Back in high school, teachers provided me with the skills that helped when a book challenged my ability to pay attention. Without that influence and as a slow reader, I fell into a pattern with comfort books (easy-to-read books read primarily for relaxation). Tackling a book like Wolf Hall, with its lack of antecedents, or The Good Death, with its dense factivism, diminishes my TBR consumption from slow plow to long slog. I’m not sure why I decided to read Wolf Hall and The Good Death concurrently, but I did. I’ve always had self-punitive reading tendencies. This post is for those of us who choose to go beyond comfort books and need a refresher on tips and tricks to tackle challenging books without returning to the demoralizing practice of gutting through it.
I fell in love with Clare Clark’s writing the moment I broke into We That Are Left in spite of the grammatically irritating title. I wondered what she had to say about appearances that deceive and those who are titled pretending at something while we who are not titled aspire to their falsehoods. I jotted down lines and page numbers of favorite descriptions and passages. Such great writing promises a great story. In the end, I felt cheated of that great story just as the wealthy cheat at status and the poor are cheated.
[Note: Due to a website migration at my day job, some content that I wrote for a local bookstore chain was unpublished, so I’m republishing it here. I wrote reviews to sell books, so I may have sugar coated some things, but my basic feelings are represented.]
In Fiction Ruined My Family, Jeanne Darst isn’t posing, bragging or begging. She fully experiences the life of an artist and plies her wares in private homes or working barns or legitimate theater. She tells her story without embellishment, though she admits that perhaps not all the details are entirely true either. She doesn’t need our approval, though she has it (or at least the book does).
I wrote this review for Bookmans.com in the summer of 2012 after reading The Island of Doctor Moreau aloud with my then 12-year-old son. When Bookmans did a website redesign earlier this year and migrated their website database, we unpublished all but 30 posts. I tweaked this post to park it here for now.
According to The Literature Network, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) by H.G. Wells, deals with themes of eugenics, the ethics of scientific experimentation, Darwin’s theories and religion. But it’s summer and who cares about vivisecting literature? We care about enjoying a good book, so we’re providing our own guide to The Island of Doctor Moreau.
It’s a well-known fact that I adore books. I seriously
If you were paying attention, I attempted to record in my widgets the books the kids and I read this summer. I didn’t do such a great job. The kids read at night when it was too dark for me to see them and it is such a PITA (pain in the ass – via a Solar Rock pal) for them to speak to me, much less tell me what they read. I didn’t do much better recording the books I read. For example, I read a book from the Dear Dumb Diary*series and thought it was hi-LAR-ious. Still, I neglected to list it. Nor did I list The Tale of Despereaux*. So, I pretty much suck at record keeping. In this case, not such a big deal. In the case of immunization records, such a big deal.
By far our favorite was Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I must admit, the series isn’t without it’s drawbacks. It’s highly predictable and repetitive, and is critical of the Water Cycle. On the other hand, I enjoyed the Dantesque undertones and the cameos of Melville, Voltaire, Congreve, Woolf, Flaubert, Beckett, and many, many others. Also, the kids and I have been discussing what makes a villain or volunteer. Are you a bad guy if you tell a lie, commit a tiny bit of manslaughter (or at least assault), or neglect to care for your fingernails?
We have yet to read the final book – The End. We don’t have to overly savor that book. In 2012, when my kids insist the world will end in spite of my years, YEARS, of experience with such bogus predictions, all of which I survived, Lemony Snicket is scheduled to present a new four-book series. Between The End and the end (2012), I’ll be attempting to read through all the Newbery Award winners. Care to join me?
Summer reads that I managed to compile in a list-y, link-y format (will someone please return them to the bookshelf?):
The Invention of Hugo Cabret– 9 YO & MomA Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-12– ALLExtraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil– 7 & 9 YOsThe Trumpet of the Swan– ALLIs That A Sick Cat In Your Backpack?– 9 YOSound Off! #1 (DANIEL BOOM AKA LOUD BOY)– 9 YOHowtoons: The Possibilities Are Endless!– 9 YOCoraline: The Graphic Novel – 7 YOA.L.I.E.E.E.N. – 7 & 9 YOsFashion Kitty and the Unlikely Hero – 7 YOSardine in Outer Space 2 – 9 YOBabymouse #3: Beach Babe – 7 YOLittle Vampire – 9 YOBabymouse #4: Rock Star – 7 YOWarriors Super Edition: Firestar’s Quest– 9 YO & MomRapunzel’s Revenge – 7 YOAnimorphs #37: The Weakness – 9 YOIn FAIRYLAND. With the Text of The Princess Nobody. Edited & with a Foreword by Cary Wilkins. – 7 YOStink: Book 1 – 9 YOThe Twelve Dancing Princesses – 7 YONasty Nature (Horrible Science) – 9 YO
Flat Stanley – 7 YOStar Wars, Episode III – Revenge of the Sith – 9 YOTransformers: Beast Wars: The Gathering – 9 YO
* Did I mention I am a sellout Amazon Associate? I am and even managed to make $2 off you suckers!
Last Friday, I got my panties tied in a knot. If this has ever happened to you, you’ll agree that it ain’t pleasant. It’s about eleventy million degrees in the desert and any business who has a customer come in the door in this weather (and economy) should fall to their knees in gratitude. Okay. Maybe my attitude was skewed, but honestly the Universe should have been on my side.
Have you ever been into an Apple store? There is a culture there that I just cannot crack. I went to one such den of iniquity to purchase iPods for the kiddos at Christmas and, did you know you can’t just go there and buy some? Nope. You cannot. You can go there and order them online. Of course you can do that at your own damn house too and get them monogramed for free. Also, you might foolishly wait in line to buy those only to discover BUZZ wrong line. Also, there is a sign-in sheet, but you gotta know it’s there, where to find it, and what to do once you’ve approached it. I feel like a moron every time I darken their doorstep.
So, it’s eleventy million degrees outside and I pack the kids up for a 16-mile trip to RichMan’s Land to get a new battery at the Apple store. I ridiculously wait in line with my MacBook before realizing that this line is a fantasy. I remember that you have to catch as catch can a, uh, what do you call them? They have a name, those applets walking around. They always send me straight home. Let’s make this long, agonizing story short to say, the kids and I embarked on our next errand – me still lugging the dead MacBook.
Next stop, the dry cleaners to retrieve the on-loan dresses belonging to my Fairy God Sister (I changed her designation as she is decades too young to be my mother). You’ll remember there were two borrowed dresses. Additionally, I dropped off a kid’s dress and a kid’s tie. The kid’s dress went in without stains and came home with rust stains. The kid’s tie went in with a chocolate stain, which I pointed out, and was returned with the same said stain. I didn’t have the guts to check Yvonne’s dresses. The bill for these four items? $47! I should have known to stay home. Nothing good happens in Hell.
I gave up on errands and retreated to sanctuary where I know loveliness awaits me. Handsome Hubster’s great grandmother Inez was a quilt maker. I washed and set out to dry four of her quilts. I thought they were in fairly good condition, but I was wrong.
Even raggedy, I love these fans both traditional and electric. That’s what I’m calling the designs. If you are a purist and want to correct me on the names, then I will require you to send me a handmade quilt, you quilt snob. I may just fill my house with handmade quilts. I’m not sure if you can see in this photo, but Inez cared enough for these beauties that she repaired them. I will find a way to honor her work.
Alas, the dry lines are near the alley by the car port. Once out of the car and en route to the back door, I ran into my pathetic garden. The death sentence of any living thing with the unfortunate luck to be planted here is why, Denveater, you haven’t had an update on my garden. The basil looks great, the hens ate the pepper pant’s leaves, the tomatoes died one at a time with this one croaking while I was in Oklahoma. Sad.
Through the house and to the street out front where we keep the mailbox. Inside, I found something that took away the sting of the Apple shunning, being taken to/at the cleaners, quilts in sad repair, and triple black-thumb death.
Dayna. Dayna. Isn’t that a lovely name? Dayna sent me a gift. It was completely unsolicited. I didn’t even pay her. Frankly, I’ve never even met her, but I love her. I love you, Dayna. Thank you for Going to Seed: Finding, Identifying, and Preparing Edible Plants of the Southwest*and for the encouragement as well. I think I will keep writing, even if I suspect you and my dad are in cahoots.
* Did I mention I am a sell-out, er, Amazon Associate?
The poll closes in five days and it appears as though my multitude of five imaginary readers (thanks Dad, Volpone, Shylock, Rover, and Mrs. Pinchwife) want to know where I refuse to live. Then again, yesterday I received six of the cutest photographic gifties, so perhaps the pulse of the people will change.
In the meantime, a certain 7 YO is getting a jump start on the summer promises she made to her teacher. Of course I’ve obscured their identities so no one will ever know of whom they read. I’m certainly not implying it’s these jokers. Clearly these two straight laces couldn’t be carried away to story worlds.
Dear Tree Teacher, I finished reading Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil, by Wiley Miller* and I thought it was a touching story because there was a friendship between a boy and a girl. One day at school, there were a few girls going to the playground and a boy asked if he could play with them. They said “No, you are a boy.” I wish more people were like the characters in The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil. I also liked the part in the book where it said what makes music magic. I do think music brings joy. Love, the 7 YO girl
* Did I mention I am a sell-out, er, Amazon Associate?
In spite of what my children might like to tell you, I am a really good mom. I’m a really, really good mom. No. Really. My pal Martha sent me this link as evidence. Here’s additional goods to prove it.
