The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (entry, the 1st), Catherynne M Valente

I’m the kind of person who does quite well with a schedule. I like structure, and I’ve never asked for an extension on a deadline in my life. I cherish the feeling of completing my work early so that I can carry on with activities I enjoy more at my leisure. When I was a child, this meant I came home and finished my homework as efficiently as I could so that I would have the better part of the afternoon and evening free of obligation.

Now that I work from home and set my own schedule and have deadlines that won’t come along for months, I need this reading project to keep me focused. It’s easy to run errands and clean the house instead of working on a manuscript that isn’t due for eight months. For the blog though, I post on Mondays and Thursdays, and I like to read two books a week for it; this builds in a natural rhythm of working hours vs “I work from home so doing laundry totally counts as working” hours. It’s a practical system, and it keeps my productivity level in check.

Today though, after an unexpectedly busy weekend (and what did I even do on Friday? I have a hazy recollection of watching “Sherlock” and skyping with my best friend in New Zealand, but surely that didn’t take the whole day…), I’ve been trying to rush through The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making in order to stay on schedule, and I realized how incredibly dissatisfied I was that this deadline was more important than my pleasure in the process.

(And after all, on a day like today, when I went out on a run I had expected to be perfect (the morning was glorious – blue skies and hazy mountains, with just enough of a breeze – and my legs were well-rested) and ended up torturous to the nth degree…then I made the best peanut butter banana smoothie I’ve had in ages and ended up spilling three-quarters of it all over the floor and a computer keyboard…and then I thought I could breeze through this book in time to send emails to contributing authors and make cookies for a dinner tonight and maybe even sneak in the newest episode of “In Plain Sight” while I had lunch…)

All of a sudden I just stopped. I put the book aside and forced myself to stop barreling through my check list for one mental minute. This story is all about the heartless, adventurousness of childhood. It’s about taking time to meet new people and then really listening to what they say because, well, it’s fascinating to talk with witches and wyverns and women carved out of soap. It’s about missing your mother just a little bit more than you expected when you crawled out the kitchen window and onto the back of a flying leopard. Have you ever read The Phantom Tollbooth? This story reminds me very much of it, especially in that as much as I loved reading The Phantom Tollbooth as a kid, I appreciated Norton Juster’s message much more as an adult.

So why am I treating this lovely little book like a chore to be checked off and forgotten? Why am I so obsessed with meeting deadlines I set for myself? Where do I get off treating books as anything other than the luxury they are?! Isn’t that exactly what I hated to see when I was in school? Yes!

Yes – that’s what sucked the joy of reading out so many of my classmates – there was no time to absorb the material, or to understand what an author was really hoping to do before we had to write a paper or lead a discussion. I happen to like writing papers and leading discussions about books; that’s why I do what I do. But I don’t like seeing myself take a book that was well-reviewed by three of my favorite authors and treat it with as little respect as I have.  I don’t like encouraging other readers to take books at a breakneck pace when they might be better enjoyed laying on a picnic blanket out in the sun or under the covers with a flashlight at midnight.

I promise to have so much more to say about this book on Thursday, but for now, I’ll just leave you with an image I particularly loved in the very first chapter:

The Leopard of Little Breezes yawned up and farther off from the rooftops of Omaha, Nebraska, to which September did not even wave goodbye. One ought not to judge her: All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well-known that reading quickens the growth of the heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless at all. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind  took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown. (pg 4)

I have determined I would like to be Somewhat Heartless more often than I have been because it seems adventure comes more readily to those with less concern for things like terror, the unknown, and of course, unfinished checklists…


While you are waiting patiently for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (entry, the 2nd), you may want to check out Catherynne Valente’s beautiful blog at:

7 thoughts on “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (entry, the 1st), Catherynne M Valente

  1. Aah I can really relate to this! Trying to keep some order of cleanliness in the house, be the U.N. peacekeeping envoy between my two teenage sons, run my own business, keep up to date with current training and also to try and ravish my favourite books and write as well – it is a sheer miracle I get anything done at all!!

    I too have days where I’ve felt like I’ve been trying to herd cats all day, then look back on the day and wonder where it all went!!

    I’m glad that you manage to keep afloat! I’ve enjoyed reading your beautiful blog :)

    1. Thank you so much! I was talking to my mother on the phone today and we were comparing lists and complaints, and then we started talking about a friend of mine who’s having complications from surgery on a brain tumor, and I realized (yet again) how grateful I should be for these wonderful, non-life threatening complications. It’s so hard sometimes to juggle, but it’s amazing to have the opportunity, you know?!

  2. Absolutely loved this! I love it when books say things that you long thought, but didn’t have the words to express … and that bit about children’s hearts not having grown yet, or about how hearts weigh quite a lot, or how reading helps the heart to grow faster – it perfectly expresses what I see and feel in my interactions with kids. Sometimes I really envy that lightness and possibility of adventure … but I wouldn’t trade the empathy that you gain as you grow up, even if it does come with the weight of checklists.

    And while I am not the type of person who completes their work before deadlines and stays true to their mental checklist, (and actually felt somewhat inspired to read how much you seem to get done ina day!), I really understand that feeling of needing the time and that space to allow a book to grow on you. For me a book needs its own time and its own space to really grow in my heart and mind. It’s why I hardly remember the books I read at a breakneck pace … sadly. I always envied the people in class who could read a book the evening before (or morning of) and already seem able to lead discussion and present ideas.

    Thank you so much for writing about this book. Would never have discovered it on my own.

    1. “Sometimes I really envy that lightness and possibility of adventure … but I wouldn’t trade the empathy that you gain as you grow up, even if it does come with the weight of checklists.”

      I couldn’t agree more. That’s the tricky part of growing up – once your heart has grown, you have to fight to keep it and all the wonderful things that come with that – but also there’s that desire to keep the fearlessness of childhood…which is nearly impossible to balance! I just have to keep working at it!

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