Currently Reading: The Giver

The Giver (The Giver, #1)Now Jonas had a thought that he had never had before. This new thought was frightening. What if others—adults—had, upon becoming Twelves, received in their instructions the same terrifying sentence?

What if they had all been instructed: You may lie?

His mind reeled. Now, empowered to ask questions of utmost rudeness—and promised answers—he could, conceivably (though it was almost unimaginable), ask someone, some adult, his father perhaps: “Do you lie?”

But he would have no way of knowing if the answer he received were true.

Author: Lois Lowry

Synopsis: Jonas lives in a safe world, where people rarely suffer and inexorable order and politeness rule. But when he is assigned the vocation of Receiver of Memory, he learns that life has not always been so tidy, and that his community keeps some horrifying secrets to preserve the sense of safety. As his work gradually isolates him from his family and friends, Jonas plots escape, but his plans are thrown into chaos when one of the secret horrors threatens his foster brother's life.

Notes: The Giver is one of those books that regularly turns up on the challenged-book lists, primarily for material “not found suitable for children.” I suspect, though, that it's almost better to read it as a child, after you're old enough to handle things like the deaths of cute little animals on the Discovery channel, but before your mind and your comprehension of suffering have developed to maturity. If you wait till you’re in your thirties, you might find yourself in unexpected, explosive tears. Fair warning.

For the sake of concerned parents who have somehow missed this book (as I did), here's my best non-spoilerific attempt at advisory: there's a non-gory but very clearly described (and unbelievably appalling) death scene. Jonas also endures a brief but viscerally painful war memory.

The book is worth reading, however, worthy of its general status as a classic; it's thoroughly human, and the requisite grief is honest in its reinforcement of compassion and value for life. The writing style is deceptively simple, and the narrative short and readable. The apparent utopia and its horrific underpinnings are viewed through the eyes of a sensitive twelve-year-old boy, and Jonas naturally evokes sympathy. He’s so sympathetic, in fact, that it’s a surprise to realize, part way through the book, just how much of normative human experience he and his community are missing.

The tale has its faults, of course. The worldbuilding is so clearly science fiction in mood that the fantasy elements prove a bit startling. Memory transfer, which appears to be an innate magical power, comes out of nowhere; also, Lowry never explains the existence of a sky with no sun. These and other such were niggling details, but though they worked against the suspension of disbelief, they could not destroy it in light of the convincing characters and the all-too-believable inhumanity.

Thomas More's Utopia had an obvious influence on the structure of Jonas' community: family size regulations, carefully assigned work, schedules with little to no room for spontanaeity. As with More’s work, the society starts off sounding like a good idea; creepier, less human practices show up over time. Unlike its predecessor, however, The Giver portrays a couple of the resulting situations in unsoftened, stomach-turning horror, intimate and devastating. Its picture of affectionate compassion and pragmatic murder juxtaposed in the same person works as a fierce indictment of numerous attitudes and practices in modern society.

The ending is somewhat ambiguous, though the author has apparently made reference to the characters’ fate in other tales of Jonas' world. The book stands alone well enough, however, and offers hope despite its horrors and uncertainties—a hope centered in the redemptive character of Jonas. Like many a child protagonist, he sees the world with an innocent clarity, a striking purity of heart. The very hopefulness of his closing dreams and of his selfless bravery are the sort of thing that can stand between the human person and inhumanity.

Recommendation: Read it for its portrayal of courage and beauty against soul-destroying lovelessness.


Memorial Day

I tried to get a blogalectic post together for today. Honestly, I did. For excuse, I plead the Great Annual Memorial Day Street Hockey Game. And a weekend filled with family.

Masha, you get a week off. The blogalectic returns next Monday.

May the souls of all who have died in battle, particularly those who defended our freedom, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. And may all those who have lost loved ones to war find comfort and hope.


Gratuitous Cat Pictures and other stories

Last week, George reminded me that there's dubious justification for a Friday post with no gratuitous cat picture. On account of which, I went spelunking under the bed to make sure I got one for today's post. You're welcome.

* * *

There's nothing like lettuce for gratifying the would-be gardener with speed and abundance. I've not been short on salad fixings this week.

We'll say less about the kale.
But I think the potatoes may try and strangle the blueberries
in the dark of some night. They're humongous, and it's not even June.
Also, the first of the peonies opened just a couple of days ago:

...and it's part of this scene:

Someday I should take a picture of the monster dandelions just off stage right in the above shot. And then take a scythe to them. Or perhaps a backhoe, since dandelions will regrow from the tiniest bit of taproot. We're slowly winning the garden back from the weeds, though, and I'm loving that.

* * *

You can learn a lot from fiction, including how to protect yourself if you fall into a river. As a reader and writer, it's a delight to hear a kid saying he responded with the knowledge of a favorite protagonist (in this case, D.J. McHale's Bobby Pendragon) in terrifying circumstances and survived in small part because of that.

As a former whitewater rescue technician, I found the video of the rescue very moving. Water in motion gets very deadly very quickly—six inches can take you off your feet or stall your car, twelve inches can float some cars, and mild little rivers can pin the strongest swimmers to submerged branches or other obstacles, just like spaghetti to the bottom of a colander. Rescue, even with backup safety practices, can be extremely dangerous. I was an emotional disaster after just taking the rescue class, which is why I'm a former WRT and not a current one, but it's good to know what to do. Stay safe around rivers, canals, floods, and the ocean!

* * *

Writers' link of the week: The Opinionator's "The Most Comma Mistakes." Completely awesome.

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Music of the week: I don't link enough opera. Here's Puccini's "Humming Chorus" from Madama Butterfly.

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Random amusement of the week: Thirteen simple steps to get you through a rough day, from Buzzfeed's Matt Stopera. OH MY GOODNESS I NEEDED THIS TODAY. I have cried over everything, including the Swiftwater Rescue video. But after the thirteen simple steps, and coffee, and playing Final Fantasy songs on the piano, and especially the good bawl-it-out chat with my mom, I do actually feel better.

* * *

It also helps that after a very rainy week, the sun has come back. And my house is clean, and Lou should be home soon. And I got a phone chat with my almost-three-year-old niece, who greeted me as follows: "I love you, Aunt Jen! And I love my candy."

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Shadow Hunt

The Shadow HuntThe wind hissed and the bracken rattled. Nothing pounced on him. Wolf sat up. He peered this way and that, first fearfully and then with rising hope. Where was the demon? Perhaps he’d lost it.

Two yards away, a gray puffball head with glittering eyes rose over the ferns. Half of the face was white, half dark red.

Author: Katherine Langrish

Synopsis: While attempting to escape the monastic life his family forced on him, young Wolf comes across an elf-child and captures her at the behest of a lord from over the mountains. Meanwhile, the lord’s daughter, Nest, would rather be in a convent than marry Lord Godfrey as has been arranged for her. When Wolf and Nest become friends, they must unite to protect the elf-child, free Nest’s father from his obsession with Elfland, and escape their enemies, which include an abusive monk, a self-centered lord, and a demon from hell.

Notes: Because I’m Catholic, and because the popular narrative about the Church—especially in the Middle Ages—is monstrous (and fraught with varying degrees of inaccuracy), and because I know some of my fellow readers will have similar feelings—let me say that on first read, I was very wary of where Langrish was going to take her tale. Let me also say, however, that by the end I felt at ease for the most part, even appreciative of the way she handled some things; and further, that I loved the story itself and wanted to re-read it and add it to my books-to-buy list.

Set in Wales in an undisclosed time, though clearly during the centuries when clerical celibacy was canonically mandated but largely not practiced, this little novel expertly builds a medieval world in which the supernatural is as much an accepted fact of life as the natural. The mythology of the elves is either an original creation or something drawn from a source I’ve never read, but the angels and demons are familiar enough. Both the windswept, stormy Welsh landscape and the otherworldly interactions are beautifully and, in context, believably portrayed.

Wolf and ‘Nest’ (the Welsh form of Agnes) are characters well situated in fairytale tradition: active, brave, curious, and just the right mixture of precocious and childlike. Their charge, silent little Elfgift, evokes sympathy as well; we never get her perspective, but we get to watch bits of her humanity creep out of her instinctive animal terror.

The enemies—but saying much about them would involve spoilers. They work, interestingly enough, as a twisted form of trinity: a priest who uses God’s laws to beat people down rather than build them up, a selfish and entirely human fool, and an evil spirit. Their effects on Lord Hugo (Nest’s father), Wolf, Nest, and the general state of peace are fully comprehensible. It’s a good setup for story conflict, and is well resolved.

The story carries a hefty thread of female bravery and independence. Nest prays for a good and important work to do before her marriage, a thought which perhaps fails to recognize the great goodness and importance of marriage and childbearing, but rightly recognizes a woman's need for worthwhile activity beyond that. Her feelings make sense, and her retorts to Sir Thomas and Godfrey in the chapel—invoking several saint stories—were overall rather enjoyable despite the stereotypical 'anti-woman churchman' routine that inspired them. Sir Thomas, after all, seemed to have forgotten how closely Adam was involved in Eve’s sin.

The tale is a good read from start to finish, but the end is much of what made the book for this reader. There’s a bit of very clear redemption imagery, and Sir Thomas presents himself in a way evocative of Caiaphas before the crucifixion of Christ. The supernatural aspects come off with beauty and strength, and the final little down-to-earth scene is sweetness itself.

Recommendation: Read it for a likable, liminal little tale of heroism and the search for freedom and peace.


Top Ten Tuesday Fail

The hint of a cold I mentioned last night involves a headache today, so I'm going to take a sick day and try to catch up on some other stuff, like email and finishing tomorrow's book review. I may also just slack off between laundry loads. We'll see. Either way, back soon...


A Ramble on Time, Culture and Reading

“He never chooses an opinion; he just wears whatever happens to be in style.” 

So, what effect does our time and culture have on the books we write, or read, or love?

Our blogalectic began a year ago Wednesday, and though Mr. Pond has fallen prey to deadlines and hosting an academic conference on Harry Potter, Masha and I are going strong. Happy Birthday to the blogalectic, my fellow blogalecticians, and all our friends!

Masha hit us this week with a question that could fill books, at least if answered generally. We could discuss thousands of implications of cultural perception, political issues, popular spiritual ideas and the expansion of media influence (which Masha mentioned) upon literature and our ideas of it.

I don't have time to research and write any of those books tonight. A little secret: most weeks, I write this post on Friday or Saturday and review it the following day to make sure it makes some degree of sense. With Lou away and other family in town, this weekend was not conducive to blogging. Therefore, tonight I'm blogging on the fly, and I'm sleepy and a touch cranky thanks to having a hint of a cold. So I'm breaking with form, just for the fun of it, and will answer Masha's questions according to whim. Read at your own risk.

First, she says something I should probably leave alone, but can't:
"...the general effect of the spirit of our times on what we read is that the overwhelming presence of media in our lives encourages our natural tendency to absorb the opinions of others. We swallow what is sold to us, without thinking and convince ourselves that Oprah’s picks really are good, that the bestseller list is the place to look for quality fiction, just as the top-rated t.v. shows are the best of television. That's not to say that popularity is always an indication of bad-quality, but sadly, in "these our times" I think it often is."
Never having paid enough attention to Oprah's picks to knowingly read one, I can't answer for the quality thereof. The Times bestseller list, at least as regards adult novels (as opposed to children's or YA) has mostly given me indifferent experiences: interesting stories, more or less prettily told, usually capable of calling up a few tears, but not life-changing.

But I take issue with the idea that popularity and bad quality are linked, particularly as it relates to our time as opposed to any other. We members of the American proletariat have on average probably more education than any set of average countrymen in history, at least prior to the mid-1900s, and our books reflect that; there's more of everything being published, be it genius or be it crap, than ever before. The past has been sorted for us. The present is still mid-inundation. Stuff will get popular, based on speaking to some need or desire (or if nothing else, shocking the pants off the reading public), and time will sort it down somewhat for next century's readers.

Popularity and accessibility are certainly linked, however, and this poses problems for the carefully-cultivated connoisseur. Tolkien? Great artist. Not accessible in the least. Tolstoy? Great artist; maybe accessible in Russia, but not so much in America. Rowling? Very, very accessible. Not a great prosist at all, though she can absolutely be defended as an artist and a genius on other levels. There are a few authors, a comparative few, who manage both prose artistry and accessibility. C.S. Lewis was one. Neil Gaiman is another. I'm striving for that, myself, but we have yet to see whether I succeed.

