Thursday, December 28, 2006

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

It looks like I am going to be blogging mostly the fiction first. I can't help it. Fiction is what I like! Anyway - Jonathan Safran Foer is a snappy writer. He wrote Everything is Illuminated which was extremely funny and moving.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the story of a 9 year old boy who is a genius. He is dealing with the loss of his father in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. He wonders if perhaps his father didn't die and he spends his time investigating what could possibly have happened to him.

The fact that this book is written from Oskar's 9 year old perspective is fascinating. The fact that he is so smart and yet also very much a child makes him less irritating than you would think. He also comes across an old man who survived the bombing of Dresden when he was young and parralels are drawn between that and 9/11 that make for interesting reading.

This book is heartbreaking and funny and well worth reading.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
I did not believe that Twilight by Stephenie Meyer was as good as everyone said until I read it for myself. But it is SO good! I don't want to wreck any of the surprises by telling too much about the story so I will give you the bare bones.
Bella is new in town. She has come to Forks, Washington to stay with her father. She has come from Phoenix where it is always sunny and beautiful. She has a hard time dealing with the small town attitude and the constant rain. One thing that makes it bearable is the presence of Edward Cullen. He is beautiful, mysterious and unusually fixated on Bella.
This book has so many strange and exciting elements I wouldn't even know where to begin. Lets just say that this is a story of falling crazy in love with a bad boy and hoping that you can keep from losing your head.
There is a sequel, New Moon which I am dying to read. And I hear that there are going to be even more! Here's hoping...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Here it is ladies and gentlemen - what I believe is the first lock in the BHS 2007 Summer Reading Extravaganza. I just got my copy from Amazon yesterday and reread it and it is as good as I remember. As a matter of fact, it could very well win the National Book Award tonight. I know, the suspense is killing me, too!

The premise is that Jin Wang is a sweet young geek who feels like a lot of his problems stem from the fact he is Asian-American. Then there is the monkey king who feels like his problems stem from the fact that people do not worship him appropriatly. Then there is Chin-Kee who has problems they have not even developed names for yet.

The way this book plays out it terrific. It is a graphic novel (Did I mention that?) which means that at some point some person is going to say, "You're reading a comic book for summer reading?" at which point you should look at them distainfully and tell them to take a look at the New York Times Magazine from (and at some point I will put an actual date here) and then look at them pityingly for their cluelessness.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Like Water For Chocolate

Like Water For Chocolate
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
I finished the last book on the summer reading list sitting in my favorite chair in the world – a black wicker rocker next to a window in my grandmother’s attic, the chair in which I did all my best summer reading as a kid. I did a little dance of joy when I finished. Then I realized that I had to end my entire project with a book that is very hard to describe.

It is described as a book in monthly installments with recipes. It is actually written from the script of the movie - which is unusual for a book that is so well written. It is a story of love that is forbidden. Tita, the youngest daughter of a Mexican family is not allowed to marry but must serve her mother all her life. Her kingdom is the kitchen and she infuses everything she cooks with her joy and anguish, her frustration and her freedom. Basically, this book is about Mexico, sex and food. Since I haven’t read much about Mexico I will focus on the food aspect. Where is the sex? - you may ask. Um, all over the book! But lets talk about cooking. Yes, cooking!

I just read an excellent book about food, Julie and Julia. It is the end product of a blog wherein an underemployed actress in New York works out her professional disappointments by attempting to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s two volume French Cooking guide in one year. It is funny and moving and an inspiration to all who set ridiculous goals for themselves and then document them in blogs. Of course I can’t think of any specific examples at this time…

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was something of a disappointment to me! I expected to love it. And I liked it fine – there were some very funny bits. But it didn’t take me by surprise with its wonderfulness the way that some other books on this list did. And I though that surely with my love of Ender’s Game I would surely appreciate the science-fiction-y-ness of it.

Alas, I did not. I liked it fine, though.

And I already recommended all the science fiction I know and then some. Ooh! But it is English! So I will recommend a few English things that I loved. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson is brilliant and hysterically funny. Atkinson has a new novel that got wonderful reviews, but was far to violent for me! I also love The Adrian Mole Diaries and frankly anything (including its legion of sequels) by Sue Townsend. Let’s see…one more to make it three. Okay, this is a stretch – Tryst, by Elswyth Thane, is simply the most English seeming book I have ever read - even though it was written by an American. It is an old fashioned ghost story with a bit of a love story. It has nothing at all to do with The Hitchhiker’s Guide, other than the country in which it is set. And even then, Hitchhiker is only really set in England for a few minutes!

The Crazy Horse Electric Game

Crazy Horse Electric Game
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
The Crazy Horse Electric Game is not my favorite Chris Crutcher book. Don’t get me wrong. It is really interesting, fascinating even. But it lacks the realism that is so vivid in his other books. Yes, I am sure that most disabled runaways end up attending an experimental school (tuition free!) and living with a pimp with a secret and nearly dating a beautiful, emotionally wounded hooker and, of course, being completely cured! Hope I didn’t wreck the story. This book felt like it got away from him. It was fun to read, but it never felt real.

That being said, the character of Willie was extremely well written- human and wounded and frustrating. And the secondary characters were richly written and fleshed out the story brilliantly. It was just the story that bugged me. Which is odd, because I am a story person above all!

This book does give me an opportunity to recommend two books narrated by disabled characters. The first is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Hadden. I absolutely loved this book beyond measure. The protagonist is a boy who has Asperger’s Syndrome – a form of autism where the afflicted person is very smart but unable to process other people’s responses or recognize their emotions or motives. He fines a dead dog and proceeds to investigate the murder. This book is great. Another recommendation is Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge. It is the story of a friendship between an emotionally wounded, self-medicating girl and a boy with cerebral palsy. I liked it a lot.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Doll's House

A Doll's House
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Whoo-hoo! With this post I catch up with all the reading I have done thus far. I am a few chapters into The Crazy Horse Electric Game. And I am going to visit my grandma for a week. She lives in the middle of nowhere and naps in the afternoon. Needless to say, I shall be finishing the summer reading list! And I may even get to read a few things I actually want to read.

But back to A Doll's House... I remember reading this in high school and thinking it was stupid. Then I read it in college and it made me angry. Then I just read it now (and yet each time I read it I can never remember a thing about it - go figure) and it made me dreadfully sad. Nora is deadly irritating - but I saw her pain a lot more in this reading. I have met women like her and I usually feel pity. And men like Torvald still exist - although thankfully in lesser numbers. Be ever vigilant young women.

Again, I try to be cryptic because this is definitely worth reading and I want to leave its revelations intact. And it is really short. "Hurrah for short books!" cries each and every high school student I have spoken to this summer.

Since Ibsen is the beginning and the end of my knowledge of Norwegian literature, I will focus on the seeds of feminism in this play. My favorite overtly feminist writer is Marge Piercy. She wrote Woman on the Edge of Time and He She and It(science fiction feminism); Vida and Summer People (hippie-dippy feminism); and Gone to Soldiers and Sex Wars (really great historical feminism). She also writes some excellent poetry.

Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
This book was tough going for awhile. I think part of the problem stemmed from the fact that I was reading it in line at Water Country - the most fun place on earth! However, it is not really contusive to reading. I had to put my book in a ziploc bag when I would go down the water slides. Yes, picture it if you will. Me, in a bathing suit, surrounded by my 8 year old son and his 4 friends, desperately trying to ignore their insane chattering, reading a book about the end of a culture that, while barbaric in many ways, is nonetheless slated for an unfair extinction due to the inevitable encroachment of imperialism. And yes, that is the longest sentence I have written in this entire blog! Thanks for noticing!

At any rate, this book just made me cry and cry. And the thing is, I hated the main character. He was arrogant, bull-headed and selfish. But he started from nothing and made something of himself through hard work and brains. But because of changes in the outside world everything upon which he built his life fell apart. (Hence the name.) Just thinking about it made me sad all over again.

This book was not a pleasant read. It wasn't hard because of vocabulary or because it was too descriptive. But it was hard to get lost in it because the world in which it took place was so unfamiliar to me. But the emotional pay-off was well worth the effort in the end.

I was going to recommend Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson here as a novel about imperialism in Africa. But, if you read it, bear in mind that Chinua Achebe hated it so much that it became part of the reason he wrote Things Fall Apart! I loved The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It tells the story of missionaries in Africa through the eyes of their children. And finally, A Passage to India by E. M. Forster is a look at imperialism in India which is so good (and got Forster into a bit of hot water for its "anti-British sentiments" when it was published) I will list it here even though it takes place on an entirely different continent.

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Now this is what I call summer reading! This was a fun read with no excess learning. Just a really good, somewhat gory story. The ending was wonderful. I read it late at night and I kept trying to stay awake to find out who the killer was and yet I was exhausted but I needed to know! Finally I read the last chapter and fell asleep with the mystery solved. When I woke up the next morning I couldn't for the life of me remember who it was! So I got to read the whole last chapter again and it was brilliantly revealed, again!

Agatha Christie was never on my list of mystery writers for some reason, but I plan to read her now. Although I hear that once you start reading a lot, it becomes pretty easy to determine "who done it".

I will say nothing about the story because it is pretty much all crime and denouement. But basically people are getting killed left and right and the survivors are getting pretty nervous. I have already put the movie in my netflicks queue.

And since I recommend all my favorite mystery authors in the Early Autumn posting I will refrain from listing them again. But I will add Walter Mosely, who I mentioned in the Uncle Tom's Cabin post as a writer on slavery and the black experience, because his Easy Rawlins mysteries are unbeliveably good. And if you like the English mysteries Martha Grimes has a wonderful series, each of which is named for an English pub. There is a Scottish series set in a small town by M.C. Beaton which are clever and easily digestible.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Well, this was a long haul! I liked this book very much once I got into it. The first 5 chapters were a bit painful until I got used to the tone of the story. And the vocabulary! I have an excellent reading vocabulary (although my speaking vocabulary could use some work) and yet there were more than 15 words I didn't even recognize in those chapters! True, most of them were falconry terms - but still, it made me feel stoopit. And I was on an airplane with no dictionary to look up these words - making me feel trapped as well. It was not pretty. But as soon as Merlin came on the scene, I fell in love with him and the book sailed by.

Until Wart pulled the sword from the stone. (I hope I am not giving anything away there.) At that point I realized - this is a heckuva long book and I still have to read a ton more. And so I took a poll. I asked every future senior I came in contact with through church or the Y or randomly running into them at the beach - "What did you think of The Once and Future King?" And after much piercing Veronica Mars-like questioning they all admitted that they liked it fine but they didn't finish it. "AHA!" I yelled (quietly to myself) "This means that I don't have to finish it either!" So I didn't. But I read enough and I promise that before next summer I will finish it. Probably. Geeze, it's long.

There is something about King Arthur and LONG that must be set in stone. (Like the sword - ha!) Because every Arthurian saga is as long as a Indiana freight train. Seriously - Camelot, the musical, is nearly 3 hours long. The Mists of Avalon (A feminist version of the Camelot legend - it is great!) is a whopping 912 pages. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was short but left out, well pretty much everything but the llamas. And even Disney's The Sword in the Stone only used the first section of the book, with a bunch of other made up things. So there.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
What a shocking surprise! I hated Alice in Wonderland. It irritated me and I don't like Lewis Carroll. I think he is twee. I didn't like the Disney cartoon of this book and I figured that it was just some sort of anomaly and I would surely like this fanciful Victorian story. I love the fanciful. I love the Victorian. But not this. Phooey.

If you like Lewis Carroll - bully for you. Read more of him. I have finally understood what I call "The Elvis Conundrum". My husband hates Elvis Presley. Can't stand his music, his shiny suits or his wacky blue-haired fans. The question is: how can you claim to love rock and roll even a little bit, without respecting Elvis for making it into a phenomenon and therefore appreciate his music on some sort of historical level? My spouse says Elvis-appreciation is not a prerequisite for loving rock and roll. And now I find that, while Lewis Carroll lovers argue that: "The humor, sparkling wit and genius of this Victorian Englishman have lasted for more than a century. His books are among the most quoted works in the English language, and his influence (with that of his illustrator, Sir John Tenniel) can be seen everywhere, from the world of advertising to that of atomic physics." I am still completely unmoved by him. And don't like him. Not even one little bit! I am sure it is some sort of flaw in me and not in the millions who have adored this timeless classic. But that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

If you want children going to strange worlds where things are not at all what they should be (and that I like) - read E. Nesbit or Edward Eager.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Prayer For Owen Meany

A Prayer For Owen Meany
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
This book was odd. I found it interesting, but the characters weren't conventionally likeable and it was deeply strange. Also deeply moving. I would call reading it a positive experience, but it wasn't a favorite.

