Sunday 28 June 2009

Sunday Salon - Neverwhere , fantasy at its best

The Sunday

I read Neverwhere for Carl's Once Upon A Time 3 challenge (yes, I still have to do the wrap-up....). As is usual for me, I come upon authors late, and read their earlier books much later after other people often do. This has been the case with Neil Gaiman. Of all his novels, I believe American Gods was the first one I read by him! I'd read his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors while in England. They both almost made it onto my books of the year list, but not quite; American Gods was fascinating, but I felt somewhat removed from what happened to the character, and I still can't quite figure out why, since I enjoyed it very much. So when I read Neverwhere, after hearing for some time on our blogging world about how it's possibly one of his best written, I knew it was going to be good; except for the odd short story, I haven't read anything by him that I haven't really enjoyed. I wasn't prepared for how good Neverwhere is. It is possibly the best book he's written, or at least in a close tie with The Graveyard Book, which is one of those books that I keep turning over in my mind.

An aside here: the reason Smoke and Mirrors didn't make it on my list of favourite books for that year, is because by far the most effective story in it is in Neil's introduction, about the wedding gift - the letter - he gave his friends (or was going to give.) Very very creepy, but not an actual story! That one I can't get out of my head! Although I read it so long ago that I have to re-read it to see if Snow, Glass, Apples is as frightening as I a whole, short story collections don't make it onto my favourite reads for that year. I don't know why, it might have something to do with the unevenness - no short story collection is perfect, which is why Locus, the Nebula and World Fantasy awards have 'best novella' and 'best short story' categories........Although, I do here have to make a comment for Fragile Things, which I did read last year. In the confusion of being sick (I got strep throat in Nov) and going to England, I did finish Fragile Things, but it got left off my list of books read, and looking back now, it's not even on my list of favourite books of last year. Which is just wrong, because despite what I just wrote about short story collections, I think it's one of the best short story collections ever written! I'll have to create a special place for it, maybe one of those lists of 'books I've overlooked and don't know how this happened' kind......maybe a short story collection list......

Anyway, back to Neverwhere: On the post I wrote for Fantasy and Science Fiction Day three days ago, Nymeth left me a comment about Neverwhere that catches what I was attempting to say about why fantasy is relevant to our modern life. Nymeth wrote: ..."especially what you said about how fantasy creates myths for today. It reminded me of how I felt looking at the names of underground stations in London after reading Neverwhere. I know the stories are not real - and yet having them at the back of my mind makes my life a little better, a little richer, a little more mysterious. That's what myths do."

Nymeth is absolutely right. I'd just been to London at Christmas, so the Tube was fresh in my mind, as well as central London, where we spent most of our time visiting. I am in a way glad that I read Neverwhere after I was in London. Because I'm not sure I could have gone down into the Tube again. I'm pretty sure I'd be looking for doors and hidden staircases that no one else seemed to see....

Also, ever since the film An American Werewolf in London 20 years ago, I've never been able to be really comfortable in London's Tube. Plus, I hate being underground anyway. Even if it's a great way to get around London - and it is - I want fresh air and to know that at anytime, I can get away if I have to. Always now in the back of my mind is the memory of July 2005, and the bombings on the Tube . So, with all this already in my mind, already predisposed to think the Underground as fairly creepy, I opened Neverwhere.

Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew and how one night, he rescues a girl who is bleeding and in distress. She turns out to be the only survivor of her family, who were massacred previously. She lives in the Underworld, where Richard follows her after he is threatened by the men who are her would-be assassins. How Richard finds her, and helps her, and what he discovers on his journey underground, makes for a fabulous imagining of what London's Underground world could be like.

Gaiman has held back nothing in creating this underworld, 'London Below Ground'. There are references to myths and fairy tales, there are monsters, evil characters and heroes. All set in a world just a little below where we live. This is real fantasy. I particularly like that Gaiman holds nothing back - one character dies, that had me yelling out "no!" and crying, in a horrific scene that is among the worst nightmare voyages across a bridge that I have ever read. There is betrayal, some satisfying - what happens to the two assassins is particulary fun to read, if graphic! - and some astonishing. I want to go to that moving market, even if it is scary and nightmarish, it still looks fun! And I really want another story with Door. I think she is the best female character he has created so far, with the exception of Coraline. I liked Door. I didn't like Richard at the beginning - I really wanted him to get a spine, the way his fiancee pushed him around! - but by the end, I did. I understood his decision, even as it feels like a loss to the world. And it is.

The power of Neverwhere is that even though Richard becomes an outcast as we would describe it 'Above World', he really finds himself in the underworld. It is a very accurate retelling of the Hero's Journey as Campbell describes it in A Hero With A Thousand Faces, except the message Richard would bring back, about this alternate society below ground, is completely unaccepted and unacceptable to the real world. No one wants to know there is a whole society underground. So all the things Richard learns about himself, all the strengths and skills he acquires, the position he attains, can't be brought out into the real world. It is an unfinished journey for the world, but for Richard his journey is done, and in the end he has to choose where he lives.

Now when I think of London's Underground, as well as all the layers I previously mentioned colouring how I see it, I have Neverwhere transfiguring it. All the way through the book, as Nymeth says, I looked at the names of the Underground stations used in the book, and I remembered what they were really like when I last saw them, and then superimposed Neverwhere's version of the Tube. *shiver* This is what really good urban fantasy does. It reimagines our landscape, using fairy tales, myths, shadows, and 'what if's' to show the landscape in a different light. Pure magic.

This book is dark and frightening and as disgusting as you would imagine life without light far in the earth to be, and it is weirdly wonderful and true and eerie, like a dark carnival. I found myself liking life underground better - there was more honesty it seemed in the life and death situations and in the rules followed, than in London Above, where Richard finds success empty if it has no meaning.

