Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"The Fall of Arthur"

The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien was edited by his son Christopher Tolkien & published after his death. The poem is not completed but as Christopher mentions in his commentary Tolkien wrote this in a similar style to various other epic poems. He also draws on other Arthurian literature to formulate his version of the tale.

I really enjoy his style of poetry! I loved it in the Silmarilion and was pleased that I enjoyed it in this book too. What exists of The Fall of Arthur was every bit as rich & enthralling as Tolkien's other works. I really wished that Tolkien had the opportunity to finish his account of King Arthur and found myself sad that it ended soon. I have been searching for a version of the Arthur legend to get excited about for a while now but every version I read is disappointing. Had he finished it this might have been what I was looking for!

The commentary by Christopher was surprisingly enjoyable. Sometimes I find it difficult to read analysis of a work I have just read, or maybe don't know as well. What I enjoyed was Christopher uses examples of the early drafts & Tolkien's source material to explain himself. I also particularily enjoyed the comparisons to Silmarilion as well as Nuemenor & Valinor that were outlined.

I would definitely recommend this book to readers that have an above average are interested in Tolkien and/or Arthurian Legend. Otherwise The Fall of Arthur might not hold your attention. Parts of it are a bit dry.

"The Glass Castle"

Every person that works in the social work or psychology field should read this book. It's a beautifully written account of how perspective matters. In "The Glass Castle", Jeannette Walls recounts her early life and what it was like growing up with her family. Walls tells tales about herself that would make most readers cringe.

Her father was an alcoholic, her mother was barely qualified to take care of herself let alone others, and both parents likely had one or more diagnosable mental disorders. The resulting chaos & instability that occurred in this household was at the very least neglectful if not abusive. I mentioned perspective because the story is told by Walls herself and this gives the reader a more intimate view of each instance she describes. It is easier to understand that neither of her parents wanted any harm to come to any of their children, in fact they loved them very much. I do not say this to excuse their behavior but to illustrate a fact that people in the psych & social work fields see all the time: family dynamics are always more complicated than they seem from the outside.

What I love most about this book was the way Walls perfectly portrays the gradual change in how a child sees their parents. There isn't one moment where a person sees their parent as a human being with flaws, there are many. These moments happen slowly over time as people become more in touch with the rest of the world. Walls shows us those moments in her own life, beginning with herself as a young child thinking her parents are larger than life, super heros almost. By the end of the book she realizes that her parents are not intentionally creating these situations they are just unable to care for their family and do not have the motivation to make changes.

The Glass Castle draws from the reader so many different reactions laughter, sadness, concern. The life of Jeanette Walls is an absolute inspiration and a true testament to the resilience of human beings. This is definitely a must read!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

"The Bards of Bone Plain"

Patricia McKillip is one of my favorite fantasy authors. With all the hype lately over young adult fantasy & Song of Ice & Fire people have forgotten that there are many other wonderful fantasy authors. McKillip has made my list of favorites because she lyrical style that is uncommon to the fantasy genre. Her writing is so lyrical can never tell if I feel more like I am reading an epic poem or being sung a ballad. I suppose it's a good thing because music & bards are a common themes in her books. It is the main theme of The Bards of Bone Plain.

Centering around an ancient mystery that gets caught up in a modern competition for the position of Royal Bard. There are two plot lines that run parallel for the majority of the book but intersect beautifully as the story draws to a close.
The characters are rich & interesting.  I felt connected to them & was completely invested in how their story lines resolved. Sometimes with stand alone books I long for more character development but not so with this one.

McKillip's use of imagery is wonderful too. The world she describes in The Bards of Bone Plain was unique among the fantasy worlds I have read before. To me it felt like some strange combination of modern, steampunk, & standard fantasy world with medieval castles & city structures. Not to mention her imagery surrounding the standing stones! They were captivating & as a reader I was so excited that the plot centered around the stones because I wanted to know all about them.

In the Bards of Bone Plain McKillip uses, in my opinion, the perfect amount of mystery to keep her plot moving forward. I never felt frustrated that I wasn't getting enough pieces to the puzzle. Nor was the plot so convoluted that I got a headache from trying to follow it. There were just enough puzzles & plot twists to keep me engaged intellectually until the end! This is easily one of my favorite books by McKillip and I would definitely recommend it to any fantasy reader that enjoys different styles of writing.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

For All Of Us That Couldn't Get A Letter

Today is September 1st, a day that comes with a lot of bitter sweet feelings. Summer is creeping to a close. The last of the cook outs will be happening. Pools are getting shut down and boats are being pulled off the water. School is starting which means an end to sleeping in & lazy hours. Life is about to get busy & cold again. On the flip side school means friends & sports. Jackets & scarves come out and pumpkin spiced everything is back. But for some of us September 1st is more bitter than sweet.

We are the generation that could never get our letters. Which generation are we? We were the kids that picked up that book in the bookstore wondering why that kid was on a broom stick. Or maybe we had someone give us the book for a birthday or holiday. We were the kids that talked about Quidditch & Time Turners with the one other kid at school that knew what we were talking about. We were those kids that adults gave a double take to because they were walking around with a novel at least twice as thick as their text books. We cheered when Gryfindor won the House Cup because of Neville, paniced when we realized someone put Harry's name in the Goblet of Fire to kill him, had our hearts sink when we learned about Snape, and got goose-bumps when McGonnagall called the castle to life. We waited anxiously for each book (sometimes 3YEARS!) & begged our parents to take us to the bookstore at midnight in hopes of being the first one to hold that long awaited treasure in our hands. We are the Harry Potter Generation, and we were the first.

I know many adults read the books then too, and many children came after us. But we were the first children old enough to read Harry Potter when they came out, unfortunately most of us had already had our 11th birthdays. That means that most of the Harry Potter Generation realized during one of the early books (for me it was SS) that even though every part of us wants this world to be real, and even if it were real, we would never get that letter from Dumbledore telling us that we had been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. For many children in this generation Harry Potter changed our lives, or at the very least made it a little more fun. For us September 1st is always just a little bit sad but "why" is hard to put to words.
September 1st is the day the Hogwarts Express leaves from King's Cross Station carrying all the students to north towards Hogwarts. For the last 16 years I have known it was leaving with out me. I never got to hope that one day I would get to ride a train to Scotland where magical adventures happened at every turn. I never got to anticipate my 11th birthday and think about what kind of owl would drop my letter off. I always knew that I wasn't going. But there is no name for that feeling.

It's this complicated jumble of conflicting emotions. We know we're too old to believe in magical castles & wizards. But damn-it we still really wanna play Quidditch! And not the Muggle kind either, because that's taking it too far. Even though we love reading other, more adult reading level, books we still have this attachment to all the wondrous things we learned about & dreamed up while we were reading these books. For the first time we had that feeling of wanting to step inside a book & live in that world so intensely that it never left.

But it's more that that, Harry Potter took all the best parts about being a child, the wonder the magic & the adventure, then it used them to teach us real life lessons. We didn't just learn to do the right thing, that friendship is important, or that people aren't always what they seem. We learned that sometimes the "right thing" is way more complicated and hard to see requiring more sacrifice that anyone want to give. We learned what it means to be a good friend even when our friends hate us, won't listen to us. And that real friendship can never be broken. We learned that some people have good reasons for acting the way they do, even if they are still wrong and act like a jerk. But also that some people are exactly what they seem and we learned how to tell them apart. We learned about standing up for ourselves but also how to lose. We learned from heroes, villains and all the characters that were in between. We can't let Harry Potter go because it's a part of who we are. It took the best parts of being a child & gave us the moral compass for being the best kind of adults. 

For us September 1st reminds us that we are not going to Hogwarts this year, or any year. It reminds us that magic is just beyond our reach and that most adults were not young enough to cherish the lessons we learned from reading Harry Potter. We remember all the worst parts about being an adult and are left with a sense of longing to somehow go back in time and give our past self a copy of the books before we turned 11. That way all that magic, wonder & hope could be real for just a little longer.

So what do I do on this day? I try to ignore how much I long to get on that train and think about the children in my life. I look forward to being their crazy aunt who has the cool books about wizards! Getting to live the adventure again through their young eyes & maybe get to curl up to read it with them. Pass on all that magic, wonder, and the lessons too, because isn't that what you're supposed to do when you're the first generation to do something? Give it to the young and hope that it lives on? Then maybe just for a little while it will feel real again. Only this time I will be dropping them off at King's Cross Station on September 1st.