Here are some other opinions if mine is too namby-pamby.

That being said, the last hundred pages or so - when everything looks like it is spinning out of control and you wonder how Irving is going to make sense of the whole thing - are brilliant!

I absolutely loved two other books by Irving - The World According to Garp and A Widow For One Year. I have read a couple others which did nothing for me. And I hear Cider House Rules is wonderful as well and someday I will give it a go I am sure.

And this book allows for some lovely recommendations of books that it seems like I am the only person who has ever read. For books about wee people, try Maybe the Moon by Armisted Maupin and Little Little by M. E. Kerr. A wonderful book about the Vietnam era and student life/draft resistance The First Few Friends by Marilyn Singer is interesting. And the book that started it all for garden variety small town weirdness - Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. Okay - lots of people have read Peyton Place, but not lately!

And so there it is - I am as smart as a future junior. Only the senior books to go and I still have a week and a half before school starts! (If the truth be known, I am still writing about the books I read when I was away. I am nearly halfway through the senior books - right now - but I have to write about them in the order I read them or, um, the universe will explode or something really bad will happen or I'll have to wash my hands over and over... What can I say? I like order.)

Please disregard that last paragraph.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ordinary People

Ordinary People
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Can it be that the movie Ordinary People was actually better than the book? Is the world tilting off its axis? Are those the four horsemen of the apocalypse watering their horses at my sump pump drain? I believe it is so! I remember seeing and loving this movie when I saw it as an angst-y teenager. Of course it was back when a fairly ordinary movie could surprise me. But I digress...

I imagine that sometimes this book gets read because it looks short. But it reminded me of Ethan Frome in that, while it was interesting, I don't think that it would be that appealing for a summer read that is supposed to inspire a love of reading. It was interesting in that it is always interesting to see how other people live - spying, in a sense. But it didn't grip me emotionally the way the movie did. I think that can be attributed to the performances of the actors giving more information about the characters by the way they portrayed them than is actually given in the book.

I do like domestic fiction as a rule and how the death of one character affects those left behind. My absolute favorite book that deals with that is The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett, a writer I have been dying to recommend ever since I started recommending books here. Also, I suppose in a way, The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken. A couple of writers who manage to take sort of ordinary people and make their stories fascinating are Anne Tyler and Alison Lurie. And if you didn't like Ordinary People, rest assured that these other writers will not disappoint.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cat's Cradle

Cats Cradle
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Well this was a fun one! I was looking forward to Cat's Cradle and it didn't disappoint. I had read a little bit of Vonnegut before - just Slaughterhouse Five and Mother Night. But there is always the possibility that a book by an author you had heretofore liked will turn out to be lousy. But this was not the case.

I don't want to say much about the plot because the plot kind of sneaks up on you in this book. It was what I liked most about it. I also loved the format of having a ton of very short chapters that have evocative titles. And I hated the idea of Mona until chapter 93 when I found out that she was not at all what she seemed. But mostly, this is a book of men, men, men, men.

Vonnegut is in the category of writers that I call "The-writers-who-were-enjoyed-by-the-pretentious-boyfriends-of-my-youth". These writers are actually fascinating and I try to keep the origins of my interest in them in a separate locked portion of my brain and enjoy them on their own merits. They include, but are not limited to: Thomas Pynchon, T.C. Boyle, Hunter S. Thompson, Lester Bangs, Tom Robbins, Jack Kerouac and Graham Greene. Okay, I am just kidding about Graham Greene - but he is a really good writer, too. All of these writers are fascinating and different from each other and different from anyone else you may have read. If you like Vonnegut and you are looking for something unusual - give one of those guys a try.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Orchard

The Orchard
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
The Orchard was a little unnerving at first. It looked like something that would interest me. A young woman during the Depression manages to keep her family’s farm by running it herself. I was assured by my sources that no one ever reads this for summer reading and I can see why. It is both long and about fruit. If I were in high school I would avoid it like a bag full of maggots. However, being quite dull myself and a fan of fruit – I found that I enjoyed it very much.

The story behind the way it was published was interesting to me. The daughter of the writer found the manuscript and had it published posthumously. (The daughter wasn’t dead yet when she had it published, of course, but the mother/writer was. Just want to be clear.)

The very beginning of the book had me worried. The daughter wrote the very earnest introduction and I read it. I know, I know – I keep telling people “For the love of all things holy – do not read introductions until after you have read the book!” And then I don’t take my own advice. So the tone of the introduction was a wee bit irritating to me. It seemed that the writer implied that, like an apple a day, this book was going to be good for me. I don’t want to be improved by a book, I just want to enjoy it. And so I pursed my lips and got ready to take my medicine. Luckily the book itself was not distasteful at all, but really interesting and surprisingly funny in parts.

There are very few characters in the book, mostly just Kitty, her dog, and the men who worked for and with her. When people start talking about the rhythm of a book, I begin to get nervous. But this book really had a good rhythm. It made me conscious of the seasons in a way that books never do. (Names, clothes and seasons in books never make an impression on me. Everything I read could be about naked people named John and Nancy and take place in a weather-free environment and I would barely notice.) And I learned more than I ever thought I would about growing apples.

I don’t read a lot of books about farming. But I read a ton of books about the Depression. I probably already mentioned some of them. One that reminded me a lot of The Orchard - in that it was about a person who has far better survival skills and useful knowledge that I have – is Hitch by Jeanette Ingold. It is the story of a boy who joins the civilian conservation corps in the 30s. It is a sequel and I look forward to reading more about this character. Also, I would be a bad librarian if I didn’t recommend The Grapes of Wrath. I loved it and it is an interesting look at what was happening on the other side of the country at the time The Orchard took place.

Speaking of weather – the next book up, Cat’s Cradle, is one in which I did notice the weather. And it is awesome! (Hope I am not giving anything away…)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
I like Chris Crutcher a lot. And apparently, so do many of you. According to a few English teachers who teach Ironman in their classes, it is a favorite. And with good reason. Everyone(except mean people) likes the story of an underdog who emerges victorious over all the people who try to keep them down.

I read this weeks ago and thus have forgotten most of the important plot points. So I will just say that I remember his father is a controlling horror show and his teachers (except for his evil coach) are pretty nice. I thought the other kids in the anger management group were really well written, too. And there is a big race at the end. I wonder how that will turn out...

I just read my first Chris Crutcher book last summer The Sledding Hill and it was fantastic - it is told from the point of view of a dead boy. I also liked Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, for the title alone. Ironman reminded me of Alt Ed by Catherine Atkins, another story of high schoolers who are brought together to work out problems that are generally the result of other people's messed up behavior and attitudes. Another great book about friendships that save lives is Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Early Autumn

Early Autumn
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
I absolutely love the Spenser mysteries and Early Autumn is one of my favorites. Three or four years ago I spent part of the summer reading all of the Spenser novels in chronological order. It was wonderful. As I was re-reading this I had all these wonderful ideas about what I was going to post here. They were very insightful and it very likely would have changed your life to read them. Sadly, this was way back the last week of July and I now can remember none of these ideas. So I will just give you my two negative thoughts about the Spenser books:
1. I hate the way Spenser admires Susan's bird-like appetite. Please, she probably binge-eats the minute she gets out of his sight.
2. I think Susan is kind of a whiner early in the series. She gets better.

I love everything else about them. There is a fantastic website by a man with a lot of time on his hands that cites all the allusions in the books. And I am a big enough Spenser geek that I have submitted a few. My favorites in the series are Potshot and Ceremony.

Some librarians (and English teachers and publishers and other reading-types) look down on genre fiction, by which they mean mystery, romance, science fiction and other topics that can be easily categorized. This strikes me as quite unfair because often people get so sucked down a rabbit hole of trying to define types that they just forget to just enjoy reading. Within the mystery genre there are many enjoyable books (and series). Here are a few of my favorites.

The Beekeepers Apprentice by Laurie R. King. The protagonist is Mary Russell an impoverished young girl genius who befriends an aging Sherlock Holmes.

The Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series by Anne Perry. Beginning with The Cater Street Hangman and continuing for 24 more books, these are a detail-rich Victorian mystery series.

Maisie Dobbs
by Jacqueline Winspear. A former ladies maid turned detective solves mysteries that generally have to deal with World War One.

Lest you think that I only read about English girl detectives:

The Kinsey Milhone Mysteries
by Sue Grafton. Starting with A is for Alibi and going all the way to S is for Silence - these books follow the adventures of a P.I. with a horribly pathetic social life and a real gift for getting to the bottom of things.

I also like Agatha Christie, Janet Evanovich, Martha Grimes, Nancy Drew, The Happy Hollisters and Beverly's own Dana Cameron. And if you absolutely must watch television - my new favorite detective is Veronica Mars. But don't tell anyone I am recommending television - even though the show's creator is Rob Thomas - author of Rats Saw God - a great young adult novel. Feel free to come get it at the library!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Education of Little Tree

The Education of Little Tree
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Good grief it has been a long time! I am back from the wilds of the Midwest where I read every single book from which the juniors-to-be can choose. I think I might even be able to pass the MCAS at this point, I am feeling so smart.

I didn't expect to like The Education of Little Tree too much. I don't like nature books and any jacket copy that says a book will change my life makes me get huffy and think, "What on earth makes you think I would like my life changed?" However, it was lovely. Funny, sad, full of life lessons - it was a life-changer, if you are the sort of person who goes in for that kind of thing.

The story is about a young boy who loses his parents and goes to live with his Cherokee grandparents during the Depression. There are stories of dogs and Indian history and how to make whisky and orphanages. It is well worth reading.

I don't recall having read many books about nature or living in harmony or grandparents or making whisky. There are a million and twelve books about losing parents. Which leaves me with books about Native Americans. My favorite book by an Indian writer is The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie which is a series of short stories part of which was made into a great movie called Smoke Signals. I also loved The Bean Trees and it's sequel Pigs in Heaven which tell the story of a young woman who finds an Indian baby and the family that they become.

Now don't read any further until you have finished the book.

I'm waiting.

No hurry.

Okay here is the thing; there is some controversy about The Education of Little Tree. If you want to click the link there is a well documented article the gist of which is that this book is in no way autobiographical. Forrest Carter was a segregationist and a leader in the Ku Klux Klan who wrote extensively about the superiority of the white race. Does this make Little Tree a bad book? I don't know. I really liked it and I am glad that I read it before I knew this. I think that it would have diminished my enjoyment a great deal if I had known. (See my soon-to-be-written posting on Alice in Wonderland for more discussion on this topic.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Please be aware that I read this two days ago and it was only my inability to find an appropriate picture that kept me from posting two days in a row! I finally went with the creepy album cover rather than the neon unicorn - but it was a hard decision.

Here's a tip. If you are writing an essay about The Glass Menagerie and don't mention the broken unicorn you're not paying attention. Not only did I love Laura's response to that, but it was also such a blatant use of symbolism that even a dense-headed reader like myself spotted it.

This was a beautifully written play. I wanted to pick little bits of the language out to post here, but they don't really work outside the structure of the play. I read this in one short afternoon at the YMCA. And yes, I do a lot of good reading there. What else am I going to do? Exercise? Anyway Alex Hurst of the BHS class of 2005 was lifeguarding and came over to me and said in a voice filled with the joy of reminiscence, "Oh! The Glass Menagerie! I read that for summer reading!" I was so pleased that he remembered the book - I asked if he liked it. "Of course," he replied, "look how short it is!" And with this I began quietly weeping.

Anyway - aside from its charming shortness this play also has depth and a lot of moral ambiguity. Is Tom a hero for saving himself or merely another selfish troll in a line of selfish trolls deserting the weak? I make it sound like I have an opinion, but I am actually very conflicted which is one of the reasons I really loved reading this.

Just a side note - with The Glass Menagerie, I have finished all of the summer reading books that I have previously read (which are really just this and Fahrenheit 451) so from here on out - they are all mysterious to me!

I didn't have a lot of books that came to mind after I read this so I asked some friends for suggestions for books with strong mothers who boss their children to near the point of insanity. They came up with Pride & Prejudice and A Light in the Piazza. Here is a shocking revelaton - I have never read P&P! I have seen several versions of the movie and it was my senior play in high school where I (if I do say so myself) stole the show with my magnificent swooning as Mrs. Bennett. I whipped through A Light in the Piazza and found it somewhat depressing and yet interesting. Basically a mother arranges a marriage for her strange little daughter in Italy in the 1950's - or as the book jacket calls it "modern times". Ha!

