The Bookworm Tag–in which I flail over prose and laugh at Beowulf

Hello, friends!

….I don’t really have an intro for you today. But I DO have a TAG from the fantastic Sarah Seele @ Sixty-Something Trees! She came up with some first rate questions, and I am quite excited to answer them.

So! Without further ado, let’s get to the questions.

What author has your favorite prose to read? Is this the same author whose prose you most aspire to emulate, or a different one?

Oh oh OH, an excuse to talk about prose?? Don’t mind if I DO.

(Prose is very important to me, okay?)

Markus Zusak always comes to mind when I think ‘excellent prose’. I was fifteen when I first read The Book Thief, and it blew my mind. He handles words so deftly and so boldly. I will never get over the imagery. In some books, overactive descriptions can be distracting, but here the imagery just works. It isn’t full of metaphors-for-the-sake-of-metaphors. As wild as the descriptions are, I feel like they are saying exactly what they mean. Zusak handles descriptions in the way he does not to be flowery and fancy, but because it is the absolute most accurate and honest way to describe things.

So many sentences in this book make me just stop and stare at the page. I mean–

Max stood up, like a struck match.

COME ON, GUYS.

I will never get over it.

Okay, but also Kate DiCamillo. Because how could you not love prose full of such tangible love for the story being told and the act of telling it? She is one of those authors who can get away with using exclamation marks. (Truly, an astounding feat. I think it’s because the tone is so earnest and has the feel of a storyteller. And storytellers use exclamation marks–albeit invisible ones–when they speak aloud…. I don’t know how I got into discussing exclamation marks, but there it is.)

Kate Dicamillo’s prose is simple but poetic and oh so achingly hopeful and beautiful.

I have, at different times over the years, tried to emulate both these authors. I still find them to be worthy of emulating. But why only talk about two authors’ prose when I could talk about three?

I would love to someday write a book with prose comparable to that of Gary D. Schmidt. Because who wouldn’t want that? It’s nothing outright stunning like Markus Zusak–in fact, it’s deceptively simple and straight forward. The key word there being deceptively. His books are often written in first person, and his characters have such authentic, delightful, distinct voices (who can read Okay for Now and not love Doug Swieteck’s voice? I mean REALLY now). They tell their stories without making a fuss of flowery language and metaphor, but there is so much depth and meaning woven into the prose, so much humor, and such thoughtful explorations of humanity.

If I ever publish a book and get even one review saying it’s reminiscent of Gary D. Schmidt, I think I shall be quite happy.

[There are MORE authors I want to talk about, but I shall restrain myself. *suddenly overcome with a desire to write an entire post about prose*]

Opinions on ancient literature like Homer: valuable but not enjoyable, neither, or both? Why?

Oh, dear me. I must confess, I haven’t read much in the way of the ancients. I do believe the oldest thing I’ve read is Beowulf, and I can’t say I was overly fond of it. (Though I did think it was hilarious that he basically treaded water for days on end in full armor while battling a sea monster–if my memory doesn’t fail me on the details.) I saw a play adaption of The Odyssey and spent most of the time silently screaming at Odysseus. He was incredibly frustrating. I was not a fan.

At the very least, I believe ancient literature is valuable as the building blocks that led to all the literature I know and love. As far as actually going and reading the stuff… I would like to. Someday. Ideally. But in a world brim full of books I want to read and scarcely have the time for, is it a priority?

Let’s just say, the complete works of Charles Dickens is going to be higher on the list than the Odyssey.

What Rules do you have for yourself when it comes to buying books?

If it is at a booksale or a thriftstore, under three dollars and either is a book I’ve read and love, is an aesthetically appealing copy of a classic, is by an author I like, or has been recommended to me–well, congratulations my dear book, you’ve just found a new home.

My primary source of books is the library (because you don’t have to spend money, you see), but in the harrowing event that the library doesn’t have a book I particularly want to read (and I haven’t come across a convenient second-hand paperback for a dollar fifty at a booksale), it may be necessary to take drastic measures. By which I mean, find a copy for four bucks on Thriftbooks.

I rarely buy new books. A few years ago I decided to reward myself with a new book (or a couple of used books) every time I finish a new draft. Thus, I have bought a very few brand new books, circumnavigating the guilt that usually bars me from such extravagance.

What books that you read as a little kid do you think had the biggest effect on your imagination?

I want to say the Chronicles of Narnia, though I don’t have any points to lay out as evidence. I cannot recount the sparks that ignited in my mind the first time I read the Narnia books, simply because I don’t remember the first time I read them. Or rather, the first time they were read to me.

I am very fortunate to have parents who love literature and wanted to share this love with their children at the earliest possible opportunity. Thus, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was read aloud as soon as my older sister was old enough to have some idea of what was happening. I believe I was two or three. All that to say, Narnia has always been there in my mind. I may not be able to determine what effect these books had on me, but they must have shaped my imagination, hearing them over and over from the earliest recollections of my childhood. If nothing else, they left me with a desire to see the inside of every wardrobe I came across (although, truth be told, the number of wardrobes I encountered was pitifully small), and a love of C.S. Lewis. Maybe they’re the reason I’m such a fierce champion of books that can be appreciated by both children and adults.

Calvin and Hobbes also had an effect on my imagination in that I sometimes thought my parents just might be aliens…

British- or American-based fantasy?

Ooh, British please. Particularly if it’s Victorian. I will never say no to hansom cabs and frock coats and street lamps leering through the murk of fog and dusk. (…At this juncture I come to realize I have actually read very little Victorian fantasy, but I do love it so if you have recommendations, please let me know.) Even if it’s not Victorian, I’d still probably say British. Because they have castles, you know. And generally a much richer store of mythology and lore to draw from. Besides, there’s something far more romantic about England as a setting–I mean, even if it’s modern-day urban fantasy, isn’t London a more romantic setting than Chicago? Or Los Angeles?

(….I just realized this question might have actually meant fantasy written by British or American authors, not fantasy set in those places. But am I going to rewrite my response? Ha. Hahaha, no.)

What are your feelings on magical realism?

I love the stuff.

My initial introduction to the genre was a freshman English class. We read “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I asked myself, “What is this brilliance? Why did no one ever tell me about it before??”

Not all of it’s great (I mean…not all of any genre is great). I read a magical realism YA novel once only to come away very Confused and Dissatisfied.

But then there’s All the Crooked Saints, which is excellent.

I love the idea of taking a fantastical element, smacking it down in a near-perfect reflection of the real world, and everyone there just accepting it. It’s all very well in fantasy novels where magical things start to happen in the real world and people either don’t notice or freak out over it, but there’s something about making something magical happen and everyone says, “Eh, makes sense,” and goes on with their day.

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done in a library?

Stepped up to the circulation desk to say, “Excuse me, but my cat completely shredded the dust jacket of this copy of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. How much do I need to pay in damages?”

(Except my sister and I had both checked it out, and she did the talking. I just stood there in mortification.)

Any odes or sonnets to libraries you’d like to share with us?

How about a haiku?

I’d like to set out
For the library posthaste
For there, there are books

What almost-great book do you most long to rewrite and make it fully great?

What an excellent question.

The struggle is to come up with an equally excellent answer.

Hmmmmmmmmmm.

There’s such a wide spectrum–from books I would rewrite sans the garbage that mars them to books where I would need to reconstruct the plot.

Let’s go with the Riverman trilogy by Aaron Starmer. The first book drew me in fairly quickly. The characters were endearing and the plot engaging. The second book subverted my expectations astoundingly. Imagine spending the first book of a series catching glimpses of another world through a key hole. Then, just when you think that door is about to open and let you into that world, a trapdoor opens under you. You fall into this other world, but you’re looking up at everything from a completely different angle. The ending threw me for a loop again, and I couldn’t wait to read the last book, to see how it all came together.

But the final book didn’t come together–not how I wanted it to anyway. The perspective shifted and we got shut out of the (former) main character’s head (SAD because he was my SON). There were things that I was interpreting as bad in the earlier books that ended up being…not bad? Just kind of the-way-things-are-nothing-we-can-do-about-it.

And the nihilism, guys. It was so aggressively nihilistic. [And weirdly suicide focused?]

There was so much here–so many twists and turns and cycles. I wish it had ended differently. I don’t know how I would rewrite it to make it truly great, but I wish I could. There would be considerably less nihilism, I can tell you that.

(But also I would rewrite A Darker Shade of Magic. Here’s what I would do: take Kell and his coat and…put them in a new book. One in which the coat is more prominently featured.)

Who’s better, Lewis Carroll or A. A. Milne? (“Both” not an allowable answer)

Oh, there’s no contest, my dear. Carroll is incredibly clever and I’ll chuckle over his wit, but, at the end of the day, Wonderland is STRESSFUL. Whereas Winnie the Pooh is clever, hilarious, charming, thoughtful, and heartwarming. Milne all the way.

***

WELL, that was great fun. Many thanks to Sarah Seele for her excellent questions. Be sure to read her post, because there’s a mini-essay about old vs. new books and I ADORE it.

I tag:

QUESTIONS:

  • Excluding Lewis and Tolkien, what is a book you think of as a truly solid book?
  • Who is a character who deserves a better book to inhabit?
  • What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?
  • What’s something that happens in books that you wish would happen in real life?
  • What book do you wish you could read again for the first time, knowing absolutely nothing about it?
  • Has the library ever grievously failed you? How so?
  • Were there any books that traumatized you as a young child?
  • Are there any tropes that are likely to make you like a book even if it falls short in other aspects?
  • When is the last time you can remember laughing out loud while reading?
  • What’s a historical era or event you would like more books about (be they novels of historical fiction, historical fantasy, alternate history, etc.)?

Who is an author whose prose you could talk about all day? Do you ever day-dream about what reviewers might say about your books someday? (…Or day-nightmare about it?) Are there any books you’ve read that were frustratingly almost amazing, but not quite? Do you have any Victorian fantasy recommendations? Do tell!

5 responses to “The Bookworm Tag–in which I flail over prose and laugh at Beowulf”

  1. I don’t think anyone can read Okay for Now and not love Doug Swieteck’s voice…in fact, I don’t think anyone can read any of GDS’s books and not love the narrator’s voice. It’s quite impressive, really.

    “it may be necessary to take drastic measures. By which I mean, find a copy for four bucks on Thriftbooks.” XD XD XD Okay, I relate. But also, thank you for reminding me of Thriftbooks! I keep forgetting there are places to get used books online besides Amazon.

    Narnia definitely had a big effect on my imagination, as well! (But I think the two series that had the biggest effect on my imagination were the Magic Treehouse books and the Misty of Chincoteague books…I can still remember playing “Jack and Annie” and “Maureen and Paul” with my similarly-aged cousin when we were both wee. That was a fun time.)

    British fantasy ALL THE WAY. Whether it’s author or setting, honestly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • GDS’s narrator’s are perfectly irresistible. I aspire to write such a narrator someday ❤
      Yesss, I love Thriftbooks. I mean, there are BOOKS involved, of course I love it
      I never read either of those series as a child (or as an adult), but I know I've seen them around. And any book that inspires you to play the characters with your wee similarly-aged cousins has achieved one of the highest forms of success
      British authors! British setting! British protagonist! British inspiration! Give us all the British fantasy, please!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: