Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Outlander Series: Why it's like the unpredictable teenager on my bookshelf

I've decided that Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series is a lot like a teenager.

When I first discovered Outlander (thanks to a very intuitive friend), I was blown away.  It impressed me as no other book has, before or since.  The way it brought history alive, the timeless love between Jamie and Claire, the time travel, the depth and breadth of the writing was something I'd never experienced in quite the same way with any other author, or in any other book.  I ordered all of the books back-to-back, hanging on every word, often rereading from the beginning.  Thus began an obsessive love of the story and Diana Gabaldon's writing.

Yet, much like an unpredictable teenager, the road isn't always smooth.  There have certainly been hiccups along the way.  Moments when I wondered where the author was taking me, or why.  Moments when things have dragged on forever and I almost gave up (the Gathering at Mount Helicon in Fiery Cross, anyone?), or times when I was annoyed or disappointed by the path the characters or story had taken.

Kind of like living with a teenager, don't you think?  ;)

But no matter what happens, I can't seem to give up on Outlander, and I can't seem to lose faith enough not to see the series through.  The most recent book, An Echo in the Bone, was a disappointment for me in that it veered away from Jamie and Claire so much, and took them places I would never have believed they'd go...and yet...even though I ranted and raved, and whined and complained, vowing that I'd wait for the next book to end up in the library before reading it, I know I'm fooling myself.  I'll buy it.  Whenever it's finally ready, I know I'll be there.

In spite of my disappointment in Echo, I still follow Diana's blog.  I may not agree with everything in the books, but I admire her thoroughly as a writer, and I still read all of the excerpts she generously shares with her readers.  I've even become a recent lurker on another blog devoted to the Outlander series, Outlandish Observations (which I happily recommend to any other Outlander Obsessive!).

Because even if there are some interminable slogs through slimy swamps, gratuitous amputations or endless clan gatherings, there will always be some spectacular, deeply moving moment in there somewhere that somehow makes up for it.

And strange as it may be, with both a book series and a teenager, one really good moment often has the power to help you forget all the bad. Or at least allow you to put the not-so-great stuff aside long enough to appreciate that nice moment.

It seems that my love for the Outlander story and characters far surpasses any "mistakes" they may make, or my disappointment in the paths they've traveled.  I just can't abandon them, and I will always care to know where their journeys will lead them.  I am devoted, sometimes reluctantly so, even if I'm just an outside observer with no say in what they do or where they go.  So I'll be there when the new book comes out, regardless of whether I agree with their actions or the roads they've traveled thus far. 

It can be challenging, and has it's share of head-scratching and cringe-worthy moments, but I just can't seem to turn away.  Somehow, I just know it will be worth it in the end.

Kind of like that with a teenager, too, isn't it?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"But...weren't you an English major?"

I've actually heard those words, generally in reference to some novel or poetry collection I've admitted to not having read.  Those who ask the question clearly imply that there must have been some massive book list requirement for all English majors, and that if I've not read something like War and Peace (which, by the way, I haven't), then I don't really belong in the club.

I do have a degree in English.  I am also the daughter of a college English professor.  My love of books and reading and writing is undeniably ingrained in my heart and soul, possibly even engineered into my genetic makeup.

The truth is that while I've probably read countless books in most every genre, there are so many classics which I have to confess I have not read.

I can definitely say that I've read nearly every novel published by a Bronte sister (thank you, Dr. Heineman and my beloved Victorian Lit class!)... much as I've loved every movie adaptation of Jane Austen's works, I have to admit I've not yet gotten around to reading many of her novels.

I've read Homer, Shakespeare, Twain, Poe, Swift, Kafka and so many more, for both assignment and pleasure.

But... I've never read Anna Karenina
Or the aforementioned War and Peace
Or even The Count of Monte Christo or Les Miserables.
Even (brace yourself!) Oliver Twist.

I am currently reading a book for review which is loosely based on a less well-known work of a very well-known author.  When I realized that the referenced book is one I have not read, I had a fleeting moment of shame, as if I should have somehow known that one day, it would be important to read that obscure title, and what kind of English major do I think I am, anyway?

Because aren't people who have English degrees, by virtue of their very existence, expected to have read pretty much all of the classics?  To know each and every Important Author and their particular contributions?

But then again, maybe not...

Realistically, even the most dedicated of readers cannot possibly read everything.

And while I know I can't realistically read it all, I am thrilled that there will always, always be a book to be read, something new (even if it's only new to me).

I've already got a huge list of books in my TBR pile, some literally piled on a bookshelf and some sitting in my Nook, waiting.

But I've also got Project Gutenberg bookmarked, because so many of these wonderful gifts of classic literature are there, free for the downloading now that their copyrights have expired.  Many of these are available directly through Amazon for the Kindle and through Barnes and Noble for the Nook.

