Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

OK, I may have rounded up with the number of things going on at AWP. There are only 550 Bookfair exhibits and 400 conference events, plus off-site events.

AWP, Here I Come!

Tomorrow morning (unfortunately early) I embark for Chicago and the AWP conference! I have been pouring over maps, Lonely Planet, and more, trying to figure out what to do in Chicago. Check out this map. I will be mostly in Central Chicago. This is where the conference is and my hotel. This is also where many of the museums are, and cool things like Millenium Park and the bean. Most everything there will in walking distance. But there are a few places in South Chicago I hope to visit. And some in North Chicago I'm determined to go to (Bleeding Heart Bakery with vegan options! Lincoln Park Conservatory!) I'll have to brave public transportation for such things.

The conference itself has a billion panels and readings to choose from, at least (at least!) six soirees and receptions every night. Speakers include Margaret Atwood, Mark Doty, Lyn Hejinian, Jessa Crispin, CD Wright, Patricia Henley, Stephen Elliott, Eileen Myles.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Goblin Market

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.”

—from "Goblin Market" by Christina Rossetti

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Margaret Atwood at AWP

I had this plan which I think is a very good plan and I am currently working on. It is to read a number of middle-grade fiction, then read a number of YA books, and eventually work my way back to "adult" stuff. That's why I'm currently finishing the Percy Jackson series.

However, I just discovered that Margaret Atwood is going to be the keynote speaker at AWP. AWP is the Association for Writers and Writing Programs, and they hold an annual conference. This year it's in Chicago, and I will be there in a week and half.

Margaret Atwood! This is a sign from the universe that now is the time to be reading her!

So I am modifying my children's lit plan to incorporate Margaret Atwood.

That is all.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Forgotten Garden—Review

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton is the story of a 4-year-old girl who turns up all alone on a dock in Australia in 1913 with only a small white suitcase to give clues to who she is. The Forgotten Garden is the story of multiple generations of women trying to figure out the secrets to their past, trying to find family, trying to be whole. There's Eliza the fairy tale writer and Rose the ill English lady living in England in 1909; Nell, the little girl who was raised in Australia and wants to learn who she was before; and Cassandra, Nell's granddaughter, continuing the search to reveal the mystery of her family, but herself heart-broken from her own past. And at the center of all this is a cottage on a cliff overlooking an ocean, a cottage with a wild lovely garden, a cottage you must find your way through a maze to get to.

You've heard me rant and rage about this book. Having finished the book, I'm still extremely ambivalent about it. It was chock full of flaws, bad writing, misused words and misinformation, but it was ultimately a good read. The parts written in the present day (2005, 1975) were very good; they lacked the pretense of the sections written in the Edwardian period. If you cast a blind eye to the melodrama, there is an enticing mystery and fun plot. Granted, it only took me about a quarter of the book to figure out who Nell's parents were (it's not that hard to guess, Ms Morton!), and it annoyed me to no end how the author would make sections purposefully ambiguous, or cut to a new scene in the middle of a conversation so that the characters couldn't reveal anything, all in the name of sustaining the mystery—but it was still enjoyable to read the book just to find out the twists and turns that contrived to get Nell's parents together and then abandon Nell on a boat to Australia.

Final conclusion: Don't read this book if you are a picky, well-educated reader, unless you know you can sometimes set aside your pickiness to simply enjoy the unfolding of a story.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Summer Day

"The Summer Day"

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Forgotten Garden and the Importance of Subtlety

You may remember my post on The Forgotten Garden, how annoyed I was that it kept jumping around. Well, I thought to myself, maybe I just haven't sat down for a solid amount of time to give the book a read. I'll still get caught up in it. But it's still happening that as soon as I get comfortable with the set of characters and time periods, she adds a new character and time period.

And there are other problems. The author seems to confuse blonde, strawberry blonde, and redhead as all one color. She doesn't seem to know the difference between identical twins and fraternal twins. She is completely lacking in subtlety. Take for instance the Swindell family. An obvious pun on swindle. Mrs. Swindell is the stereotype of a wicked "stepmother" as well as the stereotype of a grimy low class Victorian Londoner to a T. I just can't take Mrs. Swindell seriously.

Or take this line, another example of the author's blatancy: "The void that had opened so quickly she would spend the rest of her life trying to fill it." Don't let the reader do any of the work, don't dare let the reader figure out herself the emotional impact an event has on a character. Don't gently lead the reader to understand the character's motivations. Just say it straight out without any finesse.

Sigh. I like some of the scenes taking place in present time and in the 70s, and I'm curious about the mystery, so I haven't yet thrown the book across the room and had done with it.