Exploring where life and story meet!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On favorite authors and good books

I have never really found a favorite author, I have favorite books, but never have I chosen a true favorite author.  How can one choose a favorite sunset?  No two are alike so how is one to choose between them?  But I have narrowed it down to two: L. M. Montgomery and C. S. Lewis, my other esteemed authors have all written other works in which I find little interest, but these two I have loved every piece of their writing that I have yet read.  Take Tolkien for example, I love 'the Lord of the Rings', don't mind 'the Hobbit,' but have no use for the Silmarillion and many of his other works (apparently my nerd gene is only heterozygous).  G. K. Chesterton is brilliant and funny and down to earth, but half the time I am not sure what he is trying to say, which annoys me no end.  C. S. Lewis is so logical, reasonable, approachable, winsome, and concise that I like both his fiction and his non-fiction; he has a way of saying things that make no sense when others say them but he can make you understand in a sentence what it takes others a book to say.  L. M. Montgomery grew up at my house, maybe she was me?  Anywho, I feel like a child again, wandering the fields and woodlands of my youth.  She has an insight into people that is both refreshing and scary, and so far there is always a happy ending, though in that annoying Austenian fashion, the wedding comes at the very end and we have no idea what happens after with the exception of Anne.  I am currently reading through some of her lesser known works and quite enjoying them, though I wonder if they are good for me emotionally. I seem to know these dear girls, to be these young heroines, and coming back to 'real' life sometimes I think a bit of them comes with me.  My husband thinks I have gone crazy!  But that is one sign of a good book (it draws you in and holds you, not the crazy part, that would be a sign you are reading too much modern lit.).

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

For words never die

I finished reading L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle yesterday, a lesser known work but still very good (in my opinion) by the author of Anne of Green Gables fame.  Reading various of her works, one can perhaps get a slight feel for the soul of this woman and reading some of the biographical details of her life only confirms that she lived an often sad/disappointing life but has a heart that looked at things unseen, that hoped for things beyond this world, she found joy in the midst of sorrow.  I wonder if the books/authors we love most are those in which we find a connection to our own lives, experiences, and personalities; 'kindred spirits' as the beloved Anne would say.  For there are books I cannot comprehend, loathe, or am just plain bored with that others consider classics, favorites, or must-reads.  And I know there are people that think I am silly or perhaps batty in my choice of reading material.  

I hate showing my writing to people I know, for I feel like it bares my soul to their ridicule and if they do not like it, their indifference or criticism strikes deep, yet for some reason it does not hurt near so much if a complete stranger dislikes it.   I am minded of Elizabeth Bennet saying, "There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”  Or perhaps Bilbo Baggins, "I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."  Perhaps this is why I connect so well with Montgomery's characters, for I see myself in them: hurting dreamers that the world little understands, who often have a hard time connecting with others but when they do connect, they put their whole hearts into the relationship, thus risking further pain and injury, which only makes it harder to connect again if they are thus wounded.

But that is the beauty of books, we can see ourselves in them like a mirror that we might better understand ourselves, correct our faults, and better relate to the world in general.  They connect all forthcoming generations with those that have gone before, with a world that has ceased to be yet which never changes.  Our technology and societal norms change but the rhythms of nature and the human heart have not changed since the dawn of Time, nor has our love for story.  So write on ye poets and scribes that men may not forget, that long after you have fallen to dust, some heart may be touched by a kindred soul long forgotten for words never die.

