Monday, May 29, 2006

too busy reading to be blogging!

And Then There Were None Agatha Christie

Ten people, randomly selected, trapped on an island off the English coast, all accussed of a murder. A murder they were involved in, but didn't have evidence, a murder they could never be convicted off...

In every room, a nursery rhyme, Ten Little Indians, that details how each of hte ten will fall...

They're the only ones on the island. One of them won't be killed. One of them is doing the killing, but which one?

This Agatha Christie classic helped define a genre. She gets into their heads as they're slowly driven insane with waiting who will be next... and can they be saved?

I, Robot Isaac Asimov

Another classic in a genre I normally don't read. Asimov ties short stories together tracing the rise of robots in the earth. Interesting. Classic. Kinda spooky.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

YA Extravaganza!

Elsewhere Gabrielle Zevin

Liz is more than confused when she wakes up one morning to find herself on a cruise ship with a girl she’s never met before in the top bunk. But then she starts to remember being hit by a car as she rode her bike to the mall and eventually is brought up to the observation deck to watch her own funeral.

The boat eventually lands in Elsewhere, where dead people get a day younger every day until they are taken down the river back to Earth to be reborn. In Elsewhere, Liz meets up with the grandmother she never knew and struggles with the fact that she won’t be turning 16, getting her driver’s license, or going to college. Instead, she’ll turn 14, then 13 and then 12. Again. Liz nearly drives herself crazy watching her family’s grief.

But she eventually finds her avocation counseling dogs who have just arrived to Elsewhere and starts to make friends. But death it seems, is just as complicated as life. What’s the protocol for when your boyfriend’s wife dies and is suddenly in the picture? What do you do when a bottle washes up on the shore inviting you to your best friend’s wedding? Is there a way to go back? Does she want to go back?

Beautifully written and an ingenous look at the after life, Zevin manages to address the subject at hand in a serious manner without getting too heavy or melodramatic, but also not getting too light and fluffy. Very well done.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 Sue Townsend

It is hard being Adrian Mole. His love, Pandora, is dating his best friend. His mother has moved to Sheffield with Mr. Lucas from next door. His chin is erupting in spots. His father has been laid off. His dog is continually at the vet and the only way he’ll get a balanced meal is if he goes round to his grandmother’s house. To top it all off, Adrian knows he is in intellectual and no one else realizes it, least of all the BBC, which keeps rejecting his poetry.

I love Adrian. I've already read this one, but in my love for neurotic British teenagers... Adrian's the best! Technically a YA book, the later books in the series are adult titles (as Adrian grows up). This is milk-out-your-nose funny. I highly, highly recommend!

Love and Other Four-Letter Words Carolyn Mackler

School’s about to let out for the summer and Sammie’s life has just been turned upside down. Her dad just walked out on her mom and moved to California. Sammie’s mom decides to move to New York City. Sammie would rather go with her dad, but finds herself packed into a one bedroom apartment in the city with her dog and a mother that won’t get out of bed.
In addition to dealing with her missing father and leaving her friends and life behind, Sammie is finds herself having to take care of things she feels her mother should be in charge of–like making sure there’s food in the apartment.

Her mom doesn’t have a job and keeps flaking out on her interviews. The closest thing Sammie has to a friend is Phoebe who she sees every morning at the dog park, and Becca, the eight year daughter of her mother’s college room mate, whom Sammie watches on Tuesday afternoons. Then there’s Eli, Becca’s older brother, summer draws to and end, Sammie realizes that she’s not as lonely as she was when the summer began, and maybe things will be alright.

This is a great book that's light without being sappy or cheesy. I loved Mackler's The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things and this is another good one from an author I'm really starting to like!

The Midwife's Apprentice Karen Cushman

The midwife finds Brat asleep in a dung heap. She says she will work for food, so the midwife takes her on, having her do the housekeeping and herb-gathering and renames Brat, Beetle. Beetle is not allowed to assist when the midwife delivers a baby, but she watches from the windows and learns the midwife’s skills.

One day, she gets to go to the fair to buy things for the midwife. There, she decides that she needs a real name, a proper name, and starts calling herself Alyce. One day, in the middle of a difficult birth, the midwife gets called away and leaves Alyce in charge. No one expected the baby to be delivered alive, but Alyce talks the mother through the process and the baby survives.

After that, people start coming to Alyce more than the midwife, but when Alyce needs to call the midwife for help during a difficult birth, she sees herself as a failure and runs away, leaving the life she had built for herself.

This is a great book for an older child about making your place in the world. It's a Newberry winner and Cushman's attention to historical detail is superb. It's a short, little book, but it's meaty and packs a lot of punch.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

How Opal Mehta compares...

Ok, so I finished Second Helpings. I really liked it.

Jessica Darling’s grandmother, Gladie, knows more about her love-life than Jessica does herself. In fact, all the seniors at Silver Meadows nursing home know more about Jessica’s life than she does. Jessica fully blames Marcus, who she refuses to talk to, because he’s been talking to Gladie.

But the mysterious editor of the gossip email, Pineville Low knows more about everyone’s life and their dark secrets and everyone assumes it’s Jessica. It’s caustic, it’s cutting, and Jessica hasn’t had a public outlet for such things since she quit the newspaper when the administration tried to censor her post 9/11. No one seems to notice that Jessica’s secrets are in the email as well, including the fact that Manda is planning on stealing Jessica’s boyfriend.

At home, her mother is too wrapped up in Bethany’s upcoming baby to care about anything else. Bethany has moved back in for the final months of her pregnancy and Jessica’s father hasn’t spoken to her since she quit the cross country team.

But it’s senior year and Jessica has to decide where to go to college. Over the summer, she ran into Paul Parlipiano, her crush-to-end-all-crushes who convinced her to go to Columbia University. It was going to be a hard sell to her parents, who fear New York City, but after 9/11, does Jessica really want to move to the city anyway?

It’s only a matter on months before Jessica finally gets to leave Pineville for good, but where is she going to go? And what will happen before then?

This was a beautiful continuation of Sloppy Firsts. Jessica speaks so well for all of us smart girls who grew up in Middle America.

I also read How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. There has been a lot of talk about how this is just a case of recycling in a formulaic genre. These arguements are being made by people who have obviously not read the books in question.

First of all, I wouldn't consider McCafferty's works as part of the YA chick-lit genre. They're more sophisticated than that. The writing style is a step above and the subject matter is more complex and probes deeper than most YA novels. Second of all, Opal Mehta reads like it was written by a teenager. The writing style lacks style... it's just not that good. The story is nice, but nothing special. Entire paragraphs are essentially lifted wholesale and there are other similarities that are harder to write up, but were unique to McCafferty's work before this.

But, that said, I'm not sure it's entirely Viswanathan's fault. In Sloppy Firsts, McCafferty thanks Claudia Gabel, her editor's assistant "who also gave me precisely the feedback I needed to write the book that I'd always wanted to read". She's thanked again in Second Helpings "for convincing me that I hadn't succumbed to 'sucky sequel syndrome'". She isn't mentioned in the acknowledgements for Charmed Thirds. But Claudia Gabel rears her head again in the acknowledgments for Opal Mehta. It smells fishy to me!

Also, Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada has taken Peter McPhee's Runner (Sidestreets) out of the school curriculum.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

100 best!

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

According to the cat, the beasts of Wild Island have a baby dragon tied up and make him give them rides across the bay. He’s forced to ferry them all day and all night and if he doesn’t, they twist his wings! He doesn’t have any friends, except maybe the alligators, who say "hello" to him maybe once a week if he’s lucky.

After hearing this, the author’s father, Elmer Elevator decides to be a sneak onto a boat bound for the port of Cranberry, on the Island of Tangerina, where he could then walk across the rocks to Wild Island and rescue the baby dragon.

But the animals of Wild Island know there’s a stranger there and they don’t like it one bit. Everyone knows that people who go to Wild Island are never seen again. Elmer Elevator has seen the cat, so he knows this isn’t entirely true, but he must use all of his wit and cunning if he’s going to keep the animals off his trail and to save the dragon!

I would have really loved this book when I was 8. But I'm no longer that young, and as an adult, it held little appeal for me. It was too nonsensical and simplistic. There was no character development or subplot or anything... like I said, great when I was 8. Not so much now.

Also, parents in Manteca, CA are challenging Mark Mathabsne's Kaffir Boy: The True Story Of A Black Youths Coming Of Age In Apartheid South Africa. God forbid we show honors level seniors what the world is made of today.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Book Talk Mania

Mad Maggott asked about reading classics in high school... I do think I'm better for it. I often complain about the complete lack of grounding the classics that my high school gave me. No Austin. No Bronte. No Dickens. So I am grateful for the classics I did get to read. But I read these books at 17/18, not 15/16, and I think that makes a difference. Because All Quiet on the Western Front deals with such a young protaganist, it really hit home. I had no trouble with Hemmingway. I will own up to the fact that I didn't actually read Crime and Punishment until college. But that's ONLY because the other high school kept the books too long. My sister DID read it in high school and now is in love love love with Dostoevsky. But I would never read The Brothers Karamazov with a high schooler. That's too complex. I'm not sure that every kid should be made to read the harder classics. But there are upper level English classes where they can certainly be handled.

Well... here are some more reviews. I'm in Book Talk training mode for work... so they're longer than usual...

Story Time by Edward Bloor

Whittaker Magnet School has the highest standardized test scores in the country–all due to its Test Based Curriculum. This means that in Kate’s first class on her first day at Whittaker, instead of hearing about rules and course objectives, she takes The New Jersey Test of Basic Skills and then goes over it question by question, learning how to find the right answer. A test in every class. Every day. Except when they go on field trips to see the County Commission meetings to observe "democracy in action".

All Kate wanted was to go to Lincoln Junior High with her friends and play the lead in the fall musical. Instead, because she shares and address with her genius Uncle George (who happens to be two years younger than she is), she has to go to Whittaker, where in addition to the testing, they are forced to drink protein shakes fortified with such things as Ginkoba and Siberian Ginseng Root. All of this costs more than her Mom can afford–so as part of the scholarship program Leave No High-Scoring Child Behind, her mother is made to do administrative and custodial duties and Kate is forced to work for the bratty daughter of the headmaster by typing up plagiarized essays and fetching books for her famous Story Times. All while trying to fend off unwanted advances from the headmaster’s slimy son...

But then Kate finds a secret passage to a secret room and gets to know Pogo, the quiet librarain that only speaks in nursery rhymes. People start going crazy and strange, bizarre deaths are hushed up. Kate knows it’s because of Pogo, a very old copy of Perrault’s Mother Goose and the left over science fair project made by Whittaker’s smartest–and deadliest–student.

This was a fun book that took a hard hit on our obsession with testing-as-education. Although the size might throw some people off, it's a quick read and might be good for a reluctant reader.

Sloppy Firsts Megan McCafferty

Jessica Darling is anything but darling–so much so that her father calls her Notso. Jessica Notso Darling. She hates her friends, except for Hope, who just moved from New Jersey to Tennessee. But she’s halfway through her sophomore year of high school without anyone to talk to except the Clueless Crew and maybe the new girl, Hy.

She hates her family–her sister and mother are completely wrapped up in Bethany’s upcoming wedding and expect Jessica to be as well. They don’t understand why she wouldn’t want to take Scott as her date, he’s so cute! Never mind that they shared an awful first kiss two years ago and Scott is still pining after her and she just doesn’t like him that way. Jessica’s father is obsessed with her running career, follows her on his bike when she runs and makes video montages of all the races she’s lost so they can analyze what she did wrong. He takes it as a personal insult when she breaks her leg one night and is out for the rest of the season.

And then there’s Marcus, the class junkie, who keeps showing up wherever Jessica is and knows way too much about her. Marcus, whom she can’t tell Hope about, knowing Hope would disapprove. Marcus, who got her to pee in a cup to fake a drug test. Marcus, who shouldn’t effect her they way he does. Marcus, who might be the best thing since Hope left...

Biting, funny and well written, this is not standard chick-lit fare. Jessica’s journal entries and monthly letters to Hope tell a story that rings true and entertains without being sappy or melodramatic. I also liked this book because it gets lumped in the YA chick-lit section but really isn't... it's gotten a lot off press lately because of the How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got A Life thing. I know my library actually originally catalogued it as an adult title, and it really is. This is a great book for teens who read the teen lit stuff and want to bridge to more serious stuff (and contains lots of good vocab words). This is also a great book for adults... now I'm just babbling. It's been a long night.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Lots of Reading!

This weekend, I cleaned my apartment, hung out with some people, took my computer into the shop... but mainly, opened all the windows, and laid on my couch in a patch of sunlight and READ.

First off, I (finally) finished Moll Flanders. I kinda liked it? Maybe? I think after awhile, it was just the same thing over and over and over again... I would have liked it a lot more if it had been half as long.

The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts: The Library and the Young Adult by Margaret A. Edwards was phenomenal. When reading it, you must remember how *old* it is and how things have changed since its initial publication. Little things like the use of "Negro" and "gay" (for light and carefree)... Obvious things like the not far-fetched but still a long way off idea of one day ocmputers answering our factual questions... and the weird, like when she was talking about books that we aren't required to read in school but should be reading... like Hemmingway, Remarque, Huxley, and Dostoevsky... all things that you now have to read in high school!

I was also very struck by the change in reading levels. She includes several book lists and there are several titles on the "Adult Titles for Good Readers" and "Advanced Reading" that are now standard fare at the junior high and highschool levels-- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye , and The Grapes of Wrath...

There is also a strong "us" vs. "them" mentality when she discusses the challenges of librarainship in an urban setting (in this case the highly-segregated Baltimore). But it is very much middle class white folk bring literature to poor black people...

But Edwards speaks a lot of truth that librarains, as a profession, still haven't owned up to. We are obsessed with cataloging and not with customer service. In our obsession with processing and cataloging, we see the book more and more as a mere object and forget the ideas in it that are so necessary... "We do everything to the book but read it."

She also hit on some very good points-- do we librarians hate the stereotypical image of a proper old ladying shushing everyone because it hits a little too close to home? AND is one of the main reasons we're so bad at customer service because anti-social bookworms are who is drawn to the profession? I don't think our anti-customer service attitude is nearly as bad as portrayed by Edwards, but I think there are still issues.

But more than anything else, my head is swirling with thoughts on how to improve service, and different types of programming we can do and more than anything-- HOW TO GET PEOPLE READING. Because really, that's what it's all about, right?

Also, The House of Dies Drear just survived a challenge in Rockingham County, VA.