’s helpful, so here you go:

See y’all around. ✌️

“Spring Herself, When She Woke at Dawn” // One Quirk Later

I’m not even sure that pretentious-literary-allusion of a title is accurate, but it stuck and I cannot get rid of it. So Spring Herself, When She Woke at Dawn it is, for the title of this quirk.

Which, by the way, has context! It’s a scene from a novel I have mostly not written. This scene takes place well into the story, which means there’s all sorts of backstory and world-building and things you don’t know about leading up to it.

So it may possibly not make sense, and it also may possibly not mean things to you the way it does to me, because you don’t know the characters and what has happened to them…but ah well. I thought of this scene immediately upon seeing the wonderful prompt Jem cobbled together for us this month and…simply couldn’t not write it.

It’s also really long. Like definitely too long to qualify as flash fiction. Oops?

Well, enjoy, I guess.

Or don’t.

But you should enjoy it if at all possible. It’s spring, a time to enjoy yourself. (Or…fall? Is it fall in the Southern Hemisphere? Is that how that works? At any rate, also a time to enjoy yourself.)

Does anyone else adore this graphic? It is the perfect blend of quirky and whimsical and mysterious and the color scheme is just *chef’s kiss*

Spring Herself, When She Woke at Dawn

As it was the first dance of spring, Eden wore white. Eden loved white (like Easter lilies and the rarest daffodils), and she knew it fit her – even without looking in the mirror to see the way her skin bloomed against it: vivid rose and cream, and the light gold-brown given to it by the sun. She knew by how free she felt, by the flash of her hand across her vision, and (when she felt like admitting it) by the way Jeffrey looked at her. And tonight she wanted to be beautiful. She took the necklace from its drawer.

The door burst open.

Closing her hand around the chain, Eden twisted to look over her shoulder. She grinned happily. “Jeffrey!”

He flailed to a stop. “How many times do I have to tell you my name isn’t Jeffrey?”

Eden spun on her stool to face him all the way. “Yes, it is. And you shouldn’t really barge into my room without knocking.”

“Oh, sorry.” He looked as rueful and flustered as his hair, which could never decide which way to grow or whether to lie down or stand up and was hence always full of the wildest compromises. “Sorry, Eden.”

“It’s okay, I’ve got a lock.”

They smiled at each other.

“Anyway,” he said, shoving his hands into his pockets, “I came to tell you it’s important what you wear tonight.”

“How?” asked Eden, despite knowing the general uselessness of such questions.

He shrugged. “That’s all I know.”

She looked down at the necklace, clutched and many-times-folded in her hand. She lifted the hand and opened her fingers to show him. “I was thinking of wearing this.”

That was why she didn’t wear it often, despite the strange, grave beauty it lent her. That sudden flicker of expression in his eyes – it was the same every time. A little puzzled, a little sad, like peering through a window into a dark house.

Eden was not a dark house. She was an Easter lily, born under one sun, come through darkness to greet another. She had been a finder of hidden doors and an explorer of secret passages, and now she was a girl who’d come home. That was how she knew, whatever sun it was, the sunlight was all the same, and it was all sunlight. Even the fall of dusk meant sunlight: for it to fall into.

“I don’t understand you sometimes,” she said to him, and realized as she said it she was frowning. She hadn’t meant to frown – still less to say it.

He returned her gaze (but not her frown) and, after consideration, nodded. “I don’t understand you sometimes.”

Pique flared in Eden. “I’m under no obligation to—” She paused, and said, less icily—“explain myself to you.” Then she felt wretched. “And you’re under no obligation to explain yourself to me,” she added wearily. “Of course. Sometimes—I just wish we knew things. And weren’t always guessing and being considerate. Of course, I want to be considered—only—”

He smiled at her.

She didn’t smile back, yet. She put her free hand on the dressing table, her fingers sliding down the grain of the wood. “I do understand the thing that matters. We’re friends.” She raised her eyebrows, as if it had been a question, and when he nodded she finally returned his smile.

***

Dusk fell in sheets from the mountains, filling the bowl of the valley. Eden thought how nice it was to know the dances, so they could stroll down the path together now, and talk, and wait and feel the rhythm of the dance growing in their hearts. No need to practice or count the rhythms or ask Jeffrey to teach her the next step. (“My name isn’t Jeffrey,” he would say.)

