09 March, 2011

2011 Books, part one

I know you've been waiting for this on the edge of your seats. I promise to try to blog every 5-6 books from now on instead of every 10+, to make these posts easier to digest. Starting next time. Pinky swears.

Anyway, these are the books I have read so far this year:


Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

This was not the cover on the copy I read, by the way. It was green and a little less YA-looking. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Diaries are often considered YA fodder, anyway.

This was part of my banned books project, and it was another one of those books that made me cry and sent me into a brief period of despair when it was over. Not to be a Spoiler Spencer, but the end of this book is really, really sad, and also very unsatisfying. The girl who wrote this diary is an amazingly talented writer. It makes me angry that this is the only piece she ever had published.

I will probably force my teenage children to read this book and they will be like, geez, Mom, already knew drugs were bad, thanks; and then I will be like yeah, but this book shows you why drugs are so bad, and they will roll their eyes.


The End by Lemony Snicket

I chose this cover even though it is clearly for the audio version because OMG, Tim Curry? Why was he not cast as Lemony Snicket in that decent-but-could-have-been-better film?

I spent an entire summer a few years ago hanging out in the children's section of the BYU library reading this entire book series as had been published at the time. Because I am cool. Then I got really busy and wasn't able to read the last two books in the series until fairly recently. Snicket did a good job of tying the series up, I think. I have heard good things he has written under his real name, so I'll have to check those out later.


Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

This was one of those books I had checked out once or twice before, but returned before I had a chance to read it. It's a really sweet story. Definitely deserved the attention it got. I had a hard time at first placing exactly what era it was set in at first, but that's really secondary to the plot, anyway.

I would totally read this to a fifth or sixth grade class.


In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

Another one from the banned books project. I am making serious headway on it this year.

When I think Maurice Sendak, I think of two things. One, he designed the sets for the Pacific Northwest Ballet's yearly production of the Nutcracker, and they are breathtaking. Two, Where the Wild Things Are, quite possibly the best, most timeless picture books of all time.

I had never heard of this book before seeing it on the list, and it was OK, but not nearly as tightly written or as expressive as WTWTA. I figured out why it was banned really quickly--the young male protagonist is naked for much of the story. Some people are freaked out by nudity even when it's with little kids, I guess. The nudity did seem kind of unimportant to the story however, so it would have been easier to just leave it out ... who knows why he made the choice he did.

Some people find this book very Freudian. Just a thought.


The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

I found this book while browsing aimlessly at the library. I had heard of the Academy Award-winning film for which Kate Winslet, one of my favorite actresses, had received a Best Actress Oscar, but I hadn't got around to seeing the movie. Now I'm glad I did, because this book was incredibly compelling, and I liked being able to be surprised by the story as it developed.

Oddly, I identified with the main female character, even though she is not the heroine by any means. The whole book is very sparse and kind of cold, even though it is about a love affair that it describes in vivid detail.

I don't know what else to say about the story, but seriously, read this book.


The Stupids Have a Ball; The Stupids Take Off; The Stupids Step Out, all by Harry Allard

This entire series is on the banned books list, and I read all of them except for one. They are pretty consistent in theme so I don't think I'm missing a whole lot.

I imagine these books were banned because it's not very nice to call people "stupid." I can't think of any other reason why. The family is basically an oblivious group of idiots who blissfully go through life sleeping in clown suits, letting the cat drive the car and walking on their hands. I think a lot of children find it fun and gratifying to be able to look at a group of people behaving contrary to norms and knowing that they know better (another example of this is the character Mr. Noodle on Sesame Street). Recognizing when something is out of the ordinary is one of the test criteria for autism, as I understand it. So while it is not nice to call people stupid, I think these books have value for very young children.

NOTE: here is what it says on Wikipedia: "Challengers of the books claim that they describe families in a derogatory manner and may encourage children to be disobedient. They also claim that they promote low self-esteem and negative behavior." How's that for some ridiculous?


Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam

First of all, this book was awesome. It was another kids' book from the banned books list. Second, it was obviously banned because it has references to the devil and the supernatural. Third, people need to lighten up because the poems were hilarious and scary stories are good clean fun. Here is a sample poem from the book.

