Friday, December 11, 2015

#DesertIslandReads + Writing Update

So, it's probably time to pause the reviews and give a quick update. It's December, which means two things: National Novel Writing Month is done, and Christmas is coming! In Australia, of course, this also means the weather is heating up and people are beginning to sniff the air expectantly, scenting Christmas barbecues, January vacations, and sunburns on the beach.


I feel I've been in a bit of a slump lately--most of the books I've been reading have either been very well-written but soulless (Erin Morgenstern's Night Circus, for example), or sincere yet unimpressive. The exception is Thomas a Kempis's medieval devotional classic The Imitation of Christ, which is terrific. I'll look forward to reviewing this in more depth later, but for now I want to say that it's wonderful. Having been written over 600 years ago, it's like taking a giant step away from our all-encompassing culture of modernity, in order to view it and critique it through other eyes.

And it's also beautiful.


Elisabeth Foley recommended the 1959 flick North West Frontier earlier this year, and I was interested because it's got one of my favourite actresses, Lauren Bacall, in it. The real star of the whole show, however, turned out to be the steam-train engineer, Gupta, who has to be one of the most immediately lovable fictional characters I've come across.

Another noteworthy flick was Pixar's latest, Inside Out. As with Up, it's beautifully-conceived, beautifully-told, unconventional and yet gloriously well-crafted. I was thoroughly impressed by this poignant and family-affirming exploration of depression, empathy, and joy.


'Tis the season for Christmas music! Most recently I've been enjoying my friend Christina Baehr's haunting harp and voice arrangement of one of my favourite Christmas carols, Down in Yon Forest, newly released as a single. 

The same carol also features as the title track for Kemper Crabb's Downe in Yon Forrest. Subtitled "Christmas From the Middle Ages", this album is a sinewy mix of traditional tunes and instrumentation with a little avant-garde prog-rock styling. To say nothing of the sitars. Featuring lesser-known traditional hymns like Of the Father's Love Begotten and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, as well as a truly epic rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, this album has stood up to much repeated listening and continues to be a favourite.


Finally, the update you've all been waiting for! Outremer continues to unfold into a messy first draft. November was, of course, National Novel Writing Month, which didn't go quite according to plan. For one thing, I only had 13 writing days in the whole month. For another, I started the month with great enthusiasm, knocking out a number of 5,000-word days (and even one 6,000-word day), but after a week or two of that, began to feel slightly burnt out. As a result, as soon as I hit my wordcount goal of 50,000, I decided to stop and take a week off. I'm glad I did, because December has seen me back in form.

I think I'll be taking most of January off, though. It's been a big year.


Oh hey, and I was tagged at Fulness of Joy to list 8 "desert island reads". Here goes!

(I'm going to cheat and not include the Bible. That doesn't count, sort of like how underwear doesn't count when you're talking about packing outfits for a trip away from home. Nor am I going to include Basic Survival Handbook: Pacific Island Edition, or Thompson's Practical Guide to Shipbuilding, because GK Chesterton already thought of that joke.)

1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
Since I first read it, this has always been my favourite book. I actually haven't read it for nearly ten years now, because I felt if I went on reading it annually I was going to end up getting every word by heart. But I do mean to read it again sometime in the next couple of years, and if I'll be stuck on a desert island for the rest of my life, I want it there with me.
2. The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
Another beloved fantasy tome, I felt the first time I read it that I was only scraping its surface. On my desert island, I suppose I would have the time--in between building treehouses and milking goats and what-not--to reread this four or five times, until I began to feel more familiar with it.
3. The Oxford Book of English Verse, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
Even though I would still wake up in the morning and curse it for not including more John Donne or Christina Rossetti poetry, it's still the best single collection of poetry I have, and I'm not actually 100% sure how I managed to survive without it until this year.

4. The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
A desert island just might be the only way I'll ever find the time and pluck up the courage to tackle this magnumopus.
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
True, it's Mansfield Park and Persuasion that I love best. But I think if I was going to be face being stranded on a desert island for the rest of my life, I'd want something a bit more charming and bubbly to keep me going from time to time.

6. Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis
This would come because, like The Faerie Queene, it's a book with apparently limitless re-read value. Each time I've read it--three or four times by now--it's revealed new intricacies, new dimensions. It would definitely have to come.
7. Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton
And five minutes after I was shipwrecked I would be kicking myself for not bringing The Man Who Was Thursday instead. Still, I'd probably be able to make the best of the bad bargain...!
It is horrible, I haven't had room for John Buchan, or PG Wodehouse, or Angels in the Architecture, or any of my other favourites. And I'm assuming neither my Crusades reference library nor my wifi would be available--but still, I would be bringing along this WIP, and an endless supply of paper and pens (that doesn't count as a "book", right?!), and it should keep me quite happily occupied for years.

Consider yourself tagged, if you wish! What books would you want with you on a desert island?


Kate said...

Just popping in to say that we sing Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence all the time at our church.

(Anglicans actually have a really weird hymnbook. Some great stuff like hymns by Thomas Aquinas, but also lacking classics you would expect like Great is They Faithfulness.

Jamie W. said...

"Quite happily occupied for years"? O.O I keep forgetting how long of a wait it's likely to be. I shall be happily occupied reading updates for as long as necessary, though!

Great choices, too. Although I feel it might be worth making room for some Buchan: there'd probably be some practical tips in there, and certainly advice on how to handle oneself in the event of untoward adventure. I brought _The Adventures of Dickson McCunn_ to college with me and I just might want to take it to a desert island with me too. I don't know what I would displace for it though.

Joseph J said...

You just compared the Bible to underwear. Yes, you did. Read it again. And you cheated on number 8. Unforgiveable.

Actually your underwear comparison was perfectly legitimate. I just wanted you to be fully aware of it, and imagine for a moment what Jane Austen's reaction would be if she read it with a mouthful of cereal.

I give number 1 a resounding 'yes!' Not only is LOTR really long (we even have to abbreviate the title), but it also contains lots of poetry, including a song about trolls that I actually know the tune of because I heard Tolkien sing it (on CD), and that Appendix. I can imagine myself geeking out about Dwarf runes and elvish pronunciation in my hut.

Desert island book lists make for a cruel exercise actually. It starts out fun and ends up leaving one an anxiety-riddled mess as you picture yourself lonely and cold and thinking desperately, "I can't believe I chose Pride and Prejudice over PG Wodehouse! Whoever said Jane Austen was overrated was so, so right" and pounding oneself with a rock.

I look forward to your review of that exquisite book The Imitation of Christ. Maybe I'll crack it open and read a few chapters if it doesn't immediately reduce me to a puddle of spiritual inadequacy.

Jamie W. said...

Yes, this was rather a terrible thing to ask anyone to do. Ten would have been hard enough. But eight? I admire your ruthless concision, Suzannah, evidently in list-making as in writing.

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

And let's not forget about Victoria. "She is totally doing her best!"

Paper and pens for your #8 choice is a thoroughly sound idea. If I didn't take that precaution I'd probably end up carving stories on the trunks of coconut trees—which would entail quite a transcription job when I finally got rescued.

Suzannah said...

Kate - Let All Mortal Flesh is a great all-season favourite, I agree! One of my favourite hymns :)

Jamie - well, be assured that I'm giving this project my all at the moment! DV, it's not going to take TOO much longer.

Joseph - yes. Yes, I did just compare the Bible to underwear. I wondered if anyone would notice. And I agree that no matter what I choose to take with me to the desert island I'll wind up regretting it.

Elisabeth - I once got the urge to write on a day when we were moving house of all things. I think I would up inscribing my story on a spare bit of wallpaper or something. From that I've learned that it's probably a terrible idea to deny myself writing implements, too.

Jamie W. said...

The Tome is anxiously awaited, but I wouldn't want it to come a second before it was truly ready. :-)

Jess said...

10 years since you last read Lord of the Rings? That seems like a looong time to not read your favorite book, and you don't look old enough to have read it so much you were afraid of memorizing it and then taken a 10 year break!

Suzannah said...

Ha, thanks, Jess! Believe it or not, it's been about 9 years since I last read LOTR, and I'd read it at least 8 times before


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