Advent 2012—Christ the King 2013

This might be the ignorance of the anecdotalist speaking, but it seems to me that the average new year's resolution fails because people hope to conquer besetting vices with a burst of enthusiastic will that is guaranteed to last no more than two weeks.

On account of which, I save my attempts at conquering besetting vices for Lent. Advent works better as a time to take stock, to contemplate direction and make adjustments as necessary, settling the ideas by the first of January.

So, I've been contemplating and taking stock, and there's been a lot to this year. There were blue pimpernels and giant pumpkins, sweet peas and strawberries and tomatoes, homemade liqueurs and three months of sunshine. Lou and I chanted from the choir loft together and sang Mozart and The Hallelujah Chorus in ensemble; the latter involved practice sessions with a vocal coach, which enabled me to recover more of my voice than I'd thought possible.

There were also... weeks. There was the week I got the most painful critique I've ever received and then nearly lost three members of my family. There was the week I gave up the family cradle. There was the week divided between a courtroom and a funeral. There were others.

For me as a writer, it was honestly a hard year. Most of my original goals got set aside; I spent more than half the year struggling with my first book and eventually lost my vision for it. Be it for good or be it for ill, however, I am thus far unwilling to give up that story—it's too dear and too unfinished. Many a spare moment in the last week has gone to hunting down and securing my original vision: the bright, simple, beloved thing, unencumbered by secondhand doubts or undue weight belonging to What Is Popularly Considered Acceptable. I want the story whole and at rest, settled and finished the way it was designed and intended to be.

We'll see what happens. A new year may look like a blank slate, but at nearly halfway to seventy, I've discovered I'm not the only one writing on it.

For this year, then, I have a few quiet hopes and plans. If possible, I'd like:

to sleep more

to devote myself daily to Mary

...and to Lou

to learn to love the rain

to read at least fifty-two books, at least four of them retold fairy tales for children

to go on developing home and garden

to finish revising and publish the fairy tale retelling

and to settle—and if possible, to finish—A.D.'s story.

There have already been times during the perpetual chilly and wet twilight these last few weeks that I've thought the rain beautiful.

Happy New Year!

P.S. I am sure the formatting on this is thoroughly scrambled in every view except for the ordinary blog post as it appears in Chrome. I'm terribly sorry. The pictures seemed like a good idea until I discovered, halfway through, just how much format hacking was involved. And now it's too much work to get them back out. :P


Christmas 2012

Merry Christmas, everyone!

If you look very closely underneath the tree, you can see Maia photobombing the family picture. She refused to let me catch her to include her properly, of course.

Here's a more legitimate shot of her:

I may put up another post or two this week, if time and inspiration allow; the ordinary schedule, or something closely resembling it, returns after New Year's. In the meantime, I hope your Christmas season is peaceful and blessed and happy.

With love,


A Blip in the Blog and (a few) other stories

Ordinarily I have time to blog because I'm home a lot. That, however, is not expected to prove true this week. It's unlikely that I'll have internet access at all from Wednesday through Friday.

If lucky on time, I'll try and put together some short posts. If not... it might be a quiet week in this little corner of the webiverse. In the meantime, anyway, you didn't get your Maia picture last week.

She has been a very jealous lap kitty lately—ever since it got cold, I suppose. Also, that picture was taken before I got my hair cut off again.

I kind of suck at taking these at-arm's-length pictures,
but you get the idea.
* * *

There are challenges that are a lot of work or frightening or difficult on other grounds, and then there are challenges that demand you do more of the sort of thing you find relaxing and enjoyable. In the latter spirit, I'm signing up for the Fairy Tales Retold reading challenge over at Debz Bookshelf:

Want to join? Flit on over to Debz Bookshelf!
My chosen level: Lady in Waiting, which means reading 4-6 books. Which is just what I could probably do without trying, so if I move up to Fierce Ogre or Damsel in Distress or even Evil Enchantress, I'll be perfectly thrilled.

I'll draw mostly from a few Goodreads recommendation lists, notably Best Girls' Fairy Tale Books and Fairy Tale Retellings: Hidden Gems, but I'll also look over suggestions, so feel free to make them in the combox.

