Posts Tagged With: Ursula K. LeGuin

Fantasy, LeGuin, and Miscellany

I just heard the news that Ursula K. LeGuin died, and I am saddened beyond belief.  I think, like with Elie Wiesel, that I will need a while to gather my thoughts.  Right now, all I can think of is the books she wrote that I would recommend someone read, and it turns out that it’s all of them.  But she meant so much more to me than her literature, and to express that I will need time.

If you can get a copy, though, the one that sticks with me hardest today is her fake Ethnography of the Kesh people in post-nuclear California: Always Coming Home.  It’s a beautiful, odd, and terrifying thing that doesn’t read dystopic at all.  And of course you already know of the Earthsea series and The Left Hand of Darkness.

I have been trying to figure out a way to keep myself from going insane with boredom with nothing to do all day but hold a small boy, and I’ve been reading odd fantasy books: Maggie Stiefvater’s All The Crooked Saints (I cannot tell if I like this book or not because it was a hard one to love and yet it was so BEAUTIFULLY written…); Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor (where she does everything they tell you not to do in a novel and it still ended up claiming me completely); and Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin (the best thing I’ve read since Uprooted last year, and the first thing I’ve been head over heels for since Robin McKinley’s latest). It feels good to contemplate other worlds, and I think I’ll continue.

I have been reading the books out loud to the baby when he’s awake, and I’m sure he’s thoroughly confused now since he gets only snippets of whatever passage I’m on when he happens to have his eyes open.  I’ll warrant that he’s getting a pretty good vocabulary, though.  And a knowledge of his people, since his big eyes and pointed chin have me half-convinced he’s a Fairy himself.  Or maybe just a changeling.

It might just be a coincidence in timing (or his elfin heritage), but Fantasy books seem to have him sleeping better at night.  He’s been letting us sleep a solid 4 hours at a time most evenings, and even a 6 hour stretch every once in a while.  I never thought 4 hours of sleep would sound luxurious, but it does.

I have also stopped doing strange things in my sleep now that he’s sleeping longer.  So far I have woken Brian up twice to ask him to take the baby when the baby had already been sleeping in his bassinet for at least an hour.  And then there was the evening where I tried to convince Brian that I was feeding the baby right now, when the kid was actually in Brian’s arms and yelling at me about not being quick enough with the midnight snack.  Parenthood is mostly a comedy of errors, I’m finding.  But at least it’s a comedy…

Next on the reading list is probably Ellen Kushner’s Thomas the Rhymer.  But maybe I’ll get out some of my old LeGuin instead.  It’s been ages since I’ve read The Tombs of Atuan, or Voices – two I have read countless times in the past because they’re my favorites.

Categories: Book Reviews, Fiction, Life, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Politics of the Supernatural Kind

I can’t even today.  Every time I think that a certain political candidate could not possibly make me angrier, I somehow get more incensed.  It’s at the point now where I know I have to disengage or give myself an aneurism from all the angstyness that people are STILL supporting this – I don’t even feel like there’s a word bad enough to call him – candidate.  My only consolation is that it will all be over in about 4 weeks (for better or worse).

I was thinking about doing a post about all the feminist reasons to abhor this man, but I realized that all that info is out there in spades on the internet.  And this isn’t a political blog, it’s a book/writing blog.

So, escapism it is!

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my politics with a heavy dose of magic and/or the supernatural.  So instead of a rant, I present to you 4 Fantasy books in which the government plays an active character. But don’t worry, it’s not anything like your government today.  Have at them and try and forget that America is such a mess right now.

witches-of-lychford_500

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell: There’s a new big box store going into the sleepy hamlet of Lychford.  Local crank Judith doesn’t care a bit about jobs or modernization, but she does care about the site plan.  Lychford lies on the boundary of two worlds. If the supermarket is built it will destroy all wards forever, unleashing demonic destruction on the world.  Judith has to convince the town to stop construction, but she’ll need some unlikely allies to make it happen…

The book is spunky and hilarious, with a few serious moments to make it really a good book.  It’s a novella, which means it’s a quick read, and it’s everything you ever wanted in a Walmart fight, with actual demons, witches dancing under the moonlight, fae in the forests, and magic markings on the doors.

chalice

Chalice by Robin McKinley: The last Master and Chalice died in a horrible fire after doing unspeakable things to the land. Now it is up to beekeeper Marisol (the new Chalice) and the old Master’s brother (a priest of fire who may not be quite human anymore) to heal the land and stabilize the country, before the Overlord can launch a coup for power that will certainly damage the land irreparably.

This book is one in which nothing happens and everything happens all at once, like McKinley does best.  It’s so internal, so based on looks and gestures, or subtle power plays.  But you still feel the seriousness of it as you fall in love with the land.  I never put this book down without wanting to move to the middle of nowhere and keep bees with the man I’m in love with.

51m0vlnlkol

The Lives of Christopher Chant by Dianna Wynne Jones: Christopher’s parents are both powerful enchanters who hate each other.  But Christopher himself doesn’t appear to be magical at all, unless you count the marvelous lands he visits in his dreams.  His only friend is his Uncle Ralph, who sends him on missions to bring back things from those strange lands as a game.  But when Christopher is told that he’s supposed to train to become the next Chrestomanci, the president of all magic in the land, his loyalties are thrown out of whack and he isn’t sure who to trust anymore.  Or that he’ll even want to become the next Chrestomanci at all.

I just can’t say enough about this book.  It turns all fantasy tropes on its heels and features one of those perfect Dianna Wynne Jones plots where everything is absolutely nuts, random, and up in the air, but somehow it resolves into a plot that was always perfectly right and organized by the end.  You just didn’t know it. My favorite person in the book is the priestess Asheth.  She always wants Christopher to bring her “exotic” books featuring Millie and her boarding school adventures.  It’s technically a children’s book, but it’s definitely complex and fun for adults, too.

tumblr_o9w7auxghp1r2j1gfo2_400

Voices: Memer is a daughter of the Oracle House, a place the conquerors and occupiers of the town Ansul are sure is filled with demons.  Reading and writing are punishable by death, and Oracle House is the only place that books now exist in the town, locked up in a secret room.  When the famous traveling minstrel, Orrec, arrives with his wife Gry to tell stories to the soldiers, Memer begins to see how important story really is.  Important enough that it could give Ansul back it’s peace and freedom, could give the people enough bravery to rebel against their oppressors.

I don’t know why I’m in love with this book so much, because it’s a serious read that deals with grave topics that surround war.  Memer herself is the daughter of a rape. But Memer is so beloved, and the world so vibrant, that you root for the townsfolk and their freedom wholeheartedly.  It’s got a magic to it that’s hard to define, partly (I think) because it feels so real.  This could be a history of somewhere you’ve never heard of, and it ends with so much hope.

So that’s my recommendation.  As always, happy reading!  And together maybe we can avoid imploding from election drama… Maybe.

Categories: Book Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

LeGuin’s Steering The Craft

IMG_20150805_214658I downloaded Ursula K. LeGuin’s Steering The Craft this weekend.  I thought I was getting a little bit of a how-to on writing, some good advice.  You know, something like Steven King’s On Writing, or E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. That wasn’t what I got at all, and it was the best discovery.

Steering The Craft is much more like a workbook than it is like a how-to book.  In fact, LeGuin’s writing is so much like being in class that I feel like I’ve actually decided to take one.  Her clear narrative voice feels like she’s talking straight to you, and the exercises are fun and just challenging enough to make you think, but not daunting to complete.  So great.  Bonus points for her rampant feminism.  I appreciate that SO MUCH.

I mean, “The grammarians started telling us [that using ‘their’ as a singular] was incorrect along in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.  That was when they also declared that the pronoun he includes both sexes, as in ‘if a person needs and abortion, he should be required to tell his parents.'”

How can you not love that? Such a well thought out burn.

Not only that, but I give myself so much grief over my work (agonizing over whether it’s publishable quality, flogging myself to find the right word, giving another pass at the imperfect draft that feels like it will never be perfect); it was amazingly nice to just write and not worry about it.  I found the fun in the words again.

I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, but I thought I’d post some of the exercises as I finish them.  They’re vignettes, so I would imagine they aren’t publishable.  But even if they were, I’m not sure I’d want them to be.

This one is from Exercise 2, in which I was supposed to write a paragraph of 100-350  words entirely without punctuation of any kind, even paragraph breaks.  For those who are counting, this is about 190.

