Hello there! Hope you are all enjoying a warm and wonderful holiday time, sharing good food and good stories with dear ones, baiting Santa Claus with sugar cookies, and maybe cracking the spine of that novel that’s been sitting on your shelf for the last six months…
As for my household, we are delightfully non-mobile this year, and looking forward to a quiet Christmas with no work, lots of time with the kids (our favourite holiday tradition is to remove all limits on sweets and screen time and let everyone pile into blanket-covered mush heaps on the couch for days on end, it is AMAZING), and hopefully some sledding. If we play our cards right, there may even be some time for reading books that don’t have pictures!
If you’re looking for some recommendations, for now or for the new year, here is a little glimpse onto my bookshelf.
There’s no need to introduce Jane Yolen, writer of children’s and young adult books whose name was pretty much all over my childhood book shelves. She is most famous for writing folklore and fantasy, reinventing classic tales and often paired with illustrators whose work will look immediately familiar to any child of the 90’s. This latest collection is certainly composed of typical Yolen material, but, after reading “A Knot of Toads,” a story featuring a long dormant evil forces brought to life in a small Scottish town, I realized that The Emerald Circus is not for kids at all.(By which I mean kids who don’t have nightlights. Because I definitely needed one.)
The stories are hit-or-miss. Some follow a pattern that, for Yolen, is almost formulaic by now, taking a classic tale and subverting its original intent with adult themes or feminist reprisals. The story “Lost Girls,” about Wendy arriving in Neverland and then trying to unionize a collection of “lost girls” is a great example of this.
There is a strange quiet to the stories in this collection. They wade through an environmentally devastated dystopian future and give off whispered warnings rather than roaring doom. They are uncomfortable, uneasy, but in a way that emulates the fairy tale, chock full of timeless mythic secrets, shrouded in mystery.
This collection of stories follows a fantastic (in all senses of the word) novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat and it feels very thematically and stylistically linked.
The genius of Phillips is the way she constructs a premise and sees it through. You never really seize the meaning until the end of the piece and even then you will doubt whatever it is you think you have understood. We never really distinguish what is metaphor and what is plot. (All are both, but let’s leave it at that…) To each strange circumstance there is in the background a kind of hanging “It’s as if…” that we hope we will see realized when we reach the end of the story. No, it’s not a story about bearing and raising extraterrestrial children, the story is about a woman who feels “as if” she has born alien children. It is not a story about young girls disappearing into thin air but only about a world that feels “as if” young girls are disappearing into thin air. The whole collection is haunted by this ghost simile, moaning like or as…
Right after the publication of his most recent novel A Brief History of Seven Killings (winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize – not too shabby), Marlon James appeared on the thoroughly superb podcast “A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment,” hosted by writer buddies Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter. It was a great interview – those guys really bring out the best in their guests and Marlon James is one of those people who takes his undeniable genius fairly casually, a pleasure to listen to. (You can catch that here and I absolutely recommend doing so.)
At the end of the interview, James mentioned that he was working on writing a fantasy novel, partially because, as he mentioned somewhat jokingly, “I got tired of arguing about a black Hobbit.” He declared that his next project is to write “a straight up totally geeked out novel based on African mythology and African history.”
First of all, yes. Absolutely do that. James is acquiring quite the fan base, and with good reason. He’s an incredible writer, and I think we would eagerly await his next book even if it were a gardening manual. Of course, an epic fantasy novel is really so much better.