* * *

Off I go to chant the Magnificat and finish the laundry. Enjoy your Monday... and in case I don't make it back this week, your Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and so on, too.


Dona eis requiem sempiternam

I had a little more of a post planned. I'm shifting it to Monday.

* * *

Memorial of St. John of the Cross, 2012

Rest in peace, John St. Hilaire: Knight, farmer, brother, husband, father, grandfather, and to Lou and I, uncle. By every report, a good man. And to those of his family who are reading this, you have my love and prayers.

* * *

Whenever a horror happens to a child—or in this case, children—Auntie Jen thinks of her nieces and nephews and goes a little bit to pieces.

Prayers here for all those who have lost loved ones today.

* * *

While I'd better suck it up because I have a party to throw in forty-five minutes, at the moment I have tears in my eyes, and I think a little music is called for.

* * *

Have a peaceful and blessed weekend.


Currently Re-reading: Sense and Sensibility

12/12/12, 12:12, just for the heck of it.

Fellow readers, I have struck out on two of the last three books I've read—at least as far as finding them amenable to a thoughtful review. One I simply didn't understand, and the other contained morals too shocking for me to speak of with any objectivity. The third, I reviewed last week.

This week, then, I decided to re-read some Austen. After a short dither, I picked up Sense & Sensibility.

Sense And SensibilityWhich I enjoyed and admired more than ever. I can never get over Austen's genius; despite open moralizing and massive quantities of the 'telling' instead of 'showing' so derided nowadays, the beauty and conflict of the characters carries the story perfectly.

Character portrayal is one of Austen's greatest strengths. Edward and Colonel Brandon are both thoroughly good, but the former is painfully shy and prone to stupid mistakes, and the latter is morose. Elinor is heroic but can be annoyingly didactic, and Marianne may be the last character in Western fiction whose straightforward romantic tendencies are played as unsympathetic. And that's just the primary set. There's kind but vulgar Mrs. Jennings, affectionate but mercenary John Dashwood, friendly but thoughtless Sir John Middleton, sour but sincere Mr. Palmer, and Lucy Steele, who takes cold-hearted feminine manipulative tendencies to startling depths.

Oh, and then there's Willoughby—whose appalling confession to Elinor holds a weird honor: it's perhaps the most touching scene of believable human selfishness I've ever read.

For readers who have never read Austen and would like to try, I usually recommend beginning with the shorter, tighter, more emotionally rewarding Persuasion. Sense & Sensibility's storyline meanders a bit, and it champions propriety against indulgence of passions, which makes it generally harder on a modern audience. That's part of why I like it, of course; the critique of common vulgarity comes as a relief, and Marianne's character trajectory and Elinor's example convict me of my own weaknesses in the most encouraging way possible.

But the story has strengths enough. It's more physically detailed than some of Austen's work—the moment where a nervous Edward ruins a pair of scissors by using them to cut up their own sheath never fails to make me smile—and the contrast and interplay between sensible Elinor, whose narrative arc climaxes in a burst of emotion, and passionate Marianne, whose story resolves in the prioritizing of rational choice, is dramatic and beautiful. It's less subtle than Pride & Prejudice, but at moments it's almost more vivid.

Austen paid for the publication of Sense & Sensibility herself, her first published novel and the last one she ever had to pay to produce. That just about says it all.


Top Ten Tuesday: Authors Who were New to Me This Year

This took a little research, because some of my last-January reviews were of books I'd read in December. Which means that I disqualified Tolstoy, whose Anna Karenina I reviewed this year, but according to Goodreads had finished reading just after last Christmas Day.

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

To my surprise, it wasn't easy to pick ten. I'd forgotten how many good books I'd read early in the year.

The happy-go-lucky fantasists, who delighted my very soul and left me with the firm intent of reading many more of their works:

1. Juliet Marillier | Wildwood Dancing
2. Sharon Shinn | Summers at Castle Auburn

The exceptional fantasists, who first made me envious and then inspired me to develop thoughtful intricacy in my own fiction:

3. Patrick Rothfuss | The Name of the Wind
4. Erin Morgenstern | The Night Circus
5. Lois McMaster Bujold | The Curse of Chalion

The great middle-grade fantasists and science fictionists (hurrah: new word), who have become literary heroes to me:

6. Lois Lowry | The Giver
7. Jessica Day George | Tuesdays at the Castle
8. Gail Carson Levine | Ella Enchanted

And the happy-go-lucky non-fantasists, whose mysteries I now believe I can count on for good cheer:

9. Mary Stewart | The Moon-Spinners
10. Madeleine Brent | Moonraker's Bride

Have you read any great new-to-you authors this year? Feel free to praise them below. I'll need some new ones to include on next year's reading list, after all.


Homemade Tutus and Too Many Choices

Masha and I are taking the rest of the Advent and Christmas season off of the blogalectic, which should allow us to do things like spend time with family and make Christmas presents. (See below for this week's short post, however.) I celebrated the decision by spending some of my writing time making the first of the tutus for my little nieces.

Craft tip for the tall person: stand chairs on the dining table, string project between them.
In case anyone else wants to try: I combined this how-to with this one and am using ribbon instead of elastic. Also, I used five yards, tops, of tulle for the one pictured. For the littlest of my nieces, I'm using fabric scraps.

Masha's most recent question:
I know that the loss of human contact in our culture is not the fault of the ebook, and I have no problem with it’s existence, I just worry about it’s effect. George, Jenna, does this worry you at all? What do you think, everyone, am I just ridiculous to want a physical thing that can be asked about and then set aside? Is there a way to share ebooks? Do you ever regret having too many choices?
There are so many possible things to say here; this question certainly deserves an essay. Maybe several. But for now:

1. I don't think she's ridiculous at all for wanting "a physical thing that can be asked about and then set aside." Any more than I think I'm ridiculous for wanting chant and hymns at Mass instead of "Anthem" and "The Summons".

2. I don't think ebooks are the problem for most people; it seems likely that Smartphones and social media take countless more heads out of the Real World than books in any form ever do. A determined introvert like myself doesn't often need an ereader to isolate myself from fellow travelers on an airplane.

3. That final question: yes. Oh, heavens, yes. But it's a good problem to have. The overabundance of choices arises in large part from the instant availability of nearly infinite free information, and I love having free information instantly available. I don't know what people did before the internet, but it's a constant source of exhaustion despite its virtues, and I've never learned how to regulate my relationship to it properly. Maybe someday.



Midnight with Sunshine and other stories

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright—
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.
Pardon me; I felt like some Lewis Carroll. That particular stanza never fails to amuse me, though the poem itself tends to leave me rather emotional.

Like the untimely sun, anyway, I've come to the conclusion this week—with the help of a doctor—that I'm trying to do just a little too much, and not handling my priorities very well. Now, the only reason I'm bothering to mention this is that I'm probably going to be messing with blog rhythm a bit over the next few weeks. It seems wise to let you all know beforehand.

Book reviews may—I repeat, may—change out of the essay format to something that takes less than four hours to produce. And I might not write a thousand-word thought piece on Art every Monday; those might get shortened and/or alternated with, say, links to other people's nice thought pieces—though the blogalectic will hopefully go on, of course. I'm not sure myself how all this will turn out. Feel free to argue for your favorite features in the comments.

What won't change: I intend to keep this place regularly updated, serene, firmly situated outside the everyday world, and bookish. With cat pictures.

* * *

Maia and her favorite toy: a sock.
I swear Maia walked back and forth across us every half an hour all night on Tuesday—whether because it was cold, or because we had to get up early and she wanted to punish us for something, I'm not sure. None of the smart-alecky remarks we made to her about it seemed to trouble her very much.

* * *

A new piece on introversion that I loved: How to Live with Introverts. Via my friend Ashley Thomas, albeit on Facebook.

* * *

Music of the week: The Piano Guys take on the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit soundtracks. It seems timely. Anyway, the Piano Guys are awesome.

* * *

Random amusement of the week: "English Pronunciation." A very thorough depiction of the trickeries of English phonetics. My brain stumbled all the way through it.

* * *
The time has come, the Walrus said,
...to clean house. Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: The Treachery of Beautiful Things

The Treachery of Beautiful ThingsThe queen smiled and Jenny caught a glimpse of her eyes, darkly shadowed and ancient. No longer beautiful. Something else lurked behind the stunning exterior. Something dark and hungry. Something not human.

But then, nothing here was human, was it? Jenny looked back at Jack, at his leaves and his wildwood eyes, at the stone blade strapped to his hip, at the odd cast to his features. He met her stare impassively. Nothing was human here but her. And anything to the contrary was a lie.

Author: Ruth Frances Long

Synopsis: Years ago, Jenny saw the forest respond to her brother’s flute playing by catching hold of him and dragging him away. Now, after the grief and the trouble with her parents, after the psychiatrists and the unbearable terror around trees, Jenny returns to the forest once—just once, just to say goodbye to Tom. But upon getting hints that Tom is still alive, she sets out to save him from getting tithed to hell, a task which demands she both defy and depend upon the unpredictable yet appealing Jack o' the Forest.

Notes: This 363-page YA standalone packs quite a blenderful of myths and literary legends, all in one tolerably cohesive puree. The heroine, apparently called after a Charles Dickens character—or perhaps the Paul McCartney song—loses her brother in an adaptation of something on the Tam Lin/Thomas the Rhymer continuum, is offered the role of May Queen, and winds up in a struggle against Oberon and a Queen Mab-possessed Titania, aided by Puck and a boy of mismatched eyes whose mythology traces from the Green Man through the Jack-in-the-box. And that's just for starters.

The mix contains some religious symbolism, too, and to be honest, I couldn't tell what the author meant by her use of Christianish baptismal imagery and self-sacrifice. At some points it seemed downright sincere, and at others, word choices hinted at subversion. I suspect its presence arises mainly from her college-level study of History of Religions and the fact that she's "a lifelong fan of fantasy, romance, and ancient mysteries", but I could be wrong.

The romance, now that I've mentioned that, was unusually sweet for a paranormal. In a genre nowadays flooded with mouthy, worldly heroines, Jenny came as a pleasant surprise: innocent, devoted, and courageous out of goodness of heart instead of mere physical bravery. Jack departed from the Unbelievable Hotness trope and was physically imperfect, conflicted, protective, and likable. Better yet, he had a quality character arc of his own.

For a modern YA novel, the story is reasonably well written, and the depiction of fairyland is visual enough to be enjoyable. The narrative begins roughly, dark and weird and a little too obvious about the title concept—the more so since the latter seemed to bear less weight on the story later on. Sure, the pretty stuff can betray you—but heck, this is fairyland; everything is a little treacherous, including the goat-legged Puck and the antlered Oberon.

While a few of the details are predictable, the plot turns are angular and unexpected and solid. One could debate that it ends over-perfectly, but I wouldn't. I frankly thought the last bit wonderful.

I did wish Tom had played more of a role in the story; the beginning signs of hardness in him, pre-abduction, were never explained as I recall. That's a small critique, though. There's a lot in this short, ostensibly light work, and to weave all the above in and leave only one plot thread noticeably loose is success indeed.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wouldn't Mind Getting from Santa Claus

Dear St. Nicholas,

December 6 is just around the corner, which means expensive shipping. I'm terribly sorry about that. Also, I don't think any of these books will fit into my shoes. Even if I do wear a size eleven. Maybe if I put out my old riding boots...

Oh, all right. I'll write this letter to the popular Americanized version of the legendary character.

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

Dear Santa,

NB: Our chimney has been long since blocked off by one of those tin plates, now painted over in a rather ugly brownish lavender. But since you've the magic to be everywhere at midnight, I don't doubt you can find your way in.

Do you like your chocolate cookies with coffee grounds in, or without? If I don't hear otherwise, I'll put them in. I am convinced that coffee has magical properties. Oh, but if anyone in my state leaves you brownies, I recommend caution. We just legalized marijuana.

All right, here's the list.

1. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. I read all these from the library, and am madly in love.

2. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. A classic I adore but do not own.

3. The last two Bean books by Orson Scott Card: Shadow Puppets and Shadow of the Giant. These I have not read, but must.

4. A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. No, it won't be here by Christmas, but I wouldn't mind having it on pre-order. And just as a hint—eventually I'd like the whole series, and I've only got 8, 10, and 11 thus far.

5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A book so lovely that I'd like to have a copy.

6. The Shannon Hale fantasy novels not yet on my shelves: Enna Burning, River Secrets, Forest Born, and Book of a Thousand Days.

7. I'd love to get ahold of something else by Brandon Sanderson. Maybe Mistborn.

That's only seven list items, but it's well over ten books, so I'll stop there. Thanks! I can leave you some oats for the reindeer if you think they'd like it.

Very truly yours,


* * *

Now you all should post your Christmas lists. :)


Texture and History: Why We (May) Need Print Books

Masha's turning the discussion to last week's question #5: Why does the world need books? But this week, she says, we're not talking about books in the abstract, but ordinary, old-fashioned, printed and bound books.

That being the case, let me start off with a disclaimer: I have nothing against ebooks. Or rather, nothing except that there's no flipping around in one. I am the sort of reader who constantly turns back and forth through the text, cross-referencing, remembering important quotes, or re-reading sections.

Electronic texts are useful in their own right; I have a Kindle—one of George's old Kindles, actually; thanks, George!—and it's great for getting free classics, finding book club books inexpensively and easily just days before book club meets, fitting more than two books into a purse, and the like. I always miss the flipping around, though.

But the question of the day is the hard-copy printed word, and why we need it, to which I say: We more or less don't. According to Wikipedia, the first known literary texts date to around 2600 B.C., and the world was around for quite some time before that. Which is not to say that books haven't been a necessary part of progress; of course they have. But information is preserved in a lot of ways, and whether that involves printed pages and glued or sewn binding is a matter of practicality, not of morality.

The print book will have its defenders for some time yet, however, on some grounds. For starters, even if all mainstream reading went digital tomorrow, the book as a physical item would be part of history and worth preservation as such. I've got lovely memories of peering into dimly-lit glass boxes and reading Hebraic letters—I couldn't often translate the words—from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Likewise, of trying to chant songs from bright and beautiful hand-illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages. It's from this same instinct that I've one shelf dedicated almost entirely to carefully-bound and especially to old books, some of them almost too fragile to read.

As a matter of everyday reading, the difficulty is that I learned to read on print copies and my comfort lies entirely within that zone. It's in the above-discussed flipping around, in questing for a line by memory of what quadrant of the page it fell upon, in what Masha described as "a sensual connection to the words":
I really like the feeling of holding a book. I like the texture of pages - thick, cream-colored journals or barely there Bible pages. I like the scent of books, old and new.... I don’t have an emotional connection to my laptop like I do to my books, I can’t fold down page corners and write in notes in my margins. I think we need books to continue connecting our minds to our senses and to have something meaningful that lasts when technology fails.
I think you can dog-ear and make margin notes in some electronic formats, if you're less of a Madam Pince than I am. But while I do have an emotional connection to my pretty pink and gray laptop, which holds the books I've written myself, for reading I prefer to get away from screens and buttons and slick plastic and instant searchability. It's nice to feel plain paper in my hands, to re-read parts and keep fingers in various places, to not have to wait that blink for the page to turn, to simply escape the computer and revert to my childhood understanding of the universe.

But that's just me, after all. It says nothing whatsoever about future generations—or even, necessarily, about my own. Not everyone spent as much of their childhood as possible snuggled away somewhere with words printed in black serif font on white paper. Nor does everyone read in such a non-linear fashion. The Kindle fire burns brightest among those who read books once straight through, and it feeds on books designed to be read that way—crime fiction and category romances being among the popular examples. There's something to Kit Steinkellner's question of whether the genre you're reading changes the medium you read in.

Perhaps children born these days will reminisce in their thirties about cuddling down in a fleece throw and brushing their fingers across their ereaders' touch screens. Perhaps technology will have progressed to the point where they can flip around in their electronic books as easily as we do in print copies. Or perhaps no one will care about flipping around the way I do, not having learned to read that way.

If they ditch our print books, though, they'll have to find new ways of decorating their homes. As for me and my house, we preserve the family library. If our heirs decide they don't want the burden of it sitting around their living room someday, I ask only that they treat history with respect.