Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The chance of a lifetime!

A new course next year will allow you to read whatever you like.  Find a genre that you want to spend the whole nine weeks exploring.  Become a master and share your knowledge with the class.

I remember four months before the end of my junior year at Brown talking with my parents about what I was going to spend the summer doing.  The previous year I took a trip across the country, so even though I got to go on hikes that made me scream affirmations to life and spirit, kayak along rivers only seen by a few,  my mom was hoping that I would do something a little more serious this year.  

That meant I was working at the hospital, doing work on dreaming and any combination of emotional disorders.  It was interesting work and thinking about dreams always makes me get back to all the quintessential questions for how the universe and all other things work.  

I mean what is crazier than being able to remember things that you were unconscious for when they happened.

The hospital was all lined up until my ACL suffered a tear in an unfortunate accident.  I then had four weeks on the couch waiting for me after the surgery that would take place the day after I took my last exam.  

So there I was, sitting on the couch finally being able to handle the pain with absolutely nothing to do.  I liked to read.  I mean my mom had put all the best books in my hands from when I was young.  I remember tackling a book on the Wright brothers, sitting inverted with my legs on the wall and my back on the floor of the middle landing of the stairwell, Susan's Cooper's amazing series with Will Stanton and the Drew children, and had been to Narnia if not enough times, more than a few.  But, I wasn't yet a reader.  

This was the summer that I would become a reader.  

I remember weaving through the stacks with my crutches looking up leads I had from friends.  Like I said, I was interested in dreaming at the time, but the work at the hospital kind of took all the mystical stuff out of the dreams, so I was searching for stuff by Carlos Castaneda, Thomas Mann, and some other folks with unique perspectives on dreams.  Morgenstern's The Princess Bride and books on fencing were another group of books that I sought out.  It was the first time I was reading what I wanted.  

I guess to become a reader all you need is some time and good books.  I will have plenty of good books available if you take the time to explore books next year in Read, Read, and Read Some More.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Time Skips

As the school year comes to an end, I am left wondering just exactly where the year went.  Or for that matter, the last several years.  Such an elusive concept time and as it slips away what are we to do.  Thompson's creative bent on this age old conundrum puts us gently to sleep and makes us dream of a place where  there is more than enough time.  Actually it is a place where time stands still, so maybe there is really no time at all.    Don't know which idea comforts the nefariousness of lost time more, no time or all the time in the world.  They both have a unique feel, a unique magic.

I found it fitting that Thompson's hero played music in that other world and that each of her chapters began with several measures of music.  It is a good analagy for that timelessness.  How many times have you been lost completely in a tune?  Whether music is soothing, allows escape, takes you to another time or place, when it stops we are back in the world where time skips away.

Though I think I like thinking of time skipping away.  As compared to it flying.  I know I'm splitting hairs here, the time is gone regardless, but it skipping away makes my heart feel slightly warmer.  Time flying leaves me agitated, as if I had done nothing with the time that has passed.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Young Writer Slams Schools ... Nicholas Nickleby Part 2

This one really scares me.  You have a very successful fifteen year old writer who is writing a story about how bad schools are today  Not just one class or one teacher, but the entire system.  I know many of the better students in K-12 today sometimes find themselves in a class that is completely unproductive for them, but the fact that he is speaking against the entire system and not just one teacher makes me wonder what teaching to the test is doing to our culture.  Does he ever get to just write in school? When did he write Truancy and Origins? Was it all in his spare time? Isn't there a classroom in the school that chills him out? Some safe haven where his mind escapes to word play and storylines? Or has NCLB or Nickleby as I like to call it, completely ruined a chance for an exceptional creative writer to write.

Dickens calls out the education system in Nicholas Nickleby,  Fukui calls them out again today.  What changes would Fukui make to the school day?  What could make a school day worthwhile to him?

As a teacher, I know that schools need to continue to improve.  Legislation seems like a great way to go about creating structures for students to succeed.  But all schools and all students are not equal and designing curriculum around every student turning into a doctor is a poor direction to aim for.  Not all students can become doctors, not because of lack of effort or intelligence, but because there simply aren't enough positions available.  And so laws and teaching to the test muddle the pursuit of creating a school that allows each of our students to grow and mature intellectually and as people.  I've loved my organic chemistry and differential equations classes, I'm not saying we dumb things down, but we need to create additional pathways to success.  Not everyone needs to know how to turn a aldehyde into a ketone.  They just don't.  And maybe they just need a chance to write. 

