Tag Archives: Aimee Lewis

The Re-Reading Project: The Book I Couldn’t Re-Read

This time last year, I had a small sheet of paper taped into the back of my journal with a list of twelve books jotted out. My plan was to re-read one of these twelve books each month in 2014 and write about the experience, what I remembered from my original readings and what I discovered reading them now. I’d first read almost all of these books before I was 16 (when I moved to Louisiana) and while I’d read most of them only one time, I counted them all as favorite, influential books.

In January, I quickly fell in love with the project and read 9 kids’ books. I was in the middle of moving for the second time in six months, so I think I was a little nostalgic for childhood and a semblance of stability. It was a lot of fun, in the middle of chaos.

February found me in my new home and brought me company in the project: my friend Maurice re-read an influential book of his own and wrote a guest post. I re-read a Japanese fantasy translated into English.

March brought a guest post from my sister Aimee, re-reading an author she introduced me to and who I would re-read later in the year, as well as a post of my own about re-reading a speculative anthropological romance novel.

As April opened, I re-read a gothic romance while on a train to visit my new love and my friend Missy re-read a philosophical horror novel I’d never read by an author who also wrote a series of books I almost re-read this year.

In May, I confessed to my history as a reader of romance novels and I re-read my first “real” romance novel, by a writer I’ve never read again, and then re-read a romance by a writer whose mysteries I still read, conflicted though I may be about enjoying them.

June saw me at my love’s house, re-reading a young adult trilogy by an author who disappeared for ten years and then became wildly popular again as two of her series were made into t.v. shows. My friend Mary re-read folk tales right around the same time her book of poetry inspired by folk tales was published.

July brought me heartache, but I pushed on and re-read a horror novel by the author my sister introduced me to at age ten and my friend Noel re-read another horror novel by a more famous horror novelist.

August took me back to school, re-reading three books I was assigned as a student, one of which I hated and one of which I loved, and I got on the road for the Residency Road Trip. Blogger Lisa re-read another canonical tome that impacted her.

September was an oasis of calm, of thinking, reading and writing and I re-read a speculative science thriller and my friend James re-read a magical realistic family saga by an author who died this year.

In October, I returned to “real life” and New Orleans, wrapping up the Residency Road Trip and settling back in. I struggled to re-read the book I’d originally scheduled for October and at the last minute changed it to a magical realistic romantic tale as my Peauxdunque cohort Emily re-read a romantic Civil War saga.

During November, I conducted my own private NaNoWriMo and happily re-read an adventure tale based on an ancient Iraqi folktale while another Peauxdunque cohort, Joi, re-read a gothic horror novel about suburbia and family (not written by Gillian Flynn).

December finds me in a familiar place – swimming through chaos and uncertainty. My friend Rachel re-read a satirical science fiction novel and I struggled, once more, to re-read the book I’d originally scheduled for October: a fantasy novel published in 1992 by an author who has switched to writing mysteries. (If you can guess what the book is from that description, let me know.) I’ve always remembered this book as one of my favorites, though I might’ve only read it once (it’s recorded in 1996, when I was 14, but I find it hard to believe I only read it one time). I was excited to re-read this book all year long – it was one of the first titles that went on my list. Several times, as I read other books, I thought of this book. There’s an artist protagonist, so I thought it would be perfect after living with an artist for a month at the residency. But, as I dove in, the book never really caught my attention. I was fifty pages in when I started again this month, so I had a head start and I still couldn’t get invested. It finally got a bit more interesting when I passed the 100 page mark last night, but I’m a firm believer that there is a time for every book in a person’s life. And I finally had to admit that I’m just not meant to re-read this book this year. Maybe next year.

This year, I re-read and wrote about 21 books (rather than the 12 I’d originally intended) and my friends wrote 10 fabulous guest essays about books they re-read. Interesting stats: of the ten guests, eight are women and two are men. Even more interesting: I’ve only read 2.5 of the 10 books my guests re-read (the .5 is for Mary’s folk takes because while I didn’t read her edition, I’ve probably read most of the stories), though I have started reading, but never finished, half of them. I didn’t assign any of the titles my guests picked, though we did discuss them in advance and I sometimes scheduled them according to what I was re-reading (Noel in July most notably).

It turns out that the Re-Reading Project is going to continue, with a new slate of books and in a different form. Let me know if you’re interested in re-reading and writing about your experience and stay tuned. In the meantime, you can use this post as an index (or scavenger hunt, if you prefer) for all of the essays for the 2014 Re-Reading Project. 

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The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: Watchers

On his thirty-sixth birthday, May 18, Travis Cornell rose at five o’clock in the morning. He dressed in sturdy hiking boots, jeans, and a long-sleeved, blue-plaid cotton shirt. He drove his pickup south from his home in Santa Barbara all the way to rural Santiago Canyon on the eastern edge of Orange County, south of Los Angeles. He took only a package of Oreo cookies, a large canteen full of orange-flavored Kool-Aid, and a fully loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Chief’s Special.

