"An infinite amount of time"

"The worst way to read, he said, is with the thought that you do not have enough time. The only way to read is in the knowledge that there is an infinite amount of time stretching ahead, and that if one wishes to taste only a few sentences per day one is free to do so."
~Gabriel Josipovici, Moo Pak

This is a quote from a book I haven't read, but I love, love, love what it says about reading.  For anyone whose ever been burdened by a toppling mountain of books TBR or starts looking at their shelf space as BABLE (books acquired beyond life expectancy) I think this sentiment is a nice one to take to heart.  As I pondered my shelves last night wondering what my next read should be I hesitated before delicately peeling Clash of Kings out of its dust jacket.  As I opened the weighty tome, inhaling the five year dormant book scent, I flipped to the end, paged through the index, and stared at the final page of story (no spoiler fears, it's a reread).  Three little numbers taunted me from the corner of the page - 728.  Seriously?  Seven hundred twenty eight pages???  Seven hundred twenty eight pages that I've already read - and I'm going to read them again?!?  All seven hundred twenty eight of them??!?

Yes.  Even when there are countless other books waiting for me.  Even when my lightweight-hold-in-one-hand Kindle is fully loaded with a plentiful selection of fiction, nonfiction, and short stories in a huge span of genres - I'm rereading Clash of Kings.  And I'm refusing to feel rushed or bogged down or any sense of deadline while I do so.  I'm not going to feel guilty that I should instead embark on something new to me.  I'm not going to look at the other books on my shelf - some of which were lovingly given to me as gifts and one which was even lent to me by a friend - and feel that I should read them first.  I want to read another George R.R. Martin.  I love his world and his characters and even though I know their story, there are nuances and details that have faded from my memory.  It's the book I want to read and it would be frivolous to rob myself of that enjoyment for any reason. 
"Frozen in Time" photo found here

Which brings me to the above quote and leaves me asking, why don't I usually look at books with the feeling of "an infinite amount of time"?  Why don't I feel that I can read as much or as little as I want?  I know I used to.  Back before I actually kept track of the books I read, I could wander the library and either come home with bags filled with choices or just a single novel in hand.  Now I'm much more direct - find the books I want, place a hold when necessary, pick them up, read them, return them, repeat.  And if I wasn't quite in the mood for something I borrowed, I would read whatever I had lying around, even if it was one that I had been through cover-to-cover multiple times.  I suppose things changed when I started to discover how many new books and new authors I wanted to read.  The more I branched out, the more I realized how many good books were out there that I had not read; the more that people began to tell me about great books that I should read; and the more I began to crave reading them all.  Once I started recording titles on an official "To Be Read" list, reading became something to get done rather than something to enjoy.

But no longer.  I read what I want.  I read when I want.  If that means I get through 110 books in a year, great.  If it's only 53 that's perfectly fine too.  There may be titles that linger TBR for years or more, while other titles have a span of only minutes in the queue.  The list itself is there only as a memory assistant, an adviser of sorts but never a tyrant.  Reading is my luxury.  It is my joy.

And for it, I do have "an infinite amount of time". 


R.A. Salvatore has done it again.  For those unfamiliar with this classic series of "boy fiction" Drizzt Do'Urden is the dark elf hero that has starred in a long string of fantasy masterpieces by author R.A. Salvatore.  Twenty-one books later the Legend of Drizzt epic is still not running out of steam.  In the first book of the newest trilogy, Neverwinter, an older though not impeccably wiser, Drizzt sets off with his long-time friend the dwarf king Breunor Battlehammer on an adventure to find a lost Dwarven city, the titular Gauntlgrym.  Unexpectedly a different dwarf and dark elf pair - Salvatore anti-heroes Jarlaxle and Athrogate - are first on the scene; and not surprisingly, mischief and mayhem erupt leading all four to team up - along with a newly introduced elfish warrior named Dahlia - to find the treasure and save the world. 

Though the plot borders on cliche, and was arguably used in one of Salvatore's earliest books Streams of Silver, Gauntlgrym adds a fresh twist and a new element of danger and conflict.  This isn't the book to start with for those jumping into The Legend of Drizzt (Homeland or The Crystal Shard is the way to go) but this is a book for those that enjoy the deep fantasy setting and are already acquainted with the characters.  With a fast-forwarding of time only possible in a book with protagonists known to live for hundreds of years, ties are cut from past generations and rather than an awkward transition coming out of the tearful ending of Salvatore's previous novel The Ghost King, Gauntlgrym is able to start on a rather clean slate.

I both loved and hated this setup for the book.  On the one hand, I enjoyed that Salvatore was turning over a new leaf and embarking on a new phase of the Drizzt saga.  However, the way that time was jumped in the book provided a shaky start to the story.  Salvatore has always been an expert at writing emotion for his main characters so beginning the tale with old grief and buried scars rather than nursing raw wounds seemed an odd choice.  Once the time frame of the adventure was settled into, the narrative took shape into what every Salvatore fan expects - sweeping battle scenes, grand adventures, and inner character conflict leading to growth.  Dahlia was a fascinating new companion to the saga as well.  Her story composed some of the most dramatic segments of the novel and with aspects of both heroine and villain within her character she promises to be an intriguing addition to future books in the series. Overall, this may not be Salvatore's greatest book, but it's still highly engaging and entertaining - and definitely a must read for those that love his style and his heroes

Happy 200 posts!

"200 posts?!  So what do you want?  A medal?"  Well... yes, actually!

Do you ever stop and look back at something you did a year ago and ask yourself "What was I thinking?"  Maybe your moment of "WIT" was an ill-timed encounter with an angry petting zoo goat, or perhaps a cannon-ball jump into an outdoor pool (air temp 87, water temp 62), or maybe you started a book blog.

I don't remember exactly how or why I started this blog aside from the fact that my previous personal blog had gone rather stale and my general thoughts on life were becoming split between public enough to share on Facebook or private enough to be kept in my personal journal.  And yet my reading and reviewing habits were ever-blossoming.  LibraryThing and GoodReads became great tools for cataloging my books and connecting with reading friends; but neither really served my desire to discuss the books I read and other bookish topics with people as voraciously excited about reading as myself!  And so began Her Book Self.

200 posts later, I'm a little amazed at what this endeavor has turned into!  I started simple wanting to focus on book reviews, author interviews, and bookish quotes.  And then I discovered some memes to join in, hot topics to discuss, challenges to try, and of course the joy of giveaways!  Yet this blog would be nothing without the precious comments left behind as small bits of validation that I'm not just talking to myself.  Thank you to those that have read my random ramblings and cared enough to tell me just how silly I am that you appreciate my thoughts!

Happy 200 Posts and here's to many, many more!

Author Interview - Eleanor Brown

As promised, it is my pleasure to introduce Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters, to all of you wonderful blog readers!  Along with being a fabulous writer, I found Ms. Brown  to be a friendly, intelligent and engaging person, and I hope everyone out there gets a chance to read her book!  Any author who can capture so perfectly the love of books that permeates a reading family, is incredibly welcome on Her Book Self!

*applause, applause*

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started as a writer?

I've always been a reader and a daydreamer, and at some point I figured out that I could write down all the stories I made up in my head, which was a great excuse for daydreaming even more! I wrote short pieces for a long time - essays and short stories, mostly - and then when I turned 30 I decided I wanted to take a crack at writing a novel. I wrote some really, really terrible novels in a number of different genres, and was about ready to give up, until I decided just to take a number of things I was trying to figure out and write a story about them, and that became The Weird Sisters.

How did the concept of The Weird Sisters develop?
I'd had an idea for a story about three sisters kicking around in the back of my mind for years, but I never really figured out how to make it happen. What I really wanted to explore through those sisters was birth order theory, the idea that where we are born in our family influences the people we become. As I wrote, I incorporated other things I was interested in or trying to figure out, like what it means to be an adult, and how families communicate, until I had a complex enough story to really call it a novel.

Did you have quotes from Shakespeare in mind to use for certain conversations in the book or did you look them up as you wrote the story? Or did you - like the Andreas family - pull them from memory?
I had a long list, culled from extensive research I had done before I started writing, of quotes I wanted to use. Most of those got tossed to the wind, however; I realized that I couldn't write a scene just to use a quote, and I wanted to limit the number of 'famous' quotes I used, because this is a family whose knowledge would extend beyond the ones anyone can name. So ultimately I ended up doing a lot of running back to my Complete Works and looking for something appropriate to the conversation. I wish I could quote extemporaneously like the Andreas family can!

