Second (or third, or fourth) chances

The story of my Diana Wynne Jones reading life is this:

Stage One: Begin book. Find world it is set in confusing. Find characters depressing and unpleasant. Give up reading it, or finish it with grim sense of duty to beloved author. Lament dissimilarity to books previously read by Diana Wynne Jones. Attain acceptance by telling self that no author can write good books every single time. Reread Fire and Hemlock consolingly.

Stage Two (discovery of DWJ – 2003ish): Receive assurances from sister that book in question is good. Doubt her taste because of Juliet Marillier and similar. Point out to her with superior air that no author can write good books every time and this one is simply not my cup of tea. Remind her about The Time of the Ghost. Insert fingers in ears. Go la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.

Stage Two (2003ish – present): Remember all those other Diana Wynne Jones books not loved upon first reading. Begin to doubt judgment. Remind self of Dark Lord of Derkholm, Archer’s Goon, Deep Secret, and Homeward Bounders. Remind self about Time of the Ghost. Struggle to hold onto feelings of justification in abandoning book.

Stage Three: Allow time to pass. Have no new Diana Wynne Jones books to read. Begin to feel book could not have been as bad as all that. Begin book again. Either return immediately to Stage One and do whole thing over with calcifying feelings of dislike for book, or carry on to Stage Four.

Stage Four: Finish book. Have no idea what was wrong with self before. Promise self to bear this in mind in future. Possibly give The Time of the Ghost another try, despite never ever progressing beyond Stage Three with it.

Knowing this will happen does not, by the way, fend it off. Out of Diana Wynne Jones’s dozens of books, there have been maybe six I liked on the first try. I do not know how to account for this, but I will say that it has given me a healthy doubt for the accuracy of my first impressions.

As you may have discerned, I have never progressed to Stage Four with The Time of the Ghost. It’s about the ghost of one of four sisters (she cannot quite work out which sister she is), who in present times, her own adulthood, has been in an accident and is lying ill in a hospital bed. She keeps traveling back in time to her childhood, and the events surrounding a game (a sort of game) about worshiping a dark goddess called Monigan. Some way, Monigan is connected to what has happened to the ghost, and she must change the past in order to keep herself from being claimed by the goddess.

I have read this book, in part or in full, at least seven times in the last decade; and each time I have found it tiresome and creepy and unspeakably dreary and awful. But as Diana Wynne Jones Week grew closer, I felt more and more that it was shabby of me to hold such a week while also retaining such strong dislike for one of Diana Wynne Jones’s books. When I saw it at a book sale a few weekends ago, therefore, I grabbed it.

“Ew,” said my sister. “You’re buying that?”

“I have disliked so many of her books, the first time through,” I said (stoutly) (firmly in Stage Three). “One of these days, I’m going to have a breakthrough with The Time of the Ghost. I’m going to read it, and I’m going to like it,” so I bought it.

And lo, it did come to pass that I curled up in a blue university armchair with The Time of the Ghost, and I did decline to read the flap copy on it for verily I remembered finding it confusing before. And I looked upon The Time of the Ghost and read it, and found it good; and yea, I did not know what was wrong with me before. And so it was that after ten years of travail and misery, The Time of the Ghost and I progressed to Stage Four at last, and I entered it into my catalogue on LibraryThing, that I might keep it forever as a sign of joy and a reminder of past follies.

I may have said a few times this week that I love Diana Wynne Jones. I love her for many reasons. Most of these are to do with her skill as a writer: the vivid life of her characters, her humor, her deft, elegant plots, and her boundless imagination. But I particularly love her for the dozens of times my experience of her books has reminded me to try again, to be aware that the reader has to be able to meet a book halfway in order to enjoy it. (People, too, as it goes.) My life is happier for these reminders.

This has been Diana Wynne Jones Week, lovely internet people. I am enchanted with my first experience of hosting a blog event and may do it again someday. Like maybe I will actually start up that mental health challenge I have been talking about for a year. A big thank you, again, to Sami SaramΓ€ki for letting me use her beautiful illustration for the button; and to you, delightful people of the blogosphere, for playing along with me. I shouldn’t be surprised, after two and a half years of blogging, at how amazing and fun and enthusiastic y’all are. I hope you all enjoyed your Diana Wynne Jones books and will read on. πŸ™‚

If you haven’t entered my DWJ giveaway, hasten to do so, because it closes at midnight tonight!