But Masha also answered her question personally:
"The effect [of our marketing-driven age] on my reading is often to encourage retreat. I’m not interested in shallow romances, wandering prose, or undisciplined imaginations. I’m not interested in weak images or book versions of country songs, so I sometimes fall back into isolation - reading authors I love, or authors loved my favorites. But I’m also not going to abandon my own age - there is beautiful writing being done all around us, and I can forgive an author a good deal if he can form his words well..."
I have struggled all week with how to respond to this. Masha's difficulty finding readable work doesn't exist for me to the same extreme, but I have problems of my own.

Or rather, problem. Singular. The difficulty lies in the significant amount of tension and distance present between me and "our time and culture." It exists for numerous reasons, ranging from my being an introvert to my being the sort of person who can't usually be bothered with television and radio because they interfere with thought process; from my having been homeschooled to my finding key platform points of both major political parties utterly appalling. All told, it makes me a little weird and "out of it", and the trials inherent in being weird tend to encourage my natural uncertainties.

Therefore, in searching for books to read, I apply the very inexact science of choosing works that look interesting, in the hope that I'll learn something or at least enjoy myself without feeling belittled or attacked or imposed upon by authorial agenda. I approach writing in hopes of creating that experience for others who have any feelings similar to mine, while hopefully not belittling or attacking or imposing upon anyone. And I love the books that speak to my own needs and desires and encourage me to better things, regardless of their relevancy to this day and age.

And now I need to water my hanging basket, re-check two library books, and go to bed. Sleep calls, and I cannot refuse. Good night.


Motivational Failure and other stories

Lou being away for three days makes Jenna make this face:


Meh. The whole world is meh. I have no motivation. Last night, I left dirty dishes in the sink and stayed up until one AM reading Twilight.

* * *

Look what came this week, though:

I'm in a book! That I can hold in my own two hands!
And now I can read everyone else's essays, too!
The mysteriously-truncated document has been fixed. And if you bought the book when it came out with part of my essay and the entirety of the back matter missing, email me and I'll put you in touch with the editor.

* * *

Last weekend, Lou and I tore out all the juniper and shrubbery on the front of the house. I am thrilled. I'd like to put in roses and rhodies and all manner of flowery things. Thus far, however, I mostly have a few sticks in the ground to mark where things are planted. But remember how it used to look like this?:

Now it looks like this:

Which picture doesn't do it half justice, partly because it's too much in the shade, and partly because the new little sweet peas and snapdragons aren't visible. But give it time. At least it doesn't look like a shrubbery-overgrown CPA's office now.

In other gardening pretties: I have no idea what these are, but I love them.

Also, I've got a baby pumpkin plant! I put the seeds in the ground three weeks ago, and thought I'd have to replant. All of a sudden, just yesterday, up one came. No word on the zucchini, yet.

The beans waited well past their supposed germination time, too, but have been popping up quite cheerfully over this past week.

But the showstoppers of the week have been the laburnum and the pink rhododendron. Once upon a time, somebody really loved this little 'bit of earth'. I'm grateful to get to take up their mantle.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: Colleen Lindsay on authors and self-promotion. Ah, how I'm grateful to live in the age of the internet.

* * *

Music of the week: Rambling about the house this week, I put on the first ever mixtape I made for myself, which I'd pretentiously titled Liebesfeier. And other than that I've tired of Howie Day's Collide, the mix is still completely awesome. I must say.

This song, the closing piece from that disc, is some of my favorite pop songwriting ever. If you're not keen on slightly out-of-balance live performances, there's a better quality recording here.

* * *

Random amusement of the week: Turns out, I have the same birthday as Dwight Schrute. Who knew? What fictional character's birthday do you share?

* * *

With a fellow book clubber wanting to borrow my copy of Mark Shea's By What Authority, and the ever-present urgency to get querying, I'm going to see if deadlines can't restore some of my motivation. Oh, and I haven't cleaned house yet, either.


Happy weekend, anyway.


Currently Reading: Girl of Fire and Thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)One by one they are pierced and blessed and tended to. Belen acts as the priest’s assistant, anointing their tiny prick wounds with ointment, wrapping them in bandages, giving the occasional cryer a quick hug.

When it’s my turn, Father Alentin smiles sadly, even as he grasps my neck and pulls my forehead against his own.

“What is it you seek, child?”

Last time, I prayed for wisdom. God must have answered my prayer, for I certainly feel wiser now. Older. Different. But I still don’t understand what God wants from me. I sigh. “Alentin, I need faith. I have so many doubts about God and His will.”

His lips, moist and warm, press against my forehead. “Everyone has doubts,” he whispers. “Pray through them. God will show you what to do when the time comes.”

Author: Rae Carson

Synopsis: Though chosen by God for an unknown task, Princess Elisa, heavy and awkward, has always lived in the shadow of her beautiful and capable older sister. When she’s secretly married at sixteen to the handsome but hesitant king of a distant country, however, Elisa must face up to her destiny both as queen and as bearer of the Godstone. Before long, she’s bringing the strength of her knowledge of the sacred texts and war to bear not only on King Alejandro’s councils, but on the fate of a small revolutionary desert people, among whom is the one man who truly loves her.

Notes: With the recent openness to unsoftened violence in young adult fiction (The Hunger Games, Divergent) and the popularity of no-character-is-safe authors like George R.R. Martin and Jodi Picoult on the bestseller lists—not to mention an overall focus on diversity of representation—the doors have been opened for Rae Carson, whose powerful debut refuses to conform to expectations on a number of levels.

Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza, princess of Orovalle, is no pretty, wiry YA heroine stuck choosing between two good-looking and possessive young men. She lives for two things: her studies of the Scriptura Sancta and the Belleza Guerra, and food. We meet her as she’s on her knees, about to be squeezed into a massive wedding dress, praying that her arranged-marriage bridegroom will be ugly enough to love her. The only thing she feels is attractive or special about her is the living stone God installed at her navel by means of a beam of light on her naming day, but anything relating to the meaning of that, or what God’s will for her might be, is carefully kept from her.

As most of those difficulties—excepting the Godstone—are far more common in reality than fiction, it’s to Carson’s credit not only that Elisa is what she is, but that her struggles are carefully described and deeply sympathetic. Elisa's early passive weakness and self-disgust could make her uninteresting; instead, they serve to interest the reader and set up a strong trajectory for growth.

