Bookbinding 101

I made a thing. It’s not a perfect thing, but damnit I’m proud of it. And given the circumstances, I’m pretty sure it’s the best damn thing I could have possibly made.

I made a book.

I didn’t write the book, but I did format it. I drew all the illustrations. I sewed it. I glued it. I made the physical book itself. It sapped what sanity I had left in me at the end of semester and it took two nights of staying up until three in the morning, but I made it.

front-cover

I made it as the final project for my publishing design technologies class. I had issues with that class from the beginning. Not with the class itself, exactly, but with the lab. There seemed to be no preplanned structure to the way our labs were run. Instruction was minimal at best and at worst it was confused and flat out wrong. The professor and the TA didn’t seem to have discussed how the labs were to be taught, because the TA often seemed at a loss to explain to us how to do the lab assignments the prof gave us. Considering that we were a class of students who mostly had no idea how to work InDesign, it was frustrating to say the least when the prof gave us a lab sheet that says, “do this thing” and when we ask how to do the thing, the TA says, “Don’t worry about that thing” and then, naturally, we got points taken off. After a month of that I figured that Google was probably going to be the best instructor I could get to pass that class, and I stopped asking the TA to do the thing she was getting paid to do.

This final project was no different. We received minimal guidance on how to get the book printed and were instructed to watch Sea Lemon videos to learn how to put the book together. In fact, the only part of this that I was decently confident about was the formatting part. I’m by no means an expert on InDesign now, but I feel confident in my ability to format raw text at least from this class. Illustrator and Photo Shop remain beyond my skill level. None of that would have been that big of a deal except, like I said, this was my final project. It came at the end of semester when I also had two essays and two final exams to complete/study for. And the final project was worth 22% of my grade. So I was in full on panic-stress mode for two weeks racing my deadlines while my professors and TAs were on the sidelines telling me to calm down and not freak out. Which is a bit like being on the bomb squad trying to dismantle a nuke on a sixty second timer with the whole city standing around telling you that it’d be okay if you took a coffee break. Or at least that’s how it felt at the time. And since the TA had already made me nervous about asking for any kind of help due to her insufficient knowledge, I felt completely on my own in this.

But this post is about the book, not the class, so I’m going to walk you through the step-by-step process as best I can. To be honest though, I think I’ve locked up some of these memories for my own mental health, so there may be some gaps.

We were given a raw text file for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, but it had terrible line breaks throughout the whole thing that I didn’t have time to go in and fix by myself, so I grabbed the text off the internet instead. Formatting in InDesign is an incredibly laborious process. It’s not at all like Word, so don’t complain about what your formatter charges you. It’s a pain in the ass that involves making different character styles, paragraph styles, and master pages for each different formatting element in the document. Alice is only twelve chapters long, but it took me four days just to format the raw text. Including putting in the images, doing the line edits, correcting for widows and orphans and the final proof read, I read that damn book, cover to cover, six times. That was before any printing at all had been done. (To extrapolate, the idea that ebooks require no extra work than physical books and therefore shouldn’t cost so much is wrong. It’s so wrong. Stop disseminating this idea.)

The formatting, as I said, was the easy part. After I had it formatted, I had to figure out how to print it. I ran into some problems here. The first problem was that I wanted it printed on high quality, textured cream paper. It’s just a style choice for me. I don’t like white paper because the ink contrast is too high and it hurts my eyes. I also think that it looks cheap and unprofessional, but again, that’s just me. The problem was, if I wanted that kind of paper I’d have to buy it and print it myself, because ordinary print shops don’t carry high quality textured cream paper, and they don’t let you bring in your pwn paper either. But this presented its own problem because, as I discovered the night before my very last lab in which to work on this project, my printer doesn’t print double sided. So I had to scrap that idea.

The second printing problem that I had was signatures. Signatures are packets of four to five sheets of paper representing sixteen to twenty pages when folded in half. In traditional bookbinding (ie the kind of book binding you’re probably most familiar with) signatures are sewn together to create a uniform shape for all the pages in the book. But it involves a complicated formatting arrangement of the pages that we were assured by prof and TA both that the printers would understand how to do. I was assured by prof and TA both when I asked multiple times that if I went to the printer with my regularly formatted PDF file and said, “I want this printed in signatures of five sheets each” the printer would understand and would be able to print it how I wanted it.

This was not the case. The first printer I went to had no idea what I wanted. He didn’t know what a signature was, and when I explained to him what it was, he printed the whole document in one giant signature. Imagine taking thirty-five sheets of paper and folding them all in half. It doesn’t make a nice, uniform edge, does it? Not only that, but the sheets didn’t print in the correct order, so it was a complete waste of time, and it put me in a full on freak-out, because I had to go to work that afternoon and if I couldn’t get my signatures printed that morning I wasn’t going to have time to print them ever. The TA’s advice was to print a sample sheet myself, but I didn’t know how to do that at all, and she wasn’t much help explaining it to me, so I contacted every printer within walking distance to get a price and a time quote on this project. Thankfully, DigiTech Printing, less than five minutes from my school, figured they could get it done before noon. So I hauled ass over there with my files and, I have to say, they were the nicest, most accommodating people I worked with through this whole ordeal. Their professionalism, knowledge, and willingness to work on a deadline brought me down from apoplectic panic to mild worry. They assured me that everything I wanted (aside from the high quality, textured cream paper) could be done, but there was only one, small problem: price.

Wearily I asked them how much. They said $80. I said done. They reasserted that it would cost me $80. I said I didn’t care how much it cost as long as I didn’t have to be the one to deal with it anymore. I’m not ashamed to say that I literally threw money at the problem until it went away. The important thing was that I had my signatures printed, folded and trimmed, and all I had to do now was bind the book, which I didn’t need my prof or my TA for, since I would be learning that part via YouTube videos. (Why did I spend $1000 to learn publishing design from Google and YouTube?!)

signatures

Of course I needed the materials for bookbinding. Those I had to buy from Opus, Dessew, and Michael’s which are thankfully just down the street from my school. They were unfortunately far less knowledgeable, professional and agreeable than DigiTech. Dessew seemed to be staffed by grannies who are altogether tired of your shit. With the exception of the one lady who helped me find the black canvas for my cover, everyone else I dealt with in that store treated me like a junkie asking to use the bathroom. (Though to be fair I’m pretty sure all the shopkeeps on East Hastings have to deal with more than their fair share of junkies on a regular basis.) Opus on the other hand seemed to be staffed entirely by stoners who thought it would be great to operate an art supply store until the high wore off and they realized they had no fucking idea what they were doing there. No one seemed to know where anything was in the store. I was passed off to four different employees who kept scattering like scared rats at the sight of a customer. My efforts to explain what I was looking for turned up the most useless products for my project (giant sheets of paper that no one would cut, when I only needed a couple 8″x11″s) and endless chatter about anything but the products I was looking for. My last stop was Michael’s which looked like the Grinch had ransacked it. He took the cloth-binders, paper-punchers, and ink-dabbers. He took the wax thread, the gold letters, the red ribbons. What bits of glitter he left behind in that store were barely enough for a mouse and no more. Lesson learned: don’t go to Michael’s before Christmas.

supplies

So there I had all my supplies. All I had to do was: sew the signatures, glue the signatures, trim the pages, cut the cover boards, measure the cloth cover, make the headband, position the lettering, make a text block, glue the headband to the text block, glue the text block to the end sheets, glue the end sheets to the cover and FINISHED!

Easier said than done. The sewing of the signatures actually turned out to be fairly easy, despite me doing it completely wrong the first time and having to cut and unthread the whole thing and start from the beginning. I was actually quite pleased with how the corrected version turned out.

correct-sewn-signatures

I applied two coats of bookbinding glue to the sewn spine and let it dry overnight while I worked on the cover. The cover was trickier. As with every step of this damn project, there was a problem. In this case, I ran out of time to make a dust jacket, in part because I was busy completing other assignments, and in part because the printing of the signatures took way, way more time than I anticipated it would for reasons outlined above. So I had to put the title directly on the cloth itself, and the only way I could think to do that in a professional looking way was with iron-on letters. These came in large sheets from which each individual letter had to be cut in squares. The squares then had to be placed down on the cloth and ironed on both sides, which meant that I couldn’t glue the cover boards to the cloth until after I had ironed on the letters. This posed the challenge of how to position the letters so that they would appear evenly on the final cover. I solved this in the messiest way possible: I outlined in chalk. In hindsight this was probably not the best idea. Honestly, a piece of yarn rolled in flour probably would have been neater, but I was fueled entirely by coffee and cortisol as I was working on this portion, so I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly. I sketched out the position of the book boards, and where I wanted the letters to be which left only one complication: how to line up the individual squares of letters so that they would look neat and not move under the iron? My solution: make a type block out of scotch tape. I positioned each letter upside down and backwards as neatly as I could muster on a strip of tape and then taped the sucker down on the chalk line I drew for it. I could then iron the letters, front and back without worrying about them shifting out of place as I did so. The result was less than perfect, but better than expected.

cloth-binding

It took a course paint brush to scrub away most of the chalk lines. I wasn’t exactly happy with the lines that remained, but definitely too exhausted to care overly much about it. Gluing everything together also turned out to be relatively easy, starting with the text block which took a couple of extra sheets to make it cohesive, and then the end sheets, which would attach it to the finished cover. For whatever reason the edges of the pages ended up slightly uneven at this stage, so I had to cut them with a craft knife. Despite my best efforts, however, the knife kept slipping and I was left with an uneven cut. Sea Lemon recommended taking a file to the uneven edges to make them smooth which yielded… mixed results which I won’t picture here.

text-block

The final complication ended up being a few pieces of information that, if left missing, would result in at least a letter grade deduction. These were, ISBN, publisher information, and the back blurb. As already mentioned, I didn’t have time to do a dusk jacket, so I was going to print an obi (book belt) to fit around the back cover instead, except my easily confused printer couldn’t figure out what size paper I wanted, so I had to go with something much smaller and much more slapped together. In the end, the final product looked like this:

I don’t know what I got on the project. I won’t know until I get it back in January. If my final grade is anything to go by I got less than an A on it, which I’m extremely disappointed by given the amount of effort I put into this compared to the amount and quality of instruction. I ended up finishing the course with an A- however, so I don’t have much footing on which to complain. If there are any constructive criticisms on the project when I get it back, I’ll edit them in here. What I do have are the memories, and the first hand knowledge of what an all nighter looks like. For the record, it looks like this:

all-nighter

Robinson Crusoe: Afterthoughts

Robinson Crusoe
by Daniel Defoe
340 pages
three and a half

 

 

One of the most frequent difficulties I have with reading classic works is finding a way to reconcile historical context with reading for pleasure. Like many others, Robinson Crusoe is a book which reflects its times, and receives much of its fame for the literary firsts it accomplishes. That being said, it’s likely to be more enjoyable if read academically, rather than casually. By modern standards, Robinson Crusoe is a long drawn out adventure novel about an English imperialist with more wanderlust than common sense, told in such bland language as to nullify the ‘adventure’ part near completely. There were parts that I enjoyed, but lengthy passages of this novel are so boring that I found myself fighting a yawn every other page. It took me nearly a month to finish reading it, which I did by sheer force of will and the desire to finally be reading something else.

Robinson Crusoe

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.”

Robinson Crusoe is a difficult character to stomach, even with the historical context. He epitomizes English colonial attitudes, racial and cultural superiority, and just plain dickish behavior. Who is he a dick to? Well, everyone, really, except for maybe the Portuguese captain and the widow he entrusts all his money to. He disobeys the wishes of his parents and runs off on a sea adventure, wherein he’s shipwrecked and told plainly by the captain after they make it to shore that he’s going to be unlucky at sea. But he doesn’t listen, and runs off on another voyage where he’s captured and made a slave for two years. Slavery, to Cursoe, is apparently too unbearable for him to deal with for longer than two years (but perfectly fine for other people, later in the book), so he escapes with a boy names Xury, and they rock around the African coast for a while, shooting lions and such, until they’re rescued by a Portuguese captain. (Well, Crusoe is rescued, anyway. He sells Xury with the upstanding promise of the boy’s future freedom if he converts to Christianity. Yay.)

The Portuguese captain then drops him off in Brazil and helps him buy a sugar plantation, which he raises up quite nicely and is, by all accounts doing quite well for himself, until it’s suggested that he needs some slaves to work his plantation. After about two seconds of thought on the morality of that, and no reflection on his own time as a slave, Crusoe agrees to sail to Africa again to pick up some slaves.

Well, wouldn’t you know it but he’s shipwrecked again, and this time, everyone dies but him. He instead washes up on the shore of an uninhabited island where he spends a dreadful few days before picking himself up and pillaging what he can from the wreck before it finally is broken up in a storm. What he manages to collect is, conveniently, everything that he needs to survive, including wood, sails, iron work, some food, seeds, guns, knives and the like. He also picks up a dog and two cats, though the later he is forced to shoot when they breed with the local wild cats and become pests. So he’s a dick to cats too.

He sets up shop in a sort of dug out cave, where he packs in all of his things, but becomes alarmed that lightning might strike all his powder, so he squirrels it around different places on the island. Then he’s nearly killed in a cave in caused by an earthquake, so he picks up his stuff and builds himself a new shelter, where, I’m pretty sure he contracts salmonella from eating a turtle, falls into fever and has a religious experience. Or rather, he realizes “Oh shit, I could die here, I better prostrate myself before God, just in case.” So he reflects on how utterly impious he has been in his life and vows to change that, and thank God for all the small blessings in his life.

For the next twenty or so years, he makes his home on the island, raising goats, grains, teaching himself rudimentary crafts like agriculture, wood working, leather tanning, tailoring, ship building, herding etc. It’s okay if we skip over these years, because the book does too. Suffice to say, he’s miserable, but manages to convince himself he’s not because God.

After these twenty-odd years of living all by himself, convinced there’s no one else around, he finds a footprint in the sand on the other side of the island, and after much hand wringing, he finally goes to spy on the spot and finds that it’s been used by native cannibals as a feast area. Well, this throws him into a panic and not wanting to be discovered he stops using his gun, and takes great caution when lighting a fire so that they don’t see his smoke. At this point I have to wonder: he’s been living there for twenty years, both him and the cannibals going about their business without care of discovery and, strangely, without ever having discovered the other. There’s a lot of contrived events in this story, but this one takes the cake.

