Sunday, July 31, 2011

Do Nothing But Read Day

I am reading all kinds of books but I have a summer attention span and can't get through any of them.  A chapter here a page there.  It feels all very profound, I assure you, but I don't usually post unless I finish a book.  I hope to have a book or two in August.

In the meantime, I cam across this interesting activity in which some of you might want to participate:  Do Nothing but Read Day.

This year's DNBRD is August 6th and in these dog days of summer it seems a great activity in which to indulge oneself.  In fact, I think we could declare one of these every month or so.  Let the laundry pile up, bills go unpaid and spend a day with a favorite book or two.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Falling for Me by Anna David

I have written before about what I term the stunt memoir.   The author, usually an already well established writer, comes up with some sort of stunt to try for a year, and then writes about it.  I have read memoirs about giving up electricity, not buying things, not buying things from China, and making amends with all the people you have alienated.  All these stunts generally take one year.  After reading so many of them they start to feel really contrived.  All you need is an agent to pitch it to, a publisher, and a great book advance and voila, paperback memoir and a big book tour.  None of them has given me terribly great insights.

Enter a variation on the theme: established contemporary writer reads a long forgotten tome by some famous person and lives a life in response that work and writes about it. The best example of this is Julie and Julia about the woman who blogs her way to fame by cooking all of the dishes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, also made into a movie starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.

Falling for Me falls under this catagory as Anna David comes across a copy of Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown written in 1962.  Ms. Brown is an early feminist who talks about having a career and attracting men. She posits the idea that you don't have to be dowdy to be powerful.  It is okay to be sexy and wear make-up and be a modern woman.

Anna David is thiry something and sadly single and decides she will follow Gurley Brown's advice for-- guess what?--one year and see where that takes her.  Perhaps a bit of the 1960's Cosmo editor's advice is all she needs to perk up her languishing love life.  Ms David takes up new hobbies, redecorates her apartment, makes herself very available to dating all kinds of men through on-line sites, speed dating, volunteering and going to the beach.  She redoes her wardrobe and her voice and in the last chapter spends a lovely summer in Spain.

She does fall in love, but in the end she falls in love with herself, and the last chapter is really the best written and most interesting as she details how she really has become a whole person because of her ability to re-do herself.  The rest of the work feels a little tired and worn out, and she somes across as really pretty shallow.  Most of the men she meets never pass her sexy meter or looks meter, so even though she vows to give more men a try, it really felt pretty low brow.  The cover you see here on my blog is different from the one on my advanced copy.  This cover actually makes it seem a lot more fun than it really was.  Though I love the ending and the realization that one can love oneself, I also think that in many ways it felt like one 300 page singles ad.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter Mania!!

It is only right that today, on the opening day of the last film of the Harry Potter series that I dedicate my post to the boy who lived.

My son and I have been counting down the days until this last movie.  We watch the trailers over and over again.  We try to get ahold of sneak peaks and watch those, and we have re-watched many of the first 7 films.  Of course we are also attempting to re-read the Deathly Hallows, and are not going to finish by opening night.

It took me a long time to get to reading the series.  I dismissed it as kids stuff and decided to wait to read it until my kid asked me to.  He never did ask me.  I ended up reading them in reverse order and then reading the final one:  1, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 7.  Then I begged him to let me read them to him.

Once I read them they stuck with me like no other.  I re read the final battle scenes several times, tears streaming down my cheeks. Like many writers, I wish I could have thought of this. Not necessarily for the eternal fame and glory, but because it was so fun and interesting and made perfect perfect sense.  All the pieces fell into place.  I loved the words and terms and ideas she created:  quidditch and muggles and squibs and Hogwarts. All named perfectly and creating this amazing world of whimsy and magic.  I have wished so much I could go there and visit.  This is the work of the writer.  To create a world that others want to visit, characters we want to meet, or in this case things we want to do, like ride a broomstick or cast a spell to protect us from evil or how about that amazing handbag of Hermione's?

So I bought my tickets a week ago, hired a babysitter for the little one, and have already made a plan to be there for this first night of the last show.  We will watch in 3-D, but I would enjoy it either way. It is not the effects for me, it is the hero's story that captivates me, I could hear it told over and over again.

The wee ones casting spells on each other
I told my son yesterday that after this comes out on DVD, and we watch it at home once or twice we need to put all of them on ice for a few years.  Once the little one has reached a certain age, I need to read them to her and start introducing them to her.  It would be nice to have them be brand new and magic to both of us.

Now there is nothing left to do but enjoy the show!

Wingardium Leviosa

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah WIles

I spent the better part of my childhood curled up in a corner with a good book.  Reading and books have always brought me a sense of comfort and security.  My church and chapel are bookstores and libraries.  When my husband and I went on one of our first dates, we spent it at a bookstore in the children's section reminiscing about favorite young adult books that we read and loved.