My 6 YO (soon to be 7) girl left this on her doorstep. Let me walk you through it. At first, she simply refuses my access. Note that she can’t bring herself to call me “Mom” and uses my name instead. She then progresses to actively protest my existence. Finally, she recruits family members to “Join the anti-Rebecca club (unless you are Rebecca).” My kids had an awesome K-1 teacher, or so I thought until I realized she taught them to write. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the Hello Kitty stationery labels this series, “Moments to remember.”
Just because I’m actively inspiring admiration in the girl, doesn’t mean I’m slacking off on my obligation to scar the 9 YO boy. Not long ago I bought him a book in the kids’ section of CostCo. The book, Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi*, was handed to me by the 9 YO with the direction to read the following excerpts:
“First, I should tell you a bit about my family,” she said, arching her back as she washed the base of her neck, and the rosy tips of her breasts pushed through the bubbles. – p. 81.
“Put the glasses down,” she said, and slipped her hand around his neck.
“What are you doing?”
She pulled him to her, and retsina spilled on the floor and in the tub. “I think you need a bath.” Her voice was husky, soft, laced with laughter. She wound her wet arms around his back and he toppled over the side, splashing into the warm bath as Dorian’s soft limbs wrapped around him. – pp. 83-84.
That same K-1 teacher who taught them to write taught them to read. It’s really all too bad because I was a much better mom before they learned stuff. Just to add insult to injury, Mz. K-1 had just warned me that kids with mad reading skillz, yo often run into inappropriate content. Just because they can read something doesn’t mean they should. Oopsalay.
The takeaway from these two instances of my children begging me to be a better mother is that I’m a really, really good mom. No. Really. Somebody alert The Mix.
* Did I mention I am a sell-out, er, Amazon Associate?
I’m deeply distracted. My head is a zillion miles away, so when I get in the hot seat, I don’t really know what I’m saying. I think I know what I’m saying and I certainly sorta know what I mean. Until my head is right, I need to learn to take a deep breath and say nothing to let people think I’m a fool rather than open my mouth and prove it. Or I need a “so what if I said it” sort of attitude. I used to have one of those. In 7th grade a bully said to me, “I heard you called me a bitch.” “Yeah? What would you do if I did call you a bitch?” “I’d kick your ass.” “Would that make you any less of a bitch?” Exit bully.
I had not in fact called her a bitch; she was looking for a fight. Sometimes, people just look for fights. This morning I had a similar experience and instead of shrugging it off, I said, “That’s ridiculous!” But in a game of he said/she said no one really wins. There are no re-dos. I’m tempted to contact all the “right” people and set the record straight, but I’m not going to. I will not do it. I really want to, but I had better not.
In The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Georgiana attempts to rid herself of what her husband convinces her is an imperfection by consuming a potion that kills her. Possible interpretations of this story include the effect of psychology on sexuality, the inability to achieve perfection in life, a critique of epoch reforms, the disastrous affect of scientific study on the natural word, and blah blah blah. Now, wake up! I’m trying to tell you something.
The temptation for me to pick at something that may or may not be an imperfection is a horrid thing that isn’t likely to yield good results. Still, I want to pick, pick, pick. When you pop a zit, you are left with a bloody, pussy mess. It’s no good. Seriously though? Regardless of my sizable mental powers, not thinking of a white horse yeilds nothing but thoughts of white horses. Resistance is all but futile. Not popping that zit means you have to live with it until it goes away. In the case of a birthmark, IT NEVER GOES AWAY.
Apparently at a school meeting I said fifty thousand things that I didn’t know I said and wouldn’t have said if I were conscious. Or was it the gossip that colored it all? What it listener bias? I don’t know. I was hit upside the head by the rumor that I hated teachers. What? In turn, teachers hated me. What? Now that we know how evil you are Mom-a-Tron, kindly get on with your day.
And here’s how that went:
I was doing my weekly thing in the 9 YO’s classroom. The kids just completed more than a week of testing on top of a week of testing prep. Plus, there’s a big presentation tomorrow, so I assumed the teacher would need the classroom time. For these reasons, I hadn’t prepared a discussion. I should have known to run when I saw there was no fluoride to distribute. The room was not the same.
An observer sat at the side of the classroom to evaluate the teacher, who just received a pink slip. The teacher wasn’t leading the discussion. I was. The teacher’s aid was zipping out packing tape to secure name tags to desks. ZZZZZIP. STICK. ZZZZZIP. STICK. Things were discombobulated. I sincerely wished for an alien abduction (if that meant I could be at home under the covers). I spoke off the cuff about how a bill becomes a law to a room of students who were bored and a million brain miles away. The thrilling morning ended with a sound critique of my son.
Next week the kids are going to write, introduce, and pass laws and it’s going to rock the Houses. Today, I’m too crired.
(And now time for true confessions. I wrote this whole blog because I just learned the term “crired” from my pal Connie and I knew I must use it.)