A 3×5 Slice of Life

 

green tara, originally uploaded by silkway.

I have a fancy for postcards. I can’t even explain why. I guess its because they’re fairly cheap, they can be rather beautiful (I frame more postcards than photos), and they bring pleasure to all they encounter on their travels (if you manage to let go of one). So I obviously jumped on the chance to read an interactive book series called Griffin and Sabine.  It is fully illustrated, and a feast for the eyes. The colors are rich and detailed, and the illustrations add a whole new layer to the story. Frankly, I don’t know what you would call it. They appear to be children’s books, but they read like a love story, or a mystery, depending on what strikes your fancy. the book consists of postcards and letters that flow between two (or three) characters, and you never really know whats going on until the end. As a series goes, it looks like a quick read, but there’s so much to absorb once you open the pages. Everything has a double meaning, and more than once I found myself just staring at the page. Not reading, barely thinking. Just… absorbing. Even thinking about it now (its been six months) the only word that sums up everything about it is beautiful. What I adored was that every character has their own style. Griffin is very flowing, industrial, rough, modern, graphic. Sabine is his equal and opposite: feminine, natural, bohemian, detailed, bright. I never really appreciated the power of the visual language until I read these books.  You begin to understand them and how they’re feeling based on how they draw, paint, write. Short storkes and dark colors are interpreted differently based on how they move, what they create, what they’re paired with, what is written… beautiful.

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Published in: on October 4, 2008 at 3:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Are Answers Written On the Ceiling?

 

Mirrored Church, originally uploaded by Accretion Point.

Quite appropriate, yes?

It has been a long morning and I think its about time I begin going down my growing list of books I’ve finished but not yet mentioned. Lets start with the one that bothered me the most; Diary of a Teenage Girl- Becoming Me by Melody Carlson. I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t like it. First off, the whole book comes off as a 30-year-old masked as a 13-year-old, which just ends up being a very condescending narrative. Secondly, it is very much aimed at pushing (not promoting) the idea of Christianity and various ideals rather than (as I hoped) telling a simple coming-of-age story in which a girl deals with the perils of young adulthood by finding religion.

I was very frustrated by this. I understand that such books are meant to support beliefs that already exist, but (it kills me to give a bad review!) I really felt mislead. The back of the book gave no inclination as to what I found within the pages, and I was upset by how easily many touchy issues were deemed to be “right” and “wrong” by the young narrator.

But I didn’t want to write this purely on the fact that certain aspects were close-minded, so I took it a step further; I read the sequel. In truth, my views just went downhill. I wasn’t impressed, but they were quick reads.

I’ll stop before I say too much.

Published in: on April 5, 2008 at 2:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Finding the Unlost


Don’t Label Me ~Take 2~, originally uploaded by Megan *.
     I haven’t read half as much as I would have liked to in my absence, but I have done enough. This began as a look into the idea of nature vs. nurture  and quickly evolved into Women’s studies, which took on a life of it’s own and ended in a very murky teen studies category, if such exists.
      The pain and trials a teen girl goes through is unremarkably vast. Then again, I’m only referring to what we put ourselves though. What about that which is out of our control? That which can genuinely harm us? Teen girls have predators, dangers,  and goings-on that turn innocence to ash around every corner. It really is quite a feat that ladies make it to the age of twenty anymore. How do they do it? That is the question I asked myself that took me on a search for answers. I attempted to cover every aspect of young-adult hood (and even parts of childhood) to see how people have survived. I read books on both instigators and victims, boys and girls. After six novels, I came to one conclusion. How do they do it?  I asked. Simple. They’re too stubborn not to.
     This may cause a chuckle or a smirk, but I mean it in the most serious of tones. Sometimes – most times – young girls are too naive to understand how long wounds will stay, and it doesn’t help that nostalgia is a deceptive liar. They “march on”, over dramatizing the wrong aspects of life, taking cues from the reaction of others. We are all so very childlike in this way. Katherine Tarbox expresses her anxiety about late homework while casually admitting she fell for the lies – hook, line and sinker – of an online predator in A Girl’s Life Online. Her warped value system is typical among the thirteen-year-olds she addresses. Most understand that it is easier to find ones identity among magazine racks and brand names than it is to formulate concrete opinions. This need for attention is what fueled the 41-year old predator that eventually isolated the poor girl.
     Of course no one enjoys living in reality, with its gray lines and smudged morals, but the most dangerous time for a girl is when she steps into this new world with that veil of naivety previously mentioned along with a new pair of blinders, called independence. Its hard to admit when you’re wrong, and even harder to admit you’re wrong because you didn’t listen. Most become unable to swallow the crow when parents are the ones who deserve the “I’m sorry”. When did this war begin? I have never known so many conflicts to exist under so many roofs simultaneously. I credit this to lack of communication and respect – by both parties. Most parents have heard this statement and asked me why they should respect their child. Simple: why would you deny your own offspring  a courtesy that you would extend to a stranger? More than anything, I wish to see more respect between parents and children. Respect of ideas, opinions and space. I never even considered bringing up this issue until I read Glass by Ellen Hopkins. A drug-addicted teen mom continues down the path of destruction, isolating herself from friends, family and reality. Midway through the novel, a mother-daughter argument arises, and the still-high teen begs for a chance to redeem herself and gain custody of her son. I kept reading, imagining the mother’s temper as she stood in the doorway, not even allowing her fallen daughter inside. I imagined her disappointment, her shattered dreams of what her angel could have been – all destroyed. And yet, she continued to stand there, listening to the rantings of an addict, and her ever-present get-rich-quick scheme. I shared her pain, hope and guilt right then. I stopped, and all I thought was whoa, what parent would do that for their child – besides mine? In that moment, the mother ceased to be a flat character, and was suddenly a real person with real emotions, more real than most of the people I encounter in a day. How many parents would set aside their anger for another minute just to listen to the person who has hurt them most, simply because they respect the fact that said person want to change (but never will)? I hope you have a better answer than I do.
     And what about those who do change? How does one sit down and explain to the world that “I’m not who I was. That other person you enjoyed was a complete lie”? It is a strange feeling when you realize that you despised the person you were not too long ago. When I made this discovery, I sat in my room for 48 hours with a pen, a notebook and an open window trying to figure out just when things changed for me. Needless to say, after 48 hours I came to understand that it didn’t really matter when I changed, that I should simply celebrate the fact that I changed at all. This topic was touched on in an extraordinary way in Bad Girl by Abigail Vona,  in which a “bad girl” is sent to a behavior modification center. Through doctors notes and her own narration, the reader is permitted to witness the great feat that is more than a turnaround, it is a complete relocation of body, mind and morals. Excuses are thrown out the window. Strict rules are enforced more for the patients’ need for structure than the nurses’ need for order. It is a book about survival, honesty and self discovery – in the sense that she discovered that there was a “self” that was not yet found.
     Then there are those who do not survive. There are those who “give up”. They give up on family, life and everything that exists as we know it. Some see it as taking the power back, holding their own fate in their hands, others call them victims of suicide. There was a time when I could empathize with these select few, but that is me no longer. I’m now an onlooker, a curious observer, along with the faceless narrator that lives between the pages of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.  He – the boyish narrator – holds the reader captive as he spins the tale of the Lisbon girls and how they came to perish through witness interviews, faded memories and stories whispered between neighborhood boys while displaying evidence (pictures, a bra, notes found) of their existence, more for his sake than ours. We know the girls as he did ; separate and equal suburban goddesses, never to be touched. We listen to the whispered secrets of who wore makeup, who was promiscuous, who had started menstruating and we swore not to tell. We, too, peeked out of the too-small treehouse window to watch for signs from Mary or Lux, yearn to know if they are as aware of our undying love for them as we are. But in the end we are only spectators who never knew them at all, and never got around to understanding why the girls resorted to nooses, razor blades, sleeping pills and open windows as their farewell.
      I am not so amazed that girls survive high school. If anything, I am amazed that they survive themselves. I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy the numerous fates I thought I wanted as a young adult, and am most thankful for the fact that I was so often denied the objects of my adolescent longings. Youth only happens once, and I must warn against ignorance and eagerness to jump ahead to adulthood. Dear reader, if you can survive adolescence (full of temptation and teen perils) then the world is yours.
I  admit that I became more aware of my younger self while reading this, and it gave me more of a sense of where I came from than any history book has in a long time. I found an unlost piece of me, a quiet piece that should have always been protected from the dangers of growing up too fast, but never was. That piece is safe now.

