August 6, 2011

Back in the Saddle


Just got finished with the first week back.  This is the week for teachers, not students.  We start seeing the little darlings on Monday.

So let's see.  What have I been up to since last we chatted?  Well, reading mostly, of course.

First of all, I'm sorry to say I read O. Scott Card's Ender's Shadow.  I'm sorry because I really don't have very good feelings for Mr. Card as a fellow human (his extreme anti-gay activism is upsetting), but I liked the book okay.  It wasn't as good as Ender's Game, of course, but it'd had been so long since I'd read the first one that this ''parallel novel'' was pretty interesting.  I needed something I was pretty sure I would like because I had to abandon another highly-anticipated (by me anyway) science fiction novel that I gave a good chance to but finally had to part ways with.  When I guiltily told My Lovely Bride that I was giving up on it, she said, ''Nanci Atwell would be so proud of you.''  (Only reading teachers will get that joke.)  But I think I'm finally done with Card.  At what point does an author's personal beliefs tip you over into disregarding his/her work?  I mean I still like Dickens but hear he was an unpleasant fellow.  I think Isaac Asimov was a great guy but admit he isn't the greatest prose stylist.  But Roald Dahl?  An insufferable boor.  Only because I know he was heavily edited can I enjoy some of his stuff with my daughter.  I guess ''disregarding his/her work'' isn't quite right.  His books are still fine.  I just don't want to read them anymore.

Which brings up another recent read, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs.  His thesis is not that people aren't reading enough, but that he hears from many people that seem to lack confidence in their reading choices.  These people often turn to books in the vein of Mortimer and Adler's How to Read a Book and similar tomes.  He says that's a good way to take the fun out of reading.  And fun, or at least pleasure, is the point.  It's not supposed to be like hitting the treadmill or eating your greens. It's supposed to be fun.  So go ahead and read whatever interests you, whether that be Jane Austen or Archeology.  He has a few pointers on how to achieve this by reading on a whim, but not aimlessly.  He also advocates for different kinds of reading including classics, poetry, nonfiction, etc.  Oh, and he encourages some re-reading, which I'm starting to think I should do more often.  In college we regularly re-read books to make sure we were getting everything out of them.  But since then, I've been more of a ''too many books, too little time'' type of a guy.  But since my memory is so bad, I'm sure I'd enjoy re-reading some old favorites now and then.

I especially liked his sections on his embrace of the Kindle.  He articulated a few things I liked about it but hadn't been able to express.  It's like a reading focusing machine which somehow encourages more and effortless reading.  I'm less likely to flip to the table of contents or check how many pages are left in the chapter and just keep reading.  Yet he also discusses the pros and cons of note-taking when it comes to using physical books versus electronic ones and makes recommendations on which format is better for different purposes.

I couldn't take a lot of notes because I got my copy from the library.  On a whim, of course.

Two other books I read this summer that had similar themes were Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys and John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things, both of which had been on my TBR list for an extended time and I'm happy to have finally tackled.  ''Tackled'' isn't really the right word because they were both delightful.

I suppose I'd put off the Gaiman because it's a kind of, sort of sequel to his American Gods but obviously not as good.  I really liked Gods (his homage to Harlan Ellison, another favorite of mine).  I guess I was reluctant because I knew it just couldn't compare and I didn't want to be disappointed.  But I needn't have worried because it was simply a different kind of novel.  This was more Anansi-centric and therefore more playful in a P. G. Wodehouse kind of way.  The Lost Things was darker, but very good.  I was lucky enough to get the book in a give-away from C. B. James who has a much more complete review here.  I'll just say that I enjoyed it very much and it was more enjoyable still having read the Gaiman only a few books earlier. The ''Crooked Man'' is a darker version of the Trickster than Anansi.  More Rumpelstilskin than Br'er Rabbit.  The use of old tales and their influence on the modern-day events of the books are similar.  The Connolly is more like Alice in Wonderland in that the main character goes into another world more than the characters in the Gaiman.  In the Gaiman the characters enter other worlds, but only briefly in response to the events in the story.

In kid books, I read Smile by Raina Telqemeier which is a comic book memoir of her time in middle school through early high school and some serious dental work and trauma she had to go through during that already tough and self-conscious time in her life.  It was brilliant but man oh man that ''gum scraping'' thing still gives me the willies.  I know, I know, the Gaiman, the Connolly, even the Card were full of monsters, children in peril and death.  But it's the gum-scraping that freaks me out.  What can I say?

I've read some things recently about the Jeanne Birdsall books about her Penderwicks family.  Stuff about how these are more nostalgic books for adults than something being embraced by kids.  Well, all I have is anecdotal evidence but I talked with a third grade girl I know who loves them and a fourth grade boy who enjoyed them and a sixth grade boy who loved them as well.  So there you go.