Friday, August 14, 2009

15 books in more than 15 minutes (Part One)

If you're on Facebook, you've probably seen these notes that go viral: one person makes a list of their favorite movies or albums, or answers questions about themselves, and then tags their friends to make similar lists. Sometimes I like to participate, and I couldn't resist when someone tagged me to list 15 books in 15 minutes, works that are especially memorable or important to me. I dutifully made my list, dividing it up so one book corresponded to around three years of my life, and posted it to my Facebook page. Limiting it to 15 minutes meant I didn't have time to do more than brainstorm the list, and I wanted to make comments. Making a list of 15 life-changing books seems incomplete without being able to explain why. Luckily, I have this blog, so I can spend time happily reminiscing about my favorite books.

  1. The Bad Island, by William Steig: Sure, cartoonist and writer Steig is better known for classics like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and Shrek, but I received this book as a Christmas gift from my aunt and uncle when I was five, and I couldn't stop reading it. Was it the super-colorful illustrations of bizarrely shaped monsters that were the attraction? Was it the fact that they fought over who was ugliest, and finally destroyed themselves in a horrible war caused by uncontrollable fear at the sigh of beautiful flowers? (I do so love end-of-the-world books.) Was it the big words, which I loved reading at that age? Probably all of those things; it's the one book from my early childhood that I still have today. FYI: the book today is published as Rotten Island; I don't know why the name change.

  2. D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire: Actually, I could have picked any of the many fairy tale and mythology collections I devoured when I was in early elementary school, but this one features the extraordinary art of the Caldecott-winning married couple. This work and Andrew Lang's "colored" fairy books gave me a taste for the fantastic that has never waned throughout my life.

  3. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle: I was probably in third grade when I encountered this Newbery Award-winner about a misunderstood teen who pursues her missing scientist father to the conformist planet where he is being held prisoner, and rescues him through the power of love. Is it fantasy? Is it science fiction? I don't know and I don't care; its unique characters and deep themes made it a favorite for a long, long time. I remember anticipating its second sequel, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, so avidly I made it the subject of an eighth-grade assignment about "what I want most for Christmas."

  4. Taran Wanderer, by Lloyd Alexander: I love all of Alexander's award-winning Chronicles of Prydain, a five-volume fantasy based on Welsh mythology, but this one has a special place in my heart. Strangely enough, it's the one volume with very little magic in it, as it relates the journey of young Taran as he tries to uncover the mystery of his parentage. In the end, he discovers who he is depends on what he does, not who his parents are. I first read this book when I was nine or ten, and I found Taran's search for identity fascinating. I think I've read the books in this series at least twenty times, including a few times as an adult, and I'm always enchanted. It's a bonus that I actually met Mr. Alexander once, and managed not to stammer as I told him how much I loved his books. He was charming and gracious in return, and my autographed copy of the final Prydain book, The High King, is much cherished.

  5. A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin: I was in sixth grade when I first discovered this fantasy by this pioneering grandmaster of sci fi. I was captivated; not so much by the story, of a motherless boy who ends up attending a school of magic, but by the intricate world-building that LeGuin employs. Her Earthsea has dragons, but otherwise is outside the fairy tale/medieval knight settings of most fantasies I had read up to that point; it was something entirely new for me. Besides providing me with beautiful language and compelling characters, Earthsea showed me the wide potential available to writers to fantasy.
I'm going to continue this survey later; this first five is a good stopping point as any, taking me up to my teen years. I could have listed a dozen other books from my childhood (and strongly considered the World Book Encyclopedia, I spent a lot of time reading it), but I think these five are a good representation of my pre-teen years. What are your favorites from your early years?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm not a nun ...

... and so I'm not good with habits. This is my way of explaining why I've been slacking on the blog this week. Last week I went on vacation and had limited internet access. (Meaning I had to walk across camp and endure a slow network ... don't get me started on the glacial slowness of checking my mail via Yahoo instead of Outlook. In any case, I was on vacation and taking a break from all kinds of work except cooking.) Upon my return, I had yet another deadline staring me in the face, and so the blog took a backseat to writing a sports profile.

At least, that's my excuse. But really, it's because it doesn't take that long to get out of the habit of doing something. Inertia isn't just a principle of physics; it's a lifestyle. A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and so when I got back from vacation I didn't want to do anything I'd been doing before. I didn't want to go to TKD class, although once I got there I had fun. I didn't want to go into the basement and do my regular cycling, although once I got started I kept going for 45 minutes, distracted by a great book. And I didn't want to engage my brain and think of something to write in the blog.

But now I've met my deadline, forced myself to exercise, and written this entry. So now I have no excuse; besides, while contemplating what to write today I came up with two or three ideas, so it shouldn't be hard to keep going. Although it may be a few days before I review the second part of Faust; returning to a 19th-century German poetic drama requires overcoming a great deal of inertia.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Photo of the Week--8/10/09

I could have kicked myself: I forgot my real camera on our trip up to the UP last week. So I only managed to snap a few shots with my cell phone; some of them didn't save properly, and others didn't have very good lighting. But it's hard to miss with this shot: Chapel Rock, on the coast of Lake Superior's Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. It's very cool from the beach as well, but I like this photo with the lake in the background. We couldn't have had a better day for the 3-mile hike to the shore, so I wouldn't mind going back for a better picture some time.