osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Esperanza Rising just in time to count it for this month’s book challenge (“an immigrant story”), although I must say the book felt mechanical, in a way: it never surprised me, never deviated from the expected emotional beats that the premise suggested. So that was a bit disappointing.

Unread Book Club progress: I finished Janice MacLeod’s Paris Letters, a memoir about MacLeod quitting her job, moving to Paris, falling for a Polish butcher (in Paris) and settling down there and supporting herself by selling illustrated letters from Paris on Etsy. The watercolor illustrated letters are gorgeous and filled me with the desire to paint letters myself, although like my youthful desire to illustrate my diary I suspect that this is a desire that will die stillborn. Painting is beautiful but writing is so much faster.

What I’m Reading Now

Emilie Buchwald’s Gildaen: The Heroic Adventures of a Most Unusual Rabbit, from the Unread Book Club. A brave rabbit in medieval times meets a shapeshifting magical person and sets out on adventures together! They have met the banished huntsman of the boy king who is being slowly corrupted by one of his advisors, and have set off to the palace to try to save the king and kingdom from this villainy.

What I Plan to Read Next

MY ENGLISH PENPAL SENT ME WHEN MARNIE WAS HERE!!! Naturally I shall take it with Miami with me and read it on the beach, which is not exactly the right kind of beach for When Marnie Was Here, but still the proximity of saltwater ought to be enough, don’t you think?
osprey_archer: (books)
Caldecott Monday! The Polar Express! We owned this book when I was a child, although it was only one of piles and piles of Christmas-themed picture books and not as bright or redolently red and green as some of the others, so I only read it occasionally.

I did quite like it, though - especially the description of the food on the train, "candies with nougat centers as white as snow" and "hot cocoa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars." Gosh. That makes me want a cup of cocoa right now, never mind it's really too hot for it. In fact the whole train ride, the train slicing ghost-like through the dark woods at night, ever northward toward a city rimmed in lights...

As a child I also loved the bit about the bell that only rings as long as you believe in Santa - so magical - but I feel a bit more jaundiced about it now - the entire cultural obsession with teaching children to believe in Santa, and mourning it as a tragic end of innocence when they cease to believe, as inevitably they must? Is it kind of like getting a kid a pet so they will learn an Important Lesson about Death when it dies? Except in order to teach an Important Lesson about Disillusionment instead, and possibly an Important Lesson about Being Gullible if they keep believing long after the other children.

Possibly I'm just a curmudgeon.

I have never seen the movie version of this book. Should I remedy this? Or is the train ride north far less mystically beautiful in the movie than in my head?
osprey_archer: (books)
I was under the impression that the world, or at least the Bloomsbury Group corner of it, broke in two on or about some date in 1910 (and there is something extremely Bloomsbury about the willingness to generalize from a break with social mores in one's tiny social group to a sea change in the ENTIRE WORLD) - but either I am misremembering utterly, or Bill Goldstein is riffing off this quote in the title of his book The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year that Changed Literature. Which is about 1922.

I am not sure that this book wholly lives up to its title; most of these authors neither published nor completed anything particularly stunning in 1922. In fact, now that I think about it, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land is the only one that really counts. Woolf & Lawrence had their best work ahead and E. M. Forster - I actually don't know the critical opinions of E. M. Forster's work; is A Passage to India considered his best? In any case he didn't finish it till 1923.

So don't read this book for the supposed thesis, because it's bunk. 1922 is not a sea change in literature, just a convenient way to arrange an otherwise unwieldy amount of material about four quite disparate people.

However, the book doesn't lean much on this supposed thesis - it really does seem more like a convenient organizational tool than anything else - so it might be worth reading if you're interested in any of the four writers aforementioned.

Or if you just want to read a book that could be entitled Moderate Neurosis: A Writer's Life, this is the book for you. Nervous breakdowns all over the place! Lots of gazing into space while sitting at a desk before a half-completed manuscript! T. S. Eliot spends six months not getting the manuscript of The Waste Land typed, even though publishers are literally begging for it (even though none of them have read it yet! Because it's still in manuscript! WHAT IF IT WAS TERRIBLE, YOU GUYS?) and that is the only thing standing between him and publication, acclaim, and a much-needed infusion of cash.

