Saturday, October 31, 2009

Canadian Science Fiction

I hear that Margaret Atwood doesn't think she writes science fiction, but that is unfortunate, because she does. (Sorry!) The Year of the Flood is her second book about the near future, with exaggerated depictions of future green recyclers, corporations, and genetic food modifiers. The extrapolations are often grimly funny, with enough truth to stay uncomfortable.

But the allegory tends to take over the story with the endless coincidences -- there are two main characters, and it seems that the main way to survive the immediate catastrophe is to have known or dated one of them. Or attacked them. Almost everyone important to them manages to survive at least briefly, until the fact of the apocalypse seems diminished. In science fiction, one of the characters is the world, and Atwood definitely treats the new setting as an important character. Yet her human protagonists suffer a bit, which is a shame because Atwood is wonderful at portraying interesting characters, especially women. We see glimpses of that here, especially around Toby, but then attention wanders to another cool gizmo. So Atwood is not only writing science fiction, she is falling to one of its typical pitfalls.

One thing that annoyed me, rather unfairly, is that I trusted the previous book, Oryx and Crake, too much. The main character of that book (who shows up in this one) made a lot of bad conclusions about the world (he thought he was the last survivor) that I believed. Finding out that he was wrong undermines a lot of that book, and makes me hesitate to trust what I'm learning in this one. Which is my own fault -- Atwood made it quite clear throughout both books that Jimmy was an idiot, so I really had no reason to trust him on anything.

But reading this book did make me pay more attention to recycling, and to indoctrinating my children with many strange rituals, both worthy endeavors. B.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Library Haul

Well, I turned in more than I checked out, so it was a successful day. I'm probably going to move library day around, maybe to Monday, because Thursday is also Kids Cook night, and too much excitement is bad for the adults.

This week I brought home two from the hold shelf:
And I saw a new kid book:
  • Two Under Par, by Kevin Henkes. His picture books are lovely, and his chapter books tend to be sweet. Also, I think people named Kevin tend to be good writers.
I'm still on my picture book kick, so we grabbed:
  • The Pigeon Has Feelings Too, by Mo Willems, which is technically a board book but we are Pigeon fans.
  • Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct, again by Mo
  • Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, once again by Mo. We must remember to send this over to my sister, who is a naked mole rat fan.
  • Have I Got a Book For You, by Melanie Watt
P read the two longer Mo books to his cousin on the ride home, so I declare the library visit a success already. N had accompanied us on the trip as he was in exile from school, which thinks he looks like he has a fever. There are no other symptoms -- his temperature is normal, his energy is high, his appetite rages, but in these troubled times he was willing to skip some education to protect his classmates. And get some good stories from his cousin. A could not assist, as he was in the back reading:
  • Oh Say, I Can't See, a Time-Warp Trio book by Jon Scieszka,
  • Star Wars Clone War Adventures # 10 (a graphic book)
  • Star War Clone War Advantures #2 (likewise)
These were all finished as we pulled into the garage. I hope he has books from school to last him the rest of the week. Or I guess he could find one around the house somewhere...

Library count right now: 79, of which 7 are officially on the kids' cards.

It turns out that other people also like to blog their weekly library hauls, so I shall sign up with the crowd. Library Loot this week is hosted by ReadingAdventures, at least until later today.

L Is for Liar

Today is another A-Z Wednesday, as hosted by Reading at the Beach. I grabbed one of my library books because I am drastically overextended and need to pare down the stack. Liar by Justine Larbalestier is a new Young Adult book about a girl who compulsively lies about just about anything. Her whole family lies. But what should she do, when the truth is unspeakable and impossible?

The book starts with the news that her boyfriend has mysteriously died. What happened is the mystery, and the book is about not just figuring out what happened, but about what the first person narrator believes, how much of what she is telling us is true, and how much is a delusion or a wish or just plain wrong. I've finished the book pretty late, so right now I'm not sure what I believe. The style is a jigsaw puzzle, with many tiny pieces that the reader begins to assemble, then to reassemble, and the final result is like one of the puzzles where each piece is a tiny picture but when you step back the whole thing makes a complete scene. Or maybe when you step farther back it's one of those 3-D images where you squint to see something in all the wavy lines. It's very interesting; I'll decide in a few days whether I liked it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book to Comics

I like the Mercy Thompson books that Patricia Briggs writes, so I put my name on the library list for her newest: Homecoming. Turns out that this book is a hardback comic with a new story about how Mercy found her home in Oregon. I've only read a few comics, a couple of which were based on books. I think one was a Jim Butcher story. In this case, although the story was good and the artwork was vivid, my inner vision of the characters differed a lot from the artist's rendering. I'm sure that his matches the descriptions, and he was the one working with the author, but I had a lot of trouble remembering who was who because no one looked like they do in my head. I probably won't look for future versions of the comic, but only because they weren't channeling me for their models. B

Monday, October 26, 2009

Welcome Fellow Lizards

Welcome to the Lizard Motel is hard to define. The subtitle reads "Children, Stories, and the Mystery of Making Things Up", and below that the book identifies itself as a memoir. I had heard that this was a book about someone annoyed at the modern trend towards realism and despair in children's books, which sounded interesting, and the memoir led me to hope that it would also talk a lot about books the author, Barbara Feinberg, had read as a child and as an adult and how those shaped her life. Book memoirs are a delicious treat for me, even better than food memoirs.

