Friday, November 30, 2007

Comfy-Chair Reading: The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer

This series was a rushed escape--they are intensely romantic, easy to read page-turners. Inspired by Four Word Film Reviews, I decided to describe each of these books in four words. If you haven't read them, these will likely make no sense, but I know I would have liked to have had no prior knowledge of the content, and definitely less hype, so the less you know the better.




Those who have read this series, feel free to contribute your own four-word reviews! And of course, who do you prefer--the heater or the ice-pack?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hiroshima by John Hersey

"Hiroshima" was originally an article in the August 31, 1946 issue of New Yorker Magazine, published about one year after the atomic bomb was dropped. The entire issue was devoted to this article, rather than serialized, which was a first. It was read on the radio and discussed widely in newspapers. I had to double check and study the cover for a while before I could finally accept that this was indeed the issue it was published in; the artwork seems so inappropriate for the topic. (If you click on the image you'll get a larger view). Maybe someone knows the story on that?

Searching on the internet, I found this drawing by Yoko Suga, who was 14 when the bomb fell, 43 when she drew the picture. Compare and contrast the two. Which would you choose, if you could change the cover?

I think everyone should read this detailed account of six individuals who survived the horrors of August 6, 1945. Regardless of your opinion on whether the United States made the right decision or not in dropping the A-bomb, we should always be aware of the individual lives that war affects, or else we risk losing our humanity.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Read Aloud: Little Women and Tom Sawyer

We're still at the beginning of these--the going is usually slow because we can't find time to read every night, and sometimes I either lose my voice or fall asleep mid-sentence. I'm usually not ambitious enough to read the kids two stories at once, but I was not counting on Jeremy's traumatic reaction to my announcement that we were reading Little Women. I guess I just don't know what it's like to be the only boy(11) with three sisters(13, 8, and 5)! He had a complete, tear-filled meltdown in his room that night (and I should note that Jeremy is pretty mellow about things), so I offered to read Tom Sawyer to him. He has read it before, but I haven't, and I am enjoying it very much. Here's a funny part we read last night from Chapter 6:
"Monday morning found Tom Sawyer miserable. Monday morning always found him so--because it began another week's slow suffering in school. He generally began that day with wishing he had had no intervening holiday, it made the going into captivity and fetters again so much more odious.
Tom lay thinking. Presently it occurred to him that he wished he was sick; then he could stay home from school. Here was a vague possibility. He canvassed his system. No ailment was found, and he investigated again. This time he thought he could detect colicky symptoms, and he began to encourage them with considerable hope." Reading on you discover which illness he settles on faking, and the consequences of his deception.
In Little Women, all of my kids are amused that there is a girl named Jo, and a boy named Laurie! I've been impressed with how much the March girls adore their "Marmee." I am more often unaffectionately referred to as "VoldeMom."

One thing to note about these books is that we are reading from my husband's copy of Tom Sawyer from when he was younger, and my grandmother's copy of Little Women. She signed her name and the year 1941.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"What's In A Name" Reading Challenge (Revision 2)

As a greenie in the book blog field, I have discovered the reading challenge phenomenon. There are so many out there to get involved in, but the "What's in a Name Reading Challenge" from Words by Annie appealed to me most. Here are my picks for her challenge for 2008:

1. The name of color in the title: Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry.
2. The name of an animal: Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. I've read Princess Academy and loved it.
3. A first name in the title: Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.
4. The name of a place in the title: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. The only Austen book I haven't read.
5. The name of a weather event in the title: A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle
6. The name of a plant in the title: Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald.

Comfy-Chair Reading: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

In attempting to review this novel, certain words come to mind like "delightful" and "charming"--words that are not active participants in my vocabulary. But that is exactly what I Capture the Castle is. Listen to the first line:

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

That's an instant hook for me! From the back cover (my own attempts to summarize would pale in comparison to the gifted unknowns who write for book covers):

"I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-0ld Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle"--and the heart of the reader--in one of literatures most enchanting entertainments."

You could call the book a romance, only Cassandra is not particularly romantic. She is very matter-of-fact about her relationships with the different men in the story, and she says at one point "I know all about the facts of life. And I don't think much of them." She does, however, go through a ritual in the midst of the story that symbolizes her transition into adulthood, when romantic love becomes a bit more of a priority. Don't think that I am critical of her, just jealous--I have not been so indifferent to romantic love since pre-kindergarten.

I loved Stephen, and hoped she would fall for him, because I sure did. I felt it was pretty open-ended through most of the novel who she would end up with, and I liked that. Neil, Simon, Stephen, a solitary life in the castle--they were all possible options. I appreciated her attempts at characterization, and her admission that she doesn't really know the people in her life well enough. There was a motif of nudity throughout, perhaps symbolizing vulnerability or in contrast to her lack of ability to "uncover" the innermost parts of people's characters. I'm sure a deeper reading would "reveal" more, no pun intended. (But don't get the wrong idea, this is a pretty innocent book.)

Some favorite lines:
"I was only expecting bread and margarine for tea, and I don't get as used to margarine as I could wish. I thank heaven there is no cheaper form of bread than bread." (I appreciate this as a butter-lover.)

Preparations to have the rich family over to the humble castle for dinner, and realizing they don't have the appropriate furnishings: "In the end, Topaz got Stephen to take the hen-house door off its hinges and make some rough trestles to put it on, and we pushed it close to the window seat, which saved us three chairs. We used the grey brocade curtains from the hall as a tablecloth . . ." (I appreciate this passage because I was asked to host the dinner portion of a church progressive dinner, and freaked out because I am also unequipped for such events. But I do have a table and chairs, so it could be worse.)

On daydreams: "There have been so many that they have gradually merged into each other. I don't think I could bring myself to describe any of them in detail because, though they are wonderful at the time, they give me a flat, sick, ashamed feeling to look back on. And they are like a drug, one needs them oftener and oftener and has to make them more and more exciting--until at last one's imagination won't work at all." She also comments somewhere I could not find that daydreams are frustrating, because once you have dreamed them, you can be most assured things won't really happen that way.

Has anyone read this? Did you like it? Has anyone seen the movie? Is it any good?