cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Reading”

Debatables: Sparking a Conversation About Arcs


My indomitable sparring compatriot, Mike Allegra, tossed down an interesting Debatable challenge for this month: which picture book character has arc?

Arc:

A character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story. If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person and gradually transforms into a different sort of person in response to changing developments in the story. [Thanks Wikipedia]

Arc, not Orc–that’s Tolkien

Image: Molang Kim

Although maybe an Orc could have an arc? Aren’t Orcs rather focused on their prime directive of generating mayhem?

Doesn’t matter. We are focusing on picture book characters for this round.

Mike selected Ferdinand

and I suggested Harold.

(both images from Wikipedia)

This round is a straight up editorial. You aren’t expected to vote–although you most certainly can. You aren’t even expected to come with your own arcless character–although you most certainly can chime in a contribution.

Trot over to Mike’s post, read over our thoughts on our selected choices, and leave your comments.

Just sparking a arc-conversation this month. See you over at Allegra’s place. Maybe he’s serving up waffles…

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Reader Round Up: May


May was a month of escapism as different stresses cropped up and reading is my escape goto having learned that finding frozen yogurt in the local groceries is frustrating and futile.

An eclectic batch indeed:

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell⭐️⭐️⭐️

Malcolm Gladwell has proven his ability to combine an intriguing premise with research data, anecdotal examples, and an engaging style of bringing it all together. This method worked well for Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers. Not so much for David and Goliath.

One problem is how the premise is not fully defined, or tends to flex and morph into something a bit different as the book progresses.

True to Form by Elizabeth Berg

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

True to Form continues the story of Katie Nash, a 13 year old girl who has both little and everything going on in her life. With only one friend and a summer filled with jobs arranged by her emotionally distant father, Katie is fairly sure her summer of 1961 is going to be dreary.

While Katie’s summer is far different than she anticipated, she discovers new friendships, experiences new opportunities, and finds out making choices can be very serious—and can drastically change a person’s life.

Engaging and charismatic, Katie’s voice borders on being a bit too precocious for a young teen girl, yet there is much truth to Katie’s observations. This can be read as a stand alone.

Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

A small town in Maine is the setting for a novel that interconnects various stories of coping with loss. Switching from WWII and its aftermath, to present day, the author explores how people cope with losing someone they love, exploring emotions from guilt and sorrow to regret and restored faith, Dyke weaves in humor and poignant human drama to create an engaging inspirational romance with historical insight.

Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

One aspect of rereading books from long ago is rediscovering and reconnecting with the story. I only vaguely remembered the incident of finding Jackaroo’s costume, all else was like reading a new novel.

And what a wonderful story! Adventure, Middle Ages setting with villages, earls, and plenty of Robin Hood trope. Voigt crafts her story with full characters and descriptive imagery that rounds out a story not easily put down once started.

There are enough twists in the plot to prevent the usual stale tale script from forming, and the ending is definitely satisfying.

It will be a happy mission hunting down the other books in the series.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Exupery

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Little Prince is of those mesmerizing books containing a deep message as it twinkles and beguiles readers with its captivating prose and quaint renderings. For children it’s the magical tale of a prince who rules a planet and journeys to other worlds. For adults it’s an allegory of despondency–how life is not always as it seems to be, for we get caught up in our world of being grown up for having peeked behind the curtain, we sadly realize the truth behind the magic.

June and summer vaycay is welcome anticipation. What titles are you looking to read? I wouldn’t mind plumping up my “want-to-read” list now that it’s under a 100.

Bookish Thoughts: Skimming versus Deep Reading


In addition to my monthly posts of Word Nerd Confessions, Reader Round Ups, Why We Say, and Debatables, I’ve decided to chime in thoughts about book issues. This month deals with how electronic text has created the dilemma of skimming.

This is not a post so much about being pro or con towards e-readers, although I always request paper instead of electronic when request a review copy. From that you can surmise my stance.

Dog gone it—my attention span is in the dog house

Instead, I’m more concerned with how electronic reading has transformed overall reading habits. I’m not the only one either.

