A Drift of Quills for October 2019
It is October (already!?) and we Quills are at it again. This time, the focus of our joint post is to share a book we loved, and read repeatedly, as a child. I don’t know about you, but it’s getting harder all the time for me to think back that far . . . In any case, for starters, I’m anxious to hear what my fellow Quills have for us.
Parker? What great read caught your fancy as a young one?
“I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.”
― C.S. Lewis
I read and re-read many stories growing up. Some are still on my shelf today. Call it Courage, by Armstrong Sperry. Another is The Wolfling, by Sterling North, (best known for the children’s novel Rascal, a bestseller in 1963). It’s a coming of age story about ...
Thank you, Parker.
Robin, I’m sure you’ve something wonderful for us. So, please do share!
I was born into family of bibliophiles. Probably the best thing that ever happened to me. No matter where I lived (like way out in the sticks), I always had places to go, people to see, and things to do. I found them first in the family bookshelves. The doors to whimsy surrounded me, and I was not afraid to open them and explore!
And now, for my turn ...
I’m just going to come right out and say it: I’m cheating this time. You see, there is a great, great work for children, that I wish I had read as a child, but alas, I did not. I did not read it until I was an adult. However, from the very opening words, I can say that this tale is not just for children. In many ways, it is most especially for adults. (This is probably true of any great “children’s classic," don't you think?) And for some reason, this story has been on my mind of late. (I suspect it is time that I re-read it ...)
My choice is Where the Red Fern Grows. I remember the first time I read this story, as a young-ish adult. I was grabbed from the opening lines. The now-grown Billy of the story comes upon some dogs fighting, one of which is “an old redbone hound.” Rawls says, “It’s strange indeed how memories can lie dormant in a man’s mind for so many years. Yet those memories can be awakened and brought forth fresh and new, just by something you’ve seen, or something you’ve heard, or the sight of an old familiar face.”
I guess when I first read this story, “young-ish” though I may have been, I was also old enough to appreciate the truth of that statement. The introduction continues with the now-grown Billy of the story bringing that old hound home, bathing him, and feeding him all he could eat. Then, comes this:
He slept all night and most of the next day. Late in the afternoon, he grew restless. I told him I understood, and as soon as it was dark, he could be on his way. I figured he had a much better chance if he left town at night.
I don’t like to make many grandiose, all-encompassing, statements, but honestly, I don’t see how anyone who has ever loved an animal can read this opening without crying their eyes out—at least not as an adult. A child could, perhaps, as a child wouldn’t have the experience to know the feelings that these few lines illustrate. In any case, for me, this is what The Red Fern Grows, is all about. Yes, it is a tale of a boy who wants two hunting dogs so badly, that he works and works for two long years to save the money he needs to buy them. (This, of course, is a lesson today’s youth is in dire need of learning.) And, yes, it is a story of waiting, and of loving, and of sharing. And yes, it is a story of loss. But for me, it will always be a story that evokes that painful, yet beautiful, nostalgic-like, bittersweet sort of feeling of having experienced something and then having lost it—even while retaining a life-long possession of it somewhere deep inside in the form of a memory that can (and does) bubble up at the most unexpected of times …
If you have not read this tale, I cannot recommend it highly enough. If your children have not read it, do yourself a favor, and get a copy to read with them. Oh yes, and do not wait another day, as you've memories to create.
How about you? What are your favorite books from when you were a child?
From time to time we Quills pose a question designed to get people thinking. Then each of us responds to the query, revealing a bit of ourselves along the way. For this post, here is our question:
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island for an undetermined period of time, what three books would you want to have with you?
I am curious to see what P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse, has for us. Take it away, Parker!
I have a wonderful life. I'm surrounded, tackled, and set upon by four wonderful kiddos, loved by a beautiful wife, and I have several vocations I truly enjoy. I write, I teach, and I work in real estate. I get to be a part of restoring old buildings in a small yet interesting and thriving community.
All that said, getting stranded on a distant island sometimes sounds like a holiday. I wonder how long I would procrastinate starting a signal fire ...
Next is Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies. Robin always has great things in store for us. Let's see what three books she chose ...
I’m cold. A desert island sounds good right now with its sandy beaches, rolling waves, peace and quiet… I put in a request for palm trees and other vegetation, too. Birds. No snakes. A hammock. One terrific thunderstorm. And chocolate, of course. Would it be cheating if I brought my e-reader and a solar charger? It only takes up the space of one book, right?
Choosing a mere three books is serious business. I think I’ll go with something old, something new, and…
Finally, it's my turn!
Here goes ...
Before I fully answer this question, I admit that I’m going to cheat juuuuuussssst a little bit. You see, I think that others might expect that I should respond to this question by listing first, the book of authority for my faith. That is, I think others might think that the first item on my list should be the Christian Bible. I acknowledge that the Bible is full of stories that are entertaining, enlightening, encouraging and faith-building. The words of the Bible, through stories, songs, and poems, can lift someone out from dark times while teaching untold numbers of life lessons. Its words seem new every time you read them. So it seems natural that it would be my first choice. So natural in fact, that I’m not going to list it with my three choices. Rather, I’ll expect to find a copy of it in the hotel room top drawer of wherever I end up staying on the desert island in question. What?! No one said the island to which I’ll be stranded had always been deserted, only that it’s deserted when I’m left there. So I’ve chosen to have faith that the island will have been inhabited at one time prior to my arrival, and that someone will have left behind, a copy of the Good Book for me to find there. (That was tricky of me, don’t you think?) And so, now that I’ve handled that, my three choices follow.
My first choice is a copy of Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, which after twenty years in the making, was first published in 1862. I choose this work primarily because of the unmatched beauty of Hugo’s prose, and because this is a beautiful story of personal sacrifice.
The 1000 pages or so of Les Miserables are filled with personalities and descriptions that pull in the past, thread in the present, and foreshadow the future. Altogether it reads like poetry, as follows:
Towards the end of this fourth year Jean Valjean’s turn to escape arrived. His comrades assisted him, as is the custom in that sad place. He escaped. He wandered for two days in the fields at liberty, if being at liberty is to be hunted, to turn the head every instant, to quake at the slightest noise, to be afraid of everything—of a smoking roof, of a passing man, of a barking dog, of a galloping horse, of a striking clock, of the day because one can see, of the night because one cannot see, of the highway, of the path, of a bush, of sleep. On the evening of the second day, he was captured.
Les Miserables tells of the cost to self, to others, and to society, that comes with judgment and a desire for retribution lasting far beyond the damage a wrongdoer has caused, and well beyond the period allotted for incarcerating someone as payment for his crime. It is a story of the power of forgiveness and of the power of love in the form of long suffering personal sacrifice. This is not the noun, love, to which I refer. That is, I refer not to the love that is a feeling. I refer, rather, to the verb, love. I refer to the love that does—that acts. I refer to acting for the benefit of others, even when that act comes at a great cost to oneself.
If you have not read Les Miserables, I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you are not generally a reader of classics and find the challenge a bit daunting, give yourself permission to skip the parts that don’t speak to you or that are hard to follow. For example, skip over the complicated historical and political issues if you like. Concentrate on the people, and on Hugo’s spellbinding descriptions of their past and present lives. If you rise to the challenge, I am confident you will not regret it.
My second choice would probably be a Charles Dickens novel. The reason I include him on this list is because, while I’m on that desert island, I will probably need a good laugh from time to time, and for me, Dickens is hysterically funny.
While it’s hard to pick just one great Dickens work, perhaps there is nowhere he is more amusing than in the opening pages of Great Expectations, first published in 1861. I know. I know. It is intended to be a serious work—and it is, and the opening sets the stage for all the seriousness to come. Still, there is also great humor to be found there.
Once, years ago, when my two youngest were about eight and ten or so, I started reading Great Expectations out loud to them. (I love to read out loud and I do so with a great deal of, shall we say . . . flair, or perhaps, drama would be the correct word here.) Through the first chapter or so, as I read (and this was not my first reading of this work!), I laughed so hard that tears rolled down my face and my stomach hurt. Yes, I know that the story opens with poor Pip staring at his parents’ tombstones. But consider the way Dickens sets forth those facts from Pip’s point of view. Not only do we see with the eyes of a naïve child (who has nevertheless already suffered greatly), but the images we see are, in a word, hilarious. Sad—and hilarious. For example, consider Pip’s contemplation of his father’s tombstone:
… the shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair.
Funny stuff. Right?
Then of his brothers, Pip thinks:
To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine - who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle …
Imagine one the age of young Pip already concerned about making a living … Yes, this passage is sad because in that day, making a living was such a struggle. Even little ones felt it. But there is also something humorously intriguing about the way Pip ponders those things.
Then, there is Dickens' masterful way of summing up the entirety of a person or thing through a few short words. Try the following. Keep the flow going so that the first two sentences move at a normal, almost slow, pace, while from there, it gradually moves more quickly, quickly, quickly, then ends with the last clause slowly ... Ready? Read:
A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.
Not laughing yet? Then, I’m sorry to say, I really don’t think there’s anything I can do for you!
Finally, I would choose one book for the sheer pleasure of its power to help me to “get away.” Specifically, I would choose Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule. Then, whenever I needed to escape (assuming that being stranded on a desert island wouldn’t be enough of an escape for me), I could journey through its pages once more…
How about you? What books would you take? Oh please, do share!
In the past, when I noticed time flying quickly by, I’d comment with things like, “It must be due to the holidays,” or “It must be the season.” I’ve long since learned, however, that it is always the season for being busy. And so, as the calendar moves to September and autumn approaches, we Quills return once again with our thoughts on “books we love.” (How it is that we actually find time to read them remains one of the greatest mysteries of all time.)
First up this time, is Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies.
I really love chatting with my readers, and in a recent email exchange someone recommended a book for my Flinch-Free Fantasy list: The Dragon and the George, by Gordon R. Dickson.
Hey! I’ve read that!
About a million years ago…
I recall liking it, and the foggy memory tickled my brain until I had to go pick up a copy and read it again. It didn’t disappoint. True, the style is dated and it took a little too long for the real action to start, but what a fun read.
A modern couple is transported into another version of our world. The kicker? Our hero ends up in the body of…
Now let's turn our attention to P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse. Take it away, Parker!
The Hardy Boys series is formulaic and simple, and often plods into the cliche. I couldn't help thinking however, how well they build their mysteries through the story. While bland, they get the formula right. I just finished a second one in as many weeks, and it was a good study in the structure of the genre. While I may not want to copy The Hardy Boys series when writing my own mystery, there's value in internalizing the genre, the beats, and the structure on display. You've got to know the rules before you break them and I love that the series feels like a set of training wheels for writers. Fun, whimsical, dated training wheels.
But I didn't come here to talk about The Hardy Boys. I've actually been ruminating on a story I just finished that involved an old man and a big fish...
Finally, here are my thoughts.
Recently, I read Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders Trilogy, consisting of Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny.
While I wouldn’t say I “love” these books, exactly, there are parts of this series that I very much enjoyed—so much so that I quickly read them one right after the next.
I liked the set-up of the Bingtown’s oldest families and I loved the concept of the liveships. As for the characters, I appreciated their diversity. That said, I found that while Althea was often in the spotlight, she wasn’t one of my favorites. Neither were any of the others in her family—with the possible exception of her nephew, Wintrow. In fact, I found that some of the worst characters in terms of their morality or lack thereof, were some of my favorites. I thought the pirate, Kennit, was well drawn, and Hobb offered a believable story as to how he came to be the man he was. I also rather liked his woman, Etta. She was ruthless and cruel, but there was something vulnerable about her at the same time. I did find a fair amount of repetition, although I appreciate that such can happen in a series. Finally, I discovered as I have with various Hobb’s characters in the past, that some are frustrating “whiners,” including Althea’s niece, Malta, by way of example.
All that said, I appreciated the concept of the dragons and how they played into the story (although I didn’t care much for the time spent with the "serpents"). I also found that I couldn’t buy into the concept of the “dead dragons” who clearly lived on. So . . . there’s that . . .
In the end though, I recommend this series.
So, what great reads would you like to share with us?