This book also reminds me about the cost of making a journey for the soul. We either take the journey and discover something precious, or we don't take it, and life half a life, where nothing is very deep. If the journey is taken, something is always lost, or has to be given up, by the hero at the end, even if it is the lie that was the previous life, or love that didn't last, or the future only half dreamt of. I know which I prefer. Neverwhere is a powerful work of fantasy. Like Coraline, it brings you through to the other side safely. It's a very dark trip, but one well worth taking.

I've already lent the book to one of my friends to read. It's one of my favourite books of this year.

I do have to say though, I still prefer to see London by double-decker red bus!

Saturday 27 June 2009

Which Fantasy Writer are You? quiz

Which fantasy writer are you? Go here for the quiz. thanks very much to Cath at Read-Warbler, who did the quiz first......

Your result for Which fantasy writer are you?...

Katharine Kerr (b. 1944)

-1 High-Brow, -19 Violent, 5 Experimental and -15 Cynical!

Congratulations! You are Low-Brow, Peaceful, Experimental and Romantic! These concepts are defined below.

Katharine Kerr is a US author who is best known for her books about Deverry, the result of a thought experiment of Kerr's: What if a tribe from the culture of Celtic Gaul had escaped the Romans and moved to another world? The answer is the culture of Deverry, a fantasy world with, among other things, functioning magic, called dweomer. What sets dweomer apart from many other kinds of magic is that it's a system, with detailed descriptions of how different magical actions are performed by those cunning in it, often reminiscent of new age literature, but actually drawing heavily on as diverse systems of thought as buddhism, the Kabbalah and gnosticism.

Another prominent feature of Deverry is the presence of reincarnation, with parts of the plot (or plots, really) concerning the attempts of various characters to overcome their weaknesses in order not to repeat the mistake they made in previous lives'. All this allows for some rather typical fantasy romanticism, while still allowing a huge amount of plot twists and turns, sometimes making the history of Deverry complicated to the point of resembling a highly experimental suite of novels.

Kerr's fans are often real enthusiasts and it is easy to see that those who have the brains to follow the twists and turns of Deverry history are in for a journey into great tales of tragedy and destiny.

You are also a lot like Orson Scott Card.

If you want some action, try C S Lewis.

If you'd like a challenge, try your exact opposite, Michael Moorcock.

Your score

This is how to interpret your score: Your attitudes have been measured on four different scales, called 1) High-Brow vs. Low-Brow, 2) Violent vs. Peaceful, 3) Experimental vs. Traditional and 4) Cynical vs. Romantic. Imagine that when you were born, you were in a state of innocence, a tabula rasa who would have scored zero on each scale. Since then, a number of circumstances (including genetical, cultural and environmental factors) have pushed you towards either end of these scales. If you're at 45 or -45 you would be almost entirely cynical, low-brow or whatever. The closer to zero you are, the less extreme your attitude. However, you should always be more of either (eg more romantic than cynical). Please note that even though High-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical have positive numbers (1 through 45) and their opposites negative numbers (-1 through -45), this doesn't mean that either quality is better. All attitudes have their positive and negative sides, as explained below.

High-Brow vs. Low-Brow

You received -1 points, making you more Low-Brow than High-Brow. Being high-browed in this context refers to being more fascinated with the sort of art that critics and scholars tend to favour, while a typical low-brow would favour the best-selling kind. At their best, low-brows are honest enough to read what they like, regardless of what "experts" and academics say is good for them. At their worst, they are more likely to read what their neighbours like than what they would choose themselves.

Violent vs. Peaceful

You received -19 points, making you more Peaceful than Violent. This scale is a measurement of a) if you are tolerant to violence in fiction and b) whether you see violence as a means that can be used to achieve a good end. If you aren't, and you don't, then you are peaceful as defined here. At their best, peaceful people are the ones who encourage dialogue and understanding as a means of solving conflicts. At their worst, they are standing passively by as they or third parties are hurt by less scrupulous individuals.

Experimental vs. Traditional

You received 5 points, making you more Experimental than Traditional. Your position on this scale indicates if you're more likely to seek out the new and unexpected or if you are more comfortable with the familiar, especially in regards to culture. Note that traditional as defined here does not equal conservative, in the political sense. At their best, experimental people are the ones who show humanity the way forward. At their worst, they provoke for the sake of provocation only.

Cynical vs. Romantic

You received -15 points, making you more Romantic than Cynical. Your position on this scale indicates if you are more likely to be wary, suspicious and skeptical to people around you and the world at large, or if you are more likely to believe in grand schemes, happy endings and the basic goodness of humankind. It is by far the most vaguely defined scale, which is why you'll find the sentence "you are also a lot like x" above. If you feel that your position on this scale is wrong, then you are probably more like author x. At their best, romantic people are optimistic, willing to work for a good cause and an inspiration to their peers. At their worst, they are easily fooled and too easily lead.

Take Which fantasy writer are you?
at HelloQuizzy

I'm not sure I completely agree, but it's very interesting. And in keeping with the fantasy themes of my recent posts! I have read Katherine Kerr, the first two of the original trilogy, and it's something I've been meaning to continue reading when I can get all the books in the ever-exanding series. And I really enjoy Orson Scott Card!

Friday 26 June 2009

new fantasy award

A new fantasy award has just been started, in honor of David Gemmel - this is the link to the award site. The Guardian Unlimited book site has a blog post, here, about the award. I thought it was nicely in keeping with my last post, about why fantasy deserves better recognition as genuine literature, as well as science fiction. It's interesting to note that the writer of the blog at the Guardian takes the opposite view, that fantasy is the younger sibling of science fiction, and less well-recognized.

I'm home with my daughter who now has the chicken pox, and storms are popping up all around, so I'm going to get off the computer before our house is hit by lightning. Don't laugh, our neighbors have lost all their electrical equipment due to a lightning strike 3 years ago. We lost a phone - it was at the lowest entry site into the house. The lightning hit the power line on our corner of the street.

Happy reading this Friday night! It's the weekend!

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Fantasy and Science Fiction Book Day

To begin with, Nymeth wrote a most amazing post about why she reads fantasy, here. It really is worth reading. It explains a lot about what I believe about fantasy reading and writing, and why it is worthy to be called literature.

It led me to wonder why we still feel a need to defend ourselves for reading fantasy. It's been 50 years since Lord of the Rings was published, and people who read fantasy are still looked down upon. Why is that? Why do I feel that reading a book with elves on the cover is somehow less than reading an English classic? Because sometimes I do. And I don't like it. Is it the idea that it's escapist literature, as Nymeth says, and so it can't be taken seriously as representing the truth about us? Why do we need fantasy literature?

I believe that we do need fantasy in our lives. I have mentioned on past posts that I think fantasy is retelling myths for us in the modern world. A sub-group of fairy tales and myths, if you like. Those original myths we all grew up on, the world over, how the world was created, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, dragons - at its core, fantasy is about how we imagine the world, and our place in the world. We have always needed fantasy, even if we don't know how to respect it. I think that is because somewhere deep inside we also fear fantasy because it seeks to tell the truth about our lives, about human beings and their potential, no matter what circumstances they find themselves in. Fantasy offers us in all our good and bad in every world possibly imagined. That is part of it's power. We hold a mirror up to ourselves, through fantasy. I think people who are afraid of fantasy, are afraid of imagining how things could be different. As Nymeth says, we are not hobbits, but hobbits are us as they experience war for the first time. The power to imagine ourselves differently, and imagine our lives differently, is the power that any who seek to control a person and society, fears the most.

Also as Nymeth also points out, not all fantasy is good. She says, and I agree, not all books in any type of literature are good, either! Every kind of fiction has its strengths and its weaknesses. One of the worst weaknesses of fantasy is when the writer fails to imagine anything unique to themselves. So they write what's gone before, and the fantasy falls flat. This could be said of every book ever written, of course: if something of the writer finds its way into the book, then it has a seed of genuinesss about it that makes it worth seeking out, even if it's not very good. Fantasy gives us so many hundreds of ways of bringing that genuiness out - all that's needed other than writing talent, is the power to imagine.

So all that being said, maybe next time I'm reading a book with elves on the front cover, I'll think back to their fairy tale origins and when someone rolls their eyes at me for wasting my time over a book like 'that', I'll reply: "This is storytelling at its best! You don't know what you're missing!"

Now, Nymeth didn't cover science fiction and I'd like to say a few words in its defense. Why read science fiction? What does gravity have to do with being human? Well, for one thing, if we didn't have gravity, we'd all be floating in the universe......scratch that, because none of this - life on earth - would exist. That doesn't mean science fiction is as necessary as gravity! Though it makes a fun analogy.....what it does mean is that science fiction is about us in space. "Ooh, boring", the woman clerk, or the neighbor who doesn't read, might say. "Why do you read that stuff?" Well, I read science fiction because I'm curious about the universe, and I really think that one day we can get a ship up long enough to explore the stars. I think we have to, because the earth isn't big enough to contain all that humans can be.

The same ability is needed to imagine us in space, as is needed to imagine alternate worlds as we do in fantasy. Only space is all around us, we can see the stars with our own eyes. Haven't you looked up in the night sky, and just wondered: What's up there? What's it like? How would it be to be able to travel from star to star? Now I know that will lead to somewhat technical discussions about the distance involved and the speed of light and other things that I can't get my mind to grasp. So I confess that I usually skip over the techno stuff. What I like, is imagining us on the space ships, and what happens to us there, because all our problems and all our beliefs and all our good qualities come with us there, too. I like science fiction because it offers us a possible future, many possible futures, as many futures as we can imagine them.

I know fantasy and science fiction isn't everyone's choice of books. But for those of us who love them, I would wish that the rest of the literary world would stop looking down at us, and greet us as equals. Because once we have tamed the earth (and that would learning how to live on here in a way that keeps the earth alive and healthy), the stars will still be waiting to be explored. And where will we look for the ideas on how to get there? You're right. Science fiction. Many of the writers of science fiction have science degrees. So the next time someone sniffs at your rocket-ship covered book, you can tell them, "This is serious well-thought-out science." Or something like that.

And I can't, and I won't, imagine a world without Star Trek!

I do prefer fantasy to science fiction, and I think that both are necessary forms of literature. As necessary as breathing, in fact.

Why do you read fantasy and/or science fiction? How do you celebrate it in your life?

Sunday 21 June 2009

Sunday Salon - Some favourite books of the last decade

The Sunday

I've been keeping a list of books read since 2000. I think somewhere I have an older list, but my Reader's Journal that my best friend then gave me, is the one continuously in use since Nov 2000. I thought it would be a fun idea to go back in time, and see what my favourite reads have been over the past 9 years.

Note: in 2000, I moved to England. I can't find my list of books read before July 2000, so the list only starts after I arrived in York. I also forgot to put any stars beside the books, so the criteria I've used for judging a book is: do I find myself occasionally thinking about it? Can I recall what the book is about? Then, of course, is whether I liked the book or not.

2000: Plague Tales - Ann Benson. I still think over this novel. It is a fascinating story about what would happen if a plague victim were unburied today, and the plague was released.
Lincoln's Dreams - Connie Willis - one of her earliest books, which combines dreams, Civil war history, love and heart-break. Sherman's horse makes a memorable appearance here.

2001: Making Tea for Kingsley Amis - Wendy Cope. When I read this book of poetry, I laughed out loud. She is funny, wry, and shows that poetry doesn't have to be mysterious; it describes the human condition, even when it's about the silliness of modern life, and the roles of men and women. The entire eponymous poem is about a dream she has, making tea for Kingley Amis, and that's it! Observations of life. This one goes with me everywhere too.
Dreaming of the Bones - Deborah Crombie. I loved the mystery of the poet at the heart of this story and how Duncan's ex-wife is involved, and how it explores love and the desire to be free.
Death in the Woods - Brigitte Aubert. I give this one to everyone! It's a French translated mystery, very eerie because the narrator is handicapped. A very good mystery, about children disappearing and being found later dead, and the character's race - despite her handicap - to save one little girl from 'Death from the Woods'.
On Writing - Stephen King. One of my favourite writing books, one that goes with me everywhere. He gave me the image that follows me now when I write: writing is digging down into the earth, freeing the bones.

2002: Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks. Oh, how I love this book! I've given it to so many people to read! One of the best ones that illustrates life during the plague, women and herbcraft and how one small town closed itself off in the hopes of surviving the plague.
The Falls - Ian Rankin. One of his very best, starring John Rebus. The dolls that are found throughout the novel are haunting reminders of frailty of the mind, and weave a sense of menace and unease. Simply one of the best mysteries he's written, close to Black and Blue, which is the best of the John Rebus mysteries.
The Bone Doll's Twin - Lynn Flewelling. This is a dark fantasy about a girl who has to be hidden from her family in order to survive. With magic, shape-changing, murder, it's a fantasy unlike any other, and very good.

2003: Shatterglass - Tamora Pierce. A young-adult fantasy. Surprisingly, it's the only one I've read by her still, mostly because I can't find the first ones in many of her series. This one is also part of a series, but is a stand-alone book as well, which is why I read it. I loved it. A young girl sets out on her career, and she works with glass. There is magic, and friendship, and a mystery, but the best thing is how she learns to control her magic to make glass.
The Dwelling - Susie Maloney. A haunted house story, about a real estate agent trying to sell a house that kills people who live in it. Some scenes haunt me to this day. Very frightening in places, and while the ending is not entirely believable (which is why I've never mentioned this book before) the first 3/4 of the book are among the best horror pages in print. She is also a Canadian author.
Isaac's Storm - Erik Larson. I've always wanted to be a meteorologist, and I'm fascinated by severe weather. This book was about the hurricane in 1900 that hit Galveston, Texas, destroying the city and killing thousands. An enthralling historical account about how misreading the weather cost thousands of lives.

2004: Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot - Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. What a delightful fantasy! Written as a series of letters between two cousins, it follows one girl's coming out in society while the other stays at home......romance, enchantment, mystery, old ladies, and a magician, make this one of the most delightful alternate-world fantasies I've read. It's set in England, but an England with magic. Charming, witty, and fun.
Flight - Jan Burke. The first part of this book was wonderful and gripping. I found when the viewpoint switches to another character for the second half, the book didn't have the same edge to it. It's about a pilot who disappears, a police officer who may or may not be crooked, and how not knowing has changed all the people involved. It brought Jan Burke to my attention. Her character Irene Kelly is one of my favourite mystery heroines, and I've now read many of the books in the series.
Jane Austen: A Life - by Claire Tomalin. As soon as this book was in paperback, I bought it. I wanted a recent book about Austen's life, and this book was carefully researched by Tomalin. She brings a novelist's eye to Austen's life, and the relationships Jane has with her family, her few friends, to the places where she lived, and to what her family says about her, so that Jane takes on her own character. This is a book that enriched my reading of her novels, instead of taking away from them as sometimes happens.

2005: Sunshine- Robin McKinley. A novel about vampires, one that doesn't romanticize them, despite the presence of a romance in the book. Their danger and menace is refreshing after all the 'vampires are just humans who drink blood good guys' books that are out there now. The best one that describes how they move (if vampires existed!), and how they watch and kill humans, and how alien they are even though once human. Set in the stunningly prosaic setting of a bakery.
Paladin of Souls - Lois McMaster Bujold. Again, an author I haven't read much of. I found it through Locus recommended reading lists, and it is one of my favourite fantasy books now. It stars an older woman who has already had her children, whose son has taken the throne, and who leaves the castle because of a dream she has. How she follows this dream, and saves her country at the same time, is pure magic. It is so refreshing to read about a mature character! Who thinks her life is over, except the next part is just beginning. It's funny, hilarious in places, because like most of us middle-aged women, she is sarcastic and hates fools, and plenty abound of course in her travels.

2006: Breakup - Dana Stabenow. A Kate Shugak mystery, set in Alaska. This takes place during the annual breakup of the ice, and it is a laugh-out-loud riot of a mystery and craziness that occurs when everyone is waiting for spring, and gone slightly crazy with the long dark winter. Since I feel like this every spring, I could completely relate, and the insane episodes in the town, centered around a bar, had me laughing until I cried.
Smile of A Ghost - Phil Rickman. A Merrily Watkins mystery. She's the modern day Anglican church version of an exorcist, dealing with troubled souls both physical and other-worldly. Her daughter Jane gets a job at a hotel with a reputation for hauntings, and one scene in this books is truly, deeply chilling. Every book features some kind of mystery involving a potential haunting, and the wonderful countryside of The Welsh Borders with the idiosyncratic characters that go with the English countryside. Every book manages to give me chills, but this one outdid the others.
Bones - Jan Burke. The book that I now give to everyone who wants a chilling, gripping mystery. The scene in the field when she is with the serial killer looking for the supposed bones of his victims, is truly terrifying. From beginning to end, a well-written Irene Kelly mystery dealing again with unresolved crimes of the past, and how far can a killer be trusted, and how far should one go in pursuit of the truth. Everyone pays the price for getting close to a killer.

2007: Well of Lost Plots - Jasper Fforde. A Thursday Next science fiction novel set in a world where literary detectives prowl the books of the world, making sure the dialog and characters are what they should be. In this one, Thursday's husband doesn't exist, and she is pregnant, and determined to prove he does exist and bring him back to her. These are utterly delightful excursions into novels that we all know and love, thus giving us glimpses of Charles Dickens, Jane Eyre, mysteries and westerns from the inside. This book in particular is haunting and sad as she loses he memory, until she finds what she needs to keep it.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows - JK ROwling. Where I discover that I was right about Snape after all, and cry at the ending. A thoroughly good ending to the series. I miss new books about Harry, though!
S is for Silence - Sue Grafton. Made me remember what I love about Kinsey Milhone and the mysteries she solves. This one involves a missing woman, and the question of if she did get away, or was she murdered and buried?
Naming of the Dead - Ian Rankin. Siobhan Clarke discovers her parents were present at a rally; this mystery novel shows the slow fall of her from grace, as she learns what she will do to protect those she loves. Brilliant at showing how the police are always on the edge of falling over on the wrong side because of their proximity to those who do evil. This book made me want to know more about Siobhan and what happens to her, especially now that Rebus has retired....It's also about finding out what happened, so that no victim goes nameless. Bittersweet and gripping.

2008: Regular readers will know that I gave a list earlier this year, here. This list still holds true. All of these books are ones that linger in my mind, that I am so happy I read, and that I will revisit again one day.

So what books have you read over the past decade that stay with you? What are your favourites? If you've always kept a books-read list, is there a theme to what you end up liking the most, as in I usually pick fantasy or mystery as my top books of the year? There are so many books I could list that I thoroughly enjoyed in the past decade, and these are the ones that have had an affect on me. They are ones that come back to me, at odd moments of the day and the years, that I turn over in my mind and ruminate on. Books can change lives, and they certainly can affect how we live. When I look over my list, I see I particularly like books that are about the past continuing to shape the present, ghosts and hauntings, magic and terror, with a healthy dose of humour and love.

Thursday 18 June 2009

Blogging Awards Catch-up and science fiction/fantasy question

I have been the grateful nominee for two blogging awards that I really like:

JS Peyton at Biblioaddict nominated me for the Literary Blogger Award. Wow. Not only do I love the picture, I want a window seat like that!! And my Cool Inner Literary Bookworm (whom, if you remember, is very hard to please) is thrilled that my attempts to read classics is being recognized! Even more though, is being recognized by bloggers who I really like. That would be all of you, dear readers.

Here are the acceptance rules: 1) Put the logo on your blog/post. 2) Nominate up to 9 blogs which make you feel comfy or warm inside. 3) Be sure to link to your nominees within your post. 4) Let them know that they have been nominated by commenting on their blog. 5) Remember to link to the person from whom you received your award.

I really like this award. It's not just about being literary, but about inspiring others to read, and being a blog to rest a while in.
1. Eva - A Striped Armchair - she makes reading literature sound fun and easy. She makes me remember why literature is good to include among my reading.
2. Jane - Reading, Writing, Working, Playing - she reads classics! and discusses them! And she just went to Ireland. And she loves North and South and *Richard Armitage*.
3.Bybee - Naked Without Books. My Book-twin. She has one of the best senses of humour in the blogging world, and she's reading all the Pulitzers.
4.Gentle Reader - Shelf Life. She is what she says she is, a gentle reader whose blog is sweet and restful and all about books in the midst of her busy life raising her family.
5. Matt - A Guy's Moleskine Notebook. Matt reads literary classics and prize winners and he actually likes Virginia Woolf. Not only is it refreshing to argue with him (because I detest Virginia Woolf, which maked me a minority of one! in the blogging world), but he makes me think about literature and why it's important to read. He also likes many of classics and modern literature.
6. Molly at My Cozy Book Nook. From a neophyte blogger a mere few months ago, her blog now surpasses mine AND she's set up her first challenge -the summertime book reading challenge. She is also willing to try reading anything once, and she is curious about books and reading and she is very friendly. She inspires me to keep making my blog more interesting!
7. Chris at Stuff as Dreams Are Made On. When I need to be refreshed, I find myself here. He always has a great review that I add to my want list, he has stories about his work and what Katrina did to his hometown, and mostly, he loves books and writes about whatever he's reading with some kind of passion.
8. Matthew at Falling Stacks. He loves Star Trek. And fantasy. And he rants about books and he has a great header for his blog that I love. He couldn't wait for the new Star Trek movie to come out, and was the first to blog about it. He also didn't like it much, so we disagreed. Sometimes a little discussion is good for the soul.....and he got a Wonder Woman action figure for his birthday! I didn't know they still existed!

The other award is also a joy to receive. I'm always thrilled when someone thinks I am creative! Jane at Reading Writing, Working, Playing, a new to me blogger who found me through North and South, honoured me with this one.

She said it was because we have so many books in common, and she always finds new ones to read through me. Well, that is about the highest compliment we can give on our book blogs, isn't it? That we find books through one another. So I thank her too, very much.
Here is my list of bloggers who I would like to let know that we have so many books also we share and love, and where I go to find new ones to read:

1.Deslily - Here, There, and Everywhere, 2nd Edition. She created the Bad Bloggers list!!! And through the truly awful year she had beginning last summer, she is still with us, blogging. Pat, this is for you.
2. Nymeth - Thing Mean Alot. She writes in such an easy, accessible manner, and writes purely awesome reviews that take my breath away. She read everything. And she hosts all kinds of carnivals, plus she is incredibly generous. All this while she goes to school. And she has that wonderful header and cool purple background.....
3. Joanne - The Book Zombie. Her site is so cool, with monthly total stats graphs, and amazing ways of showing book covers and blurbs. I always find new books to read here. And quotes to laugh at.
4. Bookstack at The Ravenous Reader. She writes thoughtful posts on reading, poetry, books in her life. Going to her blog is like pausing to reflect on what books mean to me, and somehow every post she writes gets me to do this!
5. Trish at Hey Lady, Whatcha Readin'? She makes me laugh. And she has opinions about everything, that makes it a thrill to go to her blog and see what the topic of the day is. Plus, she says "reading is sexy'. Take that, world!! Oh, and she reads alot and has funny posts about the books she's read and why she likes them or not.
6. Trish at Trish's Reading Nook. Ever since her first comment, Trish has made me laugh with her zany posts. She is among the most friendly of the bloggers I have encountered (and we are all to some degree friendly and approachable or we wouldn't be blogging!), and her blog feels like you've come into her kitchen and are having a lovely chat about books, every time.

There are so many more bloggers I could name, who would be and are each and every one of you on my blogroll. You each put so much effort into your blogs, to make them attractive and fun to visit, and you write about what you read, and bits about your life, that make you each real and warm and wonderful people. I truly think that just for making the effort to have a blog, and for keeping up with posting, each of you who does have a blog, deserves both awards. So please, take them, and honour your friends and bloggers who most inspire you to keep blogging. I think this is also my way of catching up on the Dewey memory post a while ago, to name new to you bloggers you think others might enjoy, as well as favourites you want everyone to find.

I know now, from having by blog for 1 1/2 years, that it is both joy and work to keep up, a labour of love. So I thank those who gave me an award, and I really want to pass it on to everyone who comes here!!

Bookstack has the current Booking through Thursday topic that I think is worth passing on.
"So! In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.

So … what might you do on the 23rd to celebrate? Do you even read fantasy/sci-fi? Why? Why not?"

Hmm. Regular readers of this blog know that I love fantasy. It is one of the two main genres I read, along with mystery. Hmm. A day to celebrate fantasy and science fiction books! I love this! I have 5 days to think about how fantasy has changed my life. Can I even imagine a world without fantasy books? A world without hobbits? Without travelling to the stars? From the very beginning of mankind, we have looked up to the stars and wondered. Fairies and dragons are a part of mankind's myths. We have always imagined the fantastic. you read fantasy and science fiction? What do you enjoy most about reading these genres?

Myself, imagination is the stuff of life. I live by my dreams. Fantasy lets me tap into that mythic consciousness that we all share. The roots of fantasy are myths. I think those of us who read fantasy have made that jump from the myths and tales around the camp fire and fairy tales that our ancestors used to tell, to modern retellings that bring myths back into life again. Dragons have always existed, in our imaginations. Reading about dragons now takes us into a part of the world's imagination that is always there, that we would forget in our modern busy life that doesn't always leave space for imagining. Writers of fantasy are able to tap into that world imagination. I hope we never outgrow spinning fantastic tales, because something precious lives in those imaginings.

Science fiction is a combination of fantasy - imagining - and physical reality. What is life like among the stars? How would we get there? what happens to us when we are among the stars? If we were to stop looking up into the sky, I think that would be the beginning of the end of the human race. I don't read much hard science fiction, although I did some as a teenager. I am beginning to change that with the new space opera being written. I like the human element in science fiction stories, and to me Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein set the path for everyone to follow. Connie Willis is one of my particular favourite science fiction writers.

There is so much to wonder about, life on earth, in space, about what is, and what could be, about the magic of being alive, that to me reading fantasy and science fiction is just an extension of that basic wonder about life.

I'm not saying dragons exist, but in writing and reading about them, we learn about ourselves. And I really wish we would hurry up and send man to the moon again.

Are there any particular favourite books that shaped your fantasy and/or science fiction reading? Did you try either genre and find you didn't like it?

Monday 15 June 2009

Mailbox Monday and Book Award Challenge Wrap-up

So, I thought I was doing well. I thought I might do it. Actually, I thought I had completed this challenge, but when I tallied up the last minute rush, I discovered I fell at the post. *Sob!* I read 9 out of 10 books for this challenge:

1. Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand - Fred Vargas (Duncan Lawrie International Dagger, 2007)
2. Briar Rose - Jane Yolen (Mythopoeic Award)

3. Jonathan Strange and Dr. Norrell - Susannah Clarke (World Fantasy Award)
4. Tamsin - Peter S. Beagle (Mythopoeic Award)
5. Doomsday Book - Connie Willis (Nebula Award)
6. The Grey King - Susan Cooper (Newbery Medal Award Winner, 1976)
7. Watchmen - Alan Moore (Hugo Award for 'Other Form', 1988)
8. Case Histories - Kate Atkinson (Prix Westminster)
9. The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss (Quill Award)

I really enjoyed this challenge. I have three books that aren't quite finished, that all could have been included had I finished them in time, but alas! The real joy of this challenge is seeing how many award winners I did read, and even more, that I really enjoyed every single book I read. If there is another year of this challenge, I'm joining again!!!

I am also surprised by how many fantasy and science fiction books I read for this challenge. It was a lot of fun looking for books that I wanted to read, and that were award winners, too. The very sad thing is that Middlemarch never won any awards, so I couldn't include it here!

Mailbox Monday
On to what's come into my house recently (and there might be an award winner or two in this lot, also!):
These are the books from my children's fete at their school on June 5. If you recall, last year I did the same thing, going in near the end and filling a bag for a nominal sum. This year, I filled a bag with books for $10 - it was a big bag that I brought from home for this purpose!

