Tagreading

March 26, 2015

The timekeeping part of my brain has decided to skip 2015 completely. Rather than writing 2015, or even lagging behind with 2014, I find myself writing checks or dating blog posts with 2016. No, don’t check, I already corrected the date on this one.

Time does move fast, so I’d prefer not to skip whole years at this point. With teenage children, missing a year means a greater loss than I would like to imagine. As it is, the distance to adulthood, which seemed unfathomable when they were babies, is suddenly oh so near.

Spring is the birthday season for us. Two of us in March, ushering in the return of fifty degree days and mud. Two of us in May, waking to birdsong and lilacs blooming. This week it doesn’t seem possible that the snow will finally go, but it is retreating, in skips and jumps. The roof is almost clear. The walkways show bare ground. The river of shells under the bird feeder is now resting on grass, the snow sooty to either side. It’s time to take the feeder in, before the bears come roaming, but I hate to leave the faithful chickadees looking, looking in the tree.

I’ve stalled on writing. Actually, it’s less a stall than it is a conscious choice to take a little time off. April and May have become the confluence of three large projects, one writing, two life, and I’ve decided to enter them with a clear head. I’ve been reading instead, a little of everything. I’m not talented at taking pleasure in things. Reading for pure enjoyment has fallen by the wayside a bit in recent years. Finding my way back to it seems as valid a choice as writing at this moment.

That means lots of time at the library. I’m a glutton when it comes to library books, taking out far more than I’ll ever finish. Some of them I never even start, just keep for a few days, a week, before returning them. Many I read a chapter, four, five, and stop. Good books, for the most part, just not the flavor I’m looking for at that moment. That’s why I don’t do reviews, or try to keep track of things on Goodreads. If I don’t finish a book I’ve gone so far as to bring home, it’s almost never a comment on the quality of the writing. It’s just me navigating the constraints of time and my own needs as a reader.

At some point, the homeschooling will end. When it does, things will change. There will be, I imagine, more time for reading everything. There will be less (no?) algebra, and no dissecting of flowers at the kitchen table, and no discussion of how to build 3D printers. There will be just my own work to edit, my own library books to return. It will be a change of seasons quite unlike any I’ve been through.

For now, I’ll try to remain planted in the current year. I’ll read my bits and pieces of books, and savor the ones I follow through to the end. I’ll take the bird feeder down, say goodbye to the snow. And though I’ll look forward to June and the end of the rush, I’ll remember to enjoy spring while it is here.

The state of things

I’m eating bunny crackers for breakfast. Yes, some might question that choice, but today they are the breakfast of champions.

This getting back into ordinary life after a few weeks off is kind of for the birds. Which is an odd expression. For the birds implies something like tasty seeds, or trees that cats and snakes can’t get up, and that doesn’t really seem to fit, does it?

So, let’s try again. It’s tough to jump back into the daily grind. Grind is at least suggestive of the overall sense of settling back in among gears and cogs and insistent forces. But really, that’s not fair either. Life is so much more than a grind.

Over the weekend I saw two bluebirds in the snow. There may be more cheerful sights in the world, but I’m not sure what they are. The Eastern Bluebird is blue and rust and white, and in the winter they look like little balls of joy in the snow.

I’ve been wishing I had two lives lately. One to spend with my children, who are in periods of exponential growth, and one to spend in a lonely writer’s garret somewhere. Preferably not a cold one, though I suppose I would survive. Wool hats and wool socks go a long way in the winter.

Oh, a third life too, please. One for reading all the books I haven’t had time to, the ones I’ve fallen asleep in bed with, and stolen five minutes with every other day, and still can’t make the time to finish. It really doesn’t seem fair to have writing and reading have to battle it out for my time. Either way I end up with a head full of unanswered questions, and an itch to do something more.

And for my next trick…

Today I demonstrate the all-around cleverness of the internet by appearing both here and elsewhere. If you’d like to read what I have to say about reading, please head over to Mera’s YA Book List for my guest post. You can also find guest posts by lots of other Euterpe authors there, as well as far more fun than there is to be had here. Also, open comments!

In other news, I am revising. It is slow. It makes me cranky. There is nothing more to be said about it.

Comments are open here too. Talk to me about revisions or how your summer has been. Distract me. I’ll be quite appreciative.

A confession

I read too quickly.