I used to sit in front of my mom’s bookcase, inspecting the books she collected. When my mom gave me permission to read an adult book, I was ready. Watchers was the book I chose.

The 1987 hardback edition.  The cover design was distinctly different from most of the books I’d been allowed to read up to that point—black background, bold letters, and that red footprint.

Watchers

The description on the back cover enticed: “From a top secret government laboratory come two genetically altered life forms. One is a magnificent dog of astonishing intelligence. The other, a hybrid monster of a brutally violent nature. And both are on the loose…

To a 9-year-old girl who wished for Dr. Doolittle-like powers, a highly intelligent dog as a main character was an irresistible draw. And the golden retriever charmed me all those years ago. My favorite authors up to that point included Jim Kjelgaard, Albert Payson Terhune, and Walter Farley. If the book featured an animal, it was probably on my to-read list. I loved Watchers and continued to praise it long after I’d forgotten exactly what made me love it so much. In fact, it remained one of my favorite Dean Koontz novels for many years (my favorite being Oddkins).

I was intrigued with revisiting this book—my doorway out of the children’s section. But the experience of reading Watchers was quite different after more than 20 years. It was difficult for me to care about or even be interested in any of the characters other than Einstein (the dog) and the Outsider (the monster). It was particularly unmoving. Reading a horrific scene in the book, I thought I should be much more repulsed and saddened about what happened. A lack of depth kept me from connecting to the story or the characters and I just couldn’t bring myself to invest them. I neither liked nor hated Travis, Nora (the humans of the story), or any of the other major players. Through their ordeals, I could only wonder how many more pages I had to get through before the end.  Eh, okay, was about the only emotion the book elicited from me.

Amazing what years can do to change your opinion of something. At first, I felt somewhat like I’d been disappointed by a childhood hero. But then I came to appreciate what rereading Watchers showed me—how far I’ve come as a reader and as a person. After reading Watchers as a little girl, I quickly moved on to more Dean Koontz books, as well as all the other offerings on my mom’s bookcase—Erle Stanley Gardner, Tony Hillerman, Rex Stout, Tom Clancy, Chaucer, Robert Louis Stevenson—experiencing all kinds of books. I read almost every genre and enjoyed something from each. Eventually I developed a fondness for classic literature and fantasy novels.

So while Watchers did not stand the test of time for me, I cannot dislike the book. It holds its special place for me, encouraging me into a bigger world of reading. Still, don’t expect to see this title on a recommended reading list from me anytime soon.

***

Aimee Lewis is an editor, working mostly with nonfiction. Her most recent accomplishment was beating her son at a game of Candyland. Finally.

Credit: Jerri Hammonds

Photo Credit: Jerri Hammonds

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Re-Reading in the World: Harriet the Spy in EW

I considered re-reading Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy last month for the Re-Reading Project, but ran out of time (I ended up re-reading twice as many books in January as I’d originally planned). Reading through my Entertainment Weekly yesterday, as I religiously do, I saw a great book essay by Hillary Busis about Harriet the Spy (as well as Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) turning 50 this year.

Busis writes about how influential Harriet was for her, growing up 30 years after the book’s 1960s setting:

…I identified so fully with Harriet–her emotions, fear of change, frustration, and loneliness–that she instantly felt like an old friend. Inspired by her, I even started keeping a journal in which I carefully wrote mean things about my friends. During a fateful fifth-grade camping trip, that choice came back to bite me…hard. (P.S. Katy, Julia, Whitney, Kate–I’m still sorry.)

Despite that episode, Harriet wasn’t a bad influence. My bond with her was so strong precisely because her faults and virtues mirrored my own.

It occurs to me that troublesome female characters like Harriet (and Gilly Hopkins and Sammy Keyes) are especially important for young girls, who so often absorb society’s message that their job is to please others, which usually means not pleasing themselves. They’re not supposed to be nosy, or stubborn, or rambunctious, but they often are these things, or feel these things, and they need heroines who show them that it’s okay to be however they are, to ask questions and accept no one’s answers but the ones they find for themselves.

Have no fear, there will be a Re-Reading post for February–I’m working on it now. And I’ll have a guest post from my sister soon (together, she and I were little girls much like Harriet, Gilly and Sammy and we remain partners in crime today). If you’ve been enjoying theses posts, I hope you’ll consider re-reading an influential book and writing about it, like Maurice has done and Aimee is doing.

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The Re-Reading Project: The Boxcar Children

One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.

Originally published by Gertrude Chandler Warner in 1924, The Boxcar Children is 90 years old this year! A significantly edited version of the book, with new illustrations, was re-published in 1942, and this is the version of the book that most people know and that I originally read, probably before I was 10 years old.