So, how does a fifteen year old who loves to write hate the entire system? What classes are being offered at his school? Is there creative writing? I mean there has to be some part of the day where his love of writing shines through and breaks apart the grey clouds. Doesn't there?  I kept expecting some part of his main character's day at school to be positive, but it wasn't.  It was a series of one bad event after another.  Angry administrators and abusive teachers.  And hallways filled with bullies.

He loves to write, but doesn't like school.  Hunh? No comprende! Me gusta escribe! Por favor, let him write.  Just for fifteen minutes.  It will change the way he looks at his day.  It will change the way he looks at teachers and administrators.  Most importantly, it will change the way we look at students. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Future ...

Sorry, I just had Sarah Connors' voice in my head the whole time I read this.  It was very much a redo of the Terminator.  A computer gains consiousness and you know the rest.  That didn't make it any less good, but it did beg the question in my mind of where science fiction is going and why there is so little science fiction on the Young Adult market.  Science fiction has been done.  It's hard to get a new spin on topics that we have been writing about for thirty years.  We need New Science.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is selling like mad, so there must still be a market, but what happened to the mass production of the sixties and seventies.  Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Phillip Dick? Remember those guys? I've read at least thirty Heinlein science fiction stories and Asimov might have published even more.  Did those pioneers of the genre write everything that can possibly be written.  I mean Tunnel in the Sky came out a long time before all the Stargate stuff.  They are redoing a whole bunch of stuff on television and at the theatre: Star Trek, Total Recall and Battlestar Galactica.  Are we forever going to be caught in a vicious remake cycle?

Firefly was novel, but it didn't seem to get a large enough following to continue on.  I'm surprised that a gun slinging space cowboy couldn't continue on for more seasons.  What are all the Trekkies of this generation going to do? 

I guess it is time to remake all the Heinlein and Asimov, maybe we can stir the science fiction bug in some of our young adults that way.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Book within a Book

Why do books about books create such a remarkably romantic version of whatever topic it is the book we have in our hands is trying to cover.  As readers we are on the edge of our seats when a heroine walks into an old library that nobody has visited in several if not many years.  When a book arrives unexpectedly through the mail, wondering from what far off civilization it was sent, we tear through the next pages, anticipation growing with each word.  Readers who love to read about books feel books when we pick them up.  We're insane, neurotic, because we like the 'smell' of books.  We run a hand along the spine, using a sixth sense to discern what exactly the book has to say.  The endpapers are places that whisper secrets.  The type of binding shows a book's character.  And when a book comes to life, when it is told unmistakably well, we reach nirvana.

People of the books go miles beyond nirvana!

It is the mystery of language and books that we as lovers of books seek.  The secrets of what stories are and how they began.  And what long forgotten time, place, or people we might meet if we just read a little further.  

This was delicious! 

If you listen to the five clues in the Sarajevo Haggadah you will find the story of the book: insect wing, saltwater, white hair, wine, and the feathers and the rose.  These small insignificant things don't appear to be that forthcoming in the rich history they could share, but Brooks' heroine Heath begs, prods, and tugs on the corners of each to find the remarkable history of this five century old codex.   A story book lover's will remember for a long, long time.

Friday, May 11, 2012

I've been waiting for the 'Selznick Phenomenon' to take over, but am still waiting.  As a storyteller I was hooked on Selznick's work right from the start and wondered who else was going to copy the style.  Why is it that he is the only author/illustrator who has gone down this path? Why isn't the market being flooded with illustrated novels? Graphic novels are a huge part of the market, why not illustrated novels?

One of my students says that it kind of pigeonholes the imagination to have the drawings.  

I guess that has a bit of truth to it, but a picture like the one above certainly stirs the imagination as well.

Are there no author/illustrators tackling the same format? I find that somewhat hard to believe.  Are publishers just not publishing the other attempts? Wouldn't someone have tried at least one? I can't figure it out, but it looks like we may have to wait for Selznick's next attempt before we get our next illustrated novel.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I think Shulman should have made a series with this idea.  I understand that the Sister's Grimm is already on the market and that potentially we don't need another series based on the Grimm tales, but there's got to be an enormous market out there for it.  Think of what Riordan was able to do with Greek Mythology.

In general, I am completely opposed to series.  I think most of them could be told in one book.  Publishers are of course looking to make the biggest profit, so I am surprised they didn't see the potential in Shulman's Repository of Magical Objects.  Each object has a story and could have been used to create a world of adventure.  There could have been a version of the Grimm tales that they were trying to find throughout the series, a book with the real Grimm tales.  

