Is This a Kissing Book?

pink flowers

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks! In honor of this special day of love and chocolate and stressed couples overspending because of expectations having not much to do with actual love but fostered nonetheless by the commercial entities that profit from them,* I propose to talk about romance!  Specifically, how much I don’t like it, because my real name is Mistress Mary Quite Contrary (and since you asked, my garden’s growing just swell, with silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row.  And NO PRETTY MEN, because I tried that and they had an unfortunate tendency to fall head-over-heels for the pretty maids and nuh-uh, children, we’ll have none of them goings-on going on in my garden).

So, there are some things in stories that really, really bug me, and romance is one of them. A small list of reasons why:

-I’m young and immature and you know what they say about despising what you don’t understand.

-It makes people act silly. (Almost as painful as having my own dignity publicly impaired is watching other people publicly impair theirs.)

-Drama! So much needless drama!

-People are dumb and trust people they shouldn’t, and it’s annoying.

-People become mired in their romance to the detriment of their friendships and their life in general.  Which they never acknowledge.

-Related: people act like it’s the only thing in life.  It’s not! Ever heard of friends? Family? Work? Food? (There’s no real cure for heartbreak, but home cooking is the closest we’ve come to date.  In case you ever need to know.)

-People break up for stupid reasons.

-People are possessive.  Hey, actually, you don’t own the person you’re in a relationship with.

-People act like dating someone means you’re not allowed to have close friends of the opposite gender anymore.

-People do stupid or even terrible things because they’re hopelessly in love with a terrible person. And then they try and JUSTIFY IT because THEY WERE IN LOVE. But, wait, I think I missed the part where we explained how that makes wrong things less wrong?

-People make love all about feelings instead of actions or choices or perseverance.

 

Naturally, not all romances suffer from these egregious flaws.  Sometimes they’re just boring or pointless or unbelievable or shoved in where they don’t fit and the story was fine without them but they must squeeze in there because A BOOK WITHOUT ROMANCE???

shocked gasp GIF

 

WITHOUT KISSING???

 

surprised tangled ever after GIF

 

WITHOUT LOVERLY ANGST OR A HERO ABLE TO ADD INFALLIBLY GETTING THE GIRL TO HIS EXTENSIVE LIST OF SKILLS OR THE PERFECT RATIO OF TWO HUMANS TO ONE SUNSET???

 

scared wreck-it ralph GIF by Walt Disney Studios

 

WHO EVER HEARD OF SUCH A THING? WHO EVER DREAMED UP SUCH A LUDICROUSLY UNMARKETABLE MONSTROSITY?

Well, in fact, there are a few brave, wild souls who did.  These eccentrics wrote books in which romance was featured not at all and which somehow, shockingly, were good anyway.  I have Much Appreciation. I think another small list is in order, with examples:

-Lots of children’s books. Which is natural considering that they’re for children, a demographic whose toleration for romance is often small.  Because children have better** things to think about, like friends and siblings and growing up and finding out everything about everything.  Peter Pan, 100 Cupboards, The Story Girl, Winnie-the-Pooh, Betsy-Tacy, and Moon Over Manifest are all favorites of mine.

The Man Who Was Thursday. G. K. Chesterton. One can always, of course, trust Chesterton to be brilliant.  I don’t fully understand this novel, but it’s based around a simple conceit.  Chesterton bends everything to serve that conceit and the resolution into which it unfolds, dragging one along till one is dizzy—which is part of the fun.  Nor is there any romance to distract from the fine point for which the book aims.  Chesterton, you see, knew better.

Kidnapped. Robert Louis Stevenson. (Also Treasure Island, but I just got done reading Kidnapped to my little sister, so it’s on my mind.)  There is adventure.  There is friendship (with all its attendant difficulties) between two people of different backgrounds, temperaments, and political persuasions. There is Alan Breck Stewart, who bears the name of kings and is not remarkable for his modest non-insistence thereon. There is no romance, and who’d want to sigh with love, anyway, when she could laugh with Alan?

Kim. Rudyard Kipling, who’s one of my favorite poets and also a genius.  His writing is so different from anything else I’ve ever read, but so good. Poignant but never overstated.  Romance would have subtracted from the real beauty of Kim, which, ostensibly about Kim becoming a spy for the British Government in India, is actually about the relationship that forms between a boy who never had a father and an old man who never had a son (on account of how he’s a Tibetan monk and all). Great stuff.

