Nov 10, 2013

The Sunday Salon – Dear Diary

The Sunday Salon.com

Good morning, all. Today is one of those days when I have to remind myself that my blog’s subtitle is “a reading journal” for a reason: it’s perfectly okay for me to treat it as such and just give you a general update. As you can probably tell by the radio silence, not a lot of writing has been happening around these parts. I have to confess I’ve been feeling unmotivated lately, for reasons not unlike those Aarti expresses in this post. I can’t help but feel this way every now and then: like I want all the hours I’ve put into blogging over the past nearly seven years to add up to something that matters, at least in a small way. Occasionally I become convinced that all this effort would be better spent supporting more relevant projects, from people with more bite and resilience. But you know, maybe I should just accept that blogging angst is like a winter cold: you’re sure to catch it every now and then, but as miserable as it is to have it, you know that in the end this too shall pass.

(Speaking of my friend Aarti, are you taking part in A More Diverse Universe next week? Here are a few reasons why you might want to.)
So I haven’t been writing lately, but I have been reading. Currently I’m making my way through Life Class by Pat Barker — although I won’t get to review it for Remembrance Day like I’d originally planned, I’m still glad to have picked it up. I’m also reading Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron, an anthology of short stories about witches with contributions from some of my favourite authors, and it’s reminding me of all the reasons why I enjoy short fiction. Really good stuff.

Also, I recently finished Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves, the first two books in The Raven Cycle, and although I don’t think I could review them properly I wanted to have some sort of record of how much I loved them. They’re about a girl, Blue Sargent, and a group of four boys from an expensive boarding school that she befriends despite the animosity between her town (Henrietta, Virginia) and the privileged, spoiled Raven Boys (as the students are known). It’s a story about myths and magic and the quest for a sleeping Medieval Welsh king, and it’s simultaneously a story about why we’re drawn to myths and magic, and about interpersonal relationships, and how they’re complicated by factors such as class.

If you’ve ever fallen in love with Logan Echolls type characters (bruised rich boys with daddy issues), you’ll need to meet Gansey and Ronan (and also Adam and Noah, for different reasons). The thing is, I don’t love them against my better judgement, because Stiefvater’s narrative is all too aware of the potential traps surrounding characters of this kind and addresses them head on — hence all the interesting insight into class and privilege and how people navigate them. All of this makes for an incredibly rich and satisfying exploration of the ties that link us to one another. Lastly, did I mention that these books are masterfully written? The prose is incredibly accomplished in a subtle sort of way — it doesn’t draw too much attention to itself, but it makes you completely unable to see the strings behind the puppets, if you know what I mean. The story feels like something that just is rather than something that’s made, and I can only imagine how much craft goes into writing something that achieves that. I believed in these characters so much that I forgot to be impressed with how they were written until a few days after I’d finished the second book. And even now I’m not quite able to distance myself from the narrative enough to examine it properly. Needless to say, the third book in the series can’t come soon enough.


On the non-fiction front, I’m reading Children’s Picture Books: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles as part of my quest for greater knowledge (plus professional development). The book is really interesting, but so far my favourite thing about my mission to teach myself all there is to know about picture books is that it brought back that old excitement and joy of finding a subject you know very little about and slowly but surely accumulating knowledge and developing expertise. I guess I miss formal education is what I’m saying — obviously you can also do this in your own time, but over the past year or so there’s been very little room in my life for this kind of development, and I desperately miss it. Anyway, my library also has Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books by Perry Nodelman, so I guess that’s where I’m going next. Also, I kind of want to get my hands on Caldecott & Co: Notes on Books and Pictures by Maurice Sendak because, well, it’s Maurice Sendak. If anyone has any other recommendations for learning about picture books (including blogs), I’m all ears.

What else? I’ll be travelling for most of next week (really looking forward to some time off) so the blog will remain mostly quiet, but I’ll be back towards the end of the week with my contribution to A More Diverse Universe. Have a great Sunday, everyone.

18 comments:

  1. I have The Dream Thieves but feel like I need to reread The Raven Boys first, which won't be an unhappy experience; however I do wish I could remember details better and didn't always need to reread (or conversely, I could wish I could make myself wait until the whole trilogy came out!) I didn't know about the Sendak book - I must try to find it!

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  2. Jill, someone told me the other day it's actually a quartet! Which yay: more story. But then again it also means we'll have longer to wait. I read these back to back, but I'll probably need to do some rereading as well when the next one's out. The overall feel of a book stays with me, but I'm terrible at remembering plot details.

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  3. I had blogging angst for a long time, like a year, and I'm just getting out of it now. I'm not posting like I once did though, but I do feel the need to blog again. I think it is just a part of blogging. Hopefully, you'll feel better soon!

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  4. I left it too long between books 1 and 2(Maggie Steifvater's that is), not that I could have read them closer considering publication dates ;) but I suppose I could have reread but sooo little time.

    I'm enjoying the series but I'm not loving it as much as other reviews, it is one I'll stick with though.

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  5. Chris: Thanks - I'm sure it *will* past, and I now know better than to make hasty decisions during periods when I feel meh about the whole thing. If I felt this way for a whole year it might be different, but the spells of lack of motivation come and go.

    Fence: Maybe it help that I had no expectations since this was my first time reading her? Scorpio Races soon!

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  6. After as many years as we've been doing it (I just passed my eighth year of blogging), we will encounter this: blogging angst. Sometimes it's good to take a step back, I've found, or post less, and it might not pass. I think it's the restlessness of being a blogger...again, sometimes. :) However, I've found that the "real" bloggers are the ones who do question themselves from time to time. And you are one of them, I believe.

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  7. Enjoy your break and your travels!

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  8. Thanks Bryan for giving me more book for my TBR list. I just recently dicovered Neil Gaiman and have been goblling up hi books. So the Under My Hat collection and the Raven Boy series sound right up my alley.I just did a post on what authors I want to invite for dinner and Neil was on there. Perhaps next year I'll be adding Maggie Stidfvater.

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  9. On Friday I will be doing a picture book day with my (college) Children's Lit class. I do a short lecture, then have them play with a box of books I bring in and in groups, prepare a short presentation on one of the images they've looked at. Later, they write an image analysis. It's always one of my favorite parts of the course, and I find that students who struggle with literarary--textual--analysis are often really astute about reading images.

    I found Perry Nodelman's book really helpful and draw on it a lot in my lecture. I also really like Molly Bang's PICTURE THIS, which is a simple, visual introduction to design principles and the emotional impact of images. I should really brush up on my reading about picture books. There are lots of technical elements I don't understand well.

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  10. I took a six month break from blog recently because of blog angst. I was going through a stressful period, as well, and I wanted to read for pure escape and not think about or have to talk about what I was reading. It was blissful and now that I've returned the blogging is blissful, too. Breaks are good.

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  11. I know I went through a period when I was a bit tired of the blog. Or maybe not the blog but just so many things were vying for my attention and I needed more me time. Hope you get all of your blogging mojo back.

    Thank you for reminding me about Aarti's reading challenge. It's a great project and will have to try to participate!

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  12. All those hours do add up to something that matters to me.

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  13. I think it's hard to to measure the impact of a blog, but I know without a doubt that your blog HAS meant something. And continues to mean something. Your voice is a very loved one!

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  14. Oh, what Jeanne said, very much, for me too.

    Also, I am... well, if you liked the Raven Boys, maybe I will indeed have to give them a try. The only Stiefvater I've read was Lament and I had a lot of trouble with it. But I'll give her another try.

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  15. I am excited to try Maggie Stiefvater! I have one of her books checked out on my Nook, and I'm -- well, I am probably not going to read it right this minute. My brain is not great just now at taking new information. But once life has settled down a bit, then I'm going to read her straight away.

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  16. Okay, I know I suck at expressing my thoughts and feelings adequately, but I hope you know me well enough to dig past my failure with words and understand just how very very very much your blog means to me. And it goes beyond you as a person (though your blog obviously wouldn't be what it is without YOU) and beyond our friendship. I learn SO DAMN MUCH reading your blog. It's help me to think more critically. It's helped me to see things that completely escaped my notice before. And I know for a fact that I'm not the only one who gains so much from your time and effort at putting your words out there. And on top of that, think of the ripples that radiate from each of your readers who gain something. This isn't meant to be pressure, as in "Ana, you must blog or you'll be letting down so many people"; it's just meant as a reminder that your time isn't wasted. Anyway, I'm glad you realize that this is probably just a temporary bout of angst that shall pass with time.

    Under My Hat--how have I not heard of this before?!! Oh okay, we both know the reason for that, but still! Want!

    Okay, and you totally got me with the Logan reference--must get hands on these books now! Yeah, it wasn't just the Logan reference, of course. :) They really do sound awesome!

    Hope your week is even more amazing and fantastic than you thought it was going to be!!!

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  17. First, I wanted to say that, while perhaps you may feel your blog(ging) is insignificant, it's not. I can't tell you how many times I've been reading a book and wonder what Ana would think of this character or that plot, etc. And it's not a general, would she love it either, it's more of a what would she say about these actions and how they impact thoughts on race, sexuality, equality, etc. You have greatly influenced my thinking and honestly (I AM NOT KIDDING) you have done so more than any college English professor I ever had. And I had quite a few. Go ahead and blush, but I mean it.

    Secondly, I was SO GLAD Renay got you to read the Steifvater books!! Also, I do think you could review them properly... *hint hint* (but only if you are so inclined... :P)

    Lastly, LOGAN ECHOLLS!!!! <3 Yes yes yes!

    PS: SENDAK!!! <3<3<3

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  18. I've been curious about the Raven Boys books. Looks like I need to add them to my must list.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.