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30 Days of Books: Day Twenty-One

Day 21 – Favorite romantic/sexual relationship (including asexual romantic relationships)

Eddi and the Phouka in Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks. I’m not usually a fan of romantic relationships, because in order for me to like them, I have to first like the male character, and then like the female character, and then be convinced that they would be even better together. Most writers…don’t even make the second, never mind the third.

But I’ve always loved Eddi and the Phouka, since I first read the book (and reread it, and reread it, and reread it), while I was studying abroad in Ireland. I think maybe it’s because it’s only one of three romances of Eddi’s, and it’s clearly the most stable and potentially longlasting, for all we only see the beginning of it. But it’s the Phouka’s declaration of love that’s always gotten me.

“How do you know it’s love? Maybe you haven’t learned anything after all.”

She expected a joke, an impassioned protest, an airy denial. Instead he looked gravely into her face and replied, “I’ve no surety that it is. I know only the parts of what I feel; I may be misnaming the whole. You dwell in my mind like a household spirit. All that I think is followed with, ‘I shall tell that thought to Eddi.’ Whatever I see or hear is colored by what I imagine you will say of it. What is amusing is twice so, if you have laughed at it. There is a way you have of turning your head, quickly and with a little tilt, that seems more wonderful to me than the practiced movements of dancers. All this, taken together, I’ve come to think of as love, but it may not be.

“It is not a comfortable feeling. But I find that, even so, I would wish the same feeling on you. The possibility that I suffer it alone — that frightens me more than all the host of the Unseelie Court.”

How can you not love that?

30 Days of Books: Day Twenty

Day 20 – Favorite kiss
As may be obvious from how long it took me to get this post written up, I simply do not remember kisses in books. I mean it. I remember relationships, but most of them…I honestly couldn’t tell you if they ever kissed. Sure, they probably did, but I don’t remember it. But after nearly two months of mulling it over, I’ve come up with two exceptions: one is Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan in Shards of Honor (at least, I think it’s Shards — one of the first two books, anyway), but that one’s more the whole scene (including Simon unsmiling) than the kiss itself. The other is Daine and Numair in The Realms of the Gods, the last book in Tamora Pierce’s Immortals quartet.

She ran to Numair, slamming into him with enough force to drive him back against the willow’s trunk. “That hurt,” he gasped. Before she could apologize, he was kissing her nose, her cheeks, her forehead, her lips. She kissed him back. They came up for air, then kissed again, their hands checking each other’s bodies, for serious injury as well as simply for the joy of touch.

I don’t actually like their relationship — that is, I loved their relationship before it became romantic, and I’m not sure why it went there in the end — but the kiss is scorching.

30 Days of Books: Day Nineteen

Day 19 – Favorite book cover (bonus points for posting an image!)

I follow book blogs and book news pretty closely, which means that when I’m out in a bookstore or a library looking for something really new to me to read, I have to look pretty hard to find something I haven’t heard of. I also tend to prefer stand-alone science fiction or fantasy to series or trilogies, which means I have to look twice as hard. Which means that when I’m out there judging books by their covers, I actually tend not to look at the covers at all, but at the spines. Really good spine design is even more impressive, to me, than really good cover design — after all, there’s less space to do it in.

Here’s a shot of one of my bookshelves, for instance. (Click on it for a bigger picture.) I picked up The Devil’s Alphabet on the strength of the spine. I love that font, and the color scheme is evocative. I like series that match, like the lovely structural similarities of The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves. The contrasts between the Steven Brust novels, Brokedown Palace and To Reign in Hell, do a good job of getting across their differences. And for classics, I really like a nice old-fashioned clothbound book, like my Jane Austen set or the wee Yale Shakespeare editions.

I can show you a picture of my least-favorite book cover of all time, though.

I love this book. Shadow Magic is the central book in Patricia C. Wrede’s Lyra series — I don’t know if it was the first one, but it is the one that all the other plots tie into or lead up to. Parts of it aren’t bad, for a fantasy novel cover. The sea-dwelling Neira and the foresty Wyrd both look pretty much like their races are described in the novel. And then… and then… *sigh*

I used to wrap this novel in brown paper when I brought it to school to read. It was slightly less embarassing than the cover.

30 Days of Books: Day Eighteen

Day 18 – Favorite beginning scene in a book

I don’t know if it’s because I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, which require a lot of explanation before the action gets going (“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” requires something before the drama, certainly), or if it’s because I’m grabbed by the language of a book first and therefore don’t remember the imagery of the scenes until I sink into it a bit, but I can’t recall the first scenes of…well, anything.

Except for the opening of The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust. And while it’s partly the language that makes it memorable, it is indeed the scene I remember, and so it totally counts.

The Phoenix Guards opens with a young man out to seek his fortune, who has been traveling for several days, stopping at an inn, whereupon he is enlisted to assist in the preparations for a duel…

Yes, The Phoenix Guards is The Three Musketeers in a fantasy setting. And its sequel, Five Hundred Years Later, is Twenty Years After in a fantasy setting. And the three-volume end of the series, The Viscount of Adrilankha, is…yes, you get the point. Steven Brust did the whole bloody d’Artagnan Romances as a fantasy series. And it’s awesome.

If you’re intrigued, I actually recommend starting with the almost-entirely-unrelated Taltos, or perhaps Dragon or Jhereg. They’re set in the same universe, but significantly later than the Khaavren Romances, and give you a very different perspective on the world, one that can be valuable when Paarfi of Roundwood (the fictional author of the Khaavren Romances, which Steven Brust is translating for his English-speaking audience) gets into his third consecutive page of court manners. Also, there is nothing like knowing what they’re talking about when, halfway through The Phoenix Guards, Khaavren announces, “It’s okay! We’ll just take everyone to Adron e’Kieron’s place.”

30 Days of Books: Day Seventeen

Remember what I was saying about regular posting schedule? Ahaha. haha. ha. Yes, NaNoWriMo is still eating all my spare writing cycles. No, I will not tell you how behind I am. Not until November 30th, anyway. In the meantime, have some words about a book I don’t have time to read.

Day 17 – Favorite story or collection of stories (short stories, novellas, novelettes, etc.) 

Burning Your Boats, the omnibus collection of Angela Carter’s short work, now unfortunately out of print. I was introduced to Angela Carter in college by my previously mentioned favorite English professor, Lisa Haines-Wright. I’ve tried Angela Carter’s novels, and wow, are they out there. I mean, I’m sure they’re Great Feminist Literature, but they are possibly just a little too Great for me. I don’t get them. Her short stories, though, are glorious.

One of my favorites is “The Fall River Axe Murders,” about Lizzie Borden and her life up to the day that made her famous. By the end of that story, she’s got you thinking, “Yeah, I’d murder my dad with an axe, too.” Another one I adore is “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter,” which she is supposed to have written because someone once argued that the only thing that a story needs is for something to happen, and Carter thought that putting that kind of restriction on something as versatile as a story was ridiculous. Nothing actually happens in “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter,” but it’ll stick with you forever all the same.

And, of course, this collection is chock-full of Carter’s famous fairy tale retellings. She makes these stories gruesome and enthralling, and what’s interesting is that many of them don’t need to be made feminist, they just needed to be tweaked a little to let Carter’s brand of feminism shine through. They’re wonderful, and I adore them.

I recently found a copy of this out-of-print volume at my local used book store. O, frabjous day! I recommend scrounging a copy from anywhere you can find one; it’s marvelous.

30 Days of Books: Day Fifteen

Day 15 – Your “comfort” book

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse. There is nothing, nothing in the world happier than Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves, and when I’m feeling at my absolute worst, I turn to Wodehouse. (Most often it’s Code of the Woosters, but I’m also fond of the collection Carry On Jeeves.) 

I read an article once where the author said that he did not think he could remain friends with someone who didn’t like Wodehouse. He could forgive not having read Wodehouse yet, but if you’d read him and disliked him, well, that was it. I read another article once where someone mentioned that if Oscar Wilde put all his genius into his life and only his talent into his art, P.G. Wodehouse put both his talent and his genius into his art, and we are all very grateful for it.

Wodehouse stories are wonderful, charming, entirely inconsequential tales of the lives of wealthy young people in a mythical England sometime in the early part of the twentieth century. Their lives are never interrupted by the War, and they are almost universally either silly, foolish, or downright idiotic. The genius is in the plotting: each story starts out with one small disaster (a romantic crush, or an unwanted engagement, usually) and snowballs from there until it seems impossible that anyone should survive (without being thrown in jail overnight, forced to marry someone who wishes for them to read improving books, or being fined five pounds for the theft of a policeman’s helmet). And yet, somehow, they always do, usually through the offices of the inimitable Jeeves.

The other genius is in the dialogue; Wodehouse has a firm grip on the slang of the nineteen-teens, and he never lets go of it. Bertie Wooster in particular shows all the signs of having had a classical education without it ever having really sunk in properly. (My absolute favorite of his is an abbreviation of Kipling — “The F of the S is more D than the M, wot?”) As a result, he comes off as some combination of well-read and a bit dim, and absolutely charming. Bertie’s greatest enemies are aunts, and his worst fear is their collaboration, “aunt bellowing to aunt like mastadons across a primeval plain.” 

I must also recommend the Granada TV series (like Nero Wolfe, I discovered these books through the adaptations first), with Hugh Laurie playing Bertie and Stephen Fry as Jeeves, but only the first three seasons of such. The fourth season does not exist.

30 Days of Books: Day Fourteen

Day 14 – Favorite character in a book

Archie Goodwin in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. Wow, that wasn’t even hard. :D

The best thing about Archie is that he’s always a man of his time, even though the series was started in the 1930s and Stout finally died in the 70s. You can watch the change throughout the years, particularly in the way Archie talks about women. (Which does make the earliest books a little uncomfortable at times, I admit.) There’s also a spectacular pair of books that present an interesting discussion on race, Too Many Cooks and A Right to Die, written almost thirty years apart (in which the side characters age, but Archie and Nero Wolfe are the same as they ever were).

There’s something about Archie Goodwin that’s just so damned cheerful, almost relentlessly so. He’s not inhuman, though; he hates mornings (particularly when he’s been out for Wolfe all night long and still has to get up before noon) and he can’t resist poking fun at Wolfe (or Inspector Cramer) when he starts to take himself too seriously. He will occasionally resign his position, just to shake things up. But Archie’s an eternal optimist, and it’s his good will and engaging narration that make these books such a joy to read.

Archie was, of course, played by Timothy Hutton in the spectacular A&E series of adaptations, which does not hurt my enjoyment one bit. (He does look rather nice in his uniform, in the couple of stories they do from the World War II era. I love it when he requests Wolfe’s permission to apply to the front lines — “I have thought of something cutting to say to a German, and I would like the chance to use it.”) Hutton also produced the series, and you can tell he’s a huge fan of the books, because all the little details are right, down to Wolfe’s expansive yellow pyjamas.

30 Days of Books: Day Thirteen

Day 13 – Favorite childhood book OR current favorite YA book (or both!)

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. I remember my mother reading this to me before bed when I was very small; I still have cassette tapes of me reading the book myself from when I was a little older. And you know what, I still love this series.

It’s got a kind of fractured fairy-tale theme to it. Princess Cimorene decides that, if her options as a princess are to have dancing lessons and go to balls and get married or to be captured by a dragon, she’ll take the dragon, thank you very much. She ends up as Princess to the dragon Kazul, keeping house for the dragon, cooking bucketfulls of dragon-sized portions of cherries jubilee, and trying to put off the knights and princes who come to rescue her.

There are four books in the series, and I could not possibly pick a favorite, although I am fond of the third one just because the main character is Morwen, a witch who has half-a-dozen cats and a few spare workrooms (all of which can be reached by the same garden door). These books also initiated my complete love of Patricia C. Wrede, who I adored when I was in middle and high school, and whose influence can still be seen in the epic fantasy novel I’m writing for NaNoWriMo this year.

30 Days of Books: Day Twelve

Day 12 – A book or series of books you’ve read more than five times

The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs. I can’t believe we’re this far into October and I haven’t read any John Bellairs yet! I’ve loved these books since I first discovered them when I was about twelve. House is a Lewis and Uncle Jonathan book, but overall I think I preferred the Johnny and Professor Childermass ones. (I have a very vivid memory of the scene of Professor Childermass reenacting some ancient sea battle in his bathtub, although I can’t remember which book it’s in.)

These books are wonderful ghost stories, creepy and with just the right touch of the realistic supernatural. There are evil wizards, curses, prophecies, hauntings, monsters, and wonderfully weird and believable characters. And, of course, many of the editions have Edward Gorey illustrations which are absolutely perfect.

They are, technically, young adult books, but I’ve certainly never let that get in the way. Bellairs did write one adult novel, The Face in the Frost, which is just as wonderful and strange as his kids’ novels, and really so similar to them that you wonder why the adult/ya distinction is even made in this case.

(I always think I like horror novels, and then I try to read mainstream horror and I hate it. I think I like YA horror novels, actually. I shall stick to my Bellairs from now on.)

30 Days of Books: Day Eleven

(This post-every-other-day thing is working for me so much better than the post-every-day thing. Live and learn, I suppose.)

Day 11 – A book that disappointed you

Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis. I read this in a SF book club at our public library in high school, and I really did want to like it. I loved Narnia, I loved science fiction, surely science fiction by C. S. Lewis would be wonderful! Not so much. I can’t actually remember anything about the book at this point, except that it was boring.

I read That Hideous Strength later, in a college literature class about modern mythologies. I still didn’t like it, but at least this time I remember why: there’s just too much allegory. The character who stands in for the combination of Jesus and King Arthur is flat-out annoying, and there’s so much Meaning packed into it at times that it’s hard to get at the story. I should have enjoyed the embodiments of the planets, who basically functioned in the story as minor deities, but with all the explicitly Christian allegory that annoyed me too.

Alas, not all books are for everyone. If anyone can present me with a compelling reason to go back and read the whole trilogy, I might give it a try, but it would never be high on my priority list.

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