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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Reading Claire Messud and Other Books of a Vacation Sunday

As I mentioned, my first day of vacation was probably June 27th. But I didn't feel like I was on vacation until today, Sunday, June 30th.

I read books like crazy today, mostly because I've been feeling unwell and unfit for doing anything more enterprising. I'm glad! I often manage to come down with something right before a school vacation, or at the end of the semester, or a summer session. And here I am, feeling too tired and ill to do much more than read, although that I'm capable of doing enthusiastically!

I'm reading The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud very, very slowly, only because the novel is so deep, so heavily laden with the grist of genuine familial relationships, with real life. I cherish every passage and reread as I go along. I cannot bomb my way through the way I would an "ordinary" novel, whatever that is. Quite the opposite! I heartily recommend! So affecting...  I will have more to say later.
I am so in awe of Messud's literary power. She is truly brilliant, in the way I believe Paul Auster is brilliant. By the way, I did the smart thing, as it turns out, and ordered a hardcover edition of this book. So glad I did because I will enjoy rereading.

I'm also reading Long Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously (2000) by Bill McKibben, the environmental journalist, now famous for his pioneering work with the organization he founded 350.org. Bill was the first in this country, anyway, to herald the fact that our world will never again be the world we once knew--it is gone forever due to what we have done to it and unremitting climate change, as he discusses in his landmark book The End of Nature (1990). Yet in this title, he is following his desire to become a cross-country ski racing phenom. As a weakling [his description], he had an uphill battle to become the ultimate fitness freak. The book is an incredibly witty memoir, satire, and so laugh-out-loud fun, that I've been enjoying every word.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw

For Caroline's (of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) Literature and War Readalong for June:

I especially appreciated the strong characterization of Michiel in Winter in Wartime. I suppose one could call this a YA novel, yet the book was written before young adult fiction became an established genre. It was published in 1972 in the Netherlands, named the Best Dutch Juvenile for 1973, and received a Certificate of Honor from the International Board of Books for Young People.

I'm not familiar with the latter award, which makes me wonder if the organization is still in existence. It was published in Great Britain in 1975 and in 1976 in the U.S. It is still in print, no doubt with the help of the Dutch film of 2008.

Michiel, at age 16, is strong, stoic, heroic, yet full of self-doubt and, occasionally, low self-esteem, particularly when he judges his resistance actions and missions harshly when they do not come off as he planned. These characteristics make him an ideal YA protagonist.

I had a strong personal reaction to one of the characters, Dirk.
Dirk is twenty-one, supposedly an adult, yet to my mind, he does not have the foresight, fortitude, inner strength, or heroism of Michiel.

The author lets Dirk off the hook easily, and Michiel does as well, though a bit more reluctantly. Dirk was the one who killed the German soldier, whom the Germans found and then punished the entire town, including killing Michiel's father, the mayor. First of all, Dirk was fully aware of the repercussions for the town, because, as he noted, town-wide reprisals had taken place before. Dirk said he "tried" to hide the German soldier's body, by wrapping the body in a parachute and then executing a shallow burial. Dirk noted that the ground was too hard, and he couldn't bury the body as deeply as he wished. How stupid is that? Was there no other solution?

So, then, why didn't Dirk the Dimwit ask for help? He was connected with the resistance. His comrades would have known as well as he that many, many people would suffer if the Germans found the soldier's body. And, if the body had disappeared without a trace, there would likely have been no evidence and no reprisals.

Dirk was not a traitor as was Uncle Ben, it's true, but he may as well have been, given the consequences of his screw-up.

I did enjoy this novel and all the twists and turns, and I do look forward to borrowing the film very soon. Michiel and his sister Erica? (I think that was her name) were the noblest of characters, and I'm glad to have met them.

I will include this title in my Children's and YA Literature course, as one of the books that students may choose from in the project entitled "Children's Literature in Translation."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sebastian Faulks for the Summer Reading List

I bid a sad farewell to my class, did errands, and came home to find that "the muggies" are holding strong in the weather department. I am little more than a limp dishrag in this kind of weather.

I actually have a Word file entitled "WannaReads." Of course, included in the file are the titles I've already mentioned that I'm dying to read this summer, but I found another book, which has had predominantly 5-star reviews from readers and excellent reviews from critics, which I have added to the list. It is Sebastian Faulks's  A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts. Critics love to argue whether it is a collection of short stories or a novel; obviously, the five war-related stories are linked. But it's the rave reviews from readers and critics that interest me. So I will add the book to my summer list. Have you read some of the novels of Sebastian Faulks? Would love to read your thoughts.

Helen Dunmore's The Greatcoat is now on my forest green reading couch. Not a long read at all. I should be able to gobble it up shortly, after Winter in Wartime.

Interview/article about Claire Messud, author of this spring and summer's A Woman Upstairs, which I've ordered in hardcover. (Please see my previous post.)

