Red Riding Hood Revisited


He preferred the dream. In the dream, he could run, he could play, and he could watch the fall of water through the canyon and smell the scent of growing things as he joyously pelted through the forest with the others. But when the dream ended, he would get pulled once again into the story, and there his choices would cease. He would be compelled once again to play out the story to its end. And the end was always the same—the screaming, the taste of blood, the running, and finally being hunted down by the man with the axe. And the man always killed him—every time, the same ending to the same story.
He never minded the end. Meeting the man with the axe meant that once again he would dream. He would again run with the others through the forest; he would feel the joy in his heart that came with the forest smells and the silence beneath the trees. And he would be free from the terrible appetite that drove him whenever the story took him.
He never remembered dreaming while he was part of the story, but he always remembered the story while he dreamed. Many others lived this dream with him, old men and old women, handsome young men—barely more than boys—who strode through the trees looking wonderingly at everything about them. There were maidens, too. Young girls with serene expressions, untroubled by desire, who occasionally stopped to look at him and smile. Not often, but sometimes he would trot up to one of these maidens, and they would exchange a silent greeting. The maid would scratch behind his ears, and he would close his eyes in rapture. But he often felt an uneasiness at such times, remembering the story and what it did to him. And not just him, but all of the others who dreamed the same dream.
And it never lasted. The dream always came to an end, and in exactly the same way. He would feel the pull of the story. It caught him like a trap, like a fist around his heart—clenching and constricting.
He would feel himself being pulled out of the dream to emerge in another forest. But he was no longer himself. He had forgotten the dream, and his mind had shifted into something more savage, more primitive and cunning, filling him with the desire for the blood of young girls.
In the story, he was no longer four-footed. There was usually just enough of himself left upon entering the story to register his two-footedness. But then he simply stood tall, quivering with the hunger that burned him through and through. He stepped from the trees onto a path, just as a young girl came around a bend beneath the shadow of a giant oak.
She was young, barely more than a child, and still carrying baby fat in her face and belly. Her blonde hair was braided tightly over each shoulder, and the red cloak she wore was ill-fitting. A basket looped one arm, and her blue eyes were wide and curious as she walked along.
The blood-lust filled him, causing his mouth to run with saliva. Dissembling carefully—dropping his head and slouching his shoulders—he stepped forward to greet the little girl, to pretend concern for her well-being, and hungering all over again for her sweet, young flesh, to once again follow the story to its unwavering conclusion.

Is Listening to an Audio Book Still Reading?


Somebody asked the question on Twitter recently, is listening to an audio book still reading? I appreciated the question. My first response is an emphatic, yes. But the question itself raises other questions around accesibility and literacy that are, I think, worth asking. But perhaps later.
For now, think of your favourite book. Book lovers are lovers of books—not just the stories they discover, but lovers of the books they hold in their hands—the ones they take to bed, the ones they take on the bus, and the ones they read at every opportunity. Many people have an intense, physical relationship with their favourite books, something which I’ve always envied.
I remember spending time in libraries as a kid. They were quiet places where you never wanted to fool around. Sometimes I never got further than staring at the shelves—those rows upon rows of books. And sometimes I would get dizzy from looking at the endless spines until I finally pulled one down to leaf through its pages.
I’ve been totally blind since the age of ten, but I still have a similar experience inside a library today. I stand at a shelf and run my hand over the books, and I recapture that early sense of wonder at the endless stories and wealth of information that would take more than a lifetime to absorb. But my experience doesn’t end there. All of these books, all of this information is so much paper that I can’t access without the help of technology or another person.
Which brings me back to my opening question. Is listening to an audio book still reading?
Again, I would answer with an emphatic, yes. But I would add something else. Books are no more defined by their physicality than I am defined by my blindness. A recorded book is still a book; a Kindle book is still a book.
According to a friend of mine, as technologies go, a book is difficult to beat. They are affordable, easily stashed in a bag or coat pocket, and they always work. On the other hand, a book is more than just its physical pages. How do I know? Because a book continues to occupy your inner landscape long after you’ve read it, and long after you’ve returned it to the library or lost it in a move. Does how it get there matter?
One of the first books I read as a newly blinded ten-year-old was on an old open reel tape recorder. That was J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. These days, I download audio books from Audible and talking books from the CNIB Library. I get books from the Internet, and I download books to my IPad from Kindle. Suffice it to say that I’m operating on a number of electronic platforms.
As an instructor at a university, I use all of these formats in the classroom. And in every class I make sure somebody reads out loud from whatever we are studying. Ask yourself this, is being read to still reading?
People read audio books for many reasons. they read them while they drive, while they cook, or while they walk. I read audio books because I have to, and that has become one of the ways I define myself—as a reader. And reading is reading, however you manage it.

Summer Reading: Be a Literary Tourist


Summertime is a time to read—a time to read new books, reread old books, or finally get to that series you’ve been wanting to read for months. You can travel to half-imagined places, and never get stuck in an airport.
Summer reading comes with a freedom that I don’t experience at any other time of year. Since I teach children’s literature at a university, much of my reading during the fall and winter months is dedicated to kid’s and young adult books. But now it’s July. That means I can read what I want. My MP3 player is my mini-library, so I read where ever I am—and whatever I want.
Two summers ago I decided to read everything in the Dune series by Frank Herbert. I read the original six books by Herbert, and then I read the rest of the Dune saga written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. It was bliss. I told someone at the university what I did, and he thought it was such a good idea that he read everything by Philip K. Dick the next summer.
I spent part of last summer reading Bernard Cornwell’s The Warrior Chronicles, and I ended August with Stephen King’s Under the Dome. No offense to Stephen King fans, but I thought the ending ridiculous. Far too much like The Squire of gothos in Star Trek, the Original series.
Here are some of my picks for this summer:
Margaret Atwood, The MaddAddam Trilogy
Why haven’t I read this series? I’ve mostly been avoiding it up to now. All part of my Atwood eversion.
Trudi Canavan, The High Lord
I’ve read the first two in the trilogy, and I want to finish it. The series has a slower pace than most, but I highly recommend it.
Robert Galbraith, The Silk Worm
In case you didn’t know, this is J. K. Rowling. I read The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the Cormoran Strike books. The big reveal at the end was painfully convoluted, but I still liked the book.
Guy Gavriel Kay, The River of Stars
I’ve read one of Kay’s books every summer for several years now. It’s something of a tradition, so I’m happy to revisit Kay’s world. The River of Stars follows Under heaven, which I read last summer.
There are some of my summer picks. Where ever you are this summer, whatever you are doing, remember to pack a book. And if you read something good, then convince your friends to read it too. Books change people’s lives, so never deny someone the possibility of a new life by keeping your best reads to yourself. And, of course, enjoy.

Walk, Read, Think


Walking and reading is one of the best things you can do. You get to enjoy the walk; you get to enjoy a book; you just need to watch where you’re going.
When I’m walking and reading, I of course think about what I’m reading, but what I’m reading often reminds me of something else I’ve read. Here’s an example.
I’m reading Trudy Canavan’s The Black Magician trilogy as I’m walking. It’s a slower paced fantasy that takes place at a university for magicians. It sounds derivative, I know, but it’s a good series.
A particular scene gets me thinking. Some of the novices are gathered in the university’s arena, practicing various warrior and combat spells on one another. Guess where my brain went with this one: University for magicians—school for wizards—competitions—Hunger Games—Triwzard Cup.
Reading about a school for wizards—or in this case magicians—of course gets me thinking about Harry Potter, but Hogwarts isn’t the first school for wizards I’ve encountered. The first school for young wizards I met was the school on Roke in Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. This is a series that has become part of my literary map.
But back to my walk. I start thinking about competitions. The 75th Hunger Games and the
Triwizard Cup are both competitions, although the stakes are of course considerably higher in the Hunger Games. And then something occurs to me. Katniss is aware all through the games that her every move is being watched by both the Capitol and the districts. She uses that knowledge to help her manipulate the games.
In the Triwizard tournament, things are a little different. The first task in The Goblet of Fire has Harry retrieving a golden egg from a dragon, a vicious Hungarian Horntail. But what about the other two tasks?
The second task takes place beneath the lake on the grounds of Hogwarts, while the third task happens inside a maze. The school gathers for all three tasks, but interestingly enough, they can’t actually observe either the second or the third task.
What’s the good of a competition you can’t actually watch? I wonder if anyone ever pointed this out to J. K. Rowling. Does the lack of a crowd to observe the competition diminish Harry’s victory? Don’t get me wrong, I love The Goblet of fire. It might be my favourite book in the Harry Potter series. But this is a point that irks me.
There you have it. The random thoughts of a walker/reader. If you want to meet the thoughts of someone else who walks and reads, check out what Lev Grossman has to say.
The third book in his Magician’s trilogy comes out this summer. That’s a summer read I’m looking forward to. And I will probably be walking while I read it.

Who Wants to Read a Best-Seller, Anyway!

Every kid’s book I find these days seems to have made it onto a best-seller list—that or made into a film after becoming a best-seller. It’s disheartening—to say the least. Does a kid’s book have to be on a best-seller list to be good? Not likely. Does a book have to be a movie in order to get some attention? I sincerely hope not.
I heard somewhere that Veronica Roth received a movie deal for Divergent before it was even published. A tale to make any author salivate. This might be an Internet myth—I hope so—but true or not, it helps to make my point.
I’m sure you, like me, have books close to your heart that have never been turned into a film, never raved about on the Internet, or—imagine this—no one else has read. The Internet being what it is, you can, of course, find those personal treasures out there. Shockingly, other people will have read those books over which you have claimed personal ownership, and Wikipedia will more than likely have something to say as well. Sometimes it’s just a good idea to avoid the Internet.
All this in mind, having favourite books that only you seem to have read is empowering. When your friends have never heard of a particular book that is one of your all-time-favourites, you get to tell them all about it. It’s like being a pioneer, going, dare I say, where no one has gone before.
Two books I remember reading as a young person were The Runaway Robot by Lester del Rey and A Walk Out of the World by Ruth Nichols. I’ve only ever met one other person who read The Runaway Robot, and I’ve never met anyone who has read A Walk Out of the World. I’m sure some of you have read one, or maybe even both.
The Runaway Robot is a book about Rex, a robot who is the property of Paul, a boy living with his family on Ganymede. The book is told from the point of view of Rex, which I think made me like the book even more. A Walk Out of the World is about Toby and Judith, brother and sister, who find their way into a fantasy world, and discover they belong there. I was a newly indoctrinated Tolkien freak at the time, so I was looking for anything that would take me into other worlds that were far away from my own. But as a new reader, every book was a new world, and every author a new discovery. Even still, I was desperate to create a list of books I had read that not everyone else in the world read first. I remember, with admitted nostalgia, feeling as though it was just me who was trying to understand the strange and compelling world of Lord of the Rings. But that’s what it’s like when you’re twelve.
Fortunately, I have grown somewhat as a reader since then. I no longer want to hoard a list of books that only I have read. Sounds too much like some dragons I have known. Better by far to share obscure and lesser known books, to talk about them, to rave about them, to tell anyone who will listen that they simply have to read one of your favourite books. And those pioneers you meet along the way will no doubt want you to read theirs.
So here’s to books that were never a best-seller, never made into a movie, and never, never seemed to get the credit they deserved. You can no doubt find them on Amazon, but leave cyberspace for a while and go to your local library.

The Dream of the Tree: An Original Fairy Tale


Once there was a man who had a dream that ruined his life. In the dream, he was walking across a vast country. He was not just walking, he was striding, striding with seven-league steps while the ground beneath him and about him blurred and shimmered. He passed through forests, over great plains of grass, and through the gaps between the mountains. He strode on until he saw a mountain rising up before him. It was a mountain as he had never seen a mountain before. It went up-and-up, climbing higher and higher until it was lost in the sky.

He paused at the foot of the mountain and looked up. Only one thing to do. He began to climb.
He went up-and-up, stepping over streams, wide meadows, and over stands of trees. He went on until he came to the end of the trees where there was only rock. He kept climbing.
This mountain, he thought, was surely the highest mountain in the world. He climbed and climbed.
Finally, after what seemed a year and a day, the man arrived at the top of the mountain. Across a great plain, the man could see a tree. It was surely the tallest tree he had ever imagined. It went up-and-up until impossibly far overhead the tree spread its branches.
The man walked across the plain towards the foot of the immense tree. As he did, his seven-league strides kicked up swirls of leaves. There were countless numbers of them, and as he caught one of the leaves he realized that each leaf held a story, or a fragment of a story.
He caught leaf after leaf. He read snatches of stories about people who lived and died, fought tremendous battles; stories of boys and girls, of men and women who wandered far, searching for love, for revenge, and for treasure. He read snatches of stories about patients and greed and the longing that goes with lost love, friendship, and family.
The man looked up to the great tree. “This must be the tree where all stories come from,” he said, aloud to himself.
He hurried forward to the trunk of the massive tree that rose up like a wall before him. Reaching out a hand he touched the trunk of the great tree. For one, indefinable moment he had a glimpse of the ongoing story of the world, from its beginning in the depths of space and time to its conclusion at the end of all things.
And then he woke. The cry that escaped his lips in that moment was a cry of grief and loss. The man had glimpsed for one instant the story of the world, and as he sobbed aloud in the grey morning, the dream began to fade.
Later that day, the man sold his house and everything he owned. He took the money from the sale of all of his belongings, and he wrapped it in a handkerchief with a loaf of bread. He left the home where he had lived all of his life and took to the road. He told himself that he was going to find that tree, if he had to search to the ends of the earth, for he wanted just one more glimpse into that story.
 And so he did. He wandered far and met many people, and to whomever would listen he would tell what he could remember of that story and the fragments he read on the leaves. Many people thought him mad, and others just thought him a storyteller. Some were glad of his stories, but many were not, for in everyone he met, he planted a seed of that longing for the story he glimpsed when he touched the tree in his dream.