My sister Aimee had a copy and I was bored in her room one day and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. I was strong reader from a very early age and the book is known for its simple language and is often used to teach reading and English to young students. Thereafter, I often wanted to incorporate the idea of being independent children creating civilized lives in the wildness as part of our playtime fantasies. The fact that the four children in the book are independent of parents and make their own way is probably a big factor in its continued success.

The version I read now, as an adult in 2014, was a 60th anniversary edition (of the 1942 publication), published in 2002,with a short essay by Mary Ellen Ellsworth, who wrote a biography of Warner, pictures of Warner, and an open letter from Warner to children about what inspired the book.

Boxcar Children

Warner wrote 19 books in the Boxcar Children series. After the first one, they became mysteries, with the four children something like the Scooby Doo gang (they even have a dog named Watch), or younger versions of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. There are more than 150 titles now, the newest ones taking place in more recent years and the children somehow reverting back in age (though Warner wrote the oldest, Henry, going off to college). I don’t think I read any of the later books, just the first one.

It remained large in my imagination, though I don’t think I ever re-read it until now. I think the aspects that I liked about The Boxcar Children were probably very close to what I later liked about The Swiss Family Robinson (I loved the movie and had a Disney compendium with an abridged version, but didn’t read the full version of Swiss Family Robinson till 2004, when I was 22). The book was a quick read, taking only about an hour. While I found it a bit sanctimonious and dated in tone, I still found it charming and appealing. I can see what struck me about it as a young child and why children still read and love the series.

One last note of possible interest – Gertrude Chandler Warner’s sister Frances was also a writer and was on the staff of The Atlantic Monthly. Like Aimee and I, they wrote stories together as girls and later in their lives, they published two joint collections of their essays.

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NaNoWriMo 2013 Days 16-18

So, back on Day 15, after I posted my update, I went to a fantastic concert at House of Blues’s Parish Room (which is also where I saw Lissie’s phenomenal show a few years ago). I was looking forward to Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes for *weeks*, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go till the day of the show. While waiting for my friends N. and M. outside, I saw a guy who looked vaguely familiar with a lady who didn’t look familiar at all. We had a pretty typical New Orleans conversation:

Me: “Hey, do you know where I know you from?”

Him: “No, but you sure do look familiar to me, too.”

Me (shrug): “Well, it’ll come up again some day, I’m sure.”

And then it took a turn for the surreal, which is still fairly typical of New Orleans conversations:

Her: “Hey, this guy just gave us two tickets to this show and we can’t stay for it. Do you want these tickets?”

Me: “Oh *hell* yeah!” (snatches tickets).

Still, no clue how I know him. Except now I know them both as concert ticket-bequeathing angels.

The Honorable South opened the show, which was exciting. I found out about them when my friends Adam Gambrel and Jax Baker directed and produced the music video for their song The Beast. Realized while grabbing links just now that more friends worked on it: Jil Szewski and Natalie Johnson. Adam’s just directed another video for their new song Saint Charles Parish.

Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes were everything I’d hope they’d be. N’s friend A. joined us and we totally danced a loopy awesome swing style dance in the midst of the packed crowd. It was probably totally obnoxious to everyone around us, but also totally awesome. It was just one of those nights. I hope you have one or two soon, yourself.

I worked on Day 16 and had another long, fantastic social evening. No words! Ditto with Day 17, except it (Sunday) included a performance of Waiting for Godot at Tulane, attending with a friend with friends in the cast. It was really funny and well-done. Afterwards, we had to sustain ourselves with steak. So, still no words.

So I broke my no-word streak today. After a long day of work, I had an hour-long word war with Sis. At first, I didn’t know what to write. I started reading the next chapter of my book, looking for sections that could use shoring up or extra scenes. And I got inspired. As I was writing the scene, I realized that I may completely discard it, but that it was telling me something about how I felt the story had to go. By the end of the scene, I was fairly sure I’d keep the scene and change the rest of the book. The magic of NaNoWriMo.

I wrote 1,215 words, which brings my total so far this year to 10,538 words. I need more than 3,000 daily in order to hit 50,000 words by the 30th, so it’s increasingly unlikely I’ll “win” this year. But what an educational adventure it’s been. And at least I creeped over the 10K hurdle. In my worst year, I only wrote 6,827 words. So, I’ve already done better than my worst. It’s all gravy after that!

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NaNoWriMo 2013 Days 12-15

Work and tango on Day 12, no words. More work, lots of work, on Day 13. Managed a scant 562 during two word wars with Sis at the end of the night. However, since I’m not just counting words, I’ll say I’m happy with the character insights and sketches I gained.

