News: The New York Times book review of Graceling is here (major spoiler alert!). Thank you, NYTBR, for a lovely piece. I am overwhelmed.
More news: Graceling has managed to finagle a place among Publishers Weekly‘s Best Books of the Year and Amazon.com’s Best Books of 2008. Again, thanks!
So. My sisters (secret code names: Cordelia and Apocalyptica) and I occasionally play a game called Sufficient Number of Questions. SNoQ is something like 20 Questions, in which Person A thinks of a physical entity and Person B guesses what the entity is by asking no more than 20 yes/no questions. Here’s the difference: With SNoQ, there are no limits to what the entity can be. It can be an abstract concept, a nonentity. It can be a made-up invention. It can be an existing thing that you might not in ordinary circumstances consider to be an existing thing.
Here are some actual examples I have been challenged to guess:
 The spaces between the medicine in an I.V. drip.
 What if Cordelia’s neighbor Marcus were one of the Backstreet Boys?
[3, and the hardest one I ever had to guess (yeah, I killed that Backstreet Boys one)] Life before the intercom.
You understand why it might take more than 20 questions. This game can go on for hours and is the sort of game you invent when the only tool available to you is a lot of empty time. Which is what we had when my sister Apocalyptica spent several weeks hospitalized in the beautiful town of Turku, Finland. She was studying abroad; she got very sick; Cordelia and I came (me first, then Cordelia — we tag-teamed) to help her by torturing her with abstract mental challenges.
Did you know that Finnish words are all accented on the first syllable? HEL-sinki. Also, all vowels are pronounced: Banaani (banana) is more or less pronounced BAH-nah-ah-nee. And Finnish words are beautiful, and utterly recognizable; once you’ve spent some time reading Finnish names, you know them when you see them. Tarja Halonen (she’s the President). Tomi Putaansuu, Sampsa Astala, and Leena Peisa (all members of the heavy metal band Lordi). Ever read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials? Remember the witch Serafina Pekkala? Finnish.
Here are some other things I learned while I was in Finland: Finns tend to be very sweet, welcoming, and sometimes shy; Finnish saunas are awesome; Fazer chocolate is divine; those yummy rice cakes are stupendous; Turku and Tampere are both beautiful historic towns; Finland has a TV soap opera that is so intriguing that by the time I left, I’d developed favorite characters even though I didn’t know their names and couldn’t understand a word they were saying (unless they said “banana” or “thank you”); and, Finns are utterly delighted whenever you make the slightest attempt to speak their language. (They thank you profusely, then switch into flawless English so that actual communication can commence.)
Here is the best thing of all about Finland: They have stupendous hospitals, stupendous doctors, and stupendous nurses. In the unfortunate event that your little sister is ever to come down with a scary illness while in Turku, Finland: Take heart. At least you can know that she’s in the best possible hands. If anyone can cure her, Finland can! Finland’s got the moves! Finland’s got the plans! Finland’s got the strange berry soup and the doctors who wear pajama-like outfits beneath their big brains!
(Please note that a punctured lung due to a misplaced subclavian I.V. can happen in any country. Finland, where I love, I also forgive.)
Ahem. Anyway. Months ago, I promised that if I ever got a Finnish deal, I would blog about why I love Finland. Why do I? Duh. I spent 10 days beside a hospital bed in Finland once, and they were ten of the most worrying, horrible, wonderful, and important days of my life. Finland, it was surreal. Kiitos for taking care of my sister. I saw what you did and I will always love you. ‘Nuff said.
Okay, longest post ever, but there’s one more thing: a very special shout-out to a tiny person named Hugh. Baby Hugh, whose name begins auspiciously with hug: Welcome to the world!