Thursday, January 31, 2013

Another reading resolution...& tangentially-related swooning

I chose one of the easiest of the resolutions discussed earlier: "I will reread a book I loved as a child."

I remember finding Knight's Castle in the North Stewart Elementary library in . . . 5th grade, maybe? Our librarian never made recommendations, but she let us browse freely, so I'm sure I found it by scanning the shelves.

The first page grabbed me instantly:
It happened just the other day, to a boy named Roger.

Most of it happened to his sister Ann, too, but she was a girl and didn't count, or at least that's what Roger thought, or at least he thought that in the beginning.

Part of it happened to his cousins Jack and Eliza, too, but they didn't come into it till later.

Roger and Ann lived with their mother and father in a pleasant small house in a pleasant small city, and until the blow fell life was very pleasant.

Isn't that marvelous? It gets even better when the kids magically enter the world of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.

I had read a highly condensed, kid-friendly version of Ivanhoe before encountering this book, so I was familiar with the characters. And I remember being so delighted that Roger, Ann, Jack and Eliza were as opposed to Rowena as I was. If you always wished silly Wilfred would get a clue and choose Rebecca, you'll like Knight's Castle, too.

(Here is where I start to ramble.) In 8th grade, a related magical thing happened. Anthony Andrews starred in a TV adapatation of Ivanhoe, and this was when I first learned what it meant to SWOON. Rowena swooned, Wilfred of Ivanhoe swooned, and most of all, I swooned. But you know who stole the show by surprising me with his swoon-worthiness? Sam Neill as Brian de Bois-Gilbert. This might be the first story that helped me understand romantic obsession, and it certainly showed me that bad guys could be sexy and tragic even if you knew it was wrong for them to get the girl. Oh my!

(Bois-Gilbert makes a good showing in Knight's Castle, by the way. Edward Eager understood!)

I know for a fact I went back to the library and checked out Knight's Castle again after watching the TV movie, only I had to be stealthy about it because it was a "kid's book." The second reading was even more rewarding! And years later, after reading the full text of Ivanhoe AND teaching it to Orthodox Jewish girls (what?), I used my indie-bookstore-employee magic (these were pre-Amazon days) to track down a copy of Knight's Castle along with four other Edward Eager books. YAY! (Half Magic is just as good as Knight's Castle, by the way, and the kids in that one actually become the parents in KC, which is cool.)

So . . . in case it isn't clear, I had a great time re-reading Knight's Castle over the past couple of days. I found it as charming as ever and laughed aloud several times while reading. If you've never read anything by Edward Eager, treat yourself! His books should appeal especially to fans of E. Nesbit and/or Jeanne Birdsall's Penderwick series.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Jane Austen cure

For the first time in a while, I woke with the itch to blog! And it's all Jane Austen's doing.

First, some context: For the past week, I've been dealing with flu. That's right -- I didn't get my flu shot. In fact, I've never had one. But after days of pain, sweats, chills, and general misery, followed by days of exhaustion and general puny-ness, I've decided that maybe a yearly flu shot is not such a bad thing after all. It never got to "state of emergency" levels, but it was no fun at all. This morning the birds are singing and I actually feel stirrings of energy. Hooray!

Did you know yesterday was the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice? A lot of you did, because I saw several posts about it. One of my favorite blog posts can be found at Relatively Entertaining, where my friends C and E give an overview of noteworthy film and book adaptations of the story.

One of the adaptations they mentioned is The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, a web series that I finally started watching yesterday. The short episodes are perfect rewards for progress with first pass pages. Very addictive, but I'm a little daunted to learn that I have about 70 eps to go before I'm caught up!

One adaptation they didn't mention is Lost in Austen. Am I the only one who thought this zany mini-series starring Jemima Rooper was a hoot? Parts of it made me scream with laughter, you guys! Most interesting was how it helped me see Bingley and Wickham in a new light. You can watch it all on YouTube, if you like! Just keep in mind that it's wacky.

And OH, how I'm looking forward to the film adaptation of Shannon Hale's Austenland! First of all, it's an adorkable story. Second, the film stars cutie-patootie Keri Russell and costume drama favorite J.J. Feild (Mr. Tilney!). And Jane Seymour! And more! Can't wait for this one.

