Monday, April 24, 2017

4. ALMOND or SMITH

NOTE: Students are to pick TWO of the final four posts - 1. Anthropomorphic Animals, 2. The Adult's Inner Child. 3. Junot Diaz (and a guy named Neil), and 4. David Almond or Dodie Smith. Comments should be posted no later than Weds. May 3. If you were habitually late with blog posts (i.e. need a little extra credit), I strongly suggest doing all four.

 Students MUST post reactions ( minimum 250 words) to the combined reading and viewing linked or noted below. Students are encouraged (but not required) to additionally respond to other student reactions.

DAVID ALMOND. Read and excerpt from The Fire-eaters HERE & Raven Summer HERE. Then read an interview HERE.

THE FIRE-EATERS by David Almond: "He crouched in front of me. His skin glistened. I caught the smoky sweaty scent of him. I caught the sour smell of the river flowing darkly nearby. I looked into the black center of his eyes. "There is a box here, bonny," he told me. He slid a casket to my feet. "Open it," he said. I did nothing. "Open it, Bobby," he whispered. With trembling fingers, I opened it. Inside were needles and pins and fishhooks and skewers and knives and scissors, some of them all rusted, some of them all bright. "Take out something awful," he said. "Take out the thing that you think should make the most pain." I stared into his eyes, so deep and dark. "Do it, Bobby," he said. I took out a silver skewer, as long as my forearm. It had a Saracen's head as a handle. The point was needle-sharp. He shuddered. "Well chosen, Bobby."" Click heading to read the rest of the excerpt.

RAVEN SUMMER by David Almond: "It starts and ends with the knife. I find it in the garden. I'm with Max Woods. We're messing about, digging for treasure, like we did when we were little kids. As always there's nothing but stones and roots and dust and worms. Then there it is, just below the surface, a knife with a wooden handle in a leather sheath. I lever it out of the earth. The curved blade's all tarnished, the handle's filthy, the sheath's blackened and stiff and starting to rot away." Click heading to read the rest of the excerpt.


OR

"[I Capture the Castle] has one of the most charismatic narrators I've ever met." – J. K. Rowling

I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining board, which I have padded with our dog's blanket and the tea cosy. I can't say that I am really comfortable, and there is a depressing smell of carbolic soap, but this is the only part of the kitchen where there is any daylight left. And I have found that sitting in a place where you have never sat before can be inspiring. I wrote my very best poem while sitting on the hen house. Though even that isn't a very good poem. I have decided my poetry is so bad that I mustn't write any more of it." Click heading to read the rest of the excerpt.

WELCOME CASSANDRA by Chloe Schama: "DO YOU EVER worry that you’ve read it allnot all of it, of course, but all the books that prompt that flashlight-under-the-covers, can’t-stop-till-I’m-done, giddy glee? The fear strikes me sometimes, when I’m scanning bookstore tables piled high with novels set in Brooklyn or Forks, Washington, or skimming through the lesser works of my literary loves." Click heading to read the rest of the article.

16 comments:

Marina Martinez said...

I liked the excerpt from “The Fire Eaters” by David Almond. Something I noticed right off the bat was two sentences into the story, I was reading in my head with an Irish accent. I feel you have to be a good writer for your story to have that effect only two sentence in. The story sucked me in and I felt like I was in Robert’s shoes and could feel everything he was feeling with the same intensity as him. The concept for the story was also very strange, but that made me like it even more. I felt bad for Robert and wanted his mother to save him just as much as he wanted it. The excerpt of “Raven Summer” by David Almond was well written and drew me in from the first sentence. I thought the author did a good job describing the knife. I also really liked how at the end of the story the main character almost goes with Nattrass until Max says he should not and then he acts like he also doesn’t like Nattrass after his sentimental flashback. I was taken by surprise and it made the story feel more real. I also read the interview done of David Almond by Lou Kuenzler. I liked how Almond said that we all have stories inside of us. I thought it was cool how Almond tries to create beauty and sound in his books by playing with the sentences. Another thing I liked was how Almond relates to children throughout his process and I think it will only strengthen his creativity.

Syeda Khaula Saad said...

“The Fire Eaters” was the first reading of the list and I have to admit that for some reason, I did not like the story at first. The beginning seemed slow to me, or maybe, somehow the style seemed too familiar. Either way, it took until near the end, where Robert is looking at his Mam from across the crowd, for it to really capture my attention. I think this story does a good job of creating suspense towards the end, when you are unsure of what the man is going to do with the dangerous-looking objects, but aside from that I did not really find myself too interested.
I am not sure if these stories will follow a theme of sharp, dangerous objects but I did enjoy the beginning to “Raven Summer.” I also enjoyed that it got a little weird near the beginning where the boy accidentally cuts himself with the knife but continues to laugh. Just as his friend thinks, he seems a little “crackers” to me. But I like this because it sounds child-like and similar to a (toned-down version of) my conversations with my friends. But again, I seemed to have lost interest in the story as it went down. I think that it does not do a good job of holding attention, even if they speak of ghosts and someone going around cutting people.
I saw similarities within the two stories such as some of the language and how the sentence structure is simple with short sentences, but it still made it difficult for me to stay interested.

I really enjoyed “Capture the Castle” because the narrator sounds so aware, descriptive, and immersed into everything around her. I especially enjoy the things she says in parenthesis, because they show little side-thoughts that reveal how she thinks. It also brings the reader closer to the narrative. Although this is probably far off, I got Jane Austen-esque vibes from the story and how it was written, probably because of the dialogue. I also love Rose’s character. When she says that she has been considering selling herself, it showed how humorous she is. Overall, this story was more enjoyable than the previous ones with simpler sentences.
After reading “Welcome, Cassandra!” I felt more solidified in my views. I agree with the review, the narrator is extremely likable and she seems caught up in a crazy world around her. I also found comfort in reading that “Jane “Eyre” is among the narrators that Cassandra is in league with, because this makes sense. Her voice is a superb one.

jaclyn liccone said...

I liked Capture the Castle because it was very descriptive and made me like I was the character at some parts which helps me understand the story in the best possible way. When I’m reading something and I can feel like I am close with the narrator it gives me a better experience with the reading and makes me feel like I am fully involved. This led me into checking out Welcome Cassandra because I wanted to see how Capture the Castle could be broken down and analyzed by someone else other than myself so I could make comparisions and maybe realize things I didn’t before.

I enjoyed the excerpt Welcome Cassandra by Chloe Schama. I liked the style of writing and how the actual words sounded lyrical in some parts and made me really think of things I've never thought about before. Her sort of review on Capture the Castle was interesting to me because it was very casual and some lines are even a bit humorous. There was a certain tone to her writing that made it easy to read and grasp which is something that I don't always find in writing, especially reviews. She thoroughly explained herself, referenced to other things, and gave examples. Including all this in writing especially in a review like format makes it the easiest way for a reader to engage, at least in my opinion. When I realized she was the executive editor of Capture the Castle, my perspective on her writing changed. She was no ordinary person, but someone who had a say in the book written by Dodie Smith before it was published. That makes the way she analyzed it different from anyone else.

Samantha G said...

I really loved reading Chloe's Schama's piece on I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. It gave me a deeper appreciation for Smith and I had no idea she was the one who wrote 101 Dalmations! I really appreciate that Smith wrote Cassandra based on herself. I too feel like it's easier to write based on what you think and you become so much closer to the character. It's a much more intimate experience. I love the anecdote about what she loved doing most- reading... over coffee, after lunch, in the bath, in bed. Haha, that cracked me up. Also I LOVED the "Girls" TV show reference. Ray is the man. I found it interesting that the book did not do so well with an American audience, but I would be interested in reading it.

The excerpt was really good. As a kid, I always loved reading diaries because I kept one myself. I would model my writing after these fictional diaries and I think I would have read this one. I would really try to write like this! I would use English/Western dialect because it's what I read. I kinda wish I had read literature/diaries that weren't by white women, so I could be exposed to more and vary my own writing.

