The Finally Fall Tag

I thought this image looked sort of autumnal.

Today I will be doing the Finally Fall Book Tag, which I got from Riddhi. A tag is a series of prompts that the blogger responds to, usually by naming one or more books. At the end, we are supposed to “tag” other bloggers, but we all know that I don’t do that because it just gets too complicated, what with not wanting to leave anyone out, not wanting to hand anyone a task they hate, etc., etc. It’s sort of like planning a wedding that way.

In fall, the air is crisp and clear: Name a book with a vivid setting.

The Lord of the Rings.

OK, look, TLOTR could actually be the perfect answer for every one of these prompts, am I right? So I’ll just name it for each of them, and then one other one that is my backup answer.

Beyond Middle Earth, I suggest you check out the setting in Ursula Le Guin’s Hainish cycle. It’s on a planet that, because of its orbit, experiences seasons that last for lengths of time that we on Earth would call years. The people who live there have eyes with no whites to them. After intermarrying with immigrants from Earth, they develop a skin tone that is navy blue in the upper classes and “dusty” blue in the lower classes. It’s fascinating, brutal, and beautifully written.

Nature is beautiful… but also dying: Name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic like loss or grief.

The Lord of the Rings. They kill off Gandalf.

The 6th Lamentation by William Brodrick

Also, this book. The Holocaust, survivor’s guilt, lost children, neurological disease. Are those topics heavy enough? See my full review of it here.

Fall is back to school season: Share a non-fiction book that taught you something new.

The Lord of the Rings will teach you terms like weregild (“person-money” – money paid in compensation for someone’s death).

The Quest for Cosmic Justice by Thomas Sowell

Everybody please go read this and as many other Thomas Sowell books as you can get your hands on.

In order to keep warm, it’s good to spend some time with the people we love: Name a fictional family/household/friend-group that you’d like to be part of.

I would like to live with Tom Bombadil and the River Daughter.

Failing that, I would be honored to live and work with Mma Potokwane, the forceful woman who runs the orphanage in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

The colourful leaves are piling up on the ground: Show us a pile of fall coloured spines!

I didn’t intend it, but every book in this pile except for The Family Mark Twain is indie published.

And Neanderthal Woman is homemade.

Also … the golden-leaved mallorn trees of Lothlorien.

Fall is the perfect time for some storytelling by the fireside: Share a book wherein someone is telling a story.

One of the best things about Lord of the Rings is the way you keep getting hints of yet more ancient places, people, and stories.

And for my backup answer, we have Ursula Le Guin again. In her Earthsea trilogy, there is a very creepy story told about a stone that if you so much as touch it, steals your soul. In her book Left Hand of Darkness, the main story is interspersed with short myths to help us get a feel for the culture of the planet the story is set on, where glaciers cover about half the landmass and people are sexless for most of each month.

The nights are getting darker: Share a dark, creepy read.

The Balrog, and Shelob, and the Ring and the effect it has upon people, are all pretty doggone creepy.

Also, The Dark is Rising and the whole series that follows it deals with pre-Roman paganism still alive in Britain.

The days are getting colder: Name a short, heartwarming read that could warm up somebody’s cold and rainy day.

The Hobbit. Annndddd …

Allie Brosch’s new book Solutions and Other Problems.

It’s not heartwarming in the sense that it presents the universe as a rational or hopeful place, BUT it did make me laugh so hard it brought tears to my eyes. It’s not short in the sense that it’s a big, thick hardcover, BUT that’s only because it is packed with her funny (and actually very artistic) drawings. It’s a fast read.

Fall returns every year: Name an old favourite that you’d like to return to soon.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton

Also, this book, The Everlasting Man, by the ebullient GKC. I recently ordered my own copy so that I could mine it for future quotes on the blog, and I quickly discovered that GKC was the original source of all my suspicions about ancient people having been just like us, but smarter.

Fall is the perfect time for cozy reading nights: Share your favourite cozy reading “accessories”!

Bears and coffee.

What My Favorite Characters Would Be Doing in Quarantine

Up till now I’ve tried to make posts that don’t mention you know what, because I figure that readers come to Out of Babel for fun and weirdness, not for more mentions of you know what. But, I saw this super fun tag over in the book nook of The Orangutan Librarian. I hope by trying it I’m not letting you down. As you can see, I’ve spun it a little, imagining how the characters would handle coronavirus in their own worlds.

Rules

  • Take 5 or more of your favorite book characters and imagine what they would be doing if they were quarantined with us in the real world.
  • You can have them be in their own squad if you want, or working on their own.
  • Tag 5 friends.
  • Link back to this post and credit Reader Voracious.

Narnia Quarantine

Wardrobe

The Pevensie kids, of course, would not even be here …

For some reason I imagine Edmund and Lucy quarantining with their cousin Eustace and his parents rather than being with their parents (who got stuck in Greece) or with Peter and Susan (who got stuck at their respective universities). Eustace, though less of a know-it-all since his first trip to Narnia, is still extremely well-informed about epidemiology, government policy, and all the latest economic and medical updates. His mother, Alberta, insists that everyone wear masks and gloves even inside the house.

Middle Earth Quarantine

two bare trees beside each other during sunset
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Gandalf the Grey would have caught the coronavirus early (because he travels a lot), come down with complications (because it hits old people the hardest), died, and been resurrected.

Sam Gamgee, humble, hardworking, and patient, would be the perfect person to quarantine with. He’s also a very resourceful cook.

Faramir and Eowyn would be climbing the walls, holed up in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith.

Tom Bombadil and the River Daughter are immune to human ills and they also take a long view of the death of much of the rest of the world.

Gimli would rather risk death than give up smoking.

 

Tony Hillerman Quarantine

Sacred Clowns book

Sadly, in real life, the coronavirus has hit the Navajo nation really hard. Tony Hillerman’s Navajo cop characters, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, would be reacting very differently. Leaphorn, who is older and more of a homebody, would be happily hanging out with his wife Emma at his home in Window Rock. Chee, who is young and restless, would be running around the reservation trying to help everyone he could. He would go to be with an older relative who is dying of the virus, making sure that the person is moved outside as per tradition and that they have someone with them. Though young and healthy, he would unexpectedly develop a bad case himself and would be found recovering in the hospital at the very end of the book, being visited by his girlfriend Janet or Bernie, depending upon where we are in the series.

Emberverse Quarantine

Corvallis

Junie and Mike of the Emberverse have already been through a society-destroying event that resulted in most people dying. Junie heads up a neo-pagan community near Corvallis, Oregon, and Mike runs a more specialized, military one just northwest of Salem. Since the Change destroyed all modern technology, the inhabitants of the Emberverse would probably barely notice the coronavirus. Fewer people develop the diseases of civilization (heart disease, diabetes) in their medieval-style world, living conditions are less crowded, and there are no nursing homes or hospitals. Probably all they would notice was a particularly bad seasonal flu endangering the few remaining old people. They’d be grateful that this sickness, unlike many, was not threatening little children. Junie would be using her herbology and caretaking skills to help as many of her subjects as possible. Because Junie and Mike both grew up in the modern world, before “the Change” happened, they are aware of germ theory and this would help them enforce hygiene on their people.

Agatha Christie Quarantine

photo of teacup on top of books
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Miss Marple has lived through two world wars. She would gamely go along with whatever deprivations and regulations the quarantine brought. She’s been through worse. If anyone complained, she would smile sweetly while silently judging you and simply say, “So many things are difficult.”

Hercule Poirot is already a bit of a germophobe. He would take enthusiastically to masks and hand sanitizer, but would become peevish when unable to procure the foods that he’s used to.  Whenever Hastings began to panic about the many unknowns, Hercule Poirot would calm his fears through the use of the Little Grey Cells.

P.G. Wodehouse Quarantine

alcohol bar blur celebration
Photo by Terje Sollie on Pexels.com

Airheaded bachelor Bertie could not stand not going to his club. He would beg Jeeves to come up with a way that Bertie could skirt the rules to get out and about. Jeeves would do so, knowing that within hours, Bertie would be back home with a horrible hangover that he would need to sleep off and then drink one of Jeeves’s miraculous restoratives. Jeeves knows that the coronavirus mostly endangers older people, so even if Bertie should become a carrier, there is little danger that he would infect anyone because even in normal circumstances he cannot be induced to visit his Aunt Agatha.

And … I can’t resist … Quarantine with my own characters!

architecture buildings city cityscape
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Nirri is, essentially, already in quarantine all the time. He broke his spine in a fall from the Tower of Babel, becoming paraplegic, and is now being reluctantly cared for by people with whom he does not share a language. He is the nightmare person to be quarantined with: arrogant, demanding, unable to communicate or be reasoned with. Though 130 years old, he is healthy as a horse and there is no way he is dying from this.  On the bright side, he is an accomplished musician. Give him a lute and he will entertain you all evening, even if you don’t understand the words to his songs.

Zillah is a born caretaker and the tribe’s resident medical expert. It was she who insisted they rescue Nirri. Though young and even middle-aged people don’t usually show symptoms of the virus, in a tribe their size there might be one or two who do. Zillah would spend herself caring for them, and then get sick herself (she is the tribe’s second oldest person, after Nirri). She would survive, cared for by her daughter Ninna, and the weeks when she was sick would be the loneliest of Nirri’s life.

You Sure You Wanna Do This?

If you do, I tag …

  • Jyvurentropy, who has been posting so much that I can’t keep up with her
  • Bookstooge, for his sarcasm
  • Colin, because I want to hear his thoughts
  • The hilarious Christopher Waldrop, even though I’m unable to comment on his posts
  • … and the always insightful Eustacia, if she has time to do this tag

Books I Want to Have Read, but Don’t Want to Read

For those uninitiated to book blogging, a tag is when another book blogger assigns you a series of questions or prompts. For each one, you name the book that it makes you think of. And rant about it, if you so desire.

The blogger and author who tagged me was Katie Jane Gallagher.

The Rules:

  • Link back to the original tag (this post, and Jami!)
  • Complete the questions with books you want to have read but don’t want to read
  • Tag some people at the end to do the tag next

OK? OK. Let’s get to the prompts …

The Prompts

A book that you feel you need to read because everyone talks about it

Twelve Years A Slave. Obviously that is going to be a heavy read.

Also, the Federalist Papers. Maybe “everyone” doesn’t talk about them, but people who seem to know what they are talking about keep mentioning them. Obviously there is some very important stuff in there that I need to know.

A book that’s really long

I mean, look at it.

I think there are seven of them now.

But I really need to get to these some time, if only because readers of George R.R. Martin might also be interested in my series some day. And I won’t make you wait decades either!

A book you’ve owned / had on your TBR for too long

A few years ago, when my boys and I were studying American History, this novel was recommended as supplemental reading.  I had all the more reason to want to read it, because Naya Nuki is Shoshone and when I lived in Idaho for a few years during my teens, it was near the Shoshone/Bannock Indian reservation. Our local library didn’t have it. I ordered it through interlibrary loan, but it never came!  Must have been a long waiting list.

Fast forward three years. We have now moved back to Shoshone/Bannock country. I go to the local library here, and not only do they have Naya Nuki, they have the entire series by this author!  Only problem is, the kids and I now have other required supplemental reading, and we’re working through that. I figure I’ll just zip through it by myself and return it to the library. But the due date approacheth, and I never do.

While still in this uncomfortable situation, my husband brings me home a surprise gift from his travels. It’s my very own copy of Naya Nuki! He thought it looked like something that would interest me.  I’ve gone from not being able to get my hands on a copy, to an embarrassment of riches.

So I was free to return the library copy … but you guessed it, my gift copy is still sitting there unread. Why? Why???

A book that is ‘required’ reading (eg, school text, really popular classic – something you feel obligated to read!)

Everything by Freud and Nietzsche.

A book that intimidates you

Maps of Meaning by Jordan Peterson. He spent, what, decades on it? Rewrote every sentence at least 50 times? It sounds like it would be heavy going. A really thorough student of archetypes would read it, but I feel like this was the book where he developed his ideas, and now we can get the highlights of those through his class lectures on YouTube and through Twelve Rules for Life.

A book that you think might be slow

I know this one is slow, because I started it. I still think I might end up really liking it. Actually, I hope I do, because it’s sort of the same genre that I write in. But it requires a lot of attention during the first several chapters, as you have to learn a lot of different characters and figure out to who root for. It’s not the kind of book you can pick up and dive into for 20 minutes while eating your lunch, which is what I need right now.

A book you need to be in the right mood for

Circe. The main reason I haven’t read this is that it hasn’t shown up at the library yet, and I am too cheap to order it online.  But there’s another reason as well.

I love the heroic age of Greece. As a teen I spent several years, off and on, immersed in this milieu. At one point I was going around telling people, “The Iliad is taking over my life!”  (I also, when reading The Odyssey, had a crush on Odysseus. *blushes* Because who wouldn’t? I mean, the man can shoot an arrow through the centers of 12 ax heads lined up in a row!)

So I’m frankly super jealous of the author for having immersed herself in these books and written what everyone agrees is a fantastic novel that is true to the tradition.  If I’m going to read it, it will put my head right back in that space, and I have to be ready for that.

Call, and raise you The Song of Achilles.

A book you’re unsure if you will like

Oh, so many. Pick any YA fantasy with a mermaid, vampire, or young woman on the front. I “ought” to be reading more of these, because they are fantasy and we are supposed to Read Widely In the Genre … but I just don’t find them appealing usually. Especially if the back cover copy deals with how mean everyone is to the young woman, or how she’s a member of an ostracized group.

And lest you misunderstand, I don’t say this dismissively. Probably some of these books are as meh as I expect, but no doubt others are gems. Maybe it’s even half and half. I’m not being superior. I just … can’t … get … interested …

People I Want to Tag but Also Don’t Want to Tag

Honestly, tagging activates my social anxiety. What if you’ve already been tagged for this? What if you don’t want to be tagged? What if I leave someone out? Gaaah!

I’m tagging you anyway. Don’t take it personally. If you hate the tag but want to please me, just do a super perfunctory and sarcastic tag like Bookstooge did that one time.

I’m tagging people who post frequently, because if you want something done, ask a busy person. So, if you post infrequently and didn’t get tagged and want to do this, go for it!

The Wanderlust Tag

February is the month of romance, and the settings in this tag are as romantic as can be! I think this is most fun tag I’ve seen yet. I stole … er, got it from my faithful friend The Orangutan Librarian. She didn’t exactly tag me, but … she did say anyone can do the tag. So here goes!

Rules

  • Mention the creator of the tag and link back to original post [Alexandra @ Reading by Starlight]
  • Thank the blogger who tagged you
  • Answer the 10 questions below using any genre
  • Tag 5+ friends

The Questions

Secrets and lies: a book set in a sleepy small town … Many of Anne Tyler’s books are like this. Also, every almost every single Miss Marple mystery by Agatha Christie. Sometimes Miss Marple travels, and solves a mystery on a train, or in the Caribbean. But my favorites are the ones where she uses her knowledge of the character types, the dark dynamics, and the domestic history in a small town … her own small town, or someone else’s. As she always points out, small towns are not boring!

Salt and Sand: A book with a beach-side communityHave His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers. I’m not sure why the cover of this book looks the way it does, as the most striking scenes in it take place on a beach. This book stars Lord Peter Whimsey and his love interest, the tomboyish academic Harriet Vane, who is hiking along a deserted beach when she discovers the body of a man with his throat gruesomely slit. Harriet photographs the corpse, and after she leaves, the tide disposes of the evidence. Harriet herself becomes a suspect, and she and Lord Peter must put their heads together to extricate her.

Here there be dragons: a book with a voyage on the high seas … I don’t read many sea stories. In fact, this is the only one I can think of besides Treasure Island and the third book of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy. Master & Commander is a really good book. When I was reading it, I even had dreams about it. They made it into a movie, which is also very good, but the movie only covers about half the material in the book, and not even the most sensational incidents.

Tread lightly: a book set down a murky river or jungle … There are many good missionary stories that take place in the remote jungle. These are novelized versions of real events. There is Bruchko (South America); Lords of the Earth (Irian Jaya); In Search of the Source, set in Papua New Guinea, by Neil Anderson; and Do You Know What You Are Doing, Lord?, which gives a very different perspective on the same events, written by Neil’s wife Carol. I am tempted to mention Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot, but I haven’t actually read it.

Frozen wastes: a book with a frostbitten atmosphere … Ursula Le Guin’s Left of Hand of Darkness takes place on a planet that has two huge ice caps which reach well down into what on Earth would be called the temperate zones. The main character, an ambassador for an interplanetary council, ends up in a gulag-like camp, is rescued by one of the locals, and the two make an amazing trek across one of the glaciers to escape.