Admittedly at the time Eliot was in the process of getting his own magazine off the ground and perhaps having second thoughts about having his poem published at a magazine that would be a rival, which leads one to suspect that his dilatoriness was at least as much a business strategy as neurosis.

His publishers are so heroically patient with him, too. When he finally gets them the poem - still handwritten! - they rush it into print in the autumn issue and give him a big fancy prize for it, never mind that this will give his magazine (which is a rival to their magazine) an enormous boost in prestige.

Actually I get this feeling about a lot of publishers of yesteryear: they're often heroically patient with their authors, even when said authors don't sell that well. (Lawrence's sales aren't good at all, but his publisher puts out book after book. Someday he will find his public!) It was a different time.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Marie Brennan’s In the Sanctuary of Wings. What a wild ride this book - this whole series! - has been. A+++ do recommend, with the caveat that the first book is alas a bit of a slog, but unfortunately it’s a slog that’s vitally important set-up so you can’t skip it. But the four books after that are all wonderful! Each one better than the last!

What I really love about these books - aside from the worldbuilding, which I do quite enjoy, although in general I feel dubious about worldbuilding that draws so heavily on the real world - is that they’re plotted around the pleasures of research, of discovery, of learning something new that no one else knows. It’s a bit of the same pleasure as reading A. S. Byatt’s Possession, except without the protagonists’ sad personal lives to get you down; Isabella’s personal life is many things, and one of them is occasionally “tragic,” but sad or pathetic never.

And I’ve given up on Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. Life is simply too short for 700 page biographies that aren’t grabbing me!

What I’m Reading Now

Well, I was reading No Holly for Miss Quinn, but then I took it along with me and forgot it at my parents’ house, so that’s on hiatus for now. I am reading Village Centennial instead.

What I Plan to Read Next

Esperanza Rising, which I’d better get on if I intend to finish it by the end of May for my reading challenge.
osprey_archer: (books)
Caldecott Monday returns! This week we have a charming retelling of St. George and the Dragon, specifically the version of the story from Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, which involves more praying and less interventions by Father Christmas than the version that my fifth-grade class put on in my youth.

(I played St. George, “old England’s pride, a man of courage bold” - one of my lines from the play; I still remember quite a bit of it after all these years. I was phenomenal.)

But back to the book. I particularly like the intricate borders around the pages of text: illustrations of blackberries or columbines or other English flowers, interspersed with gnomes, fairies, peasants in bright clothing scything the wheat, etc.: all very much in the tradition of medieval illuminated manuscripts.

No snails fighting knights, though, which I think we can all agree is would have been a delightful addition. But perhaps there is one in there and I just missed it? I don’t have quite the attention span for perusing illustrations that I did when I was a eight-year-old; at that age, I would have very much enjoyed sitting with this book for hours looking over the illustrations, and there’s quite enough detail here to reward it.
osprey_archer: (books)
I’ve been putting off reviewing Lucinda Miller’s Anything But Simple because I really liked the book, which often makes it hard to write a review - especially for a book like this where my main reaction was not so much literary as personal, in the sense that as I read it I thought “WE MIGHT BE BRAIN TWINS. WE SHOULD BE FRIENDS.”

This is not the reaction I expected to have to a memoir written by a young Mennonite woman. It’s actually kind of heart-warming to feel that similarity despite the outward differences in our lives.

This struck me particularly during the part of the book about Miller’s childhood, when she describes feeling shy and lonely and different for no particular reason - it’s not that her parents were abusive or the other kids bullied her or there was anything really wrong, she just felt cut off from other people.

Actually this crops up all the time in memoirs; I’m starting to wonder if maybe just everyone feels lonely and different when they’re eight. Maybe that’s actually the common experience of childhood: we are all alike in feeling freakish. Or perhaps just the common experience for writers/creative people, which is why it’s represented in so many memoirs? Perhaps that sense of being unable to communicate is what compels creative types to create: it’s an attempt to reach across that barrier.

In any case, Miller’s descriptions of this feeling are especially evocative, which more than makes up for the fact that the book doesn’t get as deep into the nitty-gritty of modern Mennonites as I expected - the promise of Mennonites being the reason I picked the book up in the first place. The book’s meditations on faith are oriented, hmm, personally rather than anthropologically, if you will? So in one sense you don’t learn much about the Mennonites (their history, their theology, their rules of dress) - but it shows you how the world looks from a Mennonite view.

There's also, fair warning, brief descriptions of animal cruelty from Miller's father's boyhood: he had a calling to be a preacher and hated it and attempted to be too bad for God to save: quarreling with his parents, beating up his mother, torturing small animals, etc...

But then he got saved, settled down, got married, became a good husband and father, and lo! was elected preacher by the congregation, just as he always knew he would be. If someone tried to sell me this story in a novel I would scoff, which just goes to show, I suppose, that there truly are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.
osprey_archer: (books)
From the title, one might imagine Jeremy McCarter’s Young Radicals: In the War for American Ideals is about the struggles of today - and indeed McCarter does not shy away from this parallel, drawing it explicitly in both the introduction and the conclusion. He wisely ignores it in the body of the book itself, preferring to focus on his own time period: the years before, during, and just after America’s involvement in World War I.

These are my home stomping grounds (historically speaking) and I had a lovely time reading this book. It was a delightful chance to revisit historical figures who feel like old friends: in particular, I’ve always had a fondness for Randolph Bourne, who seems to have been just about the only major intellectual figure in the US who didn’t get swept away by patriotism after war was declared: “You may remember that you lost your head in 1917,” the editors of The Nation reflect ruefully, “and you are intellectually ashamed; but you take comfort from the assurance that practically everyone else did also. Randolph Bourne did not lose his head.”

(Bourne, incidentally, died just after the war; I thought he starved to death because no one would buy his prophetic articles, and he had been abandoned by all his friends, and wasted away in a garret etc. etc., - which is all very melodramatically satisfying, but not in the least true so I don’t know where I got it. He was publishing in The New Republic right up to the end, and died - not alone and abandoned, but in the arms of his fiancee - of the Spanish flu.)

And I also learned about figures new to me, in particular Alice Pual, the militant suffragist. Often when I learn about a new female figure from history I’m outraged that I didn’t know about her before, but in Paul’s case she honestly comes across as pretty ineffectual - she is forever doing things like trying to organize women (in the states where women already had voting rights) to vote against the anti-suffrage Democrats, and then declaring that her campaign has been victorious even though ten of those twelve states… voted Democrat. THAT’S NOT WHAT VICTORY LOOKS LIKE, PAUL.

So I can see why she’s slipped through the cracks. But she’s still interesting to read about: it takes some chutzpah to burn the President in effigy in front of the White House even in years when the nation isn’t swept up in hysterical war-fever, as it was when Paul attempted it. (The suffragists did not succeed in burning the effigy: outraged bystanders intervened, causing a riot.)

The book weaves together the stories of five figures - Walter Lippmann, John Reed, and Max Eastman, as well as the aforementioned Paul and Bourne. But it also tells, almost as a side note, the tale of the downfall of Woodrow Wilson, who seems to have an unerring genius for compromising when he shouldn’t, and refusing to compromise when he really should: he’s very consistently wrong about it. He’s a tragic figure in the classic sense of the word: a would-be hero utterly undone by his own flaws.

Wednesday

May. 17th, 2017 04:54 pm
osprey_archer: (books)
Slim reading this week! Work & Mother's Day (I made dinner for the whole family) & not one but two birthdays have all conspired to keep me busy.

What I've Just Finished Reading

I did manage to finish Miss Read's Farther Afield, though, in which Miss Read goes to Crete with her friend Amy, which is pleasant and lovely in the gentle way of all Miss Read books.

What I'm Reading Now

Working on Hamilton. Concerned I will not have time to finish Hamilton in May, as I am not yet on page 100 and the book is not grabbing me by the scruff of the neck and demanding to be read. Perhaps I should line up another (significantly shorter) book about immigrants to make sure I fulfill my reading challenge.

Oh! And I got the final book in the Lady Trent series, Within the Sanctuary of Wings! Which is off to a cracking good start. Of course it is too soon to say this for sure, but so far every book in the series has been better than the last (of course it helps in this regard that the first book was truly rather lackluster), and I have every hope that this one will continue the trend.

What I Plan to Read Next

The library has Angela Thirkell's The Brandons in for me! And perhaps I ought to get Esperanza Rising for my immigration book? It's been vaguely in my sights for a while...
osprey_archer: (Default)
Tom Braden’s Eight Is Enough is a big-happy-family memoir in the tradition of Cheaper by the Dozen, and although alas nothing can be quite as delightful as Cheaper by the Dozen (my mother read it to me when I was eight so I am of course biased; but still, the Gilbreths had a frickin’ lighthouse, the Braden’s oceanside regular house just can’t compete), Eight Is Enough is nonetheless gently charming in much the same vein.

It is, as the title suggests, about Tom Braden’s eight children, and also an interesting glimpse of the liberal view of society in the 1970s. (The Bradens were family friends of the Kennedys, and the book mentions a number of other names I suspect I would recognize if I knew the seventies better.) Braden has made a fragile peace with marijuana but retains a horror of harder drugs, particularly misused prescription medications; he is uneasy about the way that the Pill has separated sex and marriage, but nonetheless tries not to be an interfering old fuddy-duddy with his children.

And he’s already, in the early 1970s, complaining that college costs have skyrocketed beyond the point where hard-working youths can foot their own college bills through part-time work. It’s rather sad to realize that this problem has been recognized for over forty years and has only gotten worse.

I think we damned ourselves to ever-rising college costs for ever-decreasing returns the moment we made it a social priority to send as many kids as possible to college. We’ve built a house of cards on the belief that the correlation between college degrees and middle-class financial stability is innate when in fact it came about because college degrees were comparatively rare.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Lauren Oliver’s The Spindlers, which is a children’s fantasy book about spider-like creatures called spindlers who rise up from the depths to steal souls, but despite this promising premise is pretty solidly mediocre. Oh well.

What I’m Reading Now

I’ve started Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton! Have not gotten very far yet. Watch this space for developments.

What I Plan to Read Next

I’m not sure! It will depend which hold the library brings me first. The final Lady Trent book, Within the Sanctuary of Wings, is marked as In Processing, so I have my fingers crossed for it.
osprey_archer: (books)
I just finished Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, a fascinating book about Chris McCandless, a young man from an upper-middle class family who gave away his fortune, spent two years hitchhiking up and down through North America, then hiked into the Alaskan wilderness and lived off the land (and a ten-pound bag of rice) for a hundred days before dying of starvation/poisoning from eating the seeds of a wild potato plant.

The animating tension in the book lies between the two interpretations of Chris McCandless and his death: was he an admirable spiritual seeker or an arrogant young idiot? Krakauer leans toward the former - I suspect the book would be unreadable if he didn’t; who wants to read two hundred pages of “I can’t believe this guy was so stupid!”? - but he gives the latter view its due, as in this passage about McCandless’s mother:

“As she studies the pictures [of Chris’s final days], she breaks down from time to time, weeping as only a mother who has outlived a child can weep, betraying a sense of loss so huge and irreparable that the mind balks at taking its measure. Such bereavement, witnessed at close range, makes even the most eloquent apologia for high-risk activities ring fatuous and hollow.”

Coming as part of a book that is, among other things, an apologia for high-risk activities (Krakauer himself is a mountain-climber) this passage has considerable power.

I’m temperamentally inclined toward the “arrogant young idiot” view: the amount of damage he caused his family (especially his sister, whom he claimed to adore) by disappearing and dying undermine the supposedly spiritual qualities of his journey. But Krakauer makes a good case for the other side, strong enough that I’m - not converted; but left ambivalent toward McCandless; maybe there’s something in his quest, after all.

(Although if there is something in McCandless’s quest, it probably still would have been there if he had sent his family the occasional postcard rather than dropping entirely out of their lives and thereby sentencing them to two years of constant grinding anxiety as they wondered where he was and if he was well.)

