cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “reading”

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: December


December proved an excellent month for reading. Pushing to complete my Goodreads Challenge of 101 books for the year, I tried to finish off with books that had meaning and were enjoyable, which is actually what I try to do with all my reading. Here are my top picks for December:

The Tipping Point by Malcolm GladwellGladwell presents complicated sociological ideas in such a conversational manner that once the chapter is finished there is a satisfying acknowledgment of understanding what has been discussed. He presents the topic, performs a seemingly unrelated side excursion of information and then neatly links it back to the first topic. This explains his popularity. I’m looking forward to reading his other books as well.

The Girls' Book: How To Be The Best At EverythingA seriously fun book for 9-11 year olds who will enjoy the mixture of goofy and practical activities ranging from surviving being in a horror movie to making a friendship bracelet. Or it could be considered a present for thirty-something women who seriously have fun reading these nostalgia guides.

Raising an Original by Julie Lyles  Carr A mother of eight children, all who are featured prominently in the chapters, Carr weaves together advice, experience, anecdotes, scriptures, and a healthy dose of charming humor founded in likable reality. One aspect that is notably artful is her ability to take a metaphor, be it lace-making or her daddy’s signature blue dress shirt, and apply it to parenting techniques. Her book reads well. It’s engaging and thought-provoking.

You're the Cream in My Coffee by Jennifer Lamont LeoI knew Marjorie when she just a sweet little rough draft–so fun to come across her all grown up into a novel. Jenny’s novel took shape from idea to rough draft to publisher hunt to Hurrah! of acceptance in our writing group. I kind of feel like an aunt at a christening…
Marjorie is that small town girl who goes off to the city and makes changes. She changes her looks, her ambitions, her love interest. Chicago does that to the 1920’s kind of girl.
The humorous situations that Marjorie often finds herself in are reminiscent of a Shakespearean plot filled with misunderstandings, thwarted lovers, and secret identities. A well-researched novel that focuses on the alcohol issues related to Prohibition, WWI and PTSD, plus a look at the advent of the independent working girl, this is a “bees knees” of a debut read.

 

 

Challenge Met


Done did it with 8 days to spare and 5 extra books.

That’s right–I achieved my goal of reading 101 books 📚! And then some…

Goodreads sent me my stats a wee bit early when I had two more books to go. Their stat gnomes indicated a confidence in my ability that spurred me on to finish strong and well.

Your 2016 Year in Books

TOTALS: 101 books
27,046 pages
AVERAGE LENGTH: 282 pages

SHORTEST BOOK: 20 pages
God Bless Our Country by Hannah C. Hall

LONGEST BOOK: 573 pages
Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

MOST POPULAR: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (1,868,794 readers)

God Bless Our Country by Hannah C. HallThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

LEAST POPULAR: Artists of the Renaissance by James Barter (2 other readers)

MY AVERAGE RATING : 3.9

HIGHEST RATED ON GOODREADS: Lots of Knock-Knock Jokes for Kids by Whee Winn (4.58 average)

 

NOTE: Goodreads creates a gorgeous color montage of all the titles a person has read during the Reader Challenge. And they send along a nifty bit of applause:

Congratulations! You’re really good at reading, and probably a lot of other things, too.

Hope your 2016 was full of reading delights and you also challenged yourself to explore the joy of reading.

I’m deciding upon my 2017 goal…hmm, up the ante? keep the same? make each month a special focus? So many choices!

I’m interested in any challenges met, planned, or otherwise. What’s going on for you in 2017 book wise?

 

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?

Review Round Up


This last month has definitely been hodgish-podgish in reading. I’m transitioning from summer reading to preparing for school while trying to wrap up a major writing project. This involves reading for fun, reading for class, and reading for facts. I’m a bit dizzified at the stretch of diversity. Here are the top reads from this last month:

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

image: GoodReads

I picked this up along with Tey’s Daughter of Time, which was about Richard III. In the back of my mind nudged the basic plot of Brat Farrar. I hadn’t read it, or had I? I seemed to know how it was going to turn out. Than the “aha” tinkle bell sounded. I had watched it as a BBC series, ages ago. Books are always different from the film adaptation, and as I became more involved in the story I realized I didn’t remember the ending after all. I do so enjoy books, especially mysteries that I can’t guess the ending. Tey does an excellent job of twisting and turning the plot. One of the most satisfying reads of the summer. Intrigue, betrayal, double identities, red herrings, hinted romance, and horses–I’m trying to find the BBC series now.

 

 

My Memoirs

 by Alexandre Dumas

image: GoodReads

The man who brought The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask didn’t just write about adventures, he lived them. As part of of my author/cat project, I needed to read up on Dumas and found a slim adapted volume of his memoirs (the original ran to about thirty). He accounts for his life just up to the point of receiving acclaim for his novels. Like all really great biographies featuring rags to riches stories, Dumas begins his story sadly. His father, a Creole general in Napoleon’s army is tossed into prison, and upon release his health fails and dies when Dumas is four. Thrown into poverty, he, along with his mother and sister moves in with his grandparents. From their Dumas recounts how he preferred hunting to school and eventually makes his way to Paris with hopes of becoming a playwright. He brashly secures a clerk position in order to pay bills, while still trying to get his plays published. With success comes recognition and a life filled with all sorts of escapades including involvement in a revolution and a duel. I better understand why the action in his books is so mesmerizing–he knew adventure first hand.

Everything’s An Argument by Andrea Lunsford

26872224

image: GoodReads

Okay, so reading a textbook may not be on your TBR list. If I wasn’t slated to teach AP Language for the first time I probably wouldn’t have read this book either. Teaching AP Lang is going to be very, very different for me. I’m not a huge nonfiction reader, only doing so for research, not so for pleasure. Yet, as I waded into this book I became more fascinated by the fact that everything truly is an argument. We live in a world where everyone is trying to convince someone of their point of view and there are strategies for doing so. If interested in learning more how you are influenced, I’d suggest this as a means of getting more insight in how argument is something we need to reckon with.

Hold it, Hold it


My idea of vacation is a quiet condo equipped with a comfy couch and a sunlit balcony–and being within walking distance of a library.

Fortunately, I got all that at a great price–free! Yup, I’m staying at my mom’s place for a couple of weeks while she is traveling. Perfect set up. It’s my old neighborhood, just down from my high school and I’m here for about two weeks.

No yard to tend. No tv to distract. No tempting pantry beckoning me. So no weeding, channel zoning, or needless snacking. Just reading. And yeah, I’m here to focus on my writing too.

image: roanoke.com
Upon unpacking I immediately trotted next door to the library, the one I grew up with from fifth grade through part of college, and scoured the shelves and ordered books not readily available. I’m thinking they would come in a bit at a time, kind of staggered in their return to the shelves.

Nope.

They all popped in within two days and I am reading, reading, reading.

Life should be so complicated, right?

I am now at 53% towards my reading challenge of 101 books. Ooh, I do so like having a batch of books at my fingertips. *sigh*

So far I’ve read:

Anna and the Swallow Man

The Wednesday Wars

Reduced Shakespeare

Blackberry Wine

Courtyard of Dreams

After Hamelin

As well as having thumbed through a couple of fun books:

Amazing Cows

Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure

William Shakespeare: Scenes from the Life of the World’s Greatest Writer

Dante’s Divine Comedy: a graphic novel

How is your summer reading going?

Reader Round Up


As I prime for lots of unfettered summer reading I’ve been able to start my freed-from-grading daze with a few truly amazing books, an eclectic mix of non-fiction and novels.


First up is an Audrey book. I’m not much for reading full-blown biographies because they often reveal aspects of the person which might change my comfortable opinion. So when I spied this petite photo biography about Audrey Hepburn and her style relationship with Givenchy, how could I refuse when it practically hopped into my library book bag? If you are an Audrey fan, this is a must read.


This title was circled as a “want to read” selection in my Book Page circular. Be Frank with Me almost falls into “seen this before” trope of precocious kid, odd famous parent, and the Mary Poppins who is hired to bring order to chaos. Surprisingly, I ended up really enjoying this fast read. One reason is it has that forties comedy film feel to it with its madcap, impossible hijinks, situations, and characters. I simply accepted the break in versimilitude and let the show roll.


Yet another DE Stevenson. My list of her forty or so published titles is rapidly approaching completed unless her granddaughter finds more manuscripts in the attic. This one is post-war Britain and has Young Mrs Savage dealing with widowhood and four children all under the age of eight, and she’s not even thirty yet. There’s mystery, a variety of suitors, and delightful Scottish pluck and scenery. There is even a snarky set of villianesses to boo at.  I also adore the old school cover art.


Another non-fiction involved a flashback to my past, all the way to 1962 and the Seattle World’s Fair. Being a young thing then, the memories are a bit sketchy, so I definitely added this coffee-table photo historical to my checkouts.I reveled in forgotten exhibits, vendors, and magic moments of the fair. There is also that behind-the-scenes info the feeds my  craving for trivia snacking. Seattle remains a top fave for favorite cities, in case anyone is doing a poll. It’s such a unique, iconic landmark and I have some of the best family memories involving that futuristic trademark of the Emerald City. 

As of Monday afternoon I shall be released from the classroom and will gladly kick into summer vacation mode. Woo hoo!

Any other teachers out there ready to get their summer on?

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?

 

 

A Good Year for Reading


January is a month of reflection. This is probably due to January being the default month since it is between Christmas past and Valentine’s Day to be. While working off Christmas treats in order to succumb to anticipated chocolate hearts I have decided to give my 2015 year of reading a closer examination. Actually, I probably wouldn’t have done much more than said “Cool. I met and surpassed my Goodreads Reading Challenge.” Since they took the time and trouble to send me such an attractive report, I shall share the highlights with you all. If the pontification of accomplishments is not within your scheduled viewing, I am absolutely not offended if you drift off to the next blog in your reader. However, I am hoping you will stick around.

First Off:
Books Read: 91
I set my Reading Challenge at 50 books, thinking “Hmm, that’s about one per week–that’s doable.” With so many great recommendations from so many dedicated Book Boosters like Heather and The Paperback Princess, I kept adding to my “To-Read” list and kept reading. I still have about 73 books on my TBR list. *Sigh* I have need to read issues.

Secondly:
The Short and Long of It
Shortest book: 96 pages

The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep

by Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin

Reading books to kids at bedtime is a lovely routine, a cozy bonding time, and a way to pass on the joy of words to children. I anticipated this sort of connection when I requested Ehrlin’s The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep and was sorely disappointed when I discovered the text to be a form a hypnosis-inducing sleep tool. The purposely scripted story is almost a little scary in its intent. Instead of waving a golden watch and chanting, “You are growing sleepy” a fuzzy bunny becomes the stuff dreams are made of.

While some may like a lab technique to put kids asleep, I’ll go for the classic lullaby of cuddle and lulling words.

                                                             LONGEST BOOK
                                                                  624 pages
                                                                   Jane Eyre
                                                         by Charlotte Brontë

Average Page Length: 305 pages

Most Popular Book:

4,019,963

people also read

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
I decided to reread the entire series in one dedicated weekend as a preparation for the last installment of the film adaptation. I do think JLaw IS Katniss.

Least Read Book:

2

people also read

Sky Blue Pink
by Pam Lippi 
This is a self-published fictional memoir and it is a fun little read about two seventeen year old girls who travel around Europe after graduating from high school. This was back in the days of the seventies when bell-bottoms and adventures were part of the culture.

Benediction:

Completed square

You read 86 out of 50 books. [I actually snuck in 5 more after this]
172%
Congratulations! You’re really good at reading, and probably a lot of other things, too!
Not a bad year for my Goodreads [a litotes, if there ever was]
Okay–your turn…
How was your 2015 year of reading?
Favorite book?
Definitely won’t be recommending?

Second Servings on Hunger Games


I am wrapping up my Hunger Games marathon and I am now anticipating November 20th when Mockingjay Part Two will arrive in theaters. I wonder what the shipment code will be under: Bread and Dead–a play on Panem meaning “bread” from Roman Coliseum days, and it’s no spoiler than there is going to be some heavy warfare going on in the Capitol.

I don’t feel as invested in the Divergent or Maze Runner series, which are both pretty good for dystopian reads. Yet, I fell for Katniss (like so many others). It’s partly due to having read the book before it was discovered. Way back when, I came across a tip from one of my book blogs to check out Hunger Games. Going out of town on a loooong car trip, I listed to HG as an audio book. Just me and Katniss on that long stretch of highway. I even sat in my car to finish out the story. This girl from the Seam, with her simple complexities rang something within me, the need to survive, yet have a strong sense of compassion. A tough cookie with a creamy center.

Brian Unkeless: “So, anyone read this book called The Hunger Games?”

Another back in the day, whilst at a writing conference, I popped into a session about film adaptations. I’m always up for film-from-novel magic. This turned out to be extra special. A rep from Lionsgate (at that time, a smallish company) stood by a cardboard cut out announcing their next movie: Hunger Games. When he asked if anyone had read it, I embarrassed myself and waved my hand like he was asking if anyone wanted the keys to a new Camaro. “Great book. I just read it.” Everyone else in the room looked at me oddly, because 1) My reaction was a bit too enthusiastic 2) isn’t that a YA? Who reads YA?

Apparently, Lionsgate had done well enough with their gamble with bringing Lord of the Rings to the screen (basic understatement), that they had a few bucks to invest. Their Magic 8 Ball must be working overtime. After the session about what it takes to bring a book to the screen, I stayed after and further embarrassed myself and told this up and coming producer that it would be smart to get a reading campaign going as a tie in to the book. I think he was either amused and impressed by my passion. It was hard to tell because he wore black sunglasses (he did apologize to us–something about an eye dilation thing–he didn’t purposely want to appear Hollywood cool).

Since then, I’ve been attached to Katniss and her entourage, and have whipped up interest in my family, dragged them off to the theater and tried not to be obnoxious filling them in on plot tidbits. I think part of this is because JLaw IS Katniss. And Josh IS Peeta and Liam IS Gale. In fact, the cast is perfectly cast. It’s so rare to have a film line up so well in transference.

So now, as I reread the series. Back to back. No having to wait for the next book. I overlay JLaw and the entourage into the pages. I am involved. Ridiculous that I am brought down by a YA series, a college-degree toting English teacher, who is a grandma, to boot. BUT–I know I am not the only one. I remember AARP running an article about how older folk were sneaking Hunger Games reads as if the books were clandestine literary contraband.

How about you? Are you revving up for Part Two? Are you rereading the series in anticipation?

Ready for a Teaser?

Katniss preparing to rain down her wrath on Snow’s reign of terror image: comingsoon.net

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