Wednesday 28 January 2009

Sci fi Chick and Fantasy Girl or, How to be a complete Geek

After I wrote my post yesterday (about my daughter and Dr Who) I wondered if anyone would comment on it. Not only did I get a fabulous response, so thank you to you who wrote in; many of you who commented to me, said that you watched Star Trek growing up, or Star Wars. There are a lot of us, and I am very glad!

Reflecting more, I realized after I read all the comments, that I have another hidden facet to my personality - or, perhaps not hidden, just not one I recognized before. So here, now, I officially present: SCI FI CHICK! *drum roll* To qualify in this select group, you must have enjoyed a science fiction tv series growing up, read at least one science fiction author, and have watched a recent science fiction series on tv.

Some favourite recent tv viewing:
Firefly - and the spin-off movie, Serenity
Star Trek
Dr Who
Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy
Babylon 5
Battlestar Galactica

I would have to say that the above list comprises about 80% of my favourite shows ever on TV.

Some favourite SF authors:
Connie Willis
Orson Scott Card
Lois McMaster Bujold
Allan Steele
Ray Bradbury

However, the bulk of my sf/fantasy reading is fantasy, so *coughs* may I present:
FANTASY GIRL, twin to Sci Fi Chick. Fantasy Girl believes in unicorns, magic,elves, ghosts, happy endings, knights in shining armour, talking cats, witches, and fairy tales. She swishes around in her gauzy skirts and peasant blouses, reading long into the night, and writes down her dreams. For her I watch:
King Arthur anything
Merlin anything
Dresden Files (still getting reruns once in a while!)
Buffy (*sigh* still one of the best shows ever on tv)
Dracula in almost anything
and a host of other things I can't remember

My favourite fantasy authors are too many to enumerate, but some favourites are: Neil Gaiman, JRR Tolkien, Charles De Lint, Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, Susan Cooper, Delia Sherman, Emma Bull, Jasper Fforde, Peter Beagle, Tim Powers.....

Because, thinking over my tv viewing habits, they have followed my reading habits quite closely: mainly mysteries, science fiction and fantasy, with the classics thrown in whenever a BBC or England production comes our way, or WGBH PBS in Boston, which we used to get.

Is it any wonder my children grow up looking at the moon and the stars, wondering what's out there?

Sci-fi Chick and Fantasy Girl would like to acknowledge that this makes me completely geeky.

I do make one humble remark: I also watch some tv with my husband, mostly comedy which he prefers. Poor man, he only likes some science fiction movies (most of them put him to sleep), and he is so not into fantasy! Thankfully, we have the same sense of humour, so The Office, and Gavin and Stacey (a British comedy) are current must-sees, as well as 30 Rock. Over the last two years it was the BBC tv show Life on Mars, which we were addicted to. Part mystery/cop show, part time travel, it was simply cool, and we shared it. And so, my Fantasy Girl's belief in true love (The Princess Bride! and my husband always falls asleep by the Fire Swamp part....) comes true.

Happy reading, everyone!

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Dr Who and my daughter

I have friends who are amazed and horrified that I let my 6 year old watch the new Dr Who. She's been watching with me since the show began, 3 years ago (we had to wait for it to premier over here). It began as a treat for her, she'd stay to listen to the theme music, then she'd stay for 15 minutes and fall asleep curled against me in a cuddle, then she'd slowly fight to stay awake for the whole hour. The next day she'd ask to see it again, when she was awake. And very quickly, she fell in love with Rose, and the Doctor, and the whole idea of travelling in the blue box all over the galaxy, helping fix whatever needed fixing in every world they came to.

So why, I am asked, do I let my daughter watch it? The themes are adult, even if some of the creatures are in that cute gizmo way, and the science talk is sometimes goobledy-gook, and the inside of the Tardis is fantastic beyond anything dreamed of! and I'm still not sure how it's the time machine, just that it is - it doesn't matter. What matters is the truth the show tries to convey, the heart of the story every week, which is almost always about love. There is death, and sadness, and partings - Holly-Anne still isn't over Rose going, and then all this past season got so excited over Rose coming back,until the ending, when she cried (I cried too) over Donna and Rose and the Dr. Because in a funny way, the writers and creators of Dr Who are updating this old science fiction idea for the 21st century. Yes, we can travel in time, and to different worlds - and wherever we go, we face ourselves, in whatever disguises we come in. How do we love what is alien in ourselves, if we can't embrace the stranger across from us? How do we learn to say hello in a different language? How do we gaze upon the stars and not wonder 'what's up there?' If we can save a life, do we? Yes, because we can.

My daughter is learning about what it is to be human, by exploring the universe. And I love the fact that as she grows older, she will find more in the stories and dialogue than she can currently understand. She loves the Dr, and Rose, and finally came to like Donna by the end of this year, only to lose Donna at the end. She's gone through the doctor change once - and she cried and cried when the Doctor changed from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant, and then within a year became devoted to David Tennant too! She has already said that if the Dr came by with his blue box, she would gladly fly with him through the universe.

So would I.

I bring this up today, not just because it's still Carl's on-going Sci Fi Experience, but because I wanted to share what Holly-Anne chose to take to school today for Canada's Literacy Day. The children were encouraged to dress in pyjamas, and bring a book and toy from home. Out of all the books for her and her brother that we have (hmm, 100? 200 is closer....)she went right to the bookshelf last night and picked out the 2009 Official Dr Who Annual.

We picked it up while in England because it hasn't been available here. Off she went to school, and she showed her friends and her teacher. I did ask her if anyone else knew about Dr Who, and she said no.

This quote from Ursula K Le Guin's essay 'Why Americans Are Afraid of Dragons', is the real reason why I let her watch Dr Who with me - always at her insistence, so it's become our tv show now, hers and mine;
And finally, I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties [of a human being] is the power of imagination: so that it is our pleasant duty, as librarians, or teachers, or parents, or writers, or simply as grownups, to encourage that faculty of imagination in our children, to encourage it to grow freely, to flourish like the green bay tree, by giving it the best, absolutely the best and the purest, nourishment that it can absorb. And never, under any circumstances, to squelch it, or sneer at it, or imply that it is childish, or unmanly, or untrue.
For fantasy is true, of course. It isn't factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life that they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom.
So I believe that we should trust our children. Normal children do not confuse reality and fantasy.....Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren't real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books.
" p 44

The unicorn comment made me think about something that happened this autumn with her. We came across a copy of The Last Unicorn, the animated video that came out in the - 1970's? that we were able to rent from our local video store. It was the animated film of Peter Beagle's book, which I read long ago and have carried a copy with me ever since. She watched it once, and then cried when it had to go back. (We haven't been able to get it out since.) I realized then, and often since then, watching her watch Dr Who, that there is a power in fantasy and science fiction - whether in Dr Who or Disney - that she responds to, and I am delighted to see this love of 'what if' rising up in her.

Oh, and she also loves Indiana Jones, especially the first movie. And Scooby Doo, and her doll Rose (named after you know who), and Strawberry Shortcake and Littlest Pet Shop. So she's not being completely taken over by Dr Who and science fiction! Though I have endless questions to answer about Dr Who, especially this season's ender, which she is still working out.

That's why I let her watch Dr Who. It is in the end, made for children, so any blood or gore is minimal - almost always off-screen. The very best of Dr Who contains what is in the very best of all science fiction and fantasy: it shows what it is to be human, and it shows what is true.

Monday 26 January 2009

Congratulations to Neil.....and support your local library challenge

Hurray!!! The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Award!! When I saw this, I gave a little jump of glee. Strangely enough, on the weekend I found myself wondering why Coraline made my list of best reads of 2008, and The Graveyard Book didn't. Coraline scared me. Plain and simple. It's a book for children, yes, but something about it is adult, it's for the child in all of us, who wanted to leave our families - run away - even if only for a moment or half a day - Coraline is about what the world is really like, that every child knows. Those button eyes still creep me out.

And yet, there is magic in The Graveyard Book. The longer I am away from it, the more I remember how he opens with that truly frightening scene, and how he makes life in the graveyard as poetic and haunting as it must be, if one were to live in a graveyard. I think I didn't like that he didn't get to keep his little friend, the only one who could see him, the girl. In my happy-ending world, they do stay friends! but it's a quibble, and doesn't detract from the overall beauty of the book. So, even though it's after the list, I'm officially adding The Graveyard Book to my list of best reads of 2008. Alongside Coraline. I really can hardly wait for my children to be old enough for me to read both books to them. Isn't it wonderful that a book about death, and life after death, and spirits, and love, can be a Newbery Award winner? A children's book award winner? Both Becky , and also here, and Chris also mention the Newbery Award winner.

This has been the coldest January we have had in several years. Once again most of the day we were barely above -20 c. Not until 4 did we get -14c. With our buses still being on strike - day 48 was today - my world has shrunk to the carpool from home to work and back, and then to the nearby tiny mall that houses a grocery store. I haven't been out of the house apart from work and groceries since we arrived Jan 5 from England. I'm beginning to feel like a pioneer wife in old days - as the snow fell deeper and deeper, the houses in the countryside would be shut off from the world and each other. So I'm very thankful for the electronic age, which keeps me connected to the world even if I can't really get out! I am considering getting a driving license, finally. I hate being unable to get out and go where I want to go. And I really hate the January cold. I like the sun, and warm temperatures. This is like a mini-version of hell! I can't get out for my daily walks because it's so cold, so now my clothes are getting tighter....

So I thought I'd talk about what I'm going to do when the buses come back - please let it be before April. How can we be the capital city of Canada and not be able to resolve a transit dispute? So among the many things I will be grateful for when the buses come back, before I get my driver's license (it will be a year before I can drive on my own anyway), is that I can go to the library. I've decided to join the library challenge, in part to ease up on my wallet, and to get back to reading books that I don't necessarily want to buy, especially mystery and fantasy series that I want to try first.

J. Kaye is hosting the 2009 Support Your Local Library Challenge, go here to sign up. The rules are easy:

** The first is to read 12 books from your local library in 2009.
** The second is to read 25 books from your local library in 2009.
** The third is to read 50 books from your local library in 2009.

You decide which one of the three challenges is best for you.

Here are the guidelines:

1) You can join anytime as long as you don’t start reading your books prior to 2009.

2) This challenge is for 2009 only. The last day to have all your books read is December 31, 2009.

3) You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.

I'm joining the second one, 25 books from my local library.

I don't have any library books out yet, so the list will be on my sidebar below the button for the challenge.

I love our library, and have spent many long afternoons just going from shelf to shelf, picking up books at random, or running in for a book on hold, or looking at the paperback shelves to see what was new. We have a decent library, with interesting books in different areas, so I find the coolest books to read! My children all had their library card before their first birthday. Our library allows adults to take out adult books on the children's cards!!! lol you know what this means, instead of my 25 books, I can take out more at once! and they can be renewed for up to three times straight, unless there is a request for it. Yes, I think the library is an excellent resource, and worthy to keep open. Let's hope the bus strike is over soon!!

I love this quote from Ursula Le Guin's essay, "Why are Americans Afraid of Dragons?":

What, then, are the uses of imagination?
You see, I think we have a terrible thing here: a hardworking, upright, responsible citizen, a full grown-up, educated person, who is afraid of dragons, and afraid of hobbits, and scared to death of fairies. It's funny, but it's also terrible. Something has gone very wrong. I don't know what to do about it but to try and give an honest answer to that person's question, even though he often asks it in an aggressive and contemptuous tone of voice. "What the good of it all?" he says. "Dragons and hobbits and little green men - what's the use of it?"
The truest answer, unfortunately, he won't even listen to. He won't hear it. The truest answer is, "The use of it is to give you pleasure and delight."

Isn't that a beautiful reason why we read? For pleasure and delight.

And a lovely explanation for why we treasure books so - they are our doorway to imagination.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Sunday Salon - Guardian Unlimited's 124 science fiction and fantasy books to read....

The Sunday

So, for this week's Sunday Salon, I thought I would continue with the science fiction and fantasy theme, especially as I discovered yesterday that Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings has a wonderful post on Jan 22, '124 Science fiction and fantasy novels you must read before you die' list, that was published by Guardian Books also on the 22: you can find their list here: Guardian part one, for those who want to go see why the books were chosen. From there, you can find your way to part two and three. Please note that fantasy and horror are part of their criteria, and this is part of their greater '1000 novels everyone must read before they die' list.

So, here is the list, with the ones I've read in bold, the ones I have on my TBR pile italicized, and ones I've read other books by the author marked by an asterick (this is so I don't look quite so ill-read!):

1. Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

2. Brian W Aldiss: Non-Stop (1958)

3. Isaac Asimov: Foundation (1951)*

4. Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin (2000)*

5. Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things (1987)

6. Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory (1984)

7. Iain M Banks: Consider Phlebas (1987)

8. Clive Barker: Weaveworld (1987)*

9. Nicola Barker: Darkmans (2007)

10. Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships (1995)

11. Greg Bear: Darwin’s Radio (1999)

12. Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination (1956)

13. Poppy Z Brite: Lost Souls (1992)

14. Algis Budrys: Rogue Moon (1960)

15. Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita (1966)

16. Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)

17. Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1960)

18. Anthony Burgess: The End of the World News (1982)

19. Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (1912)

20. William Burroughs: Naked Lunch (1959)

21. Octavia Butler: Kindred (1979)

22. Samuel Butler: Erewhon (1872)

23. Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees (1957)

24. Ramsey Campbell: The Influence (1988)*

25. Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

26. Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)

27. Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus (1984)*

28. Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)

29. Arthur C Clarke: Childhood’s End (1953)

30. GK Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)*

31. Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004)

32. Michael G Coney: Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975)

33. Douglas Coupland: Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)

34. Mark Danielewski: House of Leaves (2000) * I hated this. I tried it, and will not ever finish it.

35. Marie Darrieussecq: Pig Tales (1996)

36. Samuel R Delaney: The Einstein Intersection (1967)

37. Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

38. Philip K Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)

39. Umberto Eco: Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) *

40. Michel Faber: Under the Skin (2000)

41. John Fowles: The Magus (1966) *

42. Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)

43. Alan Garner: Red Shift (1973) *

44. William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)

45. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland (1915) *

46. William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)

47. Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (1974)

48. M John Harrison: Light (2002)

49. Robert A Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) *

50. Frank Herbert: Dune (1965)

51. Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game (1943) *

52. Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker (1980)

53. James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)

54. Michel Houellebecq: Atomised (1998)

55. Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)

56. Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995)

57. Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959) *

58. Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (1898)

59. PD James: The Children of Men (1992) *

60. Richard Jefferies: After London; Or, Wild England (1885)

61. Gwyneth Jones: Bold as Love (2001)

62. Franz Kafka: The Trial (1925)

63. Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon (1966)

64. Stephen King: The Shining (1977) *

65. Marghanita Laski: The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953)

66. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Uncle Silas (1864)

67. Stanislaw Lem: Solaris (1961)

68. Doris Lessing: Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)

69. David Lindsay: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)

70. Ken MacLeod: The Night Sessions (2008)

71. Hilary Mantel: Beyond Black (2005)

72. Michael Marshall Smith: Only Forward (1994)

73. Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (1954) *

74. Charles Maturin: Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)

75. Patrick McCabe: The Butcher Boy (1992)

76. Cormac McCarthy: The Road (2006)

77. Jed Mercurio: Ascent (2007)

78. China Miéville: The Scar (2002)

79. Andrew Miller: Ingenious Pain (1997)

80. Walter M Miller Jr: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)

81. David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas (2004)

82. Michael Moorcock: Mother London (1988)

83. William Morris: News From Nowhere (1890)

84. Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987)

85. Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995)

86. Vladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor (1969)

87. Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003)

88. Larry Niven: Ringworld (1970)

89. Jeff Noon: Vurt (1993)

90. Flann O’Brien: The Third Policeman (1967)

91. Ben Okri: The Famished Road (1991)

92. Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club (1996)

93. Thomas Love Peacock: Nightmare Abbey (1818)

94. Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan (1946)

95. John Cowper Powys: A Glastonbury Romance (1932)

96. Christopher Priest: The Prestige (1995)

97. François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-34)

98. Ann Radcliffe: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)

99. Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000)

100. Kim Stanley Robinson: The Years of Rice and Salt (2002) *

101. JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)

102. Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988)

103. Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry: The Little Prince (1943)

104. José Saramago: Blindness (1995)

105. Will Self: How the Dead Live (2000)

106. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818)

107. Dan Simmons: Hyperion (1989) *

108. Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (1937)

109. Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash (1992)

110. Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)

111. Bram Stoker: Dracula (1897)

112. Rupert Thomson: The Insult (1996)

113. Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (1889) *

114. Kurt Vonnegut: Sirens of Titan (1959)

115. Robert Walser: Institute Benjamenta (1909)

116. Sylvia Townsend Warner: Lolly Willowes (1926)

117. Sarah Waters: Affinity (1999) *

118. HG Wells: The Time Machine (1895)

119. HG Wells: The War of the Worlds (1898)

120. TH White: The Sword in the Stone (1938)

121. Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun (1980-83) *

122. John Wyndham: Day of the Triffids (1951)

123. John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)

124. Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1924)

Apparently, I am reading all the wrong books by authors! Several authors I've read other works by, but the Guardian editors chose books that were representative of the author's influence, and on the field the book is published in. It's actually an interesting read in itself, for instance, for Douglas Adams, they write:
"Originating as a BBC radio series in 1978, Douglas Adams's inspired melding of hippy-trail guidebook and sci-fi comedy turned its novelisations into a publishing phenomenon. Douglas wrote five parts from 1979 onwards (the first sold 250,000 in three months), introducing the world to Marvin the Paranoid Android, the computer Deep Thought, space guitarist Hotblack Desiato (named after Adams's local estate agent) and the Guide itself, a remarkably prescient forerunner to the internet.
Andrew Pulver

There are several books on the list I have been meaning to read, without getting around to buying the book yet: Foundation, Lost Souls, The Stars My Destination, Foucault's Pendulum, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Red Shift, Revelation Space, Snowcrash....

Now, I did and I do disagree with this list. There is nowhere near the amount of fantasy authors that have shaped it, that should be on this list: no Tolkien, no Lewis, no Jane Yolen, no no Lord Dunsany or William Morris (Wood at World's End), no Jack Vance (Lyonesse), which I consider essential fantasy reading. How can the 124 novels to read not have The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, which shaped the fantasy field? So, read the list and let me know how many you have read! If you post about it, please let me know and I'll add your link below.

One thing I am rediscovering is my love of science fiction. I had moved away from reading it over the years, and I'm not sure why. I started with Isaac Asimov and Robert A Heinlein, but hard science fiction never interested me. I was more interested in space opera, in the theme of people exploring the stars. There has also been such an explosion in books available in every genre in the last 20 or 30 years, that it is hard to keep up with new books every year. One thing I have been considering is taking some time to read only in one genre for a while - say, catch up on my fantasy reading for several months, and then move to mystery, and then science fiction. I don't know. I do know I seem to be falling further behind in my reading, even though I am beginning to read more books per year now!

I have taken some time with making my lists of what I want to read here, and challenges I want to join, because I'm not sure what I want to read. I have been pulling books from my shelves in the past few weeks, and suddenly have two huge piles of fantasy and mystery books to read, plus some science fiction for Carl's ongoing mini Sci-fi Experience. I envy, sometimes, people who are happy to read in one genre only, because they aren't worried about books in other areas to read and have a chance to read all the really good ones all the time. Then, I think, what they are missing - I wouldn't have missed reading Middlemarch for anything, and I'm glad I read Dune and Farmer in the Sky (still one of my favourite scifi books ever), even though I don't read as much science fiction or classics as I do other areas. I love books. I love books in almost all areas, and I don't want to limit myself to one genre, as much as i think I want to. Because then suddenly there's great mysteries being published, and then all the great ghost stories, and there are so many good stories being told!

If you follow Carl's link to Sci-fi Signal, this is a fabulous site to discover everything new in the science fiction universe on all mediums - tv, movies, books, etc. Well worth checking out, if you enjoy science fiction.

I leave you now with final thoughts from Ursula K Le Guin, from her book of essays, The Language of the Night, Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. She defines science fiction as Outer Space, and fantasy as Inner Lands, in her A Citizen of Mondath essay. "I don't entirely understand why Dunsany came to me as a revelation, why that moment was so decisive....Whatever the reason, the moment was decisive. I had discovered my native country." p 26. Isn't that a beautiful moment of finding a kind of book that one belongs to? That is how I felt when I first read The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings: I had come home. There was, and is, nothing I love so much as a well-told, fully imagined fantasy novel. Something magical happens in exploring that Inner Land. Le Guin links fantasy and science fiction in an unusual way: 'The book [Lord Dunsany's A Dreamer's Tales,] belonged to my father, a scientist, and was a favourite of his; in fact he had a large appetite for fantasy. I have wondered if there isn't some real connection between a certain kind of scientific-mindedness (the exporative, synthesizing kind) and fantasy-mindedness. Perhaps 'science fiction' really isn't a such bad name for our genre after all. Those who dislike fantasy are often equally bored or repelled by science. They don't like either hobbits, or quasars; they don't feel at home with them, they don't want complexities, remoteness. If there is any such connection, I'll bet that it is basically an aesthetic one.
"The limits, and the great spaces of fantasy and science fiction are precisely what my imagination needs. Outer space, and the Inner Lands, are still, and always will be, my country."

Isn't that a beautiful way of expressing why so many of us read both fantasy and science fiction? And I also use that as my definition of science fiction and fantasy now: science fiction is Outer Space, and fantasy is Inner Lands.


Saturday 24 January 2009

Writing meme

Andi at Andilit posted a writing meme on Jan 14. I just found it, and I thought that for this super-cold Saturday - it's -20c outside right now! - I'd do the meme. It reveals a lot about my writing life, and where I'm at right now:

What’s your favourite genre of writing?
Fantasy and mystery are my favourite genres for writing in. I also write poetry.

How often do you get writer’s block? How do you fix it?
I get writer's block often and it's almost always when i have not made regular time to write, and my life gets so busy I can't turn inward the way I need to in order to listen.

Do you type or write by hand?
My handwriting is so awful I have to type.

Do you save everything you write?
Yes, I save pretty much everything, at least until I'm sure I've finished it. Then all the old drafts go out.

Do you ever go back to an old idea long after you abandoned it?
I never abandon an idea, mostly because I like the one I was with and determined to get a first draft done. I finally did! Now it's getting a good second draft in....

Do you have a constructive critic?

I used to have a constructive writing friend, I no longer do, so I'm pretty much on my own, for now.

Did you ever write a novel?
The first draft I just finished is a novel, a fantasy novel.

What genre would you love to write but haven’t?
This is hard for me to answer, since I write in most that I like - fantasy, mystery, horror. I'd guess I would love to write a science fiction story, but my lack of knowledge of science holds me back - or I should say, understanding of quantum physics etc, means I feel I don't have the grasp I should to be able to write with a solid background. I understand fantasy and horror, so I write instinctively in it.

What’s one genre you have never written, and probably never will?

I'd have to say the religious genre I'll never write in.

How many writing projects are you working on right now?
I have my second draft of my novel to complete, and my poems to put together and try to get published, plus two short stories I'd like to get published (they are mostly done). Hmm, seems to be that sending them out stage I am at!

Do you write for a living? Do you want to?
No, I don't write for a living, and when I tried to, I couldn't - the pressure to make money was too great. I write better with a steady income, at least right now I do.

Have you ever written something for a magazine or newspaper?
I haven't written for a magazine yet, but I think about it.

Have you ever won an award for your writing?

I won an honourable mention in a poetry competition long ago, and won a first and a second place at two science fiction/fantasy conventions, again some years ago.

What are your five favourite words?
I don't have five favourite words. In Ray Bradbury's The Zen of Writing, he suggests making a list of your favourite words, or building a list of words that come to you. I always begin my list with this word: haunting. It is my favourite word, and I use it often, as you, my Gentle Readers of my blog, can attest to!! lol After this, it varies, depending on what I'm writing or what the story is telling me about - which is what Bradbury wants us to do, let the story tell us what it is. If I had to say personally my favourite words in English, they would be what I love: haunting, book, dream, chocolate, ghost, castle, tree, water, joy, love, spell, enchantment, dragon, imagination, free, and of course - book......

Do you ever write based on your dreams?
I have very vivid dreams, and the short story I won the fantasy convention with was using a girl who dreamed nightmares that came true.

Do you favour happy endings, sad endings, or cliff-hangers?
I favor happy endings :-)

Have you ever written based on an artwork you’ve seen?

Yes, I've tried to write based on artwork I've seen, but it's never turned out - although another short story I wrote was based on photographs the main character took, that featured ghosts :-) so I use art in my stories, but don't base it on anything specific in the real world.

I really enjoyed doing this meme. I thank Andi for doing hers on her blog, and she credits Becca at Write on Wednesday, a blog for writers, for this meme. So if you are a secret, a beginning, or experienced writer (and I know there are a few of us out there!) please feel free to do this meme. Please let me know if you do this meme and I'll add the link here. I would love to read your answers if you decide to do this, so any writers out there are tagged to do this one!!


Happy Saturday! It's the weekend!

Thursday 22 January 2009

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Middlemarch. I will never again look at the classics with foreboding in my heart. I'm not about to jump into reading only classics now! Not when I have 80+ books on my immediate TBR shelf! Some of which do contain some classics, I am happy to add. I am going to anticipate War and Peace with a lighter heart, though. And maybe even Ulysses.....

I feel like for the first time, I understand how great a 'classic' novel can be. The richness of the characters, the depth of their natures, so precisely rendered by Eliot, made me feel like I had just stepped over a bridge into Middlemarch. That indeed, somewhere in the mists just over there, lies this tiny town, inhabited by such a range of people that the town feels real. It's not just the characters either; Eliot takes time to notice the weather, the gardens: 'He found Mary in the garden gathering roses and sprinkling the petals on a sheet. The sun was low, and tall trees sent their shadows across the grassy walks where Mary was moving without a bonnet or parasol.' p 424. Families gather to eat, ride different kinds of horses, live beyond their means in a house they can't afford. The townspeople hold meetings, attend a rally, and we see the ranks close against what is different, or new. This is a wonderful, great, deep novel, that contains so much observation about life and people.
Look at how Mr Farebrother, a clergyman is introduced: "Before it ceased Mr Farebrother came in - a handsome, broad-chested but otherwise small man, about forty, whose black was very threadbare; the brilliancy was all in his quick grey eyes." I can already see him, and Eliot then spends the rest of the novel revealing how he is brilliant, and why he is poor.
This line is perfect: "But of course intention was everything in the question of right and wrong.' p 580. Simple, and clear, and true.
'"I know the unhappy mistakes about you. I knew them from the first moment to be mistakes. You have never done anything vile. You would not do anything dishonourable."
'It was the first assurance of belief in him that had fallen on Lydgate's ears. He drew a deep breath, and said, 'Thank you.' He could not say more; it was something very new and strange in his life that these few words of trust from a woman should be so much to him.'
p 626 You can see the characters of Dorothea and Lydgate here - Dorothea being her passionate, outspoken self, setting out to see if she can restore Lydgate's position in Middlemarch, and Lydgate, too proud to ask for help, humbled when someone offers it anyway. That is the richness of Middlemarch, that these are ordinary, mortal people George Eliot is writing about. There are smart people, dull people, ordinary labourers and landed gentleman. This novel is about Dorothea and Will, Lydgate and Rosamond, Mary and Fred, and it's about love, and what happens in a marriage as two people find their way to each other - or not, as is the case with Dorothea and Mr Causabon. This book is like a slice of English society at 1830, which was Eliot's intention, and to show how the changes to the Land act, and Parliament, were felt in the distant countryside, by ordinary people. There are the old ways - the old doctors - and the new ways used by Lydgate. People who have always been Middlemarchers, and newcomers.

There is so much that is good and delightful in this novel, that I can hardly begin to tell you. Partly I don't want to give too much away for those readers who are reading it (Bybee! I'm looking at you!) or perhaps thinking about reading it soon, or might give it a try. It's a chunky novel, I don't deny it, but it doesn't read like one. Instead, it's like being immersed in a quieter time of English life, when the life in the town still revolved around the mill, the wool industry, as well as general trades, when the main purpose in life was to settle in a career one hopefully liked, and marry. Sounds a bit like now, doesn't it? In Eliot's novel, Fred, Will, and Lydgate are the prime examples of young men trying to find a career - only Lydgate does has a dream of what he wants, a clear career he is aiming for, as the novel opens. Fred finds an unexpected one that he does well at. Will does find his calling, which is due to the changes in public life. I can't say it without giving it away! However, all these careers come in the way it does it real life - some fail - Lydgate can't do what he wants because of choices he makes, that end up pulling him away from the life he dreams of, so that he regards himself as a failure. Fred succeeds almost inspite of himself, and Will - Will finds that there is only love, after all. These characters are so vivid, so much so that I wanted to yell at Fred, that I cried as Lydgate finds himself squeezed and squeezed some more until there is no room for dreams, that I longed for Will to do something. Have a goal, man! It is refreshing to read about the dreams of people setting out in life, and then seeing what life wroughts into them. It seems to me that novels have become smaller as the 20th century ended, so that a book wasn't centered around goals about making a mark in the world, it was about one's immediate world only. Middlemarch has ideas, and discusses politics (in a very amusing way, I might add), and the characters all have opinions - rightly or wrongly, they all think and have their own ideas, and it is fun to watch them collide as the characters intersect.

Above all, Middlemarch is about love, all the different ways people love, the quiet contentment and little discords that fill married life, about good matches, and about how people learn about one another. One of the best things about Middlemarch is that characters reveal depths as things happen - Mrs Bulstrode, who is Rosamund's aunt, finds herself faced with a terrible choice, and though it costs her everything, she makes the one she can live with. That part had me crying, in fact, a few scenes in the book had me crying. I didn't cry when Mr Causabon died, but I did cry before he died because of Dorothea and what she was doing to herself in order to make her marriage work. There are characters to dislike as well as love in Middlemarch, but they aren't one dimensional bad people, pure villains; they are are rich in motivation and they have longings and desires. Eliot gives them good sides as well as the bad. Even Ruffles the ruffian (I can't help it, she named him!) doesn't deserve the death he gets, and revelation of the darkness in Bulstrode is fascinating to watch. Characters are stupid - if Rosamund has a genuine original thought in her head, I believe the world would stop spinning, honestly!, they are mean to their relatives, they are kind - Caleb Garth deserves a medal! his generosity and faith changes two lives so very much, and affects a third sadly - I couldn't help but feel sorry for Mary Garth's other admirer. There are laughs, as well as tears, and Dorothea and Celia do come across as real sisters. It was just so refreshing, and humbling, to see how good a book this is.

I don't really have anything bad to say about this book. I have not come across a book like this in a long time. This is not to say we are not writing good novels now, it's to say a novel as large and well-crafted - a canvas of life - as Middlemarch doesn't come along very often.

This is a book I am so happy I read, and that I already love.

Sunday 18 January 2009

Sunday Salon - Carl's Sci Fi Mini Challenge

The Sunday

Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings is holding a mini-challenge this weekend, here. I almost missed it, so thanks to Eva at A Striped Armchair for posting about the short stories she'd read for it instead of doing her Sunday Salon. The rules: You simply have to read a science fiction short story some time this weekend - ok, today is left! Then leave a comment on Carl's post, and you are entered in a contest to win a book. This is part of Chris (Stuff as Dreams Are Made Of) and Robin's (A Fondness For Reading) year-long challenge in memory of Dewey (link is on my sidebar).

So I went to Carl's site, and there he provides a link to one of the best science fiction short stories I've read here, Tom Godwin's The Cold Equations. If you are looking for something good, very good, and short to read this Sunday, I recommend this. As does Carl. Warning: you might have to keep a tissue handy. Trust me. I love space exploration stories, and this one is one that gets to the very heart of space exploration:
' "It's different here; it's not like back on Earth," he said. "It isn't that no one cares; it's that no one can do anything to help. The frontier is big and here along its rim the colonies and exploration parties are scattered so thin and far between. On Woden, for example, there are only sixteen men—sixteen men on an entire world. The exploration parties, the survey crews, the little first-colonies—they're all fighting alien environments, trying to make a way for those who will follow after. The environments fight back and those who go first usually make mistakes only once. There is no margin of safety along the rim of the frontier; there can't be until the way is made for the others who will come later, until the new worlds are tamed and settled. Until then men will have to pay the penalty for making mistakes with no one to help them because there is no one to help them."'

Carl's post also has some books to look out for if you enjoy this genre, and the most amazing space photographs. I love space, and dreamed at one time of being an astronomer, until I discovered the math involved. I even tried to do it, but I simply couldn't. I can't do math. Thus ended my dream of being an astronomer, but my dream of travelling in space hasn't died!! In fact, I have a space opera story I've been writing for a little while now, I love the idea of travelling in space and exploring it so much.

This is my 200th post, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate than to have it be about science fiction stories, and challenges, and Dewey.

For Dewey.

Saturday 17 January 2009

Thank you, Nymeth! New book from Dan Simmons...

After I wrote my apology in my last post, Nymeth came back in the comments and left me the news that Dan Simmons of The Terror fame (see my favourite books for 2008!), has a new book coming out Feb 9,

and this is what it is about:

Drood Dan Simmons. Little, Brown, $26.99 (784p) ISBN 978-0-316-00702-3

Bestseller Simmons (The Terror) brilliantly imagines a terrifying sequence of events as the inspiration for Dickens's last, uncompleted novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in this unsettling and complex thriller. In the course of narrowly escaping death in an 1865 train wreck and trying to rescue fellow passengers, Dickens encounters a ghoulish figure named Drood, who had apparently been traveling in a coffin. Along with his real-life novelist friend Wilkie Collins, who narrates the tale, Dickens pursues the elusive Drood, an effort that leads the pair to a nightmarish world beneath London's streets. Collins begins to wonder whether the object of their quest, if indeed the man exists, is merely a cover for his colleague's own murderous inclinations. Despite the book's length, readers will race through the pages, drawn by the intricate plot and the proliferation of intriguing psychological puzzles, which will remind many of the work of Charles Palliser and Michael Cox.
link to rest here of the publisher's early reviews, from Dan Simmon's Website. Thank you so much, Nymeth, for the link and to telling me about this book.

so, Nymeth springs to the top of the Bad Blogger list for me :-) and I am a little bit amazed at the synchronicity: here I was reviewing The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which talk about Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens and how the murder inspired both their subsequent books, and here is Dan Simmons, writing a book about both of them as main characters! And it sounds an absolutely fascinating book, perfect for a February winter read. I don't often buy hardcovers, though I think in this case, I will make an exception. I've been a Dan Simmons fan for a very long time, and early reviews make this book sound like possibly the read for 2009. Though, some may want to hold off reading this until Carl's RIP4 challenge later this year, I don't think I can wait!

A new book to read!

Ooops, Big Error. how could I do that?

Oops. I was looking over my last post, and I thought, 'where's The Moonstone'? I'm sure The Suspicions of Mr Whicher talks about that book too. So I went to check and sure enough. The Woman in White was being published by Charles Dickens' magazine, the 33rd instalment, as Det Whicher gets on the train for Road Hill that July 1860 evening. The Moonstone wasn't written yet. Here is what the very first page of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which is the introduction, has to say:

"The Road Hill case turned everyone detective. It riveted the people of England, hundreds of whom wrote to the newspapers, to the Home Secretary and to Scotland Yard with their solutions. It helped shape the fiction of the 1860s and beyond, most obviously Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, which was described by TS Eliot as the first and best of all English detective novels. Whicher was the inspiration for that story's cryptic Sergeant Cuff, who has influenced nearly every detective hero since. Elements of the case surfaced in Charles Dicken's last, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood." Introduction. (bold sentence is mine, for emphasis!!)

The Woman in White is more gothic in tone, as I recall. It certainly doesn't feature the police investigation so prominently, as The Moonstone does. And I have read both books, so I have no excuse for mixing them up in my review, but alas, I kept getting interrupted by my kids and husband that night while I was writing the post......and I didn't do a final check in the book. So, for those of who about to read The Woman in White thinking it is the best and first detective novel, please don't!!! It's The Moonstone.

So please accept my apologies! The Woman in White is a fun read, but it's not a detective story!

Thursday 15 January 2009

A Book Review! The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

I thought it was about time that for a blog about books and reading, I actually wrote about a book I've read! It seems to be ages since I last did a review.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill
House by Kate Summerscale is a true-crime mystery set in 1860 England. A terrible murder, set in a house that was locked from within, so the only ones who could have done it are among the family members and servants sleeping within. What set this murder apart from the many appalling others, were two things: one, that it was in a locked house, and two, London had just formed the Metropolitan Police Force in 1829, and it had started, very quietly, forming the first detective division, which in June 1842 was officially allowed to exist by the Home Office. Jack Whicher is one of those first detectives, a police officer invited to become a plains-clothes detective, in 1842. He is a successful detective, and when the Road Hill murder can't be solved after two weeks, he is invited - because it is outside the Metropolitan City, the county officials have to ask the Met to lend one of its detectives to help solve the crime.

There was enormous publicity about the crime, partly due to the victim - a child - but also because of where and how it takes place - inside the safest place a family should be, inside the home. All of England watches as Mr Whicher investigates.

The incredible irony is that he solves it, but no one believes him, and because he has no proof - the only evidence has been disappeared, everyone is claiming innocence among the family members and servants, and no one is found with any evidence upon them - the murder is not solved immediately. When it is, it is unexpectedly.

This book was a fascinating read. I read it in 3 days. I could hardly bear to put it down, and even though I was on holiday, I read every chance I got. The first part especially is haunting. Kate Summerscale, the author, not only relates the history of the police force (which isn't much since it had just begun to exist!), she relates the idea of policing and investigating with the English society at that time. She quotes from existing newpapers, journals, letters, of that time. I felt like I was seeing the evolution of the detective force before my eyes. "Jack Whicher was one of the original eight Scotland Yard officers. In the eighteen years since the detective force had been formed, these men had become figures of mystery and glamour, the surreptitious, all-seeing little gods of London." prologue

She also relates the idea of a detective to the literature of the time - specifically, of course, to the first mysteries being written by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, and Edgar Allan Poe. Dickens was fascinated by detectives, and Wilkie Collins wrote what many consider to be the best (and very first) of the locked-room mysteries, The Woman in White, which Summerscale says is based in part on the atmosphere surrounding the Road Hill mystery. Henry Wills, Dicken's editor at his paper, saw Whicher in action and described him as "A plain, honest-looking fellow, with nothing formidable in his appearance, or dreadful in his countenance....
"Whicher was a 'man of mystery', in Will's phrase, the prototype of the enigmatic, reserved investigator. He appeared from nowhere....Many of the traits that Wills saw in Whicher became the stuff of the fictional detective hero: he was ordinary-looking,keen-sighted, sharp-witted, quiet." Prologue

I don't normally read true-crime books, partly because the photos leave a bad feeling in my mouth, and the crimes are always horrible. I did read Helter Skelter, that terrible and chilling account of the Manson murders in the 1960's, and a few others that occurred in the 1970's, but they were often left unsolved - the accused never confesses, or the evidence isn't enough to convict. In fiction, the perpetrator usually confesses eventually. Life isn't that neat, and so The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is less thrilling in the second part, which deals with the aftermath of the investigation and what happened to everyone. I still found I couldn't put the book down. I had to know what happened, and how the world - English society - felt about what happened. I came away satisfied. This is a very good book.

I really enjoyed how she tied the development of the English mystery novel to the study of this real-life crime mystery. I learned a lot about crime in 1860's England, and how even then, it took a special kind of personality to be a good detective. This book is must-reading for anyone who reads mysteries.

I'm not the only one who thinks so - I'd seen this book reviewed since last summer in magazine and book review columns (no where in the blogging world though that I can recall), so I thought that while I was in England, I would look for it. It was sold out in York, in Grays Essex, and in London until New Year's Eve, when the publisher finally produced some more copies. It was one of 'the' books being bought in England for Christmas.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

So there I was......

So there I was. Deslily had introduced me to Cath at Read-Warbler (and there are some great photos of an old house in Cornwall with a courtyard that she's just posted) and then looking at her blogroll, which I often do to see if there is someone new to meet, found myself at A Devoted Reader - who could resist a blog title like that??! - and there it was: a whole series of books currently being read by A Devoted reader, that I have been meaning to read like forever: Anthony Trollope's 6 books of The Barsetshire series. I had successfully gone to Cath's blog and not come away with anything to add to my TBR pile because I already have The Book Thief waiting patiently on the top of it. The fact that I had instant book lust for her other book, the Atlas of North American Exploration , is beside the point......maybe it is the point. I love going to all your blogs, my Gentle Readers, and finding new books I've never heard of, and being reminded of books I still haven't read, and discovering you love the same books I do.

I don't own any of Anthony Trollope's books, so a trip to the library - when we get our buses back!! - will be upcoming.

So, this introduces me to :

Started by Deslily, carried by Chris, I hereby join this blame game. It's easy. Read a book, recommend it, post about it, and ta-dah! my TBR pile is suddenly larger! And so......since I've only been blogging for a year, I can already blame several bloggers for increasing my TBR pile to dangerous proportions over that time. I hereby give 10 points to:
Chris at Stuff As Dreams Are Made of. I once joked that if he gave his list of books he was going to read, I'd go out and buy my own copies. Even if I'm not interested in the book, he makes it sound @#%* interesting! Witty, funny, wise, someone I'm coming to look toward for books to read - you BAD blogger, Chris! - I'm always thrilled when he has new post up even if means another book I need to look for!
- followed very closely by Nymeth at Things Mean Alot. As most of you know, she is a book reviewer without parallel in our universe. Kind, sweet, thoughtful, intelligent, her blog is a delight, and the one book we disagreed on last year - that's one! - was an ancient children's book by E. Nesbit. Ok, not so ancient, but to me it felt like it. And she made me feel I missed something because she loved it! She also made Freakonomics sound interesting. Based on that, she is awarded 10 points also.
There's Eva at A Stuffed Armchair, Deslily at Here, There and Everywhere, Stephanie (several Stephanies in fact)- So Many Books, Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic, Emily at Telecommuter Talk (when she talks about books!), Bybee at Naked Without Books, Rhinoa at Rhinoa's Ramblings, Geraniumcat at Geraniumcat's Bookshelf, Ann at Table Talk and Bride at Bride of the Book God: you each get 7 points, because you read books I either am going to read (thus moving them up my TBR pile) or read books I want to read, so suddenly my TBR pile grows by 10 books in one night.

I love you all, and in 6 months time, I will get my revenge by letting a randomly chosen winner pick from my 'read' pile a book that you want to read :-) This is open to all bloggers, so many of you will be awarded points as this year goes on, and you post about good books to read, but I wanted to start this little competition with a bang.

Of course, if I don't hurry up and get reading, that book on my 'read' pile will be Middlemarch!

Monday 12 January 2009

Monday Musings

I am having trouble settling down to reading. I had the same difficulty in England, so maybe travelling does throw me off center more than I realized. I have picked up Middlemarch again and am hoping to finish it this week.

Middlemarch update
:This story is skilfully told, with such wisdom about people's natures. I love this section where Dorothea and Will meet, as he comes to say goodbye to her: 'Something which may be called an inward silent sob had gone on in Dorothea before she said with a pure voice, just trembling in the last words as if only from its liquid flexibility -
' 'Yes, it must be right for you to do as you say. I shall be very happy when I hear that you have made your value felt. But you must have patience. It will perhaps be a long while.' '
'Will never quite knew how long it was that he saved himself from falling down at her feet, when the 'long while' came forth with its gentle tremor.
' p 446
Aren't those lines a little like pure music? Who taught Eliot to write about people like that? People's thoughts are woven into the story line, so we know what Susan Garth thinks of her husband's inability to think or even want to know anything bad about anyone he has business dealings with. And I'm finally at the part where I discover that Mr Bulstrode hides a deep dark secret, that I hope will be his undoing, but I also see why he is so Christian oriented - he thinks he is living a blameless life, but it's really to make up for how he came into his money. And we find out through a secondary character who really is a scoundrel and creepy. There is so much about life that is in Middlemarch, that it really is one of the most enjoyable novels I've read in a very long time. And people change in this book due to their actions - or don't, depending on their natures. and that makes it like real life, and so very satisfying to read.

I took The Polysyllabic Spree with me to work today. I am enjoying Nick Hornby's comments about what he reads, though I have to admit that his reading tastes are very different from mine! I like how he's not allowed to comment negatively on anything he reads, either, for the journal he was writing for at the time.

I haven't made any resolutions about what I'm going to read yet this year, other than I am determined to read 100 books this time!! I am going through my shelves, cataloguing my books so I know what I have - my computer crashed two years ago and took the list I had then, which I haven't replaced until now. Sometimes I have to look at my books, touch them, so that I can remember I have them, until I find the time to read them!! Doing the cataloguing, I am finding I am pulling books out I want to read, so I think I'll see what I come up with that I already have, and then what challenges fit what I want to read! I have some Charles de Lint to read to start catching up on my Canadian Challenge, and a science fiction book or two for Carl's Sci Fi reading experience. And then - Oh, so many books to read! I love challenges, so it's more a matter of me finding my way to different blogs and see what's happening.

It was much harder to be without a computer than I expected, when we were in England. For me, it's taken about 6 years for the computer to change completely how I communicate with people. I think I realized on this trip, how much I have come to rely on the computer. I used to be a great letter writer, and sends so many things through the mail. Now, except for birthdays and Christmas, almost everything is sent through email/via computer now. It was very difficult to not be able to look up news from back home, to not be able to check in with my son on Facebook or via email, and our friends in England too looked for us on email. Since I had planned to connect with some bloggers in England to meet with them, all my plans were thrown out when the computer was suddenly not accessible! And I couldn't email or check blogs because I didn't know next when we would get to an internet cafe! It didn't change the quality of our trip at all, except that I missed out on meeting with some of you, my Gentle readers, and I regret that very much. Sometimes the telephone is still better! I do love the computer, I know it now!! It's a great way to find out about books, too, in so many ways!!

So, just some thoughts on a Monday evening as we prepare for Day 35 without buses - yes, that transit strike I mentioned way back in mid-December before we left for England, is still on-going, and our lives are a bit in upheaval while we try to get to and from work every day. My reading time is completely changed because I don't have that hour or so on the buses each day to read. I am lucky enough to have a really good friend and co-worker who lives near, and we carpool to work, along with a mutual good friend, and another co-worker who shares in the driving. So we have fun rides into work and back - we all are fairly sarcastic people when it comes to our jobs, having been at the office long enough! The good news is, it means I can't really get around the city outside work, so my evenings and weekends are freer for reading! At least the children's school buses aren't affected, although the teachers may go on strke in March.....

Happy reading on this quiet Monday night, everyone!

Saturday 10 January 2009

York, England

As you can see, I have changed my header! I LOVE this photo. It's part of the wall around York, built in the 13 and 14th centuries. The door looks like it's from the 16th century. I love the idea that people can enter through the door - or leave! - friends, who don't need to use the main gates to enter the city. It's like a secret doorway.

I am going to put some photos of York on, but I'm not sure how many I can upload into a post, nor how often the commentary will match, so bear with me. Out of the 130 odd photos we took of York, I'm attempting to whittle them down to 10-20 for you and this blog! Though I'd rather show them all!

This is the view coming into to York city centre from Lendal Bridge. We have just come under the city walls - the train station is on the other side of the walls to the left - and we are now inside the walled city. York Minster, the finest Gothic cathedral in England with stained glass windows, is in the background. There are no high rise buildings in York, so the Minster can be seen from quite a distance away. It is an awesome sight, and York is the only city that I have fallen in love with on sight, absolutely, and completely.

York Minster. The entrance is just to the left side of the picture. It is extremely difficult to catch all this beautiful cathedral with a digital camera!

This is Stonegate, that was the Via Praetoria of Roman York. The Romans built a walled fortress here in the 2nd century AD, and much of it is buried under medieval streets and houses in the city center, but the street layout of the Romans remains. I used to work in one of the shops to the left, the third window from the front of the picture, I think. It's gone now (my shop), and it now houses a beer shop, where Toby bought some local ale. These shops are 14th century, you can tell from their shape and the size of the shops inside - quite small. Of especial note to us book readers, Stonegate used to be the book sellers and printers street, in medieval York. In the building far at the back on the right side is the only bookstore now on Stonegate, a used bookstore (the stone building at the very end), that I used to wander into on my lunches, when we had enough money. At the end of this street, you can see the Minster. I love Stonegate, and despite the crowds, you can see the many centuries of architecture, the buildings built onto one another, that are part of York's history and charm.

I do not have any pictures of the Shambles, because I took many with our regular camera 8 years ago when we lived in York! What we did do instead this time, was go for a walk on the medieval wall that encircles old York. York is one of two walled cities left in England, the other being Chester. The walls have one break where a road was put through (by Bootham Bar), and there is a section that used to be a marsh so no wall was ever built, but other than that, the wall is complete, and you can walk around the city centre - it's about 3 miles altogether. Unfortunately we left our friends' house too late in the morning to be able to walk along all the wall and catch the train in time, so we walked only a small part of the wall, and I took photos of anything of interest we saw. We started at Bootham Bar, which is the only Bar (gate entrance to the city) built on the site of a Roman one. Below is the picture of us coming up on the bar from inside the city. I love the medieval buildings lining this street here!

Next is the view of the gate from up on the wall. I thought it was interesting how the city is built right up to the wall inside, and on the outside, the outer ramparts remain, so the wall is higher than the city outside the walls.

Here is a picture of me along the wall, with part of York Minster behind me. Part of what i wanted to do was see if you could see the Minster from all parts of the wall, which is what is said about the Minster!

The view of the next gate, the houses built higgledy-piggledy up to the wall.

YOu can still see the Minster from the wall:

The roman tower ruin, excavated a few years ago:

The view of the outer part of the wall, with what I think is the outline of the original moat:

Monk Bar, the second gate we came to. This one has three stories, a working porticullis, and statues on the outer edge, holding stones - to represent a strong force to the enemy. Unfortunately we didn't think to take any pictures of it from the ground!

Next up is the second oldest church in YOrk, St Cuthbert's in Peasholme Greene. I had never come across this one, and time and again I come across headstones left as markers of an ancient graveyard, like here. This church dates from 670, and I have never seen one with a cross built into the stonework like this one has. I like the quiet melancholy of a graveyard, and I find church architecture fascinating up until the Reformation.

This is St William's College, built in 1453 for Minister Chantry priests, put into private hands after the Dissolution of the Churches. It now houses meeting rooms. I love the careful restoration and character of these medieval houses. It gives a good idea of how small houses were back in the middle ages, and that even then, very few were stand-alone houses!

Next is a back view of York Minster. By this time we were running for the train, so I had only a spare minute to take the final two pictures of our stay in York. I discovered that the grounds are well-kept and have benches placed for sitting and looking at either the Minster or at the houses on the edge of the grounds. I had not seen this before, or I would have come here 8 years ago!

Last, High Petergate St, leading back into the heart of medieval York shopping area. The red building on the right is a tavern now, but once was the birthplace of the very infamous Guy Fawkes, the one and only man who tried to blow up Parliament.

We've come in a small circle now, since our friend Keith took us through shortcuts across the city so we could catch our train on time. Here is what the backstreets of York city centre look like:

The door really is leaning to the right! It's the entrance to the building on the left in the bigger picture (with my husband and Keith in front of me), Bedern Hall built in 1252. York, and towns and cities, including London, are like this: off the main streets, beautiful buildings are hidden away, old houses and interesting historical places.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of York. There is so much more to it, though you have an idea of its history and architecture now, and how pretty the city is. I think it is lovely, and even in the darkest winter days, there is something soulful about this city. Both my husband and I miss it, and our friends there, very much! It was so wonderful to be back to visit it again.

As a side note to my Gentle Mystery readers, there is a mystery series set in York, by John Baker: the Sam Turner mysteries, published by Indigo. I have most of the books, which number 6 now, I think. I like them, and they certainly have the atmosphere of York in them!

Friday 9 January 2009

My favourite book of 2008

It's that time of year for me! My year-end review for 2008:

books read: 60
biggest increases: children's fantasy, and non-fiction
challenges completed: 6
best reads of the year:
not in any particular order
Tamsin - Peter S. Beagle
Coraline - Neil Gaiman
Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde
The Woman in Black - Susan Hill
The Terror - Dan Simmons
The Night Country - Stewart O'Nan
Owls and Other Fantasies - Mary Oliver
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

and my favourite book of 2008
: Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar

I loved Lonely Werewolf Girl. Of all the books I read, it is the one that keeps coming into my mind, that I keep reliving parts of. The characters are vivid and funny and realistic and the family is dramatic and oh so real, the story is interesting and heart-breaking and affirming, just like life is. And it's about werewolves in the real world, a terrific urban fantasy. I will be rereading this one again soon, just so I can take my time with it this time, and savour it.

I do have to give an honourable mention to Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes. I am almost half-way through reading this collection of poems. The poems are so powerful with emotion, with love and pain, hate and joy, that it is a rollercoaster ride to read them, and I have to take it slowly. It's also an opening into how he saw Sylvia Plath, which brings her to life for the reader, too. Every poem is a revelation of his heart and soul. This is what poetry should be, though it doesn't make it light reading! I am lingering over phrases and words and images as Hughes presents his life with Sylvia, and what she was to him. As a poet myself, I recognize how these poems must have burst out of him, they had to be written, but at the same time they leave him so naked, that they must have been both painful and joyful to write. Anyone who says writing is easy, should try writing a poem or two about something that really hurts, or that the writer feels passion for, for in that passion is also life, or least that is what I'm finding. These poems are about passion, which isn't nice, but without which we could not live. At least, I wouldn't want to, and these poems are about living with that passion with another person. For just moments we get glimpses of Sylvia alive. I'm not a poetry critic, but from my humble perspective, these are poems that are about being alive, and are awesome for the energy and life that comes through them.

All in all, a successful year for me, I read as much as I have in previous years, so my next goal is to increase the numbers of books I read, as always! But to have that many favourite reads, makes it a really satisfying year for me for reading.

The challenges were fun, and certainly helped me read more widely - and add more books! - so I will be continuing with the ones I've already joined. I have to update the list on my sidebar and see what I want to join for this year. I'll write about Carl's sci fi experience later this weekend (click on the sidebar button), as well as Dewey's challenge hosted by Chris and Robin (same, sidebar is linked), and see what else is new and exciting for challenges this year. I am enjoying Becky's 42 science fiction challenge (also linked already),which I have already started on by watching the Dr Who special on New Year's Day in England!! 39 science fiction things to go!!

It's the weekend! Hurray! Happy reading everyone!!