And there is some of that. Feinberg remember the love and comfort she felt from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a book I also loved. She chronicles the day she spent reading some of her son's assigned reading, and her bitterness at the unremitting grief and pain depicted in the texts. Yet so much of her story is repulsive, in the sense that I want to draw away from the author. Her understanding of Bridge To Terabithia contradicts mine -- I do not think the final lesson is that "Terabithia/Childhood Imagination must ultimately be forfeited." That's the opposite of what I thought it symbolized when he built a stronger and safer bridge. So I'm not inclined to trust her perceptions on several levels. And the idea that someone who makes a living working with children, and who claims to be a book lover, could be flabbergasted at a death in a Katherine Paterson book, implies many things that don't make me want to invite her to my book club.

She includes many details of her life and her kids, and she comes across as a bit creepy from the first pages, when she wakes up, grabs some leftover paint, and goes out on the front porch in her nightgown. Her kids eventually wake up and enthusiastically join in until it is time for the brother to do his summer reading. He enlists his sister, and they march inside to face the music, literally, since he has checked out an audio book of Chasing Redbird. He knew he would want company when facing the next grim tale his education demands. Feinberg stays outside (still in her nightgown) but listens to the low, ominous tone of the speaker through the window, and observes how her children seem crushed under the weight of the sonorous cadences. It never occurs to her to go inside. Or get dressed, apparently.

Later on my initial uneasiness is confirmed when she sneaks food into a library and spatters crumbs all over the stacks, then slides under the table for a post-snack nap. Not really the clientele I'm hoping for at my neighborhood library; she strikes me as a page-folder. She seems very impressed with her insights, even when they seem facile or just plain wrong. Yes, it is true that Bridge to Terabithia beat out a happy family story like Ramona and her Father for the Newbery, but the next year The Westing Game trumped foster-child tale The Great Gilly Hopkins. Dicey's Song is not at all about abandonment, but about loving and trusting your family. No one is abandoned. Bud Not Buddy is not a problem novel.

She never questions her conclusion that all literary children's books since 1974 are realistic tear-jerkers, when I'd think the first step would be to look at a list of Newbery winners. Yes, there is a solid representation of sad or emotional books (Kira-Kira, I'm looking at you; Out of the Dust is right behind you), but there are also books like Criss Cross, Joyful Noise, The Hero and the Crown, The Grey King. Maybe her son has the misfortune of being in a school district with a large investment in tissue companies, but this is not a universal phenomenon. My son gets to read Hatchet, and I think even the moose survives. So the portion of the book that is a polemic against the dreariness of children's books seems wasted against a straw man.

This habit of confusing the personal with the universal makes for a fun read because there is a lively interior dialogue (Hey, that's not right! That's true, but only in limited amounts!, Huh?!). But in a memoir that takes itself as seriously as this one does, I prefer to respect its opinions more. She never talks to anyone who does enjoy "problem novels," and lord knows there were and are many of them. But I don't think kids read them with the seriousness that it seems her son brings to them; I and the people I know read them on a lark, to wallow in the bathos and then emerge relatively unscathed. It's a way of trying on strong emotions, and early adolescence is a time when strong emotions are often the only ones available in your interior closet, but with a good book (or sometimes even better, a bad book) about cancer or family dismemberment or a spiral into drug destruction you can take on and take off the passion without incident. I don't think these books are read in an attempt to learn appropriate responses.

Ironically, after all the complaints about books forcing misery into any situations, the author brings us along as her younger daughter deals with several frightening surgeries for a tumor in her inner ear. The emphasis is still on Feinberg, who is impressed with her sensitivity at noticing that the girl and her brother are both scared. She even has the epiphany that this might not be a good time to bombard her family with books about children dying in hospitals, which leads her to the conclusion that such books are worthless and bad for all children everywhere. Hmm.

So, Feinberg and I agree that children's books matter. We disagree on what most of those books are about, what topics are appropriate for children, what children tend to get out of books, and why they were written. and I hope someone who has read a few more will write another book. C-

It Should Still Be Saturday -- Forgotten Books

My beside table is precarious and groaning, so I'm ruthless forcing some books off, book that at any moment I was going to review thoughtfully, insightfully, and hilariously. Those nuggets will be lost to prosperity forever, lost even to the internet, because instead I'm going to dismiss them and move on. Onward and upward! BAWK BAWK BAWK (that last is the anthem of this blog, in case I haven't mentioned that).

OK, marching the plank are:
  1. Even Money, by Dick & Felix Francis. Solid mid-grade Francis; he's a bookkeeper, with a wife in the loony bin, a minor crisis at work, and a lost father with a dangerous past.
  2. Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Sheppard's, and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's Firefly, ed. by Jane Esperson. BebBella Press has a SmartPop line of books with essays about popular TV shows and movies. The essays range in quality, much like a fan convention's panels, but it's a fun chance to think on a literary level about the stuff we read and watch for entertainment.
  3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver. Another of the books about eating locally, by an author it was fun to pretend to buddy up with. It converted us to farmer's markets for the summer, and taught me to make a frittata.
  4. Voices, by Ursula K. LeGuin. The second book about Orrec and Gry, this satisfying story had more hope and possibility than the first, leaving me with the gumption to start (but not yet finish) the third. Recommended.
  5. A Darker Crimson:Crimson City, by Carolyn Jewel. A strange paranormal romance set in a world shared with other authors. I didn't like the irresistible lust towards the bad demon, and the plot felt forced. I think the sex wasn't great either, even with the vampire.
  6. Deerskin, by Robin McKinley. (reread). This book about abuse and rebirth was harder and better than I remembered. I found it very interesting that there is a possibility of a happy ending at the end; I completely forgot that. I still don't believe in it. Highly Recommended.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Library Restraint Last Thursday

Last Thursday I went to two libraries, and only checked out the books on my list. And some picture books. And some music. So I have clearly become a paragon of self control, and soon will be able to fit all my book in the library crate.