Granted, I haven't read all of the Sister's Grimm, and I am in the dark as to what has already been written, but this was such an enjoyable read, that I wished it would have gone a little further.  Does the Sister's Grimm do what I am asking? Or is there room for tales based on the Grimm tales?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I remember reading The Mysterious Island many years ago and enjoying it.  It was good, no doubt about it, I mean Jules Verne had written it.  Adventure, survival, and all that stuff that Verne tells so well, but it wasn't discernably memorable.  I could confuse it with Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Wyss's Swiss Family Robinson, or even Stevenson's Kidnapped.  How many ways can you tell survival after being shipwrecked on a small island? Even the masters' stories begin to blend.  Then he put one piece of magic into the book near the very end, Captain Nemo.  That character has transcended time, as shown by the title of the popular coral reef movie, Finding Nemo, and the 2003 blockbuster movie, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.  We all connect with Captain Nemo.  We love his daring, bravado, and ability to go where no one else can follow.  Though in The Mysterious Island his part is small, almost ghostlike, and comes at the end, just mentioning him turns the water of the oceans into a dynamic playground wrought with treasure.  The 'mysterious island' stops seeming removed from civilization.  It is connected by the most famous of all submarines, The Nautilus.  Instead of being a deserted, lost place, the island is the safe harbor of The Nautilus.

Stead writes a memorable, terrific story, but if she doesn't include the tesseract it doesn't win the Newbery.  But she did include it and the story became quilted together with all of L'Engle's work.  It is the magic that makes Stead's novel discernably memorable.  How do you feel about fan fiction? Like Seuss says, "An elephant's faithful one hundred percent!" and if someone wants to fantasize other scenarios for memorable fictional people and places, I am all for it.  

I apologize to Rebecca Stead for this next comment, but ... here goes.  Can you win the Newbery Award for fan fiction? I agree, it was one of the best books of the year, if not the best.  But, it was the best book of the year because it included the tesseract.  

Did When You Reach Me win or did A Wrinkle in Time win for the second time? I am still faithful one hundred percent, I loved the story.

Always Something Good 

ListenUpVermont, the Vermont digital library still in its first years, is beginning to take real strides towards becoming the all encompassing digital library that we all see on the horizon.  During LUV's first years it seemed the books I wanted either weren't available or there was an incredible wait list that seemed longer than the number of pages in Pillars of the Earth.  Granted at this point there are still plenty of holes in the collection.  But users remember, we are only in our fourth year.  When I don't find what I want, I surf the rest of the collection and try to find something good.  And there always is something good.   I didn't start my search with any of the titles shown above, but was pleasantly surprised by each.

With roadblocks from publishers who have raised prices to ridiculous amounts there is grave concern for the future of our digital library and digital libraries in general.  I see the publishers' points.  InterLibrary Loan would make it exceedingly easy for libraries to buy fewer copies, since it is just a click away from sending a book from your collection to the library in need.  Someone will undoubtedly figure out how to break through the protections designed to keep books out for the one or two week loan periods and we will have the Napster phenomenon with books.  But let's address the real issues and not complain that copies should have limited amounts of checkouts or should cost 800% of the price the book is being sold to any individual that wants a copy.  Libraries need to survive.  Sharing resources brings people to an understanding on how to live.  We already moved from carrying 8 kids all piled up on each other in one car to 8 cars with one kid each.  Let's not all have our own private collection that can never be shared.  It's a matter of style and we are heading in the wrong direction.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A rose my any other name would smell as sweet ...

Was it just the fact that someone named Morgenstern wrote this book that made it magical.  I think some unconscious part of me was waiting for true love and miracles because of that.  Expecting those sorts of things might be the best way to read a book.  Whether Erin is a long lost cousin twice removed or a complete stranger to S. Morgenstern doesn't matter.  The added layer of magic made a brilliant story one stroke better.  

Of course this isn't the long lost original of the The Princess Bride that the other Morgenstern claims exists, but no one has yet to find.  But my mind at least had the thought that it might be which is the more important bit.  What all the forms of magic add up to in The Princess Bride is that that story can cure sick boys.  Erin Morgenstern's novel, I believe, might have the same panacean properties.

