A Traveler’s Review of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, is one of those standard-reading books that somehow slipped under my radar until… I think it was after college. And once it was finally on my radar, I didn’t want to read it, because I figured it was a children’s book, and I’d find it boring. But watching a YouTube adaptation (because I love adaptations and retellings, even apparently of books I haven’t read) finally got me to put those preconceived notions aside and pick up the source material.

Quick summary for those of you who haven’t seen one of these posts yet: these reviews are meant to combine my love of travel with my love of reading, and approach books not as books, but as vacations that happen to take place in words. So with that, let’s get to it.

The World: First off, Avonlea is a very pleasant place. So pleasant, in fact, that I couldn’t help feeling that it was all a bit too beautiful, too perfect. Lots of gorgeous nature, idyllic countryside, that kind of thing. But in a sense, that works, because Anne–well, read the back of the book. Er… travel brochure. It will probably tell you why a perfectly beautiful place could be heartbreaking for Anne. Speaking of which…

The People: Similarly, the people are mostly pleasant. They have their little faults, so depending on your pet peeves, you may find some of them annoying, but they aren’t supervillains in disguise, or anything, which given some of the other things on TV and in print these days, is a nice respite. And the narrator, I have to say, makes very good company–if you aren’t a kid yourself, it’s easy to kind of reminisce about childhood with this person. Also, Marilla (who is very much not a kid) helps. As does her brother, Matthew. That’s right, we get to spend some time with adults, too. Quite a lot of it, actually.

Dining and Activities: Avonlea and Green Gables are definitely not places to vacation if you’re looking to take down a dystopian government or something, but I’m thinking you probably knew that already. Instead, expect more ordinary entertainments–parties (ETA, as clarification: like tea parties), concerts, that kind of thing. And some school. As for the food… well, make sure you ask who made it, especially in the early chapters. That’s all I’m going to say.

Other Assorted Hazards: Expect all the ordinary dangers. Getting embarrassed in front of friends, possibly getting hurt or sick, the usual risks from doing reckless things–life stuff.

Things to Pack:

  • Tea (because always tea)
  • Appropriate attire (because much like with Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, this isn’t a place where you want to walk around in jeans and a T-shirt)
  • For those quiet moments at Green Gables, you may want some books to read, and/or maybe some materials to press flowers, depending on how outdoorsy you are. As I said before, it’s a lovely place, and you may want to keep some of that.

All silliness aside, I enjoyed my stay at Green Gables more than I expected to, largely thanks to a very good narrator-guide. And it was a nice way of seeing a past version of Canada, since I can’t exactly go to the real Canada right now.

Next up: a traveler’s review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (season 1)? I just finished watching that. I’ve never done one of these for a TV show before, though. I’m not sure whether it would work. Anyway, I hope you all had a lovely weekend! And that you have some wonderful book vacations (or other vacations, or just good stuff happening) this week.

A Couple Pros of Reading Nonfiction

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. That sort of vaguely bothers me–I guess I always wanted to be like Rory Gilmore, one of those people who devours all books because I love them so much. (I know I’m not the only one. I’ve read somewhere about a Rory Gilmore book challenge.) But in reality, I like very specific genres, and nonfiction isn’t one of them.

Or, as I should say: most nonfiction isn’t on my list. In recent years, however, I’ve been challenging myself to read a little more widely. And although I don’t expect to ever like nonfiction as much as I like fiction (and particularly my favorite genres), it has some definite pros. A couple of the big ones, for me:

  • Learning something.
  • Depending on what kind of nonfiction you read, it can be a nice reprieve from the frenetic pace of some fiction books. I don’t tend to read harrowing nonfiction–in general, I want books to be vacations/escapes–so that may be part of why it’s easy to take these books slowly.

Anyway, that’s all I have for you today. There’s still a great deal to do, and my brain isn’t really in the right frame to string together a long, coherent post. But before I go back to my to-do list: I hope that Monday is treating you all well, and that you have a splendid week!

Opening My Heart to Books (and Cats)

Ok, that title sounds really melodramatic, but I’m going to try to explain what I mean. First, though, some background: a couple weeks ago, as some of you may know, my mom’s cat passed away. That was obviously far harder for her than it was for me. But that cat was still part of my family for a long time. And also, losing him called back a lot of the emotions I had when I lost my own cat, about two and a half years ago.

I’m not going to go into detail about that here. Not now, and maybe not ever. In short: he was my cat for 16 years, and I loved him, and failed him, and missed him terribly, and now, two and half years later, even if the edge is off those feelings (for the most part), they’re still there. I’m not mentioning this because I need comfort, or anything. I just feel like there should be some context for this statement, made around that time, in my journal:

“[Book title, which I’m not going to name here, because it’s not fair to an enjoyable book] is not big or encompassing enough to fill the sad empty place in my heart. But I’m not looking for that right now. I’m looking for fun, easy, quick reads with happy endings, I guess. I chose [this book] because of that–because my mind can’t latch onto too much right now.” (For Future Emi: that’s on July 30th, in the plain brown notebook, because I know you’re going to care about that. Moving on.)

I’m not an expert on grief, but I think that was a reasonable reaction at the time. My heart was just so badly bruised, which sounds crazy to anyone who’s never had a cat, but it was. And it got more badly bruised as the year went on. (Suffice to say that losing my cat wasn’t the last bad thing that happened that year.)

Somewhere in between all of that, and picking up my own writing projects again (which typically don’t leave a lot of brain space for other people’s worlds), I suspect that keeping a certain distance from books got to be habit. Not to say I haven’t read any good books since my cat’s death–I have. And certainly, they haven’t all been “fun, easy, quick reads with happy endings.” But with apathy, depression, and what I now recognize as the fallout of some serious grief still dogging my mind after that year, I feel like my book screening process became a question of how much energy each book would demand of me. How much it would require of my mind and heart. Because I didn’t have that much to give, so I had to be careful with what I did have.

This is all subjective, of course–just the impression I have right now, looking back. The thing is, though, I’ve been slowly coming out of that. And I’m starting to wonder: at what point should I look for a book that’s going to really grab hold of my heart again? Should I look for it? Come to think of it, did I look for that before, or did I just not try to avoid it?

Either way, I think I need to stop being afraid to love books. Because that’s one of the reasons–maybe the reason, as basic as it is–that I’ve always been a reader. I love stories. And if I stay away from books I think I’ll love, then I can’t be surprised when this happens:

Reading Slump

From the post I wrote when… well, the title is pretty self-explanatory: “I’m back!”

Anyway, I’ll get there, I think. I hope. I want to hope? I’m still rather wary, it seems, of getting my heart broken again, by anything. But I think I’m recovering, too. It’s taken a lot of prayer. (I know I don’t talk about my faith a lot here, but I haven’t made this journey without God, and I shouldn’t and couldn’t pretend that I did, because that’s taking a lot more credit than I actually deserve.) It’s also taken time, of course. And it took, in some part, the persistent purring and meowing of a cat who didn’t even belong to me, but who helped mend my heart in ways I didn’t completely understand until he was gone.

I miss him, of course. His death has been a rainy spell on the road. But the good he did seems to be sticking even through that. I may be able, now, to care about books–and even possibly cats–the way I did before. Almost. Getting there. Starting to be ready to get there. To want to get there.

Someday, who knows, maybe I’ll actually blog about some of this in detail. I don’t know if I should. But I hope this post helped someone out there. It does get better on the other side. That’s always been my experience. And it still is. It’s ok if it doesn’t happen right away. It’s even ok if it takes a very long time. Healing can be like that. But it does get better. You start to care again. You start to feel.

So for now, I wish you all some joy and strength, peace, energy, a purring cat if you want one, a good book, and as always, a happy Monday. And thank you, as ever, for putting up with my ramblings. This blog continues to be helpful for me. And it’s probably largely because of how supportive everyone who’s commented has been that I feel like I can post something like this. Thank you all again, and hopefully, I’ll see you all next week with something a little lighter!

A (Time) Traveler’s Review of Georgette Heyer’s Regency Novels

As it turned out, I enjoyed writing the last one of these, so I’m trying it again. To sum up (modifying my explanation from the last post a little, to make it more general): these reviews are meant to combine my love of travel with my love of reading, and approach books not as books, but as vacations that happen to take place in words.

This post’s “vacation”: the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer. Before we get started, though, a quick disclaimer: I haven’t by any means read all of Georgette Heyer’s novels, Regency or otherwise. That’s because while there’s a very long list of titles to choose from, these books are still a finite resource, so I’m fairly careful about doling them out. That having been said, I have read 9 of her novels now, according to my list, and according to Wikipedia, 7 of those were set in the Regency era, so I’ve started to notice some similarities. For instance…

The World: Generally speaking, this is a genteel place that belongs to another time. Also, as I had reason to notice on my most recent visit: this world can sometimes be rather lush. As an impatient girl, I don’t always want to sit and drink in the scenery (or interior design) as much as my narrator-guide sometimes wants to, but I do like the feeling of immersion, so it’s sort of a trade.

The People: You will often yourself in the very best of company. Or at least in some very engaging company. Although occasionally, you may find yourself face to face with some far less reputable types as well. Overall, if you’re at ease with Jane Austen’s crowd, you’ll very likely be at ease here. One thing I should perhaps warn you of, however, is that this is most certainly a past era, so the views represented by your hosts and acquaintances may not sit well with you, as a modern visitor. That’s just one of the risks of time-travel vacations.

Dining and Activities: These are often very posh. You may be invited to balls, or to go riding/driving–and almost certainly, you will be invited to do some shopping, or to spend some time with a tailor. There are some rowdier options available, as well; on my last visit, for instance, I was compelled to attend a prizefight. Those things aren’t my cup of tea, but they are out there. In general, however, these aren’t very action-oriented vacations, so don’t expect explosions or anything like that. There may be some running around–possibly a duel or two–but most of the activities are of a more social nature. In other words, expect there to be a lot of talking.

Other Assorted Hazards: These can vary rather widely. You may run into people who are in danger of losing their money, their reputations, their lives, or their hearts. Or some combination thereof. So keep your wits about you–try not to stay too long at the gambling table, be aware of the pitfalls if you plan to move in the most fashionable circles, and bring your own first-aid kit, because that’s always a good idea for these things. Speaking of which…

Things to Pack (aside from a first-aid kit):

  • Appropriate attire, or the money with which to purchase it.
  • A book of Regency slang and customs, for the individual who likes to know all the nuances of the world, and wants to be able to confidently use slang expressions. Personally, I don’t find such a book necessary for my enjoyment of the world (certainly not necessary for my understanding of events), but there’s no telling whether it may enhance the experience.
  • Tea. Because always tea. Unless, again, you intend to purchase it once you’re there, but sometimes I just want to curl up in bed with tea, and that’s maybe a tad informal for this time period, so you know. I smuggle it in and hide it from my narrator-guide. As you do.

The occasional grievances of dated worldviews aside, I usually enjoy my visits to Georgette Heyer’s Regency England. They tend to be very quick, lighthearted stays, and they’re quite affordable–I get almost all my “tickets” free, from the library. A nice way to spend my time while I’m working on the kinds of writing projects that make it hard to focus on someone else’s fantasy/sci-fi universe.

My Ideal Subscription Box

Box of StuffI love the idea of subscription boxes. A few years back, I actually did a similar thing–a reading year from Mr. B’s–and really enjoyed it. I don’t remember seeing anything else like it, at the time, but now there are things like OwlCrate and Uppercase and all kinds of ways to get monthly books picked out and delivered to your doorstep.

So I spent last night looking at book subscriptions. And I loved the pictures of all the different boxes. But I also knew, looking at the extra items in each box, that beyond the initial “neat!” factor, I wouldn’t use a lot of it. And then it would sit on my shelf, and collect dust, and I wouldn’t be able to throw it away, because I’m a pack rat.

That’s not a criticism of these boxes; my personal pack-rat tendencies aside, they’re still really tempting, so I may decide to try one of them out in the future. (And by the way, if you’d like to read a review of both Uppercase and OwlCrate, there’s a good one here.) For now, though, I just couldn’t click “subscribe.” So instead, I decided to try designing my own ideal subscription box, with what I consider to be the staples: a book, a bookmark, tea (because always tea), and a snack.

All these things have been road-tested by me, which is how I know I like them. That isn’t to say they’re product recommendations, or anything–they’re more like December MVPs, things that I would put in a book-based survival kit for myself, if I could go back to the beginning of last month and leave a box on the doorstep for Past Me. The contents:

  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer (a reread, but a fun reread). It was that or a Regency novel by Georgette Heyer, but since I own Cinder and am only borrowing the Heyer book, I went with Cinder. If you’re looking to do a themed collection, though (which I’m not), a Regency novel would probably fit better with the remaining choices.
  • The bookmark I made a little while back. It’s working great so far, but because my book-reading ways are whimsical, I’m not using this bookmark for a library book, as I’d originally intended. Instead, it’s keeping me company as I reread Cinder. Another reason to choose Cinder for this box, I guess.
  • Yorkshire Gold tea, from Taylors of Harrogate. I got this during a big tea sale, and it quickly became my go-to morning tea. Only now it’s almost gone, so again: time travel.
  • Nonni’s Cioccolati Biscotti. It’s kind of a throwback to my childhood, but I still really like the balance of the flavors in this biscotti. Added benefit: it’s also great dipped in milk. So great, in fact, that these are actually all gone now–the box in the picture is empty (sigh), so this would be another time-travel staple.

It’s still not the same, of course–for me, one of the biggest draws of a subscription box is the surprise, which you can’t really replicate if you buy these things yourself. (Also, as I understand it, some of these boxes come with exclusives, so if you’re into those, there’s kind of no substitute.) But–I don’t know, I guess this activity is less about getting new things, and more about appreciating what I have, as cliché as that sounds. I already had all these items, so all I had to do was put them in a box and enjoy the fanciness. No extra money needed. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, that’s definitely appreciated. A great way to remember that while I may not be a millionaire, I have more than I think, and I like a lot of it.

With that, off to the rest of my Monday. Hope yours is going well so far!

ETA: There are apparently a few subscription boxes that do books and tea (links here, here, and here), but I haven’t had a chance to look into any of these in depth, so I can’t make any recommendations. All I have to say is that I think books and tea are a stellar combination, so I already like the idea.

Results vs. Process

“In hindsight, it is obvious that my drawings were result oriented. I wanted to render a specific image I had in my head. When I failed to attain it, the frustration would freeze me for days or weeks on end. . . . I had not yet learned that the process of drawing was what brought me real fulfillment.” France Belleville-Van Stone, Sketch! The Non-Artist’s Guide to Inspiration, Technique, and Drawing Daily Life

This quote is from a great book that I’m slooooowly working my way through. I don’t usually read books about art, but I’m glad I picked this one up, because there are some insights in it that are really applicable, not only to drawing, but I think to any kind of art. This quote was certainly applicable for me, since a year or so ago, something strange and unpleasant happened: I largely stopped enjoying writing.

There were lots of reasons, but I think a decent part of it was that I’d stopped seeing the process. All I could see, when I sat down, were problems. Plot holes, narrative missteps, superficial characterization. The inevitable rewrites up ahead. An endless trudge through what used to be a fresh landscape.

I’d lost the joy of wandering into a new world, meeting new people, discovering things with my characters, waiting to see what would happen next. Writing was turning into a chore. And the more that happened, the harder it got for me to open up that Word document and get to work.

I’d love to say it’s all better now, but as with so many things, I’m still figuring it out. Writing can be difficult; though you may not think so, starting out, it can be surprisingly easy to lose sight of the things you love. In a way, this quote prompts me to get back to my writing roots–to stop putting so much pressure on myself, stop treating the blank page as a horrible burden, and instead welcome it as an adventure, an opportunity to be surprised.

So as NaNoWriMo heads into its second week: here’s to writing, and its whimsical ways. And for those of you who are participating: I hope you’re making progress toward those 50,000 words. But maybe even more than that, I hope you’re enjoying the whole beautiful, annoying, rewarding, and perhaps-mildly-but-not-dangerously-sleep-deprived process of getting there.

A Traveler’s Review of the Harry Potter Series (First Four Books)

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I finished rereading The Goblet of Fire. I don’t really do traditional book reviews, though–I like reading them, just don’t want to write them–so I thought I’d try something different. Combining my love of travel with my love of reading: this is a review of the first four books in the Harry Potter series, not as books, but as a vacation that happens to take place in words.

The World: This world is very special to a lot of people, and with good reason. Personally, I’m especially fond of the shopping. Diagon Alley is still as wonderful as I remember–I wanted to go into every store. Hogsmeade is also very charming. But the real attraction, of course, is arguably Hogwarts. If you want to spend some time in a magical-castle-boarding-school (and who doesn’t), this is a fantastic place to start. That isn’t to say it’s a perfectly safe place, but we’ll get to that later on.

The People: First off, it has to be said that most of these people are wizards, so there’s a certain danger involved for anyone who doesn’t possess similar magical powers. And as previously mentioned, Hogwarts is a school, so your odds of getting accidentally cursed by someone who isn’t trying to curse you aren’t, you know, nonexistent. That having been said, however, the people of this world are mostly very welcoming. Except for those who really, really aren’t. The good news is that in the first few books, it’s generally pretty easy to tell who’s who. I understand that gets more complicated the longer you stay in the world, but at the start, you should have a pretty good sense of who to run away from.

Dining and Activities: Those with adventurous palates will probably have a lot of fun with the food here, and will especially enjoy the candies this world has to offer. (Check out Honeydukes.) For those who don’t find the food particularly appetizing, there’s plenty else to keep you busy. I already mentioned the shopping–there’s a very interesting bookstore in Diagon Alley. Those with bookish tendencies may also enjoy the Hogwarts library. If you prefer to spend your time on more scientific pursuits, you’ll have a chance to learn a fair amount about potions, and also a fair amount about magical flora and fauna. For more athletic types: you’ll definitely enjoy Quidditch. In fact, even if you don’t plan to play the game, I’d recommend taking in at least one match, as it’s a big part of the wizarding world. And it can be a lot of fun to watch when you aren’t the person who’s about to get creamed by a Bludger.

Other Assorted Hazards: This is what I meant when I said Hogwarts isn’t perfectly safe. This is a magical world, with magical creatures. There will be dangerous things happening. It helps a lot if you stay away from things with names like “the Whomping Willow.” I mean, the risk is right there in the title. But you may find it unavoidable, in which case… I don’t know, be careful. Bring a first-aid kit. No, seriously, you’ll want it. Which brings us to the last section…

Things to Pack: Just a few items that may make your stay in the Harry Potter universe safer and/or more enjoyable.

  • First-aid kit. Because it had to be said again. They do have magical ways of healing injuries there, but sometimes those ways are not immediately accessible. So be prepared.
  • A blanket, for those long stormy British nights. Also for when something scares you and you need to hide. Because that could happen, too.
  • Tea. Because tea. Does there have to be another reason?

All in all, I enjoyed my most recent visit to this universe. I’m not sure yet about venturing into the darker chapters that supposedly lie ahead, but I can say that these first few books make good weekend getaways (or week-long, or month-long journeys, depending on how fast you read). And inexpensive, too, as “tickets” are probably available at your local library, free of cost.

So, there. I’m not sure if I’ll do more reviews like this, but at least this one was fun to write.

Long Chapters

I’m not the fastest reader. But lately I’ve noticed that this gets even worse when I’m dealing with a book full of long chapters.

Long Chapters 1st Half

It’s a little better if there are breaks within the chapter, natural places to stop. But if there aren’t any breaks, the chapter represents a huge time commitment. I could stop partway through, but I hate the feeling that gives me–all vague and disconnected, not completely sure whether I’ve read a paragraph or not. So the chapter ends up getting put aside. Next thing I know, it’s two months later, and I still haven’t finished the book.

I exaggerate, but–

Long Chapters 2nd HalfOk, maybe I’m not exaggerating. What makes no sense to me is that I may end up reading the *same number of pages* in a book full of short chapters, but because they’re all short, the famous “just one more” scenario strikes, and I munch them up like snack-sized candies.

I feel like it wasn’t always this way–like when I first read the Harry Potter series (*cough* or at least the first four books), it was much easier to sit down and read for long periods of time, chapter length notwithstanding. Maybe I’m getting more impatient as I get older. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have those long stretches of time for reading anymore. Maybe it’s part of a broader cultural shift. (Not so much in book length as in attention span–I’m used to getting things faster, now.)

But really, this is all by way of saying that I haven’t finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire yet. I will, probably by the end of the week. I just wish that the chapters were shorter.

It has nothing to do with what the end of the book represents. Nothing at all. Or with that one thing at the end. Or the other thing. Things that happen. Or, if you haven’t read the book, things that don’t happen, maybe, at all.

Ahem. Anyway. On with the reading.

I’m back!

Reading Slump

This is what being (really) depressed is like for me, it turns out. Not wanting to read. I needed to take some time away from the online world, so I did. I hope I’m coming out of it now. I’m mostly enjoying reading again, anyway, so that’s good. Going to try for regular posts on Mondays at least, maybe once more during the week if I’m feeling up to it/enthusiastic about something.

In the meantime: I’m rereading the Harry Potter series. And I say “rereading” generously, because… just because. On an unrelated note, how’s the fifth book? Would you describe it as dark, adventurous, sad, or some other adjective? Just as a completely random question, because I totally know exactly what happens in that book. Totally.