Reading for Fun and Points

Sherwood Smith wrote on Saturday about revisiting classics that were foisted on you as a teen and discovering that they were really pretty good (as always with Sherwood’s posts, she writes about many different things in one essay, but this is one part of what she’s talking about). I read a bunch of “classics”assigned in high school, as, I suspect, we all did, and some of them I cordially loathed. But I also had a fairly ambitious program of reading outside what was required at school, which was based on a simple criterion: if it was “classic,” or old, if I felt I should read it, I read it. Or wedged my way through it, regardless of actual comprehension. The only book that ground me to a halt was War and Peace. I read Candide, which I loved, and Manon Lescaut, which I liked, and Wuthering Heights, which made me want to slap every single character in it, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is much, much longer than any film version had led me to believe.

Granted, at that age I was reading everything. Science Fiction from the spinner racks at the drug store; gothic romances, ditto; suspense and historicals from the library; and all sorts of books from my parents’ mixed bag collection of thrillers, best sellers, and classics. I homed in on the classics, i.e., anything I felt that I ought to read. Continue reading

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Why I Workshop

It was January of 1987 when I decided to make professional publication my goal. I’d completed one novel, which still has never sold (and shouldn’t ever see the light of day,) and on that dreary winter afternoon I began another. I also bought my first copy of Writers’ Digest at the Hendersonville Bookstore, which is now a nail salon.

Of course I was clueless. I’d been writing as a hobbyist since I was twelve, but didn’t have the faintest idea where to look for a chink in the battlement of professional publishing. I’d never heard the term “over the transom,” and the Internet at that point was limited to government employees, university students, small, isolated bulletin boards. and Usenet. I was five years away from buying my first computer, and spent my days typing out my early work on a $75 manual typewriter. A year later, having completed and polished my second novel, I took it down to the printing shop to photocopy it, and began sending it out.

Then I went to work on my third unsold manuscript.

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The Jaguar

The Jaguar

Ursula K. Le Guin

the ghost of a jaguar walks through the fence
the jaguar is our freedom

a friend gave me a precious thing
a little fragment of the Berlin wall

but this wall they are building
straight across my heartland

with our flag draped across it
is the coffin of my country

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Reading Aloud

I don’t remember my parents reading aloud to me, though I’m sure they did. I do remember reading to my kids. In fact, I still do if I can talk them into it. Or hogtie them. I also used to be the audiobook when traveling, reading over long trips to my husband and the kids. In fact, that’s how I introduced them to Harry Potter. Before that I’d read just to my husband, often reading mysteries and thrillers.

I really enjoyed reading out loud. I also enjoy audiobooks, but I liked being the reader. In the ‘good old days,’ people frequently read aloud to each other and that sparked conversations, shared experiences, shared jokes, and many other things. . Maybe books, maybe scripture or sermons, maybe letters, maybe magazines and news, and anything else they could lay hands on. It was part of the family life–though not so much in the classes who couldn’t read or afford reading material. That got replaced to some extent by radio, and then by TV and other electronics. It’s a shame. They don’t result in the same kind of bonding experience. More than that, it’s just fun.

When I was a kid, we used to listen to Mystery Theater on the radio on the way to 4H meetings and home. I loved those shows. I wish I had access to them still. Does anybody remember it?

It’s funny how we stop reading to kids and having that experience when they reach a certain age (it differs for everyone) and then most of us just never pick it up again. I sometimes feel a little awkward reading, but I enjoy it. Not sure I can get my teen kids to sit still for it, or my husband, but I think I might bring back the tradition. Maybe one night a week. A short story would be a good choice. Something short enough not to have to continue week to week might keep them involved better. Or maybe just read every night for a little bit.


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The Reluctant Traveler: du Maurier vs Bronte

We’re talking about Rebecca and Jane Eyre.

Two naïve young women come to live in lavish English houses owned by older men with secrets.

One, a dead wife, and one a living wife who is insane.

It’s the same story.

Jane and du Maurier’s never-named heroine are both orphans—both tales are told from first person points-of-view—and rootless. Jane teaches at the same orphanage she was sentenced to as a child with a forthright tongue who is grossly misunderstood by her guardian, and Maxim de Winter’s second wife drifts on the edges of glamor as the paid companion of a wealthy matron.

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Unsucking the Classics

I got into yet another of those conversations about how Books Were Ruined By School. Various classics got mentioned, to universal groans or sick faces. There’s always a certain comfort in solidarity-suffering. So you had to read Of Mice and Men four times in four years? So did I, and hated it even more each time!

For some of us, it was the way the book was taught (there are very few books that hold up when there are tests on the chapters, especially multiple choice questions!) but most often, when I ask a few questions, it turns out that the teacher did the best they could, but couldn’t get around the fact that the book should have waited until the reader was ready for it.

That’s an old education back room argument: how do you ready students for more challenging literature if you don’t actually challenge them?

Well, that still hasn’t really been resolved, but anyway, we moved past the “Wow that sucked!” to what I thought a more interesting topic, which is how much those books might have changed in a later reread.

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New Worlds: Insults

(This post is part of my Patreon-supported New Worlds series.)

Content note: by dint of the subject matter, this post is going to contain a number of offensive words.

You can learn a lot about a society by looking at what they consider to be insulting.

The basic principle is pretty simple: if you want to speak negatively about a person, you ascribe to them qualities you consider to be undesirable. Or — as a corollary — it isn’t so much the qualities as the way they’re spun; the same action might be described as courageous if you approve of it, reckless if you don’t. (I’ve always found it interesting that sangfroid is a good thing to have, but being cold-blooded is bad . . . even though those literally mean the same thing.) So when you’re trying to decide how to insult a character, the question is what the speaker considers to be bad, and how the target’s behavior can be framed in those terms.

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The News From 2Dits Farm: Heirloom Roses

Damask roeI met a group of friends for dinner recently, during which some contraband changed hands. “I’ve brought the items I emailed you about,” the true gardener among us said to me. “They’re out in the car. The newspaper’s damp–they’ll be all right.”

I took another forkful of salad. “Where did you get them?”

My friend leaned across the table and lowered her voice. “I rustled them.”


Pleased at my appreciation for her derring-do, she smiled and sat back. “It was years ago, from an abandoned farm in Appleton,” she told me modestly. “One’s an Alba, the other is a Damask.”

Once dinner was over, we moved the two pots from her car to mine, and I drove home with my first two antique roses. Depending on how you look at it, I was either guilty of receiving pilfered goods, or a participant in the growing movement to save heritage species by propagating them. Continue reading

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Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish Novels & Stories

Ursula K. Le Guin’s

Hainish Novels & Stories from Library of America

ed. Brian Attebury

Hainish01-LOA-9781598535389 Hainish02-LOA-9781598535396
Hainish-Box-LOA-9781598535372 Continue reading

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The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk, Barnes & Noble, New York, 2000 is a marvelous tool for writers of historical fiction. Not only does it help find the right word for the occasion, it is good for a laugh or three.

For this week’s exploration into the amazing complexities of our language I have chosen SHAZZING. Continue reading

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