Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I'd Trade Places with for 24 Hours

This topic raises two questions. First, do I get to be the character, with all their skills and understanding, or am I just myself living where they live and hanging out with their friends? Second, which 24 hours do I trade with them? Frankly, some of the days in even comparatively pleasant novels can be terrifying...

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

Since there don't seem to be any rules, and since I'm not the adventurous sort, I think I'll specify a non-exciting ordinary-day type of situation. Regarding the first question, I'll treat it like an exchange student program—but since I'm stepping into these characters' worlds, I get some of their magic. It's only fair.

1. Any random Hogwarts student, preferably a Hufflepuff so I get to actually hang out in my common room and sleep in the tunnel dorms. I want to go to Charms class and Transfiguration and Astronomy, and I even think Potions would be interesting. I could never live up to the expectations of Ginny or Hermione, so I wouldn't dare just trade with either, but if I got to actually become a character, I'd go for Ginny. It would be interesting to find out what physical bravery feels like, not to mention having six brothers. (The Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling)

2. Lucy Pevensie. Just give me a quiet day at Cair Paravel, out by the sea, with a few friendly talking animals—and if I got to see Aslan, that would be the greatest. (The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis)

3. Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee. I want to speak to the wind and the birds and a horse... it would be hard to come away from that, though. (The Goose Girl, Shannon Hale)

4. I'd like to say Maria Merryweather, but I'll need to be reduced to her size if I am going to fit in her turret bedroom or ride her pony. I may have a drop of fairy blood in my ancestry, but it seems a giant got mixed in there somewhere, too. (The Little White Horse, Elizabeth Goudge)

5. Kilmeny Gordon, provided I have her talent for the violin. That's a sort of magic, right? For 24 hours, I'd gladly give up the ability to speak for that gift. Also, I'd like to hang out in that old orchard. (Kilmeny of the Orchard, L.M. Montgomery)

6. Meggie Folchart. The Inkworld is a little scary, but overall I think I'd like it, provided my day there can be post-Capricorn, Adderhead, Orpheus, and Magpie. Farid might annoy me, but I think Doria and I would be good friends. (The Inkworld books, Cornelia Funke)

7. Princess Celie. I'd just enjoy hanging out with Castle Glower for a day. (Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George)

8. Percy Jackson. Annabeth can show me around Camp Half-Blood, and I'd definitely be up for being able to breathe underwater and ride a Pegasus I could talk to (even if he did talk back like a mob boss). (The Percy Jackson and the Olympians books, Rick Riordan)

9. Mary Lennox. I just want a day in her garden, and spending part of it with Dickon and his animals would be great, too. (The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett)

10. Matilda—Dante's, not Dahl's. Can I be the pretty, singing, flower-picking girl in the terrestrial Paradise, who leads purified souls through the great rivers in which the sinner forgets his sin and remembers his good deeds and joys? That would be the ideal job for me. (Purgatorio, Dante)

I'm not sure whether any of these characters would want to trade with me, though. The Hufflepuff would be bored, as would Maria, and Matilda would feel desperately out of place. Kilmeny and Celie would probably be frightened. Isi would be baffled by my devotion to the computer (but then she'd find the bookshelves and be just fine.)

Meggie might be all right; she'd just spend all day reading. Lucy would conscientiously do anything on my to-do list, be sweet to all my loved ones, and amuse herself with garden or books or walking in the quiet hours. Percy would probably like a calm day in Bellingham, as long as he got to keep his ability to breathe underwater. Mary Lennox would have plenty to occupy her, and she's certainly one of the few characters I'd trust with my garden.

Who would you trade with for a day?


If You Abide in My Word: The Novelist, Facts, and Truth

"She says miracles aren’t allowed in fiction and makes other statements of a like nature. I haven’t read it… I am really only interested in a fiction of miracles."
~Flannery O'Connor

"A friend once told me that she 'doesn’t read fiction because [she] likes to learn something' from her books, and fiction, not being factual, can’t teach. I was devastated - how do you not learn from fiction?"

The discussion returns to "art as truth" this week, and I won't kill a lot of time snorting over the idea of fiction being unable to teach. It seems so obviously wrong to me—but then, I am regularly surprised by things people believe that seem obviously wrong to me. That's as much a part of human experience as anything else.

Masha offers the discussion several interesting possible directions in her few paragraphs, but I'll start with this one:
Flannery O'Connor’s writing is often dark. Darker, at least, than much of the fiction we would call “a fiction of miracles”. We like miracles of light, we like a supernatural world of sweet baby angels and gentle spirits. In her tales the miracles are so Catholic they’re almost pagan - dark and dangerous and hidden. Modern miracles in a modern world, but with the taste of something primitive.
It's true that I like my sweet baby angels and gentle spirits, along with rainbows and unicorns and all their lot. Since I tend to give tragic novels less credit than they perhaps deserve, though, I'll clarify that I believe there are virtues, equally dignified but very different virtues, in both dark and light fiction. Authors and readers may be drawn to varying shades, but either may contain great truth.

There are a multitude of truths that fiction can express, and a multitude of ways to express them—perhaps as many modes of expression as there are authors. Quoting from editor Ursula Nordstrom's letter to a self-doubting Maurice Sendak, which I linked on Friday:
Sure, Tolstoy and Melville have a lot of furniture in their books and they also know a lot of facts ("where the mouth of a river is") but that isn't the only sort of genius, you know that. You are more of a poet in your writing, at least right now. Yes, Tolstoy is wonderful (his publisher asked me for a quote) but you can express as much emotion and "cohesion and purpose" in some of your drawings as there is in War and Peace.... You may not be Tolstoy, but Tolstoy wasn't Sendak, either. You have a vast and beautiful genius.
The comparison is apples and oranges, as the cliché goes, and guavas and pomegranates, too. The truth contained in L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is given a vastly different mode of expression from the truth in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, but both offer truth. I am drawn to one; Masha is drawn to the other; both of us are drawn to truth in art.

At the end of Masha's post, she makes a particularly fascinating point in response to O'Connor's claim that "evil is the defective use of the good":
"[T]he defective use of the good is often harder to detect than an out and out bad would be. Subtle failings can be more seductive and more damaging than obvious flaws. Fiction should be true, not cluttered with half-truths and tiny lies. Beautiful, good, and full of mystery."
I agree that it should be so. Because we're human, however, and all of us prone to the imperfection of believing things that are not true, our fiction will include half-truths and tiny lies. It will—even the best fiction does—and even were any of us skillful and stupidity-free enough to write flawlessly, imperfect readers would still misinterpret according to their own wrong ideas.

But we're not responsible for perfection of mind and judgment, only for our own integrity. Our responsibility is to write the truth, as near as we can shoot it, in whatever mode is given us to express it. The rest of the work belongs to the reader and to God.


A Morning Glory By Any Other Name Would Still Strangle Your Strawberries and other stories

When I was a Montana kid of maybe nine or ten, what I wanted most of all to grow in the garden was morning glory. We might have even planted a few seeds. I don't think they ever came up.

I certainly never anticipated morning glory in Washington.

climbing fences...

...topping the neighbors' flowering quince and wild rose,
along with some blackberry canes...

...and taking over the corner behind the currants and
the little Douglas fir.
It springs up in the garden and climbs my tomato cages—and sometimes my tomatoes. I find strands of it blooming in the tops of the lilac trees. It coats the remaining juniper in thick tangles of vines and leaves. I let it remain on the wire fence because it's prettier than the fence, though it'll probably be a lot of work to get off in the fall, but I've mostly given over calling it 'morning glory' and resorted to the more appropriate term of 'bindweed'.

