After seeing this week’s topic, I nearly skipped out on my post. Because really? One book? What is it about the state of our civilization that only superlatives will do? What is it about the state of my personality that I can’t give you an answer to the simple ‘my favorite book’ question. Just out of morbid curiosity, has anyone ever asked another human being “What’s your favorite book, ever?” and gotten a single title volume with no “Wait! I forgot about . . .” follow up??
So many loveable books in the world. I have to hang my head and confess that I must be a book slut. I can’t be faithful to just one. I’m sorry. I know I’ve let you all down. I’m just not wired that way. I mean, if you asked me which of *my* books was my fav, that answer is easy. The first one published. Enemy Within was magic in a way. Those characters are better than I am. By a long shot. And I have no clue how that happened. Although, (WARNING: Blatant plug forthcoming!) I’m surprisingly fond of a sword and sorcery short story that just came out in the two volume anthology THUNDER ON THE BATTLEFIELD (Seventh Star Press)
It’s set in ancient Egypt. After a fashion. Maybe I should call it pre-ancient Egypt. The temple of Sekhmet maintains a standing army of women. The heroine is dispatched by the priestesses to investigate offenses against the gods. If you like sword and sorcery, check out the anthology. It’s e-only, at the moment, but that’s to your benefit. The e-books are $4. When it comes out in print at the end of the month, the dead tree version will be $14.
This story connected me, in a way, with one of my favorite authors: Andre Norton. In my more ego-centric moments, I like to think she might have written something like it. I know I’ve talked about her books before. She’s fresh in my mind right now, because my husband and I have been attempting to make room in our storage unit for more stuff. In order to put more stuff in the unit, old stuff must depart the unit. So we go through our remaining worldly possessions on a regular basis, trying to weed out things we can live without. The single greatest space hog in that storage unit? You called it. Books.
And for me, the greatest bulk of my books are all Andre Norton’s – as in an entire foot trunk worth. Amusing aside – Andre Norton, who’s real name was Alice, wrote scifi and fantasy in the era when women *didn’t*. Hence the male pseudonym. My father, who’d introduced me to scifi in all forms, insisted that Andre Norton was male. Insisted. 😀
Regardless. I was well on my way to owning everything she’s ever written when we moved aboard the sailboat. Now, I’m attempting to replace my tattered, well-loved paper versions of her books with Kindle versions. Only one problem. Most of her books were contracted and written long before the advent of electronic publishing. Few, if any, of her contracts ever addressed electronic rights. A group of volunteer fans are converting her books as the enter the public domain. I snap them up on Kindle when that happens, and then I sort through my paper books so I can donate the duplicate.
So if you really, really pressed hard for me to pick just one book in all the world to be my favorite, I’d have to pick one of her books. It would break my heart, because there are so many others to love – but – it was Andre Norton who first gave me female protagonists who weren’t waiting for anyone to save them. They were getting out in the world with whatever skill they had, no matter how paltry, and acting on their own behalf. None of her books are romances, there are hints – little tidbits sprinkled amid the ray guns and sword fights. Not quite enough for me, thus, I write romance. Mostly. The sword and sorcery short follows in Andre Norton’s footsteps. It’s heavy on the swordplay with just a hint of potential romance. Oh. And did I mention the battle cats? Yeah. Totally Saturday morning cartoon story telling on my part.
So. Want to make a start with Andre Norton? Pick your poison. Scifi? FORERUNNER FORAY or ORDEAL IN OTHERWHERE Fantasy? WARE HAWK or THE JARGOON PARD YA? THE PRINCE COMMANDS
Now. You want to maroon me on a desert island with only one book – not my Kindle? Robin McKinley. SUNSHINE.
Glances back at the list. Uhm. Is it legal for me to be a romance writer when none of my favs are – ya know – romances?
Brace yourselves. I usually whine about how hard it is to answer some of the topic questions, right? Not this week.
Which writer in all the world did I secretly (or not so secretly) wish I could be? Easy. Andre Norton.
There are books by other authors that I wished I’d written. Several of Robin McKinley’s books fit that bill. So do some of Anne McCaffrey’s and Charles de Lint’s. And while I admire all kinds of writers and envy the ever-living heck out of their writing skill, Andre Norton is the one author I wanted to be. To this day, I still have this tiny voice in the back of my head urging me to live up to her example.
Andre Norton began publishing in the 1930s. At first, it was YA adventure and even a few westerns. But when that upstart, hack genre, science fiction, got started, she jumped in with both feet. She wrote and published over 70 years. By the time of her death in 2005, she had over 300 works published. SFWA inducted her into their hall of fame. She was awarded Grand Master of SF in 1983. in 1998, she won the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. All great stuff to aspire to.
Those are all the impressive, but ultimately dry facts about a woman whose books affected me deeply growing up. I suspect most of us remember being lonely from time to time. Especially as kids. Maybe the fact that I was born a complete and hopeless geek in a time before anyone even had a word for what was ‘wrong’ with me made it worse. But it was pretty common for the other kids to ditch me so they could go do whatever they were going to do without the odd duck in their midst. Yeah, yeah, here! A tiny violin. Let me play you the whining song of my people. It retrospect, it was a good thing. Turns out the neighborhood kids were larcenous. I grew up without a police record. And when I got left behind, I made up stories that occasionally involved their messy deaths.
Then one day, when it was my cousins and sister who ditched me, my aunt Betty pulled out a box of well loved paperback books. All by Andre Norton. She handed them to me. I started reading. And suddenly, I was reading stories about strong, determined women – often isolated, sometimes the last of their kind – always people who don’t belong anywhere, but who manage to carve out a sense of purpose and belonging.
I want to have the longevity in publishing and the story-telling skill that she had. I’d really like to be as prolific, but I have a long way to go on that. But most of all, I want my stories and my characters to have the kind of impact on someone that hers have had on me.
I’ve given up wanting to be Andre Norton. I’m happy being me and writing the stories I’m driven to write, but everything I write – maybe the fat that I write at all – is due to that first, dusty box of books that made me realize that strength doesn’t often come from running with the crowd, but in going it alone on your own path.
Through all of the books high school english classes required us to read, only one, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, had been written by a female author. To read outside of The Dead White Guy’s Club, I had to go to college where I was required to read THE COLOR PURPLE. I loved that story. The main character, Celia, blossoms from a victim into a strong, capable, tender woman. The story sounds simple, but it was horrifying and bruising to read. And if felt real. Far more immediate to me than most of the books my high school english teacher had thought were so delightful. (To this day, I defy anyone to explain the point of CATCHER IN THE RYE. No, really. Whining about getting laid aside, is there a point to that book? I read the whole thing waiting for something – anything to happen…) Alice Walker writes about things actually happening and about people changing as a result, sometimes, in not so pleasant ways. She gets one of my favorites spots.
All of that said, one of the Dead White Guy’s books blew me away when I read it senior year of high school. Don’t tell the english teacher I said so, will you? THE PLAGUE by Albert Camus. The book description from Amazon says: “A haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror, Camus’ novel about a bubonic plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature.” Uhm. That’s not what the novel’s about. Bubonic plague is the literary device, sure, but really, there’s no plague unless you count the occupying soldiers as the plague. That’s what the book is about. It was fascinating and striking to read the story and watch how subtly Camus directed your attention. It’s still a book that can give me shivers of both delight at his skill and dread at the story action.
Of the books I’ve chosen to read of my own accord, there are too many favorites to mention. I’ll limit myself to one. SUNSHINE by Robin McKinley. Rae Seddon, Sunshine to her friends and family, ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kidnapped by a gang of young vampires, she’s chained to a wall as a sacrifice to an older, infinitely more terrifying vampire. As much a prisoner as she, he declines to make a meal of her. In return, Sunshine feels it’s only fair to take him with her when she mobilizes barely remembered skills to conjure up a key for their shackles.
I adore this book. Dunno why, so much, but it is one I read and reread in times of stress or when I feel overwhelmed. I don’t particularly want to analyze the why of the balm this story provides. I just want the magic to keep on working whenever I crack the cover. For a decade now, it has worked. If you read it, I hope it works the same way for you, too.
I love fairytales. Always have. Read everything I could get my hands on – including some of the unsanitized versions that included blood and lopping off body parts. So I can’t give you a favorite. I love ’em all. HOWEVER. We can talk about execution.
Unless you are of a certain age, you won’t know Fractured Fairytales from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Without fail, these are some of my fav reworks of classic fairytales. I linked in “Leaping Beauty”, but if you search Youtube for Fractured Fairytales, you’ll find a bunch of five to six minute episodes.
Twenty plus years past the era of Fractured Fairytales, Shelly Duvall produced Fairytale Theatre. Cheesy, fun sets. Silly costumes. STELLAR casts. It’s like she blackmailed a bunch of her friends into doing this project with her. Some of the shows are funnier than others, but my two favorites of hers are Cinderella (Jennifer Beale and Matthew Broderick) and The Princess and the Pea. Here’s the opener for Princess and the Pea.
In books, Robin McKinley made Beauty and the Beast my very favorite retold fairytale of all time. Her book, BEAUTY, is one of my desert island books.
How about you? Are you a strict traditionalist when it comes to fairytales? Or do you get into the retellings – the more twisted the better?