I got:
  • Liar, by Justine Larbalestier,
  • Homecoming (Mercy Thompson), a graphic novel by Patricia Briggs and David Lawrence (and really, graphic novels should only count half, because they are short)
  • Good Poems, the audio version. Now I can read and listen. I was going to skip the music and just listen to poems in the car all week, but when my sons heard this plan they panicked and got me a few music CD's as well. It was cute watching their little faces blanch with fear.
A few interesting picture books rounded out my bag. I think P checked out Sammy Keyes #2, and A hauled home some Tintins, Star Wars things, and a few videos. A successful outing for all. Next week I have to see how to lure my niece and nephew along as well.

Sunday Summary

This week has seen a general collapse on my blogging, which is very sad. On the other hand, my Facebook Cafe and Roller Coaster Park seem to be thriving busily. Good to see my priorities are in place. So I'm going to try to try harder. I think I'll go back to aiming to blog every day, even if I haven't finished a book. I shall cushion myself with Sunday Summary, the day when I tell you about all the books I haven't read.

I know how exciting that is for all my many readers. Mom? Mom? Why don't you ever comment?

I also have my Library Log, which is going up today despite the library trip last Thursday. And on Saturday I'll do rapid reports of any books I haven't reviewed, so each Sunday I start with a clean table. So that's three days saved, which means I only need four books a week, which seems doable. Maybe I'll also throw in some details of my thrilling life, such as the mayhem in the kitchen when the kids cook, or an exciting book club. You may laugh, but my book club is on the wild side. I would post pictures of some of our events, but this is a family blog. Let's just say that nudity was involved and leave it at that.

Where are my bookmarks languishing? What have I finished? This list is short:
  • Language of Bees, which is the name of the book I was reading, not Beekeeper's Apprentice. I've had the two books confused for a while, which is one of the reasons I didn't read LoBs for so long; I thought it was a reissue of the first book. I'm not the only one making this mistake; LibraryThing has a picture of Beekeeper's Apprentice up for this book. Bugs confuse me, especially stinging ones.
  • Kringle, the book about Santa Clause.
  • Even Money, by Dick Francis & son Felix Francis
It's not that I'm not doing other reading, but it's mostly directionless and in the middle of books. It's not so much that this week was crazy, but that I spent most of it flailing about and not doing anything for more than a few minutes at a time.

I'll be honest about the library books:
  • Serenity Found (another set of essays, written after the movie)
  • The Name of the Wind (he's at the wizard school, getting trouble. Not mischief, trouble.)
  • The Year of the Flood (I've lost track of one of the viewpoint characters, which is unfortunate)
  • The Book Whisperer (a teacher's manual on how to get kids to love reading)
  • The Prisoner Within (an SF book from the honor shelf which I misplaced for a year, oops)
We found a stack of Black Lagoon books, and both kids have been reading them nonstop. P also started the next Sammy Keyes book, and promptly lost it. So we searched all over and found the first one, which was a relief, but not helpful. Luckily the library is a good back-up. A has been rereading most of the Percy Jackson books; he has one of the side books on hold at several libraries. So my kids have been finishing things, just not me. I shall view that as hope for the future of humanity, not a sad personal indictment .

Thursday, October 22, 2009

K for Kringle, OK?

Today is K Day on Reading at the Beach's A-Z Wednesday, so I tossed through my unread book pile until I found Kringle, by Tony Abbott (he's the Secrets of Droon guy). It's a retelling of the legend of Santa Clause, with Kringle as the boy chosen one who fights goblins with the aid of shoe-fixing elves, a Christian hermit, and reindeer that are the avatars of his dead parents. It's an interesting mishmash of ideas that mostly works, but occasionally I found myself out in the cold wondering if I had wandered into an allegory. Kringle has boyish adventures like battling goblins with his stick as well as mystical adventures involving a vision quest inside a frozen crevice. The book kept me turning the pages (it was fairly easy to read this even in a moderately busy day), but some of the strangeness was jarring.

I'll leave it out for my kids, but they probably won't pick it up until the holiday season, if then. B-.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

So Special

Fanfiction is the name for writing done in another author's world. Usually fans of the author write because the author isn't producing fast enough, or to put in scenes that were missing, or to think about the characters having sex in probable or improbable ways (I blame the internet for the prevalence of the last). But often fanfiction thinks it is being true to the work, but the new author inserts a fresh character, possibly based on that new author, who fits right into the world except for being just a little bit more special than anyone else. One of the first popular fanfictions was Star Trek, and in one now infamous piece a new officer joined the crew, taught Kirk how to command (and to truly love), showed Spock how logic should really work, demonstrated a few improvements to the warp engines to Scotty, and I don't know, maybe performed a heart transplant between herself and Dr McCoy. This character's name was Mary Sue, and that is now a term for any character (in fanfiction or original fiction) who is just so gosh darned special. Everyone loves her (or him), she is good at everything, and often has very pretty eyes, possibly of an interesting shade.

Laurie R. King runs with this trope in her series about Sherlock Holmes, with the retired Holmes meeting a young girl named Mary Russell (I affectionately call her Mary Rue), who is his equal in logic and detection and just about everything, and better than him at common sense and determination and who knows what else. By the third book they get married and start traveling the world. In the ninth book, The Language of Bees, Holmes meets his long-lost son.

Mary is the viewpoint character for the series, and she is very aware that she is the smartest thing ever, which does get a little tedious. In fact, for most of this book I had a mean-spirited and unfulfilled hope that she would be wrong sometime. Yet the story is full of nice plot and adventure, and I mostly enjoyed the read. I won't seek out the next book (there is always a next book) but if I stumble across it in the library I'll probably pick it up. This one does end on a bit of a cliff hanger, but not enough to trouble my sleep.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday Summary

Another slow week of not much reading. I managed to finish a few books:
  • Finding Serenity
  • Nine Gates: Breaking the Wall
  • Star Trek 2
  • Jip: His Story
I even blogged three of those. Bookmarks are inching their way along in:
  • Serenity Found (another set of essays, written after the movie)
  • The Name of the Wind (he's falling in love, which moves slowly)
  • The Beekeeper's Apprentice (another slow part)
  • The Year of the Flood (Margaret Atwood's newish SF book)
P finished both the first Sammy Keyes book and Number the Stars. He lay about exhausted for a day or so, and then picked up the second Keyes book. A has been rereading things -- some Riordan, some Homer Price, really anything he finds near him. I still love rereading, but I find myself wanting to urge him to read something new, because there are so many books he'll love and there isn't enough time and...
But there is plenty of time. And life isn't about how many books you read, it's about how you live while reading them. Slow breaths here, mom.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mah Jong For Your Lives

Jane Lindskold writes stories about intellectual people with interesting lives. The books feel very authentic despite the fantasy elements, although the tone can be dry and there is often a lot of talking. She has written a series of books about wolves, an outstanding book about kaleidoscopes, and her current work follows the descendants of refugees from another dimension who can do magic with mah john tiles. Nine Gates is the second book in the Breaking the Wall series.

Lindskold's imagination is powerful enough to hold me to the story -- I really believe in the events and the character's response to them. I liked the twists the plot takes -- there are attacks from opposing forces, but that may only be a signal of a deeper problem. Foes become allies when faced with dangers affecting them both. People behave in an adult manner; even the girl spinning herself in a noose of jealousy eventually comes to her senses. The ensemble cast is a bit distancing; we spend time in the viewpoints of many different characters, and worry about the motives and desires of even more. The prose is more functional than lyric, so the main draw is the story itself. The strong feminism also pleases me; there's no ideology, but many of the characters are powerful women. I'm enjoying that, so I'll keep turning up for more of these books. B

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Trekkie 2

I used to have all the original Star Trek books, but at some move they didn't make the cut. But James Blish's Star Trek 2 fell back into my house somehow, so I reread it. Rereading a book has a different texture than a first read; the shadows of memory are flickering behind the text. Sometimes there is only a feint sense of deja vu, since most things have been forgotten. Sometimes all the plot has vanished, but the tone and mood seems comfortably familiar. Sometimes everything is still fresh and cozy, like hearing a favorite bedtime story one more time. Sometimes the anticipation makes everything sharper -- you know what will happen if they open THAT DOOR, but it slowly creaks open anyway.

Rereading a Star Trek collection has a triple echo, because I'm getting the ghosts of both the previous read and the visuals of the TV episodes themselves. Sometimes these ghosts align, and sometimes their differences cross back and forth. It's hard to get a sense of what the story is at all, because what I'm really reading is my past, my early enjoyment of science fiction, of reading and watching things not made for kids. Of recognizing something as belonging to the near past; this book was written the year I was born. Finally, has been reviewing the episodes of Star Trek, so I see the stories through the eyes of the analysts.

This book has some classic episodes, including "The City on the Edge of Forever", where Kirk is tragically prudent, and some, er, less classic ones, such as "Court Martial", where Spock plays chess. I'll offer it to my son, but I suspect he'll find it too old-fashioned.

Thursday Library Overindulgence (Again)

Another day of complete failure at library restraint. I believe I am inching towards having 80 books out, with at least two known to be lost. Oops.

First, the hold shelves:
  • Child of fire / Harry Connolly.
  • Countdown to summer : 180 poems for every day of the school year / by J. Patrick Lewis (This one was completely worth it, since my fifth grader snuck it and started reading it. Reading POETRY.)
  • Good poems / selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor.
  • How to ditch your fairy / Justine Larbalestier. (Next book club book. Or the one after that, actually. Oops.)
  • Sammy Keyes and the cold hard cash / by Wendelin Van Draanen.
Then, because I had too many books out already, I let some more fall into my bag:
  • A weed by any other name : the virtues of a messy lawn, or learning to love the plants we don't plan
  • Wanting Mor / Rukhsana Khan.
  • Where the mountain meets the moon / Grace Lin.
  • The necessary beggar
I'm ignoring any music CD's. I did get some more picture books, because I'm really enjoying them, especially when my kids read them to me:
  • Jojo's flying side kick / by Brian Pinkney.
  • A cold winter's Good Knight /
  • The day I swapped my dad for two goldfish / [words, Neil Gaiman ; pictures, Dave McKean]
  • Bad frogs
  • Crazy hair
  • Lousy rotten stinkin' grapes
  • Most loved in all the world
  • Only a witch can fly
  • Pennies for elephants
  • The great nursery rhyme disaster
  • The prairie train /

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sammy and Art

Sammy Keyes and the Art of Deception was another fun mystery by Wendelin Van Draanen. I like when she wrestles with idea other people think are too mature for kids (in this case, what is art), because as a kid I resented being simplified. I also like when she learns to interact with adults on a more personal level; in this book she worries about her the friendship (and maybe more) between her gran and her friend. And there is a fun and wacky mystery. Another fun book. B

J is for Jackpot

Today is "J" day at Reading at the Beach's A-Z Wednesday, and the book I found on my shelves was Jip, His Story by Katherine Paterson. I got this book at a library sale years ago, but I assumed it would be a reread because I was sure I had read all of Paterson's books already. She's most famous for A Bridge to Terabithia, but she's written many kidlit books, most of them powerful and engrossing.

