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The Journey of Anne Rice August 29, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Books, Other Sites, Spirituality.
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Of all the interviews with Anne Rice I’ve heard since her “Christ the Lord” series hit bookstores, Dick Staub’s is the best.

Her return to faith is truly miraculous. In addition, they discuss the history & scholarship that inspired her, her surprise at the chord her new novels have struck, the spiritual symbolism in her vampire novels… Staub and Rice just have a great conversation, and we get to listen in.

Tune in at www.thekindlings.com — the interview was posted on Aug. 28, 2008.


Where’s the wonder in magic realism? July 21, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Books.
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I have just finished the seminal work of magic realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude  by Gabriel García Márquez (tr. Gregory Rabassa). Of course it’s a brilliant novel, and I’m not just saying that because it’s made all the lists of the top 100 novels of the 20th century and Márquez has a Nobel Prize for Literature. My tastes aren’t THAT easily swayed. 😉

In the context of a blog on sensawunda, though, the remarkable thing about magic realism is how the characters in a magic realism story don’t seem to realize anything wondrous is happening. The supernatural is as much a part of their lives as the natural.

 The edition I bought has an appendix that quotes Márquez explaining the effect he was striving for.

The tone… was based on the way my grandmother used to tell stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness…. What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories…. In previous attempts to write, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.

It’s a far cry from the way most fantasy uses wonder. Usually the wonder is signalled with elevated language and a rarefied atmosphere, or in movies with a swell of music, unusual lighting, special effects. Or if nothing else, at least some gosh-wow behavior on the part of the characters.

[It occurs to me that this might be part of the reason for disappointment in the Star Wars prequels. The original trilogy had traditional wonder, as Luke discovered the Force and found himself able to do magical things. The prequels were more like magic realism, with the Jedi at their peak (or a little past it), everyone just taking the Force for granted. And yet, that could have worked…. I think the main reason it works for Márquez is that the novel is so well-written regardless.]

Many of the supernatural events are so completely outrageous that perhaps the only way to get away with them at all is to tell them with a “brick face.” He had already discovered that telling the story as if it were a “tall tale” didn’t work. Telling it, instead, as if it were dry history seems to strike the right note.

So where’s the wonder? If it’s not in the tone, or the atmosphere, or the language, or the characters, where is it? The wonder is in the reader.

In a way, the “brick face” delivery and the matter-of-fact demeanor of the characters add to the reader’s wonder. Tiny snippets of wonder emerge and flutter around your head, one after another, like the tiny yellow butterflies that always seem to appear when one character meets with her lover.

No doubt it’s a real trick for a writer to pull off. But Márquez makes you believe.

The Smartest Book Meme in Town January 28, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Books, Memes.

As created by Eva, who will enter you in a drawing if you leave a comment on her post, and as tagged by superfastreader.

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

The Bell Jar or anything else by Sylvia Plath. For one thing, I have a tendency to mistrust any author who committed suicide (yes, that includes Hemingway, and Freud most especially!), and everything I’ve read about Plath makes me think her works would just depress me.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

Well, this isn’t very original, but I like it: Merry, Pippin, and Gandalf, to throw me a birthday party like Bilbo’s with tons of great Hobbit food and Gandalf’s fireworks.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

I dunno, but I bet it would be a Harlequin romance. I started to read one once when I was a teen… you’d think with all the adolescent hormones, I would have gotten into it, but I couldn’t get past chapter 1.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

It’s not exactly “nowhere near,” but I wrote papers on both Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy without having read more than a chapter or three… I simply ran out of time.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

I can’t recall any such occasion.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP)

Hoo boy. That’s a toughie. Easier to think of nonfiction titles for that, than fiction. Let’s say the VIP is a woman. Then how about The Secret Life of Bees. I dunno, I’m just throwing it out there. It’s deep without being difficult to read.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

Mandarin Chinese. I know just enough to have an inkling of what I might be missing.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread one a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. It’ll leave me plenty of time for my other reading! 😀 (gotcha, mischievous fairy!)

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

Even though I have been aware of Gabriel Garcia Marquez for a long time, it was a discussion on superfastreader that finally impelled me to buy One Hundred Years of Solitude and start reading it. (Haven’t finished it yet, though!)

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

When I lived in Wichita, there was an artist who always took out a booth at crafts fairs. He painted colorful scenes of cats and cat-sized dragons and books and wizards. I still remember one painting of a huge library that must have been three stories high, with balconies every dozen feet or so, ladders, the walls were nothing but bookcases. A little desk in the middle of the floor, and an easy chair, and a fireplace. And cats and little dragons sneaking about. I shoulda bought a print… wonder if I’ll ever see that artist’s work again? Of course I don’t remember his name!

