cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “reading”

A Shout Out for Leisurely Reading


After Tuesday June 12th my door to summer vacation fully opened. “I have no definite plans,” is my reply when asked, “What are you doing over the summer?”

I don’t know what the reaction would be if I gave an honest answer. You see as a Book Booster, I love reading ❤️ with big hearts of appreciation for the absolute joy books bring.

Reading through my subscribed blogs, I hang out with a plethora of other WordPress bloggers who love reading also, such as littlemisswoodsreads. Scrolling through her reasons for reading, I added my own for why I love to read. It has to do with reconnecting.

Even though the majority of my day is interacting with my students, I do spend a considerable amount of time with the computer. Grading, emails, lesson plans, PPT lecture enhancements are all part of the day. By the time I get home I am wanting a break from screens and keyboards.

After a brief walk around the block to get my physical reboot, I head for my library book bag, grab a selection, and find a comfy chair. Reading helps my mind unwind.

After an hour or so I begin to feel back in alignment: my body is tuned from its walk, and my mind has gone through its paces with a chapter or three.

Reading, paper in hand, both stimulates and relaxes my brain after a day of working with the computer screen. Kindle doesn’t cut it since glass doesn’t stimulate connectivity to the brain. Good old paper in hand. A prescription for defragmentation of tech stress.

To celebrate my kick off to summer reading, I am rebooting my Book Boosters feature. Click on the link and connect with other readers, find that simpatico, discover new blogs, collect my TBRs. Add your name in comments if you want to join the list of fellow love-books-readers.

Oh I do love my summertime of leisurely reading.

How about you–what books do you find yourself reading during the summer? Do you have special places, special times set aside for reading?

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Reading Round Up: March


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Image: Barnes and Noble

War books are difficult to read. There is rarely a good side to war, no matter how well the story is written. With this knowledge then, with some reluctance, I began reading Salt to the Sea as I knew a WWII story would have tragedy and travail. Yet, the story starts with a strong hook and its hypnotic four person viewpoint narrative continues throughout, making it a compelling read about the worst maritime disaster in history. Surprisingly, good manages to surface in the horror that pervades in this aspect of war.

The story centers on the evacuation efforts of those fleeing Russian soldiers. Thousands escape with barely any belongings in hope of finding refuge on ships. The main focus is on the Wilhelm Gustloff, which carried 10,000 refugees on board. It’s amazing that a loss of over 9,000 lives has not had more attention. Almost half of those lost were children. This is a story of four lives and their perspective. Riveting to the end. The historical detail is commendable. A solid five star read.

Historical Background
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Image: Amazon

At times the book had the feel of a PBS series, the detail and characterization being so colorful and descriptive, ready for adaptation. This is not a complaint; however, a book of nearly 500 pages does contain a bit of hefty plot making and detail. It’s as if it wants to become a series. The book is not so much a war story as it is a study of England and its people before war irrevocably altered a way of life.

Told from various character experiences, a reader senses the summer before the Great War to be one never seen again in England.  The warmth of friendships, the comfort of routine, and the pace of English country life is laid before the reader in welcome detail, so when war does arrive the shock is truly felt.

Beatrice, Hugh, Aunt Agatha, Mr Tillingham and the other characters of Helen Simonson’s second novel are admirably portrayed, as is the setting and the various subplots. Sometimes it felt a bit much, as in a bit too much detail. The over-length of the story contributed to the four and a half star rating–a hundred pages of exposition trimming would have helped to keep attention on the story instead of on the extra particulars. Colorful details, while appreciated, can become distracting if overdone.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Image: Amazon

Told from two perspectives, All American Boys, tells the story of police brutality, from that of the victim and of a witness. And it gets complicated. White cop, black teenage kid. White witness, friends with the cop and his younger brother. Loyalties are tested. Lines drawn at school. Choices are made.

The authors provide a realistic account of a situation happening too often across the country. What could have added to the story, ends up watering down the impact, as there is also a weak account of the police officer’s viewpoint, although it seems added in to only offset the difficulty of the situation. Being a police officer is difficult. Another character emphasizes the tough split-second decisions officers must make that can result in permanent consequences. The interjection of the police officer in question inadvertently comes off as him being menacing. It might have been better to hear his full his viewpoint to add the perspective of the police officer along with the victim and the witness.

Overall, an important, timely story told with realism and an ear for true dialogue. A four star read.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Image: Good Reads

Having avoided this book because how can any book about the Holocaust be different from the other ones I’ve read? There is an inevitable sadness and horror to the truth of the events.

John Boyne does manage to bring a different perspective to his Holocaust tale, in that his story is told as a fable. Bruno, a nine year old German son of a high ranking Nazi official, must move with his family to Out-With because the Fury deems Bruno’s father capable enough to run the death camp. Bruno, however,  does not know it is a death camp. He also does not know why there are so many people wearing grey-striped pajamas. He hates this place. He hates it until while exploringone day he discovers a boy on the other side of the fence. A nine year old boy named Shmuel who is wearing striped pajamas. The story is about their friendship.

