Category Archives: fantasy

Another Year, Another Used Book Sale

There’s a sameness to this season, always — the turn of the leaves, the chill of the air, the encroaching dark. Even the beginning of the university year feels like an ending. And this year, like last, I also marked the end of a relationship whose time had passed.

But there are compensatons, like the extra week of summer that appeared out of no where last week. And the annual used book sale. As always, I present a photo of my haul. I am most excited by the five Rowan magazines I got for 10 cents each, and Ekaterina Sedia’s Secret History of Moscow, which I have been seeking for a while. The books are all used and have been read before by people who came to their end and discarded them. But they offer a new beginning to me.

Book Sale 2011

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!

New Used Books

My books, let me show you them (click for a bigger view). This weekend was the annual used book sale in my neighbourhood, and I scored big. Every single one of these books for…$36.
I do feel a bit guilty whenever I buy used books because I know the author isn’t benefitting from my purchase. But I look at it this way: I buy all kinds of books at this sale cheap, on a whim, and this introduces me to new authors I would never explore otherwise. An author I read in a used book one year may become an author I buy new in hardcover the next.
Besides, the vast majority of what I buy looks like it has been read once, if at all. By providing a secondary market for people who don’t like to keep the books they buy once they have read them (I do not understand these people, but anyway), I help free up all kinds of shelf space for them to buy new books. My hunch is that the more people reading books from any source — a shiny bookstore, a used book sale, or the library — the more authors will benefit in the end.

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…


Cindy Pon

Spotted today on Publisher’s Marketplace:

May 27, 2008 Children’s:Young Adult. Cindy Pon’s SPIRIT BOUND, set in an ancient kingdom based on Chinese folklore, myth and magic, to Virginia Duncan at Greenwillow Books, in a three-book deal, for publication in April 2009, by Bill Contardi at Brandt & Hochman (NA).  

Ancient kingdom?! Chinese folklore, myth, and magic?! I’m marking my calendar for April 2009 — this is just the kind of book I love. And check out her blog a little sweet, a little sour, which is in my sidebar.

Tolkien and Beowulf … in 3D

I let my son persuade me to take him to see Beowulf this weekend, and truth be told I didn’t need too much persuading when I found out that Neil Gaiman was involved with the screenplay. I’m not going to talk much about the technical aspects of the film, except that it reminded me of how my father told me a long time ago that one day computer animation would be used to make movies with lifelike people. I thought he was mad — this was over twenty years ago, we’d barely moved from Pong to Pacman (perhaps I exaggerate), and at my house we owned a Commodore 64. Some might say we haven’t quite reached the “lifelike” part, but we’re closer than I could have imagined then.

What interests me is the story. As someone who often teaches Beowulf, the poem, I was curious to see how it might be translated to film. I don’t find it an easy poem. A rare remnant of a lost cultural world, it points outward to so many vanished histories and tales that it feels incomplete. Its narrative seems episodic; the scenes with Grendel and his mother are disconnected from the final battle with the dragon. How would modern audiences respond? The first thing that struck me was that what has prepared audiences to appreciate this film is seeing JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series brought to the screen. Visualizing the world of the Rohirrim will allow audiences to accept the world of Heorot, of the Danes, Geats, and Frisians. And this is no accident since Tolkien’s Middle Earth was itself an attempt to work backwards from scraps found in Anglo-Saxon literature to a half-forgotten earlier world of elves, dwarves, and dragons that he found in elliptical and opaque fragments of ancient European literatures.

The movie is in dialogue with the poem; it purports to be the “true” story of Beowulf which the poem distorts with heroic praise. But it is a fantastical vision of truth. This is a very different Beowulf than the one we saw in The Thirteenth Warrior, the 1999 movie version of Michael Crichton’s very clever Eaters of the Dead, both of which attempt to rationalize the monsters, to give them a scientific or historical explanation, albeit in different ways. No, in this Beowulf the monsters are really real, and in this claim, I believe its authors are true to Tolkien’s vision.

Its authors are especially to be praised for the ethical question that is raised by these really real monsters, a question that is implicit in The Lord of the Rings and in almost every good guy/bad guy fantasy novel and movie, namely, what makes the good guys good and the bad guys bad, other than the fact that we are rooting for one side rather than the other? Why are Grendel and his mother bad and Beowulf good? Both sides live for violence and treasure, and attempt to kill and destroy the other. One could argue that Grendel attacks first, but his mother would probably counter that her kind lived in Denmark long before humans arrived, and since they have been hunted almost to extinction, they are the real victims. Beowulf, the character in the movie, recognizes this dilemma after the monsters are vanquished and he is at the height of his heroic reputation when he says, “We have become the monsters. There are no heroes anymore.” In a nation grappling with waterboarding and Abu Ghraib, it may be hoped this message will have resonance.

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.