29 April 2002

In Praise of The Old Kingdom

I just skimmed a few of the sample chapters for Abhorsen at Nix's site and I am just beside myself with the need to read this book. Alas, it won't be published until 2003 -- by which point I am certain I shall have memorized Sabriel and Lirael. I love these books ever so much more than I ever loved Harry Potter. The Harry Potter books are good reads, but nothing to keep me up reading into the wee hours of the morning. I never wanted to fake sick so I could stay home and read Harry Potter. When I borrowed Sabriel from the library, I kept "forgetting" to return her, until I finally promised myself a copy of my own.

I rank Sabriel and Lirael right up there with McKinley's Deerskin and Shinn's Samaria books as far as "Books I Would Never Let Anyone Borrow, But Would Tell Everyone to Read" Interestingly, most of Nix's favorite authors are my favorite authors, too ... and he does say:
Robin McKinley's work, I realized upon a recent re-reading, has had a major effect on my own writing. My Sabriel owes much to her heroines Aerin and Angharad (Harry) Crewe, who appear respectively in The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. These two books are among the best works of 'high fantasy' around and McKinley's other books are also a must-read.

On a slightly different note, the last few days have been pretty shitty. Literally and figuratively. How do I remain my usual cheerful self? Well, my dears, I eat a lot of ketchup1 and think about the "little brown druid" from Billy Collins "The Country:"
... the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time

now a fire-starter, now a torch-bearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,
lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, one-time inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?
Heard Collins read it on the April 20 Prairie Home Companion.

1Everyone knows ketchup has natural mellowing agents. And it's chock full of endorphins. That's why they call it "nature's anti-depressant".

23 April 2002

My Favorite Novels (Right Now, This Minute)

Favorite novels are books which I:
  1. Like so much I own 
  2. Have read more than three times 
  3. Tell other people to read, but will never allow anyone to take from my home
*Warning: purple prose ahead*

Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
The first time I read this book, I was also reading Charlotte Gilman Perkin's The Yellow Wallpaper. At the time, both stories seemed similar -- two women being devoured by an essentially male society. I read the novel very seriously and managed to miss much of the humor. How? I don't know. The characters are almost caricatures, saying and doing things that no one in their right minds would ever do in real life. Well, very few of us.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 
The first "real" book I ever read. Besides being a classic gothic romance in which the good girl gets her man and the bad boy turns out not to be so bad, after all, this is a great look a social order and class structure.

Deerskin by Robin McKinley
Based on the "fairytale" Donkeyskin, this is a story of incest and recovery; discovery of self and rebirth. Despite Mckinley's brilliant use of language, this is not an easy book to read. Indeed, much of it is extraordinarily painful. I have read this book nine times since I bought it in 1994 and the book is different each time.

Sabriel by Garth Nix
The first time I picked up this book it was because of the cover art. A sensibly dressed girl with a sword and a lot of bells? What could the bells be for? I started reading it and, after the first three pages, knew it had to come home with me. A truly delicious book! Nix just sets the reader down in the middle of Sabriel's world and leaves it up to the reader to figure out what's going on and why. I prefer this over the authors who see fit to cram the entire history of a world into the prologue or into stilted conversations between characters.

The Samaria Trilogy: Archangel, Jovah's Angel, The Alleluia Files by Sharon Shinn
I flirted with Archangel for quite a while before I actually sat down and read it. It looked too much like a romance novel masquerading as science fiction. I couldn't decide from the first few pages I skimmed at the shop, whether this was a serious re-write of religion or if the novel was going to be like one of those in which everything is set in a world that looks exactly like modern Earth, but all the names have been changed and the technology is slightly different. Really, why bother?

I was delightfully wrong. Archangel is the most romantic of the three, I think, but also the most intense. They are still good reads, however, as the sequels to this book delve deeper into the nature of the Jovah and the existence of angels. I'm becoming a great fan of Shinn -- she does interesting things with religion. In many ways, her books remind me of a younger, lighter, less political Sheri S. Tepper.

03 April 2002

Poetry Flashback

While I was at The Happy Carrot yesterday, splurging on brand spanking new copies of Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader and Jamaica Kincaid's My Garden (Book), I spotted a copy of Louis Glück's The Wild Iris. I remember when I first read Glück's poetry in "Vermont Writers." Her poetry -- so exquisitely brutal and lyric -- obsessed me. I read and re-read that one slender volume near a dozen times and then, exhausted, gave her up. My relationship with those poems was too intimate, too painful, too reality warping to continue. Everywhere I looked, I saw echoes of Glück's poetry. It was a very tiring relationship -- rather like having a crush on an unsuitable person. "What a nothing you were, / To be changed so quickly / Into an image, an odor- / You are everywhere, source / Of wisdom and anguish." (Vespers: Parousia)

It wasn't by accident that I happened upon The Wild Iris yesterday. April is National Poetry Month, after all, and I was hoping to re-introduce myself to that particular pleasure. I was quite torn between buying either a new virginal copy of The Wild Iris or the Kincaid book. My copy of The Wild Iris is full or marginalia. I wanted to start fresh this time. To be unfettered by my old obsessions. Eventually, I recognized that this is impossible. Just as it is impossible to think on old crushes without twitching even though the emotional & hormonal whizzies aren't there, anymore.

Reading Jamaica Kincaid is like reading poetry, as well. I've always thought her books should be read slowly, savoringly, aloud. Her books are beautiful even in their ugliness. Certainly, there are images in Lucy I want to eat with a spoon while, at the same time, cringing with ... shame? horror? guilt?

So this month's mission is to work more poetry into my "regular" book diet. Haven't actually started re-reading The Wild Iris (too painful), but I have Glück's Triumph of Achilles, Descending Figure, and The Seven Ages queued up with Seamus Heaney's Opened Ground and Whitman's Leaves of Grass (which is right up there with The Wild Iris for painful infatuations). I've never read any Heaney, but his poetry was recommended to me by one of my favorite librarians -- a woman of great sensibility and integrity who always seems to have good books on hand. When I grow up, I'm going to be just like her.