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.
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
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.
Hebrew narrative is full of gaps. It’s part of the literary art. Did Uriah know about David and Bathsheba? With whom did Jacob wrestle? How exactly was Abishai part of Joab’s plot to kill Abner? These gaps excite our imaginations and draw us into the text by means of curiosity and suspense, but they also leave us with niggling interpretive questions. The medieval expositors who engaged in midrash sought (“midrash” comes from the word “to seek”) to fill in those gaps by making connections, seizing on clues as small as stray consonants, drawing in folklore and mysticism, explaining background, imagining.
Here’s an example. In 1 Samuel 28, Saul (who had previously cast all the mediums out of Israel) has been rejected as king and has given up seeking G-d, and now wants advice from the man of G-d who anointed him. This is Samuel, but Samuel is dead, and the only way to consult him is to consult a medium. When he finds a medium and convinces her that no harm will come to her if she conjures a ghost in direct defiance of the king’s (i.e. his own) order, she consents. But as soon as the spirit rises out of the earth, she panics—“You are Saul!” Well, what on earth about the spirit gave her the identity of the flesh-and-bone man standing in her tent? The midrash on this passage explains it thusly: A spirit conjured from the dead will rise feet first, head down, except in the presence of the king. Then, out of respect, the spirit rises head first, feet down. Samuel must have done so, and the sight of him rising, upright, told her everything: This was Saul, the king.
Is that actually how she knew? We can’t be certain, although a possible misspelling in the Masoretic Text, corrected in the Septuagint, might support this theory. Either way, when faced with the question of why the woman, seeing Samuel, suddenly recognized Saul, the midrash expositors devised an explanation which harmonized with the received text, slipping cleverly into the gap the narrator left behind.1
Now, what i am doing with the Yaunsi Heresy i have often called fanfiction. Up till last week all i was doing, aside from switching main and secondary characters, was retelling the story, sometimes as directly as translation would allow. But there is a gap, a rather large gap, in the Budge-Nuzzard. It is a cunning gap, a subversive gap, one that invites wrestling, and i seek now to fill it. For the last year i have been drawing together threads from the Budge-Nuzzard itself—no folklore, no mysticism, but only from my source material—to put forth an interpretation which i believe to be consistent with the story’s own evidence. What has been fanfiction or even simple retelling is now becoming midrash.2
If you have not yet read the Budge-Nuzzard, do start now.
1 The midrash on 1 Samuel 28 does not end here, and it is fascinating to read. For an introductory study, see my paper The Witch of Endor Toward a Literary Treatment, written last spring.
2 The name of a Hebrew book is taken from the first major word of the book’s text. For example, the first word in Leviticus is Vayikra—“He called.” Rabbah—“great”—is the term given to the expansion of the text via midrash. The midrash on Leviticus is therefore Vayikra Rabbah, and my midrash on the Budge-Nuzzard is properly named Nolad Rabbah, as the first word of that story in Hebrew is Nolad (“It was born”).
If you’ve been around my blog for very long, you’ll know that i love The Wingfeather Saga. If you’ve been around only for the last month or so, you’ll know that there’s a Kickstarter happening to fund a pilot for what we hope is a full-length animated series. What you may not know is what these books are about, or why i love them, or when this Kickstarter ends, so i’d like to clear all that up for you right now—because, last/first things first, the Kickstarter ends TONIGHT, and i’d love to see you there.
This series is a whimsical, woeful, wonderful epic about three young siblings who find themselves in the middle of secrets and armies, history and destiny. Their world has fallen to an occupying force of lizardfolk called the Fangs of Dang. These Fangs are venomous and cruel, and they serve an evil lord named Gnag the Nameless. If that were not enough, the Black Carriage roves the land, taking children in the night for some fell and unknown purpose.
But amidst these horrors, there is great beauty and hope in this world. There is danger within and without, but there are also singing sea dragons and love like a warm hearth on a chilly evening. Aerwiar, the world in these books, is wild and weird and more beautiful than i can tell you. The characters grapple with hard truths about their own hearts, and they become something more than they could have guessed. i haven’t wept over any books the way i’ve wept over these. i beg you to read them.
To get you started, here’s a FREE six-chapter preview, and below i’ll read you one of my favorite chapters from the series.
And as i said, the Kickstarter ends TONIGHT—Monday, April 4, 2016—at 9:00 pm Central. This Kickstarter funds a pilot episode, and there are a host of great rewards already funded, from stickers to t-shirts to short stories to a comic book. And since the next step is to find a studio to turn this pilot into a full series, every backer counts. If the sound of this story is compelling to you, now is the time; there is no other. If you can’t afford more than a dollar, that dollar still tells the studios that there is an audience for this series. If you don’t have even a dollar, you can still help by following The Wingfeather Saga on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram, and this is a huge help, because again, the studios are looking at those numbers.
