Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

This book is amazing! Norton Juster must be a genius because this book is fun and can be used as a learning tool at the same time. The book is full of puns and other idioms that are taken too literally. His characters include Tock the watchdog (a dog with a watch for a body), Alec Bings (his family starts at the height they will be and grow downward towards the ground), King Azaz the Unabridged, the Mathemagician, and the princesses Rhyme and Reason (siblings and children of the King of Wisdom). Milo is a bored boy who ends up in this new world and he must try to save Rhyme and Reason in order to bring King Azaz and the Mathemagician to peace again.

I know these are all taken out of context and might be confusing, but here are just a few examples of how great his writing is:

"Oh no," said the little man, "I'm the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for after all it's more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be."

"I am also the judge. Now would you like a long or a short sentence?"
"A short one, if you please," said Milo.
"Good," said the judge, rapping his gavel three times. "I always have trouble remembering the long ones. How about 'I am'? That's the shortest sentence I know."

"Don't be frightened," she laughed. "I'm not a witch- I'm a Which."

"Be very quiet," advised the duke, "for it goes without saying."

I know I am late to see the greatness of this book... but no more. If you haven't read it, please do.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Top Ten Settings In Books

This week The Broke and the Bookish Top Ten meme is to list our personal top ten settings (real or imaginary) in books. This should be easy, as I love settings. To me, they count as a character. Without further ado, my list:

Hogwarts from Harry Potter- Come on, I know it's obvious, but it just HAS to be included. As settings go, it's just about perfect.

Prince Edward Island from Anne of Green Gables- I would love to go here someday. For real. Along those same lines, I would also include the island of Guernsey from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

The Lands Beyond in The Phantom Tollbooth- Island of Conclusions. Kingdom of Wisdom. Doldrums. Digitoplois. Now I probably wouldn't want to visit all of this places, but Norton Juster is a genius in my book.

The planets in A Wrinkle in Time- I don't read much sci-fi/fantasy, but I have to admit writers of this genre come up with awesome settings.

Battle School in Ender's Game- Another example of an amazing sci-fi setting.

The Community in The Giver- I had to include a dystopian setting, and this is my favorite dystopian novel.

Republic of Gilead from The Handmaid's Tale- Okay, one more dystopian setting. Both are places I definitely wouldn't want to be, but they are so well written.

Terabithia from Bridge to Terabithia- Lovely, imaginative place.

Salem from all the various books I've read on the Salem witch trials- The Salem witch trials are a subject I find really interesting. I plan on making time to visit the town whenever I make it back East next, even though I'm sure it's mostly a huge tourist trap now.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey by Patricia Harman

"Arms Wide Open is not just for those interested in midwifery or feminism. It's for anyone, of any gender, young or old, who cares about the earth and social justice. We each have our own song. This is mine and I sing it for you." -Author's Note

I know this book won't ever show up on bestselling lists like a lot of the books I review. It's probably not even a familiar title to most of you. This is a beautiful memoir, though, about all of the things mentioned above and more: midwifery, feminism, the state of health care in our country, motherhood and grandmotherhood, social justice and environmentalism. If any of those subjects interest you, I urge you to give it a shot.

I loved reading about her experiences living in communes. I could never give up all my luxuries, especially technology, but I'm so interested in that time during during the 1960s and 1970s when people were earnestly trying this. I know I would live in an intentional community, as long as I could keep my technology.

Because I'm passionate about birth, I enjoyed reading her experiences as a midwife. She starts as a home birth midwife and becomes a certified nurse-midwife, or CNM. Her husband is a P.A. and his experiences told in the story are a sad example of some of the things that are wrong with health care today.

I'll definitely be reading her other memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown, and looking into other memoirs of this sort (I'm talking about you, Ina May Gaskin).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

"You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw them down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life."

   I can't put into words how much I loved this book, but I shall try. You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon is a collection of short stories about "the army of women waiting for their men to return in Fort Hood, Texas." Eight loosely connected short stories dealing with some of the realities of military life: loneliness, PTSD, living on base, and adultery among other things.

   For a few reasons, I don't usually seek out short stories. Usually, there are a few amazing stories in a collection and the rest are just okay. That is not the case with You Know When the Men Are Gone. Every story is strong in its own right. The stories chosen for the first and last stories make a perfect introduction and conclusion for the collection.

   Other problems I have with short stories is that they are not long enough for me to feel a connection to the characters, and I feel they wrap up too tidily for something so short. I felt a connection with almost all of the characters and was immediately interested in their lives and what was happening to them. While Fallon is a talented writer, my interest is probably also due to the fact that this is a life and culture I know little about. As for Fallon's endings, they don't wrap up. And while that leaves me wanting, I appreciate it because life is not always tidy. I will say I am not exaggerating when I say I wanted more. One of the stories, "Leave," is about a soldier that suspects his wife is cheating on him. He comes home on leave without telling and sneaks into the basement, where he waits for proof one or or another. The ending to this story is left up to the imagination.

   Fallon's collection has made me want to give short stories another chance. Anyone have any recommendations? Sadly, the collection also makes me want to check out the show Army Wives, even though I am trying to cut out TV time, not add to it. It was just so interesting and I want more from her, more about these characters, but since I don't have that... Army Wives it is.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Top Ten Books You Lied About

This week's Top Ten meme at The Broke and the Bookish asks us to list the top ten books you've lied about... lied about reading, about not reading, about liking or disliking, etc. This will definitely be a short list, because I'm having a hard time thinking of these.

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar- I liked the show, so I read the first few books. I'm somewhat embarrassed about it, so I usually omit that I have read them. They are quick reads though, and might show up on my beach reads list next week.

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien- I was at a work event and they were playing the "stand up, sit down" game. If you had not read the Lord of the Rings, you were supposed to sit down. You all have no idea how badly I wanted to lie and stay standing. I've meant to read these books, and I'm ashamed as an English Literature graduate that I haven't read them I did read The Hobbit, though, so that's a start.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer- I have this on my "read" list on Goodreads, but I've never read all of them. I even rated it four stars, but that's because I loved the tales I did read. Yep, I've only read some of the tales, and it was for school.

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot- The Waste Land is a 15 page poem. I had to read it multiple times in a 2-3 week period and then write a paper praising it. I was so sick of it by that point, but I wrote the paper as if I wasn't.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday flops

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later by Francine Pascal- I loved this series growing up, but it was just a bad idea to pick this up. Obviously I knew it wouldn't be amazing or even well-written, but I had a previous connection to the characters, and wanted a beach read for my California vacation. It was just a bad idea all around. This review at the book blog Stacked says it all. I agree with her completely, but would go one step further. I wouldn't even recommend it if you were a Sweet Valley reader in the past.

This Girl Is Different by JJ Johnson- I'm interested in homeschooling, plus I love to read anything that's not mainstream culture. When I saw this book on Netgalley, I requested it and thought I would really enjoy it. The portrayal of homeschoolers was too stereotypical, and the ending was just too perfect.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Something Blue by Emily Giffin

Something Blue is Darcy's side of the story. Everything that happens in Something Borrowed is seen from her point of view, and then the story continues. I didn't think I would like this book. Darcy was so unlikable to me. I'm glad I read it. It's fun and I would still consider it "chick lit," but there's an undeniable message. It's a story of maturing and moving on with your life. And (spoiler alert) by the end of the book I loved Darcy. She grows leaps and bounds in the two years after the initial story.

Warning: don't see the movie Something Borrowed until after you've read this book. It changed a part from the first book that somewhat ruined Darcy's love story for me. Yes, she finds true love too, and it's wonderful.