So I’ve been getting a lot of questions the past few months about the books mentioned in The Butterfly Garden, and whether or not there’s a list of them anywhere.
Good news, now there is! There aren’t as many as there used to be, because some of the sections with named books didn’t make it through edits, but here are the books and stories that are named in the course of the story.
Edgar Allan Poe, collected poetry and prose (as in I quoted or referenced a substantial number of Poe titles that I didn’t necessarily list out)
Charles Dickens- Oliver Twist
Hans Christian Andersen- The Little Match Girl, The Steadfast Tin Soldier (both have been adapted and were also mentioned as ballets)
ETA Hoffman- The Nutcracker (also adapted by Tchaikovsky as a ballet)
Alexandre Dumas, pere- The Nutcracker (Seriously–he adapted Hoffman’s work in 1845), The Count of Monte Cristo
Fyodor Dostoevsky- The Brothers Karamazov
William Shakespeare- Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Giacomo Puccini- Madame Butterfly
We’re one month away from the release of THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN, and I don’t know about you guys, but I am really excited!
I have more announcements on the way, as we pull closer to June 1st, but for now…want to know a little more about the book?
Back in March, Thomas & Mercer invited me to film a video short describing my book in fifteen seconds. Have you ever tried to describe your favorite back in that short an amount of time? IT’S NOT EASY. Now try it with one you wrote*.
*Hint: IT’S EVEN HARDER.
BUT! Largely thanks to a wonderful filming team, the mission was successful! And now you can watch (and even watch me crack up with relief!)
So are you as excited as I am?
Come back around through the next few weeks for more news!
You know, I’ll be honest, 2014 is the year I’d like to kill with fire, if that were at all possible. There were a staggering number of reasons for this year to suck, and it fully inhabited ALL OF THEM.
One of the consequences of that is that I didn’t read nearly as much as I usually do, and read barely anything new. That’s one of the signs that my stress level is too high. I love rereading books, but when I actually CAN’T read new books? The inability to focus on or absorb new information is one of my biggest signals that my stress is soaring, so I end up mostly re-reading or plowing through fanfic.
That being said, I still read this year, because I’m still breathing, and because I love to blab about books, here are some that I really noticed.
Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine
I haven’t read any of Rachel’s other books (I strongly suspect a serious case of vampire fatigue still lingering from six years ago), but then I heard that there was something completely different coming out, and it was Shakespeare (cue the fainting couch and smelling salts because SHAKESPEARE). Then I heard it was off of Romeo and Juliet and I was pearl-clutching for a different reason, because while R&J has some undeniably beautiful language, I really hate the play. I do. Reading or watching R&J makes me want to kill All The People. Then Tessa Gratton was raving in a good way about it, so I settled down with it, and HOLY HELL.
I don’t know how she managed it, I really don’t, but she managed to make me invested and passionate about freaking Romeo and Juliet! Except, not them, really, because they’re just the twits causing problems for the people she REALLY made us care about. Benvolio and Rosaline step away from their more famous cousins here, dropping prop-status and becoming dynamic, interesting people with a whole lot more going on that their cousins ever realized. Family! Politics! Curses! Clever Thieves! Smart Ladies! (I am a total sucker for Clever Thieves and Smart Ladies) I was absolutely blown away by this book, and am already itching to re-read it.
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Not a YA book (I know, weird, right?) but probably the single most personal book of my year. This book is essentially a biography of cancer, with the more humanistic elements interspersed through history. Technically it was research for a project that may or may not ever see the light of day, but it became an anchor of sorts. For anyone slammed with cancer, either in their bodies or in those they love, there’s this overwhelming and ultimately futile rage: why don’t we know more about this? Doctor Mukherjee balances the science (some of it, admittedly, a little dense, and took more than one reading) with the human, and delivers a rounded, sympathetic, and ultimately uplifting progress report. We’ve come a lot further than we realize, and if some cancers are much further along towards successful and humane treatments, well, some cancers are more common than others. Even for those without an intensely personal interest in the subject, it is well worth a read.