The boonies: a book with rough or isolated terrain … I think many books depend on rough and isolated terrain for the danger and tension in their plot. Think of every murder mystery you’ve ever read where the group of suspects is cut off from the outside world by the tides or snows or whatever. This also goes for lifeboat stories, mountaineering stories, and post-apocalyptic books, all of which throw the characters on their own resources because “help is not going to come.” But I am going to mention Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin.

Hinterlands and cowboys: a book with a Western-esque setting … OK, you know what I am going to say here. I am going to, once again, recommend the Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn police procedural/Navajo cultural mysteries by Tony Hillerman. What, you say you still haven’t started reading them? Get to it!

Look lively: a book set across sweeping desert sands … There are quite a few of these. I guess the desert really fires our imaginations. But I’m going to name one that I discovered recently: Sand. by Hugh Howey. (The period is apparently part of the title?) I know I’m late to the Hugh Howey party because the cover of Sand. tells me that he is the bestselling author of another book, Wool. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could make an entire novel centered on wool, but after reading Sand., I believe he certainly could and I’m going to pick up Wool as soon as I see it.

Wild and untamed: a book set in the heart of the woodsA Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney. Teenaged Michael lives on a prosperous farm in Ireland. When he ventures in to the woods near his home, he passes in to another, much larger, forest, which is also the source of all the myths and legends of the past.

Wildest dreams: a whimsical book shrouded in magicThe Dark is Rising series. These YA books are pagan as all get-out, and seem to be based on a very good research into British and Welsh pagan lore. They do a great job of creating an atmosphere of this whole world of magic breaking in to a kid’s everyday life, in ways that only initiates can perceive.

… And may I mention that settings like these are the reason that I love reading and writing? It’s my ambition to write a book in each of these settings (except perhaps the high seas). I would say my books, to date, have covered Frostbitten, Boonies, Small Town and possibly Western.

And as usual, I tag … you, dear Reader! In the comments! Which of these settings do you love? Which will you never tire of?

The Seven Heavenly Virtues Tag

The Orangutan Librarian tagged me for this post that applies the “Seven Heavenly Virtues” to the world of our reading.

By the way. The Seven Deadly Sins are easy to remember, in groups of two, three, and two. There’s The World (Envy, Greed); The Flesh (Lust, Gluttony, Sloth); and The Devil (Anger … and the granddaddy, Pride). The seven virtues are the flip side of these.

Once when I was at university, the theme of our homecoming week was the extremely creative “We’ve Got Pride.” I will always love my fellow English majors who named their contribution to the parade “Beyond pride: the seven deadly sins.” They wanted to show that “[our university] also gots Envy, Greed, Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, and Anger.” And of course it was true.

Onward.

CHASTITY: Which author/book/series you wish you had never read?

Hmm. It’s rare that I go on wishing I had never read a book. Usually if it stuns me with some horror, I hate it at the time, but as my mind assimilates the idea, I’m glad to have encountered it in a book so that I can grapple with that aspect of the world.

A good example is Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. A major part of the plot is a sexual assault. It’s described graphically. The creepy lead-up and the lengthy aftermath include scenes from the point of view of both the victim and rapist. When I read this, it was the first time I’d read a rape described in detail (or, at least, the first time I understood what I was reading). It was very traumatic, and it led to lots of crying and praying for women who were real-life victims. So, as you can see, it bore some good fruit almost immediately.

Later I read another book by Ken Follett in a completely different genre, and it also featured a serial stalker and rapist, with many scenes written from his point of view. At that point I decided that I would not read any more books by Ken Follett, nor would I ever get on an elevator with the man.

TEMPERANCE: Which book/series did you find so good, that you didn’t want to read it all at once, and you read it in doses just to make the pleasure last longer?

I don’t usually show temperance when it comes to serious, emotional reads. … OK, I actually don’t have much temperance at all. I once stayed up all night finishing Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow.

However, with comic series, I find that if you binge on them they can become wearing, whereas if you read one every once in a while, they are refreshing. For example, P.G. Wodehouse’e Bertie Wooster books and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.

CHARITY: Which book/series/author do you tirelessly push to others, telling them about it or even giving away spare copies bought for that reason?

Well this question will contain no surprises to anyone who knows me or has followed my blog for any length of time.

The Emberverse series by S.M Stirling: I recommend this often because it encompasses a wide range of interests. The first few books are post-apocalyptic, and then it becomes more of a fantasy series. I’ve recommended it to people because it’s set in the Northwest (Idaho, eastern Washington and Oregon, northern California). Recently I recommended it to someone who is interested in retro martial arts such as sword fighting and archery, because there is a ton of that in these books, including descriptions of how the weapons are made and gripping battle scenes. The research on these books is both wide and deep, from ecology to botany to anthropology to martial arts to Celtic mythology.

Til We Have Faces: A searing, emotional novel about friendship, identity, divided loyalty, and religion. One of C.S. Lewis’s less famous works.

The Everlasting Man (non-fiction): G.K. Chesterton discusses paganism and why it expresses important things about being human … with the cheery paradoxes that only he can bring.

The Divine Conspiracy(non-fiction): With wit and wisdom, Dallas Willard applies the Gospels in a fresh way (which we all need frequently). This is so well-written that it’s a pleasure to read, and you just sail through it even though it’s quite thick.

Now, go forth and read these!

DILIGENCE: Which series/author you follow no matter what happens and how long you have to wait?

Agatha Christie. She has such a large corpus of work that even though I think I’ve read all her novels, I’m never sure.

Also, the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters.

