In the quest to connect readers i love with books i love, i’ve set up a new affiliate shop where you can browse and purchase all the chapter books we’ve read aloud together over the last year and a half. i’m updating the shop as we keep reading, and the books are currently organized into not one but TEN lists. The Chapter Book Readalouds, pictured above, include every book we’ve read start to finish (sans a couple out of print or unpublished titles not available via Bookshop). There is also a list of picture books, one for poetry (currently mostly James Dickey—i need to do more poetry pouncings!), one for excerpted readalouds (books from which i’ve read 1-3 chapters and left you to discover the rest on your own), etc. There’s a list for Juneteenth reads, and a list celebrating our Asian-American neighbors. There’s one for Old Testament studies, one for theology, one for Inklings and friends, and one for Rabbit Room authors. SO MANY BOOKS.
The Bookshop affiliate system (because this is an affiliate shop) allows me to curate these excellent collections, and then anything you buy from one of those lists earns me 10% commission at no additional cost to you. What will i do with that, you wonder? Oh, i have ideas. Mainly book-flinging ideas. This might be giveaways, or it might involve some form of book-sharing, but whatever shape it takes, those little pennies will help me purchase excellent books which will then find their way out into the world, and perhaps even into your own hands. They will find their way into real hands, one way or another, of that you may be certain.
That affiliate link will also allow you to start in my shop and then browse around until you find just the right thing (or things! buy two!). If you want a hardcover copy and i’ve linked a paperback, or you discover an author you love and want to buy more of their books, or you remember you suddenly need a new cookbook or a gift for a baby shower, all of that works. Bookshop will keep track of my affiliate link for 48 hours after you’ve clicked it, so you can participate in my future book-flinging even if you already have a copy of everything i’ve listed. 😉 And in the case of public-domain books, which can be so tricky to find in quality editions, you can be sure that i’ve already looked into every edition i’ve linked. If the edition linked isn’t the exact edition i own, it’s at least one i know is reputable. No cheap blights in that shop, i promise.
So go on. Have a look. It was so much fun creating these lists! They are for you. 🙂
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.Evensuspecting 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.
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.
This spring semester i had the hilarious and deeply satisfying experience of writing heresy—Budge-Nuzzard fanfic in biblical Hebrew—for seminary credit. It was an immensely engaging and creative endeavor, and i took no end of pleasure in offhandedly mentioning “my heresy” in my advanced Hebrew exegesis class and citing Thaddeus Glapp in the biography of my capstone paper. It’s crazy to think that i was permitted to get away with this nonsense. Classical Hebrew spec-fic? Inventing words in a dead language? Graduate-level Budge-Nuzzard scholarship? Weench midrash? Gosh. i am the luckiest nerd alive.
Those of you who’ve somehow stumbled through a wormhole and into this website may already have fallen victim to The Yaunsi Heresy. If you haven’t, you’re about to. The attachment that follows contains the complete text of that heresy—with commentary, on both my work and the Budge-Nuzzard. (It isn’t all heresy. The first half of the paper teases an entire semester’s study on Hebrew narrative style and literary devices.)
Enough piffle and blather! With very great thanks to Deirdre Brouer, Hélène Dallaire, Thaddeus Glapp, and A.S. Peterson, i present to you:
The Yaunsi Heresy is a new work of fiction in classical Hebrew based on A.S. Peterson’s lobidious tale of the Budge-Nuzzard. It will be published in serial. Click “Yaunsi Heresy” above to read from the beginning—or to hear the story read to you. 🙂
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
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.
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.
Either way, i hope you enjoy this chapter and go on to read the books. (You can buy them here.) And now i’ll turn things over to Madame Sidler of Ban Rona. She loves the books just as much as i do. 😉
i’m rereading A.S. Peterson’s The Fiddler’s Gun, and it’s hurting me. The first time, i read it aloud with my husband. This time, i am sinking into it alone. But the things that hurt most about this book are not the things i expected.
i know already the losses and lostness in this story. i know who dies, who wishes they did, who should have but didn’t. i know Fin’s loneliness and i know where it comes from. i know her sin. i know the sins against her. i know who’s to blame.
What hurts me about this story is the idea that someone i respect and trust created a person, utterly dependent upon himself, and then he hurt her. He spent ten years hurting her.
This hurts me because i also have created a girl, one who is utterly dependent upon me, and i am hurting her. i’m not done hurting her.
When Fin pulls the trigger, my chest opens up, and one thought pounds in my heart: i am a murderer.
i am a murderer.
i too am a murderer.
i hurt for Fin as she loses herself, but i do not identify with her. i identify with her maker. We are responsible for these lives we’ve made, and we have dealt falsely with them. We are unjust.
