What I’ve been Reading Lately

Clash of KingsClash of Kings by George RR Martin

It took all summer, but I knocked out the second book in a Song of Fire and Ice by George RR Martin. It’s cool how engrained in pop culture this world has become, thanks in large part to the HBO series that I am not watching because I wanted to read the books first. It’s cool that the more I read, the more apt I am to understand a gazillion memes and facebook references. And while the books are brutal and often hard to take, they are also (or have been so far) consistently compelling, which is a surprise when there are SO MANY characters and plot points to keep straight. The narrative jumps around all over the place, but I’m just as interested in (almost) every piece of it.

ShadowsShadows by Robin McKinley

We’re skipping a few books I read in the interim (and I re-read Dragonhaven, also by Robin McKinley, in the past few months as well), but Shadows is the NEW Robin McKinkey book. The new ROBIN MCKINLEY book. More people should be excited about this. I went to buy the book in hardcover on the day it came out (I’m actually a little ashamed of all the Robin McKinley books I’ve picked up used and at a discount, since she is a living writer that I adore and really want to support) and was sort of expecting that the bookstores would make as big a deal about the new release as I was making about it. You know, like there would be one of those window displays or something. But the local bookstore didn’t even HAVE the title. To their credit, it was ordered, and would be there on Monday, but that was WAY not soon enough. Luckily I was going to the mall anyway, and Books a Million did have the book on release date, but it was nonchalantly just back there on the teen Fiction shelf under M. You know, like it wasn’t even a big deal.

I’m not done with Shadows yet. This is not because it is not enthralling. It’s really good, and I’m making it last, because it will be a long time before the next NEW Robin McKinley book comes out. When I brought it home, I put it on display in the shelf in my living room and allowed the anticipation to build while I finished up A Clash of Kings, and a few other books I’d left hanging. Then when I finally started Shadows, I decided that, since it was a heavy hardcover book, I wouldn’t carry it with me all day. I would only read it at night, before going to bed. I purchased some fancy decaf vanilla tea specifically to drink at night while reading Shadows. And then I started reading another book, so that Shadows would take longer. I STILL HAVE OVER HALF OF SHADOWS LEFT. Winning. 🙂

BitterblueBitterblue by Kirsten Cashore

I’ve been wanting to read this since it came out over a year ago, but when I read Cashore’s other two [excellent] books they had already come out in paperback (or maybe I first borrowed Graceling from a library, and purchased it later when I started reading Fire?). I really like how the oversize paperback books look on my shelf, and I didn’t want to ruin it by buying Bitterblue in hardcover. I decided to just wait to read it until I could purchase the copy I wanted for my collection. It took a LONG TIME. Now I’m finally reading Bitterblue, and well over halfway through. It’s just as good and compelling as the books that came before it, and sometimes very funny. I’m going to have to reread Graceling and Fire again, because while these are all stand-alone, Bitterblue gives us a very different perspective on some of the main characters in the other books, and I want to go back and compare my initial impressions of these people with Bitterblue’s observations.

FinderFinder by Emma Bull

I bought this book in North Carolina a year ago (a fact I had forgotten until I found this old blog post) and I’m finally getting around to reading it. It’s been sitting around my room for the past month or so, and half-heartedly carried with me on expeditions where I thought I might be needing a book but wasn’t sure. I’ve finally dived into it this past week because the Bitterblue paperback was too nice (and heavy, it’s one of those big thick ones) to carry in my backpack to work and… because I wanted Bitterblue to take longer. Now Finder has ALSO gotten really good and exciting. And so, I am now reading three really excellent books (in addition to Game of Thrones 3 and some other oddments), and I don’t want any of them to end.

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I Don’t Have a Kindle, But Here Are Some Books to Check Out If You Do

At one point this weekend, my brother, my mother, and I all sat on the couch reading. My brother had a sci-fi novel on his kindle. My mother had just downloaded a free book for her ipad mini. I held a real nice trade paperback copy of Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. I don’t own any sort of e-reader. Over the years I’ve watched even my most bookish friends acquire kindles. They usually receive it as a gift, but then find that they actually enjoy the device, or at least find it useful in certain circumstances. I’m not actively agin’ em; I recognize that they can be very useful for travel, or for getting a book right away, or for carrying lots of books with you at once. I even read most of Game of Thrones on my brother’s kindle while visiting him this spring, and nothing about the e-reader impeded my enjoyment of the text. And yet… I am against e-readers. I love books too much. I love their shapes and sizes and smells. I love how they feel in my hand, and how they look on my shelf. I love their covers, I love every nuance of their interior design. Every font choice and every margin size is meaningful, and all these aspects are lost in a digital conversion.

Lately, though, I do wish I had an e-reader, and for a very specific reason: I want to support self-published authors. While trawling the blogosphere, things pop up that look good. Sometimes you can even get past the first paragraph without choking on the bad writing. When I find a self-published book that feels like a real book, I want to read it. But here’s the issue: the kindle version of the book often costs between 3-5 dollars, while the hard copy, even a paperback, often costs as much as $20. Now, I am in a stage of my life right now where $20 is a lot of money. That’s a whole harp lesson, or nearly another month’s harp rental. It’s a whole 10% of a student loan payment. It’s half of what I owe the dentist for last month. It’s two hours of hard work. Basically, I don’t have $20 to spend on books right now, especially not multiple books. I do have a kindle reader for mac, but I don’t enjoy the experience of reading a book on my laptop. It feels illicit, somehow. If I want to read these self-published books as real books, with the amount of respect I would give to any published author, reading on the computer just doesn’t work for me.

So I wish I had en e-reader. I don’t, and due to afore-mentioned money concerns, I won’t have one anytime soon. Since I’m not purchasing and reading these books, I figured the least I could do is share them with you.

Imminent DangerImminent Danger: And How to Fly Straight Into It by Michelle Proulx

Discovered this via a link at Celeste DeWolfe‘s blog. It’s got a good cover, great reviews, and its first few pages are technically pristine. It’s a sci-fi space romp sort of thing, and it sounds like a lot of fun. (Author’s blog: Michelle Proulx)

 

 

Embers of GadrileneEmbers at Gadrilene by A. D. Trosper

Read a great review, and got curious; I do love a good dragon book. While the first few pages seemed a trifle melodramatic, they were also well-written, and totally hooked me. I want to see where this goes. (Author’s Blog: A.D. Trosper)

 

 

The LetterThe Letter by Kahtia Lontis

There’s actually a story behind this one, and you can read all the details at the author’s blog (http://abovetheseaoffog.com/a-tale-of-two-goats/ ) The author is trying to raise the money to travel overseas to meet her boyfriend. As much as my own experience has completely disenchanted me with the idea of online relationships, I’m still a romantic at heart. I find their story inspiring, I enjoy reading this lady’s blog, and I completely support overseas travel, so I want to help them fulfill their dream.  And, okay, I actually just realized I didn’t have a good excuse not to, and I went and bought the book. So far it is delightfully surreal, although it’s an epub file so I had to download a new program to read it. Also, the paragraphs don’t appear to be properly formatted, which is really too bad… but it’s a short book, and I think I can handle it for a 30 pages. Anyway, check it out—it’s a cool feeling to buy a book and know you’re funding someone’s dream in the process.

That’s it for today. Once again, I want to thank everyone who entered the Race to the 8th Contest. Thanks to last week, I am so close to being done with this stage of revision of Wanderlust. Also, I have not forgotten your prizes; I’ll update you on the status of those later this week.

Happy Tuesday!

-G

Bookstore Treasures

Store: The Bookshop of Chapel Hill, North Carolina

http://www.bookshopofchapelhill.com/shop/chapelhill/index.html

Purchases:


Treason
by Orson Scott Card

Used, paperback, $2.99

A stand-alone Card book that I haven’t read yet. One of his earlier works. This is a version he went through and revised, post-Ender’s Game. I’m at about page 30, and so far it is a compelling read with some fascinating concepts, which is exactly what I look for in a Card novel.

Digression: I am aware that Orson Scott Card has been politically vocal in ways that myself and many of my colleagues find incompatible with our perception of the world. I still read his books, however, because I admired his writing long before I knew anything about his politics, and I have been both lifted and broken by his words too many times to cast them out of my life. Even when we disagree with people, isn’t it okay to still love them for the beautiful things that they are? Shouldn’t we try?

High Wizardry: The Young Wizards Series, Book 3 by Diane Duane

Used, Paperback, $3.25

I’m reading through this series very, very slowly—I began them in middle school, and read book 4 last spring. Book 2 (Deep Wizardry) is my favorite; the themes run powerful and deep. Book 4 (A Wizard Abroad) really lagged near the end. I’ve actually already read book 3, but I am collecting specifically this edition of the series, and it’s a little hard to find because they’ve recently been re-released with new cover illustrations. This purchase completes my collection through book 4.