Maryanne Wolf , the Director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at UCLA, is the author of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. In an article from The Guardian (8/25/18), Wolf discusses research findings that indicate how the essential skill of “deep reading” might become jeopardized as electronic reading becomes more of the normal. Basically, if we don’t use it, we lose it.

Further studies indicate the increasing reluctance of university students to dive in and tackle older texts due to impatience with sifting through older syntax style and stiff vocabulary of authors from yesteryear. It takes work to read older books. True that. It’s just like losing the ability to climb three flights of stairs if one always takes the elevator.

Wolf‘s research also indicates that the damage to reading deeply can begin as early as fourth grade. This interprets as soon as students begin to read they are at an disadvantage due to the push to put electronics into their hands. Not having the ability to develop an appreciation or skill for deep reading means future readers have the potential of never gaining insights into more complicated texts such as Emerson, Proust, Bronte and a larger cadre of other pre-info bite writers.

Scary.

What is happening is a style of reading known as “skimming” which is scanning sections of texts in a pattern, such as a Z, to absorb information. I’m thinking of the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics course I had to take in summer school once upon a junior high year. Speed reading is what it went by in most circles. It admittedly came in handy. Skimming seems to be the rebrand.

Skimming does not sound like something Wolf promotes. She admits her attention span for reading complicated texts has diminished. With some personal introspection I realize I rarely sit and study a text or read a book like I used to. I still read a lot of books but solidly with deep satisfying comprehension? Not so much. This blog is an example. I put aside a really great book to write up these thoughts. Why?

I think issue of distractable reading has evolved as a deplorable habit. I bounce in and out of newsfeeds and sound bite updates and have lost sustainable attention span.

Solution?

For one, I will become more conscious of how long I read and keep my phone across the room. Reading and texting are not companionable. Distracted reading is not life threatening but it is concerning.

Skimming. Anyone else found this to be an issue in their reading habits?

Reader Round Up: April


I don’t know if this is embarrassing or if it is something of an accomplishment to crow about–here it is:

I have read 57 books of my 101 goal. And it’s not even halfway through the year.

What does that mean?

Have I surreptitiously slipped from bibliophile, merely a person loves books, into a bibliomaniac, being crazy about books?

‘Tis a ponderment.

If I were to submit to a consultation, as if there is real concern about reading too much, (is that even feasible?) What would be revealed about my reading habits?

Today we will look in on the eminent Reader Analyzer, known for her insightful understanding of reading habits. The following is a session excerpt with Cricket Muse, known for her monthly Reader Round Ups and efforts as a chirpy Book Booster.

RA: Cricket, I appreciate your willingness to share your views about reading.

CM: Well, isn’t this really about whether I’ve drifted from casual reading into habitual reading?

RA: No one here is judging. We are here to celebrate your accomplishments. You do like to read, don’t you? <smile>

CM: Somewhat of an understatement. You’ve read my rap sheet: three years in a row of surpassing my Goodreads goal of 101 books? Reading 57 books before May 5 hit the calendar? I read 4 books in one week! <lowers voice> Is that even normal?

RA: Normal is subjective. Some say “normal” is a setting on the dryer.

CM: It is? Mine says “dry or more dry.” What type of dryer you own? A Kenmore? I think my mother had an old dryer that had that setting.

RA: Back to books and the normal reading standard. Who is to say what the new normal is? Reading isn’t what it used to be is it?

CM: That’s true. Some of my students wouldn’t ever pick up a book if I didn’t require SSR, silent sustained reading. I don’t know many adults who are avid readers either.

RA: Not being surrounded by readers, what influences you to read?

CM: Getting right down to it, aren’t we? Well, I read because at the end of the day I suffer from screen scream. When I’m not teaching up front and personal, my time is at the computer grading and creating lesson plans. My brain is buzzy from all that screen activity. My solution is to grab a book and knock back a couple of chapters, letting my brain settle down. Holding a book in my hands, feeling that paper between my fingers, hearing that crisp swish of pages turning is very therapeutic.

RA: Not judging <smile> but you said four books in one week? Teaching must be stressful.

CM: It can be. That four book week was not a teaching week. I was in a situation that resulted in a combination of weather conditions, downtime, and the need to de-stress.

RA: Sounds like reading is your go to for relaxing. Do you read for other reasons?

CM: Of course! I read out of curiosity–what’s the big hype about The Martian, for instance (I actually liked the movie better, but reading the book helped enjoy the movie more)? I read because as a writer I need to know what is current on the market–what are others reading and what are others writing? And yeah, I read for pleasure. A cup of cocoa, my cozy chair, a crackling fire, a good book or glass of lemonade, my hammock, a soft backyard breeze, a paperback of choice–yup, these are a few of my favorite things.

RA: Enjoying a book, for whatever reason, could be addictive. Do you just read?

CM: I see what you’re doing <wink/finger point> I have a full life that includes books; it doesn’t revolve around books: teaching, working out at the gym, volunteering at the library, writing, putzing about in the yard–books are frosting, not the cake.

RA: Sounds like a good balance. I can’t resist–what good books have you read lately?

CM: Here’s a few titles from last month and a couple of recommends. So–am I crazy about books or am I crazy?

RA: Not here to judge, remember–but it is crazy wonderful how much you enjoy reading. I’d say keep on reading on. Thanks for revealing your thoughts about reading.

CM: See you around, and I hope you find a good book to read this week.

April Read Highlights:

The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ sequel to The White Mountains–classic science fiction and ignore that it’s in the juvie section because it’s a great plot and writing

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Another juvie–yet appropriate for adults, especially for Bardalators and Bardinators as it is a time transfer back to the Renaissance Globe theatre when A Midsummer Night’s Dream played. Lots of marvelous historical detail and the plot is intriguing as well.

The Martian by Andy Weir ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ finally got around to reading this and it was a bit better than okayall the science detail proved a bit daunting, but the Castaway on Mars with Mark proved a decent story.

For more reviews check out my Goodreads links on the right (on full site) or look me up on Goodreads as I have plenty to say about all those books I read.

Until the next Reader Round Up…

Reader Round Up: March


I can tell how stressed I am by how many books I read in a month. I used to count by dark chocolate Dove bars. Books are less invasive on the waistline.

I can also measure my stress level by the types of books I read.

Picture books:

Where Are You, Little Zack? by Judith Ross Enderle ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The StinkyCheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Juvie books:

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The White Mountains by John Christopher ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

YA books:

To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Inspirational books:

Better Together: Life Is Best With a Friend Like You by Warren Photographic ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Be Safe, Love Mom by Elaine Lowry Brye ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

New-to-me-authors:

The Librarian by Sally Vickers ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Cleaner of Chartres by Sally Vickers ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Historical Romance:

Far Side of the Sea by Kate Breslin

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Mystery:

Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

A baker’s dozen of books. All over the place. I’m unable to comment on March. I do appreciate how many five star reads I encountered. Nothing like a run of really satisfying books to get one through the murkiness of March. Maybe the Ides have it–March is not a month to mess with.

Good thing it’s April.

Author Spotlight: C.S. Lewis


January’s Debatable brought a favorite author to the forefront of fond reminiscing: C.S. Lewis.

Known primarily for his classic allegorical tales of Narnia where Aslan represents Christ, Lewis did not start out as a children’s author.

Growing up without a mother (she died of cancer), he spent his early years in boarding school. Proving himself an superb student, he attended Oxford University and eventually began teaching English at Magdalen College, Oxford from 1925 to 1954.

Lewis brought up in the Protestant Church of Ireland, strayed from his beliefs as a teenager, and he might have been further influenced by his childhood tutor, an atheist.

However, as Lewis studied and taught, his readings brought him to the understanding of how Christ was at the center of many of the old writings. His further involvement with “The Inklings,” a group of academics and writers, which included Tolkien, Lewis converted to theism, a belief in God.

With his found discovery of religion, Lewis began a solid reputation as an apologist, with books such as The Screwtape Letters. He refrained from making specific references to a particular denomination in his writings, and remained an Anglican.

During World War II, three evacuee children came to stay with him, and he appreciated their joy of childhood. Combining this experience with his interests in mythology, Lewis decided to write a story based on his long held image of a faun carrying an umbrella and packages.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe started the popular Narnia Chronicles, and the seven book series remains popular, having influenced generations of readers.

There is more to C.S. Lewis beyond his unexpected popularity as a children’s writer. There is his relationship with Tolkien, his commitment to taking care of Mrs. Moore, his devotion to his brother, and his marriage to Joy. His story is a worthwhile study of how someone can survive loss and embrace a sincere appreciation of restoration.

I first met C.S. Lewis in a summer cabin as teen in high school. Somewhat bored, I picked up a book lying on a table, since the cover had caught my eye.

It reminded me of A Wrinkle in Time, that hinting of cosmic adventure awaiting a set of children. I casually began reading it, ignoring my friends, and only slightly feeling self-conscious about reading a book belonging to my friend’s kid sister.

I was hooked and sought out the series.

Read them all. Began reading the other works of Lewis (though not as enamored of them), watched Shadowlands, wrote a college paper on the influence of Medievalism in Narnia (had to convince my instructor on that one), and anticipated a movie that did the series justice (umm, not the BBC version), and rejoiced when one finally did arrive and was able to share that joy with my children, having waited ever so long for Mr. Tumnus to arrive. It was a memorable experience to pass on my joy of Narnia to my grand kiddo one summer visit as we read the book out loud together. The joy doubled when I realized my daughter was casually eavesdropping and added in her comments about Mr and Mrs Beaver. Generational book bonding is bliss!

C.S. Lewis died the same day JFK was assassinated. The interest in Lewis and his works continues to influence readers, academics, believers, and those who wonder “what if” about traveling to other worlds, other places to discover the end place is only the beginning.

Reader Review: Such Good Reads


Blank yyib header maxres

The Goodreads elves sent out their annual Year in Books report earlier than expected this year. Although I surpassed my reading goal of 101 books, I’m still reading! I hope to reach 135, and I just might.

Because I know you are interested, here are the highlights:

The Golden Mean by Nick Bantock Shortest book–46 pages/4 stars

Part of a series I discovered at the library. Very creative format.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Longest book–655 pages/3 stars

I read most of Brian Selznick’s books, having

enjoyed The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This title, although an interesting, wasn’t quite as compelling as his other stories.

The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsMost popular read: 1,790,319 readers can’t be wrong? Right?

I read it simply to see what the fuss was about, and why so many of my students were reading it. An idea Hitchcock, no doubt, would have explored. Or did he?

Literature Made Easy the Merchant of Venice by Ruth ColemanLeast popular read: 0
–that does not bode well for my upcoming unit…

Highest rated on Goodreads: a warm tribute from a son to his well-known, beloved father.

Through My Father's Eyes by Franklin Graham

First review of the year:

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman A four and half star read that contained an intriguing plot twist (or two). A find at the library sale.

Last review of the year:

A fun, and surprisingly informative introduction to Shakespeare I found while shelving at the library. A solid four stars.

I will continue setting my goal at 101 for next year. We’ll see what happens. And I am open to suggestions for reads.

And if you are really interested the elves might be willing to show off their colorful Goodreads chart work by clicking here.

Reading Roundup: November


The flurry of December’s Debatable Reindeer vs Penguin sidelined my usual attention to reviewing previous monthly reads. Here’s the scoop for November:

Pilgrim’s Progress by Gary Schmidt

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic appreciated for its allegory of the walk one makes in faith and belief. It would be difficult to improve upon it, yet Gary Schmidt creates a version for contemporary audiences that deserves noted acclaim for keeping the original message intact while providing a more approachable format.

Barry Moser’s agreeable, stunning watercolor illustrations aptly and deftly accompany Schmidt’s retelling.

Appropriate for middle readers, yet probably more appreciated by adults who remember the original Bunyan version.

Nowhere to be Found by Emily Thomas

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Irresistibly drawn to series that combines creating a library in a renovated house plus a cozy mystery. An enjoyable, undemanding read that combines Christian values with a well-paced plot.

Whisper by Lynette Noni

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This is one of those books that is so captivating that finding a place to bookmark for the night is difficult. Best to start earlier than later in the day.

The first 100 pages are spellbinding. Jane, as in Jane Doe, a young woman is being held prisoner in a secret facility. She suffers silently because she refuses to speak to anyone. This is not only because of sheer determination, but because JD is afraid to do so. In her case, words do have power.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It’s a quick, quiet, uneventful cadence of vignettes with the theme of a grandmother and her young granddaughter circumnavigating each other’s quirks while living on an island for the summer. Being Finnish in original intent changes some of the dynamics of the characters, yet the bond between the adult and child holds well.

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Written by a son and mother team, this is #8 in an ongoing series about Bess Crawford, a nurse who likes to solve mysteries.

An intriguing idea to have a WWI nurse solve a tangled mystery involving a wounded soldier of dubious identity. Unfortunately, the plot becomes muddled with confusing details such as too many suspects with similar names, and the device of Bess, the protagonist, running around annoying people with her questions while healing from her wounds received at the front. The mystery itself proved intriguing, yet the solving was drawn out

much too long. The characters are agreeable and the writing is accomplished enough to look into other books in the series at some point.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

One problem with experiencing the movie before the book is that so many book scenes become overlaid with cinematic scenes. Clare is Rachel McAdams and Henry is Eric Bana while I read and I’m annoyed when the author changes things up character and plot wise. Then again, she had it all mapped out first. Lesson: read the book first.

Review wise: interesting beginning, muddled middle, and melodramatic ending. Not a romance book fan, and without the time traveler gimmick this would not have kept my attention, as the plot device of a woman constantly waiting for her ideal man to return to her is a metaphorical irritation after awhile.The swearing and sex scenes detracted instead of added to the plot. At one point the characters ask if their sex life is normal. Well, if you have to ask…

Alba, their daughter, makes it worthwhile to finish out the ending. I’m rooting for a sequel with Alba working out her own time traveling agenda.

Author Spotlight: Ezra Jack Keats


Back when I began college, I enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program because I could earn an AA after studying little kids for two years. One of my better education decisions.

One of the highlights of the program was Children’s Literature. No kidding. The class was all about reading books for children. Every children’s writer should take such a class. We learned all about what makes for a successful children’s book, read all kinds of books, even learned how to run a proper story time. There is an art to reading a book out loud. I am so ready for the day when my book gets published and the local librarian invites me in to read it to wiggling masses of kiddos. That day isn’t quite here, but my AA in ECE has me primed and ready.

One author I briefly remember studying was Ezra Jack Keats. Mike Allegra’s recent Debatable (and *sigh* win) about Peter in The Snowy Day got me reminiscing about my Keats encounters. He wrote several books about Peter, and I remember we studied what a trailblazer he was for his colorful collage style combined with simple, yet meaningful text. There was also the fact that back when Peter first appeared he was among the first picture book characters of cultural diversity. We noted it, but I don’t remember dwelling on it. We instead focused on the appeal of Peter as enjoyed a snowy day, discovering how to whistle, finding goggles–just enjoying being a nice kid growing up with friends and family in the city.

One thing we didn’t touch on was Ezra Jack Keats. Looking him up, yah, Mike got me curious. I was surprised. I had made assumptions, and Chef Boyardee did I learn a lot. This article presents Keats so much better than I can. He is definitely an author deserving a spotlight.

So–go enjoy your inner child and read all about Peter. He is Macy’s Parade balloon worthy–almost as much as Tigger.

Debatable Recap: Defeat


Macy’s Parade has come and gone along with the November issue of Debatable. This month’s topic was filled with more than the usual amount of hot air as Mike Allegra, that rascally writer fellow who is loved and adored by his thousands of followers, won the round with his pitch of nominating Peter of the Snowy Day as a future Macy Day Parade balloon.

Admittedly, it is s good choice, yet I still contend the parade is all about the lightness of being and Tigger certainly fits that description.

Personally, I think Tigger and Peter would enjoy a snowy day together. Who knows? Maybe they’ll both be balloons one day.

So, congratulations, Mike. For once all your glorious and uplifting promotional ballyhooing rose up to to even greater heights.

Stay tuned for December’s Debatable edition in which Mike and I contest our choices for seasonal specials.

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