cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

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.

Why We Say


 

STUFFED SHIRT

 

“Oh, don’t pay any attention to him and his boastings. He’s just a stuffed shirt,” Laurie whispered to Ana about their linguistics professor.

For some reason I thought being a stuffed shirt meant being an old fuddy-duddy, someone who insists on doing things exactly and according to the rules with no wavering, to the point of being quite boring. The truth of the matter is:

An actor of the 1899 era, John Gates, was believed to pad his shirts to give himself a more impressive impression, a bit like shoe lifts or padded shoulders, except more applied to the front area to have an admirable physique. So in actuality, a stuffed shirt refers to someone who is pompous, who thinks himself more important than he really is. And those kind of people can be quite boring, when you think about it.

SWAN SONG

Image result for swan song

“That was her last performance,” the reviewer mentioned in her article of the famous actress. “Performing as Cleopatra was her swan song.”

When I hear the expression “swan song,” I think of it being the last effort of a person, the culminating moment of achievement or something that brings the downfall of a person. Not being terribly sure of its meaning, I’m cautious about how to use this expression.

Apparently, according to thoughts going back to Plato’s time, the swan not being able to sing like other birds would burst into one last song just before dying. In reality, while swans don’t sing, they do make a variety of noises. This is a case of “mything the mark.” Even Shakespeare got it wrong, when he has Portia say in the Merchant of Venice: 

Let music sound while he doth make his choice; then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end, fading in music.

Being Shakespeare, we’ll let that one go.

SWAPPING HORSE IN MIDSTREAM
“Even though we don’t agree with some of the decisions of our new boss, it’s best not to swap horses in midstream,” Bart told the group, as they headed out to the parking lot.

This one makes sense, as it would be uncomfortable, awkward, maybe even unsafe to try to get on one horse while on another traversing the river. The few times I have traveled by horseback I think staying in one saddle is hard enough without having to try to switch to another horse and another saddle, let alone while trying to do so in a river.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with this saying. With his wry wit he made a speech during the Civil War that it best not to switch allegiance of presidents by swapping horses midstream. This was alluding to how many people were unhappy with his wartime politics and wanted new leadership.Fortunately, people took his advice and stayed put in their saddles.

Click Picture for Larger View

image: abelincoln.com

Why We Say: A monthly series that explores a variety of sayings and expression that are common or are interesting, based on the information found in Why We Say by Robert L. Morgan.

POM: February


Just a wee past Valentine’s Day, yet I thought I would let all the mush bucket poetry have its spotlight. I offer up Yeats for February:

 

Aedh Tells of the Perfect Beauty

W. B. Yeats, 18651939

O cloud-pale eyelids, dream-dimmed eyes,
The poets labouring all their days
To build a perfect beauty in rhyme
Are overthrown by a woman’s gaze
And by the unlabouring brood of the skies:
And therefore my heart will bow, when dew
Is dropping sleep, until God burn time,
Before the unlabouring stars and you.

Image result for Aedh Tells of the Perfect Beauty

Academy of American Poets image

 

This a love poem for poets. Yeats expresses well how poets work their words to exalt the beauty found in rhyme and rhythm. Not exactly Valentine’s Day–which is why I waited. This is a poem for lovers who love words. And that’s all year round for me.

“Dead for a Ducat!”


Valentine’s Day and a Shakespeare sonnet–right?  How about Shakespeare and the play I love to teach? 

You’re  probably wondering why I chose such an unlovely line for my Valentine’s Day post. Not the most romantic, I know, or even the most notable line of Hamlet–yet it does have a purpose. When Hamlet exults at his stabbing of the “rat” behind the curtain, the play changes. Hamlet changes. There is no turning back. 

By the time you read this post I will be well immersed in teaching Hamlet to my APsters and they will either be all in happily sailing with understanding and enthusiasm or they will have abandoned ship and rowed to shore. I have found either my students love, love, love the Danish doings of the undecided prince or are ready to move on and far away from Shakespeare. I have to remember my enthusiasm for Shakespeare isn’t always as contagious as I hope it to be.

I think I over prepare in hopes of dazzling my students with background facts, nuances, allusions, critical thinker questions, clips, trivia–oh my, I probably absolutely overwhelm them. I got lost on YouTube finding a clip for my class. It was a fun little side trip. Shakespeare hits the late night talk shows easily. It’s true what Ben J. said–Shakespeare is for all time. Especially late at night time. Take a look:

So happy Valentine’s Day and I hope that lovely sonnet pops up on someone else’s post.

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.

(W)Hoopla


Sundays I look forward to my afternoon nappish time with a good book. During the week if I try to read I inevitably fall asleep due to the somnolent virtues of relaxing after a long day infusing enthusiasm for English with 75+ teens. Saturday is usually catch up on errands, laundry, bills, etc. So Sunday is my “aah” day.

The problem is that sometimes it becomes an “aww” day because I haven’t tried out my new book and if it doesn’t work out, I’m without a book. And yes, I usually do have a back up. Both pootered out. I did give them a decent trial, though. Honest.

This is when I haul out my iPad, plug in my headphones and Hoopla.A movie is not the best replacement for a good solid afternoon with a book. Not even. However, it’s fairly delicious when the selected movie is a quirky indie with a creative plot. Bonus when the acting is decent.

Let’s pause first. Hoopla? It’s a vendor through our local library. Free streaming movies. Granted, the movies are not first run features. They are a mix of fun oldies (a huge batch of 1950 era Disney family flicks) and some notables, The Giver, for instance. Some awful B- movies, lots of kid flicks, and a few films, make that lots of films, never even heard of. They’re free. I’m not complaining.