Cover Talk: I feel like I really should prefer the new covers, as they are much more painterly and illustration-y, which is supposed to be my thing. With covers, though, it really comes down to what you read first. Also, something about the photographic quality of my favorite edition of covers really works to enhance the seriousness and real-world aspects of the series, whereas the new covers are just too cutesy and stylized to take themselves seriously (http://bowjamesbow.ca/images/young-wizards-1-3.jpg). Also, I just want all the books on my shelf to match.

The FinderFinder by Emma Bull

Used, Paperback, $2:50

Emma Bull does urban fantasy. I really enjoyed War for the Oaks. I couldn’t get into Territory, but maybe I didn’t give it enough of a chance. I’ve been meaning to read more of her stuff, and I’m hoping this will be a good one. Already, the first few pages were exciting.

Irish Myth and Legend: The Names Upon The Harp written by Marie Heaney and illustrated by P.J. Lynch

Large size paperback (8.5×11), used, $3.50

It’s about Ireland and it has the word “harp” in the title. Need I say more? Also, the illustrations are incredible, and Heaney re-tells several of the Irish tales that I am struggling to re-tell in Wanderlust. I didn’t bring any of the scholarly source materiel for these stories with me on my trip, and I’m hoping that reading someone else’s retelling will help me figure out how I want to do it, or at least give me some inspiration to get started again (I don’t have my marked-up manuscript with me either, but I recall that most of the story sections just had a big note next to them saying something along the lines of TELL THIS BETTER).

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North Carolina is lovely, and in a few days I hope to tell you about the trip south and driving through mountains and getting to know family members I haven’t met in years and how much fun it is to say “y’all” un-ironically. Some other time, soon. Sometimes I get caught up in what this blog thing should be and forget that all it can be is what I have to give, at any given moment. Today, this is it.

-Grace out

P.S. Have you bought anything exciting at a bookstore lately? Feel free to share in the comments.

The Harper Boy, and How He Began

A few nights ago, during a family game of Citadels, I said, “Now I’m going to spend all my gold and build a library.”

My mother said, “That’s just like you!”

My own harper boy, Vanya.

One of the September projects I am undertaking is to sort, weed, and organize my personal library, so I can finally get all my favorite books out of boxes onto my shelves. In the process, I’ve been finding a lot of old treasures. Most interestingly, I found some forgotten evidence of how my conception of the wandering Harper Boy began. These books (and song) clearly had a direct influence on my creation of Vanya, the harper boy of Wanderlust, and on the formation of my own life-dreams as well.

First, Adam of The Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray, and illustrated by Robert Lawson (pictured cover by Neil Truscott).

It’s all there in that lushly illustrated cover: the traveling Boy with his Harp (and dog!). Please note that the harp is strung incorrectly; it’s the only thing wrong with an otherwise lovely cover. Adam of the Road is a medieval adventure story about a boy who loses his minstrel father and his dog and must find his way through the dangers of medieval England alone. I’ve penciled the year 2001 inside the cover, alongside my name, so I read this book over ten years ago, in about sixth grade. Given that, the clarity with which I remember parts of it is surprising. Late in the book Adam reunites with a close friend. They find each other during a church service, however, and must contain their joy, keeping it close and secret and spoken only by their jostled elbows and shared smiles, until the service is over. I just re-read that scene, and it is so brief, barely half a page! It left such a large impression on me regardless; it’s cool how memory works that way. I also remember strongly the deep pain of loss when Adam’s harp is stolen. I remember the loss of the harp, and not the loss of the dog, though Adam himself cared more about the latter. At any rate, the dog is recovered, and the harp is not. At the end of the book Adam is offered a place to stay and become a scholar, but he says, “No, thank you. I am a minstrel. I want to be on the road (Gray, 320).

Next, a picture book: The Minstrel and The Dragon Pup by Rosemary Sutcliff and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark.

