Monday, April 30, 2007

31 Reasons To Get Excited About May

31 Reasons to Get Excited About the Month of May:

1) Once Upon A Crime by Michael Buckley. The fourth installment in the Sisters Grimm series is being released on May 1, 2007. In the long-awaited fourth book in the New York Times bestselling series, the Grimms take on New York City! Surprises abound for Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, fairy-tale detectives extraordinaire. When they venture into the big city, they stumble upon a murder, face betrayal by a friend, and discover an amazing secret about their mother, Veronica.Sabrina just wants to be normal—no detecting, no dangerous escapes, and especially no Everafters. Unfortunately, New York City is a hiding spot for many famous fairy-tale folk. And there's a murderer in their midst! The girls and their friends must figure out who killed Puck's father, King Oberon, while coming to terms with their mother's secret life. Will they stop the murderer before he or she can strike again? And will Sabrina ever accept her family's destiny? The colorful world of the Grimms expands in new and hilarious directions in Once upon a Crime. Critics and readers alike have embraced the Sisters Grimm series and its independent, quick-thinking heroines. It is published by Harry N. Abrams.

2) Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan. The third installment in the Percy Jackson series is being released May 1, 2007. When Percy Jackson gets an urgent distress call from his friend Grover, he immediately prepares for battle. He knows he will need his powerful demigod allies, Annabeth and Thalia, at his side, his trusty bronze sword Riptide, and . . . a ride from his mom. The demigods rush to the rescue to find that Grover has made an important discovery: two powerful half-bloods whose parentage is unknown. But that's not all that awaits them. The titan lord Kronos has devised his most treacherous plot yet, and the young heroes have just fallen prey. They're not the only ones in danger. An ancient monster has arisen -- one rumored to be so powerful it could destroy Olympus -- and Artemis, the only goddess who might know how to track it, is missing. Now Percy and his friends, along with the Hunters of Artemis, have only a week to find the kidnapped goddess and solve the mystery of the monster she was hunting. Along the way, they must face their most dangerous challenge yet: the chilling prophecy of the titan's curse. It is published by Hyperion.

3) Masquerade by Melissa de la Cruz. The sequel to Blue Bloods is being released May 1, 2007. The publisher is Hyperion. Schuyler Van Alen wants an explanation for the mysterious deaths of young Blue Bloods. Her search brings her to Venice, Italy, in the hopes of finding the one person who can help. Meanwhile, back in New York, preparations are feverishly underway for the famous Four Hundred Ball, an exclusive gala hosted by the city’s wealthy, powerful, and unhuman -- a true Blue Blood affair. But it’s at the after-party masquerade that the true danger lurks. Hidden behind the masks is a revelation that will change the course of a young vampire’s destiny. Rich with glamour, attitude, and vampire lore, this second installment in the Blue Bloods saga will leave readers thirsty for more.

4) Dramarama by E. Lockhart is being released on May 1, 2007. The publisher is Disney Children’s Books. Two theater-mad, self-invented, fabulositon Ohio teenagers. One boy, one girl. One gay, one straight. One black, one white. And SUMMER DRAMA CAMP. It's a season of hormones, gold lame, hissy fits, jazz hands, song and dance, true love, and unitards that will determine their future--and test their friendship.

5) Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison will be released May 1, 2007. The publisher is HarperCollins. Here is their description: He is a prince, heir to a kingdom threatened on all sides, possessor of the animal magic, which is forbidden by death in the land he'll rule. She is a princess from a rival kingdom, the daughter her father never wanted, isolated from true human friendship but inseparable from her hound. Though they think they have little in common, each possesses a secret that must be hidden at all costs. Proud, stubborn, bound to marry for the good of their kingdoms, this prince and princess will steal your heart, but will they fall in love?

6) The Wednesday Wars by Gary D.Schmidt will be released May 21, 2007. The publisher is Houghton Mifflin. Here is their description: Gary D. Schmidt offers an unforgettable antihero in THE WEDNESDAY WARS—a wonderfully witty and compelling novel about a teenage boy's mishaps and adventures over the course of the 1967–68 school year.Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn't like Holling—he's sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.

7) The OK Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal will be released May 1, 2007. The publisher is HarperCollins. The world is just full of things to do. And it's fun to give them all a go. But what if you're not good at everything you try? What if you're just OK? What then?

8) Babymouse # 6: Camp Babymouse by Jennifer Holm will be released May 8, 2007. The publisher is Random House. Welcome to Camp Babymouse! Two weeks of fresh air, fun, and friendship! Babymouse canÕt wait for the adventures to start. All that she has to do is relax and make sure she doesnÕt get lost in the wilderness. What could possibly go wrong, right Babymouse? Uh . . . Babymouse? BABYMOUSE? Uh-oh! Will camp be all that Babymouse dreams of? Or is our brave and fearless camper lost forever?! Find out in the sixth Babymouse adventure: Camp Babymouse!

9) Beige by Cecil Castellucci will be released May 8, 2007. It is published by Candlewick. Here is their description: Dad’s an aging L.A. punk rocker known as the Rat. Daughter’s a buttoned-up neat freak who’d rather be anywhere else. Can this summer be saved?Now that she’s exiled from Canada to sunny Los Angeles, Katy figures she’ll bury her nose in a book and ignore the fact that she’s spending two weeks with her father — punk name: the Rat — a recovered addict and drummer for the famously infamous band Suck. Even though Katy doesn’t want to be there, even though she feels abandoned by her mom, even though the Rat’s place is a mess and he’s not like anything she’d call a father, Katy won’t make a fuss. After all, she is a nice girl, a girl who is quiet and polite, a girl who smiles, a girl who is, well, beige. Or is she? From the author of BOY PROOF and THE QUEEN OF COOL comes an edgy new L.A. novel full of humor, heart, and music.<

10) Beauty Shop for Rent by Laura Bowers will be released May 1, 2007. The publisher is Harcourt. Here is their description: Abbey Garner has a plan: to earn a million dollars by the time she's thirty-five. Financial independence will allow her to break the cycle of unhappiness endured by the women in her family. Determined to fulfill her dream, Abbey works at Granny Po's struggling beauty shop, where the feisty Gray Widows go to primp, polish, perm...and, of course, gossip. There, among the hair dryers and perm rods--and with the help of a new friend--Abbey finds the courage to open her heart and take risks required for her to live life to its fullest. Debut author Laura Bowers creates a funny and touching first novel about family--both the one we are born to and the one we create ourselves.

11) Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems by John Grandits will be released May 21, 2007. The publisher is Houghton Mifflin. Here is their description: A 15-year-old girl named Jessie voices typical—and not so typical—teenage concerns in this unique, hilarious collection of poems. Her musings about trying out new makeup and hairstyles,playing volleyball and cello, and dealing with her annoying younger brother are never boring or predictable. Who else do you know who designs her own clothes and writes poetry to her cat? Jessie's a girl with strong opinions, and she isn't shy about sharing them. Her funny, sarcastic take on high school life is revealed through concrete poetry: words, ideas, type, and design that combine to make pictures and patterns. The poems are inventive, irreverent, irresistible, and full of surprises—just like Jessie—and the playful layout and ingenious graphics extend the wry humor.

12) Come Juneteenth by Ann Rinaldi will be released May 1, 2007. The publisher is Harcourt. Here is their description: Sis Goose is a beloved member of Luli's family, despite the fact that she was born a slave. But the family is harboring a terrible secret. And when Union soldiers arrive on their Texas plantation to announce that slaves have been declared free for nearly two years, Sis Goose is horrified to learn that the people she called family have lied to her for so long. She runs away--but her newly found freedom has tragic consequences. How could the state of Texas keep the news of the Emancipation Proclamation from reaching slaves? In this riveting Great Episodes historical drama, Ann Rinaldi sheds light on the events that led to the creation of Juneteenth, a celebration of freedom that continues today. Includes an author's note.

13) Delilah D. At the Library by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Rosie Reeve will be published May 21, 2007. The publisher is Houghton Mifflin. A determined (not to say willful) child, Delilah tells everyone she's the queen of a faraway land where she makes all the rules. When she goes to the library, however, Library Anne is there with her own rules: no climbing, no running, no singing, and above all, no cupcakes. But in the libraries in her land, Delilah says, running and climbing are allowed, and cupcakes and doughnuts are provided. Clearly, Library Anne doesn't know the first thing about how to run a library!When this lively battle of wills has run its course, Library Anne is dreaming about becoming an astronaut—and Delilah D. has a library book to take home. In her land, of course, everyone reads upside down.With bright, comical illustrations, including open-out gatefold pages, this extra-big picture book will captivate any child who has ever considered breaking the rules.

14) Dogs and Cats by Steve Jenkins will be published May 14, 2007. The publisher is Houghton Mifflin. Are you a cat lover? A dog person? Either way, this book is for you! Read about how your favorite companion came to be a pet and how its body works. Then, flip the book over and find out about the other kind.Once again Steve Jenkins takes children's nonfiction to a new level. Here is an amazing book filled with great information, visual facts, and lots of animal history. The illustrations are so incredibly realistic, you'll want to pet them!

15) Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel by Ruth Barshaw will be released May 1, 2007. The publisher is Bloomsbury USA. Ellie McDougal (better known to her friends as Ellie McDoodle because she loves to draw) is a nearly-twelve-year-old prisoner . . . of her aunt, uncle, three annoying cousins, and her baby brother, Ben-Ben. Sentenced to a week-long camping trip with them while her parents are out of town, Ellie is absolutely, positively determined to hate every single minute of the experience. Thank goodness she at least has her sketch journal, in which she records all the excruciating (and okay, very funny) details. Mosquito bites and trips to the Fred Moose museum she can handle. But how will she keep her journal from falling into Er-ick the Enemy’s hands? And what will happen when—gasp—she actually starts having fun? Part graphic novel, part confessional journal, part wilderness survival guide, Ellie’s story is a treat for young campers, vacationers, or anyone looking for a great summer read.

16) I am Rembrandt’s Daughter by Lynn Cullen will be published May 29, 2007. The publisher is Bloomsbury USA. With her mother dead of the plague, and her beloved brother newly married and moved away, Cornelia van Rijn finds herself without a friend or confidante—save her difficult father. Out of favor with Amsterdam’s elite, and considered brash and unreasonable by his patrons, Rembrandt van Rijn, once revered, is now teetering on the brink of madness. Cornelia alone must care for him, though she herself is haunted by secrets and scandal. Her only happiness comes in chance meetings with Carel, the son of a wealthy shipping magnate whose passion for art stirs Cornelia. And then there is Neel, her father’s last remaining pupil, whose steadfast devotion to Rembrandt both baffles and touches her. Based on historical fact, and filled with family dramas and a love triangle that would make Jane Austen proud, I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter is a powerful account of a young woman’s struggle to come of age within the shadow of one of the world’s most brilliant and complicated artists.

17) In Aunt Giraffe’s Green Garden by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Petra Mathers will be published May 1, 2007. The publisher is HarperCollins.

18) Iris, Messenger by Sarah Deming. Published by Harcourt. Will be released May 1, 2007. Dreamer Iris Greenwold doesn't care much for the real world. It's generally pretty disappointing: divorced parents, unsympathetic peers, and a middle school that is hell. But then, on her twelfth birthday, Iris mysteriously receives a copy of Bulfinch's Mythology and discovers that the entire pantheon of gods are living in the greater Philadelphia area. Poseidon's running a clam shack, Aphrodite's doing makeovers, Apollo's playing tenor sax. . . . Suddenly the day-to-day life Iris found so humdrum is rich with new meaning and excitement, and all her dreams are not quite what they seemed.Includes an author's note and a key to the gods and goddesses.

19) Letters from the Corrugated Castle: A Novel of Gold Rush California by Joan W. Blos will be published May 8, 2007. The publisher is Simon & Schuster. "Dear Cousin Sallie,I begin with words I never thought to write: I am not an orphan!"Thirteen-year-old Eldora has always believed that her mother died when she was very little, and for nine years she has lived with people that she calls Aunt and Uncle. The year is 1850, and all three have exchanged their quiet lives in New Bedford, Massachusetts, for new ones in San Francisco, the rapidly growing city that is the heart of the California Gold Rush. Shortly after their arrival, they receive a letter from an unknown woman who believes she is Eldora's mother. She is eager to meet her long-lost daughter, and a visit is arranged. As Eldora deals with her conflicting feelings about this news, she must also adjust to the challenges -- and dangers -- of living in a brash and growing city. She finds herself teaching English to two Mexicano children and beginning to learn Spanish, and an unlikely friendship with a boy named Luke introduces her to the hard, sometimes humorous, and often violent world of the mining camps. Every day seems to bring something different and new to consider. But can Eldora discover where -- and to whom -- she belongs?Told in letters that ring with the voice of the times, Letters from the Corrugated Castle is an intriguing adventure set in a fascinating time in California's history -- a worthy conclusion to the geographical trilogy begun with A Gathering of Days, winner of the Newbery Medal, and Brothers of the Heart.

20) Lissy’s Friends by Grace Lin will be released on May 17, 2007. The publisher is Penguin Group USA.

21) The Lacemaker and the Princess by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley will be released May 22, 2007. The publisher is Simon & Schuster. Eleven-year-old Isabelle is a lacemaker in the town of Versailles. One day as she delivers lace to the palace, she is almost trampled by a crowd of courtiers -- only to be rescued by Marie Antoinette. Before Isabelle can believe it, she has a new job -- companion to the queen's daughter. Isabelle is given a fashionable name, fashionable dresses -- a new identity. At home she plies her needle under her grandmother's disapproving eye. At the palace she is playmate to a princess.Thrown into a world of luxury, Isabelle is living a fairy-tale life. But this facade begins to crumble when rumors of starvation in the countryside lead to whispers of revolution. How can Isabelle reconcile the ugly things she hears in the town with the kind family she knows in the palace? And which side is she truly on? Inspired by an actual friendship between the French princess and a commoner who became her companion, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley offers a vivid portrait of life inside the palace of Versailles -- and a touching tale of two friends divided by class and the hunger for equality and freedom that fueled the French Revolution.

22) Magic in the Margins by W. Nikola-Lisa and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen will be released May 14, 2007. The publisher is Houghton Mifflin. Simon was an orphan, the son of peasants. He was keen-minded and quick and soon learned the ways of the scriptorium, of the illuminated manuscripts. In fact, he was such a fast learner, he felt ready to draw pictures of his own in his teacher's books. But first, the monastery's father tells him, he must learn how to capture mice.Prolific author W. Nikola-Lisa and acclaimed illustrator Bonnie Christensen combine talents to create their own illuminated story about patience, talent, and the imagination.

23) Mama’s Saris by Pooja Makhijani will be released May 1, 2007. The publisher is Little, Brown Young Readers. When a young girl eyes her mother's suitcase full of gorgeous silk, cotton and embroidered saris, she decides that she, too, should wear one, even though she is too young for such clothing. When the mother finally realizes how important it is for her little girl to feel like a big girl on her seventh birthday, she dresses up her daughter in the folds of a blue sari. Feeling grown-up and very pretty, the daughter is thrilled to look just like her mother, even if only for a day. Mama's Saris captures an elegant snapshot of every girl's wish to play dress up.