Apple

Apple,
sweet apple,
what do you hide?
Wormy and
squirmy,
rotten inside.

Apple,
sweet apple
so shiny and red,
taste it,
don't waste it,
come and be fed.

Delicious,
malicious;
one bite and
you're dead.

See what I mean? The poem is funny, a little spooky, but the kind of spooky like in a Disney movie where you know the villain has a bumbling sidekick and probably a really hilarious weakness. I really wish people would think these things through.


Sleepwalk with Me and Other Painfully True Stories by Mike Birbiglia

I was really excited to read this book because Mike Birbiglia is one of my favorite comedians and contributes to my two favorite podcasts, The Moth and This American Life. Unfortunately, because I have heard so much of his work, some of these stories I had heard before. But they were still funny and delightful. Great book .


Blubber by Judy Blume

From the banned books list, and surprisingly, one of the few Judy Blume books I had not read. I had always assumed this book was about what it was like to be a chubby kid. In fact, it is told from the point of view of another girl in Blubber's class. It's mostly about bullying. At first everyone in the class, including the protagonist, who is so boring and forgettable that I have already forgotten her name, bullies Linda, AKA Blubber. The bullying is the kind of vicious stuff from your childhood that you always assume you just remember wrong as an adult, but then realize is actually universal. Then the class switches targets and everyone bullies protagonist, including Linda.

That is really depressing, and I want to believe that most (some?) bullied kids would refuse to bully others. Am I being too idealistic? Maybe.


My Life as a Furry Red Monster by Kevin Clash

Yes, yes indeed I am a TOTAL puppet nerd. I remember seeing this charming interview with Kevin Clash a while back, and being like, "Dude, the guy who performs Elmo is a tall, good-looking black guy? This is the same kind of cognitive dissonance I experienced when I found out Miss Piggy was played by a balding bespectacled British dude!"

Anyway, this is a typical famous person memoir: ghost-edited by someone with a better handle on writing, lots of shout-outs to famous mentors, loving memories of family members. However, I still ate it up. Good times.


It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

This is another one of those books that is so good I am worried about doing it justice. The back cover described the story as "eerily timeless" and that is a pretty apt summary. It was written in 1935, but the narration and characters feel so modern, it really was eerie. There are a lot of political issues and trends that I assumed had only been around for the past 30 years or so, but I was totally wrong.

Assuming my Wikipedia skimming did not fail me for the first time, this book was written after Hitler had come to power, but before the United States was involved in the conflict, possibly before they even cared what was happening in Europe. Sinclair explores the idea of how a Hitler-like Fascist dictator could easily come to power in the United States. It is brilliant. Also creepy.


The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

I have read the first book in this series (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) probably five or six times, and I am pretty sure I had the next three or so read to me when I was little, but I recently decided to read the entire series. I did some research about whether or not to start with this book, seeing as it's a prequel that was written after the series (just like The Hobbit, which I also read first). I decided that I wanted to read the prequel first, especially considering that I had read the "real" first book in the series so many times already.

Aslan is quite possibly my favorite allegory for God/Jesus outside scriptural canon. The scene where Digory tells Aslan about his mother made me cry.

Also, Do you think this is where J.K. Rowling got Cedric Diggory's last name?


4 comments:

eden said...

the only book i've read of these is the magician's nephew. i read the whole series a few years ago and ate them up, and loved them, and cried at different times. so good. i love Aslan. so much.

Ashley said...

The the effect of how everything is connected in the Chronicles of Narnia is SO much cooler if you read them in the order of publication!

Allen said...

Fact#1 - The Stupids was made into a live action movie staring Tom Arnold that is magically hilarious in how stupid it is, which I guess is the point.

Fact#2 - I have an autographed copy of Sleepwalk With Me.

Fact#3 - you're awesome.

Fact#4 - I'm pretty sure you don't even realize how truthful #3 is.

katiekono said...

I read 4 of them, 5 if you count most of the "Series of Unfortunate Events" books. I also listened to the Kevin Clash interview (with you?) and was fascinated by it.

Yes, you are awesome! David, the girl and I had a great week here. The Grand Canyon is on the agenda for your next trip, which must be in the Fall or Spring. I refuse to go in the summer!

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