Posts Tagged ‘books’

Books, Part 2: Fred’s Lists

May 15, 2009

It occurred to me this evening that I have now been a professional writer for ten years: a decade of selling fiction. So miracles do happen. For years and years, I seriously doubted I’d ever be published at all. But if you stay the course, things happen when they’re supposed to. If you’re a writer aspiring to make your first sale, don’t give up.

(How was that for a really short sermon?)

Anyway, more about books! For anyone who has not yet been there, I strongly encourage you to back up to the previous post and especially to read the reader comments beneath it. The readers of this blog have been answering the call to recommend favorite books. You’ll find wonderful titles there to keep you busy for a good long while. And everyone: you can keep right on recommending books in response to this post — or at any time. On this blog, good books are always on the subject!

The Book Center, May 1970. In the early 1980s, many a D&D meeting was held in this store's basement -- a D&D group that was also part book club. . . .

The Book Center, May 1970. In the early 1980s, many a D&D meeting was held in this store's basement -- a D&D group that was also part book club. . . .

[Aside: the phrasing of that last sentence is an echo from our years of playing Dungeons & Dragons back in junior high, high school, and college. To keep the game focused, we set up something called the Pun Fund. It was a can with a slot in the top. When it started out, as the name implies, if you made a pun, you had to pay a fine by dropping a coin into the slot. Quite soon, though, we expanded to a whole system of fines for anything that held up the game. If your character went on an “Ego Trip” (meaning he talked too much about himself or otherwise behaved like the center of the universe), that cost you a nickel. If you used “Logic,” you had to pay up. (A “Logic” violation meant that you stopped the game cold by arguing that a particular pit trap, for example, violated the laws of physics.) The catch-all offense was “Off the Subject.” That one’s self-explanatory. But in the interest of decency, we soon established the rule that certain things were always on the subject and could not be fined — most notably, food. Any mention of when we’d be taking a food break or what we’d be eating was always, always to the point and welcome. (And for reasons I never understood and never agreed to, Bugs Bunny was always on the subject. You could be in the middle of the most harrowing adventure ever, with the city about to go up in flames, and if you said something in a Bugs Bunny voice, you could not be fined! Go figure. . . .)]

My, do I digress! One more topic before I get to The Lists. . . .

My house from the air, July 1970: My house is just to the right of the road in the center of the picture, surrounded by the little ring of trees. Note that our pond wasn't dug yet, and the farm across the road was still standing. (Don't die of nostalgia, anyone!)

My house from the air, July 1970: My house is just to the right of the road in the center of the picture, surrounded by the little ring of trees. Note that our pond wasn't dug yet, and the farm across the road was still standing. (Don't die of nostalgia, anyone!)

I was happily surprised to discover some on-line reviews of Dragonfly I’d never seen on a site called “goodreads.” What made me even happier was that some of the reviews were quite recent! The book was first published in 1999 — a decade ago — and the mass-market Ace edition is out of print. (It’s still easy to acquire for pennies on Amazon. Yes, you can buy this book for about the price of a Pun or an Ego Trip!) But now and then, people are still finding it, and even better, they’re still liking it! Here are a few lines from some of my favorites, and notice the dates!

In April 2008, “Woodge” wrote: “I found this while browsing in a bookstore and I must admit that the arresting cover caught my eye. Upon a closer look, the cover would seem to appeal to a Young Adult audience but an even closer inspection revealed that to be misleading. (There’s a moral here somewhere.) . . . Well, it was as advertised. This imaginative, original story gets cracking from the very first pages. The imagery is lush and painted with a rich vocabulary. There’s nothing cutesy about the story . . . and it manages to include all sorts of beasties. Vampires, werewolves, gypsies, and other various ghouls all make an appearance in this unpredictable tale. And when the action is really moving it brings to mind thrills you might find in a summer blockbuster. Good times.”

