Fairy Tales

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(Art by Felicitas Kuhn, a fabulous fairy tale artist from the 1940s.)

Did you like to read fairy tales when you were a kid? My family had a big book of fairy tales for kids, and I completely devoured it. There’s nothing else like them to indulge the imagination. And I think they stuck, because I still love fairy tales today.

Of course, that’s not much of a surprise considering how prevalent fairy tales are. Think movies like Snow White and the Huntsman or Red Riding Hood, or TV shows like Grimm and my personal guilty addiction Once Upon a Time. Fairy tale characters stuck in our world! Just think of the drama! The princesses! The attractive men in fantasy garb!

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Plus fairy tales inspire miniseries, short stories, novels, art, and paraphernalia, not to mention the Disney movies.

Why have fairy tales stuck with us for so long? Is it just that enchanted worlds and happy endings stand the test of time? I wish I knew. If you have any theories leave them in the comments!

Some of my favorite novels retell fairy tales. Beauty by Robin McKinley stands out, which retells, as you can guess, Beauty and the Beast. I recently finished Deerskin by the same author, which retells a little-known fairy tale called Donkeyskin by Charles Perrault. Donkeyskin has been left out of many anthologies for good reason: it’s a violent tale involving a king who wants to marry his own daughter. But it makes for a wonderful novel. Seriously, if you’re looking for a great read, pick up something by Robin McKinley.

In terms of actual fairy tales, I love the original Little Mermaid. If you want to check it out, go here. It’s a tragic tale of love and sacrifice, and let’s just say that the ending ain’t no Disney movie. Just be prepared to hate Hans Christian Andersen a little bit after you read it.

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But it makes for some great art.

What are your favorite fairy tales? And why do you think we all seem to love them so darn much?

Books That Change Your Life

Two weeks ago, by a series of happy accidents (as if the internet is anything BUT happy accidents), I stumbled upon a link that led to this book:

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The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsburg

Now, I’m not much of a nonfiction reader. Most of my life I’ve buried my nose in fantastical tales of far-off lands with kings and queens and dragons, or tales of young people who face unimaginable obstacles only to battle their way to the top. Only recently have my eyes opened to the learning opportunities that nonfiction offers. And if you know me, you know I am a Knowledge Sponge. That’s an official title.

But before now I’ve never read a book that will change my life.

Education teaches you that real-life skills are infinitely more important than academic skills. To write this book, Ellsburg interviewed millionaires and billionaires who don’t have college degrees to discover how they succeeded in business. This book tells how they became successful, touting street-smarts and teaching you how to teach yourself marketing, sales, and network-building. For those who don’t want to work for ‘the man’ in an office 9-5, or for those who don’t want to work for anyone else but themselves for that matter, this is the book to read. At the very least, this book might change your mind about college degrees.

If you’re cynical about this kind of book and think that the author only tells you these things to sell his own product, I can’t help you. As for me, Ellsburg sold me in the first chapter. I honestly think my career path will change because of this book. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but when has optimism ever hurt anyone?

But anyway, this isn’t a marketing blog. This is a book blog! What about the other inspiring books out there? I know that countless books have stuck with me long after turning the final page, and it’s always a joy to discover new ones. Without Harry Potter I would not have made some of my best college friends, and it helped me bond with older friends too. Sabriel and Biting the Sun gave me strong female characters as role models who inspired me to follow my own path regardless of what others tell me. And countless other books helped me escape into worlds that expanded my imagination and put myself in other people’s shoes.

As for other books that have changed people’s lives, I’ve heard good things about The Alchemist and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Open Culture has a great user-voted list on life-changing books, and RealSimple asked authors about their picks. Just looking at those lists, I know I have a lot more books to pick up!

Another word of advice: read books that you know you’ll disagree with. There’s no better way to open your mind.

Have any books changed your life for the better? Or are you still looking for The One?

Reading is the best way to learn how to write: A Review of Stephen King’s On Writing

 

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Every November I write a 50,000 word novel under a month-long deadline.

It could be worse. Jack Kerouac churned out On the Road in three weeks, on a 120 foot long piece of paper that he’d taped together beforehand, no less. John Boyne wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in 2.5 days.

They didn’t use no ghost writers, either (I’m looking at you, James Patterson).

In the National Novel Writing Month event, wannabee novelists all over the world try writing 50,000 words or more in a month, a journey on which I’ve been successful four times out of four tries. It’s a great time. It also hurts in every corner of my soul (but oh, it hurts so good). I highly recommend a look. Check it out.

But that’s not what I came here to talk about today.

For this event I decided I needed some encouragement and, I’ll admit, plenty of tips on writing, so I picked up Stephen King’s On Writing. Despite its rave reviews, I did not expect to be particularly engaged. I’ll admit I had a preconceived notion about what any book about writing would look like: a dry instruction manual with specific rules the high-and-mighty author insists should not be broken.

Boy, was I wrong. King himself admits, “This is a short book because most books about writing are full of bullshit,” and as a result On Writing is a masterpiece. I could not put it down, says the girl who only likes to read fictional novels. King’s writing is clear-cut, honest, and 0% bullshit. It’s like looking through a window to King’s life that’s so thoroughly Windexed that there don’t seem to be any windowpanes.

The first half of the book gives an account of King’s life as centered on writing. His first foray into publishing was his novelization of a popular movie, The Pit and the Pendulum, which he printed himself then sold to classmates at his middle school and was forced to refund by his principal within the same day. His triumph, King says, was that many of his classmates insisted on keeping their copy.
Starting in the writing business is a struggle. King describes the stacks of rejection papers from magazines he got as a teenager. The letters with personal comments motivated him to keep trying, and that he did, fortunately for us. But it’s sure a long, daunting battle to get to the publishing stages.

The second half of On Writing is the really helpful part. King doesn’t follow a specific structure, but instead follows his own instincts, which are good enough for me. He supplements his tips with examples and stories, which makes them not only readable but also much more absorbable.

So what does he teach you? You ask. What are Stephen King’s writing secrets? Well, I’m not telling. This is a book review, not Sparknotes. It’s for your own benefit, you know. If you’d read all the way through Great Expectations in tenth grade, you would’ve gotten farther than your dead-end job sorting recycling every day.

Just kidding (and no offense to the recycling sorters. You keep our environment strong). I’ll give a few prime tips. But if you’re at all interested in writing fiction, I really suggest you pick this book up. The guidelines will stick with you for much longer and pack more punch than my lowly blog will do.

A tip that sticks out is this: write first with the door closed, then with the door open. In other words, write all of the first draft for yourself. This keeps your writing honest. If it’s engaging to you, then more than likely it’ll be engaging to your readers. When you get to the second draft, open the door and keep your intended readers in mind. Will they like this scene or be bored by it? Is this character engaging to everyone? Etc.

Another great tip (and one that has been invaluable in my writing) is to cut your words. Write out a first draft, fine. In your second draft, cut 10%. This keeps the junk out and keeps your writing tight. Cut extra words (is “very” really necessary?), cut the clichés, cut whole passages if you have to.

Keep those in mind and your writing will already improve. But seriously, read this book. It’s a book about writing that serves as a prime example of writing in itself. After reading it I feel armed and ready with the tools I need to start a new novel next November.

 

Rereads

Do you reread books? I reread (or is it “re-read”? Can the hyphen police jump in?) books all the time. I just have too many favorites out there. (When someone asks me what my favorite book is, it feels like asking a mother to pick a favorite child. How do you choose?) I can’t just let them gather dust on the shelf – that would be mean. So every couple years or so I pick up a favorite and read through it again. It’s kind of like coming back to an old friend. Even though I know how the book will end, I’m there to enjoy the ride rather than just to see what happens.

Rereading does more than entertain, though. A reading experience is never the same twice, even if you’re reading the same book. Picking up a book again, years later, shows you how much you have changed since first reading it, creating a whole different perception of the book. It reflects your growth back to you. A good way to test this, though more drastic than many rereading experiences, is to pick up a book from childhood. I 100% guarantee that it will not be the same as you remember it. I’m willing to bet you on that.

Actually I’m also willing to bet that many childhood books were more disturbing or creepy than you remember. I read The Giver for the first time in about, oh, ten years, recently, and there was some stuff in there that had NOT hit my radar as a kid. There were babies involved. It was not pretty. Also, does anyone remember that book where this girl’s brain was put inside the body of an ape to save her life? What was up with that?

But anyway. I digress.

I may do a more in-depth post about re-reading in the future; I went to the library yesterday and there are whole books about rereading! Apparently it’s a subject fascinating enough to fill whole books. 

Are there any books you just love to reread? Are those books careworn from love with dog-eared edges and cracked spines like mine?

Book Dedications

Today I had an odd thought. You know those dedications authors put after the title page of their book? I feel like those don’t get enough appreciation. There’s a whole page, usually dedicated to one or a few people close to the author. Isn’t it great that an author gets a whole page for themselves to say exactly what they want and appreciate the people who helped them through the book? Maybe that’s my sleep-deprived brain talking, but I feel like those deserve more notice.

The best book dedications are super sassy though, or give a nod to loyal readers. One of my favorites is the dedication in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: “…and to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.” That one set my little nerd-heart a-fluttering. 

Lemony Snicket uses his dedication pages creatively, writing them in the book universe. He dedicates all thirteen books to his dear Beatrice, who is, in fact, dead. The dedication for The Reptile Room reads: “For Beatrice- My love for you shall live forever. You, however, did not.” Or in The Bad Beginning: “To Beatrice-darling, dearest, dead.” With only one short line he inserts humor, nostalgia, and hints at those pesky mysteries he refuses to answer.

And according to this mental floss article, some dedications just won’t take any crap. Tobias Wolff wrote for This Boy’s Life: “My first stepfather used to say that what I didn’t know would fill a book. Well, here it is.” And e. e. cummings dedicated his book titled No Thanks to the fourteen publishers who turned down the book, arranging their names in the shape of a funeral urn.

If you wrote a book, who would you dedicate it to? Or would you give a big “up yours” to people who had doubted you?

Review: I Am the Messenger

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I have to say right up front that I’m biased in favor of this book. I’ve read it more than once. It’s one of my favorites.

I Am The Messenger is classified in the Young Adult genre, but it’s a great read no matter how old you are. The novel tells the story of a nineteen-year-old cabdriver named Ed Kennedy. Ed is the epitome of normal. He drives cabs, plays cards with his friends, and has an elderly dog named The Doorman. Really, he’s going nowhere in life.

But that changes one day when he stops a man from robbing a bank. Soon afterward he gets an ace in the mail and is sent on a series of errands that will change both his life and the lives of the people around him.

Zusak writes beautifully. My favorite part about this book is the little snippets of imagery that take your breath away with beauty. They’re little moments of loveliness that you just can’t forget, like an old lady swinging her too-short legs on a bench or of a girl running barefoot at five-thirty AM.

More than that, Zusak writes with humanity. We meet many characters in this book, and each of them have been breathed into life by Zusak’s careful pen. Many are loveable and relatable but many are also idiots or slobs or hypocrites. But the bottom line is that ALL of them are real, as if they could jump off the page at any second. And readers get the privilege of seeing every single one of these characters’ lives changed in the course of the book.

There are so many moments enclosed in these pages that hurt like the dickens emotionally, that make you want to cry, but so many moments also warm your heart enough to make you want to start singing “kumbaya” while holding hands around a campfire. Not in a cheesy or ironic way, either. Just in a way that celebrates the beauty of simplicity.

The best part of all this is Ed’s normality. He is chosen to be the Messenger but that has nothing to do with any sort of remarkable character on his part. He simply helps people because he has to, showing that any “specialness” is not needed to make a difference. It’s the action that matters.

Tl;dr: read this book.

This is one of the books that I polled Dumblebee.com users about! Be sure to check over there to put in future input about what I should put on my blog!