Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Author Highlight: Emily Dickinson

In January I decided* to pick a poet to focus on for this year. The poet I chose is Emily Dickinson. I have been learning a bit about her life and my goal is to read a minimum of 10 poems by her each month. I have exceeded this goal every month so far, because I am enjoying it so much. Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 and died in 1886. She never married and was considered eccentric. A number of her poems are about books and reading, including this little gem:

He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!

As evidenced by this and other poems, Emily felt a great affinity for books and other readers. As a book lover myself, I get a thrill when I read what other people have written about reading. I too know what it is like to fill up on words.

*This decision was part of a larger decision to participate in a personal growth course for homeschooling mothers. You can learn more about this program here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Magicians

I stayed up late finishing this book last night because it was compelling. It is a story about a very smart, very lonely teenager who is invited to a school for magicians. Even though I found this book to be so interesting, I felt a bit let down at the end.

In real life, I know I won't get all my questions answered. I have reconciled myself to this part of reality. But in the world of books, I expect some answers. This book gives few. I have more questions at the end of the book than I did at the beginning or middle. There are loose ends everywhere. I saw no indication that there will be a second book forthcoming that gives me some answers.

In spite of my frustration, I did enjoy this book. One of the overarching themes is the question of whether happiness is caused by circumstances or attitude. The reader must come to their own conclusion, because the author does not give a definitive answer. I personally feel that we must create our own happiness, but that was already my opinion. This book did give me the opportunity to look at my opinion again and re-evaluate.

Throughout this book, Quentin is fascinated by the fictional world of Fillory (roughly translated-Narnia). In the beginning of this book, Quentin believes that his interest is part of the reason that he is not dating the girl he likes. He feels that Fillory is a land where the choices you make are important, unlike the every day world. It is a land where happiness is possible, even probable. He eventually discovers that it is a real world and is able to journey there with his friends. He has to put his theory to the test. Is Fillory all that he dreamed it would be? Is he different because of being in Fillory? These questions are explored in this book. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to enter a fantasy world, this book is for you.

If you don't mind having unanswered questions at the end of a book, you should read this book. This book will stay in your thoughts for a while, because you will keep wondering about the things it left unexplained. Anyone who has a love of fantasy and magical systems will be intrigued by this nod to other fantasy books.

Update: After a bit more research, I discovered that Lev Grossman is coming out with a sequel to The Magicians. It should be out in 2011.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Freedom Factor

Does the Constitution matter? Gerald Lund clearly answers yes. In this book, a bill is about to be passed that will significantly change the way our government works. Bryce Sherwood, a senator's aide, is a leading proponent of the new bill. However, the luster of the new bill fades when he is thrust into a world where the Constitution was never ratified.

Gerald Lund typically writes historical books, with lots of footnotes making his extensive research apparent. He has put the same thought into this book. This fictional book is a great way to learn a bit more about the founding of the United States and the Constitution. I stopped reading several time to look up information, because I wanted to be clear on what was history and what was fiction.

Read this book if you are not sure about the importance of the Constitution, or if you are interested in seeing one author's perspective of how our country would look without it. This could be a good selection for book clubs or home school unit studies. It is a easy read and an intriguing introduction to our country's political history.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Library Vandalism/Frustration

One of our local libraries has been vandalized--by condiments. Since last April, someone has been pouring various condiments into the book drop, causing over $1500 in damage. This week, the police caught a woman dropping an open jar of mayo into the book drop. She was arrested and charged with malicious injury to property and carrying a concealed weapon. I was skimming the article online and at first I thought the concealed weapon charge was a strange one (for a jar of mayo), but a more careful read of the article revealed that she had a loaded gun under the driver's seat of her car.

I suspect that this woman may not be mentally well. But either way, what is her problem with the library? Has she been banned from the premises and this is her creative, angry response? Did her library fines get too high? Was the library the scene of her husband's torrid affair? What horrible thing did the library do that provoked this response? There was no indication of her reasoning in the article.

I have frustrations with the library sometimes. I pretend that paying fines is just part of the library experience, but I don't really want to pay fines. Once, the library accused me of losing the directions to a video game, but they hadn't been in the case when I picked the game out at the library. I was a bit frustrated when I called to discuss the charge, but the librarian believed me and dropped the fine. I had to pay to replace War and Peace because my toddler colored on it. I had been planning to buy it, and the coloring doesn't bother me.

My biggest issue with the library right now is the limit on how many books I can put on hold. Last year, the libraries in our area decided that 10 books per person was just too many holds. They now limit the number of holds per person to 5. I realize that for most people this might be plenty. But I do almost all of my library "shopping" online, using holds.

When you take four children into the library for a visit, you do not browse the stacks. You just hope that you can make it through without any screaming, crying, or stomping. And you hope the kids will behave too. So a trip to the library mostly involves me corralling the younger two and encouraging the older two to make use of the information desk for help. I usually just pick up my books from the hold shelf. When the library dropped the limit to 5 books on hold, I was unhappy. Keep in mind that sometimes I have the 100+ spot when I put a book on hold. It can take months to get some books.

So, my oldest children got their own library cards. I use their queues for my own book holds. That's right. I bent the rules. So far, the library hasn't asked why an eight year old is putting Diana Gabaldon and John Scalzi books on hold. My children do get to put books on hold on their accounts, but they have to speak up quickly because I fill the spots up fast.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

God's Debris

The creator of Dilbert, Scott Adams, isn't just a funny man. He has written a serious book called God's Debris which discusses several life altering questions in a teeny tiny tome. In the introduction of this book, Adams suggests that the book will be best enjoyed if discussed after reading. My husband and I both read the book and then had a discussion about it. Some of the topics covered: probability, the nature and purposes of God, relationships, and free will. This book is set up for creating discussions. You will like this book if you like to discuss what you read. You will NOT agree with everything that the main viewpoint of this book proposes as truth.

If you like books that stretch your mind and give you food for thought, this book is for you. If you like to use ideas from books as a jumping-off point for discussion, encourage a friend or two to take up this thought experiment with you. It is a fast read, but it will stick with you for much longer than the time it takes to read. This book can be found for free online here.

It can also be found at amazon.com, if you want a print version.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Melissa's Rules for Reading

I love books. But sometimes a book just isn't the right fit for me. I know that other people might enjoy a certain book, and I also realize that I might be a better audience for a book on different occasions. So, I have developed "rules" for reading. These rules aren't set in stone, but they help me be more selective about books. You might think that because I read so much, I don't care what I read. But I hate feeling let down when I invest a few hours into a book, and realize that I should have gotten out long before the end.

So. Any book I just pick up on my own with no introduction gets fifty pages. Classics and personal recommendations get 100 pages. If I am not into the book at that point, I am done. I used to read to the end no matter what, but now I just don't. If I am struggling with a book, I will give it the full number of pages for my "rules". I find that there are many books that need close to the full 100 pages before I am into them. Classics generally have a slower startup than contemporary books, but I often find that they are worth the extra investment.

Two exceptions I routinely make: if it is for book club or if the book is extremely short. Part of the reason I go to book clubs is to be exposed to new writing, and I would hope my selections would be given the same benefit of the doubt. Also I want to be able to discuss the book.(Look for an upcoming post about book clubs.) Sometimes a short book that is a train wreck is worth just finishing to discover the rest of the story.

Do other you have guidelines you follow when reading?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Book Theft #1

I recently read a book titled The Man who Loved Books too Much, by Allison Hoover Bartlett. It recounts her experience learning about the world of book collecting and one specific book thief. I don't really know much about book collecting in the sense of expensive books. My own collection is ever growing, but with regular everyday books. The books in this story are worth thousands of dollars each. The book thief talks about his desire for a collection, and it seemed to me that the theft was about the value of the books more than anything else. In fact, many book collectors evidently don't even read some of the books they purchase.

This book got me thinking about book theft. To my knowledge, no one has stolen any books from me. I have loaned out books that were never returned but I am assuming that was negligence, not malice. When my husband discovered that our public library had a signed copy of You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing, we had a brief discussion about the ethics of replacing their copy with an unsigned copy we purchased at the bookstore. Of course, we decided that even though the library wouldn't benefit from the pride of having a book signed by Scalzi, it would still be stealing.

Books are important to me. I have had times when I wanted a book that I couldn't afford, but I don't steal them. I have always had access to a local library and utilize interlibrary loan. I can get almost any book in my hands without stealing. I have a hard time understanding why someone would be motivated to steal books. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Author Highlight: Jodi Picoult

Last summer I read My Sister's Keeper at my mother-in-law's house. She had been planning to read it and thought that I might like to also. I finished it up the same day and was quite impressed. I decided to read more from this amazing author. Here are the titles that I have read so far:
Change of Heart
Handle with care
Harvesting the Heart
House Rules
Keeping Faith
Nineteen Minutes
Perfect Match
Plain Truth
Salem Falls
The Pact
The Tenth Circle

I would like to note that I didn't finish two of Jodi Picoult's books that I started. I just didn't feel drawn to the topics and wasn't delving into them like the other books she has written. I know they are a good fit for someone, and that might just be me sometime in the future.

Why do I enjoy Jodi Picoult's writing? Her characters have real depth and the situations they encounter are intriguing. The people in her books seem real because they are complex, and their actions have multiple motivations. The books usually have an interesting twist. Many of her books attempt to answer the question of why people get themselves into complicated situations. For instance, The Pact is a tale about a teenager who survives a double suicide and is charged for murder, while Nineteen Minutes is a story of a school shooting. As in real life, untangling the motivation for specific behaviors can become quite consuming. Those who know me won't be shocked that this kind of book drew me in and made me a fan.

Who would enjoy Picoult's books? I would definitely recommend them to my counseling friends. Specific titles may compelling because of the topic they cover. For instance, any one with a child who has Autism or Asperger's would probably find House rules a fascinating read. To anyone wanting to try her writing: be ready for intense topics and delving into the inner minds of those you may not normally feel sympathetic towards.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Zombie Survival Guide

I picked up this book because I thought it had an interesting title. I won't be adding this book to my "books read" list this month though, because I couldn't finish it. I admit that I am unlikely to be the typical audience for this particular book, and so my opinion shouldn't stop those interested in protecting themselves from zombies from purchasing or reading the book.

Here is a little example of why I couldn't finish the book. Its entire premise brought up too many questions. On page 6, " There is no way a zombie could fly unless the human it used to be could fly." This begs the question, what if Superman was turned into a zombie? Would he retain all of his powers? Is it possible that he would be immune because he is not from Earth?

I fluctuated between this kind of random questioning and frustration at the slow-moving text-like manner of the book. I suppose that if I eventually get attacked by zombies, I might wish that I had finished reading this book. Hopefully, that won't happen.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Books Finished May 2010

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi
Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
How to Be a Successful Housewife/Writer by Elaine Fantle Shimberg
How to Defeat your Clone by Kyle Kurpinski and Terry D. Johnson
I am not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells
Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education by Shinichi Suzuki
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
That Which is Seen and That Which is not Seen by Frederic M. Bastiat
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Wings by Aprilyne Pike
You're Not Fooling Anyone when you take your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing by John Scalzi

*These are books that I have finished reading. This list does not include books that I have skimmed. The list does not include picture books that I have read to my children, nor does it show all the other reading I have done. These books were finished in this month, but some may have taken considerable time to read, bit by bit.