cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

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Review Round Up: March 


Nothing like Spring Break to throw off a blogging routine! Take a little R&R and the regiment of writing piffles away. The excellent part of R&R is the time to read instead of time spent grading essays. While I didn’t get down to business on my own writing as planned, I did get into quite a few great books. Here are the top picks for March.


image: Margaret Atwood.ca

There is a slew of Shakespeare retellings out there, and my request for Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, her version of The Tempest, finally came through at the library. The basic plot is Felix, a well-known director, whose overly creative approaches to theatre, is ousted by his protege. Seeking exile in a dilapidated farm house, our hero has a rough time of it until he takes a gig at a prison to bring Shakespeare to the inmates. 

While it was difficult to get into the story at first, Atwood’s version of The Tempest won me over once the inmates began acting out the play. Their fresh approach made The Tempest stand up and become more relevant to present day concerns.

All the new revisionments of Shakespeare’s plays tend to be hit or miss in their approach. More misses than hits. Yet, Atwood, being the maestro of imaginative tales herself, gamely applied her own brand of magic to Prospero’s tale and conjured up an agreeable story within a play which plays upon the story.

The best part of her adaptation was having Felix, the artsy, exiled director, explain the play to the inmates. Valuable education stuff. Should I ever choose to teach The Tempest I shall delve into Ms. Atwood’s classroom references.


image: Goodreads.com

I’m not sure how this book got on my TBR list as I shy away from tragedy stories, especially ones about 9/11. And this story had yet another tragedy story woven throughout–the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911. I got over my initial “read or not to read moment” and found myself involved in an amazing story that speaks well towards the gifts of grace, forgiveness, and redemption.

The parallel stories of lost love due to horrendous circumstances is skillfully and eloquently written. Susan Meissner infuses her stories with rich prose and an underlayment of faith that provides a richly satisfying read. The characters transcend their paper boundary and imprint. I looked forward to my reading time and spent most of one Saturday intrigued by Clara’s choices and Taryn’s painful healing. I cried. And laughed. It’s been a while since that’s happened with a book. 

My second book by Meissner. I’ve now loaded her other books on my TBR list. I can take a bit of tragedy in my reading when the story had such a powerful message attached.
image: Goodreads.com
As a sequel to The Shakespeare Stealer, the story continues in following the historical fiction of Shakespeare’s acting troupe. While the action is not as lively as the first book, there is still plenty of intrigue as readers follow Widge’s determination to find his place as a player in the Chamberlin’s Men. The primary audience is middle readers or even young adult, yet I’m always game for a Shakespeare story.

The black plague is a definite presence throughout the story and Blackwood’s attention to detail creates an engaging insightful look into the times of England’s Renaissance.

Reader Roundup: February


Achieving last year’s goal of 101 books I’m game enough to try again this year, which means I need to keep to my quota of reading around 8 books a month. I definitely read more in January while still on Christmas Break. Grading essays, unfortunately takes precedence over my own reading choices. Good news being I’m not behind schedule. I’m just managing so far two months into my new reading year. Maybe I can get to those books languishing on my TBR list when Spring Break pops up next month and even get ahead.  Here’s February’s top picks:

 Will’s Words by Jane Sutcliffe/illustrated by John Shelley 

image:janesutcliffe.com
Absolutely delightful. A fine feast for Shakespeare aficionados, blending facts about the Bard with Where’s Waldo-like illustrations reflecting life in Renaissance London. Readers learn about the theatre, actors, acting, and a bit about the playwright. A great read for all ages.

Sense and Sensibility
by Joanna Trollope


image:Good Reads

So far, I haven’t been enthralled with any of the Shakespeare or Austen projects. The authors usually try too hard to parallel the plot with awkward adjustments or they try too hard to shake things up that it becomes teeth gritting to turn the pages there is such a disregard for the original story.

Not so with Trollope’s rendition of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The first few pages were a bit teeth gritting as I found Marianne, Margaret, and Elinor transported into the 21st century complete with smartphones and potty mouths. So unlike Austen. But then Trollope puts her own spin on it all and it begins to stand on its own having echoes of Austen instead of mimicking her commentary on money/marriage society. Trollope even sticks in a meta-comment about women who hanker after meddling into people’s lives, suggesting things haven’t changed much. I suppose not. Except gossip in the culture circles is made faster with texting and Facebook updates.