Anyway, he waffles for a while between, “I must kill the savages” and “they don’t know any better, poor ignorant fools”, and finally decides on the latter, and resolves to leave them very much alone, until another group of cannibals arrives on his side of the island with their captives to eat.

At about this time, Crusoe begins to fantasize about how nice it would be to have a couple servants in his ‘kingdom’ and puts a plan into motion to rescue one of the captives, which he does by killing all the cannibals. Turns out, their captive is a cannibal from a rival nation, and that just won’t do. So after assuring himself that Friday, as he calls him, is well and truly bound to him in gratitude, he begins his re-education, mainly by informing him that his religion is all a bunch of hogwash meant to keep him subjugated under a ruling class of kings and priests, while Christianity on the other hand, is 100% not that.

Right. Anyway, Friday eats it up and converts and is thus finally allowed to carry weapons, is taught English (along with being taught to call Crusoe ‘master’) and is from that moment on, ordered around like a servant, because that is the natural order of things.

sigh

They live like this for another couple of years until they spot some more cannibals with captives. So they repeat the same plan, killing all but two of the cannibals and taking two of their captives, one of whom is a Spaniard, and the other is, conveniently, Friday’s father, only it really could have been any native at all, for all the point their being related has. Crusoe nurses these two back to health and the Spaniard tells them that there are a bunch of other Spaniards on the mainland who have also been ship wrecked. Seeing his escape, Crusoe convinces him that all the Spaniards should be brought back to him so that they can build a boat together and sail to a civilized port. At first the Spaniard isn’t too keen on the idea, but Crusoe reminds him that he owes him his life, so he capitulates in the end, and sails off with Friday’s father to go get the other white men.

While Crusoe and Friday are waiting, an English ship comes into view, and by God, an English ship is like, 100 times better than sailing away with those half civilized, slave owning, inquisition doing Spaniards, so Crusoe goes to make friendly with them. The only problem is that the ship has mutinied, and the captain is a captive.

Well, Crusoe by now is now well practiced in freeing captives, so he does what he does and captures or kills the mutineers and frees the captain who is most gracious and agrees to whatever plan the crazy bearded man dressed in haphazard goat skins lays before him, and before long, they’re all sailing away, happy as clams on the ship back toward England.

But what about the Spaniards, you ask? Fuck them, that’s what. Crusoe doesn’t so much as spare them a thought as he sails away for home.

When he gets there, however, he finds he’s got no money anywhere, which sucks, expect for his plantation. So he goes to see the sea captain, who doesn’t recognize him at first, but then finally does, and is told at length how he might reclaim his portion of the plantation. He does this, and rewards the captain, and the widow who was holding his money for him before, and then heads back to England. But not by boat, because he’s had nothing but bad luck that way. No, he decides to go over land, but because he’s an idiot, who doesn’t take the well placed advice of anyone around him, he decides to hike through the mountains in the middle of winter to get home and he, and Friday and all their guides are nearly eaten by wolves because of it.

But he manages to get home alive, and marries and has some kids before he ever thinks about what may have happened to the Spaniards he’d sent for with an escape plan. So he hires a boat and sails off to them, and finds them still alive, still trapped on the island. To this he thinks, “Huh. All’s well that ends well, you’re now my colony, here’s some livestock and some women. Bu-bye!” He then sails home again, leaving them on the island he has been calling up until the end The Island of Despair and ‘my prison’.

The End.

Now, if you’re like me, you may be thinking that Robinson Crusoe is a self-serving asshole who is a master at self justification and selective thinking in which, when bad things happen to him, they are well and truly evil, but when the same bad things happen to other people it’s time to take advantage of their misfortune. I would give the book more credit for having been written in the time it was (published in 1719), however Crusoe as a character is so contradictory, and so blind to his own hurtful hypocrisy that he’s just not likable. I didn’t root for his success at any part of the book. I kind of wanted him to be eaten by his parrot, whom he also abandoned pitifully. He’s arrogant, self-serving, with an admitted lip-service to religion until he very nearly dies; he’s racist and misogynistic, and above all, learns nothing of moralistic value from his hardships.

Stylistically, the book is bland. While Defoe does describe things in great detail, the parts which should have been exciting and adventurous are told in the same tone one might use to describe the weather. What is, for all intents and purposes the prologue and the epilogue are way too detailed, and drag the story out longer than it needs to be with unnecessary events that add little to the character (though if they were meant to showcase the evil morality of imperialism, I could stomach them more). The capitalization of every noun (at least in the edition I read) was also hard to get used to at first, but it stopped bothering me by about halfway through the book.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I wanted to, which always upsets me a little. I hate being disappointed by books, especially by classics, but you can’t love them all. I suppose if you take it as a political satire it’s digestible, but on its own it’s not very savory.

Read more pokes and prods at Robinson Crusoe at this nice blog:

Fighting with Fiction

and have an academic look at the colonialism and racism in Robinson Crusoe here:

British Literature 1700 – 1900, a Course Blog

The next book on my reading list is The Man With the Knives by Ellen Kushner.

As I Lay Dying: Afterthoughts

As I Lay Dying
William Faulkner
267 pages
3-stars-out-of-5

 

I’m not sure if the rating that I gave this book is entirely fair, because I can’t say that I knew what the hell was going on in the book half the time. Between the dialect, the propensity for each chapter to start in media res, characters losing their marbles, and strange shifts in time, this may have been the hardest 267 pages to understand that I’ve ever read. And for the love of god, Kate, give it a rest about the goddamn cakes!

As I Lay DyingYour mother is not a fish.

OK, so Faulkner apparently wrote this book over six weeks between midnight and 4am, and pretentiously did not change a word of his original draft. This may explain why it’s so hard to understand. I don’t know about you, but 4am is not a time in which the thoughts in my head are, shall we say, coherent. Not only did Faulkner not edit it at all, he considered it a masterpiece work of genius. This tells me some things about his character. The narrative is told through the first person point of view of fifteen different characters. Alex tells me that the voice of each character is authentically Sounthern, and I’ll have to take her word on that.

The story is about Addie Bundren, who, for the first fourth of the book is laying in her bed dying. After that, the story is about the attempt of her five children and her self-centered husband to bury her in her native town.

Right.

Let’s start with the kids. Cash is the eldest, and either a little slow or the most prudent character in the book. I alternated between the two. He’s a carpenter by trade, and he’s busy sawing and nailing up his mother’s coffin outside of her window while she’s held up in bed. We meet his brothers Darl and Jewel as they come up the hill with the wagon. Darl is the second eldest, and has a bit of an inflated sense of his own intelligence (sounds a bit familiar). Jewel is the third in line, and is both his mother’s favorite and her secret shame. We don’t get introduced to the final two children, Dewey Dell and Vardaman until a little later, but Dewey Dell is the only daughter, and she’s got bigger problems then her mother’s impending death. Vardaman is the youngest and is in heavy need of either some counseling or a lesson in biology by the end.

Then there’s Addie’s husband Anse, who sort of starts out as a bit of an indecisive idiot and slowly morphs into a self-centered asshole by the end. I suppose he was an asshole from the start, but I had a bit of sympathy for him in the beginning that was blown all away by the end.

The cast of characters is rounded off by Cora Tull, her husband Vernon and her cakes which, I’m sorry, get so much unnecessary mention in the story that I’m including them as characters. There are others, too, but they only exist to fill in plot details and are not worthy of mention.