I always have. I tend to wolf books down. It’s not a particularly good way to read, just as it isn’t a healthy way to eat. You lose things, important things.

As with any other lifelong trait, I’ve learned to compensate. I often read books several times in a row. The first time deals with the itch of needing to know what happens. The second allows me to absorb the details I may have sped right past. The third time…the third time is entirely for pleasure. If I go back for a third read, that’s a laze on the couch and revel in the words read.

My eyes are getting old along with the rest of me. I can’t read as quickly as I used to, and I have less time to read than I used to, and my reading habits are changing. I still read at a good clip if it’s not just before bed. More and more often though, I’m reading a book just once.

I suspect glasses would change things back for me. I don’t have any. I’ve been to an eye doctor exactly once, and I managed to pass out during the exam, and that makes me both embarrassed and hesitant to go back. But I’d like to be able to read too quickly again. I’d like to have those diligent second and blissful third reads. Even if it isn’t the best way to read, it still feels like the way I read.

Sunday reading 3/25/12

Before I get to the story for today, a quick note about online publications. They’re awesome! The ones I link to are free, but it costs money for them to provide free fiction. Different markets cope with this problem in different ways, but there’s always a way to donate money in appreciation for the work they do, the stories they provide.

Here are links to the donation or subscription pages for the publications I’ve linked to so far. Many places have small enough budgets that even a little donation helps.

Strange Horizons (Strange Horizons has a annual fund drive every fall–I’ll be sure to post when it happens)

GigaNotoSaurus (Donation button; beneath the archives.)

Expanded Horizons (Donation button)

For today, more birds. There seems to be a trend here, though it may simply be that my mind turns to birds in the spring. This story, “The Birdcage Heart,” by Peter M. Ball, was published in Daily Science Fiction last year, February 2011 to be exact. I didn’t have a blog then, so I’m going back to it now. Actually, all I want to say is it’s beautiful and full of grace, and I recommend it.

I’m not sure if there’s a way to donate to DSF, but you can buy the monthly digests on Kindle, if you’re so inclined.

Sunday night reading

I’ve spent the weekend writing, and working on things related to writing, and dealing with cars. As a result, I’ve not managed to write a weekend post.

Instead, I give you a link. The list of Nebula nominations came out in February (okay, make that TWO links). I was very pleased to see “The Migratory Pattern of Dancers,” by Katherine Sparrow (Giganotosaurus), on the nominee list for Best Novelette. It’s a sad and fantastic and angry story, and it had me more or less from the first line.

If you haven’t already read it, I encourage you to do so.

This afternoon

It’s cold. It’s gray. I should be writing, or, if not writing, I should be cleaning my house.

I’m not.

Instead, I have one hand wrapped around a hot drink, and the other around Available Dark, the new Elizabeth Hand novel. I’ve been playing a little game with myself, seeing how long I can manage to keep from opening it and diving in. I think I’ve just about reached my limit.

There are few books I look forward to as much as I am looking forward to this one. Then again, other books don’t have Cass Neary in them. You know how it is to read a book where the author so perfectly nails a character that you want there to be Olympic games for fiction with a televised panel of judges, want to be on that panel so you can hold up your 10.0 when the scoring comes round for that book and that character? Yeah, that’s how I feel about Cass Neary.

Here’s a bit of a review, if you’re interested. As for me, I’ve tortured myself long enough. Now it’s time to read.

Book magic revisted

A story of a book.

I was a homeschooled child back when homeschooling was relatively uncommon. There weren’t many other homeschooled kids for me to connect with where we lived. I was an introverted kid in thrift store clothes who didn’t go to school, and in the apartment complex where we lived none of those things were particularly cool.

What I did have, besides books, were penpals. Other homeschooled kids from other places, all of whom wanted to connect with kids like themselves. I didn’t save their letters, and I no longer remember most of their names. Jacques, who drew me a picture of a horse…I remember him. And Aaron. I remember Aaron’s name because there is a book on my shelf whose flyleaf bears this inscription: To Jenny, love Aaron Christmas 1980

The book is The Island of the Grass King, by Nancy Willard. It’s a white hardcover, its edges a little battered but otherwise in good shape for its age. It’s become one of the books I pull out when the kids are sick and I need to settle in for an afternoon of reading some illness away.