In October 2007, “The other John” wrote: “(Had to re-read this one and get my fix of Midwest October…) Dragonfly is a great read. The premise is nothing new — a child has adventures in a mystical realm. But unlike Dorothy, Meg Murry or the Pevensie children, Bridget Anne (also known by the nickname Dragonfly) heads down to a dark realm — the essence of Hallowe’en. Not quite hell, but much closer than any other ‘faerieland’ of which I’ve read. But it’s not all blackness, either. There is love and hope and faith amidst the suffering and death. Mr. Durbin does a very good job of bringing the story to life, weaving together the plot and the characters. Nothing is wasted — details that I just thought of as embellishment suddenly turn out to be important to the plot. One of the folks who reviewed Dragonfly at said that the book reminded him of Ray Bradbury. Me, I was reminded of C.S. Lewis, partly because of the basic premise, partly because of the underlying Christianity of the heroes. . . . But despite Mr. Lewis’ skill in portraying good and evil characters, his fiction comes across as a weekend gardener — a tad dirty, but still very prim and proper. Dragonfly, to continue the metaphor, is more like a real farmer, for whom sweat and dust are a part of daily life. I really enjoyed reading this and I’m going to put it on my shelf so I can read it again. I suspect it will only get better the second time around.”

On January 1st of 2009, “Jaymi” said: “I remember picking this book up on a lark. It was the name and the cover that caught my eye. We were just about to leave the store when I saw it and knew I had to have it. I’m glad I got it. Imagine Neil Gaiman meets H.P. Lovecraft and this is one possible reality. Dragonfly is the story of a 10-year-old girl who foolishly adventures down into a horrible realm (much like Lovecraft’s Dreamlands). Dragonfly follows a strange ‘exterminator’ down into her basement. . . .”

This is probably my favorite: on April 25, 2009, “Crystal” wrote: “I find it hard to believe this book is not more popular. Far from being overwritten or too descriptive, the narrative is perfect. Death is not off limits, nor does the author try to dumb the story down. So far, it’s as d**n near to perfect as I have come across.”

Finally, on September 10, 2008, “Todd” said: “It is very dark and complex. . . . I really enjoyed the writing style. It is imaginary and literary, with lots of allusions to mythology, great books, and the Scriptures. But they are very very subtle. This is no Left Behind kind of cheap Christian novel. The author, a Lutheran, does a wondrous job of weaving elements of the Christian faith in . . . . I hope he writes more soon.”

There’s also a review in a language I can’t read and my computer can’t reproduce, so I won’t quote that one.

Groink! On to THE LISTS!

I’m going to give you three separate lists here (you’ll see why as we go along). Obviously, I’m not making any attempt to identify the greatest works of literature in the history of humankind. For that, I commend to you The New Lifetime Reading Plan, by Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major, though the authors aren’t as focused on fantasy and horror as most of us are. (The weirdos.) Heh, heh. What I’m going to list here are the books that, for whatever reasons, have meant the most to me, have influenced me the most, and/or that people who know me well have recommended to me. In general, the books appear in no particular order: if they make the list, they make the list. Without further adieu, then (lest the referee declare us Off the Subject, and we all have to fork over a nickel or a dime):

List #1: My Treasured Books (The Small Shelf):

1. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. Watership Down, by Richard Adams

3. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

4. Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees

5. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

6. My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett (This is a children’s book, but its influence on me is immeasurable: it’s the very essence of mystery and exploration, penetrating the unknown, adventure in exotic places, friendship, and doing things for the right reasons. The illustrations and those wonderful maps are at least half of the enchantment.)

7. Collectively, the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. Where to begin? Among my favorites are The Dunwich Horror, A Shadow Over Innsmouth, At the Mountains of Madness, and “The Dreams in the Witch-House.” My absolute #1 favorite of his short stories is “The Shunned House.” And finally, his story that I believe supersedes genre and belongs in every college freshman English lit survey course textbook, right alongside “A Rose for Emily” et al., is “The Strange High House in the Mist.” I’m telling you, Lovecraft. . . . I grew up reading him, because the covers intrigued me in our family’s bookstore. As a kid, as a grownup, I read him perennially, and he’s one of the few authors whose stuff I’ve read most of. Even now, when spring comes around and the weather warms up, I itch to dig out a volume of Lovecraft, go outdoors, and read until the sun sets. Lovecraft in the dusk is the ultimate reading experience! If you don’t own any Lovecraft books yet and are wondering what to buy, I’d point you toward the annotated Lovecraft editions edited by S.T. Joshi, who is probably the world’s leading Lovecraft scholar. [I’ve personally met him — he shook my hand at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, and he gave Dragonfly a wonderful review in Weird Tales!]

Peter S. Beagle, signing books at the World Fantasy Convention in Texas, 2006.

Peter S. Beagle, signing books at the World Fantasy Convention in Texas, 2006.

8. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

9. The Book of Wonder, by Lord Dunsany (To protect the very guilty, I won’t tell you how I acquired my copy of this. But it’s worth acquiring, even if you have to venture into a Peruvian temple and outrun a gigantic rolling stone sphere and a tribe of angry Hovitos.)

10. Bertram’s Fabulous Animals, by Paul T. Gilbert (This is another children’s book, but it gave me endless hours of entertainment as a kid. In a nutshell, the protag, Bertram, is a kid who keeps finding out about various fantastic creatures, and he always wants to get one as a pet. His mama always kind of misunderstands what he’s talking about and says okay. He gets one, and pandemonium ensues. Finally, Bertram’s daddy comes home (he’s always in Omaha on business) and straightens things out and sends the destructive and/or selfish fantastic creature packing. It’s that delicious combination of funny and fascinating and terrifying that makes for the very best of children’s books. I remember almost having nightmares about one of the creatures . . . and laughing really hard many a time.)

11. Enchanted Night, by Steven Millhauser (This is my most recent discovery on this list. But it belongs here. I found the book in Tokyo, because of its beautiful cover. Now I read it almost every summer. But I implore you: read it only at night, during the very hottest season you can manage in your part of the world. It’s pure magic. The whole book [which is quite thin, an easy read] takes place during a single summer night; it follows the nightly adventures of a group of people linked by the fact that they are all residents of the same New England town. Wow, just thinking about it makes me want to take it down off my shelf right now. . . .)

12. The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough

13. Jaws, by Peter Benchley (Go ahead and laugh, but everything I’ve written has been colored in some way by Jaws. I’ll never forget the happy hours spent on my Aunt Emmy’s back stairway, just off her kitchen, reading Jaws. Yes, this is a rare case in which the movie is better. But the movie wouldn’t exist without the book. The book was first.)

14. Beowulf, by the Beowulf poet

15. Andersen’s Fairy Tales, by Hans Christian Andersen (My mom would read these to me whenever I was really sick, so I will forever associate them with fevers and vomiting and delirium — but also with tenderness and love and the comforting presence of a mom . . . and release from all responsibility, because you’re sicker than a dog . . . and the hope of recovery, and the delight of water or ice cubes to a dehydrated mouth . . . and fantasy, and dreams. . . .)

16. October Dreams, edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish (This is a hefty collection of stories about Hallowe’en by many different writers, some famous, some you’ve never heard of. And what may be even better than the fiction is that between the stories are short recollections by the writers of their favorite Hallowe’en memories. I get this book out every October and read around in it.)

List #2: Honorable Mentions:

1. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury (His best book — and the single greatest influence on Dragonfly — there’s even a balloon.)

2. The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin, Jr. (I’ve met him and heard him preach at the church he once served [he’s a Lutheran pastor] in Evansville, Indiana.)

3. Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White (I remember crying in Miss Logan’s first grade classroom as I finished this book. It’s the book that taught me that stories that make you hurt can be among the most effective — and that really good endings are what you should aim for as a writer.)

4. The Charwoman’s Shadow, by Lord Dunsany (My Cricket story “Ren and the Shadow Imps” is a tribute to this one.)

5. The Knife-Thrower and Other Stories, by Steven Millhauser (Wonderful, wonderful stuff — Millhauser finds the details that recapture all our childhood longings — longings, perhaps, as C.S. Lewis said, for things that do not even exist in this temporal life.)

6. It, by Stephen King (In my opinion, this is Stephen King’s best work: it doesn’t get any better than this. I read most of this book in the summer just before I left for Japan, and finished it up in Tokyo.)

7. ‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King (His second-best book. Vampires!)

8. The Harry Potter books, by J.K. Rowling (Ever heard of them? They’re kind of obscure, but you can probably find some somewhere. . . .)

9. I Heard the Owl Call My Name, by Margaret Craven

10. Annapurna, by Maurice Herzog (This book inspired my next-door neighbor and me to climb everything in sight: the barn, trees, buildings. . . . And to take grainy photos of ourselves at the summit.)

11. The Book of Lies, by Agota Kristof (Search for her name, not for this title: I don’t think the three short novels that make it up were released under this title in the States. This book is not for everyone — it’s very disturbing in places. But for virtuosity of technique and construction, it’s brilliant!)

12. Zothique, by Clark Ashton Smith (Happy memories of dusty crypts and sere mummies that creak as they walk. . . . I saw a new release on Amazon of some of Smith’s stories.)

13. The Lost World, by Arthur Conan Doyle (A South American plateau on which dinosaurs still live . . . for a pre-teen boy, Heaven.)

14. The Land That Time Forgot and its two sequels, The People That Time Forgot and Out of Time’s Abyss, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Fun, fun, fun, fun!)

15. The Man-Eaters of Kumaon, by Jim Corbett (He was a big-game hunter hired by the local governments of India’s Kumaon district whenever they had a problem with a big cat that turned maneater. It’s a factual account of his showdowns with various tigers and leopards. Not a “chick flick” at all, but I’ll bet some of you chicks would like it. . . .)

16. The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer (Never would have read this if I hadn’t gone to college. Glad I did.)

17. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare (I saw this performed, too, outdoors on a summer night. Just as much fun as the play was seeing the cast milling about under the trees before and after the show — all these people dressed as fairies in the light of the moon, taking part in this magical experience that is a theater production, which happens briefly in life and then is gone forever, but never forgotten. . . .)

18. The Mothman Prophecies, by John Keel (If you’re going to read just one book on Fortean subjects/the paranormal, this should be the one.)

19. Shiokari Pass, by Ayako Miura (A story of what it means to be a Christian in Japan. I’ve been there — I’ve stood in the actual Shiokari Pass on Japan’s north island of Hokkaido. If you’ve seen the movie — I was there!)

20. Run, Melos! by Osamu Dazai (A collection of short stories by one of Japan’s darkest writers — when I was a young, tormented twentysomething, I loved it — “He understands!“)

21. Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne (Um, yeah. Doesn’t take much to see the influence this has had on me.)

22. Kwaidan, by Lafcadio Hearn (The title means Weird Tales. Hearn was a westerner who moved to Japan and spent the end of his life there, documenting the ancient, strange folklore of Japan for English readers. In your readings of ghost stories from around the world, if there’s ever a Japanese ghost story, I guarantee you that it came to you via Lafcadio Hearn. This book’s shadow falls large across Dragonfly.)

23. The short stories of Algernon Blackwood and Ambrose Bierce (Particularly “The Willows” and “The Wendigo” by Blackwood and “The Damned Thing” by Bierce. I have delightful memories of reading these in the pine grove in my first years in Niigata.)

24. In Evil Hour, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

And finally:

List #3: Books Recommended to Me by Those Who Know Me and Whom I Greatly Respect:

1. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg

2. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

3. Zod Wallop, by William Browning Spencer

4. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo

6. The House on the Borderland, by William Hope Hodgson

7. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, by Nancy Farmer

8. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

9. Montmorency, by Eleanor Updale

10. Inkheart and Inkspell, by Cornelia Funke

11. Cloud Atlas,  by David Mitchell

12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller

13. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

14. The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder

15. The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene

16. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

17. The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Graham

18. Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones

19. Roverandom, by J.R.R. Tolkien

20. Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson

21. Stravaganza: City of Masks, City of Flowers, City of Stars, City of Secrets (4 books), by Mary Hoffman

22. Surprised by Joy and Till We Have Faces,  by C.S. Lewis

23. Phantastes, by George Macdonald

24. “The Golden Key,” The Light Princess, and The Princess and the Goblin, by George Macdonald

25. Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy

26. House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski

27. “The Door in the Wall,” by H.G. Wells

28. The Garden of Forking Paths, by Jorge Luis Borges

29. The Great God Pan, by Arthur Machen

30. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

31. “The Mezzotint,” by M.R. James (Actually, I think I may have read this one: was it reprinted in Mooreeffoc?)

32. Fingerprints of the Gods, by Graham Hancock

33. “The Lonesome Place,” by August Derleth

34. The Shadow Year, by Jeffrey Ford

35. No Clock in the Forest, by Paul Willis

36. Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons

37. Song of Albion, by Steven Lawhead

38. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

39. Unlundun, by China Mieville

40. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

Think that’ll keep you busy for awhile? Happy reading!


May 9, 2009

So, how is it that we’ve come along for more than a year without a posting dedicated entirely to books — especially since books are so central to the writing and reading life? Probably because it’s such a big topic. Well, now is the time to open that mighty can o’ worms, because it’s reading season!

"So many books, so little time."

"So many books, so little time."

In Japan, people say fall is the season for reading books. I’d guess most of us gathered here around this blog feel that books are always in season. For me, there’s no season like spring/early summer for making me want to immerse myself in a book. The love is there year-’round, but there’s something about the first arrival of warmer seasons — a time of so much promise and possibility — that makes it all the more urgent. Again, it’s all about doorways into summer — into the time of velvet nights and blazing sun, lost paths and silhouettes and icy blue shade.

I’ve always been extremely unusual as a reader/writer, because I’m such a walking contradiction. I absolutely love books — no one would deny that; but I’m also a glacially slow reader. Everyone else I know who loves books as much as I do tends to chain-read them: to devour book after book after book. I’m notorious for inching along. (A friend recently asked me with a cheerful smile, “So, what book are you going to read this year?”)

These two huge plastic drawers are also full of books waiting to be read. But the real book-trove, because of the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," is now back in Illinois: I have an entire room there stuffed with books. Oh, to have them all beneath one roof someday!

These two huge plastic drawers are also full of books waiting to be read. But the real book-trove, because of the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," is now back in Illinois: I have an entire room there stuffed with books. Oh, to have them all beneath one roof someday!

I think it has to do with how much I love books as objects. I love the idea of books. I feel better just knowing that books are around. I love the heft and feel of them, the covers and the pages, the paper quality, the way the words look on the page, those amazing things like tables of contents and forewords and dedications and title pages. . . .

When my cousin and I were little, we’d often read books together (different books, same room). It was like John Henry racing the steam drill. I’d be relishing a certain page, and he’d be zooming along, the bulk of the book steadily vanishing from his right hand and accumulating in his left. I’d enviously ask him how he did that. As he explained it, he’d sort of take in whole paragraphs at once instead of individual words. And he thought it was funny how I’d periodically declare “Cover-Staring Time” (that’s what I called it), when I’d close my book and admire the cover for awhile. [I guess that might have answered my own question: to get through the book, you have to be looking at what’s inside. . . .]

But it’s always felt so wrong to me to race through a book! There are all those beautiful words, with their sounds and nuances, and they’ve been arranged precisely as they are for a purpose. It’s always seemed crucially important to me to appreciate that purpose, to absorb everything from the text that the writer intended, and perhaps more.

My essential reference shelf: dictionaries (Oxford and Webster's), The Chicago Manual of Style, and Zimmerman's Dictionary of Classical Mythology.

My essential reference shelf: dictionaries (Oxford and Webster's), The Chicago Manual of Style, and Zimmerman's Dictionary of Classical Mythology.

Yes, two or three times over the years I’ve tried to teach myself speed-reading. I’ve read books on the subject (not just stared at their covers!), practiced the techniques and all. But when I’ve tried to apply that to a real book, I’ve inevitably slowed back down.

I’m not criticizing you, all you who read like the wind, like Hermes on roller skates. I know the beauty of what you do is that you can come back again and again to revisit the books you love. You can pass this way more than once! I do envy you . . . I want to be just like you when I grow up. I’m serious. That same friend who asked me about what book I’m going to read this year also advised me of one key to getting things read: “You have to make it a priority.” That’s true. I don’t have any fewer hours in the day than anyone else. I just don’t use enough of mine for reading. Maybe this will be the year that I can make a change!

On the other extreme, though, to give this discussion some balance: one of my high-school friends used to race through books, all the big fantasy series that abounded in that decade. We’d ask him what he thought of this one or that one, and he’d say, “Oh, I don’t know. I read it, but I didn’t pay attention to it.” So . . . maybe it’s better to just read one book a year, if you’re paying close attention to it. What do you think? You be the judge.

A famous writer whose identity escapes me now, in advising other writers, said, “Don’t read a hundred books. Instead, read your ten favorite books ten times each, really paying attention.” I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that. “The mill-wheels of God’s justice turn slowly, but they grind exceeding fine.” I suppose I do that with books: I grind them exceeding fine.




Room-Staring Time! This picture shows some knickknacks on my shelf. There’s Gandalf, of course, who needs no introduction. The cross was made from wood from the maple trees at the northeast corner of our yard in Illinois, under which I sat to write the poem “Glory Day,” which I still think is my best poem. The cross is standing in a spool from my mom’s sewing basket, and the base it stands on is a piece of plank from the barn I played in as a kid. There’s a thoughtful little gargoyle, a bean-bag cat, a terra-cotta warrior and his terra-cotta horse (bought at an exhibit I saw of the real things here in Niigata). There’s a box with a dragon on the lid. And see the little goat-man? That came as a premium, attached to a plastic jug of Diet Pepsi or Coke. It’s the “Goat Man,” part of a series of plastic replicas of paranormal beings. But for me, that figure became the character Gadmus in my NaNoWriMo novel Corin Booknose. Okay–ungroink–back to our regularly-scheduled discussion:

100_0352A week or two ago, a faithful reader requested reading lists. It’s a bottomless well, an insurmountable task, but let’s go there. We have to understand from the outset that there’s no way we’ll get everything essential onto the lists. But I think we can make helpful lists of some of the very best books out there. I think I’ve talked enough for this time around: I’m going to save my own picks for next time. But feel free to start jumping in: give us a list of any reasonable length — 3, 5, a dozen, 20 books — the books that belong on the small shelf; the best books you’ve discovered in your lifetime, be it short or long. Yes, this blog lies in the native country of fantasy, but you’re not required to limit yourself to that genre. You don’t have to worry about ranking them in order (unless you want to), and I think we all agree that The Lord of the Rings and Watership Down are there already.

Have at it! What book covers should I be staring at?

Poetry and the Imagination

January 3, 2009

“Poetry has this power of getting straight through to the deeper level. . .  every time it happens, you become aware of the same splendid truth: that headache and the worry and the ‘thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to’ are not an inescapable part of human existence.”

                                                   — Colin Wilson in Poetry and Mysticism


I’m using “poetry” here in the larger sense: not just poems, but created art in whatever form you do it, whether you’re a poet, a fiction writer, a teacher, a violinist, a weaver of baskets, a good parent, or whatever you do that requires art. I contend that the practice of our art is the one way of dealing with the world — of getting through this life.

William Blake wrote:

“Prayer is the Study of Art

Praise is the Practice of Art.”


He also wrote:

“I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than

the liberty of both body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts

of Imagination.

I give you the end of a golden string

Only wind it into a ball:

It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,

Built in Jerusalem’s wall.”


I don’t know what you’ve found. I find that my only way of making any sense of life is in putting words together. Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire said, “God made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure.” I think that certainly applies to us writers — or to you in whatever your Art or Poetry is, be it nursing or homemaking or volunteering.

Blake once more:

“As in your own Bosom you bear your Heaven

And Earth, & all you behold, tho it appears Without it is Within,

In your Imagination of which this World of Mortality is but a Shadow.”

See? The mortal world is the shadow. Without our capacity to imagine, where would we be? God made us in His image, and His image is the Creator, Who called worlds into being with “Let there be.” Tolkien wrote of sub-creation: our rearranging of the building blocks God gives us to create our little otherworlds. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s when I’m happy: when I’m using my gifts to build something . . . when I’m living in the world of the imagination.

Anyway: Daylily (regular participant in this blog) readily answered the sonnet question last time, so let’s focus on her suggestion of the theme of gifts. You have a choice here, anyone who’d like to join in — you can:

1. Tell us about a wonderful/memorable gift you received.

2. Tell us about a gift you longed for, but never received.

3. Write your own version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with a unifying theme (and please tell us what the theme is). (What would the song’s “true love” send to . . . a fantasy fiction writer? A teacher? A cyclist? A student? A musician?)

I’ll start us off with a trivial little example that will be easy for you to top:

One of my fondest memories of a childhood Christmas present is receiving a boxed set of Ray Bradbury books. For me at about age 10 or 11, that was the perfect Christmas present — all those stories packed in one little box, lavishly and intriguingly illustrated.

To this day, whether it’s Christmas or my birthday, no present makes me happier than a book. (Or booksssss!)

Quick childhood memory: at our family bookstore one year, we arranged letters on the electric sign in the window to read, “It isn’t Christmas without a book.” I was somewhere between 8 and 10 years old, and during that holiday season, my parents actually encouraged me to sit in the store window, on the triangular wooden stage, doing nothing but reading a book. (I was advertising, see? — “It isn’t Christmas without a book,” and here’s this life-sized kid sitting there avidly reading . . . see?) Well, more than once, I shifted positions slightly, and window-shoppers shrieked and jumped back. I guess they’d been thinking I was a mannequin. . . .

Happy New Year!