While Addie lays dying, and Cash builds her a coffin, Jewel, Darl, and Anse are outside discussing whether or not Jewel and Darl should go off to earn three dollars. On the one hand, their mother could die at any minute, she wants to be buried out of town and the weather looks like it could start storming at any minute. On the other, three dollars! So the boys skip off to get paid, and Addie dies without any of the people she wants to see with her. The doctor arrives too late to be of any help, because he is also an asshole and delays leaving, specifically so Addie will die, and be free of her good-for-nothing husband. (Is this something doctors do in the South, because that’s terrifying.)

Vardaman, who has spent the afternoon fishing, walks in to see his mother breathe her last and is instantly scared for life. He takes it out on the doctor’s horses, beats them and sends them scattering because he believes the doctor is the one who killed his mother. I’m inclined to agree that, while he’s not guilty of murder, he’s at least guilty of gross neglect.

Meanwhile, Dewey Dell’s thoughts on the whole matter largely boil down to, “I wish the doctor could read my mind and give me an abortion without me having to ask him.” Yup.

The boys finally return home with the three dollars fresh in their pocket to learn that their mother has died, they take it a bit hard. Darl seems quite shocked at the event, as if, you know, she hadn’t been sick, in her bed, on the verge of death these last few weeks. Cash still isn’t done with the coffin, either. It’s explained that it’s because he really wants to make his mother the pimp’nest coffin in the world, but I think he’s just a shitty carpenter. Anyway, this causes a very large delay in getting her even in a box, and dead bodies don’t stay fresh for long. Keep that in mind. It’s important for later.

By the time Addie is finally in her coffin, staring off on her way to her final resting place, it’s started raining, and hard. Jewel insists on bringing his prized horse along, and Cash insists on bringing his new tool box, presumably for all the touch up work on the coffin he’s going to have to do.

Fast forward through a lot of Anse refusing the help of his neighbors, and they finally reach the river. But oh noes! The bridge has been washed away! So they go a little upstream to cross a different bridge, but it too has washed away. GASP! So Anse finally has to give up and head back to Tull’s land to cross his bridge. By this time, Addie has been dead for a week. Mmmm. In this time, Vardaman has come to the conclusion that his mother is a fish, and Darl doesn’t help this by telling him that Jewel’s mother is a horse. Darl also starts losing the plot around this point.

Anyway, Tull still has most of a bridge left over from the flooding, and fast forward through a bunch more shuffling and indecisive waffling, and they decide to unpack all unnecessary persons from the wagon to have them walk across the half a bridge, while Cash attempts to ford the flooded river with Darl’s aid from the opposite bank. Jewel walks his horse along side of it, and they would have gotten to the other side except the log of fate rises up, gets tangles in their lead rope and capsizes the whole wagon. So Addie in her coffin, Cash, Jewel and his horse and an entire team of mules get swept away. Jewel and his horse escape because the horse is necessary to the plot later, but Cash winds up unconscious with a broken leg, and all the mules drown. The coffin is recovered, along with every. Single. One. Of. Cash’s. God. DAMN. Tools.

So now they have a fresh problem. They have a rotting mother, a carpenter with a broken leg, and a wagon and no mules. Tull refuses to give his mules to the cause and frankly, I don’t blame him. The man obviously knows a disaster when it washes up on his lawn. So Anse’s solution is for Jewel to sell his horse to buy new mules. This is where any sympathy for Anse died in me. This is a man who is willing to sacrifice anything, so long as it doesn’t actually cost him anything to do so. So Jewel tearfully, angrily sells his horse (which, by the way, he worked his ASS off to buy in the first place) and buys new mules to finish the journey.

So now we’ve got a rotting mother, one son with a broken leg, two sons losing their marbles, one angry son, one daughter who could care less, and a very self satisfied father. So far so good? OK, onwards.

Somewhere around here, Addie starts monologuing from within her coffin. She confesses that Jewel is not Anse’s son, and oh, how she has been suffering for that, but after she made it up to him by giving him two more kids, she realized that she’d done her life’s work, and could just go ahead and die.

As the weather worsens, they are eventually forced to stay the night in someone’s barn. Poor Addie has been dead nine days by this point and is stinking to high heaven. Everyone outside of the family is mortified. They’re being followed by a pack of buzzards, which have captured Vardaman’s attention away from thoughts of fish mothers, and he vows to go see where they roost at night. This is rather fortunate, for while he’s off buzzard hunting, he happens to see his brother Darl setting fire to the barn. Good ol’ Darl, always looking for a solution to life’s little problems.

Obviously this doesn’t sit well with the man who owns the barn, but thankfully Jewel has a soft spot for animals and with super human strength hefts up the pimp coffin and his (presumably oozing) mother, and carries it out on his back. He then busts back into the barn, and into every single stall there to lead the animals out of the blaze, one by one.

So now we’ve got a rotting mother, one son with a broken leg, one criminal son, one son who’s lost his damn mind, one angry, burnt son, one daughter carrying multiple secrets, and a very self satisfied father. Still with me?

So without laying blame to anyone, even though everyone knows damn well who burnt down the barn, they set out again. Jewel, who is obviously pissed right the fuck off, refuses to ride in the wagon with Darl. I’m sure Cash wishes he had that option, because by this time, his leg is getting much, much worse. Obviously they need a doctor, and quick, but Anse is in a bit of a hurry by now, so any old doctor will do. Hell, what about a veterinarian?

When they finally get into town, everyone’s temper is a little frazzled. Jewel picks a fight with a random passerby, who dares to speak ill of his decomposing mother in the wagon, and is nearly knifed for it. Dewey Dell tries to buy her abortion with the $10 her lover gave her, but the first pharmacist she sees refuses her.

They decide to set Cash’s leg in cement, because cement on unprotected skin never hurt anyone. Predictably, Cash’s leg turns black, and they become in desperate need of a real doctor.

Next, Jewel and Dewey Dell jump Darl and have him arrested for arson, which messes with Vardaman even more. Dewey Dell tries another pharmacist, but gets hoodwinked by the assistant instead, who gives Dewey Dell a shot of turpentine, a bunch of capsules filled with talcum powder and a roll in the sack to ‘cure’ her. Presumably he kicks her in the ass and laughs at her on her way out.

Somewhere in this jumble, Addie is buried in a footnote.

Yup.

Cash’s leg is then cracked out of its cement cast which sounds about as pleasant as the book explained it, and Anse, upon discovering that Dewey Dell has been hoarding ten whole dollars, all to herself when poor Anse has been surviving oh these last few years without any teeth, declares her the worst daughter in the world, and steals her abortion money. This he uses to go get himself cleaned up, get new teeth and get remarried, all while his broken family waits for him on the wagon that still smells like dead mom.

The end.

Now, I realize that there’s a lot more going on in this book than what is presented on the surface, but the book went to such pains to hide those meanings that I find myself disinclined to care. For a book that details the trials involved in burying one’s mother, The Stranger is better. For a book that tries to make its point in the least possible sense, Slaughterhouse Five is better. For a book that tries to relate what life is like in the South, To Kill a Mockingbird is better. This book was a very frustrating read, and I’m glad it was as short as it was. Honestly, I don’t think I could have read it to the end of it was over three hundred pages. If you’d like a more academic analysis of the book, pop on over to Alex’s blog here, where she reviews As I Lay Dying with bigger words and less swearing.