But I was wrong! This book was new to me, and everyone one knows the joy of finding an unknown book by a beloved author -- it's like finding an extra stash of Christmas presents under the piano on Boxing Day. All for me. Jip is an orphan boy growing up on a Vermont town's poor farm, overworked and under-loved. He finds friendship in a lunatic locked up in the asylum and with a teacher (who I believe I've met in a previous book). And then he finds out about his parentage, and his father is truly bad news. I really liked this book for its historical setting and its take on the relationships and competency of the people involved. Jip makes some bad calls, but they are true to his development, and he also pulls off some real feats (in which I include waiting patiently). I've recommended this book to my fifth grader, which probably means he will shun it. After all, he only loves about 90% of the books I make him read. A.

Monday, October 12, 2009

She's Got One Arm!

Marjorie Liu's paranormal romances are treasured for their headlong approach to art. She takes a kitchen-sink approach, where too much is never enough. They aren't great literature, but they are tremendous fun rides for the imagination.

Her Dirk & Steele books center around the magical people working for the do-gooder detective agency, which apparently runs a normal highly successful operation that we never see, and then attracts people with a little extra to use that extra to make the world a better place. Everyone jumps into the big corporate family and buddies up so they can be in each other's books.

The latest book, The Fire King, wasn't the best of the bunch, but it kept my attention and only had me scratching my head in confusion a few times. It also had a one-armed protagonist, ANOTHER shape-shifter tall guy from the past, millennial old feuds, back-stabbing friends, innocent CHILDREN at risk, Mongolian grad students, fairy assassins, and a mean dragon lady. And other stuff. The romance was second rate -- they felt a connection that bound them together, which is nice but not really compelling for the audience. I'd rather they liked each other, y'know? But I regard the love stories in these books as far second to the crazy plotting. B-.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Summary

All right, a check in at what I've finished and what I'm reading. This has been a quiet week, with one son off having adventures with gramma. I got a few books finished that have been hanging about for weeks:
  • Is Pluto a Planet? by David Weintraub
  • Left By Themselves, by Charles Paul May (kidlit)
  • The Science of Fear, Daniel Gardner
  • The Fire King, Marjorie Liu (paranormal romance)
  • Sammy Keyes and the Art of Deception, Wendelin Van Draanen (kidlit)
I still have bookmarks in these library books:
  • Nine Gates: Breaking the Wall, by Jane Lindskold. I'm nearing the end, but had to take a break because the characters were too reasonable.
  • Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. Traumatic childhoods make me go slower.
  • The Language of Bees, Laurie R. King. Now I wonder if they just didn't mention the big deal that supposedly happened years ago, so it's not that I forgot it. Mary Russell is a very smug woman, but since the author keeps letting her be smarter than Sherlock Holmes I guess that is justified.
  • Finding Serenity is a group of essays about the old Firefly series. I like reading commentary on popular shows.
I'm also occasionally carrying around some of my books, including:
  • Powers, by Ursula Le Guin. Which reminds me that I have to give my son Wizard of Earthsea soon.
  • Broom of the System, by David Foster Wallace. I'm having problems believing in the main female character.
  • Astroturf, by M.G. Lord. NASA stumbles into the eighties, to notice modern work conditions.
P seems to be enjoying the first Sammy Keyes book, as well as the picture books we brought home. He reads aloud with great expression, both to me and to his cousin. He now has a reading log from school, which only asks for titles, not opinions, which we both prefer. It also has a column for whether he read independently, shared read, or was read to. I invented a category for him reading out loud, which impressed him no end. A spent the week at Gramma's, but came home having read his first Heinlein (Have Spacesuit, Will Travel) but ignoring the Ibbottson I gave him. He also reread The Thief, and left it with my mom. I like it when my sons push books on other people. That's my kind of family values.

Be Afraid

I like reading nonfiction, not only because I learn interesting things but because it makes me feel my brain isn't atrophying. See -- I'm smart! I can read big words even. Sadly, this helps me clear many books that otherwise would not survive my terrifyingly short attention span.

The Science of Fear, by Daniel Gardner, provides a fresh description of how our unconscious rates fear and worries, and how little control our conscious and rational mind has over this. The first chapters describe how this fear setting is reached, and the later chapters cover how this results in a bad estimate of danger from various modern problems (cancer, terrorism, pornography, etc.). Gardner makes a distinction between your mind and your gut, or conscious and unconscious decision making, and shows how gut tends to win, with mind frantically coming up with reasons to match gut's opinion. Even knowing how gut makes these decisions (familiarity, affection, etc.) usually doesn't offset its influence. And modern times, with its variety of sensation-seeking media outlets, provides all sorts of bad data to our naive but influential gut.

I liked this book because it said what I like to hear (and the book discusses how much that has helped me decide it is true) and because it goes into detail on how particular menaces loom larger than their numbers justify. But it is rather repetitive; if you read an excerpt or skim a few chapters you'll get the gist. B

Heh heh. Funny internet note -- the book jacket refers me to for more info, but that goes to a pop singer's website. Danger Dan is CANADIAN --

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Good Historical Fiction For Kids

I read historical fiction as fiction first, and history second. I want a story. It's better if the facts are right, because it's hard to believe in a story if you know things are wrong, and annoying to learn things from a story that turn out to be false, but if the story stops to lecture me about history, then we've left the fiction platform and leaped into the void. Maybe you land somewhere fun, but if you start by cheating your audience it's hard to come back.

