le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Coin flip!

I decided to flip a coin to pick which book to read first. Then, because it's a special occasion and I do enjoy being fancy, I decided to use one of my (many) coins from pre-Euro Europe. Except I can't remember where they are - the jar they used to be in is empty.

I knew there had to be an online coin-flipper, and there is. It lets you choose from any number of kinds of coins, and after some experimenting, I settled on Chinese 150 Yuan - Year of the Dragon.

Dragon side would be Fairyland (of course! too bad there's no coin with a wyverary on it); Great Wall side would be Necromancing the Stone.

I "flipped" .......................................................
and - ta-da!!!

I will be reading Necromancing the Stone first!

Monday, September 10, 2012

oh frabjous day!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an open letter to the universe, wishing that some very intensely anticipated new books would fall from the sky into my lap. Normally, when I make general requests to the universe, the universe gives me the silent treatment; I chalk this up to either an old family curse, or possibly some kind of ancient relic that I picked up in my travels, a dusty old object that has been cursed by a mummy or zombie or ancient pharaoh or some such.

But this time, the universe responded, in the form of a wonderful woman who emailed me and said "I can send you those books."

Once I got done recovering from whooping with joy, I sent off my mailing address and hoped I wasn't being scammed by a fake sub-saharan prince.

Today, a large parcel was waiting for me by my mailbox, after I came home from a rather discouraging meeting. I was a bit puzzled, because it was a large parcel, and two books are fairly small.
I opened the envelope to a very beautiful (and generous) sight:

I may have danced around my kitchen. I may have actually jumped for joy. I may even have gotten a little teary. I will neither confirm nor deny these things. I feel as if I should handle them while wearing spotless white cotton gloves, the kind museums and libraries insist upon when handling things like the Magna Carta.

BEHOLD!!! the shiny glory of Lish McBride's books!  I have a copy of Hold me Closer, Necromancer, but it's a different edition than the new one - now, having matching covers is unbelievably exciting. They are very hard to photograph - so shiny, so reflecting and refracting all over the place. But I LOVE these covers - they suit the book(s) so well [I am assuming Necromancing the Stone has at least a few things in common with Hold me Closer]. I re-read Hold me Closer this past spring, and when I finished I was, once again, feeling almost physical anticipation and eagerness to find out what happens next. [Yes. I am a huge, huge nerd about books. Very enthusiastic, as my student evaluations often mention].

And then the possibly even more beautiful covers of Catherynne M. Valente's Fairyland books. The picture doesn't do justice to the gorgeous shade of violet on the cover of The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. It's an exquisite cover; the artist for these books (Ana Juan) does wonderful work. Thinking about what could be in this second Fairyland book gives me shivers.
Not only did I receive the new book, I was also sent a paperback copy (newly in paperback) of the first Fairyland book. I am thrilled about this; I have a hardback copy from teaching, but I've handled it rather gingerly, to keep it tidy. I have to say that, the more I think about it, the more I realize that Fairyland #1 is one of the best books to teach that I've ever taught. I enjoyed the book enormously the first two times I read it, but when I read it with my brain tuned for teaching - and then in actually discussing it in class - the book became almost overwhelmingly amazing and interesting and provocative. There is so much going on in it. I have a conference paper-length idea percolating about the book; we'll see if the second Fairyland alters things.

 Anyway, I'm very fussy about writing in my books. I had to train myself to write in my school books, and it still always hurts a little. Because I only had the one copy of Fairyland #1, I didn't want to mark it up at all - instead, I used sticky flags.

Lots and lots of sticky flags. I supplemented the sticky flags with handwritten reminders on a sheet of paper and some index cards, but the ideas were flying while I prepped for teaching this; really, I should have just flagged every single page. I got quite carried away teaching this book; it set off so many ideas, and made me realize so many things about stories and reading and fantasy and time and memory and nostalgia (some of which are things my dissertation thinks about). I was super-gratified to discover that my students also really enjoyed the book; many of them ended up choosing to write up it for various papers, as well, which made grading a bit less painful than usual.
 And now I have these two much-longed for, much-anticipated books, carefully resting on the cabinet in my study (which I cleaned and polished before setting the books on it, because, as noted above, I am a huge nerd about books). I have class tomorrow & thursday, which means my mind needs to be geared up for Hunger Games, and which also means I need to sleep, so I have to wait until Thursday after class to begin reading these. I know right now I won't do anything else once I begin.

The big problem, of course, the big decision that now faces me:

Which book do I read first?!?!?


Friday, September 07, 2012

Kiss me, Hardy

In 1805, much of Europe - and Great Britain - was embroiled in war - one phase of the Napoleonic wars. The combined fleets of France and its ally Spain were massed at Cadiz, and the British and their allies were growing nervous. Enter Horatio Nelson, Viscount of the Nile, with a scad of ships to command and some exceedingly clever, new battle tactics.
On 21 October 1805, the British met with French & Spanish fleet in battle - the Battle of Trafalgar, won by the British, and memorialized by the very famous Trafalgar Square and its statue of Nelson atop a column.
Nelson's rout of the Franco-Spanish fleet, whose losses included 18 ships, 6,000 killed or wounded, and over 20,000 taken prisoner, so stung Napoleon that he never initiated another naval campaign. The battle, and Nelson, became a large part of British national mythology. Nelson's death aboard the HMS Victory, captained by Thomas Hardy with whom Nelson had sailed since the mid-1790s, is a big part of that mythology; shot while on deck at the pitch of battle, Nelson hung on to life for three more hours, long enough to learn that a number of the enemy's ships had surrendered. Never under any illusions about the severity of his injury, Nelson prayed, asked to be remembered to friends and family, and, at the very end, said "Kiss me, Hardy," to his captain. Commonly believed to be his last words, "Kiss me, Hardy" was actually not the last thing Nelson said (it was the made-for-propaganda "god and my country"). But accuracy doesn't matter that much in national myths, and "Kiss me, Hardy," has resonance as the last words of one of the greatest British heroes.

"Kiss me, Hardy," has resonance throughout Elizabeth Wein's phenomenal Code Name Verity, as well. One of the brilliant but unusual aspects of Wein's book is that to discuss many details of it, even minor ones, is to destroy part of its effectiveness as a whole. Going into reading it, I knew nothing at all about the book except it was a WWII novel and people had said it was great.
I read it in about half a day; I forced myself to put it down for a few hours in the early evening, but by 10pm had picked it up again, and didn't stop until the very end. I cried my face off, almost continuously from about the midpoint to the end - but that's not giving anything away, either.
The main characters are young women (old teenagers, really) volunteering in the British War Effort around 1943. One is a pilot, supremely skilled at navigation and mechanical work; one is multi-lingual, exceedingly clever and quick on her feet, a great actress. Both become involved in secret operations - spy work, really - for the British. Wein makes wonderful use of Peter Pan, as well, something I always enjoy encountering, and in this case, enjoy even more, because Wein - unlike so many others - seems to get the tragedy at the heart of Peter Pan, the melancholy of it - and it's not that children have to grow up.

That's all I'll say, because again - to say more is to ruin the unfolding of the book, and its unfolding is a key part of the narrative. Wein's novel is one of those rare examples where the interdependent relationship of story and form is so great as to be absolutely unmistakable even to the least perceptive of readers. How the tale is told is always important, of course, but Code Name Verity takes that concept to glorious new heights.

It is not a short book, nor even a quick read, though I did run through it in a day (but I am a quick reader). Any passages that may feel too slow, too irrelevant, too random - they all pay off in the end, in quantity. You will turn back chapters to re-read passages, conversations, explanations, and you will get shivers down your spine as realization seeps in.

So far this year I haven't read as many great books as I would have liked (especially compared to last year's bumper crop). Railsea, this spring, was great, intellectually, creatively, imaginatively, literarily. Code Name Verity was great creatively, literarily, historically (Wein has clearly, clearly done her homework), but above all emotionally. Wein somehow manages to weave incredible depths of emotion - of all kinds, really - into her book; you get caught in the web almost instantly, and it only binds tighter as the novel progresses. It is a devastating read, and wonderful in its devastation.

I'll cast my vote now for Code Name Verity for every prize it could possibly receive. I don't think I've been so blasted, so pulled in and wrung out, by a novel since reading How to say goodbye in robot, and I think Code Name Verity has actually outdone even that. It's a far, far, far more meaningful meditation on famous last words than Looking for Alaska could ever hope to be.
Because in Wein's hands, those famous last words (that weren't, really, the last words at all) of Nelson's - that "Kiss me, Hardy" - take on an almost unbearable, haunting meaning, an emotional verity that outstrips almost anything else i can think of.

Kiss me, Hardy.
I'll leave a window open.