Just a cat

IMG_9135Sir Sherbert, dear Sherbert,
He thinks he is divine
But Sherbert, you see,
Is but a tame feline.

He meows with insistence
And never says please,
He is entitled to all
And lives a life of ease.

‘Sir Sherbert, if I may,
I fear I must inform you
That you are, in fact,
Just a cat.’

‘Just a cat! Dear Madam,’
Sir Sherbert did purr,
‘There is no better creature
That ever lived in fur.

My whiskers are white,
And my tail is so furry;
My dinner will be late
If you do not hurry.

So human, dear human,
It is in error you say
That I am, in fact,
Just a cat.’

Left unfinished

I abandon books so rarely that when I say that I have chosen not to finish Snow by Orhan Pamuk, I want you to understand my full meaning.

225px-Snow_(novel)Snow came highly recommended by both my former housemates, particularly Kali. By the summaries provided—a journalist-poet finally returned to Turkey from years of political exile goes to a small town to cover the municipal elections and to investigate a curious string of young girl suicides—I thought I would find it interesting, too. However, what the Spectator calls “a gripping political thriller” is anything but. Considering that I have read 358 of this book’s 436 pages, I am not putting this book down lightly. I have enumerated my negative responses behind the cut. Read them if you wish.

Continue reading

The Graveyard Book

graveyardbookThe best place to read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is, of course, a graveyard.

The first line is chilling: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” Nobody Owens is a boy who unwittingly escapes death by wandering into a graveyard. Its inhabitants take him in, a 17th century couple adopts him as his parents, a member of the Honour Guard becomes his guardian, and among the souls from the centuries he finds teachers and friends. Each chapter is a story in itself, each happening two years after the last, and in each chapter Bod learns a little bit more. This is a book about growing up. It is wonderful and painful, and clearly deserving of the Newbery and Hugo Awards (among others) that is has won the past year. Though The Graveyard Book is marketed as children’s and YA fiction, I would say that it is universal; this is a book for grown-ups, too.

In this book Gaiman truly is a storyteller. This is a book I read from cover to cover1 and enjoyed every page of it: from his signature on the front page to the acknowledgments at the end, with all the illustrations in between providing an organic, visual element that complemented the textual. I chose two sunny afternoons to sit in the cathedral cemetery, and as I leaned against the headstone for the Fain family, across from Robert Mair (d. 1885, Go home dear friends shed not a tear, For I lie here till Christ appear), I delved into a world so magical IMG_9118it could be real.2 After just the first afternoon, I left the cathedral with new appreciation. The mythology Gaiman creates made our graveyard more—if I may use the term—alive. Our cemetery, and our town, could easily fit the events in the story. We have a barrow, too, and someone like Silas could very well live in St Rule’s tower. Gaiman said in an interview that he wanted to create a mythology for graveyards that felt right, and he did. And though there may be some scary bits, there are funny bits and lovely bits too, and it’s best to keep in mind that “one of the themes of the book is that the dead can’t hurt you—they’re dead. Living things can hurt you, living people can hurt you, but the dead can’t.”

If you want to hear Neil Gaiman read aloud The Graveyard Book online, and for free, hop along to Mouse Circus for the video tour.

Free’d from a world of sin and grief and pain
Farewell dear friends we part to meet again
A brighter Scene unfolds Lifes conflict o’er
We sleep in Christ and wake to part no more.

(Mary Paterson, d. 1850)

1 Oh, hi. Yes, I read copyright pages.
2 You may be wondering why I waited so long to read The Graveyard Book, considering that I got it as a birthday present at the beginning of summer, and you would be right. I received fifteen (15) books for my birthday and the fact that I have made my way through five (5) of them is indication enough that I have not been idle.

Writing in the Cloud

This morning I saw posted on my facebook newsfeed: HOW TO: Write a Novel using the Web.  As a writer myself, I’m generally curious what other writers are saying and I’m also interested in how society is adapting to new media. Yet, the more I read of the article the more I was repulsed by the idea of using each of the different applications, particularly those for organizing notes and characters. What’s wrong with keeping a notebook? What’s wrong with just using Word or any other normal word processor?

Perhaps it is because I already have a “system” that I am resistant to change; the idea of learning how to use a completely new program and software seems like it would take more time and cause more frustration than it’s worth. However, I am wary against the idea of creating online character profiles, or to store so much on the web about your story. Be sure to read the programs’ terms of service and bear in mind that there is not yet an international copyright law for the Internet.

In a similar vein, there has been quite a bit of response to Josh Olson’s recent article, “I will not read your fucking script”, in which Olson rails against aspiring writers who corner professional writers into reading their unpublished manuscripts. One of the responses is from David Gerrold, a sci-fi writer: his main point is that a professional writer can be seriously legally compromised by reading someone else’s unpublished, uncopyrighted work. Even sending the response, “No, I will not read your script/story/novel/etc.” acknowledges receipt of the document and you cannnot prove that you did not open the document and read it. If anything you write afterwards bears some resemblance to that person’s unpublished work, they can sue you for plagiarism. Although I am one of those who says that there are no new stories under the sun, I still claim that one of the writer’s worst fears is someone stealing their work.

A friend of mine has also recently mentioned that she wants to disconnect her real self from her online self, because apparently universities and employers can use a service to search your email address, thus gaining access to all the sites you have registered with that address. They can see what is on your Good Reads list, or Amazon wishlists, etc. Apparently she knows of someone who was asked about something on his Amazon wishlist during a job interview. As a DATA graduate, I know that if something is on the web, it can be found. I may not be quite as programming-savvy as I used to be but I still have a knack for finding what I need if I put my mind to it. So do you really want to be storing your novel’s outline, characters, and notes on the web? Forgive me for being paranoid, but I think not.

That said: this writer encourages the old-fashioned notebook for organizing your novel. Or, if you’re like me: several notebooks, notecards, a sketchbook, and endless .rtf files in meticulously labeled folders. If you are going to use some sort of software to organize your novel or script, make sure that it is located on your harddrive and not in the Cloud, where anyone can find it. The universal accessiblity of storing documents on the web is certainly appealing, but until there are real safeguards, it’s best to stay localized and to make plenty of back-ups.

A year ago

My new housemates are going to get the wrong impression of me. Last week I baked zucchini bread from scratch. Neil and Katy have a green house and a bumper crop of zucchini, so, some bread seemed the best way to get rid of some. Except, neither of them had heard of zucchini bread and both were hesitant to try some. But I have won them over and Katy has baked some zucchini bread (or courgette loaf, as she calls it) herself.

IMG_9092Neil came in while I was baking today and asked, “What exciting thing are you making now?” Blackberry cobbler! After church on Sunday, the lovely Sharpes and I went blackberry picking—or brambling, as Scots call it, for blackberries are brambles—and in addition to enjoying fresh blackberries in my porridge for breakfast, I thought I would try my hand at a cobbler recipe Casey sent me. I feel quite accomplished: I baked a whole blackberry cobbler all by myself, crust and all, with blackberries I picked myself! I listened to Megan’s ‘String Pickin’ Good Time’ playlist and the Elizabethtown soundtracks because, as we all know, cobblers are Southern, and thus require appropriate music to accompany any baking endeavors.

Oh, and I have lived in Scotland for exactly one year. I thought I would have some cobbler to celebrate.


Wild blue yonder

When moving into a new place, especially one already occupied by longtime inhabitants, the humble Author recommends the following suggestions to make yourself feel more at home:

  1. Spend a sunny afternoon doing two loads of laundry, all of which shall hang on the lines in the back garden;
  2. Bake two loaves of zucchini from scratch, using homegrown zucchini from the back garden’s green house—this is especially effective if one listens to one’s favorite music, such as Benny Goodman and the Andrews Sisters;
  3. Return home late enough to have to unlock to the door to let oneself in;
  4. Help around the house, i.e., hoovering or regularly emptying the dishwasher;
  5. Befriend the local wildlife, establishing mutual indifference with felines and proper authority with canines;
  6. Sleep there, for nothing creates familiarity as effectively as continued exposure and the establishment of a routine.

In other news, the deluge last week has given way to proper Scottish September weather. Such sunny skies and cool breezes demand that one goes outdoors, and so I have made the short trek IMG_9086into town each day if only to read a bit in the Cathedral or in St John’s garden. To the relief of those involved, today remained remarkably clear for the annual air show at the nearby RAF base. From my room atop a hill I could see them practicing the past few days and was very pleased indeed when several formations flew over me while I sat in the Night stair nook of the cathedral ruins.

In other news, academia continues to take its toll on my eyesight and I shall soon be in possession of two new pairs of glasses. I am used to perusing the different frames on my own, so it was a bit amusing to have someone trail after me, collecting the discarded frames and politely asking why I didn’t like them. “It’s too shiny,” I said at one point, for lack of a better excuse. I was slightly appalled that I had to repeat my reference to Goldilocks, but otherwise my assistant was both friendly and helpful. Now I look forward to several more sunny days, and better specs with which to enjoy them.

To the Cosmos

Dear University Financial Aid,

Please answer my emails sooner rather than later.

Best wishes,

*  *  *

Dear University Library,

Please accept my application for employment.

Kind regards,

*  *  *

Dear Sallie Mae,

Please send proof of my approved loans. Promptness is always a virtue.

All best,

*  *  *

Dear British Home Office,

Please accept U.S. Federal Loans as acceptable form of payment for university tuition and fees.

All best wishes,

Varied distractions

In the past week or so, I have turned in my master’s dissertation, moved house, snuck into a conference session, read two books, watched five or so movies, and eaten lots of food. The rain fell continuously for nearly three days, resulting in a flooded river and several bewildered ducks, with reports of equally baffled sheep. It has been said that my vintage raincoat and new hat make me look like a cheerful Communist. I have also averted a potential crisis by shelving Good Omens with the P’s instead of the G’s on the higher shelf and unintentionally bought two books from the used book tables on Market Street. Could you pass up Don’t Panic!: Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by none other than Neil Gaiman and a large, illustrated Always Coming Home by the magnificent Ursula K. Le Guin for only £1 each? Of course, much else can be said for the fullness of the past week: much laughter has been had, as well as music shared and stories told over tea and fudge doughnuts in groups of six or four or two, but such anecdotes are kept in the minds of those who hold them. I have not had much opportunity to sit and ruminate, which is fine. Felicity leaves Monday, the figurative sense following directly the literal, and next week I shall have the few days at home I need to organize both thoughts and possessions. At the present the silence of a blog is a sign of a life away from the computer, and since it is my month off from work, this is as it should be.

Crown & Court

‘You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.’
-C. S. Lewis

crown_duelOne of the hazards of being a fast reader is that good, long books are never long enough. Last night I finished Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, approximately 450 pages, after only five sittings. As much as I enjoy the country and people and world of Remalna, Renselaeus, and the court of Athanarel, there is still a sense of disappointment that I could not enjoy them longer. This is my first reread of the book since last summer, where it took me longer to read because I had to check out the two books from the library (Crown Duel and Court Duel, though now they are published together as one book). While I read I would occasionally think, “These events are happening a lot faster than I remember them happening”—but then, this is a 450-page book, they actually weren’t. It was me who was racing headlong through the story and I suppose it’s my own fault that it finished before I wanted it to.

Though, in some ways, I am surprised that I like Crown Duel as much as I do. Publishers Weekly says that it is, ‘A fantasy world fit for the most discriminating medieval partisan’, and I agree. The world, the court, the plot, the people, are all in character and in period, even if it is not exactly Earth’s medieval period (because it isn’t). But I do just want to shake Meliara, often, because she sees only what she wants to see and most of the time she’s wrong. Yet she is also honest, and even when she makes the wrong decisions she makes them for the right reasons. She is very much a dynamic character; her growth is both noticeable and believable. As Vidanric so astutely observes, she does have the remarkable ability to win partisans, even very exasperated readers.

I am also surprised because this time around I was often reminded of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. Marguerite also saw only what she wanted to see, and refused to speak to the one person who would be able to illuminate present questions (albeit her refusal was for different reasons). Marguerite annoyed me to no end. I think, however, this is in part to Baroness Orczy’s florid and sensational writing. The reader was never allowed to forget that Marguerite was the ‘cleverest woman in Europe’, ‘a queen among the wittiest persons in Paris’, etc etc, and yet nearly every decision Marguerite made was misguided and nearly led to disaster. Crown Duel, I am proud to say, is writing much more suited to my tastes and Meliara is never presented as being beyond her abilities; though she is very smart, she is ignorant, and once she becomes aware of this fact, endeavors to remedy it. Though, I will admit that it was worth reading the 210 pages or so in The Scarlet Pimpernel to get to the snuff box scene. That one scene is fantastic.

However, I am still slightly deflated that Crown Duel is over. All of my books are already packed, and while it isn’t too difficult to pick another one out, I’m not sure what I want to read next, and whatever it is, it will inevitably be at the bottom of the box. However, today is September 1st, the first day of the final month for Bede, and so, perhaps, I shall spend today and tomorrow rereading the 150 pages or so of our little story about the magician and the beautiful foreign queen.