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.