Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Thanksgiving Weekend — Thoughts

November 24, 2010

Okay, it’s high time I posted here. What is a blog without any new posts, right? Though I must say, I deeply appreciate everyone sticking around during the quiet stretches, keeping the blog alive in the comments section. I’m reminded again and again of how it is our blog.

More about World Fantasy is still coming. But for this entry, I feel like simply talking — no unifying theme (unless one emerges) — just a stream of the state of things for me as we move into the Thanksgiving weekend.

I could have called this post “In the Smoke,” because I’m in that exciting place right now with revisions of The Star Shard. I’m doing some intense rewriting of the climactic scene. Up till this point, I’ve kept a clear tally of how far I’ve been getting through the manuscript, following my editor’s extremely helpful notes, adding in some new¬†ideas of my own. But at the climax of a book, all cold calculation dissolves, and you just ride the avalanche on your surfboard. [How’s THAT for an analogy?] There’s no seeing or hearing anything but the dust and the roar until all the inevitabilities settle into place. So, for about the next three days, that’s where I am. It’s one of the most exhilarating times for a writer. It’s a good place to be on Thanksgiving weekend!

And just before the deadline, too. I’ve been working steadily toward my deadline of December 1st, when I have to turn the book back in to my editor. The timing should work out just right, Lord willing. But this close to the deadline, it’s suspenseful, isn’t it? It’s like the scene in Apollo 13 when the capsule with the exhausted, harried astronauts has re-entered the atmosphere, and no one knows whether they’ll make a safe splash-down or whether they’ll be incinerated in the atmosphere. There’s the expected zone in which all radio contact is lost. Silence, silence, the cameras scanning the skies . . . silence, silence, the attempts to hail them met only with silence. Gary Sinise standing there in Mission Control, a frown on his brow as he strains to hear a reply through his headset. Silence, silence . . . and then a burst of static, the voice of a living astronaut, and the glorious, blessed opening of a parachute.

Um, that will be me at the end of this month. Lord willing! ūüôā “Houston, we have a book! We have a book!”

Orion is dazzlingly clear tonight (as is the moon, a little past full), and I saw the bright cloud of the Pleiades. A friend back home who keeps me informed of what the Farmers’ Almanac says¬†tells me that this was the Full Beaver Moon we just witnessed.
 
My writing class went really well today! [I warned you this would be rather stream-of-consciousness!] For the second time (at least¬†the second time; maybe it’s happened more often) this semester, we had perfect attendance, which is really hard to do with a class of 31 upper-classmen. 31 university students is hard enough, but during a cold season (flu & colds going around), with all the job interviews and school visits and practice teaching and special seminars that seniors go to, it’s amazing that everyone can be there. And God helped! I prayed right before class that I would be able to teach clearly, and I think it was a very clear lesson. The topic today was essay structure, particularly the thesis statement and the body of the essay. After passing back homework papers and doing the Quote for the Week, I gave a brief lecture on essay structure using a big diagram on the board and a sample essay handed out to the students, in which we identified the various parts. Then, for the main part of the class, students used the information they collected last week from interviewing a partner. I gave them a worksheet I’d made: one side of a piece of typing paper with a blank line for a title and then five big rectangles representing the introduction, three body paragraphs, and conclusion. There were more blank lines in the appropriate places for the thesis statement and the topic sentences of the paragraphs. Our focus today was organization, so the students didn’t have to be so concerned with grammar and spelling. I instructed them to look at the information in their notes about their partner and try to sort it into material for three separate paragraphs. They filled in the worksheet accordingly, writing notes inside the rectangles to show what content they would put into each paragraph. And they had to write a thesis statement for the whole essay as well as topic sentences for the body paragraphs. (We didn’t officially do anything yet with the intro and the conclusion–I haven’t taught those yet–but some students tried it anyway, which was fine.) As they worked, I walked around to help them individually. I could really see the light going on for some of them as they got the idea that the three body paragraphs develop different aspects of the thesis. Days like this are fun!
 