More to come!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blast Off! First Vacation Reading Choices

My vacation officially begins tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday is supposed to be a rainy day.
My reading plans:
  • Finish A Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw (translated from the Dutch) for Caroline's June Literature and War Readalong.
  • Just ordered A Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, which should arrive on Friday. This read will be next. 
  • I hope to keep a Nature book going at all times. Oftentimes it will be a nature-related memoir.
Since Sunday our weather has been intensely humid, with dewpoints in the low-to-mid 70s. Our temperatures have been in the low-to-mid 80s, which in and of itself is not bad, but the humidity is what stops us dead in our tracks, both Sasha and me. Ken complains as well and he cannot do any outside work. Fortunately we do have air conditioning for these desperate times. And I will say that it is not typical for us to have such high humidity levels in June. They are more typical of late July through late-August. Double Ugh! Great weather for doing projects indoors, but being physically unable to enjoy the outdoors is a sacrifice indeed.

My Summer Session Children's Literature class has been the most enjoyable class I've ever taught at the college. I have been so lucky to have had such interested, dedicated, thought-provoking students. It has made the past six weeks a joy. Tomorrow is our last meeting. I feel sad to let them go after all of our intense, fascinating discussions of children's and YA fiction. This class has been amazing.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer Solstice: More Daylight to Plan Vacation Reading

I'm chomping at the bit to begin summer reading. At times I literally have to FORCE myself to sit down and read when school is in session. Once I get started, I'm off, like a rocket launched. But after June 26, watch out!

I want to start my reading summer with something very recently published, as in NEW! I'm thinking of Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs. Her previous novel, The Emperor's Children, was my #1 favorite for the year it was published. It was not just my favorite; it was, in my opinion, an exquisite, powerful work of art. Not often I get to say that!

But the dilemma of eager readers today: How shall I get the book? Library? No, too much in demand--I'd have a very long wait. Purchase the hardcover? Possibly. Or pay the ridiculous price for the e-book?

Definitely not the Nook book. The problem with an e-book is I don't recall all the details as well as I do with a print copy. I can't go backwards and forwards as I like to do. Well, yes, it's possible--it's just not easy to do. It's a hindrance to go back and forth with an e-book. So I need to order a copy immediately, then. I guess.   Decisions!

I've ordered The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore from the library. Have you read this one? What is your favorite Dunmore title?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Your Memories of A Wrinkle in Time?

It is overwhelmingly absurd that I have had another post in the works since last Friday, and have not been able to finish it properly to post it. But I will!!

I will say today that I'm loving my first reading in 48 years of the penultimate classic of children's literature, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, which was awarded the John Newbery Medal in 1962. It's so interesting that L'Engle submitted the manuscript to 20+ publishers when she gave up and decided to withdraw it from circulation because she believed the publishing world was not ready for such a book. Her mother suggested Madeleine submit it to her (mother's) friend John Farrar, the publisher of Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, and the rest is history.

Have you read it? What are your memories of this book?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer Reading?

My teaching ends on Wednesday, June 26, at 12:30pm. I will be free during all of July and August! I will read whatever I want, whenever I want, but it's true I'll also be working on my book project and writing stuff for my writing group.

When I'm that free, I can never be sure in what reading direction I'll turn. I do know I'd like to read more Nordic Noir. I also must read Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver and Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, two of my all-time favorite novelists. I own the books but haven't had the cognitive space to devote to a close reading of them. I haven't wanted to read them while my head is crammed with my teaching life, which I can't seem to stop from being so all-consuming. I wish it were different, but so far I haven't been able to change my habits, however much I've tried.

And for years I've had a copy of one of Gillian Flynn's first novels, Sharp Objects, which I picked up years ago at a library book sale. I intend to read it this summer.

Still, I'm haunted by how much I haven't read.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Head over Heels reading Norwegian Night by Derek Miller

I do hope that I allow myself the time to be immersed in Norwegian Night this weekend. I started it early last week, and I've had one interruption after another that has interfered with my absorption. I've had books to read for the Children's Lit class I'm teaching now, articles of criticism to digest, and then the research reading for my book project.

But I'll tell you, Norwegian Night is a special book. I so appreciate the acutely drawn characterizations of Sheldon, the protagonist in his eighties who has been diagnosed as being in the early stages of dementia, and Rhea, his granddaughter, particularly. I feel completely at home with them and have embraced all the assorted themes that are running through the novel. Norwegian Night has depth and believable characters who suffer and carry on, and that's what I'm enjoying so much about it.

I desperately need the down time to finish this book because I had a terribly big "special" birthday on Monday, and I'm groaning under the weight of years. Okay, if you must know, my mother was watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II when her water broke. I was born 7 hours later. (I always wondered how my mother's story could be accurate when the coronation took place on June 2 and I was born on June 3.) Last week I learned that the televised broadcasts in the U.S. were delayed a full day. I'm so glad to have that discrepancy cleared up because I've been puzzled by it for decades! It was the biography Elizabeth the Queen by the American writer Sally Bedell Smith that set me straight. As for the book itself, it's entirely too laudatory a bio, yet I enjoyed learning what I did. Smith had a vast access to Royal archives, which an objective biographer probably would not have been given. Will it be possible someday to have a fully balanced biography of the Queen? Perhaps. I hope so.