Monthly Archives: August 2014

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie

MobyDickIf you haven’t read a big book in a while, I suggest you pick one up soon.

Big books are the warm bubble baths of the book world, but they’re often talked about as if they’re itchy woolen snowsuits instead. Sinking into a big, dense book should be a pleasure, not a headache-inducing nightmare.

What makes a book big? Size, obviously—let’s say (arbitrarily) 600 pages or more—but also, to a lesser extent, complexity. Although Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pushes 800 pages (and I loved it dearly), I would hesitate before calling it a big book; it followed too easily the path laid out for it by its six prequels; it tied up too neatly every loose end with an escapist epilogue. But then again, the bigness of big books may lie in the heart of the reader. For me, the really big books are those that intimidate the reader, the ones that feel like a challenge at the start, but a best friend by the finish, the ones that most closely mimic an actual marathon; instead of churning legs over terrain for 26.2 miles, readers of big books sprain their fingers flipping pages and mentally race through page after page to the triumphant end.

As usual, the public reluctance to engage with big books can perhaps be traced back to high school (what problem can’t, really), when a deadline imposed on the reading of a big book like The Grapes of Wrath or The Iliad or Ulysses is a significant threat to getting any other homework done. Students dread large reading assignments, a feeling that usually persists throughout college and beyond.

On the other hand, there are those who see a big book as a challenge to overcome rather than a pleasure. They might read one big book a year, and then talk incessantly about how they read it, leaving out the fact that they haven’t read anything else that year except their Twitter feed. These people may or may not usually be men with scruffy beards who just finished David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. Avoid conversation with them at all costs.

Here’s a list of some of my personal favorite big books, broken up by genre. What big books would be on your list?

Contemporary Literature
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Historical Fiction
Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Classics
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Fantasy
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

These books are all dear to me in their own ways, but they share one thing in common: they contain entire worlds and generation-spanning sagas so richly and completely imagined that they become real, and so real that they become road maps for navigating my own world.

So put a big book in your To Be Read pile–not just because it’s a classic or an award winner, though that’s a good enough reason, too—but because it’s epically, gloriously, luxuriously big. Sink it to it. Let it sweep you away.

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Marie is a writer and editor who lives with her feral cat, and, like most people, prefers dance parties to homework.

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Call for Submissions!

Do you want to blog on topics that appeal to teenagers and new adults? Do you love books, movies, gaming, shopping, feminism, technology, the Internet, cats, and much more besides? If so, then you may have found a perfect outlet for your interests in the Sheroes Blog.

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Read our submission guidelines and submit a post (or send us a pitch) for consideration to sheroesblog@gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Happy writing!

Who is Your Favorite Fictional Villain?

Today, some of the Sheroes Blog editors dive into their favorite fictional villains and sheroes.

Zoë says: 

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My favorite villain is Hell (or an aspect thereof) from the book Summon the Keeper (Book #1 of The Keeper’s Chronicles) by Tanya Huff. The Keeper’s Chronicles are an incredibly engaging comic-fantasy trilogy, and the first book features the adventures of Claire, her feline sidekick, and a cast of other well-developed characters after Claire is called to deal with a gateway to you-know-where in the basement of a Guest House in Kingston, Ontario.  Hell (or some incarnation thereof) is discovered to be hanging out in the basement, sealed in by the actions of a previous Keeper, but trying quite persistently to escape.  Huff imagines this aspect of Hell as a multi-personalitied, witty, but not altogether brilliant “villain” desperately trying to encroach on the minds of the inhabitants of the Guest House.
Read this if you like light, witty fantasy along the lines of Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, or Patricia C. Wrede.
Ratesjul says:
coverI always find it hard to pick favourites of anything, whether it’s books or authors or characters (or even specifically villains)…. So I’ll give you two. One of my favorite characters is Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter of Three Firs (Elizabeth Moon’s Sheepfarmer’s Daughter and sequels). I like Paks because, well, she’s human. She has flaws, and admits to them, and strives to better herself. She goes from little or nothing to honors, and back again. She stumbles into traps, and extricates herself, but will also give in, when it seems best. I guess what I like most about her is that she fights, she doesn’t really give up (and giving in is not giving up), and even as a mercenary she won’t just follow blindly.

20020712022127_105Another favorite character is Elizabeth from V M Caldwell’s The Ocean Within and Tides. I like Elizabeth because she struggles to continue to be herself, to fit within a tug of war between her need to not let anyone matter in case they go away, and to find her place. Particularly when it comes to a small boy who calls her turtle and worms his way into her heart. I read somewhere that there was originally a third book, set between the two of these, and I’d love to read it and see how the family changed in between. Even discovering these books as an adult, I love the characters.

TamLinAs for a favorite villain, I’m not so sure…. So many of them don’t really stick with me as much as the heroes and sheroes do. (I guess I like the happy endings!) One that sticks the most is Tam Lin, who doesn’t particularly have much of a choice in the matter of being a villain. In some ways he isn’t the villain – he is a product of the life he lives (or is forced to live) – but to Janet, in some ways, I guess he is.

Marie says:

119322Compelling villains are the backbone of good literature! I don’t even know where to start. I’m always most taken in by insidious, surprise villains, where you don’t know they’re bad until close to the end. Mrs. Coulter from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is one of those villains. You can almost feel how evil this cloying, beautiful woman is but it’s not until the main character herself figures it out that you realize just how truly horrible Mrs. Coulter is.

As for a favorite character, again, I could pick a thousand! But I’ll stick with His Dark Materials, since those books are fantastic and if you haven’t read them yet and you like young adult fantasy that is deep and sweet and smart, you need to read them ASAP. My favorite character is Lyra Belacqua, the main character,  the girl-who-saves-the-world. She does this, with extreme personal sacrifice, at the age of twelve. She is wild and tough and vulnerable and loving and her sharp as a knife little-girlness is pitch perfect, as is her wrestle with what it means to grow up.

 

We want to know: who is your favorite fictional villain? Who is your favorite fictional shero?

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Marie, Ratesjul, and Zoë are Sheroes Blog editors who fight crime…er…read a lot of books in their free time.

 

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Books with Hats: Part One

Back when we first considered a feature like Very Specific Book Recs one of the examples tossed out to illustrate the idea was “Books with Hats.” This was surprisingly popular with Sheroes. So today by popular demand we bring you “Books with Hats.” This post was fun to research. We got to revisit old favorites and check out new books from the library. One of the nice things about this topic is that it allows us to cut across genres. Some these books are picture books, some are fantasy, and some are non-fiction.  Hopefully you will find something to enjoy.

 MadeleineMadeline and The Bad Hat by Ludwig van Bemelmans

You could pick just about any of the Madeline books if you wanted to find one with a hat. After all, twelve little girls with little yellow boaters in two straight lines are something of a feature of these books. But in this story the twelve little girls gain a neighbor with a tall Spanish hat. And, well, story ensues.

CapsforSaleCaps for Sale told and illustrated by Esphyer Slobodkina 

This picture book featured a cap peddler carries all of his caps on the top of his head who takes a nap and is surprised when monkeys steal his wears. The pictures of the peddler with all the caps on his head and of the monkeys wearing caps are delightful. Glory read this many times as a child, and now enjoys reading it to her niece.

howlsmovingcastleHowl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones

Sophie is the oldest of three sisters and thus convinced that she will never make her fortune. When her father dies she stays and helps her step-mother in the family hat shop. There she makes different kind hats for different buyers, some of which have surprising effects. However her adventures really began when the Witch of The Waste comes to the shop and curses her. This book is one of Dianna Wynne Jones most popular, and features her trademark topsy-turvy plot, with mix of silly and serious.

TopHatandTaiahaTop Hat and Taiaha and other stories – Leslie Chapman

The title story is set in a small historic house in the middle of nowhere, where a schoolgirl is caught by imagination and plays a trick… Involving a Top Hat and a Taiaha. But there are a great number of other stories in this collection, set in all manner of places, and each providing a glimpse into another world. We  often think that  of the marks of a good short story is wishing there was more, and many of these tales met that.

FinishingtheHatFinishing The Hat by Stephen Sondheim

Look I Made A Hat by Stephen SondheimlookIMadeaHat

These two collections of lyrics, comments, principles, anecdotes, miscellany etc are chock full of all you might expect of a collection of notable Sondheim music and lyrics, and a little more besides!  Ever wondered about the differences between the West Side Story of the stage and that of the silver screen? And where did the idea for Jack’s song come from? Or how about the collaboration process between composer and lyricist? Well, here’s where you’d come to find out the answers to all those questions, and many more you didn’t even think of asking.

These two collections are more to be books to dip into for an insight into the lyrics of your favorite Sondheim musical, than as books to read cover to cover….

Probably more delightful for the music you already know than for the songs you don’t.

 Wyrd-sisters-coverWyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

How can one have a blog post about books with hats, and thus, books with people known for wearing hats, and thus witches, without mentioning Terry Pratchett? This is the first of Pratchett’s Discworld books to feature all three of his trio of whiches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat. (Granny Weatherwax first appears in Equal Rites.) The three are delightful together as they bring out the best and the worst of each other. The three must work together to save the kingdom.  Of course, witches hats aren’t the only hats of importance in Wyrd Sisters. The story has barely opened before Magrat points out the significance of the ‘spiky bits’ on the crown found along with a two year old boy – and it’s the crown which is of vital importance to the story.

“When shall we three meet again?”

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Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planing. She also spends too much time reading, and loves science fiction and fantasy.  Ratesjul is an avid reader (of almost anything) and keen amateur (emphasis on the amateur) photographer. She loves looking through collections of family photos and hearing family stories – and is in awe of her aunt’s collection of photo albums.