Summer Reads

School ended 54 days ago, and I’ve been celebrating ever since. Sort of. I’ve been celebrating the end of required reading by doing it voluntarily: checking out a steady stream of books from the library and devouring them like they’re going out of print. Here are a few:

(Full disclosure: this is not a “Recommended Reading” list. Not all of these are books that  I would hand to a friend, or wave in the air and say, “Look, Mom!” Because…well…keep reading…)

Finished:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

Firebirds edited by Sharyn November

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

The Killing Floor by Lee Child

Make Me by Lee Child

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funk

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

Sabriel by Garth Nix (reread because <3)

Currently:

What’s Best Next by Matt Perman (technically this is a list of fiction and this one doesn’t belong here, but here you go.)

Next up: 

Lirael by Garth Nix (and then Abhorsen and then the one that’s not a reread: Clariel)

The Graveyard Book (Graphic Novel, Vols. 1 & 2) by Neil Gaiman

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas (maybe)

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Smoke & Mirrors by Neil Gaiman (yah, a lot of him on this list. Neverwhere is still one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. He’d almost have a free pass, if I gave that sort of thing [can’t do it, but that’s another post for another day].)

Rebel by Amy Tinterra

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Watership Down by Richard Adams

…[∞]

Yeah, summer has been pretty fantastic. But…(full disclosure continued)…

Here’s the funny thing about reading: you can read a lot of good things, or a lot of bad things, or a lot of bad things disguised as good things, and you can read things because you want to finish, or you can read things because you want to know, you can read out of curiosity, and you can read because you want to be brave, you can read because you think you should be able to, and you can read things because you think you don’t care. I love reading, and admittedly, some of the things I read are less than wonderful or read for less than wonderful reasons. For example: sometimes I read because I don’t like what my brain does in the silence of a train platform when the day is over or just beginning. I like to keep occupied, to stay involved, to color my world with something other than now. The Purple Line still reminds me of those wonderful little Ray Bradbury stories I read; just short enough to read one or two between work and the apartment, and gripping enough to feel the emptiness of space. How can one become claustrophobic on a train car when the unexpectedness of a story and the sense of another time and place has already caught you? I read because I love words and the way they can replace every other sense. You can see, touch, smell, taste, hear – all from the page. It’s powerful and freeing and extraordinarily personal.

It’s also dangerous. Dangerous because you have to come up for air and reorient yourself. Dangerous because the world within a story builds its own moral compass, and you’re cheering and pursuing and being dragged down paths that you would never choose in the daylight. You have to step back and revisit and resettle and understand what is real, what is true, and what, most importantly, is right. Reading a book to find your way is like using a compass in the Bermuda Triangle: it will be wrong, and you will probably get lost.

So in the midst of catching up on Book 1, Book 4, or Book 20, whether it’s the “innocuous” kids book or the “temporary” thriller, the most important book I’m reading is still the one next to my bed when I go to sleep and there when I wake up. It’s the one in my backpack wherever I go, and the one that will forever and always be the most rewarding and most fulfilling, and the one whose compass never needs readjusting. I have to read it first and last and in between and let it tug away at the things that shouldn’t be there and pull in the things that should. And that doesn’t just apply to the books.

tl;dr: Aslan says it best

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I want to write. I want to write to make me feel the way I do when I read. The words change me. I can do anything. I have done everything. I have fallen in love, walked the world, touched the sky, and laughed with the taste of freedom in my mouth. I have been braver and better and loved more deeply than ever before. I have wanted and cried and it has always been the words, the words, the ones that others write and the ones that I want to. Words heal me. They make me feel complete. I want to write, to keep that warmth alive.

I don’t want to write. I don’t want to feel the way I do when I read. The words change me. I have been torn apart. I have lost, myself, my soul. I have fallen to my knees, grieved for the world, ached for the sky, and lived with the salt of tears in my mouth. I have been seared and burned and bled more deeply than ever before. I have wanted and cried and it has always been the words, the words, the ones that others write and the ones I can read no longer. Words have broken me. They have shattered me into emptiness. I don’t want to write, to feel their knife of pain ever again.