Again, I barely need to say it. It’s all there in the cover: The slight-figured blonde young man walking through a green world with a harp. (And a dragon; how cool!) This is a charming little book, well-illustrated and containing more words than the average picture book. I first encountered it as an excerpt in a Cricket magazine, and happily found the entire book in hardcover at a discount store not long after (I think this was Middle School). The book is all about the Minstrel and his Dragon, of course, but it’s set within the archetype of the wandering minstrel, the harper who never stays in the same place for more than a few days. As a further parallel to Vanya, this minstrel even makes a sort of magic with his harp to gain the king’s trust at the end. Reunited with his dragon, he says, “Now we’re going home. Home to the open road, you and I” (Sutcliffe, 42).

There are a few other books that honed my image of the wandering harper, notably The Riddlemaster Trilogy by Patricia McKillip (which I somehow never quite finished, even though I loved it) and even Tokien’s The Hobbit, where Thorin Oakenshield is brought a harp that first night in Bag End when the dwarves weave a magic Far o’er the misty mountains cold…  Yet I think the third largest formative influence in my conception of the Harper Boy, the conception that led to my own Vanya, is the song The Minstrel Boy, written by Thomas Moore (full lyrics and some history here). The version I knew was by the celtic rock band Enter The Haggis.

The Minstrel boy to the war has gone

In the ranks of Death you will find him

His father’s sword he hath girded on

and his wild harp slung behind him.

The Minstrel boy has a ‘wild harp’ slung on his back, a harp he has taken to war, which further cements the image of a boy and his harp as fearless travelers. This song, which I discovered in early high school, is where the boy and his harp became distinctly Irish, and also where they became noble and tragic. The minstrel falls, and before he dies he “tears asunder” the chords of his harp, so that it will “never sound in slavery.” This, perhaps, is where Vanya acquired the haunting sadness that runs deep in his bones.

Adam of the Road, The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup, and The Minstrel Boy. All of these contributed to my conception of the Harper Boy archetype, and subconsciously led to the creation of Vanya, my own darling Harper Boy. The harp itself is a very feminine object (I can share my essay that touches on the erotic connection between a man and his harp at a later date), and a woman playing a classical harp is an archetype of grace and sophistication. The woman at her harp is an aristocratic image (like this still from Disney’s The Artistocats), and it is a stationary image. The woman and her harp sit in the parlor, to please and be worshiped by the society and menfolk around her. But a boy with a harp? He slings his wild harp on his back, and he travels the world. If (when? When) I learn to play the Celtic harp, I will, of course, be a foxy harper lady—yet I want to embody the archetype of the traveling harper, of the Harper Boy. The dream breaks down somewhat when I consider the logistics of carrying a harp on my back in addition to a pack containing my laptop and other life necessities, but I’m not convinced it’s impossible. Vanya is my darling boy, and I say that like a mother; a title I claim because I crave, so badly, through my work and words, to give him life. He is the culmination of all the influences that created my myth of the Harper Boy, but he is also that lost and wanting part of me that needs to strike out, brave and wild, and fill my beating heart with faraway skies and the music of distant roads. It’s a romantic notion, but long-term traveling, or any traveling, is a thing people do, a real thing I can aspire to and plan towards. And if my inspiration is partially fueled by the idea of the wandering minstrel, by that boy and his harp, who will blame me? We all come from somewhere and, as much as he comes from the influences I’ve listed, Vanya also comes from me, and wherever I go, whether I learn to harp or not, I’ll carry him too.

* * *

Leave a comment, if you like. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. Have you had any similar experiences, where you didn’t realize what books or songs influenced you until you found them again later on? What characters and archetypes have informed your life? Does my archetype of the Harper Boy agree with your own mythology?

More Breadcrumbs: A Review

I found most of this review in my drafts, and thought it was too good not to post. It’s been almost two months since I actually read the book, though, which I first mentioned in this post.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

When you read books as a writer, there are some books that are very encouraging because you think, hey, I could do that. And then there are books that just make you want to cry because how could I ever write a thing so bright? You know you have some grasp of prose and rhythm, a certain understanding of words that allowed you to get this far, but could you possibly write a thing where nearly every sentence is the kind that pierces and burns?

These are the thoughts I had while reading Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. At least three sentences per page are absolute gems, or daggers. In Breadcrumbs Ursu references many favorite books for young people that the main character, Hazel, has read. Usually these sorts of references in a book make me cringe, because the book has not earned the right to talk about its betters. I feel that Breadcrumbs actually earned those references. While reading this book, I thought about reading it aloud. I thought about reading it to my children (after reading them Tolkien and Narnia and Wrinkle in Time and Potter and all those things it references).