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty 


image: Good Reads

Maybe I started out with greater expectations in reading my first Eudora Welty novel. I chose the slim Delta Wedding as a tryout and found it difficult to connect with in terms of following a plotline. The story blurb explains that a young girl travels to her relatives house during the week before her older cousin’s wedding. Set in the 1930’s in Mississippi ‘s delta country, I looked forward to the relationship tangles and intricacies of a Southern family. Instead, the story has no firm point of view and is a kaleidoscope of images, thoughts, flashbacks all jumbled together in fits and starts. No smooth reading, and it became a chore to get through it. Hearing much about Welty, I’m looking for another of her novels in hopes of a better experience.

The snows February are still lingering which means little chance of going outside. Spring is supposed to be just ahead. And I will be glad to leave winter behind and get outside once again.

Lite vs Literary 


It’s often my dilemma when I’m shopping at my local library for my weekly rations of reading material: do I go lite or go literary?

Almost sounds like choosing cheesecake, doesn’t it? Go for less calories and sacrifice taste? It does apply to reading.

Before I offend too many people (hoping I haven’t offended anyone yet by saying your reading material choice is tasteless), let’s define literary merit. This is from a 2010 article by College Board’s Advanced Placement folk, the same people who run all those smartypants AP classes that students take and hope to learn enough to do well when they take those really tough and excruciating exams in May:

The Definition of Literary Merit in work of literature: 

  1. Entertains the reader and is interesting to read. 
  2. Does not merely conform to the expectations of a single genre or formula. 
  3. Has been judged to have artistic quality by the literary community (teachers, students, librarians, critics, other writers, the reading public). 
  4. Has stood the test of time in some way, regardless of the date of publication. 
  5. Shows thematic depth: themes merit revisiting and study because they are complex and nuanced.
  6. Demonstrates innovation in style, voice, structure, characterization, plot and/or description. 
  7. May have a social, political or ideological impact on society during the lifetime of the author or a erward. 
  8. Does not fall into the traps of “pulp” ction such as clichéd or derivative descriptions and plot devices, or sentimentality rather than “earned” emotion. 
  9. Is intended by the author to communicate in an artistic manner. 
  10. Is universal in its appeal (i.e., the themes and insights are not only accessible to one culture or time period.

My students tend to get in a snit when we start discussing novels appropriate for in-depth study which they can refer to on the May exam. Inevitably Harry Potter comes up. I’m certainly not passing judgement on the popular wizard-boy–I just hold the book up against the list. The snitting does not quell. Potter fans do not easily diminish their devotion. I always leave the decision up to them. After all, the exam is three hours and nearly a hundred dollars, if Harry means that much to them, they can exercise their option. Personally, if going for risky entries I would choose Bradbury’s F451. 

Back to my off duty reading choices. 

As an AP literature teacher, I try to practice what I teach. After a long and fulfilling week of extolling Hamlet to my students, I’m ready to unwind with a plot of my own selection. I have a long list of meritable titles I want and need to read, yet I’m sidetracked by titles that require minimal effort since the plot is as thin as the page it’s printed on. It’s rather nice not having to struggle through ponderous diction, and nuances of layered theme. Coasting and flipping. Much like reaching for that cheese danish when I should sit down to a salad.

I end up with a compromise. For every book that meets most of the Lit Mer test, I drop in a mystery or a Chick Lit, or a dystopian YA. Or even a Kid Lit because I have yet to fully embrace grown up reads as being my only option.

And I hope my students don’t surprise me in the checkout line. Then again maybe I would earn cool teacher points when they realize that reading is the ability of flexible options. That is nothing to be embarrassed about.Shakespeare does manage to find a way into my reading–be it historical or a plot where Ophelia finds herself a happy ending with Horatio.

Review Round Up: January


I began a new Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2017 in January. I made my goal of 101 books (with a couple to spare) for 2016, so I thought “why not?” let’s see if I can achieve it again–maybe I’m pushing it. After all, to hit my goal I need to read at least eight books a month. So far so good. Of the eight books read in January here are my top picks:

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Goodreads image

The main problem with patterning a storyline after Hamlet is the knowledge there will be no happy ending. This is especially true when the main idea is about a boy and his dog–Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows–case in point.
However, I plunged ahead because I am always open to a Shakespeare retelling, especially if it’s Hamlet.
As a debut novel, it’s ambitious, to say the least. First of all, it takes on Hamlet. Secondly, it weaves the story around the complicated business of dog breeding. Then there is the unique physical attribute that Edgar (the story’s Hamlet) was born without a voice. What he saw he could not easily tell. Pun or a deep metaphor? I haven’t decided.
The story also provides unusual omniscient point of view chapters. We even hear what the dogs are thinking.
It works. (four stars)

 

Rory's Promise

Goodreads image

A fascinating insight into another historical aspect of the Orphan Train. The Foundling Society of New York administered by Catholic sisters provided a clean, safe environment for orphans, a much different perspective than the more widely known Children’s Aid Society who ran the Orphan Trains that went out West.

The protagonist, Rory, refuses to be separated from her sister and risks her life to keep her promise that she would watch over her.

Based on historical fact, and the meticulous research is evident in the story. (four star)

 

 

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A throwback to the days of Greyhound travels and 1950s culture and values, Last Bus to Wisdom is a coming of age novel busting with wry mirth. Seemingly a combination of Little Britches and Mark Twain adventuring, Ivan Doig’s last novel truly is a wise choice of reading. (four star)

 

These three novels got me through the bleak days of January’s wintry blah days of icy cold and snow. A good book (three–score!), a cup of cocoa, and a crackling fire. Hmm, that’s what I call Book Booster happiness.

Reading Challenge Update


I nearly doubled my Good Reads Challenge goal and with the year starting to approach closer to the  deadline I have been wondering if I overreached my ability to meet it. A bit of hubris snuck in with my page turning, I suppose.

Well, those good folks at Good Reads have been quietly watching my progress and sent me an encouragrment:

 

2016 Reading Challenge

Hi Cricket,

The end of the year is fast approaching—let’s check in on your 2016 Reading Challenge.Congrats, you’re ahead of schedule!

You’ve read 86 of 101 books. (85% complete)

22,871

Pages Read

1

Audiobook

3.89

Average Rating


Surprise!
I just might make my 2016 Reading Challenge after all. With some quick calculations and the Good Reads Count Down calendar, I have 15 more books to go in 77 days. Can she really and truly make it?

Anyone rooting for me?

Hey–I’m open to suggestions. Click on the link above and check out my titles. See one missing you think I just absolutely must have? I actually get most of my reading suggestions from my blogster Book Boosters.

Anyone else in the midst of a reading challenge ?

Paper or Plastic?


“I would rather have a hard copy, if that’s okay.” This is from a new AP recruit wanting the summer reading text How to read Literature Like a Professor in book format rather than the PDF version I found on-line. Curious, I asked why. Her response? She had difficulty connecting with the on-screen type. Not what I expected from eyes way younger than mine. I, of course spout off about how much I prefer hard copies to e-copies as well because of my need to connect sensory-wise and as I’m talking, I’m flipping pages and smelling them and listening to them and when I finally notice my student nodding and edging toward the door, like she’d really like to leave because I’m a looney lady (more than one student has commented on me being a bit crazy), I hand over the book and wish her a great summer.

I am a looney lady when it comes to books–hence the Book Booster thing I do. Books aren’t just a pasttime or a channel of information, they are an introduction. Ahem, a new quote from moi:

A book in hand is a friendship in the making.

Beyond making a new friend, there is joy, a celebration of the senses holding a book in hand. I’m talking honest to goodness REAL paper-in-hand book. I do so enjoy paper, maybe that’s why I always answer “paper” instead of “plastic” at the store. Perhaps it’s because paper comes from trees and trees come from the earth and holding a book bound in paper produces more connection to the world around me.  I have little or no sensory connection to my plastic e-reader even though it’s a book in hand.  Oh oh–I feel the looney lady coming on and before I go on about trees, books and their connection to the world and mankind, here is my list of reasons for preferring a book of paper when reading:

1. Smell: that inky pungency stimulates my imagination to anticipation

2. Hearing: the flip-swish of pages signifies my involvement and commitment and helps me to further escape

3. Taste: no, I don’t lick the book, but reading a paper book whets my appetite for setting aside time to open up the pages to fall into another time, another place, another person’s story

4. Touch: there has got to be a study out there concerning the connection between the tactile aspect of reading and brain synapse when communing with a book–I am so much more involved when I am holding the book instead of just listening to it by audio or thumbing up a new screen. Think about this: glass does not conduct electricity, which means no synapse boost. Plus, when I see my book lying on the bed, table, chair it beckons me to pick it up, so there must be a some kind of magnetism involved.

5. Visual: perhaps the most notable because of the cover has all those colors and interesting bits to feed my eyes and mind, and then, of course, there all those illustrations and photographs and drawings sometimes waiting inside.

I’ve shown this video before, yet it definitely illustrates the visual appeal of books.

Reading is definitely a sensory experience for me.  What about you?  Paper or plastic?