Elisa’s culture and religion are as surprising as the character herself. Carson, rather than mining cultures foreign to the modern West or developing entirely in fantastical directions, unashamedly adapted Spanish high-church Christianity minus the obvious figure of Christ. The rose—elevated over an altar as part of the main sacrament—is a not-so-subtle stand-in, perhaps. Quotes from the Scriptura Sancta strongly resemble verses of Scripture, such as “Wherever five are gathered, there am I in their midst” (cf. Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, KJV). The Lengua Classica (plain Spanish, though not called so by name) and the Lengua Plebeya are flatly reminiscent of Catholicism’s use of Latin and vernacular, and the reference to Orovalle’s Via Reformas is an equally blunt parallel.

The religion is wholly fantasy, of course, despite the open basis in Christianity. The Christian faith claims a lot of wild and weird miracles, but nothing quite resembling the placement of a Godstone in the navel of a newborn child every hundred years. There are also little twists that would subtly distort the teachings of Christianity if Carson’s work were meant to be a faithful representation. The fixing of the sacred number at five, as noted above, is one such. That said, the religion is portrayed sympathetically, which is always a delight to find.

It should be noted, of course, that Carson’s use of Christian imagery doesn’t make her a Christian. In fact, according to herself on Twitter, she’s an atheist. Which might also explain the lack—unless I missed something—of religious themes on the symbolic level, as well as the phrasing of some “faith in myself” lines at the end. It’ll be interesting to see where she takes the next two books, but right now it’s at least hard to imagine Elisa turning her back on her faith in God.

The book breaks from expectations on one more level, in that Carson allows certain bad things to happen in shameless defiance of the likely wishes of her readership. This reader actually went to bed unsettled and annoyed after staying up late "finding out what happens", but later discovered that it’s only the first in a trilogy. Again, it’ll be interesting to see where the story goes.

The book is well written and engaging, and I enjoyed it despite my growing dislike of present tense narrative. The portrayal of religion intrigued me, and Elisa is an appealing heroine, one I felt a lot of affection for. To add to the interest, the desert-heat atmosphere, the systematic breaking down and reforming of Elisa’s character, and the emphasis on the number five leave me suspecting that Carson may have plotted her trilogy alchemically. I expect to read A Crown of Embers when it comes out.

Recommendation: Read it for an intriguing fantasy tale of a seemingly unlikely heroine, a girl with great weaknesses but greater inner strength.


The Modern YA Novelist

It's Reality TV/freebie week over at The Broke and The Bookish, so I'm taking the week off to participate in another internet meme: parodying Gilbert & Sullivan's "I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major-General" from The Pirates of Penzance. (Warning: particularly vicious earworm. Listen at your own risk.) Without further ado, then:


His Mother's Eyes: The Making of Lovable Characters

One can know a man from his laugh, and if you like a man's laugh before you know anything of him, you may confidently say that he is a good man. 
~Fyodor Dostoevsky

How do we create lovable characters?

In one sense, Masha answered her own question well enough that I don't necessarily have to say anything. Quod vide:
When we write, we have to start with love - by forming a character, knowing him, loving him, and then sharing him with the world, not as a creature out of our own imagination, but as a friend, a child - proud of who he is, and confident in his ability to find love on his own, even amid hostility, misunderstanding, and his own inevitable flaws.
But that wasn't all she said. I want to interact with that comment, but before I do, let me interact with this:
I don't feel the friendship towards [Harry Potter] that I feel toward [Dmitri Karamazov].... Perhaps in part because of the writer's skill - it's unfair to compare Dostoevsky, whose greatest strength is in his characters, and Rowling - but more likely it's a difference of presentation. Rowling labels Harry as a hero, with a strong heart and an deep ability to love, so the flaws are jarring and harder for me to overlook. Mitya is shown as something of a wretch, his flaws blend into the background and his virtues stand out to me.  But each reader's response will be different.... Jenna, I know, is a friend of Harry's, and I can't help but see him in a better light for that friendship. It helps characters to have good friends on the outside, in order to allow them a chance to, as Jenna says, "become real enough to speak to people of flesh and blood".
If Masha intended to open the way for me to speak warmly of a beloved character, I shan't tell her nay. Now, first, I understand and appreciate her comments. In particular, I like the unfortunate Mitya Karamazov and felt bad for him as I read his story; I just never thought much about him as he was totally overshadowed for me by his little brother Alyosha, whom I adored quite passionately. (Gotta love those gentle-hearted ex-monks. I married one.) So Masha's presentation of him came as a surprise, but a delightful one; it reminded me that I did care about Mitya.

But Harry—I forgive Harry his failures for two reasons. One: I loved him with my whole heart by the time he was eating a hamburger with Hagrid on his eleventh birthday. Comparatively few protagonists have inspired that extreme level of attachment out of me, and some of that has to do with the fact that he suffered so much. Torture a reasonably good-natured character, and all my underutilized mother-instinct kicks in hard.

The second reason is that Harry grows out of his primary faults. Honestly, I'd have liked him far less overall had he ended the final book with his hatreds intact. Even I, much as I empathized with him, had moments where I distanced myself from his emotions; moments where he expressed hatred, or used a curse he didn't know the meaning of, or laughed at someone's suffering. Harry, in those moments, was a human hero showing his weakness. To walk the final path through The Forest Again to King's Cross, he had to give that over, to show compassion to everyone he once claimed to hate. He had a latent gift for love, but he had to nurture and develop it, just as we must nurture and develop our own—and therein lies further sympathy.

So, what do Harry and Mitya offer those of us trying to create our own characters?

Certain practical things do help a fictional character, things both Harry and Mitya display at least sometimes. Emotional believability. Being a little bit of an underdog. Going through honest-to-goodness hard times, and coming out stronger for them. Avoiding certain problems, the most deadly of which—in the postmodern era at least—is probably arrogance. Acting and/or thinking in step with the spirit (not necessarily the particulars) of the reader's day and age. Not getting everything right all the time. And, naturally, having the characters themselves possess the quality of empathy.

For another example: the most sympathetic character I've ever come across, Ender Wiggin, nails all of those in the first few pages of his story.

Masha is right, however, that reader response plays a role. No matter how brilliant a writer is, there will always be someone who "doesn't get it." I've heard The Brothers Karamazov called the greatest novel ever written, yet I found it meandering, unresolved, and difficult to invest in beyond my sympathy for Alyosha. The Harry Potter series is quite possibly the most universally enjoyed long fiction work of our day, yet Masha isn't the only one who was left cold by the story.