I do have one plant capable of besting its chokehold, however. The pumpkin vine, after attempting to take over the tomato patch and nearly succeeding in quashing the beans, has begun climbing the fence. I've found several of its little tendrils wrapped around stems of bindweed.

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Maia in one of her less photogenic moments, attacking the corner of the couch:

"What do you mean, why? Cats have no 'why'."
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Christie over at the beautiful blog Spinning Straw into Gold is holding a fairy-tale-writing contest, with $15 Barnes and Noble gift cards—yes, plural—as the prizes. Feel like writing a fairy tale, or at least winning some book-buying power? Head on over and participate.

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Readers' link of the week: Lev Grossman won't tell you the title, but he hates the book he's reading in "I Hate This Book So Much: A Meditation." I have to agree with his opinion of the first line of Anna Karenina.

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Writers' link of the week: Mr. Pond forwarded on this Letters of Note post a few days ago, and it's a beautiful encouragement for writers of various imaginations.

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Music of the week: It's hard to beat cello, or Saint-Saëns.

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Random amusement of the week: I'll have to link this over at The Hog's Head someday, if I haven't yet—at the moment I don't remember—but this art by James Hance is just all kinds of wonderful. I love 'Calvin & Hobbes', and the Meep mashup with Munch's The Scream just makes me giggle.

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After two nights of insomnia this week, I slept till noon today, and am now behind on everything—so I'm off to clean house. Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: The Great Gatsby

The Great GatsbyShe looked at me absently. “Listen, Nick; let me tell you what I said when she was born. Would you like to hear?”

“Very much.”

“It’ll show you how I’ve gotten to feel about—things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’

“You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow,” she went on in a convinced way. “Everybody thinks so—the most advanced people. And I know. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything.” Her eyes flashed around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s, and she laughed with thrilling scorn. “Sophisticated—God, I’m sophisticated!”

The instant her voice broke off ceasing to compel my attention, my belief, I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said. It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick of some sort to exact a contributary emotion from me. I waited, and sure enough, in a moment she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face, as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged.

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Synopsis: When Nick Carraway moves to New York to work in the bond business, he winds up next door to an enigmatic mansion with an even more enigmatic owner: Jay Gatsby, who hosts the biggest parties but doesn’t drink, makes inconsistent attempts at appearing at his ease with wealth, and wants nothing in the world but the love of Daisy Buchanan, whom he wooed before she was married. As Nick becomes slowly acquainted with Gatsby, he vacillates between liking and despising him. Ultimately, though, he discovers that he may be Gatsby’s only true friend.

Notes: There’s no good way to review a book that a significant portion of Americans have been required to read in high school. I missed it, and when I try to imagine what I might have thought of it had I read it in my teens, all I can guess is that it would have seemed just as much a study of people acting inexplicably then as it was when I read it just the other week—though perhaps I would have understood less of the tale's deeper communications.

Nick Carraway’s subtle, revealing narration sets the stage that certainly contributed to the book’s success: an intimate depiction of America’s then-great divide between East and West and the mentalities thereof. He spends some time discoursing on that subject, but some of the meaning also comes out in the characters, as all of the major players are from the West but attempting to make it in the East. Nick himself, with his internal honesty and his incredibly evocative imagery of both sides of America, draws a lot of sympathy for his perspective on the nation and human conduct, if not always for himself or his friends.

Nick and his story have quite a bit to say about conduct and decency, actually, and together they draw a sharp image of pre-1960s immorality. Though Nick possesses a sense of duty toward womankind, arising either from his own honesty or from his Midwestern upbringing or both, the story shows many a participant in New York parties willingly surrendering his or her dignity to gin and moral carelessness.

Though Gatsby does not drink, his relation to Daisy follows the deadly trajectory of the ambitious Midwest boy who falls for a glamorous (in the old fairy-tale sense of that word) girl, sleeps with her, and feels “married to her, that was all” thereafter. The ensuing years of his life shape themselves upon the pursuit of her, and though he does many a wrong in that quest, the mad irony is that he pays the consequence for the one he did not commit.

Gatsby appeals to the reader, but perhaps more as a roguish, wounded puppy than anything else. The mix of passionate, decent Western boy and wealthy Eastern charmer fascinates and sometimes also repels. A smile like his is something that has to be received directly and visually, with all its dazzling connotations, to fully secure the loyalty it requests. Descriptive words can almost pull that off, but not quite.

Gatsby's companions mostly have less to offer the reader or society, however. Daisy and Jordan Baker are by turns sympathetic and awful, and Tom, at once ‘libertine’ and ‘prig’ (adjectives courtesy of Nick), is not likable or even appreciable in any way, though he’s occasionally pathetic.

Nick Carraway got brownie points from me on page two by stating the following:
“...after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on.”
Attempting to understand any of the characters except for him and to some extent Gatsby requires peering through the keyholes of the locks on the mind, the ones that prevent us from becoming quite as selfish and destructive as we would if we cared nothing whatsoever for goodness. I can’t speak for all readers, but for this one at least, that exercise contains all the unsettling giddiness of looking off the edge of a cliff.

The words “great American novel” should have been enough to tell me how the book was going to end—the only words that ever make me wonder whether we wouldn’t have been better off staying part of the British empire. I was raised in the West, after all; give me liberty or give me death, but definitely give me the hope of immortal bliss. Gatsby’s dream would never have served, of course; that much was clear early in the tale. Daisy was not the sort of person in whom even everyday human hopes can be safely placed, and she was obviously lethal in the role of “the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.”

Despite the tragedy and irony, though, despite the haunting last line that feels like only a half-truth, Gatsby’s story contains a lot worth reading. It’s worth studying such a powerful picture of historical time and place, worth knowing America a little better for it. The insights on life and humanity range from startlingly precise to—well, inexplicable, but Fitzgerald produces them with a consistent originality that very few authors attain, and this would make it worth the read if nothing else did.

Like all good novels, Gatsby improves with a second perusal. Having re-read half of it for the sake of writing this review—it’s really not a long book—I suspect that Nick Carraway has more to say than I could piece together on first impressions. I could be convinced to give him another listen for the sake of further interest and understanding.

Recommendation: Read it for a thoughtful depiction of the beauty and ugliness of America, dreams, and humanity.


Top Ten Tuesday: Most Vivid Worlds or Settings in Books

It's startling, now that I think of it, how many stories are told with little reference to setting—and yet they read perfectly well. That said, I love finding a story where setting and action depend on each other, where the world is a character in its own right. This week's topic should be fun.

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

To keep any one story from taking over, I'm limiting this to one mention per book/series.