24) My Father’s House by Kathi Appelt will be published May 17, 2007. The publisher is Penguine Group USA. Oh my father, thank you,for all your many mansions. . . .From woodland halls to painted desert walls, from mountain porches wrapped in snow to rain forest attics catching clouds, this exquisitely beautiful poetic tribute to Earth’s creator is grand in its gratitude and sure of the love found throughout the natural world. Filled with award-winning artist Raul Colón’s jewel-toned illustrations, My Father’s House imparts a refreshing and uplifting message that is necessary today more than ever. This is a book both to give and to treasure for years to come.

25) My Mother the Cheerleader by Robert Sharenow will be published May 1, 2007. The publisher is HarperCollins. Acts of courage come in all shapes and sizes. In the tumultuous New Orleans of 1960, thirteen-year-old Louise Collins finds her world turned upside down when a stranger from the North arrives at her mother's boarding-house. Louise's mother spends her mornings at the local elementary school with a group of women known as the Cheerleaders, who harass the school's first black student, six-year-old Ruby Bridges, as she enters the building. One day a Chevy Bel Air with a New York license plate pulls up, and out steps Morgan Miller, a man whose mysterious past is eclipsed by his intellect and open-manner—qualities that enchant mother and daughter alike. For the first time, Louise feels as if someone cares what she thinks, even if she doesn't know what she believes. But when the reason for Morgan's visit is called into question, everything Louise thinks she knows about her mother, her world, and herself will change.

26) Nini Here and There by Anita Lobel will be published May 1, 2007. The publisher is HarperCollins.

27) Pants on Fire by Meg Cabot will be released May 1, 2007. The publisher is HarperCollins. Katie Ellison is not a liar. It's just that telling the truth is so . . . tricky. She knows she shouldn't be making out with a drama club hottie behind her football-player boyfriend's back. She should probably admit that she can't stand eating quahogs (clams), especially since she's running for Quahog Princess in her hometown's annual Quahog Festival. And it would be a relief to finally tell someone what really happened the night Tommy Sullivan is a freak was spray-painted on the new wall outside the junior high school gymnasium—in neon orange, which still hasn't been sandblasted off. After all, everyone knows that's what drove Tommy out of town four years ago. But now Tommy Sullivan has come back. Katie is sure he's out for revenge, and she'll do anything to hang on to her perfect (if slightly dishonest) existence. Even if it means telling more lies than ever. Even if, now that Tommy's around, she's actually—no lie—having the time of her life.

28) Quad by Carrie Gordon Watson will be released May 10, 2007. The publisher is Penguin Group USA. Everything led up to this moment—the point when the teasing, the cruelty, the pressure all became too much. And someone finally snapped. Now six students, from six different cliques, are trapped in the student store while a shooter terrorizes their school. The shooter’s identity is teased out through the students’ flashbacks until the reader breathlessly reaches the final page. It’s only there that he discovers the shocking answer to the question: Who is shooting out in the quad? This gripping thriller by educator C. G. Watson is inspired by observations made in her own high school. Quad examines in heartrending detail how even the most casual cruelties can tear people apart.

29) Sammy Keyes and the Wild Things by Wendelin Van Draanen will be released May 8, 2007. The publisher is Random House. Sammy Keyes trades in her hightops for hiking boots—and winds up with blisters.This is not the summer camping trip of Sammy's dreams. She imagined shady glades, meandering streams, a deer or two. What she gets are scrubby shrubs, blazing sun, rattlesnakes, ticks, and scorpions. Her fellow campers are desperate to catch a rare glimpse of an endangered condor. To Sammy, the trip is nothing more than the painful in pursuit of the unspeakably ugly.But when she and two other girls find an injured condor, Sammy's intrigued at last. As they track down a clue, they stumble onto two classmates and wind up lost. Which leaves three girls and two boys in a canyon with one tent and six billion biting flies. Oh—and an armed and dangerous highstakes poacher.S'mores anyone?

30) Tall Tales by Karen Day will be released on May 8, 2007. It is published by Random House. Meg's family has moved a lot because of her father's drinking. Meg arrives in her town longing to find a real friend, someone she can talk to and write stories with. When she and Grace join forces to write a book, she's thrilled that she has finally found someone who likes her for who she is, who trusts her and confides in her.But she can't tell Grace about her father. Even though she hates to lie, Meg can't resist telling tall tales about her family and her life to Grace and other kids.For Meg, friendship turns out to be the key to telling the truth, and also to a better life for her family.

31) The Last Girls of Pompeii by Kathryn Lasky will be released on May 17, 2007. The publisher is Penguin Group USA. In Pompeii, in the summer of A.D. 79, Julia and Mitka appear to lead opposite lives. Julia is the daughter of a wealthy ship-builder; Mitka is an orphan.

NOTE: I have only read Titan's Curse, so far I don't have *any* of these titles in my possession to review. So consider them all on my wishlist. I'd love to review them in the future.

Notes on a Near-Life Experience

Birdsall, Olivia. 2007. Notes on a Near-Life Experience.

I want to know how adults decide when the truth is necessary and when it isn't, and if there's some kind of an age requirement for it. Like, does getting a driver's license or the right to vote also mean it's time for you to know why your aunt Lucinda was in that hospital for two months when you were eight, or what really happened to your dog when it mysteriously vanished three weeks after its fourteenth birthday? The strange thing is that the truth has this way of seeping through, leaking out, even when you build walls and dams and work as hard as you can to contain it. It's like even when no one tells you what the truth is, somehow, eventually you just feel it. Even if you don't want to. (37)

Mia is fifteen-going-on-sixteen when her father leaves her mother, and her family begins to change practically overnight. No more bologna sandwiches for lunch. No more family time at the dinner table. No more family rounds of Jeopardy. Allen, her older brother, and Keatie, her younger sister, each react differently. Allen turns to drinking, partying, and skipping school. Keatie reacts by living in denial. Pretending that none of this is real. That this isn't her family. That this new reality is not permanent. And Mia? She responds by isolating herself. She's not in denial exactly. She knows her parents won't be getting back together--her dad's new girlfriend is proof of that--but she doesn't want this new reality to be spoken. To be shared. So she starts keeping one thing after another from her best friend, Haley. With so many things going wrong, it's good for one thing to be going right. In the midst of the fallout, it seems her brother's best friend, Julian, has finally, finally noticed that she existed as more than a pesky little sister. Could this be true? Could her life-long crush finally be hers?

Notes on a Near-Life Experience presents a family in crisis. Each have troubles of their own. Each needs a little guidance in how to communicate with the others in a healthy way. It is a funny, honest look at families.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Now You See Her

Mitchard, Jacquelyn. 2007. Now You See Her.

Jacquelyn Mitchard's first novel for young adults, NOW YOU SEE HER is an excellent example of an unreliable narrator. Unreliable narrators are great for adding suspense. What's real? What's imagined? What's the truth? What's a lie? Perception is everything. Can you unravel the mystery and discern "the truth" before the final page? That is the game of it. As you might have guessed, I really enjoyed this novel.

Opening lines: "Hope is vanishing. Does that sound too dramatic? Okay, fine. It's really just barely dramatic enough. Maybe not even enough. I don't mean "hope" the way they think. How could I explain it to them? They're beyond stupid. They're clueless and retarded. All of them. I hear my mother and father say, "She doesn't realize the gravity of all this..." and I want to yell, Are you crazy? Are you on crack? I'm the one it happened to. So I, like, sort of understand the gravity." (3)

"Hope Shay" is the stage name for Bernadette Romano. She has THE GIFT. Born to be an actor. Born to be the star of the show. She is pushed, pulled, and dragged into the dramatic world of theatre by her mother. Perfection is not only expected, it's demanded. Forced to perform all of her life, to please others, to be the perfect portait of the person her parents expect her to be, it's no wonder that Hope ends up in a "special" place like Miss Taylor's. (Miss Tylers). As Hope's story unfolds the reader really doesn't know who to believe. Did she really fake her own kidnapping? Or does it only seem that way? Was Logan her boyfriend and co-conspirator? Or is he just her delusion. As Hope's world crumbles, everything begins to fall into place. Can she ever just be herself? Can she ever be normal?