Really, if you like The Glass Menagerie you should just read more Williams. A Streetcar Named Desire is amazing. Also - the Beverly Public Library has Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams which is fascinating.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
It took all week but I finally finished! I was dreading this book. It was written in 1852 and much of it is in southern dialect and it just seemed hard. But much to my surprise I really liked it.

It needs to be said that from our perspective as twenty-first century Americans this book is racist and very patronizing. But it is also a very compelling story and moving as well. And the motives of Harriet Beecher Stowe were pure in her raging desire to bring slavery to an end. It is easy to believe the legend that when Abraham Lincoln met the author her said, "So you're the little lady who made this big war."

I don't know that I would have made it past chapter one if it hadn't been for my friend Nicole. Before I started the book I asked her, "How much of this do I really have to read of this before I switch to the SparkNotes to be able to claim that I read it?" She looked at me with such disappointment in her face and said, "You must read it all." And so, to keep my sterling reputation as an actual reader of books I did. And I don't regret it a bit. Nicole is so proud of me! And she also recommended two narratives written by slaves which are available on-line Narrative of the Life of Henry Bibb and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. Both are fascinating and moving.

I would also recommend two books that deal with slavery and its aftermath that I found to be excellent. Beloved by Toni Morrison absolutely haunted me. So much so that I never even watched the movie. Toni Morrison is an unbearably good writer. Another of my favorite authors is Walter Mosely. (He was also former president Bill Clinton's favorite writer, so make of that what you will...) I am a huge fan of his Easy Rawlins mysteries which I will recommend again when I am writing about Early Autumn. He has written an interesting young adult novel about a slave who is made immortal called 47.

One note about this novel - you need to remember the historical context. The author makes sweeping racial generalizations about slaves - generally positive but still very stereotypical. There was also a casual bit of anti-semitism. And finally - so much evangelical preaching that I felt as if I were still in the halls of the baptist high school I attended. The dialect and the exhortations to the reader make the writing seem a bit awkward. But it is a novel that helped our country evolve towards a more equitable and humane future.

Monday, July 17, 2006

I have returned from the beautiful northwest. And I read all but one of my selections. Here are the updetes on what I read. And I apologize because I am sure that you were being kept up nights wondering what on earth I thought of these books!

The Queen's Foolby Philippa Gregory was wonderful - very compelling. The heroine was one of those types that you sometimes want to shake by the shoulders and tell her to pay attention. Other than that it was a fast paced, fascinating read.

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray was wonderful. I had a student snach this from my hands the minute it came into the high school library and now I know why. It was exciting with a much more detailed look at the mystical aspects of the story.

Beauty by Sherri S. Tepper and I didn't get along. There is an excellent Reader's Pledge that I would like to invoke. If you find a book boring you don't have to finish it according to writer Shannon Hale who I have never read but intend to very soon.

Love Walked Inby Marisa de los Santos was lovely! It surprised me a lot. The main character is a little too perfect and everyone is pretty, but the emotions felt real and the story was heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling - I am convinced that Snape was just doing what Dumbledore wanted him to do. And I am being vague here in case you haven't read it. The book would just be too sad if it were otherwise. I am waiting anxiously for the next and final installment. As for this "Who is going to die?" brouhaha - my money is on Snape and Neville.

I am very nearly done with Uncle Tom's Cabin, my first selection from the Junior class list. It is taking a long, long time - but I am going to rip through The Glass Menagerie like a sneeze through a kleenex just as soon as I finish. So brace yourself!

Friday, June 30, 2006

A Little Vacation

A Little Vacation
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
I am taking a week off to go sleep in a musty tent and smack mosquitoes. And while I am doing this I am going to read a bunch of books that people have recommended to me.

The Queen's Fool
by Philippa Gregory - A Jewish girl escaping the inquisition becomes involved in court intrigue as Henry VIII's daughters duke it out for the throne.

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray - The sequel to A Great and Terrible Beauty (which was a great camping read for me last summer) wherein a group of English girls become involved in a magical and dangerous parallel world.

Beauty by Sherri S. Tepper - A time travel retelling of Sleeping Beauty that looks fantastic.

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos - The BHS summer book club book, chosen by Mrs. Billings. The story of a girl who works in a coffee shop and I how her life changes.


Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling - Yeah, I read it last summer but I had the flu and could barely pay attention. So I am going to read it again.

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
This book made me a wee but nervous. I can see myself getting burned atop a pile of books and then at the last minute screaming "I changed my mind!" Frankly, this was my least favorite of the 10th grade books and I expected to love it the most. Don't get me wrong - it was a teriffic book, but I was very aware of the fact that I was reading it the whole time. The other books I fell into and was carried away. The writing in this was too stilted - I never felt lost in it. (Not that I think I could do any better - it is just the style of the writing that didn't appeal to me, not the quality.)

Tha being said - the story was great. Fireman gone bad. Or good - depending on how you look at it. This was one of the few summer reading books I had read before but that was 20 years ago and I remembered nothing except for the big TVs and the hoboes at the end.

I have already recommended all my cautionary tales for other books. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and Feed by M.T. Anderson. And come to think of it He, She, and It by Marge Piercy. All my sci-fi recomendations were of the same cloth. I seem to have hit the wall here. I can list some books that I have never read that others seem to like. 1984 by Orwell. I know, isn't it shocking that a librarian such as myself has never read this? The Giver by Lois Lowry which of course you read in seventh grade. Did you know there are two other companion pieces? They are called Gathering Blue and The Messenger and someday I am going to read them! And since I haven't recommended The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak in awhile, I will do it again, since this book is one of the best I have read this year and it contains book burning.

And now I am finished with the sophomore summer reading! I am as well read as the average 10th grader. Hurrah for me!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
When I first picked this up, I was surprised at the length. It is a very short book. And since it is a play it reads very quickly. But there is a lot in it. This book made me laugh out loud. It made me cry. There is a scene where a father tells his son the dreams he has for his family that made me close the book and walk away because it hurt too much to think of how far away those dreams are compared to the family's present circumstances.

The book reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in several way. The fathers in both turn to alcohol at some point to dull the pain of a life that is stifling. However, where the father in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn gives in to despair completely, the reader has higher hopes for Walter Lee Younger. There is also the matter of race which rears its head forcefully in A Raisin in the Sun and is barely touched upon in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

One warning, the edition of A Raisin in the Sun that I read had a very interesting introduction by Robert Nemiroff, the husband of the playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Reading it before reading the play was very confusing so I basically skimmed it. Reading it after having read the play was much more enlightening. I would suggest you don’t bother to read anything before you read the play but rather just read it and let it take you by surprise. Than afterwards, when you read about its effect on audiences, you will understand why.

I am not much of one for reading plays, but there are a few I have enjoyed in print that I haven't seen performed. Tom Stoppard's Arcadia is really brilliant. I also loved his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Angels in America by Tony Kushner was a play that moved me more than any other that I have read. There is some guy called Shakespeare who has written some plays people seem to like, but I am reserving judgment.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Never Cry Wolf

Never Cry Wolf
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
According to Ms Nichelson at the Beverly Public Library none of you are choosing this book for summer reading and that is a crime!

The fact that it looks boring as can be is surely an understandable reason. A man, a Canadian no less, is sent to the arctic to study wolves in their natural habitat. Please excuse me while I just rest my head here and begin to snore... And the vocabulary is a little off putting. In the first three pages I was taken aback by sojourn, m├ętier, loutish, ensconced, eschewing, expedient, ensuing, hooferaw and nocturnal peregrinations. The irony is that many of these words are used to tell a hysterical story of a snobby grandmother, some small catfish and a midnight trip to the toilet gone terribly, terribly wrong.

So first I will focus on the boredom factor. There is none! The story starts funny and gets funnier. I am not what you would call an "outdoor girl". I camp, but never without electricity and running water. The idea that Farley would be dropped by a plane onto the middle of a frozen lake in the middle of the arctic with a vague cheery promise of "Come back for you in the fall..." by an extremely irresponsible pilot both fascinated and horrified me. There is not a lot of manly "I survived by my wits..." talk. He more runs along the lines of "I discovered that when the laboratory alcohol with which I had been supplied [to preserve tissue samples] was mixed sparingly with Moose Brand Beer a variety of wolf-juice resulted which was positively ambrosial." Which means, of course, yummy.

For scientific purposes he is obliged to live on a diet of mice. The fact that he chooses this tells a great deal about his character. Here is my favorite quote of the whole book. "Of the several recipes which I developed, the finest by far was Creamed Mouse, and in the event that any of my readers may be interested in personally exploiting this hitherto overlooked source of excellent animal protein, I give the recipe in full." What follows is the most repulsive recipe I have ever read. I almost vomited at the YMCA and the only thing that kept me from doing so was that I was laughing my head off at the same time and my nervous system must have shorted out. All I will say is this - one of the directions is "do not remove the heads". Ack!

Now the vocabulary - this book was written in 1963 and Farley Mowat is both a scientist and a Canadian which means he has a better vocabulary than anyone. However - you have to take the SATs eventually and this is a great way to learn new words. My advice is to just read along and ignore the words you don't understand. They are almost always adjectives - so you can figure out what they mean by the rest of the sentence. If it throws you off too much - then just read near a small dictionary.

Now as I mentioned before, I am not really a nature person. I love it in small doses, but I am completely aware that I am at its mercy - and so I fear it. Happy? I have admitted I am a big baby. Moving on... There are only two books I have enjoyed that deal with man alone in nature. The first is The Cay by Theodore Taylor about a boy and a man cast away on a deserted island, which you probably read in grade six. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is one of the funniest books ever written and concerns his walking the Appalachian Trail with a borderline insane childhood friend. Other nature books that people who like that sort of thing have recommend to me are Touching the Void and Into Thin Air they are supposed to be great, but I know that at least one of them doesn't end well.

If you do read this book, you will want to go up to Wolf Hollow in Ipswich and tell them that Farley Mowat sent you.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Childhood's End

Childhood's End
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Childhood’s End is yet another book determined to change my mind about science fiction. Ender’s Game was a surprise in that I really liked the plot and didn’t slip into a coma of boredom, even once, while reading it. And Childhood’s End continues the fine tradition of making me actually like a book set in space, the future or another world.

There is a danger in talking about Childhood’s End that surprises will be wrecked. There were a couple of throw-the-book-across-the-room moments - and I don’t want to take away any of the excitement of those revelations. So I will just list some random words or phrases to prove that I read the book. Peace, horns, tsunami, eye, alone. Sounds mysterious doesn’t it? Bet you want to read it now, don’t you?

Along with the list of books, they also list the essay prompt and I found it interesting that they mention the main character. I wonder who is the main character in this book? There are a few that you could argue for. I put my money on Karellen.

I don’t read a tremendous amount of science fiction. I also don’t fly a tremendous amount of airplanes or climb a tremendous amount of mountains. But I have read some. It usually ends up being a book by an author who writes more conventional fiction who is just trying their hand at sci-fi. And it almost never involves space. The one exception is Feed by M.T. Anderson. I don’t suppose you could count The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood as science fiction, but it is futuristic and one of the best books I have ever read – so I will list it here. Marge Piercy wrote an interesting books called He, She and It that would definitely be classified as sci-fi. One of the difficult things about recommending science fiction is that the plots always sound kind of stupid when you try to explain them in simple terms because they require you to completely leave the world you know behind to accept whatever premise is being developed. But that is also one of the charms of it.

If you are a hard-core science fiction person, you should (and probably do) read the following writers: Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card, Robert Heinlein, William Gibson, Ursula Le Guin, Phillip K. Dick, and these are just the ones that I know from putting books away. Imagine how much more there is out there! Keep reading.

Here is a completely awesome list of books that maybe, someday, if I am incredibly brave, I might try to go through.

Up next I read about discrimination, wolves or – oh happy day – book burning!

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Chosen

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
I was going to try to find a picture of a hasidic boy to represent The Chosen, but I realized that part of the wonder of this book is that it was the random splat of a baseball into a kid's eye that set the whole story in motion.

The Chosen was fascinating to me. I have always loved books set in the ultra-orthodox community, but most of the ones I have read were from the point of view of women. Since the women don't study Torah (except in Yentl and don't even get me started on that movie...) I always wondered what went on with the study? How could they spend most of the day on it? What is the method? Well, this book answers these questions.