The Thief. Megan Whalen Turner. What’s this? Modern YA without romance? Yes indeed, at least if one considers the nineties modern. (Does one?) Some of the later books in the series (of which the last one is coming out THIS YEAR!!! So excited!) do have romance, but this first one doesn’t.  It doesn’t need it.  A romance would have changed the whole lead-up, as well as the scene itself, where…a thing happened. (Spoiler-induced vagueness, sorry.) Character growth and all that. I’d been ambling through the narrative, mildly amused, mildly intrigued…and then The Thing That Happened hit me. Hard. About as hard as it hit Gen.  I don’t have adequate words for it, but that is some skillful writing right there. To turn a pleasant romp, through a vaguely Greek fantasy setting, in search of a magical (sort of? not really?) treasure, into something so painful.  And sweet.  And sad.  And…without me ever suspecting.  It wouldn’t have been like that had romance been involved. It wouldn’t have been so simple, or so devastating. I wouldn’t have felt Gen’s despair.  I wouldn’t have smiled when hope came back. Not because romance is always bad (that’s not really what I’m saying, here), but because that’s just not the story this was.

 

In sum, romance is not the only relationship worth writing about.  Siblings, parents and children, friends of the same gender, friends of the opposite gender, cross-generational friendships…all worthy topics.

However, I admit romance has its place, in life and in books.  As long as its place is not everywhere, and people aren’t ditching their friends or being stupid, I don’t even mind it. Mostly.

I mean…I actually do.  But I try not to.

But I don’t always.  In fact, I’m currently working on a post about my ten favorite fictional couples, as part of Cordy’s Lovely Blog Party .  Wherein I plan to prove that I do not hate romance but am, on the contrary, once you get past the curmudgeonly exterior, really a sap at heart.

Somewhere down in there.

Probably.

Pretty far down.

~

*I think Valentine’s Day actually has a cool history involving saints and bishops and Roman martyrs (right?), but I don’t know the history and I wish I did but I don’t and so yes, I’ve resorted to cheap sarcasm.