NOW YOU SEE HER is very well-written. It's exciting, suspenseful, dramatic, and a real exploration of a psychotic breakdown or episode.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Troilus and Cressida

As you know, I am participating in Miss Erin's Shakespeare Challenge. Today I bring you my thoughts on Troilus and Cressida. It is not so much a review as it is collected thoughts on the play. When I sat down to begin the play on Thursday night, I knew little about this play. I had never read it before. Never seen it acted on the stage. Never seen a film version of it. I chose it somewhat randomly. I was flipping through my RIVERSIDE SHAKESPEARE and it landed open to this play. When I saw it was set in Troy and covered the Trojan war, I thought the timing was right. After all, I had just read NOBODY'S PRINCESS and TROY. So I didn't know that this play was "one of Shakespeare's more difficult--and, some might say, unpleasant--plays to read or to watch" at the outset. (SparkNotes) Here is their description: "the play offers a debased view of human nature in war-time and a stage peopled by generally unsympathetic characters. Like many of the great tragedies, the broad theme is the relationship of, and conflict between, personal life and the interests of the state--in this case, the conflict between the romance of the title characters and the war-time politics that send Cressida away from her lover into the Greek camp. But this theme coexists with a general pessimism unmatched even in the darkest tragedies, as classical heroes like Achilles and Ajax are presented as self-absorbed thugs, and the central romance of Troilus and Cressida is rhetorically reduced to lust, so that in the memorable phrase of the Greek slave Thersites, "all the argument is a whore and a cuckold" (II.iii.75)." I would have described it, in my own words, as being anti-war, and carrying the message that life is pointless. The play depicts humans at their worst, but trying at times to do their best. They haven't given up completely on life, but they have given up on happiness. They're alive, but miserable essentially.

Is it worth your time? Shakespeare is still Shakespeare. There are some great lines in Troilus and Cressida. Some nice speeches. Lines that resonate with power and emotion. But if you're looking for something that is as emotionally moving that you can connect with personally...then Troilus and Cressida probably isn't the most satisfying play you can read. Sparknotes concludes: "There are many redeeming qualities to Troilus and Cressida, however, including some of the finest philosophical speeches in all of Shakespeare--which, some critics have suggested, are more impressive outside the context of the play than within it." In my opinion, it all depends on your expectations. If you're looking for a love story, this isn't it. It isn't a comedy or a romance. And it doesn't have the noble beauty of a tragedy. It's tragic. But it's just pointing out the meaningless of death and war and love and betrayal. Not really uplifting material. But not necessarily bad. Just different.

Sparknotes for Troilus and Cressida
Read Troilus and Cressida online

Here are some of my favorite lines:


The Greeks are strong and skilful to their strength,
Fierce to their skill and to their fierceness valiant;
But I am weaker than a woman's tear,
Tamer than sleep, fonder than ignorance,
Less valiant than the virgin in the night
And skilless as unpractised infancy.


Well, I have told you enough of this: for my part,
I'll not meddle nor make no further. He that will
have a cake out of the wheat must needs tarry the grinding.


Have I not tarried?


Ay, the grinding; but you must tarry
the bolting.


Have I not tarried?


Ay, the bolting, but you must tarry the leavening.


Still have I tarried.


Ay, to the leavening; but here's yet in the word
'hereafter' the kneading, the making of the cake, the
heating of the oven and the baking; nay, you must
stay the cooling too, or you may chance to burn your lips.



I was about to tell thee:--when my heart,
As wedged with a sigh, would rive in twain,
Lest Hector or my father should perceive me,
I have, as when the sun doth light a storm,
Buried this sigh in wrinkle of a smile:
But sorrow, that is couch'd in seeming gladness,
Is like that mirth fate turns to sudden sadness.



'Well, well!' why, have you any discretion? have
you any eyes? Do you know what a man is? Is not
birth, beauty, good shape, discourse, manhood,
learning, gentleness, virtue, youth, liberality,
and such like, the spice and salt that season a man?



Words, vows, gifts, tears, and love's full sacrifice,
He offers in another's enterprise;
But more in Troilus thousand fold I see
Than in the glass of Pandar's praise may be;
Yet hold I off. Women are angels, wooing:
Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing.
That she beloved knows nought that knows not this:
Men prize the thing ungain'd more than it is:
That she was never yet that ever knew
Love got so sweet as when desire did sue.
Therefore this maxim out of love I teach:
Achievement is command; ungain'd, beseech:
Then though my heart's content firm love doth bear,
Nothing of that shall from mine eyes appear.



Your mind is the clearer, Ajax, and your virtues the
fairer. He that is proud eats up himself: pride is
his own glass, his own trumpet, his own chronicle;
and whatever praises itself but in the deed, devours
the deed in the praise.



Blind fear, that seeing reason leads, finds safer
footing than blind reason stumbling without fear: to
fear the worst oft cures the worse.



They say all lovers swear more performance than they
are able and yet reserve an ability that they never
perform, vowing more than the perfection of ten and
discharging less than the tenth part of one. They
that have the voice of lions and the act of hares,
are they not monsters?


Hold you still, I say;
Mine honour keeps the weather of my fate:
Life every man holds dear; but the brave man
Holds honour far more precious-dear than life.


Geras, Adele. 2000. Troy.

Troy is a soap opera of a book. There are twists and turns. Love and death. Hope and fear. Betrayal. Confusion. Told from several perspectives--a hand-maiden, a nurse and nanny, a servant who tends the horses, the women who do laundry, etc--it is an exciting, adventure story. Even though the reader can’t help but know the tragic ending, there is plenty to keep you turning the pages. It is a good read for those that can’t get enough of Greek mythology.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Spring Reading Challenge Progress Report #4

This is my fourth progress report on the Spring Reading Thing Challenge. The challenge was created by Katrina from Callapidderdays. To see others participating visit here.

    Books Already Completed w/o Reviews Posted
  • At the Sign of the Star by Katherine Sturtevant (started 4/9/07; finished 4/9/07)
  • Midnighters: Blue Noon # 3 in Midnighters series by Scott Westerfeld (started 4/8/07; finished 4/8/07)
  • The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (started 4/6/07; finished 4/7/07)
  • The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau (started 4/7/07; finished 4/7/07)
  • Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass (started 4/10/07; finished 4/10/07)
  • Rules by Cynthia Lord (started and finished 3/29/07)
  • The Black Canary by Jane Louise Curry (started 3/30/07; finished 3/30/07)
  • Sunshine by Robin McKinley (started 3/30/07; finished 3/30/07)
  • Millions by Frank Cottell Boyce (started 4/1/07; finished 4/1/07)
  • Hole in the Sky by Pete Hautman (started 3/25/07; finished 3/25/07)
  • Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke (started 3/25/07; finished 3/25/07)
  • What I Call Life by Jill Wolfson (started 4/15/07; finished 4/15/07)
  • Top Ten Uses for An Unworn Prom Dress by Tina Ferraro (started 4/24/07; finished 4/24/07)

    Books Remaining in the TBR pile
  • Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan
  • How To Be A Baby by Me the Big Sister by Sally Lloyd Jones and Sue Heap
  • One Naked Baby by Maggie Smith
  • Duck, Duck, Goose by Tad Hills
  • The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats: Introduction and Annotations by Philip Nel
  • Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
  • The Decoding of Lana Morris by Laura and Tom McNeal
  • Grief Girl by Erin Vincent
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Would-Be Diary of a Princess by Jessica Green
  • Exploits of a Reluctant (But Extremely Goodlooking) Hero by Maureen Fergus
  • Story of A Girl by Sara Zarr
  • A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd
  • Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes (started 5/1/07; finished 5/1/07)
  • Corydon & The Fall of Atlantis by Tobias Druitt
  • So Not The Drama by Paula Chase

Anatomy of A Boyfriend

Snadowsky, Daria. 2007. Anatomy of a Boyfriend.

Three signs that a YA novel may be focused on sex: the cover of the book shows a naked Ken doll, the title includes the word "anatomy," and finally the first sentence has the words "do it" in quotes. Yes, Daria Snadowsky's novel--that she has dedicated to Judy Blume--tells the dramatic story of young love. Dominique is a Senior in high school. She's never had a *real* boyfriend. Never been in love. All that changes when she meets Wesley. Wes is a track star. He attends another high school, but he is a Senior as well. The two meet in January, and they fall hard for one another. Within weeks, she has fallen completely for him. She thinks about him ALL day long. And all night long, too. Wes likes her too, even if he isn't a good communicator. Even if he isn't the best at showing his appreciation. Soon they're a "committed" couple in love experiencing a whirlwind of emotions--love, happiness, embarrassment, disappointment, etc. The book takes us from the highs in the relationships--the prom--to the lows when they're getting ready to attend separate colleges. First love isn't always pretty as ANATOMY OF A BOYFRIEND shows. That *perfect* guy might not be so perfect ten or twelve months down the road. Life changes. Love changes. Life moves on around us.

ANATOMY OF A BOYFRIEND is getting a lot of praise for being "daring" in where it goes as far as presenting sex. I'm not so sure of that. Other YA novels have gone there. There is nothing in ANATOMY OF A BOYFRIEND that wasn't already covered in THIS IS ALL. Or SLOPPY FIRSTS. Or SECOND HELPINGS. Or NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST. Just to name a few. But just because it's all been done before, doesn't mean that there isn't any room left for other writers. The question is not *what* but *how well* in my opinion. How well does she write about first love? How well does she "capture" these characters? In my opinion, while Dominique is a fleshed-out character, the rest fall flat. They're not that developed. Amy is a best friend. But how much do we really know about her? How well is she developed? Yes, they talk about sex. But is their relationship in the book anything more than just an excuse to talk about sex? To have these curiousities displayed in the main character? And Wes? How well is he developed? Maybe it's because I'm not 17 but the author did little to convince me that he was boyfriend material. He is boring. Dull. Dull as dirt. This is what we know about him: he runs track; he has a dog; he reads books; he plays video games. There are no life-shattering, intimate conversations where he bares his soul. There is no "inside" window into what he's thinking or why. He's not a communicator. He doesn't talk that much. And when he does open his mouth he is just boring. He may be cute--I can't remember his description--but he's no sweet talker either. There is no *essence* to this character. No life. He exists for the sole purpose of breaking Dom's heart in the end. And the parents? Well, the parents in YA books rarely are developed past your typical stereotypes. Same goes here. They are either singing her praises saying phrases like "we're proud of you" or "we support you" or "we love you." Or lecturing her on how she shouldn't get so wrapped up in a boy that she loses her own identity. So yes, she writes about first love in all its details: its awkward moments, its embarrassments, its joys, its wonders, its heartache, its first bitter fights--it's all there.

I have no doubt that some readers will grab this book off the shelves. They might *love* it even. But it's nothing that wonderful. I think other writers out there have done a better job with characterization that covered the same ground as ANATOMY OF A BOYFRIEND. Since this book is so obvious in its subject matters, readers can judge for themselves if they want to go where this book goes. There will be no tricks thrown at you. You get what's advertised.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The World Must Be Peopled

Inspired by Miss Erin, I retrieved my copy of THE RIVERSIDE SHAKESPEARE SECOND EDITION off of the bookshelf. It's not a book I reference often, it's very heavy for one thing--it weighs a little over eight pounds, but it's something that I'd never part with. I chose to begin my Shakespeare challenge by reading my favorite play: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.

Much Ado About Nothing is a glorious little play that almost makes me giddy. It's got a little bit of everything: love, romance, villains, mistaken identities, deceptions, and fools. Hero and Beatrice are the two female leads and Claudio and Benedick are the two male leads. Hero and Claudio fall for each other very quickly. But Benedick and Beatrice are always at each others throats. They hate each other. Or so it seems. But then Don Pedro hatches a beautiful, deceptive trap: using their friends and family against them he will make Benedick and Beatrice think the other is head over heels in love with the other. I've included both their responses.


[Coming forward] This can be no trick: the
conference was sadly borne. They have the truth of
this from Hero. They seem to pity the lady: it
seems her affections have their full bent. Love me!
why, it must be requited. I hear how I am censured:
they say I will bear myself proudly, if I perceive
the love come from her; they say too that she will
rather die than give any sign of affection. I did
never think to marry: I must not seem proud: happy
are they that hear their detractions and can put
them to mending. They say the lady is fair; 'tis a
truth, I can bear them witness; and virtuous; 'tis
so, I cannot reprove it; and wise, but for loving
me; by my troth, it is no addition to her wit, nor
no great argument of her folly, for I will be
horribly in love with her. I may chance have some
odd quirks and remnants of wit broken on me,
because I have railed so long against marriage: but
doth not the appetite alter? a man loves the meat
in his youth that he cannot endure in his age.
Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of
the brain awe a man from the career of his humour?
No, the world must be peopled. When I said I would
die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I
were married. Here comes Beatrice. By this day!
she's a fair lady: I do spy some marks of love in


[Coming forward]
What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
Stand I condemn'd for pride and scorn so much?
Contempt, farewell! and maiden pride, adieu!
No glory lives behind the back of such.
And, Benedick, love on; I will requite thee,
Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand:
If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee
To bind our loves up in a holy band;
For others say thou dost deserve, and I
Believe it better than reportingly.

But this isn't the only deceptive trap being laid. Don John, Don Pedro's angry brother, has concocted a plan to stop the wedding between Claudio and Hero. Why? He's bitter at the world, and it will make his brother look bad to have encouraged the marriage between the two when it is "proved" she is a whore.

Will Hero's virtue be restored? Will someone step forward to prove her innocent? And what of the love between Benedick and Beatrice? Will it prove true, or will it cease to exist once the trap has been revealed? Will their be a double wedding? Or none at all?

You can read the play online.

More favorite lines:


Just, if he send me no husband; for the which
blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and
evening. Lord, I could not endure a husband with a
beard on his face: I had rather lie in the woollen.


You may light on a husband that hath no beard.


What should I do with him? dress him in my apparel
and make him my waiting-gentlewoman? He that hath a
beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no
beard is less than a man: and he that is more than
a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a
man, I am not for him: therefore, I will even take
sixpence in earnest of the bear-ward, and lead his
apes into hell.


Well, then, go you into hell?


No, but to the gate; and there will the devil meet
me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and
say 'Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to
heaven; here's no place for you maids:' so deliver
I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter for the
heavens; he shows me where the bachelors sit, and
there live we as merry as the day is long.



I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much
another man is a fool when he dedicates his
behaviors to love, will, after he hath laughed at
such shallow follies in others, become the argument
of his own scorn by failing in love: and such a man
is Claudio. I have known when there was no music
with him but the drum and the fife; and now had he
rather hear the tabour and the pipe: I have known
when he would have walked ten mile a-foot to see a
good armour; and now will he lie ten nights awake,
carving the fashion of a new doublet. He was wont to
speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man
and a soldier; and now is he turned orthography; his
words are a very fantastical banquet, just so many
strange dishes. May I be so converted and see with
these eyes? I cannot tell; I think not: I will not
be sworn, but love may transform me to an oyster; but
I'll take my oath on it, till he have made an oyster
of me, he shall never make me such a fool. One woman
is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am
well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all
graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in
my grace. Rich she shall be, that's certain; wise,
or I'll none; virtuous, or I'll never cheapen her;
fair, or I'll never look on her; mild, or come not
near me; noble, or not I for an angel; of good
discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall
be of what colour it please God. Ha! the prince and
Monsieur Love! I will hide me in the arbour.


BALTHASAR (singing)

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never:
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny.
Sing no more ditties, sing no moe,
Of dumps so dull and heavy;
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leafy:
Then sigh not so, & c.

Shakespeare Challenge

Miss Erin has started a new challenge: The Shakespeare Challenge. Unlike other challenges, this one has no specific deadlines and the participants are free to choose their own goals. Her goal is to read all the plays. My goal is to read all of the plays as well. But to begin at the beginning. In other words, I'll reread those I've already read so I can get a fresh start and review them on my site.


The Comedy of Errors
The Taming of the Shrew
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Love's Labor's Lost
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Much Ado About Nothing read April 25, 2007
As You Like It
Twelfth Night, or What You Will
The History of Troilus and Cressida(read April 26, 2007, through April 27, 2007)
All's Well That Ends Well
Measure for Measure


The First Part of Henry the Sixth
The Second Part of Henry the Sixth
The Third Part of Henry the Sixth
The Tragedy of Richard the Third
The Life and Death of King John
The Tragedy of King Richard the Second
The First Part of Henry the Fourth
The Second Part of Henry the Fourth
The Life of Henry the Fifth
The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth


The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice
The Tragedy of King Lear
The Tragedy of Macbeth
The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra
The Tragedy of Coriolanus
The Life of Timon of Athens


Pericles, Prince of Tyre
The Winter's Tale
The Tempest
The Two Noble Kinsmen

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Literary Snobs or Common Sense???

Over the past two days Roger Sutton has posted two intriguing entries: Getting the Shakes and And if you're not an English major. These posts are in response to a published report entitled: The Vanishing Shakespeare. The debate? Whether it is a *crime* against the Bard that English majors are not being required to take a course on Shakespeare before graduating with their degrees. The implication is that the focus of English majors is being directed away from great authors in the literary canon--such as Shakespeare--and instead being redirected to focus on previously neglected authors and works: perhaps focusing on gender studies, multicultural studies, pop culture, folklore, children's literature, etc. What is slightly insulting about this study is that they title one chapter: "The Advance of the Not-So Great." Lumping in everything that isn't part of the traditional canon--Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, etc. as being in the "not so great" category.

While Shakespeare requirements are on the decline, courses on children’s
literature are proliferating. For $40,000 a year, students can now
spend their precious college years at Yale, Purdue, the University of Pennsylvania, and others studying the works of Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Lemony Snicket, and J. K. Rowling.

Further on, in one of the appendices, they write:

Children’s literature is one of the hottest trends in English departments today. Parents may well wonder why their grown sons and daughters can read Charlotte’s Web, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and Alice in Wonderland for college credit, but it is happening in literature departments all over the country.

Yale University, “Literature for Young People” gives “an eclectic approach to stories and storytelling for and by children.” Readings include works by J. K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, L. Frank Baum, Roald Dahl, and Lemony Snicket, plus stories written by children themselves.

University of Pennsylvania, “150 Years of Children’s Fantasy” proclaims
that “The Harry Potter Books are the latest example of an important, much-loved genre, children’s fantasy!” The course tracks “children’s fantasy from the 1850s to the present day,” focusing on such authors as Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, J. M. Barrie, J. K. Rowling, and Lemony Snicket. Films are also featured, and “may include The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, and Mary Poppins.”

The University of Pennsylvania also offers “Feminist Fairy Tales,” which examines “the impact of popular culture on fairy tales and fairy tales on popular culture, as well as the effects of fairy tales on the formation of a woman’s self-image.”

Indiana University, “Children’s Literature” “is primarily a historical survey of what is widely considered the best that has been written for young readers. We will read fables, folk tales, myths, classic and contemporary children’s literature, children’s poetry, and illustrated books for the very young.” Readings include Treasure Island, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Harriet the Spy.

Purdue University, “Young Adult Literature and Teen Identity” explores “the connections between literature written for young adults and contemporary adolescent identity.”

This isn't surprising that those proclaiming the wonders and genius of the literary canon are slamming children's literature, women's literature, multicultural literature, queer literature, etc. They have always, in my opinion, held that the canon is closed to anything *new* or *different* or *challenging*. They have never been one to embrace change. The whole report contains a long list of courses they deem "unworthy" of an English major. (They're actually quite interesting to look at!)

Here are some examples:

University of Chicago, “The Graphic Novel” looks at “the recent rise of the graphic novel, a form that presents an opportunity to refresh our critical vocabularies for examining narrative and visuality.” Special attention is paid to “how the graphic novel critically engages the history of the comic.”

Swarthmore College, “Food and Literature” is a course that “examines the place of food and drink in Renaissance literature and culture” and covers such topics as feasts, famine, cannibalism, and “the adoption of new and exotic products such as sugar, tea, coffee, chocolate and tobacco.”

University of Virginia, “Critical Race Theory” asks, “What does race mean in the late 20th and early 21 st century?” Declaring that “race as a biological ‘fact’ has been discredited,” this English course explores why race “continue[s] to have vital significance in politics, economics, education, culture, arts, and everyday social realities” including “sexuality, class, disability, multiculturalism, nationality, and globalism.”

Vanderbilt University, “Problems in Literature: Shakespearean Sexuality” centers on “the question of sexuality in Shakespeare’s plays,” noting that “[t]he issues raised by sexuality are particularly rich and complicated in Shakespearean drama, which is preoccupied with mistaken identities, connections between eroticism and violence, marriage plots, crises of political authority, and self-conscious theatricality.”

But do they have a valid point? I have a BA in English literature. I have my degree from Texas Woman's University. Shakespeare was a requirement in 2000. And it's still a requirement in 2007. I took one Shakespeare course as an undergraduate, and another course in graduate school. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Did I love it? Yes. Do I think it made me a better person? In a way. But not in the traditional sense of the word "better." Let me introduce you to Dr. Phyllis Bridges. There is not a better teacher in the entire world than Dr. Bridges. She is the embodiment of everything that is good in the world. She inspires fear, love, and respect all in one breath. I have met NO ONE on the entire campus who wasn't in awe of her. She is one-of-a-kind. She is THE teacher to have on Shakespeare. It is one of her passions. It is her joy. She loves to teach it. My life was changed because of her. And Shakespeare is where it all began. My first course with her, but not my last. She became my academic advisor, my friend, my inspiration, the one person I could always trust. I am probably passionate about the Bard because of her influence. So I am of the opinion that everyone should be required to read some Shakespeare in their life. Either high school. Or college. Or both. I am of the opinion that a person seeking a degree in English SHOULD be required to study Shakespeare. Why? He's great. He's important. He's significant. I am grateful that I studied him under the expertise of Dr. Bridges. But she also taught other courses--including women's literature and folklore. She also always encouraged me to study children's literature in college. When I chose to go into library studies instead of pursuing a doctorate in English literature, she encouraged me. And she was just one of many. I had *many* inspirational professors along the way.

But I also feel they're being more than a little silly. For one thing, they didn't study every university, every program. They were elitist in who they selected. When you only study the "top 25" colleges in America (okay, so the study chose 70 schools to examine out of thousands), you're leaving out hundreds if not thousands of schools and programs that could very well present a more balanced perspective on the issue. (They didn't even have a ranked list of Top 25 schools in the field of English literature as part of their study. So the schools selected don't even represent the BEST literature programs in the nation necessarily. 15 out of the 70 required Shakespeare.) Maybe their study shows a forthcoming trend, but my guess is that 85% of the academic world would be a decade behind that trend. They haven't had time to follow suit. I think their study is biased in more than one way. Another way I think they're biased is that they highlight courses that illustrate their point of view. They target courses from catalogs to supposedly show how HORRIBLE the education system has strayed from the "good old days" when Shakespeare was king. They don't illustrate or allude to the fact that there are probably dozens if not hundreds of more traditional courses being taught alongside some of these newer ones. They want the reader to assume the worst. That there is NOTHING of value being taught. Nothing traditional. Nothing sacred. I would imagine if you were to look at a course catalog from any of the 70 schools represented that you'd find a more balanced offering than they'd like you to believe. Second, why do they have to bring someone else down to make their point? Why do they have to attack others to make the point that Shakespeare is so marvelous? As if they can't stand to see someone reading a book outside of their precious canon. Why say that it is better to study Shakespeare than to 'waste' your time and energy reading books by a woman or ethnic author? Perhaps they fear a loss in power, respect. Maybe they fear that they'll lose their jobs of telling the world how they should be reading great works of literature. Especially since the article spent a good percentage of time slamming literary theories that encouraged readers to think for themselves. Who knows why they went on the attack...the point is...they would have made a better argument if they had simply stated that they feel Shakespeare should remain an important part of a well-balanced diet of an English major. You cannot live on Shakespeare alone. You need to have a wider perspective on the world. You need to be exposed to MANY authors, many genres, many styles, many outlooks. Change isn't necessarily a bad thing. They need to realize that.

While I have two degrees in literature, I've never considered myself a literature snob. One of those sorts that think if you're not reading a classic, you're reading worthless trash. I've never looked down my nose on popular literature, never thought that genre fiction was a waste of paper. I see value in ALL reading. If you're addicted to science fiction, fantasy, romance, westerns, mystery, horror, etc. there is nothing to be ashamed of. Embrace the genre. In this regards, I wish that there was a way to encourage students (in high school and/or college) to read whatever they want and know that it's okay. That it is good to read *anything* and *everything* that they want. Here is what Roger writes:

I wish (and maybe this could be my next job) high schools offered their seniors a class in Reading. Not literature (although I hasten to add that I think they should be studying that, too), but a class instead designed to demonstrate the breadth and methods of reading in one's life quite apart from the pursuit of educational degrees. The students would learn about the different genres of popular fiction, for example; cross gender boundaries by reading Danielle Steel and Tom Clancy; go on a field trip to a book store and library to learn how to browse. Slow readers could learn techniques for speeding up (if they so desired); grinds could be taught to relax; fluent readers could be challenged to stretch their preferences. Everybody would learn how to skim. Students could practice giving and receiving book recommendations. They could learn to give up on a book that isn't working for them and how to stick with something that might prove rewarding.

Something along the lines of The Readers' Bill of Rights:

The Reader's Bill of Rights
1. The right to not read.
2. The right to skip pages.
3. The right to not finish.
4. The right to reread.
5. The right to read anything.
6. The right to escapism.
7. The right to read anywhere.
8. The right to browse.
9. The right to read out loud.
10. The right not to defend your tastes.

—Pennac, Daniel, Better Than Life, Coach House Press, 1996.

I agree that if people could disassociate reading with the pain of having to read literature and have opinionated views of what it all means, the pain of due dates, the pain of writing long essays, long debates, long presentations...that maybe reading could be seen as a pleasurable pastime again. Required reading takes the life out of reading. It may take years for a person to pick up another book after the trauma of years of forced reading. Some people never recover. Whether this *magic* course teaching the love of reading (or art of reading) is possible in the current world is debatable. But like Roger, I tend to dream of the *perfect* course that will change the world.

Goy Crazy

Schorr, Melissa. 2006. Goy Crazy.

Every now and then, a YA romance comes along that sweeps me off my feet. That makes me happy. That makes me giddy almost. Goy Crazy has just joined the list. Rachel Lowenstein is a teen girl (15 or 16) who dreams of finding love. She knows that it's not likely to happen soon...not at her brother's bar mitzvah...not at her local high school...but she can't help wondering what it would be like to have a boyfriend. The book opens at her brother's bar mitzvah. We've got Rachel who has calculated the "average" age of men in the room to be thirty. (That's what happens when you average in the the over forty (or over fifty) crowd with the under fourteen crowd.) What is on her mind most of all is avoiding an awkward dance with the boy next door, Howard Goldstein, with whom she has a love-hate relationship. (Think Much Ado About Nothing.)

First line: "There is no way I'm dancing with Howard Goldstein." p. 1

But then she notices the rather cute busboy, Luke. The two share a few words together. But even though they only shared a few minutes conversation together, she can't help thinking there was a connection between them. A strong connection. She's convinced almost that Luke is her soul mate. Her destiny. The problem? He's not Jewish. He's Catholic. Irish Catholic. She feels that her parents wouldn't understand, couldn't understand this love match. (Not that it's a love match anywhere but in her imagination, but still...) So the story begins.

How does a Jewish girl go about getting a goy's attention? Does Luke appeal to her because he is off limits? Their relationship strictly forbidden? Is her desire more about rebelling against her overprotective parents? Or is Luke really just a wonderful guy she'd be crazy not to fall for?

With over-protective parents, best friends in crises, teen cliques, peer pressure, and the always there and sometimes insulting boy-next-door, GOY CRAZY has it all including Rachel's rewritten version of the Ten Commandments.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Robert Smith is about to enter the Twilight Zone...

Brooks, Kevin. 2007. Being.

This is the third book by Kevin Brooks that I have read. The others being Candy and Road of the Dead. After each book, I tend to have the same response: good but not necessarily for me. If I were to describe my perfect book it wouldn't be about a teen boy who finds a drug-addicted prostitute at McDonalds to be his girlfriend with somewhat tragic results. It wouldn't be about a teen boy with somewhat telepathic abilities solving his sister's rape/murder. Both books were fine in the sense that they were written well. There is nothing wrong with the style--the language, the prose--of it all. He knows how to keep a reader drawn into the story. I haven't ever felt his books to be boring. I kept reading. I never felt so frustrated or irritated that I gave up on his books. Yet, his books aren't the kind that make you feel all nice (warm and fuzzy), if you will, at the end of them. They're dark. They're edgy. They're suspenseful. They're slightly odd. I think that is why most people read and enjoy them.

BEING is an odd book. A very odd book. I had been warned, if you will, in one of my yahoo groups that it had a very unsatisfying, very unresolved ending. And it does. Believe me. But I am never one to take anyone's word for it. I like to judge books for myself. A good review or a bad review. It doesn't matter. I like to read for myself and come to my own conclusions. Here's what I've decided. The writing was good in the sense that I kept reading. It was intense. It was dark. It took me places where I didn't necessarily want to go. It raised more questions than it answered. It was very mysterious. Very suspenseful. But in the end, when you're left hanging with no resolution whatsoever...then you've got to ask yourself why. What am I supposed to take away from this book besides the feeling of confusion? of doubt? Questions. Questions. Always questions. No answers.

Being is a thrilling adventure full of drama, chase scenes, bad guys, good guys, etc. It opens with a teen boy, 16, going to the hospital for a routine medical procedure. But very soon, the reader knows to expect the unexpected. Robert wakes up in the middle of surgery--an unexpected surgery--to find the "doctors" holding guns and talking of mysterious secrets. Secrets about him. They're saying all sorts of weird things about him. That he isn't human. That his body is a machine. That he is made of plastic. Of metal. That he is an undescribable wonder of some sort. Sluggish from the drugs, he knows one thing: he must escape the hospital. So he takes a gun, and takes a hostage.

There begins the action. It is a long chase. Days go by, weeks, months, even. He's always on the run. He's always trying to find out more. More about himself. Who is he. What he is. Who created him if he's not human. Why they created him. More about the bad guys. Who are they? What do they want? Why are they after him? Why are they killing anyone and everyone who knows about him? That knows him? Questions. Questions. More questions.

As a reviewer, I would never tell the answers to these questions typically. Most writers have a conflict, raise questions, and then resolve them. Not Brooks. Not this time. There are no secrets to reveal. No big finish that makes this questioning process all worth while. The reader is left always wondering.

For me BEING is like watching the first hour of a science fiction movie, but then missing the second half. It's like an unresolved Twilight Zone. But the Twilight Zone comparison is a good one, I think. I think that's the style and essence of this book.

Why Do You Read What You Read?

One thing I've been thinking about the past few days is the selection process of reading. What makes you as a reader pick a book up off the shelves (either to buy at the bookstore or to check out at the library)? When standing in front of several shelves of books (or boxes) what makes you pick up one book rather than another? What makes you give a book a chance? Is the author the drawing factor? Do you have your favorites and stick with those? Those trusted and few that you've come to love. Or do you seek out new authors? Does one's bestselling status (or lack thereof) matter to you in the selection process? Or is it all about the cover? Do you judge a book by its cover? Does it lure you in? Does it make you curious enough to pick it up? And what role does the title have in catching your interest? Do *unique* titles like Ally Carter's I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You work for you? (Or how about Louise Rennison's Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging?) Do these titles make you curious? And what roles do reviews play? Do you pay more attention to your friends' recommendations? Other blogs? Customer reviews on Amazon and the like? Or do you follow the respected opinions of professional reviewers? Does a bad review or a good review color your opinion or perception of a book? Or do you judge things for yourself? Of course your selection process is going to be different in the library than it would be in the bookstores. When no money is involved, it is easy to take a chance on a new book or new author.

This probably shouldn't fascinate me as much as it does. But I find it all very interesting to try to puzzle out why certain covers appeal to me more than others. Why certain titles catch my fancy, if you will, while others turn me off a book. It's all very personal. What works for one, will work for another. There is no pleasing everyone. Another secret: I am fascinated by comparing book covers between American editions of books with covers from around the world.

These are the American editions of the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. They are the covers that I was "hooked" by if you will. I picked up Uglies thinking that it would be a stupid book. The cover didn't particularly appeal to me. I didn't understand it. I took it home with me (borrowed from review center) but my expectations were low. But I was wrong. It was wonderful. So wonderful that within days of reading the borrowed copy, I went to the store and bought my own copy. It was a must-read. After I had fallen in love with the first book, the rest of the covers didn't matter to me one way or the other. But look at the UK cover art. Very different. Different in a good way, I think. The first two definitely have the Barbie-vibe going on. I like that. Specials didn't thrill me as much (the art for the UK edition) but the first two really caught my eye.

And here is the Polish edition of Uglies.

And the Japanese edition of Uglies.

In the end, all that matters is the writing. It is not how attractive a book cover is (or isn't). Or how catchy the title is that is important. I have learned through the years that you can't judge a book by its cover. You've got to be willing to take some risks. That ugly cover may be hiding a true gem of a book. Like the ugly ARC cover of Lightning Thief. Or a truly beautiful book cover may be hiding a mediocre book. What irritates me most are book covers that are false advertisements. Covers that promise one thing, but fail to deliver. Covers that fail to reflect the heart and soul of a book. Books have a way of surprising you one way or the other.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Nobody's Princess

Friesner, Esther. 2007. Nobody's Princess.

Do you like heroines who are strong, independent, and self-sufficient? You may want to meet Helen. She's not your average princess. Sure, her mother and father are king and queen of Sparta. And sure, she may grow up to be "Helen of Troy." But Helen is a young firecracker of a character. She is not going to stand around learning how to do needlework while her two brothers, Castor and Polydeuces, get to have all the fun of learning to ride and hunt. She's not going to miss out on all the fun of learning how to use spears and swords. Disguising herself as a boy, she fools everyone but her brothers and their teacher, Glaucus. Fortunately for Helen, he bought into her theory of how the future queen of the country needs to be able to defend herself. Now, being an adventurer and hunter like her brothers isn't all fun and games. Helen is learning it takes hard work, sacrifice, and a strong mind. Some may call her pretty. But Helen pays them no attention. She wants one thing in life: freedom to live HOW she chooses. Beauty can be just as much of a hindrance as a help in that regards. NOBODY'S PRINCESS is an exciting book full of adventures. Friesner takes a well-known figure in mythology and creates an adventurous, one-of-a-kind childhood for this heroine mostly known for her beauty and sexuality.

There were many things I enjoyed about Nobody's Princess. Helen is strong. She is resourceful. She doesn't take no for an answer. She knows what she wants and she works hard to get it. Very admirable traits in a heroine.

So there we are again. I could claim a kingdom, cause a scene at a shrine, refuse to sacrifice to a goddess, and get away with it all. My life would always be easy and pleasant because no matter what I did, everything would be forgiven, forgotten, laughed away because I was pretty. No, I was better than pretty. I was beautiful. (26)

I wasn't a slave, but as much as I hated carding and spinning and weaving wool, Ione and Mother forced me to spend day after day learning how to do it. What they said was: "This is what all women do, even queens," but what I heard was: This is all that women can do, and even queens have no choice about it. Was that being free? Clytemnestra wasn't a slave, but when she was old enough she'd be married off and sent away to live with her husband. Would she get to choose him, or would she simply be told, "This is the man you're going to marry," the same way that Ione told us, "This is the dress you're going to wear today." Was that being free? I sat up. I knew what I wanted. "I just want to say yes or no about my own life," I said. "Always." (33)

An Invitation

Do you read books? Do you blog? Do you have plans for June 8th through June 10th? Can you play by the rules? Then you may want to participate in MotherReader's Second Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge. Here are (copied and pasted) MotherReaders rules:

Here are the basic guidelines to start. I am open to suggestions if you’ve got them, or ask me questions so I can establish a related rule. Here goes:

The weekend is June 8–10, 2006. Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the eighth and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday. So, go from 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday... or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row.

The books should be about fifth-grade level and up. Adult books are fine, especially if any adult book bloggers want to play. If you are generally a picture book blogger, consider this a good time to get caught up on all those wonderful books you’ve been hearing about. No graphic novels. I’m not trying to discriminate, I’m just trying to make sure that the number of books and page counts mean the same thing to everyone.

It’s your call as to how much you want to put into it. If you want to skip sleep and showers to do this, go for it (but don’t stand next to me). If you want to be a bit more laid back, fine. But you have to put something into it or it’s not a challenge.

The length of the reviews are not an issue. You can write a sentence, paragraph, or a full-length review.

For promotion/solidarity purposes, let your readers know when you are starting the challenge with a specific entry on that day. When you write your final summary on Monday, let that be the last thing you write that day, so for one day, we’ll all be on the same page, so to speak.

Your final summary needs to clearly include the number of books read, the approximate hours you spent reading/reviewing, and any other comments you want to make on the experience. It needs to be posted no later than noon on Monday, June 11.

Sign up in today’s comments. You’re welcome to post the challenge on your site to catch the bloggers that come your way but don’t come mine. Point them to today’s post to sign up. On Friday, June 8, I’ll have a starting-line post where you can sign in to say you’re officially starting the challenge.

I’ll work on some prizes for most books read, most hours spent, and most pages read (if it isn’t the same winner as most books read). Last year I allowed an alternate, personal goal challenge, but this year the logistics of that might kill me. If you want to play along, but not really do the Challenge, that’s fine, but no prizes. I’ll have a 48 Hour Book Challenge Solidarity Post to list your personal weekend book challenges.

I’ll post the rules again as we get closer, to incorporate suggestions or to answer questions that have come up. So how many books do you think you could read if you devoted a weekend to the task? Ready to find out?