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The Key: 10/31/07
The Key is the sequel to The Attractor Factor and is a companion to the book and film The Secret. To be honest, I haven't read The Attractor Factor or The Secret, nor have I seen the film. After having read The Key I have no desire to read the other books or see the film.
For the most part The Key is a fairly vanilla sales pitch like most self help books. It's really no different than the sales pitch fictional Prof. Henry Hill gives the parents and children in The Music Man. The idea is that positive thoughts create positive results. Of course it works best if one acts on those positive thoughts. The corollary to this is: negative thoughts block the good things from happening.
That's really all there is to this 206 page book. There are also numerous web addresses and pitches for the other books and products. I guess the key to The Key is to get readers to buy more books so the author can attract more cars and more appearances on shows like Oprah.
"Against the Current": 10/30/07
The October/ November issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction leads off with a story by Robert Silverberg called "Against the Current." The story is a layer by layer dissection of San Francisco as experienced by Mr. Rackman and his Prius.
Rackman just wants to go home after a long day in the East Bay, except that he can't. His home is gone. His family is gone. His friends are gone and there's nothing he can do about it.
As this is a short story there isn't time to explain the how or why behind Rackman's predicament. We are just along for the ride as he finds himself against the current.
Can't Wait to Get to Heaven: 10/29/07
Can't Wait to Get to Heaven is the current popular book in the Tri-Valley BookCrossing group. I had my chance to read it this past month and while I enjoyed it I didn't find it as strong or compelling a story as Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
Can't Wait to Get to Heaven is a fluffy fantasy that presents the afterlife much in the way that it was done in the Oh God! movies. I was almost picturing Ray (God) and Dorothy (Goddess) as George Burns and Gracie Allen (yes I know, she wasn't in the film but there is a Gracie-ness to Dorothy).
The book had my attention for the first half where Elner Shimfissle (a minor character in previous Flagg books I haven't read) has died and her friends and family must come to terms with her death while meanwhile, Elner is up in Heaven examining her life and death. These initial chapters were an interesting balance of pathos and humor.
Then the book changes direction and becomes a cheesy remake of It's a Wonderful Life and I started to lose interest. The entire tone of the novel changed and I felt like I was reading a Carl Hiaasen novel instead of a Fannie Flagg one. This change was jarring and the punchline ending fell flat for me.
So while I didn't love the novel, I didn't hate it either. I just thought it could have been better.
Strange Mr. Satie: 10/27/07
Strange Mr. Satie by M.T. Anderson is a biography aimed at elementary school aged readers. It covers the life, career and death of the very unconventional composer Erik Satie (1866 - 1925).
In 40 pages, M. T. Anderson's straightforward text and Petra Mathers's whimsical illustrations paint the the life of Strange Mr. Satie. The narrative I found a little dry but I thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations.
I think younger readers will find the simple vocabulary very approachable. Whatever they don't understand they'll get from the illustrations. I was certainly entertained and educated enough to want to seek out more information on Erik Satie.
Barnyard Dance: 10/26/07
My children, especially Harriet, like Sandra Boynton's books. Our most recent addition is Barnyard Dance! which follows a group of animals as they square dance.
I like the book for its use of rhythm. The text is written as if it is a series of square dance calls. It brings back memories of a number of square dances I went to as a child (either through school or through my grandmother's volunteering).
Harriet likes the silly drawings of the various animals dancing. She likes to stop on each page to point out her favorite creatures. I think she is partial to the cows and pigs.
Of our collection of Boynton books, Barnyard Dance! is my favorite.
The Color Purple: 10/25/07
The Color Purple is one of those books I've been avoiding reading since it was first published (even though it earned the Pulitzer in 1983). I remember all the controversy surrounding it. As I was ten at the time, I felt the book wasn't for me. Although more than twenty years has passed, the negative feelings had remained. Through BookCrossing, I ended up with three copies of the book. I figured that the book muses were trying to tell me something and I decided to finally read it for the "Unread Authors Challenge."
Celie's vernacular takes some getting used to. It is an epistletory novel in the letters between sisters Celie and Nettie. Celie recounts years of abuse and an unhappy marriage. Walker spares nothing, beginning with the first time Celie is raped by her father and goes on from there in very frank but not crude language.
Were The Color Purple just Celie's roughly written diary (in the form of letters to God), it would have been a run of the mill coming of age story. Nettie though brings hope and the chance of escape for Celie. Celie's language and self esteem both improve with each letter to and from Nettie.
Who Goes There? 10/25/07
Who Goes There? has some of the most beautiful and realistic illustrations I've ever seen in a children's book. It was these pen and ink drawings of animals in the snow that grabbed my attention when I saw it sitting on the library discard shelf.
The book was written and illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop in 1935 and remained in print until the 1960s. Lathrop was a Caldecott winner and a lover of animals. Her close study of animals shows in the realism and charm of her drawings in Who Goes There?