Day 14 was the third installment of Tango X, which required a bit of setup and errand running and then, lots and lots of dancing. I got to assist during the class beforehand, which was so much fun. Overall, I spent about 7 hours at the venue and was wrecked when I finally got home. Wrote a whole 189 words, though. Count ’em and weep! Here’s a cool picture from Tango X:

Dancers at Tango X

Today, Day 15, I word warred with RedStickRedHead for a half an hour. At first, I was distracted and didn’t know what to write about, so I “wasted” the first few minutes. Then, in about 25 minutes, I cranked out 888 words and a pretty cool scene. I’m up to 9,323 words total so far.

My goal was to “finish” new words on The Winter Circus by today and move on to Tango Face for the rest of the month. I’m not finished with TWC, so I haven’t decided whether I’ll push on or if I’ll write new words for Tango Face in the remaining two weeks. What do y’all think?

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NaNoWriMo 2013 Days 9 and 10

Yesterday sucked – no words. Still sick, but today I was able to really baby my cold and try to get better. Watched movies and read, then went to see 12 Years a Slave. I’m incredibly proud to have worked on this project because I think it’s one of the most important movies that’s been made in a long, long time.

In the last hours of today, Sis and I had three back-to-back 30 minute word wars, which really helped. Today’s my best day so far, word-wise: 1,743, bringing my total to 7,017.

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NaNoWriMo 2012 Day 7

I got busy and distracted, and I let my lead console me even when I didn’t have a lead anymore. Also, I hit a part of the story that’s a bit slower. So while I know what happens next, I wasn’t as compelled to write because I wasn’t in the middle of any particular action. It was easier to suspend.

Aimee and I word warred late, just before midnight, but we both fell asleep in the middle of it. I don’t know about her,  but I didn’t manage many words before I conked out.

Day 7 word count: 112

Total word count (so far): 10,768

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NaNoWriMo 2012 Day 1 + Day 2

Exhausted from a busy Halloween evening, I met Jessica for a short 20-minute word war yesterday morning. I clocked only 390 words, hand-writing into a notebook. I fumbled around a bit, trying to find that first scene that would uncork the words. It was tough to concentrate because I was so tired and I had a lot of work to do. But, it was nice to have that first word war to kick off NaNoWriMo 2012 because I might’ve let the excuses keep me from writing any words.

It was a busy day that included some housekeeping because I’m trying to clear out the junk in my loft (which is where my home office is) and get everything together for a community yard sale that’s coming up. That evening, I typed up my words from the initial word war and then managed 439 more before giving in to sleep.

Day 1 word count: 829

Today, Jessica and I met again and this time had a 30-minute word war. I bribed us both with 2 pieces of Halloween candy. We would earn ours only if we reached 1,000 words during our 30 minutes. We both won, so the candy bribe worked. I was just over with 1,015. Jessica had a few more than me.

After she left, I stayed at the coffee shop and I’ve just written 360 more words. I was careful to stop right before a scene that will be pretty long and action-driven, which I’m excited to write. This will make it easier to dive right in when I come back to it later today. That’s the theory, at least.

Day 2 word count (so far): 1,375

I’ll update later, after I tackle the day’s tasks.

[Evening update 8:05 p.m.]

After lunch and errands, Aimee and I word warred and each did alright. I got 595 words then. Later, I went back to the scene I was working on and did another 1,628 words, so I caught up and got a little bit ahead! It feels good and I hope this trend lasts. It would be good to finish a few days early this time around.

End of Day 2 word count: 3,598.

Total word count (so far): 4,427.

Also, I’m a little obsessed with the new stats page. It will be a good motivator, I think.

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The Grandma Road Trip – Leg Six

Leg Six: Acworth to New Orleans, 498.3 miles

Tuesday, September 11th: I left after Atlanta’s rush hour, managing to get a little sleep and after a tough goodbye with Mums. We’d gotten so used to traveling together, to sharing a small space together, it felt strange to make this last leg alone. I stopped for an early lunch with Aimee and then again, later, to make some calls for the movie, wrapping up some loose ends. Otherwise, the trip was uneventful, except for the end.

As soon as I arrived in Nola, I went straight to rehearsals for the NO Show. It turned out our leading lady was out of town and I would have to voice one of the lead parts during the live recording the next day, with Helen voicing the other. After rehearsal, I met Jamey for dinner. Normally, I would’ve just collapsed after a trip home from GA, but I still wasn’t done. I changed clothes in the bathroom, then went to tango! I didn’t dance very much, mostly just caught up with everyone since I hadn’t seen them for about two weeks.

It was midnight before I got home, which I’d last seen about 15 days previously, before Hurricane Isaac and before this insane road trip with my mom. I was so glad to be home in Nola, but I found myself missing Mums and everybody I’d gotten so used to seeing while on The Grandma Road Trip.

More than anything, I was just glad we had done it, glad to have spent the time with family and made the memories, glad to be safely home and to find my home safely waiting for me.

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