The next book on my reading list was going to be Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart, but the first five chapters were such a tremendous disappointment that I abandoned it to read Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe instead.

 

The World’s Greatest Short Stories: Afterthoughts

The World’s Greatest Short Stories
Edited by James Daley
236 pages
4 stars

 

I don’t usually review classic works for reasons I’ve spoken of before but which largely boil down to laziness. If I’m going to review classics it’s not enough to talk about how the story made me feel. I need to talk about the author and their lives, and how those lives reflect in their writing, what tools we can use to interpret their work and what, if any relevance do they still have today. If you want that sort of detailed analysis, then this blog isn’t for you. What you’re looking for is an English lit class. I’m going to review this book and its stories today because I don’t have anything else to talk about and I’m (still) avoiding talking about my actual writing.

Sometimes I like to spoil stories. Just so you know.

Sometimes I like to spoil stories. Just so you know.

 

To start with, this book introduced me to the writing of a few literary greats which I hadn’t had the chance to read yet: Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, D. H. Lawrence, Franz Kafka, and John Updike. It also gave me a chance to form a firm opinion on some others whose work I’d read before: Rudyard Kipling, Anton Chekhov, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Chinua Achebe, and Virginia Woolf. Happily, it also introduced me to some authors who I’d never even heard of and in many cases whose works were a delight to read. Below are my completely candid, unsophisticated and largely uneducated thoughts on these stories.

Bartleby the Scrivener
Herman Melville

This was an infuriating story to read. Throughout the whole thirty pages of it I was tearing out my hair in the manner one does when watching a horror movie in which the stupid teenagers insist on investigating the suspicious sounds, completely alone, in the dark. “Don’t open the door!” you scream in frustration, flinging your bowl of popcorn at the television, spooking the dog and causing your spouse to roll their eyes at you. Similarly I found myself shouting, “Just turf his obstinate ass!”, throwing my bowl of popcorn at the book, spooking the bird and causing Alex to ask what the hell was wrong with me. I really couldn’t connect with the protagonist’s strange sense of charity toward Bartleby, which really probably says more about my quality as a person than the quality of the story.

The Necklace
Guy de Maupassant

I’m almost one hundred percent positive I’ve read this story before or if not it, then one very similar. It’s not a very unique story. O. Henry must have written dozens like them on his toilet paper. Chances are if you’ve sat through thirty minutes of any sitcom (I feel for you), you’ve seen this story. A financially strapped, yet high society minded woman borrows a diamond necklace from her friend, and then promptly loses it. She and her husband then work their asses off to buy a new necklace, during which time miss priss learns the meaning of hard work and sacrifice. Finally she works up enough money to buy an exact replica of the necklace she lost. But when she returns it and confesses what had happened, her amused friend informs her that the original necklace was a fake and worth only a fraction of the cost of the real one (cue laugh track).

The Death of Ivan Ilych
Leo Tolstoy

I liked this one. In fact, I loved it. I’d read it again, just not when I’m feeling sick. Or depressed. Or really any sort of melancholy. I was excited to read it as lately I’ve heard so much about it, and I can now agree that Tolstoy does know his way around words. Like, damn. The whole story is an account of a man from the peak of his life until his death. With emphasis on the death and the dying part. He goes through all the stages of grief as he degrades on the pages right before our eyes. I could most acutely empathize with his growing malcontent with doctors and their high-minded thought that if they can’t find anything wrong with a patient then there must not be anything wrong with the patient. Puh. If only Ivan had had webMD this story may have ended very differently.

The Man Who Would Be King
Rudyard Kipling

I’m going to take a stab in the dark and assume, without any previous knowledge, that Kipling lived in early twentieth century India. Am I right? Yeah? Hot damn. I mean, I had my suspicions after The Jungle Book and The Courting of Dinah Shadd but after reading The Man Who Would Be King I got to thinking that there may just be a bit of a pattern here. Despite Kipling setting his stories in one of the richest cultural environments I can think of, his writing is as dry as plain, stale toast. Buried in sand. Even a story that features a crucifixion and a bloody beheading takes way too long and three too many naps to get through. Not my favorite story in the collection.

The Yellow Wallpaper
Charlotte Perkins Gilman

If this story were a person it would be of the sort that you back away from slowly while avoiding eye contact. I’m fairly certain it’s a commentary on postpartum depression, and the absurd way in which mental illness in women was treated back in the day, but damn. This story is just freaky. A lot of it calls up this quote from Jane Eyre:

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: But women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do.

Basically it’s a story of a woman who went a bit loopy and is taken to the country by her husband to recover, except he pretty much confines her to her bedroom and won’t let her do anything that he feels is strenuous. Anyone who has ever had to spend three or more days in bed with the flu knows that by the third day it’s a special kind of mental torture to not have anything to do all day. Eventually the protagonist figures that the wallpaper in her room is out to get her and loses it entirely. It’s a good story, is what I’m saying.

The Fortune-Teller
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

If you look very closely at the last period of this story you can see M. Night Shyamalan winking at you. I’m serious, go see for yourself.

The Lady with the Toy Dog
Anton Chekhov

Does the Chekhov’s Gun rule apply to items within a story’s title? ‘Cause if it does, I’m disappointed that the dog in this story didn’t shoot someone in the face. For someone who has such an energetic piece of story-telling advice attributed to him, The Lady with the Toy Dog is actually kind of boring, especially coming after The Fortune-Teller. It’s a pretty standard story of an adulterous affair between a jaded older man and a beautiful, naive young woman. They meet, have a few twists in the sheets and then she returns to her husband. Only then does the protagonist realize how unfortunate it is that he is actually in love with his guilt ridden mistress. He crosses the country to see her again where they continue their affair for a time before both of them realize that they can’t continue on in that manner, in secret. The last paragraph ends the story in chilling vagueness. On second thought, maybe the dog does shoot them both.

How Old Timofei Died with a Song
Rainer Maria Rilke

This one had a frame story so disconnected from the actual story that I forgot all about it by the end–and the whole piece itself is only four and a half pages long. It kind of reads like a fairy tale except without any magic or fairies or enchanted sticks. So not like a fairy tale at all I guess. I’m not entirely sure what this story is about. It’s a lot of events stitched together and none of them have more prominence than another so, yeah. It’s a fairy tale.

The Path to the Cemetery
Thomas Mann

Or Old Man Yells at Cloud, whichever you prefer. In this story an ugly old man walks down a path toward the cemetery to pay his respects to the family he lost, along with everything else in his life. Along the way, a strong, beautiful young man rides by on his bicycle and old man flies into an apoplectic rage because symbolism. He chases after the youth and knocks him off his bike. The young man, understandably pissed shoves the old man down, gets on his bike and rides away, leaving the old man foaming at the mouth and raving about the nerve of young people who dare ride their bicycles on the path to the cemetery. Yup.

The Prussian Officer
D. H. Lawrence

Good god, the homoeroticism in this story! I mean, I know it was written by D. H. Lawerence but wow! Every single scene between the Captain and the orderly is absolutely charged with sexual tension. Even the last scene between them feels like a great erotic release of frustration. I can’t be the only one who read it this way, can I? Can I? (Cue crickets.)