Quick Change

A sock a shoe a buckle slips over her ankle and a voice on a speaker calls a cue but the zipper broke and she’s gonna miss that cue for sure listening to the other guy fumble around with his lines while the three costume girls fumble with safety pins and come up short like the guy is doing vamping to the audience trying not to say um and trying not to be silent but she’s trying to be silent and so are the costume girls as one stabs her finger with a pin and a bead of blood gets onto the expensive costume they rented and their teacher will be so mad but there isn’t anything any of them can do now except try not to get any more on the dress and get the actress pinned as fast as possible they fumble again and the back of the dress gapes the actress struggles through the black drapes of the wings anyway with her back cheated away and her fingers crossed and the guy breathes a sigh of relief because there’s finally someone else there to do some talking

I think it sorta works.  I’ll be posting more soon, so stay tuned.

Categories: Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Books: Sci-Fi and Fantasy for the Winter

Winter Reads

Thanksgiving is officially over (it went very well, thank you!) and I finished putting up my Christmas things on Sunday.  It’s cold here – in the 40s – and I’m hoping it quits soon because I own, like, 2 sweaters that are actually warm and weren’t bought for pretty.  Next weekend is when all the Christmas events start happening in my town.

There’s no way it will snow here, though.  So in the absence of actual snow, I need literary snow.  And for some reason, all my favorite winter books have a fantastical component.  Here are three that you should read, if you like this sort of thing:

Landline: A Novel, by Rainbow Rowell: Georgie McCool has always put her career as a scriptwriter front and center, and her husband Neil has picked up the slack.  When she and best friend Seth have the chance to pitch the script of their lifetime, if they can write it in five days, Georgie knows Neil will be upset.  But he’ll probably roll with Georgie’s assessment that they can’t bring the girls to his family’s house for Christmas like they planned.  Georgie didn’t forsee that Neil would be more than pissed.  He takes the girls to his parent’s house, leaves Georgie in California, and then is strangely unavailable.  Frantic, Georgie calls Neil from an old rotary phone in her bedroom to find that she’s dialed 20 years in the past.  But can she save her marriage from decades away?

Wintersmith (Tiffany Aching), by Terry Pratchett: Tiffany Aching accidentally joins the dark mummer’s dance, and then has to contend with Jack Frost, who thinks she’s his new girlfriend.  Embarrassing snowflakes in Tiffany’s shape, a cornucopia spilling out all sorts of things you just don’t want, the Nac Mac Feegles, and relations with the human boy Tiffany has a thing with are just some of the problems she faces.  But now that Tiffany has dethroned the goddess of spring, will Summer ever come again?

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin: Genly Ai has agreed to go as an emissary to the planet deemed Winter to see if he can get them to join the ecumenical society of planets.  It is first contact, and Genly is more than aware that he could be killed or imprisoned.  Winter is a world where most humans there are genderless until they mate, and over the course of a lifetime can be both male and female.  The planet is as unforgiving as it’s icy landscape, with a strange code of behavior called shifgrethor, and Genly is getting nowhere with his quest.  He places his trust in Prime Minister Estraven, who is then accused of treason and cast out of the kingdom.  But Genly and Estraven meet again in a work camp on the outskirts of civilization, and together they undertake a perilous journey over icy wastelands so that they can be free.

 

All links are affiliate links.  Enjoy!

Categories: Book Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fall Reading List

IMG_20131101_075528

In the interests of being fair to summer, I’m posting my Fall reading list complete with short review of everything I read.  I know it’s December now and WAY past Fall, but the fall semester just ended here, so I consider myself legit.  Also, books make GREAT Christmas presents and there’s still time to order stuff from Amazon.  Barely.  I should really get on that…

So anyway, here’s everything I’ve read since the semester started in late August:

  1. The Hero and The Crown – Robin McKinley (I’ve read about gals that I want to be, but never that I wanted to watch like I want to watch Aerin.  Fascinating main character, kick ass story.)
  2. Chalice – Robin McKinley (I just want to move into this world and tend bees.  Can I?)
  3. The 4:50 From Paddington – Agatha Christie (Just as I’m certain, CERTAIN, I know who did it, it turns out to be someone I didn’t want to consider.)
  4. The Name of The Wind – Patrick Rothfuss (Although well written, it reads like a D&D campaign.  I prefer to play them, not read about them.  The writing is such that I’ll finish, though.)
  5. Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief – Rick Riorden (This reminded me a lot of Going Bovine, but Going Bovine was much better written.  Not bad, not the best of its kind.)
  6. The Big Drop: Homecoming – Ryan Gattis (Nods to Chandler and Fante, but is totally its own thing.  The best argument for character driven narrative I’ve ever read.)
  7. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened – Jenny Lawson (Reads just like her blog, which I can’t read in public because I can’t stop laughing in inappropriate ways.)
  8. Midnight In Austenland – Shannon Hale (A re-read.  For the third time.  This is likely to become one of those books I can’t read anymore because I’ve memorized too much of it.)
  9. Kneenock Rise – Natalie Babbit (My favorite in fourth grade. It goes too fast now, but reading it out loud helps, and also made me notice her foreshadowing and savor her word choice.)
  10. Story Book High, Book 1 – Shannon Hale (yes, I know… a book produced by Mattel?  But Shannon Hale.  I was torn.  It wasn’t bad.  At times it was even hilarious, if you like puns. I do.)
  11. Aunt Maria – Diana Wynne Jones (You read, and you think ‘what the hell is happening?’ but all parts fall into place by the end.  This is why I love her. Also, because Aunt Maria is creepy.)
  12. Self Reliance – Ralph Waldo Emerson (This “updated” version is really reduced to a quaint quote book by the new stuff interspersed between Emerson’s essays. Doesn’t do him justice.)
  13. The Wave in the Mind – Ursula K. LeGuin (I loved her essays on growing up in 1930’s California and on reading, and then I read her essays on rhythm in writing and fell in love more.)
  14. Fortunately, The Milk – Neil Gaiman (Wumpires and a time-traveling stegosaurus?  Yes please.)
  15. Let’s Get Visible – David Gaughran (Because I’m thinking of self-publishing.  Still undecided…)
  16. Johnny Tremain – Esther Forbes (In the beginning Johnny is an asshat, and in the end he’s a sap, but between is good.  Plot is very coincidental, though.)
  17. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien (So well written, and just full of the fear of war.)
  18. Persuasion – Jane Austen (A re-read, and a book I love.)
  19. Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch (This is the book that made me decide NOT to self-publish.  I’m not that cool.  I don’t have the mad skillzorz it would take to do it well.  I suppose it’s good that I found this out early.)
  20. Helen of Pasadena – Lian Dolan (total smut in the best way, and extra fun because I know some of the main locations.)
  21. The Kings and Queens of Roam – Daniel Wallace (Heartbreaking and fable-like.  It’s beautiful, but I’m not sure I’ll finish it.  I’m not sure I can take it.)
  22. Candyfreak – Steve Almond (I think I might be in love with this man… mostly because he’s even more of a sugar freak than I am, but also because he’s hilarious.  Don’t tell Brian – although he probably suspects.  I’ve been reading him snippets of the book for days.)

I also just bought Consider The Lobster and Elizabeth the First Wife, but I’ll finish those after the requisite deadline for reporting what I’ve read.  Those will be the first on the Winter Interterm reading list.  I’m very excited, especially about Elizabeth the First Wife which promises to be extra smutty.

Categories: Fiction, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For the Love of Novels

My earliest memory of reading was the Little Bear books, although those would hardly be considered novels. My mother would tuck herself into the bottom of the bunk bed with me and make me read to her. She took one side of the hard cover in her hand, and I took the other in my tiny one. I was always so conflicted inside. I wanted to know what happened to Little Bear next, but it was so hard to stumble through the words. If I was good and kept trying, my mother might read the last page of the chapter to me. Then, the book came alive in my mind like a film. After Little Bear came Drummer Hoff, who fired it off, which made me feel that it must be a beautiful thing to wear a tricorn hat and fire cannons at things. Later, it was the Secret Garden in all its haunting mystery, which my mother read to both my sister and I at bedtime.

I received Kirsten, an American Girl doll, the Christmas I was in 3rd grade. She came with a set of seven books about her life in 1850’s Minnesota. Once the Christmas tree was devoid of gifts, she and I climbed the brown trunk of the tree in my front yard and settled down into the y shaped crook that was my favorite. I read her all of her stories, partly out of conviction that her time in that maroon box may have made her forget herself.

By sixth grade, it was impossible to keep me in books any longer. I just read too fast. Elizabeth George Speare’s magical and frightening tales of puritan New England lasted me only a day. I sped through Natalie Babbit’s books, and wished that I could climb Kneenock Rise with the fat dog Alice, too. I fell in love with Anne of red hair and fiery temper and her need for puffed sleeves. Emily, haunted by family tradition in the beautiful New Moon, was next, and so was Valancy’s propensity to shock her miserly mother and the collections of Darks and Penhallows fighting over a jug in A Tangled Web.

In Junior High it was The Hobbit. I was half in love with Gandalf, of all people, despite his age and mostly for his fireworks. I was ready to pack my things and move to Rivendale post haste. I decided that I was going to read the classics – all of them – about this time. Wuthering Heights made me angry at the stupidity of everyone. Around the World in Eighty Days made me dream of balloons and elephants. Kipling secretly made me want to go overboard on an ocean liner. I breathed To Kill a Mocking Bird in eighth grade. Of all the soul shattering scenes in that book, the rabid dog stands out strongest now.

My Aunt Nancy sent us a package for Christmas when I was thirteen. She usually sent us a package, but this year we stripped the gilded paper from a beautiful, hardbound copy of Little Women. I think my mother had designs that we would all read it as a family together, like we did when my sister and I were little. I did not wait for that. I charged through the book and did not stop for months. When I finished savoring the last word on the last page, I would turn to the beginning again: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” That book held the universe, from the Pickwick Society to Laurie’s tragic past, to kittens and blancmange for sickness and the importance of gloves. It had croquet, lobster and jam disasters, champagne, parties to which you needed to wear a ball gown, France, and a knight who sneezed and his head fell off. I stylized myself a less-artistic Amy and memorized both the scene where she goes to the ball with Laurie in France, and the one where they are engaged after Beth’s death. My mother made me a present of Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Jack and Jill, An Old Fashioned Girl, and Eight Cousins next, and I worked my way through those as well, continually reading them as I did Little Women.

In high school, I discovered The Lord of the Rings. The Alcott obsession waned, and Tolkien burned instead. I wanted to be Arwen for a long time. I was more than head over heels for Aragorn by then. Then realized that Eowyn was more my style. No waiting at home for me, I wanted to dress like a man and take out the biggest baddie of them all, even if it did put me in a death sleep and meant I was stuck with Faramir. My family took a trip to Yosemite that year to stay in a white tent cabin. There is something so magical about reading Tolkien amid the trees. You could round any path to find the painted door of a hobbit hole in the hillside. Or so it feels.

Today, my passions have diversified. It was Garrison Keillor for a while, his sad tales of Lake Woebegone where desire lurks in the darkness and baseball games and typewriters stand in the light. I devoured Jane Austen, then Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl who could speak to the geese, and Enna who almost consumed herself with fire. Agatha Christie’s shocking morbidity kept me fascinated. Ursula K. LeGuin made me long for other, colder, planets. My current Diana Wynne Jones obsession, the way she entwines ancient mythos with anoraks, pies and laundry, has been interrupted by a Neil Gaiman fixation. This is the worst one yet. He is all over social media, which means that new things from him are never ending, and the fixation can continue unbroken.

How to pick a favorite from all the rest? It is impossible. Favorites change at the drop of a hat, at the changing of the seasons, with age and with experience. It is like picking a favorite child. Still, if I were to pick one it might be Little Women. Alcott was my first obsession. I find myself following the tenets in her books even today. For instance:

I have had a busy day at work sorting out customs paperwork. They did it all wrong while I was on vacation and now things are backed up for miles, in purgatory. My husband and I fought about faucets for the bathroom sink that morning. When you are feeling in a funk, do something nice for someone else and let the good feelings surround you, suggests Alcott. That night, I make dinner and set the table with candles and real, cloth napkins. It doesn’t help completely. That feeling of dissatisfaction still lingers underneath my heart, but it is less than it was before, and it does not grow. The argument has dissolved into the ether.

There is no denying that this book has seeped into the very framework of my ideology and stuck there like muscle on a backbone. I still wish to be those girls sometimes, collected around Beth’s piano for a song or ensconced in the garret with Jo’s inky fingers and askew cap, or having larks with Laurie. I can’t read Little Women anymore. I have memorized too much of it and the scenes no longer play in my head as if I was watching a film. Still, I remember the scenes vividly. I remember the tenets of their lives vividly. I remember the affection, family, tragedy, and even the petty betrayals, and I love them. While not necessarily my flashy, current favorite, the March sisters have certainly stuck with me the longest.

The constant, from Little Bear to Gaiman, is the devouring of new ideas, of the lives of others. Beethoven once wrote, “Oh it would be so lovely to live a thousand lives.” I have lived them in my mind and am all the richer for them. I am a teetotaling college student with a part time desk job. I have a husband, two cats, a mortgage. In my spare time I bake things and do homework. But when I pick up a book, lose myself in the ink on the pages, I am continually becoming.

Categories: Fiction, Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.