Blog Hop: Concurrent Reading

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Do you like to finish one book before starting the next or do you read several at once?

Yes to both?  I used to have a strict one-book-at-a-time policy, and in my heart I still feel like that’s what I do…only it’s become more complicated!  I am, actually, in the middle of two books right now–but it only feels like one or possibly two.

You see, I read one book before I go to bed (at the moment, L. M. Montgomery’s Journals), one spiritual or psychological book (How to Live in Fear by Lance Hahn), one audiobook (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott), my husband and I are in the midst of reading two books out loud (The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett and The People the Fairies Forget by me), and there’s a book I’m just reading (The Improbable Sherlock Holmes).

But somehow in my head, I’m only properly reading the last one, or possibly that one and the audiobook.  And I try not to start a second book in any category (out loud reading aside) without finishing the ongoing one.

So…the answer is yes.  Sort of.

Do you read multiple books at once?  Are they all equivalent, or do you divide them up into categories?

Book Review: The World’s Religions

I’ve heard it said that we all carry more knowledge than was contained in the Library of Alexandria in our pockets all the time—by way of the internet, of course.  And there’s more information in any local library than even the most studious scholar would have been able to access a few centuries ago.  I’m sure it’s true—but it doesn’t usually feel that way.  However—the other day I was poking rather idly through the library’s book sale table, and encountered The World’s Religions by Huston Smith.  And now I rather feel as though I bought the collected wisdom of the world for a dollar on a random Tuesday.

I’ve heard of The World’s Religions for years, actually read a chapter (the Christianity one) in a college class, but never got around to reading the full book.  It’s excellent.  With a chapter (some of them very long) on each of the major world religions, Smith puts together a compelling collection of the world’s wisdom traditions.  He explains doctrine and major features of each religion, but I feel like he approached it from the angle of what each of these religions has to say about the big questions—how to live your life, what life’s purpose is, how to live in harmony with others.  Basically, how all these different cultures have made sense of the world through their religious traditions. Continue reading “Book Review: The World’s Religions”

Writing Wednesday: Retreating

I have exciting writing activity coming up, as I’m going on my annual Stonehenge Circle Press writing retreat this weekend.  Organized by one of my writer friends, a small group of us are getting together for a long weekend to do some workshops and spend some concentrated writing time.

As part of the retreat, we’re also collaborating to write a Beauty and the Beast novella (with some twists!)  We each took on a chapter or two, mostly from the point of view of different servants.  We’ll discuss at the retreat and smooth out fitting our different parts together.

I wrote one chapter from the librarian’s point of view which I may share later…but today I thought I’d share the beginning of Chapter Two, when the prince becomes cursed.  A familiar if unnamed character is to blame for it all…

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He really should not have been rude. Kind-hearted as I am, dedicated to the highest principles of Goodness and Niceness, I normally try to rise above that sort of thing. But some rudeness simply cannot be borne. For the good of the rude person, naturally. And I always act for the good of others. I’m sure he’ll thank me someday.

The whole little affair began for me on a snowy, blowy night. Just the sort of night for cozying up to a nice cup of tea, for petting an adorable pink kitten, or for wandering about in the snow disguised as an old crone, testing souls.

I pulled my carefully tattered cloak around me (so much goes into tattering a cloak just so, for that truly decrepit look—it’s an art form) and shuffled up the long walk towards the main doors of the castle. I pride myself on my cronish shuffle. And I never go to a castle’s backdoor. You don’t meet any princes that way, and I obviously have not time to waste on the souls of the common folk. They just don’t have that royal touch, you know.

Writing Wednesday: Charting Revisions

For something a little different this week, I thought I’d give a peek at a tool I used in my revisions of my Phantom novel–which turned out to be a trilogy.  Essentially, I went through every scene, and created an Excel chart tracking scenes, their purpose, and the appearance of certain characters who I was concerned were inconsistently present.  The result?

You can see from the red cells that Christine does not arrive on the scene immediately, which was as I planned.  But I also swiftly realized that there were long gaps where characters like the Persian (brown) and Jammes (green) went missing, something I worked on correcting in revisions.  I also realized that some scenes repeated the same theme or emotional arc too closely, or that others were unnecessary in the plot, their minor purpose easily folded into another scene.

By the time I got to the end, I’d charted 250 scenes, and realized from the way the colors clustered that I had a trilogy.  There was a clear progression with a different villain dominating in each third.  Which I might never have realized if I hadn’t laid things out this way!

It’s not a tool for every revision problem…but I did find it useful for several of mine. 🙂

Mini-Monday: Thor: Ragnarok

I may have confessed this before but, at the risk of harming my geek cred, I’m not much into Marvel.  I watched the first movie of several of their franchises, and didn’t feel inclined to continue.  Although I make exceptions for Dr. Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy.  And now, as it turns out, Thor: Ragnarok.

I came late to this one, but I finally watched Ragnarok last month.  From the trailer and the reports of people I knew who watched it, this seemed to be a funnier Marvel one than most–and it was!  Which is a bit odd considering the titular event is the end of the world…  In brief, the goddess Hela is released on Asgard, the Norse gods’ home realm, and Thor and Loki have to work together to top her–but wind up exiled to a kind of cosmic junk heap in the process.  Where, oddly enough, they bump into the Incredible Hulk.  As one does.

I knew this was going to be a better movie as soon as it started demonstrating a willingness to poke fun at itself.  Early on Thor confronts a giant flame demon whose name I can’t remember, and tries to carry on a conversation while rotating around hanging from a chain.  Weird, I know.  But it’s really funny as flame demon tries to rant about his fiery vengeance and Thor keeps asking him to pause because he’s rotated around out of sight.  The movie kept up a similar kind of tongue-in-cheek humor, and Thor himself was a lot funnier than I remembered from previous encounters.

It also helped that we had a fairly small cast, with the action centering around Thor, Loki and the Hulk, with Hela (an unrecognizable Cate Blanchett!)  It gave a decent amount of time to showcase each character, their arc and their relationships with each other.  Much better than ensemble casts of a dozen where barely any character gets seen.

So, from a non-Marvel fan, Thor: Ragnarok gets my approval as a funny, entertaining superhero flick!

Reading Milestone: Completing the Newberys

This is a semi-challenge update…not a proper one going through all the challenge books I’ve read, though I know I missed June’s usual update (I’ll aim for getting September’s up…)  I couldn’t pass up sharing a milestone more than two and a half years in the making: I finished reading the Newbery Medal winners this week.

When I started this goal at the beginning of 2016, I had already read (some time over my lifetime) 32 of the then-94 total Newbery Medal winners.  I read 22 in 2016, 20 in 2017, and 22 in 2018, including the two new winners added since I started.

The first one I read for the challenge was the surprisingly upbeat Number the Stars by the very reliable Lois Lowry (1990), and the last was the rather dated Daniel Boone by James Daughtery (1939).

The most intimidating (but unexpectedly engaging on audio) was The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon (1922), the very first winner.

There’s a stereotype that Newbery Medal winners are tragic, which I can’t agree with.  Some yes, but not most.  There were even some animal ones where the animal survived, and not every wise mentor died by the end.  Still, the saddest was Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (2005) and the grimmest (not quite the same thing) was Sounder by William H. Armstrong (1970), although Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko) reading the audiobook helped.

On the other hand, I can’t say that any stand out as particularly funny (though some are more light-hearted), which seems unfortunate.

The book that took the most effort was The High King by Lloyd Alexander (1969), because it’s Book Five in a series and I read all the others first.

A lot of the books were good–and a lot were not, at least to my taste!  I can’t seem to pick a least favorite, because there were probably a dozen that were about equally so-so.  My favorite is The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (2017), which wasn’t even on the list when I started.

Since beginning this challenge, I met my now-husband, got married and moved.  The world went through some upheavals, I published one novel, completed NanoWriMo twice and finished a draft of my Phantom of the Opera trilogy.  So in many ways, this challenge began in a different lifetime entirely…

I don’t exactly feel, now that I’ve finished, that I took a trip through the best contributions to children’s literature since 1922.  It wasn’t a (not very) secret gold mine of excellent children’s fiction.  However, there is something very satisfying about completing a survey through…well, what has at least been considered the best contributions to children’s literature.  Many of them are famous ones, and it’s satisfying too to be able to look at titles I’ve heard for twenty years and feel that I finally have an acquaintanceship with the book behind it.

I’m curious about other people multi-year reading challenges.  Does it feel strange to finish something so lengthy?  Were you satisfied with the reading in the end?

Writing Wednesday: Class Divides in 1880s France

Earlier this week I did some editing on a scene in my Phantom retelling that gets at a thematic point (and plot obstacle) that I think has been largely ignored in other versions of the Phantom’s story: namely, the class divide between Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, and Christine Daae, opera singer.

Mainly, Raoul could never marry Christine, and everyone involved would know that.  She could be his mistress, sure, but it would be a scandal to marry her.  In the original novel, Raoul is sad at one point early on because he knows he can’t marry her–and that obstacle is never referenced again.  (Spoiler: they get married eventually.)  Webber ignores the issue entirely.

In my ongoing effort to distinguish my retelling, and to provide a (reasonably) historically accurate version, I wanted to take that issue on directly.  The excerpt below comes just after Meg asks Raoul what his feelings are about marrying Christine.  It’s not the only place the class issue comes up (it becomes a major part of Meg’s plot in the third book too), but I like how this bit captures it.

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Raoul looked at the ceiling, the programs, the far end of the corridor.  “You must understand—my options are very limited—it’s all nonsense about the aristocracy having more freedom, we’re really very constrained in many ways—”

“I understand perfectly, Monsieur,” I said in my politest tones, because why waste any more time on this nonsense?

“Oh good,” he said, shoulders visibly relaxing, which just went to show that he had no idea what I meant.

I understood that he genuinely cared about Christine, that he thought well of her and, maybe, wanted to do the right thing by her.  I also understood that none of that weighed as heavily as the pressure of Philippe, or of societal opinion.  Nothing was surprising in that.  Everyone knew that men like Raoul didn’t marry girls like Christine.  Or like me.  Though with a sudden, uncomfortable feeling, I realized I wasn’t sure that Christine knew it.  But did I dare try to point it out to her?

I felt a surprising pang of disappointment too.  I didn’t even like Raoul, it wasn’t exactly that.  But it didn’t seem fair, that even Christine, beautiful, talented, magnetic Christine, wasn’t good enough for a silly vicomte.