I don't believe I ever did see that monumental list of required classics for English majors, and regardless of those silly, fleeting moments of guilt over not reading what I "should have" read by now, I am so glad that there will always be a way to read those I missed, and that there is still plenty of time to catch up.

The only hard part is choosing what to read next, isn't it? :)

I'm thinking that I'll start with everything Austen, and maybe, one day, I will work my way toward War and Peace...

Maybe.  :)

Are there any classics that you've always wished you'd read?
Are there any that you plan to read soon?  Or re-read?


Did you know that you can help Project Gutenberg?
Volunteer to proofread one page a day!
I just registered -- maybe you want to give it a try, too?
See the link on the Project Gutenberg site, or go straight to the Distributed Proofreaders website, here.   :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Romantic Expectations

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and  more likely than not, most of our significant others will be making that frantic attempt to fulfill the traditional Valentine's Day expectation of romance, be it in the form of candlelight dinners, flowers, chocolates, poetic cards or all of the above.

While I certainly enjoy the extra attention Valentine's Day can bring, I've found that I don't really put as much emphasis on it anymore.

Not that it isn't a nice idea to have a day devoted to appreciating the one you love.  I am all for that!  And giving our men/significant others a little reminder to appreciate us can never be a bad idea.  But really, shouldn't that be an everyday thing?

There was a time (pre-marriage, pre-kids), when I wanted all of that Romance, with the capital "R."  I wanted the flowers (roses, if you please), the intimate dinners, the moments filled with heartfelt declarations, and all of the grand gestures of True Romance.

Flowers and pretty sentiments are all well and good, on Valentine's Day or any other, and while I enjoy those grand gestures when they come around, I don't require them in quite the same way.

Now, don't get me wrong --  I certainly won't dream of turning down a dozen red roses if they're offered.  ;)  But they're not necessary in the same way other things are, maybe because what I consider romantic or sexy has changed as I've grown older.

Interestingly (maybe oddly?), my favorite heroes of the romance novels I've read in recent years aren't the type for grand gestures, for the most part.  They're more quietly appreciative, with love expressed more in word and deed than with flowers and gifts.  I'm far more impressed and intrigued by a man (fictional or not) who can truly appreciate a strong, independent woman while understanding the value of a gentlemanly gesture, or one who can give his woman strength when she needs it, but knows she can hold her own and admires her for it (Outlander's Jamie Fraser comes to mind...easily my favorite romantic hero). 

Back here in the real world, though, sometimes it's simply the little things that I find sexy or romantic.  For instance, here are a few of the type of moments that can make me melt more than a box of chocolates on a sunny day:

      A big man cradling a tiny infant in his arms...

      Fathers dancing with daughters...

      A cup of coffee refilled without asking...

      The words, "No, honey, you sleep; I'll get the baby/let the dog out/make the coffee."

      Sharing a glass of wine while the kids are settling into sleep...
      Being told, "Don't worry; I'll take care of it."  About anything.

      The gas tank being filled so I don't have to stop...

      Finding my car warming up in the driveway just before I was going to do it myself...

Well, you get the idea.  :)
Real romance is just so much more than can be captured in one day of expression, isn't it?  It's in the most ordinary of moments sometimes.  And for me, it's everyday mutual respect and consideration that I find truly romantic. And worth so much more than an annual bouquet of short-lived flowers.

Here's hoping your Valentine's Day is filled with whatever you consider the most romantic of moments. :)

Things to ponder...
Does Valentine's Day mean the same to you that it always did?  How has it changed for you?
What do you consider truly romantic?
Would you give up all the roses and chocolates for something less traditionally romantic? (okay, maybe not the chocolates!)
Who's your favorite romantic hero, from book or movie?
Feel free to share in the comments!  :)

Image courtesy

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snow Day Simplicity

(Courtesy of
Here on the East Coast, we are once more in the midst of a blizzard, even as we still valiantly (if unenthusiastically) attempt to dig out from the massive amounts of snow already on the ground.

In the few weeks since I last posted, we've had three storms and roughly three feet of snow (or more? I've lost track).  At this point, exiting driveways and certain roadways is an act of faith, what with the inability to see any possible oncoming traffic past the mountains of snow drifts.  Accelerate and pray...

Of course, this is New England; snow and blizzards and lousy driving conditions are a given, as are occasional power outages. During one of these recent storms, a tree limb came down onto our power lines, leaving us in the dark for nearly 11 hours. With no electricity, a long, dull day seemed to 
loom ahead.

But as the day went on, and my initial antsy annoyance at being cut off from computers, phones and appliances waned a bit, I found myself beginning to appreciate it.  We all gathered around the fireplace, rather than spread out with our various individual activities. We played board games, which we somehow rarely find time for these days.  We read by candlelight.  And we talked. And actually took the time to enjoy one another's company for a change. 