Also anything by Tony Hillerman or Dick Francis.

It looks like formula mysteries are my genre for this.

PATIENCE: Is there an author/book/series you’ve read that improved with time the most, starting out unpromising, but ultimately proving rewarding?

Watership Down. It is gripping from the first, don’t get me wrong, but it is so long. Then when you get to the end, you discover that the author is doing things with it that only a really long book can do.

KINDNESS: Which fictitious character would you consider your role-model in the hassle of everyday life?

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

Any strong, quiet, capable character who consistently takes care of others. Durnik in the Belgariad; Precious Ramotswe in The No. 1 Ladies series; Bardia in ‘Til We Have Faces; Sam Gamgee, Aragorn, Gandalf, Aslan. And, of course, Zillah from my own books.

Unfortunately my gifts and personality are almost opposite from all these characters. But I’ve always wanted to be strong, quiet, calm, and capable.

HUMILITY: Which book/series/author do you find most under-rated?

This is a hard one to answer because I don’t always have a real great idea of what other people are reading. How can I know that the gem I’ve “discovered” hasn’t also been discovered by a bunch of others?

Apparently Thomas Sowell has a bunch of great books about economics and society that have helped the people who’ve read them greatly … but I have not read them, only watched videos of him speaking. There are many such examples.

Now, Discuss

I hesitate to tag people because it seems to freak them out. But if you get inspired by any of the questions in this tag, please answer them either at your own blog or in the comments.

The Festive Christmas Book Tag

I got this tag from Em @ The Geeky Jock. It was created by Girl Reading .

1) A fictional family you would like to spend Christmas dinner with?

Whooo this is a tricky one!

I think the ideal place to spend Christmas would be in Germany, Austria or Switzerland, soo … Heidi? Problem is, I haven’t read it.

The Von Trapp family? Not fictional, and not sure I could live up to their standards.

How about Denmark? Hamlet’s family? Never mind, too much family tension.

Scotland? MacBeth? Nope … nope … nope.

How about a big English country house from an Agatha Christie novel? There is sure to be a murder, but on the other hand the food and the service would be terrific. But I would certainly make a fool of myself on account of not having sufficiently good table manners and not understanding the British class system. A fate worse than … death.

Bertie and Jeeves? Getting closer, but Bertie by himself is not really a family.

I’ve got it. Almost all the Grimms’ fairy tales take place in Germany. All I have to do is find a fairy tale family to spend Christmas with.

Cinderella? … Family tension again.

Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother? That would be great, except I think in the original version they die.

Hansel and Gretel? Yet more family tension, and they are starving. Maybe I could spend Christmas with Hansel and Gretel and their father post-witch.

Actually, now that I think about it, I have a pretty good family to spend Christmas with already. There is plenty of food, no murder, and a minimal amount of family tension. In this case, truth is better than fiction.

2) A bookish item you would like to receive as a gift?

An agent! A publisher! A BOOK DEAL! (hysterical laughter)

3) A fictional character you think would make a perfect Christmas elf?

Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He’s already an elf, so it’s not a stretch.

4) Match a book to its perfect Christmas song.

Game of Thrones … We Three Kings.

(I haven’t read it, but it’s about kings, right?)

5) Bah Humbug. A book (or fictional character) you’ve been disappointed in and should be put on the naughty list?

Austin Lively of Andrew Klavan’s serialized novel, Another Kingdom.

Austin, Austin, Austin. You spent the first two seasons transforming from a Hollywood wannabe into a brave and honorable man.

Now, at the beginning of the third season, you’re a powerful Hollywood SOB who is taking women to the Casting Couch.

What happened? Have you forgotten who you are, Austin?

You’d better remember quick, because until you do, I am going to be cheering over every bad thing that happens to you.

6) A book or fictional character you think deserves more appreciation and deserves to be put on the nice list?

Anthony Trollope isn’t as well-known as Jane Austen but his books are just as funny.

7) Red, Gold, and Green. A book whose cover has a wonderfully Christmassy feel to it.

A classic from my husband’s childhood.
I think of this little devotional as a Christmas one because we originally got it during Advent and the first chapter is about Christmas.

8) A book or series you love so much, you want everyone to find it under their Christmas tree this year so that they can read and love it too.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, starring Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi (both of the agency) … Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors … Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s hapless assistant, Charlie … the somewhat overbearing Mma Potokwane who runs the orphanage … and many, many others.

These books are just so heart-warming and they go down so easy. Although written in a certain order, it’s easy for the reader to jump right in even if you read them out of order. And they are addictive. I think a book or two – or a crateful – from this series would brighten any reader’s Christmas.

Book with the “Best Diverse Cast” (Calendar Girls Tag)

Whenever I see “Calendar Girls” I think of the hilarious British movie by that name, but in this case, it means a group of (girl?) book bloggers who treat a different bookish theme during each month of the calendar.  (So we will not be posing. I am sure you are relieved.) And this month, December, I was actually able to think of a book that fulfills the theme! 

Calendar Girls is hosted by NeverNotReading, who says of this month’s theme, “What I really like about this theme is it allows you to interpret diversity in whatever way is meaningful to you. Racial or ethnic representation, LGBTQ diversity, neurodiversity, whatever you’re passionate about, we want to read it too!”

Picking a book with a diverse cast felt somewhat arbitrary because so many of my faves have casts that are diverse in one way or another. Pearl Buck’s Pavilion of Women springs to mind, as do Ursula le Guin’s novellas set on the planet of Yeowe (navy-blue colored upper class, grey-blue colored underclass, red-brown foreigners with a very different culture coming from distant Hain).  Even the very Nordic Lord of the Rings has a main cast of four different species and minor characters that are even more diverse (Ents, anyone?).  And then there’s Clan of the Cave Bear, which features Neanderthals as main characters.

But here is the book I have settled on: Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman.

 Clowns is part of Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn series. It’s a mystery/police procedural series set in Dinetah, the Navajo homeland, which straddles the Four Corners region of the American Southwest.  Chee and Leaphorn both work for the Navajo Tribal police. Because of the way jurisdiction on Indian reservations is handled, they frequently have to work on their cases with Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado or Utah State police and/or with the FBI.

Books in this series usually take place on the Navajo reservations and the plot often turns on Navajo culture. That’s already “diverse” to an outsider like me. But it quickly gets deeper.  Chee and Leaphorn have each had a different experience of being Navajo. Leaphorn was of the generation that was sent away to boarding schools right around the time their adult vocabulary would have been developing. Consequently, his grasp on the Navajo language is a little shaky, and he thinks like a modern, secular white man. He doesn’t, in his bones, believe in Navajo cosmology. Chee, a younger man, was raised at home and enculturated, as per tradition, by his mother’s brother. He is a fully spiritual Navajo and wants to become a haatalii, or traditional healer, like his uncle (though Leaphorn, and others, feel the demands of being a hataalii would not mix well with a policeman’s schedule).

Sacred Clowns is even more diverse than the average Leaphorn and Chee book because in this case, the mystery takes place in Hopi culture, which is different from Navajo culture.  (For example, Navajos tend to invite everyone to their religious ceremonies, whereas Hopi ceremonies are held in secret and never talked about.)  In the opening scene, Chee is attending a Hopi cultural event that features clowns, which are supposed to show people their own folly. At one point, a Hopi clown mimes selling cultural artifacts to an outsider for a lot of money. He is clearly criticizing this practice, but Chee senses “there’s something I’m missing.”  When the clown first drags his little wagon of artifacts out into the middle of the square, the Hopi crowd falls silent. Chee wants to find out why, and this will get him digging into local politics and ultimately solving the case.

Chee isn’t at the top of his game during the event, however, because he is also there sort of on a date with Janet Pete. Janet’s father was Navajo, but she was raised on the East Coast by her Scottish-American mother. Chee really likes Janet, and he spends most of the book trying to find out whether it would be OK for him to get involved with her. The Navajo have an elaborate system of incest laws which prohibit you from marrying anyone whose clans have a historical connection to your own clans. Janet doesn’t know her father’s clans, and anyway the maternal clans are considered more important.

Meanwhile, Leaphorn, a widower, is planning a trip to China with his lady friend, who is a white anthropologist (Lousia Bourbonette – a French name: more diversity, and a romance between older people!).  He wants to visit Mongolia, because he’s read that his ancestors probably originated there.

And cramming in as many cultures as possible, there is another tribal cop, Harold Blizzard, who is Cheyenne.  About halfway through the book there’s a great scene where Chee and Janet Pete are at a drive-in movie, and Blizzard is there, sort of as a third wheel. The movie is an old Western called Cheyenne Autumn, which is a cult classic among the Navajo because the “Cheyenne” characters in the movie were actually played by Navajos. When they are supposedly speaking Cheyenne in the movie, they are actually speaking Navajo, and of course saying crude and saracastic things that were not in the script.  Chee, as the only person in the car who speaks Navajo, has to translate for Janet and Harold so they can understand why certain supposedly solemn lines are funny and why all the other (Navajo) moviegoers are laughing and honking their car horns. It’s this experience that gets Chee thinking about how much outsiders to a culture miss, and wondering what he was missing at the Hopi gathering.

Finally, when Chee consults some elders about Janet’s father’s clans, he gets an earful from them about how young people aren’t traditional enough. They are referring to the way that hataalii of Chee’s generation will sometimes break up the weeklong Navajo healing ceremonies over a couple of weekends so that people who work 9-to-5 jobs can attend them. According to the elders, this is not acceptable, but Chee will probably have to do it if he becomes a healer. He must struggle with how much he can adapt his ancestors’ culture and still remain Navajo.

All of Hillerman’s books do a great job exploring themes of culture and identity, but in this book he really outdoes himself.

The Perfect Book Tag

I was tagged for this by my favorite literate primate. How could I let her down?

n.b. “Perfect,” as I will use it below, doesn’t always mean perfect but rather perfect in its context or else merely “really terrific.” Especially when used of actual, historical people. As we all know, perfection isn’t perfect, right?

The Perfect Genre

“Pick a book that perfectly represents its genre.”

The Rise and Fall of Ben Gizzard is the perfect Western.

“Ben Gizzard would die on the day he saw a white mountain upside down and a black bird talked to him, but not before. An old Indian he cheated out of some furs told him this.

“This was good news to a man as mean and crafty as Ben Gizzard. He settled in treeless, birdless Depression Gulch and cheated, robbed, and killed his way to riches. How his life seemed charmed in that place where there were neither mountains nor birds!

“But one day a young artist arrived in town with a large black bird sitting on his shoulder. Oh, Ben Gizzard!

“Our slithering villain comes to his end when he least expects it, and the world is a better place without him, and a better place for the telling of his story, which is both funny and awesome.”

The Perfect Setting

“Pick a book that takes place in a perfect place.”

Gosh, there are so many books that I love for their setting. There is Pearl Buck’s Pavilion of Women (an aristocratic household in pre-Mao China), Susan Cooper’s The Grey King (Wales, with magic), and Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series (modern-day Botswana).

But my top pick would have to be Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John. It takes place in a beautiful, sensuously described version of Switzerland (example: the children picking fresh strawberries and eating them with cream for lunch) and, of course, the fact that everything is so mountainous is crucial to the plot.

The Perfect Main Character

“Pick the perfect main character.”

I’m gonna have to go with Bilbo Baggins here. His combination of humility and spunk cannot be beat.

The Perfect Best Friend

“Loyal and supportive, pick a character that you think is the best friend ever.”

Sam Gamgee would be an obvious choice, but there are class issues there, so instead, let me name Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Reason: Tumnus just met Lucy an hour or two ago and she has not done anything special for him … and yet he’s ready to put his own life on the line to protect her from the Witch’s secret police. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.”

The Perfect Love Interest

“Pick a character you think would be an amazing romantic partner.”

Playing “mad dog” with his children.

Charles Ingalls from the Little House series.

On the down side, he will drag you and your children across the American frontier, where you will almost lose your lives in every. single. chapter.

But on the plus side! The man can build a livable house, single-handed, in a few weeks. He can dig a well, provide food, and make friends with the Indians. He’s never met a stranger. He is gentle and kind with Caroline and his daughters, and he is unflaggingly cheerful, even when starving. (Read The Long Winter and watch him effusively praise the dehydrated cod gravy that Caroline breaks out to put some variety in the family’s totally inadequate diet.) And he can fiddle, sing, and dance! What more could you ask for?

This guy is a ball of energy and good cheer. There would be no better person to have by your side in the hairy situations that he will surely get you into.

The Perfect Villain

“Pick a character with the most sinister mind.”

“Amazing Amy” from Gone Girl. I don’t think it will be too much of a spoiler, by now, to tell you that she fakes her own death and frames her husband for it, then fantasizes about “him getting butt-raped in jail.” It’s never clear what Nick did to deserve such a fate, other than fail to think she is sufficiently amazing. And that trick she pulls at the end of the book … well …!

The Perfect Family

“Pick a perfect bookish family.”

Photo by Kata Pal on Pexels.com

Since I was a little hard on the Dutch on Friday, let me rehabilitate them a bit. My “perfect bookish family” is a Dutch family, and they actually lived: the ten Boom family of Haarlem, circa 1935.

Corrie ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place describes how the family took in Jews during the occupation until they were turned in and went to concentration camps themselves. Even though the book is about the Holocaust, it is heartwarming and includes many laugh-out-loud moments. The heartwarming part is Corrie’s description of the family’s life in their tiny, ramshackle house/watch shop. The laughing out loud comes mostly from the personality of her father, Casper ten Boom, a true character and an amazing man of God whom I look forward to meeting some day. Corrie’s mom was also amazing, and I think it was her warm personality (and Casper’s) that offset the natural sternness of the Dutch of that time, making the ten Booms … the perfect bookish family.

The Perfect Animal or Pet

“Pick a pet or fantastic animal that you need to see on a book.”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The humble chicken.

There are a few books with a chicken protagonist. The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin, Jr., is one. There is also a Russian fairy tale where a rooster saves two poor children:

“I, the cock, have a crimson comb / And the wicked czar has nothing like it! / He took away their fortune / from two poor little orphans / And he dines in style / while they go hungry!”

The Perfect Plot Twist

“Pick a book with the best plot twist.”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert.

(Yes … it’s about lobstermen.)

Though it takes place on a tiny island in Maine, this book features a Jane Austen-worthy plot twist near the end.

The Perfect Trope

“Pick a trope that you would add to your own book without thinking.”

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

Spiritual transformation of a main character.

Not only would I add this without thinking, I actually wouldn’t think of writing a novel where it did not happen. To me, spiritual transformation is a critical part of a novel.

(Not that I don’t enjoy books where this trope doesn’t take place. Mystery series, particularly, do well if the detective MCs are fairly static.)

There are a few novels where the transformation is almost the only thing that happens. I give you The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, and all the Church of England novels by Susan Howatch. But much more commonly, the MC’s spiritual transformation happens as a result of a lot of other action in the plot, as in The Hobbit (fantasy), Identity Man by Andrew Klavan (crime thriller), and many, many others.

The Perfect Cover

“Pick the cover that you would easily put on your own book.”

My book is not St. George and the Dragon, but this is the artist I would have wanted to do my covers: Trina Schart Hyman. She’s gone now, but her art lives on. I have been trying my whole life to draw and paint like she did. I’ll bet she would have made the ruined Tower of Babel look amazing.

The Perfect Ending

“Pick a book that has the perfect ending.”

Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

A Christmas Carol.

It’s the ultimate happy ending. We feel Scrooge’s childlike joy when he realizes he is being given another chance at life. Also, Tiny Tim is not dead after all and Scrooge has a chance to save him. “The spirits did it all in one night!” There is a strong sense of death and re-birth, not just of Scrooge but of his entire world.

I realize that everyone knows how the book ends and you might think of it as a cliche at this point, but really, if you read the entire book, hanging in there through Scrooge’s sad childhood, slow hardening, the horrific descriptions of poverty, etc., and then you get to the end and it doesn’t move you, well, I don’t know what to do for you, really.

The I Dare You Tag, a.k.a. “I Am Easily Guilted”

I was tagged to answer these questions by author of the wonderful blog The Orangutan Librarian. You should definitely go over there and check out her posts. Number one, she’s an orangutan, and number two, she has some great satirical pieces.

What book has been on your shelf the longest?

I was going to show a Bible picture book that I’ve had since I was 3, but it turns out it is not on my shelf any more as I have passed it on to a niece. So, here …

What is your current read, your last read, and the book you’ll read next?

What book did everyone like, but you hated?

OK, this is the question that calls for courage. 

There are several that everyone agrees are great, and they probably are, but I’m avoiding them.

