Sunday, January 31, 2010

One Down, 11 to go...

Today is January 31; to date, my books of 2010 are:

  1. Notes from the Midnight Driver
  2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  3. Beautiful Creatures
  4. Ballad
  5. Her Fearful Symmetry
  6. Going Bovine
  7. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
  8. The Girl Who Played with Fire
  9. Nurtureshock (still in progress)

I just finished the second Stieg Larsson book, The Girl Who Played with Fire. I couldn't put it down! My to-do list has been neglected. It was outstanding, as was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Two things are on my mind: first, great disappointment that Stieg Larsson died not long after turning over the manuscripts of his trilogy. I would have loved to read many more of his books. Second, Larsson was an outspoken humanitarian and activist. I suspect that his series is an attempt to draw attention to the sex trade that continues to exploit women and girls throughout the world. I hope it's a successful attempt; I would like to find a way to do my part.

One month into 2010 and so far I have tracked my reading...sort of. It occurred to me the other day that in addition to books, I read all sorts of things. I visit and interact at online professional networking sites in order to improve my work as a teacher everyday. I read magazines and journals everyday. I was accepted and received my first assignment as a reviewer for The ALAN Review, which is in progress right now. So much of my life focuses on the written word! I am so lucky that my personal and professional interests merge in this single focus.

It also occurs to me, though, that the writing I do on this blog is far more like journal writing than it is anything that anyone else might want to read. Of course, that was the purpose when I began this blog a month ago...So in addition to all the other reading I do, I'm beginning to read about blogging as a writing style, and how I can improve as a blogger. I'm hoping to learn this along with my students, as I explore the possibility of blogging as a form of academic writing. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Read the Book First!

Everyone--especially English teachers and mothers (of which I am both)--says that the book is always better than the movie, and that you should always read the book first. So when Hannah and I went to see The Lovely Bones last weekend (yes, I made her read the book first), and one of the coming attractions was Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, I did what any good English teacher (and mother) would do: I immediately read the book. It was good! Lots of action, lots of (accurate) allusion to Greek Mythology, and a solid story at its core. I can easily see why it is a tween favorite, and well it should be.

Of course, knowing that the movie is about to be released kept me thinking about the book as a movie. And I am absolutely aware, as I say this, that there are people in Hollywood who can destroy almost any story in any number of ways. Still, I must say, I had a bizarre thought as I was reading. This is one movie that has the potential to be just as good as the book.
Did I really just admit that in print? Yikes. I am definitely not predicting the film will live up to expectations! But so often, when I hear a book is being made into a film, I groan before production has even begun.Too many narratives don't survive the translation from screen to page. This time, I'm actually looking forward to seeing the film--I wonder if they will do the book justice.

Friday, January 22, 2010

And the Printz goes to...

The Printz Awards were announced at the ALA Midwinter conference on Monday, and the winner was Going Bovine by Libba Bray. The book had caught my eye last month, and as a big fan of Libba Bray, I bought it immediately; it has hovered near the top of my "to read" pile ever since.

(In Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy, the mythological Morrigan features prominently; it just so happens that my cousin's daughter is named Morrigan, so when she saw her name in a book, she wondered if I was reading about her. Morrigan also has a slight obsession with bacon, and she wondered if there was any bacon in the book. When I met Libba Bray at a book signing and relayed this little story, she laughed, then she signed a copy of A Great and Terrible Beauty: "To Morrigan--This book really IS about you and bacon!" I will be a fan forever.)

So I squealed with delight when Libba Bray won the Printz! And I immediately began reading. And it was...strange. Good. Odd. Interesting. Literary. I liked it. I finished it in four days! But I'm not entirely certain...that is...I don't softly) Idon'tknowifIwouldhavegivenitaPrintz. Ahem.

The thing is, there is a swearing in it. The F-bomb. And they smoke pot. And the main character is dying of mad cow disease, so he's delusional. And I'm not sure it's a book I can put out on the shelf in my 8th grade classroom, for all of those reasons.

On the up side, the book is based (perhaps loosely) on Don Quixote, and there are lots of literary references to that book and more. It is definitely a hero's journey--one of my favorite literary games is identifying the hero's journey in any story. Wow! This is a good one. As a full-fledged word nerd, I really liked it.

