Top Ten Authors I Own the Most Books Of.

0e479-toptentuesday2

1. Agatha Christie I own a lot of cozy mysteries: almost all the Cadfaels, a lot of Ngaio Marsh, plenty of Dorothy Gilman, a fair amount of Margery Allingham, almost all of Dorothy L Sayers, a few Laurie R King’s (until I decided to get rid of them because the series was descending in a way that started annoying so much I couldn’t appreciate the first ones as much anymore, nor could I see the point in keeping a few books in a series I would never finish) … but unquestionably, it is the Queen of Crime who holds the top spot on my shelves. Her books literally spill off the shelf that holds them.

2. Brian Jacques. I own the entire Redwall series, and have doubles of some of them (paperback and hardcover), plus I have the three Flying Dutchman books. I’ve packed away most of the paperbacks for now, while we’re in a small apartment with limited shelf space, but I still have the hardcovers displayed. The quality of the Redwall series might have gone slightly downhill with the later books, but I still love them all. (Except the Legend of Luke – as much as I love Martin and Gonff, the disjointed nature of that book was a disappointment – and Loamhedge, which leaves me cold every time I read it, though I can’t pinpoint why, exactly.)

3. Lloyd Alexander. I don’t own all of Lloyd’s books – yet – but they do take up significant space on my shelves. As well they should. The Prydain Chronicles, all save The High King, which I’m saving to buy as celebration for finishing Magic in Disguise, are in place of honor on my living room shelves, along with The Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord Peter Wimsey books.

5. LM Montgomery. I have almost all Maud’s books, including the short story collections. I don’t have the Pat books, because I hate them, and I’m missing one or two short story collections, but I still have enough to take up plenty of room. (And Cathy, I have the chunk of sandstone you sent me from PEI sitting atop the box set of Anne books!)

6. Maud Hart Lovelace. All the Deep Valley books! All the Betsy-Tacy books (including hardcovers of the first two on the kids’ shelves), Emily of Deep Valley, and the joint edition of Winona’s Pony Cart and Carney’s House Party. If she’d written more about Deep Valley, I’d own those, too.

7. Elizabeth Enright. I have all of her books except the picture books. Like with Lovelace, if she’d written more, I’d own them too.

8. Michael A Stackpole. Technically these are in my boxes, not my shelves. When I (sadly) sold off most of my Star Wars EU collection, I kept all the Stackpole, Allston, and Zahn novels. Out of those three, I only have original novels from Stackpole. I haven’t read anything by him in years, but his books taught me an enormous amount about world-building and writing in tight third-person POV. I owe him a lot.

9. CS Lewis. All the Narnia books – between Carl and I we have three box sets of Narnia, one hardcover and two paperback; we bought a stunningly beautiful illustrated copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at a used bookstore recently to give to Joy for her seventh birthday; I also own a couple Narnia companion books. Then there’s Till We Have Faces (also on my living room shelves), the Space Trilogy, and a goodly selection of his nonfiction work.

10. Miss Read. I’ve been slowly collecting Miss Read’s Thrush Green series over the years; once I complete that, I’ll begin on the Fairacre books. Nothing is better on a chilly fall or winter night than curling up with one of those and a cup of tea. They are my go-to reading for when life is getting overwhelming or bleak.

I realized, writing this list, how rare it is for me to only own one or two books by an author (unless that’s all he or she has written). Usually I don’t buy anything until I find an author I really like, and then I buy everything I can by him or her, rather than scattering my affections across many different authors. There were plenty more I could have added to the list … Austen, Gaskell, Dickens, Eager, Nesbit, Wrede, Cooper, all the cozy authors I mentioned in the first point … really, it would be harder for me to find an author whose books I don’t own a wide selection of than vice versa.

A creature of habit, that’s me.

Check out The Broke and the Bookish for more lists!

Awesome First Drafts

I understood last week one of the main reasons why I dislike the insistence many people put upon the notion that “the first draft is crap,” and that one must always just get everything down first, and polish it later. Especially the firmness with which those people insist one must never, ever go back and edit in one’s first draft, that once one does that one will never finish.

One of the reasons, of course, that I dislike those statements is that I’m not a huge fan of dogmatism about a process that is deeply personal and individualistic. No two people write the same way, so why would you insist that everybody’s first drafts must all look alike?

The other, more personal, reason is that I am actually more likely to leave a story unfinished if I have a terrible first draft than if I’ve been tweaking it and polishing it as I go.

I had realized, while working on Magic in Disguise, that I was going to need to come up with another plot twist, that the story as it stood was both too straightforward (i.e. boring) and would not be long enough. Now, conventional wisdom would tell me to keep writing the first draft, and add in the plot twist/extra scenes in the second draft. But the more I kept trying to work on it that way, the more frustrated I got.

Why? Because every time I looked at how much I had already written, I grew discouraged. “Why get excited about hitting 30,000 words?” I muttered to myself (while sitting on a lawn chair outside the tent set up at my mother-in-law’s house, while we were camping there – I know, I lead a really rough life). “Even once I get to the end, there’s still going to be so much work to be done on this to get it in decent shape.” And then I started to get overwhelmed about how much still needed to be done on the book that I didn’t want to work on it at all.

Then an idea for the needed plot twist came to me, and first I started just writing it, then when I saw that it was working I took a quick break from the writing to adapt my outline to it, just to make sure it would fit, and then I went back to adapting my first draft, and suddenly feeling much more cheerful about the whole thing. Because now the second draft was looking like much less work, and so whatever progress I made on the first draft counted.

More work first, less work later. That’s my writing process, and I’m owning it. My first drafts are as close to the finished product as I can get them, and subsequent drafts just polish them and polish them until they’re ready. That’s how my brain works, and I don’t care if anyone tells me it’s the “wrong” way to craft a story.

It’s the right way for me.

Lloyd Alexander and Diversity

An incomplete (but pertinent) bibliography of Lloyd Alexander’s works for young people:

Time Cat, 1963. Takes place in ancient Egypt, Rome, Britain, Ireland, Japan, Italy, Peru, Isle of Man, Germany, and America, all extensively researched and handled with great respect and affection.

The First Two Lives of Lukas Kasha, 1978. Takes place in fantasy Persia, extensively researched.

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, 1991. Takes place in fantasy China, patterned after Chinese folklore and fairy tales, extensively researched.

The Arkadians, 1995. Takes place in fantasy Greece and neighboring islands, patterned after Greek myths with very obvious affection.

The Iron Ring, 1997. Takes place in fantasy India. Patterned after Indian myths, incorporates traditional Indian caste systems and the importance of honor and karma, extensively researched. (Also the first Lloyd Alexander book I ever bought with my own money.)

Gypsy Rizka, 1999. Features a Romany heroine.

The Rope Trick, 2002. Takes place in fantasy Italy, pre-unification.

The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, 2007. Takes place in Arabia.

In all the calls for the need for more culturally diverse books, I have not seen anyone mention Alexander’s works, and that’s a shame. Because I grew up enthralled with fairy tales and folklore of many different lands, and infused with the desire to immerse myself in and explore all sorts of “other” cultures in my writing, and I never considered that an odd way of thinking, and that is due almost entirely to Lloyd. To me, respectfully, excitedly, and lovingly exploring different cultures through fantasy was normal, and sticking with basic European traditions was weird.

We do need diverse books. So let’s not forget the man who was writing them long before any campaign for such notion began, the man who wrote diverse books solely because he loved the richness of them.

I would also like to note that all of the female characters in Alexander’s works are strong, no-nonsense (except for the ones who like nonsense), independent, intelligent, witty characters, at least if not more so as well-rounded as the male characters. And most of them are capable of physical fighting as well, though they tend to be clever enough that they avoid the need to fight much of the time.

(Lloyd Alexander has also written a few picture books which are beautifully illustrated and also culturally rich. The Fortune-Tellers, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, is set in Cameroon, and is witty and charming. Dream-of-Jade: The Emperor’s Cat I (sadly) have not yet read, but it is illustrated by D Brent Burkett and set in Ancient China and looks just as marvelous as all Alexander’s other works. The King’s Fountain, another I’ve not yet read, is illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats and set in the Middle East.)

TL;DR

Lloyd Alexander was awesome.

This Is Not Goodbye

Words are hard, sometimes.

This may seem an odd statement from one who has built her entire life around words, but it is true. The deepest emotions and thoughts, the truest truths, are often too hard to put into words.

This is one reason I love music; it reaches the places words cannot go. And it is what leads me to poetry more and more, the older I get—for poetry is a music of its own, the attempt of wordsmiths to capture things too deep for prose.

My great-aunt died unexpectedly on Sunday. It was a hard blow to everyone—her immediate family, of course, but to the entire extended family and community, as well. She was special, a rare soul in this busy world. When Grandma’s mind became completely clouded by Alzheimer’s, Aunt Ortha quietly stepped in, attending all our—her sister’s grandchildren—major events. “I’m not trying to take her place,” she told me at my bridal shower, “But I’m here because she would be, and can’t be.” She didn’t want us to feel bereft.

And that’s one memory. Her own children and grandchildren can tell so many more. Her church family. The people in the community she served so faithfully. She shed love like a radiance, practical love that saw what it could do and then did it without any fuss.

Her memorial service is today, and I wanted oh, so much, to be there to honor her. But I can’t. It was too short of notice, and we live too far away to make it. My dad, sharing that same quiet, loving wisdom as his aunt had (and indeed, all of Grandma’s family), suggested to me that I write her a poem instead, since I can’t be there.

Poetry is hard, as I’ve bemoaned on Twitter before. But it also satisfies in a way prose cannot. I wrote a poem for my grandfather after his death, and it helped—me in the writing of it, others in the family in the reading. So it was a gift, to myself, to Aunt Ortha, and to the family, to be able to wrestle with these oh-so-inadequate words, and shape them into something that captures the outlines, at least, of what my heart feels.

This Is Not Goodbye

Louise Bates

I will not say goodbye today
Because you are not truly gone
We see your face in so many here
Your heart in even more.
Your smile, your eyes, the family traits
Those you have passed down
But more—and far greater:

Your kindness, your warmth, your wisdom
The way you were first to help
A pair of hands for whatever was needed
A loving heart and listening ear
Your ready laugh and constant smile.

Those have not died, for they are immortal
Living on in the lives of all you touched.
And if they’ve lived on—
Then so have you.
So I will not say goodbye today.
I will smile through the tears
And look for you in the people you loved.

Top Ten Favorite Classic Books

I did not expect, when I first started this post, how hard it was going to be to define classic. If I included all the classic children’s books I loved, it would be a hundred items long. And do I include such mystery classics as Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None? Or Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara, which is such a classic of fantasy that the entire genre as we know it wouldn’t be the same without it?

In the end, I stuck with a more traditional definition of classic, and tried to keep it to “adult” classics, not because I consider them “better,” (quite the opposite, in some cases), but because I just needed some framework for my choices. I did bend a little with my last one – it’s a classic of fantasy and a children’s classic, but I make no apologies. In my opinion, it’s a classic classic.

There are also lots of pictures in this post from film/TV adaptations of said classics. I make no apologies for them, either. Especially the Richard Armitage one.

As always, check out The Broke and Bookish for more top ten lists. And without further ado, I give you my Top Ten Favorite Classic Books.

Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell. I adore this book. I adore the characters, the relationships (not just the romantic ones), the simplicity that balances so well with the complexity of it, the way that unlike many (most) classic novels, you can’t necessarily predict how it’s all going to turn out in the end. It truly is what its subtitle claims: An Everyday Story, and I just love it for that.

Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery. I grew up with Anne smacking her slate over Gilbert’s head, with her dramatics and her passions, with her friendships and loves and hatreds, and while at times now I shake my head at the ridiculousness of everyone who meets her falling under her spell as she gets older, I do still love her. Not to mention Gilbert.

North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell. A book that made me think, and swoon, and think some more. It doesn’t hurt that Richard Armitage plays Mr Thornton in the BBC adaptation. I’ll leave Darcy for all the P&P fans; Mr Thornton for me, please.

Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens. I watched the adaptation of this before I ever read the book – and I have no regrets. I love the book, and I don’t think I would have been able to appreciate it as much if I had just tackled it without already having some of the richness of color and character and setting imparted to me by the adaptation.

Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott. I read this when I was a kid – I don’t know if I would love it now upon re-reading. But oh, I adored it then. The chivalry, the pageantry, the disguises, Robin Hood and King Richard, the wicked Knights Templar, beautiful Rebecca and Rowena … I ate it all up. My fondness for Edward Eager’s Knight’s Castle might just possibly have contributed to my love.

Ivanhoe in a flying saucer. Who wouldn’t love that?

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte. Jane is yet another heroine I met first through film (the Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke version, and I have yet to see more fitting portrayals of Rochester and Jane), and then grew to love more deeply through the book. I love her quiet strength, and her joyous passion. Rochester’s a jerk, but since Jane triumphs over his jerk-ness, I can forgive him.

Persuasion, Jane Austen. I like P&P, but it’s Persuasion that I return to almost every autumn, re-reading with pleasure, identifying with and enjoying Anne a little bit more each year. It’s such a quiet book, with hidden strength, rather like its heroine, and it is just sheer enjoyment to read.

The Psmith Books, PG Wodehouse. I confess: I can only read so much of Wooster and Jeeves before I start desperately wanting for Bertie to, just once, get the best of absolutely everyone else, including and especially Jeeves (I also have always wanted Wile E. Coyote to catch Road Runner at least once). I have no such difficulties with Psmith and faithful-but-exasperated Mike. Their adventures and misadventures are just sheer fun.

The Second Violin, Grace S Richmond. I don’t know if technically this one counts as a classic. Is it a classic if it’s old, but nobody has ever heard of it? Richmond’s books are romances, often moralistic, and while I can recognize their quality is not necessarily as great as one might like, I also enjoy reading them when I just want some harmless fluff. It helps that I have an antique copy of The Second Violin with a note to me from my grandfather on the frontspiece, one of the first presents he gave me after my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s had developed to the point where he had to do all the birthday and Christmas presents and hang on, BRB, need a tissue now.

I would love, for no other reason but snob points, to be able to end this with Tolstoy or Dostoevsky or Hugo or Eliot, but the fact of the matter is that my classics favorites have all been along similar lines to each other, simple and comfortable rather than challenging and painful. I have read Anna Karenina (ugh), Middlemarch (also ugh), as well as almost all the Brontes’ works, more by Eliot, more by Dickens, some Trollope … I just don’t love them (in fact, I can tell you right now that I hated many of them with a burning passion. Don’t even get me started on Wuthering Heights). And most of the classics I do love, aside from the ones already mentioned, are children’s books, of which, as I said at the start, there are too many for me to even name. So instead I think I will make my #10 pick …

The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien. Technically a children’s book, but like Anne of Green Gables, so so much more than that. I have distinct memories of the first time I read The Hobbit, something rare for me, as most of my first reads are blurred by time. Not this, though … I remember running my finger along the books on the library shelf, looking for something new, wanting to find a book I had never seen before, pausing at the title and pulling it out. The green and blue cover, with mountains and forests and strange runes along the edge intrigued me, and I carried it over to the beanbags in the corner of the children’s room, settled down, and opened the first page.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

The rest was history.