Tag: book love

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.

Starting 2012

Happy 2012!

I’m spending the day in wonderful ways. Three hours on a new story this morning. Out to do some geocaching this afternoon. Hopefully, there will be time to finish the story when I come back.

I’m also reading Angels in America (Tony Kushner). I’ve never seen it on the stage, just the HBO version. I keep hoping it will be staged again, someday, somewhere I can see it.

It was on my long long to-be-read list. This post made me bump it up the list a bit. It’s an involving text, tremendous and sad and beautiful and angry. It’s also the kind of thing that reads much more quickly than I want to read it. I’ve been going scene by scene, occasionally reading a few scenes at a time, in order to allow it to sink in more fully.

So, that is my start to the new year. It should be snowing here. It should be cold, but it is in the forties, and sunny, and I shouldn’t be inside any longer.

Be well, live more boldly, be blessed.

On the Permanence of Books

I’ve led a geographically stationary life. I currently live twenty minutes from where I went to high school. Aside from being born in Maine, this is the farthest I’ve ever lived from my childhood home.

I’ve patronized the same public library my whole life. Much about it has changed over the years. Once upon a time it was a lovely (and tremendous) old house, stone on the outside, little alcoves and mismatched chairs on the inside. At one point it was renovated, and now is much bigger, with a decidedly more modern feel. Some of the same chairs remain, but none of my favorite hiding spots.

Not in the adult section at least. The children’s section has stayed largely unchanged. Same old stuffed animals arranged along the upper shelves, same benches, same built-in wooden shelves.

Same books too. My children are reading age now, and little excites them as much as a trip to the library. Many of the books they choose are new, but some are not. Some are weathered old hardcovers that have lived on those shelves for as long as I’ve been visiting them.

Last year my son took out My Friend Flicka. It was the first book he’d read that changed his world. As a parent, I could see it happen, I could see that for him it was magic.

For me, it was magic in a different way. That book–that old, taped, green volume, its pages worn soft as cloth with time–I knew that book. I’d held that book as a child. I’d curled up with it, read it, cried over it. It probably still held crumbs in the binding from when I’d sit at the table eating lunch and reading. His hands, mine, we’d shared the feel of that battered old book.

My house can no longer hold all my books. Slowly, painfully, I’ve been shedding my collection, trying to make room for children’s books, for games and puzzles and art supplies. It’s hard to let go of them, my old paperbacks held together by failing glue, with pages stained with tears or chocolate, with passages underlined by my teenage hand.

I understand the arguments for e-readers. As a reader, I’ve only to look at my own cramped house to see one valid reason to switch. As a writer, I see how e-publishing is revolutionizing the field.

As I sort through my books though, logic fails me. Some are weightless, their only impact on my life as a few hours of entertainment on a rainy day. But some…all I can say is that magic lingers in their pages.


You know the kind of book that you find yourself halfway through and part of you wants to keep reading, fast as you can, because you are that engrossed, and part of you wants to slow down, snail’s pace, because you never want it to end?

That’s how I am with Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja right now. So very, very good, and it will be over much, much too soon.

And it’s published by Small Beer Press! Home of wonderful books, some of which I love, some of which I’ve yet to read, and some which I suspect I will love as soon as I read them. Like as the new Maureen McHugh collection, which I didn’t know about until just two minutes ago and now must have.

Just as soon as I finish Under the Poppy.