Category Archives: fairy tales

A Reading Meme

Can I create a meme? Let’s see. As you can see from my last post but one, there has been talk all over the internet about buying books as presents this Christmas. But what books to buy? I thought it would be fun to list ten books I read this year and describe why I liked them to give other people inspiration about things they may not have read. The only thing is, I realized that I have already written about many of the new books I loved this year. I picked ten books I hadn’t written too much about, just to make it interesting, but some of my favourites have already been reviewed. So check out the archives too for ideas.

And I tag — EVERYONE! List ten of your favourite new books in your blog or in the comments (or however many you can come up with). They don’t have to be new this year, just new to you this year. Here are mine:

Anthony Powell, Dance to the Music of Time. This is a link to the first of four volumes in this monumental series. I can’t beieve I had never read this before. Perfect for people who like novels about decayed upper classes in England between the wars.

Sarah Dunant, The Birth of Venus I liked this almost as much as In the Company of the Courtesan. About painters in Renaissance Florence in the time of Savonarola, if you like juicy but realistic historical fiction, this is for you.

Rebecca Stott, Ghostwalk. Nicely spooky, this blends animal rights activism with Isaac Newton and makes perfect sense.

Charles de Lint, Memory and Dream. Have I ever put up a list of books that didn’t have a de Lint book on it? This is another novel about an artist that threads together past and present perfectly.

Guy Gavriel Kay, Ysabel. Photography, magic, myth, Gauls and Romans, this is perfect or fantasy-loving adolescent. Or a fantasy-loving adult.

Gail Godwin, Father Melancholy’s Daughter. I love all her books, but I am especially partial to novels about angsty Anglicans and this is a perfect example of that genre.

Mohja Kahf, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf. A novel about growing up Muslim in Indiana, beautifully written and rich with the textures and varieties of religious life.

Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees. One of the good things about this book for the would-be writer is that it is wonderful, like all of hers, but it was her first published novel and you can see how she improved in her later work. It is encouraging.

Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire. This is romance novel set in Japan, Hong Kong, and New Zealand in the aftermath of World War II. No, not a love story, a real romance novel. See for yourself. Who says literary fiction and romance are incompatible? Not me.

Steven Brust, Brokedown Palace. A fairy tale with all the requisite elements set in a magical, strange not-quite-but-almost-Hungary.

Okay, that’s ten. Now it’s your turn. Spread, little meme, and prosper, and may the authors you introduce prosper likewise!

Reading meme

Aw shucks, it’s my first internet meme. It seems reading habit discussions are going around the internet these days. I got this from Teresa and there was a great post this morning on BookEnds on childhood reading. I’d love to hear your answers, either in the comments, or on your own blog.

Do you remember how you developed a love for reading?

I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read, but I do remember that the first chapter book I read was Enid Blyton’s Five go to Kirrin island.  I also remember being in grade one and trying to go to the section in the library where I could find Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the librarian gently but firmly steering me back to the picture book section.  Being read to as a child was crucially important.

What are some of the books you read as a child?

Do you have a few hours?  I would typically bring ten to twelve books home a week from the library. Favourites, at different ages, were Enid Blyton, L.M. Montgomery, Arthur Ransome, Laura Inglis Wilder, Edward Eager, E.M. Nesbit, Elizabeth Enright, Eloise Jarvis McGraw (Greensleeves – I still reread this one), Grace Richardson (Apples Every Day – this one too), Noel Streatfield, Mara Kay, Maud Hart Lovelace, Joan Aiken, Alison Uttley, Rosemary Sutcliff, etc. etc.  I also started exploring the adult section at a fairly young age, and discovered Jean Plaidy and Victoria Holt (who were, of course, the same person).

What is your favourite genre?

I’m eclectic — I’ll read the best books in any genre.  Literary fiction and historical fiction, especially about times and places I don’t know much about, are old favourites.  Mysteries/thrillers and fantasy are more recent loves.  I haven’t read much SF (does William Gibson count?) but I expect I’ll get to it some day.

Do you have a favourite novel?

Every time I reread Doris Lessing’s Golden Notebook, Carol Shields’ Republic of Love, and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings I get something completely different out of them.  So they would be god desert island candidates.

Where do you usually read?

On my bed.

When do you usually read?

In the evening,

Do you usually have more than one book you are reading at a time?

Not happily.  If I do, it means that I wasn’t enjoying my first book and I’ll probably never go back to it.  So I suppose technically, I have one book that I’m reading and another I think I should be reading.

Do you read nonfiction in a different way or place than you read fiction?

I read cookbooks like I read novels.  I read other non fiction for research purposes, so I am usually taking notes.

Do you buy most of the books you read, or borrow them, or check them out of the library?

I buy them, used and new.

Do you keep most of the books you buy? If not, what do you do with them?

I try to cull them periodically and I usually end up donating a bag or two to a book sale.  But since much more than a bag or two of books enters my house every year, there is a problem here.

If you have children, what are some of the favourite books you have shared with them? Were they some of the same ones you read as a child?

It has been fascinating rereading old books to my son and seeing which hold up and which don’t.  Madeleine L’Engle, Susan Cooper, Arthur Ransome, and The Phantom Tollbooth were as good as they ever were.  All my Narnia book preferences had changed.  Some old friends were not as good on rereading.  

What are you reading now?

I’m in the middle of an old Elizabeth Peters, The Camelot Caper.  Good fun.

Do you keep a TBR (to be read) list?

A TBR stack on the top of one bookshelf.

What’s next?

Not sure, but I just bought my very first book by Lois McMaster Bujold, Paladin of Souls, so that may be it.

What books would you like to reread?

I reread books often, which is why I keep most of the books I buy.  I suspect the book I have read the most often is L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingeside.  If it’s not that one, it is definitely one of hers.

Who are your favourite authors?

In no particular order, Laurie Colwin, Margaret Elphinstone, Dorothy Dunnett, Carol Shields, Mary Wesley, Margaret Drabble, A.S. Byatt, Doris Lessing, Charles de Lint, Elizabeth George, Dorothy Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, Angela Thirkell, P.D. James, Sarah Caudwell, Cecelia Holland, Pamela Dean, Vera Brittain, Garth Nix, Gail Godwin, Connie Willis, Susan Howatch, Susan Isaacs, Melissa Banks and I should probably shut up now because I could go on forever but there was probably something else you planned to do today.

Books I Bought Last Week

…And where I first learned about them.  My local independent bookstore has a sale every year, and I use it as a time to buy books by new authors, as well as some old favourites. I thought it might be fun to list them, and to try to figure out what made me buy them.

David Blixt, The Master of Verona St. Martin’s Press, 2007.
I definitely learned about this one online first, most likely here. Shakespeare and Dante? Looks yummy.




Charles de Lint, Widdershins (Tor, 2006).
The first de Lint book I read, many moons ago, was his book in the Fairy tale series, Jack of Kinrowan. I loved the Ottawa setting, and I’ve been a fan ever since.




Catherine Delors, Mistress of the Revolution Dutton, 2008.
I first learned of this book when I saw the sale posted on Publisher’s Marketplace last January. “That looks like something I’d read,” I thought, “Maybe her agent would be the right one for me.”



William Gibson, Spook Country Berkley, 2007.
I picked his Pattern Recognition up off a library shelf and loved it, and though I did not enjoy Neuromancer or Mona Lisa Overdrive quite as much, I thought I’d try this.




Conn Iggulden, Genghis: Birth of an Empire Dell, 2007.
This was a spontaneous buy. I love historical fiction about Asia and I read Cecilia Holland’s Mongol novel, Until the Sun Falls for the second time recently with great delight. And he was one of the author’s of The Dangerous Book for Boys. How can i go wrong?



Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Harper, 2007.
My only non-fiction book in this group. When I read for pleasure, it is almost always fiction. My sister introduced me to Kingsolver through Prodigal Summer and I have become a fan.




Lisa See, Peony in Love Random House, 2008.
See about abut Asian historical fiction. I haven’t read anything by her before. I suspect I first saw her books on a front table at a bookstore.




Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale Washington Square Press, 2006.
I am sure I first heard about this one on the internet, and I think it was through some online contest the publisher was running to promote it. I didn’t participate in the contest, but I did remember the book, and I’ve been picking it up and putting it down every time I am in a bookstore for months. This time I didn’t put it down.



Rebecca Stott, Ghostwalk Spiegel & Grau, 2008.
If you’d asked me before I did this exercise how I found new books to read, I would have told you I browse the front tables and shelves of bookstores and choose books that way. This is the only book from this marathon purchasing session that I got that way. It was on the front table in the store, I picked it up, read the cover copy, and put it on my pile.



So, bought any good books lately? Let me know! I’m sure I’ll be back to the bookstore before long…


What I’m reading now

Steven Brust, The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars.

I have to admit that my interests in the fantasy genre are both specific and narrow, hovering mostly in the fairy tale end of the fantasy spectrum and branching no further afield than Charles de Lint. I started as a child with Czech folk and fairy tales, like those collected by Karel Capek, moving through Andrew Lang’s rainbow as I grew older. But I forgot about them as I entered the dull slog of adolescence — we’re too old for fairy stories, right? — until I fell upon the Fairy Tale Series edited by Terri Windling when I was in graduate school. I pounce on each one the moment I see it and I have read most in the series by now. Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin will probably always be my favourite, but there was one that proved elusive, Steven Brust’s The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, which was also the first in the series. I finally read it this weekend.

At first glance, apart from the Hungarian folk tale about how the gypsy Csucskári killed three dragons and rescued the sun, the moon and the stars that is told in stages throughout the book, it is hard to see why this novel belongs in the series. On the surface it is a story of five struggling artists sharing a studio as told by Greg, one of their number. By the end of the book, it looks like the five are going to put on a show, and Greg has finished a very large painting. Explicitly, it is a book about the creative process and Greg’s musings on the subject are as valid for writers as they are for artists. There is more to be learned about the craft of writing from this novel than from many a how-to book.

But it isn’t a book about every kind of artistic creation, whether in words or oils, and here’s where the fairy tale comes in. It is a book that argues for myth-making, mythopoeia, a genre far less in vogue when Brust published his novel in 1986 than it is now, in our Harry Potter, LotR world. Greg isn’t just painting any old thing; he’s painting the death of Uranus, the old god, at the hands of Apollo of the Sun and Artemis of the Moon, a tale that mirrors the folk story of Csucskári that comes from Greg’s Hungarian background. Brust shows how the real life struggles of his five artists gain life and expression through the myths of tale and image.