1. The Wizarding World, notably Hogwarts. We love the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, and Godric's Hollow—but there's nothing like that castle wherein doors pretend to be walls, portraits move and talk, staircases go somewhere else on Fridays, and Peeves might drop something on your head at any time. Hogwarts has more wonders and mysteries than any other place I've ever found in fiction. (The Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling)

2. Perelandra, although I seem to remember Malacandra being pretty visual, too. The waves, the seaweed, the ever-changing topography of the floating islands, the forests, the colors—Perelandra is beautiful. I couldn't blame Ransom for wanting to go back, and I'm sure he loved settling there at last with Arthur and the other Pendragons. (Perelandra and the rest of the Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis)

3. The unnamed world of the Wheel of Time, notably the Aiel Waste. There's beauty and fascination from the agricultural valley of the Two Rivers to the walled city of Caemlyn, to the White Tower in splendid Tar Valon, to the fishing town of Tear with its great Stone fortress, to Cairhien and Ebou Dar and the ships of the Atha'an Miere and the dream-world Tel'aran'rhiod—but the story spends a lot of time in the Aiel Waste, and that scenery impressed itself particularly on me. (The Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan)

4. Mt. Purgatory, though the Inferno is horrifyingly vivid, and though the less-visual but ever-bright Paradiso is my favorite. The mood and imagery of the Purgatorio begins with a walk along the sea, and then it's all dreams and eagles and sculptures and visitations and terraces until it tops out with Eden. There in earth's paradise, with the rivers, with Matilda singing and picking flowers and eventually the appearance of the griffin-drawn chariot from Heaven, all in procession... I'd rather not carry a giant rock on my back or have my eyes sewn shut, but some of the depictions are so beautiful that I could almost wish those images, at least, weren't symbolic. :) (The Divine Comedy, Dante)

5. Middle-Earth. The Shire, Rivendell, Lothlorien, Moria, Mordor, Gondor, Ithilien, the Houses of Healing, Tom Bombadil's home—and Valinor, which is not technically in Middle-Earth—There's so much to see in Tolkien's world. (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien)

6. Battle School and Lusitania. I couldn't pick one. Battle School isn't beautiful at all, but its gray lines, paths of colored lights, and rounded formation set a great stage for Ender's trials. Lusitania is a fascinating planet, with its fenced-off colony and the uniformity of its species. (The Ender books, Orson Scott Card)

7. Moonacre Manor and Silverydew. The tunnel at the beginning takes Maria and her companions into a lightly enchanted, alchemical world of golden sunshine and silver moon, of the lion and the unicorn, of a little church and hills of sheep and a shepherd boy and children, and of a splendid manor that is practically a castle. (Little White Horse, Elizabeth Goudge)

8. Mt. Eskel. The little quarry village on the great mountain comes to life as young Miri learns to sing along with the linder stone. The Bayern books all have good settings, but I think Mt. Eskel has the most personality. (Princess Academy, Shannon Hale)

9. Forks. Maybe it's partly that I live so close to it, but I thoroughly understood Bella's relationship to the forests and the rain and the preeminence of the color green. Seeing it well filmed was my favorite thing about the Twilight movies. (The Twilight saga, Stephenie Meyer)

10. Prince Edward Island. The Anne books, the Emily books, the Pat books, Kilmeny—it doesn't matter which Montgomery work you choose. Her love for P.E.I. underscores every one, and her descriptions are lovely. (Any of the above works, L.M. Montgomery)

That's off my shelves and off the top of my head. I suspect I should have Dickens on here somewhere, but it's just been so long since I read him.

Which fictional settings have you found most vivid and memorable?

EDIT: I just discovered that I'd forgotten about The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern). Black and white with the red scarves of the reveurs, real magic played off as illusions, and colored fire and the Wishing Tree and living statues and acrobats and the twins with their red hair... Rank it up as #2 for sheer visual beauty and mystery, please.


You Raise Me Up: The Religious Artist and Secular Art

“When I said that the devil was a better writer than Mlle. Sagan, I meant to indicate that the devil’s moral sense coincides at all points with his dramatic sense.”
~Flannery O'Connor

A religious writer, any writer really, can’t write with discordant senses. A moral sense that is non-existent, or that sticks out of the text to beat the reader over the head is jarring, as is a moral that builds a sense of wonder in a cynical tale.

I haven't got much to say about Satan, but whatever be the merits of the slandered Mademoiselle, O'Connor has a point with her claim that moral sense and dramatic sense must coincide in order to make good art. Masha has a point in reiterating it. It's an interesting challenge in modern American culture, where whatever we believe, we're taught to evangelize it as hard as we can—and if the old tactics of knocking on doors and annoying random strangers in public places are out, mockery and exclusion and trolling on social media are in. Not to mention writing books that allow us to expound upon the particular theme that motivates us, sometimes on purpose to spread it among the unsuspecting masses.

I don't, however, think that a disconnect between the moral and dramatic senses is specifically a religious problem—I've seen too much of it from people with political agendas. Also, as I once pointed out,
"almost all of my favorite authors are religious. Mormons Card and Hale are joined by the Catholic G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien, the Anglicans C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen and Robert Jordan, and the Scottish Episcopalian J.K. Rowling."
Add to that the Presbyterian L.M. Montgomery and the Christian preacher and mystic George MacDonald. If I have a favorite author who isn't or wasn't religious, I don't recall it, although sometimes they're on the odd side—Louisa May Alcott, for instance, was a Transcendentalist. There are several reasons behind the overwhelming presence of religious authors among my favorites: most people are religious, most Western art for many centuries was sacred in theme if not purpose, and I gravitate toward art with strong themes of hope. I'll even put up with some preachiness if the content isn't too thin.

This blogalectic has already covered the problem of agenda-driven fiction, however, and while the alignment of the moral and dramatic senses is surely a better answer than anything I came up with, it's less new to the conversation than this:
“The Catholic fiction writer has very little high-powered "Catholic" fiction to influence him…But at some point reading them reaches the place of diminishing returns and you get more benefit reading someone like Hemingway, where there is apparently a hunger for Catholic completeness in life, or Joyce who can’t get rid of it no matter what he does. It may be a matter of recognizing the Holy Ghost in fiction by the way he chooses to conceal himself.”
~Flannery O'Connor
This comment, made in a letter to Father J.H. McCown, names the "high-powered 'Catholic' fiction" as works by Bloy, Bernanos, Mauriac, and Greene. Of the four, I'm familiar only with Greene, whose fiction I'm nearly as fearful of picking up as O'Connor's. Life is short, and early encounters with Steinbeck soured me on the idea of dumping hours and emotions into the reading of more tragedy than necessary.

For that matter, I've yet to read Joyce. Many years ago I read one Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and actually enjoyed it overall, though I wound up skimming a lot of Pilar's terrible stories and lifting my innocent young homeschooled eyebrows at all the sex and vulgarity. What O'Connor means by the sort of reverse effect she describes, I cannot quite say, but part of me understands it—though perhaps I've learned it less from Hemingway and more from, say, H.P. Lovecraft.

Of course, of the authors I listed as favorites, only two are Catholic. And while devout Anglicans like Lewis and Austen are close enough to be nearly indistinguishable, there's a fair bit of difference between the Catholic theology and worldview and the Mormon one—or the Transcendentalist. Similarities, certainly, but differences enough to help broaden the reader's understanding.

It's a truism not often contested that an artist cannot make good art unless he's willing to study the best works, regardless of whether he agrees with the philosophies thereof. Less often explained is how an artist reared in a world where every true-seeming thought is an object to be sold to everyone else—by bumper sticker, if nothing else will do—is supposed to align his ideals with his storytelling savvy. Too many people write with moral fervor the stories that seem to argue their perspective, flattening dissenters into villainy. I doubt very much this is what O'Connor meant by the union of moral and dramatic senses.

In pursuit of that union, perhaps nothing—with the possible exception of empathy—is more important than the artist's having both moral and dramatic senses shaped wisely by the great forces. Independent thought is not enough, and is something of a myth, anyway. If you get your morals from pop culture, your art will suffer. If you get them from some random little sect or cult, likewise. If you get your sense of drama from bad novels or movies, the best you'll likely ever be able to write are bad novels and movies.

