It began with an unreasonable number of books. (Doesn’t it always?) I thought last year’s list would be inspirational, but it hovered in the background, with other titles more insistent, and this year’s OUAT reading has been a flurry of all-over-the-place fragments so far.
I haven’t finished anything yet, but I have been reading since the event launched with the Equinox: Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, Carol Ann Duffy’s collection of poems, The World’s Wife, Bill Willingham’s Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall, Charles de Lint’s The Dreaming Place, Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (for the readalong), watching “Grimm” (I watched the first 10 episodes for last year’s event) and “Once Upon a Crime”, which is episode 17 in season 4 of “Castle” (my latest televised addiction).
Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride is a re-read for me. It is one of my just-fine Margaret Atwood reads (Cat’s Eye, The Blind Assassin and The Handmaid’s Tale being true favourites), but I’ve always wondered if, were I to re-read, I would find the layers and insights that made my favourites of hers so memorable.
Between my first reading of The Robber Bride and this reading, I also read Eudora Welty’s The Robber Bridegroom, another of Margaret Atwood’s fairy-tale retellings (“Bluebeard’s Egg”), and the Grimm’s version of the fairy tale, and I figured that I had missed a lot in that earlier reading of Atwood’s novel. And? I did.
Even the prose of The Robber Bride is fairy-tale soaked. I’m certain that I didn’t notice the subtleties in language choice and phrasing on my first reading. The description of a place being “someplace long ago and distant in space”, talk of a “good egg”, a “forest green outfit”, or a “neglected and derelict yard”: these details didn’t register with me back then. I wasn’t attending to words like ‘spidery’, ‘shadows’, ‘cinder’, ‘cavernous’, ‘tangled’ or ‘moat’; I was caught up with the contemporary setting, the streets of Toronto.
I even missed talk of Tony’s Cinderella-like slaving. “In the more recent past she’s made extra cash by waiting on tables and by cleaning washrooms in second-rate hotels — drudgery is the price of virtue — but when she does that she’s too tired to study.” And I overlooked Tony and West (whose name has been magickally transformed from Stew) meandering across parks, crossing at corners “Holding hands like the babes in the woods”. I didn’t notice that Billy prefers to believe that Charis (whose name has also been magickally altered from Karen) is like “a lily of the field; that she neither toils nor spins; that bacon and coffee are simply produced by her, like leaves from a tree”.
(Well, you can see why? It’s so cleverly couched in the language of the everyday — talk of coffee and street corners mixed with talk of moats and ferry crossings, that one might miss the layers in the narrative.)
I’m a little more than halfway into Margaret Atwood’s novel; as it’s been more than twenty years since I first read it, in many years it feels like a fresh read, but I do remember bits of the setting (the lovely island, the flavour of Queen Street West, the University of Toronto campus) and the overarching story of Zenia “with her bared incisors and outstretched talons and banshee hair, demanding what is rightfully hers”. (What’s your favourite Margaret Atwood work?)
In the mornings, I’m reading from Carol Ann Duffy’s collection of poems, The World’s Wife, wherein some women are pulled from history but most are drawn from myths and stories. The first poem, for instance, is of “Little Red Cap”. (For a longer collection, devoted to this character, consider Cornelia Hoogland’s Woods Wolf Girl (2011), which is terrific.) Not only is April Poetry Month, but my Reading Bingo calls for a book of poetry and, hey, I did say it’s got fairy tales and mythic women in there, right?
In the evenings, I’m dipping into Bill Willingham’s Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall, which is a collection of shorter works, with contributions from a variety of illustrators. At first I was taken aback by the seemingly one-dimensional Arabian sultan (haven’t we seen enough evil sultans?) but then I realized (obvious, I know) that this is playing with the idea of 1001 Arabian Nights tales (so now I’m hoping there is a slant to the conventional evil-sultan-telling to update this tale).
In the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep, I pull Charles de Lint’s The Dreaming Place under the covers with me. This is one of the books that I have recently identified on my bookshelves as a 20Something read, meaning it’s been on my shelves for twenty-someodd years. I still freshly remember my excitement about it’s having been brought back into print (along with the third of the Newford titles), how thrilled I was when my local indie shop called to say that they were there for me to pick up, and, yet, it’s been more than twenty years since I planned to rush home and read it. (I’m not alone in this, right?)
The Dreaming Place is a novel told in two voices, Nina’s and Ash’s, two teenager girls drawn to (and repelled by) magical forces. Girls promised at birth to women on the other side, shape-shifting, mysterious strangers, boundaries between worlds: I absolutely loved the stories in Dreams Underfoot, which I read for last year’s OUAT, and I’m enjoying this too, although I am looking forward to a more complex full-length Newford novel. (Any favourites out there?)
The first Neil Gaiman book that I read was Odd and the Frost Giants, and last autumn I read (er, listened to) The Graveyard Book (but was too late, really, to participate much in the readalong for RIP); since then, I’ve been debating whether to add him to my MRE (Must Read Everything) list of authors. Stardust could make/break the deal. (Any predictions?) More talk of that on Friday.
So far I am reading more for OUAT than I have in past years but, simultaneously, finishing fewer things. For now, at least, it’s all about beginnings (and nearing-middles).
How about you?