“I hope you’ll dance with me some,” he was saying now, gravely.

“Of course I will,” said Eden.

“You didn’t last time.”

“Dance with the churl who insulted my abilities? Ha.”

“I know you had to keep up appearances till he left, but you didn’t dance with me then either.” The stream flowed at their feet, its clear throaty murmur as cold as the touch of the night wind on their arms. (After all, it was only the very, very beginning of spring. Eden hadn’t even gone looking for hyacinths yet.) When he spoke again, his voice seemed (to Eden) to have grown together with the stream and to run with it. “You don’t have to. It’s just I keep thinking – sometimes – a little – you don’t want to. I just want to know.”

Eden shivered involuntarily. He stopped quickly, took off his jacket, and put it around her shoulders. Eden stood still in the warmth of it, looking downstream into the deep shadows – and up, barely lifting her eyes, to the velvet purple sky, washed with the watery shadows of shadows. Very soon the first stars would be out, and the dance would begin. For now, though, she was out here in dusk’s last deepest purple with the boy. Her boy. And he wanted to know.

Eden could appreciate his directness. She had been direct, after all, that afternoon. But she was wary, and her childhood was slipping from her shoulders like snow from the thawing cedars, and that was why she didn’t always dance with him now. Only it would be either very cruel or very foolish to explain it all to him. Cruel if he was as innocent and happy as she was. Foolish if he wasn’t. She said, “Do you think I’m pretty?”

He stood just behind her elbow, and because she was looking down the canyon she couldn’t see him, but she would have felt him move, and that was how she knew he didn’t. “Yes.”

Eden laughed and turned to him. “You’re a dumb fish, rising to bait that obvious.”

He grinned widely at her. “Some compliments like being caught.”

She narrowed her eyes, listening to the stream. “Jeffrey.”

His head lifted.

“I would rather be happy than pretty.”

Down in the canyon, from the lake’s edge, frogs sang out.

And Eden, looking into the sky above the mountains, brought her gaze back down, down, to the path and Jeffrey’s face, waiting to see if it ought to be anxious. “Fortunately – ” she said, with a smile that crinkled her eyes like a laugh – “unless I find you have lied to me – I don’t have to pick.”

And Jeffrey smiled back, believing her, yet unconvinced.

They turned to walk back. Eden brought her hand up within the cover of his jacket and uncurled her fist. She poked at the necklace all crunched in her palm, till the single pendant uncovered itself. It glowed with strange potency in the twilight.

Eden realized she had stopped walking. She looked up, into Jeffrey’s watchful gaze. Her lips tightened. “Why did you give it to me, if you don’t like it?”

When he laughed, Jeffrey’s face looked seventeen, just like her. When he was grave, he looked younger, much younger even than when she’d met him, younger in a different way. An ageless way. This was the same beauty the necklace gave to Eden, and she was afraid of it. She was afraid of Jeffrey’s face now, like a twelve-year-old’s, impossibly simple. Again his voice ran with the voice of the stream, so that they came low and swift, deep and sweet, clear and uncapturable, to Eden’s ears bearing the same words. “I gave it to you because you wanted it.”

And she had.

Only – she was realizing – she could only have it by losing it. Either way. If she kept it forever, adorned and set apart by its alien beauty, she herself lost the mortality that made it potent. And if she could go back, and have it – have Margo, have the Kowalskis, have the blue hyacinth blooming in the purple dusk at the edge of the soccer field (her breathing and Margo’s, her small and battered purple Converse cocked next to Margo’s spiffy new black ones, the grass tickling their legs, the moist warm press of coming summer against their bodies) – then she would lose it too, because that was what it meant to have it.

The first star was out, overhead. The small drop of light swimming in the pendant’s lilac (it was the same warm color as the lamplight in Mrs. Kowalski’s house) shimmered brightly up into her eyes. She squinted.

“It’s starting,” Jeffrey said.

Eden knew. She wasn’t afraid to be fashionably late, attired in white and wearing her necklace – if she was going to wear it. It did more than make her beautiful.

In her hands, the blaze of the little star ebbed. She could see its shape clearly again.

“Come on, Eden,” urged Jeffrey, half laughing.