 

Published in: on March 21, 2008 at 8:58 pm  Comments (1)  

A Way Out


Broken Window, originally uploaded by smooveb.
        I’m in an emotional fog right now, and it is easy to assume this is because of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.
        It is an odd book. It is about a community – a block really – the families, the gossip, The Lisbon Girls and the boys who watched them. It was an odd book in structure alone. Two weeks of reading, and I look down thinking What? Only page 144? and by 5 pm today, I was done. It wasn’t slow by any means, just… strolling, if reading may do so.
You get to know the Lisbon girls curiously, intimately, as the boys do: through things seen between curtains, memories pieced together by the crowd, knick-knacks noticed while passing bedrooms, invading bathroom cupboards. You feel for them, but know not what they’re feeling. You are a fly on the wall at dances, parties, acts witnessed in the dark. You can’t forget the Lisbon girls once they’re dead: you fall in love with them, their chains, and their mystery just as much as the boys did – do. You choose to acknowledge and proceed to ignore the same conclusion your peers have come to: “They were bound for college, husbands, child-rearing, unhappiness only dimly perceived – bound, in other words, for life.” You feel bound too, and admire Cecilia, Lux, Bonnie, Mary and Therese for having the courage to escape.
        In only 250 pages you age a hundred years. Dear reader, you grow to know these girls better than you know your own family. The boys piece it all together for you. So let the girls leave, one by one, and don’t feel sad. You knew they were too good, too pure, too knowing for us when they got here.

 

Published in: on February 24, 2008 at 7:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wow.

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I’ll keep this short. Again, I have managed to put my entire book list on hold for another highly valued recommendation.I have picked up The third book by Daniel Quinn, My Ishmael and it is. . . astounding. Which is why I’m keeping this short until I finish it, which makes absolutely no sense unless you’ve read it.

I have plenty of Students2.0 posts to write now, and plenty of thoughts to think. Please excuse my previous absense, dearest readers. Wish me luck.

Published in: on February 15, 2008 at 12:59 pm  Comments (4)  

Second Look


2007 hollister motorcycle rally 5
Originally uploaded by 1115

I’d like to think that after all this time, my list of “Things I Should Know By Now” would be much shorter, but it isn’t. Worst of all, I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, so to speak, but I do. I admit it. My earliest memory of making judgements was when Dear Old Dad (a furry, well-inked Harley owner) took me to meet some of his friends (also furry, well-inked Harley owners). These were scary-looking men! Being a child, I was shy until the biggest and scariest of them all pulled two suckers out of the pocket of his leather vest. One for him, one for me. I sat on daddy’s bike* with my new sucker and listened to them all talk. Somehow, there weren’t scary anymore. Despite the facial hair and leather galore, I can still say these people were some of the most decent souls I’ve ever come across. The point is that I should have known better; even teddy bears have to act tough sometimes.

 My most recent lesson in thinking twice was based upon a recommendation from a close friend. I was told to read Firefly by Piers Anthony. I read a ways into it and was appalled by what I read, but I have to get my own words out before I read the reviews of others. This probably won’t end up being laid out as well as I wish it to be, so please be patient, dear reader.

When I began reading Firefly, it didn’t take long for me to pick up on the fact that it is best labeled as a rather explicit sci-fi novel. As I read on, it became more and more vulgar, leading me to question why this was on a High School Library’s shelves, but To Kill a Mockingbird was once banned. I was disgusted with the content, the plot and the author. All I could tell myself was this is trash! I feel that you don’t get the volume of this, so I’ll be perfectly blunt. Firefly depicts detailed scenes of rape, sodomy, and the molestation of a five-year-old. Re-read that sentence. Let it sink in.  Now… WHY would anyone write about this? I was thinking the same thing for a long time, and it took me a long time to find an answer. Here is why, ladies and gentlemen: because it happens.

 I’m not trying to defend Piers Anthony on any level, but I do have a better understanding of the book and the world. This is the most effective way to speak out against sexual crimes, and this is why it remains on shelves. People read about Little Nymph and Maddock and want to scream, vomit, burn the book, burn the author . . . which is exactly the kind of reaction I’d want, were I wishing to get a message out. I’m sure Anthony gets hundreds of letters every day saying “this is terrible!” and I’m sure he sends responses of “Yes, it is terrible, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you like to stop  such things from happening?” I haven’t decided if Anthony has my respect for that, yet.

 I’ve done my fair share of research on it since, and word on the ‘Net is that Firefly is not only hard to find, but hard to stomach. Comments have ranged from “Never have I ever seen such blatant abuse of the exclamation point in all my years of reading. . . did not enjoy this book and since I believe in finishing what I start, upon completion of this travesty, I promptly tossed it in the garbage. . . I found that the tone was much too sympathetic towards pedophiles. ” to “Those people who gave this book a bad review missed the entire point of the novel. He is bringing into light a topic that often gets swept under the rug even today. I am glad that we live in a country where we can write about whatever we choose to write about.’

 Books aren’t evil. I should have known this! It isn’t a bad book, it is just misinterpreted and inappropriate for some readers. Yes, I am thankful that it is on the shelves because Anthony’s book has taken away my reason for ignoring parts of life that aren’t pretty.

Let me say this again: This is NOT a book for children or those with a closed mind. It is like no book I’ve ever read, and I don’t think I ever want to again. I haven’t finished this book and I don’t think I will.

 

*NOTE: I did not have a normal childhood.

Published in: on February 9, 2008 at 9:34 am  Comments (1)  

That Falling Feeling


Breakup Ceremony
Originally uploaded by Jonathan Purvis

My wonderful fairy godmothers have diagnosed a new condition in which the brain “dribbles out of the ears”. If it is contagious, then I am infected. Symptoms were most likely triggered by my most recent adventure, becoming a contributor to Students2.0! The last few weeks have been wonderful. Insane. Complicated.

You might have noticed that the title changed. I’m happier with it than I was, but it still isn’t right. Expect it to change again.

Now, I have finished my third book of the year. It is neither The Story of B nor is it High Fidelity. It was not found on the infamous top shelf. Less than 30 days into 2008 and I have already broken my resolution. That’s the way books go, I guess. In any case, book 3 was an interesting read, like nothing I’ve ever come across.

A Bad Boy can be Good for a Girl is not a book that I recommend for anyone over the age of 16. It isn’t meant to be deep or philosophical, but it has a wonderful message. At a little over 200 pages, it tells the story of three girls who fall for the same guy (predictable, I know) though free-form poetry. I found all the characters to be very stereotypical.

In its defense, I found it to be honest, heart-felt, etc. I related to it quite well, which I hate to admit on some level. Yes, three very different girls do fall for “the jerk”, and it is this quality of the book that I wholeheartedly attach myself to. It isn’t “chick lit”, and it is no He’s Just Not That Into You, but misery loves company, and it brought me back to days I’d still rather forget about.

Sometimes it’s nice to open old wounds, you know. Perhaps bad boys can be good for a girl, but not in ways we expect. You get to sit and think about how those terrible events made you who you are, and if it was really worth it in the end. I may not ever read it again, and I may never find someone who would appreciate this book on the level I did, but I do have a sense of adoration for this short little novel. I’ve dated jerks, and I’ve gotten burned. Tanya Lee Stone presented me with a voice that made me pause and realize exactly how far I’ve come since then, and what an amazing person I’ve become because of everything I’ve had to go through.

 Dearest readers, this is what books are all about! Inspiring someone! evoking emotion! There are many definitions of success in terms of writing, but one of the most universal is the sense of accomplishment one gets when a book speaks. Whether to a culture, a person, or an idea, success is knowing someone found a message in something you said. Like the girls in the novel, I walked away from the experience thinking I’m going to be okay.  I hope you read this and pick up the book so you can find something admirable in it as well.

Published in: on January 29, 2008 at 12:57 pm  Comments (5)  

Rollerskates and Piggybanks

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     Today was wonderful. I managed to both start and finish my first book off my “To Read” Shelf!  The Pigman by Paul Zindel, was originally published in 1968 and my personal copy was published not long after that. It is narrated by two of the main characters, Lorraine and John, whom alternate chapters. It was a little unsettling at first, but after the fifth or sixth chapter, I began to get into a bit of a flow. It was easy getting comfortable with easing in and out of the character’s heads because Lorraine seemed, to me, to be levelheaded, quiet, much more emotional than John, and a bit of a wallflower. John was the tall, dark, handsome and arrogant type, the instigator, The Yang to Lorraine’s Yin. They were very much alike, but took on different roles as directed by society. Written in the time period that it was (fifties, early sixties I presume), there were many aspects that were more of a history lesson than little ignorable details. Rotary phones were mentioned, and the nagging mother constantly “reminding” Lorraine that good girls don’t get in cars with boys. But really though, I’m surprised that The Pigmanisn’t more well-known or talked about. I can’t even describe the feeling this evoked when I finished. Read it yourself and come up with a word.

     In the back of the book was an interesting section by the author, in which he included letters from teens, and an early version of FAQ’s. It was lovely to read because it showed that he didn’t just write the book to get it out, he wrote it because he genuinely cares about teens and is curious as to how and what and why they think the things they do. Thats why this book got under my skin; he understood me. I didn’t relate to any of the characters, but he still managed to convey the message that he understands, and its going to be okay.

Published in: on January 5, 2008 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Happy New Year!