**Better FOR CHILDREN, that is.  I don’t think romance is less than friendship any more than I think friendship is less than romance.

~~~~~

So this was a slapped-together post because I had an idea and wanted to write it but I also had homework and exams and consequently not a whole lot of time.  If it came across as romance-is-the-worst-and-we-should-abolish-it, sorry.  That wasn’t the intent.  If it came across as Sarah-is-enjoying-being-obnoxious-about-romance-just-because-it’s-Valentine’s-Day, then…that’s unfortunate but probably true.

Happy Valentine’s Day for real, though. May you be blessed with much love and chocolate. 

And, because knowing other people’s opinions is fun: what do you think of romance, in books or in general?  Is there too much of it in fiction, or is it just handled poorly, or is it not handled poorly and I’m just a judgmental old killjoy? (Judgmental young killjoy…?) Would romance have added to the books I mentioned?  Are there any of my fictional romance pet peeves that you actually think are justified?

Passion and Skill in Storytelling (or, In Which Sarah Rambles About Writing, Her Life History, and Why You Should Never Send Your Kids to Public School)

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I’m a writer.

Some other people in the world are writers.

It’s great fun.

It has, however, its disadvantages.  For instance, one worries about what people will think. (Is that guy who just asked what I do for fun now judging me for having such a stuffy-old-lady hobby?)  One worries about the cost of ink. (By the time I write all the things I want to, am I going to be destitute due to the necessary expenditure for pens?)  One worries about one’s characters. (Are they really okay after all I put them through? It seems unlikely.)

Most of all, in the course of being a writer, one always eventually comes up against the worry that one’s writing isn’t any good.  (At least I think one does. Maybe it’s just me. That’s great for everyone else, kind of sucks for me.)

Humility or critical reflection on one’s own work or reading great authors starts the train of thought, and then other sources, like fatigue and self-doubt and overconsumption of writing advice, perpetuate it.  In the beginning it’s, “I’m not Dostoyevsky and consequently my writing could use work, in these specific areas; I should get on that,” and by the end it’s, “I’m an utter failure who can never ever ever ever ever write anything decent and I should give up and my life means nothing.”  The first attitude, for those of us who aren’t Dostoyevsky (which is, indeed, most of us), is healthy.  The latter is not.

But for me (though I don’t know about anyone else), saying, “It’s not healthy,” is never very helpful.  Yeah, obviously it isn’t healthy to think I’m bad at everything and will never accomplish anything worthwhile, but what it it’s true? I don’t want to believe my writing is the greatest if it’s actually awful.  I don’t want to have confidence in what I do; I want what I do to be worth having confidence in.

When it comes to stories, we’ve all read that book that’s just…bad.  Not its message.  Its message is great.  Its message shines. The author obviously cared very much about moral and theme and getting his point across.  He just…didn’t know how to write.  At all.

Did the author know he didn’t know how to write?  Doubtful, or he wouldn’t have written.  So what if I, too, can’t write?  What if my stories, too, are, from a literary standpoint, garbage?  How will I know?  And if I know, what will I do?  I so want my stories to be good.

On the other hand, we’ve all read a book concocted with enviable skill—intricate plot, well-crafted characters, vivid prose—and yet not all that special, easily forgotten, because it hasn’t any heart. I don’t want to write that kind of story either.

So if the question is ever, “Do you want to write with passion or with skill?” the answer is always, “Both.”

doctor who sherlock GIF

Self-evident, yes.  Easy? Not so much.

I’ve been writing since before I could write.  My mother (who, now that I think about it, must surely have been endowed with saintly stores of patience) was my scribe till I learned to wield a pen for myself.  I wielded it enthusiastically, producing a plethora of stories and poems and sometimes even what might be broadly (and charitably) called essays.

In second grade I stopped (because public school crushes your individuality and tramples your dreams in the dust; all the terrible things you’ve heard are true, kids), but a third-grade English assignment kindled a latent love of poetry.  By fourth grade I was again scribbling adventures in spiral-bound notebooks.  I wrote of ponies, kidnappings, buried treasure, strawberry thievery.  As I grew up, frontier America, other worlds, eighteenth-century Venice, and the moon made appearances too.

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The more I’ve written, the more I’ve loved writing.  The more I’ve loved it, the more I’ve wanted it to be good.  Worth my love, you know?  And worth whatever reason God made me the way He did, burning with stories to tell.

But sometimes I’ve tried so hard to make my writing perfect that I’ve lost sight of why perfection mattered in the first place.  And sometimes I’ve cared so much about the truth inside the story that I’ve sacrificed its beauty for moralistic, melodramatic drivel.

The balance between passion and skill is hard to maintain, especially since passion can lead you astray and the skill I have is nowhere near the skill I need if I’m to write the things I want to write.  I’m perpetually afraid I’ll never acquire that skill.  And I’m perpetually afraid that maybe, when it comes down to it, my words are baubles prettily arranged to hide the emptiness inside.

But if I didn’t have anything to say, would I care so much?  Surely not.  And people who care work for the things they care about.  And people who work—they have to work hard, and it takes a long time, but it happens—become good at what they’ve worked at.  I like to remember, when I get discouraged, that Tolkien worked on The Lord of the Rings for over a decade.  Thomas Edison tried a thousand times to make the lightbulb work. Demosthenes spent long hours on the beach, where he practiced talking with pebbles in his mouth, and went from a boy who couldn’t even speak clearly to one of the greatest Greek orators.

So, a twofold reminder for myself and whoever else also worries about these things:

One, don’t lose hope.  Not being easy is usually a characteristic of things worth doing. Keep writing, with the truth you’ve been given and the beauty you’ve fought for.  Don’t fear that you can’t, because chances are you can.

And two, don’t slack off.  Tolkien didn’t spend a decade in idleness; he spent it writing.

Books and Life Lessons

Okay, so, I’ll be honest, I don’t really know how to start blogging. (I am aware that it’s simple and that you just…start. Like how winning the Olympics is simple, you just…win them.) I wrote a Beginning. I wrote an Introduction. Now I need to write an Actual Thing, and it seems as if there’s a chasm to jump across—from Starting To Blog on the hither side of the river to the happy shores of Blogging In Good Earnest over yon. It seems there should be a bridge. An in-between type of post. An amorphous hybrid that has something of an introductory demeanor and yet something of a flavor of substantive content.

After much cogitation upon this problem, I have come to the conclusion that while there may well be such a genre of blog posts, I do not know how to write one. And in the interests of never stretching one’s horizons or stepping out of one’s comfort zone, I sha’n’t try to write one, either. Instead (as per the high ethical standards we hold ourselves to around here), I shall steal.

(Pray don’t be shocked, dears. It isn’t as bad as it sounds.)

pickpockets
it isn’t like this

As December of 2018 drew to a close and January of 2019 drew to an open and subsequently a middle and then an almost-close, I saw a lot of looking-back-on-2018-and-making-goals-for-2019 posts. They were all most inspiring.

I, like the maybe-rebellious-but-probably-just-lazy person I am, am not into yearly goals. Not specifically and arbitrarily at New Year’s, anyway. I don’t know if it’s because I think it’s silly (if you want to make a change in your life, just make it, why wait for January first?) or if it’s because I know I lack the mental energy to see the lofty goals I would inevitably set for myself through, but the long and short of it is that I haven’t any Official Goals For 2019.

However, looking back on 2018? And hopefully gaining wisdom thereby (although who knows)? That sounds fun. That’s the part I’m stealing. Today, for the pleasure of whosoever chooses to take pleasure in it, I’ve made a list of last year’s Noteworthy Books And Random Thoughts That Sort Of Go Along With Them.

bookstack_li
so professional

 

Noteworthy Book #1:
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

moonovermanifest

A.k.a. the sweetest, spunkiest children’s book I’ve read in a long, long time. I loved how the Great Depression and the World War I storylines came together at the end…and I loved how it was sad but the sadness was an honest, healing sadness…and I loved the cast with all its various and varying members.

Family was as important in this book as it is in life. And while the importance of family may be rather obvious, I did gain a new appreciation for mine after spending a semester away. Coming back was joyous. Having to go away again was…not. (Nobody cried, though, so that was good.) Moral of the story: Family is nice. Appreciate ’em while you’ve got ’em.

 

Noteworthy Book #2:
Vicious by V. E. Schwab
[Fair warning: this book has lots of violence, some language (I don’t think there was a bunch, but there was some), some sexual content, and some truly awful moral decisions made by both protagonist and antagonist.]

vicious

Some people are geniuses and can take everything I don’t like (science fiction, superheroes, no real good guys) and write gorgeous books out of them.

Am I jealous of this ability?

Oh, yes. Definitely.

But like…it’s actually a good thing, you know? More gorgeous books are never bad. Resenting genius doesn’t get you anywhere, except, maybe, less gorgeous books. Which isn’t exactly a desirable outcome. The truth is, some people are really, really good at things. Way better than me. And that’s okay.

(This is pathetically hard to accept, but I’ve stopped wincing every time I have this thought, so…progress.)

 

Noteworthy Book #3:
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

mistborn

A lesson to us all that your prose may be mediocre but if you have stellar characters, cool magic, and masterful world-building, you’ll enthrall even the poets among us.  Because yeah, I really love this book. Somehow. Not sure how. (Actually I am sure how and his name is Kelsier and…and…*sobs*)

However, because I didn’t like the prose, I almost quit reading in the prologue. And I still don’t like the prose, but I’m glad I didn’t quit.  I’d have missed out on a lot, not least a strange and fascinating world, a terrifying villain, and a beautiful character arc.

At the end of last year, I went home for Christmas break, exchanging 50-degree weather for frozen fingers, giant potato coats (seriously, the best way to stay warm), icy roads, and nine inches of snow. It was…cold.

snow

But I have, despite two separate occasions when it almost got me killed, a deeply-ingrained fondness for snow. I just like it. Whether I’m staring out the window, driving with extreme caution, or standing amidst the muffled stillness of it, it makes me happy.
So 50 degrees in winter is nice, but it does somewhat preclude the possibility of snow. And I think the snow is worth the cold.

It’s a metaphor, see?

 

Noteworthy Book #4:
The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton

everlastingmancover

As you’d expect from Chesterton, a marvel of paradox, wittiness, soaring ideas, and good old-fashioned common sense.