For us writers, perhaps it's sort of like a mother's realization that no matter what she says or does, not everyone in the world will love her baby. She may defend her child; she may teach him to present himself in a generally acceptable manner; she may thank Heaven he was given to her, who loves him, instead of to his enemy. But she cannot change the way the world perceives him. To a certain extent, she cannot even change him, but only help him shape himself.

But as a mother is proud of her child despite his own failures and the unfriendliness of others, we can be proud of the characters in whom we've invested heart, soul, and body. It's my favorite part about writing. I can't wait to introduce you all to my daughters and my sons.


The Problem of Having to Sleep and other stories

Authorial delights have kept me up late several nights this week, as I've rewritten long scenes near the end of my first book. At this point, I'm so close to having the revision finished that I do not want to do anything else. Not read, not clean the house or weed the garden, and definitely not sleep. Sleep just gets in the way.

On account of this—and the fact that, indeed, I have a lot of house and garden work ahead of me today as well as the very climax of the book begging for its rewrite—this may be a (comparatively) short blog-post.

But here: blooming garden picture!

Pretty singing bird in tree picture!

And naughty cat picture!

Turn my back on clean laundry for five minutes, and Maia's like, IT'S MINE.

* * *

Over two weeks of trying not to sing or talk more than necessary, and despite sundry efforts, I'm not sure I'm actually talking less. I wonder if I just like the sound of my own voice too much. :P

* * *

Writers' link of the week: On the theme of this week's blogalectic, though posting a week earlier himself, here's Michael Flynn on where to get ideas. It's quite thorough. I found it particularly interesting for the discussion of Thomas Kinkade, may he rest in peace, and the difference between emotion and sentimentality, both of which I wish Mr. Flynn would have elaborated upon much further. Maybe that'll make it into the blogalectic someday or something.

* * *

Music of the week: Last Saturday Lou and I went to the symphony, and I thought, SYMPHONY. Place to get music-for-blog ideas! So. We heard Henri Vieuxtemps' Violin Concerto #5, and violin soloist Misha Keylin was quite justly encored afterward. This is not Mr. Keylin playing, but Mr. Perlman ought to do. Here's the first movement.

There's no pause between movements; hence, the fade-out at the end. For continuation, enjoy movement two and movement three.

* * *

Random amusement of the week: I'm not a poetry connoisseur, but I do love creative lines in crisp rhyme and meter, especially if they're hilarious. Eric Pazdziora linked XKCD's parody of Gilbert & Sullivan's "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" (from The Pirates of Penzance) on Facebook this week. The comic, "Every Major's Terrible", deals with the difficulty of choosing a college major, and Eric added his own couplet to the mix:
And Music is for people who all somehow never seem aware
The better way to make it big is having Justin Bieber hair.
Which made me laugh. But I cannot recommend hunting on YouTube for recordings of the Modern Major-General song, or attempting to write your own parody of it (yeah, I did... I'm considering putting the results on the internet; I'm just not sure how), because it'll give you a particularly ferocious case of earworm.

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Hmm. I don't think that was a shorter blog-post.

For the first time since last July, Bellingham's ten-day forecast doesn't have a single rain-cloud picture. YAY. I hope you have a happy, glorious, sunshiny weekend!


Currently Reading: Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic EyesThere is an old saying about how easy it is to “take candy from a baby.” This saying is utterly false; anyone who has tried to take anything from a baby knows well what sort of crying, kicking, and general commotion will ensue. It is very easy, however, for babies to take things from us. Despite being blind, young Peter had no trouble sniffing out fruit stands and vegetable carts to steal from. He would toddle where his nose led him and innocently cut his teeth on whatever food he wanted.

Author: Jonathan Auxier

Synopsis: Sightless young Peter Nimble has known nothing but thievery, but as a thief, he’s an expert—he can pick pretty nearly any lock in existence. Unfortunately, his talents land him a position as slave under the direction of a hard thiefmaster, so he has also known nothing but misery. When an odd stranger with zebras and a box of something magic comes to town, however, Peter finds himself accepting a quest which will demand his very specific skills in the work of restoring a rightful kingdom and discovering his own destiny.

Notes: Auxier’s debut tale works in the tradition of Brian Jacques’ Redwall and Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga. Lively, swashbuckling, action-filled and frequently humorous, it’s an admirable and unique little story that, like the abovementioned, starts off a bit episodic but has a beautiful eucatastrophic ending.

Jacques and Peterson are far from being the only possible influences, however. I'm going to quote from a Goodreads reviewer named Betsy, who picked up even more than I did:
[T]his quirky fantasy novel... calls to mind Pinocchio (dogfish anyone? the notion of a "real boy" finally at the end), great battles in which the underdogs miraculously triumph (Helms Deep comes to mind), Peter Pan (not the least of which reminders includes a prominent fishhook in action and the title character's name), Oliver Twist (poor chap taken in by master thief), anthropomorphic animals with noble or ignoble hearts (too many to name here, but the feel of Narnia comes to mind),.... There's another striking Narnia reference at the end, but I don't want to spoil anyone's fun.
All of those connections are present, but Narnia is perhaps the most obvious. Auxier's narrative includes endless little asides to the readers, often very humorous and sometimes poignant, not far removed from Lewis' manner of storytelling for children. Peter, who shares his first name with a Narnian High King, is a lot like Shasta/Cor in some ways: a little boy raised rather badly, whose ideas of the right thing to do are stunted but good at the root. The book itself lacks some of the finesse of Lewis' work, in being a little over-long and over-wacky in places, but still carries bits of the same humor and joy.

As with most middle-grade boy books, the emphasis is on the adventure rather than the intimate feelings of the characters. Ten-year-old boys are likely to be all over that, but it meant a bit of a slow start for me. Somewhere in the middle, though, the tale finally got my attention, and I began to be able to picture the amusingly designed Sir Tode, care very much what happened to Peter, and wonder what the heck those ravens were really up to.

Intimate feelings may not play much of a role, but the characters do develop quite nicely. Peter went from interesting to lovable. I could describe the trajectory of others, but not without spoilers; suffice it to say that he has some very likable friends.

The worldbuilding is a bit overly complex and difficult to picture, but unique and clever, particularly in its humor. Auxier weaves amusing information into his fantasy story, bits of which may or may not have been made up (I still haven’t discovered for certain about some things. It’s true that prevention of scurvy requires ascorbic acid, and that this has been a particular problem for sailors, but “Vitamin Sea?” Is that true, or just funny? For once, Google isn’t helping much.) Like the information, the scenes and situations blur in and out of realism; Peter’s purloining powers are beyond legendary, and magic plays a handy role in his escapades.

The art is worth noting; the author himself did the line drawings at the chapter headings, and they make good companions to the text: simple and appealing, with lots of character.

A couple of threads never get a full explanation, but overall, Auxier works out the climax and resolution of the story beautifully. Middle-grade fiction is one of the few places where a reader can still consistently hope for a totally satisfying adventure, without angst or painful twists, and Peter Nimble participates safely and cleanly in that style. It’s a great little read, and I suspect it’s likely to please young lads—especially if they're looking for something to read after finishing all the Redwall books.

Recommendation: Read it for adventurous, quirky, magical fun and a sweet ending.

EDIT: Forgot—shame on me—to thank Jana for the recommendation, as well as for loaning me the book. :)


Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes

"'Three things very dull indeed.' That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three very dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan't I? (looking around with the most good-humoured dependence on every body's assent.) Do you not all think I shall?"

Emma could not resist.

"Ah! ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me, but you will be limited as to the number,—only three at once."

No, that's not one of my favorite quotes. It's just that I fear I myself will have trouble being 'limited as to the number.'

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

The other difficulty is how long many of my favorite quotes are. Sorry about that. Also, I couldn't come up with a good way to include the entire last canto of Dante's Paradiso, so I left it off. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the top ten most beautiful pieces of art in existence. Anthony Esolen's translation is my favorite.

Difficulties aside, here are ten of the book quotes I love best.

"There is a room in the Department of Mysteries," interrupted Dumbledore, "that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there. It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all. That power took you to save Sirius tonight. That power also saved you from possession by Voldemort, because he could not bear to reside in a body so full of the force he detests. In the end, it mattered not that you could not close your mind. It was your heart that saved you."
—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling

"And his knowledge remained woefully incomplete, Harry! That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children's tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped."
—Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling

"The beauty of the female is the root of joy to the female as well as to the male, and it is no accident that the goddess of love is older and stronger than the god. To desire the desiring of her own beauty is the vanity of Lilith, but to desire the enjoying of her own beauty is the obedience of Eve; and for both it is in the lover that the beloved tastes her own delightfulness."
—That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis

"I stand in Minas Anor, the tower of the sun, and behold! The shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great riders, nor take delight only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren."
—The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

"You forget," said Mr. Meredith, with a flash of his dark eyes, "that an infinite power must be infinitely little as well as infinitely great. We are neither, therefore there are things too little as well as too great for us to apprehend. To the infinitely little an ant is of as much importance as a mastodon."
—Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery

"We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with, the better. He cannot 'tempt' to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never in more danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys..."
—The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

"Mr. McCabe thinks me a slave because I am not allowed to believe in determinism. I think Mr. McCabe a slave because he is not allowed to believe in fairies."
—Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton

"Nothing is so hard on the world as the world.  Nothing is more inhuman than humanity itself to human habits, affections, or weaknesses, when they happen to be unpopular for particular reasons at a particular moment; and they are likely to be more ruthlessly treated by a craze than by a creed."
—The Resurrection of Rome, G.K. Chesterton

"Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs,
and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away."
—Song of Songs

"Where can I go from Thy Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Thy hand will lead me,
And Thy right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to Thee,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to Thee."
—Psalm 139

What are some of your favorite quotes?


From the Very Beginning: The Origin of Stories

“I feel as if this tree knows everything I ever think of when I sit here. When I come back to it I never have to remind it of anything; I begin just where I left off.”
~Willa Cather

“This week I want to focus a bit on beginnings, on where the stories start.... [S]tories...like to be welcomed, but hate to be called.”

Masha spoke this week of specific places she finds inspiration for her stories. Her post was quite romantic in that way, speaking of old writing desks and walking through the birches. "In the woods I’m in near silence but with feeling, the energy of life all around," she says, and I came away from her blogalectic contribution with a daydreamy sort of desire to go walking in the woods myself.

The naming of specific places of inspiration for my story ideas is something I can't easily do, however. When I can, it's not particularly romantic. In A.D.'s case, I suspect I was sprawled on the couch looking at Wikipedia.

Writers have endless different ways of finding story ideas. They play off dreams, they're inspired by favorite books or movies or songs or myths, they're hit by random epiphanies, they go walking in the woods. But the ideas themselves are cheap and plentiful. Compared to other writers, I'm not particularly prone to being overwhelmed with possibilities, but even I have a little folder in My Documents with enough starts to keep me going for several years, even were I to get no further ideas in that time—which is as unlikely as propositions get.

What matters most to the generation of stories, I think, is what the ideas do when they arrive.

As noted Friday, last week I attended a talk on writing by author William Dietrich. When I came home from that and read Masha’s post, one of the points Mr. Dietrich made struck me as immediately applicable to this topic. Most writers, he said, have three traits in common: curiosity, empathy, and critical thinking (a tendency toward skepticism and questioning).

I'd posit that story comes into being when an idea engages these traits. The history of my girl A.D. grew out of a sudden, explosive mix of literary alchemy, stargazer fascination, and a little mythology. There was curiosity in the form of a scientific thrill, something I knew I'd be willing to put research into. There was empathy in the form of a character whom I knew very quickly and loved very deeply. There was questioning in the form of a mythical basis that hit me right where I'm skeptical about a strain or two of popular thought. I had five ideas for NaNoWriMo 2009; for this one, the stars aligned and a story was created.

That's not to say, of course, that every tale will latch onto all three of these character qualities at once or with equal strength. Critical thinking, in particular, plays a more subtle role in fiction than it does in investigative journalism; rather than motivating the story, it generally works to keep it honest. In the origin of E.E.'s story, I can point to the connection with curiosity and empathy, but all I can say about critical thinking is that I wrestled with it in the writing. Questions can help drive a tale, of course. The Harry Potter saga would not have carried the meaning it does for so many people had it not wondered so passionately about the meaning and finality of death. But even at its best, skepticism has to remain subject to empathy, or it becomes agenda.

Of the three, then, empathy is arguably the most important to the engendering of tales. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, fictional characters must be loved in order to become real, real enough to speak to people of flesh and blood. But love raises curiosity, and from curiosity comes an openness to questions. It seems to me that story begins here—with a situation that begs to be known, a soul asking to be understood, a few great questions about the way things are.

If all that comes best to you when you're walking among the birches, so be it.


Happy Star Wars Day and other stories

At long last, I've finally broken down and gotten a Pinterest account. Feel free to join me there.

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I was going to say that this week hadn't been very productive, other than throwing myself down another internet rabbit hole, but that's not necessarily true unless you're talking about writing. In the writing arena, I've only made it through most of a chapter's revisions when I'd hoped to finish the book.

In the rest of the world, I've judged both written and oral presentations of a local academy's investigative journalism competition. Lou and I also spoke to a grade school class about the vocation of marriage (and, oddly, because stage fright was involved, an event that took perhaps three hours including preparation and driving time cast a slowing spell on my mind for the entire week). I've played the piano every day but one, regardless of whether I felt like it, and somehow found the time to do a bunch of Google image searches to make our fantasy cast for The Blue Castle.

Also, I finished planting the vegetable gardens.

Beneath the plastic: five different kinds of tomato and a brand-new basil plant.
I was shamelessly proud of myself for the idea of making miniature greenhouses out of produce bags. The rainstorms of yesterday and early in the week would not have done the tomatoes any favor, and definitely would have convinced the basil that it had not awakened to life in the Mediterranean.

You can almost see the minuscule kale plants in the back of this one,
a foot in front of the lettuce.
The beets aren't up yet—they've only had six days in the ground—but the blueberries and potatoes and lettuce are going strong thus far.

Also, here's our rhubarb, growing randomly in the middle of the lawn. I haven't rescued it yet, as I did with the peony, but we're not mowing it. Rhubarb pie is well worth making once or twice a year.

Also, it's one of my favorite times of year: lilac season. To my surprise, all of our lilacs are white.

I do love white flowers.
They're quite beautiful. But I have a feeling that a standard light purple one will find its way into the yard sooner or later. The white and dark purple varieties have a slightly different scent: still pleasant, but almost too strong by comparison.

Also, the rhododendrons have just begun to bloom:

...and bluebells, as it turns out, also come in purple and white.

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Gratuitous cat picture:

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Writers' link of the week: While judging for the journalism contest, I got to share the students' opportunity to hear bestselling author and Pulitzer-winning journalist William Dietrich speak. Turns out, he's a fantastic teacher, and made me want to come straight home and spend quality time with my novels. This week, you get his whole blog. I liked this lighthearted post about adverbs and book festivals.

* * *

Music of the week: I'm sleepy. Ministry of Magic, wake me up.

Disclaimer: Luke clearly does not proofread his lyrics. :)

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Random amusement of the week: I have a new favorite Cracked article, which instructs readers on how to sort out real journalism from the, ah... I won't use the word(s) author David Wong used to describe incendiary political clickbait; you can go see for yourself. (Insert standard Cracked advisory about naughty language here.) It is rather satisfying, though, to hear the rabble-rousing described in such vitriolic terms. Besides, I laughed. Hard.

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I hope the sky is clear tomorrow night.

Happy weekend! And may the Fourth be with you.


Fantasy Cast for The Blue Castle

This is too awesome not to put up for the good of mankind. Laura and Arabella came up with some of the names, by the way, in the comments on Tuesday's post. I'm adding to them and including pictures.

All right, Hollywood: here's the outlay. This needs to happen.

For the role of Valancy Stirling, Arabella suggests Maggie Gyllenhaal. Brilliant choice.

For Barney Snaith: Jim Carrey. Casting credit goes to Laura. Possibly controversial, but I think it's downright inspired. "Nobody with a smile like that could be bad, no matter what he had done."

Roaring Abel Gay: Clint "Get off my lawn!" Eastwood. Also cast by Laura.

Cissy Gay: Clémence Poésy. Cast by Laura.

Mrs. Frederick Stirling: Judi Dench. For the frown.

Cousin Olive: Scarlett Johansson, who seems to play a lot of absurdly gorgeous characters with nasty temperaments.

Dr. Trent: Tom Selleck. Someone who can be good-hearted and awfully gruff all at once.

Dr. Stalling: Ciaran Hinds. Because he has such good angry and disappointed expressions.

You can all help me round this out. I'm drawing a blank on Uncle Benjamin and Cousin Stickles. Were there any other important characters that I'm missing? I can update this post with images as needed. And feel free to share your own casting ideas, of course.

UPDATE: Celia Imrie as Cousin Stickles, cast by jana.kaye. Judging from a Google images search, this actress might possibly steal the show as Valancy's fretful, griping housemate.

UPDATE II: We have an Uncle Benjamin in Arabella's suggestion of Richard Dreyfuss. Perfect.

Arabella also recommends Tom Hanks for Uncle James and the now-retired Jean Stapleton for Cousin Georgiana. Ms. Stapleton may wish to pass on the role, but this is definitely thinking in the right direction.

Uncle James: Tom Hanks.

Cousin Georgiana: Jean Stapleton
Alternate Barneys and Cousin Olives are popping up in the comments, so be sure to check them out.

Lastly, some potential places to film.


Currently Reading: The Blue Castle

The Blue CastleValancy slammed the magazine shut; she opened Magic of Wings. Her eyes fell on the paragraph that changed her life.

“Fear is the original sin,” wrote John Foster. “Almost all the evil in the world has its origin in the fact that someone is afraid of something. It is a cold, slimy serpent coiling about you. It is horrible to live with fear, and it is of all things degrading.”

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Synopsis: Valancy Stirling, spinster, has lived her twenty-nine years under the hard thumbs of the Stirling clan, afraid of upsetting the fragile family peace. But when a doctor tells her she has a year at most to live, Valancy decides that for her last year, she will live. She flaunts the family taboos, moves into drunken Roaring Abel’s house to care for his dying daughter, and proposes marriage to the disheveled and secretive Barney Snaith. The only problem with dying, then, is that for once she’s in love with life.

Notes: In The Blue Castle, Lucy Maud Montgomery touches on one of the deepest yearnings, delights, reliefs a soul can feel: the experience of unexpected freedom after unbearable restriction. Her stifled heroine is in a truly pathetic state at the beginning of the novel: sick of familial jabs at her singleness, of complaints and ugly rooms and sulking mother and comparisons to her beautiful cousin Olive.

Valancy’s sudden reversal is a little unlikely at moments, but a lot of fun to watch. All at once, the shy and sensitive woman is saying exactly what she thinks to her relatives’ faces, regardless of consequence. More wholly believably, she embarks on an act of charity in caring for her old chum Cissy Gay, and there the fun really begins. It's there, at Roaring Abel's, that she begins to know Barney Snaith.

Despite Barney’s awful name, Gilbert Blythe can just make room on the hero bench, because the pipe-smoking, shaggy-haired recluse in the derelict car is every bit as likable. It’s arguable that he comes off as a little too good to be true, but then, in a story centered around the dream of the Blue Castle, that’s perfectly allowable.

The Blue Castle is Valancy’s escape dream, the fairyland she has recourse to in her dreary life. If one may judge by an oeuvre, Montgomery—who had a very difficult life—believed firmly in escape to fairyland as a way of dealing with trouble. Anne Shirley and Emily Starr both have their imaginative refuges, and it’s no stretch to imagine that the lives of the heroines, Valancy included, were Montgomery’s own.

While the meme of rebellion against a traditional Christian family is generally wearying in 2012, Valancy’s frustrations with her society-obsessed relatives in a stricter time (the 1920’s) are thoroughly understandable. Mrs. Frederick Stirling isn’t hateful because she’s Anglican; she’s hateful because she’s selfish and unreasonable. Dr. Stalling isn’t annoying because he’s a Reverend; he’s annoying because he shook his forefinger in a child’s face. The errors are human, and Valancy’s response—to suddenly see straight through them, and then to start attending the Free Methodist Church—is likewise human.

Because it’s all human, it’s very sympathetic, and Valancy had this reader’s heart as she sassed her family at dinner, went to Cissy Gay’s aid, and asked a good-hearted supposed jailbird to marry her. That held true and more true as she lived out her year on Mistawis with Barney. There, Montgomery captured the height of Valancy’s transformation from fearful, cheerless daughter to fascinating and lovely wife.

The story wraps up, not with Anne’s long-wrought understanding of where happiness lay, nor with Emily’s sudden and inexplicable salvation from loneliness, but with a perfection that itself might fairly be called an escape to fairyland. Some may find it too neatly tied up, but I am shameless about such things. I can’t believe it took me thirty years to find this book. I adored it.

Recommendation: Read it for a pleasant excursion to a castle made of sapphire, where all the best dreams may come true.


Top Ten Tuesday: More Books I'd Like to See Made into Movies

As with last week's topic, this is a list I've already made. No, I don't think this will be a problem every week henceforth; they've just re-run a couple of old topics. The good news: I think I can come up with another list.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

So, ten more books I'd like to see made into movies. Just one little disclaimer: only if they're going to do it respectfully. At least know what matters to the book's fan base, Hollywood!

Asa Butterfield. Source.
1. In my previous attempt on this topic, I mentioned a hesitation to ask for Ender's Game. Well. Ender’s Game is being made (according to Wikipedia, it’s even fusing its storyline with Ender’s Shadow, which should be interesting, though it's a lot for one movie to cover. I don’t see Achilles casted...) With Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff. And Asa Butterfield, with his arresting eyes, as our Ender. And author Orson Scott Card was involved in preparing the script. Terrifying as it may be to have this story adapted, I’ve got to see this movie. November 2013, here we come.

2. If we can talk about movies already in the works, Stephenie Meyer's The Host. (Not to be confused with this The Host.) I'm hopeful that I'll enjoy this one; the book is fantastic.

3. L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle (review coming soon) would make a splendid movie. Although Queen Latifah's film Last Holiday is a fun take on the same idea, I’d love to see the full story adapted for screen—Barney and Valancy, Lake Mistawis, and all.

4. Enchantress from the Stars (Sylvia Louise Engdahl) might be tricky to adapt for film, due to its unique juxtaposition of science fiction and medieval fantasy, but it could be beautiful.

5. Ally Condie's Matched... could be a very good movie, if done right. Disney has the rights; they have what it takes to make that young, introspective sort of storyline work well on screen, but they could also cheapen it. That's one I'd make a real effort to go see, though.

6. In the Reign of Terror by G.A. Henty. English boy goes to live and study with an aristocratic French family just before the Revolution. He winds up protecting the three girls, working for Robespierre but secretly saving lives, and eventually smuggling two of the girls across the English channel. It's got all the ingredients for a good film. I don't know much of Henty's work, but liked this one a lot.

Luna moth. Source.
7. Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter. Yes, I know it's been made before, but the adaptation I saw was downright boring and ended before the story was half over. This needs to be an artistic film, with someone like Ang Lee directing it—someone who can capture the beauty of the great moths, of the natural setting, of Elnora's violin playing, of Edith Carr's grandeur, of the Bird Woman. I can picture it, which probably means I'd be disappointed, but I'd definitely see it.

8. Since Game of Thrones has been made into a TV series, maybe I should ask for the same for Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books. The thought scares me a bit, but the things I've heard about Game of Thrones have made me a tad hesitant to read that, and I loved WoT. Make The Eye of the World, and it could last a season. Make the whole set, and you've got a solid show for years to come.

9. Warner Bros. has the film rights to Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races, which story could go a couple of different ways. If it's thinned down and romanced up for a YA audience, I might be hesitant. If it's done artistically—Stiefvater's prose and descriptions are quite artistic for modern YA fiction—it could be very watchable. I'm a bit afraid of seeing it, thanks to the terrifying carnivorous horses, but might be able to talk myself into going.

10. All right, I know the Harry Potter books have been made into movies. Eight movies, of which I only really loved one. Surely moviemakers can do better than this. I'd love to see it made as a TV series, which would give the story more time to develop, and here are the specifications: a) Cut the whimsy, focusing instead on the juxtaposition of humor and drama; b) cast more people who can actually act; and c) don't mess with Dumbledore's lines. The only down side would be that Robbie Coltrane and Maggie Smith probably wouldn't reprise their roles. They were Hagrid and McGonagall.*

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? What books would you like to see on the big screen?

* The same could be argued for Alan Rickman as Snape, and I concur except that really, in a remake I'd be open to seeing someone younger in the role. Too many adults in the film were unreasonably aged, looking fifty when they should've been thirty-five. And yes, a few other actors also filled their role very well, and should you so desire, I'd be happy to read your championing of your favorites in the comments.