My first experience with Kelly Link was her short story “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.” A college professor who had read one of my short stories recommended it to me because he thought I wrote in a similar style. Of course, I immediately found a copy of Link’s story and was completely blown away by it. A deceased man is stuck in a strange version of the afterlife writing letters to his still-living wife. Unfortunately, he can’t remember her name and several important details, but he does regain some random memories such as the girl who beat him up in the fourth grade. As time passes, the afterlife becomes stranger and stranger. It was a story unlike any I had ever read before, as Link takes you on a journey that moves in all kinds of directions. Since that first encounter, I’ve become a huge fan. Stranger Things Happen is Link’s first published collection and an excellent starting point for her rather unique voice. While I didn’t fall in love with every story in this collection, I enjoyed the majority of them. Link’s writing is full of heart as well as humor with more than a fair share of the surreal.
Appropriately enough, the above-mentioned “Carnation” kicks off the eleven bizarre journeys featured here. There is a dreamlike aspect to all of the fiction that often makes you wonder if you are actually lying in bed dreaming rather than reading a book of stories. That’s the best way I can describe it after reading “Survivor’s Ball, or The Donner Party” which mingles a toothache with a mysterious love affair ending in a rather outrageous dinner party. “Water off a Black Dog’s Back” is a fun story about a man who is meeting his girlfriend’s rather odd parents, such as the dad who is missing his nose but crafts his own replacements out of various materials.
Many of the pieces in this collection are adaptations of classic fairy tales. My favorite one “Travels with the Snow Queen” retells the Hans Christian Anderson story from the point-of-view of a jilted lover. “The Girl Detective” is following the Twelve Dancing Princesses whose activities at night will surprise you. “Shoe and Marriage” begins as a retelling of the Cinderella story before taking on a life of its own as something involving a television pageant show.
Several of the stories are completely changed between the first sentence and the last one. It’s easy to get lost in the mire of a Kelly Link story, as I had to go back and reread several pages. The most confusing tale for me was “Louise’s Ghost” about two friends who are both named Louise. Or were there two women named Louise? I still don’t know, so let this serve as a warning to be prepared for confusion. “Flying Lessons” about a girl who falls in love with a demigod starts out confusing but comes together beautifully in the final pages.
All of this strangeness may sound frightening, but there is some really poignant writing underneath all of it. Link uses the fantastic in order to tell very human stories. One of my favorites was “Vanishing Act” about a girl who doesn’t like her cousin who stays with her family for a short period of time. As the story progresses, you feel for both the girl and her cousin for different reasons. “The Specialist’s Hat” is the story of twin girls and their absent-minded father living in a haunted house. The subtlety in which Link embeds the true message of her fiction is what makes her one of the best short story writers I’ve ever encountered. The fantastic elements that help drive the story serve as beautiful window dressing.
I don’t recommend reading Stranger Things Happen in one sitting. Link’s fiction is stronger when you come up for air after diving down into the beautiful strangeness that is her writing. I promise there will be a story or two that stays with you, much like a few bars of a forgotten song.
“Part of you is always traveling faster, always traveling ahead. Even when you are moving, it is never fast enough to satisfy that part of you.”-“Travels with the Snow Queen
I read this book for the TBR Challenge. You can see my progress here. Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below.
Happy Valentine’s Day out there to all you couples and singles who are still searching for that special someone. Since I wrote a couple of posts last year, one called This Modern Love and another called Strange Love, I thought this year’s post would center on my favorite couples in literature. Some of these characters may be unfamiliar to you, while some will be old favorites. Here is my personal list of dynamic duos:
Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
It should come as no surprise that I put this couple on the top of my list. When it comes to romance, Jane Austen is the name among names. If you pull up any list of fictional couples, these two are always going to be close to the top. Headstrong and independent Elizabeth Bennet and the snobbish Fitzwilliam Darcy did not start out on a high note. However, their romance would become legendary and the archetype of what is known as the power couple.