In all of Chesterton’s stuff I’ve read (which, sadly, isn’t that much) there is a common thread of fury against apathy. In our world, so full of fantastic oddities and blazing miracles, it does seem odd that anyone could forget to care. And yet it isn’t so hard to do. But if I’ve discovered anything this year, while trying to begin to figure out what on earth I’m going to do with my life, it’s that caring is not optional. You’d better care, and you’d better do something about it.

 

Noteworthy Book #5:
100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson

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My friend recommended this because it’s a children’s fantasy with fairy-tale vibes, which he knows I like. (It’s also mildly creepy, which it turns out I also like? It reminds me of the fairy-tales I made up out of my own head when I was little and it was dark and I couldn’t sleep.) So for anyone who also likes that kind of thing: I’m passing on the recommendation! This book is amazing! Amazing, I tell you! Notable elements include:

-wonder and friendship
-cats
-baseball
-a door that won’t open, even to Uncle Frank’s chainsaw
-mysterious letters from other worlds
-the fresh air of Badon Hill drifting through the door of a magical cupboard
-heartwarming bravery in the face of ancient, sleepless evil
-and also ZEKE. Because everyone needs to appreciate Zeke and his baseball bat.

This dear of a book also showcases a most profound truth:

Baseball is the best sport.

baseballinglove
this is probably Zeke’s glove, so let’s all take this moment to appreciate Zeke. Again. He deserves it, okay?

Kidding.

Not that baseball is the best sport—which it totally is—but that I learned this undeniable fact in 2018. It was way back in 2013 or thereabouts that I learned this undeniable fact.

The thing that truly stood out to me thematically, both in 100 Cupboards and in my own life not long after, was something else: compromise isn’t always the answer.

A whole lot of people like to say it is. Maybe because it’s easy. Sometimes, though—maybe even a lot of times—compromise just makes you miserable. It drives you into disillusionment after disillusionment and you come out the other side no nearer to where you want to be. Maybe not even sure you care anymore if you get there.

Sometimes, compromise is just another word for giving up.

Sometimes, what we need instead is courage.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And there we have it, folks! Five books and five random thoughts. That was fun. (Or something. Maybe “disjointed” is a better word.) So tell me, have you read any of these books? Do you think they’re remarkable? Do you think they’re terrible?  Do you disagree with everything I said and want to argue? (This is entirely acceptable.  I love arguing.) Is baseball the best sport? And which is better: snow or 50 degrees?

An Introduction (as opposed to a Contradiction)

Introductions are always hard to write, but I think maybe they’re especially hard to write when you haven’t a clue if anyone’s even paying attention.  You know?  It’s never pleasant to say, “Johnny, this is my cousin Fred.  Fred, this is my friend Johnny. Y’all talk about football or something and get to know each other,” when Fred and Johnny are staring attentively at you throughout.  But it’s even worse when Fred is making faces at Lydia across the room and Johnny is scratching his ear and staring blankly at his boots and Margaret is talking to Fred at the same time you are and whatever deranged soul got put in charge of the music is blasting some obnoxious song you’ve never heard at a volume you never knew the human ear could endure.

So yes.  Maybe Johnny and Fred are staring at me, waiting for me to stop stuttering and do the actual introducing.  Or maybe Johnny and Fred can’t hear a thing I say.

Maybe this isn’t even an Introduction.  Maybe it’s more of an Inaugural Statement of Intent.  That sounds beautifully official.

Whatever I call the thing, though, at some point I’ve really got to explain the thing.

Well…here goes.

introduction graphic

~

So, I’ve wanted to start a blog for a while now.  Blogs are cool.  On blogs you can shout about books and raindrops and roses and, you know, all your favorite things.  And you’ll find other people shouting about them too.  And you’ll discover clever word-strings and unexpected wisdoms from not-so-likely places.  And with all these good and wonderful benefits to the activity, perhaps it seems odd that I’ve waited so long to start the blog. (Because I’ve wanted to for quite a while, y’all.)

But you see…I’m shy.  Which perhaps leads to the question, why am I starting the blog now?  Was I suddenly and miraculously cured of my shyness and all other inhibitions? (That’s a rhetorical question to which the answer is: no.)

Well…we shall not get into that.  Not now, at any rate.  Suffice it to say there was a Catalyst.

Anyway, all that is not the point. The point is that there was a Catalyst, and I did start the blog (and I might someday explain why in a post? Maybe?), and now I’m trying to introduce it.

So, in the spirit of introduction, I present to you Sixty-Something Trees.

Sixty-Something Trees is the long-dreamed-of blog.  It’s for analyzing and shouting and flailing over the things I care about.  It’s about stories and other enchanted things.  It’s about truth and its place in tales of things that never happened. It’s about a girl (me) trying her best to learn from the great Author and follow in His footsteps.

It’ll be fun, I hope. Certainly it’ll be Something New And Peculiar.  Maybe it’ll even be Something Nice.  I suppose we shall see.

an inauspicious beginning in paragraph form

pink cherry blossom tree
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Once upon a time, in a land that is either very near or very far or just middling distance, depending on where you come from, there lived a girl who was fond of fairy-tales.  This girl had never ridden an elephant or written a blog post.  And, because she did not expect to soon have the opportunity of riding an elephant, she wrote a blog post, which was at least one thing accomplished.

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