I have a problem. I cannot stop buying books.
Once after acknowledging our similarly overflowing bookshelves, Niaz and I half formed a pact in which we vowed to allow ourselves to buy only one new book after reading three already-purchased ones. That sounded nice, didn't it? A good way not only to get through my ever-lengthening reading list, but also to give my bank account a break. I don't know about him, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he too surrendered like I did to the siren song of bookstores. I think I read one whole book before going to Barnes & Noble and buying enough books to make my 10%-off Member Card worth the membership fee.
I have never been good with resolutions – New Year's or otherwise – and it's becoming increasingly apparent that I might have an addictive personality. This probably explains the almost-one-hundred dollars I dropped at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green on Saturday. While unpacking from the weekend last night, I somewhat proudly and somewhat ashamedly added seven or eight freshly-bound books to my collection, dividing them up among the large bookcase, the small unofficial YA shelf, and the stool-turned-nightstand beside my bed. I stepped back, surveyed the situation, and one thing was abundantly clear: It's time to rededicate myself to the not-a-resolution I considered back in February.
I refused to make it public then because I'm fairly convinced that telling other people about my goals has approximately the same effect on my progress as high school sweethearts professing their love to one another via a yearbook ad has on their relationship's longevity. The endeavor is doomed before the intentions are even published.
So I knowingly enter into this with great trepidation, but here it is: My goal is to read one book a week. To an average reading adult, this seems doable, but in the two months since I half-heartedly began, I've finished three books. (Time to buy more?! Okay, so I've already taken care of that. Plus, I've decided not to impose a book-buying embargo on myself because I learned long ago that I'm too smart – er, weak – to fall for my own fictitious rules and deadlines.) I can blame in on the lifestyle of being a new teacher, but let's face reality. The height of the book-stacks has reached mountainous, and intervention is critical.
I'm bound and determined to scale this constantly growing mountain. And I'm taking you with me.
Birdwing by Rafe Martin
I have a feeling that even if the plot of this fairy tale had been disappointing, I would have still loved it despite itself. Luckily, the coming-of-age adventure of Prince Ardwin did not disappoint. I had not expected that a winged boy would become the one character in all of literature with whom I most identify.
This is one of the many books that I've purchased because of its attractive cover, even though I later learned that the artist's rendering of the protagonist, the one-armed-one-winged Ardwin, is inaccurate. (No, the wing is on his other left, I'd say.) I picked it up at the Scholastic Book Fair that the book club sponsored in the library at school. I mean, I had to buy books to support the student organization, right?
Not surprisingly, though, the book landed on my bookshelf unread until a month or so later when Victoria asked me for reading recommendations and I, despite having read the book, suggested it. She and I once had a tryst with the Brothers Grimm, and this story reimagines and expands the Grimm's tale "The Six Swans". Seemed like a match. She took it, read it, loved it, and foisted it back at me so that I could read and love it, too. Done and done.
Rafe Martin's writing style drew me in immediately, and I suspect it would carry me through an even poorly spun yarn. The tale is written in prose, but it is nothing short of lyrical. Martin is fond of alliterative and original adjective pairs, prepositional possession, intriguing names, and weighty nouns and verbs. His characterization is vivid and his setting is timeless in the way that the realms of the best legends are. The cast line-up is full of archetypes (orphans, evil step-mothers, and wizened wizards), but Martin develops them into a unique humanity despite their otherworldliness. The themes of love, loss, betrayal, and belonging are worked out with heartbreaking and redemptive reality.
Birdwing's narrator is omniscient, which explains my frustration with the thought processes and choices of Ardwin, the young hero. The reader is far more enlightened about reality and its consequences than he, so the attempt at dramatic irony sometimes fails because the plot twists are apparent to the reader long before the twists occur. This makes Ardwin seem very naïve, but this may just be part of the tale's theme. This youthful naivety juxtaposes nicely with the young man at the end of the novel.
I would have loved this book no matter what because I am a sucker for a nicely turned phrase, but Birdwing is more than a pretty book. It is a journey that takes us – Ardwin and the reader – fearfully into our insecurities and brings us victoriously out of ourselves.
Coming Soon! Bound and Determined: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Check it out here.