Once again, though, my children and I disagree on a book. Right now the book is too heavy on text and light on illustrations for either child. I think as Sean becomes a stronger reader, he'll enjoy this book. The first six pages are heavy with text as Lathrop sets the story and introduces the characters.
It isn't until the snow stops falling that the animals come out to join in the winter picnic with the children. For each new animal there is a new full page illustration. These drawings are beautiful enough for framing. Sometimes I just flip through Who Goes There? to admire the drawings.
The Halloween Tree: 10/24/07
The Halloween Tree is my favorite Ray Bradbury book; Something Wicked This Way Comes comes in at a close second. It is another of a short list of books I've read more times than I can count. With Halloween coming up, I enjoyed a nice afternoon of rereading it.
Ray Bradbury's tale is the Halloween equivalent to Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Bradbury cements this comparison by giving Moundshroud's house a "Marley knocker." While the three Christmas spirits are there to redeem Scrooge so that he can save Tim Cratchet, here a group of friends must face their fears to save the life of their friend Pipkin.
In only 150 pages (with illustrations), Bradbury takes the boys through a brief history of Halloween and all the traditions that have come to make the holiday as it is celebrated in the United States. The boys travel around the world and through time over the course of six hours.
If you haven't read this departure from Bradbury's usual style of story telling, read it.
The History of Love: 10/24/07
The History of Love is another of a handful of books I was introduced to when I was a regular listener of Radio 4. Since I've been working at home I've stopped listening because of a change in my daily routine. So when I saw this book on sale at my local bookstore, I had to get a copy to read for myself.
The book is told by four distinct narrators: Leo Gursky, Alma Singer, Emanuel Chaim Singer (aka "Bird"), and The Book of Love itself. Each narrator is given a different icon so that each voice is recognizable at the start of a new chapter. Normally a radically different writing style for each character sets me on edge and detracts from the overall reading experience but Krauss handles these changes in a very gentle fashion making it easy to fall into each character's story as their individual threads come together to form a bittersweet love story.
I have to say I loved this book. I loved watching the stories come together. I felt for Leo as he began to realize just how many things he had missed out on. I had fun reading through Alma's lists and her tips for survival. Her brother's goofy angsty diary wa an interesting counterpoint to Alma's earnestness. Finally there was the book itself, the thing that finally brings all these stories together.
Turtle's Flying Lesson: 10/23/07
Turtle's Flying Lesson is another of the many children's books I picked up at one of the recent BookCrossing meetings. Sean and I have completely opposite thoughts on this book.
Sean likes the book because it is about a turtle and he is trying to do something very silly for a turtle. Turtle is trying to learn how to fly. He has a pair of birds who are doing everything they can to teach this turtle how to fly. Ultimately, of course, they fail.
I dislike the book for the arrogant attitude of the birds. As far as they are concerned, they can only be friends with the turtle if he can act exactly like them. He is criticized for what and how he eats. He is criticized for not being able to fly.
Since the book is Sean's, we are keeping the book. We can't agree on everything and I want to encourage my children to make their own decisions about what they enjoy to read.
Motherhood, the Second Oldest Profession: 10/22/07
I remember my parents watching Erma Bombeck on Good Morning America back in the 1980s. I remember think she was out of touch with how our family worked but lots of people my parents age thought she was funny.
Through BookCrossing I came across her sixth book: Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own which was illustrated by Bil Keane (of Family Circus). Having enjoyed that book, I got this book at last year's local BookCrossing meeting.
Motherhood, the Second Oldest Profession was Bombeck's 11th collection of humorous sketches about being a mother and housewife. It was also done at probably the height of her popularity when she was up on a pedestal as the ultimate super-mom comedienne. Along with her fame came an imposed wholesomeness. Her status role model is reflected in these essays. In the Keane book, she wrote mostly about her own children and how ill equipped she felt about being a parent. In this book she has stories from a variety of baby-boom generation mothers which end on forced up notes and heartwarming moral lessons.
Yes, parenting is a lot of work and has the potential for being heartbreaking work especially if there is a family tragedy but Bombeck's essays that cover these topics feel forced. I think also by the 1980s, her children must have been grown so she was out of touch with modern family dynamics.
Memoirs of an Invisible Man: 10/21/07
Memoirs of an Invisible Man is another in a long list of books I've read because I saw the movie. I saw the film at the Paseo Nuevo in Santa Barbara when I was a madly in love college student. I loved the film and Ian felt sort of "meh" about it but hey, it was still a date!
Although I didn't read Memoirs for Callista's "Books to Movies Challenge" it does qualify. Hopefully she'll let me add it to my list of reviews.
I have to say in this case I enjoyed the film more than the book. The film to fit into a standard length cuts out a lot of the mundane details of day to day living as an invisible man that add extra pages to the novel but don't do much in terms of moving the plot along.
It isn't until the last third of the book that the plot takes off and Nick hooks up with a girl friend but by then there isn't time for the story lines to resolve themselves to any sort of satisfaction. I have to wonder if Saint wasn't hoping for a series of these books but it's been twenty years and so far it is Saint's only novel.