And what I noticed most as I sat by the fire, reading by the light of a couple of candles, was the quiet. 
No television, no constant electrical hum in the air. 
It was...peaceful. 
And surprisingly comfortable.

I won't say I wasn't happy when the power came back, but while it lasted, it really wasn't so bad.  It made me feel less stressed, somehow.  As if I were living in another time, back when there was no electricity and no modern conveniences, and most evenings were necessarily spent in quiet activity near the fire, the only source of warmth and light.

I've often wondered if I am enamored of historical romances in large part because of the depiction of those simpler times.  I enjoy contemporary novels as well, but not nearly as much as those that manage to bring to life the days when there were no modern conveniences or affectations.  There is something calming and intriguing about the thought of a life without the noise and madness we all just accept as necessary these days. 

As wonderful as our daily conveniences may be, there is a trade-off involved; we've given up much of the calm, peaceful quality of life that used to exist in a less modernized world.   And though I know I wouldn't want to be cut off from all of it forever, having that unexpected day of true simplicity wasn't merely tolerable, but actually rather nice.  And I'm sure that the next time the power goes out, I won't grumble.  Instead, I'll just let myself bask in the peace.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in the 18th or 19th century?
Would having to wear a tightly-laced corset be a deal breaker, or would you love to dress in the frilly fashions of another time?
What would be the worst thing about it?  The best?
For me, I think the lack of running water would likely send me screaming into the night eventually, but how about you?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Never Too Late

"It's never too late to be what you might have been."
~ George Eliot (1819-1880)
The above quote is one of my favorites.  Not only does it originate with a woman who certainly knew how to go after whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, it also serves as a reminder that my tardiness in entering the world of writing is far from uncommon. 

Now that I've reached my mid-forties, I confess to having moments of slight regret over what I have not yet accomplished.  On particularly bad days, I beat myself up a little for not following the "writing bug" back when it first bit, which was...well, so long ago I can't even really say!  Books and reading and writing have been a part of my life for so long that I can't pinpoint the genesis of my love for it all.  It's just always been there, like the air I breathe.  My mother tells stories of peeking at me in my crib when she thought I was asleep, only to find me quietly flipping pages of a cloth baby book, so maybe it started that long ago.

Whenever it began, it's never ended, and in the last few years the need to put pen to paper has only grown stronger, even as my time has seemingly grown shorter.  And on those bad, woe-is-me, why-didn't-I days, I've found it helps to remind myself of all of those other people who started following dreams late in life and managed to find success and (one presumes) contentment.  For those of you out there who, like me, find themselves regretting time not spent pursuing writing or something else you've always wanted to do, here are a few others who didn't have it all figured out by twenty-one either! :)

  • George Eliot -  she was forty when her first novel was published (Adam Bede, 1859, followed by The Mill on the Floss in 1860 and Silas Marner in 1861).
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder - her Little House books were published when she was in her sixties.
  • Kenneth Grahame - The Wind in the Willows was published in 1908, when he was forty-nine.
  • Richard Adams - he was in his fifties when Watership Down was published.
  • Maya Angelou - I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969, when she was forty-one.
This is just a small list pulled quickly from Wikipedia, so it's by no means exhaustive.  There are dozens of artists, musicians, filmmakers, entrepreneurs and writers who didn't settle into following their dreams until later in their lives.

And if we think about it, it makes a good deal of sense.  What do we really know at twenty or twenty-five?  How much richer and deeper might our books or stories or paintings be once we've had a chance to live a little, lose a little, experience more?  

So I'm choosing to see my late start as a good thing, and hope that by waiting until now I've given myself a chance to grow wiser and, with any luck, it will all give my future work more depth and meaning. I may not be able to reach my goals in the next year, or even two, but I'll keep going, knowing the trail has been blazed by the likes of Maya, Laura and George, and that being late to the party may turn out to be a good thing after all.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

2011 has arrived!

I, for one, couldn't be happier to bid farewell to 2010 and welcome in a new year, and a new start.

So many wonderful blogs out there have posted today, with wise and thoughtful reflections on the past year and the one to come (for a perfect example, see my friend's post for today, here ).

I don't know that I'm feeling quite as eloquent today, and I certainly couldn't say it better, so instead I will simply share a few of my own hopes for the year to come:

I hope to remember that every day is a new opportunity to set aside mistakes and misjudgements and move forward with new wisdom. 

I hope to remind myself when I open my eyes each day that every sunrise brings another opportunity to be who I want to be.

I hope to remember that I am not responsible for everyone and everything, and that I don't want to be.

I hope I'll learn how to tap into my own inner peace, which I know is there, so that I can better handle the unexpected or volatile situations that come my way.

I hope to do what I can when I can, and to know when to step aside.

I hope that whatever comes my way, I will find it within myself to handle it with graceful acceptance.

And I hope that each and every one of you will see your own wishes, dreams and hopes fulfilled this coming year.

Happy New year!  :)