Araby
James Joyce

Oh, Joyce, but you take a long time to get to a simple point, don’t you? This story seems way, way longer than four pages.

Mrs. Frola and Mr. Ponza, Her Son-in-Law
Luigi Pirandello

Ok, here’s a nice little mystery for you: a frustrated man says it’s his mother-in-law who is mad, yet the old woman claims it’s the other way round. This curious state of affairs has the whole town divided down the gender line, and yet the only person who can shine light on the truth is the wife, who validates both stories. Honestly, I care less about who is insane and more about what the wife is possibly getting out of being so coy. Unfortunately, I get no satisfactory answer to either.

The Mark on the Wall
Virginia Woolf

Much like The Yellow Wallpaper, this is a story about a woman strangely preoccupied with what is on her wall. I understand that they didn’t have Xbox back then, but you’d think these women would have something better to do than stare at a wall all day. Even needlepoint has to be more exciting than that. The narrative is annoyingly stream of consciousness, which makes it difficult to follow. If I wanted to listen to an ADD wandering of random thoughts vaguely connected, I’d go sit in a quiet room alone for an hour.

A Hunger Artist
Franz Kafka

As noted, this one is written by Kafka, so I’m tempted to interpret it as commentary on the starved state of the literary soul forced to comply with so many rules and conventions in order to secure the means to sustain a meager life–even though it knows it is capable of so much more if only given the freedom of the attempt. Or maybe Kafka just had a soft spot for circus freaks. I’m not a literature professor; don’t ask me.

The Garden-Party
Kathrine Mansfield

So this is a bit of a depressing story. I read it last year in a different anthology actually, but I still remember the events pretty clearly. This rich family lives on top of a hill (the rich families always seem to live on top of hills) and they’re throwing this incredible garden-party. No expenses spared. I’m pretty sure there are elephants- Really? No elephants? Well, there could have been elephants, it’s that kind of party. As it happens, on the day of this party, one of the peasants living at the bottom of the hill has the gall to die, of all things–in a horrible accident, no less. It’s obviously a plot to ruin the party. Anyway, the only decent human in this story is Laura, who still has that innocent, child-like notion that holding a party literally a driveway up from where a man just died is kind of distasteful. Well, her mother needs to correct that sort of thinking right away, doesn’t she? Of course she does.

The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket
Yasunari Kawabata

I’ve lived in Japan for four years now, and with that experience well ingrained into my being I can say with confidence that I sort of understand this story. The protagonist is watching a bunch of kids play in the woods at night (nothing creepy about that), looking for bugs when one of the boys announces that he’s caught a grasshopper, and asks if anyone wants it. All the kids rush forward with their bug-baskets out for what is apparently a rare catch, but the boy holds out until the girl asks for it, at which point he drops it into her basket and low and behold, it’s not a grasshopper at all, but a bell cricket, which is apparently higher on the bug currency scale than a grasshopper, I think? While the protagonist is watching all this, he notices that the light from the kids’ lanterns is shining on each others shirts, and the names written on the lanterns have imprinted on the other child. So he reflects a little while on the nature of the name reversal, and grasshoppers actually being bell crickets, and bell crickets actually being grasshoppers and one day the children will grow up and find other grasshoppers that they think are bell crickets and visa versa. Yup.

The Sacrificial Egg
Chinua Achebe

This is pretty much Things Fall Apart from the other side of the fence. Told from the point of view of an African Christian convert, it paints the same struggle of tradition vs. western influence, though this time, arguably, tradition wins. I can’t say that it ends any happier than Things Fall Apart, however.

A & P
John Updike

Didn’t I just review this one like, two months ago?

Borges and I
Jorge Luis Borges

Thanks, Borges. Now you’ve got all the people in my head standing up and shouting about the unfair treatment of imaginary characters. How do you expect I’m supposed to sleep now with, “Why’d you have to kill me” and “You don’t even remember my name” and “You promised me my own novella”, huh? Puh.

 

X is for…

X is for xenial: X

Cao, Xueqin

 

 

Ok, I admit it, I’m breaking my rule for this one, but it’s a Chinese name, so technically the name order is reversed. My rules are all very complicated.

Only one author here today, and actually, only one author from here on out. This is the final stretch my friends, and we’re into the absolutely thin letters now.

The Story of the Stone, or Dream of the Red Chamber as it is sometimes known, was written by Chinese writer Cao Xueqin between 1755 and 1764 or thereabouts. He died before a final manuscript could be compiled, but with the first draft already completed his friends were able to post-humorously publish a final version for him. I’m not going to talk a whole lot about the book–in part because I haven’t read it– but also because my lovely and talented Alex Hurst has already written her synopsis on it over at her blog. Check it out here.

Cao Xuequin had a very unfortunate life which he wrote into his novel. He was born into a very wealthy, very affluent family, right before the whole clan was thrust into poverty. How could something like that happen so suddenly, you ask? Well, politics is a very messy business.

As it happened, the Cao family was really close to Emperor Kangxi. His grandfather and the emperor were playmates as children and his great-grandmother was the emperor’s wet nurse. When Kangxi took the throne, he appointed Cao’s great-grandfather the Commissioner of Imperial Textiles, a title that was generously passed down through the generations, even when the Cao heir died (the emperor allowed the clan to adopt a son to be the next successor).

The trouble started when Emperor Kangxi died and Emperor Yongzheng took his place. Yongzheng accused the family of mismanaging funds, or possibly just really didn’t like them. All of the Cao’s property and wealth was confiscated, and the family which at one point was affluent enough to host the emperor multiple times when he visited their region was thrown into poverty.

For his part, Cao Xueqin never rose out of poverty again. He made his living selling poems and paintings which were highly praised but apparently not very lucrative, and died before his magnum opus ever saw its final print version. How sad.

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W is for…

WW is for wonderful, witty, and whimsical:

Walls, Jeanette
Watson, SJ
Watt-Evans, Lawrence
Weeks, Brent
Wilde, Oscar
Wilson, Catherine M.
Williams, Tad
Wolfe, Gene
Wrede, Patricia C.

Finally some more books to talk about! That last post was so embarrassing.

To start with, I don’t know much about Jeanette Walls or her book The Glass Castle. This book is Alex’s, and I suppose she had her own reasons for buying it. It’s on my 2014 reading list, but until I get down that far, you’ll have to wait for my synopsis and review.

We were given Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson by a coworker who gave us a detailed summary of it. If memory serves, it’s like the movie Memento, only with less violence and a female protagonist. Interesting. I’ll have to give it a read.

I love Lawrence Watt-Evens‘s writing. The first book I read of his was Dragon Weather, which I picked up because I had my own definition as to what dragon weather was, and I was interested in what a published author’s vision was compared to mine. (Note, my 15 year old self decided that dragon weather was when the clouds in the sky all looked like dragons. Many a summer afternoon was spent on the trampoline sketching. Good times.) In any case, I read Dragon Weather and Dragon Venom but haven’t gotten to Dragon Society yet. I have read The Misenchanted Sword though, which I highly enjoyed.

I went back home to Canada last Christmas and came back with over a dozen new books. Brent Weeks‘s The Way of Shadows was one of them. It’s so new it doesn’t even have any dust on its cover yet, so it goes without saying that I haven’t read it. The bookstore check out lady told me that I’d enjoy it, and should buy the whole series. I almost told her about my experience with Magic’s Pawn, but thought the better of it. My brother was impatient to leave anyway.

