Winter is Here, Jon Snow

Some people love winter, love the brisk air, the blinding glare, the crystal-clear night skies, soft fluffy snow and cups of steaming hot chocolate. Other people hate the freezing cold, the knifing winds, the treacherous roads, bare trees, and endless brown mud and slush clinging to shoes, cars, and pet feet tracking through the house.

For me, winter is a romantic time, curled by a fireplace (wood, gas, or electric) before a window with long velvet drapes (one of my favorite possessions), reading a book in a favorite chair while snow swirls outside the window and an animal lounges at my feet. It means a stew bubbling on the stove, fresh bread in the oven, or perhaps fresh shortbread cookies and a cup of Earl Gray tea by that fire. Perhaps it’s a holiday, with candles and lights and decorations, waiting for company to make it through the snow. Yeah, yeah, there’s no groundsman to shovel the walks when it’s over, I have to do it myself, but for a few hours I’m lost in an old English fantasy, there’s a mystery in the air, a challenge ahead, but love and fortune win in the end (note: I have never achieved this fantasy, but I keep hoping).

English Tales of Winter

Which made me think: why are all those images we cling to English fantasies? Sure, that period of literature is within what’s called the Little Ice Age, which ran from the 1300’s to the 1890’s, killing off the Vikings in Greenland and creating all those iconic Currier and Ives scenes, but it also put those chunks of ice in Washington Crossing the Delaware, and in 1816, with the dust of the exploded volcano Mount Tambora in the air, summer never arrived, and temperatures were still below freezing in June. Where is the American winter tale? American stories tend to be about blizzards, hardship, starvation, and ghosts. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and Washington Irving are hardly on par with Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. Reading about the Donner party probably isn’t a good idea before eating stew.

American Tales of Winter

The only American “winter” tales I know well are children’s literature: The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Left By Themselves by Charles Paul May, the semi-historical Seven Alone by Honore Morrow, and the absolutely timeless endearing tale of Mandy, by Julie Andrews Edwards (Yes, Mary Poppins herself. Adults will love this, too!). But where are the adult books? Problem is, not much adult American literature of that period gives off that type of security.

That period of literature we think of is called the Romantic movement and includes Gothic literature, dealing with mystery, spiritualism, ghosts, hauntings, and torturous love – Frankenstein, Les Miserables, Dorian Gray, Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist – some of our most famous classics, running from about 1760 through the Victorian age, around 1890.  America in 1776 was not only new and still forming, it was mostly unsettled, and people in the colds of Fort Duquesne, Fort Niagara, and Fort Cumberland were more concerned with staying alive than writing literature. Of course you still had authors, but not to the degree England – a stable civilization for 1200 years – did. While Heathcliff was brooding the lonely moors, Americans were exploring and giving us stories like Last of the Mohicans, Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Moby Dick, and The Scarlet Letter. Not the same, and certainly not the same as being snowed in and wringing one’s hands on the family estate. The American experience is uniquely American in that regard.

Just because our snow stories don’t go back to King Wenceslas (ok, Wenceslas was Bohemian/ Czechoslovakian, but the song, 900 years later, is English) doesn’t mean American literature isn’t good, it just means it’s different. Maybe you’ll have to settle for cotton twill drapes and a medium double-latte with a space heater and a Snuggie. If you love gothic literature, delve into a classic or something newer; there are hundreds of books (and films!) to choose from. If you love reading about snowy days while curled in a chair listening to the winds howl, try some of these modern tales (and films):

Office Girl by Joe Meno

The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

 Snow by Orhan Panuk

 

  Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

The Snow Child  by Eowyn Ivey

Wolf Winter by Celia Ekback

Winter Solstice  by Rosamunde Pilcher

The Book Thief by  Markus Zusak

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

 The Shining  Stephen King

Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg, 

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

10 Books We’re Looking Forward to in June

Summer reading never looked so good, here are some great new titles for your beach bag!

Every month, librarians from around the country pick the top ten new books they’d most like to share with readers. The results are published on LibraryReads.org. One of the goals of LibraryReads is to highlight the important role public libraries play in building buzz for new books and new authors. Click through to read more about what new and upcoming books librarians consider buzzworthy this month. The top ten titles for June are:

  1. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healy
  2. China Dolls by Lisa See
  3. The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman
  4. I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum
  5. The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand
  6. Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
  7. The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner
  8. The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank
  9. The Quick by Lauren Owen
  10. Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

 

Susan vs. the Wizards + Warriors

      The long-bearded ancestor of all wizard, warrior, and chivalrous knight stories is arguably Le Morte d’Arthur, compiled by Sir Thomas Mallory and first published in 1485 – not bad, considering the printing press was only invented in 1450. These tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable was later worked by T.H. White into The Once and Future King, published in sections between 1938 and 1958, and taken up by Disney in 1963 as The Sword in the Stone.  In the same time period (1937-1954), J.R.R. Tolkien was busy pounding out The Lord of the Rings, his infinitesimally detailed trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King) that set the bar for most fantasy novels to come, so massive in scope that ten hours of movie magic can’t encompass it all.

Tolkien helped shape Dungeons and Dragons (1974), the endlessly successful fantasy game – wizards, warriors, dwarves with their battle axes, elves, orcs, checking for traps and spells – they all started with Tolkien.  Dungeons and Dragons, however, is directly responsible for creating several lines of worthy novels, perhaps the best being the two original Dragonlance trilogies, Chronicles (Dragons of Autumn Twilight, etc) and Legends (Time of the Twins, etc). While some have complained that “you can hear the dice rolling in the background,” these are the novels that set my brain on fire.  I had the misfortune to read them as they were being released, having to wait anxious months for each delicious installment. While Chronicles sets up the characters and sends them off on a very D&D-type adventure, Legends runs with the developed characters and explodes with adventure.  These trilogies are clean enough for the 11-15 year old crowd, and a great place to send them after (or in preparation for) Lord of the Rings. There are more than 200 novels under the Dragonlance umbrella (and a film), so let them read!

The modern crown of medieval fantasy, however, must go to George R. R. Martin (what’s with all those R’s?).  His Song of Ice and Fire series, better known as Game of Thrones, the first title of the series, is Tolkien grown up dark and twisted (yes, darker than Mordor, where evil is only ever alluded to). Dragons, kingdoms, sex, murder, warfare, dwarves, incest, murder, swords, traitors, child brides, sex, murder, backstabbing, murder, sex, murder – Game of Thrones is nothing short of a massive soap opera set in a fantasy world of medieval powerstruggles.  While the HBO series consists heavily of nudity and violence, it is not a tenth of the amount of extreme brutality and sexual depravity of the books – these are NOT chivalrous tales for the young, but bloody and too-realistic horror stories of warfare. Yet, they will suck you in with compelling characters in a story that is too painful to read further, and too engaging and dramatic to ever put down. Each volume runs 800-1200 pages, so unless you can clear your schedule (you won’t want to stop), you may want to check out the audiobooks instead.

Read them. Savor them. Imagine them.  Then go beat up a tree with a sword. Just make sure it’s not an Ent first.

10 Books on the Small Screen

You may already know that some of the most popular shows at the moment came from previously published books. However, you may not realize just how often these small screen hits have been adapted from stand alone books, or longer series.

Here are ten television shows that I have been happy to inform my husband have been based (at least loosely) on books. Some are obvious, and well known to come from books, while others might surprise you.

1)T[Cover]rue Blood is based on Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series, about vampires and other paranormal creatures and their interactions with people in Louisiana. The book series begins with Dead Until Dark, published in 2001. Fans of the books who watch the show are not necessarily “in the know”. By the end of the first season the respective plots have diverged enough for fans to enjoy both without knowing just what might happen next. The final book in the series, number 13, Dead Ever After was just published on May 7th.

2) Dexter is based on a book series about a serial killer with a strict moral code written by Jeff Lindsay. The first book, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, was published in 2004. Dexter’s Final Cut, the seventh book in the series, is scheduled for release in September of 2013.
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3) Vampire Diaries is a television series based on a young adult book series of the same name, which began with The Awakening. The book series was originally written by  L.J. Smith, but is now ghost written because the publisher did not like the direction Smith wanted to take the characters in, and her contract gave the publisher the rights to her name and the series. There are now a collection of book sub-series, and it seems to still be going strong.

4) The Dresden Files was a television show that, sadly, only ran for one season on the Sci Fi channel in 2007. It was set in the same world as the book series of the same name, which began with Storm Front. The series was good, and can be found on DVD, but the book series about a wizard detective for hire and doing his best to make a difference, and stay alive, is phenomenal with 14 books and counting.

5) Game of Thrones, as you might already know, is based on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which began with A Ga[Cover]me of Thrones in 1996. While the television series has captivated many, and incited many to find the books, I must warn that, while the reads are well worth it, they can be daunting. The books are lengthy, at over 800 pages with the very shortest book, and the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, tops 1000 pages. Books 6 and 7 are slated to be published in 2015 and 2019, respectively. If you want to ‘read’ the books, but are turned off or intimidated by their sheer size, A Game of Thrones has also been released as a graphic novel and as an audiobook.

6) The Walking Dead is a television series based on a zombie themed graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman. The first installment, Days Gone By was published in 2004, and the most recent volume, number 18,  titled What Comes After, comes out in June 2013.

7) The Unit was on CBS from 2006 through 2009. The show was about a top-secret military unit based on the real-life U.S. Army special operations unit commonly known as Delta Force. The series was very popular, but many fans never realized that the show was based on the show producer Eric L. Haney’s book, Inside Delta Force : the Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit.

8)Friday Night Lights is another popular show that many fans do not connect with the book, rather they think about the movie. Both the television series, and the movie, were inspired by the non-fiction book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by  H.G. Bissinger, which was published in 1988.

9) Bones, the television series about a forensic scientist working with the FBI, is inspired by the Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs. The book series began with Déjà Dead, published in 1997.  The show does not follow the novels, rather that act somewhat like a prequel to them, with the TV show’s Temperance Brennan as a younger version of the novels’ Temperance Brennan.

10) Pre[Cover]tty Little Liars is an American teen drama with an element of mystery and a thriller twist built in. It is  loosely based on the popular series of novels written by Sara Shepard, which began with a novel of the same title, Pretty Little Liars published in 2006. The 13th book in the series, Crushed, is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2013 and the 14th book is expected to be released in December of 2013. The television series premiered in 2010, and was renewed for its 5th season, with a spin off series to air in the fall of 2013.