Saturday, August 02, 2008

Reading .... July in Review

Young Adult/Juvenile Books
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

Passed from student to student all year long, Twilight is a book I've been "dying" to read and discover the appeal. Now that I've read it, I'm still not sure what the appeal was. While all of us at book club seemed to agree the writing wasn't the best, three of our group had either already READ the next two books or were in the process. They had to know what happens next and I guess there is something to be said for curiosity that drives you through 500 pages. I think Brian said he didn't really like the main character and others agreed that she didn't feel very developed. I can see that. I felt that there was a TON of repetition in words and images... just when I thought there couldn't be one more comment about Edward's teeth, there was. Judy thought the sexual tension/anticipation and forbidden love was probably a big draw for the typical teenager and I can see that. For me the book dragged a bit but the ending was gripping and I flew through the last 200 pages. I think Meyer could have done a bit more editing and the book would have been better for it. Even though I didn't love it, I will read the next book at least. I, too, am a curious girl.

When we met for our book club discussion of Twilight, Kristine pointed out that each book is supposed to bear resemblance to a work of classic literature. She suggested Pride and Prejudice for the first novel and I wasn't convinced. New Moon, however, is clearly meant to mirror Romeo and Juliet. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Overly dramatic, deep depressive states, over the top teenage passion and angst. Hmmmm... Maybe there is a reason TEENS love these books more than me.

Edward, her vampire love, is absent for most of the book and Bella gets involved with a monster of a different variety. All the while, her poor father, out of the loop. I am still pretty apathetic toward Bella Swan and wouldn't mind seeing her get eaten or sucked bone dry. :)

Still, I know when I get a chance I'll probably read Eclipse. I'm a sucker, no pun intended.

Jerry Spinelli is the author of one of my very favorite children's books of all time--Maniac Magee. That is why I picked up a copy of Milkweed. Though stylistically done in a similar way, I didn't love this one as much. Perhaps it's the subject matter which I sort of ignored as I checked this one out from the library. It's another holocaust book. This time the protagonist is an orphan boy in Warsaw. From his young and naive eyes we see the "jackboots" and the "ghetto" and the "hunger" and the life on the streets. As a person who DOES know about the holocaust and its devastation, I felt the impending doom and was expecting certain things that Misha could not see coming. I wonder if a young reader would have enough background knowledge to do that and if it matters. Ultimately this was a very good book.. well written, engaging, touching, but I wasn't blown away.

Fishing for Myth: Poems by Heid E. Erdich
Honeybee: Poems and Short Prose by Naomi Shihab Nye

Because of my affinity for story, myth, legend, fairy tale I particularly enjoyed Fishing for Myth. Because Erdrich and I share a geographical heritage, I could relate to and recognize images and ideas in her poems and that is one of the pleasures of poetry. The connections.

These are the ones I liked best of all:

True Myth (p13)
Origin of Poem (p14)
Sweeping Heaven (p17)
Breaking and Entering (p18)
One Girl (p22)
The Pond (p33)
Fat in America (p35)
Sweet Short (p40)
Sex in the Desert (p41)
Short Hand (p55)
The Widow's Grove (p64)

I am hope to read more of her work.

Honeybee: Poems and Short Prose by Naomi Shihab Nye is the first book I've read by this author, though I've long liked a number of her poems. The inside flap of the book says,

"In eighty-two poems and paragraphs, Naomi Shihab Nye alights on the essentials of our time--our loved ones, our dense air, our wars, our memories, our planet--and leaves us feeling curiously sweeter and profoundly soothed."

This describes the book pretty well.

I tend to prefer poetry anthologies rather than books in which all the poems are by one author. I find that there is a wee bit of disappointment in realizing that an author can't be brilliant with every poem. I am never sure the ratio that makes the book "good" for me.. or "worthwhile"... I find I love a few poems in every book.. maybe a handful. In this book these are my favorites:

Honeybee (title page)
The Frogs Did Not Forget (p 32)
Missing Thomas Jefferson (pp 41-43)
Deputies Raid Bexar Cockfight (pp 77-78)
Companions (p 85)
Letters My Prez is Not Sending (p 89)
To One Now Grown (p 120)
Watch Your Language (p 121)
Hibernate (p 125)
My President Went (pp 130-131
Consolation (p 146)

Honeybees Drinking (pp 53-55)
Slump (pp 75-76)
Before I read The Kite Runner (p 142)
Gate A-4 (pp 162-164)

You can read the prose poem Gate A-4 here.


Upon further reflection. This was a book of poems I liked quite a bit. You can read excerpts-the first 45 pages-here.

Stories and Essay Collections
When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories by Miranda July

Perhaps because I've seen Sedaris live or because I've read essays by him on the Internet, but I felt as if I'd read much of When You Are Engulfed in Flames already. It was more or less what I've come to expect from Sedaris, meaning I loved it. I had some laugh out loud moments, but it wasn't quite as good as some of the stuff I've read and loved in the past. I think that "Stadium Pal" remains my favorite bit.

Miranda July is a filmmaker, writer, performing artist and also the director and star of the film Me and You and Everyone We Know which I loved. This is what led me to her short story collection "No One Belongs Here More Than You." Each of these 16 stories reflects the quirky, fantastic, twisty mind of July. I think that if I could sum up an element that nearly every story has it would be beautiful, awkward, fragility.

I will also admit that I found some of the sexuality in the stories to be "jarring" and more than I was expecting. In every story there were moments, phrases, ideas that I LOVED, but there were stories that as a whole I did NOT love. If you enjoyed her film, it's likely you will also enjoy these stories.

The characters in her stories are neurotic, sometimes obsessive compulsive. They are filled with delusions, longings, and palpable loneliness. My favorite stories are as follows:

The Shared Patio
The Swim Team
The Boy from Lam Kien
Making Love in 2003

I think that Miranda July writes like I think. Now if you choose to read this book and then remember that I said that you might look at me differently. I don't want to alarm you. It's not like I think those very thoughts or anything. I just think there is an essence there. And something about these stories reminds me of one time when I saw a therapist and he asked, "When did you learn you were different?" and I was shocked. Because I think it was when he asked me that question. But maybe we are ALL "different" and if we're not... that is when there is something wrong. At any rate, the therapy ended there and I never really learned what more there was to explore along that vein. Somehow Miranda July takes me there.

If you enjoy short stories, admire a fresh, unique voice (though there is not a lot of variety in voice from story to story despite the different characters), are willing to encounter some edgy sexuality, then you might enjoy this collection, though it's best read in small doses.

For a sampling of her quirky style check out her website about this book.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Set in North Carolina, Garden Spells explore the lives of the Waverly women and their strangeness in a community where everyone has their expectations for the long family lines native to the area. The Waverley's have a garden where an enchanted apple tree grows and Claire masterfully creates foods with properties that do more than tantalize the taste buds. The ideas behind this are great and this first novel for Sarah Addison Allen might be a fun summer read for someone less picky than me. While I enjoyed the IDEAS Allen was trying to carry out in the novel and the lovely cover art, I found it predictable and contrived, repetitive and far too much like a heaving breasts romance novel at times. I really didn't care for her style of writing.

Sublime Stitching: Hundreds of Hip Embroidery Patterns and How-To by Jenny Hart
Rough Guide to His Dark Materials by Paul Simpson of Rough Guides

Sublime Stitching is a fun concept. "Not your grandma's embroidery." I'm actually using this to LEARN embroidery and it is pretty basic but it also has a TON of patterns in the back. So far I've read the entire book and started working on the stitching lesson pattern. I figure if I don't learn how to embroider it won't be the fault of this book.

The Rough Guide to His Dark Materials offers a wealth of information on the sources Pullman uses in his trilogy and the roots for many of his ideas. It appears the author has been VERY upfront about all the borrowing he's done and is not striving to maintain any illusions or mystery about his stories. I do find that a bit refreshing and so it's interesting to learn the behind the scenes of this fantastical world. One thing I learned is there are TONS of books and online sites that are dedicated to this topic. Pullman loves William Blake and also the Victorian World. I learned that. This guide's most interesting section was part two where we learned more about the characters, the inspirations, the science, the religion, the politics, the magic and the Victorian world. This was also the slowest reading. Overall, I found this interesting but dense and a bit repetitive.

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