On a literal level, the story is annoying with its purposeful euphemisms and the veiled naïveté of Bruno. Yet, reading the story as a fable, as a story that could never happen in a world so advanced as ours, it deserves the acclaim it has received. A four star as sometimes the fable aspect is somewhat overdone.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


Warning: Only those with a serious crush on the 80’s are advised to saunter forth to experience Ernest Cline’s whopping tome of this romanticized era. And it helps to be a gamer. Not being a fan of either, I really didn’t appreciate the story. Plus, I couldn’t figure out if the audience was meant to be YA or adult. All this contributed to the three star rating. I did like the Willy Wonka mash up with Tron aspect.
The Man He Never Was: A Midern Reimagining of Jekyll and Hyde by James Rubart

Image: Amazon

The story provides much promise as it starts out: a man waking alone in a strange room with no memory. Amnesia stories can be intriguing mysteries as pieces are put back together. Unfortunately, there are too many plot holes to sustain the premise that a person can easily disappear for almost a year without more repercussions than indicated.

At times the message of how a person can overcome weaknesses through the strength of relying on the Lord is inspiring. It is confusing, even dismaying, that this truth gets garbled with New Age aspects of meditation centers, Eastern teas, and cosmic rooms. At times there is a Ted Dekker feel of spiritual mysticism to the plot. Robert Whitlow provides the same blending of spiritual and inspirational, but with more of a faith-based storyline. Rubart’s mixture is confusing, if not disturbing, in its approach to the idea of the dark side, the Hyde, within a person. A three star read. 

The publisher provided a copy in exchange for a fair review.

Movie Musings: Hamlet’s Ghost


I would be remiss to not admit that I do watch an occasional movie. I do prefer books and my ratio is about three to five movies a month I watch to the eight to ten books I read.

I usually get my movies from the library or the grocery store or occasionally from Hoopla. I rarely go to the movie theatre. Our local one has sticky floors and trounced seating. The big city multiplex is an hour away, and even with discounts it’s pricey evening out.

Books are preferred for the reasons of less cost, less effort, and the ability to lie down and read. Although we did go to a theatre a couple of months ago that had recliners. That was different.

If I watch a movie with the hubs it will undoubtedly involve action and adventure. Popcorn feast stuff. When I am by myself I pop in films that are odd or artsy: documentaries about Calvin and Hobbes, the science of bubbles, biographies of favorites like Audrey Hepburn or I watch indie films, ones with high expectations on a low, low budget.

I share my Reader Round Ups about my books, I thought “why not about movies?” The first installment is Hamlet’s Ghost

A download off my Hoopla favorites. The Hamlet part caught my attention right off. The plot involves a modern actor who gets caught up in time traveling back to the 1920’s and is the key figure in an unsolved murder.

Considering its obvious low budget limitations, the acting and plot kept me interested and entertained and of course, it had some great lines from Hamlet. I don’t know why it worked, but it did. IMdB trvia (hence the image) states it made it to the Academy Awards (?). I wonder in what category. Hmmm, another mystery to solve.

Any indie films watched lately you willing to share or admit watching?

Certain as a Jertain


By way of a Quora question request I found perhaps the most beautiful article in the NYTimes mobile about reading.

As a parent, who is a writer/librarian/teacher, I value reading and getting books into the hands of kids, especially mine when they were little.

I remember being the only librarian on staff who had pre-schoolers which meant I had the privilege of taking home a stack of picture books before they hit the shelves.


I would gather my brood around me on our eastern king bed with the dark blue velour blanket and read and read and read. 

“You are the first children to ever read this book,” I would intone before commencing. The books would crisply creak when I opened them, they were so fresh off the press. I’m a closet dramatic and reading books in character voices is how they heard George and Martha and their pb compatriots.

My daughter (now in her thirties) tells me: “It felt like we were floating on a soft, blue ocean while you read to us.”

Reading out loud to children is important. I read out loud to my granddaughter when we are together. I introduced her to Narnia. I read to my high school students, or have a book tape read to them. They are not grown up enough to stop reveling in the joy of being read to out loud.

And so, this is my Mother’s Day post celebrating the joy of having read to my own children. We didn’t have a Streak, but we did create some memories together.

Reading Round Up: April


I am woefully behind schedule in my Good Read’s challenge, being at a paltry 29%. I am five books behind!

 Who knew taking on teaching another Advanced Placement class would zap my energy for even my go-to-unwind activity of reading? Preparing students for their AP exams has left me so tired I have to take a nap so I can get enough energy to go to the gym. And I can’t skip the gym because I tend to binge on chocolate when stressed. 

Wednesday was the last exam. Life is looking a little less frazzling going into the weekend, especially since I’m taking a couple of personal days and extending my weekend into Tuesday. Reading books and relaxing are premier on my agenda list after Friday.

Not having read much last month, here are my two spotlights:

The Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne


In the tradition of old tales of yesteryear such Stevenson’s Treasure Island, is found The Coral Island. Shipwrecked, three young men make their island their home. They have their share of adventures providing readers an enriching story that heartily entertains. 

An interesting aside is that The Coral Island was once read by a lad named William Golding. He would later write his own shipwreck tale called Lord of the Flies. His main characters are also called Jack and Ralph. Hmmmm

Me and Shakespeare by Herman Gollob


The Crayola bright color combined with the enticement of Me and Shakespeare prompted me to stack Herman Gollob’s memoir on top of my other reads. Gollob’s title attracted me for the reason of how personal it sounded, as if he and the Bard had gone on a road trip together.

In actuality, this is a Journey tale. Gollob’s skillful weaving of his extensive experience as a book editor and his discovery of Shakespeare creates a fine and enjoyable read. Sometimes Gollob became a bit pedantic and negative, yet overall he added insights to my own Shakespeare interests.

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

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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.

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