Catching up

The Snow Child in Lithuania.

Dear longtime reader,

When I worked as a newspaper reporter, we would print breaking stories and then months later realize that we never let our readers know the outcome of the story. I’m afraid I’m guilty of this as a blogger. So today, I want to follow up on a few items I have mentioned in my letters to you:

  • The Ice Rink: A Bust  I’m afraid our backyard ice rink was doomed from the beginning of this very snowy winter. Even if we had figured out how to haul enough water to fill in the frame, it snowed so much this winter it would have been a full-time job just trying to keep it dug out. I had nearly forgotten about it until this last week when the snow began to melt. There it is — the remains of our ice skating dreams. But maybe there is hope for next winter because …
  • A well. Sam and I are in the midst of scheduling the drilling of our well this summer. It’ s an exciting but somewhat daunting prospect. Some of our neighbors have 100-foot, clear running wells, while others had to blast through bedrock and go down more than 300 feet. And there’s no guarantee you’ll ever hit water. But we’re going to cross our fingers and hope for the best. I’ll keep you posted … I promise.
  • Have you seen the snow child? Some time ago I mentioned wanting people to submit photos and images of the snow child — snow sculptures, maybe drawings or artwork that called the fairy tale to mind. Many readers have been posting fabulous images on The Snow Child Facebook page. It has been wonderful to see all the different interpretations, images of fox and ice princesses and much more. If you would like to share an image, please post it on the Facebook page.
  • Faina travels the world. This week I got news that The Snow Child will be published in China by OmniBook in Taipei. In addition, the English language version distributed by my UK publisher Headline has made its way to India. That brings us up to more than 20 languages and around 30 countries, that I know of. Last week a reader posted an image of the Lithuanian cover on The Snow Child Facebook page. What an amazing journey Faina has taken us on!

So now that I’ve caught up on a few things, I was wondering — is there anything else I’ve forgotten? Do you have any questions for me?

Cheers!

Eowyn

Did I “read” that book?

Dear listener,

For years, when people asked if I had read The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, I would stumble around on my words. In fact, it was one of my favorite books ever, but somehow I felt like I hadn’t earned the right to say that. Because (this is where I lean in closer to you and lower my voice to a whisper) I listened to an audio version of it.

BUT it was unabridged, and I listened to every word, and if I sound defensive it’s because I am.

For some reason I’ve always felt like a cheater when I listen to a book rather than read it. In fact, I eventually read the print version of The Shipping News, partly because I loved it so much, but also because I didn’t want any more of those awkward social moments. Now I can state loudly and perhaps too emphatically, “Yes, I have read that.”

Yet I suspect it’s a silly, slightly snobby way of looking at books. Of course listening counts. And I know there are books I’ve finished and ultimately really enjoyed because it was an audio book. The Shipping News is one of them. Several people recommended it to me, but every time I started the first few pages, I found it so depressing I couldn’t go on.

One winter I was running a trapline north of our home. I had an hour drive to get to the trail. To pass the time, I decided to listen to The Shipping News. At first it was sad and slow, but before long I was reluctant to leave the warm truck and incredible story when I arrived at the trail head. I would sit there for a few minutes, listening, before finally turning off the truck and putting on my backpack.

I’m not running a trapline this year, but for other reasons I’ve been making frequent trips to Anchorage. It’s about an hour-and-a-half drive, one way, from our house. So when I was at the Sutton Public Library the other day, I picked up Bill Bryson’s At Home on CD. He is an author I’ve always wanted to read, but I rarely make time for nonfiction.

The book was fascinating to listen to as I drove. I learned about how silverware first came into use, and how people’s fancy wigs used to get infested with vermin, and why concrete houses never became popular. Bryson’s voice is wry and clever, and he seems to let his curiosity carry him, and the listener, from one odd fact to another.

I was disappointed when it was over. But the next time I was at the library, I picked up the unabridged audio of In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson. Again this is a narrative nonfiction, this one set in Germany during the rise of Hitler. It follows the fate of the unusual American ambassador to Germany at the time. Again, this is not typically my kind of book — I mostly read novels. But it is an incredible story, and with just two CDs left, I find myself bringing it in from the car each afternoon so I can listen to more of it while I wash the dishes.

Even as I’ve listened to these audio history books, I’ve read a half-dozen print novels. And I wonder if I’m experiencing them differently, the audio versus the print.

Do you ever listen to audio books?  And do you feel the same about them as print books you’ve read?

Cheers!

Eowyn

From fairy tale to novel to snowy animation

Dear artistic reader,

I first struck on the idea for my novel The Snow Child when I discovered the Russian fairy tale Snegurochka. An old man and woman have one great sorrow — they are unable to have children — but one night they build a little girl out of snow, and she comes to life. This simple folktale has been told through lacquer paintings, opera, ballet, and many other forms. But my own inspiration came from a paperback children’s version of the story with illustrations by the Alaskan artist Barbara Lavallee.

So it is wonderful and surprising, with my novel now published, to learn that The Snow Child is continuing this chain of inspiration. Having read my book, a UK artist completed a series of  ice sculptures and ultimately produced this “ice animated” short film in Finland. It is beautiful and magical.

 

In his blog, the sculptor wrote:

In October a publishing firm had sent me a proof of a book called the Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, it had not been published at the time and I found it quite magical and was very lucky to read it before anyone else.  This led to me writing my own story about an Angel that Had No Wings, and this became the theme for an Ice Sculpture Trail in Bradford.  So it dawned on me that this girl would want to play with the Lights that I think are just simply Life, the sparkle of Life that is within us all that just wants to play.  But as with many things that sparkle is often shy and they run away from the girl.

You can read more about the film on his blog, at www.sandsculptureice.co.uk/blog/.

With much gratitude to the talented artist Jamie, and cheers to you all,

Eowyn

Recipe for starting your own book club

Dear companionable reader,

A woman recently sent me a kind message on Twitter — she enjoyed The Snow Child and wanted to discuss it with other readers. Did I have any suggestions for starting up a book club?

Her question got me thinking about my own book club. About nine years ago, my mom read the novel Unless by Carol Shields and couldn’t decide what she thought of it, or what it meant. She asked me to read it, and we spent the next several jogs together discussing it. But we still felt unsatisfied, so we decided to start a book club.

I have mentioned The Betties in earlier letters to you. We are a group of women of varied ages, political backgrounds, and careers. But one of our commonalities — we all love to read.

I’ve also attended several other book clubs recently as an author to discuss The Snow Child. One was organized through a local church, and the women met at 11 a.m. on a weekday with a potluck brunch. Another was a neighborhood club that gathered on a weekend evening at a house at the end of a long, snowy road. There were men and women, wine, moose meatballs, salads, and guacamole. Another group was coordinated through a local library, met on a Saturday morning, and featured hot coffee, sweet breads, and fresh strawberries.

They all were fun, engaging groups. So what’s the recipe for a good book club?

You begin with the people. And I don’t necessarily think they all have to be people you know really well. Acquaintances can make great club members, because the one thing you’ll have in common is the book.

There might already be a group organized through a local library or bookstore, but if you want to start your own, reach out to friends, coworkers, neighbors, acquaintances from the local coffee shop or bookstore. A diversity of age and background is helpful because it can provide more depth to the discussion.

A lot of clubs, it seems, are all women. I know of one local group that is restricted to men. Originally we had wanted to include both men and women but at the time couldn’t find any men who were willing to sign on, and hence we became The Betties.

While you might begin by being open to whoever stops by, I’ve found that in the long run book clubs do best with a stable membership. Over time, you will hopefully establish a rapport and comfort level, and even develop your own inside jokes having to do with the books you’ve read. To protect that feeling of safety and familiarity, you might want to close to new members at some point.

From what I’ve seen, 6 to 12 members is rather ideal.

So besides the people, the only absolutely necessity? No, not food and wine, although those are nice, too. Books. Some clubs choose books for the entire year and make up a schedule. In our group, we just pick the next read the night of book club. It allows for some spontaneity. If someone has just heard of a new book or has a recommendation, we can jump in.

We try to read everything — fiction, nonfiction, new release bestsellers, classics, translations. We read poems during National Poetry Month (which is April, by the way.) And at least once a year we choose a young reader book so our children can join in.

Perhaps surprisingly, books we all enjoy are sometimes duds for a discussion. “I liked it” “Yep, me, too” “So … how is Jenny liking fifth grade?”

Instead, complex, layered, controversial books often lead to the most intense conversations.

Another smaller, but also important, detail: where to meet? Library meeting rooms, coffee shops,  and bookstores are all great options. Our own group rotates among the members’ homes. There are a couple of advantages — visiting someone’s house can make you feel more connected. It also allows us to do a potluck meal. We each bring a salad, dessert, or main dish, as well as a bottle or two of wine.

But if you’re just starting out, you don’t know the club members well, or you don’t want to have to frantically clean your house, then a public place is a great way to go.

As for the discussion, you can opt for formally organized or more relaxed. To keep things on task, some groups I know assign a discussion leader for each  meeting. They bring talking points, questions, background information, etc. While I suspect this works well for guiding the discussion, we Betties have opted for a more casual approach. We just start talking. Someone will often read aloud a passage they enjoyed or questioned. Another person will sometimes bring historical background or further reading.

For about an hour or so, we concentrate on the book, asking each other questions, trying to probe more deeply into the text. Then the discussion is usually drawn to other matters — our children, our jobs, our pets, our trials and tribulations.

But that can also be the joy of a book club: you begin with books, and end in friendship.

I’d love to hear from you — are you in a book club? How is it organized? Or are you thinking of starting one?

Cheers!

Eowyn

Monday news from around the world

Dear April reader,

Thank you again for your lists of things that make you happy. And all of you were right — just reading them made me happier!

Today I want to share a few news items with you, including some upcoming events:

Miranda Richardson

* BBC’s Book at Bedtime has produced an adaptation of The Snow Child with the amazing Miranda Richardson narrating. The first of 10 episodes airs tonight in the UK. It eventually will be archived on their website, where you will you be able to listen to it as well. I had a chance to hear a recording of it earlier. They have adapted the novel seamlessly, and Miranda Richardson is fabulous at the different voices. You might know the actress from movies like Harry Potter, in which she played Rita Skeeter, and The Hours, Enchanted April, Chicken Run, and many others.

* Join me on Twitter later this week for a tweet chat with the book club for Chatelaine Magazine in Canada. You just need an account on Twitter, and then follow the hashtag #ChatBooks. The tweet chat will be Thursday, April 5, at 8 pm EDT.

* Friday Reads is hosting a giveaway of The Snow Child this week. Friday Reads is an online community of book lovers, and you can learn more about how it works and how to get involved by clicking here. More about the contest can be found here.

* Kate Evans with Australia’s Radio National recently interviewed me. She had such great questions, and the editing and sound effects were lovely. If you’re interested in listening, click here.

Andromeda Romano-Lax

* Earlier this winter I was fortunate enough to participate in an on-stage discussion at the Anchorage Museum with fellow Alaskan novelist Andromeda Romano-Lax (author of The Detour and The Spanish Bow.) The conversation is now available online — click here to listen.

I know some of you who read my letters are just getting introduced to blogs, so I want to explain the many links in this letter. If you put your mouse arrow on the words that are highlighted and underlined, and then click, a new page in your browser will open with the website page I want to share with you.

Cheers!

Eowyn

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