Thursday, January 31, 2008

January Firsts...

These are the opening lines that stuck with me this past month. See if you can guess the title. One isn't an opening line to a novel, but an opening line to a short story. I bet a few of them are a bit too obvious...

First the colors. Then the humans. That's usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is a small fact: you are going to die.

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.

Who am I? What am I? Where am I? Saturday. I am almost a whole day old now.

There is a particular circle of hell not mentioned in Dante's famous book.

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

If the Bains had striven for years, they could have been no more successful in making their living room into a small but admirably complete museum of objects suggesting strain, discomfort, or the tomb.

Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star

Mull, Brandon. 2007. Fablehaven: The Rise of the Evening Star.

It has now been a year since Kendra and Seth have visited their grandfather and grandmother (whom we first met as a chicken) on their Fablehaven estate (or preserve to be a bit more accurate). Our narrative opens with Kendra anticipating the last week of school--her last week at a middle school. It's an unusual time for a school--a class--to receive a new student--with only one week to go--but only Kendra knows quite how strange it is. The new student? Not human. A monster. A monster with foul breath. When Kendra's unable to reach her grandfather, she decides to trust the man who claims to be sent at her grandfather's request. A man called Errol. Kendra and Seth thus end their school year with a bit of adventure and danger and mystery. Soon summer will be here. The summer may just hold another action-packed, adventure-filled, mystery-solving, danger-ridden, journey for the two as they visit their grandparents once more. Full of action, suspense, mystery, and adventure...this second book is even better than the first.

You Make My Day Award...

I was so pleased to be awarded the "You Make My Day" award a few days ago. And I wanted to pass along the love.

Five blogging writers brighten up my days...

Susan Beth Pfeffer's blog is wonderfully chatty and at times quite clever. I love it when Pfeffer shares her stick drawings. And the past few weeks, she's been blogging about her possible third book (aka P3B). It's fun to get inside her head. By the way, I am SUPER SUPER excited that I have an interview coming up with her. It will be posted February 18th.

I love, love, love Ellsworth Journal featuring Ellsworth, Winchester, and "The Writer" (aka Candice Ransom). It is one of my favorite blogs. Her posts have character, personality, and a little-something-extra that just brings a BIG smile to my face.

The third writer whose blog I just adore is Sarah Miller. Whether she's reviewing books or just providing commentary on life in general, I find myself loving what she has to say.

Sarah Dessen's blog has long been a part of my routine. Though Sarah Dessen doesn't know I exist, I have been a long time fan. And one of my prized possessions is an autographed The Truth About Forever.

And Lisa Graff's blog is completely new to me. I discovered it through Miss Erin, but I am LOVING this weeks posts. I hope she keeps blogging, blogging, blogging because I am loving getting to spy on her.

Other bloggers deserving of the award...

Miss Erin. A long-time favorite of mine. One of the first blogs I started reading--among the first anyway. And I especially especially love her recent posts about Shannon Hale. They're just so fabulous :)

Bookshelves of Doom
. I love reading this blog. I do. You never know quite what you're going to fine. But you can take a pretty good guess that whatever it is she's posting about--it'll be a good thing. Fun. Serious. Thought-provoking or all of the above.

Little Willow. When I look at her long, long list of author interviews I am just in awe. I want to be her when I grow up. There's definitely much to admire and respect. :)

I'm sure I'm forgetting someone...but these are the people on my mind today. I love so so so so many blogs. Some that update daily, and some that update weekly, and some whose updates are rarer and harder to find but who I still love anyway. :)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Banned Books Challenge (Feb 24- June 30th)

Banned Books Challenge. Sign up here. Read the rules. But basics are you set a goal for reading a certain number of banned books between February 24th 2008 and June 30th 2008. My goal? 3 Books.

My books:

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Chronicles of Narnia series
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

How Well Does Your Library Do?

28 Days Later (The Brown Bookshelf). As I mentioned in my last post, the Brown Bookshelf is going to be highlighting African-American writers and illustrators throughout the month of February. One of the goals is to bring attention to some of the lesser-known authors/artists. I thought it would be interesting to see which books and authors are available at my local library. To see if they're "up to date" so to speak.

If my library has one copy it will be bolded. If my library has more than one copy, it will be bolded and underlined. If my library doesn't have that particular book but does have others by that author it will be in green. If my library doesn't have any books by that author it will be in red.

Christopher Paul Curtis/ Elijah of Buxton
Michelle Meadows/ The Way The Storm Stops
Dana Davidson/ Played
Rita Williams-Garcia/ No Laughter Here
G. Neri/ Chess Rumble
Sean Qualls/ Phillis's Big Test
Janice N. Harrington/ The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County
Eleanora E. Tate/ Celeste's Harlem Renaissance
Patricia McKissack/ The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll
M. Sindy Felin/ Touching Snow
Jabari Asim/ Daddy Goes to Work
Mildred D. Taylor/ The Road to Memphis
Nina Crews/ The Neighborhood Mothergoose
Leonard Jenkins/ Sweet Land of Liberty
Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu/ The Shadow Speaker
Allison Whittenberg/ Sweet Thang
Walter Dean Myers/ Game
Tonya Bolden/ George Washington Carver
Troy Cle/ The Marvelous Effect
Eloise Greenfield/ The Friendly Four
Sundee T. Frazier/ Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It
John Holyfield/ Bessie Smith & The Night Riders
Carole Boston Weatherford/ I, Matthew Henson
Karen English/ Nikki & Deja
Irene Smalls/ My Pop Pop and Me
Stephanie Perry Moore/ Prayed Up
Kyra E. Hicks/ Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria
Celise Downs/ Dance Jam Productions
Shane Evans/ When Harriet Met Sojourner
Valerie Wilson Wesley/ Willimena Rules! 23 Ways to Mess Up Valentine's Day
Sherri L. Smith/ Sparrow

Coming Soon....

In the month of February, The Brown Bookshelf will be "highlighting 28 of the best and brightest authors and illustrators in the field of children’s literature." Some names will be familiar perhaps, but many will be new-to-you. I look forward to following this month-long celebration. To find the complete list of 28 authors and/or illustrators, please visit their site's official page about the event: 28 Days Later. The celebration opens with Christopher Paul Curtis' Elijah of Buxton and closes with Sherri L. Smith's Sparrow.

Travel the World: South Korea: Yellow Umbrella.

In today's edition of Travel the World, I am featuring Yellow Umbrella by Jae Soo Liu. This book isn't exactly new--the first American edition being published in 2002--and it isn't exactly unknown since it got some high praise when it first released including being named one of the New York Times Best Illustrated books of the year (2002). But it is new-to-me. Or relatively new-to-me.

