Wednesday, February 28, 2007

 

Enough with the Faeries, Alraedy

This is weird—I was reading The Doctor's House by Ann Beattie (Scribner, 2002) assuming the author was British and the Cambridge the main characters lived in was Cambridge, England. (I guess I was mixing Ann Beattie up with Ann Fine.) And then, after repeated references to Boston had intruded on my assumptions and I'd realized my mistake, I still couldn't keep in mind that this was an American book. Its sensibilities, moral outlook and characters are completely British to me, somehow. That said, although I read this book with interest, in the end I felt remote from it. It was a portrait in words of three characters who all are looking at a fourth whom we never get to see except reflected in their eyes.

Work brought me to Pay the Piper by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple (Starscape, 2005), which I skimmed through after determining it was too "old" for my purposes. I haven't much liked Jane Yolen's writing so far, and this take on the Hamelin story didn't change my mind. The wordy, artificial way the main characters' friends talked put me off, and then there's the whole faery thing. I'm so sick of faery, I can't begin to describe my distaste. Apparently there are other "rock 'n' roll fairy tales" planned, the next being Trollbridge.

For sheer sweet pleasure, though, you can't beat another installment of Mma. Ramotswe's detective agency doings. It was seeing this very title, The Kalahari Typing School for Men (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002), at my old town's library that got me started on this series. P was reading the first one, and after a while asked me, "So, when do things start happening?" and after a moment's thought I had to tell him, "Never."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

 

Four Eyes Are Better Than Two

Life is settling down a bit here in Hard-Workin' Suburban City, and so there is more time for reading. Son recommended Dunk by David Lubar (Graphia/Houghton Mifflin, 2002), which he borrowed from his school library. Which, he observes, is better furnished than the old school library--not a surprise. What an excellent book. It takes place on the Jersey Shore, right on the midway, and has an unusual premise: a teenaged boy wants to be the "Bozo" in a dunk tank. On top of being a good story, well told, with realistic tensions and a remarkably unremarkable main character (and being a gift, in effect, from one's son), it's a lesson to a parent: examine the thing you suffered that you want to spare your child. Would it be the same thing to her or him that it was to you?

Charlie's Raven by Jean Craighead George, though a bit didactic and pie-eyed, is a treasure trove of raven lore. A great companion to Sharon Stewart's Ravenquest. (But one must read the latter title first.)

Two newer titles from Andrew Clements, Lunch Money (Simon and Schuster, 2005) and Room One (2006). Not far into the former, which is about a boy who loves making money and finds a way to do it at school, I saw what was coming, and Clements did a nice little balancing act with the "school book club." The latter is a little different, taking place in a tiny prairie town and a modern-day one-room school.

Lastly, I read one of slowly diminishing pile of advance copies from various sources, and as I thought it rather dopey (though I'm sure very nice for those who like that sort of thing—faery wings, velvet robes, and faked-up archaic language ["miching malecho"--that's something that should only EVER be seen in the pages of a Shakespeare play!]) I will not talk any more about it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

 

Let That Be a Lesson to You

Great cover on Three Songs for Courage by Maxine Trottier (Tundra, 2006). For about the first 2/3 of the book I had to push myself through—there was so much describing: of habits, of thoughts, of scenes; so much internal to the main character, a 16-year-old boy in the 50s. And then, sometimes, a switch (well done, but I still had to read the paragraph twice) to the insides of his girlfriend. And sometimes the inner life of the villain, which helps for a time, to understand girlfriend's mixed feelings—but then doesn't work, when he goes squirrelly, and when he's killed—what are we to think of that? The point is, however, that it is worth pushing through, because what you get is so rich.

And then, in the last third, things pick up—when things start to happen. And the ending is very moving.

