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a writer's journey as a reader

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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.

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.

 

April Reads of Note


from Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge

 amazon.com

page 227:

Grand old place, he thought , pausing to look about him. It was a fine still day, with the sky faintly veiled in mist so that the suffused sunlight fell silverly. The cushions of moss were emerald between the cobbles, and the garnet-colored walls and the steep, crinkled, amber roofs of the outbuildings glowed with warmth. Beyond the silver trunks of the old apple trees there was a haze of shadow behind the bronze and gold of a few late chrysanthemums. There was a bonfire burning somewher, its pungent scent mixing with the smell of the wet chrysanthemums, the scent of the ironing from the kitchen, and the smell of a baking cake drifting down fromthe open door up there, the door that opened on the Malony’s balcony.

I tend to harken toward classic literary when filling up my basket for extended reading. Authors like Willa Cather, Daphne du Maurier, DE Stevenson, and Elizabeth Goudge are ones I easily grab and check out. There is a sense of unhurried eloquence of pacing, setting, and characterization that is difficult to find amongst contemporary reads. There is also the lean towards omniscient point of view, so that all is known about everybody in such a seamless manner the thread of plot is not lost, as it so often happens with the current practice of each chapter being a separate character’s perspective.

I am open to new literary classics in the making. One such author is the renowned Ishiguro. I became a fan after Remains of the Day. Admittedly, I have hung in there with his other offerings, yet I haven’t been as enamored. I did, however, give his latest novel a try: The Buried Giant.  I wanted to like it, but I ended up finishing it with more questions about the plot than satisfied resolve. I do think Ishiguro is an accomplished writer and I look forward to his next book.

amazon.com

Seeing as how I mainly write for children, it’s important for me to wade out there and see what exactly is catching g the eyes of readers  and publishers. I requested Pax from the library (that’s usually the sign of a good book if others have it checked out) and I would have read it in one sitting if I hadn’t started so late in the day. It’s difficult to resist a story of a boy and a fox, especially as they struggle to be reunited once again. I had a feeling I would cry at the end of the story. I did.

These were the top three reads of my spring break, and I am still tracking down as many DE Stevenson’s as I can. To keep up on my current reads, I have taken time to read my notices of new novels and have loaded up my “want to read” list. I hardly watched any movies over the last month. Nothing like a good book, actually lots of good books, to lessen the desire to plunk down in front of the screen and be bombarded for 90 minutes.

Anyone else find movies less desirable once the reading bug truly gets to biting?

Reader Round Up: TAB Syndrome


Upfront and personal: I am not a quitter.

I will gamely finish the less-than-savory pasta I paid for at the overrated restaurant, keep eating salad until the last of the holiday pounds melt away, and keep grading essays until my eyeballs roll around to the back of my head.

I stick to it. Just so you know.

That being said. I am struggling with my reading habits these days. I used to stick with a book, even if it took me days and weeks to soldier on, I would finish it, gritting teeth if necessary (Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady comes to mind). Lately, I give a book approximately five chapters, roughly a hundred pages, before I judge and jury it back into the library bag for prompt return. My dilemma is this: Would a true Book Booster succumb to TAB Syndrome? Is it acceptable that I wontly and willingly set aside a chosen read and it becomes The Abandoned Book?

Maybe it’s because I realize there are so many books out there waiting for me. Why should I commit to reading something that I really don’t like? Frank Zappa, of all people, is credited with saying:

I have dismissed the following books in the last couple of months.

Starlight on Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs.

 

image: amazon.com

My mom recommended this author. Often. Frequently. *sigh* Trying to be the good daughter,  I gave it go. Mom and I have different tastes in reading. I toss out titles to her. She tries them and politely responds how the book didn’t quite work for her. This time she tossed out an author to me.  Apparently Susan Wiggs is a popular, best selling author of over 35 books. I had no idea. A whole shelf is dedicated to her novels at our library, or at least ones that haven’t been checked out.