I first read Yellow Umbrella last fall. I loved it. I really really loved it. But since it is a wordless picture book, I felt somewhat at a loss of what to say. But I've decided to be brave and venture forth into new territory. If my review doesn't do it justice, you'll just have to trust me that it is worth it. Worth finding and reading yourself.

The book Yellow Umbrella comes with a CD. For the full experience, readers are urged to listen to the CD while 'reading' or 'sharing' the book. An interesting concept in my opinion. A wordless picture book whose story is told by music--by melody--and by illustrations. It's a completely different experience than you might expect. It's all about mood and tone. I'm not sure everyone will love it. But I urge you to read and see for yourself. You might just find it as delightful as I did.

The CD is 27 minutes. The track needed for reading the story is a little over 7 minutes long. The rest of the CD are "extra" bits that make it just that much more fun of an experience.

Thoroughly appropriate for use as "art appreciation" or "music appreciation" or the more complex aspects of storytelling. It also makes for a great shared experience on a rainy day.

The publisher is Kane/Miller. It was originally published in South Korea.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Becky's Coherent and Sometimes Incoherent Thoughts on Mansfield Park

What you should know about me:

*I've read Mansfield Park once. It was in the winter/spring of 2006. I was not blogging or taking notes on what I was reading. I didn't enjoy the novel much. I remember fairly early on in the novel trying to read the last few pages to figure out just what was going to happen to make me care.
*I watched Mansfield Park (2007) on PBS this past Sunday.
*I then decided to watch Mansfield Park (1999) on YouTube. I started it Sunday night and finished up yesterday.
*I am not a film critic. But I know what I like and don't like.

What you should know about Mansfield Park:

*Written by Jane Austen 1812-1814; Published in 1814.
* This was also the first of her novels which was not a revision of an earlier work. Elinor and Marianne was probably written in 1795 and finally revised and published as Sense and Sensibility in late 1811. First Impressions was written between 1796-97, and was finally published in 1813 as Pride and Prejudice. Mansfield Park, therefore, was conceived from its very beginning by a more mature Jane Austen than the previous two novels—written, as they were, first by the young Austen (~ 20 years old) and then the older Austen (~ 36). By the time Jane Austen began planning and writing Mansfield Park she had passed through her eligible years and, at 36, into confirmed spinsterhood.
*Mansfield Park is the most controversial and perhaps the least popular of Austen's major novels.
*Basic plot lines and character listings can be found here and here. And especially here.
*The main character, the heroine, is Fanny Price.

My thoughts on Mansfield Park (2007)

*Billie Piper's Fanny Price annoyed me. Greatly. Her blond hair and brown eyebrows irked me in a way that I would not typically admit to. Her hair was so un-Austen like. So un-Regency. So yuck, yuck, yuck in terms of being accurate to a period piece.
*I wasn't really pleased with the hair of a good many characters. Most notably why did almost all the guys have to have long, frizzy locks. Most especially Henry Crawford played by Joseph Beattie. Though Tom Bertram played by James D'arcy was not much better in terms of good hairstyles for guys if they want to appear attractive to the opposite sex. Note that I'm just talking hairstyles. Edmund's hair, on the other hand, was nice. I don't know if any of these would be historically accurate. I'm not a judge of such things when it comes to men.
*The book has roughly eighteen important/key characters that enter into the big plot lines. The movie narrowed it down to twelve. Of the thirteen they severely severed the importance of a good majority of those. Some characters only had two or three lines in the entire movie despite having played a good role in the book. For example, Miss Julia Bertram is of almost zero importance in the movie. Poor thing. Maria and Mr. Rushworth are also sadly lacking in importance to the movie. Though they have a little substance.
*None of the characters--almost none of the characters--have any depth, any heart, any soul. They're simply not characterized at all. It's not that Jane Austen wrote them as such. It's that they weren't given time, space, opportunity, and ahem LINES TO SPEAK that would make them be a character that was in any way human. Edmund and Fanny being the exceptions to the above observations.
*The movie moved too quickly. It forgot that for a movie to work, it has to make sense. Simple concept. I don't know how they forgot it. It's not enough that characters go through the motions and accomplish points one through three on their list. They have to show the WHY of it to make people care. Motivations. Intentions. Inner Thoughts. As it was, the movie was little more than a rushed choreographed dance with characters making hasty entrances and exits. Why should the audience care about the characters if there aren't any characters of substance to care about. Even villains need to be portrayed in such a way that their actions make sense.
*The camera work. Don't get me started. Maybe *some* people love the hopping up and down, can't-hold-a-camera-still, running and bumping along footage of which this movie primarily consists. But I'm not one of them. There was no need for Fanny to always be frantically racing and speeding all over the place whether inside or outside anyway.
*As far as the romance between Edmund and Fanny is concerned. It's thrown in as an afterthought in this movie. You don't really see it developing much if at all.

Overall, I'd rate it somewhere between a 1 1/2 and a 2.

My thoughts on Mansfield Park (1999)

*I've read that this movie is hated by Austen purists. The reasoning I take it for some is that this "Fanny Price" is too enjoyable, too likable. Perhaps that's not phrasing it quite right. The book's characterization is such that most people find it hard to like Fanny Price. To care about Fanny Price. The movie doesn't resemble the book. Same names. But largely different personalities assigned to those characters. If you hate the book, you might find yourself charmed and loving this adaptation. The characters are fleshed out. The movie's pacing is excellent. There is much development. The character motivations of both the good and 'bad' characters are easily discerned. The movie makes sense. It is largely enjoyable. One reviewer said that as an adaption it wasn't much. It was too different from the book. But that same reviewer said that as a movie--just as a movie without comparing it to the book--that it was enjoyable and entertaining.
*I loved Frances O'Connor's Fanny Price. She was witty. She was smart. She was spirited. She just was really likable. The other characterizations--especially of Mary and Henry Crawford--are more believable. Henry was a villain through and through in the 2007 edition. There was nothing remotely tempting or charming or attractive about his bad boy status. In this edition, however, it is easy to forget for a moment or two--or for longer periods of time in some places--that this guy is the bad guy. Instead of knowing 99.99% that Henry Crawford is a bad guy, you feel more 70/30 or 60/40. There are moments where you doubt. There are moments where you briefly entertain the idea that maybe just maybe this guy has changed. This Henry Crawford is likable even in those moments where you're sure that he's not quite as good as he seems. Mary plays the villain well in both movies. But she's portrayed as more human, more vulnerable in this adaptation.
*There were more than a few places where I wish the 1999 movie had gone a little differently. It emphasized a point that I must have completely missed in the book altogether. Slavery. Supposedly the book and this movie draw from the fact that the Bertram's wealth comes from owning a plantation somewhere (Antigua??) with many many slaves. The movie is very in-your-face with the slavery. They make it a huge issue, a point of contention between Fanny and her uncle Thomas Bertram. There are also several weird scenes a) there are two places where the director (I think that's the person I mean) has interpreted Mary Crawford as ambiguously bisexual. There is a weird scene where Fanny is standing in during the play reading scene and reads quite flirtatious lines while held a bit too closely by Mary while Edmund watches on. And the second is a weird scene where Mary is helping Fanny get undressed after she's soaked by a walk in the rain. b) There is a scene where Fanny discovers Tom's journal/sketchbook which depicts drawings of slaves and/or others (both races) in quite sexual and somewhat perverse ways. Those uncomfortable bits last only a few minutes each and out of the entire movie may make up five to seven minutes. Maybe.
*While far from perfect, this movie was infinitely more entertaining and enjoyable to watch than the other.

