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The books read at a certain age, for me between 10 and 13 years old, can be permanently stamped on your psyche.  I became a real reader at this age, with the loving and supportive help of two very literary teachers. Interestingly these fine ladies, upon retirement, took jobs at the local library.  I can’t think of a better suited job for either of them, seeing as they introduced me to my own love of reading. 

As a young girl I read everything I could get my hands on (sound familiar?) and read at the speed of lightning (again, any surprises there?).  In my opinion reading begets reading.  It’s The Neverending Story come to life – as soon as you finish one there is another hovering in the wings.  You don’t want to stop, you might missing the next adventure.  This is also the place in my life where reading became how I made sense of the world.  When you are a young adult, navigating the confusing new currents of adolescence, processing the end of childhood and the anticipating the looming seriousness of the world of adults, fantasy has special something to offer.  At a time when you feel most impotent and insignificant, confused and lost, stories of seemingly ordinary kids doing extraordinary things is a welcome escape.  Who can forget poor Wart, who doesn’t even know that underneath all those skinny limbs and dirty clothes he’s a KING!  It doesn’t get any better.

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I feel sorry for Ms. Morgenstern.  What, you say, that’s crazy!  She got an almost obscene advance for her very first novel  with nary a writing credit to her name.  The movie rights have already been sold (were sold before the book was published) to the makers of the Twilight movies.  Rumor has it Harry Potter’s simply magical David Heyman will produce.  What’s to feel sorry for?

Two reasons: 

A) According to the Wall St. Journal, publishers, book sellers, movie producers, marketing gurus everywhere, and (not incidentally) readers, all think that The Night Circus will be the next  Harry Potter!

and

B) I’ve read 49 pages of  Night Circus.  It’s not Harry Potter.

Hold up, wait a minute (put a little boom in it. . .).  This is not a bad thing.  Or a good thing.  It’s just, well, a different thing. 

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Forgive me, readers, for two things.  One, for being absent for so long, and two, for being self-indulgent and explaining away my absence.  Humor me, it’s relevant (sort of).

Toward the end of the summer I took a new job and simultaneously, somehow, and totally on purpose, I found myself knocked up (no oops there, but I do wonder at my timing). So between the working, the throwing up, the commuting, the being exhausted and the studying for the MBA which suddenly seems much less important, I haven’t had time to crack a book for enjoyment since.

This, I have discovered, is a very unhealthy place for me to be.  My body is having a hard enough time keeping down food (like some women, I’ve lost weight in my first trimester).  This is no time for my soul also to be lacking in (literary) nourishment.

This baby may not end up being a reader, though with nature (on both sides) and nurture (on all sides) I don’t see how that will be possible.  Regardless of how he or she turns out, it will not be from lack of a steady diet of stories.

Starting now.

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Arthur

King Arthur may well be the ur-fantasy story.   The ur-hero story even.  This story has been told countless times, in many forms including, quite notably, Monty Python’s version (you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you!), one of my personal favorites.  There is even much academic debate about whether a real Arthur or Merlin existed. While that is mildly interesting, and I have been known to read a treatise or two about what might have happened, I’d much rather read pages and pages (and pages and pages) of stories about what could have happened.

The Arthurian legends were certainly my first foray into “fantasy” and it’s the one story I never tire of, no matter what the medium.  I daresay I’ve read them “all” – The Mists of Avalon, the Sword in the Stone, The Once and Future King, even Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.  I have a grand copy of Le Morte d’Arthur, almost too beautiful to read (or at least that’s my current excuse for not reading it). 

I love this story (or should I say stories) so much that I took an entire class in college about King Arthur (me, a science major!), in which we read the older texts based on the oral legends (where Gawain was the hero, not some pretty French dude).  They aren’t as flowery as the Lancelot versions with their courtly love, chivalry and the round table, but it is those gritty older texts that, in my humble opinion, have spawned the best modern Arthurian works.  As my high school English teacher always told us “Arthur was a peer of Beowulf.”  Which means, though he likely carried a sword, his armor was made of leather instead of metal, and he probably didn’t joust.

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twilightWith some extreme exceptions (Harry Potter for one), I’m generally opposed to book “phenomenons.”  If I see everyone reading it on the subway I like to flatter myself that I’m above it all.  I tell myself that I read “real” books (which as any reader of this blog can see, is not entirely true).  I hate when non readers tell me I *HAVE* to read such and such book.  It irritates me.   Worse yet are the books that are made into movies, causing an explosion of books into the population, mostly non readers.

The Twilight series is one of those phenomenons, tween girls are crazed about these books (and the subsequent movie).  But it’s not just kids, plenty of young adult women have been trying to push the series on me.  I successfully resisted, until one of my best reading friends literally put the stack in my hand and said, “Read them, they’re fun.”

I think it was the fact that she didn’t fly into rhapsodies about how amazing and impressive they were that made me take them from her.  Still, they sat on my bookshelf. I had no intention of reading them, I figured I would just hold them for an appropriate amount of time and then return them with a disclaimer that I was “too busy” to get to them.

But what I didn’t count on was that my foray into British history was coming to an abrupt halt with Roy Jenkins’ Churchill.  That book was painful; somehow he made Winston Churchill seem boring.  I had to give up, only halfway through.   It was disheartening, and  I just didn’t have it in me to start anything even remotely challenging. 

“They’re fun,” she had said, and so I reached for Twilight.

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spiderwick

I was looking forward to Christmas this year, unlike many years past. It is a children’s holiday after all, and this is the first year I had children in my life (small ones, not the tweens who don’t give a shit unless you give them electronics).  The spirit of giving was certainly overflowing, and I enjoyed every new gift (I mean, book, since, as Jesse noted, they make the best presents).  So what if I was buying them for babies, they need to get started on the right foot. Yes, even my unborn niece got some, the biggest stack in fact! 

Due to some health issues (mental and physical) I wasn’t up for huge amounts of family this year.  So despite my new found love for the holiday, Tim and I escaped to Vermont.  As I’ve mentioned before, whenever I travel it’s hard to know what books to bring.  I’ve been on a historical biography kick lately, but that isn’t very, well, Christmasy.  Perhaps it was all the time spent in the children’s section buying for the babies, but I wanted storybooks to read on my mini vacation.  But where to find just the right stories?  I had a tall order: they had to be  1) smart 2) funny and 3) engaging.   That just about rules out all adult books, so off to the YA section I went.

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Cover ImageI bought this book thinking of Jesse, and how it would be a great book to read together.  And then I remembered that Jesse is MIA, on this blog but also in real life.  No worries, he’s alive and well but apparently distracted from blogging for the moment.  I will send him this link and perhaps I can guilt, I mean, lure him back in.

This book was indeed the perfect book for us to have read together.  So much so that I will probably be mailing it to him with the demand that he read it, like, immediately and report back.  In the meantime I’ll be on to something else. 

In other words, exactly how we used to be about books.  I would recommend a book to Jesse and he would read it, many many months later, at which point I would have forgotten entirely what it was about or what my feelings or thoughts on it were.

Sigh.

I think it’s a neat phenomenon though, this idea of buying books with other people in mind.  It certainly broadens one’s experience to pick up a book that you would choose for someone else and to read it yourself.  I have done this with many times with Jesse and it has never led me astray (with other folks it has.  Beware, you have to chose your reading muses carefully).  It’s different too, than reading a book and thinking “So and so would like this very much.”  It’s sort of a premeditated book choice instead of a referral.

It’s another way that reading can be a social, communal activity, even though the other person might not even know you are thinking of them.  I’d advise if you do this, to let the other person know – “this book made me think of you.” 

Unless of course it’s something along the lines of Tuesdays with Morrie

That’s just mean.

MBGIf I were to create my idea of the perfect fantasy love child of, well, fantasy literature, I would take the best of Neil Gaimen and Clive Barker and meld them into one.  I would stir gently the darker tones of Clive and fold them into the fluffy yet dense snarkiness and black humor of Neil.  I would take the intimidating strength of Neil’s solid characters and plant them into Clive’s firmly rooted geography.

The result would likely be very much like this book.

Perhaps because I’m an atheist I can love stories about angels and demons without any of the resulting fear or guilt.  It makes for great story telling that is endlessly entertaining, particularly if you aren’t worried about your immortal soul.

Though this book was described as bone chilling I found it mostly amusing and even in parts, affecting.  Mr. B. Gone is a low class demon with a certain amount of charm.  He directly threatens, cajoles and otherwise manipulates the reader, all in an attempt to get you to burn the book.  In between such tirades he tells the story of how he came to be stuck in the book itself.

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SDThe pressures of Ms. Prose notwithstanding (yes, she has a point; she’s just sending me in the wrong direction), my goal with this blog was to slow down my reading. To allow myself to digest what I am reading. To pause and enjoy each story for itself, as a journey instead of a notch on my bookshelf. Though it may not seem like it, I have actually slowed down considerably.

I still read a lot because reading is what I love to do. It’s what relaxes me; it keeps me sane. It makes all that time spent inside my own head not only normal but productive. I used to think I was weird, but I’m beginning to realize I’m not abnormal. Just perhaps in the wrong profession. I’m sure I would love to hang out with popular fiction writers (except Robert B. Parker who is a notorious – and arrogant – non reader. Could be why his books stink). Earlier this week I read an article about J.K. Rowling and her words only solidified my love for her:

“I never need to find time to read. When people say to me, ‘Oh, yeah, I love reading. I would love to read, but I just don’t have time,’ I’m thinking, ‘How can you not have time?’ I read when I’m drying my hair. I read in the bath. I read when I’m sitting in the bathroom. Pretty much anywhere I can do the job one-handed, I read.”

Exactly.

 

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[Editor’s Note: OK, we really don’t have an editor (yes, there is an argument to made that maybe we should). I just wanted to add that I’m trying like hell not to spoil this book for anyone, so if you don’t want to know what happens in this book DON’T READ AFTER THE JUMP! If you’ve read the book or don’t care to have the ending ruined, feel free to read on.]

I didn’t wait in line to buy my book at midnight this past Friday, in magical costume, with signs expressing my Potterfilia. On the other hand, I also didn’t pre-order at Amazon – because they couldn’t guarantee delivery until 7pm which would have meant a loss of too many prime reading hours. Instead I drove to my favorite independent book store and paid (gasp) full price, eschewing all the various sales and discounts. I imagined that Harry would have been proud of me standing up for the little guy.

Once I got there things went a little funny. The store’s subdued reaction to this release (maybe they were exhausted from their partying the night before?) was mirrored by my own. Though they had huge stacks of pre-orders behind the desk, there was no front window display (they had gratuitous ones for book five and six). I actually had to go into the children’s section and look for it. I did find it (one of three copies strewn upon various surfaces) but I reached for it with little excitement this time, finally fully realizing that, good or bad, this was the end.

Upon arrival home I paced from room to room, carrying it without opening it, feeling its heft and gathering the courage I didn’t know I would need. I knew once I began that I would read until I was finished. I am hard core in that respect; I would finish by Monday. Beyond small breaks to catch my breath, eat a snack or stretch my legs, I didn’t stop. Really, I couldn’t stop. The action starts on page one and doesn’t let up for 748 pages. I read it on the 15 minute ride to my parents’ house for dinner. Had I somehow found a way to walk the dog or shower and read the same time, I would have done it.

Unfortunately life did interrupt such an ambitious reading session. I’m not a kid on summer vacation who can stay up all night if I want to. Last night, after various fits and spurts and more than two hours past my normal bedtime, I finally closed the book. I sat silently for a few moments. Probing myself for any emotional injures, I realized I was left with a hollow feeling of sorrow which had nothing to do with the various deaths within the pages. Have no doubts about this -there were many deaths (two before page 80), some of them shocking, others heartbreaking and one in particular which brought tears to my eyes.

My sorrow was really for the answered questions (and yes, they are all answered).

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Jessica’s Reading

Jesse’s Reading

Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

Devin’s Reading

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