Introduce Yourself! BBAW Day 1

When two of my favorite book bloggers on the internetz co-host an event, I HAVE to be a part of it!

Day-OneIntroduce-yourself

So here’s what you’re supposed to do on Day 1: Introduce yourself by telling us about five books that represent you as a person or your interests/lifestyle.

Let’s start with the newest one in this list—The Wee Free Men which I got around to reading after Ana’s heartfelt review of The Shepherd’s Crown, the last one in the Tiffany Aching series (The Wee Free Men is the first).

Why am I choosing this book? Because in Pratchett, and in Pratchett’s portrayal of Tiffany Aching, I have found a kindred spirit. Like I said in my review of The Wee Free Men: The Wee Free Men struck a deep and resonant chord with me. Its nine-year old protagonist reminded me of the girl I used to be though Tiffany Aching is WAAAYYYYYYY MORE smarter, and MUCH more put together than I ever was at her age! Even more, I felt this sense of familiarity that is hard to put words to. It was as if the nebulous mist that I carry around in my head had suddenly coalesced into words, and shapes, and forms! In Pratchett, I feel like I have found a kindred spirit.

the wee free men terry pratchettAlso, BOOKS! AREN’T THEY GIRNORMOUSLY AWESOME?!! I’m not a nine-year-old. Nor do I live on the chalks. Or have an army of tiny, blue tattooed fairies all around me. BUT oh, there is this sense of RECOGNITION, this feeling of the very depths of my soul being reflected in what Terry Pratchett writes that takes my breath away. (Did you notice how I carefully refrained from mentioning how I’m NOT a witch like Tiffany Aching is?)

Second is one of my favorite books of poetry by my favorite translator-poets of all time, Daniel Ladinsky: Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West. Ladinsky is famous for his translations, or non-translations according to many, of one of the greatest Sufi poets of all times, Hafiz. I’ve been reading his work for more than ten years now, and if Pratchett’s writings is my soul’s translation in prose, then Hafiz and Ladinsky are probably its poetic version. Here’s my favoritest of all Hafiz-Ladinsky collaborations:

Even
after
all this time
the sun never says to the earth,

“You owe me.”

Look
what happens
with a love like that—

it lights up the whole
world.

The next one has to be Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. See, I’m the kind of person who thinks that life lies in the details of our day to day existence. I love celebrating the “big events” that mark our lives and ratcheting up words in their favor but what I love even more is finding the poetry in the everyday stuff of our lives. It just seems a tad stupid to me to leave happy feelings for only the “occasions.” The occasions matter of course but what about the morning sunlight, and the afternoon teas, and the quiet conversations and the deep breaths and that sort of stuff? Emily St. John Mandel agrees (Or so I think anyway!). And that is why I’m choosing Station Eleven as the third book that I think says something about me.

love poems from god daniel ladinskyFourth is The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I’m choosing this one because the tension that it depicts between Gogol and his parents struck very close to home for me. It’s not that Gogol doesn’t love his parents, nor that his parents don’t love Gogol, just that. . . there’s a weight of expectations, a lot of it stemming from the cultural milieu that is India, that puts them at cross-purposes with one another. Lahiri really captured the experience of generations of Indian parents and children in her book.

Fifth is not a book, but a poet, Mary Oliver. . . What do I say about her that is coherent and weaves together all my love for not only the images she paints but also the words that she paints them with? To say that she writes about nature would be to paint an incomplete picture. She talks about moments in time and often those moments feature oaks, and fishes, and herons, and “wild geese, high in the clean blue air.” But that’s not it. It’s what she does with those snapshots, mixing them up with her own essential self, that makes her poetry what it is. My current favorite from her is not even about nature. It’s just a four-liner that I often chant to myself:

Things take the time they take,
Don’t worry.
How many roads did Saint Augustine follow
Before he became Saint Augustine?

I also want to mention Walt Whitman though it’s only recently that I have started reading Leaves of Grass. I wish I could end every sentence that I write in relation to him with an exclamation point—such is Whitman’s exuberance and vigor. His vision and the all-encompassing largeness of it, and the generosity with which he proclaims from his poetic pulpit amaze and enthrall me each time that I dip in and out of his words.

So yes, that’s it from me. I would love to know what five books you think speak to who you are. And of course if you’re participating in BBAW, do leave a link to your own post!

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

Let me introduce the nine-year-old heroine, Tiffany Aching, of The Wee Free Men in her own words:

I don’t know a single spell. I don’t even have a pointy hat. My talents are an instinct for making cheese and not running around panicking when things go wrong. Oh, and I’ve got a toad.