This particular plot focuses on a mother embittered by life since she is now a quadriplegic from a skiing accident that also killed her husband. Her three children are all successful and have aptly provided for her–she is at odds with the oldest son who would rather send a check than visit with mumsy. Mums burns through caretakers like bees flit through a garden. This is where the underdog caretaker is hired. There is also the cold, yet efficient assistant/fiancee to said distant son. I knew where this was going after I read the blurb. I would have hung in there, as I don’t mind the romantic trope of jerk-son-gets-bested-and-turned-around-by-single-mother-with-a-heart-of-gold-who-has- two-extremely-needy-daughters plot. I’m not terribly prudish, yet when everyone starting dropping profanity as if the educated 10% do so because it must be oh-so-cool, I thought “Five chapters–I’m out of here.” Sorry, Mom.

Next up was an AP recommended author I’ve been putting off reading because his writing style is so Joycian. I don’t mind creativity, but I do like commas and other regular punctuation. Emily D is an exception–dash it all, I can handle her penchant for pause for something as short as her poetry. An entire novel of creative punctuation is too much for this English teacher.  So I got Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses as an audio book. If I can’t see the punctuation misdemeanors I can simply focus on the story. Wrong.

I really like John Grady Cole. He reminds me a bit of a young Paul Newman in his cool, calm and collected approach to life. I even tolerated Lacey’s potty mouth because his colorful vernacular was such a part of who is. He probably couldn’t talk if a swear word wasn’t in there. Plus, the audio book reader was talented at creating distinctive characters. I hung with Horses until John Grady and Lacey get hired at the Mexican ranch. As soon as the boss’s daughter arrives on the scene I couldn’t bear the heartache of watching John go down as he fell for her. I became too attached. Maybe I’ll watch the movie. I can always fast forward Matt Damon’s pain.

 

 A student wanted to do David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas for his Author Spotlight and I try to check out what my students are reading. I tried to get involved in the book, the premise sounds fascinating; however, I couldn’t get past the guy sifting the rocks for cannibal teeth so he could make dentures for a high society lady and then tell her that she was chewing with said teeth. Too gruesome for me. I might give it go sometime, someday because the switched storyline style intrigues me. There is also the movie.

I have abandoned other books. Not often, but I do. I don’t feel this guilt out ejecting a movie from the DVD player. Somehow setting aside a book is like walking away from a conversation. It feels rather rude. I’m working on casting off this guilt. There are, after all, so many other conversations waiting for me out there.

Anyone else struggle with TAB Syndrome?

 

 

Book Booster Spotlight


Around four years ago when I began this blog I set up a page dedicated to collecting Book Boosters.  The qualifications were fairly simple:

Do you love books?

Do you have favorites you read, recommend, and even re-read?

Are you a frequent flyer at the local library?

Are you an on-line regular of book sites, be they promoting to buy, review, or boast books?

Perchance you operate on a need to read basis–you have to have a book in hand, by the bed, stashed in the car, or have one nestled in the backpack.

You then, my friend, are a Book Booster. And you are in good company. Add your name to the list and welcome to the shelf of those who appreciate and advance the cause of books.

To date there are around 70 Book Boosters. There are no secret handshakes, no monthly meetings. I have considered t-shirts and bumper stickers.  As a thanks for taking the public step as a proclaimed bibliophile, I shall spotlight a random Book Booster.

This month’s BB Spotlight is:

Tish Farrell

Portland 6 (2)

In her own words:

Being a writer can be wretched. (What did Douglas Adams say about it: staring at the page until your eyes bleed?) So in an attempt to stop my eyes bleeding, or my brain exploding I thought I would use this blog to write about the place where I am now (Shropshire) and the places where I used to be (Kenya). Sometimes they get mixed up together. But that doesn’t matter. Anyway, the literary analysts tell us that creating a convincing setting, that telling sense of place through which the human action threads and is revealed is crucial to any story – non fiction or fiction. So these are my practice pieces, then; a fending off of writer’s block perhaps. Who knows? Other stories might spring from them.

Tish also provides amazing photos. I especially appreciate her Kenya shares, as I doubt I will ever make that journey.

Are you interested in proclaiming your love of books, your need to read? Leave your name and I will gladly add you to the growing list of Book Boosters, and who knows you too might find yourself as a featured BB Spotlight in the near future.

 

 

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