Arizona is another of a large number of Clarence Budington Kelland novels I rescued from being tossed out in 2003. I have been slowly reading and releasing them, although this one I plan to to keep for a number of reasons. I finally got around to reading it for the "Books to Movies" challenge.
Arizona was published in 1939 and then adapted to film in 1940. In the film version, Phoebe Titus gradually embraces her femininity when she falls in love for Peter Muncie, a man who can't decide whether he should set down his roots in Arizona or California. As I hate with a passion stories where a woman changes drastically to win her man's love, I was dreading a bit this book. I was afraid I would finally have found a book by Kelland that I didn't like.
I was wrong and foolish. The film may have fallen into Hays code era cliches, but Kelland's Phoebe Titus stays true to her name (Phoebe was the moon titan in Greek mythology). This Phoebe is a titan in the early days of Tucson. Although she does slowly fall in love with Peter Muncie (there is always an element of romance in Kelland's books), she does not turn into a girlie-girl just to win his affections. In fact, he respects and loves her for her strength and stubbornness.
There's a scene right about the middle of the novel where bandits break into Phoebe's ranch, tie her up, threaten her life and rob her life's savings of $15,000. I cringed, expecting this to be the chance for Peter Muncie to return and rescue his now damsel in distress girl friend. But he doesn't! He arrives late. She has to survive on her own wits and strength. Does this robbery change her mind from being a rancher in lawless Tucson? No. She changes her tactics slightly but she continues pressing on to make a living in a city she loves. Phoebe manages to stay true to herself and still find love and start a family (because she wants to, not because she feels she has to.)
Once again Kelland has delighted me with a novel full of realistic and interesting characters. The copy I read needs to be rebound before it will be strong enough to be released in the wild. For that reason and because I do want to keep a couple Kelland books for my own collection, I will be holding onto Arizona for the time being.
The Boy Who Wanted to be a Fish: 10/20/07
The Boy Who Wanted to be A Fish is one of my favorite children's stories from when I was a small child. It was my mother's favorite too as a child and she read it to me from her copy. Later when my brother was little I read it to him. Anyway, the story came up in a conversation with Sean and he was so taken in with my description of it that I had to get a copy for our library. It's times like this that I adore the internet.
Amby is having his birthday and his mother tells him he can have anything he wants. In true little kid logic, he says he wants to be a fish. His mother not able to give him that wish, pawns the now grumpy Amby off on his big sister, telling her to take him to the drug store to get two ice cream cones. When Amby refuses to go because fish don't walk, they swim, big sister dumps him into a wagon and pulls Amby along to the drug store.
Along the way the siblings meet up with a number of grown ups all saying sensible things about how Amby can't possibly be a fish and so forth. All their well meaning just makes the birthday boy angrier and more determined to become a fish on his birthday. Ultimately though, Mr. Buzzle the druggist has the perfect solution to Amby's wish.
I don't want to give away the ending in case you happen to find a copy. There are a couple on Amazon and a few more on Alibris. It is well worth the effort to get a copy. I can say that both Sean and Harriet loved the book.
For Sean it was the perfect book for the silly story and for the color scheme in the illustration. See, Sean's favorite color is pink and currently the color pink has been so horribly co-opted by marketers wanting to sell things to girls or to the breast cancer awareness cause that it's nearly impossible for anyone to imagine that a boy might actually like the color! The Boy Who Wanted to be a Fish is an old enough book that it has the older gender color scheme of pink for boys (note Amby's pink shirt and latter his birthday cake is also pink; and his sister's blue hat, ribbons and socks).
Small Pig: 10/19/07
Small Pig is Arnold Lobel's first book and one that I grew up reading. When I found a copy on the library discard shelf, I was thrilled to add it to our Arnold Lobel collection.
Small Pig has simple needs: good food, a place to run and play and most importantly, a some soft mud in which to sleep.
Although he is well loved by the farmer and his wife, Small Pig finds himself without his mud puddle one day when the wife gets carried away with her spring cleaning. Upset about the missing mud, Small Pig runs away from home for a night of adventures.
Small Pig is different from most of the later Lobel books in that it is just one story. Most of his other books are broken up into very short stories or chapters that are held together by a central theme or central characters. As with all his books, Small Pig has Lobel's delightful and funky illustrations done in limited colors (blue, green and yellow this time).
A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas: 10/18/07
A Christmas Carol is the first of five Christmas books Charles Dickens wrote from 1843 to 1848. It's also the most famous of the set. The only other one I've heard of is The Cricket on the Hearth. It is also one of my all time favorite books. It is one of a half dozen books I have read more times than I can count and it never fails to entertain me and cheer me up.
Charles Dickens is known for his long books, written for serialization and later published in novel form. For instance, my copy of Bleak House comes in at 1,100 pages. A Christmas Carol for its brevity and short cast of characters is an aberration from Dickens's longer works.
For anyone wanting to experience a Dickens novel, A Christmas Carol is the perfect starting point. It is tightly written and comes in at under 100 pages.
In those few pages, Dickens precisely describes everything that Scrooge is experiencing: the sights, sounds, tastes, aromas and so forth. Even the specific carols that are sung are mentioned. For this precision, the numerous adapations I've seen all match up nicely with the book, even the goofier ones like Mickey's A Christmas Carol and A Muppet Christmas Carol.
If you haven't read A Christmas Carol, get yourself a copy and enjoy.
The Unfinished Revolution: 10/18/07
The Unfinished Revolution begins with the same thesis statement as The Humane Interface: computers and applications are too complicated. I agree but only to a point: operating systems are often too complicated for the average user to debug or modify but the basic ways in which computers are used on a day to day basis are fairly straightforward.
The Unfinished Revolution proposes to fix this unwanted complexity through a combination of voice activated software, XML tags and collaboration. With the hundreds of languages spoken in the world and the thousands of dialects, it is impossible to expect voice activated programs to work efficiently or intuitively. Take for instance how frustrating the few voice operated phone tree systems some companies use to direct calls. Nothing gets me swearing at my phone faster than one of those voice operated trees!
XML is certainly a powerful and flexible language and it is making the internet more flexible through things like RSS and for the way database results are presented on dynamically generated pages (Amazon's catalogue and BookCrossing are prime examples).
But XML and tags (the blog model) are not the catch-all answer to all of complexity to using computers. Amazon.com's new tag cloud for recommendations, their new "plog" which I can't figure out how to turn off, and their insistance on having reviewers tag their reviews are new "blog features" about Amazon that I absolutely hate. Amazon.com is not a blog; it is a vendor. It sells books, music and a whole bunch of other stuff. It isn't a blog. I don't want to go there to read blog entries.
Finally that brings up the problem of collaboration. Yes, there are times when people have to collaborate over distances for work, education, and what-not. But that doesn't mean I always want to go to my friends or family first for recommendations on things. My friends and family have very different tastes than I do on a number of things. They aren't necessarily unbiased enough to give me the pros and cons when I'm searching for information. On the flip side, I'm not sure I want my computer searched without my knowledge!
So far I've yet to read a book that seems to see computers the same way I do. I don't often find myself wasting my time — certainly not on email or searching the internet. Spam filters are wonderful devices when programmed correctly and Boolean logic makes searching a snap if the information exists on the internet. When the internet fails, there is always the library!
How to Deal with Difficult People: 10/17/07
How to Deal with Difficult People is outside my usual range of books but it was sitting in a box of books I'm slowly registering to release through BookCrossing. This book is a slim self-help book with a heavy dose of bible thumping (see chapter 8 "Jesus").
The first seven chapters do have some practical advice. Difficult people, the book teaches, can't be changed. One can only change oneself. In these early chapters there is mention of pastors and church but they are among a number of other examples.
Then chapter 8 changes the entire tone of the book from bland but practical advice to down right creepy. Chapter 8 is nothing more than a poorly written sermon in the guise of self help.
Diary of a Worm: 10/17/07
Diary of a Worm is by the author of Click Clack Moo and is a book Sean has had since he was an infant. We recently reorganized his bookshelf and rediscovered this gem among his library.
The Diary of a Worm chronicles the life and times of a young earth worm who is in school. Like most school kids he has tons of homework, has dreams of what he wants to be when he grows up, makes art projects in school and so forth. All these things would be pretty mundane except that he's a worm.
The humor of the situation comes in the illustrations by Harry Bliss. He brings home the punchline with things like the macaroni necklace that is just one noodle, sleeves on costumes when worms don't have arms, and so forth.
Burning Chrome: 10/16/07
In 2005 Ian and I rented Johnny Mnemonic; it was one of the stupidest films we had ever seen. Curious to see if it was a problem with the translation to film or the source material, I decided to get a copy of the book: Burning Chrome, the first story being "Johnny Mnemonic." Having now suffered through the entire collection of stories, I can say that both the filmmakers and the author can share the blame equally.
I know that there are many fans of William Gibson's books but he doesn't do much for me. The worst of the stories in Burning Chrome bored me. The others were vaguely derivative of Philip K. Dick and Jack Kerouac but with some new cyber-babble thrown in. The three best stories of the book were ones that Gibson co-wrote: "The Belonging Kind" with John Shirley, "Red Star, White Orbit" with Bruce Sterling, and "Dogfight" Michael Swanwick. These collaborations allowed Gibson to world build (his strong suit) while the plot was left to the collaborator.
The Long Valley: 10/16/07
The Long Valley completes my research for Nanowrimo and my participation in the Armchair Challenge. I am so glad I bothered to find a first edition; I loved the book and plan to hold onto it and reread it often.
With the exception of the very silly "St Katy the Virgin" about a reformed pig who can perform miracles, all of the stories take place in the Salinas Valley and in the "present day" (1930s Depression). The book also includes the well known novella, "The Red Pony" which is often times now taught as a separate book; I had to read it in 5th or 6th grade.
Some of the stories are merely snippets, sketches of a moment: a breakfast shared, a snake spared, and so forth. Others are more elaborate and have elements of magical realism: a woman thinks she's a quail, a man is haunted by his nagging wife, an village idiot recounts the events before a suicide and so forth.
All together these stories paint a picture of the Salinas area: its people, its geography, its culture, its beliefs, its sins and its dreams. If you want to learn about this area of California, start with this book.
Bleach 3: Memories in the Rain: 10/15/07
Although Bleach 3 has the delightfully random Orihime on the cover, this volume is all about the Strawberry (Ichigo). The day is June 17th, the day that Ichigo's mother died and the day he stopped smiling.
In this volume, Ichigo finally grows as a character. His motivations, emotions and abilities start to make sense. His deep-seeded stubbornness is also explained.
Through a combination of flashbacks and a very long winded fight scene between Ichigo and a hollow, we learn how Ichigo's mother died and how her death has affected the entire family. An interesting side note is the father's reaction to Ichigo's emotional outburst at the end of the book. It was after that scene that I finally began to like Ichigo's father.
The Secret River: 10/14/07
I heard The Secret River on Radio 4 and was fascinated with the setting: the Hawkesbury river in the early nineteenth century. In 1990 I had the great fortune to backpack along this river and saw first hand the remains of many of these early homesteads. So the setting was already quite vivid in my imagination.
In fact it was my own personal connection to the Hawkesbury that kept me reading The Secret River. The book touches on of my major literary pet peeves: the complete disregard for quotation marks to note dialogue. Italics or other options make it difficult for me to focus on the what is being said and by whom. Everything ends up sounding in my head as if it is being spoken in a tin can.
Fortunately though, Grenville doesn't use much dialogue. Her story is mostly told in the head of William Thornhill Sr. who is given a last minute second change to redeem himself as a convict and become a free man and settler of Australia. He takes along his wife, Sal, their children and works throughout the book to never have to steel again to feed his family. Most of the experiences of the family are filtered through Thornhill's senses and he is a man of few words.
If you are a reader who also is bothered by non conformist punctuation, I suggest finding an audio version. It is a very good story.
Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: 10/13/07
Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar... Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Catchart and Daniel Klein is a beautifully constructed and deceptively short book. It's one of those books that is nice to hold, nice to flip through and nice to read random snippets from. The jokes come in handy for the random reading approach.
But... this book is also a very solid introduction to philosophy and logic. If read slowly and thoroughly, one can learn a solid foundation of the important principals of philosophy. The book is even color coded to quickly let the reader know what is being covered. Broad sweeping statements about a given subject are in brown serif text. Further explanations are given in a standard looking serif font. The jokes come in a bold sans-serif font. There are also cute one pane comics to bring important points home at the end of sections.
I have to admit that there were times when I had to set the book aside because I found my mind wandering. It is a heavy subject in a light volume. When reading it, take your time. Read slowly. Maybe read the jokes first and then go back and fill in the blanks with the explanations. You will come away laughing and having learned a thing or two about philosophy.
I Went to the Animal Fair: 10/13/07
I Went to the Animal Fair takes its name from a nursery rhyme I learned from my in-laws. This collection of animal themed poems with cute illustrations by Colette Rosseli.
I was attracted to this book because it is a themed collection of poems and nursery rhymes. It has a large number of poems not usually included in the newer books. I also like the cute illustrations.
Sean especially likes this book because he has always had a fondness for poetry. A large portion of his personal book collection is made up of children's poetry.
The Velvet Rage: 10/12/07
With "rage" in the title, I expected to find a great deal of anger inside of The Velvet Rage. Instead I found a book full of hope, encouragement and practical advice.
Alan Downs is a therapist who specializes in counseling gays. As a gay man himself, he brings a lot of his own personal experience into this book. His perspective helped to bring a well needed dose of humanity to this book that would otherwise be dry reading to someone outside his target audience.
The Velvet Rage is broken up into four parts. The first part, "The Roots of Rage" explains how things go wrong in childhood with parents, friends and society all setting standards that young gays can't conform to but feel they must to fit. The second part, "Overwhelmed by Shame" covers the first stage of recognizing one's gayness; in Downs's patients this is a stage of anger and self loathing. Stage 2, covered in "Compensating for Shame" is a time of self destructive behavior where men try everything to be the perfect gay only to realize that perceived perfection isn't the same as happiness or self confidence. Downs's goal is to get his patients to Stage 3 or the "Cultivating of Authenticity" where they can just be themselves and be happy with who they are. In stage 3 being gay just becomes another facet of one's identity instead of being either something to hide or the only defining feature.
Downs ends his book with a few simple rules. While he says that non gays won't "get" these rules, they actually sound like practical advice that can be modified for anyone's day-to-day living.
Gag is a short book of poetry written in a pounding beat and covering a wide gamut of sexually charged subjects as seen through a life affected by abuse.
The language used is crude, frank and repetitive. At first it shocks and then it desensitizes. After that, it unfortunately, bores.
The poems are mostly free form and almost follow a rap beat. The thing that annoyed me most was the overuse (and misuse) of the ellipses. I suppose the over abundance of "..." is there to show that things grind on but it backfires, giving the impression that the poet can't figure out how to end the poem or has grown bored with her work.
Alice, the Cat Who Was Hounded: 10/12/07
From before Harriet was born, she has been fascinated by cats. So when I look for books for her, I look for books about cats. Alice, the Cat Who Was Hounded was a very lucky find on the library discard shelf.
Alice is a photographic picture book which uses humorous text and typographical treatments to tell the story of a fussy house cat who is forced to make friends with an eager puppy named Ralph.
The book is by far Harriet's favorite. It has a cat. It has a dog. It is a funny story and it is short. I have honestly lost track of how many times she and I have read Alice the Cat Who Was Hounded together. It must be close to a hundred times. Some days we read it a dozen or so times.
Alice the Cat Who Was Hounded is currently out of print but a quick online search brings up a few copies for sale. If you have a young child who likes cats, this may be one to add to your list of books to get.
Cereus Blooms at Night: 10/11/07
Cereus Blooms at Night is one of the most powerful and thought provoking books I've read this year. I wish I had finished it before the BTT question last week about obscenity in literature because it makes a good argument for when explicit scenes are needed in a book to tell a story.
Shani Mootoo wastes no words in Cereus Blooms at Night. Everything has a meaning and often more than one. The cereus of the title both refer to the cactus that grows in Mala's yard and to Mala's brief moment of true happiness before her life utterly falls apart.
The island of Lantacamara is named for a flower that now thrives throughout the world and is a popular garden flower for its hardy nature and appeal to butterflies (mariposa being Spanish slang for gays). As Otoh's mother explains: "every village in this place have a handful of people life you. And it is not easy to tell who is who." (page 238)
In the middle of all of this is Miss Ramchandin, a frail old woman accused of murder and dumped in the care of a charity nursing home. It is through the friendship of Tyler, one of Lantacamara's many butterflies, that Miss Ramchandin can finally tell her story.
Go read Cereus Blooms at Night and listen to Miss Ramchandin's story as it unfolds. Be prepared for strong themes and a harsh frankness but it is worth the discomfort.
Sail Away: 10/11/07
Sail Away is the second book by Donald Crews I've had the pleasure to read. Crews specializes in boldly drawn picture books. His book Trucks is one of my children's favorite books.
Sail Away follows a family as they spend the day sailing from the harbor, out to sea and back home that night just as a storm comes ashore. Although it is still a picture book, it is dramatic and full of adventure. There is just something about Crews's illustrations that always manage to suck me into the story.
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: 10/10/07
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency has many of the same elements as Adams's more well known Hitchhiker's Guide series: mentally ill robots, digital watches, time travel and the end of the earth.
Dirk Gently's story doesn't flow as evenly from scene to scene as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy does but then there are so many different versions of the Guide that it's possible earlier versions were just as rough. It took me a while to get into the story and to piece together the different threads of the story.
My favorite characters are the Robot Monk, the ghost of Gordon, and Dirk Gently himself. Gordon's plight of learning how to be a ghost made for humorous and interesting reading. I had to agree with Dirk and his frustration and Richard's apparently random actions.
I liked the book enough to pick up the sequel. It's on my TBR shelf; I just need to find it.
Barren Lives: 10/10/07
I first read Barren Lives ten years ago for a Brazilian cinema class taught by Robert Stam when he was guest lecturing at UCLA. The two classes of Stam's I took were among my favorites. In ten years, though, my memory of the book had faded and I wanted to give it one more read before sending it to another BookCrosser.
Barren Lives (1938) covers a brief period of time in the life of a family as they try to eke out a living as farm hands on a ranch in a small village. Thematically the book reminds me of The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck except that the family is more hopeful in Barren Lives because they are still on the move at the end of the book. Steinbeck's family reaches the promised land (California) only to find poverty and exploitation.
The book is written in a straightforward manner. The text is as barren as the farm lands have been rendered by the drought. This simplicity makes the drought seem all the more real and the plight of the farming family more poignant.
The Storm: 10/09/07
Every BookCrossing meeting I go to I like to look for books either for my children or for my son's school. Last year his school went from being a day care with a Montessori approach to being a proper Montessori preschool school and kindergarten. Being such a new school the library is very short of books.
Among last month's library discards that I then donated on to my son's school was The Storm by Sarah Zimmerman. I can't provide an Amazon link as the book was a self published book by another local Montessori, Fountainhead school.