Tiffany Aching decides that she wants to be a witch. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, she DECIDES to be a witch. Partly it’s because she doesn’t understand why witches in all the fairy tales are called wicked: “where’s the evidence?” as she puts it. And partly it’s because all the stories that she’s read only happen to “blond people with blue eyes and the redheads with green eyes,” with “no adventures for people who had brown eyes and brown hair” like Tiffany. And then there’s what happens to a woman who people thought was a witch (she was an old woman who was thrown out of her house at the peak of winter which she did not survive).

Terry Pratchett has created a remarkable little girl, one who I suspect may well become one of my all time favorite heroines.

Tiffany is a little girl who THINKS. She sees the logical inconsistency in someone who could “magic away a boy and a whole horse” being unable to “magic away the men who came for her.” She has a sense of quietness about her which is a thing of ferocity. And she engages with the world, and thinks about it in ways that most people usually don’t. And through it all she sounds and feels like a nine-year old, though a highly unusual nine-year-old.

the wee free men terry pratchettI’m in love with the way Pratchett weaves little bits of philosophy and life-thoughts through the length and breadth of his story (the whole “Second Thoughts” bit reminded me of how watching your thoughts is an actual method taught in some of the meditation practices). Here’s one conclusion that Tiffany keeps circling back to that I think is true for life in general:

That was how it worked. No magic at all. But that time it had been magic. And it didn’t stop being magic just because you found out how it was done.

Oh, and I definitely love this definition of magic that is offered in the story:

“Ah weel,” said Rob Anybody. “What’s magic, eh? Just wavin’ a stick an’ sayin’ a few wee magical words. An’ what’s so clever aboot that, eh? But lookin’ at things, really lookin’ at ‘em, and then workin’ ‘em oout, now, that’s a real skill.”

“Aye, it is,” said William the gonnagle, to Tiffany’s surprise. “Ye used yer eyes and used yer heid. That’s what a real hag does. The magicking is just there for advertisin’.”

Then there’s the way silence, and listening is brought up over and again. Oh, I love the way silence is celebrated in this story, and the way its depths are plumbed, and the way it’s shown to be a thing of such SOLIDITY and STRENGTH in this book. From one of my many favorite parts of this book (I could probably quote the whole of it):

She just loved being there. She’d watch the buzzards and listen to the noise of the silence.

It did have a noise, up there. Sounds, voices, animal noises floating up onto the downs somehow made the silence deep and complex. And Granny Aching wrapped this silence around herself and made room inside it for Tiffany. It was always too busy on the farm. There were a lot of people with a lot to do. There wasn’t enough time for silence. There wasn’t enough time for listening. But Granny Aching was silent and listened all the time.

There is such humor in this book, a lot of it of the laugh-out-loud variety, especially when the Nac Mac Feegle aka the “Wee Free Men” who are incidentally about six inches high, call humans “bigjobs,” and Tiffany their “hag,” come into the picture. There’s also a gentle subversion of what is accepted as the normal—be it in the real world or in the fictional world—that goes on in the story. And so here is a bit that had me chuckling:

“Anyway, you don’t have to have a witch ancestor to be a witch. It helps, of course, because of heredity.”

“You mean like having talents?” said Tiffany, wrinkling her brow.

“Partly, I suppose,” said Miss Tick. “But I was thinking of pointy hats, for example. If you had a godmother who can pass on her pointy hat to you, that saves a great deal of expense. They are incredibly hard to come by, especially ones strong enough to withstand falling farmhouses.”

The Wee Free Men struck a deep and resonant chord with me. Its nine-year old protagonist reminded me of the girl I used to be though Tiffany Aching is WAAAYYYYYYY MORE smarter, and MUCH more put together than I ever was at her age! Even more, I felt this sense of familiarity that is hard to put words to. It was as if the nebulous mist that I carry around in my head had suddenly coalesced into words, and shapes, and forms! In Pratchett, I feel like I have found a kindred spirit. He likes scrambling things up, and putting them together in ways that they are generally not. He plays ever so slightly with the way the “ordinary” works to stretch it into the extra-ordinary.

Glint, glisten, glitter, gleam. . .

Tiffany thought a lot about words, in the long hours of churning butter. “Onomatopoeic,” she’d discovered in the dictionary, meant words that sounded like the noise of the thing they were describing, like cuckoo. But she thought there should be a word meaning a word that sounds like the noise a thing would make if that thing made a noise even though, actually, it doesn’t, but would if it did.

Glint, for example. If light made a noise as it reflected off a distant window, it’d go glint! And the light of tinsel, all those little glints chiming together, would make a noise like glitterglitter. Gleam was a clean, smooth noise from a surface that intended to shine all day. And glisten was the soft, almost greasy sound of something rich and oily.

I am so, so glad that Ana’s review made me seek these books out.