Friday, 17 April 2009

"Try Something New" mini challenge wrap-up post

Finally here is my post on Nymeth's "Try something New" mini challenge. Of course I had to be true to myself and not be on time...but aaaanyway.

My challenge-mate was Natasha from 1330V. We decided to read some short stories, as we both felt they weren't in our usual reading comfort zone. Then we interviewed each other about what we read. I'm really curious to read her answers!

Now. When I thought about short stories I instinctively picked Tapping the Dream Tree by Charles de Lint. As I read a couple of stories, though, I realised this was too close to my comfort reading! Yes, they are short stories, but it's fantasy! Duh! So, since the challenge was encouraging us to try something really new, I picked a collection by Alice Munro in the library, called Open Secret. I never read anything by her before, but I had always wanted to try something. I read the first 3 stories. Wasn't impressed. They had great premises, alluring writing, all very readable. But they left me cold when they ended. Dunno why. Maybe I wasn't in the mood. Maybe I was too eager to go back to my Charles de Lint. Which, to be fair, had waited patiently its good amount of years ( 3, to be precise!).
All this to say "Yes, I've tried something new, now can I talk about Charles de Lint again?". Or better "I would have talked about Alice Munro, but Natasha wanted to know more about Tapping the Dream Tree, how could I say no?" *big grin*

Here we go:
Q: Why did you pick up this collection?
A:It's been sitting on my shelves for 3 years now! I bought it in this little second-hand bookshop in Galway, owned by this lady who sat behind the desk with her narky dog on her lap all the time. I hope to go back one day to that shop, it was great!

Q:How much of the collection have you read?
A: Most of it. I have only three left to go.

Q:How does Tapping the Dream Tree compare to other books by de Lint that you've read?
A: I have only read The Blue Girl so far. It's a YA and it's set in Newford, just like the stories in Tapping the Dream Tree. The Blue Girl is one of the most captivating book I have read recently, but I have to say, most of the stories in the collection are up there with The Blue Girl's level. Same charm, same sense of wonder and excitement. Of course, the themes are more adult, and maybe more complex. But they all retain the magic that I loved in Blue Girl.

Q:What is your favorite story so far?
I've already talked about "Pixel Pixies". It won me over COMPLETELY! Bookshop - check. Brownie (or hob, as he is called there)- check. Fairy creatures walking among us as humans - check. It seemed tailored especially for me.
But I'd like to mention another story which could compete for the top spot. It's called "Granny Weather". Its main heroin is Sophie Etoile, a painter who can travel to dreamland whenever she sleeps, where she has created a whole new world called Mabon. Jilly Coppercorn is convinced she has faerie blood and I'm inclined to believe her. In this story, Sophie is visited by a bogle from fairyland looking for help. Apparently Granny Weather has been eating bogle babies, and now the bogles are calling for Sophie's help to stop it. The thing is, Sophie had already helped Granny Weather once, when the bogles wanted to steal the moon. And bogles are known to be liars, on top of being nasty, ugly little creatures. So, what's the deal this time? Has Granny Weather turned into the evil witch of fairy tales or there's something else going on?
I don't even know where to start naming the things that make me love this story so much. Sophie, for one thing, is such a fascinating character. When she sleeps, she visits this world she has created without even wanting to. And the world now has a life of its own which exists beyond Sophie's control. I love this concept. Then there's Granny Weather. She lives in a cottage with chicken legs, and hides great powers behind the frail old lady's look.
You think she's so helpless until you look into her eyes. There you find all the mysteries of the world lying thick and dark and you realize she's much more than what she seems to be. Powerful and earthy. Formidable. The proverbial goodwife, living in her cottage, deep in an enchanted forest.
The sole inclusion of these two great characters would be enough. Then there's the whole excitement of the adventure, which could go wrong in so many ways.
And the feeling that you're only starting to know these people. That they're part of a greater tapestry of stories and connections that I'm eager to become familiar with.
I also find irresistible how de Lint can use elements of fairy tales and folklore, and make them feel completely new and fresh. Or maybe I just get easily excited when magic is given so many ways to express itself.
I'm going to share another passage, the story's final paragraph, because it explains what I mean better that I ever could. It's Sophie's talking about painting:

Jilly's right. It is magic, set free from the dreamlands by our imagination. Any act of creation is, from the fine arts to building a mudpie or a cat's cradle.
And if that's faerie blood, then we've all got its potential somewhere inside us, just waiting for us to call it up. Don't ever let anyone tell you different.

Q: Can you give us a favorite passage or line?

A:The one above is a great one!

Q: Would you read more short stories by de Lint? Are you eager to pick up more short stories in general?

A: Definitely to both questions! I want to read every single Newford book de Lint has written, and possibly the rest as well. And I am, really, looking forward to reading more short stories in general. I have a couple of collections I've set my eye on already.

Q: Would you recommend either The Blue Girl or Tapping the Dream Tree to others who don't read fantasy?

A: Yes Yes Yes! The beauty of these stories is that they use magic to embrace a multitude of themes that could touch a wide range of people. They're about being true to oneself, trying to do the right thing at the right time, finding confidence in one's potential...And they are very accessible. They are after all "urban". They all start off a very real setting, which could help the newcomers to adjust to the introduction of magic in the stories.

Q: [This is a question I share with Natasha]. What is your general attitude towards short stories? And has this book changed this attitude?

A: I generally shy away from short stories. I like the feeling of a longer read, where I can slowly get attached to characters and situations, while short stories, being short, can't give me that feeling. Also I usually like to read just one thing at a time, and reading a collection of short stories all in one go is something I'm not very good at. So I don't go and look for them willingly.

That was then. Now I think I can say that my attitude has changed. I've realise just how much I loved these stories, that it feels unfair to dismiss other collections who might give me the same, or even greater, rewards. Beside, I've finally come to terms with the fact that I can just read one story every now and then, and enjoy the story even more! I feel I'm ready to venture in these new dimension eagerly! I'm also willing to give Alice Munro another chance, if somebody has some great story to recommend.

Phew. Done. Sorry about the long post, I can get carried away easily when talking about something I really love like de Lint's writing! I had to stop myself from going on and on about all the other stories, so be grateful I ended it here :P


Vasilly said...

Bravo! *clapping* What a great post! I'm putting this on hold at my library. Valentina, you did a great job!

Debi said...

Oh, I like "carried away"! This was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful post!!! You sure made me want to rush into the room next door and pick up Dreams Underfoot and continue my new journey into Newford!

Nymeth said...

No worries about being late! I loved your post. This collection sounds excellent, and it makes me happy to hear that your attitude towards short stories is changing! That happened to me too, and you know, I think I can trace it back to Smoke & Mirrors by Neil Gaiman. So I'll have to recommend that :P

Rhinoa said...

Glad you enjoyed the collection so much. I read a collection by Alice Munroe recently and wasn't that into it either. "I want to read every single Newford book de Lint has written" is exactly the same way I felt after reading The Blue Girl and Waifs and Strays (a short story colelction spanning his career with some Newford tales). I hope you read lots more short stories (try Ellen Datlow and Terri Windlings collections they are fairy tale/fantasy focused and often feature CDL).