Saturday, 22 March 2008

Choosing Favourites

I missed this one, but I love the idea: what is your favourite book in your library, and why is it your favourite? what memories does it hold for you? Thanks to Carl at Carl's Steel Droppings
who brought this up in early March, from a blog at Stuff as Dreams are Made Of
I love what Dreams says: "I just love reading about the stories behind people’s favorite books in their collections. Even if there’s not much of a story, I love just knowing what they are. So I decided to invite everyone to share just that! What’s your favorite book or books in your library?"
No one seems to be able to pick just one - neither Carl nor Stuff were - and I can't, either.
So, at random and after some thought, are my favourite books in my library:

1. Ginger Tea boxed set - James Barber. Memories: About 1993, my mother had one of the books, Ginger Tea Makes Friends, on her bookshelf forever. I looked through it and saw a recipe for the ginger tea on the title, that I didn't think to write down. It sounded so good though. Several years later I asked about it. Lo and behold, this appeared under the tree for Christmas from her! I have been so delighted ever since, and make recipes regularly from the three books. A side note: James Barber is a Canadian cook, and lived on a sailboat on the west coast at one time. Many of these recipes, especially from the Fear of Frying cookbook in this set, are geared towards people who only have a two-burner stove to live from (students, sailors, etc). He took fancy recipes and made them simple. And, ginger tea is so-o-o good!!

2. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien I have the paperback Unwin books version, since I can't find the original copy we had, from Faber books. It had a pencil sketch done by Tolkien of Smaug flying over the dale. The book i have has the original watercolor of the Mountain (Smaug's lair) on the cover, the closest I can find. Inside, the book has the same maps as the version I grew up with, as well as the 4 colour sketches and various pen sketches by Tolkien. I love this version; we have since bought a hard cover copy, as the paperback was used and slightly water damaged when I finally found it. Whenever I look at the cover, I am instantly transported to when I first discovered the book. It was in Williams Lake BC, and my sister and I were staying with family friends while our parents took a holiday. Michael read the book out loud in the evenings to us. We finished the Hobbit and moved on to the Fellowship of the Ring, before our visit ended. I was hooked, and promptly read the copy once back at home, and have read almost everything Tolkien has written since. And Smaug is one of the best dragons ever created - smart, and dangerous, but oh so fiery with those eyes no one is allowed to look into.....

3. The Bluebird - adapted by Jan Vladislav. This is the oldest book I own from my childhood. I don't even know how I still come to have this book, since we have moved all over Canada, lived on a sailboat for two years, and over in England, and I left home at age 18, and I still, somehow, have this wonderful fairy tale with me. It is a French fairy tale translated into English by a Czech writer - Jan Vladislav, and the illustrations are by Mirko Hanak (also guessing Czech, since the copyright is 1969 by Artia, Prague). They are Eastern European in design, with adult faces on watercolour shapes. The story always moved me to tears, and the pictures are haunting, especially the one showing the cypress tree "hung with a thousand knives, daggers, swords and razor blades" below the tower where Rosebud is imprisoned, and I cry every time the blue bird flies into the tree. Even now. It is beautiful, and yes, it does end happily. I got this book for Christmas 1970, so I would have been 7 1/2 years old. The book is inscribed :' To Susan, Love Mommy, Christmas/70'. For a long time, when I lived with one or the other of my parents for the rest of my childhood (they were divorced by the following Christmas), I treasured this book partly because of my mother's rare inscription. My copy lost the dustjacket a long time ago, I only have the original hard cover underneath, and the binding is starting to crack, but it is by far one of the most precious books I own, and might come close to be irreplaceable. (By the way, I just checked on line - no images available on Amazon either Canada or UK; it is at ALibris, used for $83 Canadian! and still no images available....is listed as a traditional French fairy tale, which makes sense since the full title page says "The Bluebird, adapted by Jan Vladislav from the original story by Marie d'Aulnoy, illustrated by Mirko Hanak." Apparently I have a very rare copy, since the ones listed are all second impressions from 1972, and I believe I have a first impression and edition from 1970. Even more precious! And never ever for sale!) *I found a French site with a dustjacket - this is not the dustjacket my copy had, but at least gives an idea of Hanak's illustrations inside the book. Isn't the blue bird (at the bottom of the cover) spectacular?


4. The Faces of Fantasy - Patti Perret. This book is also a pride and joy! It sounds tame, a collection of photographs of writers of fantasy books. But from the first time I heard about the book several years ago, to finally seeing a copy with the incomparable Neil Gaiman on the cover, I was searching for it. When I finally had enough money for a copy, I was beaming so widely the store didn't need lights on. The photographs are playful, haunting in cases, moody, done in black-and-white photography so light and shadow are part of the photo and help capture a mood. Since fantasy writing is evocative and mythic (the best fantasy writing, anyway) and about good and evil, the black and white photography matches the subject perfectly. The authors range from the aforementioned Neil Gaiman - taken in front of his house, also a perfect home for a fantasy-gothic-horror writer, with its gables and octangular tower (see photo), deliberately blurred so that the window by Neil's head looks like there is a dark shape looking out - is this house haunted? - with Neil himself in focus. Writers featured are among the most important in the fantasy field, including some of my favourite writers: Charles de Lint, Patricia McKillip, Tim Powers, Neil Gaiman, Susan Cooper, Diane Wynne Jones, Delia Sherman, G.R.R. Martin, Peter Straub, Robert Jordan, Caroline Stevermer, Will Shetterly, Emma Bull, Terri Windling, LIsa Goldstein, Jane Yolen, and so many more. The incredible thing - besides getting photographs of these authors! - is that Patti tried to capture the essence of the writer - evoke the mood of what they write, within each photograph, so no photograph is alike. The photograph is on side, and words from the author about what they write, why they write, whatever they wanted to say for this book, are on the left side. So I get a glimpse of them, the person, in a setting that captures the fantasy tone they write about, along with some of their own thoughts on why they write what they write. Terry Pratchett, Madeleine L'Engle, Alan Garner, and here is what he had to say: "The job of a storyteller is to speak the truth. But what we feel most deeply can't be spoken in words alone. At this level, only images connect. And here, story becomes symbol; symbol is myth. And myth is truth."
I read this book to be inspired, to remember why I write, and what I hope at my deepest level to achieve - a connection between what I see and the world, a way to make myth and symbol real again to my readers. We embody myths in our lives, we are each storytellers (whether we write or draw or talk around the kitchen table about our lives), and symbols are how we connect to one another. This book encourages me, the photographs are images that speak to the non-verbal part of my mind, so my 'well' is filled and I can go write, imagining the circle of fantasy writers encouraging me from just beyond the darkness.

So, a few of my precious books for you to share in. One recent acquisition that is quickly moving up the near and dear to me scale, is This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley. Since I got this for Christmas a year ago, it has sat by my bedside, and is the book I flip through at random, reading a passage here or there, final thoughts on writing before I go to sleep. It is a small book and so wise in how he writes about how to succeed in writing - no, he is not talking about succeeding, he talks about completing a novel in one year. Whether it is good or not is dependent upon the writer!! Wise words, indeed.

So, gentle Reader, what is the most precious book in your library? And the story behind it?

18 comments:

Chris said...

Loved your post Susan and I love your blog :) I added it to my blogroll. All of these books sound great. The Hobbit is one of my favorites too. I have 4 or 5 copies of it...I lost count. I still don't have a copy with that cover that you have though and I've been wanting it for ages! I want the one with the Alan Lee illustrations too (the oversized hardback) that one's gorgeous! And that Faces of Fantasy book is going straight onto my wishlist. I can't believe I had never heard of that. What an incredible book! And it's filled with so many authors that I love. Thanks so much for sharing these with us!

Carl V. said...

Great list and even better explanations as to why you liked them. I loved reading this, I'm so glad you sent me the link. Thank you! Your stories make me think of several other favorite books of mine that have stories of their own.

Faces of Fantasy was fun. I had some pointed problems with it but still really liked it. You can read my review here if you're interested:

http://www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com/?p=180

Jeane said...

I loved reading about why you love your books. The Hobbit is a forever favorite of mine, too.

Susan said...

Chris - thank you so much for your compliments and adding me to your blogroll! I'd seen your comments on other sites, but didn't know where your blog was, so I'm glad to finally meet you! :-) I love the name of your blog, by the way, and your posts (you're added to my blogroll already too!)....and fingers crossed you find a job really soon....the Hobbit copy I have might not be available in the US because of copyright reasons, so check Amazon.ca .....if you look at Carl's comments below, you will see he had a different point of view (which I address next)...

Carl: Thanks very much for your compliments too! I hope you've seen I've joined your Once Upon A Time Challenge. As a mainly fantasy reader, how could I resist your challenge? Thanks again for hosting it! And your site is interesting and I enjoy your comments/blogs very much also.
I went to read your comments on Faces of Fantasy on your blog (thanks very much for the link!), and I think if you were looking for a book on writing fantasy, then yes, Faces of Fantasy doesn't succeed at all. I don't think the creators had any idea of this - though, you are right, they could have put more about what the authors have accomplished, all their books published - and maybe they could have asked why they write fantasy. I kind of like that they left it up to the author to write what they wanted, since that gives more of a feel for the author. I still think the pictures are great, and it is a book about their faces - the people of fantasy writing - not their works. I think most of the authors there would want to be known for their work, and let their work speak for itself - except Le Guin and others who write about the art of writing and fantasy writing separately. Anyway, your comments made me think more deeply about the book, and yes, it has flaws, but it is one-of-a-kind, and I bought it for the pictures as well as the writing.
So....do we get to read about some of your other favourite books and why, now? :-) (lol) glad I could inspire you! It was hard to limit myself to 4, and then find the explanations....ooh, I just thought of another...*sigh*

Susan said...

