Monday, May 21, 2007

Another meme

The last one was fun, so inspired by that (and my D-list rating as a blogolebrity), I decided to do this meme, which I found at Chris's Book-a-rama

A book that made you cry: My Dog Skip, by Willie Morris. Most of the book is fun and happy, but the ending gets me every time. I tear up whenever I think of the last line: "They say they buried him under the elm tree in the backyard. But he really laid buried in my heart."

A book that scared you: Gerald's Game by Stephen King. I did not get a good night's sleep for six weeks after reading this one. I will never read another one of his books again.

A book that made you laugh: Straight Man by Richard Russo. Every time. "They ARE a metaphor. If they were LIKE a metaphor, they'd be, like, a similie."

A book that disgusted you: Dreamland by Kevin Baker. It was excellent up until the very end. Then, they totally copped out.

A book you loved in elementary school: In honor of the man, we're going to go with The Prydain Chronicles, although there were many, many books I loved in elementary school.

A book you loved in middle school: Honestly, I remember no books from this era. I must've read something, but I don't recall it, or much else from middle school, come to think of it.

A book you loved in high school: On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Reading that book made me badass!

A book you hated in high school: I generally don't remember the ones I hate.

A book you loved in college: Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver. Thank you, Dr. Kutzer, for introducing me to this writer.

A book that challenged your identity: I guess I don't really understand this one. I can think of many books that challenged my beliefs or ideals, but none that challenged my identity itself. Maybe because a big part of my identity is as a reader of books, and that can't really be challenged while I'm holding one? I don't know. Perhaps I've never read one. Or perhaps, if it successfully challenged my identity, I can't recall it now because it became a part of me.

A series that you love: Harry Potter!

Your favorite horror book: I don't like them.

Your favorite science fiction book: Is Welcome to the Monkey House sci-fi? If so, I pick that.

Your favorite fantasy:
Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.

Your favorite mystery: And then there were none or Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie.

Your favorite biography: Is autobiography OK? If so, readers of this blog will not be surprised to find that I like The Dirt by Motley Crue the best. I also like the autobiographies of wrestler Mick Foley ("Mankind"). Most people have a low opinion of professional wrestling, and it deserves it. After reading his books, you'll have a new respect for those who do it, for those who spent their twenties driving 12 hour trips and fighting in a high school gym, selling pop before and after their matches, for a $40 payoff. He's very funny, too.

Your favorite "coming of age" book: I would say any of the Traveling Pants books. I like how positive they are, and how they really explore friendships, which are more complex than most writers make them out to be. The girls drift and come back, fight and make up, withdraw in times of trouble, support one another, and sometimes fail each other, which is, of course, what it's really like.

Your favorite classic: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Has been a favorite since first read.

Your favorite romance book: This will make me sound sick, but I guess I like Candy by Luke Davies. I've never been into "romances", and it's the only one I can think of that is, essentially, a love story, although it's a pretty twisted one. I understand there's a movie now. I need to check it out.

Your favorite book not on this list: That's an extremely difficult question. There are so many that I love. But a cursory glance of this list shows that The Poisonwood Bible is not on it, so I will pick that one.

That was fun! I am stealing another part of the meme off Chris: the part at the end that invites you to try it and comment if you do. So, please do.

RIP, Lloyd Alexander

More sad literary news today -- I just learned that one of my favorite writers from childhood, Lloyd Alexander, passed away over the weekend. He was 83.

Lloyd Alexander was the author of many books, but I loved him for his Prydain Chronicles. I was, in fact, obsessed. Perhaps it's why I understand the Harry Potter mania so well. I would've bought every piece of Prydain swag I could lay my hands on (I did, actually, but the only swag was a video game) and waited at the stores at midnight for new books. I would've decorated my bedroom entirely in Prydain stuff, had it been available. What i really wanted was to BE Eilonwy or Taran, but I would've settled for sleeping in Eilonwy sheets and carrying a Taran bag.

The five books chart the life of Taran, who lives with a powerful enchanter named Dallben and works as Assistant Pig-Keeper on his farm. Taran is very young when the books open -- they never specify, but perhaps as young as 12, and certainly no older than 15. One would not think that an Assistant Pig-Keeper would have many chances for adventure, but Taran manages, thoughout the course of the series, to go on several missions to fight the evil Arawn, and to make friends with a colorful and powerful cast of characters. Eilonwy is a princess, sorceress and fellow orphan. Fflewddur Fflam fancies himself a wandering bard, and has a wonderful harp that snaps a string every time he stretches the truth, but we learn much to our surprise that he is really a lord. Gurgi is a not-quite-human, not-quite-animal creature who speaks of himself (and everyone else) in the third person.

The books are based, loosely, in Welsh legend. I was surprised to see the name of the crown prince, Gwydion, plastered all over a classroom in Wales, and the Isle of Mona, where the third book in the series is set, is a real place, known as Ynys Mon (or Anglesey) today. Lloyd Alexander was an American, but travelled to Wales while serving in the Army and, as anyone who has spent much time there would, fell in love with it and never forgot his experiences there. (Just looking up the spelling of "Ynys Mon" has made me want to return!)

The final book in the series, The HIgh King, won the Newberry Award that year, although I hate the ending of it. But my favorite book in the series, The Black Cauldron was the victim of one of the worst film adaptations I've ever seen. The book was rather dark, dealing with the darker human emotions like pride and anger, but also with the nature of heroism. The film was cheesy and rosy, and uniformly failed to capture the essence of Alexander's characters. Eilonwy was the worst. In the books, she's independent, funny, brave, smart, an excellent fighter, a real adventurer, and the kind of woman girls should aspire to be. In the movie, she was so simpering and wimpy that the change could only be explained by blatant sexism. Perhaps Disney felt the world was not ready for an Eilonwy, although they probably changed their minds when their film sank faster than Gigli yet the books have endured to this day. I still think that a film version of this series, an honest adaptation, would do well, but I would not have blamed Lloyd Alexander if he didn't want the film studios within 500 feet of him after The Black Cauldron.

Lloyd Alexander could have left the world a substantially better place on the strength of these five books alone, but he wrote over forty books. He had two other series, and several stand-alone books. I tried some of them, but none of them were like the Prydain books. In a way, I guess, no books have ever again been like the Prydain books for me. I read them on the cusp of, not quite adulthood, but as I was leaving childhood. I was coming to understand, once and for all, that no matter how many wardrobes I walked through, they would contain nothing more than coats, ever. I still enjoy good fantasy books from time to time, but that is all they are to me now. The Prydain books were the last books that I believed I could, in some way, be a part of somehow. They are still good when I read them today, although not the same. Thank you, Lloyd Alexander, for those last few moments of belief. I hope you are now in a place that is ten times better than Prydain and Narnia put together.