Peter Pan

I’m not really a tattoo person.

It’s not that I don’t like them, really, more just that tattoos are expensive, and I would rather spend the money on books or bookshelves or writing pens or possibly food and cleaning supplies and toilet paper.

Or books. Because, you know, I’m a responsible adult with my own house, and I totally don’t run low on practical items.

Ahem

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But, if I were going to get a tattoo, it would definitely be a very tiny silhouette of Peter Pan and Tinker Bell behind my left ear. (Not that I’ve actually thought about this extensively or anything.) There is something about this book that connected with me on a very personal level the first time I read it. I am a writer, a storyteller, and I spend my spare time wandering in the worlds that I’ve created. Writing, as anyone who takes their writing seriously can tell you, is work. It’s lovely work, but it is work. When I get up in the morning I treat it like a job, which means I show up and do the work whether I feel like it or not.

But creativity, in its finest form, is childlike. It isn’t nine to five in an office, it isn’t a shopping list or a five year plan, or a schedule.

To me, it’s Neverland.

If you want to be an author, you have to be able to balance those two. Peter Pan, both as this glorious little book, and the Disney movie which I unashamedly watch regularly, helps me to do that. It reminds me that, however hard I have to work, however many jobs I have to have to fund my crazy ambition as a writer and an author, it’s worth it. Because my books are my Neverland. They are the places where I can forget about nine to five, cleaning supplies, and sixty hour weeks, and instead wander forests and ruins, listen to the trees whispering under a pale moon, or watch the stars on a winter’s night. Too often, when I am working too hard and writing has become a chore, I forget that.

Peter Pan reminds me of it again.

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I love this book because not only is it a wonderfully told story of childhood and imagination, but it is also written in a very childlike way. Not condescendingly, as so many children’s books are now, but beautifully. In a way that makes you want to read it aloud. Everything about this book, from Peter searching for his wayward shadow, to Wendy Darling and her thimble-kiss, to Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys, to Tiger Lily and her wonderful Indian tribe, is a safe haven for me in many ways. Captain Hook is a deliciously evil villain, the mermaids are malicious and beautiful, and Neverland itself seems to have a personality of its own, as if it were another character all by itself in this charming story. As a writer, I enjoy returning to this book again and again, whether I need to be reminded of why I keep writing or not. Oddly enough, it has become more a part of my adulthood than it ever was a part of my childhood.

I sometimes wonder if J.M. Barrie intended that. After all, it’s the adults who have to be reminded to use their imaginations.

Not children.

A moment after the fairy’s entrance the window was blown open by the breathing of the little stars, and Peter dropped in. He had carried Tinker Bell part of the way, and his hand was still messy with the fairy dust.

While They Weep

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The sky is weeping. It has been like this for three days, raining as though it would like to flood us from our homes, wash the trees from the ridge lines. Abba says it is because Amma is sick. He says the skies are weeping for her, because she will leave us soon. I think he has already buried her in his mind. I can see him grieving.

But I am not ready to let her go so easily. My brothers and I are going to take her to the missionary village down at the end of the valley, whether Abba will let us or not. The forest is drenched, the paths slick with mud, and the rains will not let up, but we are going anyway.

I will not let her die without a fight.

We tuck her frail little body into her hammock and cover her with palm leaves to keep the rain out. She does not weigh much, not anymore, so it will not be very hard for my brothers and I to carry her, even so far and even in the rain. Abba comes to say goodbye to us when we leave. He kisses her goodbye, but I can see in his eyes that he does not think he will see her again, or us either. Not many people can travel the trails in such a storm, fighting the mud and the rain, and keep away from the spirits that haunt our trees at the same time. But we will do it. For Amma’s sake, we’ll risk what ruin may come.

I will not let her die like this.

We start down the trail at once, and I lose sight of him immediately. The thick forest, the jungle, the undergrowth and the trees, they get in my way. I don’t know if I will see him again either. Secretly, I am afraid of the spirits, although I won’t say so.

The sky weeps as I whisper my farewell.

Our Father

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Our Father, who art in heaven…

I hear the door of the nave creak as he comes in. The sanctuary is dark, only the candles around the altar still burning. I stand beside them, my eyes on the cross above the altar, and hold my breath as he comes down the aisle. I can already smell the salt on him, the fresh, pungent scent of the waves and the reek of the tar. He lights a candle, kneels down near me, and my heart misses a beat at the mockery of his muttered prayers.

Hollowed be thy name…

“Good evening, Father,” he says aloud, his voice quiet in the hush of the church. “Were you expecting me?”

