Monthly Archives: November 2012

ISBN 978-0-06-202468-8

Wildwood by Colin Meloy

I was reading the New Yorker when I saw an ad for Wildwood written by Colin Meloy and illustrated by Carson Ellis. I am a big fan of Maile Meloy, Colin’s sister, but I’m also a fan of The Decemberists, so I reasoned that I would love this book.

As fate would have it, Colin and Carson were visiting my local library to give a talk on the creative process of the sequel to Wildwood, Under Wildwood. Husband bought me both books for my birthday and we were able to see both author and illustrator before I read either of the books. I’ll admit, hearing them talk about how the story came to life made me appreciate the book so much more.

And here are the reasons I loved Wildwood:

First of all, I had to look stuff up.  I love a book that challenges me.  I thought that since this was a book for children ages 9 and up that I would just speed though the book. The vocabulary was so rich I had to look up words in nearly every chapter. Of course I could figure them out with context clues, but it was so much more fun to look up things like machinations (a crafty & involved plot to achieve your sinister ends) which also turned out to be a really neat 80s band with a song called “My hearts on fire.” I also looked up Kurosawa movies because there was a Kung-Fu reference in one of the earlier chapters.

Secondly, Prue, one of the main characters makes a reference to praying to Nancy Drew, patron saint of sleuthing and this instantly reminded me of the way I always pray to different writers to help me through hard times. IE: Scott F. Fitzgerald patron saint of hopeless cause writers. The book has many funny and unexpected moments that I even I as a thirty year old could identify with.

But most of all I loved this book because it took me to the impassible wilderness and kept me there for five hundred pages. I read this book at a time when reading was nearly impossible for me due to complications with bipolar disorder. Finishing each chapter was a triumph for me, and coming to the end brought me to tears, half because the book was so good, but half because I felt myself coming out of the impassible wilderness of my mind.

And when the words were too hard for me to focus on, I found that I could stare at the gorgeous illustrations that captured major moments in the book perfectly and helped me understand what I was reading.

The book did what every good book should do—it made me a better person, and made me feel like life was worth living. That sounds melodramatic, but fiction is supposed to take us to a new place, not just for the span of the book, but for the span of our lives.

And then it doesn’t matter if all my prayers to Scott F. Fitzgerald, Richard Yates, or Flannery O’Connor are heard or answered. Writers like Colin Meloy give all that they can in their stories and who would I be to ask for anything more?

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Filed under Art, Books, Children, Children's Books, Fiction, Growing up, illustrations, Life, Literature, Random, Writing

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

I’m taking the day off to enjoy the occasion with Husband. I’m also dedicating this blog post to all the things I have to be thankful for—so many that I can’t list them all here. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy this cartoon turkey that I dug up from the Internet.

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Filed under Holidays

ISBN- 10: 0-7641-1368-2

Essentials of Writing

There was a time when I really wanted to know the mechanics of a sentence. I was a beginning writer* and I thought that if I were able to get down the basics of grammar then I’d be a better writer. During this time, I bought a bunch of grammar workbooks, one of them being The Essentials of Writing. In this fifth edition, Hopper, Gale, & Griffith came up with a multitude of writing exercises that they deemed the essentials of writing.

I have to admit, I haven’t finished the book. The exercises felt like they should have gone with a grammar lesson book. Doing the exercises arbitrarily was of little help to me. Being able to identify the antecedent of a pronoun seems to have so little to do with writing anymore. I will admit that I did learn something about possessives and apostrophes, but underlining and pulling out the noun of a sentence does little for me at this point when it comes to crafting sentences.

I do care about creating sentences. I care about writing all the way down to that level, but something has changed in me. I still want my writing to be clean and clear. I don’t want to have erroneous commas or misspelled words, but I also don’t want to be thinking about adverbs and adjectives.

I want to be lost in the writing and the story.

I think I learned this week that some books don’t need to be finished, or that they can be finished in their own time. I feel like I’ve always inherently known that books can be finished whenever they need to be—maybe that means a decade later, but I have always felt that once I started a book I needed to finish it. This is the first one that I just don’t feel I have to finish. It’s like a sudoku, word search, or a crossword puzzle book, in that it’s okay if I only do half the book.

I’m not sure what professional writers do to vary their sentence work. I’m not sure if they pick up a grammar book here or there, or if it comes to them naturally from reading. I do know that the work lies here, each word building a path for the next, but I’m not in the frame of mind that I have to know what the words are doing on a grammar level.

I’ll leave that for the editors and keep myself lost in the story.

*I’m still a beginning writer, but this was before I went to school to be a writer.

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Filed under Art, Books, Fiction, Life, Literature, Non Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

ISBN 1-890132-91-8

Round-Trip To Deadsville A Year in the Funeral Underground by Tim Matson

This week I chose Tim Matson’s Round-Trip To Deadsville A Year in the Funeral Underground as a sort of way to pay homage to All Saints day, or Día de los Muertos. The book had been sitting on my shelf since thesis, a spur of the moment Half-Priced Books buy, so I figured the slim 145 page book was overdue for a reading.

I had some notes on a piece of paper attached to the book that read: We don’t live in a letting go culture. Taco Bell story. The things I can say with a straight face. These were things I intended on talking about with the book for the blog, but now the only one I can remember is the Taco Bell story.

But first a bit about the book, TM takes readers through a year in the Funeral Underground by interviewing a slew of people he somehow associates with death from A Coffin Maker, an Undertaker, an Astrologer, a Balloon Man, to The Abenaki in a way to quench his fear of dying. The chapters are short, to the point, and while I was reading I could literally hear this man’s voice. I only found myself straying once in the Astrologer chapter when she discussed his birth chart and talked about the planet Pluto. The book was published in 2000. All I could think about was does his chart still count if Pluto isn’t a planet anymore? 

I didn’t have any expectations for this book, but when I was reading it, I was taking a lot of long walks with my elderly dog. This means I had to go slow, and stop, and look at things which gave me time to think more about the book an my experiences with death in general. I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to any Gravediggers or Screenwriters on the topic, but I did once talk to our insurance agent. Hence the Taco Bell story:

 A few years ago, Husband and I were purchasing insurance and one policy that came up was life insurance. I was adamant that I didn’t want a funeral and didn’t care what happened to me when I died. The insurance man looked at me with a straight face and said, “So what do you want? To just send your ashes down the river in a Taco Bell cup and call it a day?”

Yeah. Pretty much.

I knew he was getting at costs and the realities of death, but my only reality that I found with reading this book and with walking the dog was that I don’t live enough. I mostly spend my days going though motions. My fear of death, face it we’re all a little afraid, is that I’m going to miss something. There is so much to miss. Sunsets. Laughter. I can’t imagine a time when I will be tired of living. Am I afraid enough to spend a year interviewing people about death? No. Interested enough to read about it? Yup.  

When the time comes, just find a Taco Bell cup and a sunny evening to set me free, and know that I spent a lot of times walking an elderly dog, peering into the essence of what it means to live, die, and be human. 

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Filed under Books, Dogs, Life, Literature, Non Fiction, Random, Writing

ISBN 978-1-59474-329-0

Superstitions A Pocket Guide by Alys R. Yablon

 

I understand why superstitions exist, as I myself am a superstitious person. I used to believe that if you laid a hat on the table then it meant someone would die, and that deaths come in three. I still cringe when I see a hat on a table, but I know that it doesn’t mean that someone will die. Superstitions exist because somewhere along the line, people saw a correlation between doing something—picking up a penny, knocking on wood, or dropping silverware, and then our minds associated the action with the world as a way to interpret it or maybe somehow prevent fate. *

I decided to pair this week with the book Superstitions A Pocket Guide by Alys R. Yaablon because it’s Halloween week. Originally, I’d planned on writing about The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson, but since I got sick, I couldn’t read as fast or as much as I normally do. The good news is that I was able to read this book in one sitting, dozing on and off on the couch with my black cat.

Most of the superstitions in this book were standard: mirrors, black cats, talismans, etcetera. But there were some I hadn’t heard of before like bread and butter (it’s bad luck to walk on opposite sides of an obstacle), coming and going (entering and exiting though the same door), or one about fish (they’re good luck). Also, I never knew that black cats are thought of as good luck in England.

But even as I read, I tried to connect the superstitions with my life.  I had just watched Pan’s Labyrinth the night before, and the book talked about a superstition called Hamsa the evil eye in the hand. I tried to connect it with the monster in the movie, (the one who picks up his eyes and puts them in his hands) but I couldn’t. ** This just made me think about the essential truth of what a superstition is—a way to navigate out world.

At any rate, it was a fun little book to read for Halloween. I wish the book explained more about the history and psychology of these myths and legends, but it was just a pocket book guide. The introduction was pretty funny and ironic.

I’m going to hang out on my couch with my black good luck cat and not think too much about it, as sometimes that is the best way to navigate this world.

And just for fun here’s a song to go with the post. You can listen to it here.

* The psychology behind superstitions is interesting to me, and I wish they’d make a Through The Wormhole episode about it.

**What was Guillermo del Toro saying about sensing and acting? What did it mean that the little girl was still tempted and this awoke the monster? I could probably write an entire essay on the symbolism in Guillermo del Toro’s directive choices, but I’ll save that for another blog entry.

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Filed under Books, Cats, Fiction, Life, Random, Uncategorized, Writing