If you care about a dictionary…

The Grammarians is a lovely story about two twin sisters living in the late 20th Century in and around New York City. I don’t actually want to say too much about the plot, but I loved how familial the story was, how close the twins are even when they’re fighting, and how much love was interwoven. Even when everyone is driving each other nuts, they all still love each other – families are like that.

The action is driven by the women growing up – you get their entire life stories from birth to death 258 pages – but also by a dictionary, Webster’s Second Edition. The Third Edition is apparently very controversial, in part because the second was so stodgy. One of the women has a job writing about grammar, and so is the prescriptivist and is more akin to the second edition; the other writes poetry and stories using vernacular language and so is the descriptivist, and could be compared to the third edition. (A short definition of prescriptive vs descriptive lives here, if you’re interested.)

But that is all in-the-weeds, and you certainly don’t need to care about that particular argument in order to enjoy the book. You can (I did) enjoy the characters and their relationships to each other and New York City in the 1980s. I highly recommend The Grammarians.

Writing prompts and zen koans

Writing Down the Bones is a book of something like zen koans combined with writing prompts. The chapters are never more than 4 short pages (the book is physically small), and are designed to get you to sit down and write after you read each one.

It was not super-useful to me, honestly. I’m not often in a space (physical or mental) where I can switch between reading and writing like that. I did try to just sit down and read it, but the chapters were too short and pithy to flow well.

I’m sure Writing Down the Bones works for some folks. It wasn’t for me.

Friday Shorts

It’s not so much about the walking as it is the time to think about things

I am always up for a good book about either Paris or walking as a form of meditation. Flaneuse is a combination of the two. It’s part memoir, part exploration of other women walking around in art (literature, music, movies) in many cities – not just Paris – and taking the time to absorb the world around them.

Flaneuse was good, and reminded me that time is often more valuable than money, happiness-wise. Recommended.

Getting butt-in-seat time

Fangirl is a fun YA book about a young woman (she’s 18) who’s dealing with some things. She’s retreated into writing fanfiction, which is not a thing everyone is happy about.

But Fangirl is nothing if not a love letter to fanfiction and the people who write it. They’re finding their voices, they’re learning how to write, they’re getting butt-in-seat time of getting it done. You don’t become a better writer without, you know, WRITING. If fanfiction is your vehicle for that, great!

And, to my mind, if you’re willing to put what you write out there? That takes guts. The internet is not always a nice place – if you’re confident enough to put yourself out there like that, more power to you. (But maybe that’s how you get feedback too – how do you know if you’re any good without some way of finding out?)

Anyway, Fangirl is fun and I have a lot more respect for fanfiction authors and sites now.

Love and affection

I Capture the Castle
This was a well-loved library book. It had been read so much that the pages were soft and the corners had been worn off. It was amazing.

What’s it about?
I first heard of I Capture the Castle on the boards of the Go Fug Yourself book club, where it was described as “people having romantical problems during wartime.” It was published in 1948. It’s about a poor family, the Mortmains, living on not very much in an old castle that they’d secured a long-term lease on back when their father’s famous book was still paying the bills. An elderly, wealthy neighbor dies and his heirs are wealthy American half-brothers. The older sister, Rose, immediately sees that marrying one of them would keep the family from starving and convinces herself that she’s in love with him. It… it doesn’t work out so well.

Why should you read it?
It’s so old that it’s lack of an automatic happy ending (spoiler) is refreshing. (It’s not that the ending is unhappy. But it’s not a standard Hollywood ending either.) The Mortmains are charming and artistic, living the Bohemian lifestyle that you’d expect from poor artists: the father is a writer, as is Cassandra – the younger sister who’s POV the story is written from – Topaz, the step-mother and former model/current painter. Rose is the one who wants to not worry about where their next meal is coming from all the time. Ms Smith’s love of the English countryside also comes through loud and clear – the setting is amazing and lovingly described.

Overall, there’s so much affection in this book for the place and the characters and the impossible situation they’re in – really, where *is* their next meal going to come from – that you can’t help but also enjoy it. (In fact it’s a bit odd, because the book contrasts affection and love so very well. But the book’s love and affection of everything and everyone in it is what makes it so wonderful. Hm.)