Posts Tagged ‘reading’
May 29, 2012 @ 6:04 pm | Filed under: Books
At a certain stage of writing, I have great difficulty reading other fiction. But this is akin to saying “I have great difficulty breathing oxygen.” And when, as now, the intense writing stage stretches out somewhat longer than expected, I begin to get…squirrely. I’m crafting my own story while holding my breath. I crave a nice deep inhalation of fiction. Ha—I didn’t even realize I was spinning an inspiration metaphor until now. Inspire: “to stimulate to action,” “to fill with enlivening or exalting emotion,” “to breathe life into,” “to draw in air.”
There are a few, a very few, works of fiction that can mist past the boundaries my working mind puts up against other people’s stories when I’m deep inside my own. The Blue Castle. Rilla of Ingleside. Sometimes, but not always, Anne’s House of Dreams or Anne of the Island. (You may detect a pattern.) Betsy’s Wedding and the four high-school Betsy books, but not Betsy and the Great World—all the travel, I suppose, too many absorbing new places to take in. I can’t accommodate so many setting changes when I’m rooted to my own fictional world. Curiously, Middlemarch works, and the first third of Portrait of a Lady (but as soon as Isabel meets that snake Osmond, I must bail). Never Austen. Austen is a reward for finishing a novel. Sometimes L’Engle, but I have to be careful with her: her characters have an archness about them, a precociousness that works beautifully in her prose but I can’t risk it seeping into my own, where it would surely be too much sugar in the peas.
(I think House Like a Lotus was the book that made me realize that L’Engle’s characters, much as I adore them, are not exactly real people. At least—Meg was real, with her prickles and that ribbon of cynicism in her soul. And Vicky Austin, so sensitive you’re almost afraid to look at her askance. (Oh how I love Vicky.) But Polly, oh my. You know that scene at the beginning of the international conference when the well-traveled workers gather and sing, spontaneously going around the circle, each crooning Silent Night in his or her own language? And Polly, not missing a beat, jumps in—in German? Yeah, that’s when I realized that much as I enjoy Polly and am rooting for her, I don’t find her relatable. Which is fine. Isabel Archer isn’t terribly relatable either, but she (like Polly) is interesting, and that’s plenty. But I digress.)
One book that works like a charm for me these days is Alan Bennett’s gem, The Uncommon Reader. In my desperate state of fiction-deprivation, I turned to it again two nights ago, and it was like coming up from underwater and drawing a deep breath of air. This is a book I’ve highlighted practically from cover to cover—so many quotable quotes. (Those are but a few. The title of this post is another.)
As the Queen of England (that most unlikely of relatable characters) finds her way into fiction (well, and nonfiction, too; for her the discovery is the absorbing, altering joy of reading itself—whereas my current troubles are only with fiction; I inhale reams of nonfiction with no difficulty), so, too, am I drawn back into the romance of The Other Person’s Story. And so it was that when I finished Uncommon Reader last night, I was immediately, almost in the next breath, able to fall headlong Elizabeth Goudge’s The Scent of Water—a book I started ages and ages ago, and set aside, always meaning to return. For me, Goudge is as Alice Munro is for the Queen:
‘Can there be any greater pleasure,’ she confided in her neighbor, the Canadian minister for overseas trade, ‘than to come across an author one enjoys and then to find they have written not just one book or two, but at least a dozen.’
Linnets and Valerians is practically woven into my DNA—the song to the bees rings in my ears every time I walk out to my garden—but the only other Goudge I’ve read, despite having collected and hoarded nearly a dozen of her novels over the years, is The Little White Horse. It was Lesley Austin, over at Wisteria and Sunshine, who brought Elizabeth Goudge back into my mind. This afternoon, when the orthodontist’s waiting room faded away and the little English village of Appleshaw formed around me, and the house with the green door, and Queen Mab’s hazelnut-sized coach in the collection of ‘little things,’ I knew I’d remembered how to breathe again.
A reader was curious: Why just “Rillabooks“? Don’t you read picture books to your little boys, too?
Yup, loads of them. But my three youngest children are experiencing books differently from each other, right now. Huck is, well, a two-year-old. He loves books, loves especially to point out 1) trucks, 2) cars, 3) tow trucks that awesomely pull cars, and 4) trucks and cars actually existing in close proximity to one another on those supercalifragilistic miracles of creation called roads, upon which, if one is extremely lucky, one might also find a bus.
So while he’ll clamber up beside me when I’m reading to Rilla and listening to a few pages, mostly he’s at the talk-about-pictures stage, not the listen-to-a-story stage. All in good time.
As for my sweet Wonderboy, he too comes at a story from a different angle. He’ll listen happily to a read-aloud, but he isn’t really into nuances. He likes good, solid, concrete facts. That’s a boat. That’s a girl. That’s a baby. The girl and the baby are getting in the boat. They’re catching a fish. They’re eating fish soup. Whoa, that was a really great story! Layers, rich language, subtleties, tensions (of which the book I’m referring to has many examples)—these are not what Wonderboy is looking for in a story right now. And that’s fine. What he IS looking for are words he recognizes (very exciting) and special time with mom (delightful), and if you want to throw in some monkeys wearing hats, so much the better.
Rilla, at five-next-month, is relishing the whole package. Plot, characters, setting, language, emotions, sensory details, suspense, conflict, humor, flights of fancy—these are the things she’s reacting to when she listens to (and looks at; the poring-over is such an important part of the experience) a picture book. Often she’ll request the same book two, three, four times in a row, honing in on different aspects each time. Sometimes it’s about the reading—she wants to be the one to read the names, or the repeated phrases, or the punchlines, or a certain character’s dialogue. Sometimes it’s about the art: finger on the page, Look, Mommy, there’s a tiny mouse under the bed. Sometimes it’s about the deep mysteries of Life, the Universe, and Everything: Why did Fats Watson do that? Why is he jealous? Why did Christina Katerina’s mom keep wanting to get rid of that clearly fabulous box?
Sometimes, frankly, it’s all about fashion. Look at what Lilly is wearing on THIS page! I wish I had a dress like that. Can I have a dress like that? And those boots! And a purse.
Her tastes are wide-ranging these days; she’s wanting to go both broad and deep. As in: she’s happiest if we have beside us a stack of half a dozen books, some new to her, some of them books she’s heard a zillion times before. Her huge appetite makes for a lively and varied reading list, which, let’s face it, is a lot easier to blog about than Caps for Sale Fifty-Seven Days in a Row.
So that’s why I’ve been focusing on the Rillabooks. And I have to say I’ve been loving the way these posts have encouraged me to take advantage of our picture-book collection. I really learned a lesson from the egregious Miss Rumphius oversight. It’s been a joy to rediscover some of these gems and to watch Rilla—and her brothers, too, though their reasons are different—fall in love with them for the first time.
Goats are nice, but where are the trucks?
May 5, 2010 @ 1:19 pm | Filed under: Books
I went almost the whole day yesterday undecided about what book to read next. I know, the horror, the horror.
I usually have one nonfiction book and one work of fiction going at once. I’m quite happy with my current nonfiction read: the highly recommended Crow Planet. But I need a novel too, always. You understand.
OK, I’m being imprecise—I actually do have a novel going—but it’s the nighttime-read-on-the-iPod-in-the-dark novel, and I can’t read on the iPod outside in the back yard while the kids are playing, which is my best reading time. (The current iPod read is Cory Doctorow’s Makers. Am not far enough into it yet to have opinions.)
Now, yesterday was a fiercely busy day—the Malaysian chicken was delicious, by the way—and the terrible void in my soul caused by Failure to Commit was only a dull ache in the background until it was time for me to dash off to a dentist appointment. There was bound to be waiting-room time, and the iPod wasn’t charged (mea culpa), and OH NO, THE PANIC. Hastily, with no time to dither over options, I grabbed two novels off my To-Be-Read bookcase. Yes, the entire bookcase is filled (two rows deep) with the books I’m willing to read: I’m wanting to read: I’m waiting to read.
The problem, you see, is never a dearth of options. It’s the abundance of them.
The two promising titles I grabbed yesterday came readily to hand because they have been beckoning from the queue for months and months now. In fact, here on this blog, more than once, I have announced my desire to read each of them. If I stopped writing about meaning to read them, I could probably have read them both by now. This post alone is probably costing me a chapter.
I never claimed to be sensible.
As chance would have it, one of the two books (neither of which I cracked at the dentist’s office, by the way; astonishingly, there was no wait) was, I discovered later, a title mentioned enthusiastically in the comments of yesterday’s Maudly-books post, over and over again. It also drew a great many cheers on Facebook—including remarks by more than one friend who said she first heard about this particular book from me, and read it, and did indeed adore it—thereby proving my thesis of two paragraphs ago.
This book? I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I read about it (but not too much) in Noel Perrin’s A Child’s Delight, and ordered a copy based on Perrin’s recommendation. Over two years ago.
I know it was over two years ago because when I finally curled up with Capture after dinner last night, I found a business card tucked inside: the card of a young woman employed by Vienna Beef of Chicago, whom Scott and I met on the San Diego-to-Atlanta leg of our trip to Barcelona in April 2008. It seems I Capture the Castle was the book I took with me for the trip.
It seems I didn’t spend a lot of that trip reading.
Actually, I did read on the way home from Spain—two books about Gaudi. It was a cathedral, not a castle, that captured my heart.
But last night, I did give myself over to I Capture the Castle. Only a chapter: then it was time for LOST. Besides enjoying the charming voice of the narrator, much commented on by lovers of the book, I find myself mightily intrigued by this business of her father, a fine writer, suddenly ceasing to write. I assume we’re going to find out more about that.
(Don’t tell me.)
So, whew, with profound relief I put yesterday’s agony behind me. For another few days, until I finish this book.
• A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: Faking It—”The problem with McCarry’s arguments (other than that they are unsupported by any facts and force all bloggers into the role of critic, whether it’s a role they want or not) is that not “all” book blogs are part of this “cult of niceness.” And, even if such a cult exists — there are reasons for it beyond a person’s gender. It can be personal preference. It can be professional — there are many reasons why an author may be careful about what they blog or may be sensitive about how criticism is done. It can be because some bloggers see their role as “promotional” for books and authors, so keep their language promotional (aka “nice.”) It can be that life’s too short to blog bad books. Wow, I’ve already listed four reasons for such a “cult” that have nothing to do with my reproductive organs.”
• In Defense of Pollyanna : Robin McKinley—”And this is one of the places where the difference between being a reader and a critic is crucial: a reader can just not like something and keep moving. A critic needs to say, okay, this is why this book is crap, and forge the sticky-dull-achy into something shiny and clean and solid. Criticism is hard. Criticism takes time. Some of us would rather read and keep going. Life is short and full of choices.”
• A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: This Means War—This one sounds like it’d be up Rose’s alley for sure.
• April Carnival of Children’s Literature