Since I have been reading to my son, I have picked up quite a bit of children's literature, but it is fairly indicative of my son's tastes in books:  creepy tales, dragons and boy books about poop and farts.  But I do note that there are lots of young adult and children's books out there that would have appealed to me when I was his age.

Alice Ozma brought me back to all that.  In her memoir, she mentioned this book about a girl who grows up in a funeral parlor.  I have always loved cemeteries and funeral parlors and obituaries, and I also hunger for more children's books with female protagonists, so I thought I would stray from my usual adult memoir reading list and see how I liked this book.

Deborah Wiles won a National Book Award finalist designation for this story of Comfort Snowberger, a young girl growing up surrounded by death and dying and grappling with death in her own family as she is loosing her best friend.  There is an exciting climax and a bittersweet ending and a host of interesting characters who come together in Comfort's world in and around the funeral home.  The author includes witty obituaries that Comfort writes for the local paper (her writing tendencies reminded me a lot of my very favorite female protagonist, Harriet the Spy), and notes she writes back and forth with her best friend, and also a great hand drawn map of the world that Comfort occupies.  Deborah also has a knack for colorful character names and places.  Comfort's siblings were Tidings and Merry and her dog was Dismay.

I loved this story and I loved Comfort and am putting it on my read aloud queue after I finish my current book with my son.  It is a good good story, even if you don't have a child to read it to.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma

My mother-in-law introduced this book to me, and I must confess I hesitated a bit before starting.  (Two renewals from the public library!)  She showed it to me because I still read to my son who is 13 years old.  While my son and I don't have "The Streak" which the author and her father have, we do a pretty good job of settling down together every weeknight before bed.

I hesitated in beginning to read this because it did not seem there could be that much to say about two people reading together for over 3,000 nights.  It seemed a very thin premise with which to hang a full length memoir.  Really? I thought, what more can you say other than, "I have a great dad and he and I are committed to reading together every night until I go away to college. We have read hundreds of books together."

After seriously doubting what a young twenty-something girl could say about nightly reading with her father, I have to conclude it was a pretty interesting set of stories.  A coming of age look at a girl/young woman who was smart and pretty normal.  She wasn't on drugs or anorexic or a raging lunatic.  She was a just a precocious girl who made it through her parents divorce and a life of relatively little money by reading.  Yes,  almost every chapter was at least tangentially related to sitting down and reading with her father: a funeral for a pet, a car accident, reading on prom night, reading the day her mother moved out, how reading interferes with puberty, the last time the pair read before leaving for college, and the sad fate of a public school librarian among many other witty and sometimes sad stories.

Alice Ozma writes from the point of view of each age she is at, slowly maturing through the 9 years spanning the book.  At first it feels a little precious, syrupy, but as she grows and begins to tell of the darker side of her family life it becomes a richer and more interesting story.  Alice is a young writer.  She has just graduated from College and her stories did feel young in places.  I wonder if this memoir would change if she wrote it at age 50?  It will be interesting to see her grow and mature as a writer over the years.

I thank my MIL for pointing this book out for me and I look forward to more reader recommends.  If you have a young person in your house try making them a reading promise. Though I don't don't think most people will need it spelled out for them, Alice Ozma includes contracts for parents to sign to agree to read with their kids.  She also includes a bibliography of the books she and her dad read together.

Friday, July 1, 2011


My theme for the month of July is reading aloud: to your kids, husband, friends, parents, anyone who will listen.  When I was pregnant with my son, some friends of ours (librarians) threw us a baby shower in which the gifts were all children's books.  It was a fun shower and we received some great books: both classics and new books.

One book stood out for me.  The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease was a book for adults, and for all of its 200 some pages, the author extolled the virtues of reading aloud to your children from birth to forever. His message loud and clear was read, read, read to your kids even when they are shaving and rolling their eyes at you.

I found the book fascinating and read it from cover to cover.  Of course, he was preaching to the choir.  My mother read to me, and I in turn knew I would read to my children, but there was something about this book that gave me vast interest in reading and listening as important skills to pass on to children and adults.

My son is now 13, and we still read together almost every night.  I think that our reading time is more of an excuse for him to cuddle with his mom as he approaches the age when it is not cool to do that, but I still enjoying reading stories of dragons and wizards and creepy things to my son.

Of course, now I am also reading picture books to my daughter. She is already showing signs of the independence that I had.  She'll pull a book away from me and say, "I read".  As soon as I learned how to read in the first grade, reading time was all my own.  My mother no longer read to me.  I don't recall being sad about it.  I was impatient and found I could read faster than I could listen.  Mom and I parted reading ways.

How about you?  Did you read to your kids?  Get read to by your parents?  Next week I will have a review of a book about a father who read to his daughter until she went to college.