Not Good Enough To Enjoy, Not Bad Enough To Abandon

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I seem to be on a run of books lately that I’m not enjoying, but that aren’t so bad I abandon them.

I always thought I was quick to abandon books. If I’m not into it, I put it away and assure it, “It’s not you; it’s me.” Not every book is for everyone, and I know that. If I find myself making excuses to put the book down, if I’m not looking forward to reading it, then unless I have a good reason to continue, I just put it down.

But recently, I’ve read a few books where I’m in a gray area. The writing’s bad or the action is slow or the characters make lousy decisions. (I want to shout at them, “Are you stupid? Who would even do that?”) But at the same time, I want to find out what happens. I have hope that it might get better. I’ve enjoyed some badly written books, so maybe it’s just taking time to find its stride?

I should know better. It’s not going to get better, and I know it. They never do.

I guess it’s like a bad relationship. There’s enough chemistry to keep going, but the whole time, you’re thinking, “I really shouldn’t be wasting my time. There are better books out there, and I want to read them all.”

*sigh*

I’ve read some magical books this year, books that suck me in and make me fall in love. Books that leave me with such a hangover afterward that I want to sleep with the book under my pillow, just to keep it close by. Books that I want to start again the moment I close the last page.

I’m always chasing that, and I know that not every book can be that way. Maybe not every book should be that way. It wouldn’t be magic then, would it? I couldn’t have that depth of love and connection to every single book.

So maybe that’s why I keep going with those gray area books. I know that the book is going into the donation box when I’m done (or back to the library), and that we’ll never hang out again. I’m just passing time until the next amazing read.

Do you ever have this experience?

S is for The Secret Garden

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I lived in a house on a hill that butted up to a patch of forest and a hill.  It seemed huge to me then; we called it a mountain, and I was sure I could get lost in those woods, even though they were probably only a few miles square.

I liked to go into the woods with a book or a notebook and read or make up stories.  Sometimes both.  My favorite place had a couple of trees surrounding a circular-ish clearing.  It was flat and horizontal, instead of ascending as most of the rest of the hill.

I liked to sit at the foot of one of the trees.  Roots formed a nice seat.  I’d take off my shoes and rest my feet on the cool ground.  Light would dapple in through the leaves.  It was bright enough to read, but never so bright that it got hot.

I loved it there, and it felt secret, even though it probably wasn’t.  I seldom saw other people in the woods.  It was just me, the music of leaves and birdsong, and the characters in my head.

The Secret Garden, by Francis Hodges Burnett, resonated with me because I felt the same way that Mary did.  When she discovered the garden, it was like waking up for her.  Being in my woods did the same for me.

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I loved the garden in this story, though when I first read it as a kid, I didn’t appreciate all the metaphors in it.  This book also taught me that people can change.  Both Mary and Colin are ill-tempered, sour children.  But the power of the Magic in the garden changed them.  No adult intervened to teach them lessons.  They had to learn for themselves how to be better versions of themselves.

The idea that people can change blossomed in my brain, and it was a lesson I never forgot. People can change themselves, if they want to.  They have to invite Magic into their lives, and only then can they accomplish wonderful things.

We’re all connected: to nature, to one another, to magic, to love.  We just have to be willing to open ourselves up, put in the work, be aware of what’s around us.

Did you ever have a “secret” place?

“Where you tend a rose, my lad, A thistle cannot grow.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett

P is for Princess Bride

Unknown-3The first time I’d even heard of the Princess Bride was in 6th grade.  It was the end of the school year and the teachers were looking for something to distract us all from killing one another.  They put this movie on.

I don’t remember really watching it or particularly liking it, but it stuck in my head, so when I came across the book by William Goldman, I picked it up.

First off, I have to say that the frame story he built in the book fooled me.  He touted it as a “good parts” version, saying that the book had been read to him as a child, and that whoever read it skipped the boring parts, so he rewrote it to also skip the boring parts.  I found out only this year that all that isn’t true.

*sigh*  At least I never thought Paranormal Activity was for real, unlike some of my more gullible friends.

But anyway… I love books that meld genres, but Princess Bride pretty much has it all.  It’s a romance.  And a fantasy.  There’s torture, fantastic animals, revenge, and kissing!

I really believe that what made the book work was a sprinkling of magic.  Some books are just like that.  They can’t be deconstructed or predicted; they’re just amazing.  While the book wasn’t as popular as the movie, I think that it can be said, for both of them, that they were unexpectedly popular.

Yesterday, I wrote about Stephen King’s On Writing, and I think that it’s absolutely important to learn about the how to’s and what-not-to’s.  But I also think that authors need to bring their authentic selves to writing.  At the end of the day, it’s the reader’s relationship with the book that matters.  And who breathes life into the book, if not the author?

“Life isn’t fair, it’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”
― William Goldman

Poetry and Me

Johns Hopkins Inlet, Alaska

Johns Hopkins Inlet, Alaska

I fell in love with my first poem in elementary school.  I probably read other poems, but the first one that really touched me was one I found in a book.  The book was The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson.  In the book 11-year-old Gilly is a troubled foster child.  She ends up with a woman who won’t give up on her.

At one point, Gilly is asked to read a poem to her elderly, blind neighbor.  The poem is an excerpt from Ode, by William Wordsworth.  The poem is over 200 lines long, but less than 20 were included in the book.  Of course, I didn’t know that because these were pre-internet days.  What I did know was that the poem felt like it spoke to me, reached down inside and touched a special chord.  I read that poem over and over.  It was the first poem I transcribed in a spiral notebook of poems and snippets of text I liked.  I can still recite the excerpt today.

We were taught to analyze poetry in my high school, so I may have developed a love of poetry anyway, but I have to imagine that there was something special about being introduced to it so young, and on my own.  No one told me to like it.  No one directed me to analyze it for a grade.  It was all about me and my relationship with the prose.

I’ve been thinking about this recently, as I write my novel.  In it, I have one of the main characters quote lines of poetry and prose.  She does this maybe a half dozen times.  My critique partner hates it.  His argument is that you shouldn’t need to use someone else’s words to invoke an emotion.

I’m torn.  His argument makes sense, and yet… I remember what it was like to discover Wordsworth as a child, to find that pure love of something that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.  It still would have been a good book without those lines, but with them, for me, it became something akin to magic.

How do you feel about poems, quotes, or song lyrics in books?

Magic

Skagway, Alaska Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Skagway, Alaska
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Since I was a little girl, I’ve believed in magic. My understanding of it has changed over time, but my belief in it has persisited. When I was a child, I called that magic “Santa Claus,” “Easter Bunny,” “mom,” and “dad.” As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned other names for it, like “love” and “friendship.” Some magic I’ve learned about can’t be named, only felt. I feel magic in certain secret places in the woods, near water. I feel it brush along my skin when I hear poems that speak to my soul.  I feel it in the warmth of bonfires and in the coolness of an autumn evening.  I see it in the white fur on my dog’s face, white fur that wasn’t there before.  I taste it when a new flavor melts on my tongue.  I hear it in my grandfather’s voice, long gone, but not forgotten.

One type of magic that has never changed for me is that magic of books.  Before I continue, I want to be clear that I’m not talking in metaphors here.  I literally mean magic, which is defined as “1.  Of, relating to, or invoking the supernatural. 2.  Possessing distinctive qualities that produce unaccountable or baffling effects.”

Science fiction talks about transporters and tardises, of teleportation and apparation, but only books transport you somewhere else, somewhere you can really feel the wind on your face, the sun on your skin.  I’ve smelled smoke and caramel.  I’ve heard birds sing and voices speak to me.  When I finish a book that really means something to me, I can tell that I’ve changed.  The magic that is contained within the pages is hard to describe to someone who’s never felt it.  To some people, books are just books, and words are just words.

I’ll admit that not every book contains magic.  I’ve read some where the spell flickers and fizzles, and some where I never even get a whiff of any magic at all.  It can be hard to tell which ones will have magic by the cover.  Sometimes a book I thought would be utterly ordinary weaves a spell so intricate that it never quite lets go.  And other times, a book I was convinced would show me new things was merely a bunch of pages and words after all.

That’s why I write.  I feel the magic in my fingertips at times, and can almost capture the feelings of prisms in my brain.  There are times when I write that I’m transported and transformed at the same time.  There are times when I hear music in my head, and my senses are on hyper alert.  And there are other times when everything fades so completely into the background that I’m not really sure where my body is anymore.

Because I pay attention and believe, I sometimes find magic in surprising places.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t there for everyone, just that we all have choices on what to see and what not to.  Magic is easy to ignore, and if you ignore it, sometimes you start to believe it’s no longer there.

My understanding of magic has changed, but luckily, just as much continues to be a mystery.  Magic should never be separated from mystery.

Where do you find magic?

The Reason for the Season

Merry Christmas!

When I was younger, my grandmother showed me the classic article Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus.  I remember thinking about it for a long time afterward, how the editor said that there is a Santa Claus as long as there is the spirit of Christmas and love.

I like buying gifts, but sometimes it’s difficult to do.  Most people already have everything they want, and if they don’t have it, they’ll just buy it.  Plus, everything I know tells me that stuff doesn’t buy happiness; experiences buy happiness.  I love taking vacations (well duh, who doesn’t?), but I also love going hiking and spending time with friends.  When I go on vacations, instead of bringing home more souvenirs, I try to bring home more pictures and notes.  Sometimes I do buy stuff, but mostly, I try to focus on the stuff that’s really going to make me happy.  That’s memories, not things that I put on a shelf.  I guess that’s why I end up giving my friends pictures and baked goods a lot of the time.

I’m visiting my family for Christmas, and we baked cookies.  We messed up the kitchen and laughed.  We watched sappy Christmas movies and sang Christmas songs off-key.  I remember baking cookies with my mom as a kid, but don’t necessarily remember what I got for Christmas.  The memories are important long after the toys or electronics are broken.  I remember the movies we watched.  When I watched It’s a Wonderful Life and Die Hard (it’s a Christmas movie; don’t judge me) with my husband, I had to say the same things at the same parts my dad always does, and it made me laugh, just because he always does.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not going to lie.  I like getting gifts.  This year, one of my friends got me a recipe binder because she knows I like to bake.  My husband bought me a first edition, autographed Watchers by Dean Koontz one year.  My sister got me ferris wheel art drawn by a friend of hers.  The best things about the gifts were that the people who got them for me had to know me in order to get them for me.  So it’s not the gifts themselves as much as the thought behind it.  They didn’t just get me a gift basket of lotion or an Amazon gift card.  They got me something they knew I’d love.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how silly it is to worry about if someone wishes you a Happy Holidays or a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukah or Happy Kwanzaa or Happy Solstice.  Saying the right things, giving the right gifts, making sure the food and cookies are perfect isn’t what the Christmas season is about for me.  For me, it’s about family and friends.  It’s about love and laughter.  It’s about memories and magic.

Magic is the reason for the season.  How will you make magic this holiday?

Boy’s Life- A Review

thBoy’s Life, by Robert McCammon, is not a book I would have picked up on my own.  It was another book club pick.

I’m going to start off by saying that it took me almost a month to get through.  It was a pretty long book, but also I read two other books while I was reading that one.  For whatever reason, this wasn’t an easy book for me to get through, but I never wanted to stop reading; it just took me longer than most books do.  It really was a beautifully written book and pretty much sums up what childhood feels like: magical, scary, and difficult to understand sometimes.

Boy’s Life takes us through a year in the life of Cory, an 11 year old boy in 1950’s Zephyr, Alabama.  Cory’s father is a milkman, and one morning, while helping him on the route, they see a car plunge into the lake.  His dad jumps in to try to save the man, and finds a man handcuffed to the steering wheel who had been choked by a length of piano wire.

This isn’t a normal book about childhood, murder, or coming of age.  All this is against a backdrop of the normal concerns of an 11 year old in a small town.  There’s a lot of paranormal thrown in, like the monster who lives in the river, a magic bike, and flying through the forest on the first day of summer.  It made me remember how anything can be magical.  And when you’re a kid, even though you know you’re making it up, you still believe it.  An older Cory narrates the story and talks about how the magic of childhood, once lost, can never be quite recaptured.

All in all, I recommend this book.  It was a good book, and worth reading, though I’d recommend getting the book from the library.  Like I said, it took me a month to get through.  I (and other members of my book club) thought the book was a little too long.  I’ll be interested to see what else Robert McCammon has written.