The number of characters and threads were many and I must admit that somewhere near the middle I lost track of a thread and a character or two, but the fabric of the book stayed strong throughout.  The miracle of the story never faltered.  Whether it was the circus, the performers, the illusions or the romance, Morgenstern created a tangible illusion as grand as those of her two main characters. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

A friend's recommendation of this led me to believe that there were chapters filled with narrative from the eyes of different dogs.  King actually only did a couple chapters in that style, leaving me to wonder what the story might have been like if there were hundreds of narratives from dogs throughout time.  From that initial description I couldn't quite place my finger on what genre the book should have been in.  It seemed like it was a cross between historical fiction and fantasy.  So the finished product was not exactly what I expected given that much of the story was told from the perspective of a girl in a very realistic, modern setting.  Even if that girl had memories from the last hundred lives she had lived.

Regardless of my misperception, this turned out to be a sensational read.  Everything fit.  It was just good storytelling.  Plenty of swashbuckling description that rivaled Treasure Island.  The thoughts of the pirate turned twentieth century girl in her hundredth life after she dies as a pirate is nonstop ludicrous fun.  

If you are looking for something fun, pick this one up.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

National Velvet, Misty of Chincoteague, and the Island Stallion were all staples of my childhood.  At one time or another they were each my favorite.  Bagnold was able to create the best countryside.  I wanted to ride through the moors and farmland.  Misty was real to me when we visited Assateague and saw the ponies swim across the channel.  And the island stallion was just a little bit exotic, so it captured my imagination and allowed the world I lived in to be just a little bit larger and a little bit more mysterious.  

There are of course dozens of stories about boys or girls and horses.  The number ranks right up there with the number of books on dogs dying to save an endangered child.  And though there are dozens of them, the ones we remember all seem to carve a new niche.  That is exactly what Stiefvater does with The Scorpio Races.  

Horses from the sea? I've been writing about Windhorses, so I felt like Stiefvater and I were on the same page.  I was seeing horses in the clouds and hearing them in the wind.  She found those same sights and sounds in the crashing waves.  The fluid, ungraspable nature of water caused my imagination to create many different forms for the horses and Stiefvater's description made them just different enough to make the creatures slightly more magical than the quadrupeds that inspired them.

     The story is still the same.  Winning the race on the back of the underdog horse, but it is told with its own style, so we still get to that place that only horses can take us.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The First Midnight Party

When Charles Dickens published The Old Curiosity Shop, Americans waited on the docks in Boston for the final chapters to see what happened to Nell and her grandfather.  These were the first midnight parties.  That desire to find out what happened as soon as possible.  The masses waiting to know.

After The Old Curiosity Shop that ultimate curiosity waned.

And before Harry Potter there were years of silence.

Then the midnight party was resurrected through Diagan Alley, Quidditch, and the rest of Rowling's writing.

From the ashes of Harry Potter came a phoenix ... and Twilight.

Twilight drank deeply among teens and Suzanne Collin's Hunger Games emerged.

But now the midnight party is but a fragmented memory, a youthful memory in the minds of our teens.

What bit of magic can change that?

Will Veronica Roth's Divergent find a faction of readers?

Or will we listen to the angels from the next in the series of The Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Will Lu's Legend grow?

We are all waiting for the next big literary explosion, just how long will we have to wait?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Authors Find Something in 2012

How is that every book I've read this year really rocks!
What was in the water this year? 
Were there more rainbows and less smog?
Did more salmon run?
Was the Mayan thing a push for everyone to work harder on what might be the final book ever published?
Did someone find a four leaf clover?

Whatever happened, please let it continue.  

Night Circus
Ready Player One
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
The Running Dream

They just keep coming.
What should I pick up next?

A friend had told me that the main character time travels back to the late eighteenth century France.  That made me skeptical on how realistic the fiction would be or if it would slide into more of a fantastical nature.  Donnelly was able to create a wonderful slide through time that made historical fiction come alive.  She used a journal that survived in a old guitar to begin the time tranformation.  Allowing you to mentally travel back through time with the journal entries.  Then using the main character's recently unstable mind because of the death of her younger brother, she completed the transformation.  The main character took a slight overdose of the medication she was on, giving the possibility that the trip through time was do to the overdose.  While in the alternate time she to complete the work of one of the character's in the journal.  This allowed the wounds brought on by the death of her brother to begin to heal.  

I said it a couple reviews ago, but how come everyone turns to music when they feel like something is missing.  I love it, I just am surprised that so many books with music as the comforting force have come out this year.  

I know love conquers all, but does music as well?