Thursday, July 28, 2011

There and Back Again: My 18-Year Journey to Finish Reading The Hobbit

Yes, it took me 18 years to actually read The Hobbit. That's an average rate of about 18 pages per year. It only took me 18 months to read the King James' version of the Bible, and I was done with the last Harry Potter book 18 hours after its release.

I first picked it up back in middle school when a boy I had a crush on insisted it was the best book ever written. The crush didn't last much longer than it took me to get board. Then in high school I picked it up when rumors began to circulate that the Lord of the Rings would be made into a movie. I finally gave up on the prequel and managed to get through the trilogy the summer after I graduated. Then again in college I attempted to read if for my Children's Lit class, but there were too many other books I wanted to read. With 18 months until the movie release, I procured another copy, figuring it might take me that long to get through it. I don't know why I was so determined to read a book that can't hold my interest.

This time I finished it in 18 days, but I still don't like the book. I think it's all those dwarves' names. How can you expect me to remember the names of 13 stout men who all look and act so much alike? At least I know Bilbo, Gandalf and Smaug. Or maybe it's that the action is nowhere near as intense as modern adventure novels. Bilbo may be pretending to be a thief and all, but there are far too many riddle wars and too much wandering around starving to really be considered an adventure–fantasy novel. Or it could be more a book for young children and I was just too old to truly appreciate it. There are a lot of adults who love the book, but how much of that is tied to childhood nostalgia?

No disrespect to people who love this book, but I just don't see the appeal. It's not the first time I haven't liked a popular book (even through Markus Zusak is one of my favorite authors, I couldn't get through The Book Thief, and my disdain for many of the classic British authors like Dickens, the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen is well documented). Then again, there are books I love that other people can't stand (like my passion for Greek plays and Roman philosophers—and Shakespeare, I have yet to read something by Shakespeare I don't love). Some books speak to some people more than others, and The Hobbit happens not to speak to me.

So there's another book marked off my Guilty Un-Reads list. Maybe I'll like the movie better. Or maybe I'll just stay home and read a different book.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Writer's blo--

I've had the worst case of writer's block this month. I sit at my computer, and nothing comes to me. Not even to post on my blog. Not even at work. There's a total lack of creativity emanating from my fingertips. Actually, it probably has nothing to do with my fingertips and more to do with my brain.

Could I be burned out? Good thing I'm going on a mini-writers retreat with my friend at the end of next month. I just hope I don't spend the entire weekend looking at a blank screen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I'm feeling the love from the acronyms/initialisms. For those of you who need a translation, this means I receives my second Letter of Merit from the Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators' Work-In-Progress Grant Committee. (Note that while WIP is an acronym because it's pronounceable, SCBWI is an initialisms, 2x is shorthand, and LoM is just made up for my own amusement.) That's right, I've got two times the merit.

Two years ago I received a LoM for my middle grade historical fiction novel, and this year I was recognized for my YA contemporary novel in verse. And for someone who claimed not to be a poet, I'm totally flummoxed.

This year, I really need to thank my (one and only) creative writing teacher Steven Stewart who encouraged me to write the poem that inspired this novel, even though it got cut from the manuscript. And although she probably doesn't even remember reading it, Maggie Stiefvater read my first ten pages and helped give my idea direction. But most importantly, the women in my writers' group read draft after draft until it sounded good enough to submit for the grant, and then they had the tedious job of reading the grant proposal. Those women are rock stars.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This Year's for You, Harry Potter

I still can't believe that Harry Potter is ending. In just about 24 hours, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 will be released, ending an amazing era that changed children's book publishing forever. I began reading those books in high school, and I can't help but reflect upon the time I've dedicated to Harry and his pals. But there are 8640 hours in a year--there's no possible way I've spent an entire year dedicated to Harry Potter. Or have I?
  • 233 Hours of Reading: I've read the first book seven times (1610 pages), the second book six times (2112 pages), five for the third (2240 pages), four for the fourth (3008 pages), three for the fifth (2610 pages), two for the sixth (1304 pages) and only once for the seventh (784 pages). And then there's the supplement books (320 pages). Averaging about a minute per page--and let's be honest, I can't read that fast--that adds up to a lot of minutes
  • 144 Hours of Listening: Jim Dale is one of the most amazing audiobook narrators of all time, and so you can bet I've listened to all the audiobooks at least once. But I've also listened to the second and sixth books twice because they're my favorites. And having driven from coast to coast multiple times, I can assure the folks at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that you can indeed listen to the audibooks while circling the contiguous United States.
  • 109 Hours of Viewing: I honestly don't remember how many times I've seen each of the movies, so I'm just guessing here. I've seen the first movie at least a dozen times (1824 minutes), but I've only seen HP7.1 once (146 minutes). So let's say I've seen the second movie 10 times (1610 minutes), the third eight (1128 minutes), the fourth six (942 minutes), the fifth four (552 minutes), the sixth twice (306 minutes). I've also added a half hour for all the previews I've watched. It's a wonder my vision isn't worse than it is.
  • 200 Hours of Web Surfing: Mugglenet, YouTube, J.K. Rowling's site, Warner Brothers...I've visited them all. Back in college, I could spend hours at a time perusing the chat rooms and trolling for movie stills and hunting for spoilers. I found all the secret treasures on Rowling's desk and watched more tribute videos than I care to admit. In fact, the 200 hours is probably a modest estimate.
  • 24 Hours of Line Standing: Every movie and book release came with waiting in line. Granted, most of these lines were more like parties than actual lines, but I still remember going to the book store at 9 p.m. and not getting my 4th book until 1 p.m.--I was so tired the next day I couldn't even finish reading the book.
  • 24 Hours of Costume Making: While my favorite HP character to play is Rita Skeeter, I've also donned several generic Ravenclaw and Gryffindor uniforms, played a Death Eater and fancied myself as Luna Lovegood.
  • 100 Hours of Event Planning: Midnight Muggle Magic at the Salt Lake City Public Library was a HP event to the max. I ran the charms class and made more than 200 trick wands with wooden dowels, feathers and fishing line, researched Latin so kids could make up their own spells, distributed copies of HP7 after midnight, and then there was the set-up and clean-up for the event. But it was also one of the most memorable nights of my life.
  • 50 hours of Layout and Designing: I did two in-depth design projects for design classes, including a Hogwarts brochure and a magazine layout about the movies. There was also the year that I saved every image from a HP desk calendar and made a collage poster after cutting them all out and fitting them together with lamination paper. Oh year, and all the art projects, homemade cards, scrapbook pages and trinkets I've made for friends who love Harry just as much as I do.
  • 400 Hours of Extras: Television shows (5 hours), movie extras (10 hours), music concerts (5 hours), book clubs (10 hours), webposts (5 hours), shopping (10 hours), gaming (25 hours), discussing (100 hours), magazine articles (100 hours), critical books (5 hours), reviews (25 hours), interviews (100 hours)... All of that, and I wouldn't even call myself a hard-core fan like the ones who design websites, write fan-fiction and know all of the spells in every book by heart.
  • 156 Forgotten Hours: Let's be honest, I'm sure I've had more dreams, told more jokes, worked more references into every-day conversations and thought more about Harry Potter than just about any other franchise out there. And because this isn't exactly a scientific analysis, I'll give myself some nice, round numbers to work with.
Okay, so that only totals 1440 hours, or about two months, of my life dedicated to the boy wizard, but I've still got another good 60 years in me. Give me the rest of my life, and I'm sure I'll be able to tell St. Peter that I lived a full year thinking about Harry.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dealing with Dark Fiction

The dark YA fiction debate hit NPR this morning with YA author Maureen Johnson and WSJ contributor Meghan Cox Gurdon, and you can listen to the interview here. I'm so close to this issue that it's difficult to address it with any kind of objectivity, but here's my attempt at a reasonable conclusion.

The majority of my friends are now parents of young children. They rejoice in hearing the sound of their baby laughing, they long for the weekend when they can run and play with their children, they seek out tender moments to kiss chubby cheeks and feel tiny arms wrapped around their necks. They want to read their children books that make bedtime rituals sweetly comforting and curling up together on the couch an exercise in delight. The books they read to their children sets the atmosphere of their home.

Yet sharing tender moments gets more complicated as children get older. The teen years are volatile at best, but young minds are still easily influenced by their surroundings. During my teen years, I didn't feel like anyone understood what I was going through. Though I had a loving family and good home life, loneliness and self-doubt isolated me from the support that I didn't understand how to access. So I turned to books. Through words on pages, I felt compassion and understanding. No matter what happened to me or how depressed I felt, books helped me understand I was never alone.

But no matter how hard we try to justify what we write and read, we can't ignore the facts. Books are just one type of media that influences the way we think and how we view the world. Media can and does desensitizes us to the beauty of loving sexual relationships and makes violence commonplace. It makes us overly critical about physical appearance and gives us unrealistic expectations for relationships. We welcome it into our homes through television and allow it to permeate our lives with advertising.

We can't escape the influence of media, but we can teach our children to make choices for themselves. Exposing teens to a wide verity of media (both positive and negative) and then talking about the things they see/hear/experience improves their lives as well as our own. It makes us more accepting, and it means we are better able to face challenges. If we utilize the teaching opportunities that are placed before us, we don't need to worry so much about what our children are reading because we can trust they'll make good choices.

No matter how hard you try, you'll never be able to protect your children from everything. So why not give them the tools to protect themselves?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lighted vs. Lit: Illuminating the Sky for 4th of July

light·ed (adj) having light or illumination; bright. From Old English lēoht, meaning illuminated, with ties to noun forms in German (licht), Latin (lūx) and Greek (leukós).

I'm not sure when a Chinese tradition became synonymous with American independence, but fireworks reign supreme in DC on the 4th of July, and everyone scrambles to find the best seat in the house. After plans fell through for going to the National Mall with out-of-town guests, I was planning on meeting up with some friends at my office to head to the roof for a stellar view over the Potomic River. But that went bust when my parking pass failed to open the garage after hours. Instead, we crashed my friend Gordon's party where he promised spectacular views of all the fireworks shows in DC and Maryland. Only things didn't quite turn out as planned.

Almost an hour before the National Mall show was scheduled to start, the horizon began lighting up with fireworks from Gaithersburg, Rockville, Germantown, Kensington, Takoma Park, College Park, Six Flags America and Bowie. I'm not sure where we could see them all from, but it was a line of fire stretching for miles. When we could hear the boom came from across the river, we knew the national show had begun. Looking out to the monuments we saw...nothing. Absolutely nothing! Directly in our line of sight, the only high-rise building between us and the Mall stood haloed in multicolored hues of the fireworks we were supposed to be enjoying.

lit (v) a simple past tense and past participle of light. From same origins as lighted. Also (adj) under the influence of liquor or narcotics; intoxicated (usually followed by up). From early 20th century American slang. Also (n) abbreviation of literature. From the Latin litterātūra, meaning grammar.

As we left Gordon's place, one of his friends began admiring a display case by the door. They were talking about how nice it would look "lit up." Of course I had to laugh and say, "I'm sure everything looks cooler when lit." Not understanding what I was talking about (because apparently an IT guy and an architect don't find the same humor in words as I do), I explained the difference between lit as a verb and lit as an adjective. And them, being good friends and nerds of the tech variety, laughed at my lit nerd joke.

So I missed the national fireworks this year, but at least I missed them in the company of some great people. And the well-lighted sky offered a backdrop for a very memorable night.

(Despite common belief that lit and lighted can be used interchangeably, with lit being more informal, that isn't true. While lighted can be used as the past participial for light, lit used as an adjective is always slang for being intoxicated.)