I looked up “highfalutin” and discovered it was a real word

I found this book meme, and because I’ve run out of homework assignments from my memoir class to post, I decided to use it as a guide for today’s update. I really need to get back on a more consistent schedule. Ah well. I’ll get you next time, Inspector Gadget.

Name three of your favorite books and tell us a bit about them.

  1. “Ella Enchanted.” An enormously entertaining take on the story of Cinderella. Ella’s voice makes me laugh every time I read it. And I’m still a little in love with Prince Char.
  2. “To Kill a Mockingbird.” For obvious reasons, and not so obvious ones. Boo Radley sitting quietly in the dark at the end, Jem and Scout’s very real sibling relationship, stupid plans that go awry, and fathers who know – or at least suspect – more than their children want them to know. It’s an absurdly authentic book, never mind that I hate literature class power-words. Authentic.
  3. “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.” A story about secrets within a story about what a mild-mannered mother mouse will do for her children. Oh, and secret labs, near-death experiences, and brilliant rats. I’ve loved this since the first time I read it.
  4. Special mention for “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings,” and a hundred other enormously popular series that everyone and their mom likes. I don’t have particularly refined taste, though I do love a good Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer if long-dead romance authors gives me more class. Oh, and why not tag “Lord of the Flies” on the end of this list; a literary demonstration of original sin, brilliantly and chillingly told.

Name three of your least favorite books.

  1. That one I had to read for class. I can’t remember the name and I wouldn’t tell you if I did. It was a very foul read, full of people being nasty to one another, each giving and taking ugliness in their turn.
  2. That other one I had to read for class. I can’t remember the name of this one either, but the use of first person was poorly done. That may have been a translation problem (it began life somewhere in Europe), but it couldn’t have entirely. The author resorted to cheap tricks to hide what the entire novel was about until the end, which was that some guy wasted his entire life because he had abandonment issues. Boo hoo.
  3. An awful post-apocalyptic pile of garbage that I wasted a couple of hours on a few years ago. Didn’t bother remembering the name of this one either (it involved unlikeable characters acting unlikeably), but I was so irritated by the end of it that I wanted to throw it across the room. As I was in the library at the time, this was neither feasible nor ethical – the book wasn’t mine.
  4. Special mention for Dickens, who haunted my school years like the ghost of homework past. The plot happens to his main characters, who helplessly waft from scene to scene being unaccountably good while the more interesting characters threaten to corrupt them. There are things that I do like about Dickens, but the thickness of his prose could stop an elephant gun at point-blank range.

Name some books you’ve loved since childhood.

  1. “I Can Read with My Eyes Shut.” The first book I remember receiving as my own, my precious. I definitely tried to read it with my eyes shut. And then realized that squinting was cheating and gave it up as impossible.
  2. Just about any picture book by Bill Peet. I can still see that ram skiing on his own horns, and the pig with the picture of the world on his side, and a hundred other images. The stories themselves have stuck with me for years. Many of them – the ones that I remember – were basically about finding your place in a world that didn’t want you.
  3. “The Secret Garden.” It hit that piece of me that loves secret places. The book made me feel the same way that looking at stars does – that someday I too might explore the unknown. The long-forgotten.
  4. The Alanna series makes me think of my sister, who read it at least once a year for ten years running.
  5. And finally, the Star Wars extended universe; I raided my brother’s closet for these, who let me so long as I didn’t open the book far enough to ruin the binding. He was very protective of his books, but he let me have at them anyways, even though a number of them came back with creases down the spine.

Name a book that disappointed you.

  • This is a tough one, but I’ll go ahead and pull out Harper Lee’s second book. I got a few pages in, where she happened to mention oh by the way, Jem died from a brain aneurism, and that was about as much disappointment as I could take for the year. Regardless of how well it was written, so I make no judgments there, not having finished it. It’s like watching Star Wars episode 7 and realizing that Han, Luke, and Leia spent the last thirty years making poor life choices. I know George Lucas swept aside the extended universe with a wave of his almighty hand, but as far as I’m concerned anything written by Timothy Zahn is canon. (But none of that Yuuzhan Vong garbage, because the entire cringing chorus of authors who contributed to that disappointing string of adventures forgot that Star Wars is supposed to be about the good guys getting into dire circumstances and then busting out of it like the immortal heroes they were.)

Name a book that surprised you.

  • “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” I was in seventh grade and my friend made me promise not to read the description – not even look at the pictures on the cover, she insisted – and so when Hagrid declared to Harry that he was a wizard, I was as shocked and thrilled as he. Follow that up with my favorite chapter break of all time:
    • It wasn’t Voldemort. It wasn’t even Snape.
    • It was Quirrell.
    • (I’m not easily tricked by books, but I was so deep in Harry’s perspective that Quirrell had never crossed my mind as a suspect – but not because there weren’t clues. There were beautifully obvious ones that JK Rowling convinced me supported another conclusion.)
  • Also, I realize that that wasn’t precisely what this particular meme question was looking for, so I’ll throw a shout-out to my homey, Bill Shakespeare. For about ten years I hated Shakespeare, and when you’re fifteen that means you’ve hated him forever. The only story I knew was Romeo and Juliet, which is about the most ridiculous pile of clap-trap I’ve had the misfortune to read. The only thing I liked about that play was Mercutio raging on for about five pages, using his last few breaths, not to pass on any deathbed messages to his loved ones, but to tell Romeo what an idiot he is. THANK YOU. Somebody had to say it. As far as I’m concerned, the two lovers got what was coming to them and the Montagues and Capulets should’ve been relieved to be rid of them.
  • But then high school rolled around and I had an English teacher who told my class that Shakespeare was meant to be watched, not read. She started us off with watching “Twelfth Night” rather than reading it. Suddenly I understood how to visualize a Shakespearian play, which made the highfalutin language make sense. And I also discovered that Romeo and Juliet really was a hack-job compared to the rest of his stuff. His comedies were actually clever and the rest epically tragic. Ah, Macbeth, I have a soft spot in my heart for you where you convinced me that Romeo wasn’t as good as Bill got.

Name a favorite graphic novel/comic/manga.

  • Full Metal Alchemist, hands down. We’re talking serious political ramifications, likeable but flawed characters watching out for one another, and a well-developed scientific/magic system that fit in with the world both historically and politically.

Name a favorite non-fiction book

  • “In the Garden of Beasts.” Erik Larson is best known for “Devil in the White City” about a deranged serial killer who operated in Chicago during the time of the World’s Fair, but “In the Garden of Beasts” (set in Berlin during the 30s) is my favorite, probably because of – again – politics. The entire city changed its face and feel in an unbelievably short period of time, and absolutely no one believed the American ambassador when he insisted this was happening whether the United States liked it or not. And they didn’t like it. The ambassador was sent home in disgrace, and lived just long enough to be vindicated. Larson has a fair-minded approach to the way he tells the stories of real people, which is not to bias you one way or the other (to try and make heroes or villains of any person or situation), but to simply present the facts of a person’s actions in the context of the times.

Name a favorite poetry book.

  • Does Dr. Suess count? Let’s say Dr. Seuss counts. Marvin K. Mooney WILL YOU PLEASE GO NOW!

Name a book you’d like to see made into a movie.

  • I want to see Harry Potter made into a cartoon. Twenty to twenty-five minute episodes and just nail the whole series. The relationships, all the humor and cleverness and wizard fights (that involved a whole lot more than two people pointing their wands at each other and just standing there) that couldn’t fit into the movies.
  • Ella Enchanted. Because the version they came out with doesn’t count. I cringed when I watched the previews and I haven’t dared touch it since, with or without a ten foot pole.

What are you reading now?

  • I just read nine Orson Scott Card books in the space of four days. If all of my characters suddenly transform into brilliant children with a penchant for philosophical and/or political discourse, you know why.

I’d say I have a good excuse, but…

I don’t have any particular excuse for disappearing for a week, though I do have a few defenses I’d like to try: coming down with a cold! Headache every day this week! Discovered that Orson Scott Card wrote an intriguing series about fake gods! Bioshock!

In truth, I haven’t been working on my own writing as diligently as I should this week. Stuck on my own thinking (again) for how to start this one blasted novel that has been haunting me for years, I let myself get sucked into a few good books. But I’d like to think the break has done me good. There’s nothing like stepping into someone else’s world for awhile, and seeing how they build it. And to discover all the ways in which I would have built it differently.

One of the reasons I know I can never give up writing is because it’s such an incessant force in my head. I’ve threatened myself with it over the years (“If I’m not a successful author by age [fill in the blank], then I’ll quit and get a real job.”) but the older I get the more it sticks in me. I rewrite almost anything with a story in it (and I do mean anything – books, sure, but also TV shows, movies, and video game storylines) parsing out what disappointed me or what piece of information I would have exploited differently. This is not to say that the stories I rewrite in my head weren’t good – only that it’s a part of myself I can’t quiet; sometimes because I don’t want to, but mostly because I can’t. I enjoy it too much. And in enjoying the way I think, the more I like to own it.

Here’s the thing: some people write by instinct. One of my favorite short story authors, Ray Bradbury, would wake up every morning with a couple of words tumbling around in his head, and then would write by filling in the space around these words. “May I die before my voices,” is how he put it once.

I do not. I write by a strict adherence to analytically methodical planning, rooted deeply in a genetic predilection for obsessive compulsive behavior. I spend years on ideas, hours on the pros and cons between two synonyms and how they subtly change the feel of a single sentence, and I use words like “analytically,” “methodical,” and “genetic predilection.” My notebooks run thousands of words longer than my actual completed works, and I write things like “frick, get on with it” in the margins of the pages. Somedays I hate the little voice in my head that tells me to go back and make it perfect this time, but most days I am inordinately pleased with myself and how I make my neuroses work for me.

The point is, you must always work with yourself. Perfectionism does get in my way – as evidenced by the novel five years in the planning, whose first chapter I can somehow not get past (I’m up to fifteen versions, at last count) – but it also makes me a better writer. I will never stop being who I am, and while it’s always possible to change habits, I don’t want to hate the attributes that make my writing my own. Just so long as they don’t stop me.