Promoting my friends :-)

I think this blog that my friend S and her friend K just started is awesome, so I am going to link to it. It’s all about books. Books are good.  I’m gonna add it to my blogroll too.

Check it out.

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dressing and describing a character

Sometimes the character descriptions are my favorite parts of novels.  They often seem more vibrant to me than other parts of the same book.  Is this because the author puts in extra effort when describing a character?  To me they just seem great fun to write.

Here are a couple recent ones that I enjoyed.  They amused me.  Both are from The Dancing Druids by Gladys Mitchell.  It’s my current bathroom-reading mystery novel, obtained from the free discards rack at the library.

“Laura was as bold as a lion, but was as superstitious as a warlock.  She was full of dark fancies drowned in primordial deeps.  She also believed, with healthy, female instinct, that dangerous and delicate missions were less unpleasant in the daylight than in the dark.  With respect to the house itself, she was torn between a frantic desire to visit it and an equally strong determination not to go anywhere near its boundaries.  She was, in fact, like a child who both dreads and longs for a ghost-story just at bedtime.  The thrill would be worth it, the aftermath definitely not.  In other words, although Laura was both practical and hard-headed, and although she was brisk, jimp, and daring in all that she undertook, she was also the prey of an inherited belief in the legends, spectres and bogies of a Highland ancestry.  It was one of the many reasons for her adherence to Mrs. Bradley, who was legend, spectre, and bogie all in one, for she felt, without realizing it, that the greater demon kept the lesser demons at bay.”

I had to look up “jimp.”  It’s apparently a Scottish term that means slender or scant or neat or elegant.  Perhaps also archaic usage, since the novel was published in 1948.

And then there’s this description a little later in the book of Mrs. Bradley herself:

“Mrs. Bradley cordially agreed.  She herself looked very far from appetizing in a sage-green costume and a bright red blouse, an heirloom brooch of vast proportions whose only virtue was that it did at least conceal some of the blouse, stout shoes with crepe rubber soles, knitted stockings, and a rakish diamond clip on the side of her shining black hair.”

Doesn’t that seem a bit of fun to have written?  If I ever write a novel myself….

a quiz, a meme–for readers and writers

I got this from S’s blog on myspace. I don’t really use myspace anymore, so I’ve exported it here because I was interested enough to want to fill it out.

“This short survey is to encourage readers, writers, and poets to share a few simple things about ourselves. There are only twelve questions, and none of them have to do with eye color, sexual preferences, or high school crushes. Please read, answer, and repost. We might learn something from each other.”

1. Three authors that have inspired or influenced my writing are:
It’s so hard to pick just three! Um…Lorine Niedecker, Elizabeth Bishop, A.S. Byatt

2. The hardest part of the writing process for me is:
Making the transition from an amazing idea in my head to the limits of my words on paper.

3. One book I have always intended to read, but I haven’t yet is:
J was talking about some classics recently and I jotted them down to add to my reading list. They’re books I’ve heard of repeatedly, so I guess that could be defined as “always intended to read.” I trust J’s judgement, anyway. The books he listed were: Madame Bovary, Silas Marner, and Moll Flanders.

4. (True or False) I sometimes read non-fiction for pleasure.
True. I read a great book about dirt recently. And I need to get that book about female pirates back from A sometime. I don’t read nonfiction as often as I read fiction and poetry, but I will pick it up if the subject seems interesting and the book seems well-written.

5. (True or False) I came from a family that read a lot.
Very true. My mom read aloud to us at bedtime, and I’ve loved reading aloud ever since. And reading in general.

6. My favorite movie adaptation of a book is:
It would be totally cliche of me to say the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, but that one is rather good. I also really loved Brokeback Mountain. And the movie version of Orlando.

7. The most boring book I ever read all the way through is:
A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes. I’ve had two teachers urge me to read that book, and then when I finally did it just bored and irritated me. I mean, the alphabetical arrangement is sort of interesting, but not interesting enough to sustain the entire book. And the content just sounded like a bunch of whining to me.

8. Poetry is:
essential language.

9. My favorite place to read is:
curled up somewhere nest-like with lots of blankets on top of me. Or on the toilet.

10. The funniest thing I have read recently is:
I’m reading a silly mystery book about monks right now, and it’s pretty entertaining, funny. I especially liked the scene with the drunken Santa Claus.

11. The most mind challenging thing I have read recently is:
Lyn Hejinian’s My Life.
12. When I stop by my local library the librarians must think:
Nothing drastic, probably. I don’t think I stand out from the other library patrons. I had a happy moment with one librarian when she expressed pleasure that my overdue fines were from books and not from movies. That was fun.

And that’s the end of the quiz!

a tiny thing, really

I’m reading a little book right now called Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman.  I picked it up at my new favorite source for books–the free cart at the library.  Libraries only have limited space on their shelves, so they have to discard stuff sometimes to make room for new books.  I guess I’m just like the library, really.  My personal library can’t stop acquiring new books either.  I just can’t stop!  And then I discard ones I’m done with.  Then they can join someone else’s book collection.  It’s a literary cycle.  Actually, I’m writing this right now from the library, and I just picked up five more books on my way in here–two mysteries, a young adult novel, a historical novel, and a book by an author I like (Kate Atkinson–try her out if you’re into quirky).

Anyway, before I started rambling I meant to write about this particular free-cart book, Einstein’s Dreams.  It’s rather good.  The book jacket compares it to Italo Calvino, which makes a connection for me between my casual reading and my academic reading.  As if there needed to be a distinction…  I told B in my letter to her that I really did see the similarities with Calvino.  That’s praise, by the way, in case you haven’t heard of Italo Calvino.  But there was this one little thing, a problem, the last time I was reading Einstein’s Dreams and it was enough to make me put down the book.  I’ll pick it up again, but I had to walk away and think about editing for a while.  There was a scene in the book where a character takes up needles and starts crocheting.  As someone who both knits and crochets, I know that you don’t crochet with needles.  You crochet with a hook.  Singular.  It’s a very small detail, unimportant to the plot, as much as there is even a plot, but it reminded me that even the tiniest details matter sometimes to a reader.  Or, from the point of view of a writer, every tiny detail matters, because you don’t want to make your reader annoyed.  You don’t want to cause them to put down your book.  I just hope that when I’m trying to get published, in the future, that I can catch all tiny problems in my writing and soothe and fix them to perfection, and that I’ll have a good editor to help me.

re-reading

Late last night I sort of felt like watching a movie, but also felt rather tired.  I was yawning, but didn’t want to go to bed yet, and a movie would have been a cozy thing to do.  Then again, I was uncertain that I’d want to stay awake for an hour and a half, or whatever a movie would take.  I have several books scattered around the house that I’m in the middle of reading, but none of them felt attractive to me right then.  Maybe I should have just given in to the sleepiness and gone to bed, but I frequently resist bedtime, like I’m a stubborn girl again, or something.  Anyway, I decided against watching a movie and started scanning the bookshelves for something new to read a few chapters of.  What I finally selected was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Now, this is a book that I’ve read before.  I went through a R.L. Stevenson phase at some point in high school, although I’ve actually never read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  There’s something nice about re-reading a book that’s very different from reading a book for the first time.  If the book is worthy of a second reading (or a third, fourth, fifth, etc.), then it’s like an act of returning.  Going back to a place, a city or a landscape, that once welcomed you or changed you.  And your friends are still living there, even though you’ve been away for a long time.  Re-reading is a much more relaxed sort of reading than the first encounter with a book, which is why it was the right thing for me to do last night.  You already know what’s going to happen, so there’s no anxiety.  Instead, you just enjoy the scenery, and collect details and emotions that you didn’t see the first time.  It has been a really long time since I read Treasure Island, so most of the little parts of the story feel new to me.  I really just remember the broad arc of what happens.  I was going to say something cheesy about finding new parts of a book when you read it at a different time in your life than the first time, how your relationship with the book changes because you’ve changed, etc. but I feel like I’ve been cheesy enough already, so you can think that one out for yourself.

It’s also interesting to me how this book in particular has been one that people return to.  There have been a lot of movies made based on this story, too.  I’m partial to the Muppet version, personally.  It’s an exciting story, lots of action and whatnot, so I guess that helps it to translate well to movie adaptations.  Also, people love pirates.  I think that Long John Silver is one of the archetypes of exactly why people are so attached to or attracted to pirates.  He’s confusing.  Should you like him or dislike him?  Is he good or evil?  The bad guy is so much more interesting than the good guy.  We all want to be the bad guy, right?  We want to get away with things.  Or maybe some people want to date the rebel.  Like Captain Jack Sparrow.  Yes, Johnny Depp is sexy, but I think it would be much more interesting to be Captain Sparrow than anything else.

My reading habits

I realized today that I’ve left a book that I’m in the middle of reading in practically every room in the house.  This says something about my reading habits.  Of course it says that I love to read, but you probably knew that already.  But it also illustrates to me how my attention is often flighty.  Yes, I have been known to sit and read an entire book at once in the can’t-put-it-down mode.  But a lot of the time I like to read a little bit of a book and then close it so I can digest what I’ve just read.  Why do I do this?  Sometimes I get overwhelmed by intensities of plot and emotion and have to step away for a breather.  Or else I get irritated with stupidities of character or writing and have to walk off and cool my anger.  Or maybe I’m just easily bored.  Or maybe there’s just so much that I’m interested in that I want to read it all at once.  And of course there are other interesting things that call for my attention, like my vast collection of yarn.

Anyway, this realization about my masses of half-finished books also got me thinking about what kinds of books I like to read.  It would be interesting to make some chart, a bar graph, about what genres I read most.  There is a silly detective novel in the bathroom.  There’s a historical fiction novel on the dining table, plus some poetry books that I just got in the mail.  There’s a young adult fantasy novel in the living room, and also the Wilkie Collins novel I’m reading out loud with S.  In my office I have The Heart is a Lonely Hunterby Carson McCullers. 

The mystery novel and the young adult fantasy both represent genres that I read repeatedly.  They’re my guilty pleasures, I guess you would say.  They’re what fills the space in my attention that I suspect is roughly the equivalent of watching TV.  S and I don’t have a TV, although we do watch dvds on our computers.  We have a netflix subscription.  But I don’t have any loyalties to current TV shows where I know and love the characters and tune in weekly to hear them speak and watch them struggle and know roughly what to expect.  Instead, I’ve come to know the stock characters of these genres of light reading.  I return to mystery novels for the enjoyment of the puzzle, and to fantasy for the unlikely heroes/heroines, the magic, and the quests.  I imagine I’d be a dismal failure if thrown into any of the situations found in these books, but I love to read about them.

And will I try to write these same books someday?  I have certainly thought about it.  Maybe, on some level, all this reading is just practice for my dreams.  I already write poetry, and feel deep good about that.  But somewhere in me is the desire to write the same exact books that I adored when I was a kid, to recreate that kind of awe that I got from the fantasy, or that warm, attentive fun I found in Agatha Christie.  Because I can find a certain meditative awe in my poetry, but I still seek the feeling I had when I read CS Lewis and Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper.  It’s a dream that I’ll probably never realize, but I don’t expect that I’ll ever stop doing the research.