Catherine and Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights
One of the greatest classics of all time stars one the most destructive couples in all of literature. The mutual obsession between these two lovers is out of control, and their passion basically burns down anyone between them. When he loses her, Heathcliff becomes quite evil taking down anyone who even looks at him the wrong way. It probably doesn’t help that Catherine haunts Heathcliff throughout his remaining days. While this may not be the most stable relationship in literature, these two definitely understand the term passion.
Charles de Lint is a master of urban fantasy and most known for his series of stories set in the fictional town of Newford. Jilly is an artist who is blessed with several magical gifts. Her best friend Geordie is a musician who initially struggles to believe in the world of magic, despite the fact that it is in his face on a daily basis. Although this couple has been circling around each other for a long time, Widdershins is the novel where they finally realized that they are meant to be together. We could have told them several stories back, but they were fearful that romance would ruin their friendship. If you have not taken the time to read these incredible fantasy stories (or anything by de Lint), do yourself a favor and check them out as soon as you can. They are pure magic.
This is the story of a being who simply goes by the name “A.” Every day, A wakes up in a new body, and it has been this way for his entire life. While in the body of a boy named Justin, A begins to develop feelings for Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon. Although A has always done his best not to interfere with the lives of his many hosts, meeting Rhiannon has sparked a longing for something long-term. Thus begins, a rather unconventional romance. This book proves that it’s what’s underneath the skin that counts.
Perhaps the body does matter. This is a rather unique love story written by one of the literature’s best contemporary authors. The twist to this story is that the gender of the narrator is never revealed. After a series of failed love affairs, the narrator falls in love with Louise who is married to an ambitious yet unfeeling man. Further complications arise when the narrator learns that Louise has cancer. Louise’s husband gives the narrator an ultimatum to leave in exchange for the best possible medical care. Although the road to happiness is not always smooth, this novel flies by due to the exquisite prose of the author. Winterson is definitely worth reading.
Although not exactly a love story, more a humorous look at depression, I loved the romance that develops during the characters’ stay in the hospital. After trying to commit suicide, Craig is sent to stay in a psychiatric ward where he meets several “dysfunctional” characters including Noelle, a free-spirited girl for whom he develops feelings. This is a powerful story about mental illness and being able to truly be yourself.
Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, Harry Potter Series
Most fans would give the couple award to Ron and Hermione, but personally I think these two were meant for each other. It takes a strong woman to be with a man who brings death and destruction everywhere he goes. It was nice to see them together as a married couple in the end.
Henry DeTamble and Clare Anne Abshire, The Time Traveler’s Wife
Speaking of strong women, it takes one to stay in love with a man who is constantly disappearing. Henry has a disorder that makes him time-travel involuntarily. He has no control over where he goes and when he goes and for how long. This means that Clare has to spend long periods of time waiting for him to come back, and often meets him out of sequence. It’s a doomed love that is so compelling to watch.
Pip and Estella, Great Expectations
Throughout my favorite work by Dickens, Estella swears she does not love Pip. However, several of her actions speak differently. Although she is often cold as ice, Pip refuses to give up on her. Estella is unable to return the affections he shows due to her harsh upbringing resulting in her emotional suppression. She also serves as a turning point in Pip’s life as he makes the harsh transition into adulthood.
Ishamael and Queequeg, Moby-Dick
Alright so I might be stretching the definition of “couple” with this one, but I think it’s fair to say there was more going on beneath the surface of this friendship. These two characters from completely opposite cultures meet early in the novel and quickly warm up to each other. Make no mistake, there’s subtext here (as with most of Melville’s works).
It seems fitting that I would end this post the same way it started. This is another great Austen novel and for completely different reasons that P&P. This is the story of a love lost as Anne decided to reject Wentworth on the advice of her friends. She would spend several years regretting this decision when her love came back into her life. Can true love find a way? Well, it’s Jane Austen so you all know the answer. I loved the relationship between these two characters, the culmination of Austen’s growing maturity as a writer.
I hope everyone has a wonderful day! I would love to hear about some of your favorite couples in fiction. Leave me a comment below.
With all the excitement of reviews and completing book challenges, I totally forgot to share some of the awesome books and bookish gifts I received during the holidays. I realized that this may be my final book haul post for some time as I’m trying to restrain my book buying for the year (we shall see).
