Monday, February 23, 2009

Chapbook Entry


“It is true, there is little real culture among men; there are few strong thinkers and fewer honest ones; but they have still some advantages. If their education has been bad, it has at least been a trifle better than ours. Six hours a day at Latin and Greek are better than six hours a day at worsted work and embroidery.” Catherine Crowe, The Story of Lily Dawson, 1852

p. 43

George Eliot, caring for her widowed father in Nuneaton, studied German, Italian, and Latin, and read theology, history, fiction, poetry, and science. Much later, Eliot showed this same enviable ability to use periods of forced seclusion for study, rather than waste them in nostalgia or self-pity. In the years 1855-1858, “during the long period of social ostracism, when, because of her honest avowal of the union with Lewes, she was not invited to dinner,” she read, in Greek, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Ajax, the Oedipus trilogy, the Electra, the Philoctetes, and the Aeschylus trilogy; and in Latin, Horace, Virgil, Cicero, Persius, Livy, Tacitus, Plautus, Quintilian, and Pliny.


“If self is to be the end of exertions, these exertions are unholy, there is no doubt of that- and that is part of the danger in cultivating the individual life, but I do believe we all have some appointed work to do; which no one else can do so well… and that first we must find out what we are sent into the world to do, and define it, and make it clear to ourselves (that’s the hard part) and then forget ourselves in our work.” Elizabeth Gaskell, Letters, p.106

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E. Lockhart

This is the young adult novel that I wish I had written: suspenseful in a happy, positive way, lots of funny wordplay, Wodehouse references all over the place, and sentences like,
“She grew into her angular face, filled out her figure, and transformed from a homely child into a loaded potato- all while sitting quietly in a suburban hammock, reading the short stories of Dorothy Parker and drinking lemonade.” p.5

I want to be a loaded potato or at least be able to take credit for the expression.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Inexcusable, Chris Lynch

I saw this book on the wonderful Mental Multivitamin blog and since she has unimpeachable good taste I requested it from the library. It is another young adult title which fits in with my recent reading theme of all things teenage and my subsequent imaginings of a new career as a youth services librarian or as one of the people who gets to write the blurby reviews for School Library Journal. It is also a book with a shiny award sticker on the cover to let you know it’s good (insert smiley emoticon here to illustrate my irony).

The sticker didn’t lie. It is a good book. It kept making me stop and want to throw up which I think was the author’s hope. This is one of those books that had me screaming, “homeschooling, homeschooling, homeschooling!” I think I am extra sensitive to books (or anything for that matter) that refer to mean teenagers, hazing, etc, etc. It makes me want to gouge out my eyes, throw up, and get violent all at once. Not a comfortable mix of emotions. I don’t even have kids but I just want to pick up my not even a glimmer in someone’s eye children and run far from the entire school system with its morally bankrupt inmates (I’m stopping my rant about the state of modern families, schools, and society here).

I think one of the worst parts along these lines was the soccer party being crashed by the football players. I can’t even type the dehumanizing things that Keir and his friends inflicted on the soccer players because it makes me want to cry. The details in the book are what got me so upset again and again. Chris Lynch refers to “each of the little tidy mounds of the soccer players’ dressing-up, going-out clothes. That they’d worn. For their big dinner.” That was when I started to cry when I read it the first time. I just could see excited kids getting dressed up to celebrate the end of the soccer season with no inkling of the turn for the ick their evening was about to take.

This book is so well written that I enjoyed reading it even with the disturbing subject matter. It was fascinating to see the rationalizations for his wretched behavior that Keir makes on almost every single page of the book. Not two paragraphs after telling us that someone who looks a lot like him is abusing the soccer players on the video he tells us that it couldn’t have been him because he’s a good guy. He keeps saying that over and over like a mantra until finally on the last page he realizes what the reader has known for quite sometime: Keir is not a good guy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

From Dead to Worse, Charlaine Harris

About a year ago I read the books that preceed From Dead to Worse in this series that basically is the mental equivalent of watching television. And I don’t mean PBS or even Animal Planet. It’s right up there with watching the 100 Dumbest Celebrities on the E! channel; so it’s clearly not something to be proud of. And clearly since I’m writing this disclaimer I’m not proud.

But last year I ended up seeing a substitute teacher friend at school reading one of the books and we chatted about them. I see her at the most random times often with months in between. In the interim of our visits I decided I needed to purge my bookshelves and my mind of all things created by Charlaine Harris which my friend did not know. I gave the books to Goodwill only to run into my friend telling me about the newest book. She subbed in my classroom last week and left the book on my desk for me to borrow with a note saying we’d have to talk about it. So I felt compelled to read it. And the best part of this book is the cover art. I enjoyed the glitter. But I am glad to have a friend who is willing to sub in my germy, germy classroom.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

My next young adult selection from the library was Speak. This is a book that has stayed with me. It is book #2 on the 2009 Books Worth Buying list. I have found myself thinking about it at the most random moments. Most of all my thoughts have centered around how much high school sucks. It’s just a fact, plain and simple.

My high school experience was by no means as terrible as Melinda’s was but in so many ways I related to the aftermath of her trauma. Being ignored, hated, or gossiped about by people who used to be your friends and by many you have never met is something you just don’t forget easily. You don’t forget the overwhelming desire to just fade into the scenery either; to find somewhere that no one can see you. For Melinda this place is the abandoned janitor’s closet on campus. I was lucky to have a mother who helped me get away from school as much as possible. Mercifully the school year ended and I never went back. But it was jarring to me to feel that way again even for a moment 12 years later. I wonder what I would have done if I hadn’t had an escape route through my mom.

So much in this book resonanted with me. It was like reading quotes from a more articulate version of my fifteen year old self’s journal. Like this one referring to her former best friend:

“This was the girl who suffered through Brownies with me, who taught me how to swim, who understood about my parents, who didn’t make fun of my bedroom. If there is anyone in the entire galaxy I am dying to tell what really happened, it’s Rachel. My throat burns. Her eyes meet mine for a second. “I hate you,” she mouths silently. She turns her back to me and laughs with her friends. I bite my lip. I am not going to think about it. It was ugly, but it’s over, and I’m not going to think about it. My lip bleeds a little. It tastes like metal. I need to sit down.” pg.5
The scenes with Melinda’s teachers also stirred up memories for me. All but one of her teachers chose to willfully misunderstand her plight and in many situations made things worse (yes, Ms. Hunnell I’m looking at you). I could keep this side by side sadness comparison going for quite awhile so I’ll stop myself now. This book is excellent, well written, realistic, and heart breaking. It made me sad for Melinda, sad for myself, and sad for teenage girls everywhere.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, Gabrielle Zevin

I came upon this book after googling Polly Shulman, the author of Enthusiasm. Polly reviewed it for the New York Times and I thought since I liked her book so much I’d trust her judgment. Trusting her judgment turned out to be a good thing. I really liked this book but not as much as Enthusiasm.

I think that this book had a much more interesting premise than Enthusiasm: a teenage girl loses all her memories from the past 4 years. Her most current memories are of 6th grade so she has no idea that her parents have gotten a divorce due to her mother’s affair, that her dad is engaged to a woman who she hated (pre-amnesia), that her mom is remarried to the “other man” and has a 3 year old, and that she has a boyfriend she can’t remember meeting, etc, etc. In execution it’s not quite as intriguing. It’s an enjoyable but essentially forgettable book. The funniest moment happens in the first chapter:

“I knew I was adopted even before I knew what that truly meant. Understanding adoption requires a basic understanding of sex, something I would not have until third grade when Gina Papadakis brought her grandparents’ disturbingly dog-eared copy of The Joy of Sex to school. She passed it around at lunch and while most everyone else was gagging with the realization that their parents had done that to make them, I felt perfectly fine, even a little smug. I might be adopted, but at least my parents hadn’t degraded themselves like that for my sake.” pg.8

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Girl Who Could Fly, Victoria Forrester

Another book for kids from the library. I am recommending this one to my cousins. It has an interesting premise and a likeable heroine, Piper McCloud. I think I was drawn to this title because of a made for TV movie from my childhood called “The Boy Who Could Fly” that gave me weird dreams for several years. This book didn’t have much in common with the movie (apart from titles) which is probably a good thing. The story reminds me of Holes in that kids trapped by evil adults and kept from their families way.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Enthusiasm, Polly Shulman

Continuing my young adult reading phase I checked out Enthusiasm from the library. This is another book that I initially thought exceeded my tolerance for fluff but after I pushed through the first couple of chapters I was hooked on the story.

This book is a perfect “light” read. It’s a high school story but there are no cruel intentions type evil kids to make me nervous and bite my nails. It’s a simple story about liking the same boy as your best friend, putting on a school play, and obsessing over things for the sake of obsessing. It is definitely a book to read when feeling brain dead instead of watching the Hallmark Channel and in the end feel a little better about life.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer

Why did I reread Breaking Dawn after despising it and wishing it had never been published? I have a good excuse. I was sick (thank you again germ incubating first graders) and my brain had reverted to mush. The good news is that I think my shock and horror about all the icky parts (Bella’s pregnancy, Edward biting the baby who I will not type a name for in protest against the name out of Bella’s body, Jacob imprinting on the baby, total letdown of an ending, Bella and Edward being totally detached from their child, etc) wore off in the months since I first read the book.

I think because I had been through the creeped out phase and vented to my Twilight reading cousins about it I was able to just read it and enjoy the resolution that Bella and Edward got to be together forever. I ignored everything else and paid attention to the good parts (the wedding, the relief that Bella gets to change into a vampire, Bella beating Emmett arm wrestling, the last page when Bella used her gift to allow Edward into her mind).

So even though I still think the ick outweighs the happy I have to give Stephenie Meyer credit for creating such an intense world for readers to even have such violent opinions about in the first place. In the end, Twilight is still my favorite of the series because to borrow from Caitlin Flanagan on this subject, “It’s …the first book [Twilight] that seemed at long last to rekindle something of the girl-reader in me…never have I had such an intense relationship with books as when I was a young girl. I raged inside them and lived a double emotional life (half real girl, half inhabitant of a distant world).” I think Caitlin says it better than I ever could so I’ll leave it at that.

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