The Hate U Give, The Help, and The Secret Life of Bees.

I even have two of these on my shelf, but I haven’t cracked them open. 

Reason? I’m super easily guilted.  I don’t want to read a book that is going to call me racist, because even though I know I’m not, I’m going to feel responsible for all the bad stuff that happens in the book.  I will go around hanging my head just that little bit lower.  Then I’ll be angry that I am being blamed for segregation or for a police shooting in a city I’ve never been to, and … well, you get the idea.

What book do you keep telling yourself you’ll read, but you probably won’t?

The Brothers Karamazov.  I’ve started it, and it was super good, and I know it has amazing writing and a ton of spiritual insight, but I’ve heard so much about it that I feel like I already know the ending.

What book are you saving for retirement?

At this rate, what I’m saving for retirement is probably my entire career as a novelist.

Last page: Read it first, or wait ‘til the end?

Wait, definitely. Unless you’ve read everything that came before, the last page won’t make much sense and, even if you can sort of figure out what is going on, it certainly won’t have the same impact.

That said, I have been known to skim ahead a page or two in a book, just to break the tension, when I sense that something really awful is about to happen.

Acknowledgement: waste of paper and ink, or interesting aside?

Ok. I have lots of thoughts on acknowledgements.

In general, I like them. They are sweet.  I love it when the author thanks their spouse for all the sacrifices they made.  Also, the acknowledgements can be a way to find out the name of the author’s agent, which is helpful if you write similar kinds of books and want to query the agent.

But I’m not fond of acknowledgements that fill 1 – 2 pages and, seemingly, list every single person who had anything to do with bringing the book to print.  First of all, I can’t pay attention to all those names and my eyes glaze over, and then I feel guilty because clearly all these people deserve to be thanked.

Secondly, these long acknowledgement sections can be discouraging to a fledgling author.  If a dozen people are listed, and every one of them is thanked for their “invaluable edits and corrections,” and is a person “without whose work this book would never have come to be,” we get the impression that it’s impossible to write a book (at least, a decent book) without a team of at least a dozen at your back.  Which means that our current WIP is probably trash, which makes us doubt ourself since we know it’s not.

Also, I once saw a long acknowledgment section by Nicholas Sparks that was nothing but a bunch of puns on the titles of his previous books, none of which I had read. I didn’t end up reading that one either.

Which book character would you switch places with?

Bertie Wooster.  Who wouldn’t want to have Jeeves on hand?

Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life (place, time, person)?

Yes, all of them. 

(I once told a Medieval Lit professor that because of a certain past friendship I had “issues” around the entire corpus of Arthurian legends, and added, “I guess that makes me a real literature dork, right?”

And she said, “I don’t know, I think most people have issues like that with different works of literature.” I think she was right.)

Name a book that you acquired in an interesting way.

A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling. I read the first book in this series (Dies the Fire) by checking it out of the library. But I couldn’t find the second one in the library, though they had later books in the series. (What are you thinking, librarians?)  So I was forced to go online and order copies of the missing books.

This shows the value of authors getting their books into libraries, by the way.

Have you ever given a book away for a special reason to a special person?

Only all the time.  It’s called “forcing books on people.” It’s my social handicap (one of many). Apparently I communicate by giving, lending, and recommending books.

Which book has been with you the most places?

This is a tricky one. In my youth I was a world traveler, and I am one of those people who always have to have a book with them, so I have dragged many different books to some very remote places. But it’s never always the same one. I remember reading an Indonesian version of The Two Towers while on a canoe, and reading How Green Was My Valley (in English) sitting on an ironwood porch in the jungle.  Little House probably wins, though, since I re-read that one on the ironwood porch as well. 

Any “required reading” you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad two years later?

No. I liked To Kill A Mockingbird when we read it in high school, and loved it even more later.  I hated 1984 so much that I’ve never gone back to it.

Used or brand new?

Library.

Have you ever read a Dan Brown book?

I can’t remember.  I have read one by another person in a similar genre, and reviewed it here.

Have you ever seen a movie you liked more than the book?

The Great Gatsby (Leo DiCaprio version). The film made the characters sympathetic and the story poignant, which the book didn’t do for me.

Have you ever read a book that’s made you hungry, cookbooks included?

I don’t need a book to make me hungry.

I am easily guilted (is a theme developing here?) by books that feature starvation.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Farmer Boy stars a 9-year-old boy who is always hungry and includes many detailed, sensuous descriptions of food.  Man, that boy could put away the pies! Of course, he was nine years old and was out ploughing all day.

Who is the person whose book advice you’ll always take?

Not sure this person exists.  Even people I respect greatly have different thresholds than I do.

Is there a book out of your comfort zone (e.g., outside your usual reading genre) that you ended up loving?

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver was out of my comfort zone and I avoided it for several years because I got the impression that it demonized missionaries as evil colonialists who don’t bother to learn anything about the cultures they enter.

Eventually, when I’d made some culture crossing mistakes of my own and been through some difficult personal stuff, and I had accepted myself as a flawed person and life had calmed down a bit, I felt ready to read it.

It is brilliant. 

I still think it demonizes missionaries to some extent, but it is such good literature that even the Baptist pastor villain is portrayed in a complex way. It does a great job of showing the huge learning curve faced by Westerners when entering a West African culture.  It deals with white guilt, parenting guilt, and more. At least three of the characters made me go, “This is me!

Also, the sections narrated by the pastor’s oldest daughter Rachel are hilarious because they’re filled with malapropisms.

Now it’s my turn to tag you.

Tag! You’re it. If you want to do this tag, go home and do it, and let me know. Or answer randomly selected questions from this tag in the comments.