The Outsider by Stephen King: I am so stoked to read the latest by one of my favorite authors. I’ve read a lot of positive reviews for this one, so hopefully it lives up to the hype.
Boy Erased by Garrard Conley: In this memoir, the writer recounts his experiences undergoing conversion therapy. A special thank you to my wonderful wife for winning an autographed copy for me! The goal is to read more nonfiction this year, so I think this is a great starting place.
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson: This is a self-help book that explores several areas such as psychology, mythology, and religion. I’ve been eyeing this one for some time so this will be another perfect addition to my nonfiction reading.
Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount: In this love letter to all things bookish, Jane Mount brings together some extraordinary facts about authors, their works, libraries, everything you can think of in your bookish mind. I flipped through this one a few times, and the illustrations are just beautiful.
In addition to my latest books, I also received a lovely journal from my wife where I write quotes and notes on whatever book I’m currently reading. My family also got me this awesome box shaped like War and Peace.
Although we didn’t take pictures of them, I did receive a collection of fantasy novels for my birthday. They are part of the Forgotten Realms series about the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden. I read the original trilogy in my teens so it should be fun to go back and experience them all over again. This series may take some time as there are over 20 books!
What new books have you received lately? Let me know with a comment below!
As I was compiling a list of books for the 2019 TBR Pile Challenge, I made a discovery so horrific that it defies all the rules of logic. It was just sitting there collecting dust, a book from one of my favorite authors that I have yet to read! Immediately, I knew that this terrible injustice had to be made right. The result is the review that sits before you. I’ve mentioned that we all have those special authors that lie closest to our hearts. These select few can do no wrong in our eyes, and for me, one of those is Charles de Lint. Ever since reading his short story collection Dreams Underfoot, I’ve been a devoted follower. He is one of the best writers of fantasy fiction and can definitely hold his own in the company of the likes of Neil Gaiman. If I had to select a work by de Lint that I would consider his finest, it would be this one. Widdershins manages to bring all the strands of his previous books together into a seamless whole that is both epic and completely masterful. If a book could be pure magic, it would be this one.
The most difficult part of writing this review is summarizing the massive story that de Lint has created here. Widdershins is set in the magical town of Newford and is a continuation of artist Jilly Coppercorn’s story from The Onion Girl. There are two rather complex stories that are running throughout this novel, one extremely epic with huge ramifications for all the characters while the other is a much more personal narrative as Jilly battles the demons of her tragic past. A horrible act triggers a war between the fairy realm and beings known as cousins, the original inhabitants of this country. Meanwhile, Jilly is trapped in a nightmare world created through the traumas of her childhood. Although these concurring stories are told differently, I was nothing short of impressed at how de Lint manages to weave these two plots together so seamlessly. Is it possible, he really is a magician?
Although Widdershins is full of complex and intriguing plots, its the characters that make this novel worth it and they all have roles to play. If you’ve been following the Newford stories for as long as I have, then you are in for a real treat as all of the magical beings of the past put in appearances as well as some new characters. Who doesn’t love the crow girls, or Raven who pulled the world out of a pot? There’s Christiana, a shadow of another character who formed her own life. Joe Crazy Dog has the ability to make peace with others but holds a frightening power inside himself. De Lint is a master storyteller who can blend magical beings into everyday reality and makes you believe that they exist. However, at the heart of this novel are the characters of Jilly and Geordie. Everyone knows they belong together, and yet they keep their distance for fear of ruining their friendship. The term “widdershins” means to walk backwards or counterclockwise around something. For this novel, the term holds a double meaning as it is the traditional way to enter the fairy realm as well as the slow way people tend to back into relationships. As you read this novel, you will see that the title is quite appropriate.
“But I, at least, am human and we’re never satisfied, are we?
De lint is also quite an experimental novelist. The narrative alternates from character to character, but the style of the storytelling is not the same throughout the novel. The chapters which focus on Jilly as well as two of the other primary characters are told in first-person, while the rest are in third-person. While this sounds like a complete disaster, trust me when I say it not only works but is handled beautifully. I also noticed how de Lint shifts the tense from past to present in the case of the character of Grey. As he is a “cousin” or Earth spirit, he exists in the now as opposed to humans who often are stuck in the past. For a story that involves a character being stuck in her past, I thought this was pure brilliance. For a story that deals with magic and the fairy realm, it’s the human component that is the heart of this book. The question of whether or not violence is ever justified is asked repeatedly, and one would have to be ignorant not to find the parallels between the main conflict and our own sad history.
I would be doing Mr. de Lint a disservice if I didn’t mention the most powerful aspect of this novel. This is book that deals with the horrors of child abuse. Jilly’s story, which serves as the core of this novel, is handled beautifully. Typically, a fantasy novel would not handle such a complicated psychological topic. I thought that de Lint handled this issue extremely well with Jilly spending most of the book trapped in a world created by her own subconscious. Several fantasy elements are placed there, but I think they served to heighten the story rather than detract from it. For those that are long-time fans of Jilly’s story, this book is a wonderful culmination of her journey.
I think if you have never read another novel by de Lint before, this novel would be somewhat confusing (and filled with spoilers of his other novels), so I recommend you start with some of the earlier Newford stories, such as Memory and Dream or The Onion Girl first. Another great starting point would be the short story collection Dreams Underfoot. Here’s a great review by fellow blogger Allison at Climbing Mount To Be Read. Whatever your starting point, whether in chronological order or taking the widdershins route, you really should check out this extraordinary writer who is way beyond a mere genre author.
“Because some things – the deep, meaningful things that sit at the heart of our souls – can’t be touched by magic. They can only be touched by the hurt or the love that we offer to each other.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below.
One of my lifelong dreams is to travel around the world. Unfortunately, not having money prevents this particular dream from becoming a reality. Or does it?
Recently, I’ve realized that I have been a world traveler. I discovered the quest undertaken by blogger Ann Morgan in 2012 where she dedicated herself to reading a book from each country in the world. Her project A Year of Reading the World developed into her first book and made her a champion of the reading community. While she is an incredible inspiration to this little blogger, I realize that achieving that goal of nearly 200 books will take some time. However, I have developed an interest in exploring books from other countries. One of my goals for this year is to participate actively in the 2019 European Reading Challenge as well as continuing to sample works from all over the globe.
Books offer the ability of traveling to anywhere on this great globe of ours without ever leaving the comforts of home. Reading from different countries can also have some tremendous benefits:
Knowledge of other cultures
The world of fiction instantly transports you to another world, where everything is different. By reading a wide variety of authors, you get a better view of other cultures and places. By expanding your horizons, you get to see other countries, other people and so many other things beyond your greatest imagination.
Every page you read fills your head with some of the history and traditions of other countries. In addition, you may find a destination you would love to visit physically. It all starts with a book.
This benefit connects to the one above.
Recently, I finished a novel from a writer who lived for a short time in a small town in Germany. The book included some German vocabulary so I often felt like I was getting a basic language tutorial. Reading books is a vital component for learning new languages through exposure to how those words are used in context.
Connections to the wider world
According to studies such as this one from Scientific American, reading fiction increases empathy. As a psychologist, this make total sense. When I’m reading, I quickly feel like a participant in events, absorbing the emotions of the characters.
We can always share whatever we have read with our family, friends and colleagues. All this reading increases our interpersonal interactions. Human beings are social creatures and in the world of advanced technology, we are losing our ability to socialize. However, reading does offer the opportunities at socialization, such as book clubs or even commenting on a friendly blog 🙂
Insight into different styles of writing
All the good writers who teach others the craft will tell you the same thing. If you want to be a good writer, you need to read. A lot. Reading offers boundless opportunities at enhancing your creativity. Through examining a variety of writers and styles, you can learn different approaches to enhancing your own writing. As you improve your own writing skills, your ability to communicate develops even further.
Reading is fuel for the imagination. Books are also reflections of an author’s views and mindset. As you acquire greater knowledge of different writers, those styles merge into your own, helping you to create your own unique style. Adding diversity will certainly add flavor to your writing.
As a child, I used to watch a weekly show from a local bookstore owner where he would review the latest releases. I loved his energy and enthusiasm for books. You could say he was my earliest inspiration into falling in love with the written word. He ended each week with the same quote, “The more you read, the more you grow.” I never realized until right this moment, how that quote has stayed ingrained in my soul since childhood (like seriously, this is happening right now).
So rather than engaging in reading of only a singular culture and lifestyle, it is valuable to absorb the literature of many different countries. Then, you can have the honor of being a well-traveled reader too.
Finally, here are a few personal recommendations from the countries I’ve visited:
Canada: Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint
Nobody can write fantasy like Charles de Lint. I highly recommend beginning with this collection of beautiful short stories set in the fictional town of Newford. These stories are flowing with magic and beauty.
If surrealism is your bag, then you should definitely check out a work by Franz Kafka. Having previously read his short story “The Metamorphosis” and his novel The Castle, I went into this one having some idea of what to expect. Kafka takes this absurdist tale to a whole other level with this story about a man who is trying to find answers against an oppressive court system.
This modern fable is one of the best books ever written. Combined with beautiful illustrations, prepare to have some tissues on hand. The plot is simple, but the meaning is universal. I can’t wait to have a ‘little prince’ of my own someday so I can read this book to him.
I recently read this novel because the description felt like a nightmare straight from a Brothers Grimm story. While not what I was expecting at all, I did find this book to be quite a charming one that emphasized how stories are used to make sense of tragedies.
Ireland: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
I still remember writing a paper on this book for a college humanities class. My computer crashed, and I had to rewrite the entire paper from memory on the due date. Fortunately, I loved this novel so much that it was fun to rewrite all of my thoughts about it. This is a novel that is pure genius, one of the best satires ever composed. It is also a fantastic adventure.
My first experience with Calvino is still highly memorable. He is definitely one of the world’s most innovative writers, as evidenced by this experimental story of a lost book. Calvino’s brilliance lies in how the reader becomes intimately engaged with the book.
Japan: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
I count Murakami among my favorite writers. This novel was my first book from him, and it has stayed with me today. I highly recommend this one as the way to get the full Murakami experience. He really is the David Lynch of novel writing.
Speaking of Murakami, this writer is the closest I’ve discovered to matching that same eerie and detached style. This story about a woman who gives up eating meat turns into a work that is quite shocking. The Vegetarian is an impressive and disturbing debut novel. Despite its dark content, it is beautifully written. There is a dreamlike quality to the writing that is unforgettable.
Isserley spends her days driving the Scottish Highlands searching for hitchhikers. She has certain rules for those that she picks up. The ones that get chosen will never be found again. This is another novel that is sick, twisted, and will definitely make you think long after you finish it. Under the Skin is a masterful work by a truly gifted novelist.
After studying this work in college, I’ve loved Joseph Conrad and now own several of his novels. Heart of Darkness is short but tells a powerful story about the horrors of colonialism and the evil that lies deep inside us. Conrad’s writing is quite poetic despite the darkness of the material, and you often feel like you are reading a dream.
There are some books that move you so much that you must make it your life’s purpose to read every single work by that particular author. This novel is about what happens when death stops happening, and is actually two stories told very differently. If you have not read anything by Saramago, you should definitely pick up one of his works.
This is the story of S 854. He is a prisoner in one of the most inhospitable climates you could ever imagine. Each day is a struggle to survive as he and his fellow “zeks” just hope to make it to the next morning. All manners of threats abound this alien world, such as their evil oppressors, fellow inmates, and even the weather itself. This is a great piece of Russian literature that is well worth your time.
This is the absurdly comical story of centenarian Allan Karlsson. On the day of the 100th birthday, he makes the spontaneous decision to run away from the nursing home that he is trapped in with no plans for the future. One of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read, I can’t recommend this one enough.
While Sense and Sensibility kicked off my fascination with Austen, Northanger Abbey totally ignited it. My rankings of the others shift sometimes, but this one always manages to stay number one. I’m a huge fan of satire, and Austen completely nails it with one of the most fascinating heroines I’ve ever encountered. Honestly, you just can’t go wrong with anything by Austen, which is the reason I’m rereading all of her novels this year.
I hope you have enjoyed my little world tour. I would love to hear about some works from other countries that you enjoy.