Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Remembering Diana Wynne Jones

A few days ago a friend let me know that my favorite author, Diana Wynne Jones had passed away. I’m actually pretty devastated by this. No, this has nothing to do with Living History, but I felt I could not let this moment go by without telling everyone about this amazing author.

I came across my first novel by Diana Wynne Jones on the bargain table at a bookstore near my grandmother’s house. That day I purchased Jones’ Charmed Life, Still life with Wings, by Susan Kohn Green and Ashar of Quarious by Clare Cooper. I read them all voraciously, and have re-read them since. The one I re-read the most times was Charmed Life. Then a few years later I was browsing the little shelf of paperbacks that the 10th grade English teacher kept in his classroom. I picked up a Tale of Time City without realizing it was by the same author as Charmed Life. I devoured the book, I loved the characters, the story, the intense sense of danger mixed with amazing amounts of fun. I read it again. I read it again and kind of forgot to return it. I’m sorry Mr. Brandt.

A few years later I was working at a bookstore and playing around in the Books-In-Print database and decided to type in Tale of Time City to see what else I could find. This was in a time before wide internet availability, before Amazon, before Google. I was amazed to learn that the person who wrote Time City had also written Charmed Life, and many other books too! In fact, the store I was working in had copies of all of the books in the Dalemark Quartet. I think I hid them on the shelves until I could purchase them all. These books were a little different, a little more melancholy with a sense of the historic about them, but as a high school senior that suited me fine.

Over the next bunch of years I collected as many Diana Wynne Jones books as I could find. When Amazon.co.uk came along I even splurged on shipping and got some of the ones I could not find in the US. Many years later while living on Cape Cod and working at a different bookstore I found Deep Secret. It is to this day my favorite book. When my brother came to visit me, I asked if I could read aloud to him. I knew it was a strange request, he was a teenager, and we only had a few days before he went home, but he agreed and I started in on Deep Secret. Once we started, we did almost nothing else for days. He’d read sometimes, but most of the time he let me read, and I so enjoyed every minute. We actually did not finish the book until we were in the parking lot where were met up with Mom so she could pick him up and bring him home, but it was so worth it. I hear he has since read it aloud to a few female friends, lucky girls.

Not too long after, the Miyazaki movie version of Howl’s Moving Castle came out. There was only one theater on Cape Cod that played it, I think there were only three people in the theater the night I saw it. The main parts of the plot were there, but the characters were Miyazaki characters. They were not flawed yet lovable, they were not funny. The magic was so predictable, and not breathtakingly original like the book.  But I guess for a book adaptation it was not bad, it meant that the bookstore I was working at stocked more of her books, and I was able to pick up a few more of the tough to find titles.

When I met Stephen, one of the first gifts I gave him was a copy of Dogsbody. At the time he might not have realized that I was sharing with him a deep love in my life, but since then he’s figured it out. On the nights that we are laying in bed reading and I start hooting uncontrollably, or if he has to rush into the living room where I’ve been quietly reading for hours because he’s worried I’m hyperventilating, he inevitably discovers me reading a Diana Wynne Jones book. LOL has become a horrible cliché, but her books truly do make me gasp and roll about, even on the 2nd reading. Even on the 10th. I LOVE her sense of humor, it jumps right off the page at me.

I took Conrad’s Fate and Merlin Conspiracy with me to Ireland on vacation. When Stephen bought us both kindles, I got most of the Chrestomanci series in electronic format so I could always carry them around with me. During my first Christmas with nieces and nephews, I got the oldest girl copies of the first 4 Chrestomanci books, and let her know there were plenty more if she wanted them. In times of great stress I will almost inevitably curl up with a Diana Wynne Jones book, one that I have read 6 or 7 times, and am planning to read at least 100 more.

I know I will always have her books, that they will still comfort me and delight me, but it still makes me so very sad to think that she is gone from this world.

Neil Gaiman's Tribute
Emma Bull's Tribute
The School Library Journal

I also recommend typing "remembering Diana Wynne Jones" into Google. She may not have been incredibly well known, but by those who know her works she is extremely loved.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

The History of Living History

I’m not sure how much crossover there is between the readers of this blog and listeners to the Living History Podcast. Well, if you’re a listener you already know about this obsession, if you’re not. I’ve got a new/old obsession.

I love history and knowing how things came about. Just after college I took a couple of graduate level courses in history, and discovered historiography  (i.e. the history of the study of history) and though I did horribly in the classes, I totally latched on to the concept. When studying Medieval Europe it is essential to look at the history of thought about the Middle Ages. Those pesky Victorians did a lot to bring the Medieval back into fashion, but they did a lot of damage as far as mythmaking and historical theories as well. When I start in on a research project I enjoy not just learning facts from a certain era, but learning about how the ways we think about that era has changed over time. Which brings me to (one of) my current research topics: The history of Living History.

I want to know when people started dressing up in old clothes at organized events in order to portray times past. I want to know how the hobby that I engage in today got to be as popular as it is. I want to fit reenacting into a historical context all of its own. I am at the very early stages of my research, mostly just gathering resources right now. That is one of the reasons for the LH Bibliography page I’ve got here.

I’m also interested in proto-reenacting. Examples of people dressing up and performing history before reenacting got its start. There are tons of pageants with historical themes, and I am intrigued by pageants. But that seems like a whole other topic…

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Update to the LH Bibliography

I love to read. I read all the time. But it seems like there is always more to read and never enough time in which to read! I've added several more books to my LH Bibliography (top of the menu at right) and a movie! I'll jot down the new stuff here

At Reenactorfest a few weekends ago I picked up:

Living History, Brassey's Master Class by Philipp J.C. Elliot-Wright, 2000
which appears to be a book to help new reenactors pick a timeperiod, and portray it accurately. It is out of England and reminded me so much of:

Living The Past by Val Horsler, 2003
which is also out of England. I bought it for Stephen many years ago, and love pulling it back off the shelf but for some reason I had not put it on the list of books about Living History. It is definitely about Living History, even if it is more a tourist book than an academic one.

I also found this DVD at reenactorfest:

On His Majesty's Service, produced & directed by Maurice Depas, 2010
Stephen and I have watched it, but I think I want to watch it a second time before I review it.

Just recently a LHP listener and friend alerted me to a new article in Colonial Williamsburg's Magazine: Reflections on Reenacting: Seeking an Authentic Past in a Specious Present by D.A. Saguto, CW Journal, Winter 2011
Notes: Chock full of historical information and present information (like the number of current Civil War reenactors? I MUST find out where the author got that statistic.) Worth the read, I wish it was twice as long.

Included in the further reading section was a book I had not heard of:
War Games: Inside the World of Twentieth-Century War Reenactors by Jenny Thompson, 2004

And all this updating reminded me that my parents got me an LH book off my Amazon Wishlist:

Telling History: a manual for performers and presenters of first-person narratives by Joyce M. Thierer, 2009

I think those are all the updates for now. I'm sure I'll come up with more soon! Read this entry on entry page