inspiration

Christmastime and Books

Reflection

I think I’m a bit young to count any book as “tradition for Christmas” but there are two books and two short stories that I’ve made sure to read as often as I could around the Christmas period. My #1 rule is that the “Holiday Season” doesn’t begin until after Dec 10. Decorating the day right after Halloween is a little unsettling.

Making Christmas all about buying things in high consumerism anxiety, followed by Black Friday videos trending, and making this madness last from November 1 is something that takes away so much magic from Christmas for me. I was recently sent a mini list by Julie Morris, who wrote on the importance of being reflective on the presents you buy for yourself and others around the Christmas period, and the value of reflecting on how those gifts will improve our lives and those of the people around us. Here are some of the recommendations for more thoughtful gifts, if you are looking for ideas. I personally found it to be useful. That is, other than books of course. Feel free to email me or comment if you are looking for book recommendations for someone (perhaps with a brief summary of what they’ve liked in the past). I would love to help!

Books

My #1 Novel for Christmas and favourite depiction of Santa Claus was written by Frank L. Baum: The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.  This book is amazing. I love the mythological layers added to Santa. In this version he was raised by woodland creatures and fairies. It’s almost a bildungsroman where we get to see how Santa becomes who he is, and how he became immortal. The movie is an excellent adaptation as well.

 

 

Then there are these two stories by Hans Christian Andersen

So far I think I’ve read “The Little Match Girl” every year since I was six years old. It’s one of my absolute favourite stories of all time. I love this story so much I started illustrating it:

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Then, there’s  Dickens’s novella A Christmas Carol. Yes, everyone reads it, but it’s pretty darn good. Also, it kind of makes you reflect on the year and the resolutions for the new one. I am the proud owner of many Charles Dickens Christmas stories

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Lastly, there are works that are not necessarily Christmas related, but they are personal associations with Christmas. For many, it’s a tradition to watch Harry Potter, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Home Alone, or Elf. Some associate Apple Cider, or Egg Nog with Christmas; particular tastes, and particular smells.

For me personally, Christmas means:

Smells: pine, and oranges

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The smells of Christmas

Food: Salata de Beouf (Romanian Dish for Christmas)

Books (non-related to the ones mentioned above): The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Movies I really enjoyed around the Christmas period: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Peter Pan (2003), Little Women, Meet Me in St. Louis  and (recently added) Frozen. I also watch adaptations of the three main books/stories mentioned above, or Winnie the Pooh Christmas movies.

Lastly, I absolutely HATE every Christmas song, carol, and/or melody. I think they are so depressing (I’m sorry). I have seen wonderful performers, and family members sing them beautifully, but the melodies themselves put me in such a sad state of mind, I can’ t do it. (Let’s call it a quirk?)

To me, Christmas means the mythology of Santa, the coziness of winter, where the snow is a blanket over dormant parts of nature, and there’s good food, loving family, and a fire place. I want to feel cozy, comfortable, and safe, but I don’t want to experience the layer of sadness that also descends upon Christmas, which comes from the grayness in the atmosphere and from the Christmas songs (for me personally). I know that this is different for everyone and each individual experiences Christmas differently but every year I can’t ignore that there is a general sadness around this time. This feeling turns into optimism and excitement for the new year with plans, hopes, and new dreams. Life is about balance so I guess we need both feelings to get by. I hope that you will have a lovely Christmas time this year and no matter what happens, you get to enjoy at least a great short story!

holidays

Walden | Comfort Classic | Journal

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”

 

Walden

Thoreau lived at Walden Pond from July 4, 1845 to September 6, 1847. Walden was published in 1854.

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Pond near my house

For the last few years I’ve returned to Thoreau’s Walden many times. Sometimes I read it from beginning to end, sometimes I listen to the audiobook. Other times, I read only a chapter, or the things I’ve highlighted. Themes, excerpts, and the work as a whole especially come to mind when I visit my parents’ home and take a walk around the forest and the local pond. I am trying to figure out what is it about Walden that makes it what I call a “comfort classic”—a classic I re-read to make the world feel right again. This entry is really meant to read like a personal reading journey entry where I log notes and discuss them.

In the first section ‘economy’ Thoreau points out all that is wrong with society, which frankly has not changed, if anything it has only worsened (particularly discussing student debt from the Universities). He points out all that is wrong, and all that we should aspire to be. He writes:

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

The mass is quiet, that is what makes it awful. They have the natural consequence but they do not know how to express this quiet desperation.

ainting“What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be a falsehood to-morrow.”

“One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of absolute value by living.”

“Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me”

“Are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change.”

“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”

Thoreau also mentions how impractical the anxiety to be fashionable is (in terms of clothes, household furnishings and objects).

Earlier I mentioned that certain things have worsened since (like fees, rent, etc). I wonder how Thoreau would react or write about (in the middle class West) people spending the majority of their time on the Internet indoors.

“It would be well, perhaps, if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies…birds do not sing in caves, nor do doves cherish their innocence in dovecots…many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box.”

There is something in Walden, particularly in the beginning that strongly reminds me of things I’ve seen or heard recently but figured Thoreau said it first. Most of the discussion of your things owning you was strongly ringing of Fight Club (not the book but the movie).IMG_20170620_120942

I think what I like about his writing is that he goes from contemplative and philosophical writing to the mundane and every day speech all in the same sentence. Thoreau wrestles with social constructions that have ones seemed natural and a part of our existence.

I like imagining Thoreau walking, and thinking, and just tapping into some of his thoughts on literature and what he sees, to me, is a very idealized pastoral scene so Walden has become my comfort classic.

If you were to compare what some of today’s styles and trends are: eating organic, growing your own food, travelling and reconnecting with nature, hiking, etc. This sort of ‘hippy’ or ‘bohemian’ lifestyle is often divorced from the intellectual now. I realize that Thoreau did all these things back in the 1840s and combined it with the intellect. His chapters on “reading,” and “where I lived and what I lived for” are imbued with literary references and discussions. It is akin to books like Ex Libris or the genre we all love so much recently ‘books about books.’

“A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself.”

His every thought is an allusion or a reference to a literary work from antiquity to his contemporaries. Through the voices of other literary giants and describing the sounds around the pond, Thoreau shows how you can be surrounded while completely alone in a contemplative state.

Every section of Walden has its own charm. There are so many YouTube channels for instance focusing on cooking, growing your own things, and budgeting. Thoreau writes about all those things explaining in detail how he did it. I sometimes imagine 19th century readers reading this the same way millions of us subscribe to channels online now. I enjoyed reading about his budget, savings, and spending when it came to building the house and investing in clothing, food, and farm supplies. It’s both personal and distant, it’s doable and also impossible. Most importantly it brings me to a good place mentally because I think about nature, and what the natural realm means.

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The New Voices of Fantasy | Review

33838972The New Voices of Fantasy is an anthology compiled by Peter. S. Beagle (famously known for his work The Last Unicorn) and Jacob Wiseman. All the stories in this collection have been previously published between 2010 and 2017 in short story magazines like Clarkesworld, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com. In 2010 Beagle edited another anthology The Secret History of Fantasy exploring the merging of genre fantasy and mainstream markets into a new form of literary fantasy. Wiseman asserts that “this anthology constitutes something of a sequel.”

Beagle begins his introduction to this anthology with a block quote paraphrasing an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination:

“Jules Verne, who always considered himself a scientist, was distinctly put out by the work of the younger writer H.G. Wells. ‘Il a invente!’ the author of From the Earth to the Moon sniffed at the author of The War of the Worlds. ‘He makes things up!’”

The older generation constantly unwilling to accept the young/new. What Verne could not accept was that Wells invented machines beyond what was mechanically possible—unlike what Verne did in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with the submarine—Wells expanded by creating a time machine. Beagle relates an anecdote from his experience as a young writer where one of his older teachers, Frank O’Connor, could not accept Beagle’s storytelling in the writing class back in the ‘60s because he was a fan of realism and classics. Beagle writes: “I was outraged at O’Connor’s rigidity.” The resistance from the older generation is not the only thing keeping young fantasy writers back–there is also the hierarchy, favouring ‘literary works’ and ‘realism’ above the innovations brought forward by fantasy. Ursula K. Le Guin tells Beagle:

“all of us [fantasy writers] feel, to one degree or another, that mainstream fiction has been stealing our ideas—and even our classic clichés—for generations, and selling them back to us as ‘Magical Realism.’”

Realism is not everything, and fantasy under a different name does not become more ‘literary’ or significant. Beagle and Le Guin ask us to open our eyes and see that it was Fantasy all along.

What Beagle does with this anthology is an elegant passing of the writing pen to a younger generation of fantasy writers, and he presents them to us, the readers, without rigidity as his teachers before him have. He accepts them as they are and is in awe of their risk-taking, creativity, and courage. I cannot imagine how many works Beagle must have read through to select these top 19 stories, but I had a hard time selecting my favourites, as each one of them brings something completely unique to the Fantasy cornucopia. His selection includes a great balance of men and women writers, as well as various backgrounds.

The stories featured in this anthology are as follows:

  • “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong
  • “Selkie Stories are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar
  • Tornado’s Siren” by Brooke Bolander (opening line: “Rhea is nine years old when she first meets the tornado that will fall in love with her”)
  • “Left the Century to Sit Unmoved” by Sarah Pinsker
  • A Kiss with Teeth” by Max Gladstone (featuring Dracula as a suburban dad so worth reading)
  • “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon
  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu
  • The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate” by A.C. Wise
  • “The Tallest Doll in New York City” by Maria Dahvana Headley
  • “The Haunting of Apollo A7LB” by Hannu Rajeniemi
  • Here Be Dragons” by Chris Tarry
  • “The One they Took Before” by Kelly Sandoval
  • “Tiger Baby” by JY Yang
  • “The Duck” by Ben Loory
  • “Wing” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • The Philosophers” by Adam Ehrlich Sachs
  • “My Time Among the Bridge Blowers” by Eugene Fischer
  • “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado
  • “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Usman T. Malik

I linked some of my favourite ones, but in support of Beagle and his work I would recommend this anthology as an individual codex because it is cohesive and works well as a collection with the choices Beagle has made.

I recommend this anthology to anyone who loves fantasy and wants to try some of the new emerging voices. I have no doubt that each one of these writers will continue to write and publish larger works in the future, and this anthology is a great introduction to them. I would especially recommend this to readers who are new to fantasy and want to sample shorter works without committing to an entire series and/or trilogy.

Many thanks to Tachyon Publications for sending me an ARC for review. This anthology is currently scheduled to be published on  August 18, 2017 (though books are always subject to having dates pushed back). Regardless of publication date, it is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

How to Get Out of a Reading Slump

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A few words of kindness before the list:

First of all: if not reading is something you call “a slump” and it’s something that makes you feel sad, not yourself, and guilty—then clearly my friend, you are a reader. That in itself is an encouraging thought because only a reader can feel those emotions when not reading. So don’t despair, and don’t feel hopeless because there are many ways to get back into doing what you love most. Sometimes it’s really not your fault. Maybe you had several bad reading experiences in a row. Maybe life events took over. Either way, guilt is not something you should associate with this tragedy that has befallen you (the reading slump). The following methods are taken out of my personal experiences. If there are ways I left out I encourage you to comment and contribute suggestions that have helped you with your reading experience.

Step One: Get Inspired by Others

  1. In my experience nothing has been more inspiring than Booktube. Book lovers sharing their reading experience, their book hauls, and TBRs on YouTube. Over time I felt like each one of them was my friend. When you find someone whose reading tastes are so similar to yours it’s like a book is recommending a person; then in turn, when that person recommends a new book you have not read, you know you can trust them.bt

These are some people who have completely inspired me to get back into reading in the past:

Following these people often leads to Buddy-reads on Goodreads, Reading along with a booktuber a specific book (like Books and Things is currently reading Our Mutual Friend six chapters at a time) and other online book groups that keep alive the reading momentum through encouragement and support.

  1. The only thing better than hearing/seeing reading communities talk about books with enthusiasm is to watch some of your favourite authors talk about their books or with other authors. For me personally watching Neil Gaiman, Brandon Sanderson, Markus Zusak, David Mitchell, and Robin Hobb discuss some of their books at Google Talks, classes, or reader events have brought back the “feels” for what I enjoyed in books in the first place.
  1. Join Bookstagram. Instagram for Books. When pictures of new books, classics, and pretty covers show up on your daily social media you feel a surge of energy that draws you to pick up a book. You can follow other people’s, or start one of your own. I found that even when all you have to work with is a pretty book cover, readers still communicate with each other in encouraging ways. The greatest part is that you get to know readers from all over the world that way. You get to see what’s popular in Australia, the UK, North America, etc.

Step Two: Proactive Steps You can Take Alone

  1. library-clipartGo to the Library. I know this sounds strange, but as a book lover (like all you reading this) I have been drawn to buying books. Buying, collecting….hoarding. The pile of “to be read” has grown and grown. I get used to the covers and over time I end up with far more unread books than read ones. Going to the library gives me an activity that ties into my reading experience. I get to meet people, interact with other human beings, and take a walk. The time limitations force me to actually finish the book (and I would recommend taking out just one book at a time). Walking through a library also results in stumbling across books you might have never heard of and taking a chance on them. There’s also no pressure because they are free so if you don’t like them, you can return them (no strings attached).
  1. Audiobooks. For me this has been a huge one. I used audiobooks as a crutch through undergrad (studying English Lit) because I had so many books to get through a week and I needed my mind to stay focused. I would listen to an audiobook AND follow along in the text for highlighting/note-taking. I divided my reading based on audio TIME rather than pages. After my degree was done, I fell into a reading slump as I forgot what it was like to read for fun and not for homework. I got back into audiobooks as a means of having company. I would listen while commuting, while shelving books, and while doing other things in my room. There are some books (believe it or not) that only exist in audiobook format and not in print yet, like Kel Kade’s Free the Darkness for instance. I read George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo on a single train ride to Montreal, and Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn on the ride back with the help of well-done audiobooks and then picked up so much reading momentum for the weeks to follow. I wrote an entire post on Audiobook Resources (some are free and connect through your library card).
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    Example of a page from Wagamese’s book Embers

    Start Small. The very first book I read this year was Richard Wagamese’s Embers. It’s one of my favourite books now. The truth is, it’s not really a novel, or a non-fiction book. It’s Wagamese’s (Ojibway writer) morning reflections. Every page has pictures with a paragraph on something to meditate on like: silence, nature, etc. Because I was interested in the topic, and because it was short, I felt the need to finish it and having finished it, I felt good about myself. I felt great having closed that back cover. It felt like an achievement. Perhaps for you that is the same book, or a different small books, or even a collection of short stories, or poetry. Finishing something will automatically make you feel good and you will pick up momentum.

  1. Return to topics that make you excited. For some this may be re-reading a Harry Potter book, or a classic that got you on this path, or adventure travelogues, or nature guides. I have three topics that get me so pumped I can’t even explain why: islands, dragons, and pirates. This year I worked on an early review of The Whydah (a sunken pirate ship). At first it felt like an assignment/homework but because it was a topic of interest to me I got so excited I wanted to read more books on ships and pirates. Everyone has those topics that get them so excited (I kid you not one of my friends has read every book about Tuberculosis because that’s her favourite topic). Return to one of yours.
  1. Although_Of_CourseRead the Bio of your Champion (or interviews with them). If a person interests you/inspires you, then read their biography. Weirdly enough reading biographies sometimes doesn’t even feel like reading because it’s you finding out more about a person you already love. Some of these people for me are: David Foster Wallace, Walt Disney, Jane Austen, George Sand, George Eliot, Vincent Van Gogh, The Brontes, J.R.R. Tolkien (and the Inklings), Octavia E. Butler, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and H.G. Wells. I always return to their biographies when I feel down. It just feels like you’re in good company rather than going through an assignment.

Final note of encouragement: whenever my friends have talked to me about a reading slump they almost always have been giving themselves “assignments” like “read the top Nobel winners,” or “read only classics,” “read only the Nebula/Hugo awards…” etc. and when that happens you start looking at your reading list like it’s a homework assignment so you do what’s familiar to student problems: procrastinate. Take it one book at a time, and think of it as YOUR personal sacred time, your healing time, your YOU time. You don’t owe anyone a thesis, a report, or an explanation for what you are reading. If it makes you happy and gets you onto reading again, then read what makes YOU feel right.