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So far, 2008 is off to a start. Whether a bad one or a good one, it is not yet known. My biggest New Year’s Resolution is to actually read all the books on my “To Read” shelf (previously known as the stack on my nightstand) from cover to cover. There isn’t any particular order I hope to go in, I just wish to get it done.

I’m having a lot of trouble mustering enough ambition to finish The DaVinci Code. It is well written, and incorporates a lot of interesting concepts and points in history, but I was more impressed with one of his other books, The Eternity Code (despite the sappy parts). Perhaps thats because I’ve been turned on to the more interesting properties of math recently, and the ways in which he explained various codes and their histories is more appealing to me now than a refresher course on DaVinci’s secret life.
Apparently he has another book in the works, and I’m curious as to what path he’s going to take with that one: mathematical or historical. Either way, the guy knows his stuff. I wouldn’t mind sitting in on a lecture sometime. One of the biggest complaints I’ve read concerning  The DaVinci Code is that he ignores certain historical points in order to make the theories accurate. I don’t think this is a big deal, to be honest. Dan Brown wrote a fictional book. It’s a good story, and that’s all.

I’m glad to see that comments are picking up: You know I love hearing from all of you. In any case, I’m always up for a few good recommendations, and the goal is to be through that shelf before I graduate. Wish me luck, and Happy New Year, book fiends!

* EDIT – 9:18 pm

I finished it, and I was unimpressed. Cute ending, I admit, but I dont want to be using “cute” in the future to describe another mystery/suspense novel. Dan Brown had great intention but there were far too many “iffy” parts to validate a flawless delivery. Would I recommend this book? Only to select people, and not because of the religious aspect. The DaVinci Code isn’t for everyone. Maybe the problem is that this particular book doesnt appeal to my generation. It was good, but not great. May I remind you that I already warned readers of my bias…

Published in: on January 1, 2008 at 8:37 pm  Comments (4)  

Let It Snow…

Cabin in the snowy woods

Once in a while something is so odd that you stop whatever you are doing and ponder that one thing until it makes some sort of sense to you – then you promptly forget it. This week has been one of those situations. After spending Christmas eve with friends of the family and aiding in decorating their tree (as is their tradition), I spent Christmas day with the larger part of my own family. It was by request that the whole family – Aunts, uncles, Cousins, Grand-kids, etc. – be present so dearest Grandma and Papa could get family pictures taken this year. The tree was overflowing, extra tables and chairs had to be pulled out for Christmas dinner, and all were merry.
While waiting for the family chefs to get dinner set up, I was to be found nestled in the corner of the couch with a blanket and a book. This is not unusual. yet only 30 pages into the new book, I looked up and was met with a strange picture. There, in the living room with me, were two of my cousins, each with book in hand. This still makes me smile, friends, because it was that moment when I figured out why no one was hassling me for bringing another book to a family dinner this year. This runs in the family*!

As for the book I was reading during the Family Christmas intermission, it was Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. It’s really an odd book. I neither love it nor loathe it, but its the kind of book that you talk at when another twist comes along. I praise Dan Brown for his writing style, because he has a way of making complicated ideas sound very simple, and there are quite a few ideas in this novel that were hard to wrap my head around. yet At the same time, I noticed is that the chapters aren’t that short in the beginning, but get progressively shorter as things go on and found the page-long chapters to be a wee bit annoying. I also found some of Brown’s action scenes to be more appropriate for an Indiana Jones movie than a book. Those scenes are enthralling as text. My family found it delightful to watch me read this book because my face was, apparently, quite expressive. I was talking to characters more than I was the people in the room. Overall, I liked it, but there’s no chance that I’ll re-read it.
I will continue my Dan Brown saga, because I just picked up The Da Vinci Code (YES I did read Angels and Demons). I’ve seen the specials on MSNBC, The Discovery Channel, The History Channel, and FOX news. I know what I’m getting into, yet part of me still thinks I owe it to “the public” to actually pick up the book before I shoot it down. I’m not one of those people who normally starts a novel while there is still so much hype about it, but its a convenient read (I’m all BUT snowed-in right now). We’ll see how well this goes; I’m not getting my hopes up.

In other news, I finished Tithe about three days ago, and its nothing to shout about. Cute fantasy novel, if you’re into that fairy thing. I don’t think I’ll pick up the second one, sadly. Usually I love fantasy novels, but this one didn’t quite ignite that spark in me.

*The fact that, through an odd family system, I am of no blood relation to these two cousins is of no consequence.

Published in: on December 27, 2007 at 7:10 pm  Comments (1)  

My Train of Thought Just Derailed.

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This started as a late-night post (I seem to be making this a habit) and became unfinished. I believe I owe “my public” a good review.

In any case, I feel I should mention excellent books that I have not read recently, and therefore, haven’t gotten the chance to review since I began as NovelDame:

On the top of that list is The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. This World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger is narrated by Death himself, who prefers to remember things as color. From the time this nine-year-old is taken to live in Molching, Germany with a foster family, the child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read. Her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, as a way of comforting her to sleep and coaxing the nightmares away. Across the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books and friends, equally unique: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, and the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal). “Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesel’s story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves.”

It invites us to look back on that dreadful period as more than just people trying to survive, and forces us to take note of a little girl who learns to read and to love, to steal and to live, and to learn that such things are intricately connected. As morbid as the narration by Death is, it becomes appreciated after all the emotional knots Liesel puts the reader into, and bids us goodbye with memories to look back on fondly.

Published in: on December 14, 2007 at 7:44 pm  Comments (1)  

Read Me a Story…

I haven’t picked up a book all week, yet I find myself being full of new posts! Its wonderful. After another interesting day, I have a new tale to tell.

Today was the birthday celebration for one of my closest friends (and fellow book lover) even though her true birthday isn’t until the end of the month. While in the middle of such wonderful festivities, I couldn’t help but have my heart melt at the sight of my dear friend’s little sister sitting at a far table alone. With a book, of course. I knew better than to interrupt, since it was good enough to bring to a party. Instead, I casually strolled by and took a look at the heading at the top of the page (rather than bent down to the cover). A hardcover by Christoper Pike. I smiled because I was thinking I remember reading him at that age. Which is what today’s post is inspired from: books I loved as a child.

Black Beauty is unquestioningly at the top of that list. Even though I said I loved that book from first grade to sixth, I don’t think I ever quite finished it. If I did, it was only the abridged version in any case. What little I do remember of the story is quite disheartening, seeing as it involves the cropping of puppy ears, the whipping of horses, and bloody, untended saddle wounds. I don’t know why I loved that book, I just know that I did. Somewhere in there I made a point to read The Classics like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Mody Dick (which I also enjoyed immensely, despite the advanced vocabulary). I remember checking out one book in particular half a dozen times. It was the biography on Joan of Arc. I barely understood the terms used, but I remember admiring her immensely for what little I did comprehend. Being different is such a foreign concept when you’re seven, that it doesn’t even appear to be an option. Its hard to say if that book changed my life, but it did something.

One of my favorite series as a wee thing was Hank the Cowdog. It involved the trials of a too-old cowdog trying to hold a ranch together. He had the not-too-bright sidekick, the love interest that was anything but impressed with him, and the villains that switched between buzzards and coyotes, depending on the book. Again, I don’t recall much more than I thought it was hilarious. I’m afraid to pick this series up again only to read a page and wonder What was I thinking?? I think part of my attachment to Hank came from the fact that it was a “chapter book”, and made me feel superior (I took pride in my advanced reading abilities back then). This is my only reasoning as of right now.

And, as previously stated in a different entry, I was not as impressed with Charlotte’s Web as Sara Nelson was. I read it in second, third and fourth grade, and even the first time around I didn’t find it amusing. Templeton is entertaining, Charlotte embodies the ideal mother figure that is so often neglected, and Wilbur is the small child inside of us all, just struggling to survive. Past that… its just a book to me. This indifference also is applied toward other books like: The Boxcar Children, The Babysitters Club, American Girls, and the like. I understand why people love them, but they were never for me.

I’ve also noticed a trend in my reading, dating back to elementary days: I fluctuate throughout genres. I peak with classics, descend into nonfiction – usually historical, then general fiction, and hit bottom* with thriller books. As a kid, my first “bottom” was the ever-popular Goosebumps, and the memory of some of them still make me shiver. About two years after that, I fell for R.L.Stine’s Young Adult Series Fear Street and anything by Christopher Pike (both of whom I still have immense respect for), and three years after that I got into Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite – and I have always loved her name, because its much to perky for vampire novels, and therefore amusing.

Its fun to reflect upon the books I enjoyed and were so devoted to for so long. Its the only way I can look back and see myself grow up in a way.

*I use the term “bottom” as a visual aid. I’m basing my imaginary book graph on emotion instead of content, and believe that thrillers can be just as intellectually stimulating as classics.

Published in: on December 14, 2007 at 7:25 pm  Comments (1)  

Mr. Sandman, Kindly Go Away.(Previously titled: Looking in a Mirror)

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I can’t sleep. I crawled into bed, got comfy, and closed my eyes, but nothing. Not a yawn, not a flutter of fatigue, just up. My mind was too busy whirring. What was I pondering about? What keeps me up late at night?

Is it grades, you ask? Certainly not. Finals, then? Not tonight. Teenage Angst? Oh, honestly… at least try… A book! Not lately, but close enough. We’ll work with it. All I could think about was what I was going to write about next, and how I haven’t even finished this post, and I need to reformat that page, and add a new one there… Simply Put, NovelDame has the power to keep me up all night. Introductions aside, lets finish what I started; a new review:

I found a book after my own heart! Were I 20 years older, this woman and I would be good friends. The premise of So Many Books, So Little Time is to read 52 books in 52 weeks. Simple enough for any Book Lover, right? Sara Nelson documents her reads, her life, and how to two intertwine in an amazingly interesting and hardly self-centered novel that I finished last week. She is a book reviewer (a.k.a. gets PAID to read) and decides that she wants to actually keep track of this year’s book list, and does so by periodical journal entries, spaced a bit sporadically.

This is not so much the kind of book that opens new doors as it is something old and familiar, to keep readers going through their dry spells. She has a special kind of humor, and the way she feels towards her husband, sister and son all shine through the way she talks about the books she shares with them, rather than the people themselves. I can explain it no better than that, but there is a chapter in which she reads Charlotte’s Web with her son, and its rather endearing (although my memories of the book are far different, as I was forced to read it aloud for four years straight, but that doesn’t matter).

I find myself relating to her so much! One reoccurring message is the “bedside stack that never seems to get any smaller no matter what I read”. In my case, there have grown to be too many in said stack, and they now get their own bookshelf… at the very top. Sara Nelson dislikes the same authors as myself (Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark, John Grisham, Robert Ludlum ) , for the same reasons (too much hype to establish a personal connection with the story. Its a Name-Brand Book). She has introduced new words to me, like “Readaholism” and “the lizard brain” which is the subconscious mind, as referred to by writers. Sara has a passion for Amazing First Sentences** as well, and she has recommended great-sounding books like Straight From the Fridge, Dad: a Dictionary of Hipster Slang, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, The World According to Garp and A Heartbreaking work of Staggering Genius(which currently sits on the left side of that top shelf I mentioned) and has kept me from making great literary mistakes such as Tuesdays with Morrie. I can do this book no more justice; let the quotes say everything else, as I think every avid reader can relate to or appreciate the following:

“Well, books get to me personally. They remind me of the person I was and the people I knew at the time I read them, the places I visted… I can stand at my cherry shelves and point to an obscure title… and tell you where I got it, why, and what I thought when I started reading it.”

“An occasional disagreement over a book’s merit should not be a big deal to normal people, but the people I love – and the person I am – are not normal: we’re book people.”

“When things go right in my life, I read. When things go wrong, I read more. Frustrated with work, bored with my marriage, annoyed with my kid or my friends, I escape into books.”

