The Prydain Project

Thirty years after first devouring Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, I'm rereading them to see if the magic is still there. If you've arrived at this blog because you loved Prydain as a kid, I hope you’ll enjoy the chance to revisit it along with me. To read the recaps in order, start here: "The Book of Three," Chapter 1

Friday, February 28, 2014

How fast do you read?

I thought this reading speed test from Staples was fun and informative. It turns out I read 74 percent faster than the average American hooman, however I don't always retain what I read (only got 2 out of 3 comprehension questions right). To misquote Paul Simon: "Slow down, you move too fast, got to make the readin' last!"

See how fast you read:

ereader test
Source: Staples eReader Department

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What I'm Reading: Bigger than a Bread Box

Took a break from Marisa de los Santos to read a middle-grade book by a local author: Bigger than a Bread Box. I heard Laurel Snyder speak at the January Atlanta Writers Club meeting, and found her inspiring, especially when she shared that she sent out her first novel 49 times before finding success. I'm currently trying to find representation for my own novel, and "trying" aptly describes the process, in both the sense of an attempt and the sense of something excruciatingly irritating that you wish was over already. It always helps to hear reminders from successful authors that their success didn't happen overnight.

"Bigger than a Bread Box" is the story of Rebecca Shapiro, a 12-year-old girl who moves with her mother and her baby brother from Baltimore to Atlanta when her parents separate. Rebecca hates being away from her father and wishes her parents would resolve their issues so she can move back home. In the attic of her grandmother's home where the family is staying, she discovers a magical bread box that can grant any wish, as long as the wish can fit inside the bread box. In the most entertaining plot line of the book, she uses her new-found magic power to win over a contingent of "mean girls" at her new school. Unfortunately, like most realistic books with a magical element, the premise falls a little flat in the book's conclusion, and I was dissatisfied by the lack of an origin story -- even a sketched-in one -- for the bread box. Where did it come from? Who else in the world knows of its existence? About three-quarters of the way through the book, a new character is introduced that at first seems likely to lead to these answers, but never does. Still, it's an entertaining read, and Rebecca seemed like an authentic 12-year-old most of the time, unlike the preternaturally mature Clare Hobbes of de los Santos's "Love Walked In."

I checked this book out from my local library, and the children's librarian who helped me find it on the shelf was curious about it, so I explained to her that I had heard Snyder speak and that I am a YA writer myself. Then she told me this hilarious joke: "How is a YA writer like a broken park bench? Neither of them can support a family."

Now, I am old enough and just stubborn enough to keep pursuing my chosen career in spite of barbs like that. But I feel for the impressionable children that she must come into contact with every day. Let's hope she's a little more compassionate and encouraging when they share their precious career aspirations with her than she is with adults who do the same.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

What to Read: Adam Bede

Spent last weekend in Tennessee celebrating the birthday of my father-in-law, who told me that his favorite book is "Adam Bede" by George Eliot. While I've had "Middlemarch" recommended to me several times over the years, I think this was the first time anyone has recommended an Eliot book to me that was not "Middlemarch." My father-in-law admitted he had a few false starts with this book, but he kept at it and found it to be one of the most rewarding reads of his lifetime. What do you think, readers - does this one go on the list? Or, if I only read one Eliot book, should it be her defining work rather than a deeper cut?

Should I read "Adam Bede"?

Monday, February 3, 2014

What I’m Reading: Love Walked In

I just finished “Love Walked In,” a novel recommended and Christmas-gifted by my sister, who’s a big fan of the author, Marisa de los Santos. It’s the story of Cornelia, a coffee shop manager who loves old movies and whose life changes in unexpected ways when she meets a man who seems to be “the one.” It’s also about Clare, an 11-year-old girl struggling to maintain a normal life when her mother stops being someone she can count on. In telling these two characters’ eventually intertwining stories, de los Santos uses a shifting narrative technique: Cornelia and Clare alternate chapters, except that Cornelia’s chapters are told in first person, while Clare’s are in limited third. It makes for interesting variety at first, but the chapters are pretty short, and I quickly became fatigued with the constant shifting back and forth.

It’s funny… when I was in elementary school and my favorite books were the Chronicles of Narnia and anything by Beverly Cleary, I disliked first-person narration – what I referred to as “I books” – so much that when browsing in the library for something new to read, I’d put a book back on the shelf immediately upon seeing the word “I” on the first page. That lasted until middle school, when I read “The Outsiders” and S.E. Hinton immediately became my favorite writer – a position she’d hold for years, while I eagerly sought out other “I books” by the likes of Paul Zindel and Judy Blume. When I wrote my first full-length work of fiction (not quite a novel, more like a long short story) at age 12, I borrowed characters from Hinton’s universe – today, it would be called fanfic, but I don’t know if the term existed back then, in the olden days before the Internet. But unlike Hinton, who always stuck to male protagonists, I made my main character/narrator female, because even back then I thought it was important to tell a coming-of-age story from a teen girl’s perspective. However, I digress. Suffice it to say that when I get into a book, whether it’s an “I book” or told in the third person, I like to stick with one POV throughout, and so the alternating pattern in “Love Walked In” didn’t work for me.

It’s a shame, because I enjoyed the characters and would have liked to have settled in longer with each of them. Cornelia’s voice is funny, self-deprecating and down-to-earth, even if she does tend to be a bit too conscious of her own act of storytelling, addressing the reader with defensive comments along the lines of “Am I rambling? Do you want me to get on with it? Well, I will, just bear with me,” too frequently for my taste. And Clare is a wonderful, compelling character, but it seems like her chapters belong in a different story altogether – a more serious, literary one, in which the reader doesn’t get to experience things through her immediate 11-year-old perspective but from a slightly removed third-person vantage point. I noticed a lot of telling-not-showing, with key conversations and events simply summarized instead of demonstrated to the reader through dialogue and action, and I thought de los Santos missed some opportunities to let me, as a reader, draw my own conclusions about the characters’ feelings and motivations. For instance, Cornelia tells us “I was in love,” and other characters observe “Cornelia was in love,” so there’s definitely no confusion, but instead of spelling things out so directly, how about showing how she feels through her words and actions and letting the astute reader recognize the symptoms for what they are?

I realize I’ve spent most of this post talking about the style and not the substance of the novel, but that’s only because the style was so distracting that it kept me from truly being immersed in the story. But I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, “Belong to Me,” which employs a similar technique, to see if I like it better. So don’t give up on me yet, sis!