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43 thoughts on “Second (or third, or fourth) chances

  1. I’m so glad that you’ve come around on The Time of the Ghost because it’s the one unread DWJ that I have sitting around and you were making me very nervous about reading it!

    This has been an absolutely wonderful few weeks for me (I started reading her books around mid July so that I could have enough posts for the whole week). If I was in a reading slump, I’m not any more because I’ve remembered the joy that are in books. That’s why I read Diana Wynne Jones and I need to remember this each time I need a pick-me-up read!

    You were a fantastic host and I appreciate the time you put into making this week a true celebration!

    • Hahahah, sorry. I meant to say that I’d finally come around on that one, but it really did take me years. I hope you like it! I read it twice in August, and I would read it again if I hadn’t already shipped it home.

      Whenever I have just finished reading Fire and Hemlock, and I am sad because it’s over, I read Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin. It’s not nearly as good, but it’s another Tam Lin story, and it gives me a nice transition back into, like, regular reading. :p

      Thanks for your kind words! You would laugh if you knew how nervous I had been to do this!

  2. I love what you said about meeting the book halfway through. It’s so true, and so often forgotten.

    I hope hope you’ll host a blogging even again someday, as you’re great at it and have wonderful ideas πŸ˜€ Thank you so much for doing this! It was fantastic in every way.

    • *blushes* Aw, thanks! And thank you for participating in it and promoting it, and especially thanks for giving away a copy of Fire and Hemlock. I felt sad for everyone not even having a chance to read it.

  3. Time of the Ghost is, I think, about her most disturbing book. Really very dark and terrifying. Interestingly though when I first read it I found a lot of similarities with it to Fire & Hemlock, enough that I’ve always felt they must have come from the same head-space. Fire & Hemlock is by far the superior of course, but in some ways it feels like TOTG was an early attempt at the same themes.

    Love your stages – to be honest this isn’t something I suffer from, as I tend to love her books from the off, but I do recognise some of the symptoms of stage one from my first readings of the books she’s published in recent years (say all of them from about 2000 on). I always enjoy them but have a little voice in my mind saying ‘yeah but she’s never going to hit that mid-1980s peak of F&H, HMC, Archer’s Goon etc again’. Which is sad, but as you say, F&H is so amazing that really there’s no way it could ever be topped.

    • It is very disturbing, and I guess that’s one of the reasons I had such a hard time liking it. I was always bothered that Time of the Ghost was written during, as you say, her early-to-mid-1980s peak, and yet I did not like it.

  4. Thank you very much for hosting this DWJ celebration and putting in all the work to round up reviews and such!

    I’ve been enjoying all the links and discussions very much (though time constraints have meant I’m mostly an observer — I am still hoping to go comment on a number of the excellent reviews folks have posted). You also inspired me to re-read one of my own favorite DWJ books DOGSBODY for the first time in a long while, and I think I loved it even more this time than when I was 12. It’s one of the few books that has ever made me cry…

    • Dogsbody gets me quite teary at the end too. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the week! Maybe if I do it again next year you will be able to participate. πŸ™‚

  5. I love the stages! I’m that way with a lot of creators I follow. Robin McKinley, for example, has deviated a lot in her last few books. I have to make myself keep going and reading, because I know I’ll enjoy it eventually. Sometimes it does take a couple re-reads.

    • With Robin McKinley, though, there are actually a number of her books I don’t care for. Or else maybe I just haven’t reread them enough times…

  6. I am glad to see that you, DWJ’s biggest fangirl, also experience these stages! Perhaps I will like Aunt Maria upon a re-read…or maybe not. But I just finished Deep Secret and am happy to report that I liked it very much indeed from the get-go – yes, BETTER than Fire and Hemlock!

    • But Mumsy, you already knew I felt this way. Remember all those times I told you she was better when you reread her books? I am glad you liked Deep Secret though. I like the quack chicks.

  7. I definitely can relate to you on wanting to give up a book halfway through when they don’t meet expectations (although I mostly experience this with unfamiliar authors’ books). I should reread those someday.