The thing with Breadcrumbs is it’s exceptionally literary. It has all those connecty-bits, all those symbolism-things, all those deep-truthisms about childhood and growing up. It has… breadcrumbs of all the above, little pieces, interwoven thoughout everything.

In the interest of a fair review, I checked out some amazon.com reviews (if I ever get to be a famous writer, I am going to obsess over my reviews. I already read reviews of books I adore and get all angry at the bad ones). It has many many positive reviews… and a few really bad ones. The bad reviews’ main complaint seems to be that Hazel herself, and all the characters, aren’t very likable. Okay. Honestly? The words were so goddamn pretty all the time that I wasn’t thinking too much about Hazel and whether I liked her. The reviewers complain that she is self-centered, but isn’t everyone at that age? Isn’t everyone, ever? And I did like Hazel. I like Hazel in the narrative voice, loved it every time the narration switched to second person to portray her thoughts. I do think the most beautiful thing here  is the way Anne Ursu handles words, but for me that beauty extends generously, and is more than large enough to fill the main character and cover her thoughts and words.

Little Reviews

So I’ve schemed a scheme, and I’ve got a Big Thing coming up in a few days—big for me, anyway. I’ve been working hard to earn enough cash to enjoy the Big Thing, and I haven’t even had time to finish the post I’m writing about the wheres and the whys and what it means for Wanderlust. Right now, I just got home from eight hours of housepainting,  and I still have a list of things to do tonight: laundry, packing, cleaning, a little more painting, plus sorting out that real blog post, if I get a chance (I’d like to). I don’t have a lot else to give in the way of writing, so here’s what we’ll do: When I enter in a book at Goodreads, I like to write a quick review, a sort of off-the-cuff attempt to capture my impression of the book. Here’s what I thought of a few things I’ve read in the past few months, all books to which I gave five out of five stars.

The Mystery of Grace by Charles De Lint

This was really good. Shocking and heartbreaking, with just enough grit and grease to balance the themes of fantasy and faith. The Mystery of Grace is urban fantasy at its best.

 

 

 

Zombies vs Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

This book contained many fun and diverting stories. A very good read to pass the time, and some of the stories were surprisingly deep and challenging. Personally, I liked the unicorn stories best (and found the arrogant tone of the pro-zombie editor a little tiresome. Yeah, you like zombies. Do you have to be so insulting about it?).

 

 

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

This is just as good as everyone says it is. Engaging and delightful and devastating, even if you thought you never wanted to start another one of those epic kingdom-building fantasy series again.

 

 

Pegasus by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley has done it again. Those of us who played at pegasus-riding and My Little Pony in preschool may find it difficult to take a book titled ‘Pegasus’ seriously, but you can’t skip a book with the name Robin McKinley on it, and the sophisticated creatures in this book called pegasi may surprise you. Definitely give this book a read, but watch out for the cliffhanger ending. I can’t wait for the next book.

Sketch Day, Progress, and Breadcrumbs

Progress for the day: 1,200 words on chapter 11.

I’m reading Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. I’ve seen it around and was very drawn to it because of the cover (isn’t it fantastic? I mean, the composition, the colors, even the typeface!), and I finally picked it up from a local library last week. It’s a book for younger readers, and I’m only about a third of the way in, but so far the writing is incredible and the story is poignant and there are illustrations (not by the author, but illustrations nonetheless), and it’s basically everything I could want from a book. I’ll let you know what I think of it as a whole when I finish it in a few days!

Also, I have an Art Thing for you today!

Wolf

Still sort of in sketch mode, but it’s a wolf! I actually started something else last night that I planned to post here as a sketch, but then that something else got complicated and it was impossible to post it anywhere without putting a lot more work into it, so I started a simpler picture of a wolf this morning. Wolves are relevant to Wanderlust because (spoiler!) a few show up in chapter nine. I know I’ll want to include them in an actual Wanderlust illustration, so I thought I’d start practicing. I haven’t been drawing much all month, so this was good for me, and also fun. The wolf itself was referenced from an internet photo, and with the background (still pretty sketchy, I know) I tried to do the same thing with the trees that happens on the cover of Breadcrumbs.

Oh, and Happy Independence Day! Fireworks are newly legal in Maine, and there is a fireworks store (complete with giant inflatable gorillas standing in front of it) in my tiny, tiny town. My dad and I went and bought a pretty good stash and lit them off in our driveway. It was a good time!

Have a lovely evening.

-G

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham