Friday, December 21, 2012

The Road Goes Ever On

I am reading a phenomenal book called Meditations on Middle Earth, edited by Karen Haber (and given to me by my fabulous friendly postman, the single smartest person I've ever known). It's really inspired a lot of thoughts from me, and I hope to discuss it intelligently next week.

Next week.

Because today I am still overwhelmed by the state of the world and the country where I live. This morning four people died in Pennsylvania while the NRA announced a program to train armed guards for the nation's schools. Last week the mall by my house was closed by a madman bent on terror, and twenty-six people were gunned down in their own classrooms.

It's hard to think rationally at these times. It's hard to read an essay on fantasy fiction and write about why it matters. It's hard not to just wish you were a hobbit, living in a snug little hole in the ground.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Brain clearing

I've been thinking a lot on this topic, and this morning the delightful Elizabeth Spann Craig posted on it: The Importance of Doing Nothing. I was so glad to hear her nothing-positive blog, because I am a firm believer in unscheduled time for everyone (and especially kids!). I think time with nothing to do is what inspires creativity and builds a person's character. When you're sitting around mulling over nothing in particular, you sort out a lot of your values and dreams and best ideas!

When I was a kid, we lived too far from anything for lessons or camps or sports. I spent most of my time reading or wandering aimlessly. Sometimes I played in the creek, but mostly I rode my bike in circles and daydreamed. Most of those daydreams turned into stories, about a third of which I started writing down in my early attempts at novels. I never made it more than a thirty pages into a project, but that might have been due to handwriting that even at age ten was pretty abysmal (and that was when my handwriting was at its zenith!). When you work without an outline and your notes are on random scraps of school work, it really helps if you can read them.

In that tradition, my daughter has very few scheduled activities. She's taken a few classes from Parks and Rec, but she's not terribly interested in team sports or music. She wants to be a writer more than anything in the world. Needless to say, yesterday she spent about an hour rolling around on an exercise ball in our living room, doing nothing. I hope its teaching her something important.

Friday, December 07, 2012

2012: A great year of reading!

This year has a been a great year for reading. I have read some really wonderful books! When I read, I typically only read books that I get from the library (both because I have access to a terrific library and because I live on a tight budget), and if I don't like a book, I don't usually bother finishing it. Needless to say, my Goodreads account is populated by a lot of 4- and 5-star book ratings.

Here are some books that really stood out from the rest:

The Pilgrim Hawk, by Glenway Wescott

Amusingly enough, a couple months ago, I got an email from Michael Cunningham via some organization (I pay such good attention to things, don't I?) encouraging everyone to read this book. He wrote the introduction to the edition I read, and I must say, I agree with him--or at least, I think that every writer should read this book. It is one of the most careful character studies I've ever read. Not much happens in this book, but it bristles with a sense of humanity. I would never want to hang out with any of these characters, but Glenway Wescott was probably a cool guy.

The Pushcart Book of Poetry: The Best Poems from Three Decades of the Pushcart Prize, edited by Joan Murray

I'm pretty sure the subtitle tells you everything you need to know about this book. Basically every poem inside it is miraculous. I need to buy a copy so I can read and re-read them.

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, by Deborah Blum

I think everybody and their dog read this one when it came out, but it's still terrific. It's a wonderful study of the conflict between science and bureaucracy, with plenty of chemistry and gruesome details thrown in.

Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence, by Rory Miller

A riveting discussion of violence and criminal behavior by a corrections officer/search and rescue worker. It will change the way you think about both evil and self defense.

Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters

The poignant story of a young woman's fall from naive but hard-working oyster seller to spoiled, pampered mistress--and ultimate redemption. It also happens to be a wonderfully researched examination of life in 1890's England, and the steamy story of a lesbian learning to live with her sexuality. Hawt!

I did read genre fiction this year, of course! You know me: I can't go more than two weeks without checking out a good mystery or speculative fiction. Here are a few standouts:

The Terror, by Dan Simmons--based on the true story of the lost Franklin expedition, a wonderfully researched story of the terrors of Arctic exploration in the 1840s.

City of the Lost, by Stephen Blackmoore--the noir zombie novel you've been waiting for.

Snuff, by Terry Pratchett--the conflict between racism and law enforcement in Discworld. Possibly the most touching Discworld story so far.

This Dark Earth, by John Horner Jacobs--zombie apocalypse survivor story done right.

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill--rock and roll, fast cars, and one horrible ghost. A horror classic!

And of course, I'm always looking for book recommendations. If you've noticed, my tastes tend to run to historical and horror (or, in the case of The Terror, both combined), so if you know a good example of those genres, please share!