30 November 2010

the return of an old obsession

It is rare that I follow along with the trends in popular culture, mostly because I don't pay attention to them. I did read the Twilight books out of curiousity. But now I'm going with a book trend that was popular several years ago (yes, it's still popular, there's just not a waiting list that numbers into the hundreds for the library now). Yep. I'm reading Harry Potter.

I did read the first three books some years ago. I think I read the first one shortly after the third came out, and then read the second and third ones. I really enjoyed them and my parents were happy to let me read them, although my mum didn't think much of them. The third one definitely gave me nightmares (and I suppose reading it in one fell swoop didn't help that), but I waited eagerly for the fourth book to come out and got it at the library as soon as I could.

I started reading. I zoomed through the Quidditch match and the return to Hogwarts and then came up against the chapter where the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher shows them some particularly nasty curses, maybe one-quarter of the way into the book. He demonstrates the killing curse that was used on Harry's parents. Only a spider dies, but I didn't care. I slammed the book shut, horrified by the scene. I took the book back to the library, and didn't finish it. I didn't read the next three books. The only movies I watched were the first two. I ended up selling my copy of the first book, and giving my copy of the third book to my cousin, desperate to get the creepiness of the Dementors out of my room. My imagination has always been apt at creating scenarios for my mind to go over, both while I am awake, and while I am asleep, and I couldn't stop thinking about the scarier aspects of the stories.

That was quite a while ago. I am still careful about what I read and watch, but I am less fearful than I was then. I can handle more things. There are episodes of Fringe which I never finished watching because the violence in them was too disturbing, and there's an episode of Buffy which I haven't re-watched. But I can see the line between fantasy and reality more clearly now.

A friend whose field is literary criticism loves the Harry Potter books. She's writing her thesis on them. She's so enthusiastic about the stories that I decided to give them another chance. I put a hold on the fourth book, it came in more quickly than I expected, and I read it Friday night (and yes, I probably should have been sleeping or working on a paper, but these things happen). I'd forgotten that the books were funny. I'd forgotten that I liked the characters.

Now, since, for some reason, the waiting list for the fifth book is longer than it is for the others, I'm wondering if the thrift store or the used bookstore would have a copy of it. The urge to track down a copy of book five is pretty strong. I'd forgotten that the books had this sort of pull to them. The Twilight books were similar, in that I wanted to read to the end very quickly (I suppose my tendency to wait until the entire series is out before I read the really popular books is helpful that way), but it's a very different feel. I can poke a few holes in Harry Potter here and there (I still don't get why they don't integrate their world into the Muggle world more), but the writing's much more solid and there's almost something addicting about it.

Some things haven't changed. I still think that parents should be careful about letting their kids read these books. My parents trusted me to know when I needed to stop, which I was pretty good at, but I know not every kid is good at that. And after the first two or three in the series, I really feel that these aren't for children. I think I'm actually enjoying the series more this time around, as an adult, than I did when I was in my early teens and reading them for the first time. Now, if I finish my paper, I can go out and see if book five is at one of the local used bookstores.

22 November 2010

The weather has changed for the colder. Last week, I'd made plans to head down to UBC on Saturday and do some research at their phenomenal library (first time I went there I drooled all over the place), and I went in spite of the snow and the cold. The UBC Campus (or what I saw of it) was really pretty all covered in snow. The view from the Skytrain of all the houses with snow on their roofs was pretty, too.

I left early in the morning, and when I finally got on the bus to UBC, I put away my knitting and spent some time people-watching. I love watching people on the bus. It's fascinating to wonder what their stories are. I also love to see what people are wearing. I may need to knit a hooded scarf sometime. It looked warm.

I read and took notes until I couldn't concentrate anymore. I found a great facsimile edition of a book originally published in 1655 which provided me with some historical data I needed, and a fantastic treatment of my topic in a different theory that suggests a possibility I need to explore. Everything else I looked at was interesting, but those were the two that seemed most significant.

On the way back into the city, I made a couple of stops. Conveniently, Urban Yarns and Gina Brown's were both on the bus route I was taking, and I hadn't been to either one. I stopped off at Urban Yarns first, did some browsing, and picked up a couple skeins of yarn (Louet sock yarn and Cascade Fixation). Then I went into the bookstore across the street to see if they had a book I've been trying to find for my brother for Christmas. They didn't, so I hopped on the next bus and got off at the stop for Gina Brown's. By the time, I was in need of lunch, so I just admired their wall of Cascade 220 and got some yarn for J.'s Space Invaders scarf. Then I found some food, and, on my walk to the next bus stop, wandered into a tiny bookstore which had the book I was looking for.

My long journey back home wasn't quite so much fun as the trip out. I ended up in a Skytrain car with a lot of noisy teenagers and the beginnings of a migraine. My hands were tired from writing, so I didn't feel like pulling out my knitting. I just huddled there and counted the number of pairs of Ugg boots I could see in the car (a dozen: apparently all teenage girls are wearing them this year). I still don't get their appeal.

But most of the day was a good day. Good reading, good visits to yarn stores. Even some good work on the heel of my sock (I have turned the heel and begun the gusset).

Now, off to do more reading.

14 November 2010

the writing process

A couple of days ago I realized that I hadn't posted anything in a while. I think about posting. I'll even start writing. Then I get stuck or decide not to finish the post right now and by the time I remember it, a week has gone by.

In between everything else lately, I have been getting a good deal of writing done. Inspiration strikes when it will, and I spent the other morning, on a day when I wasn't busy, writing down a story. I don't know if it'll go anywhere farther than the dozen pages I have so far, but it was an enjoyable process.

Years ago I started writing a trilogy. I know, there's probably hundreds, if not thousands, of us, the ones who wrote trilogies in high school. But I wrote it for the sake of telling the characters' stories, not because I wanted other people to read it. While I'd love to get it published someday, the whole thing is in a constant state of revision. I wrote the first draft and then let it sit for years, coming back to it every few months and making minor tweaks here and there. Sometime last year I took a good long look at it and said, "What the hell was I thinking?" and cut the entire second book of the trilogy (It was weird. Like, really, really weird and strange). I chopped the first book in half, and turned that into the second book of the trilogy. This helped a lot, although it meant that quite a few things had to be changed. I realized that one of my principal characters wasn't well-characterized, compared to the others, so he's getting fleshed out. I'm re-writing the beginning of the first book at the moment, because it moved far too slowly, given the pacing in the rest of the story.

It's funny...I used to hate changing major aspects of this story. Now I see it as entirely necessary. I think perhaps I had to let it sit for a time so that I could mature enough to be willing to change things. The characters haven't changed much, although I'm (hopefully) making them more interesting. But I'm willing to re-adjust the plot for the sake of the story, which I wasn't willing to do seven years ago.

I hit a turning point with it last week (or was it the week before?). I was at my desk, doing reading, first for my thesis, and then for a class. I needed to take a break, and it was as though I was coming up for air. Concentrated reading always feels like that for me. I had to do something else, but the building was eerily quiet because it was late in the day, and I had an evening class that didn't start for a couple of hours, so there was no one around to talk with. I'd forgotten to bring a knitting project. So instead, I pulled up one of the books on my laptop, and started reading, thinking I'd do a little editing.

But instead, I read. I read and I was enjoying the story.

That was new for me. I've read over old papers, and either wanted to rail at my old self for writing such drivel, or been impressed that I wrote something decently cohesive (My academic writing style has been forced to develop rapidly in the last few years and while it's far from perfect, when I write academically, I worry more about what I'm saying than how I'm saying it, because that part's pretty automatic now). With my fiction...I can change it if I don't like it, and usually when I'm reading it over, it's with editing in mind. I haven't stopped to look at it objectively. This time, I got caught up in the story and forgot to edit.

I'm no genius, certainly, but it wasn't half-bad.

So now I'm writing with a different purpose in mind. I haven't handed it over to anyone to read since I was near the beginning of the first draft, which was at least ten years ago (argh, you think I'd have finished it properly by now, but no, of course not). Once I get the first chapters sorted out again, there's a couple of people whom I'm actually going to ask to read it. I've been scared to do that because I'm afraid they'll tell me it's rubbish. Maybe so. Maybe not. But for once, I actually want to find out.