Dimensions Poster

IMdB image

Skimming through titles I noticed Dimensions: an indie film–time traveling theme set in the 1920’s. I’m prone towards indie films. A throwback to my university days when we visited all the small cinemas watching foreign films and artsy cinematic experiments. I was well pleased with my choice. The movie resonated with me after the end titles rolled up and away. That’s always a good sign. It won several film festival awards. Never made the box theatres, that I know of–yet, it’s still a good little film. Not great. Definitely worthwhile.  Hope I’ve interested you. If not, try the trailer.

I did manage to restock my reading selections. I look forward to next Sunday. At least I have a back up to my back up plan. Books first. Always.

Anyone else Hoopla and find a treasure?

 

Author Spotlight: Yann Martel


It’s encouraging to me as a writer when an author overcomes the odds and publishes a book of lasting impact. Yann Martel accomplished this with Life of Pi.


Admittedly, I ignored the book on the premise of the impossibility of plot–a tiger, a boy, a lifeboat, and survival. Nope, not plausible.

There lies the irony. 

Martel’s novel is built upon the premise of impossibility, of reading a story fraught with fantastical aspects, being given a more reasonable story, and making a decision which is the one to believe. Ambiguity can be a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled writer. That’s why stories such as Saki’s “The Interlopers” still intrigue us. And what about Inception’s ending? We want answers, yet answers in life aren’t always so easily found or understood.

The book’s ending is a stickler for those who want clean closure to their reading. Martel bumps that paradigm of tidiness and keeps his readers working. Wanting to know what the meaning of “And so it is with God” gets people scurrying to to Internet in hopes for answers: Sparknotes, Shmoop, and even Quora

I dabble in Quora and had forgotten I had written an answer to the request of “What does the ending mean?” *embarrassing*

There is purposeful ambiguity in the ending. We seek answers to life’s difficult questions, and one of the biggest questions people desire an answer for concerns faith. Does God exist? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow evil and illness to exist? These are some of the faith questions that people struggle with. The ending offers the only possible answer: it is our interpretation. The tiger story seems incredible, impossible, surreal even. The human story is brutal, shocking, more believable. Interestingly enough, the insurance investigators wanted a story they could take with them so they would not be considered fools, this would be the human story; however, the insurance report reveals the note of how Pi survived his ordeal with a Bengal tiger. The insurance investigators wanted facts, to hold on to reason, yet in the end they acknowledged the impossible. And so it is with God—we search for the truth, we want to see with our eyes, and will accept what we feel in our heart. All things are possible with God. I think this is the meaning of the ending: see with your eyes, believe with your heart.

I just recently re-watched the film adaptation and I am again mesmerized by the absolute art of its totality–the directing, editing, cinematography, pacing, acting, special effects. The film is an emotional experience. The ending line so much more poignant having experienced the visual ordeal of Pi’s experience. I reread the novel as a reminder the adaptation is the echo, a brilliant one, of the original story. 

I plan on reading Martel’s other novels as well. I’m especially intrigued with his letters to the Canadian prime minister, which revolves around Martel sending the governmental leader over a hundred books as a means of establishing the importance of creativity.

Conversation Point: What does the Life of Pi’s ending mean to you?

Why We Say: #27


Stoolies, stories, and horsies are on the agenda today.

STOOL PIGEONS

Unless you’re a fan of James Cagney movies the expression “Stool Pigeon” might not invoke much interest. However, should you tune in some night where a thug is about to give up one of his own you can better understand why Cagney is unhappy with the discovery of a “stoolie” in his midst.

Back in the day when wild pigeons were more on the hunter’s agenda, they used a tactic of tying a captured pigeon to a stool near a net. As it fluttered about in hopes of escape, it would catch the attention of other pigeons who then were lured into the nearby net. Thus, a stool pigeon is one who gives up his or her own after getting captured–usually by law enforcement, who are hunters, in a manner of speaking.


BUILDING STORIES

Buildings do tell stories, at least they did so more literally in long ago days of European design. Apparently murals or paintings were rendered on the different levels of the building, which often told a tale or story. Thus, each level of the building had its own story to tell.

I had always fancied the idea that buildings were like books and each level was its own chapter. So in actuality buildings would have to be anthologies instead of books of continuity if each floor were to be independently considered. Then again, when in the elevator, we go to the floor and not the story, although they are the same thing yet referred to differently. I think I have overthought this entry.
STRAIGHT UP HORSING AROUND

There are a few sayings involving horses. One is “straight from the horse’s mouth” and another is “never look a gift horse in the mouth.” Unless the horse is Mr. Ed, why be concerned?  Apparently, traders of shadowy practices, would “fix” up a horse to create the appearance of better condition–even a bit of paint might be part of the refurb process. However, a look in the horse’s mouth revealed the horse’s true age due to the wearing down of their teeth.

image:IMDB

Late Night: for Elizabeth Bishop


Teaching poetry to high school students often means becoming a student as I study to learn enough about the poem and the poet to actually teach it with clarity.

Most of our poems are pre-19th century, with a healthy scattering of 20th century. Among the modern poets I’ve come to appreciate is Elizabeth Bishop. My tribute to her:

Late at Night: for E. Bishop
2016 by C. Muse

The air lays warm
A sentry fan dutifully sways a rhythm 
Rising from bed to search for cool

Couch–second decision

Floor board creaks

Quick flick of kitchen light
Reveals nothing but mistaken thoughts

Drowsy wakefulness 
leads to
Scrolling searching somnolent advice

Suddenly a slice of darkness shades the window
Tension relaxes upon realization:

The local moose

Familiar with her fish and keys and even the Marvel of a stove
The moose ushers in sleep as it ambles across the road.


Check out Elizabeth Bishop and her poems here

 

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