Rachel Westerbeke said...

Dodie Smith’s writing in I Capture the Castle is very clear, distinct, and easy to follow. The most notable quality to me is that the narrator’s voice and personality can be heard both in her personal anecdotes and in her prose describing her surroundings. The prose doesn’t sound less beautiful because it is told using the narrator’s personality, but she also doesn’t lose the sense of the character telling the story in it. It is difficult to create a narrator’s voice that can be witty, funny, and charismatic while still being able to talk about mundane things without losing its character.
The author is also able to tell us much about the character in the first line of the story: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” We know that the narrator is not a child because of the way she speaks, but we also know that she is quirky due to the fact that she, as a person who is not a child, is sitting in the sink.
It is also interesting to me that although many people argue that I Capture the Castle was more complex and better generally than 101 Dalmatians, the latter was evidently far more successful. Before reading these articles, I had heard of 101 Dalmatians and have seen the animated movie adaptation, but I had never heard of I Capture the Castle. I was never that interested in the 101 Dalmatians movie, but I was captivated by the narrator’s writing in the brief excerpt of I Capture the Castle.

Ryan Allen said...

I read The Fire Eaters first and initially, didn't really like it. Early on, it seemed to drag and felt played out. But I was taken in by the scene where Robert looks across the crowd to his mother. The suspense built effectively as the story went on. I'm not really sure what to make of the ending because it seems kind of ambiguous. The beginning of Raven Summer was also pretty cool. The image of the boy cutting himself and then subsequently laughing was satisfyingly eerie and strange. He legitimately passes for crazy or something. But I like this because it sounds juvenile and close to the way I talk to people I know. But again, I seemed to have lost interest in the story as it went down. I think that it does not do a good job of holding attention, even if they speak of ghosts and someone going around cutting people. Both stories shared a handful of similar attributes, especially in terms of sentence structure and style.

Maggie Lu said...

I like David Almond’s style of writing and his short sentences in Raven Summer work well in the story. I like that the author lets his character Max use the word “crackers” instead of crazy because like we learned in class, this term is not that ordinary and it has nothing to do with the context of the story so it makes it interesting. I think the specific words and lines he uses, such as “the ground’s baked hard, the grass is already getting scorched” work well. It gives a good image of the very hot summer. Also, giving Gordon Nattrass the distinct phrase of “brother” that he always says, adds more to his character. I like the little backstory Liam gives about him and Gordon from back in the day about doing the thing blood brothers did by cutting their thumbs and sharing blood. I feel like that is what a lot of close childhood friends have done in the past so this shows that they were close friends at some point in their lives. Even if it’s not now, their blood will always be shared, but it makes readers wonder what happened over the years for them not to be friends anymore. Tying in the whole idea of blood and incorporating it into different parts of the story was nice – foreshadowing with a knife at the very beginning, Liam slitting his wrist by accident, being blood brothers with an old childhood friend. Also, even with the brief mention of Liam’s father shows that Liam usually does his own thing while his dad is inside doing work every day, showing that there may be a small disconnect in the relationship between father and son.

Dan O'Connor said...

I found that I really enjoyed the excerpt from I Capture the Castle. The writing was very quick witted and from the start it's so easy to grasp onto Cassandra's personality. What I read moved at such a wonderful pace, but was never rushing past any important details. I could probably sit there and read that book for hours.
What was really a little more interesting to me than the story itself was the article by Clhoe Schama. She appears to have a genuine love for the book and I can understand why from what I read of it. The only problematic aspect of what she said was the way in which she spoke of young adult literature. I found that very curious. This novel seems like a great choice for young people to read, and I don't see why adults would not enjoy it either. Maybe that's her problem, she can't justify her love for this book unless its placed into the "respectable" categories of literature. I don't see exactly what she or anyone would gain from having the book positioned differently in some other category. Each time it moves away from YA its audience abroad shrinks I'm sure. If it were to have the kind of revival that she would like it to have maybe she needs to understand that it needs to target a younger audience. Or maybe not, I don't know much about how books are sold.

Crystal Lam said...

In Chloe Schama's review of "I Capture the Castle," Schama makes Dodie Smith extremely relatable and intriguing. When I was going through the posts, the name Dodie Smith sounded very familiar but I couldn't quite place where I had heard of her before. Then Schama identified her as the author of 101 Dalmatians and everything clicked into place. While I have never read the book, the Disney movie was one of my all time favorites as a child. Since I read "Welcome, Cassandra!" before reading the excerpt, I was excited to see how Smith's voice would come out in the main character. At the same time, I appreciated Schama's review because she has a similarly quirky voice that is perfect to discuss Smith's writing. Schama is just as funny as the author she reviews and brings up many relevant novels and allusions. From Jaclyn's blog post, I wonder if she has misunderstood the last line of the review. The way I saw it, Schama is the editor of a book called "The Book" and not "I Capture the Castle" but I may be wrong...
I especially appreciate that Schama mention's Smith's difficult writing process. It is always reassuring to hear that even successful writers can spend two hours revising a paragraph. While seven years seems like a long time to write a book, it is understandable and definitely relatable. The excerpt lived up to expectations and was a very humorous read. The descriptions are rich yet sparse, just enough to show the reader what needs to be seen without getting in the way of the plot. Cassandra is a likeable character with realistic problems and situations, capturing the reader's attention and making the book a fun journey.

Aishik Mukherjee said...

Theres a difficulty in writing dialogue for children, where either the dialogue, and thus child, is made boring by an attempt towards realism or the voice is made idealistic with a 10 year old who speaks at a tenth grade level. Children, as filled with wonder as they are, dont have the vocabulary to paint detailed pictures, or easily explain complicated ideas. They will attempt to do so in a very simplified way, but this realism makes for boring reading. The charm of childhood must exceed the realities of children in order to be engaging while being limited to very common words. David Almond does this brilliantly in “Raven Summer”. The inspiration of Mark Twain seems very obvious at times and some lines feel slightly unusual though not enough to collapse and suspension of disbelief. One exchange in particular, “"Sometimes I think you're crackers," he says”, to be responded to with, “"Me too," I say”, stands out as being the perfect balance. There are just basic household words there, though the usage of crackers brings a charm. Which doubles itself when the responding protagonist understands exactly what the sentence means. He [the friend Max] means to call the protagonist crazy for accidentally slitting his wrist . Though the creative innocent turn in the meaning and use of crackers to mean crazy is childish in the most pleasant way. It captures unbound creativity and joy, and perhaps a secret language of the kids, with being able to be understood by the adults reading it.

Christopher Yi said...

The beginning of The Fire-Eaters, was a little slow but very detailed. It was initially hard for me to grasp the scene but second paragraph really helped to determine the setting and scenario. I really enjoyed the description of the street-performer. I often have trouble describing what characters should look like but the image of McNulty was quite clear. His personality was also pretty well established from the beginning with the way he speaks and moves. I had so much apprehension when Robert was encouraged to be his assistant but I suppose that is where a chord was struck and he became fascinated with the man.
Raven Summer brought a great sense of nostalgia to me. It reminded me of my childhood, when my brother and I would go out into our backyard and pretend to be miners and hit rocks with hammers in hopes of finding a geode or something. I remember the recoil from the hammer and chipping my tooth with the backend similar to how the boy cut his wrist with the knife. Sometimes we’d get hurt and laugh at our mistakes and weirdness. The pacing of the action and dialogue really did give a sense of what it feels like to be a child. The fascination with named weapons, finding treasure, and being a bit grim with a fondness for roughness really takes me back.

Katie Steely-Brown said...

