Archive for December, 2008

The Tail of Emily Windsnap

Nothing like a good old-fashioned mermaid story to break up the Austen, hm?

I admit, I’ve been eyeing The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler for some time now. Mostly because… well, it’s such a pretty book. It’s middle-grade, and I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by the storyline, but it was an altogether enjoyable book. Partially, again, because it is so very pretty. It’s not just the cover that’s pretty, but there are little black-and-white underwater vignette watercolors all through the book, in between chapters and sections of chapters alike, and it gives the book an all-around motif that’s really enjoyable. While it’s true that the best of stories can be read scrolling through a no-frills .html document, this book is a prime example of how influential packaging really can be.

Not to say that it’s a bad book by its own standards—Emily is a pretty delightful character, and her mermaid friend Shona even more so. The story is a little wackier than I expected, and the kid-parent relationship is a little thin (really, what parent never takes their kid’s view into account, even if it feels that way?) but all in all it was a lot of fun to read, and had a nice ending. There are two more books so far in the Emily Windsnap series, and I’m definitely interested enough to keep reading, and the descriptive parts about undersea life and surroundings were very well done.

This makes book #48 of 2008. I don’t know at this rate that I can finish two more in two and a half days (or rather, I’m 99% sure I can’t) but it easily beats the 31 I managed to read in 2008. In a couple days I’ll post my whole list, slightly annotated. It’s not too impressive, but it’ll do. Despite my failure, I’ve tentatively made a slightly higher goal of 52 books in 52 weeks next year. What can I say, I aim for improvement. 😉
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Merry Christmas!

Hope everyone has a lovely Christmas holiday… I’ll see you in a couple days!  🙂

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The Alluring Henry Crawford

I’m starting the third volume of Mansfield Park at the moment, and we’re just getting to Henry Crawford’s most enchanting bits—and easily Fanny Price’s worst moments in the novel.

I’ve got Joseph Beattie from the 2007 Masterpiece Theater production to the left here, because that’s how I’ve been picturing him this reading, though truth be told, I like Alessandro Nivola’s ’99 portrayal of him better—but semantics aside, Henry Crawford is simply a delicious character. I’d be disgusted by him in real life, of course, but then that is an altogether different thing.

I know it’s a bit old hat to make a big deal about Jane Austen’s characters, but there’s a reason why there’s always a deal to be made. While Mansfield Park is not nearly my favorite Austen novel, Henry Crawford is almost decidedly becoming my favorite Austen blackguard. Wickham was never interesting to me, he is a well-played plot point and little more. William Elliot is warmer, but still there’s something left wanting. Willoughby is absolutely delightful by being so barefaced about his cowardice and shame—but those very things also make him fairly pathetic in the end. Henry Crawford, though, is unapologetic about anything and everything. He’s as consciousless as Wickham (whether or not that’s a word), but has all the spark and charm and warmth of Willoughby at his best—with something a little more intelligent, a little more detached and conniving, that just makes him that much more interesting.

The fantastic thing is that we know from the start that he’s a villain—or at least villainous. It’s made clear almost from his introduction that he means to win the attention of the one (already engaged) woman whom he absolutely shouldn’t mess around with, and we proceed to watch as he flatters her, tempts her, and then leaves her in the dust to go on with her life. Not that we can blame him entirely for that—’it takes two to tango,’ etc, etc.

But we see all this, and we know that Fanny, our heroine, is fully right to refuse his proposals, and yet… and yet we root for him anyhow. We want him to win over Fanny’s heart. Edmund certainly isn’t trying very hard for it, Edmund hardly seems to notice her unless he can sweep in to save her from lack of exercise or lack of writing paper or lack of something or other else. He’s busy being beguiled by Henry’s sister, because she’s just as sparkle-and-shine attractive as her brother, whatever her moral shortcomings are.

And even though I know what’s coming, even though I know Henry will prove himself—as he always does—to be completely incapable of the sort of love that Fanny wants and deserves… right at this moment, a part of me still wants him to win. Wants him to have the picturesque life with her that he describes to his sister, where he takes care of Fanny forever and never falls out of love with her and is everything she (this is Fanny Price here) anyone could ever want.

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Before the storm?

The house is uncommonly quiet today, especially considering the fact that it’s three more sleeps ’til Christmas.  Part of it has to do with the weather—very gray, very cold, fairly rainy.  I’ve still got a lot to do myself, though.  There are a couple of presents I’ve yet to wrap, and one or two that I still have to make, which is a problem, but not an insurmountable one, I don’t think.

Still, it would be a mistake to let my guard down, I’m feeling.  We have guests to prepare for, a wedding to go to, possibly a reunion to attend, cheesecakes to make and I still have those last few blasted books to finish for my 50 Books Initiative.

That said… the quiet today has been nice.
Hope the holidays are going well (and a little more organized!) for all of you!

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Dramarama by E. Lockhart

Dramarama by E. Lockhart

I’m on a 50 Books in ’08 mission, and getting so close… finished 46 and 47 in the past few days. 47 was Something Rotten in Jasper Fforde’s fantastic Thursday Next series, and 46 was E. Lockhart’s Dramarama.

This is my second Lockhart (after the wonderful The Boyfriend List), and mostly great, but a bit too poppy and sparkly. I get that it’s a drama camp, but every character doesn’t have to call every other character “darling” the entire time. That got old fast. There was some really poignant great stuff in this, especially the character who feels like a “trick pony” for her parents, and the main character’s getting jealous over her gay best friend, even though she doesn’t love him in that way, etc.

The thing I didn’t like was that there was an obvious solid, satisfying ending that was hinted at and built-up towards, but then the story stopped short before the reader gets to see the main character have her epiphany moment, so it’s kind of a downer towards the end. (There’s a chance there’s a sequel in the work that I don’t know about… but from the Epilogue, I didn’t get that feeling.)

Also… Lockhart didn’t know half the Broadway she really should have to write this book, and it was all obvious stuff. Repeated references to some ten plays got a bit tiresome… but probably wouldn’t be as noticeable to someone who hadn’t grown up living and breathing musicals?

That being said, I’m passing it on to my friend Isabelle the first chance I get, because I think she’ll get a kick out of it, and it’s definitely enjoyable and worth the read.

On a Broadway-aholic note, I will say that she knocks Jekyll & Hyde a bit too much. If all she knows is the Hasselhoff interpretation, I can’t blame the poor woman, but that was a Colm Wilkenson role first, and Colm is not to be knocked.

And on an audiophile note, I got Roisín Murphy’s “Ramalama” stuck in my head every time I picked this up. It was impossible not to. Consonance does that to me.

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Badges of honor

I have a blister on my finger from writing today.  Not writing, writing… I’ve been addressing envelopes for dad.  But this kind of proves how little writing I’ve been doing lately, at least by hand.  Because I’ve had a callous on that finger for as long as I can remember.

I feel a little displaced by this.  True, a good part of it is that I’m not in school anymore, scribbling down notes, or doing in-class essays (which I kind of miss, oddly?  The essays, not the notes).  And it’s also that I have a computer open to me more than before.  But, I don’t know… that callous was such a part of me.  I hold my pen tight, too, so generally in my past there’s been a flat angle on the top of my thumb that doesn’t make sense until you see me writing.  And that’s gone too.  I didn’t notice either of those things until tonight, and I don’t know what to make of them.  I sort of want them back, as if it’s going to happen overnight, this sometimes-ugly callous and oddly flat plane on my thumb.  It’s like looking down and realizing you’ve lost your wedding ring or something.  Something that defines you.

This is probably a very strange entry, and my apologies, but it’s difficult for me to explain just how odd this feeling is.  Like something’s gone that I didn’t notice until now.  I’m not talking about my will to write, or even my desire to write.  It’s nothing that drastic, if it were, I would have noticed.  It’s that feeling of having so many words in my head that I can’t get them down fast enough.  Cramping my hand up over nearly-illegible lines that I probably won’t ever read again.

A big part of it is the academics, because I’ll find whole notebooks full of stuff I only half-remember writing.  But still, it feels odd.  It’s surprising to me that I hadn’t noticed its absence before, and of course it’s all I can think about now, so I keep looking back and expecting it to be there somehow.  Strangely enough, that callous was a bit like a badge of honor, as if it were proof that I was a writer, just like the ink stains proved it for Jo March.  Like scarred-up feet for dancers, or stretch marks for mothers.  Battlescars, even.  Some physical mark to say, I’ve done that, I’ve lived it.  I’ve got to re-earn my badge now.  And in a way, that’s kind of good.  It’s time.

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Everyone has a story

It’s nearly midnight and I’m settling down to write.  Not even write, exactly, more type up something that I wrote a couple of weeks ago.  The holiday season is not exactly conducive to active creativity.

What it has been good for, though, is making connections with people.  I went to  an early Christmas dinner at my church this week, and at the table with us sat an elderly lady named Dorris, who’s 81, and spends her time “taking care of the elderly.”  I’ve known this lady was a gem for a while now, but I rarely get to talk to her except for a dinners like this, and while she may not look like much, she has some fascinating stories to tell.

I knew already that she’d been a nun her entire adult life, had even grown up in a Catholic abbey.  What I did not know is that she was sent there as a child to be “hushed up,” because she was the product of one of her father’s illicit affairs.  Scandalous!

What I love about listening to this woman is that she’s so matter-of-fact in the way she talks about her life.  Every fact is a fact, and nothing more, and there’s something incredibly powerful in that.  I wonder sometimes if I try too hard to tell my audience what to feel, rather than simply let them feel it for themselves.  I think about the economy of language quite often, but the economy of emotion is something that sneaks up on me.  I forget about it.

Dorris is a good story-teller, though, and she does it without too many words, or too much hype.  I think that’s something that’s slowly being lost in the world of today’s literature.  Everyone wants a book they can sell the movie rights for, that’ll end up being a blockbuster.  A Twilight, if you will.  Or more rightfully, a Harry Potter, perhaps.

There’s nothing wrong with blockbusters.  But there’s something to be said for little old ladies with matter-of-fact details.  Something to be said for the everyday person.  That’s who the audience is, after all.  Everyday people.  I worry a bit, for future readers, if all they can read is the fantastic, the larger-than-life, because if we forget to value real-world circumstances, otherworldly ones will end up falling in on themselves.

And now it’s late, and I’ve gotten caught up, and I don’t know if I’ll do that typing-up tonight after all.  Staying up nights wouldn’t be such a problem if I didn’t enjoy getting up early, now would it?

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