Finally read A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines (Vintage Contemporaries/Random House, 1993) My father-in-law inhaled this book when he was visiting over New Year's. Elder Sister recommended it years ago. It was very good, but it didn't hit me the way it seemed to hit them—perhaps because I read The Known World first. I really liked the presentation, though. I want to photocopy the list of other Vintage titles at the back and work through them—at least, the ones I haven't read.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

 

Character Building

The Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau (Random House, 2006) is called "the third book of Ember" and it's a prequel you want to read after you have a read the first two books. (But I feel that way about the reading order of the Narnia series—read them in the order they were written!) It's lovely. DePrau has a knack for building a fictional character that feels 3-dimensional yet is firmly in a story. In this case, it's eleven-year-old Nickie, who has goals. When you set yourself goals, you're setting yourself a plot—it's a brilliant device for telling a story. It's a brilliant way to deal with the now of the main part of the book, the summer Nickie is eleven and the events in Yonwood happen, while leaving yourself room for the later that you need to cover in order to (in this case) get to that moment when (grown-up) Nickie does the thing that plugs her into the first book of Ember.

I'm very fond of Joanna Trollope, and here is Brother and Sister (McArthur &Co, 2004) which makes up for Girl from the South, which wasn't very solid. In this book, the Canadian wife still seems quite British to me; but it isn't as irritatingly off as the American characters in that book were (and some of it is the fault of not-careful-enough editing). Trollope is very good at Jenga in fiction—I think that's the game—building her characters' lives, then removing that one key piece so that we can see how everything tumbles down.

I just realized that the figure the birds form on the cover of Yonwood is a falling bomb. I thought it was a fish!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

 

In the Loony Bin

Books about teenagers in the mental institutions being drawn out of their misery into something more hopeful became quite the thing in the seventies. They are still around, and they are still fascinating. The Game by Teresa Toten (Red Deer, 2001) is an excellent one. The good psychiatrist takes a back seat—Toten establishes how important he is by making him the Prologue, but from there, his work is almost invisible. It's the damaged helping the damaged that makes the story, and perhaps that's what makes this such a good piece of YA. Everyone who has ever been given a healing dose of reality by a tough, loving friend can relate. Particularly poignant is one friend's comparison of their pain and damage to a coat, something that they will have to wear all their lives but might one day, if it's really cold, actually offer some protection. This is a thought-provoking piece of wisdom.

Lacking a regular newspaper, I have to get my cartoon information from collections borrowed from the library—or, in this case, bought outright (secondhand, of course). I am in love with Mutts.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

 

Thanks, Mom!

At last got a hold of Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson (Bantam, 1992) and it was great—definitely an explosion on the literary scene, and all that. But it doesn't take the place of The Diamond Age in my imagination. It was interesting to see how he bet on fiber optic Internet connection— that didn't work out in the way he imagined. But no one has ever explained/demonstrated how information can be currency as vividly as Stephenson does in this book. His wild ride on the topic of virulence in religion was fascinating. He didn't see the rise of fundamentalist Islam coming. The toilet paper memo was a whank, but a humorous one.

As I wait for Charles DeLint's The Blue Girl to come to me, I took them time to his short story collection called Waifs and Strays (Firebird/Penguin, 2002). It was good. I love it that so much takes place so firmly in the Ottawa area—so refreshing. But however beautifully he handles it, I still don't agree with the transport of faerie into the New World.

I checked out Marshfield Dreams: When I was a Kid by Ralph Fletcher (Henry Holt, 2005) simply because of the photo on the cover—boy in a bow tie, brush cut, freckles and ears. I had never come across this writer or his books, but this memoir was lovely. The chapters are each, really, one memory, introduced by bits and pieces of other memories, as applicable; and "extroduced" with the lightest touch, so that we're never burdened by the adult Ralph, but are free to enjoy his memories in our own way.

Finally (for today) I would like to recommend to all (!) my readers this lovely YA offering: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin (Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2005). The Lovely Bones was good, but always, always sad. Elsewhere is full of light. The personal violence done to the narrator of Bones makes her atypical—she needs philosophy. Liz in Elsewhere is an unremarkable type (uncomplicated middle class American adolescent female) except for one thing, which is her ability after death to speak natural Canine. Oh, the dogs in this book are darling.

Reading Elsewhere was an unusually delightful experience because my mother is visiting and I was able to actually lie on the sofa with my feet up and read the whole thing from start to finish in one afternoon. For one thing, most of the time she was ensconced in a chair and reading also; but more than that, I have less to around the house, thanks to her gift for just doing stuff in a way that doesn't involve anyone else. Even psychologically, because when my mother does stuff around the house, she invariable does it excellently.

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