Whatever sin is in them, we put there. They act on it—neither of them are innocent. They make their own choices—a mystery i can never hope to explain, one that wonders me as often as it grieves me. They act on their impulses in their own volitional ways. But we are responsible.
It is glory for us to create, to make beings in our image as our Creator has made us. But our image is marred by sin that we cannot wash away. We, like they, need a redeemer.
i know that Fin’s maker means to redeem her. i know my own heart toward my girl; i long to redeem her. Redemption requires death. i know this. We never hurt these people because we don’t love them. We hurt them because there’s no way to make them beautiful, glorious, righteous, without bringing them to the end of themselves. i know Fin’s maker wept over her. i have wept over Rixi as well. Am i justified by my tears? When we are finished, will she understand?
For Rixi’s sake as well as my own, i need for Fin to be redeemed. i know where the story will take her and how her hurts and losses and sins will be addressed. But it is excruciating to get her there.
Rixi, no power in Nirth or in all of creation—nothing but your own will—will prevent me from turning all your pain to beautiful. Please let me redeem you.
That last one, Roverandom, i just read this week in preparation for one of the titular terrifying new things i’m attempting this summer: Story Camp.
i run our church’s library, and this year i am finally making good on my years-old desire to organize a summer reading program. Somehow—because i am crazy like this—i decided that this would also be a great summer to have weekly read-alouds in the library (The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic), host a Skype chat with an author (Jennifer Trafton of Mount Majestic fame), and spend all July encouraging library patrons to write their own stories. This will take the form of Camp Nano-style write-ins for teens and adults, but for kids, i’m running a week-long program i’m calling Story Camp, where the kids and i will play storytelling games, read J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s story Roverandom together, use Roverandom as a jumping-off place for discussions on how to wrangle story elements like character, plot, description, setting, and theme, and then spend time daily writing our own books. i am really excited about this! And also fairly terrified, as i have never done such a thing as a) teach writing, b) teach elementary-schoolers, or c) run a week-long library program of any sort. But the planning is going well, and i will have a helper at least three of the five days, and i think it’s going to be awesome.
The other thing i’m doing this summer, also writing-related, starts on Monday. i’m taking an online writing class taught by Jonathan Rogers, acclaimed thinker of thoughts and author of the middle-grade Wilderking Trilogy, which combines meaning, action, and the best use of setting and written accents i’ve seen in awhile. He says the class, which is titled “Writing Close to the Earth,” could alternately be titled “Writing More Like Flannery O’Connor,” whom he has written a book about, and i am ashamed to say that i have never read any of her stories (although i have heard enough about them that i can pretend i have a grasp of her style). That class will require weekly writing—essays, and sentence exercises, which i am really excited about. i have already done the first week’s reading—i say that i have started early because this summer’s busyness requires me to work ahead while i can in anticipation of weeks when i’ll have less time for homework, but really i’m just a big nerd and i can’t wait to discuss the reading with other students and have JR tell me why my sentences are bad.
Last night, though, i had a hard time falling asleep because it occurs to me that if i am running write-ins this July, it really would behoove me to actually be writing some narrative fiction while encouraging others to do so. And not only am i going to have a lot of homework to do, plus Story Camp (which occurs during my class as well as during July’s write-ins)—i have no idea what to write about.
Sometimes i do wonder if i have already had all of my good ideas.
But aside from that pervasive nonsense fear (and the more realistic what-have-i-gotten-myself-into trepidation)—i am really excited about this summer.
About a week and a half ago, i submitted an essay to the Rabbit Room. i was grateful to have had the opportunity to write that essay, and wanted to share it with the author of the books that inspired it. If he chose to share it with his community, i would be thrilled, but i had no expectations. Meanwhile, i knew that i was sending the essay to them at the very last minute if i wanted it to be read, much less published, before Kickstarter backers began reading the fourth book. i had gotten the public release date mixed up with the Kickstarter release, and so instead of sending them that essay a month or more before readers had a chance to begin finishing the series, i sent it to them in the middle of pallets and pallets of books arriving at their office. This week Andrew is signing multiple thousands of books, which are being sent to over two thousand readers. There’s no reason to expect them even to check their email during all this, although of course i must assume that they have. Whenever Andrew sees it, i hope he is blessed by my interactions with his story—whether the essay is deemed appropriate for the Rabbit Room or not. And whatever happens, i am grateful.
Today AP posted that their friendly neighborhood mailman was off with the second truckload of Kickstarter shipments, so regardless of the status of that submission, it’s time to release my essay into the wild.