{so… yeah.}

In the past two weeks, I celebrated Christmas, moved 10 hours away, and started my first job since last summer. So… the blog took a back seat. As did reading time. (Damn you, OMF! Still not done…)

But I’m back! And on a Friday, nonetheless. Which means…

I realized about a week too late that my last post was kind of a lie. I mean, yes, Ernest and Celestine are my faves. But they are not my only fave childhood books. Not even my only fave childhood Christmas book.

The Donkey’s Dream by Barbara Helen Berger is one of the first books I remember hearing outloud, which makes it extra special to me. In this Christmas story, the tale of Mary and Joseph trying to find a safe place to have their baby is told from the point of view of their donkey. He doesn’t know where they are going or why: To him, they are simply “the man,” “the lady,” and, finally, “a tiny baby.” As he wearily trudges from town to town, inn to inn, he dreams he carries… A city. A ship. A fountain. A rose. A “lady full of heaven.” At last, he is able to rest, seeing the reflection of a star high above him as he drinks from the trough. At the end, the woman invites the donkey to come see the miracle he has helped to bring about.

“Come—see what we have carried all this way, you and I.”

Breathtakingly beautiful illustrations accompany this sweet and simple story.

As much as I got caught up just now in remembering this book, I do admit that I am a little behind the times. But even though it’s no longer the Christmas season, I still absolutely love Barbara Helen Berger.

 

Since my name means “pearl,” one of my parents’ first gifts to me was about Grandfather Twilight, who every evening takes a single pearl from his strand, walks through the forest with it as it grows larger and larger in his hand, and finally releases it over the ocean as the moon.

 

 

For me, When the Sun Rose is much more about the illustrations than the story. It’s simple enough—a girl is visited by her best friend, and they spend the day together. But the pictures—whew. Go get a copy yourself. I can’t possible begin to do them justice.

 

 

All of the above books are picture books, even though obviously I still love them as an (almost) adult. Gwinna is a true chapter book, but still has the wonderful pictures that characterize all of Berger’s books. When Gwinna’s mother discovers that her baby is growing wings, she is terrified that they will make her leave her family, and binds them tightly to her daughter’s back to keep her safe. When Gwinna discovers the power of her wings, she does leave—and the fairy tale begins.

As with Ernest and Celestine on my last post, it is seriously so hard for me to write about these books, because they really have been such huge parts of my childhood and continue to be so important in my life. All I can say is that you will not regret reading these, no matter how old you are.

{a very mouse and bear christmas}

My very favorite holiday book is, sadly, out of print.

The Ernest and Celestine books by Gabrielle Vincent are, quite frankly, the cutest books I’ve ever read. I will forever thank my mom for somehow tracking down Ernest and Celestine, Ernest and Celestine’s Picnic, and Merry Christmas, Ernest and Celestine when I was an infant, since they seem almost impossible to come by nowadays.

Ernest is a bear and Celestine is a mouse. Are they father and daughter? Just friends? Why are all the “adults” bears and all the “children” mice? Are they really adults and children? These questions are irrelevant. In all the books, the story text is entirely dialogue, with the detailed and engaging illustrations providing the rest.

Merry Christmas, Ernest and Celestine finds my favorite animals at the brink of economic crisis. How can they afford to make a nice Christmas for themselves and their friends?

In fact, they don’t need money—all they need is the simple belief that good acts will inspire love and enjoyment, a true Christmas lesson. They take a tree from the woods, decorate their house with paper chains and ornaments, and draw pictures as present for their little mice guests. Everyone has a great time!

Alright, let’s take a beat. After rereading this post, I realize that my summary reads a little snarkily. I really don’t mean it that way! I just don’t encounter such genuinely sweet books often enough to be able to justifiably write about them.

In all honesty, if you can get your hands on a copy of an Ernest and Celestine book, buy it immediately for the most special little person in your life. Or yourself. I promise you won’t regret it.

{the dickensian revolution}

For the second week in a row, my post on an old favorite this week is inspired by a book I’m currently reading. I am still working my way through Our Mutual Friend, due partly to holiday chaos and partly to the fact that Dickens can be hell to read quickly. In any case, I wrote a post for the (thanks to Fresh Pressed!) newly-famous Book Blob last week that mentioned A Tale of Two Cities, my standard Dickens favorite. And since then, I just can’t get it out of my head.

Let’s just take a quick look at my academic background: English major with a focus on 18th- and 19th-century literature, and minors in French and history. Clearly, a Dickens novel about the French Revolution and subsequent Reign of Terror is a total lock for me. Schoolwork aside, I’d argue that Dickens’s well-utilized tragic element is at its best in AToTC. For me, the book starts off with a bang, and then really comes together in the last third. For the most part, I could do without Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette, who take up most of the middle of the book. They’re definitely reminiscent of a couple from another true favorite, Hugo’s Marius Pontmercy and Cosette Fauchelevant; they’re the two nice people that everything works out for in the end. All well and good, of course, but not nearly as interesting as the tragedy of various minor characters.

No, no—for me, it’s all about the finale. Charles Darnay, locked in the Conciergerie, meets an unnamed young seamstress, charged with “plotting” of which she knows nothing and condemned to die as well. The two exchange few words, maybe a page in total, but their emotion and pathos resonates throughout the ending and revitalizes the entire reading experience.

“I am not unwilling to die, if the Republic which is to do so much good to us poor, will profit by my death; but I do not know how that can be.”

And, of course:

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Never mind that Dickens appropriated a Bible verse for that last one. I know it’s a good book when a single page makes me cry like a baby.

If you’re not a sucker for tragedy or history (in other words, we have nothing to talk about), you still might love this book for the villians, namely Madame Defarge, who knits at every execution, encoding the names of those who die at the guillotine. I mean, how cool is that?

{because i’m actually an old woman}

I mentioned in a previous entry that when starting Maine, I was reminded of Colony, a particular favorite of mine. So, natch, I decided to feature Colony in this week’s favorites.

Colony is one of those books that always surprises people when I count it among my favorites, namely because I think Anne Rivers Siddons’s target audience is primarily much older ladies. IndieBound calls it a romance, which while I don’t entirely agree and certainly wouldn’t consider myself a romance novel fan, kind of makes sense. Despite my earlier uncertainty about the term, I definitely would call Colony a “beach read.”

In short, Colony is the story of one woman’s life in her wealthy in-laws’ summer beach retreat (seeing the similarities to Maine already?). Maude Gascoigne has grown up a wild child in the swamps outside of 1920s Charleston, South Carolina (Siddons is primarily known for her Southern-set novels), but when she and Peter Chambliss fall in love at first sight, she quickly finds herself transplanted among the austere Chambliss clan, who are considered New England old money at its finest.

The Chamblisses spend summer in Retreat, a summer “cottage” in a beach community with rigid divides between the locals and the rich city folk that only come for the warm weather. Maude, already feeling out of place and backwards in her new family, immediately rebells against the strict traditions of the colony. Over the following decades, she struggles to define her own identity and keep her troubled family together at the same time.

One of my favorite things about this book is how none of the characters are normal. They’re pretty much all tragically flawed. You’d think this would get old or exhausting, but for me it expands what might otherwise be a pretty fluffy read into a epic, a testimony to 20th-century New England. There are very few characters that you actively root against as a reader; mostly you’re just praying that somehow, against impossible odds, Maude won’t lose her family to bipolarism, panic disorders, suicide, alcoholism, promiscuity, and the like.

Also memorable are Siddons’s descriptions of place, both the small amount in South Carolina and the wild coasts of Maine that take up most of the book. The flavors of the settings—both geographically and over the span of decades—are strong and enjoyable. (Maybe that’s what makes a good beach read…)

This week’s been pretty crazy, so I’m actually fairly impressed I’m managing to post at all. As I read over this, it seems singularly chaotic and disjointed, which is a pretty fair respresentation of my mental status at the moment. Guess I’ll quit while I’m not too far out of whack!

{blast from the past}

So in a combination of wanting more variety to my posts (Death in the City of Light is STILL dragging out… SHEESH) and picking up some tips from other blogs I love, I’ve decided to add a weekly feature of Friday Favorites. Every Friday, I’ll post on a book, author, or series I consider to be at the top of my biblio-list. I like this plan, especially because I really don’t like blogging about books I read that I didn’t enjoy… and sometimes that happens.

And how could I forgive my 8-year-old self if I didn’t start my list of favorites with the Chronicles of Narnia?

I was pretty much obsessed with these books for the latter half of my elementary school career. I saved up my allowance quarters for weeks and bought the very boxed set you see pictured here out of the Scholastic book orders they handed out in school (remember those?). In a fourth-grade biography assignment, I researched and wrote about C. S. Lewis. When I came home on breaks from college, I still reread them frequently.

When I first read these, I was young enough that the Christian allegory didn’t sink in at all. I’m actually not sure how it would’ve changed my perception of the stories had that happened—as it is, they’ve always remained just amazing magical stories to me. And, like Harry Potter, they’re not just books for kids. In fact, IndieBound doesn’t even list them as children’s books. And who could forget the Lonely Island’s breakout hit??

I figure at this point, especially with the recent movies, if you don’t know the general plot to the Narnia books, you’re probably living under a rock and don’t read this blog in the first place. So I won’t go into it. But fellow Narnia fans should (maybe) read The Magicians, the Lev Grossman book that I blogged about earlier. As a big Narnia/HP fan growing up, I was pretty shocked by Grossman’s treatment of fantasy worlds and magic. I’m actually not sure if fantasy fans would necessarily enjoy The Magicians—but it’s definitely worth a read if you like questioning your own perspective. Has some pretty good meta passages about reading in general, for sure.

Have a good weekend! My goals for this weekend include finishing DitCoL and not drowning in small-town ennui.