The study aspect was interesting to me. Although it was also confusing in parts. I had to remind myself that these boys were both geniuses and everyone seems stupid compared to them,

The father-son relationship between Reuven and his father was beautiful - as the relationship between Danny and his father was painful.

Here are some of the books I have really liked about the ultra orthodox communities:
The Ladies Auxiliary by Tovah Miris - A widow brings her children to the orthodox community where her husband grew up. Her youth and idealism cause rifts in the community.

The Outside World by Tovah Mirvis - A boy becomes fascinated by ultra-orthodox Judiasm, much to the confusion of his parents. He marries into a very strictly observant family and finds that it is not at all what he expected.

Sotah and Jepthe's Daughter by Naomi Ragan - In both of these books, girls who were raised ultra-orthodox find themselves displaced and immersed in the world outside of their communities.

Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman - "[This book focuses] on the accumulation of small changes in the lives of three Jewish families over the course of two summers in the Catskills. "Kaaterskill Falls" both re-creates a special place -- a rural Yankee community enlivened once a year by the arrival of the Jewish "summer people" -- and explores different ways of negotiating a Jewish heritage of tradition and loss."
(Laura Green, Salon Magazine, 7/31/98)

Two down, four to go - I am a third of the way through the sophomore reading!

If you want to read more books like Ethan Frome...

Ethan Frome
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
What is wrong with you?? I am kidding, of course. Congratulations on your excellent taste and grasp of classic literature.

Most of the novels Edith Wharton wrote deal with people who are stifled by the conventions of their time. Two most notable are The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. I must admit I have read neither - but I have seen the movie The Age of Innocence and it was quite good. And as any high school freshman knows - seeing the movie is the exact same as reading the book. Right?

[Of course not! You miss nuances! And you think you know everything and then when you try to write your essay you get caught up in how dreamy Liam Neeson looks and how Patricia Arquette seems stupid somehow and why is Joan Allen's face always so pointy? And then when you read the book, it seems weird. I am referring to the movie of Ethan Frome here which may be very very different from the book...]

Henry James is often mentioned in the same breath as Edith Wharton - he might be a writer you would like as well.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Ethan Frome is the sort of book that I am glad I never had to read in high school. It isn't that it's hard to read, or boring or anything. As a matter of fact, I liked it a lot. I liked it so much that I threw it across the room when I was done. It seems strange how often I throw books across the room. Pretty unprofessional behavior for a librarian... I didn't throw it out of anger, but rather because I had wanted something more. I felt so deeply for Ethan. And there is no way that he was a cute as Liam Neeson. I think he looked more like Farmer Hoggett from "Babe". Poor pathetic Ethan...

The reason I am glad I never read it is because I think I would have found it much more frustrating as a younger person. Plus - I thought that if I weren't already married, I would be horrified at the thought of marriage and perhaps scarred for life by this book! Of course, you are young, you'll probably forget the terror before you get around to finding a spouse. So be brave - read it!

At any rate - I don't want to give too much story away so I will give you the blurb I found on an excellent website from a Wisconsin librarian:

Ethan Frome, a poor, downtrodden New England farmer is trapped in a loveless marriage to his invalid wife, Zeena. His ambition and intelligence are trodden by Zeena’s cold, conniving character. When Zeena’s young cousin Mattie arrives to help care for her, Ethan is immediately taken by Mattie’s warm, vivacious personality. They fall desperately in love as he realizes how much is missing from his life and marriage. Tragically, their love is doomed by Zeena’s ever-lurking presence and by the social conventions of the day. Ethan remains torn between his sense of obligation and his urge to satisfy his heart’s desire up to the suspenseful and unanticipated conclusion.

So there you go future sophomores. One down five to go. And it's only the first day of summer vacation. This summer reading is going to be a piece of cake!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Thanks, Briscoe Eighth Graders!

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
It was fun to see a different school. If you are curious about the book I love - it is:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - This is one I wished I had read in high school. This is my little manifesto about the book.

The book I hated was Chernowitz. This is essentially because I am bossy and I kept (mentally) yelling at him and telling him "Talk to you parents! Tell them what's going on." And did he listen? Well, that is for you to find out if you read it. And bear in mind other people have really liked the book. Here is my justification for my opinion.

Good luck with the summer reading!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Listen to Chernowitz

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Here are some audio files that will allow you to hear the introduction and chapters one of Chernowitz as read by Antonio Hernandez - Bevelry High School class of 2006.


Chapter One

Want to listen to the first chapter?

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Through tremendous effort I have managed to upload the first chapter of The Friends. It was a big pain in the neck, so I hope you enjoy it!

This is read by Amounda Evilliard who is a member of the class of 2009.

Chapter one of THE FRIENDS.

More books about friendship

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.

I know that The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares was tremendously popular, but just on the off chance you haven't read it already, I highly recommend it. It is the story of 4 lifelong girlfriends and what happens to them when they are separated for an entire summer for the first time. It is the perfect beach read and there are now three books in the series so you could conceivably read them all summer long.

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jacklyn Moriarty is another funny book about friendship that is realistic enough to make you feel like it could happen but just unrealistic enough that it is way more interesting than real life. Three girls from a snooty up-town high school start corresponding with three boys from a rough down-town high school with a bad reputation. This is for a school assignment, and it turns weird. And it takes place in Australia.

Finally - my favorite friendship in all of fiction is that of Betsy and Tacy in the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. These are somewhat old-fashioned, but very funny and exciting. They take place at the turn of the last century. There are 10 books in the series and the first four are for younger kids. (But you can read them to your little sisters...) The first book of the high school stories "Heaven to Betsy" takes place in the school year 1906-1907. So it might be interesting to see what high school was like exactly a hundred years ago. And the friendship between Betsy and Tacy is exactly the sort of friendship you need to get through high school.

If You Liked House of the Scorpion...

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
...then you have excellent taste.

I am trying to think of other books to recommend that have similar elements. I am not very science-fiction-y so I haven't read much in these areas. However, I have started a few and thought, "Hey, this isn't bad. As soon as I am done with all the BHS summer reading, I am going to come back and finish this."

One book I really liked was Feed by M. T. Anderson. It is quite dark, but at the same time funny and interesting. Basically in the world in which Titus and his friends live, the internet is piped into their brains from birth and everything they experience is layered with tons of outside information. Titus meets a girl who was raised without the feed. And I can say no more.

Uglies by Scott Westerfield is also really good. In this world, when you turn 16 you are turned into a "Pretty". Tally is almost 16 and dreams about when she gets to become a "Pretty". While she is waiting for her surgery and her entrance into perfect society - she meets Shay who is not all that excited about becoming a ""Pretty" at all. There are a couple of sequels to this as well.

If you like the ideal of using people for spare parts (and who doesn't?) but don't really like science fiction, I recommend My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. It is the story of Anna, who is conceived and born to provide bone marrow cells for a sister who has cancer. Some of the 10th grade English classes read this and then they come to the library and ask me if I have anything else by this writer because it is so good.

House of the Scorpion

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
This was actually the first book of the summer reading books that I read - but I didn't want to write about it until I was sure it was going to be on the summer reading list. I was a little surprised that a book this exciting would be allowed. I am joking, of course. ALL the books on summer reading are fascinatingly exciting.

I don't want to say too much about this book because it is fairly suspenseful and I don't want to give anything away. Here is all you are going to get out of me for plot: Matthew is a clone, he lives on a opium farm, things get weird. And there are no spark notes! You have to read it! But don't worry, once you get started, you really will fly through.

One of the things that struck me about the book was the settings. For some reason they were really vivid to me. Usually I am a pretty lazy reader when it comes to descriptions so that I imagine every book taking place somewhere I have already been, or seen in a movie and I just ignore the descriptive parts. (It occurs to me that this probably is the sort of thing I shouldn't be saying. Oh well, already typed...) But reading this book, I found it really easy to picture the settings.

I know this book looks huge - give it five chapters and you will stop counting pages, guaranteed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Friends by Rosa Guy

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
One of the things I loved about this book is that the back covers makes it seems interesting without giving hardly anything away. You keep getting hit on the head with surprises. I will try not to give anything away here that you don't get from the first chapter. But there is a ton of story that is not even hinted at!

Here are some things you need to know:

1. Phyllisia's last name is Cathy. So when her Dad (who is an enormous jerk) starts yelling about being a Cathy - he is not trying to tell the world that he is a woman. He is just bragging.

2. Edith is really really poor. You are not going to believe how poor.

3. Phyllisia's family has plenty of money. I was picturing them as being from nearly the same neighborhood. (They live in Harlem.) But the Cathys and the Jacksons are as far apart as can be.

4. The slang in this book is hilarious. It was first published in 1973 when I was a mere child and it sounds really dated. Here are my favorite examples with definitions.
boss - (as in "That's a really boss dress!") cool or desirable
gone sister - (as in "You have a really gone sister!") a cool or desirable sibling
dig her the most - (as in "I dig her the most!") I think she is the most cool or desirable.
cop-out - (as in "That ain't no cop-out!) a failure to fulfill a commitment or responsibility or to face a difficulty squarely (That's from, if you're curious. Its a great place to get definitions, just google the word you want along with the word "definition" and it comes right up.)

There are some sentences that just make me giggle like a loon and I am sure you will see why.

Hey baby, you sure are a fine chick! (Yep, that one always works on me.)
You look bad, really gone! (Remember this is the seventies when this was a compliment.)
and finally -
"My mother thinks he's the most!" (The most what? The most likely to put the moves on your best friend, if this book is any indication.)

One of the reasons I liked "The Friends" so much is because Phyllisia isn't really nice. She is kind of snobby and a little whiny and she has a lot of reasons right from the beginning for being this way. But she doesn't fool herself. She knows how she should act, even if she doesn't always do it. She feels like a real person who makes both good and bad decisions.

Monday, May 15, 2006

If You Liked My Antonia, or If You Just Want to Read Something Else About the Frontier...

Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
I like a good frontier story. I was trained in this by the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. These have a reputation as books for little kids (and I have to admit that I have ripped through Little House in the Big Woods in about 45 minutes) but they are worth reading as a teenager or adult. I would start with By the Shores of Silver Lake.
The Long Winter is downright terrifying. It is the book that I perversely pick up every time there is a snow day in Beverly. Little Town on the Prairie shows that Mean Girls aren’t endemic to the twentieth century. And These Happy Golden Years has an crazy woman with a knife, a little romance and (I hope I am not giving anything away) a wedding. The First Four Years has always been a bit of a let down to me, so I recommend going back to the little kid books because you aren’t going to want to say goodbye to Laura right away.

If you feel you are just too mature for Wilder, you might find these books a litle…well…wilder.

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus is written in the voice of a woman sent by her family to an insane asylum for being “difficult”. She is sent out by the US government as part of a plan to gift Cheyenne warriors with white brides. It’s a long story – and a very exciting one – so just take my word for it. Warning – you will cry like a baby and scream out loud while reading this. Its not for the faint of heart.

Also not for the faint of heart (the size of it alone will send many fleeing for the hills) is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. This enormous novel of the west is one of my all time favorite books that I have read only once. I’d pick it up again, but who has the time? There is also an excellent miniseries that is a mere 8 hours long that you might wish to view. It is responsible for my deep and abiding love for Robert Duvall. It is essentially the story of a cattle drive. But there are so many different characters and layers that you can hardly distill it down to a one paragraph description.

The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas is another frontier story that I enjoyed. Once again it is written in the form of a journal. I am sucker for books that are written in the form of journals. I like the feeling of reading someone’s innermost thoughts. Even if they are a made up person. Actually, I prefer it. Who wants to read a real person’s innermost thoughts? Ew. Mattie is surprised to get a marriage proposal from Luke Spenser, the most desirable man in her town. He takes her out west and she tries to build a life there. many things happen that you are not even going to believe and one of the things that happens to a neighbor is so vividly horrifying that it still sometimes makes me queasy to think about it. Perhaps I shouldn’t recommend this after all. Well, too late. Anyway, I am kind of a wimp about these things. I am sure it won’t emotionally scar you the way it did me. Moving on…

Psst…Down here, away from the English teachers. They are crazy with the pronunciation of “Ann-toe-NEE-yah”. Just let them have their way. According to my Aunt Rosie (or if you prefer Rosatchka – her Bohemian name) the Bohemians pronounce the name “ANN-tony-uh”. It still has the long e like Cather explains, but the last three syllables are smooshed together so they almost sound like two. It has the same rhythm as Abraham or Anthony or Apple juice. Of course if the way the majority of reader (at least those without Bohemian grandparents) want to pronounce it, so be it. But you didn't hear it from me.