The story is of Anatole, whose grandmother has asthma and is in need of a special fennel she once had that eases her breathing better than inhalers. A wish made on a rainbow (and a Sears catalog) sends Anatole on a journey with a talking cat, an animated silver teapot, and a girl made of glass. It’s one of those books that never quite takes you to the places you expect it to–full of magic and surprise, and a bit of The Tempest as well.

It’s also a story that, until recently, no one else I knew had ever read. I’ve mentioned it to so many people, and none of them have ever even heard of it, let alone read it.

Enter Desdemona. (Her name’s not Desdemona, but I think she’d like a code name, so I’ve given her one.) A year or so ago she asked me for recommendations for books to read with her kids. I included The Island of the Grass King on my list, as I usually do. She hadn’t read it, as is always the case.

But Desdemona loves stories, and she has a touching faith in my recommendations. She tracked the book down at a local library and read it and LOVED it. Now she hunts for copies in used book stores just to have them on hand for birthday presents. If The Island of the Grass King suddenly returns to print, I fully expect it will be the result of Desdemona’s devotion.

For me, the magic of that book is in the story, but also in Aaron’s signature in the front, and the memory of what it meant to receive the gift so many years ago. It’s in the times my feverish daughter begged me to keep reading it, and in Desdemona and her quest, and in the thrill of seeing book and reader find each other.

It delights me.

Under the influence

I’ve only been snorkeling a handful of times. The first time I tried it was in Caribbean water. I’d never been in warm ocean water before, and I’d never snorkeled, and it was beautiful and disorienting, and occasionally scary. The silence, more than anything, made me feel very cut off from the world. The sun was on my back, but I was lost in the water.

Writing is much the same for me. It’s a solitary pursuit. No one can hear the story in my head. No one can experience it the same way. The outside world is right there around me, and yet I see none of it. It is also beautiful and disorienting, and more than occasionally scary. There are times when it takes conscious effort to allow myself to submerge into a story, and to leave behind not only the details of daily life, but the sense that writing must be accomplished a certain way.

I’m swimming in story at the moment. It makes me a poor conversationalist, unlikely to arrive anywhere on time, and sometimes just plain grumpy. I also have a cold, which doesn’t help matters. Peppermint tea, congestion, and getting to the end of the chapter I’m working on are my lot for the afternoon.

In place of anything incoherent I might have to say, I leave you with a quote. Molly Gloss wrote a great novel called Wild Life. If you’re interested in it, I direct you to this review (and you should be interested). (A review, incidentally, by Jo Walton, whose novel Among Others is deserving of its own post–a wonderfully strong and honest story.) The following passage from Wild Life is one I keep at my desk.

“To write, I have decided, is to be insane. In ordinary life you look sane, act sane — just as sane as any other mother of five children. But once you start to write, you are moonstruck, out of your senses. As you stare hard inward, following behind your eyes the images of invisible places, of people, of events, and listening hard inward to silent voices and unspoken conversations — as you are seeing the story, hearing it, feeling it — your very skin becomes permeable, not a boundary, and you enter the place of your writing and live inside the people who live there. You think and say incredible things. You even love other people — you don’t love your children and husband at all. And here is the interesting thing to me: When this happens, you often learn something, understand something, that can transcend the words on the paper.”

Again, Molly Gloss. Wild Life. Read it.

The book, the dog, and the mermaid

The first story I ever read by myself was The Little Red Hen. I have no memory of it, but I do remember the book of Hans Christian Andersen stories I received that Christmas from a family friend. More than the book, I remember sitting at their kitchen table and reading an entire story out loud, with a rotating crew of adults staying to listen to me. It felt as though it took hours, that I expect it didn’t. Someone there had a samoyed–to this day I still have a slight association of large white dogs with The Little Mermaid.

I don’t remember much of the story, or of the party, or the kitchen table. I remember my feet swinging as I sat in the chair, and always having someone listening to me. Mostly I remember the pride, that completely unabashed childish pride over being able to read, and not just a little picture book, but something long and complicated.

Kids have it easy. They haven’t internalized all the complicated social rules about showing pride, rules with endless variations. They just announce that they know how to read and will prove it by reading an entire story in the middle of a Christmas party. They’re awesome that way.

I’ve some good news coming. I think I’ll be ready to share within a few days. For now, I’ll be at the table, swinging my feet.

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