Just Jane by William Lavender

Lavender. William. 2002. JUST JANE.

Lady Jane is coming to America. As an orphan--even a wealthy orphan--she is a fourteen year old in need of a guardian. In America she has family aplenty...they just might not be speaking to each other. You see, the year is 1776, and her family is torn apart by all this talk of war and rebellion. Her aunt and uncle, Robert and Clarissa are Loyalists. They are English and will remain so no matter how many years they have lived in America. Her other aunt and uncle, Harriet and Arthur have Patriotic leanings. As the novel begins, they are fighting for neutrality as long as possible...wanting to remain in touch with all family members despite their political leanings. But when forced to choose, they’re American. Cousin Brandon, Loyalist. Cousin Hugh, Patriot. Jane’s new life is full of new sights and sounds and quite a few arguments. Not knowing what to think about any of this mess, she finds comfort and joy in friendship with a schoolteacher, Simon Cordwyn. The war--when it comes--is long and full of uncertainties. Jane matures from a schoolgirl into a woman who can decide for herself what to believe and how to act. Just Jane is her struggle to find out who she is...and what she believes about life, love, and war.

A Day in the Life

Monday's Happenings...

8:30 Woke up for a few minutes but decide to go back to bed.

9:30 Woke up. Ate breakfast. Watched Rachael Ray

10:00 Checked email. Went to publish the interview with Dianne Salerni

10:20 Wrote my review of What's Eating You. I'm really excited about this new feature in the kidlitosphere--Nonfiction Mondays.

10:40 Back to checking email. And more importantly, it's time to start reading all the blogs I follow. I use igoogle and google reader and jacketflap.

11:00 While reading one of the blogs, I discover that the Orbis Pictus Awards have been announced. Must post immediately!

11:15 Discover one of my good friends--Cynda--is online. Must chat while I have the chance. We talk about Jane Austen. :) Cynda is the founder and leader of a summer book club. This summer we're reading Austen and Austen-related books. Which reminds me, I have a question or a quest--depending on how it works out--I am looking for Young Adult Austen-related books. Excluding the new YA fictionalized account of her life. (We're already doing another biography and I don't see the need for two, do you???) I don't know of any offhand. I can't think of any Regency related YA books. So if you have a suggestion or two (or more) I'd be happy to get them!

11:30 A box of Scholastic books has arrived.

11:40 Celebrate when I discover the box of books :) They did not ring the bell or knock.

11:45 Eat lunch

12:10 Unpack box and make lots of squealy noises. Among the gems: No More Yawning by Paeony Lewis; What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley; A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

12:25 Go back to checking email. Try to work up the energy to catalog the newly arrived books. Decide that today could be a very good day to feature in the "Day In The Life" series.

12:40-1:05 Cataloged new books. (I use an excel document imported into google documents.) I'm *trying* to work up energy to catalog the library books I have checked out. You might be wondering why these tasks require energy. It's not the typing that is overwhelming. It's the carrying stacks of toppling books over to the desk and perching them precariously while I type that requires energy. I would need to create an excel document for this task. And I'm not sure this is the day to do it. Still a maybe. We'll just have to see.

1:10 - 2:00 Read.

2:00 Mail comes and brings two books.

2:10 Leave to go shopping. But it was an unsuccessful trip to Half-Priced Books. I'm on a quest to find Camilla by Fanny Burney and Cecilia by Fanny Burney.

4:30 Had supper.

5:00 Cataloged my library books. I've got 37 checked out, about six or seven are due Wednesday. After this was done, I began finishing watching Mansfield Park on YouTube. I *almost* got finished--only had one interruption (see below).

5:30 UPS made a delivery. It was one book. Noticed that my visitor count is now over 70,000! That's 70,000 visitors since March 17th, 2007.

6 something to 9. Watched 2 episodes of Stargate SG-1 (Season 6, disc 3 to be exact) and ate bedtime snack.

9 Finished the last fifteen minutes of Mansfield Park. Decided to write a post about Jane Austen movies AFTER discovering the scary 1986 version of Northanger Abbey on YouTube. This took quite a while--until 10:30--because I kept getting sidetracked watching both good and/or scary clips.

10:40-12:40 Read books in bed before going to sleep. I'm reading book 2 in the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull. And I'm also reading the 2nd book in the Rigante series by David Gemmell.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Random Thoughts on Austen and Austen Movies

Since January 13th, I've watched Persuasion (2007), Persuasion (1995), Northanger Abbey (2007), Mansfield Park (2007), and Mansfield Park (1999). And during that time, I've formed many many opinions. I've done a lot of searching on YouTube, and I thought I'd share some of my goodies. Unfortunately the best goodies have embedding disabled. I think she (presumably it's a she) knew that if embedding wasn't disabled, these clips would go all over the place.

If you want to be absolutely terrified and scared off of Austen for life, then watch any of these clips from the 1986 version of Northanger Abbey. Clip One, two, three, four, five, and six. If you have time for only one creepy, freaky thing this week, make sure you watch clip #6. But your mind might need a bath after watching it. You'll need something to cleanse you.

[Northanger Abbey--the good and proper, the most excellent version is available on YouTube in sixteen splendid parts.]

Similarly, if you have time for only one wonderfully romantic video, make sure it's this fan music video for Persuasion (1995).

Music/fan videos for Northanger Abbey...

I've decided to make a separate post for my thoughts on the two Mansfield Parks. But here is a summary of my thoughts

Persuasion (2007)

Persuasion (1995)

Northanger Abbey (2007)

Mansfield Park (2007)

Mansfield Park (1999)

2008 Orbis Pictus Award Nonfiction

To find out more about the Orbis Pictus Award, click here.

2008 Winner: M.L.K. Journey of a King by Tonya Bolden
2008 Honors: Black and White Airmen: Their True History by John Fleischman; Helen Keller: Her Life In Pictures by George Sullivan; Muckrakers by Ann Bausum; Spiders by Nic Bishop; Venom by Marilyn Singer.
2008 Recommended Reads: 3-D ABC: A Sculptural Alphabet by Bob Razcka; Animals in the House: A History of Pets and People by Sheila Keenan; Clarabelle: Making Milk and So Much More by Cris Peterson; Living Color by Steve Jenkins; The Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Admiral Robert E. Peary's Daring Daughter by Katherine Kirkpatrick; Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion by Loree Griffin Burns; The Wall by Peter Sis.

Nonfiction Monday: What's Eating You

Davies, Nicola. 2007. What's Eating You? Parasites--the Inside Story. Illustrated by Neal Layton.

Is What's Eating You as 'gross' as it sounds? Yes. But it's delightfully so in my opinion. While not every kid will be impressed with gross I-didn't-know-that facts, I think many will. It begins with reminding readers about the concept of habitats. "Up a tree or down a hole, out to sea or in a puddle, somewhere hot or somewhere cold. . .every animal has a habitat, a place where it belongs, a place where it can find food and shelter and have its babies." The book then proceeds by telling readers that there are many animals who make their habitats on or in the bodies of other animals. These animals are called parasites. Parasites that live outside the human body are called ectoparasites. Parasites that live inside the human body are called endoparasites. The book talks about parasites in and on all sorts of animals--from mammals to amphibians, etc. Birds. Fish. Household Pets. Exotic wildlife.

The book is interesting. It is full of I-didn't-know-that facts. It has some clever and not so charming illustrations by Neal Layton. (Believe me, it would be hard for some of these illustrated facts to be charming because they're so gross. But then again, some kids really really love gross. So they might just charm kids.)

One thing that I loved was that the cover itself--beneath the jacket--contains illustrations of various parasites.

The book does include an index and glossary. It is written by Nicola Davies a zoologist, perhaps best known for her book Poop.

To read reviews of other nonfiction children's books....go to Nonfiction Monday's round-up post.

Interview with Dianne Salerni

Today I am bringing you a special interview, Dianne Salerni, author of High Spirits. This is what her website has to say: Dianne K. Salerni lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania with her husband Bob and two daughters, Gabrielle (10) and Gina (7). She graduated from St. Mark's High School in Wilmington, Delaware and received her Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Delaware. She subsequently earned a Master's in Language Arts Education at the University of Pennsylvania before taking a job teaching in the Avon Grove School District. She has now been teaching fourth and fifth grade at Avon Grove for 18 years. You may visit her official site here.

What inspired you to write High Spirits? (Or how did this novel come to be…)

I did not start out to write a story about the Fox sisters. I was originally planning to write a humorous story about talent-less spirit mediums, but during my research I encountered the Fox sisters and was astonished that two adolescent girls could make such an impact on American society. By the time I learned of Maggie’s involvement with “the greatest Arctic explorer you never heard of,” I realized that I had the makings of a novel already at hand. And as far as I could tell, no one had ever fictionalized it before. It seemed a perfect story for the teen historical fiction reader.

Since this is historical fiction, and furthermore since it’s based on true events, how much research was involved? What was your favorite part of the research experience? Did you learn anything that you weren’t able to work into the plot, but would like to share with readers now?

I read a number of biographies of the Fox sisters and other spiritualists of the nineteenth century, and I did as much research as I could online. I also read Arctic Explorations, written by Dr. Kane himself, and used this book to mimic his speech patterns and wry sense of humor. One fun thing I did was visit Dr. Kane at his eternal resting place in a Philadelphia cemetery. My husband and I had to break a few rules to get close to the crypt, which is perched precariously on a steep hillside overlooking the Schuykill River and a major highway, but I believe the explorer would have approved of our little adventure!

They were many things I was unable to work into the plot, most of them revolving around Kate. Although I had originally planned to write about both sisters equally, it soon became apparent to me that I was telling Maggie’s story. Several interesting episodes in Kate’s career as a medium had to be cut from the plot for time’s sake. In one instance, I made up for this by inserting a fictional medium named Cora Scott to perform a ghostly manifestation which was actually a trick developed by Kate when she was in her twenties.

How long did it take to write and see it through to the finished product?

I spent over two years writing and revising High Spirits—although this includes an eight month hiatus when the pressures of my day job and frustration over one character’s entrance into the plot caused me to lay aside the manuscript altogether.

What was your first impression of the cover art for High Spirits?

I would have preferred cover art that had a more historical feel to it. In particular, I wanted it to depict a young woman dressed in nineteenth century costume, seated at a séance table. However, when I first saw the cover art that was chosen, I was resigned to not getting my way and relieved at their choice. The publisher had been considering an image of a young woman in a very modern pixie haircut blowing out a candle, and I pleaded, “No, no, no!” Over time, I have come to appreciate the cover for its slightly spooky quality.

[For the record, in case anyone is curious what I think, I didn't come to appreciate the cover until after I read it. It had to grow on me, but now that it works for me.]

Your novel is told through two perspectives. Maggie’s voice is the strongest. Yet obviously Kate’s voice, Kate’s perspective, was important for you to convey as well. Why did you feel it important to tell both stories, to share both viewpoints? Was it easy to balance the two? I suppose this last bit might be a bit unfair, but did you come to favor one more than the other?

Kate was an important counter-balance in the story. Readers have variously described her as “melodramatic,” “not grounded in reality,” and “keenly insightful.” Kate believed in her own powers even while admitting she committed fraudulent tricks. While Maggie doubted herself, Kate never did. I found this a useful point of view at several points in the story. In addition, Kate’s chapters allowed me to provide a third-person description of her sister, which supplemented Maggie’s own first-person narrative. It was very useful to show each sister through the other one’s eyes. It is not hard for me to admit that I favored the well-meaning and often conflicted Maggie over the more dominant and deceptive Kate.

Since this story was based on facts, did you ever struggle with telling the story? Were there any scenes or plot twists that frustrated you?

A lot of the detailed information about the Fox sisters comes from a book written by their older sister Leah which was clearly self-serving and presented the girls as genuine mediums. Thus, the explanation behind their manifestations and the true motivation for their actions was sometimes difficult to figure out. I had to fill in a lot of gaps. For instance, although the incident in Troy, New York is a true one, the Fox sisters never explained how they were able to escape from the Bouton house. So I had to invent an escape plan for them. I think my version of events fits the facts and the time period—and possibly explains why Leah never revealed the details of their escape in her book. It might even be the true story!

But the biggest roadblock in the development of my plot was Elisha Kent Kane. Struggling with his character ultimately caused me to put the manuscript away for eight months! What in heaven’s name did Maggie see in the man?! Only after I had read Kane’s own book, written in his own words, did I come to appreciate his intelligence and his humor. And when I stumbled across a daguerreotype of Kane as a young naval officer in full uniform, looking energetic and dashing and totally unlike the haggard, bearded version in the more commonly known picture, I finally understood what had attracted Maggie Fox!

Have you always loved to read? Did you have a reading hero growing up? Someone who encouraged you to read, to lose yourself in a good book? What were some of your favorites growing up? And what are some of your favorites now?

I have always loved to read. I used to drive my parents and grandparents crazy pointing to the comics in the newspaper and asking, “What does this say? What does this say?” My mother was a big reader too, and her collection of books was a treasure trove to me. In elementary school, I was big on mysteries and ghost stories, especially series books like Trixie Belden, The Three Investigators, and the Green Knowe books. By middle school, I was delving into my mother’s collection of Mary Stewart and Mary Roberts Rinehart. Nobody could write a murder mystery with clues as convoluted as Rinehart! In high school, I moved on to science fiction—C.J. Cherryh, Roger Zelazny, and Douglas Adams. As an adult, I will read in all those genres, but in recent years I have developed a hunger for historical fiction. I enjoy Philippa Gregory, and I’m always on the lookout for a new author.

What do you love about writing? What do you find the easiest? What do you find the hardest?

I think characterization is a strength for me, and I love when a character begins to speak to me! Once High Spirits was well under way, the Fox sisters spoke to me constantly. Leah lectured me on her opinions; Kate dreamed of mystical truths, and Maggie was trying to find some ethical justification for her lies and deceits. The hardest part of writing for me is describing places. As a reader, I tend to skip over descriptions—even though I sometimes discover I have missed something important and have to go back to find it!

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Has this always been a dream of yours? Growing up, whose work did you admire most? Was there a particular author that made you say, “I want to grow up and do that!”?

I was a writer before I could read. My first book was titled The Dragon and the Girl. My father had to write down the words for me, and I drew the pictures and bound it together with Elmer’s Glue. I continued to write throughout my life. As a teacher, I frequently write for my class—stories about explorers, or limericks about students in the class. Being a published author was always a dream of mine, and I have to credit my husband for helping that dream become a reality. If it wasn’t for his encouragement, High Spirits would probably be stuffed in a drawer somewhere, unfinished. In terms of my development as a writer, I think I was most inspired by the science fiction and fantasy authors I read as a teenager. Nobody is more surprised than me that my first published work turned out to be historical fiction!

You’re a teacher. Obviously that keeps you busy. Very busy. (My sister’s a teacher, so I know how much work is involved.) How did you (how do you) find time to write? To do research?

High Spirits was mostly written on my summer vacations. It is very difficult for me to get much serious writing done during the school year, not only through lack of time, but also because teaching saps most of my creative energy. I also have two young daughters who deserve my attention and devotion—and who sometimes compete with me for computer time!

Research, if it involves reading, is no problem. I end every day by reading for pleasure, no matter how much correcting work is piled up, and I can do a lot of research for my books that way. I have not been able to do any research that involves traveling, however, except for the 1 hour’s drive to Kane’s gravesite. I am afraid that traveling for research will have to wait until I’m retired!

Are you writing anything at the moment? Is another book in the works? What would you like to write next?

There is another book in the works, although it is just in the planning stages now. It will be another historical novel set in the nineteenth century, this time about a group of psychic investigators. Some of the characters will be loosely based on the real founders of The Psychical Research Society and many of the spiritualists they investigate will be based on famous mediums such as Eusapia Palladino and Leonora Piper. The fictional main character, however, will be a young girl who comes to live with the founders of the society under mysterious circumstances and is not what she at first appears to be. I’m on the lookout for a catchy title. Any ideas?

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

Tricky question! My first thought was to solve some historical mysteries, but then I realized that 24 hours would not be enough time to, say, learn what happened to the Roanoke Colony or locate Amelia Earhart’s aircraft in its final minutes. I could probably observe how many shots were fired at J.F.K. (and from where) or find out if Lizzie Borden was guilty or innocent—but what a grim way to spend such a precious gift! Upon reflection, I think I would like to spend the 24 hours trying to gain an actual glimpse of some fascinating people from history. What did Anne Boleyn really look like? How about Cleopatra? And I would definitely want a glimpse of one of my all-time favorite personages from American history, George Washington.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Time to share thoughts on Mansfield Park

Tonight Jane Austen's Mansfield Park airs. I haven't read the book in ages--though I remember it being a struggle the first time--and I'm not sure what to expect from PBS. Will the movie be great, good, just okay, or truly dreadful? It's too early to say at this point. (Though some of you may have seen it since it aired in some places in 2007.) I'm off in search of reviews and such and maybe a clip or two from youtube.

"Mansfield Park has the dubious distinction of being disliked by more of Jane Austen's fans than any of her other novels."

Here are Tricia's thoughts.
Here are my thoughts.

What the writers' strike means to me...

The writers' strike is having some probably unforeseen effects... on my life. And probably on others as well as habits shift and attentions go else well. Good? Bad? Neither? Who knows...

Two and a half changes in my life...

1) More time for Stargate. As a few of you know--or a few of you may remember back when I had my love for Stargate showing on my profile--I love Stargate. I love, love, love Stargate. And if there is one thing I love doing it's stargating. I love to watch the seasons over and over and over and over and over again. This isn't all-about-me time, however, this is daddy-daughter bonding time. Right now we're on season six. This isn't *always* easy to accomplish. Fitting Stargate into the daily routine. Dad works twelve hour days, and it's not always possible to squeeze in a stargate. But it was completely unthinkable to stargate before the writers' strike--other than in the summer or on weekends. Now, there is plenty of time. And I am LOVING the Stargate fun.

2) More time for PBS. I've always had a few PBS tendencies. But they're stronger than ever these days. I loved the Pioneers of Television miniseries. (Though sadly that one is over now.) I'm starting to like a variety of shows I never gave a chance before. And sometimes they win out over old favorites like American Idol. And I am loving Masterpiece Theatre's Complete Jane Austen season. Chances are, PBS, is where I try first when I turn on the TV. The thing is I'm not even missing my shows that much. True, when Dancing with the Stars comes back on--I think it's March--I'll be going back to the same old same old. But Greys? Desperate Housewives? Not really missing them nearly as much as I thought I would. I may never go back.

But the biggest shock of all, I haven't watched either All My Children or General Hospital in weeks. Both shows had gotten to the point where I just couldn't take much more. Usually--and this is a fifteen year trend--one show will vex me greatly and the other will delight me. Then they switch places. And then they switch again. Back and forth. It is rare for me to enjoy both of them or to be frustrated with both of them at the same time. The lack of soap operas means one thing and one thing only--MORE TIME AT NIGHT to read, read, read.

Concluding the Foundation Series

Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov was originally the fourth in the Foundation series. The third novel, Second Foundation, was published in 1953. (The two stories that the novel consists of were published in 1948 and 1949.) Foundation's Edge was published in 1982. Unlike the previous Foundation novels, the remaining books in the series--Foundation's Edge, Foundation and Earth, Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation--were written AS novels. Does it make a difference? You bet! A great BIG difference as far as I'm concerned. Why? The novels seem sloppier, wordier, and sleep-inducing. Okay, maybe they won't really PUT you right to sleep. But in a word. Boring. No pizazz. No magic. Few WOW moments. And a whole lot of asides and tangents. Unless sociology, philosophy, science--all hypothetical studies of the three of course--lessons fascinate you and keep you turning pages, you'll find these novels lack the concise power of the original trilogy.

Foundation's Edge is the story of two men really. Golan Trevize and Janov Pelorat. Golan Trevize is a Councilman on Terminus. Janov Pelorat is a historian, a scholar, on Terminus. Trevize is exiled by the Mayor because he voiced doubts about the Seldon Plan. He voiced doubts about psychohistory. He voiced concern that the Second Foundation was still out there and still out to get them. Janov Pelorat is forced into exile as well. Not because he did anything wrong, but because Trevize is thought to need a companion, an excuse, a reason to make the journey. Pelorat's hopes and dreams revolve for a time around finding the OLDEST planet, the planet of origin, the place thought of as Earth. Trevize isn't concerned about Earth. He wants to try to find the Second Foundation--if it exists at all--and wants to destroy it. But the two are forced to live together, work together, travel together. They spend most of this book, and most of the next, together on a small spaceship. (A spaceship for 4.)

These characters aren't the only ones doing the narrating, however. There are plenty of minor roles. Plenty of plot twists. Some members of the Second Foundation contribute a large part to the story. But the heart of this one is the ongoing quest by Pelorat and Trevize. Trevize for one reason or another goes along with this search for Earth, and their search leads them somewhat indirectly to the planet Gaia. Oh how tired I am of hearing about Gaia.

Gaia is perhaps a nicer concept of the Borg. It is a planet of "we" and not "I." The air, the soil, the plants, the animals, the humans, the excrements, the food, the walls, the beds, the clothes, everything IS Gaia. Bliss, the woman they meet, is Gaia. She is a part of the planet. Everything she sees, everything she hears, everything she knows, is part of Gaia. There is just one collective memory, one collective consciousness.

Gaia--Bliss--has been drawing--manipulating--Trevize and Pelorat to the planet. And they're not the only ones. Gaia wants to have a big SHOWDOWN with the Second Foundation, the First Foundation, and Gaia. They want Trevize to decide the fate of the universe. Which of the three--Foundation, Second Foundation, Gaia--he wants to see rule the universe for the rest of eternity. Talk about pressure.


For some reason or other--he chooses Gaia's concept of Galaxia. A concept that will turn the entire universe--the entire galaxy--into a super-organism. Every part of the universe--the planet, the air, the humans, the animals, the bacteria, the plants, the curtains, etc. into one collective consciousness. It is the loss of individualism. Every person, every animal, every insect, every blade of grass, every amoeba will be Galaxia. He's told that it will be a time-consuming process that will take several hundred years--probably five or six hundred years. So he chooses it with the thought that he can always unchoose it. But is that really true?

Foundation and Earth picks up right where Foundation's Edge ended. Essentially. But there is some inconsistency between Foundation's Edge and Second Foundation. I don't know how many readers notice this or how many readers care. I don't know if Asimov did this intentionally. But early in Foundation's Edge, one of the main characters, Janov Pelorat, is forced by the Mayor of Terminus into exile alongside Golan Trevize. They make a point of mentioning that Pelorat is leaving behind his wife. Not only is she just his wife--she's his pregnant wife. They refer to her only a handful of times, but apparently, by the end of the novel Pelorat has completely forgotten about his wife. Completely. Forgotten he was married. Forgotten that he was going to be a father. In the last chapter or so, he takes up with a new woman of sorts, Bliss, and for the rest of Foundation's Edge and all of Foundation and Earth not another word is spoken about Pelorat's poor, pregnant, abandoned wife back on Terminus. I believe at one point Bliss even asks if Pelorat is married and he says that he hasn't been married for years. A blatant lie on his part OR a forgetful Asimov at work.

Foundation and Earth is the story of Pelorat, Bliss, and Trevize. These three are out exploring the galaxy doing everything in their power to find Earth. Trevize is convinced that Earth holds all the answers, all the secrets of the universe. It's a quest he's willing to risk his life--and the lives of his friends--time after time after time. They visit a handful of planets. Each one scarier--either physically or psychologically--than the one that came before. Some are truly horrifying places. And of course at the MOST horrifying one of all they pick up a passenger. Travize doesn't want to. He fights it then and almost every chapter after that. But it does no good. No one will listen to him. The passenger is a young child. A child that they were told would be killed. But by saving this child, did they doom the universe?

I'm not going to have any more spoilers. These four and their quest to find Earth....and what they found and what they did....well, you'll just have to read for yourself.

These two had their brief moments of glory where the writing was good and the plot twists intriguing. However, for the most part, they lacked a lot in storytelling power. I think Asimov's problem with these novels is that sometime between 1953 and 1982, he decided, he determined that the world of Foundation had to be combined with the world he created in his Robot series. I haven't read the Robot series myself. But if these latter novels are any indication, I don't know that I want too. Perhaps, the earlier Robot novels are good. Perhaps not. Maybe fans of the Robot series were let down by these latter books too. Maybe they wish Foundation and Robots had not been combined. Who knows. I only know that Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth had way too many awkward conversations about humans and robots having sexual relationships.

Here is how the series is supposedly supposed to go these days.

The Complete Robot (collection of short stories)
The Caves of Steel (1954)
The Naked Sun (1957)
The Robots of Dawn (1983)
Robots and Empire (1985)
The Stars, Like Dust (1951)
The Currents of Space (1952)
Pebble in the Sky (1950)
Prelude to Foundation (1988)
Forward the Foundation (1993)
Foundation (1951)
Foundation and Empire (1952)
Second Foundation (1953)
Foundation's Edge (1982)
Foundation and Earth (1986)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Notice the Ratings...

1 Star -- I finished it. That's about the only good thing I can say about it. It's over.

2 Stars -- Enjoyable in a few places. But had some flaws or quirks that annoyed me. Not hideous. But more frustrating than satisfying.

2.5 Stars -- Enjoyable in more than a few places. Yet something was missing that kept me from really enjoying this one. Almost but not quite.

3 Stars -- A good, solid, nice, enjoyable read. A respectable rating. The norm. Nothing to be ashamed about. A book I'd be happy to recommend to others.

3.5 Stars -- Overall a nice read, but there were a few special places that made it "pop." A character here or there. Or a unique plot twist. A clever phrase. A book that whenever it comes up you think, "Oh, I liked that one. It was fun."

3.75 Stars -- A good book. An enjoyable book. One that I enjoyed reading, and often didn't want to put it down. A book that at the time you're reading it seems really good. But that usually simmers down to just plain "good" in a few weeks or a few months.

4 Stars -- Now we're talking really really good. Beginning to merge into outstandingly good. The book is definitely one I'm wanting to recommend. Pure pleasure to read. Satisfying. Left you happy and wanting more.

4.5 Stars -- A book that was not only good--but was great. A book that leaves you with a lot of adjectives. It might be "Powerful" or "Memorable" or "Authentic" or "Incredible." But it is a book that makes an impact on you. You want to talk about it. You want to write about it. You want to share the joy and spread the love.

4.75 Stars -- A book that is beyond incredible, beyond good. A great book. A wow book.

5 Stars -- The wowiest of the WOW. A book that you can't just believe is that good, that perfect. We're talking books that are practically perfect in every way. Books that you want to reread again and again. OR else books that while you might not reread, the experience was so intense that you're never going to forget it. The characters. The story. It's a part of you. These are books that you keep talking about, keep thinking about long after you've read them.

Special note. 5 Stars that make it the ultimate, ultimate, favorite, favorite, best best best book ever list get this image.

What a Doll!

Field, Rachel. 1929. Hitty: Her First Hundred Years.

The antique shop is very still now. Theobold and I have it all to ourselves, for the cuckoo clock was sold day before yesterday and Theobold has been so industrious of late there are no more mice to venture out from behind the woodwork. Theobold is the shop cat--the only thing in it is that is not for sale, which has made him rather overbearing at times. Not that I wish to be critical of him. We all have our little infirmaties and if it had not been for his I might not now be writing my memoirs. Still, infirmities are one thing, and claws are another, as I have reason to know.

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years won the Newbery award in 1930. Who is Hitty? Hitty is a doll. A wooden doll made from the ever-lucky mountain-ash wood. Her story begins when an Old Peddler--old peddlers are so rarely named in books--takes refuge with a family in Maine. Mrs. Preble is awaiting the return of her husband--who is a whaler--and she has the children to care for. One of her children is a young girl named Phoebe. (The other is a boy named Andy.) The Peddler takes refuge in the storm, but ends up staying quite a while with the family. At some point during his visit, he carves this doll--soon named Mehitabel--for the little girl. Phoebe's told she must sew clothes for the doll before she can be played with--and one of the items Phoebe makes is an undergarment--a chemise--with "Hitty" cross-stitched on it.

Hitty's adventures span the globe and span generations. Sometimes her change of locale is purposeful--when the Preble family takes her on a ship's voyage to the South Seas--and other times it is quite accidental--when Phoebe drops the doll in India and she is "discovered" by a wandering snake charmer. She has many different owners; she has many different adventures. Throughout it all, she tries to hold on to as much grace and dignity as she can. Which isn't always easy. (Like when she's made an idol in the South Seas.)

The book is illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop. The illustrations are black and white. And they are very likely the original illustrations for the book. Original art is important I know to preserving the feel of a book at times. (Like I would be monstrously upset if someone removed Garth Williams illustrations from the Little House books. Oh wait, somebody did. And it was wrong, wrong, wrong.) But when I see beautiful new editions of The Wind in the Willows or Alice in Wonderland or The Secret Garden. Editions with incredible illustrations. I can't help but wishing that Hitty will one day get the same treatment. My choice? Bagram Ibatoulline.

When I was reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, I thought. I bet this book must be like Hitty. I'd never read Hitty. It was just a hunch. An educated guess. A guess that turned out to be all too accurate. Hitty didn't start out unloved, mind you, and she was never nailed to a stake and used as a scarecrow. However, she did spend decades folded up in a horsehair sofa in an attic. The similarities are interesting.

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years
was a good read for me. I enjoyed it. I thought it was charming in some places. Interesting in others. There were just a few sentences here and there that might be jarring to the modern reader. For example, early on in her life--turn of the nineteenth century--Hitty refers to Native Americans as 'Injuns'. Phoebe and Andy are out picking blackberries or blueberries or some sort of berry. They wander too far away and see Indians in the distance. Both get so frightened that they run away. In the chaos--the Indians never saw them or chased them--Phoebe drops her doll and later worries that the 'Injuns' might have taken her. And a few chapters later, when the Preble family is sailing--in a whaling ship--the South Seas. A storm leaves them stranded on an island with "savages."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Reading Meme...

Sarah Miller tagged me for this meme. And as I'm almost always game for a book-related meme, here I go.

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

I'm going to cheat on this one a tiny bit. There are a few books that make me cringe--not that I've ever read them--but positive or negative reviews hasn't really got a thing to do with it. For example, I cringe away from any and all animal books where it looks like the animal (dog, cat, horse, whatever) might die or be abused. If there's a dog on the cover, chances are good that it might end badly. So I don't go there. Exceptions to the rule being if someone I know--someone who knows my quirks--tells me that all ends well. But it has to be someone I trust. I wouldn't put it past some people to lie to me and then BAM I'm hit with a dying dog and I'm a mess.

Other books that I'm not particularly drawn to...I've never really sought out the Gossip Girls, "It" books, and "A-List" type books. They could be good, bad, or mediocre. I'm just not sure I want to read about them.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

This is difficult. I'm not really a party person--not in your traditional sense. My birthday parties are immediate family plus one or two friends that are so much a part of my life, so aware of my quirks, that they're just as much a part of my family as if they were born into the craziness. But that being said, I'd choose characters that I've been friends with a long time. Anne Shirley, perhaps. Lucy Pevensie (sp?). Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It would be a food-related event. Nothing funner than snacking on cookies and maybe-just-maybe mini-quiches. (I love those!)

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

This one will be tough. Some of the most boring books in the world where some of my "required" textbooks. Going into Library Science, I didn't expect some of the textbooks to be so mind-numbing. Maybe other people are just smarter than me. But every time I saw a chart, a graph, a statistic represented in some way incomprehensible to a me of very-little-brain, my eyes would glaze over. But speaking in terms of literary boredom, I'm not sure. So many of the long books I've just given up on altogether. War and Peace. I *want* to finish that someday. But my past two attempts have not worked. I get almost-almost halfway through (within a hundred pages of the middle) and then I'm tempted away by another book that is easier. It doesn't help that I have the itty-bitty print edition. Squinting never does much good for the entertainment value of a book. Don Quixote is another example. So if I went with an answer like that, I'd probably be here forever. So it has to be something short enough that I don't give up on reading, but boring enough that I die...or want to die. I'm still coming up with nothing. But in the meantime I can give you a title or two that I'd (almost) rather die than read again...
Jude the Obscure (oh-there-aren't-enough-words to describe how much I hate this book) by Thomas Hardy.
The Iceman Cometh. Oh-how-I-hate-this-play.

Come on, we've all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you've read, when in fact you've been nowhere near it.

I am a good girl. In school, when we were assigned to read something, I actually read it. 99.9% of the time. Even if I hated it. The exceptions were I was more likely to stick to an unpleasant-to-me novel or play for lit class than I was a textbook.
Socially speaking, I don't "pretend" to have read things I haven't. For one thing, it would be silly.
That being said, there are many, many, many things I've read that I've blocked--unknowingly perhaps--from my memory. Books that I read in Junior High and High School that I *know* I sat down and read at some point. Books that I know I passed quizzes and tests on. Essay questions that I know I discussed these books in some way or other. But I remember zero of what I've read. Silas Marner. Great Expectations. Great Gatsby. Treasure Island. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Most likely some Hemingway as well.
So I might pretend in those situations. If asked have you read this, or did you like this, I'd answer like I *still* knew what I was talking about.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to reread it that you haven't? Which book?

This doesn't happen to me. Sometimes the opposite happens to me. I thought for example that I'd never read Northanger Abbey. I could have sworn that I hadn't. Yet, when I was reading it just felt so very familiar. The words, the phrases. It was weird. I still have NO memory of when I read it the first time. But it would just be too uncanny for me not to have at some point.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead and personalise the VIP)

There are a few books I'd consider to be must-reads. The Giver by Lois Lowry. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. These two probably don't show up on too many lists as must-reads, but Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I'd choose a book--or a handful of books--that captured humanity. The *really* good books are those that capture what it means to be human, to live, to think, to act. Books that capture the good, the bad, and the ugly side of humanity. These meaning-of-life type books.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

This one's tough. I don't really see myself reading in another language just-for-the-fun-of-it. I'm not a literary snob dying to read literary masterpieces that are prone to being over my head in more ways than one. If I said "French." Part of me would cringe a bit. While I love some French literature I've been exposed to--the more modern bits after the first world war haven't been to my liking at all. I took a whole course (a painful course) reading French existentialist philosophy. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. I've never felt the same about the French since then. Which is REALLY unfair of me I know.

My other choice--the first choice really--would be Italian. I don't really have a desire to *read* Italian. But I just love, love, love to hear it spoken. I have a super-super-super weakness for Italian (or should I say Italian-American) crooners. Whether they're singing in English or Italian or another language altogether--like Dean Martin recorded a French album--I just love it. I love listening to music in Italian. It just makes me happy.

While the fairy is granting me powers of other languages, I'd love to learn American Sign Language. That would be cool.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

I would say the greatest thing I've discovered--and this is tough--is to push the boundaries of what I read. Carl's R.I.P challenge for example, got me to read some H.G. Wells which I loved, loved, loved. Not to mention Ray Bradbury. Carl's sci-fi experience challenge has exposed me to Isaac Asimov. In particular his Foundation trilogy. That I loved. I LOVE reading blogs and getting ideas for what to read next. Some of these titles are books that I wouldn't have sought out on my own.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

Sarah's answer was good--really good. I'll borrow a bit of it. My ideal library has built-in ceiling to floor bookshelves. Wall after wall of shelves to be filled. I imagine I've got a pretty good start on filling up an entire library. While I tend to prefer hardbound for some things, I'm not a total snob. For example, some books I would *never, ever* waste that much money on. For example, (shhh!) my romance novels. I had a real weakness in my college days especially of buying romance novels. Book sales on campus--for example--you could buy paperbacks 2 for a $1. At half-priced books, there for a while, you could get a stack of eight to ten books for $1 or $2. Of course, you didn't get to choose WHICH books you got. They came in shrink-wrapped packages. And with my favorite author, Julia Quinn, 95% of the time I'd find them for at least 50% off. I wasn't about to spend eight or nine bucks for cheap entertainment. Those books are like throwing away your money and wasting your afternoon. They're fun. But there's no lasting value. That being said, I wouldn't part with my Julia Quinn books ever. I love her books. I have reread them several times apiece. But the rest is mostly junk, junk, junk. You can take a stack of fifty or sixty books and be told that they're worth less than a dollar or two dollars total for all of them. Most places won't even take them if you wanted to donate them. Boy, that was a tangent. I wonder how I got started down that road? Anyway, back to my dream library. It would be nice to have my books behind glass but not 100% essential. Hardbacks mostly. My library would need comfortable reading chairs and plenty of lights that you can turn off and on and adjust so it's just right. Also I like the idea of having a table and a few chairs.

This is the part I'm copying from Sarah. I want the ability to snap my fingers (an ability I lack actually) and have all the ARCs I want. To have all the books I want. For example, I just "found" that there's a new book (2007 release date) called None But You by Susan Kaye. It is the first of two books that tells the story of Jane Austen's Persuasion from the viewpoint of Captain Wentworth. It is published by Wytherngate Press. The sequel is coming out in 2008. It is called For You Alone.

I tag: Abby the Librarian, the Longstockings, Melissa from Book Nut, Paige from Reading and Breathing, Booklogged from A Reader's Journal, and Chris from Stuff As Dreams Are Made On.