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31 May 2012

'The Annotated Brothers Grimm' edited with a preface and notes by Maria Tatar - 'The Last Unicorn' by Peter S. Beagle

Never too old for fairy tales!

As a child I did not read fairy tales.  My mother read them out loud instead.  We were living in a strange country and knew no one.  We spent a great deal of time with our mother.  In retrospect it seems strange that with all the children's literature available in my mother's native tongue, she chose to read us stories of Germanic origin.  The castles, knights, princesses even the stars, sun and moon represented different things in our culture.  They represented conquest and perhaps a bit of envy but I did not know that then.

The stories themselves were the food of my fantasy life (though I must include Japanese animation, but that's beside the point..)  They seemed to open the doors and windows into other worlds.  A fairy tale never really ends.  To me a fairy tale is about beginnings... to grow up, to marry, to discover your own courage, brains, cunning or even luck are all tools you find to build a future, not an end in themselves.

Thinking about the stories my mother read always left me feeling insecure, now I would call it a whiff of Disney.  How shocked I was to read a much bloodier version of Cinderella (probably French) with those cut off toes and heels.  Snow White was another surprise.  She was truly battered by the time she reached the cottage and the witch queen's demise was horrifying.  Nevertheless, I would have appreciated stories that did not leave me so suspicious, you know, smelling Disney colored roses.  It turns out that the final version the brothers Grimm published was quite satisfying.  I recommend the annotations as a real hook to grown ups.  More over, my kids love it when I can add a little fact or disgusting detail to stories they think they know.  It makes them feel that all those questions answered with the notorious "when you are older" are actually being answered.  An annotated version of anything is invaluable in this respect.  This annotated version also tries to balance the great sex divide in fairy tales which might engage boys more.

'The Last Unicorn' is a 20th century fairy tale that feels as old and immortal as he unicorns themselves.  I saw a movie version at least 30 years ago.  I was fascinated by the failure of humans even when in love.  I was also fascinated by how they all pinned their hopes on a creature with its own mind and worries.  I found the book a few years back and was enchanted all over again.  This is a beautiful fairy tale indeed without all the difficult bits cut out.

Tales like these encourage us because they do not lie about our weaknesses, failure or stupidity.  The heroes often need help, guides and signs (usually all of the them several times over).  But these are not post-apocalyptic stories about societies in ruins instead they are about the potential of weak and often stupid individuals who manage to build a happily ever after.

ISBN: 9780393088861
ISBN: 9780451450524

06 May 2012

I Recommend You Read This!!!

I am the sort of reader that does not believe in reading as a solitary activity. Quite the opposite. If I am reading something good I like to talk about it, but this is very hard if the other person has not read the book as well. I will read out loud the good bits to anyone near me.  Beloved Proof Reader heard half of 'Cat's Cradle' and most of 'Moby Dick' this way.  It is one thing to say,"this book is about a lonely, suicidal werewolf" and quite another to discuss the guilt, blood, sharp details, motivations of the protagonist or descriptions of London in the moonlight.

I should point out that if I do not like what I am reading, I am even louder.  The 'Twilight' series were so terrible I asked another adult to read book 1 in case I was being overly sensitive.  It turns out these books are just badly written.  My point is that I will complain long and loud about bad books.  I hate to be robbed of money and time.  Bad writing is not a matter of taste.  I may not like 'The Scarlett Letter' but the book is beautifully written.  A good story idea can be ruined by bad writing.

Beloved Proof Reader hates being told anything important in a book; he thinks I give too much away.  To be fair, he often notices different things than I do, so he finds it annoying to read a book with someone else's preconceptions.  But, if I don't mention an essential theme how do I get him to read the book so as to discuss the essential theme?  By the way, have any of you read 'Catch 22'? great book.  Well you get it, I have my very own reader's catch 22.

Some of my nearest and dearest sought to deflect my literary lectures by convincing me to keep a blog.  Fools!  MUAHAHAHA!!!  I have two broad topics with which I bore my friends: books and food.  My poor victims are often very polite and promise most sincerely to read my new favorite writer at the first available opportunity.  Liars... which is understandable, after all, it counts as a "white lie" i.e. prevents violence to my person ('cause I am driving her/them crazy) and I shut up.  I also have well read friends who will patiently listen, even look at the book I am vigorously swinging under their nose and finally say "Oh, I read this."  Liars.  It is a very disconcerting experience for me.  How dare they read something sooner than me?  But, I shut up and move on to a different topic (or book), which is probably what they had in mind.  

I must add though, that it is always more fun to give than to receive, especially book recommendations. So what happens if someone traps me between a wall and a good book?  Good question.  My reaction depends on the source.  If the source is one of my well-read friends, then I trust their opinion.  If it is someone who thought "Twilight" was good, then she is not trustworthy.  Recommendations or reviews on Amazon are often a matter of luck.  'The Economist' and 'The Wall Street Journal' are great sources of book reviews, especially when I want to read non-fiction.

In defense of my booky conversations, I argue that it is healthier to discuss the suicidal tendencies of a werewolf than the vitriolic tendencies of a real couple who's marriage is currently falling apart.  I may come off as an awful bore but at least I won't come off as just plain awful.  There is something exciting about opening a papery object and stepping into another world.  It is easy, cheap, good against dementia and provides me with something pleasant to talk about.  Let's face it, we do too much complaining and worrying.  When I accost a friend with 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog', I want to share beauty and joy.  I do hope you understand because it is perfectly obvious to most of my friends that this blog has only made things worse.