“(P.S. I sent [my son] to his room for disrespecting his mother, and he promptly picked up a Thornberrys books and started to, yup, read)”

“I couldn’t stop reading A Million Little Pieces partly because it is a big, fat train wreck of a book and everybody, I think, gets some sort of perverse pleasure or solace, at least, from watching someone else’s mess of a life, especially if its worse than theirs.”*

“…Betsy Lerner says that a memoirist fails the minute he or she compromises a single adjective in an effort to protect someone else’s feelings.”

*For more books along these lines, see my review on The Dollanganger Series
** The best I’ve found yet, that was NOT on her own list (pg 211 in So Little Time) was the opening line to Almost Moon, by Alice Sebold:
When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily”

Published in: on December 6, 2007 at 12:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Paradigm Shifts

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I finished one of the most amazing, astounding books over Thanksgiving break and it has taken me this long to let it settle. It was recommended by my favorite teacher, and – as mentioned earlier – I pushed it to the front of my reading list. When we got back, he asked me two questions: “What did you think of it?” Fireworks, I replied. “How would you describe it?” It’s a non-fictional idea presented in a fictional manner.
This is the kind of book that changes lives. Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael is revolutionary in its ideas, and smooth in its delivery. What is Ishmael about? A student, a teacher, and everything else. Name an aspect of life, and it is in there. One idea that is echoing in my mind all the time is the idea that we, both as individuals and a culture, are enacting the story told to us by our “Mother Culture”. Now, what exactly Mother Culture is defined as is better explained by the book.
The story begins with a newspaper ad: “Teacher seeks pupil, must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Through a rather unique dialogue, Ishmael and his student try to explain “how things came to be this way” for mankind. It may appear to be a very vague question, but its really not. This really isnt the kind of book that can be reviewed well, but please, just trust my recommendation and go pick it up. What do you have to lose? After all, there’s a reason this is now My second-most favorite book.

Personally, I’m going to ask Santa for my own copy for Christmas.

Published in: on December 3, 2007 at 5:59 pm  Comments (1)  

The Future?

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Just in time for the Christmas season, Sony has introduced their newest product that gives people high hopes for another revolution in the technology department. The Sony Portable Reader is the latest in a long line of attempts to “update” the book industry. At 9 ounces, it will put a $400 dent in your pocket.”…and equipped with a six-inch screen that displays black type on an off-white screen and uses flash memory for digital storage. The idea is that a consumer will buy formatted copies of published books from Sony’s Web site or load up Word or Acrobat pdf documents. The big innovation? A new kind of screen technology called E-Ink that lets words be displayed in high-res (like a laser printer output) without using much power.” adds Dan Farber at ZDnet. It looks like a high-tech paper tray, to be honest.

Didn’t they try this only a couple years ago? Why is Sony (and I have $5 saying Apple already has something up their sleeve) even bothering? Books require no batteries or charging cords, They’re user friendly, and if I want a “digitized” book, I’ll go down to the local library for Borders and get a book on CD, thanks. And I highly doubt this Portable Reader is as resilient as a book. I have found books crumpled and flexed into places that no piece of technology should go. (or could go). If you drop this 9 oz. piece of hardware, you’re out of literary luck until you can pay for repairs!

Thats another thing!! I can’t highlight or flag or write notes in the margins of a digital book. There is something comforting to us bookworms about being able to hold something of substance. I’m not so busy that I need to squeeze in a part of a book in between meetings and kids and who knows what else! I’m not going to curl up with my eReader and a hot cup of tea on a snowy evening. I want a book.

Now, Amazon.com has their own version, Kindle, that I find a bit more appealing simply because it works with newspapers (NY Times, Washington Post) as well as personal word and picture documents (.JPG, .GIF, .BMP, .PNG) and Amazon has their own Kindle-friendly digital books. This is one step closer to practical.

The Mother in me cant help but hit the pause button and think “what will this do to our eyes?” If people are already having problems from staring at computer screens all day, what is staring at an almost-real! digital-paper screen for 400 e-pages do? So many questions flood my mind; Are we moving slowly into an age of pirating books? And what is to become of those simple paper treasures that so many have come to value? One of my Fairy Godmothers once said that “every book has a soul”. Are we trying to isolate humankind by making that with which we surround and entertain ourselves immortal? Whose job will it be to rescue abandoned books? Will coveting the physical shells of knowledge become a sign of senility or status? Will book readings and book signings become a thing of the past? This is a future I don’t want to see.

Published in: on November 23, 2007 at 6:42 pm  Comments (4)  

Happy Thanksgiving!

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I thought that today would be the most appropriate day to mention cookbooks. In the age of Google and Food Network, its tough to imagine that people still place faith in cookbooks at all. Those old-fashioned types that actually do have quite a time finding one thats best for them through trash bins of books that scream the praise of low-fat, no-fat, 30-minute, no-carb, low sodium, sugarfree diet crazes. I ran into the same problem when I decided to go on my own cookbook hunt. Eating “right” its a great idea, but I have to draw the line somewhere. I know what I’m getting into when I make brownies, so don’t try to ruin them by making them anything less than a wee bit sinful. If you take that away, they’re little more than fluffy tootsie rolls. And heaven knows I’m not going to argue a home-made meal that takes 30 minutes – considering a frozen pizza takes 20 – but “365 Days of Quick and Easy Meals” is going a little far. And I’m no Susie Homemaker, so I was also looking for a cookbook that also covers the basics.

You wouldn’t believe the kinds of cookbooks I found. Dozens were devoted to sneaking good food into children’s diets (Since when to Parents have to SNEAK anything?!) as well as books devoted to the Mafia, one devoted to Book Clubs, – which I just might buy – and even one for Cheese Lovers.