It helps Krakauer’s case that so many of the people who think McCandless was a fool seem to feel a sort of relish for his death, like they enjoy seeing people suffer and die for the capital crime of being unprepared. “Maybe McCandless reminds them a little too much of their former selves,” one of Krakauer’s outdoorsy friends muses, which I think is part of it, and perhaps there’s also an element of It couldn’t happen to me. If McCandless died because he was an idiot, then wilderness trekkers who take safety precautions like bringing along a topo map needn’t worry that misadventure will take them, too.

No matter what lies behind it, there’s something creepy and off-putting about that relish. Surely it’s possible to feel that his death is sad, even tragic, even if you think his quest is foolish and he should have been more prepared. Take the topo map, Chris, come on!
osprey_archer: (books)
I had never heard of Louis Bleriot before I read the 1984 Caldecott Medal winner, The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot, which is about, well, what it says on the tin: the Frenchman who designed and flew the plane which was the first to fly across the English channel. (He was apparently mobbed by ecstatic Englishmen when he landed, much as Charles Lindberg was mobbed by ecstatic Frenchmen after crossing the Atlantic solo. People got really, really excited about planes by then.)

Anyway, it's a charming book. Louis Bleriot made at least a dozen prototypes before he finally put together the plane that withstood the channel test, and a couple of the early ones either never got off the ground or ignominiously crashed within seconds of liftoff, and he just keeps picking himself up, dusting himself off, and designing another one despite the broken ribs. When he crossed the channel, he was walking on crutches from an earlier plane crash injury. Now that's commitment!

Seriously though, he doesn't seem to have realized that it's important to be able to land the plane as well as get it in the air. Oh Bleriot.

The illustrations remind me of the ones in The Ox Cart Man - there's a similar purposeful stylized flatness to them; or I'm not sure flatness is the right word - but they both ignore classical perspective in favor of what one might call emotional perspective, where the relative sizes of things are decided in part by their importance.

The pictures also have lovely soft watercolor backgrounds - particularly good for rendering sky and water, which is after all what you want in a book about flying over the English channel.
osprey_archer: (books)
And now for something completely different: a review of a memoir that I actually quite liked! Rebecca Stott's In the Days of Rain is half memoir, half family history of her family's four generations of involvement with the Exclusive Brethren, who are sort of like the Plymouth Brethren except they believe the Plymouth Brethren are not hardcore enough and in fact are especially damned for getting so close to seeing the light and then not going all the way.

This is a background guaranteed to add pep to any memoir, and Stott combines it with a thoughtful and lucid writing style and an excellent figure for a central character: her father, brilliant, charismatic, and flawed, the very definition of larger-than-life. I am glad he's not my father, but he's fascinating to read about.

The Exclusive Brethren seem to have been a fairly normal conservative sect until the sixties, when a new leader harangued his way to power by accusing everyone else of a lack of reforming zeal, at which point the Exclusive Brethren basically began to run like small-scale version of the Soviet state in the 1930s. If a sect member was suspected of breaking the rules, the Brethren would send a pair of churchmen in good standing to interrogate that person at their house, and if they did not prove repentant on the first try, to lock them away in their own house, not allowed to speak even to their family members, but only to the interrogating brothers until they were deemed sufficiently sorry. This led to a rash of excommunications and suicides.

Stott was still a child when her parents got fed up and left the group during a schism, so her viewpoint of this is inevitably rather limited. However, as Stott points out, people like her father who were involved were often too ashamed to speak of it. He was still trying to write his memoir when he died, but he just could not get past the new leader's abrupt ascent to power to the part where he himself became complicit in the system.

The abruptness of the transition really struck me: the character of the sect changed almost overnight when the new leader rose to power. It reminded me of progressive websites that I've been involved with that have begun to eat their own through this same kind of Purer Than Thou rhetoric - 50book_poc, the original Slactivist, Ana Mardoll's blog. (Mardoll's blog is a bit different in that the rot set in not through the commentariat but in Mardoll herself, but it created a toxic environment in pretty much the same way.)

Is this just something that inevitably happens to groups of humans who try to be too far morally superior to the surrounding masses? Does the attempt inevitably loop back around into hair-trigger ostracism for the masses and worshipful adulation for the few who have successfully anointed themselves holier-than-thou?
osprey_archer: (books)
On its nightly path
it often gets bumped,
gets torn,
trips again and again,
and each time
sprawls its full length on the ground.
But it does not cry out,
it has no voice.


An excerpt from Marcia Brown's Shadow, the 1983 Caldecott winner, and probably the creepiest Caldecott winner to date. The illustrations are great swathes of black with intense gem-like colors, beautiful and frightening. And that poor shadow! Bumped, torn, falling, sprawling, and unable to cry out, because it has no voice.

It also has no eyes and no hunger. And yet it creeps everywhere:

For as soon as the sun comes up,
here are the shadow people,
breaking loose, unwinding,
stretching, stirring,
branching out, teeming,
like snakes, scorpions,
and worms.


Meep!
osprey_archer: (books)
I should have paid more attention to the subtitle of Mandy Len Catron’s How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays. As the subtitle suggests, the book is mostly a memoir of Catron’s own love life, which mostly consists of a nine-year relationship with an emotionally unavailable man.

When it finally fails - inevitably and yet slowly, painfully, like a bandaid being peeled off millimeter by millimeter - Catron complains that she feels like everyone is judging her, and I can see why this perception is painful for her, but at the same time I am 110% with that judgmental everyone. The bad life lessons you learned from romantic comedies didn’t make you stay with this man, Catron. You chose him. Repeatedly. For nine years! Stop feeling so damn sorry for yourself.

(My mother says that we are most aggravated by behavior in others that reminds of us parts of ourselves we don’t like, and I think that is definitely operative here: God knows I can throw a good self-pity party when I feel like it. It’s just so much easier to see how embarrassing it is when someone else does it.)

The book’s summary led me to expect something different: it claims that How to Fall in Love with Anyone “explores the romantic myths we create and explains how they limit our ability to achieve and sustain intimacy,” which it does, sort of, if you call rehashing forty-year-old feminist critiques of Cinderella “exploring the romantic myths we create.”

The nadir of the book for me was the bit where Catron describes how she would revise Pretty Woman, were she to be in a position to remake it: rather than get together with the hero, the heroine leaves to pursue her own dreams as a single person.

I suppose I ought to be in favor of this sort of thing, but honestly it sounds unbearably preachy: you have this whole movie setting up a couple and then PSYCH! They’re not getting together after all, suckers! Go sit in the corner and think about what you did, wanting a romantically satisfying ending to this romance movie that telegraphed ROMANCE from scene one.

If you want to tell stories validating the single life, then for God’s sake just… tell stories about single people having full and happy lives. That’s it. That’s how you do it. No need to contort a romantic comedy into a non-romance. Go read Cranford and contemplate the lessons it teaches.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Lorna Barrett’s cozy mystery Murder Is Binding, which I had doubts about last week - but in the end I quite liked it! It had a reasonable explanation for why our heroine the mild-mannered mystery bookshop keeper is forced to turn detective (the sheriff has taken a dislike to her, which will presumably force our heroine to keep investigating things for the rest of the series), and I liked the plotline about the heroine and her semi-estranged sister trying to reconnect.

I also finished Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The President’s Daughter, a children’s novel about Theodore Roosevelt’s younger daughter Ethel, which was okay. The pacing’s a bit off - it spends too much time on Ethel’s dislike of her new school and difficulty making friends there and resolves it quite suddenly in a chapter at the end.

And honestly, much as I love boarding school stories, it seems like missing the point to write a book about Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter and then spend most of it at boarding school instead of with the Roosevelt family. Any character could go to a boarding school. I want more Roosevelts!

What I’m Reading Now

Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey, the book that the movie Homeward Bound is based on, although the feel of the two stories is very different for me - probably because the dogs & cat in Homeward Bound can talk (to each other/the viewer, at least), whereas the ones in The Incredible Journey don’t.

So it’s sort of like we’re watching them do everything from above, rather than inside their heads, which is distancing for me: I’m finding it hard to get attached to any of the characters.

What I Plan to Read Next

I decided to read Elizabeth Warren’s new book for my next reading challenge (“a book that addresses current events”), but I am currently 27th on the hold list at the library so that may not arrive in May. So for May, I’m going to skip ahead to the next challenge on the list: an immigrant story.

I loved immigrant stories when I was a child - The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang; Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear; that one book Lynne Reid Banks wrote about a Canadian family emigrating to Israel, although I never quite forgave the father for uprooting his unenthusiastic wife and daughter from their happy lives in Canada to drag them to a war-torn country for the sake his dream. Follow your dream yourself, dude.

Oh hey. I was going to say “But I don’t have any on my to-read list right now,” but then I stopped to look up the title of the Banks book (One More River), and it turns out that Banks recently wrote a novel about a family immigrating to Canada from the UK during World War II. So perhaps that should be my immigrant story!

Well, it’s a possibility. Does anyone have a recommendation? (I’ve already read Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again and An Na’s A Step from Heaven.)
osprey_archer: (art)
The Caldecott winner of the week is Chris Van Allsburg's Jumanji! Which is not my favorite Van Allsburg book, but it's not like there are bad Chris Van Allsburg books, so. I love his super detailed pencil illustrations: they're not photorealistic, but they nonetheless remind me of well-done black and white photographs in their drama and contrast.

The book Jumanji is much simpler than the movie: two children, Peter and Judy, find the game Jumanji sitting beneath a tree in the park. They take it home and begin to play - only for a lion to appear when Peter takes his first roll! But now that the die is cast, the only thing to do is to play the game all the way through to the end, through monsoons, volcanoes, hungry monkeys, etc.

Fortunately, when the game ends all the animals and weather events do too, as well as the damage they've caused. Thank goodness. And then - having played this terrifying game - what do the children do? Throw it in the trash? Burn it? Dig a deep hole in the backyard and bury it where it can never hurt anyone ever again?

But of course not! They take it back to the park where they found it, and the book ends with them watching another pair of children running off with it. The cycle must continue.

***

We had a number of Chris Van Allsburg books when I was growing up - The Wreck of the Zephyr (about a flying boat), Just a Dream (an environmentalist fable), and The Polar Express (which was my least favorite; naturally it's the most popular) - but my very favorite was The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, which is a series of unrelated illustrations, each accompanied by a single-line caption. The conceit is that these are the drawings of one Harris Burdick, who left them in Van Allsburg's hands with the promise to return with the stories accompanying them - only he never did, and now Van Allsburg is publishing them in the hopes that you, dear reader, might be inspired to tell their stories.

I did indeed find them very inspiring, although the story I eventually wrote does not, alas, quite fit the illustration that inspired it - a nun in a flying chair - I took the flying chair bit and ran with it. Six chairs took to the skies as a result of a science experiment gone wrong in Biology 101, and one landed in a swamp, where the devil took possession, and our intrepid heroine Monika had to do battle for it. (She won it with Thin Mints in the end.)
osprey_archer: (books)
E. M. Delafield's The Spirit of the Age and Other Stories from the Home Front filled me with mixed emotions. On the hand, I liked it so much I wanted to gobble it all up; but on the other hand, the short stories inside are just so perfectly the right size for my ten-minute breaks at work, I really wanted to save them just for that purpose.

I held out for as long as I could, but in the end I did gobble up the last quarter of the book in one sitting. It's a series of interconnected short stories about an English country village during World War II - published during the war, not after, which gives it a somewhat different feel from historical fiction somehow. The war is all-pervasive, and yet at the same time there's less emphasis on the specific events than historical fiction often has, somehow? No one mentions battles by name, but there's quite a lot of talk about how to create decent black-out curtains using your grandmother's old bombazine.

Delafield has that eye for the foibles of human nature which I often find in mid-twentieth century British authors (D. E. Stevenson, who also wrote about village life, has it too) - the way that people who are thrown together by proximity and don't necessarily have much of anything in common rub along together, and even become in an odd way fond of one another's annoying quirks.

I think my favorite, in this book - favorite in the sense of "the most amusing literary creation," not in the sense that I would ever want to spend time with her - is Miss Littlemug, a spinster neighbor whose conception of herself is almost ludicrously at odds with her actual behavior. When a visitor offers sympathy, for instance, Miss Littlemug replies:

"Dear, I must ask you not to say that. You mean it kindly, I know, but it's altogether misleading and sounds quite as though I were complaining - a thing I should never do, I hope, at any time. (As a mere child, I always preferred torture - actual physical torture at the stake - to making any complaint. I was like that.)"

Then of course she proceeds with a litany of complaints.

I have learned that it is wise to take the things people tell you about themselves with a grain of salt, especially when they are complimentary (for some reason this is especially true if the compliment is something like "I'm a good listener"), and it's great fun to see this kind of contradiction between self-understanding and actual deeds in a book.

And it's not at all mean-spirited; exasperating as the others may find Miss Littlemug, they beg her to remain on committees every time she tries to quit in a huff - never mind she seems to be useless as well as irritating. She's become part of the village and they're going to include her, even if doing so does occasionally call for some eye-rolling afterward. Actual physical torture at the stake, good grief.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Mary Stewart’s A Walk in Wolf Wood, which Mom read to me when I was but a wee lassie and which I remembered really enjoying without remembering any of the details, but upon reread it is blazingly obvious that this book went directly to my giddy young id.

It begins with a man walking into the woods, weeping so hard that he barely seems aware of his surroundings - this is the kind of quality crying I want from my books! - and it only gets better from there. The weeping man has been sundered from his lord the duke to whom he swore a blood oath of brotherhood in their youth! They have been ripped apart by a foul enchantment that has made the weeping man a werewolf, while the enchanter takes his place in the castle and schemes to usurp the duke’s place!

There is definitely a scene where the werewolf lies at his lord’s feet in chains, waiting for the sun to rise so he’ll be changed back into a human being. The duke covers him with his ermine cloak so he won’t be totally naked when that happens. THE LOYALTY KINK. BE STILL MY BEATING HEART.

I also finished Gary Paulsen’s The Island, a quiet and thoughtful book that regularly surprised me, not perhaps because it’s so surprising in itself as because I was reading it as a Misfit Escapes Society and Finds Meaning Elsewhere book - possibly with a side order of But Then Meddlesome Humanity Destroys His Happiness and Solitude. I fully expected the media or the locals or the psychiatrist Wil’s parents hire to hound him off his happy island abode.

But in fact they come and poke around and decide this is all pretty stellar, really (except for the local dude Wil has to punch in the nose, but he’s a real bottom-feeder anyway) and, their curiosity satisfied, leave him alone. And Wil isn’t even a misfit in the first place, really; he’s about as normal as it is possible to be and still run away to an island to try to absorb the essential nature of the blue heron.

...which still kind of makes him a weirdo, let’s be real, but that’s the kind of weirdness that will probably get him a professorship someday.

What I’m Reading Now

I finished Tolkien’s translation of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”! So I’m taking a small breather before diving into the next poem in this collection, “The Pearl.” I quite liked Gawain, but I’d read that story before in prose, whereas I haven’t read “The Pearl” (although Humphrey Carpenter discussed it at some length in his biography of Tolkien, so I know what happens), so I’m curious to see if that affects how I react to it.

I’m also reading Lorna Barrett’s Murder is Binding, a cozy mystery lent to me by a friend. I started this with some trepidation because I don’t usually like cozies - I think the inherent silliness of a cake baker! or bookseller! or librarian! or whatever who just sort of accidentally solves murders on the side gets to me - but actually this one seems tentatively fun. The heroine has a difficult relationship with her sister which they are trying to repair, which seems promising.

What I Plan to Read Next

I have to come up with a book about current events for next month’s reading challenge. This is my least favorite challenge on the list, but nonetheless I will persevere. Any suggestions?
osprey_archer: (Default)
I was rereading The Egypt Game, as I do from time to time, and this quote struck me - simply because I like the image so much - so I thought I'd share.

Caroline was such a quiet person it was hard sometimes to know what she was thinking. But lately, April usually thought she could tell. Right then, Caroline only smiled and said, "That's a very nice letter, dear," and bent her head back down over the sequins. And the sun coming in the little stained-glass section of the breakfast room window made her smooth gray hair look just like a pigeon's wing.

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