The greatest enemies to my own moral and dramatic senses are, respectively, a) certain instincts picked up from extreme homeschoolers and legalistic churches (though I credit lifelong immersion in Christianity as a strength overall) and b) having read so many badly written novels as a teenager.

Supposedly, knowing one's enemy is the first step in conquering. I put some hope in that. It's hard to say whether I'll ever write better than the devil or Mademoiselle Sagan, but hopefully I'll do all right if I keep learning from those who have me bested by far.


Pride and Prejudice and Facebook

Re-posting by request.
"Oh!" cried Elizabeth, "I don't wish to get on Facebook to-day."

"Why not?" said Bingley. "Do you not keep up with your friends?"

"My friends, yes. The people with whom I am intimate, and am comfortable being so. But Mrs. Phillips had a visit from the apothecary, owing to a recent ailment, and like as not will be offering a tour beneath her gown. Wickham will certainly have put forward either an insufferable meme or a picture of some young lady in an unladylike attitude, and Mr. Collins will post twenty links in the space of four minutes, all of them proving him to be as priggish nowadays as ever he was. I had much rather respect my acquaintances from the distance at which circumstance has placed us than despise them familiarly."

"But all of those acquaintances are your relations."

"Worse and worse! Mere acquaintances may be fairly laught at. One cannot laugh at the follies of one's own, and should therefore know as little of them as possible."

"Did you not unsubscribe from Wickham, at least?" said Bingley. "I thought you had."

"Yes, several times; but Facebook has re-fashioned itself again, and now I am forced to see everything he writes."

"Odd! Jane has not complained of it."

"Of course not. She is the sweetest creature in the world. I make no such pretensions."


Colds and Rains and other stories

Thanks to a summer cold, I'm down on the couch with hot tea, where I don't feel much like talking or writing or reading or cleaning the house or cooking dinner or anything else that I ought to be doing. I spent the morning sleeping and staring at nothing, alternately. But I think I can scrape up the energy to post a cat picture or two.

Sure, Maia, you can sleep in my workbasket... on my
headphones and knitting needles...

...but you can not tell me it's comfortable.
Not that you care.

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Oh, and when I wasn't sick, and when it wasn't pouring rain (can we trade this to the Midwest for some of their sunshine, please?), we—meaning Lou and I, not Maia and I—have done some work on the front yard. The plants are mostly still in baby-stage, but the potential is there:

...and the details always make me smile.

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Writers' link of the week: I feel presumptuous linking to Terri Windling's blog, as if anyone might have discovered me first... but as of last week, I hadn't discovered the lovely pictures and comments about art and writing. Now I'm subscribed. H/T Mr. Pond.

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Some people get less excited about a good cover than I do—but while I've never gotten onto the very big bandwagon that is Mumford & Sons (possibly because I don't listen to enough radio), a friend linked their cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer", featuring Jerry Douglas, the other day, and ah, love. Here's a fairly decent YouTube recording of a live performance.

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Random amusement of the week: Creative bookshelves, aggregated at ebookfriendly.com. I like the tree branch one, though the rest of that living room could not possibly be lived in, as it is basically nothingness. And most of them wouldn't hold enough books to justify themselves in my house.

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Actually, a nap and hot tea have helped enough that I just might manage to clean house without too much griping. Maybe I'll put on some music. And at least I got sick during the rain—I'm not missing my garden on a sunny afternoon.

Stay well, and have a happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat

This review is posted as part of Pages Unbound's L.M. Montgomery Read-Along. Love Montgomery? Visit their site for reviews and a conglomeration of Montgomery-related posts!

Pat came dancing down the hill that night on feet that hardly seemed to touch the ground. She halted under the Watching Pine to gloat over Silver Bush, all her love for it glowing like a rose in her face. It had never looked so beautiful and beloved. How nice to see the smoke curling up from its chimney! How jolly and comfortable the fat, bursting old barns looked, where hundreds of kittens yet unborn would frisk! The wind was singing everywhere in the trees. Over her was a soft, deep, loving sky. Every field she looked on was a friend. The asters along the path were letters of the poem in her heart. She seemed to move and breathe in a trance of happiness. She was a reed in a moonlit pool... she was a wind in a wild garden... she was... she was Pat Gardiner of Silver Bush!

"Oh, dear God, this is such a lovely world," she whispered.

"A nice hour to be coming in for your supper," said Judy.

"I was so happy I forgot about supper. Oh, Judy, I'll always love this day. I'm so happy I'm a little frightened... as if it couldn't be right to feel so happy."

"Oh, oh, drink all the happiness ye can, me darlint, whin the cup is held to yer lips," said Judy wisely.

Author: L. M. Montgomery

Joint Synopsis: Pat Gardiner loves her home and hates even the smallest change—at least, until she gets used to it. Resolved from her childhood to give over all thought of marriage and live at Silver Bush forever, she possesses both the passion and the strength of will to make that happen. What she cannot do is avoid change, and only the comfort and affection of Judy Plum and Hilary "Jingle" Gordon can make her able to bear the great changes of life.

Notes: It's not going to be easy to review these books; I'd rather rave over them. If I can't quite contain that tendency, forgive me.

Pat of Silver Bush (Pat, #1)Pat of Silver Bush

The Pat books were written within about ten years of Montgomery's death, in a time when her writing had become—whether due to fashion or to her own life difficulties—rather episodic and a little more prone to mistakes, as well as somewhat given to a dreamlike overuse of ellipses. Considering the hardships she suffered through her own depression and her husband's, the wonder is that there aren't more oddities in her novels of that last decade (which novels include Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside).

Pat's story, though difficult to get into at first due to lack of overarching plot, gradually gains the reader's full attention. Montgomery could create impressively lifelike and memorable characters with very simple strokes of the pen, and while she limited that to a chosen handful in this story—antagonist May Binnie is as flat as the paper she's written on—among that chosen handful are some of the best Maud ever imagined.

The crown jewel of these is Judy Plum, live-in housekeeper, family caretaker, and superb storyteller. Entrenched in the Gardiner family, practically a close aunt or second mother to Pat and the other children, she and her anecdotes carry the story, sometimes doing more for it than any other force. An artist in the kitchen, in her storytelling, and in her rug-hooking, Judy rivals any Montgomery character for pure fascination.

Pat Gardiner doesn't lose the limelight, however. Entirely lacking in ambition, she also lacks Anne Shirley's propensity for "scrapes" and, more importantly, Emily Starr's cool pride. She shares their love for beauty, however, and equals or supersedes both Anne's love for gardens and trees and Emily's devotion to home. Innocent and loving, she's a delight to read about despite her one key blindness.

That blindness relates to Hilary Gordon, Pat's dearest friend, also known as Jingle. Gilbert is perhaps the most popular of Montgomery's heroes, and Barney may be the most charismatic, but Jingle is superlatively wonderful. Good to the core of him, artistic and sweet, suffering and affectionate, he's got everything going for him. He even has a great little dog, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention McGinty as a character in his own right. Anyone who has ever had the honor of receiving a good dog's loyal adoration will recognize and love McGinty.

The scattered tales of Pat's childhood and teen years end with three major changes and a hope, and that was more than enough to make this reader take up the sequel.

