Hot Damn, It’s Banned Books Week!

Oh snap, son! It’s basically Banned Books Week! For those of you who haven’t been hopping on board this event since elementary school (yeah, that’s right, I was a rebel reader from my youngest days. Me and The Giver? We were tight. And as soon as I heard it was a ‘challenged’ book…oh, the gloves were off), here’s what the ALA has to say:

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.  BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings.  Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections.  Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

I mean, come on! I believe it should be every book bloggers first duty to love and celebrate Banned Books Week because, as the blurb said, it’s all about fighting the censorship of ideas and attempts to stop a ready flow of information between people. As a person who grew up too-close-for-comfort to schools that actually banned books, it hits even closer to home that these books need to be celebrated for what they are: necessary views from those in society who aren’t always given a fair and honest chance to speak.

Okay, so I know that now you’re all like “wait, what, what is all this nonsense you keep going on and on about, yay for banned books, but so?” Oh, don’t you fret my dear reader. I do have a point beyond just yelling “BANNED BOOKS WEEK IS AWESOME” at the top of my lungs. I’m doing my own celebration, of sorts. A week of reviews dedicated entirely to banned books. Oh yes, it will be done. I’m still not sure if this means multiple posts a day (as I keep up with the other things I’m reading) or if all that other wonderful stuff is just going to have to wait until BBW is over. I’ll probably be the latter. In  addition, I do want to disclaim that I’m not ACTIVELY reading any of these books right now. But, there are limits. These are all books I’ve read during the last year, and thus remember rather freshly, and/or I have notes on them in my Moleskin. Regardless, these are at least somewhat informed reviews, so don’t fret! Ready for the line-up?

Saturday: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Sunday:
Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer (ohmygoodness, really? This will be fun to talk about!)
Monday:
The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Tuesday: The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Wednesday:
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Thursday:
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Friday:
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
Saturday:
Animal Farm, by George Orwell

Needless to say, I’m really, really excited that this is happening, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on some of your favorite banned books – do you have any favorites? Have you read any, and if so, did you make it a point to do so due to their banned status? Any fond memories of this week left over from your younger days? I’d love to hear from you, and happy reading!

“The Squaw” by Bram Stoker

Holy underthings, Batman, this story scared the beejesus out of me! For serious, you guys. This story is quite possibly the scariest story I’ve ever read. Not just for R.I.P. Not just in terms of short-stories. The SCARIEST. STORY. EVER. I mean, yeah, Poe was all sinister and creepy and kinda scary. Sure. But “The Squaw”? No comparison. I’ve got to give this one to Stoker, evermore (get it? a play on ‘nevermore’? Man, I’m freaking Poe-larious. :P)

“The Squaw” begins blandly enough. Amelia and her husband – our unnamed narrator – are a couple of tourists (it’s not made clear whether they are American or British, if it matters) who are joined by a man from Nebraska named Elias P. Hutcheson on their trip to visit Nurnburg to see, of course, various medieval torture devices. Amelia and her husband are on their honeymoon, and Elias is passing through on his way to visit a friend in a village up the road. As they are touring Nurnburg, walking along an outer wall on their way to the torture chamber, Elias spies a cat and her kitten play with a small rock. Thinking it funny, Elias then picks up a stone to drop to frighten the kitty (after a good round of back-and-forth “no don’t, you’ll hurt the kitty” from Amelia and “no, I won’t, it’ll be fine” from Elias). It is, of course, not fine. For those of you who haven’t read the story, I caution you that the following passage is a little intense. And gross. But, well, that’s the story for you. Turn away now if you need to:

Thus saying, he leaned over and held his arm out at full length and dropped the stone. It may be that there is some attractive force which draws lesser matters to greater; or more probably that the wall was not plump but sloped to its base—we not noticing the inclination from above; but the stone fell with a sickening thud that came up to us through the hot air, right on the kitten’s head, and shattered out its little brains then and there. The black cat cast a swift upward glance, and we saw her eyes like green fire fixed an instant on Elias P. Hutcheson; and then her attention was given to the kitten, which lay still with just a quiver of her tiny limbs, whilst a thin red stream trickled from a gaping wound. With a muffled cry, such as a human being might give, she bent over the kitten licking its wounds and moaning. Suddenly she seemed to realise that it was dead, and again threw her eyes up at us. I shall never forget the sight, for she looked the perfect incarnation of hate.

So…yeah. Needless to say, the cat is now thoroughly enraged at Elias. (SIDE RANT: I totally don’t blame the cat – and I hate cats! Now, before you freak out, I know that many of my lovely readers and fellow bloggers are cat owners, and proud of it. Don’t get me wrong. I know plenty of individual cats who are very loving and cuddly. I’m sure yours is one of these types. However, my experience with the species has usually meant a haughty attitude and numerous scratches. Plus, I’m horribly allergic. So, even considering this, continue it quite the statement for me to say that I was TOTALLY on the side of the cat the entire time!) And, also needless to say, Amelia faints and needs to be revived. As she’s reviving, Elias tells her a story about how the cat reminds him on an Indian ‘squaw’ he saw once who killed a man viciously for stealing her baby (yeah, right? great recovery story). The three continue to the main torture chamber, the cat is following them from the yard below, relentlessly trying to jump up the wall and gain access to her human companions. But then the three enter the display of torture tools and the cat is virtually forgotten.

The entire length of the story, the reader is told that all the three people really want to see is this thing called the Iron Virgin. As Stoker describes:

It was a rudely-shaped figure of a woman, something of the bell order, or, to make a closer comparison, of the figure of Mrs. Noah in the children’s Ark, but without that slimness of waist and perfect rondeur of hip which marks the aesthetic type of the Noah family. One would hardly have recognised it as intended for a human figure at all had not the founder shaped on the forehead a rude semblance of a woman’s face…The inside was honeycombed with rust—nay more, the rust alone that comes through time would hardly have eaten so deep into the iron walls; the rust of the cruel stains was deep indeed! It was only, however, when we came to look at the inside of the door that the diabolical intention was manifest to the full. Here were several long spikes, square and massive, broad at the base and sharp at the points, placed in such a position that when the door should close the upper ones would pierce the eyes of the victim, and the lower ones his heart and vitals.

And then, there it is. In the middle of the room, where they can inspect it from a distance. But that’s not enough for Elias*. He decides he wants to really live, to be tied up and to lean inside the thing**. This proves to be a horrible decision. **BEGIN SPOILERS: Remember that pissed off cat whose baby Elias killed, who the three characters have forgotten about? Yeah, the cat didn’t forget about them. While Elias is leaning up inside the Iron Virgin, asking the decrepit old display manager to please slowly lower the VERY heavy iron door so he can “feel the same pleasure as the other jays had when those spikes began to move toward their eyes”***, the cat suddenly saunters in from around the corner. At the least moment, and just as Elias is getting ready to make his way out his unfortunate positioning, Amelia yells out to watch out for the cat. But the cat doesn’t go for Elias. As he’s preparing to exit, the cat suddenly lunges at the decrepit display manager, clawing in to his face and making him drop the only rope supporting the hundreds-of-pound iron door. And then it’s lights out for Elias. In a major, painful way. And the worst part?:

sitting on the head of the poor American was the cat, purring loudly as she licked the blood which trickled through the gashed socket of his eyes.

**END OF SPOILERS!!!**

And at the very end? Well, the cat doesn’t survive. Let’s put it that way.

I’m not sure what it was about this story that really did it for me. It was most likely the fact that I felt SO ENRAGED on behalf of the cat that it was almost  gratifying to see the man get his just rewards – and that feeling that in myself kind of creeps me out. Maybe it’s the underlying human nature of this cat, who can plot, plan, and wait for cold revenge, and then seem to take pleasure in it. I think a lot of it also had to do with the fact that, despite everything, if Elias had just not been an idiot (on multiple occasions), this could have been avoided. Much like The Shining, which I posted on not too long ago, this leads to ideas of the scariest and darkest things in the world coming from inside us, not from exterior ghosts and ghouls. Which, when you think about it, is a truly terrifying concept. This was another great read for Carl V.’s R.I.P. Challenge and I hope that, whatever you’re reading, you’re having a great time with it!

*: This is the first point in the story where I was like ‘Seriously?! The cat thing wasn’t bad enough? Elias, you don’t have it all there, do you?’

**: ‘SERIOUSLY?! Like, are you for real? You just watched a frail old man use all of the strength  to wrench this death trap open, and you want to…to…SERIOUSLY?!’

***: ‘OHMYGOODNESS YOU JUST DESERVE TO DIE. Maybe that’s callous, Elias, but you do. Survival of the fittest does not include voluntarily wanting a torture device capable of tearing out your eyes to be lowered closer to said eyes. You just lost all my sympathy. Well, everything you still had after killing the kitty.’

The Shining by Stephen King

Jeeze, Louise does that book cover creep you out or what?! Something about children with menacing eyebrows and a soul-less gaze. That being said, the cover struck me as far more horrifying than the actual novel did. For a while.I’m going to assume that, while most of you reading have probably seen/heard about the movie, but maybe aren’t as familiar with the actual book itself. I’m assuming this because that’s was exactly my scenario.

This book takes some growing in to. Yeah, there are hints of hints to creepy things from the very beginning. Things that don’t feel right. An alluded to but not explained violent incident between Jack Torrence and an unknown student. An unstable narrator and a kid capable of some rather odd things. However, this book takes a good dozen chapters to really get off the ground. To get me to the point that I was chewing my thumbnail to the quick with all the lights on…at 4:00 in the afternoon. The Shining is about, first and foremost, a hotel. And, as all hotels do, this one has it’s share of ghosts and secrets (literally). The Overlook hotel sits on a secluded mountainside outside Sidewinder, Colorado. It’s snowed in from November to March, and it’s care falls to one person – the caretaker. Who, in this case, is Jack Torrence, a writer and recently-fired (recently-sober) teacher, along with his wife Wendy and their precocious (and creepy) son Danny. Danny has a power called ‘the shining’ and it allows him, basically, to read minds, sense feelings, and see what will (or has) happened. Needless to say, with a power like this The Overlook causes both Jack and Danny their fair share of torments as they deal with their own sins, ghosts, regrets, and nightmares – in addition to all the crazy stuff (corpses in bathtubs? a party that occurs every night at midnight? constant allusions to Poe’s short story “Masque of the Red Death”) that the hotel has to throw at them. The ending of the book is far, far different from the movie. The book gives us, at the very last minute, the chance to feel sorry for Jack, who by the end of the book is so crazy he begins to hunt down his wife and child. We’re shown that this man isn’t Jack, but instead is the hotel inside Jack, acting out its viscous desires through a broken man. It’s a rather wonderful turn in the writing, and wonderfully exemplifies the greatest part about reading a Stephen King book.

One of the things I so adored about this book is that it gave us the ability to loathe, fear, and deny the power of a hotel. I think it’s a genus move of King’s to get us feeling this way about an inanimate object. It plays wonderfully in to the idea that the places humans live, the places we vacation and own and visit, absorb a part of us. That we make memories for it as well as in it. For this reason, I felt that The Overlook provided the perfect medium for understanding some of how a ghost can get left behind in a place. Secondly, the hotel just sounded so damn creepy! Not to mention the fact that The Overlook is actually based on a real place – the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, which is also supposedly one of the most haunted hotels in America:

how scary would it be to be trapped up in that all day, all night, with the same people for six whole months. No phone, no TV, no anything. It’s terrifying, and King let’s us know it.

That is the second thing I loved most about this particular work of King’s. Unlike a lot of other novels that King has written, which feature all sorts of haunted objects and places and the like, what makes The Shining stand out so much is that it’ s the book that’s the scariest – because it’s about what’s in you. The ghosts that you, as an individual, have, and how those can play on the mind and the soul and drive one to madness. Yes, the hotel is really the villain in this story. But the hotel wouldn’t be able to become so without obvious flaws in Jack’s personality – or certain traits of Danny’s skill. It’s not about monsters and things external. And that’s the bat-shit scariest part of all. I’d say the movie is still wonderful, but if you want something that will really stick to your bones – in a chilling way, definitely go for the book!

In closing news, I’m so glad it’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and although I’m not sure yet who I’ll vote for, I’m definitely enjoying all the wonderful blog-love floating around out there! I also was able to make another trip to my library yesterday, so brace yourself for some great knitting-themed library loot coming your way sometime this week. The temperatures around here spiked back up in to the 100s again today, so I’m not exactly digging this last burst of Indian Summer, but before too long the temps should be dropping and that’ll make all these creepy reads for Carl’s R.I.P. Challenge that much better. Happy reading!

“The Masque of the Red Death”/”The Pit and the Pendulum”, Edgar Allan Poe

20110902-070017.jpg

20110902-070055.jpg

I feel like perhaps the first thing I should do is provide one GIANT spoiler alert for this post. I always try not to give away too many spoilers, but I’ve found over time that this gets next to impossible with short stories. So consider yourself warned!

I feel like I’m just plowing away on the short stories for Carl’s R.I.P Challenge and Future-Mr. Book Maven’s recent obsession with Call of Duty: Black Ops has given me the perfect opportunity to read two greats from a legend of horror – Mr. Edgar Allan Poe himself.

Both “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Pit and the Pendulum” are considered to be classic example of Poe’s ice-cold and bone chilling horror writing. The former tells of a lavish masque party gone awry while being held in a sequestered monastery during a plague called the Red Death; the latter the tale of man convicted during the Inquisition and subjected to one of the most horrifying (to me) deaths imaginable. Both are great examples of a challenging short story that will scare the piss out of you if allowed to take hold.

I have to say that while I personally find “The Pit and the Pendulum” to be the scarier of the two stories, I think that “Masque of the Red Death” is far more beautiful to read. To begin with, I find the description of the lighting – different colored rooms lit only by back lit windows – to be appealing both to the color freak as well as the creepiness lover within me. Second, just the general setting of a lavish, un-class conscious ball held during so much decay and death is just hilarious in a kind of sick way. If there is one issue I have issue with, it’s the ending. I mean, come on Poe? A ghost? Really? I would have enjoyed it much more, I think, had the man in the mask been, I don’t know, a zombie or recently infected party goer (somehow). It was scary, but it wasn’t terrifying. Unlike…

“The Pit and the Pendulum” scared the shit out of me. Seriously. I have often thought that being buried alive would be an absolutely horrible way to die. Add to that the panic I feel when I contemplate what it would be like to slowly watch my inevitable death approaching..damn. Well done, Mr. Poe. I’m not sure what else there is to say! I believe that the horror of a good horror story lies in the environment and surroundings, and no one does that better than Poe. The descriptions of everything from the slimy pit walls to the starving, red-eyed rats was terrifying. Of the two, if you’re only going to read one, I’d definitely have to say go with “The Pit and the Pendulum”!

In other reading news, I’m making decent headway on China Mieville’s The Kraken, although I usually find myself making the ” what the fuck is happening” face more often than not (people who have already read it – this is normal, right?!) but I’m enjoying it regardless! I’m also just starting to dabble in some H.P. Lovecraft short stories, and I’m thinking of picking up Daphne DuMarier’s Rebecca for the Labor Day weekend. We’ll just have to see though! No matter what you’ve got on the front and back burners, I wish you happy reading!

It’s That R.I.P. Season…Again!

Oh. My. God. I’ve been remiss. Seriously. Why? Because, first of all, about two weeks ago this happened:

Yeah, that’s right all you lovely lad and lady readers out there. I got ENGAGED! Future-Mr.-Book-Maven and I took a trip to Colorado a few weeks ago where he popped the question on top of Pike’s Peak. Yep, that Pike’s Peak. The 14,000 feet in the air Pike’s Peak. And it was amazing, for all the reasons an engagement should be and more. That is the primary reason that I have been so absent the past month or so. HOWEVER, I am damned glad to be back just in time for yet another year of Carl V’s RIP VI Challenge!!!

I’ll let the man himself tell you a bit more about the challenge:

Regardless of what my thermometer tells me, my heart tells me that autumn is here and that it is once again time to revel in things ghostly and ghastly, in stories of things that go bump in the night. It is time to trail our favorite detectives as they relentlessly chase down their prey, to go down that dark path into the woods, to follow flights of fantasy and fairy tale that have a darker heart than their spring time brethren. To confront gothic, creepy, horror stories in all their chilling delight.

Every September 1st through October 31st for the last 5 years I have hosted the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, affectionately known as the R.I.P. Challenge.

Oh. My. Ghostiness I was waiting for this challenge to roll around! As many of you who stop in here even somewhat regularly know that fall (especially the Halloween-y time) is my favorite time of the year. And part of that is because it means getting to read my favorite type of book during my favorite type of weather – dark and creepy while it’s dark and creepy! So this year, because my academic load is admittedly light, and because I need something to shake me out of a bit of a reading slump (it’s so hard to concentrate while visions of centerpieces and cupcakes go dancing around in my head) I’ve decided to participate in the Peril the First Category, among others (full details can be found here):

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (my very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming or Edgar Allan Poe…or anyone in between.

As part of Peril the First, I’ll also be joining in on one of Carl’s absolutely wonderful sounding group reads of Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. I’ll probably also be tossing in an old Stephen King re-read, just for fun (The Shining, maybe? Or Pet Semetary? Maybe It, as that seems to be the one floating around the blogosphere now…either way, it’s about time my old friend Stephen and I got to catch up!) I’ll throw a classing in, just for good measure (I’m thinking Dracula or a really good H.P. Lovecraft, but I’m open to suggestions – maybe something along the Gothic lines?) and then also something new, either YA or adult – I haven’t really decided yet! I’ll also try to keep reading from Dark Alchemy: Magic Tales from Masters of Modern Fantasy, a short story collection I’ve been dipping in to over the last year or so. I’m still trolling the blog-o-sphere for recommendations, though, so the final list of considerations might not be up for a bit longer (you can check it out here when it is). In case it’s not clearly evident from this post, I couldn’t be more excited for this challenge to start/to start early, and please consider heading over to Carl’s blog to join in on the madness! Now I’m off to the library (we still can’t seem to come to an agreement about that pesky fine issue) and then hopefully it’ll be back home with a gorgeous stack of new books! Happy reading!

PS: I can’t believe that I forgot to mention it, but Jen of Jen’s Bookshelves is challenge that pairs up beautifully with the R.I.P Challenge:

Another challenge devoted to all things gothic and creepy and bump-in-the-night-y, the Murder, Monsters, Mayhem (Mx3) Challenge will feature everything from give aways to guest posts, so it’s definitely something to check out. I’m a bit hesitant to volunteer for a full on position within the challenge, but her Mr. Linky for general participation goes up at the end of September and I can’t wait! Do yourselves a favor and go check it out.

Review: Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

  A wonderfully happy Easter to all of you out there in Blogland. I know I’m a few days late, but between early morning church, a late afternoon nap, and an evening spent playing Julia Child in the kitchen with my mother whipping up Easter dinner, there just wasn’t a lot of time left over for a blog update! Besides, I wouldn’t have had much to say because I JUST finished Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis, the 4th book in the Narnia series, going chronologically. The book, another one of my reads for Carl’s amazing Once Upon a Time V Challenge!

I love C.S. Lewis. Love him. I’ve never read any of his theology (I did skim Mere Christianity for a Western Civ class once) but his Chronicles of Narnia were some of my favorite books as a child. Before Harry Potter. Before Little Women. Before Anne of Green Gables, there was Lewis and his Pevensie children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy). Before I get to the actual review, I want to address a little bit of a kerfluffel that goes on amongst the Narnia readers that I know: Do you read the books in order of the publication dates, or chronologically? When I was a kid, I read them in the order they came in in the box set I have – I read them in order of the publication dates. I didn’t mind the story being separated, taking tangents in to other aspects of Narnian life before returning to the Pevensie children. Now, however, I have a bit more of an appreciation for the overarching arc behind the story of Narnia and tend to read the books as they’re supposed to take place chronologically. Meaning, long story short, Prince Caspian is set to take place right after The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Prince Caspian tells the story of how the Pevensie children find their way back to Narnia again. While they’ve been back in England after returning from their first set of adventures in the wardrobe, hundreds of years have passes in Narnia and a new king is on the throne. King Miraz is a Temarine who, after overthrowing Old Narnia, has tried his best to wipe out the memory and legends of talking animals, spirits in the trees and water, and even Aslan himself. His nephew Prince Caspian, however, is raised on tales from his Nurse and his tutor Doctor Cornelius and believes in the Old Narnia of the High King Peter and his brother and sisters. Miraz tolerates Caspian until his own son is born, when Caspian must flee and search out those remaining talking animals and members of Old Narnia in order to fight Miraz and keep them all safe. He blows an ancient magical horn, seeking the help it’s supposed to bring, and that’s when the Pevensie children find themselves brought back to Narnia. The young kings and queens (Edmund and Peter and Susan and Lucy) meet up with Caspian and Aslan himself returns from The Land Beyond the Sea to help awaken the long-dead spirits of Narnia and defeat King Miraz. I won’t spoil the end of the battle for you, but needless to say things end as you would expect them to end in a children’s fairy tale. At the end of the book, however, Peter and Susan inform Edmund and Lucy that they are too old to return to Narnia anymore, and all four Pevensie children find themselves returned to the English train station they were in before being transported to Narnia.

What is there to say about a book I loved so much growing up? To me, there is still some hidden magic in the belief that animals can talk and, perhaps what appeals more to me, that the trees, water, flowers, etc. all have their own spirits and personalities. There is a wonderful part of Caspian when Lucy, walking through the woods, imagines what all the trees would have looked like before Miraz came along and sent their spirits in to a deep sleep (sorry I don’t have the exact quote – I’m at work and, of course, forgot to bring the book with me!). She imagines whispy willows with gentle smiles and long hair, sturdy oaks with beards and warts and kind smiles, busty birches with knowing smiles and matronly airs. Is that not just such a beautiful concept! I often think that, if people began to personalize nature more – seeing that even trees and flowers and animals have personalities all their own – that they’d be far less inclined to be so damaging towards it. Narnia has also held such appeal for me because, as a child, who doesn’t dream of a world behind their own, waiting behind closed wardrobe doors or just a horn-call away from a train station. It’s the idea that, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you’re perhaps not all that far away from magic and fantasy. That’s why it always saddened me so much to hear Peter and Susan say they’re too old to return. I personally don’t ever think you’re too old to return to Narnia. Narnia is a place within your heart, brought about by holding on to your sense of wonder and child-like awe. So I say hold on to your Narnia! Be amazed by the delicacy of a flower. Laugh at something silly. Sing along to your Disney movies and tell people that maybe, just maybe, you still believe in faeries (I do!). There is always magic to be had. And a huge thanks to Carl and the Once Upon a Time Challenge for reminding me of that!

Well, folks, thats all for that review! I’m currently reading my way (really quickly) through Tina Fey’s Bossypants and it’s ABSOLUTELY FRACKING HILARIOUS!!!! Seriously, I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed this hard at a book. Ever. And I’ve read some pretty funny books. I’m also trying to balance my fiction with my nonfiction reading, especially because it seems that at the moment I’m reading more nonfiction than I am fiction – although, in all fairness, my nonfiction tends to be of the memoir variety, meaning its nonfiction that tends to read like fiction, hehe. 😀 I’m hoping to be back tomorrow or the next day with a library loot and, until then, I’m off to spend more time with my celebrity lesbian crush, the beautiful Tina Fey. Or Tay-Fey, as I call her.

A Once-Upon a Time Update and Short Story Adventure

Hello lovely bloggers! I’m so sorry I missed the Sunday Salon, but I was at home over the weekend and didn’t really get the chance, between church, breakfast, my boyfriend’s dad’s choral concert (he sings in a metro Christian choir) and then a delicious Sunday dinner, I didn’t get the chance to stop by a computer for long. Also, because my brain seems to have lost ALL ability to remember even the slightest details, I left my copy of The Magicians at my parents house, which my mom is thrilled about, but the library less so. I guess the good news is that, since we’re going home again next weekend for Easter, I’ll be able to pick it up then. If my mom’s done. If she’s not? Claws people. Claws.

Anyway, on to a little acutal book reviewing, huh?! In all fairness, it’s not a book so much as a short story, but the general concept still applies. Since I was all set to read The Magicians for the Once Upon a Time V Challenge (at least until my other library holds came in) I’ve had to do some last minute improvising and instead have picked up Dark Alchemy: Magical Tales from Masters of Modern Fantasy edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, a short story collection I picked up a while ago at Half Priced Books (I think because it was around Halloween time, but I can’t remember for sure) and have relegated to the realms of the TBR pile since then.

 

The first story in the collection, which also happened to be the first story I read, is “The Witch’s Headstone” by Neil Gaiman, the, as far as I’m concerned, Lord and Master of All Things Fantastical And Mysterious. You know, this guy…

(Mmmm…Neil Gaiman….sorry. Had to take that little moment for myself)

“The Witch’s Headstone” later became a chapter in Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which I’ve also read and reviewed before. However, I just had to read it again, both because I love Gaiman and because, to be honest, I was beginning to miss that Bod Owens.

The story begins with Bod (short for Nobody) Owens investigating the story that a witch is buried outside of the graveyard in which he lives, on the consecrated ground. After questioning both his “parents” (quick note:: I’m glossing over a good deal of the backstory of Nobody Owens because it’s not talked about in “The Witch’s Headstone”. For the full details, see The Graveyard Book. For the purposes of this review, though, it should be known that Bod is an orphan who has been, essentially, communally adopted by a local graveyard and it’s inhabitants and has been given the “freedom of the graveyard”, meaning he can see and talk to all sorts of spirits normal people can’t) as well as his teachers and guardians, Bod decides he’d like to meet the witch.

Unfortunately, Bod is a good boy and won’t violate the wishes of those who he’s supposed to obey. Perhaps it’s the power of the graveyard, then that sends him hurtling over the fence one day when the branch he’s sitting on in his favorite apple tree breaks. When he awakes, he sees the infamous witch, Elizabeth (Liza) Hempstock, standing over him. He questions her about her life as a witch, how she died, and the fact that all she wants more than anything now is a headstone, something to mark her burial space and, also, her existence. Bod then forms a plan to get Liza the headstone she seeks.

Stealing an ancient and valuable amulet from the Sleer (WE ARE THE SLEER. WE GUARD. I have a friend who has that exact phrase tattooed on the back of her neck, fun little tidbit), an ancient crypt-monster, Bod heads to a local pawnshop to sell the snakestone. When Bod tells him he found the stone in a graveyard, the man becomes enraptured with greedy thoughts of mountains of treasure and locks Bod up in an office while he calls his business partner. It’s then that Liza shows up and, hearing what a nice thing Bod is doing for her, helps him to become invisible and escape, but not before Bod notices and absconds with a heavy stone paperweight on the desk. Bod quickly returns the amulet to the Sleer (IT ALWAYS COMES BACK) and, after recieving a thorough flogging from his parents, makes Liza’s headstone out of the paperweight he stole. He mows the grass over her burial site, and leaves the stone carved just how Liza requested it:

E.H. We don’t forget.

Perhaps the thing I love most about this story, and about Bod in general, is that he really is such a loving boy. Yes, he disobeys his parents. Yes, his curiosity can get him into trouble (we’re talking stolen by demons and taken almost to the gates of hell kind of trouble) but, at the end of the day, he’s generous and caring and a truly warm heart in the cemetary. I also think that Bod gives us the chance, as readers, to read a very well written narrative told in the voice of an ordinary child (Bod never gets to be older than his early teen years) which I think is especially interesting given the fact that Bod is, really, anything but ordinary. He lives in a cemetary, for God’s sake, which isn’t a good start. But Gaiman writes him with such sympathy and love that it’s kind of easy to forget all that. And just love Bod for Bod, which is the best any writer can do, I think – to get a reader to love a character for that character, flaws and all.

I’m moving on now to “Color Vision” by Mary Rosenblum, another story in the Dark Alchemy collection, and I’m about a page in to it. So far it’s a little hard to get in to, but I also wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that I read it right after the Gaiman. After all, it’s hard to step away from the mastery Gaiman writes with when it comes to fantasy and fairy tales. However, I plan to stick with it and couldn’t be more excited to be getting some short stories into my reading diet. Because this post is so inordinatly long, I’ll go ahead and stop, but I do also want to mention that I’ve got Escape by Carolyn Jessop next on the pile (a memoir about a former polygamist who escaped with her eight children from a FLDS compound) and was wondering if any of you out there had read it? Liked it? The story seems great but the writing…eh… so I guess I’ll just have to wait and see if it picks up. Happy Monday, y’all, and happy reading!

– Chelsea

 OTHER NOTABLE QUOTES FROM “THE WITCH’S HEADSTONE”:

“It’s like people who believe they’ll be happy if the go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” (3)

A great example of Gaiman’s humor: “‘I do believe’, he announced, scratching his dusty mustache, ‘that you are getting, if anything, worse. You are not Fading. You are obvious, boy. You are difficult to miss. If you came to me in company with a purple lion, a green elephant, and a scarlet unicorn astride which was the Kind of England in his Royal Robes, I do believe that it is you and you alone people would stare at, dismissing the others as minor irrelevancies” (9).

“‘It’s not that much to ask, is it? Something to mark my grave. I’m just down there, see? With nothing but nettles to mark where I rest.’ And she looked so sad, just for a moment, that Bod wanted to hug her. And then it come to him, as he squeezes between the railings of the fence. Hje would find Liza Hempstock a headstone, with her name on it. He would make her smile. (8)

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries