THIS IS A TEST. Please let me know if anything’s broken or seems off.
Aerwiar is the world of the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson. Are you Hollish? Skreean? A Ridgerunner? An Annieran in exile? Take the following quiz to find out!
THIS IS A TEST. Please let me know if anything’s broken or seems off.
Aerwiar is the world of the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson. Are you Hollish? Skreean? A Ridgerunner? An Annieran in exile? Take the following quiz to find out!
Each year the Rabbit Room publishes a list of the contributors’ top 3 books, films, and music, and invites readers to share their favorites in the comments. i was planning to spend time in my review posts sifting through everything i read so as to be prepared for listing my top three. Well, i am not done sifting yet, but the “Stuff We Liked” post went up on Thursday, so i did my best to narrow things down. This resulted in a comment long enough to be a blog post all on its own, so i am posting it here also. i do intend to finish that series of review posts, though.
So i read 76 books last year and only hated two of them and the short list for the ones i loved best is basically seven plus one whole writer. Forewarning: i am going to break the rules. The editor can give me demerits if he wants (but seriously? Demerits for games? That’s crazy).
JAMES DICKEY. GAH. i LOVE HIM. i read four of his poetry collections between June and December (Buckdancer’s Choice; Selected Poems; The Strength of Fields; Death, and the Day’s Light; and Buckdancer’s Choice again), and if anyone wants a Dickey education i am so ready to get you started. This guy is fascinating. i can’t stop reading him. His poetry runs the gamut from mythological to war memoir to seriously troubling to stories that i don’t know if, and i don’t know if anyone knows if, they’re true. Some of his “i” narrators are him, some are fictional, plus he was apparently a pathological liar in real life. A couple of weeks ago i was flipping through a book that had multiple drafts of one of my favorites of his poems and thought, i could read this guy for the rest of my life. So. One of my reading goals for this year is to read and reread enough of him that next year i can justify making a foray into reading commentary—his own or scholarly. And his son wrote what looks like a great memoir about his dad and their relationship, and i want to read that too, but before i get too far into thoughts about Dickey (even his own thoughts) i want to read his poetry on its own terms for a lot longer. i can only think of one other writer who’s ever just exploded my brain and taken over like this, and he’s the one who introduced me to Dickey.
Ha. Okay. i will try to move on from there. But get me started again, i dare you.
Du Iz Tak? Ken Priebe has be keeping me supplied with picture books for the last several months, and this one is without question my favorite. i didn’t know i was a language nerd until i started studying Hebrew in seminary a few years ago (although i probably should have known this all along). It turns out i love languages, and what really lights me up is the little epiphanies scattered throughout the learning process—idioms and etymology and the connections between everything. This book was maybe written just for me. It’s told in an entirely made-up language—a “nonsense” language, it first appears. But as i read it i started to pick up on vocabulary and even grammar in this bright-colored picture book and i. just. freaking. exploded. Remembering this not only makes me want to reread the book, but gets me revved up to get back to Hebrew.
This is the part where i start cheating, because this should be my third and last book, but instead it is my third and NOT last book.
Those are all in chronological order by date of completion.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and Watership Down were both recommended by Jeffrey Overstreet and i have yet to read a book he’s recommended and not be ruined by it. i cried on every single page of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.
Henry and the Chalk Dragon. Jennifer Trafton is the avatar of the goddess Courage. i love her. This book, like everything she writes, makes me brave. There were times last spring when i would write “TIE YOUR SHOELACES” on my hand to get me though Akkadian tests. Also, Henry and i have started coloring in my books. We have colored in a lot of the illustrations in his book, and we have also started to illuminate the copy of Four Quartets that lives in my purse. For days after reading Henry all i could think of was color. From Henry’s imagination and woes to the adult characters’ arcs to the conflict with Oscar to the DRAGON! to Jade the Bard to the prose itself, there is literally nothing about this book that isn’t perfect.
Winter’s Tale and Les Mis were both assignments from my Patronus and i loved them so much. i loved the fact of them and the assignment of them and the reading of them. Winter’s Tale is a wildly, magically, quietly hilarious dream of a thing and i have never read anything like it. Plus, it has Barnabas Bead references in it and Pete didn’t even do all of them on purpose. Les Mis—i am still not over Gavroche and his mômes. That whole book just gutted me in the best way.
Finally: EVERY MOMENT HOLY. i can’t believe i know people who make art like this.
i didn’t track movies and music the way i did books, so that gives you a reprieve from further enthusiastic exhaustions. But i love that Pete mentioned mother! because oh my gosh, that movie completely exhilarated me.
100% the best thing this year: The Wingfeather Saga: A Crow for the Carriage. This thing exists. Oh my word. It exists, and it is beautiful. i might cry just thinking of it. i’m so, so unbearably proud of that team.
i’m not going to bother with ranking the rest of these, but: La La Land. i saw that one four times in the theater. i had to fight for it—my first viewing and my second were completely different experiences and i’m so glad i went back.
Others: Jeffrey Overstreet came out this summer for a film seminar at our church library, and i followed that up with a film discussion series, and it was a blast. So hard to pick favorites out of that bunch, but i completely loved The Fits. Also, Paterson. Also, Babette’s Feast. (We also watched Timbuktu and La La Land, plus The Secret of Kells, which i’d already seen.)
i’m with Pete on War for the Planet of the Apes also, but the film series selections were so good that i think that one has to be an honorable mention.
Thankfully for you i listened to very little new music (as is typical for me), so:
Scott Mulvahill is my favorite new thing to happen to music, period. i have spun the five songs on his EP for hours straight.
Psallos’ album Hebrews is so crazy awesome. i’ve never heard anything like it. The whole book of Hebrews, straight through, as a community theater production with a full Broadway orchestra. What the heck.
In other news, i am still spinning The Burning Edge of Andrew Peterson.
In my last post i made an attempt to explain how i read 76 books last year (75, really, if you don’t count repeats), and i doubt i knew what i was talking about to any great extend. i say this partly because another factor arose in my upper head a day or two after writing it, and it is this: Jennifer Trafton included READ, READ, READ in her list of 2017 goals, and it is always best to do whatever Jennifer Trafton is doing if at all possible. She is a magical fairy creature. Also, and perhaps most importantly, i made the decision at the beginning of fall semester to not check Facebook before lunch, and to not check at all on school days (once a week), but to instead open a book immediately upon waking. This lasted only about halfway through the semester (i did manage to keep up the Facebook part of it), because by a certain point i was more likely to fall back asleep in my book if i tried reading before getting out of bed. But it did help for awhile.
tl;dr: Obey Jennifer Trafton. Read every morning in place of Facebook.
Anyway, to the reviews. i said i would give a 1-2 sentence gloaning for each of the books i read last year, so we commence. But rather than proceed in a linear fashion, i shall divide the list into categories and go from there.
i’m going to start with Textbooks.
Best book in this bunch: A Little Book for New Theologians. Read it.
Which category should i do next? Maybe picture books?
i read a ton of books this year, thank goodness.
i say “thank goodness” because i’ve come to realize that i need to be reading, and the busier i am the more i need it. i hit on this sort of accidentally, although it should’ve been obvious from day one. But at the beginning of my worst ever semester, something inside me said “you need fiction to make it through this.” i was right, and had no idea how right i was. Even suspecting that and making provision for it didn’t prevent me from learning it the hard way. i am a fictional character and i need fiction the way i need oxygen.
Ironically, perhaps, i learned this in part from the author who gave me my fictional name. i have always been fictional, but being named by a fiction-author and given a place in his world grounded me to one particular fictional identity in which all my fictionality can rest and from which i can reach out into the world (both primary and secondary). That author is, of course, Andrew Peterson. Andrew is far busier and more productive than me. i have no clue when he sleeps, or if he’s slept this year. But through him i’ve heard (mostly second-hand) the phrase focal practices. (Caveat: i suspect this concept was from a Hutchmoot session i missed, and i don’t know whether i’m even doing this right, but the phrase was a catalyst for me as i began to think this stuff out.) What i’ve observed from watching Andrew over the last couple of years is that his focal practices are a good indicator of his health and restedness. He needs to be outside. i suspect going outside would benefit me also, but i’m not quite there yet (i know this is stupid). i asked myself, if there is a practice i need to maintain, one which is a canary for my health the way Andrew’s beekeeping and outdoor-wandering are for him, what would that be? And the immediate answer was fiction. (Andrew is also a reader. Again, i don’t know when he sleeps.)
That one bad semester, the one where i knew i’d need fiction to survive? That was the semester that Andrew bought me Calvin & Hobbes. i was overwhelmed before classes even started and wasn’t sure how i’d manage a full novel, but i knew i needed something, and so Andrew generously and unexpectedly sent me the entire boxed set. i read a little every night before bed. By the end of that semester i was counting how many strips were left and how many days, rationing it so i didn’t finish before finals; i was sure i wouldn’t make it if i did. And i did make it, but just barely. i’m convinced that Andrew saved my life. Fiction is oxygen.
The last few years i’ve been tracking my reading on Goodreads (see the widget on the right), and the uptick this year is astounding. i read 28 books in 2015 and 23 in 2016, but this year i am thunderstruck to say that i’ve read 76 books. i attribute this to mixing in a lot of poetry and picture books and a few textbooks my professors were kind enough to assign cover-to-cover, but even so, that number includes a good dozen which were 400+ pages (one was over 600, two over 700, and one just a few pages shy of a thousand). So the picture books and legit tomes balanced each other out pretty well.
HOW, of course, is the obvious question. i am still working this out, and the how will probably change semester to semester, but here’s what worked this year.
This works according to the same principle as Calvin & Hobbes. A long book not only is long but feels long, and sometimes when you’re busy you just have enough time for a little infusion. (This is also why Andrew intentionally made the chapters so short in his Wingfeather Saga.) What’s easier—reading for 45 minutes or reading three 15-minute books or chapters? It’s almost a trick question, but it isn’t. If all you’ve got is 15 minutes, you’ll never read that third of a chapter. Find something short. And if you’ve got a few more minutes, read a bit more.
This often works the same way as picture books, and because poetry is so rich i find i don’t want nearly as much of it in one sitting anyway. i can read one or two poems before bed or in between things, and feel nourished. One downside, however, is that in a collection of poems there might be a lot of one-page poems broken up by the odd ten- or twenty-page poem, and when i hit one of those i’m not always ready for it and then the book sits there for a week. (Dickey has definitely done this to me more than once.) But i am really learning to appreciate this art form. Even when i don’t fully grasp what the poet is doing, it’s helpful.
This isn’t so much a how do you read this much? as a how do you find these things?, but if you have a wise and kind person who will let you climb up on their shoulders and train your eyes to know good literature, hallelujah. i was a little nervous the first time i asked Pete for a Patronus assignment, but i’m so grateful i did and grateful he keeps saying yes. And a lot (although not all) of the picture books on this list were recommended by my friend Ken, a stop-motion animator who’s well-versed in this field. i’d never have found all those on my own. i find that i can accomplish nearly anything if i have an assignment (or a deadline), so getting these assignments is motivating. (Plus: Patronus.)
i do think it is crucial that a book-assigner be someone chosen and trusted. A lot of people would like to add to my TBR list. i can’t read all of it and i don’t necessarily want to. But i’ll read anything Pete or Ken give me because i know what they give me is good for me. (And if you do have academic assignments, count them. Even if they aren’t fiction or poetry or anything particularly soul-strengthening, acknowledge that time and work. It feels good to look back on it later and see in full color what you managed to do.)
Over the summer, since i had a lot more flexibility, i decided i’d spend one entire day every week at a coffee shop, reading. That meant as early as i could manage in the morning (although often that wasn’t really until 10 or 11), and as late as i could stay in the afternoon (right up until dinner). i found that when the semester started up again in August i couldn’t bear to lose that incredibly healing practice, and while i couldn’t continue a once-a-week fiction day during the semester it did propel me toward more reading while in school than i would probably have done otherwise. Lay the groundwork while you can and then you have a habit to lean on.
This wisdom is offered for free, as it has not been peer-reviewed. Ha. (And if you got to the end of this post, you can probably count it toward your reading goal.)
Here’s the full list of what i read this year. i’m hoping to come back and annotate this list in a few posts to come—just a line or two about where i found each book and what i thought of it.
As of yesterday, all outstanding Weem Adrift Publishing orders have gone out and all are expected to arrive by Christmas. This makes me happy.
i love that so many of you placed orders. i love that i got to bind you books with my very own hands and then send them out into the world. i love that you will be able to hold in your hands the poems and robiderance which mean so much to me. i love knowing that some of you bought copies as gifts and soon not only you but people you love will get to unwrap them. i am still a little in awe at the idea that i get to publish A.S. Peterson. i get to hand-bind and sell my two favorite works by my favorite writer. Crazy.
My husband and i are taking a couple of weeks off to celebrate Christmas with family. There are a couple of paperback Jubilations in stock, and i’ll be binding more of everything after the New Year, but all orders placed between now and then will go out in January.
Thanks, everyone. 🙂 Merry Christmas.
Dear readers, Jubilations-purchasers, sojourners with me into words herein, i wanted your books to be perfect.
One thing after another has me feeling like something is preventing me from finishing the preorders. Tight hinges, slipping ruler, torn paper, printing errors. i don’t know why and i want it to stop. i just want to ship your books. i want them to be perfect, and i want them to be in the mail last week.
With this burden pressing and with a friend’s urging i left my materials on the table and went up to my prayer room. i cried out my fear and weariness and surrendered myself and this project, and in surrendering i received it back as a gift. These poems are a gift, to me and to you and even to the poet himself, as we are gifts to one another.
Your books might not be perfect. i don’t know why i’ve been having this trouble. But as i read over them again in prayer, i was reminded of the brightness of the Word unhid within, and of my need to wrestle myself down in stillness and quiet, to receive.
i am bookbinding today. Perfect or not, the binding of these books is a grace given to me that i might give it to you. i love them. And whether or not they are perfect, every book will be prayed over.
Jubilations released ten days ago. Preorders opened six and a half weeks ago. i started binding in advance—hardcovers, especially when the paper has to be hand-cut, take awhile—but i hit a production hitch right after release and everything ground to a halt. Now, instead of having everything shipped by the end of last week, i’m back to the drawing board, trying to figure out why my bindings are so tight and how i can recover all the work i’ve already done and fill the orders that are still waiting (almost half of them!). For a week or so i’ve been going to bed and waking up worried. People need their books. And it’s finals week—i’ve got homework hanging over me, too. But the good news is i think i’ve finally hit on what’s going wrong.
i hand-stitch all my books, hardcover and paperback, rather than relying on glue alone, but i learned early on that you can’t skip gluing them also. Sewing is what keeps the pages from coming out, and gluing is what keeps the signatures tight. So after they’re sewn, they’re clamped together and i apply glue over that stitched side and squish it into the gap between the signatures. Well. This works really well to insure that there are no gaps between signatures, but when i lay the text block down on the table and open the first page, the little line of glue that invariably ends up along that bound edge keeps the page from lying flat. Instead it has a curve to it. It’s a little pleasing curve, nice to look at. And that curve pulls on the book boards.
The solution to this seems to be that instead of positioning the back of the text block so that it’s aligned with the back edge of the cover board, i need to scoot it back a bit into the hollow spine so that the natural curve of the first page doesn’t pull. i’m reinforcing the spine as i go also, just for a bit of added stability. But i’m pretty sure that this slight repositioning means i can finally get back to binding and shipping.
Meanwhile, what happens to those copies that didn’t go together right? They took a lot of time to make. The cotton rag i’m using isn’t cheap. And the poetry is still exquisite. It’d be a waste to discard them. So i’m taking a page from Thaddeus Glapp, fixing the bindings, and then offering them on a discount as Hideously Gnawed.
Fixing them means cutting them apart, so Hideously Gnawed copies may have doubled endpapers where i sliced out the text block and pasted it back in, or if i had to cut the cover i’ll reassemble it with an extra strip of watercolor paper wrapped around the spine. They might have needed some hinge repair, in which case an extra strip of text paper will be pasted in. They’ll still be perfectly readable and they’ll still have their little hand-torn, walnut-inked J on the front. But you’ll be able to pick up a Hideously Gnawed hardcover for what is essentially cost—materials plus the author’s cut plus about a dollar. i might, as we go along, add Hideously Gnawed paperbacks, too, if a copy’s cover paper wrinkles (as is its wont; i must watch it and weight it carefully).
Right now i’ve got to go write an essay for my Gospels & Acts class, and tomorrow morning i’ll get back to binding. If you’re one of the preorder customers whose books haven’t yet arriven, thanks for your patience. And if you don’t mind a bit of friendly gnawing, a copy in need of a home is waiting for you. 🙂
Since announcing the upcoming release of In the Year of Jubilation i’ve been caught up in a flurry of learning, coordinating, stitching, binding. Now the first orders have been shipped and i can gratefully say that Jubilations is officially back in print. 🙂 Thanks to a thrilling number of preorders and the usual vagaries of handbinding, they’re not all in the mail yet, but the next few days will see me back at the post office repeatedly and they’ll all be out by the end of the week. 🙂
Here’s a view into the last month’s work, and a poem to tease you into purchasing, and a link to Goodreads (which is how you really know it’s official!).
To order: Weem Adrift Publishing
On Goodreads: In the Year of Jubilation
Two years ago during Lent i discovered a poem cycle that has carved itself into my bones.
It appeared in the Rabbit Room’s first installation of their annual literary journal, the Molehill. i had been reading along, a piece here and a piece there—fiction, essay, recipe, poetry—and when i came to this particular work i could read no further. It was called “In the Year of Jubilation,” and was comprised of an introduction and fourteen poems. Somewhere in the reading of these poems i started crying. i had no idea why.
The next night i picked up the Molehill again, intending to read the next piece, but i couldn’t. i reread the Jubilations, and again i wept through them. i read those poems every night for a week. Every night the tears started at a different place, but they always started. Over the last two and a half years they have broken and healed me countless times. They inform my prayers. And i still cannot express what they mean to me or why i am crying.
This year at Hutchmoot i brought (and within a half-hour had sold) a little stack of paperback Budge-Nuzzards. i have been selling these for a couple of years now, at first by accident and now on purpose. But nustled within my sidebag i also packed a little handbound hardback of the Jubilations for the Mootmaster and Jubilations-poet, Pete. (Is it any wonder that he is my Patronus?) He marveled over it, called his wife over to see it, and then asked the question i had been hopefully and nervously wondering if he would ask: “Are you going to bind and sell these?” i fumbled through turning the question back to him. They’re his. The Budge-Nuzzard is freely available online, but the Jubilations are out of print. i wouldn’t think to sell them without his consent—but the world needs these poems. i need them. i will be needing them for a long, long while yet. And he gave me permission.
These perfect little flickers, these candle-flames, will not be lost. i am so grateful.
Coming in November from Weem Adrift Publishing
In the Year of Jubilation (from the Book of Found Verse)
by A.S. “Pete” Peterson
TIE YOUR SHOELACES.
i am not an impartial reviewer of this book. i’ve been agonizing over this, because i want to write a review worthy of the book itself, but the truth is that i adore Jennifer Trafton. She makes me want to be brave, and sometimes, with her whispered kindnesses in my heart, i can be.
Be brave. Be brave. Be brave, says Henry’s chivalry. It’s hard for him to be brave, too. He is a knight, but he is also an Artist, you see, and his wild imagination is hard to contain, and just as hard to let out. When he tries to draw nice brown bunnies calmly eating lettuce, the Work of Art inside him aches to draw bunnies that jump so high they tear holes in the clouds and land on Mars, or a rocket-powered bunny with laser eyes. His teacher and principal don’t know what to do with him. He has one best friend, but is afraid the other kids won’t understand—even his best friend doesn’t always. So when one day he draws a magnificent jungle-green dragon on the back of his blackboard-painted door and it runs away, Henry is more worried than anything, even though his dragon thrills him. Suddenly, the Work of Art he has been hiding is out in the world for everyone to see.
i don’t know what i love best about this book—the chivalry, which is often funny (“Don’t feed girls to dragons”) and often cuts right to my own fears as an Artist; the golden trumpets of Jade’s bardic songs; the way Henry’s conflict with his best friend, and his dragon, and his Art, and his principal, all collide and swirl toward and past and around each other to resolve into beauty (the one moment with his dragon—oh! i might cry right now); Oscar and his pet octagon; their wonderful teacher Miss Pimpernel with her beaver-teeth hair (she was a superhero, you know)… i could go on for days.
My copy of this book has already been colored in. i couldn’t help it. After reading Henry, the colors won’t hold still. i am going to stop writing and go back to coloring—and then later today, i am going to go back to my own writing. Because when i am tempted to think i can’t, Henry’s chivalry tells me Tie your shoelaces.
Henry and the Chalk Dragon releases April 4. You can preorder at the Rabbit Room—preorders come signed, and with two free coloring pages (but i do definitely recommend coloring in your book!).
Jennifer is also the author of The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic. At last count i had bought twenty copies of this book so far. i love it with my whole heart. You should read that one, too.