Austen in August: My New Challenge

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I found this great new challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader called “Austen in August.” I realized I haven’t read any Austen this year, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to finally read Emma. They are also hosting a book group for Northanger Abbey. There are also several Jane-inspired books on my shelves that need to be read.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to add a new mini-challenge for the month of August. My plan for the challenge is to complete five books. Here are my specially designed categories:

1. An Austen novel I’ve never read: Emma

2. An old favorite: Northanger Abbey

3. An unfinished work completed by another author: The Watsons

4. An interesting mashup/adaptation of a Jane Austen work: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

5. A nonfiction book about Jane Austen or her time period: Jane Austen and Her Times by G.E. Mitton

I’m planning to add a page to this site outlining the challenges I’m participating in this year. Hopefully, my personal challenge has inspired you to pick up an Austen book and create your own challenge. Click THIS POST to sign up!

Are you involved in any reading challenges? What are some of your favorite Austen classics? Comments are always welcome!

23. ‘Devil in the Details’ by Jennifer Traig

Time to make another selection from my wife’s bookshelves. Devil in the Details by Jennifer Traig probably takes the award for the book she has read the most. I remember often waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of her laughter when she reads this one. It has actually been a few years since I read this one myself, and I thought it would make a great followup to Homer’s Odyssey as I’ve been wanting to share more of my wife’s favorites on this blog too.

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Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood chronicles the author’s childhood struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Traig suffered from a specific form of OCD known as scrupulosity, pathological guilt relating to moral or religious issues. Combined with a divided family (her father was Hebrew and her mother a Catholic) leads itself to severe behaviors that plagued her throughout childhood and into her teens. Deciding to follow the Hebrew path with its multitude of laws, Traig soon learns that  following this particular religion is nearly impossible with someone that has scrupulosity. The Hebrew religion did provide some salvation for her as “the greatest thing about having so many laws was that you could pick and choose, and move on to the next when the last lost its magic.”

Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know anything about scrupulosity. As a therapist, I’ve worked with several clients with OCD, some more severe than others. It’s important to remember that Traig grew up in the 80’s when there was next to nothing in regards to treatment for this particular disorder. Traig is fearlessly honest regarding her behaviors, such as tirelessly scrubbing her hands before dinner, washing all of her clothes due to the fear that they became tainted with pork fumes, and avoiding all places to sit in the house out of concern that someone that had pork on them sat there at one time. For those professionals looking for specific treatments for OCD, this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are looking for an honest memoir that is full of humor then you will like this book.

The real strength of Jennifer Traig’s story is in the telling. She tells it with a strong sense of humor with scenes that will have you laughing out loud. Despite some truly disturbing scenes, Traig doesn’t hold back and manages use her comedic wit to great effect. I was instantly sucked in to the story.

The only real problem I had with the writing is that the constantly jumping forwards and backwards in time became slightly jarring.

I think it’s all worth mentioning, that this is a great book for anyone that has been a part of a bi-religious family. There are some scenes that point to just how difficult it is for a family to combine and adjust their personal beliefs for the sake of a significant other.

Finally, I would like to commend Traig on her open honesty regarding a difficult period in her life. Just being a teen is difficult, and Traig struggled with a psychological disorder. Most would not want to revisit this part of their lives, but Traig not only revisits but approaches it with both honesty and a great sense of humor. I think she helps take the isolation out of the problem and shows that we are not alone.

“There’s a fine line between piety and wack-ass obsession, and people have been landing on the wrong side for thousands of years.”

 

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

 

 

SnapShorts: happy endings

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

When he was little, his mother would read him fairy tales, and his favorite was the one with the beautiful swan at the end.

His mother told him someday that would be him, and he knew she was telling the truth as children always believe their mommies.

When he became a teenager, he felt even uglier so he would stare at the mirror and wait patiently to become a swan.

At night he would read….and cry.

The others at school could be quite merciless with their teasing and bullying, and although at times he wanted to just give up, he kept going believing in the story knowing that someday he would be a swan.

He never became that swan, but that was alright.

He was willing instead to be the best duck he could be and was happy with that.

At night, he would read fairy tales to his own children.

He usually skipped over the one about swans.

It would be better for his children to become whatever they wanted as long as they were happy.

 

 

 

Welcome to SnapShorts

“A good snapshot stops a moment from running away.“-Eudora Welty

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I’m please to announce an exciting new project on this website called SnapShorts, an artistic collaboration of photographs and writing.

As many of you who follow my website know, my wife is an extremely talented photographer.

You may also know that I’m a not-so-talented writer who has been wanting to create more fiction. I was feeling stuck. Then inspiration struck!

My wife had been wanting to take more pictures with her camera and had been trying to think of some ideas.  It only made sense for us to work together, and so the idea of SnapShorts was born!

Each week, I will post one or two of my wife’s photographs along with a short story of under 350 words. All photographs are done by Natalie Getter with all text completed by Joel Getter (that’s me).

Each week, I will post one or two as blog entries. Following the initial two posts, there will be a new addition each Friday. You can also find SnapShorts in the Writing section of this blog.

Wish us good fortune as we attempt to inspire ourselves.

“It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things – a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring – with immense, even startling power.” – Raymond Carver

22. ‘The Onion Girl’ by Charles de Lint

I was in the mood to read one of my favorite authors, to revisit an old and comfortable friend. Also, I’ve been wanting to read more this year in the fantasy genre, so Charles de Lint made sense. My first experience with de Lint was his phenomenal short story collection Dreams Underfoot. I will never forget just how blown away I was by this author who could merge fantastical creatures and lands with healthy doses of everyday pain. Since this initial exposure, I’ve read several more of his urban fantasy works, such as Memory and Dream, Moonlight and Vines, and Moonheart. I’ve also read a few of his straight up classic fantasy stories like Wolf Moon and The Riddle of the Wren. Last year, I did a Triple Fantasy Novel Review which included those last two works. Although his original fantasy is good, nothing beats de Lint’s modern stories set in the fictional town of Newford. These stories deal with finding magic in the modern world with fully realized characters who learn that not all magic is good.

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At the heart of Newford is Jilly Coppercorn, an artist who shines with a brightness that few others possess. With flecks of paint in her jeans, nails, and hair, Jilly is loved by all of the residents of Newford. She has appeared in several of the Newford short stories and as a background character in some of the novels. The Onion Girl is the first novel to feature Jilly front and center. Tragedy strikes at the beginning, and this horrific event serves as the means to tell the sad and twisted story of her upbringing. Much of Jilly’s dark past was already written about in the 1993 story “In the House of My Enemy,” which is reprinted here because de Lint says he did not want to revisit the horrific abuse visited on Jilly as a child. The novel begins with a hit and run that has left her paralyzed. Referring to herself as “the Broken Girl,” Jilly learns that she cannot be fully healed by her spirit friends until she can heal herself from her brutal past.

However, this Broken Girl does find solace in the faerie world as Jilly discovers the ability to dream herself there where she is completely healed. Those with the power to dream themselves into the faerie world can make themselves appear as their ideal images of themselves. For Jilly, this ability comes at a price as she begins to withdraw further from the real world and her friends. The sudden reappearance of someone from her past along with a new danger that has appeared in the faerie world take of most of the plot of the book.

“The faerie represent the beauty we don’t see, or even choose to ignore. That’s why I’ll paint them in junkyards, or fluttering around a sleeping wino. No place or person is immune to spirit. Look hard enough, and everything has a story. Everybody is important.”

Despite the somewhat darker themes of The Onion Girl, this book is really beautiful and heartwarming. I love the theme of magic existing side-by-side with the modern world. I’m a firm believer in the magic of our modern world, and it can be found around everything and inside everyone. Jilly managed to overcome horrific trauma and violence in order to become a champion of the less fortunate around her. She sees beauty everywhere. That’s the idea that de Lint tries to show his readers, and through the use of fantasy elements he can develop this truly grand story of healing and redemption. The idea explored here is that we choose the paths we take. This is shown through the development of the character from Jilly’s past. This person serves as a dark mirror to the person we’ve grown to know and love through the Newford tales.

“I suppose the other thing too many forget is that we were all stories once, each and every one of us. And we remain stories. But too often we allow those stories to grow banal, or cruel or unconnected to each other.We allow the stories to continue, but they no longer have a heart. They no longer sustain us.”

When I first discovered de Lint’s work, it reminded me of that sense of excitement I had when I first read Neil Gaiman. I think a lot of comparisons between the two can be made. Gaiman works myth on a large scale, where de Lint mostly works in folkore: girls who can change into crows, beings with animal heads, trees that grow off of stories, and beings who exist only as long as others believe in them.

Despite all of its strengths, there are elements of The Onion Girl that didn’t work for me. It is one of de Lint’s longer novels, and it took time to get the plot going. Despite my love for these characters, it does get a tad annoying that nearly everyone is an artist or writer with some type of magical ability. Also, not every mystery is resolved. I have the followup novel Widdershins, so I’m hoping for some resolution there. Look for my review in a future blog.

Many of the characters from de Lint’s short fiction appear in this novel, but it’s not necessary to have read any of his other work first. It will just lead to more appreciation for the town of Newford if you know some of the backstories for these characters. For the Newford newcomers, I recommend starting with either the short story collection Dreams Underfoot or the novel Memory and Dream. I dare you to sample these and not become a fan. Let the magic seep over you, as de Lint will mesmerize you with his writing.

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Have you read this book? Please comment below. Your thoughts are always welcome!