Thy kingdom come…

I swallow. “I was. Did you bring them?”

He laughs. “I did. Twenty odd girls. Some are pretty young. Are you sure you’d like to be caught paying for girls that young?”

The sarcasm in his voice stings. Am I sure? Of course I’m sure. Anything to get those girls off the docks, away from the men that prey on them. The farm we take them to is ready, the extra rooms already set up. They can see the sky there, hear the wind in the trees. Find their souls again, after they’ve been crushed and beaten on by men who are closer to devils than flesh and blood.

Thy will be done…

“Do you have the money?” he asks.

“I do.” The money our parishes have been saving for weeks, waiting for him to arrive. We can’t take the children from him, not by force, but we can buy them before others do. It’s the wrong thing, we all know it, but it’s all we can do for the moment. It will have to do until our other plan is ready.

On earth as it is in heaven…

Matilda

I have a confession about this one.

I didn’t actually read it.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I have never, in my entire life, picked up a physical copy of this book and read it through start to finish.

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Instead, I listened to it on Audible, narrated by the lovely and brilliant Kate Winslet.

Usually, I insist on reading a book before I would even think of getting the Audible version of it. (For one thing, audiobooks are expensive.) But they had a sale, and I was weak. Can books on sale be my weakness? I think that’s allowed.

It had better be allowed. Otherwise, I might be in trouble.

Anyway, if you haven’t heard the audio version of Matilda, please go buy it immediately and listen to it. It was incredible. Kate Winslet is a brilliant and wonderfully expressive reader, and her interpretation of this lovely little story was beyond charming. I was hooked from the first chapter.

As most of us probably know, Matilda is the story of a brilliant little girl growing up in a family that is—how shall we say—less brilliant. Her father is a crooked car salesman, and her mother plays bingo every afternoon. And so, little Matilda is left alone every day to fend for herself and find her own amusement. And every day, little Matilda walks herself down to the village library to sit in the big armchair that is much too large for her and read a book. Within a few weeks, she has read all of the children’s books the library has to offer, and the librarian offers her another, larger book. By Charles Dickens.

And so the classical education of a five year old begins. Matilda reads everything that she can get her hands on, and by the time she enters school, she is better read than many adults.

Miss Honey, her lovely young school teacher, is enchanted with Matilda’s potential, but thanks to a bullying headmistress—a woman as vicious as she is intimidating—Matilda is confined to the bottom class. With nothing to challenge her young mind, she quickly grows bored, and strange things begin to happen.

Thus begins one of my new favorite children’s books. Matilda was charming and witty, and in some ways, went far beyond the reaches of a regular children’s book. I found it a wonderful new treasure to add to my list of books read this year. Hopefully, one of these days, I’ll be able to sit down and read the book for myself.

Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy Kate Winslet’s version.

Silas Marner

I have a list on my computer of all of the books I’ve read this year.

Aside from giving me the satisfaction of reading through the titles, (it’s weird, I know) it has also made me realize what an odd mixture of books I read. Everything from children’s fiction to adult novels, biographies to classics, and YA to Greek myth can be found on that list, some of them obscure, some more well known.

One of those titles is Silas Marner.

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I liked this book straight from the beginning. I’ve read quite a few classics in the last few years, some as large as Les Miserables, some quite a bit smaller. (Beowulf, for example.) However many I’ve read, I think Silas Marner would be among my favorites.

(Fun fact: how many of you knew that George Elliot was actually a women? Be honest.)

Anyway, something in this story struck a chord in me. Silas Marner, a stingy, lonely old man, is viewed as something of an oddity in the small village where he lives. He’s a weaver by trade, and, as the book explains, weavers are all a little odd. The only ray of light in his dull existence is his gold, which he obsesses over. Every night, when his work is finished, his candle lit, and his door closed to the darkness gathering in the hamlet outside, he takes it out of its hiding place, sits at the table, and counts it. Over and over again. Admiring the way the coins catch the light, the color of the gold, the weight in his hands. It becomes his whole life, consumes his existence.

Until one day, the gold disappears.

After an initial panic, and a search for a thief who has left no trace, Silas is forced to resign himself to the fact that his gold—and the only happiness he had in his lonely life—is gone. He retreats into himself, mourning the loss of his treasure, until, one snowy night, a child appears on his doorstep.

A child with a dead mother and an absent father. A girl with hair as gold as the coins he lost.

Little Eppie.