September Reading Round Up


Now that school is up and running my life, I’ve noticed a downturn in my reading. It’s difficult to cozy up with a book when a set of papers is calling from down in the depths of my carry all: “Grade me.” Guilt has a persistent voice.

Here are the slim highlights of last month:

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend 


I had hopes of really liking it and saved it for my last hurrah Labor Day weekend read. It began with great promise with its unusual beginning of naïve Swedish tourist, a funeral, and a quirky smalltown. The premise that a good book solves a multitude of problems sweetened the deal. All went well until mushy middle syndrome overtook the plot. I finished it, but my amore had definitely lessened by the last chapter.

Running out of means to find DE Stevenson novels, which are not as readily available as hoped, I’ve turned to another former favorite: Mary Stewart. Our library has several of her titles. They are quite the study in character, red herrings, and setting. Here’s one title I especially enjoyed:

My Brother Michael

                               

Reminiscent of her Moon Spinners, which also is a Disney movie with Haley Mills–highly recommend.

Greek scenery, really bad guys, wonderful good guys, lots of action, hints of romance. Perfect weekend read.

I Capture the Castle

                          

 Smith of 101 Dalmations fame has quite a following for this little gem. It quietly sneaks up and embraces the reader with his odd litttle charm.  A family  comprised of distinctly creative individuals have fallen from a once prosperous lifestyle into despairing poverty. This seems like an juxtaposed statement since they do live in a castle, after all. Their surroundings reflect their wealth of spirit, not their income.

Odd, lovable family, hilarious hijinks, misunderstandings, memorable characters, the perfect ending. A book which sets my faith into the fact that some of the really good reads come from another era.

Lost and Found Lists


As a Book Booster I am always looking forward to my next book. I might be in the middle of a page-turner, yet I am anticipating starting a new one. Voracious reading habits are difficult to taper. A Book Booster’s motto: a book in hand is almost as wonderful as the next two queuing on the list. You can see it has disadvantages towards t-shirt and coffee mugs availability potential.

Some people maintain a physical TBR with a stack or two of titles awaiting their turn. Living in a little house and being a confirmed Tidy, piles of books to be read offends my need for visual order. Besides all those unread books would whisper to me as I passed them everyday: read me, read me, read me. The guilt and desire of setting those words to their intended task would cause me to get absolutely nothing else done. I would become a confirmed book lady, but at least the neighbors wouldn’t have reasonable grounds for complaint. Books don’t meow and smell.

morguefile image: I read. I read. I red.

My solution is the a tech-smart list. I began adding titles in the Notes section on my iPhone about three years ago. Quite handy for visits to the library. Pop open the screen, scroll down the list, check what’s available, check it out, and check it off the list. The list grew to include all sorts of delicious titles waiting to be devoured: classics meaning to get to, bestsellers, recommendations, research needs, why-nots. Oh, it was lovely.

Yes, past tense. Did you know there is no retrieve for deleting a notes item? And no, I did not have it seeded in a Cloud. And no, I did not realize I had deleted The List. By stuffing my phone in my back pocket without clicking it off, the possibility of why I shouldn’t do this came too late. Yes. This realization came after realizing this is what had happened. The List is cyber gone.

Lesson learned: valuable information, such as TBRs should not be kept in such a flimsy format.

Yes, devastation ensued. There are no Hallmark sympathy cards for deceased TBR lists. Chocolate does make for a decent condolence though.

There is a upside to this sad sharing. I discovered an unrealized TBR.

All this time I had unknowingly been creating an impressive TBR in my Good Reads account every time I clicked “Want to read.” Delight replaced despair. There were over a hundred entries, some from my old list, but many, many new ones. In color, with access to info and reviews. The upgrade was akin to going from enjoying M&Ms to savoring a Linder 70% dark cocoa content bar of chocolate.

If Good Reads goes down we are all in deep yogurt and will be concerned with much more than which book to read next.

What’s your TBR list look like?

Are you a book stacker or a list maker?

August Reading Round Up


Whilst wrapping up my last two weeks of summer break I dove into a variety of books, ranging from a balcony sun fun page turner to a couple of mistrials to a classroom textbook.

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

Image result for nine coaches waiting

Mary Stewart knows how to rock a mystery romance. We have castles, Machiavellian types, Byronic heroes, and of course, a plucky heroine. Fun read. Just the page turner I needed.

Noah’s Compass and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

Image result for noah's compassImage result for dinner at the homesick restaurant

Having had Anne Tyler on my TBR list for some time I thought I would give her a trial run, in hopes of finding a new author. Didn’t happen. Both books featured characters that I found so pathetic I could not muster empathy in any way or hope to. I grimaced my way through both. Dysfunctional families are not my idea of a relaxing time. Not one character in either book had a shred of normalcy. If you are a Tyler fan, let me know if there is another book on the shelf worth  trying.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Image result for blink gladwell

Gladwell seems to be a buzzword when it comes to paradigm shifting. Teaching AP Language for the first time means I need to look into and at non-fiction in a different way. Blink definitely got me thinking about I think and I think I will consider it as a textbook for the class.

Now that school is underway my leisure reading is slowed down miserably. I have set my GoodReads Challenge at 101 this year and I’m just at the 80% range. We’ll see if I can squeeze in some time in the next couple of months.

 

Dogs–the new cigarette?


When I was a kid, the family dog was in the backyard and cigarettes were found everywhere. Today, dogs are everywhere and smokers are banned to their backyard.

I’m not complaining. Just wondering how dogs have reached such a thumbs-up public approval.

Check out this New Yorker article in which the journalist trots a turkey, a snake, a pig, and an alpaca in public places.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/20/pets-allowed 

Now, before we get started. I need to state right up front. I like dogs. Our family dog taught me to walk (I grabbed on to him and he patiently led me along), and we were buds until he died at age of fourteen. I still miss him. Not that it’s a big deal, but I nearly died trying to protect our neighbor’s Cock-a-poo who had been attacked by dogs gone wild.  I have considered becoming a trainer for guide dogs once I finally retire from teaching. And just today I reunited two boys with their list Labrador. So–I do like dogs.

I just prefer dogs in the proper setting. Restaurants, hotels, the library, grocery stores, the farmer’s market, my local Home Depot, and the post office are not places I expect or desire to interact with dogs. I have no issue with true service dogs. They are trained and serve a needed purpose. The wolfhound blocking the sidewalk at the local farmer’s market (where it is posted “No Dogs in Park)–purpose?

Some communities are crazy for dogs. Oregon’s Hood River is such a place. San Francisco is another city gone to the dogs, and many of its citizens are wondering if they have gone too far in embracing doggy appreciation (3-1 said yes in a poll). It’s become so prevalent to see dogs when I go out to eat that I’m tempted to ask if there is non-dog section when going to a restaurant. True service dogs stay at their owner’s feet, they do not share their table, nor their lap. No fuss is made over them because they are on duty. They are well-behaved. They aren’t that noticeable.

Regular dogs and their owners–that’s a different matter.

Even though it’s posted at our local community park, where the local farmer’s market is held, that no dogs are allowed, that does not deter either the locals or the tourists from bringing their canine with them as they shop for garlic cloves and search for the perfect scone. I see the sign “Service Animals Only” posted on the door of most businesses, yet that request does not apparently apply to the lady with the Pekinese stuffed in her purse as she rolls out her grocery cart.

The value of a posted ordinance, rule, or request is only as good as it is enforced. The farmer’s market association says it’s the job of the city to enforce the ordinance. The police department says they will stop by the park if they don’t have other pressing duties. The store manager says they risk a lawsuit if they ask the person if their dog is a service animal. Clerks have developed a “we don’t ask” policy at the library and post office. The people I encounter in public places who do not have their dog on a leash, although it’s posted to do so, say “Oh, no worries. She’s friendly.” Maybe so, but I still don’t want that friendly nose snuffing my leg. There’s a set of teeth ever so close to that friendly nose that may decide otherwise. It’s happened. 

I’m wondering if society has replaced the cigarette, a selfish, noxious habit that can harm those in its presence with another risky habit. Whoa, C. Muse. Equating cigarettes to dogs is a bit harsh. Maybe so. There remains a deep-seated amazement that people seriously think I want to share my space with their four-legged habit. I am not the only one who is wondering about this new dog-permissive attitude.

David Lazarus of the LA Times decided to test the new doggy permissiveness. Even though there are health codes, he acknowledged, he took his dog Teddy with him one day, wondering why no one stopped him when he decided on taking his dog everywhere he went. Perplexed at being ignored by those around him he summed it up: “I have only one answer to that. It’s L.A., dude.”

I will expand on that answer: It’s America. Americans don’t like being told what to do. Americans like to celebrate their freedom. Americans like their dogs.

Has anyone else noticed the new dog permissiveness? Are dogs as prevalent as cigarettes once were in public places? Dog gone it, I just don’t understand why society wants to have such dog day afternoons. 

 

 

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