Plus, I just love what superfastreader would ask for, I’ll just say “me too”:

I’m going to also add a touch of magic. Bookshelves that never run out of room. Books that never go missing. Books that are always available to lend out–even if they never come back, there’s always a copy available. And a magic clock, so I can stop the hands of time and steal an hour to read.

The Six Swans November 4, 2007

Posted by sensawunda in Books.
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I do tend to gravitate toward novels based on fairy tales. Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier, is one of the better of that subgenre. It’s based on the folk tale “The Six Swans.”

The appropriate key moments have a true Grimm Brothers feel to them. The passages that have a more contemporary-fantasy feel to them don’t detract from that—the bardic voice holds for the most part.

The flaws were few but glaring. The slow beginning almost lost me; the protagonist was impossibly precocious; and the villains were over the top.

Still, once I slogged through that beginning and got into the meat of the story, it became less and less put-downable. I liked that it didn’t mess with the underlying fairy tale too much—it only expanded upon it. I’ve read other novels based on fairy tales that got all pop-psych with the supposed Freudian meaning of the fairy tale. Bleah.

I also liked that even though Marillier sets this in Ireland at a time when Christianity had only a toehold there, and the protagonist is a follower of the “old ways,” she doesn’t bash Christianity. In fact, the most prominent Christian character is a friend and helper.

Daughter of the Forest is book 1 of a trilogy, but it feels complete enough in itself that I just might veer off to some other book in my TBR stack rather than feeling compelled to dive straight into book 2. I like that. There’s enough to pique my interest (hm! wonder who the “Son of the Shadows” might be?) without having to have a blatant cliffhanger.


Realm of Disappointed Yawns September 12, 2007

Posted by sensawunda in Books, Hall of Shame, Not Sensawunda.
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In his novel The Traveler, John Twelve Hawks draws upon the very archetypes of wonder—and renders them banal.

To be fair, I had better disclose that I consumed this novel as an abridged audiobook. It’s possible that the abridgement process stripped out the beauty. It did remind me of The DaVinci Code, which I also listened to in abridged form.

Except John Twelve Hawks’s Wikipedia entry mentions that, because he’s such a recluse, people have speculated that he’s just a pen name for a known author—and Dan Brown was listed as a possibility. Twelve Hawks has specifically denied being Dan Brown. But this does suggest to me that the resemblance isn’t just an artifact of abridgment.

John Twelve Hawks seems to be a conspiracy-theory aficionado, so here’s my conspiracy theory: I think there’s a conspiracy among publishers who hawk [get it???] bestsellers. They’re taking the classic sources of sensawunda such as mythology, spirituality, and mysticism, and sucking them completely dry of all wonder and even interest (beyond the synthetic rhythm of formula suspense).

THAT is why his book reminded me of The DaVinci Code.

They both attempt to provide rational explanations for the transcendant. And the sad thing is, I think they both think they are adding wonder to the ancient traditions, with their tales of secret societies and centuries of war waged under the very noses of unsuspecting Muggles (oops, wrong genre).

Twelve Hawks makes a big deal of living “off the Grid,” as if he really believes in the Matrix (which he calls the Vast Machine—he even managed to make that banal). I can’t help wondering how far off the Grid he really is if he’s able to tap into the trend started by Dan Brown, but that’s neither here nor there. Again, it seems to be another attempt on his part to add sensawunda. But he only succeeds in making himself look like a Howard Hughes with no sense of style.

Indoctrination August 26, 2007

Posted by sensawunda in Books, Memes, Sensawunda 101.
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…from Booking Through Thursday (via superfastreader)

When growing up did your family share your love of books? If so, did one person get you into reading? And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or parent, etc.)

From as far back as I can remember, through at least the age of ten, I went to the town library every so often with Mom and my brother. She would check out a stack of books, and we were each allowed to get a certain number. We also had sets of children’s classics at home. I think she had bought them before we were born, for her future children. One set I loved in particular—it contained an eclectic mix of fables, fairy tales, mythology and excerpts from children’s novels, all accompanied by reproductions of the illustrations from the original editions. That set more than any other shaped my literary tastes. I’m still a sucker for anything illustrated by Arthur Rackham or his present-day heirs.

Mom read to us too… and even though I could already read to myself faster than an oral reading (having “forced” her to teach me to read when I was 3, she says), I still enjoyed following along, snuggled up to her right side on the sofa while my younger brother snuggled up to her left.

Dad’s influence came later. He introduced me to science fiction. He had a complete (up to that time) set of Larry Niven’s Tales of Known Space, and I read them all, including the short stories. I can still name the shorts that impressed me the most. “Bordered in Black”… “All the Myriad Ways”… “For a Foggy Night”… “Safe at Any Speed.” And, for good or ill, Dad took my brother and me to see Star Wars when it first came out.

In college, someone once asked me how my parents got me interested in classical music. I shrugged and said, “They enjoyed it themselves… and they had records that children could enjoy, like Peter and the Wolf and the 1812 Overture.” It’s the same with reading.

All Harry, All the Time July 19, 2007

Posted by sensawunda in Books, Memes.

Here’s a meme I’m crashing, from Booking Through Thursday.

1. Okay, love him or loathe him, you’d have to live under a rock not to know that J.K. Rowling’s final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, comes out on Saturday… Are you going to read it?
2. If so, right away? Or just, you know, eventually, when you get around to it? Are you attending any of the midnight parties?
3. If you’re not going to read it, why not?
4. And, for the record… what do you think? Will Harry survive the series? What are you most looking forward to?

1. Yeah, duh! As a matter of fact, I’m rereading the whole series in preparation.

2. No midnight parties… I preordered from Amazon, so with 1.2 million other Amazon customers I’ll be waiting for the brown lorry. Will read as soon as possible, but that might not be the minute it arrives… see, I have to share it with my husband. Also, at the rate I’m going, I may not have quite finished Half-Blood Prince yet when UPS shows up on Saturday. If that’s the case, I’ll let hubby read the new one while I finish up… he’s gotta sleep sometime. 😉

3. Huh? Not read it? Non sequitur… your facts are uncoordinated.

4. I’m actually looking forward most to finding out which side Snape is really on! My husband and I disagree. We haven’t gone so far as to bet on it though.

Hello flat world! May 6, 2007

Posted by sensawunda in Books.

Where were you when you realized the world is flat?

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman has permeated business thought to the point where it’s alluded to in an IBM television commercial.

Waitaminnit, you may be thinking. Business? What’s that got to do with sensawunda?

I’ll tell ya. You may have heard that you “should” read this book. I’m here to tell you why I’m actually ENJOYING reading this book!

What makes this book interesting is how it shifts my weltanschauung. He shows how several well-known but seemingly unrelated events of the last twenty years have combined to create what some are calling the “new world order”—not one that’s imposed by shadowy men of power, but one that’s growing organically from the soil of the Internet, whether the “powers-that-be” like it or not.

One of my previous posts talks about this… I quoted Stephen Baxter:

Sensawunda can come from changing the reader’s perception, through dramatic revelations of the nature of the new world, from rushes of extrapolation of the central idea, from changes of scale or perspective.

Baxter’s talking about fiction, but this applies equally well to The World is Flat. It jars me into recognition of the new patterns of modern life that I had dimly perceived but not thought through. One “a-ha” moment after another, building a grand new vision, adds up to sensawunda in non-fiction.


Reader wonder March 3, 2007

Posted by sensawunda in Books.

superfastreader’s review turned me on to The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel, by Diane Setterfield, and I’m so glad she did!

(btw, at the moment her blog seems to be down… but try clicking on the “superfastreader” link in my Blogroll anyway)

It’s a quiet modern Gothic. The protagonist is the ultimate bookworm… her life is the stuff of fantasy, not because she is a great adventurer—but because she gets to read books all the time! Setterfield captures the appeal of that… she explains sensawunda, and then proceeds to create it.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale. This is a novel to curl up with in a wing-back chair in front of a fire.

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The way of a ship upon the sea December 15, 2006

Posted by sensawunda in Books.
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The Horatio Hornblower series by C.S. Forester

I’ve been aware of the Hornblower novels since I read, a long time ago, that it was an inspiration for Star Trek. But I confess I never got around to reading any of them until I saw the A&E miniseries starring Ioan Gryffudd. I read “Mr. Midshipman Hornblower” (first in the series by chronology) and didn’t feel all that motivated to continue. To some extent, these are “guy” novels.

That much is borne out by the fact that after my husband noticed and read my copy of “Midshipman,” he immediately wanted to read more of the series. So we picked them up at the library, and I decided to give it another try with #2, “Lieutenant Hornblower.”

That’s when I started to enjoy Forester’s writing. For one thing, he opted to write “Lieutenant” from the point of view of Hornblower’s colleague, Lt. Bush. Bush is a simpler man than Hornblower, with a more limited emotional range, and Forester makes the difference between the two men clear.

What does float Bush’s boat (sorry) is the way of a ship upon the sea. This was an opportunity for Forester to write some lovely descriptive passages, to the point where I found myself standing in the hallway reading, unwilling to put the book down even though I was supposed to be getting ready to go somewhere. You don’t get that in the books from Hornblower’s point of view—with him it’s just dispassionate observation of the performance of the ship and the men.

Forester has good plot-based reasons, as well, for stepping away from Hornblower’s point of view in this book; I won’t go into that, although if you’ve seen the A&E series, you might be able to guess. I’ve only read two more after this one, so far. I sort of hope a later book gets into Bush’s head again.