I had friends in high school who crushed on Oscar Wilde, but after admitting my secret attraction to John Keats, who am I to judge? I started reading The Picture of Dorian Gray in 8th grade, but never finished it. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the book, but like so many other classics that I started and abandoned at that time, I just wasn’t ready to enjoy it as fully as I can now. I’ll absolutely be returning to this book, I just have to figure out when.

Like The Glass Castle, Catherine M. Wilson‘s When Women Were Warriors is Alex’s book. I’m under the impression that she bought it for research purposes, but other than that, I can’t tell you much else about it. Sorry.

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams is one of the books that pops up on my Goodreads recommendations page all the time. When I finally reached it on my wishlist, I was quite pleased to finally have a copy of it. First of all, I was surprised by how big it is. That book towers over most of the rest in my collection. Also, it has an index of all the names in the book, which I really, really appreciate, because my goldfish memory makes it very hard for me to keep track of people in places for the first third of a book–before I’ve had a chance to attach myself to any character or plot arc enough to really care about it. I’m looking forward to reading this one, though sadly, I bought it late in 2013, so it missed my reading list for this year.

I bought The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe on a recommendation. Haven’t read it. Plan to read it. You know the drill by now.

Finally, Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons and the three books that come after it captured my heart as a child and I’ve never been able to let them go. I read them first as borrowed library books and when I entered adulthood with my pockets overflowing with money (ha!) I still remembered them and bought my own copies. Wrede has written in this series an amazing female protagonist. She’s Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess for MG audiences. The fairy tale / magic world is adorable, tangible, flipped and ridiculous. Shrek before the was Shrek. The dragons are intelligent, emotional and have their own society, laws, and history. I’ll always love this series; it will forever bring me back to my childhood.

 

I’m bursting with Ws today! Have any more for me? I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the above authors or their books too!

T is for…

TT is for tons of talent and no time to read it:

Tolkien, J.R.R.
Tolstoy, Leo

 

I told you I was going to have to admit another gross bit of lacking in my fantasy education, and here it is: J.R.R. Tolkien, father of the modern fantasy epic and I haven’t read a single one of his works yet. The Simarillion is on my 2014 reading list, however and I’m looking forward to reading it. Much of the happier events in Tolkien’s life made their way in one form or another into his writing. He was uncomfortable with the success of his books and being made into a cult icon, and eventually took his wife and made himself scarce. He lead a rather fascinating life that has too many points to mention in brief summary. For a novice writer like myself it was a rather inspirational biography to read.

I’m going to be honest and say that War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy terrifies me. No, I haven’t read it, but its presence on my shelf, with its 1000 pages in itty-bitty print signifies a very long commitment that I’m not ready to make just yet. I’m fascinated yes, perhaps willing to stroke a few pages in a secret viewing, but I’m not ready to put it on a reading list. I need to experiment with a few other books before I give so much of my time to just one work of fiction. Tolstoy was born the son of a Russian count, and after leaving the university he was flunking, he and his brother joined the army. During this time, and subsequent tours of Europe, Tolstoy’s social and political views began to change. He became a pacifist and an anarchist who was passionate about education. He founded thirteen schools for the serfs on his family’s estate, but was forced by the government to shut them down. Tolstoy eventually died of pneumonia when he attempted a mid-winter, late-night escape from his wife and his life of privilege. Apparently she was bitterly envious of how much attention he gave to the students of his philosophy, and opposed many of his views.

 

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So there you go. Two classic authors I should have read by now but haven’t. Are there any other great T’s out there that I’m missing? Let me know in the comments!

S is for…

SS is for self-righteous, shameless, and sickly:

Sabatini, Rafael
Salvatore, R. A.
Sanderson, Brandon
Sapkowski, Andrzej
Shikibu, Murasaki
Sinclair
, May
Shakespeare, William
Sophocles
Spyri, Johanna
Stevenson, Robert Louis
Suzuki, Koji
Swift, Jonathan

I thoroughly enjoyed Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. Like The Scarlet Pimpernel, Scaramouche is set in the French Revolution. It’s hero Andre-Louis is neither a supporter nor a detractor of the revolution, but a cynic who finds both sides equally ridiculous. He is, however, swept up into the fervor against the aristocracy when his best friend is murdered before his eyes by an unapologetic dick of a nobleman. To save his own neck, Andre-Louis flees to the country where he undergoes many changes of occupation before finally returning to deal justice for the death of his friend. Scaramouche has some great humor, amazing prose and a great ending which had me at least squirming.

I’m a huge Drizzt fan. I’m just going to say that now. R. A. Salvatore‘s Dark Elf trilogy hooked me hard, and I’ve nibbled up every book I could get my hands on since. I’m not even sure why. That sort of infallibly good hero type character isn’t one that I usually like. I think there’s just something so tragic about Drizzt’s story that endears me to him.

I have not read any of Brandon Sanderson‘s works. I know that makes my fantasy education incredibly lacking (it’s not the first time I’ve had to admit it during this challenge and it won’t be the last). I got these two books for Christmas last year which made me greatly happy. I’ll get on reading them probably next year.

The same applies for Andrzej Sapkowski. I picked up The Last Wish at the beginning of last year and shelved it. It was put somewhere on my TBR list and I haven’t gotten to it yet. I think it may be on my 2014 reading list, actually.

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is my favorite work of Japanese literature–and I haven’t even finished it yet. This hulking volume written almost a thousand years ago is considered to be the first example of a novel. It follows the sexual adventures of the illegitimate prince Genji as he sleeps his way through most of the royal court (including his stepmother) and gets into worlds of trouble in the process. Shikibu herself was a court lady, unusually educated for her time. She wrote The Tale of Genji as an entertainment piece for the empress, delivering it in installments for the ladies of the royal court to listen to. Because she wrote about such raunchy topics, and also because of how she addressed certain events and people in her semi-fictional royal court, she was denounced by religious leaders at the time, who told her she was heading straight for hell. Whether or not Shikibu ever cared what they said is a mystery, as is who wrote the final chapters of The Tale of Genji. There is some evidence to support the theory that it was written by her daughter after her death.

May Sinclair was the pen name of British writer Mary Amelia St. Clair. She could not have had two differently paired parents. Her father went bankrupt and became an alcoholic before he died when she was still young. Her mother on the other hand was strictly religious. May was involved in social activism as well as the super natural, being a member of both Woman Writers’ Suffrage League and The Society for Psychical Research. Her short story collection Uncanny Stories is one of two she wrote, in addiction to other contributions to English literature as a whole.

There’s not much I can say about William Shakespeare that the world doesn’t already know. As far as literature is concerned. Shakespeare was a master. As far as teenagers are concerned, he’s the bane of English classes. To date I’ve read seven of his plays and a handful of his sonnets. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is still my favorite, followed closely by Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear.

I’ve only read Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and while I was already familiar with the story before I started it, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Only seven of his one hundred and twenty-three plays have survived to this day in completion. He was the most celebrated playwright of his time for fifty years, and doesn’t have a small amount of fame these days, either.