The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton
Months after reading it for the first time, I am still unable to talk intelligently about this book. THIS BOOK BROKE MY ABILITY TO BRAIN. It is just so freaking good! I was already in love with The United States of Asgard because of The Lost Sun (Soren! Astrid! Baldur! VIDER!), and I knew Strange Maid was going to be a middle book, and I frequently find middle books problematic but OH MY GODS! Signy is compelling and repelling and complicated and simple, all the contradictions and madness and focus that makes up who she is and who and what she wants to be. I love that she is so unapologetically unstable, and that her obsession with death is not against life, but rather part of it. She is one of the most fascinating, complex, and RELATABLE characters I’ve ever come up against, and her blood-soaked, passion-driven, fierce, defiant story is an amazing journey.
This year we also got to see a collection of three USAsgard novellas (VIDER!!!!), and words cannot express how excited I am for April’s The Apple Throne.
Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian
I’m not usually one for contemporary, but Carrie definitely proves an exception. Her debut novel, Sex & Violence, was exceptional and well-lauded, and PGWB is a strong successor. One of the things I love about this book is that while there is conflict, and there are goals, and there’s definitely a journey, there’s not precisely a plot, as such. It’s a slice of life, wonderful and messy and bewildering and painful, full of drugs, booze, bodily fluids, and a sort of relentless optimism wrapped in cynicism. It’s very, very real, pointy sucky bits included. Rather than pushing indiscriminately towards a conclusion, it takes the time to look around, see everything that’s there, not just what’s directly connected to THE PLOT. It’s messy characters and difficult things and it’s amazing.
Also, you should definitely follow Carrie on twitter, because in between thrifting and The Reedus and the renovation that may never be complete, she drops a lot of big truths and smart things.
The Story of Owen by Emily Kate Johnston
Another Lab Rat, but I’m not biased, I swear, they’re just REALLY GOOD BOOKS. Owen is symphonies and trumpets and dragons and driver’s ed and soccer, and it’s a storyteller and a storyteller’s bias and a bouncy Chesterfield couch. It’s a lot of really amazing elements that come together into this astonishing, touching, painfully funny story, and it’s forthcoming sequel, Prairie Fire is absofreakinglutely fanstastic. Siobhan, our intrepid bard, isn’t telling us THE story- she’s telling us A story, and storytellers, of course, lie. Or at least tell carefully edited versions of the truth. Whether we can believe it or not, whether we trust it or not, Siobhan tells an astonishing, captivating story.
Really just anything Emily Kate writes. I got to read the first third or so of her project for Disney Hyperion and now I am CONSTANTLY DISTRACTED BECAUSE IT’S SO FREAKING GOOD AND I DON’T HAVE THE REST OF IT TO READ! Also a very good one to follow on twitter or tumblr, because if you are even peripherally interested in any of the numerous fandoms to which she’s devoted, she finds some amazing stuff.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Actually, this whole trilogy, continuing into The Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom. This set was a re-read, and it’s the first time I’ve read them all together, going straight from one book into the next, and they were just as fantastic as I remembered them being. Elisa is one of my absolute favorite heroines of all time. Her journey through politics and magic and adventure is huge and wonderful and riveting, but what really makes this so unique and awesome is her more personal journey. Elisa starts this series as someone convinced of her own complete and utter lack of worth, and she GROWS. She learns and decides and it’s not ever that she becomes someone else, but that she becomes more and more herself, sloughing off all those things she and others have put on her over the years.
Probably my favorite moment is (and I’m paraphrasing here, because I don’t have access to the books at the moment) is when she’s getting ready for something, and she says “I look beautiful to the one who matters most”, and the person helping her is all “Yes! He’ll be blown away by the sight of you!” and she says “I meant me.”
THAT journey, even as just a part of many larger ones weaving together, is perfect.
What were some of your favorite reads (or re-reads) through this year?
There are a number of words in the English language (or, honestly, probably any language) that have been used so loosely, so borderline inaccurately, for so long, the perceived meaning has started to shift. We actually have words for that (how cool is that?): connotation and denotation.
Remember those from ninth grade English?
Denotation is the literal definition of any given word. The dictionary definition, if you will. It’s the meaning that doesn’t shift much over time, or at least, is much more slow to shift. Like, a glove is an accessory/article of clothing worn over the hand with individual fingers.
Connotation is the not necessarily slang, but it’s the perceived meaning of a word. Much more so than denotation, connotation reflects the current culture. In this case, a glove isn’t only an article of clothing on the hand, it’s also a slang term for condom.
…well, I guess we know my mind’s in the gutter on a pretty regular basis.
Why do I bring up connotation and denotation? Because there are some words we use on a regular basis in talking about books that we use incorrectly.
Like dystopia. It’s become rather a catch-all for genuine dystopia, post-apocalyptic, evil modern regime, and some genre-benders that only partially fit within the definition. We use it to describe just about everything grim and touching on anything loosely governmental. BUT. The definition of dystopia (and don’t trust Merriam-Webster online, their definition sucks) is a society built upon utopian principles that, through innate human error, political or spiritual corruption, a/o self-initiated disaster, decays into something nearly a parody of its original, idealistic principles.
Here’s where we tie back into the title: cliffhanger is another term that’s experienced a shift between original and perceived meaning. We hear it being used for anything that makes you want more, anything that ends abruptly in such a way as to leave you intensely craving more.
The thing is, the original (and accurate) definition of cliffhanger is contained within the phrase itself. Cliffhanger. It came about as radio and television shows developed, and they’d leave you at the end of a week’s episode with someone literally hanging off a cliff. Does he make it? Or does he fall? Will she celebrate a rescue? Or have to plan a funeral? Do the humans understand Lassie? Or does Timmy finally drown in that damn well? You’d be left with your character in genuine, life-threatening DANGER and then have to wait until next week’s episode to find out if he or she is okay.
Here’s an example where the meaning has blurred. (WARNING: SPOILERS FOR CATCHING FIRE BY SUZANNE COLLINS BELOW) If you talk to most people who’ve read Catching Fire, they call the ending a cliffhanger. What?! *gasp!* There’s no District 12 anymore?! *shock!* It’s not, though. A cliffhanger, that is, it’s sort of a shock if you haven’t been paying attention to the repeated stories of the 13th District that wasn’t really mentioned at all in the first book. It’s not a cliffhanger because it’s not leaving us in the middle of active (or if you’re a Tom Clancy fan, clear and present) danger. Katniss and a handful of others have been rescued from the arena, they’re on their way to promised safety, the main action of the second book is finished. The “There is no District Twelve, Katniss” is the lead-in to the next book, a way to spark the interest that naturally wanes as the resolution ties neatly together, a way to keep you chomping at the bit for the next installment. It’s the carrot dangling from the end of the stick.
But it’s not dangling over the end of a cliff.
On my second What I’ve Been Reading post, The Streelight Reader asked me if The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater ends in a cliffhanger, and I had to think about what to answer. (Don’t worry, NO SPOILERS) Because, by the current definition of cliffhanger, by the connotation of the word…sure, it’s a bit abrupt, it’s a definite lead in to the next book, and it’s a pair of sentences that make your heart skip few beats as you stare at the page.
But I wouldn’t call it a cliffhanger.
One of the things I love about Maggie Stiefvater’s books, especially the two we’ve seen thus far in the Raven Cycle, is that each book has its own story. The series has an arching story, an overall goal and way of getting there, but the individual books aren’t merely installments. Each book has its own arc, has its own threads that mostly resolve and tie back together even as they form a pattern within the larger story.
Do you remember those friendship bracelets that little kids make with embroidery floss? (Or not so little kids, given that I made one right before BEA) There’s one that’s called, among other names, a Triple Diamond. Hang on, let me throw in a picture:
It uses twenty strands of floss in five different colors, knotting in chevrons and inverted chevrons to form the diamonds, and you have to be able to knot both left and right, sometimes switching direction in the middle of a knot. The overall design, the finished pattern, is like the series. The story of the Raven Cycle is that completed work, with all those individual diamonds linking together into a cohesive creation. But every thread, every color, every individual knot, those are the elements of the books on their own. Just as the main characters can each be assigned a thread color and we can call it that character’s path through the series, we can also call those threads individual plot elements. They have to resolve in every set in order to continue through the rest of the books.
So the black thread (let’s call it Ronan) can’t just dangle off into nothingness and still be fully present through the resolution of the series. His smaller stories, his episodes, HAVE to resolve within each set.
The Dream Thieves is not merely a continuation of the quest for Glendower. It’s not merely a second installment, continuing the same story and trudging relentlessly onward. This is its own book, its own story, a set of snarls and knots that resolves into a part of the larger pattern, even as the threads set themselves for the next block of pattern. Without that preparation, without those two sentences that make your gut clench with wonder and anticipation and just a bit of fear, things would just kind of…fizzle…after the necessary resolution of those smaller threads.
But we’re not left in the middle of something. We’re not left with our Raven Boys (including Blue) in imminent peril. We’re not left with them over the lip of a cliff, literal or metaphorical. Instead, we’re left with a clue- the frame of a question that hasn’t yet found its voice or shuffled the words into the right order to follow the transition from declarative to inquisitive. That question, once it’s found, will be the starting block for the third book (and seriously, can’t wait; if I haven’t scared you off with grammar and craft-based-analogies, READ THESE BOOKS IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY), but it’s necessarily built off the resolution of the book two story.
This is a very long answer to what’s probably a simple question, Streetlight Reader, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, as I see the word cliffhanger more and more in book reviews.
Until next time~
Most of us read because we love it, not because we have to do it. As a reader, as a writer, as a bookseller, there’s very little that makes me as happy as seeing a kid fall in love with reading.
So it breaks my heart a little bit when parents won’t foster that love by getting their kids books.
Breaks my heart even more when parents can’t.
I know this is a bit early, but over the next month and a half, as you’re shopping for the holidays, take a moment to think about kids who haven’t yet gotten to fall in love with reading, the ones without access to books. There are a shocking number of them out there, and it isn’t just that they don’t have books. Many of these kids have parents who either can’t or don’t want to read to them, or parents who don’t speak English.
These kids don’t usually have access to pre-school or head-start programs, and many of them start school not only not knowing how to read, but having never been read to. They start out at a severe disadvantage, a fundamental unfamiliarity with what reading it, and most of them never catch up. Most states don’t have an education system that allows for it. Held back academically, resentful of reading because of the difficulty it presents, this is something that follows them all through school and beyond. It limits peer associations and social skills, severely limits college opportunities and job possibilities. A number of them drop out because it’s clear they weren’t going to graduate anyway.
It’s a bleak future for kids who never really had another option available to them, but you can help.
Many, many bookstores do book drives through the holiday season to gather books for different organizations. Usually they’re aimed at the youngest children, trying to foster a knowledge and love of reading before they get to school so it’s something they’ll pursue on their own, whether their parents are willing/able to help them or not. Most of the books for this age range, not counting the hardcover picture books, range from $3.99-$7.99. If you can do even just one book through the season, it makes a big difference. That’s another kid who’ll get a book, something that’s purely theirs, and many organizations, rather than simply giving the book and leaving, will work with both child and parent to foster these important skills.
Holiday shopping brings with it a deluge of requests for donations for a lot of good, important programs benefitting a wide range of people, and we all filter through those requests by what’s most important to us and what we can afford.
If this is something that’s important to you, check with your local bookstore and see if they’re supporting a book drive this year. For the holidays, most of the organizations request new books, but if you gently used books to donate, you can usually get the organization’s information from the store and give them your books for other purposes through the year.
A single book can make an amazing difference in a child’s life.
Until next time~
Hey, guess what guess what GUESS WHAT!
Elsinore Drowning has a new name!
We’ve been tossing around replacement titles for a couple of months and, no joke, I have a sheet of computer paper with about either possibilities on there, but we finally found one and confession time, as much as I love the original title, I kind of love this one like cake.
Red velvet cake.
With cream cheese frosting.
And red sugar crystal sprinkles.
That kind of cake, so you know it’s true love.
Titles are strange, strange creatures and there’s a TON that goes into them- a lot more than I had ever thought about before. Usually a title is one of the first things I know about a project, the piece that helps define everything else, but looking at it from a writing stance is very different than looking at it from a publishing/marketing view, so sometimes titles have to change.
And the new title is…
A Wounded Name
So, what do you think?!
If you’re wondering where it came from, we actually went to the source material. The book formerly known as Elsinore Drowning is a modern retelling of Hamlet, and in Act V, our eponymous character says “O God, Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown, shall I leave behind me!” It’s appropriate in so many eerie ways and I’m super glad it’s official now so I can share.
Want to know a little more about the book? Check it out on Goodreads, and be sure to add it if you’re interested!
Until next time~
So I’m a horrible person, who feels very bad about not posting meaningful content recently because life just keeps kicking me in the pants.
Today I’d like to make that up to you, not with meaningful content unfortunately, because life is still happening in a kind of bad way at the moment, but with two giveaways.
Normally I don’t like to giveaway ARCs of books that have already been released. The first few weeks of sales are so critical for an author’s success with a given book that I don’t like to detract from that in any way. However, quite simply, the money isn’t always there. If it were, I think we’d all rush out and buy ALL THE BOOKS as soon as they came out but all too often we have to make choices. If it’s between books and food, I choose books every time, but sometimes that second option is…oh, RENT.
Recently I received two ARCs of books I’d already purchased, books that I wanted the finished hardcopies of no matter what, so I am offering them up to you. First one is Origin, by Jessica Khoury, and the second is Hidden, the third book in the Firelight series by Sophie Jordan.
All you have to do to enter is comment below and tell me which one you want and why. That’s it. (Well, and make sure your email address is tucked away there somewhere, that will be important). If you want both books, you can tell me that and why, and you can be entered for both, but you cannot WIN both- winning one will remove you from the draw for the other.
I’ll draw the winners next Sunday (7 October) and contact them, so you have a full week to enter! Feel free to spread the word (please?) but it doesn’t actually get you any extra entries.
Best of luck!
Until next time~
For anyone sensible, the holiday season is still weeks away from beginning.
I, however, work retail, which means our holiday season started last week.
And this year, I’ve decided to ask for YOUR help with it.
You see, I’m the kids and teen expert in our store. It’s my department in a literal sense, as in that’s my job, but it’s also where I love to read. We have a few employees who read scattered books across those sections, but pretty much, I’m the one to go to with any questions. BUT- I’m not always there. Feels like it sometimes, but not actually true. Even when I am there, I’m not always able to go back to help someone if I’m already in the middle of assisting someone else.
So I’m making a cheat sheet of sorts.
One of the biggest things we see in the holidays is people who don’t really know much about the people they’re getting gifts for. Maybe it’s a party, maybe it’s a work gift exchange, or class/club gift exchange, or cousins or nieces and nephews. Maybe it’s that they know the person well, but not their reading tastes, or they know what they like but not what they’ve already read. Usually at that point we recommend a git card, to allow the recipient to choose for themselves, but we get a lot of people who don’t want to be that impersonal. Even if they have to get a gift receipt to allow the person to exchange it, they want a physical book to hand over.
When they know a little, it’s a bit easier to educated recs. A bit. If, for example, what they know is that the person loved Twilight, that doesn’t actually make it easier. Lots of people who loved Twilight don’t like other vampire books. If they can list off several books or series the person has read and enjoyed, I can usually point them towards other things within that vein- or, if the series are separate enough and ones that I enjoyed, I can go from my tastes.
But all too often, we get people who really just have no clue. They know the person likes to read, and when they’re that uninformed about what the recipient likes to read, that’s generally a clue that the gift-giver doesn’t read. Which makes pointing them towards specific books harder, rather than easier. People who don’t read tend to be very distrustful of others telling them to read things, even if you’re not telling them to read it.
So I am looking for everyone’s Go-To Books. The book (or books) that you can rec again and again and again without blinking an eye, the book(s) you think everyone should read. This is the book you can push to those who love to read or to those who hate it. This is the book that, when someone asks you for a rec, is the first thing to jump to your tongue. AND- I’m looking for why.
Pending manager approval, I’m hoping to give our employees access to a notebook that has information about series, about categories of books (i.e. vampire books, angel books, werecreature books, historical fiction books, etc), AND a few pages of these Go-To Books with descriptions and reasons. Things that the employees can familiarize themselves with so that when I’m not available, they can still help the customers who have no idea what they should be searching for.
Despite the vague customer expectation that a bookstore employee must read every book within the store (and honestly, WHERE do they get that idea?!), we all have our sections that we love. The benefit to a group of employees as close as ours is that we know what everyone else reads. If someone is asking me for a horror book, I can name a couple of Go-To Books that our horror readers have told me about (like Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box), but for anything more detailed, I do my best to hand them off to the two people on the staff who read horror. Same with anyone asking about business, law, or current affairs books- we have someone who reads within those sections. Between all of us, we cover a good chunk of the store (I’m kids, teen, and smatterings of mystery, drama/Shakespeare, fiction, sci-fi/fantasy, mythology, history, and science, if that isn’t a combination to blow minds), but we don’t always have immediate access to our experts.
So I’m asking your help! I’ll give an example below, but in the comments, PLEASE tell me about your Go-To Book and why you can rec it to anyone. Just to sweeten the pot, I recently received some swag for Firelight and Vanish by Sophie Jordan, so I’ll throw all the commenters into a hat (or a cat bed, if we’re honest) and pull winners for some of that swag. Please leave your email in the comment so I can actually contact you if you win, and feel free to post about this to others. Comments will be welcome straight through the holiday season, but I’ll draw for swag winners on Sunday, 20 November, which gives two weeks for eligibility for the goodies.
I’m looking for Young Adult and Middle Grade, the more recs the better.
Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead. Lands solidly within the vampire block, but with a strong mythology based off of three different types of vampires. Solid story, strong romances, TONS of action. There is never a dull moment in this book or in this series, and the stakes continually get higher while still allowing payoff on the previous issues. The characters are amazing, especially Rose, our narrator. Rose is an impulsive, uber-protective, self-confident Guardian who throws herself at the world, gets her ass kicked, and promptly dusts herself off and goes on to kick ass in turn. There’s a great blend of funny, of sweet, of bittersweet, and enough romantic angst to satisfy even the most diehard Twihard. A little more geared towards girls than boys (female first person narration and there is some sex, both in talk of it and act of it), but boys willing to get past that would really enjoy the fight sequences and the action, complete with high speed chases, getaways, and prison breaks (later in the series). Six books in the series, complete, with a spin-off series with one book out.
So please, share below! What is YOUR Go-To Book?
Until next time~
I thought about saving this for Sunday, when I do the more general posts, but the more I’ve been turning this over, the more I’ve wanted to answer now. So. Today’s a double header. Over on her blog, Beth Revis is asking a pretty simple question: what book(s) are you grateful for? It’s a simple question, but a less than simple answer.
Because the instinctive answer, perhaps the easy answer, is: all of them.
I am profoundly grateful for the mere existence of books, for the fact of them. For the history they represent, for the scientific endeavours they help produce, for the imaginations they spark, and for the worlds they introduce. I’m grateful for the fifty word stories we read as children, for the convoluted theories we read as students and adults. I’m even grateful for Wuthering Heights and I hate that book.
(Seriously, I hate that book. My sophomore English teacher and I had to work out a compromise that said I could spin all of my assignments to discuss why it’s a terribly book as long as I read the book and did the assignments- it was still a near thing.)
I’m a reader (obviously). I’m a writer. I’m a bookseller. I’m a lifelong amateur student and, if I could afford it, I would gladly be a professional student. Books are the ultimate glorification of language, of words. They’re powerful, they’re life-changing, they’re comforting, they’re frightening. Words have the power to shake apart civilizations. They can inspire us to unthought of heights and distances. They can reach across those same distances to close the gap. They tempt us, sometimes to greater things, sometimes to things that are…not. They can cause wounds, but they can also heal them. Words, written or spoken, can damage or even take a life. Words can also reaffirm life, not only our own but the lives of others, as well.
And we take these words, spin them into fine threads, and weave them into books- amazing, stunning, life-altering books.
And for that, I am grateful beyond words for the mere fact of books.
But to an extent, that answer is cheating. A little. Okay, maybe a lot. Blanket gratitude can still be a powerful and sincere thing, but in trying to define specifics, we come to understand why we’re grateful. So, after a great deal of thought, and in no particular order, here are some of the books I’m grateful for.
Martin the Warrior, by Brian Jacques. Some of you have heard me talk (or gush) about this book before, but in every way that matters, this is the book that made me a reader. I had always loved reading but this was the book that made it amazing, that made it magical and personal and life-altering. When I was ten, my school had an open house/parents night type thing that included a book fair in the media center. By that point, I’d read through most of the books in our school library. I saw people keep picking up the same book and putting it down again after a moment. Person after person after person. So I went over and picked it up, took a look, and from the cover I could kind of understand why they were putting it down. A mouse? In clothing? Wearing a sword? But I flipped it over to read the back and thought, despite the mice, it didn’t seem that different than the fantasies I already read. So I decided to give it a try. I had my allowance with me, no surprise that I would want to spend it on books, but when I went up to purchase it, the media specialist shook her head and gave it to me instead. Just for being willing to try it. I started reading it a few minutes later. And couldn’t put it down. I read all through the open house, through dinner, through the rest of the night, and long after I was supposed to be sleeping I was actually huddled under the covers with a flashlight. Reading. Devouring. Being changed forever. When I finished the book, it was about two in the morning and I was sobbing hysterically. I went across the hall to my mom’s room- it was empty- and then down to the kitchen, where she was sitting at the table with a mug of coffee and a crossword. As soon as she saw me she stood up, asked if I was okay, was I sick, was I hurt, did I have a nightmare, and I managed to sob out “WHY DID SHE HAVE TO DIE?!” Once she finally realized I was talking about the book, she started laughing so hard she sat down too hard and broke the chair. I had never been affected by a book like that! The characters were mice and moles and squirrels but I CARED about them, so much so that I cried when they hurt and I missed them when they were gone and I cheered for their successes and joys. This book made me care, and it made me look for other books, other characters, that would make me love them just as much. I wasn’t just reading for entertainment anymore- I was reading because I wanted to be immersed in lives. I read my first copy of this book to shreds, and when a house fire claimed my second copy, it was the first book I replaced. I read that one to shreds, too, and finally replaced it with a hardcover. I have a full hardcover set of all the Redwall books, and there are some I love beyonds words, but this one will always have a special place in my heart. Without this book, I might not have been open to all the amazing books that came after.
I first read this book when I was in fifth grade, but a lot of things happened between fifth and sixth grade. It wasn’t just the shock and trauma of entering middle school. To this day, I still call that the summer of death. Four people I was close to, three of whom I loved very much, died within a span of two months. I picked this book up at the library between funerals, needing something to read something but not having enough focus to read anything new, and an amazing thing happened: things started to make sense. As much sense as death ever makes, at any rate. It wasn’t that it explained things, it wasn’t that it gave a solution, but rather it showed a lot of different forms of grief and grieving, different ways to cope, and most of all it taught me that death was a part of life. It was scary and sometimes random, painful even it’s accepted with grace, a haunting spectre over all of us that we can’t let overshadow our lives. This book taught me what it was to live with death. It’s a beautiful book, full of poetry and connections and a child-like (though never childish) sense of wonder, where scientists are the world’s last true mystics, but it is, above all, a book about life. Not death- life. Sometimes I reread it for the language, sometimes for the images and the thoughts and the musings on science, but every time someone close to me dies, I reread it specifically for those meditations on life.
I’m grateful for these next two books for a lot of the same reasons. They get compared a lot- with reason- but they both accomplishe something truly amazing.
What Martin the Warrior did for me *mumble mumble* years ago, these series have done for countless other readers across the world. These books made kids WANT TO READ. Kids who a few months before would have groaned and grumbled about a 100 page book were suddenly absorbed in a 900 page book and wanting more. Waiting impatiently for the next book in the series, and in the meantime, looking for other things to fill the gap. They turned to their friends, to their parents, and then- miracle of miracles- to their teachers and librarians and booksellers, because they wanted to know more. Wanted to find more, to discover more. The more kids read, the more books get produced, and they are devouring them. The more people read, the better they do, in school, in life, and now they have springboard series that launch them into a lifelong love affair with books. For that, my gratitude knows no bounds.
I picked this specific book because it was the first one of hers I read, but really, I’m just grateful for Tamora Pierce. I read Wolf-Speaker when I was in seventh grade. I didn’t know it was book two of a series. I didn’t know there was an entire other series before that. It didn’t matter. Pierce wrote the story so fluidly that I didn’t need the previous installments to know what was going on. I loved the book, wanted more, and when I finally found the more, I was bowled over again and again. Talk about kick-ass heroines! But what made them really kick ass was how beautifully complex they were. They were strong but they were also vulnerable. They had faults and flaws, they had weaknesses, they had strengths, they had amazing gifts and skills they worked for, and they also had obstacles they couldn’t use those gifts to solve. They had to learn to rely on other people, as scary as they could be. And here’s the thing that really got me: they had to deal with things like going to the bathroom in the woods. They had to deal with menstruating and breasts and hormones. They were real. And they still are. Book by book, series by series, she maintains characters that are all distinct in their own ways, but in many ways could be considered ideal role models for girls who are too often told that they have to conform to some tame aspect. She takes up an entire shelf on my bookcase, some of them a little battered, but starting my collection of her books took a significant part of my babysitting money one summer. For her characters, for Alanna and Daine and Kel and Aly and Beka, I am grateful.
This next one…it’s…well it’s…
I hate Twilight. I really do. As a writer, it makes me cringe; as a reader, it makes me feel less intelligent; as a female, it makes me genuinely frightened. I hate this book, and I hate this series.
I’m still grateful for it.
Like Harry Potter, like Percy Jackson, the Twilight series got people reading. It reached a massive audience crossing all ages and served as a springboard for other series. I think it could safely be argued that this book launched a hell of a lot of careers, and strengthened others. It didn’t create YA/Teen as a category but it helped define it, helped it stand on its own amidst a number of other categories.
The other reason I’m grateful for this book is a little trickier: this book reminds me on an almost daily basis one of the fundamental truths of reading: everyone reads differently. The same words on the page will be read differently by different people, and they mean different things. They’re taken different ways. And each of those ways, those interpretations? Are completely valid. Twilight reminds me that every book, no matter how much I personally hate it, has readers who love it and will champion it to the ends of the earth in the face of all disdain. There are books I love, books I recommend and gush about and read over and over, that people have come back to me and said they hated. It’s the reason I won’t argue about Wuthering Heights being a classic, only that it’s not romantic in any sense other than the time period and style of the writing. And there are plenty of people, including one of my best friends, who will argue me on that point to their last breaths. And that’s okay.
This last one is a recent discovery, and I’ve gushed about it recently. I can’t talk about this book without gushing. I can’t do it. I’ve tried. I try to talk calmly and rationally about this book but it always ends in me gushing about how absofrickinlutely amazing this book is. Curious yet?
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor made me fall in love all over again with language. With the beauty of words and the sheer poetry and grace in the ways they can be spun together. Just as the types and order of the strung objects from Brimstone’s shop change the result, so do the order and choices of the words. I can easily devour books in one sitting, especially ones I love as much as this one, but as much as I didn’t want to stop, there were times when I had to close the book on my finger and just take a moment to savor the images the words painted on the backs of my eyes. Where Martin the Warrior made me fall in love with characters, this book revived my obsession with words, the foundation and the root and the heart of what we do. We can tell a story with gestures, with music notes, with pictures, but what we do as writers, what we absorb as readers, is the words, the language. For reminding me of how elegant my normally clumsy language can be, I am grateful.
And now, just as Beth asked us, I ask you: What books are you grateful for?
Until next time~