As the youngest child in my family, I recognized certain attributes of Rose, Bean, and Cordy in myself and my two older sisters. To which of the three sisters do you most relate? Which one was the most fun and which the most challenging to write?
I'm so glad to hear you found them recognizable! I relate to all three of the sisters - part of writing about them was an attempt to try to reconcile the parts of me that are often at war - the little bit of me that wants independence versus the part that wants to be taken care of, or the part that wants adventure and drama with the part that desires safety.
Rose was the most difficult to write because it would have been easy to have her just come off as bossy and controlling. I wanted the caring, supportive aspects of her to be equally strong. I found Bean and Cordy easier - though their difficulties are of their own making, they also have positive qualities that were easier to tease out.

I found the voice in the book to be unique and refreshing. The "we" and "our" pulled me into the story and hooked me from the start. At what point in your writing did you decide to compose in the first-person plural form?
From the start! I'd tried to use the first-person plural voice before, but I didn't have the writing chops to pull it off yet - it's tricky. But the first line ("We came home because we were failures") came to me before I even started writing and the rest of the voice flowed from that. I'm glad to hear you liked it - I know for some people it will turn them off the book, but I felt it supported one of the points I was trying to make about the way we carry our families with us no matter how we feel about them, and I felt strongly enough about it to keep it there.

Along with being a book about family, friendship, and self-discovery, The Weird Sisters is about dealing with cancer and the effects of treatment on an individual as well as those around him/her. I work in cancer research and I was impressed with how accurately you chronicled this journey. What type of study went into this portion of the story?
I refer all compliments on accuracy to my wonderful experts - cancer survivors and oncology professionals, who were gracious enough to read early drafts and answer questions. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in high school (she is celebrating her 21st year as a survivor) and I have been trying to write out what that meant to her and my family ever since. It was difficult, because I knew I didn't want that storyline to be central, but I didn't want it to be an excuse, either. Nonetheless, the more I saw people around me fighting cancer, the more I knew I wanted to be part of the conversation about how it impacts families.

I loved that libraries played an important part in the book, too. Do you have a favorite library memory from your youth?
I have tons - libraries have been a lifelong sanctuary for me, and I owe so much to the librarians who placed books in my hands over the years and transformed my life in the process. My family vacationed in the mountains in Maryland, and the branch we visited there during the summers (the Ruth Enlow Library in Garrett County, MD) was where I discovered Edward Eager and E. Nesbit, among others. It's also the building on which the library in the book is modeled. I can still remember the way it smelled!

Shakespeare being the obvious one, what other authors would you say have inspired or influenced you?
My idols are varied - Pat Conroy and Alice Hoffman for their painfully beautiful writing, Maeve Binchy for her warm voice, Jodi Picoult for her complex plots. I really love contemporary fiction and think there are so many wonderful things happening; I'm just happy to be part of the conversation!

What projects are you currently working on?
I'm very superstitious about talking about works in progress, so I'll just say I'm working on another family story, this one centered more on love.

Where can we find more about you and your work?
Visit me on the web! I'm on Facebook (www.facebook.com/eleanorbrownwriter), Twitter (www.twitter.com/eleanorwrites) and I have a blog that I update far too infrequently at my site (www.eleanor-brown.com).

Thank you so much for your time and for writing your lovely book!

The Weird Sisters

I don't often use this blog as a place to talk about my family, but along with being "the nerdy one", I'm also the "baby" among my siblings.  I talked a bit about my older brother and two older sisters and our reading habits in my last post, but what I didn't mention is that because of my closeness to my family, I love reading stories about families and especially about sibling relationships.  Last month I encountered a delightful work on this topic, The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. 

With a renowned Shakespearean professor for a father, the Andreas sisters knew the Bard would have an influence on their lives - even their names Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean), and Cordelia (Cordy) were inspired by famous works. Their bookish ways and habit for communicating via verse set the family apart and the three sisters have little in common outside of their sibling rivalries. However, when dire circumstances bring them together, the girls just might find that they are more alike than they, or their parents, ever realized.

The Weird Sisters is a story about family and friendship and the chance to let challenges pull people together rather than apart. The characterization of sisters - oldest, middle, and little - will be recognizable as realistic to those that grew up in similar situations. And this is also a book about the love of literature and is truly a book for book-lovers. Not only does the cast converse with each other in famous quotes, but there is an admiration of libraries and academia. The Andreas family is infused with a reading culture and bibliophiles reading the work will likely love seeing their passion mirrored by the characters.

Eleanor Brown created a fantastic novel in The Weird Sisters. The story is told in the highly unique voice of the first person plural as if all three Andreas sisters are telling the story together. Not only does this add a lovely unity to the various portions of the story which focuses on multiple characters, but the use of "we" and "our" pulls the reader fully into the narrative. By the end of the book the reader has become a silent fourth Andreas sibling and it is a testament to Brown's writing that turning the final pages was almost like saying farewell to family.
I have a hard time capturing how charmed I was by this book.  Without giving too much away, one of the plot points involves a character being diagnosed with cancer.  Although the big-C has never struck my immediate family, I'm no stranger to the challenges of supporting a loved one who is living with the illness and I was very impressed with the way that Ms. Brown narrated these struggles so realistically.  In fact, I was so impressed that I went so far as to contact Ms. Brown and thank her for such a wonderful book.  I'm thrilled to reveal that she not only responded to my gushing fan-girl note about her work but also agreed to an interview with me!

Check out The Weird Sisters (available now) and stay tuned this week for my interview with Eleanor Brown!

Me and "boy fiction"

Contrary to what the name sounds like, "Boy Fiction" is not a cross between a librarian and Batman's sidekick.  It's the label that a NYT reviewer gave to the work of author George R.R. Martin - specifically A Game of Thrones (the book currently being translated into an HBO series of the same name.)  In all fairness to the article, the commentary was critiquing the HBO show for containing content that the reviewer did not appreciate (sexual content), but one paragraph of the article rather offended me:

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half. 
I should state that I have not seen the show - nor do I currently subscribe to HBO - but I have read (and loved) A Game of Thrones.  Martin's work is written for mature audiences and there are scenes of both sex and violence, which I imagine were translated to film with all the gratuitousness I would predict for a show with a TV-MA rating.  Had the story been sanitized for a lower rating, fans would likely protest.  The book is not written as a neat, tidy saga - it's rough, gritty, intense, passionate, violent, shocking, and bloody.  There are heroes and villains, lovers and killers with every character playing multiple roles and written in brilliant shades of gray.  That's how Martin wrote it.  That's the work that captured my attention and drew me into reading thousands of pages of sequels.

And yet, the review article seems to imply that HBO expanded the sex and romance solely to attract female viewers.  I'm both appalled and offended at the idea that the stereotype still exists that women don't - or won't - enjoy high fantasy and that this genre remains classified as "boy fiction".  As far as the book club analogy goes, I must admit that I've never even heard of Lorrie Moore (if anyone wants to recommend one of her works I'll gladly add it to my TBR list) and would definitely suggest the works of J.R.R. Tolkien to any group of readers I interact with.  Perhaps this is why, despite my bibliophilic proclivities,  I have never actually been invited to join a book club. 

But there are plenty of women who enjoy fantasy and other works of so-called "boy fiction".  I know lots of them; I read with them; I am one of them.  One of my current reading challenges is a reread of the Song of Ice and Fire books in anticipation of the July release of book five, A Dance with Dragons.  I read A Game of Thrones five years ago and I enjoyed it just as much the second time around when I finished it last month.  George R.R. Martin's popularity is not because he writes for a certain gender, it is because he writes good books.  He is a masterful storyteller, and the beauty of A Game of Thrones lies in his weaving together multiple genres.  The Song of Ice and Fire series is about family as much as politics, it is about battle as well as relationships, adventure as well as horror, mystery, fantasy, and romance.  Martin composes stories with characters that are realistic - they are fallible heroes, sympathetic villains, and even minor characters with subplots that capture the reader's attention.  They live and they die in tales that seem to be writing themselves.  The saga unfolds more as a history of some distant, ancient land - one that occasionally mirrors modern political themes - rather than just a made up realm of bedtime stories. 