Mistress Pat (Pat, #2)
Mistress Pat

Like its predecessor, Mistress Pat takes a little getting into, mostly because Hilary Gordon is away. The reader must unfortunately spend quite a bit of time missing his presence in the story, and the very structure of the book makes it obvious that Pat will continue her blindness for an absurdly long time.

Fortunately, Judy Plum has not gone anywhere, and her lively presence at Silver Bush receives the additional spark provided by a foil: one Josiah Tillytuck, whose tall tales and cornball personality fit right into Judy's kitchen and bring out the more fiery sides of her personality. Between the two of them and Cuddles, I laughed aloud several times reading this book—which was bad form, considering that it was after midnight and my husband was asleep beside me.

Cuddles, Pat's sister Rae, gives sweet and domestic Pat someone to play mother to a bit. The relationship between the sisters is one of the sweetest parts of this story, and as a big sister myself, I could not but love and sympathize with nearly everything about the way they interacted.

In spite of her one stupidity, Pat spends a fair portion of this book reasonably happy. Her closeness to Judy has matured into something truly beautiful, she has Rae to watch over and protect, her joys and sorrows are mostly deeper than in the previous book, and she throws herself into care of the home she loves. Silver Bush, with its old graveyard and generations of history, its trees and gardens and innumerable little beauties, as well as the nearby little spot that Pat and Hilary named "Happiness"—Silver Bush is a true home among houses, worthy of the devotion bestowed upon it.

For Pat to understand and repent of her great mistake, however, the story requires some change, some loss—and the changes begin when a certain cat (not Bold-and-bad, but seriously, Bold-and-bad is the best cat name I have ever heard) rises and walks out the door, never to return. One by one, the brightest parts of Pat's life follow suit.

The story dives deeper into misery than even the depressing Emily's Quest, but with this difference: Pat is innocently mistaken where Emily is proud and prone to making very bad assumptions. Pat retains the reader's sympathy better than Emily does. Because of that, her consolations are stronger, the sorrows contain less of bitterness and more of beauty, and the climactic events happen naturally rather than involving baffling character choices and/or supernatural intervention.

I'm not sure I've ever felt closer to a character than I did at the moment Pat stands alone in her blue coat and crinkled red crepe dress, alone with the destruction of the life she'd built up for herself, exhausted and desolate. Montgomery's own unbearable weariness appears there as it never appears in Anne's story. The suffering is overpowering, but it's also very real and comprehensible and exquisitely portrayed.

And then—two words, and Montgomery's final magic begins. The ending is just what it should be: poignant and sweet and filled with that rare, acute, vital hope that keeps life going, for it possesses the strength to rise from ashes.

Recommendation: Read these books for a quiet tale of poignant sorrows and domestic joys, with a few unusually wonderful characters.


Top Ten Tuesday: Works of Dark Fiction

It's recommendation week again, this time for "books for people who liked X book".... but I did that a couple of weeks ago, and anyway I'm a little nonplussed in the recommendation department right now. One of my sisters shares my love for fiction and a lot of my taste, so we swap books and talk them over all the time. I'd always thought her to be a touch more prone than I am to rejecting or disliking a book for containing dark elements—but this week she read all three of the Hunger Games books, the darkness of which had done quite the number on my emotions. I had told her so, but we have friends who like the books, and she took the risk.

Ladies and gentlemen, she loved them. Even Mockingjay.

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

Mockingjay. My sister.

I cannot remember when I've been so totally floored. That'll teach me to make presumptions about what people won't like. :P

Our other sister once wisely noted that there are different kinds of darkness found in fiction, and people have varying sensitivities to each kind. Hence, the inspiration for this post.

Here are ten of my favorite novels containing a significant element of darkness, classified according to type:

Spiritual or psychological darkness. These categories are closely related enough that I couldn't quite manage to separate out the lists. I handle this type of darkness best, provided the dark element is not actually psychopathic or demonic. The reason it works for me, I think, is that the darkness is often sharply contrasted with very beautiful, very powerful light. All of the stories below exemplify this.

1. The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. I almost put this into its own category, rather than including it under "spiritual darkness" at the risk of being misunderstood. There's no invocational sorcery, New Ageism or demonism in these books. The shadow is composed primarily of depictions of extreme lovelessness, though there's also symbolic depression, attacks on the soul, and (from the villains) black magic.

2. Perelandra and That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. Both of these books make me shudder in spots and could perhaps be classified under straight-up horror, but I'm placing them here for the open godlessness (and apparent demon-possession) of certain antagonists.

3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Raskolnikov's murders are a bit graphic, but the focal point of the book is the darkness of his mind and soul.

4. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The protagonist, Rand, spends... what, ten, eleven?... books going mad. Then there's the Dark One and the Forsaken and all the Darkfriends to add the spiritual element.

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. It's Gothic, it's dark, and it's wonderful.

6. Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. There is some physical violence, including some from Ender himself, but Ender's character arc goes down into severe psychological darkness—more of the tortured than the evil variety—and back into light.

Darkness in the form of 'ordinary evil'. These are more realistic novels in which much focus is given to the sadder and seamier sides of everyday life. I can usually read these, but I generally don't without having gotten strong recommendations as they tend to leave me depressed unless the story moves strongly lightward.

7. Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy. I've no hatred for Anna, either the woman or the book. Terrible as her story is, it's contrasted with Kostya Levin's beautiful search for light.

Darkness in the form of graphic violence or sexuality. Self-explanatory, though people will tolerate and refuse to tolerate very different things in these regards. For myself, I like having a clean mind too much to read them often, and anything involving cruelty just makes hash of my emotions.

8. Looking for Alaska by John Green. This could also fall under 'ordinary evil'. Some language, one terribly messed up teenage girl, one terribly lustful teenage boy, one viewing of porn (not overtly described, if I remember correctly), one excruciatingly awkward fellatio scene, and one practical joke involving a stripper. I loved this book for the theme of forgiveness, and for the things Miles said when he wrote his way "out of the labyrinth."

Horror or thriller/suspense stories. Self-explanatory; sometimes also graphic. This stuff will give me nightmares.

9. Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card. Achilles is possibly the most frightening villain I've ever come across in fiction.

10. The Pelican Brief by John Grisham. It's been a good ten years or so since I read it, but back then I had to skip pages out of sheer terror. After I saw the movie, I spent several nights dreaming I was Darby Shaw getting chased around by bad guys with guns and car bombs.

Honorable mention to The Giver by Lois Lowry, which contains darkness of the spiritual and psychological type; to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty White, which contains quite a lot of ordinary evil; to The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, which is written from the perspective of a devil; and to New Moon by Stephenie Meyer, the only one of the Twilight series which really read shadowy to me, and did it ever—but it was redemptive nonetheless.

I didn't include The Hunger Games series because it was much too distressing a read for me to love (though I generally understand why others do), but it contains both graphic violence and psychological darkness.

What dark books have you loved? Are there other categories I should have included?


That Profound Secret and Mystery: The Artist and Too Much Information

"The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life and one is as good as the other."

When people ask about my writing I tend to mumble a bit, drop my eyes, and say something banal. Writing grows best in silence, as the artist does.

"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other."

The art of making great conversation is rarely mastered—I, frankly, am lousy at it unless it's by way of email, where I can write—but most people I know manage it reasonably well. People with at least a decent grasp of it will ask about things they know to be part of my life, which means that I do get questioned regularly about my writing.