    Thank you for being a wonderful hostess! I would love to join in on your future challenges/events. You come up with such interesting commentaries and ideas. :]

  8. I wish I could’ve participated as it seemed like a great week of posts. My reader was overrun by them! (in a good way of course) If you do start a mental health challenge, let me know. I’d love to help you out πŸ˜€

    • Indeed? I will bear that in mind. I’m kind of worried about starting a proper challenge, that goes for a while, because the DWJ thing required so much attention. I still do want to do the mental health challenge, though, so hopefully I can give it a try when I am more settled. Stupid adulthood is proving very tricky.

  9. Oh dear, I only just found your blog (mostly because I clicked through having seen another book blogging Jenny!) and had no idea that there was a Diana Wynne Jones week. I’m so sad that I missed it: I love DWJ, but there’s so many of her books that I still need to read.

    I hope there will be another one, and I’ll look out for it next time!

    • If you are ever not sure what to read by her, I will be glad to recommend things. I love telling people what to read. :p And if I do do this again, I’ll look forward to you participating! πŸ™‚

  10. I was getting a little worried because I just checked this out from the library! I’ve loved all her books so far (read about 12) so if I don’t love one of them I shouldn’t be too disappointed, and yet. . . I might be a little sad. I’m glad you liked it this time around.

    Thanks again for doing this, it has been great fun. I have so enjoyed reading all the postings and the linked blogs.

    • Do be aware that it’s pretty disturbing, more so than most of her books. Not just because the villain of the piece is quite scary, but because the lives of the four sisters are so close to Jones’s own childhood, and that’s very sad.

  11. LOL I loved this whole post!

    And guess what was waiting for me at Goodwill w/ a 50 cent sticker on it yesterday? Howl’s Moving Castle. I’m now going to haunt the section until Fire & Hemlock shows up, and then I shall squeal loudly enough for the whole store to hear me. πŸ˜€

    • I will be very impressed by your Goodwill shop if F&H shows up there. When I was in college, I found a hardback copy of Howl’s Moving Castle at Goodwill, and I bought it for my then-boyfriend, who was shopping with me, but he never read it. After we broke up I took a poll of my family members to find out whether it would be okay for me to ask for it back. The consensus was no but I did it anyway. I mean it was hardback and everything.

  12. Wonderful post, Jenny, and thank you soooo much for Diana Wynne Jones week and the opportunity to read and read about books by this wonderful author. Like Eva I now scan the shelves of each thrift store and used books store I enter searching for DWJ books.

    • You’re welcome, and thank you for participating! Goodwill is an excellent source of DWJ books, especially if you live in America. It seems like there are loads more of her books in print across the pond. Sigh.

  13. I am glad the book finally grew on you a bit! It’s been nice reading your posts this week. Since I haven’t read much Jones, I mostly didn’t have much to add to your comments, but I now know there are a few of her books that I must try!

  14. I’m hearing about Dianna Wynne Jones for the first time, thanks to you. It’s very satisfying to find an interesting, new author to explore. I’ll have to take a trip to the library today. Thanks for the information!

    • I hope your library has all of her books, and, of course, that you like the ones you choose to read. I’m glad I could be the source of your introduction to her!

  15. Can I shout out for Archer’s Goon, too, which I also think is a work of stunning genius. I love how you come around to DWJ’s books and that you know they need patience and attention to deliver their rewards. This is a fine principle to carry through all reading. What a fab week you’ve had! I am certainly enthused to read more of her work now.

    • I’ve made myself want to read Archer’s Goon rather badly. The library here didn’t have it (or it was checked out maybe), which is the only reason I didn’t reread it for this week. I love Awful. πŸ™‚

  16. Great post. You are an author’s dream reader!

    And *I* really want to read Time of the Ghost again, now that you say its like her childhood. You mentioned her horrible parents on Jeanne’s site as well. Did you read about them in anything I could find online?

    • Ha, well, I am an author’s dream reader of at least one author. I do not extend quite this level of patience and tolerance to every author I encounter. I shall probably never read Hemingway again, for instance.

      This is the thing I read, I believe: http://www.leemac.freeserve.co.uk/autobiog.htm

      It’s quite alarming. One of the first things I learned about her was that she was one of three sisters, and I had quite the fellow feeling. But it turns out that her family just could not have been more different to mine. :p

  17. Pingback: Wrapping up 2010 « Jenny's Books

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