I'm sorry to report that I accidentally chose a "four books in one" monster of a P.D. James novel to kick off the year, and it is taking me forever to finish it. I didn't realize the heft of the book because I bought it on my Kindle, and I didn't pay attention to the number of pages. I did, however, manage to read 1971 Newbery Medal Winner Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien to my kids last week.
The story is about a widowed mouse named Mrs. Frisby who must find a way to move her house (a cinder block) from one corner of the garden to a safer one. Her frail, thoughtful son, Timothy, has recently recovered from a bout of pneumonia and will not survive if he is exposed to the cold, early-summer nights. She seeks help from a colony of elusive rats who harbor a secret that involves her late husband, Jonathon. She learns that the rats have undergone chemical experiments at the National Institute of Mental Health, resulting in their being over a thousand times more intelligent than natural rats. With the help of Nicodemus, the leader of the NIMH rat colony, she learns the truth about her husband's early life and uncovers a strange, cautionary tale about science and ethical limits.
The book was everything quality children's literature should be: funny, interesting, cozy, nerve-wracking, and thought-provoking. And all of this without being a thinly-veiled Disturbing-Story-For-Grown-Ups told in a Kindergarten-Teacher-Voice. I hate those kind of books.
The book is 233 pages with the occasional pen-and-ink illustration. The target age for the book was 8-12, but I read it to my 6, 7, and 9 year olds, and they were all rapt. Oh--and if you've seen the movie, don't skip the book. As usual, the book is densely packed with philosophical discussions and character development that the movie omits. Also, the movie throws in a bunch of bite-your-knuckle plot twists that don't happen in the book. In the words of my nine-year-old, "How dare they change the plot? After all Robert's hard work?" (She and Robert are tight, it would appear). The biggest offense in her mind? That the movie changes Mrs. Frisby's name to Mrs. Brisby, and that Jenner is portrayed as a Stone-Cold-Killa, which he isn't in real life. (Real Life=The Book. But I don't have to tell you people that).
Q for you: What other children's books-turned-movies have you read? Tell me in the comment section, and if you've reviewed any children's books-turned-movies, Mr. Linky-it-up!
I plan to review one book a week. I'm going to end each post with a Mr. Linky option so that you guys can provide a link to any related reviews you have posted. For instance, if I review A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, and you've done a review of A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle, I'd love to have our reviews linked to broaden the discussion. I'll post more specifics when the time comes.
I plan on doing some Vloggy Reviews, too, since those are fun.
The site will be under construction for a few days around Jan. 1, 2011 as I get the challenge pages designed and up. Don't forget to post a summary of your reading year under the challenge pages for 2010. I can't wait to hunt through them and see how we all did. Happy Holidays!
What were we talking about? Oh yes. Nick Hornby. On the Nook.
In the novel, a middle-aged ex-rock star, Tucker Crowe, confronts the reasons behind a fifteen year jag of creative silence after re-releasing a stripped down, unedited version of his most lauded record. When Annie, a-nearing-forty-year-old fan whose life is also stuck on "pause" for other reasons, posts an unflattering, probing critique of his new (old) material online, both of them find themselves staring at the stripped down, unedited truth about their lives.
The book is full of searing hilarity and wit. Hornby digs into the minds of a washed-up 80's rock star and a stalled, single woman trapped in a Nothing Job with a cocktail of sensitivity and self-deprecation. We end up defending them, rooting for them, forgiving them, understanding them, and--yes--laughing at them. Juliet, Naked is a thoughtful, pleasantly neurotic tale of risks and ruts, creativity and complacency. I read it as I lounged by the pool, drinking diet tonic water and answering my splashing children's questions with vague, one-word answers. The book was a perfect fit.
My husband bought me a Nook for Mother’s Day. (Doesn’t the word “Nook” sound…X-rated? I find that I always let my voice drop when I say it). When e-Readers began to pop up in the purses of my friends, I quickly skittered over to the “Oh, I like the sensory experience of real books. The smell! The purr of fanned pages under a thumb!” camp, with all the other people
The Pros? I love how many books I can store on my Nook. My house is overrun with books, but I have always been—and will always be—a person who buys books. It’s my thing. I love how easy and turbo fast it is to purchase the books I want. It’s actually…dangerously convenient. Almost like you didn’t even spend any money. Like forking off bites of birthday cake when you’re whizzing through the kitchen. Doesn’t even really count. I love how lightweight the Nook is. While this sounds old-womany, big books kind of hurt my hands. I like how organized and accessible and portable my reading material is. The Cons? I’m terrified to read in the bathtub or the pool. This majorly cramps my style. The shame of returning a conspicuously wavy library book is one thing; the idea of dropping a $300 gadget into the tub is another kettle of fish altogether. I don’t find it as easy to flip back to previous sections of a book to remind myself of a character’s name or to reread earlier passages in light of later ones, since I am not likely to “bookmark” these passages at first pass. Also, my reading light doesn’t clip on my Nook. I’m sure Barnes and Noble makes one just for the Nook, but after dropping 300 bucks on the e-reader, itself, I’m fresh out of discretionary funds.
What about you? Do you have an e-reader? I’m sure many of you have hashed out the pros and cons of Kindles, Nooks, iPads, etc. on your blogs. If you’ve posted about this topic, leave a link to the specific post below so I can snoop around in your thoughts.
The week was memorable and sweet, however. Most of my reading was religious in nature, but I did finish a Marian Keyes novel which I sucked down like a piece of chocolate cake. Also, I worked through a book about the "tween years" with my nine-year-old daughter, and read Beverly Cleary's The Mouse and the Motorcycle to my Irish twins. (This is the month of the year when we have two children the same age--who aren't twins and are not adopted. That is to say, I gave birth twice in a twelve month period. This year, we have two six year olds. IknowIknowIknow. I've heard all the jokes).
Bookish highlight of the week? I bought Tracy Chevalier's new novel Remarkable Creatures. Paid top dollar for it, too. Hardback. I was wondering when she was going to crank out another one. I'm going to review it for Vloggy Friday this week, which I am not going to forget about (I say, with a watery smile). I'll post my review for Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes on Wednesday. In addition to Tracy's new one, I'll be continuing to work through Zinsser's Writing to Learn.
Sheila is hosting the April 12x12 Challenge, so go check her out. (I'm sure you already do on a regular basis. That girl's blog is hoppin').
Last week, we read Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. I remember reading it by myself in elementary school, and feeling haunted by the spare, lonely language and the descriptions of the sea. I remembering feeling strange about Sarah--unconvinced that she could adequately fill in for Caleb and Anna's dead mother. Also, I wished she wasn't plain. I wanted her to be beautiful: A little more Robin Wright Penn circa The Princess Bride, a little less Glenn Close. Just keepin' it real. I kept re-writing her in my mind, softening her.
Reading it as an adult (and a mother), I was struck by Caleb's desperate grief and his willingness to metamorphose, to contort in order to snag a stand-in-mother's love. I suffered for Anna, whose love for her brother is laced with filigrees of hate and blame as his birth brought about their mother's death. I felt anxious for Sarah to be warmer, give the children more confidence, stop talking about missing the damn sea in front of them. Couldn't she see their sucked-in hope? However, I also noted the subtle desperation in Sarah's own situation. A newly married brother, and with his changed situation, the loss of her childhood home. I mused about how ill-suited she must have been for traditional marriages in her time, with her towering height, indomitable independence, and plainness. What she sees in "Papa's" marriage proposal is an opportunity to enter into a partnership, a context where her strength and mental tenacity will be assets instead of liabilities.
My five year old son, Jack, was particularly tuned in to this book. At the end, I asked him what he thought.
"The story made me think of the colors blue and gray. And I was full of 'missing-ish' feelings. I was happy that Sarah stayed, but I do not want a new mother for myself. It would've been a little more better if the kids had their real mom."
I knew just what he meant.
Question for you: What childhood books have you re-read as an adult, and how did your interpretations/emotions change upon later readings?
Ah, well. At least Beverly gave me some blog awards, so that's always a nice way to start off the week. (She also has a great quote on the heading of her fab blog, so check it out).
Looks like I'm supposed to tell 10 things that make me happy (other than reading, of course) and pass on the award to 10 other bloggers.
- My smokin' hot husband.
- My adorable kids.
- Black coffee.
- James Taylor.
- My sisters and my mom.
- Maeve Binchy.
- Writing little HTML codes that actually work. :)
And here are 10 Bloggers who also make me happy:
Annie at annieology
Wendy at Caribousmom
Andi at Estella's Revenge
Connie's Calico Drive blog. Actually all of Connie's blogs.
My big sister at There's A Cow In My Lane
Sarah at That's Bologna
Rachelle at Rants and Ramblings
Linda at Salty Feet
The Neverending Shelf. How much do I want to live in the picture on her banner?
I'm behind on my reading, so I'm still finishing up a great memoir, a novel, and a couple other books. Still plugging away at Lord of the Rings (for my kids). Am I allowed to say how bored-slash-scrambled I get trying to keep up with Tolkien's descriptions of fictional settings?
And there you have it. I'm sweating from stage fright. No, I really am.
Don't forget to check back in at lunch to read a guest review by my dear friend (and uber-cool, Barnes-and-Noble-insider), Libby. Happy Friday!
I am almost at a loss to try to describe the subtlety and skill Strout brought to the story. As unsympathetic as the protagonist often was, I felt wholly absorbed in the mindset, worldview, and emotions of Olive Kitteridge. The tight, limited third-person points of view provided deep, convincing emotional evidence for the authenticity of the entire cast of characters. This character-driven book was haunting, funny, irreverent, sometimes scathing, and ultimately hopeful. It was an appeal for mercy on all of us--limited, stumbling, puffed up, rag-tag-humanity. I felt twisty (amused and sometimes uncomfortable) from Strout's unrelenting emotional precision. (My sisters and I would say the author was "pushing on a bruise"--bringing deep, existing feelings into sharper relief).
The book is not long (a slim 270 pages), and I read it in a single, sleepy afternoon. It will stay with me for much longer. Highly, highly recommended.
Anybody curious about the requirements for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction? See here.
Want to listen to a muy interesante 7-minute interview with Elizabeth and the (ever-interrupting) Charlie Rose? (Watch him tangle her up with his constant interjections during the "daughter" part). This particular interview is about Strout's debut novel, Amy and Isabelle. Check it.
Q for you: Olive Kitteridge is neither beautiful, nor well-liked, nor charming, nor accomplished. She is not a particularly sacrificial wife or doting mother. Her students, for the most part, are afraid of her. In a word--none of us would want to be her. And yet, I was drawn to her as if by magnetism. Do you have trouble identifying with an "unlikeable" protagonist? Does it depend on your mood?
I'll pause, and let you take a gander at those. I'll just unload my dishwasher.
I know writers mine their own hearts for stories, characters, pulsing emotions, etc., and so I find them fascinating. I like to know what movies they watch, and if they write in the morning or at night, and if they have happy marriages, and if their children speak to them. I know Maeve Binchy's writing schedule, and what she and her beloved husband, Gordon, do in the afternoons when they've finished up their word counts for the day. I follow Elizabeth Berg's blog, and when she mentioned that she loved Alice Munro's short stories, you better believe I went on an Alice Munro Reading Extravaganza. (Turns out, Alice Munro is a masterfully emotional storyteller, too. I can't get enough of her, and now I wonder who she liked to read? I've got to find out...). I found out that Julie Powell cheated on Eric and has managed to squeeze another memoir out of the whole affair. They worked it out, though. She and Eric, I mean.
What about you? Are you interested in an author's life, or just her books? Any particular author you
In Julie and Julia, memoirist Julie Powell chronicles her real-life escapade of cooking--and blogging--through Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking in a year. The Julie/Julia Project begins as a way to distract Julie from her colorless job as a temp in a government agency and the dim prospects of her dwindling fertility. Julie uses cooking and the calendar year as a skeleton upon which to hang the book's broader themes--the meaning of marriage, of faithfulness, of personal identity, of growth and flexibility, even of grief and recovery (her day job involves regular contact with the families of 9/11 victims). In the meantime, she discovers and cultivates a flair for writing and a renewed appreciation for her long-suffering husband, Eric.
The book is stinkin' hilarious. As in, I snickered in a room by myself off and on for hours as I read it, and pestered all the grown-ups around me, begging them to let me read them funny lines. Having said this, the author has an unprecedented potty-mouth, and the book makes full and fluid use of every foul phrase in the urban dictionary. Wide-eyed, sweet, hapless Amy Adams this chick most certainly is NOT (for those of you who saw the movie). Having said that, it still fully captured my interest (and made me wheeze with laughter), and I read it in one sitting. Oh--and I read it after I saw the movie. No harm done, in this case.
Her comment got me thinking about my criteria for quitting a book. I also read for pleasure, mostly, although I also like to keep my brain fit. I find that--with all the short, quippy, internety things to read--I have to work a bit harder to hang with dense literature. Sometimes I'll make myself finish a book I don't adore because I feel like I should love it. Example: The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. How the world raved! Yet I...kept fanning the second half through my fingers, willing it to pass faster. Still. What if the problem lay within the shadowy corners of my own cheap-entertainment-saturated brain? Better press on, I said, and I did. Sometimes I'll keep reading a book I don't love if I have somehow managed to get most of the way through it, and I want to count it toward a reading challenge. I'm
But there are books I cannot finish. They make me feel irritable, distracted, and vaguely panicked, like I'm holding a stretch in gym class.
When do you give up on a book? At the first whiff of boredom? Do you soldier on to the end no matter what? Tell me in the comment section and I'll mail one of you my copy of The Memory Keeper's Daughter. You'll love it. Probably. Most likely. (I'll throw the comment numbers into Random.org and pick a winner that way. I'll announce it on Monday morning's post).
Fourteen-year-old Jed Pepper keeps secrets, even when they blister his insides and break his heart. When his best friend, Daisy Chance, goes missing, he adds her disappearance to the list of wrongs he is too weak to right. In a story that is as chilling as it is redemptive, Mary DeMuth’s first novel in the Defiance Texas Trilogy explores the corrosive nature of family secrets. Set in the sweaty, sad town of Defiance, Texas in 1973, Daisy Chain haunts readers with its spare depiction of adolescence, shame, longing, sin, and redemption. DeMuth’s narrative voice captures Jed’s age and situation so deftly that readers will find themselves momentarily locked in the mind of a fourteen-year-old whose hands are tied between childhood and manhood, driven by equal impulses to hide and to rescue. “Bald Muriel,” a cancer victim with a bizarre past, and Hixon, an unlikely prophet, befriend Jed as he waits for the local police to piece together the clues about Daisy’s disappearance. As a result of their friendship, Jed finds himself dragged toward other revelations about his family, his neighbors, his friend, and himself. As if holding up a sobering mirror of reality, Mary DeMuth invites readers to venture to the very edge of hatred for several characters, before revealing the frailty, fear, and regret that motivates their behavior. While Daisy Chain resolves in that it points to “bleeding Jesus” as the answer to Jed’s brokenness, DeMuth leaves room for situational and philosophical development in the rest of the trilogy. Reminiscent of the literary giants, Harper Lee, and Francine Rivers, Mary DeMuth has written a masterful coming-of-age novel which reaches beyond itself in its confident hope of redemption.
I made myself sound sort of smarter in that one. You know. For fun. It was like trying on a crazy costume or playing in Mommy's makeup.
What about you all? Anybody read Christian fiction?
I am excited to follow your book trails and join with you in letting books challenge us, shape us, amuse us, pique us, heal us, wound us, silence us, and give us something to talk about. Can I get a witness? Amen.
It may take me a little while to get my bearings around here, but I am going to do my best to keep all the fun things going that made this place so great. I home school my three kids, so I will be blogging in the afternoon and evening, three or four times a week. I can’t wait to get to know you all.
Q for you: What have been your favorite things about J. Kaye’s Book Blog? What will you miss the most?