Dec 22 2014

Strange and beautiful: Catherynne M. Valente



valente fairyland


I first encountered Catherynne Valente at a Readercon, when we sat side-by-side at the autographing table one afternoon. I had never read anything by her, and during a lull I took a look the books she had with her for sale. I picked out Palimpsest more or less at random.

It was absolutely unlike anything I ever read before. Valente’s prose is wildly poetic, her imagery weird and lush, and heated.

Also: plenty of sex in Palimpsest. In the tale, persons who discover fragmentary maps appearing as tattoos on their body gain admission to a fantastical city — but only after intercourse with someone else with a map-tattoo. (Want to see more city? Have more sex. ) But within that city, four people discover that they share a deep connection, and they move heaven and earth to find each other in the real world.

Well, that was my intro to her work.  I sought out her blog (which is rather quiet lately), which I loved, and through that I learned of her other works.  I went looking for the rest of it — and it was all so wide and wild, a full of delicious language.

You might recall the discussion that I held here on my blog of Habitation of the Blessed: Dirge for Prester John. Another book of monstrous beauty. (You can reread what we had  to say, which was a lot.)

But what I’d like to suggest this time: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Yes, this is a fairy tale, and can be read to young children, read by older children, and read by you for yourself. Valente has created a wonderful, original world, rich enough for all ages.

I first read it as one of the freebies on her website, and there was a tip jar. I plunked down a bunch of bucks, I loved it so much. Then it came out on Kindle, and I bought it; and then the hardcover, with the quirky illustrations by Ana Juan — and I had to have that. So, that’s three times I paid for the same book, and it was worth every shiny penny.

Catherynne M. Valente’s books on Amazon

Catherynne M. Valente’s website and blog, which is worth reading for its own sake.

Nov 2 2010

Valente’s Habitation of the Blessed — officially out now


Catherynne M. Valente’s Habitation of the Blessed, which we started discussing with Thursday’s Post, and continuing into the comments, is now out in the actual official hard-copy version, so you can buy it today!.

But I must say, it was fun to be able to read it early in the Kindle Version. (Nyah, as they say, Nyah!)

My thanks to Sabine for posting during the discussion, and being all enthusiastic. You’re the best.

It’s not too late to have your say! Post a comment here, or in the original discussion post comments

Plus, Ms. Valente herself is doing a contest/giveaway at her blog. Do check it out — you want these items!

Oct 28 2010

The Habitation of the Blessed: Dirge for Prester John, Vol. 1, by Catherynne M. Valente; and further discussion


kinde version of a cover!

The art of literature, vocal or written, is to adjust the language so that it embodies what it indicates. — A. N. Whitehead

I had originally hoped to have finished reading Catherynne M. Valente’s Habitation of the Blessed: a Dirge for Prester John, Volume 1 by today, so that I could write a review that addressed the whole of it, coming to some grand, deep conclusion — so that I could write, in fact, both intelligently and beautifully about this intelligent and beautiful book.

However, I find that Thursday has arrived, and I have not yet reached the end of the book — and that is, I believe, a very good thing in this case.

I could have rushed it, of course I could have — like most readers who love reading, I can read very quickly indeed.

But earlier, over in the comments, Sabine made this point :  It’s one of those books, like Gormenghast, that forces me to read slowly and savor the prose. But I also have to stop reading after a chapter or so, just to cool down my brain.

If you try to read Habitation of the Blessed quickly, you’re making a big mistake.

A couple of times over the past few days, I did start to hurry, hoping to finish by today.    But each time some wiser part of myself stepped forward, grabbed me by the elbows, and shook me hard.   Stop, it said.  Go back.  Read it again.  Look what you missed! I soon stopped trying to rush.

Because if you read a story very quickly,  what you get from the story is this: the events.

That’s it.  The stuff that happened.  That’s all.

For some writers, that’s all they have; and for some stories, that’s enough.   So in reading them fast, you lose nothing — and even gain, perhaps, in the giddy glee of sheer speed.

But Valente has more for you.    She’ll give you what happened, but also the scent of it; and the cracking of blue light above; and the sorrow and joy of layered centuries; and delight, and the taste of especially good coffee; and the pain of remembered betrayal by someone who you didn’t know yet.

Life is not just events; it’s resonances and echoes, and knife-edged immediacy.

It takes more than plain prose to give these things to the reader.

I am a very bad historian, the monk Hiob says.  But I am a very good miserable old man.  I sit at the end of the world, close enough to see my shriveled old legs hang over the bony ridge of it.  I came so far for gold and light and a story the size of the sky.

I am a Pentexoran, Hagia the Blemmyae says.  I am a loyal and darling child of luck.  I submit to it, like a dog.  But it terrifies me, sometimes, how near we come, every moment, to living some other life beyond imagining.

I ate the sail one night and dreamed of honey, the starving traveler John says. The stars overhead hissed at me like cats.

I am not like you, Imtithal the Panoti says. I was made of other things than street-dust and spices, other things than cities can forge in their endless and wending hearts.

These are the four characters Valente gives us, to usher us into and through the Habitation of the Blessed: two men of the world we know; two women of the world of wild wonder.    They’ve led me halfway through the book thus far.

I’m rested now; my brain has cooled down a bit.  I’m ready for more.

Let’s go on.

Oct 26 2010

You should also read the comments…


Because — hello! Stuff gets said there.

Like this, in response to the fact that Catherynne Valente’s latest book is out in Kindle before it was out in hardcopy:

As for Habitation of the Blessed, I’d like to suggest that we read it this week, and beginning on Thursday, discuss it right here. By “we” I mean anyone interested, and by “right here” I mean that I’ll create a post on that date called “Habitation of the Blessed and further discussion” and start it off with my take on the book; then in the comments anyone and everyone can post, and we can do as much back-and-forth as any of us can stand.

It’s not necessary to have completed reading the book in order to say something — just your current impression. And you can say as little or as much as you choose. But ideally, we need to do it all before the official hardcopy release of the book on November 1st.

You can get the Kindle version here: Habitation of the Blessed: a Dirge for Prester John – Kindle version.

And the hardcopy version is actually available from Amazon now here:Habitation of the Blessed – paperback.

I’d like to try to get a sense of how interested people are in doing this… or even how interested people are in just seeing this done by me and whoever else.

So, post a comment here. Just a “Yes!” would suffice. You could use the “Like” on Facebook, but I don’t know how accurate a count I’ll get from that. A comment here is more certain to be seen.

What say?

So? What say, then?

Oct 24 2010

Comment turned to post. Plus: other news


my favorite seashell

In reply to my “Kindle Greed” post, David said:

Glad to see someone else is experiencing the Robert Charles Wilson love! It was Spin that put me onto him too. And, like you, I then had to tear through his catalog.

To which I replied:

I’ve been trying to turn on all my pals to Robert Charles Wilson — I hope I actually have time to read Bios and Axis. Just the other day I finished the audiobook version of Julian Comstock, which I thoroughly loved.

Usually stories in which the protagonist is a writer turn out shaky at best. But Wilson has such a graceful hand with the point-of-view, letting Adam Hazzard use his very best 19th century styled prose to describe the events both carefully and eloquently — and at the same time allowing the reader to see straight through to everything that Adam is missing! This careful observativeness combined with obliviousness, still including all the information that we need to see what’s really going on — what a tour de force!

Plus: got all misty-eyed at more than a few passages.

Also: laughed right out loud sometimes.

Geez, what more can you ask of a story?

Well, yeah, sense of wonder… but in this book poignant longing for lost glory stood in its stead.   Worked for me.

(Oh, and I must say — the audiobook narrator, Scott Brick, did a stunning job. Adam Hazzard’s voice in my mind is now the voice of Scott Brick. Hazzard’s sometimes over-eloquent prose was delivered with such gentle sincerity that I could not help but love him and his innocent striving for what he viewed as excellence as a writer.)

In other news: I started reading The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume One and I’ve already fallen in love with Catherynne M. Valente’s amazing prose — again. I’ll say more when I’m done, but so far, prospects are good!