Now then, dear readers, yesterday i promised you some commentary on a few of the nerdier aspects of Yaunsi episode nine. Since that time my boy Andrew’s Kickstarter has defied the laws of physics and has exsplatterated the brains of every third backer, and rendered the remainder unconscious. i alone am left to describe to you this scene of horrific and inevitable magnificence, and this is only due to my latent Pan* heredity; i slupped out of there as quick as i could when i saw the tidal wave of psychic gravitational forces heave toward me. (“Heave not!” i said during that moment’s long squirting, but they heeded not.)
*Yes, it is true that i was born and raised in the Green Hollows, but my family is largely of Pan-Weem descent. It is a scandal of which we do not speak broadly. You cannot imagine the dramatics and contretemps (i mean that literally) around holiday dinner tables.
So to calm my mind as the incomprehensible forces of Andrew’s Kickstarter continue to be unfeld, i shall regale you with the following nerdy bits of heresy-writing. If you also would like your sanity shattered by the ravenous glories of a fully-funded pilot for the Wingfeather Saga Animated Series, i encourage you to click over to his Kickstarter and see the many-splendored devastation for yourself. Meanwhile, on to the heresy.
Yesterday’s episode contained a pun, the likes of which i could not have conceived but was gloriously conceived in me during a moment of mad scribbling right before Hebrew class last week. “Oh my word. i love my heresy!” i whisper-shrieked to myself there in my seminary classroom. Then things got a little awkward.
The word in question is בֶּגֶד (beged). It’s a common enough word (it occurs in the vocabulary list in chapter 11 of our textbook), and in every biblical occurrence but two, that word is correctly translated “clothing” or “garments.” The exceptions are in Isaiah 24:16 and Jeremiah 12:1 where it is instead rendered “treachery.” Consider what we know of Yaunsi the Pan—what little clothing he wears. Consider that he and Cheresh are fellow Pans (Panim, in Hebrew). Consider the horror such a word would certainly convey to these Pans of grand descent. Fie on those treacherous cake-turners!
Now while we’re talking about the Pan tradition of going scantily-clad (our family has left that tradition behind; worry yourselves not), Cheresh’s word choice when describing Yaunsi’s potential shame is quite strategic. You may recall that in episode one of my heresy, our narrator (is that me or not? you decide) said that Yaunsi did not cover himself with much clothing. The same word, “cover” (כסה, kasa), Cheresh uses here. Is this another reference to the Pannic feelings of repellence toward clothing? Hrrmm.
Oh, one more thing. In Hebrew, pronouns and verbs always agree in both gender and number with the nouns they represent. When i have referred to the Budge-Nuzzard in the past, i have thusly used a masculine singular pronoun and verb conjugation (third person, in Hebrew, is used for he/she as well as it. You may recall some consternation regarding this in episode eight). This time, however, Cheresh refers to “The Budge and its Nuzzard.” Which pronoun, which number, does he use? Plural, yes? Nope. Still singular. ::shudder:: (i had a very bad moment a couple of weeks ago while rereading the original Budge-Nuzzard episode “Gloaning.” But what horrors i saw in those words will have to wait for a later commentary. You are not yet ready to hear my brain’s ravings on this matter.)
Now then, let us all go forth with greater insight, fear, and glee. And while you go, do consider giving yourself up to the inexorable resplendence of Andrew’s Kickstarter.
See you next week. (Unless Andrew’s Kickstarter swallows the sun.)
i am going to cry my way through this post, i promise you.
A little over two years ago, Andrew Peterson launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish the last book in his YA fantasy series, The Wingfeather Saga. i loved Andrew already as a singer/songwriter and author, and since that Kickstarter i’ve come to love him as a brother and friend as well. i’m grateful beyond words for his trust as he has welcomed me into his books’ story.
And now that story which i love so much has taken a huge leap forward. This morning, Andrew launched the Kickstarter campaign to create a pilot episode for an animated series. This has been in the works for months, and now within the first six hours of the campaign, over six hundred backers have joined forces to raise more than 40% of the initial fundraising goal. That number climbs every second. Andrew and his story are easy to to love, and are well-loved. i knew this. But what a thing to watch unfold.
This morning i learned all over again what a gift it is to love and to serve and to be trusted. i learned what a holy thing it is to be undone by the overwhelming support of one’s community. i learned that librarian shoes are running shoes. And we are running. Run with us. 🙂