What’s Up Wednesday

Who’s ready for it to be Wednesday again? *gulp* Not me! But, Jaime’s blog says it is, and since WUW is the weekly meme hosted by her and Erin and they’re really nice and usually right…I guess I’m not allowed the change the weekdays just to accommodate my schedule, huh?

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Yeah, believe it or not, another week has gone, and here we are on the third week of Ready. Set. Write! I’m still wondering how long I can use the excuse that I’m still “settling in” to this whole idea of goal setting. It feels like my excuse for being directionally challenged: “I just moved here.” Please don’t ask me how long ago.**  At least I’ve finally figured out where WalMart is.

What I’m Reading

I finished Defiance, but a review is still in the rough drafts. I was going to begin The Girl Of Fire And Thorns…but Siege And Storm came in at the library, and I sort of maybe sat out in the car reading it…and I can’t quit while I’m in the middle! I was surprised to see how many of you loved The Girl Of Fire And Thorns, so it’s still next on the list. Yay for a long holiday weekend!

What I’m Writing

Note to self: Word-counts-per-day are a great idea, but always include that overall goal. I missed anything until Sunday…but between Sunday and last night, I got in my 2500 words. Whew!  I’m still stuck refining and mangling this first half of the book out, since I’m finding myself running into the same traps as the original draft. Improving the characters and eliminating the extraneous ones is only half the problem. The 2500 counted towards some rescribblings of the opening scenes that are plaguing me, but even with a few ugly scenes cut in my edit-on-the-fly writing style…I’m finally over 5,000 words!  So different than my previous 1K-A-Day summers, but I think it’s because I’m thinking about this one so much more. Thinking about plot, about follow-through, about raising the stakes and wondering why on earth would the MC do that? The writing may be messier, but the plotting is getting far more detail than I’ve previously managed in a first draft.

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So, new goals? I liked 500 a day. While it didn’t work out perfectly, 2,500 words for my week was a manageable goal. And I’m going to stop stressing out about this first half of the story. I need to write some of my favorite scenes to remind myself of some of the pivotal character points and get excited about this. It always feels like cheating to jump so far down the timeline, but I’m well-armed with “adequate causality” in my defense.

What Inspires Me Right Now

Music, for one. Balmorhea? I’ve got “The Winter” on infinite loop right now, and when I get tired of chucking the scenes that aren’t working, I play me some “Lament”, have another cup of tea, and move to a spot of sunshine and keep writing.

Otherwise, I’m loving the enthusiasm of this community. Why are you all so wonderful? I’m also excited to see the YA Buccaneers, which looks like an amazingly fun venture. And the website is so pretty! I’ve seen hints of this on a number of blogs, and the reveal is very much living up to the hype. Keep it up, ladies!

What Else I’ve Been Up To

Frankly, I’m swamped. I usually have time to break up my workday with all of your lovely WUW posts and comments…but I’m pretty sure that that is not going to happen this week. I love what I do and where I work, but June just finished, and that means End-Of-Quarter/Half-Year reports for my company, and that means really long hours for me as Controller. If I got paid overtime, I’d be making enough money this week to buy me some serious something(s). I’m really looking forward to the extended weekend, but I may sleep through all of it to make up for the the two weeks’ worth of work that I’ve crammed into the first three days of this month. Except I’ve got family coming in to town, and they’ve planned a canoe trip on Saturday. So…sleep all the other days? Hope so.

What’s up on your Wednesday?

**almost five years.

What’s Up Wednesday

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. It’s hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk, and after a few weeks of this popping up on the various blogs I follow on Feedly…I’m loving the idea.

What I’m Reading

I kept seeing Cinder and Scarlet show up on various blogs, including multiple recommendations from Colin. So I took the plunge and read Cinder the night after I turned in my finals. Yes, I read the entire thing in one evening. With the addictiveness of Cinder, I was almost afraid to start Scarlet since I knew I couldn’t finish it before other commitments came due. But I caved and read the first three chapters. Setting it aside and leaving for the weekend was ridiculously difficult, and I am beyond excited to finish it.

What I’m Writing

I was on an unavoidable writing break for most of this semester, and now I’m finally able to get back to writing. But I’m in something of a dilemma; I have a cast of characters that I’m in love with, but I can’t get some plot bugs out, and it’s really stalling me. I was going to set that project aside and head into a total rewrite of an older project, but I can’t seem to let go of that first shaky plot.  The two projects are totally different genres/time periods, and while I’m equally in love with both, I need to get into either one or the other.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I spent the weekend working at a children’s conference,  and tonight begins my second stint as Wednesday-night-summer-program coordinator for our church. This weekend I have a grad party, birthday party, and family reunion…in different states. I need to learn to drive a suburban backwards with an attached trailer, since this skill is going to be required for my drive out to my hometown on Saturday. I’m also taking my dad to see Star Trek on Thursday, and on Memorial Day I’m driving my younger siblings up to see my grandpa, who is successfully recovering from open heart surgery. Yeah, not much going on.

What Inspires Me Right Now

Does anyone else love commercial music? One of Google’s commercials featured The Temper Trap’s song “Sweet Disposition”, and I promptly fell in love with the whole album. In between the Midwest storms that keep knocking out our internet, I’ve also been enjoying Anthem Lights’ covers of popular songs–who knew that “As Long As You Love Me” could sound so good?

What’s up on your Wednesday?

Short Stories?

I’m terrible at writing short stories. Truly. I’ve always been the sort to dump several thousand words on a page every evening, straggling to the end of a story a few months down the road. Then, a year later, it gets wrangled and trimmed into something manageably novel-length. Attempting to world-build and character-create in a short story format is not my strength.

I wonder if short-story writing is better suited to those who outline? If one is a “pantser”, maybe the writing tends to be too long-winded to fit within the guidelines of a short story? I’m not sure. I just know that I’ve never managed to cram the vision from my imagination onto a few short pages.

I recently started reading my nearly-forgotten collection of O. Henry’s short stories, and found myself enjoying his tongue-in-cheek humor and nearly patented ending twists. Then there are the Edgar Allan Poe stories, the ones that were dark and foreboding and creepily unforgettable. I also have half a dozen volumes of fairy tale collections, some separated by author (Hans Christian Anderson), some by cultural origin (African, German, etc). They have all been re-read countless times, but without any success at any sort of imitation.

Do you know of some other good short-story authors or collections? Do you find it easy to come up with an abbreviated arc for a short story? 

RTW # 173: Best Book o’ March

I’m trying to get back on board with YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday’s. Considering the fact that I had spring break this month, and a decent reading list, I actually have an answer to this week’s prompt!

This Week’s Topic: What was the best book you read in March?

This month I had several fantastic reads. I hope to get the chance to write up something about them, because it was a great month for reading. Runner-ups include

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

Citizen of the Galaxy, by Robert Heinlein

I also have Prodigy, by Marie Lu on my TBR list, and I am halfway through I am the messenger, by Marcus Zusak. Both were books that I didn’t get a chance to read over spring break, and despite my astronomical school load, I can’t bear to send them back to the library without finishing them. In the war between reading books and getting schoolwork done, I think sleep is the losing party.

But what was the best one of March? That honor belongs to the incomparable Maggie Stiefvater, and her first book in the Raven Cycle, “The Raven Boys”

Goodreads description

This. Read it. Now.

This book surprised me, more than anything. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it–in fact, the only reason I picked it up was because The Scorpio Races was one of my favorite reads all last year.

I tend to not do well with complicated mythology/books that have to be explained to me. I dislike characters when they have to explain things in unrealistic ways because that’s how the author gets his/her exposition across to the reader. It kills a book to have a paragraphical explanation inserted into an otherwise-decent character because things have to be explained regardless of the appropriateness of the thing coming from the aforementioned character. Confused yet?

Because I was not. Maggie’s characters are far beyond “otherwise-decent.” She was able to get into the heads of four different characters, allowing the central mythology to be realistically explained from the various perspectives. I loved how we got a first-person viewpoint of the “corpse road” from Blue, and then gradual explanations of the “ley lines” from Gansey and Adam, resulting in the  meshing of the different perspectives as you realized they were describing/interacting with the same thing.

The Characters:

I loved Maggie’s characters. Particularly as regards the four main boys and Blue, they were fifty shades of real. I loved how she was able to show how complicated Gansey was, and yet how he still came across as the quintessential rich boy from Blue’s perspective. It was a little surprising to have so much of Gansey explained from Adam’s perspective, but it worked because Gansey was still consistent as a character. I always had a hard time when an author would tell me about a character and then show them acting completely differently in other scenes. In this case, the tell-and-show is consistent; every action lined up perfectly with every description.

The only person this didn’t work with was Barrington Whelk. The tell-about-him sections gave the impression of a well-rounded character, and the writing from his viewpoint was suitably despairing, but I didn’t feel as much remorse for him at the end as I think I should have. He was set up as a three-dimensional character, but it sort of fell flat at the end. He wasn’t quite as engaging or dynamic as the main characters, or even any of the residents of 300 Fox Way–Maura, Persephone, Calla, and Neeve were all less-described characters who held their own as soon as they walked onto the page.

The Rest:

The town of Henrietta felt old and new at the same time, perfectly fitting the central mythology. Before I read the book I saw some complaints about the pacing; personally, I loved getting to know the characters so much that I never felt like it was dragging at any point. A lot is left open for the remaining books, but there is definite closure. There’s also the perfect, absolutely loaded last line that knocks you upside the head and reminds you that this is not over yet.

Summary:

In case I haven’t gushed enough: the best part of this book is the five main characters. They are real, and no description I give can fully convey how true they are. Initially set up as line-item teens–the bad boy, the lurking shadow, the resentful sidekick, President Cell-Phone, and the odd girl out…each of them are far more than they seem. (Breakfast club, anyone?) The relationship between the boys is exactly the sort of closeness and complexity and dysfunctionality that it should be, and Blue is a perfect stand-your-ground character; she isn’t swallowed up by the pre-existing dynamics of the Raven Boys group.

So, go read it.

What’s your favorite book of March? If you’ve already read The Raven Boys, what did you think?

Road Trip Wednesday #168: True Love

This Week’s Topic is: It’s (the day before) Valentine’s Day! Let’s jumpstart the  lovefest by blogging about what you love most about writing (and/or reading)!

Wow, what a question. What do I love most? Beyond the warm fuzzies that come with reading a well-written sentence or the ego-trip that accompanies a a finished manuscript? Beyond the drive to do better and the sense of accomplishment when you do? Beyond my capricious need to do terrible things to my characters? Beyond the community and connection that comes with writing and reading and loving both?

My reasons are purely selfish. What I love most about writing and/or reading is the way if changes my world.

Reading taught me to dream in the infinite. It taught me that I can go anywhere and become anyone. It showed me how to hold on to my family, and how to let them go. It introduced me to new friends and new enemies and taught me how to tell the difference. It showed me that it’s okay to question, but it’s not okay to settle for less. It taught me to hope for more and plan for twice that. It made me cry, laugh, love more, and long for more. Reading showed me the limits of my world and threw open the doors to make it bigger. I read books that taught me about speaking the truth, without the trappings of obsessive love or physical beauty. I learned how to strike out on my own and make the right decisions regardless of familial ties or popular opinion. I learned that happily ever afters are possible, but that they don’t always come wrapped in neat Prince-Charming packaging. I read about broken people and broken things and the love and loss that makes them whole.

And then writing made it my own. Writing took everything that I ever loved about reading and showed me what I actually believed about all of it. Because if I truly believed that reading could change the landscape of my world, then I should be willing  to write like that. So I did. I wrote about myself, and my questions, and my ideal Mary Jane life. I wrote about the person I wanted to become and the person I currently was. And through writing, I answered myself. I answered my junior-high self with the perfect-family story that (eventually) showed me the imperfectness of my own family and how that was okay. I answered my freshman-year self with a fairy tale that reminded me that truly happy endings can’t be manufactured by a fairy godmother. I took my junior-year self and wrote out the confusion into a girl who took charge of her life and had the confidence I wished I had. And then I poured out every bit of senior-year and post-high school self and crammed it into a draft that wrung my heart out and asked me what I truly believed in anymore. The writing pulled everything out of me that I was unwilling to let go. And if I was able to write about and read about how brokenness could be made whole, then I knew that in real life, it was possible for me, too.

I love to read. I love to write. Reading feels like being a passenger to anywhere. Writing puts me in the driver’s seat, and the view is infinite.

“I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.”  Anna Quindlen