But I wonder, what will my students think? I have felt this way before. When The Wednesday Wars won awards a few years ago, I wondered how appealing this book that I loved would be to a young adult audience. I feel the same way now; it is a relatively new book, and I can't wait to know how other people (especially teenage people) feel when they read it.

Up next: Percy Jackson. The movie will be out soon, so I'd better get reading!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King!

Today I owe a larger-than-usual debt of gratitude to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Why, you may ask? The first part--the usual debt of gratitude--is owed because the sacrifices he made and the cause he led have allowed me to live a full, rich life with friends and family from every corner of the world; a beautiful daughter (flesh of my flesh!) whose coffee-colored skin is a beautiful contrast to my own shade of milky-white (read: pasty), and an extended family of loved ones who represent every color of our human rainbow. From the deepest recesses of my heart and my soul, I am grateful: for my daughter, my friends, my loved ones; for a president in the White House who reflects my own beautiful family in a way I never dreamed possible; for a world that is one step closer to the dream...Thank you, Dr. King.

The larger-than-usual, though, is purely selfish. This morning, thanks to the holiday, I laid in bed until I had finished a book: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. (More on that in a moment.) Then I came downstairs, plugged in my computer, and watched the webcast of this morning's ALA Midwinter Awards. I cried as Walter Dean Myers was awarded the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award. (Should I feel ashamed to admit that? Perhaps...but it's true.) I chose my next book to read--luckily it's been waiting patiently in the other room: Going Bovine by Libba Bray, winner of the 2010 Printz Award. I cheered as one of my favorite books of 2009--When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead--won the Newbery. It is now just noon, and already it is a wonderful day! Thank you, Dr. King. ;-)

By my count, Her Fearful Symmetry was the fifth book of 2010. I think. It is probably too early in the year for me to have lost track already, but there it is: I have. At any rate, I loved this book! I was intimidated by the mediocre reviews; I had so loved The Time-Traveler's Wife, and I was sorely afraid of being disappointed. Finally, I took a deep breath, I lowered my expectations, and I began to read.

It was wonderful. It was not The Time-Traveler's Wife, to be sure! There was no happy ending, either; just farewell...and isn't that how life really works? Oh, it was a fantasy: there was a ghost (or two, or three), there were two sets of twins, there were secrets and lies and all sorts of mysterious things, but at it's core, it was both intimate and true. And isn't that why we read? So we can be drawn into another life; so we can know strangers intimately and see the world through their eyes; and then we can go back to our own lives and think, "Hmmm. Maybe this real life I'm living is OK. Maybe I am not alone. Maybe there is more to me, too, than meets the eye. Or maybe not."

Perhaps this book will not take a place in my heart, and perhaps it will. As I said, it was not The Time-Traveler's Wife. But it did occupy my heart for a few hours, and if I learned nothing else from reading it, I learned that the shadow of a thing is sometimes as important as the thing itself.

Now, on to Going Bovine. But first a quote from the man of the day, coupled with the hope that I will help my students fulfill this goal in the year to come:

"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically... Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Double digits by the end of January?!?

I hope so! I am one book closer: last night I finished Ballad by Maggie Steifvater. I loved it! I am a big fan of hers--and not just because we have the same name. (Did you know she changed her name to Maggie? Yup, she writes cool books AND she has great taste in names! But I digress...) She also wrote Shiver, which is getting a lot of attention and which people (including my students) really love. And I love it, too. But I love this series--first Lament, which I read last fall, and now Ballad--even more.

It is such a complicated story (in a good way) and I am so bad at talking about books without giving anything away, I can't even try. Here are some keywords: faeries, music, boarding school, friendship, loyalty, love.

Now, I am still reading Nurtureshock, and it is amazing! But it's not a story for before bed. So now I face a tough decision...should the next book be on paper, or on my Kindle? It's a tough choice I face...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Forgotten Book

I am in the middle of two books: Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater (almost done) and Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman (chapter 3, but I've reread the first two chapters at least three times each). But that's not what I'm writing about in this blog. No, tonight's topic is the book I forgot.