It's a great time to be an Austen fan, eh?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Thursday, January 17, 2013

One reading resolution fulfilled

Without quite meaning to, I managed to strike off one of the reading resolutions I mentioned earlier -- reading a book written the year I was born.

I first read about Antonia Barber's The Ghosts at my agent's blog, where she mentioned it as an example of the sort of spooky middle-grade ghost story she would like to represent. I knew I had to track it down, since I would love to write that spooky middle-grade ghost story for her, but the book was long out of print. Fortunately, I was able to find a used hardcover that once belonged to the Herbert Symonds School in Montreal, Quebec. (I find this delightful.)

Turns out, as you might have guessed, that the book was published the year I was born! You can see the full jacket in all its creepy glory here (courtesy of Laird of Kiloran).

The story is about an impoverished family living in London (a widow and her three children) who are approached by a strange old man with the offer of a job as caretakers to an empty manor house in the country. The only problem? There are rumors of ghosts. Just my sort of thing, as you might have guessed! But . . . it's quite a complicated story. Very Gothic, yes, but with a helping of sci-fi to make things even more interesting. I won't say anymore, except that the story reminded me a bit of certain tales from Madeleine L'Engle.

I love passages like this, where Lucy's spirits are bolstered by the country landscape:

They walked on along the narrow path which led through a wood where brilliant leaves burst from tree-buds overhead and folded yellow daffodils opened in a bright carpet along the ground. It was very different from the grey littered pavements of Camden Town and, looking about her, Lucy felt her spirits rise in spite of everything. It is hard not to be hopeful in the woods in April. (73)

In addition to the mild spookiness and page-turning suspense, there's a very sweet and gentle theme of faith running through the story (which also reminded me of L'Engle, and C.S. Lewis, too), as evidenced by passages like this:

She closed her eyes and concentrated very hard but it didn't seem to do any good. Perhaps faith isn't like that, she thought. Perhaps it isn't something you force yourself to, a battle that you fight in your mind, but something that comes when you stop fighting, when you admit that you can't manage it alone. And then it just grows in you, like bluebells coming up out of dark decaying despair. (162)

If this sounds interesting to you, maybe you can find it at your library? Or you might peruse the used copies at Amazon. Apparently the book was adapted into a film entitled The Amazing Mr. Blunden, and in the UK the tie-in books were retitled accordingly.

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

On kindness

One of the 12 Things Happy People Do Differently is to practice acts of kindness:

Performing an act of kindness releases serotonin in your brain. (Serotonin is a substance that has TREMENDOUS health benefits, including making us feel more blissful.) Selflessly helping someone is a super powerful way to feel good inside. What’s even cooler about this kindness kick is that not only will you feel better, but so will people watching the act of kindness. How extraordinary is that? Bystanders will be blessed with a release of serotonin just by watching what’s going on.

Last year, a friend did something so unexpectedly kind for me, and I've been meaning to share it with you for a while.

Let me give you some background first.

Many of you know that I'm a big Duran Duran fan. It goes back . . . decades. (Eeesh, I'm old.) My school friends and I used to pine for the "fab five" quite ferociously, and now that I'm a grown-up (supposedly), it's fun to find other Duranies out there in the world. As it turns out, fabulous author and agent-sister Tiffany Trent is one of them!

I first met Tiffany when she was participating in a Dragon*Con panel about steampunk. She was so calm, collected, and professional, and her presentation captivated me more than anyone else's. I remember creeping up to introduce myself as another of Jenn's clients, so afraid to seem like a doofus. Turns out, she is a delightfully warm and friendly lady, and I've so enjoyed getting to know her better over the years.

That said, I'll confess to feeling a wee tinge of jealousy when I learned Tiffany was going to New York to see Duran Duran bassist John Taylor sign his book, In the Pleasure Groove. But mostly I was happy for her to meet him, because she'd been working so hard and deserved a treat.

On the day of the signing, she tweeted me a photo:

The significance of this didn't immediately set in. I knew Tiffany was at the signing, and I've participated in signings where post-its were used, but still . . . I just stared for a moment. And then it hit me--Tiffany was getting a book signed for me. JUST FOR ME!!!

I nearly peed my pants.

Soon after that she posted a photo of her lovely self with John Taylor, and maybe because the serotonin was raging through my system, I could feel nothing but joy for her. I was in the pleasure groove! (Sorry, couldn't help myself.)

A few weeks later this arrived in the mail:


I was so moved by this gesture that I had to publicly celebrate Tiffany for it. Sometimes I get so stuck in my hermetic little existence that I forget the energizing and blissifying (pretend it's a word) potential of doing nice things for others. I promise to do better! So many of you have performed kindnesses for me--sending a note, signing a book, critiquing a draft, recommending a good read, hanging out with me, listening to me whine, encouraging me--and I celebrate you, too!

Henceforth I endeavor to be more mindful of the power of kindness. Will you join me?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, January 4, 2013

Friday Flashback: New Year's Resolutions?

Rather than maunder about my failed resolutions of 2012 (be less neurotic? HA!), I think I'll revisit this list -- 12 Things Happy People Do Differently. In fact, I've printed it out and posted it behind my computer, right next to Caroline Starr Rose's "I will...I won't" poster.

I'd also like to revisit a list of reading resolutions--compiled and posted by Camille DelVecchio from The Penfield (NY) Public Library--that I blogged about way back in December 24, 2004.

But first, some reading statistics from 2012:
I read 62 books this past year, 8 more than last year, but still not good enough! Of these, 28 were Adult (5 of which were re-reads), 14 were Young Adult (1 of which was a re-read), and 20 were Middle Grade.

This surprises me a little. Only 14 YA? That seems wrong. (I'm not counting books I read in manuscript form, though.) I will ponder this . . .

Now to the Penfield Public Library reading resolutions (with updated commentary from yours truly):

- I will finally read that classic from high school that I've been avoiding.
What should it be? Probably something Russian. Anna Karenina, maybe?
Any suggestions? (Anna Karenina was never assigned in my high school, but it seems like friends in AP English often encountered Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.)

- I will assemble a list of my favorite people and send them ideas about books (favorites, recent reads, and the like).
This seems a little pushy to me. Anyone need a rec? (See next resolution)

- I will create a journal and keep notes on the things I read.
Once upon a time I kept a paper reading journal, and then I tracked reads on Livejournal. Now I keep track on Goodreads and Shelfari, but my comments are brief. I do post more detailed recommendation each month at Book End Babes, however. (See this list for 2012 recs.)

- I will spend an hour in aimless browsing at a library.
Must do this very soon! But that would mean turning my back on that teetering TBR pile.

- I will read a book written in the year I was born.
Ooooh, maybe The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin? Or The Green Man by Kingsley Amis?

- I will reread a book I loved as a child.
Something by Judy Blume. Or Edward Eager? I've also been meaning to re-read Little Women, because I have in mind a "In which I am a jerk about" blog post for it. (Have been feeling bitter about Professor Bhaer lately. And I always like to complain about Amy.)

- I will read a book on the history of my town.
Hmmmm. Does Oxford count? It's my town for the summer, yes?

- I will read a book about a place I've never been.
Is this supposed to be nonfiction, do you think? Or a novel set somewhere I've never been?

- I will find a book of poetry and read some aloud.
Wouldn't it be lovely to start each day reading a poem aloud? Whom should I read? Emily Dickinson, of course. And there's John Donne, Keats, Yeats, Frost . . . I'm blanking out, especially for the 20th and 21st centuries. Any recs?

- I will gather a few friends and read a play outloud.
This seems very Whedonesque. Who's up for it? (I could imagine the NAH gang doing this, but my dear husband would run screaming in the opposite direction.)

- I will read a book written from a political point of view totally opposite my own.
This is a tough one. Not sure where to start.

- I will reread a book that I just didn't "get" when I was eighteen.
That was soooo long ago. High school friends--what books did we struggle with? If nothing else, I've been meaning to give Wuthering Heights one more chance to win me over. And then perhaps I'll watch Andrea Arnold's film.

- I will ask a librarian to show me some print and online resources for readers.
Do I have to? My dear librarian friends, what resources do you recommend? I already feel overwhelmed by all the book buzz out there.


That's it for now! I wish you all the best with your 2013 reading resolutions. May your reads be full of magic and romance and adventure and enlightenment!

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]