There were two in particular that caught my attention right off the bat, the first being The Ultimate Cheesecake Cookbook. This is dangerous, my friends. I have always valued cheesecake over any other food, and this made that curious little voice in the back of my mind ask ‘Exactly how many ways are there to change cheesecake??’ and I was floored. You’ll have to pick it up to see why, and its not recommended for Calorie Counters.
The second book – which I DEFINITELY will buy- is The Healthy College Cookbook: Quick. Cheap. Easy. I was rather impressed with this in the store, as well as the reviews online. Its well organized, the recipes are easy to follow and well-explained, not to mention simple. Other people have also mentioned that “The ingredients are usually on hand in a well-stocked kitchen, and, for further assistance, the authors give you thorough advice on how to stock a kitchen in the first place. In addition, the book includes a glossary on cooking and baking terms”. Each recipe gives both metric and standard measuring units and thorough nutritional information with each recipe. The only potential drawback is no pictures. But really, I’m willing to forgive a half-dozen full-page color spreads of baked ziti in return for both standard and metric measurements. My only note is that this is not a book for those following in the footsteps of Emril: it will be much too simple for your kind.

So what cookbook did I end up getting, you ask? After doing much browsing and comparing, I came to one conclusion and followed my father’s advice: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I bought the newest edition of The Betty Crocker Cookbook. It has a little bit of everything in there, you know; diet recipes, 30-minute meals, low-fat substitutes, dishes for beginners, thorough instructions, color photos, that classic plastic spiral so it lays flat… Apparently this edition has the new chapters of “casseroles” and “20 minutes or less” which I’ll have to take a look at. The cover has been updated as well and is nowhere near my mother’s red-and-white plaid cover that I remember so well.
All is well this Thanksgiving, I’m happy with my new cookbook, and I hope I’ve sparked a little something for your inner chef. Eat, Read, and be merry.

Novel Dame

Published in: on November 22, 2007 at 11:34 am  Comments (2)  

What is your secret?

A long-time interest of mine has always been the Postsecret website. It was started by a man named Frank many years ago as a community art project. It is now global. How it works is you “decorate” a postcard, put a secret that you’ve never told anyone on there, and mail it in. He has published 4 books ( 3 of which I own) and maintains a website on which he posts various secrets. The website is updated every Sunday (except for this week, because of special “Thanksgiving Secrets” I suppose.)

Since I first found it, I have loved the Post Secret Project. I think everyone secretly wants everyone else to know their secret, but they don’t want people to know its theirs ; this solves that problem. Some are sad, some are happy, and most have just made me laugh. I think everyone has a secret that someone else can relate to. Thats what I love about what Frank has done! Here are some ‘expired’ secrets that I found, via Google:

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Published in: on November 20, 2007 at 12:09 pm  Comments (1)  

Behind in the Times

I apologize for not reviewing sooner… Since the last recommendation, I’ve finished quite a few other books:

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Twinkies, Deconstructed
      It was a joy to read this. Parts of it read like stereo instructions cut-and-pasted with an out-of-date science textbook, but the author adds his own comic relief and nifty bits of info to create a charming tell-all about what our nation is really consuming. Nifty (I like that word today) things I learned: 
                 *Sugar is used in flame retardant, water-based ink, cleaning cement mixers, curing tobacco, and is a charcoal substitute in gunpowder.
                 * 8 out of 39 Twinkie ingredients are made from corn.
                 *the yellow corn pigments in chicken feed are what makes yolks and baby chicks yellow.
                 *The enzymes that extract sweeteners from bases used in Twinkies are also used in stonewashing jeans.
                 *Dextrose (a sweetener) is the base for Vitamin C and Penicillin. You can buy Dextrose in European supermarkets, but its labeled as glucose.
                 * Speaking of Glucose, its the compound that brings glossiness and pliability to leather, stabilizes adhesives, prolongs the setting of concrete (all those sweeteners in cement! wow!) and prolongs the shelf life of lotion… its like a moisturizer for your moisturizer.

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– Kite Runner
     The Kite Runnertells the story of Amir, a well-to-do boy from the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul, who is haunted by the guilt of betraying his childhood friend Hassan, the son of his father’s Hazara servant. The story is set against a backdrop of tumultuous events, from the fall of the monarchy in Afghanistan through the Soviet invasion, the mass exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the Taliban regime.” (Wikipedia)

This book made me cry. It is such an adventurous read, that you cant help but feel for the characters. It challenges an American view of the Taliban, and brings a bittersweet (thank you, Shakespeare) love to the friendship between Khan and Hassan, one I had long forgotten existed.

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– Dollanganger III, If There Be Thorns
    
This book was a bit of a disappointment. If you haven’t read my review of the previous two, please do. It will save me time. In short, brother and sister end up living together, and raise her two children (from different fathers) as mom and dad… the youngest (and child of mother’s husband and daughter) is as mentally ill as the rest of the female bloodline. His narration in fragmented sentences and “baby talk” got to be quite irritating halfway through the book, but his older brother was admirable. Both Cathy (the daughter) and Chris (the son) got far less sympathetic with every page, and I found it to be the least believable book yet.

Next on the Shelf:

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– The Know-It-All, which is about a man who decides to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, and discovers more about himself than the world. He begins as a leading authority on pop culture and soon discovers that its all rather superficial, and that’s not the kind of knowledge he wants to pass onto his children (when they appear). He struggles through trying to one-up his father, trying to get pregnant, and trying to retain all the information. Its one of the books that I started this summer and never got back around to, so I’m eager to read what R-Z has in store… a list of amazing facts to come.

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-Ishmael
  Recommended by a teacher, I felt a bit guilty when I moved it to the front of the line, but I’m sure all will be forgiven once I finish it.

Published in: on November 7, 2007 at 8:19 am  Comments (1)  

Something or Other

So sorry for not updating sooner, I had the opportunity to play hookie from responsibility and went fishing with my sister; a lovely combination of the few things that could tear me away from a good book.

