January 27, 2012

The 7 Deadly Sins of Reading

What's the worst crime you can commit against a book? Have a pet book peeve that really makes you cringe? Think we should start a Prevention of Cruelty to Books organization?

When I asked this question of you on Facebook and Twitter, I got so many creative and twisted responses (some of them confessions) that I'll be doing a second post in this series next week. Thanks for your delightful/horrifying ideas.

Time for some indictments--and maybe some more confession--as we uncover the 7 Deadly Sins of Reading.

#1: Dog-ear pages instead of using a bookmark

Ever watched someone start to turn a page--then go back, lick their finger, and crush down the corner of the paper? Ever give you the feeling that one of your bones is breaking? 

Be kind to books. Use a bookmark.

#2: Read a series out of order

Picked it up on #2, then skipped to #5, started #7? No wonder you can't keep track of the main character's love interests. 

#3: Write in it 

This is one that used to give me the gag reaction before I went to college. Deface a book?! It would be like unleashing a can of spray paint on the National Gallery of Art! Now, thanks to a couple of ink-stained professors, writing in my books is one of my favorite things to do (especially with Shakespeare). I underline my favorite passages and write comments in the margin--it's like having a conversation with the author that I can add to every time I pick it up.

#4: Skip chapters

Skip the "boring" dialogue? Cut the blah-blah-blah and get on with the story? It would be like skipping the songs in a musical!

#5: Tear pages out (or let your rabid bunny do it)

Isn't this picture just terrifying? 

#6: Read the ending first

Or, even worse, read it and spoil it for others. You have to go through the story to get to the end, just like the characters do. No peeking!

#7: The worst of them all: don't read

Joseph Brodsky wrote, "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." Whatever you do to your books, there's no worse crime than putting them behind glass and letting them collect dust.

Not to say that you shouldn't admire them, however. Just treat them nicely.

Which "sins" would you add to this list? Which ones have you committed? Check back next week for "5 Gruesome Ways for Books to Die"...

January 20, 2012

Life According to Road Signs

While on vacation the week after Christmas, my family and I drove the infamous Road to Hana. It's a highway that follows the beautiful, rainforested north shore of Maui. However, "winding" would be the understatement of the century about this road. It is famous for its more than 600 curves (most of which are blind hairpins) and its 59 bridges, 46 of which are one-laners according to Wikipedia. According to me, that's a generous estimate.

While my mom was dodging tourist convertibles and avoiding sheer cliff edges, I was taking pictures of the road signs. Road signs are something I always find interesting, because they can be read to have double meanings about life, guidance, and following God. But on the tortuous, sometimes terrifying, incredibly beautiful Road to Hana, their messages seemed heightened, especially when I thought about lessons I've learned during my last 4 1/2 months of freelancing. 

The road to the future can be winding (and sometimes the curves are blind).  

Sometimes you defer to the ideas of others with more experience, especially when you're young. 

You don't always get there as fast as you want to. 

Sometimes you run into roadblocks.  

But eventually you get going again.

And the journey can be beautiful.

Sometimes it's just plain funny, too. Part of the adventure is learning to laugh, to find the humor in the midst of 600 hairpin curves. Sunshine sometimes comes in weird and wacky forms. Like these bizarre signs!   

"Why did the baby pigs cross the road?"  

"The sky coconuts are falling!" 
"A place named Haiku--maybe only 17 people live there..."

What weird, wise, or wacky signs have you spotted by the roadside?

January 13, 2012

Wit, Wisdom, and Castles: "I Capture the Castle" by Dodie Smith

This is a review of a book that is not for the young, but certainly for the young at heart.

I Capture the Castle, published in 1943 by Dodie Smith (her first novel), begins with all the trappings of a fairy tale, but uses them to tell a story so real that there’s nothing fairy-tale or cliché about it.

Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain lives in a castle. Perfectly romantic, yes? Picturesque towers, the idyllic English countryside—until you realize that the castle is full of leaks and the family is practically starving to death since her writer-father hasn’t penned a word in over twelve years. In addition to her hermetical father, Cassandra lives with her older sister Rose, whose great wish is to marry for money, her studious younger brother Thomas, her sympathetic but eccentric stepmother Topaz (whose former occupation was nude modeling for a London painter), and a handsome servant named Stephen. Oh yes, and a cat and dog; Abelard and Heloïse (private joke about a pair of twelfth-century scholar-lovers).  Cassandra’s aspiration is to be a writer, and the novel is structured as three of her journals, her stated purpose being “to teach myself how to write a novel—I intend to capture all our characters and put in conversations.”