Eden, giving her left hand to him, ran in his wake. To the door, where they stopped. Music floated out to them, merry music that teased at the stars. Eden gave him back his jacket.

He looked up at her, from under half-behaved hair, fixing his buttons. He was grave again, but not so young. Eden wanted to push his hair out of his eyes and make it lie down properly. “You should wear it,” he said.

Eden looked down at the necklace still in her hand; her mouth tightened again.

“I really think you should.”

She lifted it to her neck – cold, thin iron bars and ribbons like ice laid on her skin, the chains were – and breathed in the scent of his hands as he took it from her (they smelled like dirt; he must have been gardening, and he’d better not have planted any of the bulbs without her) and the tight cold scent of the spring night. He fastened it in the back without any fumbling—the only boy Eden had ever met who knew how to accomplish that—and then they went in.

***

Eden didn’t dance as much as usual. She danced with Jeffrey; she danced with just Maralee, and with Maralee and her friends. She exchanged smiles with the grandfather, her favorite dancing partner, but of course he rarely danced in spring – that, when she first came, had been an exception. And she was not unaware of the people – mostly boys her age and a little older – who saw her as she passed by, smiling gravely, with a cup of mead in her hands, and who paused, and hesitated, and would have asked her to dance. But she didn’t need to enact silly dramas with Jeffrey to discourage them tonight (on another night, she wouldn’t have wanted to discourage them). In fact, she was keenly aware that as the necklace gave her that power of drawing them, so it was that power she turned to her own use now – the measuring glance from gentle eyes, the slight turn of a shoulder at the proper time, the fall of a hand to her side, the imperceptible lift of an expectant chin. So no one stopped her. No one approached her but her friends. Wherever she stood, at the foot of the hall or the head of the stairs, or lingering (as she did for a short time) with the grandfather behind the mead tables, people looked at her: people she didn’t know well and people she didn’t know at all.

It was like being Queen of the Fairies, she thought; that was what it was like. Well – no – it was the King of the Fairies who was always a mortal. But perhaps it still worked in a mixed-up way. It didn’t matter.

Now the evening was late. The strings played softly; the night outside pressed against the windows like ink squeezed into too small a bottle. To Eden’s tired eyes, the lights seemed to lengthen and leap across the floor and the air. She smiled at Maralee, Tom, and Rosalind, chattering beside her about the picnic planned for tomorrow; then smiled at Jeffrey, standing quietly on her other side. It was only certain lines in his face that made him look seventeen. You would know him at once for the same fourteen-year-old he had been. Eden had thought she wouldn’t dance anymore tonight, but now she changed her mind: before the night ended, she’d dance again with Jeffrey.

If he wanted to, but she wasn’t exactly uncertain on that point.

He looked over – pretty quickly, really, if one considered how long it sometimes took him to realize she was there when he’d been absorbed in something else – and smiled quickly back at her.

“Do you want – ” Eden began.

A movement at the foot of the hall caught her eye. She mightn’t have paid it any attention – or would have finished her sentence before she did – if it hadn’t been for a suddenly renewed consciousness of the coldness of the necklace around her throat (the thin chain-work trailed melted snow-drops across her skin, and the curve of the lowest loop touched the hollow of her collarbone like a bead of ice) and, entirely un-physical, of the tiny lilac pendant in the midst of all the cold. It wasn’t cold. Even when she thought about it, she couldn’t feel it.

At the door, the porter was letting someone in, with curiosity as obvious as his reluctance. The someone – the two someones – were coming in – the taller one looking about her; the shorter, stouter one looking up-hall – both drab in jeans and T-shirts and ripped jackets and hair in unwashed ponytails – Eden hadn’t seen anyone wear jeans in so long, and these were so dirty – and the short one was looking at Eden’s necklace. That was all she was aware of, Eden knew: the sweet, humid, lilac-flavored evening at the park, burning with a blaze as orange as Mrs. Kowalski’s study lamp, fierce as her hugs.

And then her eyes came up a little. They saw beyond Eden’s throat and saw Eden.

The music didn’t stop, but all the dancing did, when she ran across the floor. She didn’t run much faster than she ever had, so Eden had a moment to be frozen: untouchable, stolen away and changed as little Kay in the story. But with a fierce, quick tightening of her mouth, she broke the spell and stepped forward to meet Margo. Margo (impossibly, really here) galloped up the steps. She was out of breath, and so she sounded half-strangled as she shrieked, “Eden!” She barreled into Eden.

Eden had never hugged anyone so tightly, not even the grandfather.

Well, kids, that do be all for this time around. Many thanks to Jem for doing this linkup! It’s one of my favorite things, and I really look forward to it every month. Which isn’t to say I manage to write something every month…but I do get to read the scrumptiously angsty things other people write (I mean, they’re usually angsty), so it’s a win-win. Happy spring to you guys (you know…the ones for whom it’s spring)! I hope your spring is full of robins and dancing and excitement!

An Easter Sonnet

I walked most often lonely in the spring,

My footstep slow upon the velvet grass,

With none to know or guess my sorrowing,

Nor any that would greet me should I pass.

My heart was heavy as (but not so sweet)

The cherry’s pink, perfumed, emblossomed mass.

I heard a song I knew once in the street,

But found it not—nor heard it more, alas.

The flowers held the night; beneath my feet

The earth was softer than the newborn sky

Where in the rain I longed each day to meet

The one I hoped could live. (I saw him die.)

Yet when the sun came up that holy morn,

I wept no more, and all the stars were born.

It’s Easter Monday, and I have two motivations for posting this. One, it’s a poem I wrote last year around Easter that had to do with…Easter. Clearly. Or not clearly. I don’t actually know how clear it is. So if you liked it and it made sense to you, great. It was in hope of such an eventuality I shared it.

If it didn’t make sense, well…at least I am joining in a long and illustrious tradition: poetry that makes no sense. Also known as just poetry. Generally speaking.

Uh. Anyway.

The second motivation is to talk about sonnets. Specifically Spenserian sonnets, because this was…maybe one of those?

So, what all sonnets have in common is that they’re fourteen lines long and the lines are in iambic pentameter (da-DA da-DA da-DA da-DA da-DA). Rhyme schemes and content requirements vary.

Spenserian sonnets have three abab stanzas with a rhyming couplet at the end; however, some of the rhymes get shared, or repeated, or however you want to think about it. Basically, the overall rhyming scheme for Spenserian sonnets is abab cbcb dcdc ee. Or possibly abab bcbc cdcd ee. Or something similar to that. The thing is that I don’t actually know…

The way I look at it, it doesn’t matter that much. What’s clear is that there are two a rhymes and two d rhymes but four b and c rhymes, and the rhymes within each stanza follow an abab pattern. So if you stick to that you’re all good, in my (clearly expert) opinion.

Which I kind of did. I think my rhyme scheme in this poem was abab cbcb cdcd ee. Close enough.

The other thing a Spenserian sonnet is supposed to have (I think) is a volta. A volta is like…a change. A switch. An answer following a question. It’s the turn in the road of the sonnet, you might say.

Now, Petrarchan sonnets (my favorite kind—maybe I will do another post talking about them, if you all don’t find this one incredibly boring) also have the turn. But Petrarchan sonnets are clearly divided by their rhyme scheme into the octet (the first eight lines) and the sestet (the last six lines). That break between octet and sestet is where the turn is supposed to happen. It makes intuitive sense to the poet!

Not so with the Spenserian sonnet. Here (apparently) the turn is also supposed to come after the eighth line. Did I do this in my sonnet? No, I did not. The turn wanted to come right at the last two lines, the change in the rhyme scheme. It’s what’s intuitive, you know?

And I must say, in this particular poem at least, I like that the turn is purely contained within the final couplet. I think it has more punch that way.

But anyway…that’s all the knowledge I have of Spenserian sonnets to afflict you with today. I may or may not have written one (and may or may not have been inspired to write this post by Elisha’s experiments-with-poetic-forms posts, which I love), and I may or may not really, really want to know what you guys think of sonnets? Have you written them? They are so intimidating for me to start, but once I have started I can pretty much wrestle them into shape. And it’s been so good for my writing—both poetry and prose—to practice within a rigid form. And I don’t know, you guys, I’m just a fan of sonnets.

Lastly, but far from leastly, happy Easter, my friends! He is risen!

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