Of course, I had a lot of papers to check through tonight, since I collected those at the end of class! 
 
So, I suspect a lot of us saw the latest Harry film this past weekend. (Don’t worry — absolutely no spoilers here. And don’t anyone dare spoil anything for me! I don’t yet know how this story is going to end.) I went to the delightful after-midnight showing at my local theater, which is the way I experienced many showings of The Lord of the Rings. [Twice, if I remember correctly, I’ve had to explain to patrolling policemen that I’m walking home from the movie theater at 3:00 a.m. — really! Police officers here don’t have a whole lot to do . . .]

Every single time I experience more of Harry Potter, either reading one of the books or seeing one of the movies, it messes me up emotionally. I don’t think I will ever fully get over my envy and the anxiety it sets off in me as a writer. I really, really want to write something that good, that big, that deep, that complex, that moving . . . I want to write a story that will far outlive me, that zillions of people around the world will embrace and enjoy–to create (sub-create, Tolkien would rightly say) a world that readers will want to live in. No other books/movies set me off in the same way. It’s partly the widespread success of the books, completely unprecedented in the history of the world; and it’s partly that J.K. Rowling is so close to my own age, and our careers were pretty much parallel until her books started taking off the way they did. (She even taught English as a Second Language¬†overseas. Dragonfly and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out at about the same time.)¬†It’s partly that I also write YA fantasy using magical creatures, dark mysteries, etc. Even a lot of our naming sense is very similar. It’s hard for me to deal with the fact that she really got it all together. The lightning bolt of inspiration struck her, and she pulled together just the right combination of ideas, storytelling, timing, etc., to produce a series of books for the ages. I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do as a writer than to make something like that! If it were totally beyond my ability, it wouldn’t bother me. (It doesn’t bother me, for example, that¬†a friend of mine¬†is a fantastic violinist. I can appreciate classical music as a fan, pure and simple. It’s not something I have any talent for, so I can just listen and enjoy it.) But creating a wonderful series of fantasy books seems so close, so much within the realm of possibility . . . but it’s finding that right, perfect combination. Or perhaps, that right combination finding us. I think it was more a case of Harry finding J.K. Rowling than the other way around. I believe she’s even said that, as have many other famous writers about their famous works.
 
One thing I’ve been thinking about is trying a more disciplined approach to plotting. J.K.R. said in an interview that she spent an entire year plotting the whole series before she ever started writing the first book. And that’s how she achieved that marvelous unity and coherence, that seamless quality — that steady improvement of the books. Instead of “trying to top” her previous books, she was steadily building one story toward its climax.
 
I have always taken the other approach, the one used by Stephen King of discovering the story as I go along. I know that can work very well — obviously! Stephen King knows what he’s doing. But I think plot — and especially plot as determined by character — is a weak area of mine, and I need to consciously spend more time on it. Focusing on people . . . on putting them into situations that threaten and test them to the max . . . on being true to their emotions, their reactions, their interactions. For me, I think the “cool settings” and place descriptions will always come naturally — but a book needs to be a lot more than that to resonate with readers. It HAS to be all about the characters. I really want to try something with many layers, with story threads in the past and the present. To do that, I think a writer has to be very conscious of the structure — that is, s/he has to plan it out — it’s much harder for a multi-layered story to happen “accidentally.” I think I’ve been leaving too much to chance.
 
If an artist is truly a genius, I think the “chance” approach is more likely to work. Such a genius can just “start writing,” and an awesome book will emerge — but what’s really happening is that the writer’s subconscious¬†and instincts are¬†doing all the work that us lesser intellects need to do more consciously.

