The LDR International Book Club

Books that Matter

In Which Beth Keeps Her Books by David Malki!

“You do realize you have two copies of this book?” said the Barnes and Noble’s cashier. She held up the offending copies of  Jo Walton’s Farthing.

My boyfriend and I nodded, grinning. I had a feeling we’d be asked why.

“You can’t share?” she asked.

“We live a bit too far away for that,” I replied.

And it’s true. The Atlantic Ocean means that reading a book together simultaneously requires two copies. While we do have a fairly fluid library, we’re two bibliophiles. We enjoy reading books, we share favorites with each other. When I moved back to America, we wanted to come up with something we could do together apart from watching TV shows.

So we started simple. Both of us are fantasy/science fiction fans. We looked to an author who we both enjoy (and a book in his collection he hadn’t read yet): Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. We started slow, a chapter or two a week as he is finishing his PhD and I was interning/job hunting. Plus, we weren’t sure how well it would work.

Every couple of days we would read a chapter or three and then discuss what we liked/didn’t like about it, with the aim of finishing before his visit so we could watch the miniseries together during his first visit.

Mission accomplished!

We’re now in the middle of Farthing, an alternative-WWII murder mystery largely taking place at a wealthy home in the English countryside. It’s fun to read a book at the same time as a friend, to discuss what’s going on. “Can you believe what happened? What do you think will happen next? I really don’t like this part” are common phrases from us while we Skype.

Now, we think about which books to read well in advance. We’re thinking of reading Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker soon, and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s fun to pick out a book and say, “we might both enjoy this, let’s read it together!”

Our international book group is a great way for us to talk about things we both love: books and reading. We still recommend each other books to read (from he, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, from me, Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother). But we have books that we read and discover together, even across the Atlantic Ocean.

Home is where the heart is

Edinburgh Expeditions

It’s funny. I’ve given a lot of thought to what it means to feel at home in a place. Is it the place where one’s born, where one grows up? Or is it where one chooses to settle?

In my case, I think it’s the latter. Edinburgh has become my home, more than where I was born. This is the place where I have decided to live, where it is I want to be. It’s the place I feel I belong: here I am a member of the community. There is a vibrant life to this city, small though it is. At times I find myself longing for someplace bigger, but then I look to Arthur’s Seat and realize just how lucky I am to live here of all places.

Poetry in the Park

Edinburgh Expeditions

This weekend, a group of my friends and I celebrated May Day a little late. Being of a literary mindset, we decided to hold a late-night picnic complete with good company, decent-to-good wine, and good poetry.

It was a laid-back affair, a gathering of just under twenty crazy cats bundled up against the cold May night. We had stacks of poetry books and an iPad, letting us flip through and find just the right poem for our moods. The poems read were insanely varied, from Tim Burton’s “Match Boy and Stick Girl in Love” to Shakespeare’s “Sonnet No. 2” to Dante Alighieri’s “Tanto gentile e tanto nostre pare” to dirty limericks recited when the mood got too serious. We laughed, we chatted, we decided that “The Jabberwocky” was really written by Robert Burns.

The poetry reading was a success. We sat out in the cold for four hours, leaving just before midnight, carrying the tea lights that had lit our circle as lanterns as we wandered back into the Edinburgh night.

“Hello. I’m the first line of your novel.”

Edinburgh Expeditions

Last week, whilst at a Jazz festival with friends, I was hit with a line, a phrase, a sentence. Somehow it managed to stick in my mind, mutating, growing, digging itself into the part of my brain that ought to be reserved for PHP and PHP alone.

“Hello,” it said to me after six days of maturation. “I’m the first line of your novel.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said. “Tell me about yourself, future novel.”

“I’m chick lit. Or at least more female-focused-fiction than you’re used to, Ms. John-le-Carre-and-Patrick-O’Brian-are-my-favourite-authors.”

This is where I spat out my tea and wondered if my painkillers were a lot stronger than my GP said they were (swing dancing accident–water, concrete and two enthusiastic lindy hoppers don’t mix particularly well. I didn’t break anything, thankfully).

Nope, they aren’t. It’s just the story that needs to be told.

I haven’t been able to write fiction for months, not since I arrived in Edinburgh. Whether it was the change of scenery, the stress of coursework or a general reprogramming of the brain, fiction slipped to the backburner in favour of my recording everyday life, the adventures and the misadventures.

Turns out, though, that my opening line, combined with fodder from my day-to-day-life would make for a potentially hilarious, snarky and above all, entertaining book on life and love in the 21st century. Or some other cliche. Regardless, I’m excited to start writing…but why does the Muse need to return when I’m up to my ears in coursework?

Books that Matter: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Books that Matter

I remember the day I started The Fellowship of the Rings. I was thirteen years old, in the seventh grade. It was mid-December, just before winter break. The first Lord of the Rings movie had just been released, and my family planned on going to see it on Christmas Even.

I had just over a week to read it. I finished The Hobbit the day before. I couldn’t wait to start.

My Language Arts teacher lent me the book. That afternoon, I started to read. The book was dense, but I devoured every word. I finished on December 23, 2001. For Christmas that year, my parents gave me the trilogy. Those copies are dog-eared now, the covers ripped and peeling, the pages still in tact (somehow). I am not certain how many times I read them, but the number is probably close to 20.

The stories captivated me. They entranced me. The elves, the hobbits, the orcs and the men of the West. Gollum. Gandalf. After many readings, my favorite characters have changed. These days, I am very fond of Faramir and Eomer, and Eowyn as well. I will always be fond of Sam as well.

The Lord of the Rings inspired my writing. I discovered it about the time when I determined that I could write novels if I really wanted to. Naturally, my first attempts were blatant rip-offs as I attempted world building, but I soon realized that I could take inspiration from the world. Already a mythology nut, I delved deeper into the Nordic, Irish and Welsh stories, learning and reading.

I also realized, importantly, that making up a language is tough. It wasn’t just random words thrown together. There needed to be continuity, traceable roots, rules, etc. You can’t just chuck vowels together and call it a day. At this time, I also began learning German, followed by Spanish. Seeing how these languages worked gave me great respect for Tolkien’s linguistic capabilities; I’ve resolved to stay away from creating my own languages.

It’s been years since I have read the trilogy, must be senior year of high school. The stories, the characters, stay with me fondly. I look forward to reading them again some day, to bask in the epicness of it all.

An adventure story lover turns to chick lit…

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

Inside this hardened, speculative fiction and historical fiction loving soul there is a chick lit book waiting to escape. I have the scenario in my head. I have characters semi-developed. I even have a killer opening (no, not literally, but that would be pretty awesome, if an entirely different genre).

Thing is, I don’t read chick lit. By and large, I don’t even read romances (I read stories where there are romantic relationships, but they aren’t the focus). In the last year, the most chicky-typical book I read was PS I Love You (Alexander McCall Smith’s books don’t count). By and large, my reading selections are more along the spy story, black comedy or classic route than traditionally girl books.

I’m not familiar with the genre. I really don’t want to read too many of the books within the genre–by and large they don’t appeal to me. But I have a story in my head that I must tell. I’m sure it will be filed away with countless other tales to be told, fermenting and biding its time until one day when it attacks me, springing forth with teeth bared, wearing designer stilettos.