Friday, February 25, 2011

50 in '11 Update: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon & The Lottery and Other Stories

Happy belated President's Day, Writer Friends, and a hearty huzzah to good old Abe and Georgie for getting us some time off of work! Over the long weekend I did some traveling, and in three days read two of my books for the 50 in '11 challenge: Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Other Stories.

My first impression on picking up Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was that I was glad to be buying a copy; the book as a physical object is one of the nicest I've ever seen. The whimsical cover (which looks rather dashing with its Newberry Honor sticker on it, I might add) is just the beginning of what makes this book gorgeous. The interior is full-color throughout, and each chapter is dotted with gorgeous illustrations that stay delightfully true to the story's tone and themes. On the matte pages, Grace Lin's beautiful illustrations at the head of each chapter look like original woodblock prints so fresh the ink is still drying. I love the typography; from the title page to the chapter text to the subtly different font used for the text of stories told within each chapter, it feels comfortable, playful and perfectly suited to a story of fairy tales within fairy tales. The care put into this book as a physical item is obvious.

And for all the beauty of the package that contains it, the writing itself doesn't disappoint. Grace Lin has an ear for lovely language, and the world she creates is spellbinding. Her story is sweet without being saccharine, and I love how both the main character and the adults around her undergo believable, meaningful transformations over the course of the story. Grace Lin does justice to the many Chinese fairy tales that inspired Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and at the same time creates a new one to stand worthily alongside them.

I highly recommend Where the Mountain Meets the Moon for readers of any age.

I also finished Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Other Stories over the weekend. I'd already read "The Lottery," so I expected more dystopian sentiments from this collection. I was surprised to find, however, that while just as dark, none of the other stories seem to take place in any world other than our own. From desperation in the country to self-loathing and lonesomeness in the city, they paint a bleak, desperate image of the lives of women in America. Few of the stories accompanying "The Lottery" in this collection take on the same epic-feeling scope as Jackson's most well-known story, but they all make something epic of the sometimes inexplicable actions of anonymous characters. I'd love to pick these stories apart from a psychoanalytic angle; there's so much there beneath the surface.

All in all, another one I'd recommend, especially for those interested in learning the craft of short story writing. These stories, like so many great short stories, are about moments; they are glimpses into a characters' psyche. And they are brilliant examples of how that can be done well.

Thoughts on these books? Questions? Share them in the comments! Next up, I'm reading The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, a childhood classic that I somehow missed.

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