To the surprise of the villagers and the local squire, Silas instantly volunteers to take Eppie in and raise her. What follows is a complete transformation, as a man who had cut himself off from the world and sworn off of friendship discovers the joy of loving another human being. The pale, self-consuming light he thought he lost when his gold was stolen is engulfed by the very real pleasure that only a child can bring into a home. Eppie’s presence in his home brings him out of his shell, away from his loom, and into the company of those people he so avidly avoided for twenty years. And, it eventually leads him back to a faith he was sure he’d lost.

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This book painted a beautiful picture of the need of the human heart for love and companionship, and the joy of simply sharing a moment with another soul. I found it to be a profoundly moving, brilliantly written book with a message that all of us need to hear from time to time.

To put it plainly, we need each other.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

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She always made me a PBJ as soon as we got to work. Eat it slow, she’d tell me, that’s all you get until lunch. Then she’d sit me on a stool in the corner of the kitchen, and I’d watch her cook.

No one else came to the kitchen as early as she did. She’d be there before the sun was up, chopping onions, frying bacon, whisking eggs. I remember watching her whip together a batter for pancakes for fifty people in a few minutes, her face flushed pink from the heat of the stoves, her eyes on the ingredients, her mind somewhere else entirely. She never measured her flour. I remember that too. She always seemed to know exactly how much to add. I never saw her work from a recipe, or a cookbook. She always just seemed to—know. Whether it was soup or a roast, a casserole or something else, she always knew exactly what it needed.

I’d sit and watch her, nibbling on my sandwich and waiting for the other cooks, the waiters and busboys and dishwashers to arrive. They’d come in slowly, some late, some early. None of them worked as hard as my mother. She was barely allowed to cook by now; she’d spent ten years washing dishes here. None of them were as determined to keep this job as she was.

I loved watching her cook. The others didn’t notice her very much, I think. She was so quiet. Not even the head chef seemed to realize she was in the back half the time. Maybe they were just so used to her that they didn’t see her anymore. But I did. I always saw her. To me, she was beautiful.

Reading on a Budget

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Books are expensive.

Let’s just all admit that right now. Books are a good way to go broke as quickly as possible, especially if you are like me and love the beautiful, hardback special editions of your favorite novels.

Someday, I will have bookshelves worth millions.

And I will still be broke.

Seriously, though, how do readers like us, who have budgets and rent and bills to pay, buy the books we’d love to own and still stay within a reasonable price range for the books we buy? (Without stealing pirated copies off the internet. Authors have to eat too, guys.)

Here are some of the ways that I buy books and still manage to have enough for groceries on the side.

1) Thrift Stores (NOT Used Bookstores)

Most of my books are secondhand. I browse through thrift store shelves on a regular basis, looking for anything that catches my fancy. Sometimes you find nothing, sometimes you find gold. (I found a brand new boxed set of the Hunger Games at a thrift store. Win!) The upside to this way of shopping is that you can find books for a dollar or two a piece, and usually add some fairly nice books to your collection.

The downside is that if you need a particular book—it can take months to find it.

Sometimes, you may not find it at all.

2) Save and Splurge

I have a few authors, (only one or two, mind) that I preorder books from. Their name pops up on Amazon, and I buy it, no questions asked. Everyone else . . . I wait around for. I’ll save up, or wait for birthday money or a gift card, or just stall until I really, really can’t wait anymore. Instant gratification will never, never do your bank account any good.

3) BookDepository.com

This website is a great resource if you’re looking for a particular book and don’t want to pay Amazon shipping. The pricing isn’t much different from Amazon, (unless you happen to find a book on sale, which does happen) but shipping is free, which always helps. If you have Amazon Prime, you’ll probably get a better deal there, though.

4) Trading at Used Bookstores

Okay, can we just all agree that used bookstores are expensive? Depending on where you go, the books can either be full price or only a few dollars less than buying them online or in Barnes and Noble. At least the ones that I’ve been to recently haven’t had such great bargains, no matter how old or worn the books are. At those prices, I would rather buy them brand new on Amazon and skip the underlined pages and marked up bindings.

Maybe it’s just where I live.

But, some of the stores that I’ve been to will take your old books, ones you’ve read or decided you’ll never get around to, in exchange for store credit. If you’re looking to get rid of some old novels to make room for new books on your shelves, go ahead and ask! You never know how much you may save.

In the end, book buying is just expensive. We’re paying for worlds to wander in and the incredible hard work and dedication of the author, and that is always worth the money we spend. If you can’t afford to buy the book quite yet, go to the library and check it out! Mention to the librarian that you just love this author, make a little fuss about them. Libraries will buy more copies, and the author will get more circulation. They’ll appreciate it, I promise.