The first major action mirrors the beginning of Pride and Prejudice: the neighboring manor, empty since the owner’s death, is at last re-inhabited by his two handsome grandsons: dashing young Americans who are terribly interesting and perfectly single. However, the remaining 90% of the book has absolutely nothing to do with Pride and Prejudice, and both Cassandra and Rose find out what misery is caused by trying to force life to match fairy tales. On the way, Cassandra’s views on wealth, history, God, romance, travel, and people are stretched even as she writes down these experiences and her reflections in her journal. 

The primary delight of this book is in Cassandra’s witty and wise narrative voice. If I’d read it at age seventeen (or younger), I think I would have found the vague and meandering plotline of the book uninteresting and the ending incomplete. I related to many of Cassandra’s stories, but in the middle of my teen years I wouldn’t have had have the distance to sift out the wisdom in them. But that’s because at the time I was looking for fairy tales, and this is a story about real life. In the six months Cassandra’s journals cover, we watch her grow up—from a starry-eyed child to an adult who perceives the world with a more complex awareness of both its joys and sorrows (fancy word for this genre: bildungsroman). She becomes a young woman who stands tall with maturity and self-respect, valuing her family, her integrity, and her dreams of authorship more than grubbing desperately for “happily ever after.” Anne of Green Gables would call her a “kindred spirit,” though she comes from the other side of the Atlantic. As Cassandra “captures” the castle and the people around her in words, we watch her become a “wise young judge,” a strong, funny, honest, real heroine who is ultimately very worthy of respect.

This is a book for aspiring writers, for young women who have wrestled with singleness, for those who love England. It’s for adults who can identify Cassandra’s wisdom but still remember going through the difficulties of gaining it for themselves. It’s for people who enjoy a witty narrator describing her unconventional life in vignettes both down-to-earth and poetic. It’s not quite like any other book I’ve read, but I’ll be keeping this one.

Have you read this book? Seen the movie adaptation? Does it remind you of something else? Add your thoughts to the conversation!  

January 7, 2012

Setting a Course

Hello again! 

2 weeks away from my blog feels more like a month and a half. So strange! I feel like everything I re-start after the holiday break is individually packaged in a fresh layer of brain fog. It doesn't help that I am returning to my computer from one of the most beautiful, relaxing places imaginable: 

Ah, well. 

It is good to be starting a new year, though. I like the chance to break schedule during the holidays. Sometimes I'm so busy putting out the day-to-day fires that come up that I lose sight of my big-picture vision. It feels like a chance to pause, pick up the scattered pieces, regroup, and re-strategize about where you're going in life. Then New Year's Day arrives, and with it, a chance to turn a new page and do some things differently in life. 

As a rule, I don't really make New Year's resolutions. The jokes are true. Talk is cheap, and they're made of talk. They're flimsy; made to be broken. Besides, until this year, I was living on the school calendar and made whatever resolutions I was going to make in September. School offers a certain structure to the resolutions you make, too--study more (or maybe less). Invest in friendships. Get an internship. Graduate.

With the rigid frame of academia removed, though, I find that I am the only one responsible for setting goals for myself--for not letting life make my decisions for me. As you can tell by the size of the word "trust" in the sidebar, my process of direction-setting is one that involves a great deal of prayer and wrestling.

So this year I've made some New Year's goals. The word resolution, in my mind, says self-reliance. That's why New Year's resolutions don't last. I myself am weak. When I run out of energy to stay resolved, I give up, out of exhaustion if not lack of will. I think goals, however, are visions we lay before God for partnership. If my life direction has been submitted to Him for approval and guidance, goal-setting is an act of faith: setting a course and trusting Him for strength and courage to hold to it.

I'll tell you what my goals are in a minute, but first I want to clarify that this is not just my personal mind vomit. I read a great blog post by Kathy Lipp this week that talks about goal-setting for writers. In her words, "public humiliation goes a long way to getting your book written." Accountability goes a long way toward other things too: when other people are aware of your goals, the pressure to meet them rises--and you accomplish more than if they sit secretly moldering in your journal.

I also like a tradition my knitter friend Audry has instituted on her long-running blog, Bear Ears. At the end of each year, she sets goals, ranging from "knit a sweater" to "build a terrarium." But she also reviews the results of her previous year's goals. It becomes a neat cycle of tracking growth and watching how God's plans sometimes completely diverge from ours. I hope that next December/January, I will be able to track those long-term patterns, too.

OK, so here are my top 5 New Year's goals. I hope you will hold me accountable and share yours as well!

1. Get to know God better. To do this, my goal is to read through the Bible in chronological order in one year.

2. Have the second draft of my children's novel completed and be ready to start looking at literary agents by June.

3. Take a 2-month class to learn more about blogging and social media for authors. I hope you'll be seeing regular improvements on this blog from now through the end of February!

4. Buy a car (wings optional).

5. Read Gone With The Wind, Othello, and The Kite Runner.

What are your goals for this new year?