Charles Paul May, a writer mainly of nonfiction kids books, seems to understand this important distinction. His Left By Themselves, a book dated 1972 that I bought by mistake at a garage sale a decade ago, is "about" the pernicious Fugitive Slave Law in Iowa in the mid 1800s. But it tells the story of two kids on their own in the snow, who have to keep themselves warm and fed. After figuring out the basic needs, they have to decide whether to trust the bounty hunters who warn them of a ferocious girl-eating slave on the loose in the area, and then they have to decide whether to trust the man they find hiding in the barn. The facts in the book are limited to what the children know, and they know nothing about politics (one of them doesn't know much about farming, either). We aren't even given a date or a place until the end, because the kids aren't reciting the calendar to each other. It's a smooth story that gives a good sense of the place and time, without breaking into mini-lectures. I'll try to pass it on to my third grader, although he may find the brittle pages distracting. This book is just barely younger than his uncle! B

A fun note on titles -- the original name was Stranger in the Storm, which sounds more exciting but doesn't make as much sense since the book is really about the kids on their own. And the manuscript title was Birds Flying High, which is a beautiful reference to the weather lore and the fugitive slave, but doesn't make sense until after you read the book.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Thursday Library Overindulgence

I've been avoiding this post because I have again somehow drastically overextended my library card. I only read about five or seven books a week (many of them children's books). Sometimes I buy books. I have a groaning bookcase of books I've bought over the past few decades that I'm about to read, and sometimes do read. So I really only go through three or four library books a week, in a good week. This means I should check out a maximum of three books. And yet, somehow, er, my library bag is occasionally a bit heavier.

Also, I check out music for car listening. And later I put that music in my house CD player and time housework to it, which gives me a fun sense of randomness -- I must clean for five or ten songs, depending on my gumption level. Then I hit the randomizer, and wait to hear the first song -- will it be a tiny children's nursery rhyme, or the opening swells of a twenty minute orchestral piece? I like to choose my library music by having a child (or me) wander the CD section and grabbing discs blindly. This leads to nice juxtapositions -- Christmas stuff in October, followed by some Vietnamese opera, and with a African drums chaser. Or it can lead to horrible screeching.

Finally, I've gone back to checking out a handful of picture books for bedtime cuddling. So when I say that I sometimes bend the family rule that one's age should be equal to or greater than the number of items out on your card, that doesn't mean that I think I can read forty books a week. But looking at my library record, I'm wondering why I still pay full price at the movies, when I clearly consider myself eligible for the Senior discount.

This week's haul started with four books on the hold shelf:
  • The book whisperer : awakening the inner reader in every child / Donalyn Miller
  • March toward the thunder / by Joseph Bruchac.
  • The fire king : a Dirk & Steele novel / Marjorie Liu.
  • Sammy Keyes and the art of deception / Wendelin Van Draanen.
Then there were the books I found at the other library, one each from new books, children's books, and YA:
  • Al Capone shines my shoes
  • Even money. Dick Francis
  • Ten things I hate about me
I got four CDs for the car (well, I sent P to grab them):
  • Apollo 18 [sound recording] / They Might Be Giants.
  • The destroyed room [sound recording] : b-sides and rarities / Sonic youth.
  • Gregorian chant [sound recording].
  • The Christmas album.
And I found a few fun looking picture books:
  • Dinosaur! / Peter Sis.
  • I wonder as I wander / written by Gwenyth Swain ; illustrated by Ron Himler.
  • Louie! / Will Hillenbrand.
  • Oh no! Time to go! : a book of goodbyes
  • Mr. Lincoln's way / Patricia Polacco.
  • No mush today / by Sally Derby ; illustrated by Nicole Tadgell.
  • Papa do you love me? / by Barbara Joosse ; illustrated by Barbara Lavallee.
  • The true story of the 3 little pigs / by A. Wolf ; as told to Jon Scieszka ; illustrated by Lane Smith
  • Superhero School / Aaron Reynolds ; illustrated by Andy Rash.
The kids made dinner again that night, which I should have called a sausage meal. It wasn't pleasant to see the process, but the result was tasty. Overtired elementary school kids make very cranky cooks, with many tears at obstacles such as not knowing which drawer hides the oven mitts. But finally everything came together -- toasted pizza burgers, french fries, and fruit salad.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"I" Want More Planets

Today is another A-Z Wednesday, hosted by Reading at the Beach. Bloggers highlight a book that starts with the letter of the day; I read the book on that day but that is not required. This week we celebrate the letter "I." At least I do.

I've been plugging along at Is Pluto a Planet? by David A. Weintraub for a few weeks now. He writes animatedly about the history of our understanding of planets and the changing definitions as people refine their understanding of the universe. For example, the sun was considered a planet back when it revolved around the earth. The moons of Jupiter were called planets, but when the heliocentric model really took off, planets were defined as circling the sun, so moons were exiled from planetdom. Then more planets were discovered -- Uranus, Ceres, Pallas, a few others, then Neptune. And Vulcan. Oh, and Pluto. But along the way Ceres, Pallas, and their friends were converted into asteroids, and Vulcan disappeared (it was thought to orbit inside of Mercury, and accounted for the irregularities of the first planet's path. Turns out Einstein's special relativity accounts for it even better.). So the number of planets has always ballooned and deflated, depending on the power of our telescopes and the consensus of astronomers.

Strangely, it turns out that I know more about the ancient history of astronomy than modern stuff. The closer the book came to the present, the more interesting I found it. Suddenly there was drama and controversy -- Is Neptune's orbit explainable? Where would planet X be? Pluto was found because a rich astronomer paid someone to look for it, but he was looking based on flawed math -- it was only a coincidence that Pluto was there. In our huge sky, that seems amazing!

The final chapter looks at the modern definitions of a planet, especially ones that attempt to include or exclude Pluto. Weintraub does not have patience for "scientific" definitions based on utterly arbitrary definitions, so "things bigger or smaller than Pluto" do not cut the mustard as a definition. He prefers setting an upper bound as "not big enough for fusion" and a smaller bound as "big enough to be round." Unfortunately, his book was written just before the IAU's definition, which drags in the criteria that the planet clear its orbit, but I suspect he would not be impressed. Jupiter and Saturn have significant debris at their Lagrange points, in their orbits, and it is clearly easier to clear smaller sections of space nearer to the sun. Not to mention that the definition ignores orphan planets and other planet-looking objects. His definition gives us about 24 planets, with Ceres and Pallas and other hopefuls back in the front of the astronomy textbooks. I found it rather persuasive, although I'm not sure I can come up with a mnemonic for them all. That's what comes with replacing mythology with definitions. Loads of fun, but skip to the last few chapters if you want just the local news. B+

PS. I just looked up Weintraub's web page, so I can link him, and I was right about his distaste for the new definition of planet. He even mentions the Trojan asteroids in Jupiter's orbit! Also, since Pluto crosses Neptune's orbit, the "clear your orbit" rule seems to mean that Neptune isn't a planet either. Hmm. More fun in the skies!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sammy Goes Surreal -- Go Sammy!

Has anyone else read the Swallows and Amazon series? Come to think of it, I should force them on my children. It's about a bunch of kids who have adventures during the holidays (not vacation; they are all British). Most of them are "real" in that the things that happen seem realistic if sometimes improbable, but a few are clearly fiction inside the fiction world, where the kids go off sailing around the world and meet pirates and such. It's a fun line -- all the books are fiction, but some are more fictional than others. Go read them all, by the way. Great stuff. Then you too can join in the fierce arguments about which books are fictional, and which are fictional fictional (metafictional?).

Anyway, as I dove into my latest Sammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen, I kept flashing back to the Missee Lee book, one which no one argues as being a real fiction. Although I think Wendelin Van Draanen considers this to be a real part of Sammy's life, and her relationship with her mother and Officier Borsch develops, the adventure keep pushing me into fictional fictional land. Or maybe I'm just getting old. I still enjoy Sammy's competence, and she clearly has an affinity for crime, but the villains and plots in this one were just too much to swallow. So, good stuff on Sammy's character, but I think I'll have a few beers if I ever reread the last few chapters. I can't recommend that technique to my kids, but then I suspect they don't have this curmudgeonly fixation on reality anyway.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Books About Books

One of the joys of reading is reading about reading. Talk about having your cake and eating it too! Now if I could get my book group to do a book about reading, so I could talk about reading about reading. Maybe I'll write a book about that.

Not only do I like books about books, I like books about the process and the development of reading. I'm fascinated by the different ways people learn to read, and it's been fun to watch three different kids take three different paths, and now to see N starting to pick out letters. Knowing him, his path will have many detours and unusual finds, but will end up in a lovely place. In the meantime, it's good to be reminded of the joys of reading together. Pam Allyn's What To Read When: The Books and Stories to Read with Your child -- and All the Best Times to Read Them vibrates with her enthusiasm for sharing books with her kids, your kids, any kids she can tackle and read with. Although she delights in the bedtime read, she also pushes for reading during the bath, or while building with legos, or during breakfast. She knows that different kids have different interest points, but she trusts in parents to find good times to build a reading nest somewhere. Maybe this kid likes to quietly curl up in bed, but that one hates to miss out and wants a reading nook in the kitchen. Since I am enthusiastically addicted to text, I lapped this stuff up.

The final few hundred pages are long lists of books, organized by theme and marked with rough age guidelines. I didn't get as many ideas from this book, mainly because we apparently share many of the same tastes. Clearly Allyn is a woman of rare taste and discrimination! But I did grab one idea; I've started checking out picture books from the library, and grabbing some of ours as well. I had gotten out of the picture book habit since my boys are reading independently, but our chaotic bedtimes lately have meant very truncated read-alouds of our current chapter book. Something about seeing my bed strewn with a dozen big books to choose from has reminded us to cuddle up to read. Even more delightfully, we are taking turns reading them. It's been fun to see the different approaches the kids take, and hear them talk about what the books are about. I recommend Allyn's books to parents who aren't confident about what books to read with their toddlers through elementary kids, and to anyone interested in sharing kidlit with any kids hanging about. B+

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday Summary

Another week of reading has gone by; time to check if I'm finishing anything. I've got some books out from the new book section, or ones with other people's holds on, so the pressure is on.

Bookmarks are now (still) in these library books:
  • The Science of Fear, by Daniel Gardner. There's a lot of repetition here; he's discussing the poor assumptions made around crime and cancer (for example, children rarely get cancer, and the elderly are rarely victims of crime).
  • Nine Gates: Breaking the Wall, by Jane Lindskold. I'm still in the introduction, where we see how the old and new characters mix together. I really like the range of people -- college age through officially retired people are all working together.
  • Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. This is a huge fantasy book that I've seen recommended, so I'm trying it out. So far interesting but I haven't stopped the world to see what happens next.
  • The Language of Bees, Laurie R. King. I keep wanting to like these more than I do, so I tend to forget what happened in previous books. So the sudden appearance of an old character at the beginning did not have quite the shock value intended. I'll persevere.
Finally, here a few of MY books with bookmarks in them:
  • American Gods, by Neil Gaimon.
  • Whiskey and Water, by Elizabeth Bear. Still not swept away, but I have confidence.
  • Astroturf, by M.G. Lord. Yay -- we've reached some successful women engineers!
  • Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine. I got this at a book fair last year -- Levine does great retellings of fairy tales so I'm looking forward to it.
  • Is Pluto a Planet? by David Weintraub. Another birthday present from last year, but now I've got momentum!

A Challenge -- Clear Your Shelves

There is this book blog thing called a Challenge, where we dare each other to read more books. Or get acknowledged for what we were reading, but meet up with people reading similar things. My Wednesday A-Z challenge fits this, but most challenges are topic based and date based.

I'm dipping my toe into one -- the challenge to read some of the books I've been carting around with me for years. So my challenge is that between now and Nov. 30th, 20% of the books I read will be ones I bought before October 1st, and hopefully earlier. I'm picking the lower level because I've never tried to sort my books this way before. I got the Clear Off Your Shelves challenge from Kristen's BookNAround, but it's hosted by S. Krisna. GO!

Nick Hornby Reads For Money (and Love)

Although Nick Hornby and I have only small circles of intersections in our reading choices, we share a passion for the practice of losing yourself in a book. His collections of essays on what he read (and what he bought) provide fun, laughter, and the occasional addition to my booklist. Sadly, Shakespeare Wrote For Money is the last one, since he no longer writes a monthly column.

I like the heights of emotion books bring him to -- despair over the destruction of the planet, joy over finding a brand new genre to explore (YA), excitement over the new twists of his brother in law's latest book, or anything that he wants to read enough to finish. Good fun, especially for bibliophiles. B+

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Maybe Some Live Men Are Good, Too

Tasha Alexander continues the story of Emily's talent for mysteries in A Poisoned Season, where people actually ask her to help solve some crimes. And other people beg her not to, or threaten her, or refuse to believe that a women is capable of or appropriate for the task. And while she looks into the problems of the select cat burglar, the maid accused of murder, and the plot to seize the government of France, she also peers into the problem of marriage, especially for a woman in marriage. Alexander gives Emily the examples of her socially conforming friend and her struggles, the obnoxious and applauded possible heir to the French throne, the wife and mistress of a quiet man mysteriously murdered, and the affection of Colin, her first husband's best friend and would-be fiance.

I liked the balance of the mysteries and Emily's social life, which is threatened when rumors almost lead to her ostracism from society. Emily gets a chance to see her mother in a better light, which is refreshing after her early caricature. Colin is almost too good to be true in his restraint and respect, but it makes a nice contrast with the dastardly princeling. The mood remains detached, which sometimes throws me out a bit that doesn't always fit the tone, but I'm having enough fun to put the next one on hold. B+

Friday, October 2, 2009

Library Restraint on Thursday

After last weeks little problem with self-control, I really tried to pull my socks up and tighten my library bag today. I made the kids come, but forced them to do homework instead of looking for books. My older son has to learn all of fifth grade math by yesterday, which means he actually has to work at something, which means he is aghast and apoplectic. And not appreciative of the beauty of long division. Especially when he cheats and does the easy ones in his head, which means I write out really hard ones because I want him to learn the technique, and then I hiss at him to stop screeching in the library. Ahem. Meanwhile his younger brother, whose brain is more closely aligned with mine, kept annoyingly nodding AHA during my more bizarre explanations. Well, it charmed me, but not his sibling.

But I, having mastered more math than either child can shake a stick at, felt free to wander the shelves a teeny bit. The hold shelf had a nicely intellectual single offering for me:
  • Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood, which I was actually hoping would linger on the request list a while longer. Ah well, into the breach...
As a reward for this intimidating book, I treated myself to two more Sammy Keyes books, and got into an interesting discussion with the librarians as to why they were shelved in two different places (well, the obvious answer was that Someone Had Blundered, but I pretended that Mine Was Not To Reason Why and after all, I did find 'em).
And then I randomly picked picture books off the shelves because I want to start reading more out loud with the kids, and we are both getting to bed too late for most chapters and finding it harder to find a chapter book all three of us agree on. And then I looked at the clocked and raced home to force the kids to make dinner.

That last was a new bee in my bonnet that I hope stays around. I've decided that the kids need to learn to cook, and that they are now responsible for one meal a week. And it has to involve a cookbook -- no grabbing boxes of pasta and powder from the pantry. Tonight's offering was Baked French Toast, with a wonderful fruit salad on the side, and BACON. All four kids contributed, with N. proudly using the sharp knives for the first time to cut up the peach. The older kids mixed the batter, added the spices, prepared the oven & moved dishes in and out, and made bacon. I think it is very wise for new chefs to include bacon on the menu, because it makes everyone happy. Breakfast For Dinner was a success -- the adults liked it, and each kid liked at least something (N. concentrated on his salad, which he had to be convinced to share). Poor A. somehow missed the bacon, but I hope she made a batch for dessert. Oh, X made more cookies for dessert.

TV To Movie to Book

I came to Serenity very late because for a long time I thought it was about vampires in space. But I finally watched it from Netflix, and enjoyed it enough to mention to my brother, who lent me his copies of the TV series (which I have in my desk's top drawer, ready to give back). I liked those as well, so I checked the library and got the comics, and some books of essays, and the novelization. I am nothing if not thorough.

Usually when I read a book I like to fall into it; only afterwards will I notice technique or style or language. Books from movies are a big exception -- with them it's all about comparing a written scene with its video counterpart, or deciding if the writing gets the same meaning from the scene as I did. Keith R.A. DeCandido's version of Serenity followed the movie very closely, with many dialogue lines taken straight from the script. He didn't intrude much, confining himself to retelling the story with some glimpses into the minds of the characters. I thought he did a good job with Mal and Jayne, but I found his River a bit different from mine. Since River is insane, that's probably par for the course. He tried to patch up the relationship between Mal and Imara, always one of the weaknesses of the series, but I still don't believe it.

Not really a good novel in itself, it makes for a fun thought experiment. I've read some dreadful books based on movies (there was a disaster around the E.T. movie, for example), but this one is pleasant. B.