So why is an epic story like this limited to the enjoyment of men?  Why should a well written love story be classified as for women?  I know statistics will show that the majority of fantasy readers are male, but perhaps more ladies would be inclined to explore the genre if that trend was not so publicly reinforced.  Good books are good books, and I don't believe they should be recommended to one gender over the other.  Readers should be encouraged to explore and expand their horizons rather than being pigeonholed into a certain type of book that is expected of them. When I was younger, I followed in the reading footsteps of my older sisters eagerly reaching for their R.L. Stine Fear Street series and L.J. Smith's Vampire Diaries, and though I enjoyed the thriller suspense and paranormal stories, I think I really began devouring books when my brother suggested I try out Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman's Dragonlance Chronicles.  Though I liked mystery and suspenseful fiction, I loved fantasy; and when my cousin first lent me his copy of R.A. Salvatore's The Crystal Shard I knew I was hooked. 

My reading tastes expanded as I got older and I now find that there are few genres I don't love, but I know that I never would have become the passionate reader that I am had fantasy books been kept from me based on my gender.  To label such books as "boy fiction" seems a needless stereotype, and I would hate to have other young readers feel a stigma attached to works that could blossom their love of books.  What do others think about the gender-genre linkage?  Are these classifications helpful or hazardous to matching readers to books they'll enjoy?  Any other women like me that enjoy "boy fiction"?  Any men that enjoy stories generally aimed at women? 

And the Winner is... (Vessel: The Advent Giveaway)

The winner of one paperback copy of Vessel: The Advent by Tominda Adkins is...

On roadtrips and traveling, Nora had this to say:
Road trips in my family are usually pretty chaotic. My sister complains the whole time, my mom tries to make it a ton more exciting than it actually is, and my dad complains the whole time. But somehow, I usually have a ton of fun! We usually go via car, but sometimes we fly. My favorite destination we've been to was Niagara Falls, but we went during a record heatwave and it was above 100 degrees the entire week. Just our luck :]
Congratulations and hope you enjoy the book!  For Nora and all those who took advantage of the free download, feel free to stop back to my review and share your thoughts on Vessel when you finish it!  And thank you again to Tominda Adkins for sponsoring this giveaway!


 I've been digging into a lot of books for younger readers lately.  Though I frequently find as much depth and substance in YA books as I do in those written for mature readers, sometimes my reason for turning to tween shelves is that I just need something shorter.  And so a lightweight-finish-in-a-day-or-two book was exactly what I was looking for when I pulled Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves off my TBR shelf.  

Joey Harker is an average student who has never been praised for having a good sense of direction.  He boasts that he could get lost in his own house, so when a class assignment drops him in the middle of his town with the challenge to find his way back to school, trouble is sure to follow. 

But where Joey's orienteering skills falter, a hidden talent is uncovered.  Though he frequently gets lost in familiar places, Joey is a Walker - a unique individual with a talent for walking between parallel dimensions.  Joey soon finds himself in the Interworld, a strange world-between-worlds, surrounded by various versions of himself.  Some of the other realities are ruled by magic and others by science while still others exist with a balance between the two, yet all are threatened by HEX and Binary, two sinister forces out to destroy universes and those that Walk between them.
I admit that I was drawn to Interworld because Neil Gaiman co-authored it (with screen-writer Michael Reaves), and because the cover really caught my eye with its almost graphic novel type illustration.  I know these aren't the best reasons for purchasing a book (the almost free price may have been) but I ended up really enjoying this story.   There's a decent amount of science-y stuff thrown in - some physics to sound clever but nothing technical enough to be distracting - but also some thought-provoking situational philosophy.  Rather than skimming over character decisions quickly for the sake of advancing the story, choice and consequence are reflected upon and some of the conversations ended up adding to the intensity of the otherwise cliche battle between good and evil.  The fast-paced action-oriented plot make it a great introduction to science fiction for younger audiences; but Gaiman's signature wit and creative characters ensure that fans of his writing of any age will enjoy the novel.  I may have picked this one up simply for a lighter read but it was definitely a worthwhile choice!

An Abundance of Katherines

Colin Singleton has a strange habit of falling for girls named Katherine and after nineteen failed relationships with girls of the same name, the now-grown child prodigy decides to determine why.  To rid him of his latest episode of heartbreak, his best friend Hassan brings Colin along on a post-graduation road trip, but Colin's mind is wrapped around a mathematical equation to predict the success of his future relationships - The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability - in an effort to end his streak of getting dumped. 

An Abundance of Katherines was the first book by John Green that I have read, and I was really impressed with the writing.  The dialog was witty and the plot was unique and clever.  Though I didn't find myself really relating to any of the main characters, I still found myself fully drawn into the story and quite captured by this novel.  Colin was a bizarre protagonist, but I ended up rather charmed by his quirkiness.  I also really enjoyed how seemingly unrelated details of the story ended up tied together.   I'll definitely be checking out more of John Green's work in the future! 

"Read a little and ponder a lot"

"It is better to read a little and ponder a lot than to read a lot and ponder a little.”
- Denis Parsons Burkitt

One of the joys that book blogging has brought me is the opportunity to reflect and discuss my reading with other people.  I find that as much as I enjoy reading, a book shared is a pleasure multiplied.  The downside to this is finding the balance between reading and discussing books.  I've realized that my book consumption has slightly diminished since I began blogging, but it's a trade-off with which I'm perfectly okay.  But I'd love to have other book bloggers and book lovers chime in - do ever have a hard time balancing time for reading with time to discuss your reading?  Does book blogging ever come between you and a great read?

Still Alice

Sometimes a book makes you laugh.  Sometimes a book makes you cry.  But sometimes a book just leaves you speechless.  It's no surprise that these types of books are the ones I most want to tell the world about but also those with which I have the hardest time finding words to communicate their impact.  It could be that "impacting" might be the best description for a book I read a few weeks but still find myself reflecting on.  I'm always impressed by books that can haunt me in this manner and Still Alice by Lisa Genova was definitely one such work.

Alice Howland is a fifty-year-old psychology professor at Harvard who begins having problems with her memory.  The episodes range from forgetting words to mild disorientation but the diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease comes as a devastating blow to her active and successful professional and family life.  From her husband's refusal to accept the truth to her children fearing for their own futures and her coworkers uncertainty of how to deal with her illness a range of characters in Alice's life convey the difficulties of seeing a loved one cope with dementia but it is the narration of the story - told through Alice's eyes - that make this book so stunning.

Up close and personal in the face of Alzheimer's Disease Lisa Genova's writing doesn't shy away from her protagonist's raw feelings.  Alice deals with fear, frustration, embarrassment, and anger while narrating the story in such a way that the reader is painfully aware of her failing memory.  Each chapter is marked as a month and as the pages turn the young professor loses more and more of her self, struggling with the fact that she is - as the title suggests - Still Alice

Genova's book is by no means a "feel-good story" or a "comfort read".  I have a hard time recommending books to others when I know how challenging the subject matter can be, but Still Alice is what I would call an important book.  It might not be a book that people will want to read, but is a book that people should read.  The novel paints a portrait of the heartbreaking reality of life with Early Onset Alzheimer's and this is a book of understanding and empathy for anyone dealing with the disease directly or anyone with a loved one with dementia.  
I know I heard a lot about this book before I finally picked it up - more accurately before a bus-riding friend placed it in my hands with the command "Read this!" (thanks Sue!) - and if anyone else is on the fence about diving into Still Alice, don't hesitate, just read it.  Yes, the subject matter is difficult; yes, it will likely tug at the heartstrings and tear ducts; but it will also lend readers admiration for the bravery of Alzheimer's patients, multiple perspectives on coping with disease, and a new appreciation for the fragility of life in general. My words can't do this book justice, you really will just have to read it for yourself. 

Married With Zombies

Seattle couple Sarah and David finally admit that their marriage is on the rocks, and counseling seems to be the option to save their rocky relationship.  However, when their therapist tries to eat them, they realize that keeping each other alive in the midst of a zombie apocalypse might be the common goal they needed to rekindle their love for each other. 

Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen was a great book that took a humorous spin in blending zombie horror into a story about a young couple trying to make their marriage succeed.  A straight up zombie story or relationship novel would have been easy to pass by, but in combining the two - and poking fun and the stereotypes in each - Petersen weaves a unique and amusing tale.  David and Sarah were well-drawn characters and came across as very real people.  They're an everyday man and wife armed with knowledge from a heap of Hollywood slasher films that happen to do an above average job at battling the undead. 

One of my favorite parts of this novel was the chapter headings.  Each one combined cliche relationship adages with tips for surviving zombie attacks.  A few examples were, "Balance the workload in your relationship.  No one person should be responsible for killing all the zombies," and "Put the small stuff into perspective.  It's better to be wrong and alive than right but eating brains."   This offbeat humor might not appeal to everyone, but for those that are amused, Married with Zombies is definitely a fun book to read!

Juan Bobo's Pig - La Puerca de Juan Bobo (Fairy Tale Fridays)

Happy April Fool's Day!  For those unfamiliar with the "holiday" or at least the American take on it, April 1st is referred to as April Fool's Day and is generally considered a day for people to play lighthearted jokes or pranks on others.  Though some people will use the day for malicious endeavors, I've always enjoyed it as a time for silliness and make it a point to try to fool people - if even for a brief moment.  Sometimes it can be something as silly as declaring, "It's snowing outside!" to see how many recently risen sleepyheads will rush to the window in search of late winter flurries.  Other times I've pretended to lose something important - "I lost my keys!" in a panicked voice before pulling them out of my purse.  My family has always found laughs in funny little "Gotcha!" moments and I will even admit that it's just as fun when the joke is on me!

But the name "April Fool's Day" also got me thinking about the word "fool" as a noun rather than a verb, and I've been reflecting on how often the character of a fool comes up in fairy tales.  The first one that comes to my mind is Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk fame.  The young boy who sells his cow for magic beans is an obvious answer of a gullible character despite the fact that the beans he buys truly are magic.    There are also plenty of examples of fairy tale heroes and heroines playing the trickster and the fool is their rival in the story.  Examples of this are the Anansi stories of folk lore and Uncle Remus' Brer Rabbit tales (many of which were inspired by the spider god).

The story I want to bring up this week though is one that I encountered for the first time in high school.  As a teenager, I probably considered myself too old for fairy tales, but as I was learning Spanish, one of my instructors frequently gave us folk tales from Latin America to read - often featuring a character named Juan Bobo.  (I know folk tales and fairy tales aren't quite the same thing, but I guess this could be considered me fooling all of those who thought this would be a true fairy tale post.)  The name Juan Bobo roughly translates to Dumb John and the stories of his adventures are mostly silly tales with shenanigans involving misinterpreted instructions.  At first I thought this concept was somewhat unjust in making fun of someone with a mental disability, but culturally, these stories are not intended to poke fun at those with actual mental problems, rather just run-of-the-mill lack of common sense.   An apt comparison would be the practice of telling "blond jokes" - few people believe that individuals with blond hair are less intelligent that others, the group just serves as a target for the joke telling platform. 

I had a difficult time finding an online version of any of the Juan Bobo stories (especially translated to English) but one I was able to find - that I remember reading in high school - is La Puerca de Juan Bobo, or Juan Bobo's Pig.  In this story, Juan Bobo is told by his mother to wash their pig before selling it in the market.  The mother instructs him to make the pig "look as beautiful as [he] can."  To most people this would just involve washing the mud off the animal, but to Juan Bobo it goes much further.

"Juan Bobo went to his mother's closet and got out her red taffeta skirt with the elastic waist band, and he slipped that around the pig's waist...He borrowed a blouse and a bright red wig, and he fit those onto the pig.  He outlined the pig's eyes as best he could with black eyeliner and a touch of blue eyeshadow; he put bright red lipstick on the pig's lips; and he got two pairs of his mother's high-heeled pumps and strapped those onto her trotters.

"Now the pig looked really beautiful to Juan Bobo!"
Of course, Juan Bobo runs into trouble on the way to the market when the pig decides it would much rather wear mud than makeup and heels.  There's not much of a moral to the story outside of the fact that animals will follow their instincts and it is futile to try to make them what they are not; but the true purpose of this and most of the Juan Bobo stories are laughter and silliness.  It is the image of a pig dressed up in fancy clothes, a wig, and high heels that gives the tale entertainment value and the phrase "como la puerca de Juan Bobo" (like Juan Bobo's pig) is still used to describe someone who overdoes makeup and accessories to a ridiculous degree.  (As far as I'm aware, though this is an insult, it's not a vulgar one.)

So what do you think about fool's in fairy tales and folk lore?  Do you have a favorite story of a trickster or foolish hero?

This story is part of my 2011 Fairy Tale Challenge (4 of 12) which began as Fairy Tale Fridays originally hosted by Tif of Tif Talks Books.  Feel free to share your thoughts on Juan Bobo's Pig in the comments below or leave a link to your own Fairy Tale Friday post and let me know what tale you're talking about this week!  I'm also eager for suggestions so if you have a favorite story (classic or retold) to share I'm always on the lookout for stories that are new to me!