1. Le Morte d'Arthur - vol 2, Sir Thomas Malory -Penguin edition. No sign of vol 1 unfortunately. It's easy enough to find here in a used bookstore, though.
2. Six of Swords - Carole Nelson Douglas. I read this years ago. Among my older fantasy favourites that I want to revisit one day.
3. Where Old Bones Lie - Ann Granger. I have another one in this Mitchell and Markle series, which I want to read.
4. The Privilege of the Sword - Ellen Kushner. SCORE! I have the second and third book in this series, and this is out of print again. Once I picked it up, I realized I had read it years ago, but need to reread it so I can reread the second one (Swordspoint) in order to read the third one (The Fall of the Kings). I am so delighted with this find. And it's in good condition! ****If you are looking for an excellent fantasy that's smart and funny and has swashbuckling swordplay and romance, this is one I recommend.
5. What the Dead Know - Laura Lippman. I keep coming across this one, so this time I shrugged and said, 'okay!'
6. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee. SCORE! One of my favourites, I recently discovered I didn't have it on my bookshelf, and decided this had to remedied. Again, in almost perfect condition too.
7. Jack of Kinrowan - Charles de Lint. SCORE! This combines Jack the Giant Killer (which I read years ago) and Drink Down the Moon (also read). I don't have either, and even if I can't get it read in time for the Canadian Challenge eh 2 this year, there's always next year! A very delightful fantasy duo, one of the rare ones set in my city of Ottawa.
8. Badger's Moon- Peter Tremayne. Looks interesting, set in historical Ireland and a mystery, always a draw for me. A Sister Fidelma mystery, apparently.
9. An Island Apart - Lillian Beckwith. Scottish setting, in the Hebrides, with happiness being prevented by the 'silent, brooding presence of her brotherin-law'....shades of Heatchcliff, anyone??! and besides, I used to have customers who would order these books and swore by them. Or maybe it's the fact the story is set on an island far from civilization .....
10. The Awakening and Other Stories - Kate Chopin. I'd say score, except living in a university town, this is always available. After Eva's excellent review, I decided I had to give this a try. No, I didn't have to read it for any of my university courses long ago!
11. Sick Puppy - Carl Hiassen. One of my favourite sarcastic funny writers, I am collecting his books now. I've read several, but not this one.
12. The Rez Sisters - Tomson Highway. SCORE! I read this play years ago for university. I loved it. Highway is Cree, one of our celebrated native writers, and part of his bio says: 'Tomson Highway's ambition in life is to make 'the rez' cool, to show and celebrate what funky folk Canada's Indian people really are.' This play is set on a reserve, and it's about a group of women who want to organize a bus trip to Toronto to win The Biggest Bingo in the World. It's very funny, and heart-breaking, and I am delighted to get my hands on a copy again.
13. In a Sunburned Country - Bill Bryson. Who doesn't want to visit Australia one day? And it's a hardcover edition, too.
14. Stealing Magic - Tanya Huff. I've never seen this book by her before, nor the cover; it's put out by Tesseract Books, a small Canadian publisher. It's fantasy, and since I enjoy her Summon the Keeper series so much, I thought I'd give this a try. Huff is a Canadian author, living outside Kingston, and she also writes the Blood novels, the vampire and ex-cop series set in Toronto that I have also read. Plus, there is her new series about the guy who can see ghosts.....generally, this is a solid Canadian fantasy writer, and I'm hoping this will be as much fun as her other books are!
15. Foundation - Isaac Asimov. I can't remember if I've read all of this series, or just some, so I'm beginning to collect them again in order to read/re-read them. It's in rough shape, but a 9th printing of the first edition, so somewhat collectible. Which makes it fun to have, too!
16. Coffin's Game - Gwendoline Butler. I've heard that this mystery series was good, so again, I'm collecting a few in the series in order to read them.
17. Cracking Open a Coffin - Gwendoline Butler. Another one in the same series - the detective's name is John Coffin, so it's all a pun too.
18. Fairy & Folk Tales of Ireland - edited by W. B. Yeats. SCORE! SCORE!! In paperback, and combines both Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry (1888) and Irish Fairy Tales (1892), both published by Yeats. I'm very happy, this is in really good condition too. These are Irish fairy tales collected by Yeats, and he gives his sources, so it's an invaluable collection of Irish fairy tales.
19. Arms and the Women - Reginald Hill. I'm a big fan of the Dalziel and Pascoe British tv series, and I've read the odd book in the series, not all, and I'm about to remedy that.
20. Good Morning, Midnight - Reginald Hill. The lovely thing about these book fairs is that sometimes people give several books in a series away.....
21. One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson. SCORE! I just read the first book in this series! And I almost bought number two new, so this is a real find, and at about 28 cents, too! I feel guilty saying that.....I wasn't sure they would do the fill a bag or box for $5, and I was glad to pay my $10, and offered I think $15, because I had so many books. I didn't think I had this many, though!
22. The Mill on the Floss - George Eliot. SCORE! An Oxford paperback edition, in great shape! I can finally put to rest the question everyone has raised in my mind, by saying they liked Mill on the Floss better than Middlemarch, which I find hard to believe. I remember trying to read this in university and giving up, so fingers crossed I have better luck this time. At least I have it now, to read!
23. Fatal Remedies - Donna Leon. I already own two others in the series, so now with these, I can begin reading them and see why they come so highly spoken of. These all have the same publisher so the covers look good together, too! Did I mention I love these donations of books for sales?
24. Aqua Alta - Donna Leon.
25. Suffer the Little Children - Donna Leon.
26. Friends in High Places - Donna Leon.
I bought two other books but already had them, so they aren't included here. For having about 1/2 an hour to look through the books, wow.

Anyone want to come with me next year?

Sunday 14 June 2009

Sunday Salon - Writer's Block!

The Sunday

Thanks so much to Emily at Telecommuter Talk for writing the post that sparked this idea for me. She wrote about the difference between having an active imagination and an over-active imagination. For both of us, the over-active imagination comes out (in one of many various ways) in imaginary discourses with a very critical inner critic. In my comment to Emily on her post, I described my inner critic as 'a judge from Plymouth times who is almost impossible to please." It doesn't matter what I write lately, once I've gone away for the day from my work, out he comes and starts saying I am stealing plots and ideas, or just uninspiring and boring, and it's already been done, and I'm not adding anything to what's been written before.

I couldn't describe him clearly until just now, for the first time ever, when I realized, describing him to Emily, that he was like a combination of a witchcraft judge from Salem MA, and the judge from Peter S Beagle's Tamsin that I read last summer. It's only taken me 35 years to put a face to this critic!!! It was actually Stephanie in the comments to the post who described her inner critic, so I owe her a thanks too.

My answer to Emily's inner critic and to my own, is the same: it doesn't matter the audience you create for. If you write - or create anything for that matter, be it a sampler, a work of art, a garden, a song for your band - my daughter's bead necklaces - the important thing is that I, and you, create from the truth - write what the true story is, the real story, paint what we see, create what we know. The audience will come to it, they always find a way to it. Maybe not in our lifetime, but maybe we are creating something for the future. You, and I, can't know, until we have finished it, what we are even doing.

I know I would rather be writing than almost anything else in the world, so I also know that I have to put my inner critic, fearsome as this judge is, in his corner and tell him to shut up.

So thank you Em, for a most inspirational post!

I have to also admit that the clearest image I have for the 'real story' is from Stephen King's On Writing, because he describes the storyteller's job as uncovering the bones of the story. I like this image of passing the brush over the bones, slowly uncovering the story in the dirt of our words, until we have written and rewritten the story until it shines clearly in the full light. That's how I write, too.

And tell me, dear reader, do you have an inner critic who stops you from creating your dreams? Is there a work of art, or some project, you have been longing to do, but keep putting off?

Thursday 11 June 2009

It Never Rains, But It Pours

Have you ever heard this expression before: "It never rains, but it pours?" I use it to connotate things happening in bunches. Like this week. Monday, I am told I am diabetic. Today, our youngest son came down with chicken pox. Next week my husband starts jury duty. At work, when I told co-workers how my week was going, one person said, "You must be looking forward to this week ending!"

Darn right!

So I bought a new book today: The New Glucose Revolution for Diabetes ( The Definitive Guide to Managing Diabetes and Prediabetes using the Glycemic Index) by Dr Jennier Brand-Miller and Kay Foster-Powell, Dr Stephen Colagiuri, and Alan Barclay.

I bought it because it said I could, on occasion, eat chocolate. Just not a lot of chocolate.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Diabetes and me

Yesterday I found out that I am diabetic. I am also starting medication to try to bring my glucose (sugar in my blood) levels back down to normal levels. I will be back posting soon, I promise! Right now though, I am reading everything I can get my hands on, while I learn what this disease means for myself, and my family. Any time I get on the computer goes to finding sites and information.

I do have several posts planned, among them many book reviews, a post about the haul of books I got at my children's school fete last Friday, and pictures of my garden (which some of you remember had the monarch butterfly visit last year) for the gardeners among you. And, of course, book thoughts.

In the meantime, diabetes and I are learning about one another. Actually, diabetes knows a lot more about me since I appear to have had it for some time now. I have some catching up to do!

Saturday 6 June 2009

What book would you become?

Lisa Roe at Online Publicist invited me to read her guest post, found here. It's on a new to me blog, called As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves. Now, tell me, isn't that a great title for a blog? The idea of the post is taken from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I quote directly from Elizabeth on this post: 451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

Now, it's not Friday today, but I don't care. I think this is a fun discussion, and certainly one I played around with in my head when I finished Fahrenheit 451: what book would I 'become?" I think back then I thought of Shakespeare, and Anne of Green Gables, and then became too depressed at the idea of burning books - 0f losing books - to continue in that vein. But Elizabeth has let Lisa choose 5 books, and I thought that this would be interesting. If I could save 5 books, what would they be? And if I could become one, which one would I become?

Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery - because this story of the Orphan Girl, teaches everything about life, and life 100 years ago in Canada. It has everything and most of all, love.

Middlemarch - George Eliot - simply one of the best novels of the English language.

The Haunting by Shirley Jackson - one of the best ghost stories, and we'd need to tell ghost stories at the end of the world, too.

Fear of Frying - James Barber - I'm stealing this from Lisa, who picked the Joy of Cooking as a cookbook she'd save. Fear of Frying is a cookbook containing, you guessed it, only recipes for a frying pan. Essential, in my opinion, since if we are talking about a world where we have to become books, the art of cooking might be lost too. This one would be indispensible for it has every kind of food and even a few freebies that aren't frying pan recipes - salads, vegetables, and dessert. MMMM. Plus, he's a Canadian author, and lived on a sailboat in Vancouver's harbour, so he actually lived on these recipes.

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen. I could hardly not save one of hers, could I? Besides, I could get to tell and retell Elizabeth and Darcy's great love affair.

I think the problem I have with this is that there are so many books I would want to save. And if I could become only one book, what would I choose? How could anyone make a choice like that? It's one of the most gripping moments in Fahrenheit 451, when we the reader see one of the characters say to another, remember, and they begin quoting - no, repeating the book they have chosen. They carry the books with them. I would want to make sure every important book got picked to be saved, and then I'd come along and chose from what had been forgotten. Shakespeare, To Kill a Mockingbird, poetry - so much poetry to choose! Would I pick something I loved, or something I thought was precious and shouldn't be lost?

I think I might pick The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Everything we know, where we begin from, is found in fairy tales and myths. So long as we have tales to tell, the human race can remember, and go on.

Though, I'm tempted to become The Fear of Frying, as well, just so I could make food for everyone no matter where I was or what was at hand.

So, what 5 books would you choose to save? Can you choose just one to become?

Darn, I just remembered about Coraline. It's a tiny book. Maybe I could squeeze it in after the Fairy Tales.....