I know the story of Heidi, either from having read it as a child, or having seen it as a movie. It’s foggy now in adulthood, which means I should probably read it again. Johanna Spyri wrote Heidi in just four weeks, and like much of the rest of her writing, the story is set in the Swiss countryside. She was socially active, and wrote stories which reflected this. Before she died in 1901 she had written over fifty stories.

I haven’t read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, but I have read The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson had a difficult childhood. He came from a family of poor health, and the location they moved to to alleviate their symptoms only worsened his. He only moved to a more forgiving climate after his father died. After much bouncing around in life, he finally settled in the Samoan Islands, where he became something of a local celebrity there. There are too many interesting things about this writer to list on one post that’s supposed to be under three hundred words. If you’re curious, I highly recommend reading about his amazing life.

Ring, Spiral, and Loop are the three novels in Koji Suzuki‘s horror/thriller Ring trilogy. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the American film adaptation of the first novel, and I’ll tell you now, if there was ever a case of the book being better than the movie, it’s this one. Even the Japanese adaptation, Ringu is horrible by comparison. All the thoughtful, philosophical parts are cut out. The characters are changed and the interesting characters removed completely. Hell, the mail character isn’t even a woman! I highly recommend the first two books in the series (available in English), though the third one sort of lost me. It’s almost as though it’s from a completely separate series, and I don’t care much for precocious children stories anyway. I didn’t finish it.

I haven’t read Jonathan Swift‘s Gulliver’s Travels in its entirety, which is strange considering we have two editions of it. I read parts of it in high school, along with a few of his other works, and I really respect him as a writer. He packed a lot of political satire into his writing, much of which is still funny today.

Best enjoy this abundance of authors now, we’re heading into another decline after this. However, if you’d like to help me increase my S author collection, I always love hearing your recommendations in the comments below.

G is for…

GG is for Graceless, geisha, and gargantuan novels:

Gaiman, Neil
George, Jean Craighead
Gibbons, Stella
Gilbert, Henry
Golden, Arthur
Goldman, William
Goodkind, Terry
Green, John

OK, we’ve had one too many light posts in a row, so G is going to bring our word count back up. Brace yourselves, here it comes.

What can I say about Neil Gaiman that the world doesn’t already know? The man is a fantastic author who can weave a fantasy world which can suck the reader in and keep a piece of them there forever. Do I have personal favorites? Of course. Anansi Boys is in my top five favorite books, kept there perhaps in part by my love of spiders, but also just because the story itself is so captivating, the myth and magic so realistic, and the humor so silly at times that I can’t help but fall in love again every time I read it. Neverwhere, of course is another favorite of mine, one which I find myself continuously inspired by. Likewise, Good Omens, written with Terry Pratchett also impressed me with its wicked humor and devilishly good story telling. But I don’t need to spend many words convincing you that Gaiman is worth a read. The only question that needs answering is which book next?

Jean Craighead George wrote what is probably my favorite book from my childhood, My Side of the Mountain, about a young boy named Sam who runs away from his cramped city apartment to cut himself out a life in the forest. The story spoke to the inner wild child in me at a time when I cherished my yearly summer escapes on my own to my uncle and aunt’s rustic cabin in the country. Pictured is George’s other famous work, Julie of the Wolves, which I haven’t read but if it is as good as My Side of the Mountain I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons is the kind of book which requires a lot of prior reading to fully understand all the nuances and allusions. Written as a parody of the popular genres of the time, Cold Comfort Farm pokes fun at tropes with a post modern character who breezes into the plot and undermines them all. Like many authors who become famous for one work at the expense of all their others, Gibbons resented how Cold Comfort Farm earned her the reputation of a one work novelist, despite having published twenty-two other books.

This recounting of the tale of Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert obviously isn’t the first. Stories of the famous moralistic bandit date back to the 13th century and have of course been embellished. Robin Hood started out as a commoner, for example, and over time has been elevated to the position of disposed nobleman fighting against an unjust usurper king.

I haven’t read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden yet, though I want to. Golden has had an enviable scholarly career with an M.A. in both Japanese history and English. Subsequent to the publication of Memoirs of a Geisha, Golden was sued by Mineko Iwasaki–one of the geisha interviewed for the book–for failing to protect her identity. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

I haven’t read William Goldman‘s The Princess Bride yet, though I only just got it for my birthday last year. Like Burgess, Goldman also wrote a novel in three weeks: The Temple of Gold. I just might have to check that one out too.

I started reading Terry Goodkind‘s Sword of Truth series in high school and read it pretty faithfully through until Chainfire. At that point, I felt so bad for the main character that I couldn’t read any further. I have to wonder what Richard did to Goodkind to receive such constant, terrible abuse.

I haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars (pictured) or any of John Green‘s other books yet, but I do follow many of his YouTube channels, and greatly appreciate the Crash Course program he and his brother host. Without a doubt Green has a passion for words and learning, which makes him all right in my books.

 

You made it through to the end, now it’s recommendation time. Are there any books by the above authors I absolutely must read? Did I miss any fantastic ‘G’ authors? Let me know in the comments.

D is for…

D is for desert island, destiny and double Dumas:D

Defoe, Daniel
Derr, Megan
Dickens, Charles
Dumas, Alexandre (père)
Dumas, Alexandre (fils)

Addendum:

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan

 

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe is the fourth book on my 2014 reading list. Though it is an edition for both Japanese and English readers, I’m hoping that it isn’t abridged. I’d rather read the full text the first time, rather than form an opinion on half a text first. Wikipedia says that the original title for Robinson Crusoe was: The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates. I’m glad it got cut down. Defoe, like Cervantes, had a pretty interesting life. He lived through the Great Plague of London in 1665 and the Great Fire of London the following year. He was a merchant of many different goods, a rebel, and a spy for a time, until that became bad for business. He also served some time in jail for wracking up a large amount of debt.

Again testing the waters of LGBT fiction, I picked up Prisoner by Megan Derr because it looked decent. I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but it sits high on my queue.

Oh Charles Dickens. I’m going to make a confession here: like many other assigned readings in high school, I didn’t actually finish Great Expectations. I got about halfway through it and couldn’t go any further. I didn’t have much of an appreciation for classics back then, when my mind was dominated by magic and dragons and all of that. I’m hoping to pick it up again sometime; I’m sure it’s worth the read.

I read an abridged version of Alexandre Dumas père‘s The Count of Monte Cristo years ago by accident (see above thoughts on abridged books) and was a little miffed to find that I hadn’t read the entire story. I still haven’t, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it. I remember also liking the re-made movie adaptation, but as usual, the book beats the movie.

Yes, there are two Dumas’s on my shelf. Alexandre Dumas fils was the son of Dumas père. The former’s most famous work is La Dame aux Camélias or The Lady of the Camellias (pictured). The book was inspired by a woman Dumas knew in his own life. His family life also inspired much of his writing. He was the illegitimate son of Dumas père and a dressmaker, and was forcibly removed from his mother when his father formally recognized him. The breaking of his childhood family influenced many moral messages of legitimacy and the marriage duty of a father to a mother in his writing.

Like I said, the books float around the house and this one missed my camera, but it needs to be here. Alex absolutely loves Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock, in all of its iterations. She’s read the books and loves discussing them but I unfortunately haven’t read it yet. I keep picking it up, but until I finish reading The Tale of Genji, I’m not going to be able to start another mammoth.

 

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Read any of these authors and liked what they wrote? Let me know in the comments.