Over Christmas break, I indulged in my favorite habit: I tucked myself under a blanket and I read, and read, and read. I read on the couch, I read at the kitchen table, and I read in my bed. I read so much that it was hard for me to remember all that I read, which is possibly why I forgot to blog about the first book that I finished in 2010: Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick. I thought this was going to be just a silly book about a kid who does something dumb and spends the book trying to figure out how to fix it. In the opening chapter, he gets drunk for the first time and "kills" a lawn gnome. Silly, right? Only, this was not a silly book! It was great. I really, really liked it. And although it wasn't silly, it was very funny. And did I mention great? And even though it was funny, I also cried at the end, because in addition to being funny and great, it was also real and true and honest, and just the littlest bit sad.

Now, to be fair, I did not read the whole book in 2010, but I finished it on January 1, shortly after midnight. Yes, that's right, I brought in the new year with my family and my closest friends, then I excused myself to read as soon as I could politely leave them. I love them a lot! But after ringing in the new year with the people I love, I did the thing I love: I snuggled into my bed, under the covers, and I finished my book. Wahooooo!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Two down, 198 to go...

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but the Julian calendar does give us a nice tidy way to keep track of a year. I think I read about 200 books a year; this year, I'm counting.

Today was a good day to lie in bed and read. I had a rotten sinus headache, so anything that involved movement or noise was not ideal. I must say, as much as I hate to have a headache, it is awfully hard to be too upset at spending a day under the blanket with a book: today's was Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

The book came highly recommended, and for the first half or so, I believed it had earned well-earned praise from all those who recommended it to me. But as it progressed, it stopped being a literary creme brulee and turned into a literary pudding--still sweet and delicious, but not nearly so rich and decadent. Still, a good read, and a great adventure for a snowy, headachey Sunday in bed.

Now comes the confession. I started reading this book as a know, two hard covers with real paper pages in between them, and a dustjacket that doubles as a bookmark...the kind of book I waxed nostalgic about reading just a few short days ago. Then I got a Kindle for Christmas, and I discovered how wonderful it is to snuggle down in bed with the blankets pulled up to my neck and only one hand poking out from under the covers to hold the Kindle. No propping up pillows, nor begging Hannah to borrow her Snuggie; I can lie on my side, tucked in (almost) completely, and read. So despite owning the book, despite being careful with money...I purchased Beautiful Creatures on my Kindle early this morning, and finished the book electronically. It was worth every penny.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Books and Blankets--flashlight optional

I was one of those kids who loved to read. A lot. I was lucky to be what's now called a "spontaneous reader"--somewhere in my second year, my brain magically decoded the written word, and I have been reading voraciously ever since.

In second grade, I began a borderline obsession with Nancy Drew mysteries, which are notoriously difficult to put down--right? My bedtime was 8:00, and I was allowed to read until 8:30. Sadly, Nancy Drew did not follow this strict timeline. I could not possibly stop reading just because my mother said it was time to turn my light out! How would I ever know if Nancy solved the secret of the old clock? or the mystery at Lilac Inn? No, it was impossible to stop reading...and so, tucked under the covers with my book and a flashlight, I defied my mother's well-intentioned rule and kept reading as late as I wanted. Or until I got caught. Whichever came first.

By high school, my mother had given up. She reluctantly accepted that she could not stop me from reading, and I no longer faced "lights out." Oh, I still had a bedtime, but I was allowed to read until I fell asleep, which was often when the book was done.

As an adult, things have not changed too much. Last night I finished the first book of 2010: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. (It was also the first book I've read on my new Kindle, but that is another blog entirely.) I didn't realize, when I began reading, that it was a mystery; how could I stop for something like sleep? I didn't. At 4 a.m., I finished the book, and that's when I turned out my light.

So I'm a little tired today. Oh well. Staying up all night with a good book is totally worth it. And reading a book under a blanket is just about the best thing in the whole world, which is why I'm putting this laptop down and picking up Beautiful Creatures, the second book of 2010. I'm looking forward to spending the day on the couch, under a blanket, with a good book in my hands. Bliss.