Monday, October 5, 2009

A reading update II

My first class starts this Thursday, so I want to spend this week doing some wrap-up on my intense reading and writing for the past two months. I did the first reading update on my course reading list at the end of August, so I'd like to update that, plus add a few further thoughts on my non-course reading.

COSMIC and FRAMED by Frank Cottrell Boyce
THE SAVAGE by David Almond (SKELLIG is also on my reading list, but seeing as I just read it in May, I decided not to reread it right away)
NORTHERN LIGHTS by Philip Pullman

As I said in my previous post, I'm really thrilled to have discovered Frank Cottrell Boyce and Meg Rosoff. Both FRAMED and COSMIC started slowly for me, but by the ends I enjoyed both immensely. Boyce is a very visual author, and with both books their gorgeous imagery stuck with me long after I finished reading them. FRAMED is about art and how it can transform a community, and Boyce manages to make the art's beauty come alive on the page. I must figure out how he does this. I would love to teach the book in conjunction with encouraging kids to create their own art.

THE BRIDE'S FAREWELL has been my favorite Meg Rosoff read yet. It was absolutely riveting. I don't think I got up from the couch, even moved, as I read the last hundred pages. Like the rest of her books, it is not a simple and happy story, but I found it especially thought-provoking. Another book it would be really interesting to teach, though with an older group than FRAMED. Horses play a major role in the story; maybe we could go on a horseback ride in conjunction with discussing that book. Anything to get out of traditional school worksheets.

Follow these links for posts on my thoughts on NORTHERN LIGHTS and THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS. More detailed thoughts on Meg Rosoff, Frank Cottrell Boyce and David Almond are available in my previous reading update.

I was really looking forward to rereading CHARLOTTE'S WEB, as I remember it well from my childhood. But on reading it, I had lots of mixed feelings. The book's language was gorgeous (as expected from E. B. White), Wilbur and Charlotte were charming as ever, but I was really confused by Fern (the little girl). No wonder she hadn't stuck in my mind. The novel begins with her saving Wilbur, but by the end of the book she's replaced him with thoughts of boys and fairs. Was White trying to make a point about growing up? Are little children supposed to emulate Fern? Or if the book is about friendship, are we supposed to see Fern as a bad friend? Either way, her behavior didn't strike me as realistic for a young girl. Perhaps my adult mind or my English literature degree has completely ruined a lovely book about life, death and the animal world, but I was disconcerted by its seeming lack of a central theme.

I haven't given up on childhood favorites, though. A former writing teacher had recommended I reread A WRINKLE IN TIME, as its climax reminded her of the climax of my own writing (imagine being compared to Madeleine L'Engle!). I found A WRINKLE IN TIME as magical and thought-provoking as I did as a child. I was also shocked to discover how many of the themes in my current work in progress may have originated from L'Engle's book. Funny how great literature can stick with you, even subconsciously.

Speaking of childhood favorites, I just finished I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith Saturday night. Here's my review from goodreads: A coming-of-age story combined with a modernization story. It takes its readers from a crumbling castle, classical music and books, and a tiny English village, to a modern world of radios, clothes, London, and post-modern literature. It is funny, sad and so true I often found myself nodding at the text, wanting to underline passages in my library copy.

Readers often say they want the next Little Women or the next Harry Potter or the next Jane Eyre. But I think what they really want is a book that can recreate the feeling of reading one of those novels. A book that will keep you reading past dinner, late into the night, without once looking at the clock. A book that will have you laughing out loud, gasping, and re-reading passages just to recreate certain exact moments. A book that once you finish it, you want to run out into the night and buy a copy of your own to keep forever. I CAPTURE THE CASTLE is such a book. And I am beyond annoyed that it was published first in 1949 and I have only heard of it now. Had I read this book in middle school or high school, I know I would have carried it through my life, recreated its scenes in my head, reread it until all its pages were falling out. But luckily I have discovered it now, and I still have the rest of my life to reread it often.

I have one disappointment with the book, but as I'm trying to keep this review spoiler-free, I won't say more than that. However, even in my disappointment, I was up half the night after finishing the book, thinking through the text, railing against the author. Any book that can make me feel that passionately, good and bad, is incredible.

What else?

Well, since I left my job at the end of July, I've read 33 books. I read one memoir, one biography, two adult fictions and one adult fantasy. The rest have been children's books, a combination of middle grade and young adult novels. My favorites? Well, excluding some of those mentioned above, the absolute best,which I've linked to my reviews, are:

CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers

Courtney has a new book coming out this winter. You can see the trailer for it here.

I also strongly recommend Wendy Mass' earlier book, A MANGO SHAPED SPACE. Everyone says her most recent book, EVERY SOUL A STAR is the best of all. I'll need to save up my pocket money for the next time I visit the US.

Happy reading!

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