The Storm is a beautifully illustrated story about local animals who prepare for an oncoming storm. The illustrations are gorgeous pen and ink line drawings full of depth and realism. As it is a montessori book it includes pointers to teachers to use it in a lesson plan.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House: 10/08/07
In the BookCrossing forums there is a long standing debate about film adaptations of books. With a well-read group of people, there is a lot of reluctance in the group at seeing the film adaptations as they are so often changed. I am firmly in the camp of film adaptation lovers. With so many books published every year it is impossible to read a significant cross section of them. Add up all the previous years and one is quickly faced with an avalanche of books! That's where the film adaptations come in; when I see a film has been inspired by a book I am almost certain to find a copy to read for myself. I've probably read hundreds of books "recommended" to me via the medium of film.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is one of these books. I saw the 1948 film starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy on cable (back in the days when we could afford cable) and loved the film. It's actually my second brush with the book (having seen The Money Pit, the 1986 Spielberg version first). But it was the Cary Grant version that made me want to read the book. The next day I purchased a copy for myself.
So, does the book hold up to the movies? Yes. The 1948 versions is a very faithful adaptation in the setting, the plot and the characters. The book though is an even quirkier story than the film, being told in a number of ways: via an omniscient narrator who for the most part follows Mr. Blandings, letters between Blandings and the various workmen involved in the house, newspaper clippings and Mrs. Blandings's diary. The diary entries really caught my attention because they read so much like modern blog entries (minus the emoticons).
Besides the quirky narration, the book is illustrated by William Steig. Steig's cartoons pull out the funniest passages in the chapter and bring them to life with just a few lines.
Better Not Get Wet, Jesse Bear: 10/07/07
Better Not Get Wet, Jesse Bear is another of the recent books I donated to Sean's school. While I've read a number of positive reviews on this book, it personally left me scratching my head.
Jesse Bear must be about two years old. He's a young, rambunctious bear who is apparently into everything. Although his parents have a day of swimming planned for him, they don't want him to get wet before it is time. Yet they give him ample opportunity to disobey with a tempting aquarium, garden hose and so forth. I find this sort of behavior among real life adults to their children infuriating so I'm clueless as to why I'd find it fodder for a cute story.
Fortunately Jesse Bear seems pretty thick skinned to all of his parent's scolding but later in life he's either going to be neurotic from years of unexplained scolding or he's going to be a spoiled brat who won't have any sort of self discipline. Neither option seems like a good future for Jesse Bear.
From the positive reviews, younger children (the books is aimed at the preschool crowd) like the simplistic rhymes and colorful illustrations. They also like the repetition of the phrase: "Better not get wet, Jesse Bear." I didn't have an opportunity to read it to either of my two children so I can't tell you if they would agree with these reviews.
The Ebb-Tide: 10/06/07
I read the Ebb-Tide for the Classics Challenge. Stevenson and his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne tell a modern (contemporary for when it was written) tale of pirates in the South Pacific. These are not the "pieces of eight" pirates of their most famous collaboration, Treasure Island. Instead these are more akin with modern smugglers.
The book follows three men down on their luck, stuck on Tahiti for a variety of reasons. They are all recovering from influenza which had been brought to the island on one of the recent ships. Each man is going by an assumed name having failed a number of times at various enterprises and found it best to start afresh where creditors or the authorities can't find them as easily.
An abandoned schooner where the crew had died of small pox picked while in port at San Francisco gives this trio a chance at redemption. Rather than do the sensible thing, they decide to take the ship and it's cargo and play at being pirates (of the sort from Treasure Island) for its maiden voyage. Unfortunately for them, they are quickly ensnared by modern day pirates.
While the story itself is both short and simplistic compared to some of Stevenson's other works, it is a wonderful exploration of character. Each of the three men are well fleshed characters with their own back stories and reasons for their failures.
Mousekin's Family: 10/06/07
Mousekin's Family is another of last month's set of books that I donated to Sean's school. The illustrations are the best part of the book. They are vivid and charming.
The story itself is one of a young mousekin parent who is wondering how to teach the first litter of offspring how to survive outside the nest in the tree.
While wondering about how best to go about the lessons, mousekin runs into a group of other babies. Mousekin tries out the life lessons on these youngsters while in secret the mousekin family watches.
Were it not for the beautiful illustrations the story would be rather dry. The text failed to capture my imagination and interest.
The Eight: 10/05/07
I've had The Eight on the TBR shelf next to my bed for two or three years. I got it right around the time I had just finished reading The Da Vinci Code and the blurb on the back compared it to Brown's book and the Bookcrosser who gave me the book had liked the intricacies of the plot.
This 600 page mystery involves a formula for an elixir of life, a rare chess set and some Cold War era espionage. The story jumps between the close of the 18th century and "modern day" 1972. To make the chess themes stick the book has 64 characters (one per square) and whole bunch of boring detail taking so seriously that I was alternating between bored and bemused and the pretentiousness of this book.
I'll concede that Neville is probably a better writer than Brown but Brown seems to have more fun with his books. Dan Brown writes long winded shaggy dog stories that draw on subjects I'm interested in (art history and technology) to tell implausible but entertaining adventure stories. The Eight didn't capture me in the same way.
And Then What Happened Paul Revere? 10/05/07
I remember having to read And Then What Happened Paul Revere? by Jean Fritz when I was in elementary school. It was one of a number of books we had to read when we were learning about Revere and his contemporaries. While the book did teach me a great deal about the life of Revere I found it's saccharine cheerfulness to be unsettling especially at times when the book is covering the number of deaths in the revere family (especially those of Revere's young siblings, many of whom died as children or infants).
Now as an adult going back and rereading this book I found the disjoint between the serious subject matter and the almost comic book style of art unnerving. History books can be interesting to children without having them always completely upbeat.
Paul Revere was an important historical figure but he is not a superhero!
Hide and Ghost Seek: 10/04/07
Hide and Ghost Seek is one of Sean's current favorite books. We got it through BookCrossing originally to share with Sean's school but the book seems to be a permanent fixture in Sean's "current read" pile.
Each page of the book is whimsically drawn with a halloween themed scene. There are ghosts who are hidden in each drawing from 1 through 15 and then 20. The ghosts are cleverly hidden but still easy enough to find making it fun for both of us to read together.
I love the book for the cute drawings. Each set is intricately drawn and filled with the sorts of things one would expect from a Halloween themed world. And yet each scene looks lived in. There is a school, a laundromat, a movie theater, a beach, a drive in and many other interesting places. Fans of books like the I Spy series will enjoy Hide and Ghost Seek.
My Summer with George: 10/03/07
My Summer with George should have been an enjoyable read. Marilyn French writes well, creates interesting characters and believable situations. Her insights into the process of writing were fascinating. Unfortunately the character giving the advice was otherwise so selfish and insecure that I couldn't care for her.
Hermione, the romance writer protagonist, has made a good life for herself. One summer she meets up with a nice man about her age named George. He's thinking of moving to New York to follow a job offer. Unfortunately Hermione doesn't know how to compromise or how to trust. She spends the entire book clinging on to George, waiting for every word, being horribly disappointed if he can't make an appointment, and so forth.
As Hermione pines over her newest love she reveals secrets of past marriages and affairs. These flashbacks undermine Hermione's credibility as a sympathetic protagonist. She comes off instead as immature and silly. So when things ultimately don't work out for Hermione, I could only side with George.
Bleach 2: 10/02/07
I had a difficult time reading Bleach 2 (Goodbye Parakeet, Goodnight My Sister) because Harriet has become completely fascinated with the artwork. Any time I tried to read this manga in her presence she would find a way to snatch it out of my hand to "read" it herself.
Bleach 2 brings in more characters into the mix. First is Chad, the big smart "thug" of the school who has a huge heart and spirit power of his own. He befriends a cursed parakeet because he's the only one strong enough to survive all the bad luck that follows owning the bird. Of course the bad luck turns out to be a hollow but Chad holds his own.
The second half brings Ichigo and Rukia closer together as partners. What should be an "easy" way for Ichigo to control how and when he leaves his body ends up leading to a funny and embarrassing day of mistaken identity.
Sailaway Home: 10/02/07
Sailaway Home celebrates the power of imagination. A little pig turns a pond and a garden into a world of adventure involving storms at seas, pirates and cowboys.
The story is beautifully illustrated in a colorful manner that captures on paper the balance between the mundane real world an the high adventures of his imagination.
The story itself is told with simplistic rhymes which make for easy reading for the parent and interesting listening for young children.
Shooting Polaris: 10/01/07
The second book I read this summer for my participation in this November's Nanowrimo is a memoir of a man who worked on a survey team in Utah. Shooting Polaris begins with John Hales's first summer as a novice flag man on a government survey team in the 1970s.
Hales outlines how he learned the ins and outs of surveying and the culture that has arisen out of the Public Land Survey System of surveying as mandated by Thomas Jefferson. Surveying under the PLSS is not about describing lines and boundaries as they exist naturally on the land, it is about creating boundaries according to the mathematical certainly of line. The bulk of the United States regardless of the changing landscape is divided up into 6 mile townships.
Hales was part of a team to go through the roughest areas of the Utah wilderness to resurvey the area. As a flag man he was sent scrabbling up mountains, down ravines and through unforgiving landscape to plant his flag on Line as directed.
During his summer tenure on the team the technology changed from physical lengths of wire to the precursors of modern computerized surveying equipment. The new equipment while more accurate is more prone to damage. Hale argues that today's equipment removes the surveyor's ability to see himself in the universe.
To explain why he feels a disconnect with the modern equipment, Hales explains the evolution of the equipment and process from the time Wyld wrote The Practical Surveyor, through the equipment he learned on, up to modern times. This timeline was my favorite part of the book.