Comfort reads

May apparently wasn’t much of a better month for posting than April, and I don’t think June will yield many posts, either. We are in the thick of moving preparations, and I only have time to write this post because I’m experiencing a very slow chat reference shift today.

In the midst of all the transition that seems to be hitting, I’ve been finding myself rereading a lot of old favorites before I packed them up. Even at the library today, I managed to pick up a new graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time to check out. With all this rereading, I thought I could share a few of my very favorite books that I will always come back to read one more time. There are lots of other books series I love and like to reread, but these are some of the ones I’ve read 10 or more times, that I come back to every few years, that I pull off the shelf just to read a favorite chapter when I’m feeling down. Not surprisingly, several of these are books I’ve been reading since I was a kid, but since I’ve stopped expecting to feel like a “real grown-up” anytime in the next 50 years, that doesn’t seem to bother me.

pride_and_prejudicePride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. This is the only actual “adult” book on the list, and I first read it my senior year of high school for English class. I wasn’t expecting anything super exciting from it (it was one of our last books for the year, and the others live in the range of “mostly interesting” to ” extremely depressing” in my memory), but a friend and I opened up my copy during math class and read the first line. It was ironic–it was funny! I continued to enjoy the story, and the fact that it was basically a romance did not hurt the book in my opinion at all. I also loved the use of letters in the story, particularly since my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I regularly wrote letters during the week just for the fun of getting mail from each other (we didn’t go to the same high school). I now routinely reread P&P every few years (and bits and pieces in between), usually in the spring. I’ve read 4 of Austen’s other books (I still need to read Northanger Abbey), and this one far and away remains my favorite.

Many Waters, by Madeleine L’Engle.

Yep, this is the edition I have, too.

Yep, this is the edition I have, too.

This is the book I still consider my all-time favorite. Granted, I have lots of favorites depending on the day and my mood, but I discovered this one sometime around fifth grade, and I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. Not one of L’Engle’s best known works, Many Waters stars Sandy and Dennys Murry, Meg’s younger twin brothers who are much more ordinary than either Meg or the youngest brother, Charles Wallace. Sandy and Dennys accidentally interrupt one of their scientist parents’ time-traveling experiments and blow themselves into the story of Noah and the Ark.

I just reread this from cover-to-cover for the first time in many years, and I was able to think a little more logically about why I love the book so much. It certainly has its faults–there is some serious repetition, some of the language is so sparsely lyrical that it almost doesn’t make sense, and L’Engle seems to sometimes confuse her characters in passages of dialogue, especially when the two twins are talking together. But even with all of this, I just love it. I love that L’Engle took a familiar story and wove a whole world under it, without changing any of the details from the Biblical text. I love that the women have more of a role in here. I like how she handled sex–it’s definitely there, but my 5th or 6th grade self missed a lot of the references to it, and it’s presented as something that’s important and great, but that has to be approached with care. And I like the twins themselves, how they are matter-of-fact, regular guys who manage to adopt to a fantastic time and place. They see lots of awful, evil things going on in the world, but they also see the good and don’t despair.

I know many people who just don’t think this one works, and maybe it’s just that I liked it when I first encountered it, but it works for me.

beautyBeauty and Spindle’s End, both by Robin McKinley. My first post for the Hub was all about Robin McKinley, so it’s not surprising that two of her books are here. My mom handed me Beauty sometime in late elementary or early middle school and told me I would love it, and I did, and still do. Going back to it, I can see that it’s a first novel (two of McKinley’s favorite things are books and horses, and both come in strongly here–plus, there are lots of elements about the Beast’s castle that are pure wish-fulfillment), but it’s still a beautiful and well-told story, gives a neat twist on the folktale, and has a great protagonist. Spindle’s End was published about 20 years after Beauty, but it has a similar fairy-tale “feel” to it. It’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and I especially enjoy that there are two protagonists (first, Katriona, then Rosie as she grows) and the strong role that female friendship plays.spindles_end

Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. I’m too old to have been one of the kids who “grew up with Harry,” and yet in many ways I feel like I did. I discovered the series in high school, and read the first three books all in one swoop. The 4th one came out the summer after I graduated high school, the 5th one while I was in college, the 6th after my first and only year of teaching, and the last one when I was half-way through library school. I may not have grown up with Harry, but he was there for a lot of milestones, and I still like to hang out with him, Ron, and Hermione frequently.

If I had to choose a favorite from the series, this would be it.

If I had to choose a favorite from the series, this would be it.

As I said, there are more, even more that should be on this list, but these make up the core of my go-to comfort reads. What are yours?

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Shadows by Robin McKinley

I’ve been finished with Shadows for over a week, and I’m still trying to think about how to discuss it intelligently. Mostly, I just want to gush, so I guess I will do that first, and then try to make one or two intelligent comments to finish up.

Alright, gushing first: I have been a Robin McKinley fan since my mom handed me Beauty in 5th or 6th grade, and Beauty has remained my favorite of her books (with Spindle’s End a close second) ever since. I still have my original copy of Beauty and I probably reread it every few years.

I may have a new favorite Robin McKinley book. 

I’m a little surprised by this, because I can’t quite pinpoint why I like Shadows so much, but it was just a completely satisfying read for me. I don’t want to reread it again right now, but I feel like I will want to reread it again in the next year…and then who knows how many other times. I like that it has a more contemporary feel (another of her “alt-modern” books), but it’s a different contemporary world than either Dragonhaven or Sunshine. I like the different languages that play a part (Japanese and some invented languages) and that it deals with the issues of borders and safety and how people choose to deal with the dangerous stuff that the world throws at us, but it doesn’t preach about any of these topics. I like that the “evil stepfather” is presented as a way to introduce the story, but that Maggie (the main character) is willing to reconsider once she realizes that her stepfather is not evil, just magical. I also like the “critters” everywhere…I am not really a critter person (one cat is just right for me, thank you), but the critters are both endearing and normal, which helps draw you into Maggie’s world.

I also like that, while the ending of the book is a little ambiguous (you don’t know if and how all the big issues are going to be resolved), you know who is who in Maggie’s group of friends and family…I can take a lot of plot ambiguity if all the relationships I’m interested are nicely settled!

Ok, I still don’t have anything especially critical or not-gushing to say. Everyone can have some blind spots with their favorite authors, right? Maybe after I reread this 2 or 3 times, I’ll be able to look at it a little more critically, but in the meantime, I strongly recommend it to anyone who likes: fantasy, magic, dogs, Japanese, origami, hot chocolate, magical creatures, teenage protagonists, or romance. Oh, and anyone who hates math. You won’t be disappointed.

Guest Blogging!

I had my first ever public blog post published today at YALSA’s The Hub:

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2013/10/08/old-favorite-new-genre-exploring-fantasy-sub-genres-through-robin-mckinleys-work/

I’m hoping to get to blog their occasionally in the coming year…it will give me a good reason to continue trying to keep up with the YA lit world.

Incidentally, I finished Shadows this weekend and hope to get a review up in the next week.

Happy Tuesday!

New Book Excitement

Despite being a librarian and loving books, I’m not great at keeping up-to-date on new publications. Between that and a very tiring week, I was very excited, therefore, when this arrived on my doorstep on Thursday:

New book!

New book!

I had actually pre-ordered this with a birthday Amazon gift card back in March and, for once, an Amazon pre-order worked in my favor and the book arrived ON publication day. Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors, and I’m already enjoying this one. Just one unexpectedly delightful detail: the heroine is training her dog to herd alpacas (yes, McKinley knits, and started about the time I started it again, which is one of the reasons I so enjoy her blog: http://robinmckinleysblog.com).

I’m not very far in:

Pages 32-33

Pages 32-33

Needless to say, my French reading project is on hold until I get the chance to finish this!