My fairy godmothers have made a few more books flutter onto my forever-fluctuating pile on my nightstand, and I am happy to say that I have actually finished two books this weekend, so lets get those out of the way.
As reported earlier, Briar Rose was an – I want to refrain from saying ‘cute’ – endearing novel that was more about family, the the history which binds together and the idea that everyone has a story than it was about the fairytale itself or the Holocaust survivor’s tale that it turned into. I was neither impressed nor disappointed, and I do not regret picking it up. I think one of the details I found most impressive was that, for comfort, the narrator had a habit of retreating into her well-thumbed copy of Beauty by Robin McKinley, which I have also read (and thoroughly enjoyed).
And I also found Extras by Scott Westerfield to be a quick read, and mildly amusing, though not nearly as enthralling as I found the other three books (Uglies, Pretties, Specials) to be. It takes place a year after book 3, in a completely different city, with a government based on reputation and popularity. It involves those that strive to be popular and those that strive to be invisible. Its not until well into the book that old faces arise, and even then, they don’t seem to be the same characters I remember them as. As a book, its a recommended read, but as part of the series, you’re better of leaving it alone. I think my favorite quote from the whole thing is “Life’s not like some Rusty movie… There’s not just one big story that makes the rest of us disappear.” Makes me want to be a Sly Girl, too.

Back to Teen Read Week:
To make up for yesterday’s lack of a blog, I’ll just review a whole series!
The Georgia Nicolson Series by Louise Rennison is on the top of my list when it comes to humorous books. Set in England, it follows a British teen through the trials of growing up: bras, thongs, boyfriends and everything else. There will definitely be some British terms involved that will leave most Americans with a raised eyebrow or two, but after a few pages the terms are understood. Its not the stuff Classics are made of, but its a light read that is most favorable after a book with a heavy plot or message that sticks with you. I don’t recommend it for older generations because parts of it are rather immature, and best skipped over.

Published in: on October 16, 2007 at 9:22 pm  Comments (1)  

“You kiss by the book.”

Not even a day into this and already the response is amazing! I’m quite excited about this project now (not that I wasn’t before). Thanks, guys. As for the book suggestions, I’ll get right on it… Until then, here’s a current list of what I’m reading now:

Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger
This is a lovely insight into all those unpronounceable ingredients found on all the labels of processed foods in the supermarket. After all, haven’t we all asked ourselves exactly what kind of tree does Red Dye #40 grow on?

Well, only three chapters into the book, I’ve already discovered that many of the necessary ingredients come from oil. As in black gold, from Iraq, Oil. Worse yet, are all the chemicals that are added to and taken from the oil to get those odd 12-syllable-long words for things that fall inevitably into the “less than 2%” category. Whats worse? All those natural things that most people can pronounce and do consider safe to consume (as opposed to crude oil and chlorine) are explosive. Example: Flour dust. Glucose.
I think that speaks for itself. More discoveries to come.

Prep  by Curtis Sittenfeld
This has been put on hold since July, and I have yet to pick it back up yet, but it is a rather interesting read. Its about a new girl at a Prep Academy (and not the Barbie Cliques, as I was lead to believe) and although I will most likely have to re-read the whole thing, I haven’t been terribly disappointed by the plot yet (to the best of my recollection).

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
 So far its a lovely read about a granddaughter who grew up hearing her grandmother tell the tale of Briar Rose as if she lived it herself. Not long after her grandmother passes away, a simple wooden box with a rose etched in the top is discovered, and inside, various documents that leave a trail – but to what, its not yet known.
Full of curiosity, the reader gets to follow along while the narrator blindly finds her way into an amusing fairytale, all while trying to ignore the inkling that maybe it wasn’t just a bedtime story.

If There Be Thorns by V.C. Andrews
This is Book 3 of the Dollanganger Series, the first of which is the widely popular Flowers in the Attic. Lets start with the first one…

Flowers in the Attic is about a family. Two parents, 4 children; oldest brother, middle sister and a set of boy-girl twins. The father dies, leaving mommy dearest with no means of financial support so the family must go crawling back to mommy’s rich parents. The only problem is that Grandma and Grandpa didn’t approve of the marriage in the first place (for good reason)… so in order for Mommy to get written back into dear (dying) father’s will, thus winning his inheritance, Mother must pretend that such a “sinner’s marriage” bore no fruit. Mommy Dearest agrees to let Grandma lock her precious babies in the attic, never to see daylight until Grandpa dies. . .and so begins the tale. Three years and five months later, the children have accepted that their mother has become self-important and ignorant of their needs. They have survived both physical and mental abuse, neglect, incest, and three of them manage to escape (note how many children there were to start with). So ends the first book. Thrilling, graphic and disturbing.
The second book, Petals on the Wind, picks up right where Attic left off, but covers many more years. Cathy(the older sister) is the focus of this equally enthralling sequel. All three children harbor resentment toward the mother who found it easy to pretend they didn’t exist, and it manifests itself differently in each of the three siblings. As much as surviving such a terror has brought the them together, it also begins to isolate each one. Cathy begins to make plans to seek the ultimate revenge against her mother and grandmother, and it plays out beautifully. The climax is a confrontation between herself and the mother, and even more family secrets get spilled. Cathy goes from being admirable and strong in Attic to disturbed and obsessed in this novel. Christopher, the eldest brother, goes toward a hauntingly downward slope as well, but this novel brings more attention to how the actions of parents eventually manifest themselves within their children. This is a slow read to start with, but it picks up nicely to a complicated web of more sex, deceit and consequences of a past that cannot be outrun. Should I mention that Cathy inevitably has two children from two different men? Such a well spun web…

…Which bring us to the third book, If There Be Thorns. The narration switches from Cathy down to her sons. Interesting things continue to occur between Cathy and her brother Christoper, and both fail to see that they have helplessly fallen into the same troubled footsteps of their own parents. Around this time, Cathy is said to have started writing Attic. Its obvious her younger son has inherited the psychological problems of both herself and her mother. Not as many plot twists, but its reminiscent of Attic in the sense that the reader gets to see how adolescents have to deal with the knowledge that parents are not perfect, and not all secrets are innocent. More lies, more truths, more ghosts of the past. (more…)

Published in: on October 11, 2007 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment