Hello, dear readers, it’s been awhile. Life once again interfered with my goal of posting here regularly for the last four months. Spring here in the upper midwest has been busy and now we seem to be settling into summer. I hope to do some posts sharing my reading, photography, and crafting adventures from these past months over the next few weeks.
Today we begin with the books and some of my most recent photos. If you’ve been checking back here in hopes of a new post or referring back to my reading list you might have noticed that the one thing I’ve managed to do here at the pond is update my 2013/2014 reading list here. As mentioned in past posts I believe that my superpower in life is the ability to keep reading books regardless of how hectic my life becomes. Hopefully I don’t encounter a kryptonite, at least any time soon.
- Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
A mediocre book. I disliked the pacing, finding it to be tedious. It didn’t help that I found the main characters to be insufferable prats but I think I would have overcome that feeling if the story didn’t move at the pace of a geriatric slug. I’ve liked short stories I’ve read by Pamela Dean and I have enjoyed other books in this fairy tale series, especially Briar Rose by Jane Yolen but this book and I just didn’t click.
- Bleak Houseby Charles Dickens
An incredible piece of literature, this book did not feel long to me at all. Dickens’ dexterous command of multiple plot threads to weave together a complete narrative is inspiring. If I ever get the opportunity to teach writing to anyone I will direct them to this book as a grade A example of quality atmospheric composition. You can feel the grit in the road of London, see the soot on the windows, smell the filth in the gutter, and hear the rattle of carriage wheels over cobblestones when you read Bleak House. Victorian era London may not have been a pleasant place to live but his description is so real, so minute, you feel as if you are there while you read his tale of Chancery woe. I will have to read this book several more times to completely get the whole of it, as it is I think much has been lost to history since I would have been completely lost without an annotated edition, but I admired his characters and their story. It is the kind of novel that makes me want to write simply because it is so beautifully crafted.
- The Language of the Night by Ursula K. LeGuin
LeGuin’s career as a writer, most notably as a science fiction and fantasy writer, is an inspiration to me. I found her growth through this collection of essays, speeches, and interviews incredibly interesting to follow.
- Finding My Elegy by Ursula K. LeGuin
A beautiful book, LeGuin is an amazing poet. I didn’t even know she wrote poetry until I heard Garrison Keillor read two of her poems from this book on his program “The Writer’s Almanac.” It was such a wonderful surprise to learn that an author I esteem so highly had yet more artistry for me to enjoy so I bought her collection. Although I find some of the poems to be forgettable most are just incredibly beautiful. My “bookmarked” poems were numerous, 49 in total out of a 200-page collection, the kind of poems one can re-read and live with and learn from.
- The Sorceress and the Cygnet by Patricia McKillip
A mediocre book but I found the prose and pacing much more fascinating than Tam Lin. I can’t help comparing the two since I read them at the same time. I am glad I didn’t put this book down even though I very nearly did. Maybe Cygnet benefited from low expectations but I found it a gratifying read in the end if for no other reason than the imagination of her world. I nearly put it down because for the first few chapters McKillip didn’t use “an,” “the,” or “a,” and it was driving me crazy to read that stitlted unflowing prose. But she gradually put those precious words back into the protagonist’s sentences and I was able to immerse myself in her beautifully imagined world.
- The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
This book impresses me. DuBois writes beautiful prose that is oftentimes poetic in its effect. So many references to the Classics, the Bible, and western literature were used so well I felt humbled by my ignorance of many of the particulars of these works. I am surprised this book is not in the curriculum of history and literature classes. I think students could learn so much about the complexity of our U.S. history from DuBois and it has the benefit of being both concise and easy to read. What was not easy to read is the fact that for as much as our country has changed for the better since DuBois’ time we still have so far to go when it comes to education, tolerance, justice and liberty. It breaks my heart to think about that but it would be worse if people stopped reading, remembering, and thinking about these challenges.
- Cold Days by Jim Butcher
This book was my Memorial Day vacation. Arrayed in my pajamas and equipped with a pot of tea in my English bone china tea pot and my English bone china tea cup I spent the day in the most decadent expression of freedom: reading this book. It was pure luxury. This book is so much fun. I have tremendous respect for Jim Butcher as a craftsman & storyteller. The research he must do on world folklore & mythology is incredible. His plotting consistently amazes me with the way he follows a familiar rhythm but I never can predict what exactly is going to happen next. I love that! It also impresses me that he can consistently take the events of a 12-48 hour period of time and turn it into a gripping 400-500 page novel that goes by so fast but contains so much detail; a real achievement of craft & organization. I am looking forward to the next Dresden adventure.
- Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley
This book is good fun. I like McKinley’s style and imagination. It was the kind of world, the kind of sci-fi, that I found myself believing enough that I wanted to google the Makepeace Dragon Institute and plan my visit. It is also worth noting that I really liked this book a lot even though I thought the first-person narrator was an ass who was annoying as all heck at times. So often the degree to which I personally like a character biases me for or against a book. To be able to say I like a book so much even with its protagonist drawn as such an ass I think is a testament to McKinley’s skill as a storyteller & world-builder. I can hardly wait to read her next book.
- Snow Country by Y. Kawabata
A book of incredible imagery and beautiful language. I found the characters to be obnoxious and shallow but poignant in their humanity. I hate the sinking helpless feeling of knowing something is over my head that was a constant in my reading of Snow Country. If I were more familiar with Japanese culture or read it at least twice more I think I might start to have a real chance of truly comprehending this book. It did help that I’ve read The Tale of Genji; it’s hard to describe but I can sense the literary legacy of Genji while reading the experience of Shimamura and his association with the geishas Komako and Yoko. To see the struggles of human connection, communication, and spiritual questions of ephemeral beauty acted out in the everyday moments of a mountain hot spring made the gap of time between Haien era Japan and postwar Japan seem poignantly short. I look forward to re-reading Snow Country in the years to come.
- Rapunzel and Other Maiden in the Tower Tales From Around the World by Heidi Anne Heiner
This is a fascinating collection. I never realized the diversity of Rapunzel/Maiden-in-the-Tower tales there are in the world. The women are ususally jailed for their protection or as punishment or as collateral damage in a political/magical conflict/spell/prophecy. Sometimes the heroine was a shallow, idiotic, helpless creature that we would easily recognize from Western fairytales in general. Happily though there were a surprising lot of enterprising heroines who orchestrated their own escape or at least actively participated in their own liberation. The heroes also surprised me with their diversity and individuality; one prince even cross-dressed for more than two years to infiltrate a maiden-tower & gain the princess’ hand in marriage. I would pay to see Disney adapt that version of Rapunzel. Heiner also included stories done by more modern authors that were in the tradition of these maiden-in-the-tower tales. “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Gilmann would never have occurred to me to include but having re-read it as part of this whole collection it makes perfect sense, indeed it added a new dimension to an already fascinating short story. My mind is still re-assembling itself and I find myself wanting to make my own contribution to the tapestry of maiden-in-the-tower tales. I’ve since begun Heiner’s collection of Cinderella stories and continue to be impressed by her scholarship.
- Burn by Daniel Swensen
A blogger I respect wrote this. If you ever need a good kick in the pants as a writer or just some sound advice mixed with entertaining language you owe it to yourself to check out his blog Surly Muse. Being a fan I was excited to read his story, Burn. I have one big complaint. At 20 pages the story is just not long enough. Swensen’s writing is so good, he creates such a believable atmosphere and a compelling protagonist in Alexa Bernell that I felt like I was reading the origin story for a new comic book star. Bernell faces extraordinarily difficult circumstances with her ability and Swensen paces the story with great deftness. It is a compliment to his skill that it left me wanting more, thinking so when’s the next issue coming? It felt like the start of a good graphic novel. Perhaps if enough of us read Burn and are left craving more we can persuade the good Mr. Swensen to deliver a continuation of Alexa Bernell’s story. Burn is available for purchase at Amazon or if you’re a Nook user you can get it from Smashwords.
- The Charwoman’s Shadow by Lord Dunsany
I tumbled to the existence of Lord Dunsany by reading The Language of the Night and learning that the young Ursula K. LeGuin was very inspired by his work. Having read this book I can see why. Dunsany’s language is beautiful. I almost want to use the term Rococo in style except he has such economy in his pacing & word count. For such a short book it contained an incredible story. Without going into spoilers I like the fact that the story didn’t end where I thought it would but rather Dunsany showed the reader the consequences of choices made by characters. I like it when stories do that, show the moment beyond the big fireworks in a narrative, and Dunsany does it with style. I will definitely be looking up more of his titles. Also, I have a newfound appreciation for my shadow that I don’t think I will shake any time soon.
Currently I am about halfway through reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, about a third of the way through Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott, and a couple chapters into Dreams of the Raven by Carmen Carter just for some solid Star Trek fun. Additionally I have begun reading the collection Cinderella Tales from Around the World by Heidi Anne Heiner in preparation for my novella based upon my flash fiction. All of these books are fantastic; hopefully I can post more about them soon. What about you, dear readers? Are you reading anything good this summer? Just leave a comment to let me know and thanks for stopping by the pond.