Anyway, Thanksgiving is here! I always enjoy it in Japan. No one else is celebrating it. There are no turkeys, no feasts, no gorging on far too much food; so it’s much easier to focus on the essence of the holiday: giving thanks for the amazing blessings we have. (And yes, I usually find a way to work some sort of Thanksgiving-reminiscent food into my diet, whether it’s lunch from Kentucky Fried Chicken [a similar bird], or a turkey breast sandwich from Subway, or some cheese [a rare commodity here].)
 
When I was a kid, I associated Thanksgiving with reading for some reason. I have powerful memories of being curled up with a book while the aromas of Mom’s cooking wafted through the house. I think that’s a picture of Heaven — to be completely at peace and free, with no responsibilities; but to be in the midst of loved ones; to have the unending feast of the Lamb all laid out before us; to be full of excitement and creativity and Story . . . “And we’ll all go together, / Where the wild mountain thyme / Grows amang the bloomin’ heather . . .” (That’s from the traditional song “Wild Mountain Thyme,” as performed by The Tannahill Weavers on their album Dancing Feet — perhaps my favorite song of all time . . . perhaps . . .)

“Okay,” as we used to say¬†during D&D sessions, “that’s about a turn!” That’s about a blog post, I reckon. Talk to you again soon!

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Writer’s Life Considered

January 30, 2010

A writer’s life, like any life, should be well-considered. We should take stock periodically and ask ourselves what we’re doing, where we’re going, and if we’re on course. Is there a better route we might be taking? Do we have exactly the things we need in our packs? Should we be walking faster? — slower?

A comment came in yesterday by regular contributor jhagman that encourages just such an assessment. It was written in response to my previous post, “Durbin Finishes Reading a Book!” You can read the original comment there, and I’m going to quote it here in its entirety, but the gist is that jhagman takes me to task for my slow reading speed.

Let me preface this by saying I in no way intend this as a “counterattack.” All civil, legitimate expressions of opinion are welcome here. And I’m fully aware that the commenter meant it constructively,¬†implying that s/he’s waiting for my next book and calling me one of jhagman’s “favorite writers.” So, thank you, jhagman! I do appreciate the thoughts! I offer this post in a friendly spirit, as the self-reflection they triggered. Here’s the comment:

Fred, reading this post made me sad! I think it was Samuel Johnson who said, “It takes a half of a library to make one book.” At your rate of reading, it might be a lifetime of 100 years before we see another book! While reading ESL papers of students does constitute “reading,” unless they are like Joseph Conrad, you spend the bulk of your year not reading literature . . . ugghh! Can they pay a person enough to live like that? When I was at Fort Benning (paratrooper school) I got through two books — The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy, and David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, and the school I was in was for me no picnic. If I can do it, you can do a lot better with your reading! Lecture over, but when one of my favorite writers reads a book a year. . . . Enough said.

First, jhagman, you know from this blog that I’m the first to lament my slow reading pace. Two or three times I’ve studied books on speed-reading techniques and have tried to master them, but it’s never worked out for me. Fiction is just too precious to me to zoom through without looking back. I agree with you that I should be reading more. If I knew a way to do so, I would.

But consider this: I have a friend, also a writer, who reads tons of books — book after book after book — and she feels she should be reading more. We could all be doing better. You should be reading more, jhagman! Why didn’t you read ten books in paratrooper school, you slacker? Think of¬†all that time you have before pulling the rip cord, when you’re just twiddling your thumbs in freefall — what, may I ask, were you doing then?! ¬†ūüôā There are uncountable great stories and characters out there, waiting for us on the shelves, that will be waiting forever. We’ll never have the pleasure of most of them. We are limited creatures. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King acknowledges this. He allows himself time to read for pleasure in the evenings, but he says that at his age, he’s had to become much choosier about what he reads, because he doesn’t have time to read it all. (I “read” King’s book on cassette tape while walking, jhagman — do I get some points for that? :-))

I love the Samuel Johnson quote! — half a library to make one book.¬†Richard Peck said, “We write by the light of every book we’ve ever read.” And Tolkien, of course: “A book like The Lord of the Rings grows like a seed in the dark, out of the leaf-mould of the mind.” Oh, I do not doubt that we become better writers the more we read.

But I would caution that that’s not everything. There was a joke (I think it was a joke) I heard about an aspiring violinist who couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t more successful, because he went to symphony concerts every night and sat in the front row. See the point? Reading books is fine — it’s necessary — it would be hard to be a concert violinist without ever having attended a concert as a listener. But sadly, there are aspiring writers who have read a hundred times more than I’ve read, but who never seem to get the pen to the paper, who never seem to finish a story of their own.

Another good friend, also a reader of this blog, once said to me that she feels she doesn’t have exceptional musical talent, but that she has the gift of truly enjoying music. Some people listen to a lot. Some people read a lot of books. Some go through whole DVD stores seeing every film that catches their interest.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s about reading volume. There’s this famous advice to writers: “Don’t read 100 books. Instead, read your 10 favorite books 10 times each.” I don’t reach that goal, either. But when I do read a book, I digest it pretty thoroughly. I study nuances and structure, and I think about it carefully, while I’m reading and for weeks afterward. I often sigh with momentary envy at friends who are not writers, who can read without their crafter’s eye and mind automatically engaging — who can read irresponsibly, just dashing through the book. But my envy is momentary. (It’s like those times in the years we played Dungeons & Dragons, when now and then I’d want to enjoy the wild abandon of playing as a player-character, not running the show from behind the DM’s screen; so I’d beg some other member of the group to launch an original, separate campaign, and I’d play as a character for a meeting or two, swinging my sword and puzzling over riddles, finding delight in exploring the unknown¬†— but then I couldn’t wait to get back into the DM’s seat.) In the end, what I love to do is write books. If that means the sacrifice is that I can’t read like a 12-year-old, barefoot and carefree — so be it. Heaven is coming in four or five decades at the most, and I’ll catch up on reading then. For now, I’ve got writing to do.

There was a year when I worked full-time at a Japanese company. It was ostensibly a “school,” a senmongakkou, but it was a company: the management’s only goal was extracting money from the students. Still, there were some dedicated teachers there trying to teach between a rock and a hard place, and I did my best to be one of them. That year, I was so physically and emotionally drained every day that there was no way I could write. That’s the one year I did quite a bit of reading. I read like a normal person — almost every night, and on the weekends. I finished reading quite a few books that year, and¬†doing so¬†was very nice — very calming and anchoring.

But it’s a tradeoff. For me, I think it’s possible either to read regularly or to write regularly. Reading is “for me” — it’s fun, and it feeds me. But writing is a calling. Writing is what leaves something behind in the world, something that I hope others may enjoy and benefit from. When I have to choose, I choose writing. Is anyone out there inclined to blame me? [Achilles: “Is there no one else?!”]

I was happy to hear Barbara Hambly at the World Fantasy Convention in Calgary say that when she’s writing, she has no time to do any reading; and she’s writing constantly — has been for decades — so she confesses that her knowledge of the genre is almost entirely from the books she read in her youth. So I figure if I’ve got Garth Nix on my side regarding character creation, and Barbara Hambly on my side concerning reading, I’m not alone.

Next, about the issue of day jobs: back in college, two of my closest friends and I made a promise to one another that we would never in life work long-term at jobs “just to make money” — that whatever we set our hands to in life, it would have merit, it would be worth doing. It would somehow glorify God, use our talents,¬†and serve humanity. Except for a very few brief transitional jobs that enabled us to get from one situation to another, all three of us have kept that oath. (And that’s by God’s grace, of course — I can see now that there was youthful idealism and impetuousness in the vow, and there are plenty of people in this world who have no control over what they must do to keep food on the table. The three of us have been blessed that we were able to keep our rash vow.)

So, no, jhagman: at the senmongakkou, they couldn’t pay me enough to not-write. Once my contract was up, I was out of there, and I had a wonderful time explaining in great detail to my bosses why I didn’t want their juicy contract renewed. I took my soul and left. But now, at Niigata University, it’s my privilege to have classes full of excellent students who are, for the most part, eager to learn. I’m able to give them something. I know now what my gifts of perception, language, sensitivity, patience, flexibility, tomfoolery, clarity of explanation, compassion, organization, and¬†dramatic performance are for. When I’m teaching writing, I’m teaching something very dear and real to me; and when I see the students’ final drafts, I know why it’s okay that I’ve labored over their rough drafts and answered their questions.

What value, you may ask, is there in English conversation? Well, I won’t get into the usefulness of communication in English in today’s world, but I will simply say that a university classroom is an overall experience. Some of the best things I got from classes in college had little to do with the content of the courses (and some did). When I was a student, I took notes on my favorite professors’ personal stories and philosophies just as eagerly as I took notes on what we were there to study. It might be said that my college major was “Froehlich and Lettermann” with a minor in “Sorensen.”

I’d like to believe that I’m helping my students a little farther along the path of learning “how to suck all the marrow out of life” . . . helping them to figure out what it’s all about, and how best to spend their time on this spinning rock.

Can you pay a person enough to do that? Well, no. I’m glad they do pay me something, because I have to pay bills. And I’m glad I’m doing the job.

But the story doesn’t end there. A university job allows more free time and autonomy of mind and spirit than any other job I’m aware of. I was able to write The Sacred Woods — a full-blown novel — during my first semester this year. As to whether or not you’ll have wait “a lifetime of 100 years” for the next book — well, I’m writing them, but I can’t control what publishers buy. Writing the books is the only thing I have any degree of control over. (And we do know that The Star Shard is still scheduled for Fall 2011 — so put that on your calendar!)

So, jhagman, shake my hand before we go away this week: we’re friends, you’re among friends here, and your comment is well-taken. You are not wrong. I will try to do better. Let’s all try to do better, each in our own vocations. As dear Professor Lettermann said (which¬†probably had no direct connection to the class at hand): “One of the best things about our theology is that we don’t have to be what we’ve been.”

Or, as Scarlett O’Hara says, “Tomorrow is another day.” (But that’s in some book I haven’t read.)

But at the same time, I’ll go on making the decisions I have to make. Time is limited, and as I see it, the books I’m waiting to read are friends I can depend on. They’ll be waiting for me, whether I live long enough to open them or not. Their words and their writers, some long dead themselves, are cheering me on in my own task.

“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” (Whitman, quoted in Dead Poets Society.)

The books that need me most are the ones waiting to be born.

Reading and the Full Corn Moon

September 1, 2009

There’s an enormous yellow moon hanging outside my place tonight. The crickets are shrilling in the bushes, and the lone streetlamp in my dark little street is flickering insanely, about to give up the ghost. An inside source tells me the Farmers’ Almanac says our full moon this week is called the Full Corn Moon. (Did you know the full moons all have names?)

So anyway, in the wake of August, when I was working like mad on editing The Sacred Woods, I’m now allowing myself to “be on vacation” for a few days. There are other writing tasks immediately ahead, but I’ve been waiting all summer for the chance to immerse myself in other people’s words for awhile. It’s an indescribably good feeling to get out of the driver’s seat, down off the conductor’s podium, out of the control booth, off the ladder, out from behind the Dungeon Master’s screen — choose whichever analogy you like — and just read for a few days. I really should allow myself to do this more often, because I feel like a dry sponge that’s been squeezed hard, thrust into a bucket of water, and then unsqueezed. Or like, you know how when the ground gets bone dry sometimes in midsummer, and when you pour some water on it, the water just vanishes instantly? That’s what I feel like. It’s so nice to be reading. (Go ahead and laugh! I know pretty much anyone who’s reading this makes time for reading as a matter of course, like eating and brushing teeth. I never claimed to be normal! [And for the record, I do read all the time — just not nearly enough fiction.])

My mom used to have her office in the very center of our house, in what was once the dining room, until the house expanded, and the dining room migrated one room to the south. Mom had two desks and a file cabinet all pushed up together and covered with mountains of books, magazines, papers, and office supplies. The drawers were brimming over, and there was more of the same stuff in cardboard boxes on the floor under the desks. Mom did almost all her actual writing at the kitchen table, but her desk was where her typewriter — and in later years, her word processor — was, so that’s where she’d go to type final drafts, find envelopes, and look up addresses.

But the point I’m getting to is: one of my favorite things about Mom’s office was a very large, framed poster she had on the wall over and beside her desk, dominating the room. I suppose she got it through her work as a librarian and creative program director for the schools — perhaps at some conference. It was a picture of a princess, framed in the window of a high tower. A handsome knight/prince was standing on a ladder leaned up against the tower’s side, and you could tell from the surrounding scene that he’d journeyed through a dark forest and gotten past a dragon to rescue the princess. But she was turned away from him with her nose in a book, and there were books stacked all around her. The poster’s caption proclaimed: “‘I’d rather read,’ she said.”

Isn’t that excellent? I kept that poster, of course, though it’s brittle with the passage of years and locked away in my storeroom in that house. I hope someday to have it out again and on the wall.

So anyway, a few days ago, a good friend asked me if I’d ever read any of the host of stories by other writers that are based on the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft — for example, my friend said, Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald.” I hadn’t read that one; and hearing that it was in one of his collections, I thought, “I wonder if. . . .” So I went over to my bookcase, pulled down Gaiman’s Fragile Things, and lo and behold, “A Study in Emerald” is the first story in it!

To this point, I’d kind of wondered what all the fuss over Neil Gaiman was about. I liked Coraline okay — he was obviously a good writer, but I thought the book was a little uneven, that he’d gotten a bit careless toward the middle. (Several people have told me that the movie is better than the book — I haven’t seen it yet.) I don’t mean to run Coraline down. It is quite clever and nicely done overall, and I always mention it when I’m asked to compare Dragonfly to something. (I actually have very fond memories of reading Coraline. Some friends of mine in Japan had to be out of town for several days because of a death in the family. I was on a summer vacation at the time, and I house-sat for about a week — feeding their cats, watering their plants . . . and reading Coraline. It was an interesting time.)

But I did wonder why we hear Gaiman’s name everywhere, why he can do pretty much anything he wants to do, and why he keeps winning all those awards. Well, now I know! After that story, I decided I had to read the whole collection. I can’t speak for his novels: I haven’t read the ones he’s most famous for. He probably is a genius at longer forms, too, or he wouldn’t be the king of the genre today. But as a short story writer in the field of dark fantasy, I think he may very well be the greatest living practitioner. For the past decade, his stories have consistently won Locus, Stoker,¬†and World Fantasy Awards. The tales he crafts are simply elegant in their craftsmanship and brilliant in their content. They’re unfailingly clear and approachable. You don’t have to “wade through” anything. He has the ideas, the language skills to make things happen, and the reading experience that allows him to pay homage to almost anybody while still producing strikingly original stories.

This is a little early for the season, but anyone would do well to get Fragile Things ready for reading in October. I’m sure I’ll talk about this again as the long-shadow season draws nearer, but my all-time favorite Hallowe’en short story is Richard Laymon’s “Boo!” I think I now have a second-favorite. (Laymon’s is still the best — I don’t know how a story could be any more perfect than that one.) In the second position is Neil Gaiman’s “October in the Chair” (which, incidentally, he dedicates to Ray Bradbury).

And I’m not saying that’s the best story in the collection. Every one of the stories I’ve read so far has been astonishing, and they’re not all the same. This is a collection of tales that have been award-winners in the years they were published, so you’re reading the best of the best. I emphatically recommend it.

But I’ve made one more reading discovery which, for me personally, is even greater. I’ve also found another book which goes onto my small, small shelf of the absolute best. I haven’t loved a book this much since Millhauser’s Enchanted Night. And the book is:

The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson. I’ll quote the back flyleaf: “The writer and artist Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is best known as the creator of the Moomin stories, which have been published in thirty-five languages. The Summer Book was one of ten novels that she wrote for adults. It is regarded as a modern classic throughout Scandinavia.”

It’s been translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal, with a foreword by Esther Freud. Another good friend gave me this book as a Christmas present several years ago, and I’d been saving it. (Aren’t books just the most wonderful presents you can give or get? We used to put up a sign in our bookstore window every December: “It isn’t Christmas without a book.” Okay, don’t think too hard about the theology of that ad. But you know I’m right.)

Now let me quote from the front flyleaf: “An elderly artist and her six-year-old granddaughter while away a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, whims, and yearnings for independence, and a fierce yet understated love emerges — one that encompasses not only the summer inhabitants but the island itself, with its mossy rocks, windswept firs, and unpredictable seas.

“Full of brusque humour and wisdom, The Summer Book is a profoundly life-affirming story. Tove Jansson captured much of her own experience and spirit in the book, which was her favourite of the novels she wrote for adults.”

It was first copyrighted in 1972 and orginally published in Swedish as Sommerboken.

(Interesting aside: the best movie I saw this summer was also a Swedish film. That’s a whole other topic. If anyone wants to know the title, let’s take it up in the comments section. This has really been the Summer of Sweden!)

Anyway, The Summer Book, on just about every page, has me laughing out loud, crying (yes, literally), and shaking my head in wonder and awe. It’s about all the things I love most: the magic of childhood and the imagination, the beauty of nature, and the love between people. I deliberately held off starting this book until after I was done with The Sacred Woods, because it’s also about those very same things and features a grandparent and grandchild. If I’d tried to read this as I was writing, I think it would have influenced me in the wrong ways. (They’re very different stories.) I won’t start telling you about my favorite scenes — because the whole book is my favorite scene. This is one I’ll want to revisit again and again and again.

So. . . . Yes, I’m reading Gaiman and Jansson simultaneously. Believe it or not, this works wonderfully for me. The two books are completely different from each other, and I love the variety. I’ll read a Gaiman story, then go back to Jansson to see what Grandmother and Sophia will do next. Back and forth, back and forth: it’s a vacation, it’s an education, it’s an unforgettable summer experience.

Yes, SUMMER, I say! Fall does not begin until the 23rd of this month, so we have a full three weeks of summer left. For me in my Japanese university schedule, it’s right now midsummer: my holiday is August and September. So let’s not go thinking of fall yet: we’ll do that with a passion in October.

Finally, here’s an insight into line-editing which seems edifying and amusing. This is from The Sacred Woods. Here’s the unedited passage:

“[Character A]’s gaze was dark with worry. He seemed to sniff the air as he trotted toward me. With a tense expression, he waited for me to speak.”

Edited version:

“His gaze dark with worry, [Character A] trotted toward me.”

I eliminated a “was.” Forms of “to be” should always be highly suspect — not that we can’t use them, but they tend to get overused. In the context of this scene, sniffing the air didn’t contribute anything, and seeming to sniff the air is just dumb: you can tell if a person is sniffing the air or not. Since his gaze is already “dark with worry,” we don’t need that “tense expression.” And waiting for [me] to speak is unnecessary, because it becomes obvious when [Character B] is the first person to speak. We’re left with one lean, vivid sentence featuring an action verb.

That’s how I spent my August. And now I’m reading. Happy Full Corn Moon! (As for comments, this might be a good time to let us know what you’re reading in this last golden month of summer. I know Marquee Movies is off to rescue Bilbo and see him safely home. . . .)