Responding, as Masha points out, can be difficult. Most of the time I make some generalized comments about what I'm currently working on, follow it with some restatement of the fact that it can take as long to write a book and get published as it does to grow from infancy to adulthood, and change the subject. It doesn't bother me that people ask; I appreciate it, and the consideration for me that it signifies, but my replies have to be controlled. The specifics are uninteresting at best.

Says Masha:
"[T]alking about art often kills it, which is why I am rarely open about particular projects until they're nearing the close, because I hate talking specifics when in comes to writing, and unless I'm directly involved in the editing process, I don't really like hearing specifics - it's like hearing the details of a birth over the phone, or reading them on Facebook. I like speaking of generalities, not specifics."
Learning to write fiction well requires learning to think artistically about conversation, which certainly means some difficulties in ordinary life. Masha refers to the awkward experience of receiving details on the pre-birthing state of some Facebook friend's cervix, when you probably haven't seen her face in six years. Worse yet is listening to someone talk, with gleeful vulgarity, about his (or her, but usually his) physical attraction to whomever it is that he sleeps with. That's excruciating. Then there's politics, about which nearly everyone thinks they're better informed than they actually are, and a few words usually make the bias—and the ignorance of the opposite bias—horribly obvious.

An Austenian comedy of manners could be really appropriate right about now.
"Oh!" cried Elizabeth, "I don't wish to get on Facebook to-day."

"Why not?" said Bingley. "Do you not keep up with your friends?"

"My friends, yes. The people with whom I am intimate, and am comfortable being so. But Mrs. Phillips had a visit from the apothecary, owing to a recent ailment, and like as not will be offering a tour beneath her gown. Wickham will certainly have put forward either an insufferable meme or a picture of some young lady in an unladylike attitude, and Mr. Collins will post twenty links in the space of four minutes, all of them proving him to be as priggish nowadays as ever he was. I had much rather respect my acquaintances from the distance at which circumstance has placed us than despise them familiarly."

"But all of those acquaintances are your relations."

"Worse and worse! Mere acquaintances may be fairly laught at. One cannot laugh at the follies of one's own, and should therefore know as little of them as possible."

"Did you not unsubscribe from Wickham, at least?" said Bingley. "I thought you had."

"Yes, several times; but Facebook has re-fashioned itself again, and now I am forced to see everything he writes."

"Odd! Jane has not complained of it."

"Of course not. She is the sweetest creature in the world. I make no such pretensions."
Not that all of our problems are due to Facebook, of course; it's just easy to mock. Though I shouldn't, as many times as I check it in a day. Anyhow, lament it as we may, the vulgar—etymologically bound to the common—is inescapably part of life.

But the artist has a responsibility above the common to avoid blathering about his own work (says the blogging novelist...) The mere fact that his word will nearly always be taken as relevant, if not gospel, by those receiving the art should be enough to make him watch his tongue. Details can be dangerous, as any Harry Potter fan who lived through the week in which J.K. Rowling revealed both her intentional use of Christian imagery and Dumbledore's same-sex attraction knows. Details can also be inordinately boring. Mostly, what they do is detract from the innate wonder and mystery of the work of art itself.

But now I've made myself something of a hypocrite. I have a blog in which I talk quite a lot about the artistic process. Talking about art, especially with other artists (as Masha pointed out two weeks ago) is part of learning and practicing the craft. At least, it's part of the fun. I admit that I've had to learn caution, though. There's always danger, and Masha is right to warn us to be careful of specifics. I couldn't agree more.


Sneaky Sock Thief and other stories

After taking Pages Unbound's quiz titled "Which Montgomery heroine are you?", I suspect that for good or for ill, I mostly resemble Montgomery herself. Presuming, of course, that she put a fair portion of Lucy Maud into each of her characters. My results were almost evenly split between three of the five choices. See, when I'm happy, and when I'm gardening,

...but when I'm moody, and when I'm writing,

Also, according to test results—possibly owing in part to some temporary annoyance with Maia which tempted me to give my vote (literally) to the dogs—it might also be said that

I just started reading Pat, so I expect to know more about how thoroughly I resemble her before long.

Not that I possess half the charisma of any of the above, mind. But ah, they're kindred spirits.

* * *

"I don't have the stuff to make jelly," I told Mom and Beth yesterday. "I don't have pectin, or a canner, or jars..."

Both of them were quick to explain that all I needed was a stock pot, some sugar, and an old pillowcase. "You can get some jars at any grocery store," said Beth, and then Mom said the words which could not fail: "Red currant jelly is just beautiful."

They sent me home with nine cups of currants. A trip to the grocery and an hour and a half of work resulted in these:

I suck at photography, but still, LOOK AT THE PRETTIES.
I'm so proud of those four little jelly jars—and the fact that I didn't entirely destroy my kitchen (though my stock pot did boil water all over the stove, having had to be filled to within a quarter inch of the top). The quartet remains on my counter, much too lovely to be put away just yet.

* * *

This week, Lou took off a pair of white tube socks and left them sitting in his shoes for a few minutes. I mention this only because Maia stole one, to amusing results.

Sometimes I think we keep that creature around just because she's so funny.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: I've written three books now, and have gotten beyond thinking that I'll never write anything else or anything better than my dearest first (my second and third are both better, actually), but this post of Across the Universe author Beth Revis' said a lot to me anyway. It's all right to hold that most beloved of works with an open hand.

* * *

Music of the week: As a stargazer, I pretty much have to like Holst's The Planets suite. Who couldn't love Jupiter, though, with its brightness, its resemblance to the Star Wars score thanks to its direct influence on composer John Williams, and its containing the melody to which the splendid hymn "O God Beyond All Praising" was written?

* * *

Random amusement of the week: 1990s problems. Yup. I remember those.

* * *

Ahhh, I love Holst so much. Second trip through Jupiter in fifteen minutes, and it's just as glorious as it was the first time.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Kilmeny of the Orchard

This review is posted as part of Pages Unbound's L.M. Montgomery Read-Along. Love Montgomery? Visit their site for reviews and a conglomeration of Montgomery-related posts!

Kilmeny of the Orchard"Pass all the opinions you like, but it is my opinion, and mine only, which will matter in the long run," retorted Eric.

"Confound you, yes, you stubborn offshoot of a stubborn breed," growled David, looking at him affectionately. "I know that, and that is why I'll never feel at ease about you until I see you married to the right sort of a girl. She's not hard to find. Nine out of ten girls in this country of ours are fit for kings' palaces. But the tenth always has to be reckoned with."

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery

Synopsis: When new graduate Eric Marshall takes a few weeks' teaching position, he rather expects to be bored in the small Prince Edward Island town of Lindsay. Everything about the town lives up to that expectation until he happens across an old orchard and a lovely young woman who cannot speak. Unable to resist the combined beauty and mystery, Eric pursues the girl—but he meets obstacles in her overprotective relations, the Italian boy who loves her, and her own determination not to burden a man of the world with her muteness.

Notes: All of Montgomery's fiction seems to turn on the concept of a personal fairyland, a world of radiant dream and joyous vision, of "beauty beyond the lot of mortals". This was perhaps most obvious in The Blue Castle, but is no less central to Kilmeny's story.

Eric Marshall finds his personal fairyland when he stumbles across an abandoned orchard, with lilacs and June lilies and apple blossoms running wild—a realm possessed by an exquisite, silent child-woman with a superb gift for the violin. Kilmeny and her orchard have ten times the magic necessary to captivate any decent man with a touch of poetry about him, and Eric is as enchanted as if she were the queen of the fairies, appearing to charm him out of his own world and into hers.

Far from being some beguiler from the fae, however, Kilmeny is the epitome of the virginal ideal: innocent by nature, but also carefully preserved from the stains and sorrows of the world; trusting as a child, but womanly and wise in her own way. And, of course, flawlessly beautiful. Short of depictions of Mary, it's rare to find an image of purer loveliness. The book is worth reading for this alone, though those who tend to resent perfection in a fictional character—and those who resent, in particular, the 'virginal ideal'—may find it less interesting.

Whether intended by Montgomery or not, of course, Kilmeny works only as a Blue Castle or radiant dream. Women who combine her physical and moral infallibility with exceptional talent and a malleable, appealing temperament show up about as often in reality as men who unite all Mr. Darcy's perfections to an English manor with a gorgeous park ten miles round. For readers who value dreams, however, this cannot detract from the pleasure of reading about Kilmeny, and she would probably have a fair number of namesakes born over the last hundred years if the name could not be basically pronounced as "kill many".

The name itself comes from a James Hogg ballad entitled, simply, "Kilmeny". The parallels between the sweet Kilmeny Gordon of Lindsay and the too-pure-for-this-life Kilmeny of the "green-wood wene" are unmistakable, though the tales differ greatly; it's almost as if Montgomery took her idea of the nascent, pre-vision character of the ballad and wrote another story for her, liminal in its own way, but with less of the unearthly poignancy.

The book contains the old northern prejudice against hotblooded peoples from warmer lands, and the Italian orphan Neil Gordon suffers accordingly. His actions serve their part in the plot well enough, however.

As Mrs. Williamson says, Eric Marshall "is a fine young man, only a little thoughtless"—wealthy and confident and clever, prone with some reason to think rather well of himself, but good and reliable despite all that. The heroine of this story is far more interesting than the hero, and both worldly justice and poetic justice make it imperative that he be worthy of her. Eric proves his quality not merely by having money and looks and passion, but by his decency to his friends, his respect for all women, his stability, and his willingness both to accept painful criticism and to defend his own decisions when he is in the right.

Though neither prose nor tale flows quite as naturally as some of Montgomery's other works, it's a sweet and simple read—a delightful, mostly-hidden little beauty, rather like the old orchard it describes.

Recommendation: Read it for a light, refreshing tale of loveliness, mystery and purity.


Top Ten Tuesday: Best Gardens in Fiction

This week's topic is a freebie, meaning we can pick any idea we want. I don't recall having done or seen this one before, and since I spent all day gardening, it seemed natural.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...
The only difficulty is that I'm quite positive that I'm forgetting some and missing others. Help me fill in the blanks! I'd love to read more books with beautiful gardens therein.

1. The Secret Garden (The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett)
"There were numbers of standard roses which had so spread their branches that they were like little trees. There were other trees in the garden, and one of the things which made the place look strangest and loveliest was that climbing roses had run all over them and swung down long tendrils which made light swaying curtains, and here and there they had caught at each other or at a far-reaching branch and had crept from one tree to another and made lovely bridges of themselves. There were neither leaves nor roses on them now and Mary did not know whether they were dead or alive, but their thin gray or brown branches and sprays looked like a sort of hazy mantle spreading over everything, walls, trees, and even brown grass, where they had fallen from their fastenings and run along the ground...."

2. The gardens of Valinor, illuminated by the great Trees: silver Telperion and golden Laurelin (The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien)
"...and silence was over all the world in that hour, nor was there any other sound save the chanting of Yavanna. Under her song the saplings grew and became fair and tall, and came to flower; and thus there awoke in the world the Two Trees of Valinor.... The one had leaves of dark green that beneath were as shining silver, and from each of his countless flowers a dew of silver light was ever falling, and the earth beneath was dappled with the shadows of his fluttering leaves. The other bore leaves of a young green like the new-opened beech; their edges were of glittering gold. Flowers swung upon her branches in clusters of yellow flame, formed each to a golden horn that spilled a golden rain upon the ground; and from the blossom of that tree there came forth warmth and a great light."

3. Hester Gray's garden (Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery)
"Beyond were the "back fields" of the farms that ran out to the upper Carmody road. Just before them, hemmed in by beeches and firs but open to the south, was a little corner and in it a garden... or what had once been a garden. A tumbledown stone dyke, overgrown with mosses and grass, surrounded it. Along the eastern side ran a row of garden cherry trees, white as a snowdrift. There were traces of old paths still and a double line of rosebushes through the middle; but all the rest of the space was a sheet of yellow and white narcissi, in their airiest, most lavish, wind-swayed bloom above the lush green grasses."

4. Kilmeny's orchard (Kilmeny of the Orchard by L. M. Montgomery)
"No house was in sight, but he found himself looking into an orchard; an old orchard, evidently long neglected and forsaken. But an orchard dies hard; and this one, which must have been a very delightful spot once, was delightful still, none the less so for the air of gentle melancholy which seemed to pervade it, the melancholy which invests all places that have once been the scenes of joy and pleasure and young life, and are so no longer, places where hearts have throbbed, and pulses thrilled, and eyes brightened, and merry voices echoed. The ghosts of these things seem to linger in their old haunts through many empty years."

5. The floating islands of Perelandra (Perelandra by C.S. Lewis)
"At long last he reached the wooded part. There was an undergrowth of feathery vegetation, about the height of gooseberry bushes, coloured like sea anemones. Above this were the taller growths—strange trees with tube-like trunks of grey and purple spreading rich canopies above his head, in which orange, silver, and blue were the predominant colours. Here, with the aid of the tree trunks, he could keep his feet more easily. The smells in the forest were beyond all that he had ever conceived. To say that they made him feel hungry and thirsty would be misleading; almost, they created a new kind of hunger and thirst, a longing that seemed to flow over from the body into the soul and which was a heaven to feel."

6. Moonacre Manor park (Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge)
"But before they had time to get really frightened they were out in the moonlight again, and in a place so beautiful that it seemed hardly to be of this world.
It was all silver. Upon each side of them the trunks of tall trees rose from grass so silvered by the moonlight that it glimmered like water. The trees were not thickly planted, and beautiful glades opened between them, showing glimpses of an ebony sky set with silver stars. Nothing moved. It was all quite still, as though enchanted under the moon. The silvery tracery of twigs and branches above the silver tree trunks was so delicate that the moonlight sifted through it like a fine film of silver dust."

7. Pemberley park (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
"They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste."

8. Heidi's alpine meadows (Heidi by Johanna Spyri)
"Thus the day had passed, and the sun was already sinking down behind the mountains. Sitting on the grass, Heidi looked at the bluebells and the wild roses that were shining in the last rays of the sun. The peaks also started to glow, and Heidi suddenly called out to the boy: 'Oh, Peter, look! everything is on fire. The mountains are burning and the sky, too. Oh, look! the moon over there is on fire, too. Do you see the mountains all in a glow? Oh, how beautiful the snow looks! Peter, the eagle's nest is surely on fire, too. Oh, look at the fir trees over there!'"

All right, not all of these are gardens, exactly... also, I think I should probably be including Rainbow Valley and Barney's island on Lake Mistawis, but I've already got two Montgomery works on here. :)

What are the best gardens—or appealing nature scenes—that you've come across in fiction?


Leave You Your Power to Draw: The Artist and Habitual Sacrifice

"Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay."
~Flannery O’Connor

"I have to sacrifice something to form any good habit. There are some things I refuse to sacrifice; sleep isn’t one of them."

"You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant;
But yet you draw not iron, for my heart
Is true as steel; leave you your power to draw,
And I shall have no power to follow you."

Enough artists better than myself have explained the truism that artistic habits require sacrifice. I don't feel the need to explain it further. With few exceptions due to extreme circumstances, anyone who wants anything badly enough will make the sacrifices necessary to attain it—which is how I finish novels, but never manage to stick to an exercise regimen.

Wanting something badly is much of what makes novel-writing such a horrible experience. Now, it's perfectly possible to spend November splurging on wild plot points and indulging your own psyche, and come out with a NaNoWriMo win that was no more than moderately difficult to achieve. It's even possible to discover that you've got the makings of a sincerely good story at the end. I've done that. But that's not writing a novel, not as O'Connor means it; at best, it's writing a rough draft.

Three years after writing my first—trunk manuscript not counted—rough draft, I'm still revising out weak storytelling decisions, and yes, I actually have been sweeping a lot of my own hair off the floor. Though I've mostly been remembering to brush my teeth.

And now, I come up against the impossible.

I have tried and tried to come up with something worth saying about sacrifice and the desire to be an artist, and after putting in almost a full day of effort with no success whatsoever, must admit defeat. The problem, I think, is that the desperation with which I want to be an artist is the sort of thing I can't speak openly about; it runs parallel—rather too closely parallel, in fact—to the desperation for motherhood, which I have a hard time even mentioning. Both are too primal, and frankly, too embarrassing.

So, just speaking for my life at the everyday level: sacrificing for art is not usually difficult for me. Sacrificing art for things like sleep and food and family time—now that, I find challenging.

Not that I have no struggles, mind. Every time I click on someone's unfriendly political link on Facebook, I know I'm wasting emotional energy. Every time I go to choir practice, I know I'm prey once again to wanting too many things; there's no point stressing myself out about music when my voice is really just gone. Better to put my efforts into what I can still do.

But then, sometimes little things like that are what keep me human, and keep me from burning out. Which are important goals, even for an artist. After all, trying to become an artist is chasing stars in the worst kind of way. It's difficult to know whether you're any good, and nearly impossible to predict success. Like Shakespeare's Helena, you follow the desire of your heart into Oberon's wood, ignoring rebuffs, with no hope except that you might possibly be overheard by sympathetic magic—and no matter what you do, you're going to come out a fool, so best to be a human one.

Pursuing art is painful, and results are unpredictable. But as Masha pointed out, at least it's an act of hope.

"Forming a habit of art is an act of discipline, and an act of hope. I am working through my free hours in the hope that some thing I produce will have value. Not merely to me, but to someone reading it. Not that it will be loved and acclaimed, but that it will do good. It is a hope that is encouraged through correspondence, through discipline, and through repetition."

“People without hope not only don't write novels, but what is more to the point, they don't read them.”
~Flannery O’Connor


Sunny with a High of 75 and other stories

After the long, gray, wet, chilly month of—as Arabella called it—Juneuary, the sun came out on Independence Day and has stayed out.

That's right: while most of North America has seared under the kind of heat that raises casual comparisons to the core temperature of hell, Washington State slept right through whatever alarm clock was supposed to wake it up to summer. (Again.) Highs of 53 degrees, the sort of cloud cover that makes the whole world feel like a shabby, florescent-lit basement office, and raaaaaaaaaaaaiiiin.

Yes, I'm glad we haven't had to deal with 120 degrees all at once. But oh, I'm glad to see the sun.

Oddly enough, I didn't think to include it in that picture.

* * *

Lou took the first half of the week off work, and as I'd incautiously volunteered to host my book club's barbecue this month, we bought our first propane grill. An acquaintance spotted us in the hardware store with the big box and laughed. "I remember the first time my husband and I got one of those," she told me. "I think we almost got a divorce while trying to assemble it."

Lou spent a rainy Monday afternoon in the garage, putting together the grill. I spent a rainy Monday afternoon in the living room, writing my book. It all worked out quite amicably, though that may be only because I married such a generous and patient man.

On Wednesday, we combined efforts—me in preparation, him at the grill with tongs and spatula—and I have to say that the bratwursts and vegetables turned out awesome.

* * *

It's hard to get photos of our gratuitous cat when she is completely anti-social in warm weather.

The clematis, however, doesn't seem inclined to waste the summer in hiding. I love this vine already.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: doubling up again, with things you can learn from Hemingway, and things you can learn from Lewis. (Thanks to George for the latter link.)

* * *

Music of the week: For the first time ever, on the Fourth I saw flying lanterns. Just a few, but it was mesmerizing. And it got me humming this song (this cover seems to outrage copyright at least a little less violently than the ripped sections of the movie available on YouTube do.)

* * *

Random amusement of the week: internet memes, as described by Chaucer. My favorite is "Of the Doublede Rainbowe", I think. H/T Egotist's Club.

* * *

It's funny, but even though I know that standard American practice is to put all punctuation inside quotation marks, I cannot seem to help going British in this regard. The UK system is less straightforward, but ah, it just makes so much more sense.

But never fear, I found other reasons to celebrate Independence Day. :) Hope all you Americans had a great one...

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: The Moon-Spinners

The Moon-SpinnersIt was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it. I won’t pretend I saw it straight away as the conventional herald of adventure, the white stag of the fairytale, which, bounding from the enchanted thicket, entices the prince away from his followers, and loses him in the forest where danger threatens with the dusk. But, when the big white bird flew suddenly up among the glossy leaves and the lemon flowers, and wheeled into the mountain, I followed it. What else is there to do, when such a thing happens on a brilliant April noonday at the foot of the White Mountains of Crete; when the road is hot and dusty, but the gorge is green, and full of the sound of water, and the white wings, flying ahead, flicker in and out of deep shadow, and the air is full of the scent of lemon blossom?

Author: Mary Stewart

Synopsis: Enticed up a lonely path in rural Crete with a day to spare, Nicola Ferris discovers more than egrets and lemon blossoms: she happens across a man seriously wounded by gunshot, with the story of a murder and a missing boy. Unwilling to leave the feverish Mark to die, Nicola stays to give him aid, and winds up getting more caught up in Mark’s danger than she expects—especially when she at last leaves for her nearby vacation spot, only to discover all of Mark’s top suspects at the hotel where she's staying.

Notes: Most modern mysteries, often featuring psychopathic killers and terrifying action sequences, don’t appeal much to me. Stewart’s tale was unexpected; an enjoyable character portrayal in a beautiful setting, with enough glamour and romance to take pleasure in but not so much that it felt cheap, as well as enough suspense and fear to keep me turning pages, but not enough to make me want to hide under the bedclothes.

Nicola is likable, adventurous, and believable, and easy to sympathize with. Her supporting cast works well alongside her: adorable Mark, is-he-good-or-is-he-bad Lambis, sad Sofia, friendly and slightly skeezy Stratos, and strong-willed, humorous cousin Frances (who would nowadays never get away with referring to Tony as “Little Lord Fauntleroy”; one never quite knows what will be très passé fifty years later, I suppose.) There’s not a lot of suspense about who most of the bad guys are, just concern for all the important characters’ ability to escape the little town of Agios Georgios in safety.

It’s bad form to say much about the end of a mystery novel, so I’ll just say that it wraps up exactly the way a romantic suspense tale should.

Recommendation: Read it for a summery mystery set in the beautiful Mediterranean.