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
for we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!
-"Invitation," Shel Silverstein (Where the Sidewalk Ends)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Finding that which we do not seek

“There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.” 
― L.M. MontgomeryThe Story Girl

In searching for a quote by L. M. Montgomery (which I never found) I came across this treasure trove of whimsy, wisdom, and wit: Great L. M. Montgomery quotes.  A whole trove of quotes (save the one I can't find at the moment) to lighten your heart and bring joy to your day.  She is definitely one of my favorite authors, and though I have not had the chance to read the work quoted above, I thought I would share it with you as it seems to be the heart of what this blog should be about.  How does one capture the wonder, the vision, the joy, the sorrow, the beauty, the fleeting glimpses of this thing which every soul knows (though perhaps does not remember) but no words can describe?  Every child seems to know the path until they lose their natal joy and wonder in the small things of life, when their imagination atrophies and the cares and distractions of the world ask their due.  We find it in books, poems, songs, sunsets, laughter and tears, and even movies and other modern media can sometimes capture a glimpse of lost Faerie.  We all claim to be adults or wise or mature or refined, but we all love a good story though we admit it not even to ourselves.  The universal language, I think, is not love but story.  The story of good versus evil, love against hate, joy even in sorrow, perseverance and courage in the face of doubt and darkness; the story of what it is to be human.  Story is life.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Great literature and the the culture of 'Me'

Of all topics least interesting, you want to hear about me?  Such was my response when I learned who they had volunteered to speak and upon what topic said volunteer must speak at a meeting I must soon attend.  I loathe getting up and talking in front of people, especially if the topic is the speaker!  This brought to mind a few things I have been reading of late as pertains to the phenomenon of modern writing, especially in the self-published world.  The experts assure the self-published masses that it is not about the book but rather about the brand, and the brand is you, the author.  To become a success, you must promote yourself.  Sell, sell, sell, is their mantra!  You will sell no books if you do not sell yourself.  Did I miss something?  Did I take the wrong train and end up in a strange parallel dimension?  Who reads a book because they personally like the author?  You may like the way a person writes, their stories, their characters, whatever but I doubt you read a book because you like the author's 'brand' or similar hype.  Sure, you might read Aunt Esmeralda's autobiography out of familial duty or pick up the latest book by your favorite author, but you read the latter because you like previous books by the same author and the former because you have to or your Aunt will be crushed, in neither case is it about reading whatever is written because you like Joe Smith as a person (albeit a person you have never met).

What should sell a book is good writing.  You usually need a good story, a great plot, interesting characters, etc, though some of the latest publishing triumphs leave me wondering if the author cult is on the rise; we read what is popular rather than what is good literature or something we enjoy.  But look at the books that endure, what generation after generation chooses to read (when not coerced by English teachers and well meaning parents).  Some of the recent 'hip' novels will no doubt do well but will not endure whereas others that may make very little profit will continue to be read and beloved for generations.  I suppose this is why I do not have a favorite living author.  I prefer books that have survived the test of time and are not just a passing fad.  Words that live even after their author's decease.

I will not read a book because it is 'the best thing ever' but rather because I think I may have half a chance of enjoying it.  Why read else?  So why would I read a book because the author is 'the best thing ever' or so say they of themselves.  Judge not a book by its author nor its cover, I suppose is a good mantra.  I have several authors that I love one book and dislike or even hate another work of theirs.  Reveal your words to the world and let the readers judge of themselves.  But alas, even our books must have brands in this strange day.  I have never been wise in the ways of fashion, thus brands are of little account to me.  Why must they now invade the world of story?  Read Jane Austen because you like her books, not because you think she herself is 'the bomb' or whatever is the latest trendy slang for a cool person.  But then, everything is about 'me,' so why should literature be spared.  Fame is about being famous rather than about having done something worthwhile.  What is popular is better than what is right or good or true.  But there are so many 'mes' clamoring for attention that I doubt such self-aggrandizement will avail anyone but an already famous person.  I am afraid it will scare people away from reading at all.  Celebrities write books and sell books because of their brand, the same cannot be said of we mere mortals, but though we may never be famous or rich, some few among us may write a great story that will live on long after the latest famous autobiography lies forgotten in a recycling bin.  I suppose this, like all fads, will soon enough pass away and the good will remain.  Verbum Dei Manet in Aeternum.  In the interim, we must choose our reading wisely.  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

On lacking a thesis

There's a relatively famous passage from the book of Ecclesiastes (made even more famous by the Byrds in the song titled 'Turn, turn turn,' and yes I had to google that!) about, 'a time for every purpose under Heaven, a time to sow and a time to reap…'  While this is very good advice for life, it seems to apply to most activities within life as well, even to the art of writing.  I have a limited amount of time to write each day (nap time) and when the stars have aligned to grant me five minutes of authorial bliss, sometimes I discover the muses are out to lunch.  Sometimes I can write, but at others I find myself staring blankly at my word processor like a college kid the night before his term paper is due.  Instead, I am sometimes in the mood to read/edit or revisit some half finished story, read something actually worth reading (a real book), or even clean the house (yeah, we are real exciting around here).  All the 'writing pros' say you need to write X number of words per day if you are going to make it as a writer, even if you do not feel like it.  I suppose my writing career will never take off then, but it is more a hobby than a career anyway, after all, changing diapers and doing laundry (our own) is much more lucrative!

I used to dread writing in school, mostly because it was on a subject in which I had no say or interest.  I could care less about an Organic chemistry lab report (try spell checking one of those) or comparing and contrasting the major themes in two completely unrelated novels (please write 10,000 words relating 'Hamlet' to 'The Cat in the Hat,' I might prefer the chemistry).  I suppose that is why they call it a BS degree, that is about all it taught me to do, that and write countless pages about nothing since word count was all that mattered, not conciseness.  Happily, the floppy disks (yes I am that old) containing those horrendous papers have vanished with the years and will hopefully never again see the light of day.  Now I write because I like to, actually I almost have to, else the 'very stones might cry out,' not really but I might get rather grouchy.  At least I can do a professional critique of children's books (not from a background in english literature but because I was once a child).  Just like in the world of grown up books, there are some great and some horrid books out there and a whole lot of mediocre ones (like mine!).

Thesis, yes thesis, that was what they called it.  Anyone else visualizing Gandalf ("that was my name once…"), no, too bad, moving on...  One must have a topic and stick to it.  I learned something in school, not that you can tell from this blog post though.  Anywho, write when you feel like it, don't force it when you don't (unless you are still trapped in the Swamps of Education, then you just have to get very good at making things up).  If you do not like writing (or have lousy spelling and/or grammar and don't know a good editor), please do not write a book!  I know the 'american dream' is supposed to include writing a book and technology makes it very easy in this day and age, but a word processor does not an author make.  I am terrible at golf, bowling, and most anything else that requires aim, precision, and a ball thus I spare others (and myself) much misery by not attempting such feats unless absolutely required to do so in the name of social etiquette.  Writing is an art, as is music and painting, neither of the latter do I EVER exhibit in public, though I like to bang on the piano on occasion and once painted a stunning watercolor in 7th grade (at least I got a C on it).  Do whatever you enjoy, just please do not throw it out for public consumption unless it is worth consuming lest your intended audience get indigestion.  I would like to say the same for Facebook, Message boards, texting, and the like but I am too late for that.  It is a wonder modern english teachers are not committing suicide in droves or at least becoming Amish.  Thesis, who needs a thesis?  Now chocolate, yes chocolate…go eat chocolate, that makes everything better!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Brothers Grimm, Aesop, and John?

I just realized today that the Bible is full of fairy tales…no, the atheists have not finally won me over, rather I started reading Ruth today, I forget how much I love that story, and Esther, and so many more.  Nearly every tale has something mysterious and magical and wonderful about it and then there is the entire epic theme of the fall and redemption of man, of the God made flesh who dwelt among us.  No yarn of George MacDonald can compare to the visions of John or Ezekiel.  No strange world created by a mortal mind can compete with our own that God called forth from the void.  What tale of human striving can compete with the story of God?  I have recently discovered G. K. Chesterton's poetry, a thing I thought never to do as I can sometimes barely discern the meaning in his prose and I am no student of poetry, but there is something wonderful and weird in his ravings and I find myself swept along with it into a new world of imagination and childish wonder.


G. K. Chesterton
There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home. 
A classic education, what an excellent way to start the new year!  Thirsty for more?  You can find 'Poems' by G. K. Chesterton at Project Gutenberg or you can find his muse and source material in the Bible.