Monday, November 07, 2011

What I Read on My Fall Break

I recently got back from our annual 3-week stint in Maine in the fall. It was, as always, a lovely time in which Bob and I basically became complete recluses when we weren't out hitting the hiking trails (where I'm still a recluse, but Bob isn't. He chats with everyone he meets along trails. Luckily, this time of year that isn't as many as it is in the summer time) or eating in fantastic restaurants. I had all kinds of grand plans to do things like write all my pen pals (sorry, guys. Despite all promises to be a better pen pal, I suck, I know. Does it count that I constantly think about writing each of you?), make to-do lists that would help organize my life once back home, consult nature guides to learn about wild flowers and trees, etc., etc. What did I actually do? I read. And cooked. And outlined and wrote ghost stories. Oh well, it was vacation. Why should I have done otherwise if that's what I wanted to do? I thought I'd share my reading list with you, so here you go.

Books Finished

Americans' Favorite Poems edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz (2000, W.W. Norton)
This is a great collection for a "reluctant reader" of poetry, like me. Quotes by Americans of all ages and from all walks of life precede each poem, and these quotes explain why people have chosen it as a favorite. Some of these explanations helped me to connect better to certain poems myself. Others made me admire people for making connections I didn't see or just couldn't make. I was reminded that reading is such a personal experience, but it can also be wonderful when shared, and I was heartened to discover so many who still turn to literature when faced with tragedy, which many seemed to do. I also found some new poems to add to my own "favorites" list, while enjoying rereading many that are already there (surprising I'd have such a list, being a "reluctant reader," but, apparently, I do).

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (2008, 1764, Oxford University Press)
I read this for the R.I.P. challenge, and I will write a proper blog post soon. Warning: I will be gushing.

The Demonologist: The True Story of Ed Warren and Loraine Warren, the World Famous Exorcism Team by Gerald Brittle (1980, Berkeley Books)
If you lived in or near Monroe, CT in the 1980s and 1990s, which I did, you knew who Ed and Loraine Warren were. Their most well-known "case" was probably Amityville. Bob got this book from them when he invited them to come speak at the boarding school where he worked in the eighties (before I knew him). I've been planning to read it for years and finally did. When it wasn't scaring the bejeezus out of me, I was busy thinking it was the dumbest book I'd ever read. Talk about clichés straight out of B movies (a possessed Raggedy Ann doll, a sorceress who even as a young child played games with things like pentagons, teens who invite trouble by playing with Ouija boards, etc., etc.), and I'm pretty sure you could find the word "havoc" on every single page of the book. Eventually, though, I came to the conclusion that it had been what I had hoped it would be: a worthwhile read, because it provided me with much fodder for my own attempts at writing supernatural fiction.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (2006, William Morrow)
At this point, you're saying, "Really, Emily? You read that one?" Great book, though. Truly. Read it.

Love in Idleness by F. Marion Crawford (1894, Macmillan)
When in Maine, one must read a book that takes place in Maine. This is a very light read, which is not to say it isn't a delightful one, as well as a wonderful walk back in time. Crawford's characters are well-drawn and easily imagined, and the book provides a glimpse of Bar Harbor just before the turn of the 20th century, with photos and everything. I was enchanted.

Murder of Angels by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2004, New American Library)
Another R.I.P. challenge read, and, yes, expect more gushing when I finally post on it.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Narrated by Jennifer Ikeda (2011, Penguin Audio)
I actually finished this one just before I left for fall break, but it's another R.I.P. challenge book, so I thought I'd include it in this list. Blog post (not quite so gushing) coming soon.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. Read by Neil Gaiman. (2006, HarperCollins Audio)
Yes, here it is again. The recurring dream. I have to say, though, that this was the first time I ever simultaneously read and listened to a book, and I highly recommend doing so with this particular book. It's best if you do it this way: read his annotation in the Introduction about a story/poem, then read the story/poem, and, finally, listen to him read it. You won't be disappointed.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Narrated by Stephen King (2000, Simon and Schuster Audio)
Friend-not-husband Bob recommended the audio version of this one to me, which I've been meaning to read for years. Can I say that listening to Stephen King read it made me feel as if I were taking a class with him? I've always respected King, but I respect him even more now, because he comes across as someone who knows exactly what he is: a good storyteller who enjoys what he does and has been successful but who knows he's no literary genius. If you are an aspiring writer who needs inspiration, you must read this book. Combine it with If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland and Eudora Welty's On Writing, and I guarantee you'll be sitting down at your desk to compose something. King offers sound advice, and he's honest, and funny, and endearing along the way.

Books Still Reading

The Town that Forgot How to Breathe by Kenneth J. Harvey (2006, Picador)
Part of my effort to read more Canadian authors, and Bob read it and urged me to do so. So far: eerie with well-drawn characters and a dreamy quality. How could I not like it? It's got ghosts and fairies.

Dracula's Guest and Other Victorian Vampire Stories edited by Michael Sims (2006, Walker and Co.)
Reading Neil Gaiman the way we did has taught me to slow down when it comes to reading story collections -- which I typically race through, especially collections of this sort. This is one of two other non-Gaiman story collections I took to Maine with me, and so far, so good. The Victorians (unlike today's writers) knew how to create vampires: spooky, mysterious, and dangerous.

The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories edited by Michael Newman (2010, Penguin)
I'm dragging this one, the other non-Gaiman collection I brought on vacation, out, because I just don't want it to end. I need to finish it, though, because it's the last of my R.I.P. challenge reads. Another gushing post coming your way soon.

Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel by Gail Carriger. Narrated by Emily Gray (2010, Recorded Books)
Georgette Heyer meets the supernatural, which sounds hideous, I know. But it isn't. It works. If you are going to be a contemporary writer who insists on creating vampires (and werewolves and ghosts, etc.) who aren't (always so) spooky, mysterious, and dangerous, this is the way to do it. Carriger's attention to detail and sense of humor are admirable. Brilliant fun made all the better by the fact that Emily Gray reads it so well. I'm glad to know that when I'm done with this one, there are three more, all narrated by Ms. Gray.

That's it. I'd love to know what you've thought of any of these, if you've read/listened to them. Meanwhile, I need to get working on all those R.I.P. challenge posts, don't I?


Courtney said...

Your vacation sounds amazing, Emily - I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I haven't read any of the books you read on vacation but I do love Neil Gaiman and Fragile Things is in my tbr pile. And now...what did you cook??

ZoesMom said...

You should definitely not do things on a "should" list while on vacation. Glad you had a good time and did exactly what you wanted to do. I haven't read any of those books either so I can't comment, but it looks like a good list.

Emily Barton said...

Court, ahh! You read my mind, yet again. While on vacation, I decided I must start writing blog posts about some of the stuff I cook. Stay tuned...

ZM, I'm pretty sure you'd like Soulless (especially the audiobook version).

litlove said...

The vacation does sound wonderful! I am longing to know what you thought of A Discovery of Witches. I found a cheap hardback copy online and bought it after reading a few gushing reviews. All excited I tried to start it, but found the language really dull and the situation a bit cliched. Does it get better? I do hope so, as I was looking forward to it.

Anne Camille said...

Sounds like a lovely vacation! I won't complain that you suck at being a pen pal if you don't say the same about me. How many weeks ago was it that I sent you an email saying I would write a letter in the next day or so? 6 weeks? 8 weeks? Can I blame the time change? Yeah, didn't think so.

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, keep reading. I was ready to abandon it early on, but then I kept reading (you'll see when I finally publish my post on it, although I won't quite be gushing about it the way I will about the other R.I.P. reads, I still enjoyed it overall).

Anne, oh yes, you absolutely CAN blame the time change. I think that's a perfect excuse for not having written someone.

Anonymous said...

Emily, it sounds like your vacation was absolutely worth it! Would you please one day indulge me and post a picture of these Maine woods where you were hiking? This is pure fantasy for me.
Btw, I loved loved loved Stephen King On Writing, it made me want to sit down and grab a pen.

Stefanie said...

Looking forward to your gushing Castle Otranto post! I read King's On Writing a number of years ago and enjoyed it very much. Glad you enjoyed your vacation even if there were no letters written :)

Emily Barton said...

Smithereens, but of course! I will put some pictures in my next post. It's the least I can do for a pen pal who never gets letters from me.

Stef, and stay tuned. I'm about to post on it, which is the least I can do for the pen pal to whom I'm pretty sure I've owed a letter the longest.

Anonymous said...

Your vacation sounds perfect, I don't think you were supposed to do anything else.

I read A Discovery of Witches and I liked the idea more than the execution, although I finished it because it was in the quick read category. But I thought the writing was a bit lumpen and the characterisation uneven. Not sure I can face the rest of the trilogy, when it arrives!

Emily Barton said...

Ms. Musings, I'm not sure I can face the trilogy, either. I agree that the writing was sub-par and that the idea was probably better than the execution. Still, the plot eventually grabbed me (and I think when I'm listening to something as opposed to reading it, sub-par writing isn't quite so annoying). If you haven't read Soulless (and others in that series), I think you'd enjoy it. Somewhat similar in some ways, but better written and executed. And it doesn't pretend to be anything other than a fun read.

Carrie#K said...

Those pictures are perfect! Especially that rock path.

Another truly lovely aspect of Castle of Otranto is that it's brief, unlike Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho.

Jodie Robson said...

Rather looking forward to your thoughts on the Kenneth Harvey book...?