Hi Jeane - just saw your comment, thanks for coming by! I don't know about you, but The Hobbit introduced me to fantasy, and I've never looked back. It remains a permanent favourite - I like how you call it 'forever favorite' - that's lovely! - forever one of my favorite books. Which version do you have? Have you done this list on your blog?

Lady P said...

Oh my, I'd forgotten about that bluebird book until I saw it on your post today ~ it brings back memories. When I next visit I'll have to look at it again. I don't have any books from when I was a child, the only thing I have still is the doll I had on my bed.

I've never thought long and hard enough about favourite books to have such a list of favourites... I'll look through the book shelf and see what I have kept over the years.

ps how was the Easter hunt for the wee ones?

Stefanie said...

What a lovely list of books! I love the cover of The Bluebird, I bet the paintings inside are gorgeous.

Alix said...

A lovely post about your favourite books I really enjoyed reading it. The Faces of Fantasy sound wonderful I have just discovered the brilliant Neil Gaiman.
Thanks for visiting.

Susan said...

lady p - will post pictures tomorrow. Kids got wired on chocolate and were banned from eating any more after supper. they had a great day! lol
I'm surprised you recognize the book, sis! Did you read it too? I suppose you did....

Stefanie - yes, the pictures on the inside are even better, some are page-length, in rich blue and gold colours especially. It's only now, looking back and comparing it to the Disney books I also had, that I see how different the illustrations are. Almost every page has some kind of illustration, so it makes it seem like a real fairy tale book. I wish I could show it to you!

Alix: thanks for stopping by! And I really do have to thank Chris and Carl for the posting idea. I think its a neat way to talk about books we love, as if imagining you are here in my library and I am showing you my favourites :-)

Cath said...

A lovely post. I think I'll do this myself, later. Btw, I *have* your original copy of The Hobbit... the one with the pencil drawing... how's that for a coincidence!

Cath said...

This so weird. I popped over here via Carl's blog, clicking on your name link to your comment there. And it brought me here to this post, which I thought was your most recent and commented! Turns out it's a post from 2008! Is it supposed to do that, Susan, or am I going crazy?

Carl V. said...

Fantastic post! I am so glad that you did this. It was so fun that I might have to do a Version 2.0 soon on my own site!

I have a version of The Hobbit that came with my boxed set that have the wonderful Alan Lee covers. And although I love those, I still want a hardback copy of this version of The Hobbit. I've become quite the Tolkien geek since the release of the movies and find myself owning, and wanting to own, multiple different sets of his books.

I read Faces of Fantasy a couple of years back and I really liked the concept. I wasn't always thrilled with its execution because I felt it could have been so much more, but it certainly is one of those rare volumes that actually fulfills a desire of mine, which is to see people's creative spaces and learn more about them. I highly recommend that you check your library for a book called The Artist Within by Greg Preston. It is a large book all about cartoonists and similar artists and it is lovely. Even if you are not a fan of the artist's work, it is so cool to see their studios and read about them.

That book that you have from your mom is a wonderful thing to still have. What a precious gift that turned out to be. I'm glad it is something that you've managed to hold on to. So often these things are only alive in our memories because they've been lost or discarded in moments of lunacy. I'm so glad that is not the case with this book for you.

Carl V. said...

How funny! Your name when you commented on my site took me to this post when I clicked on it. I had no idea at that moment that it was an older post and that I had commented on it previously. How funny.

Susan said...

Carl: I think I'm having a problem with blogger right now. It's doing the same thing via Mr linky on the challenges i've joined! gah!

Susan said...

cath: uh oh, there is a problem with blogger. *sigh* I'm happy you have *my* copy of The Hobbit, it's a gorgeous one! And thanks for commenting - I was going crazy trying to find out where everyone's comments on my sidebar were going!

carl: I just saw your longer post. Thank you!! Blogger seems to be a bit mental right now. I'll look for that Greg Preston book, it sounds fabulous. I love looking at creative people's spaces too.

And Tolkien geek - I like that. I think I qualify, being the only person to have read all the books put out up to the one last year, which I haven't read yet. Is there such a thing as a geekess?

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