I really enjoyed how descriptive David Almond’s writing is. At first, when I was reading the excerpts from Raven Summer and The Fire-Eaters, I did not think it was actually a children’s book, despite the characters obviously being children. The narrator’s speaking voice was so different than other children’s books I have read. But as I read on, I realized the narrator did have a very young voice, just allowed to notice small things and be overly descriptive in the way children are. The descriptions are visceral and violent in a way that shocks the reader at first: “Then there it is, just below the surface, a knife with a wooden handle in a leather sheath. I lever it out of the earth. The curved blade's all tarnished, the handle's filthy, the sheath's blackened and stiff and starting to rot away … I stab the earth, plunge the knife deeper. Then my hand slips and blood's pouring out from my wrist. I scream, then laugh at myself and press my finger to the little wound” (Raven Summer). However, the vocabulary choices are short and sweet, and at times a little silly — like using the word “crackers” instead of “crazy” — and that really brings you into the story from the perspective of the little boy. Children in real life do notice darkness and violence and are often even very interested in it, like when they play games of war in the yard or surgery on dolls. Therefore, it is really nice when an author does not shy away from this and pretend children are totally pure and brings that personality into their writing.

Sara Hankins said...

I like how in the interview with David Almond, he talks about the freedom of telling a story from the third person perspective rather than the first person. It's a struggle I have myself whenever I write something new, the struggle of what would be the best and most effective way to get the point of the story across? At what point is there not enough personalization or too much focus on one person's ideas of the world that readers miss out on other parts? There is a benefit to having it be first person, as with The Fire-Eaters and Raven Summer. They transport us back to childhood, to a time where we clutch to our mother's skirts and explore in the woods. If this was told from third person, I would probably feel a bit left out, like I was listening to a grown up tell a child's story instead of the child doing it. However Almond mentions how, for him, writing in the third person was liberating and allowed his funny side to shine through even in a darker story. The interview brings up some good points about decisions an author makes, from the way the story is written to how it looks on paper. If there is anything a reader should take away from this interview, it's that every choice they make must be deliberate and have reason, and that is the best way to get the best writing.

Elaina Yu said...

Between Raven Summer and The Fire-Eaters by David Almond, I liked Raven Summer better. But Almond’s style was hard to get used to at first, especially since it was all short and simplistic sentences that I almost felt a little offended. But then as I got into the story, I found it very rhythmic and it also added tension to the piece because it felt like it was starting and stopping a car – very jerky and taking a lot of energy to get moving again, only for it to stop very soon after. I also became very hung up on every single word because I felt like each one had more meaning and carried more weight.
The childhood innocence was very strong here. I have a little brother so the part where he uses “crackers” instead of “crazy” was very reminiscent of both my brother but also of my mother who’s English is a second language.
The part that Liam shares about bloodletting and how blood brothers cut their thumbs to share that moment was very telling in a way that childhood could be. Things like pinky promises and nonsense phrases and little rituals like that are so childlike yet are so dark in some aspects. But to them, it’s only natural. If we share blood, then we’ll be together forever.
Just the instances of blood being repeated thru the story, through the foreshadowing of the knife in the beginning was very well executed and once I had stopped being hung up on the style, I was blown away.

ALEX LYU said...

The piece by Chloe Schama on I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith was very interesting. I never knew who the author of 101 Dalmations was, imagining it to just have been produced spontaneously by some Disney machine, so it was interesting to learn that A) someone, a human, actually wrote the story and B) I'm reading about that human. I see that she based the character Cassandra on herself, and I think that's a good way to get accurate information for a character. The risk, I guess, would be to create an idealized version of the self, like a Mary Sue, but the task of all writers is accuracy in some sense, so that's a pitfall for all to avoid. It was also fun to see the reference to "Girls," as I just watched the last three seasons of that show a couple months ago. I do wonder why the book didn't fare so well with Americans though...
I enjoyed the excerpt as well. I've always liked the idea of a diary more than the effort required to maintain one, but I think this summer I'd like to keep a journal of some kind (the word diary feels too charged). I would, though, sometimes create little flip-book sketches of events that happened in my life, or write a short story based on some event or emotional truth that happened to me recently, so in a way, that was keeping a journal. Albeit a very inconsistent journal, which maybe kind of defeats the purpose...

tushar soni said...

Scott McRobie
Scott McRobie