Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly, bookish meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  Anyone can play along.  Just grab your current read, open to a random page, and share 2 sentences from that page. 

Be careful not to give too much away.  Please share the title, author, and page of the quote too. 

Have fun and please leave your comment after this Teaser Tuesday with a link to yours.  Or if you do not have a blog, just put your teaser in your comment.  Thanks!

"Guthrie afraid and Christine afraid - again not perhaps of the same thing.  Here, in a word, is my preoccupation - almost my anxiety - of the moment; here - Diana - is the Mystery of Castle Erchany!"

pp. 96-97, Lament for a Maker, by Michael Innes

Monday, March 29, 2010

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.  Today's Musing Mondays post is about multi-tasking.
Do you - or are you even able- to do other things while you read?  Do you knit, hold a conversation, or keep an eye on the TV?  Anything?

I prefer and am often not able to read an intriguing book with anything else going on.  I can scan the newspaper or a magazine with the TV on unless I'm reading a really detailed, long article.  I guess it depends on the complexity of what I am reading.  If the book or article is easy reading, I can have something else going on.  If my reading is full of intricate twists and turns,  I need quiet solitude. 

I can generally ride an exercise bike while I'm reading if there is a rack to put my reading material on.  I can't knit or do anything that requires delicate hand coordination and read.  I would have to keep looking back and forth between the knitting and the reading.  That would be distracting and would eventually give me a headache. 

It's really hard for me to hold any kind of coherent conversation and do much else.  As I said, I really prefer doing some things one at a time such as reading, conversing, swimming, singing, writing.... I have a lot more fun and get more out of whatever it is I'm doing

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Define "Normal"

Little, Brown and Company published the young adult novel Define "Normal" by Julie Anne Peters in 2000.  The American Librarians Association declared Define "Normal" as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults the next year in 2001.  With such a high recommendation from librarians, who dedicate their careers to books, I thought I should read this novel.

The two main charcters, Jasmine (Jazz) and Antonia are eighth graders who attend Oberon Middle School.  That's about all they have in common or so I thought.  Antonia dresses conservatively in skirts and sweaters, the traditional "school-girl" manner, while Jazz enjoys black for just about everything including eyeshadow and lipstick, and she is no stranger to piercings or tatoos.  Antonia works hard, does what she is told, and gets good grades.  On the other hand, Jazz does not fear and, of course, questions authority mercilessly.  She has a bad reputation and hangs out with the wrong people.

Dr. DiLeo, a couselor at the school, invites Antonia to sign up as a "peer couselor" as an honorable thing to do, to help people who are less fortunate.  Not surprisingly, she is paired with Jazz and the drama begins.  Antonia now dreads the weekly hour long meetings.

The first few meetings go badly with Antonia walking out more than once.  Neither one of them is open minded about the other and they both make broad assumptions.  Antonia tries to quit a couple of times, but Dr. DiLeo will not let her claiming that sessions generally go badly at first.

We find out more about Antonia's and Jazz's personal lives as the book continues.  Things are not as they seem.  Both seem to have problems at home and hidden talents yet to discover.  I won't go into much more detail, so anyone can read this book without knowing too much.  The ending is satisfying.  This is a great read for a middle-schooler.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should  Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

 (This is my first Teaser Tuesday!)

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page  
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
"The pilgrims and patients, closely packed on the hard seats of a third-class carriage, were just finishing the 'Ave maris Stella,' which they had begun to chant on leaving the terminus of the Orleans line, when Marie, slightly raised on her couch of misery and restless with feverish impatience, caught sight of the Paris fortifications through the window of the moving train.

'Ah the fortifications!'"

p.8, "The Three Cities Trilogy:  Lourdes, Complete" by Emile Zola


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith has become a well-respected classic since it was published in 1943 by Harper & Brothers.  Many erudite readers have reviewed A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.  In fact, when I looked at amazon.com today, there were 582 customer reviews.  Given this intimidating number and in fear of repeating what has already been said, I would like to open up this review to a discussion about what makes a book a classic, and from this review and its comments, determine, according to our humble opinions, whether A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is a classic.  And as a by-product of our classical conversation, perhaps an extended communal review will develop as well.

Of course, what makes a book a classic cannot be precisely defined.  The following thoughts do not by any means exhaust the subject. Also, varying opinions about what makes a classic inevitably exist.  Questions will most likely lead to more questions and answers will lead to more answers.

Originally, a classic work of art meant a creation from the Ancient Greek or Roman eras.  A classic book was written in Greek or Latin.  The concept now includes many other ideas.  Here are some aspects of what makes a work a classic that I have found during this brief morning of considering the topic.  A bullet form list follows rather than prose paragraphs in the interest of covering as many characteristics in a short space and time period.  In addition, it seems not all "classics" will have all the possibilities below.  And one aspect sometimes blends into or leads to another.

  • Universality - univeral truths, ideas of beauty, life, themes, crosscultural
  • Timelessness - enjoyed by more than one generation, people of all eras can relate to the work of art, stands the test of time, continues to influence readers
  • Memorable Characters - "real" people
  • Adaptability to other Media - made into a movie perhaps
  • Re-readability - can the same person read it over and over throughout his or her life and gather new meaning
  • Incredible Quality - beautiful language, artistic quality, poetic, plot, characterization
  • Uniqueness - the first of its kind, truly original, something different about it, novelty
  • Connection to Heritage of Humanity - history of ideas, legacy of literature, myth, speaks to us as humans
  • Moral Lessons - learning values, teachers and professors assign work as part of reading list to learn
  • Instant Classic or Not Recognized in its Time
  • Believabilty - not the question of could this really happen, but is the work real or can it suspend believability without effort
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, according to my reading, has all of the above qualities.  The clearest universal theme centers around growing up, moving from a child into adulthood, or coming of age, all critical times during which a young girls finds out not only what it means to be a woman, but also what it means to be human.  The universal themes lead to the book's timelessness.  An 11 year old girl, a hardworking parent, or an alchoholic person with overwhelming responsibility from many eras could glean meaning from A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.  Another universal theme is growing into old age and the fear that we will do this entirely ungracefullly, a fear that transcends generations, eras, and cultures.

Francie and each member of her family are described in much detail from varying characters' points of view.  The people in her neighborhood such as the shopkeepers are also unforgettable (in the true sense of the word) "characters."  I was surprised that this work was produced as a movie in 1945 only two years after Harper & Brothers published it. Is this a sign of an instant classic in the 1940's?  Perhaps. I found out that the movie is available on DVD.  Netflix here I come.

Betty Smith's attention to detailed descriptions brings vivid images to a reader's mind.  Smith brings Brooklyn to life with language that is beautiful in its directness and accuracy.  She doesn't spend too much time bringing a reader into the scene with overly florid or sentimental phrases.  The language used in the characters' dialogue expresses their personalities, some practical and some dreamy.

The uniqueness of this book appears in its gritty and uncomfortable scenes.  Little Women, another novel/memoir about a young girl coming of age, doesn't delve into the dark side of life as does A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.  Although Little Women was published around 75 years earlier, less than pristine circumstances did exist at that time.  From what I know about the 19th Century, these occurrences just were not discussed openly in literature or society in the mid-1800's.  Louisa May Alcott describes sad and troubled times in Little Women, but no profound experiences with crime, shame, poverty, or sexual scandal.  A Tree Grows In Brooklyn grapples with "dirty," difficult subjects in an unflinching, non-melodramatic manner leading the way for The Diary of Anne Frank, another "frank," realistic memoir of a young girl growing into womanhood published four years later.

From my experience, the reader learns moral values right along with Francie.  I have also heard teachers and professors have included this title as required reading for English courses.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Double Identity

If you have a late elementary to middle school reader who is ready for mystery mixed with a little science fiction, then Double Identity is for you both!  My daughter was so excited about this book.  It was one of the first ones she couldn't put down!  That meant to me that if she liked this book so much, then I just had to read it too.  Now we both want to read other books written by Margaret Peterson Haddix as well.

Bethany is a 12 year old who has become used to her overprotective parents.  She's moved around a lot and doesn't have very close friends, but she is basically a terrific tween-age kid.  Her favorite thing is swimming.  She finds it comforting and quiet under the water and, on the other hand, she loves to compete at meets.

She has also become used to her mother crying at odd times, but she's been worried lately because her mother has been crying all the time.  Without warning, her mom and dad drive her to an aunt's house.  She's never even heard of this aunt before and suddenly her parents just leave her there.

Bethany can't make any sense out of this, and her aunt can't seem to finish any sentences making both of them entirely nervous around one another.  Another weird thing - people in this small town look at her like she is some sort of ghost from the past.  Then, at the next minute, they recover and say something like she looks like someone else they know or knew or something.

Her father frightens her even more by disconnecting all of their cell phones and has left no forwarding number saying don't try to contact me.  Bethany's mother calls and thinks that Bethany is another person  named Elizabeth.  Who is this Elizabeth anyway?  Another time, Bethany answers the phone and all she hears is a click. 

Strange and frightening events continue to happen.  She thinks she's being followed and becomes afraid to go out of her aunt's house.  The mystery unfolds with scientific facts and family history all leading to a surprising conclusion and unexpectedly helping Bethany find out who she really is.

The Road

Cormac McCarthy received the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished fiction by an American author in 2007 for his novel The Road published a year earlier.  The Road was also a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and a New York Times Notable Book among many other accolades. 

In November 2009, The Road was released as a major motion picture with Viggo Mortensen as the father and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son.  Both of them and the filmakers have received numerous nominations for awards from film critic associations. Charlize Theron and Robert DuVall also star in this highly acclaimed film.

The story takes place after an apocolyptic event destroys all life on earth other than an unknown, perhaps small, number of humans.   The reader doesn't know exactly whether the devastation of the earth is nuclear or natural in its origin.  All is rubble, dust, and ash.  Everything is mostly grey.  The weather is cold with grey sunlight, with grey rain, or grey snow. Even the water is dark and putrid.

As the book begins, a father and son have already lived a harsh nomadic life, scavenging for unperishable food and any tools and supplies just to survive, for almost a decade.  The boy has known no other life.  The journey continues endlessly from day to day.  The reader wonders what will happen once all the canned goods are gone.

There are good people and bad people divided mainly by their diets.  Danger lurks around every bend in the road existing or non-existing.  The reader is on edge as are the characters not knowing what will happen at any given moment.

The relationship between the father and the son is the only steadily positive force. On the book jacket of the 2006 Alfred A. Knopf edition, a profound summary appears:  "[The Road] is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of:  ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation."