cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Just Finished: A Rope of Thorns by Gemma Files ([ profile] handful_ofdust). As I said in a previous entry, reading this book was 'bout the only thing making me happy, so I stalled to avoid the ending. It turned out, I needn't have worried, because the ending of this, the second book in the Hexslinger trilogy, was pretty happy-making in itself. There's such a density of detail in these books, delivered at such breakneck speed, that one might imagine Gemma writing in a mad-dash to get it all down. But this isn't (only?) a helter-skelter stream-of-consciousness adventure. There's a magnificent level of craftsmanship at work. For example, I had no idea Chess's mother would assume so much importance when she was first introduced, and being surprised like that gives me goosebumps: what other pivot points have I missed? what revelations await in the final book?

Perhaps my favorite line of the book: "Gods sleep within us all, waiting to be prayed alive. And gods can kill other gods."

Currently Reading: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Tweetie and I are almost finished with this novel in verse about a young girl whose family immigrates from war-torn South Vietnam to America. The girl has a sweet neighbor who is a retired teacher, who agrees to tutor the girl and soon becomes her champion, helping her deal with bullies and her clueless teacher, who presents a very one-sided picture of Vietnam that further alienates the poor kid. Honestly, the neighbor reminds me of my own neighbors, both of whom are retired teachers and unfailingly kind.

For my nonfiction research, I'm still plugging away at The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working-Class Music by Manuel Peña. The author gives mini bios of some key artists in the conjunto tradition, and it's interesting to see my hometown region from their point of view. In the 1930s, there were Anglo and "Mexican" schools. Like my grandparents, the musicians who Peña profiles grew up with little formal education. He shares a quote from a (white) school superintendent back then:

"Most of our Mexicans are of the lower class. They transplant onions, harvest them, etc. The less they know about everything else, the better contented they are. You have doubtless heard that ignorance is bliss; it seems that it is so when one has to transplant onions...If a man has very much sense or education either, he is not going to stick to this kind of work. So you see, it is up to the white population to keep the Mexican on his knees in an onion patch...This does not mix well with education."

I think what bothers me--I mean, aside from the paterrnalism, racism, and hypocrisy (he starts by claiming ignorance is best for the "Mexicans", then admits it's really best for the white population to keep the Mexicans in servitude)--is that this attitude comes from someone who made it his life's work to foster education and enlightenment...but only for certain people, which seems anathema to the very notion of enlightenment.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (dolores del rio)
All the books in this edition are history oriented nonfic or historical fiction. Not intentional, just happened that way.

Just finished: Border Boom Town: Ciudad Juárez since 1848 by Oscar J. Martínez. I was so excited about this book when I started it. My full review is at Goodreads, but, in short, I came to feel the author minimized certain acts of violence by US "authorities" and thus I lost faith in the accuracy of his account of events.

Currently reading: My read-aloud with Tweetie is Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. As [ profile] asakiyume suggested, I probably enjoy it more than Tweetie does. I think she could take or leave it, but she perked up some when the young Vietnamese narrator and her family arrived in the US, with all the culture shock that entails.

For my own pleasure reading, I continue with A Rope of Thorns by [ profile] handful_ofdust. I should've finished it by now, but for a while there, Gemma's book was the only thing making me happy, so I (stupidly) stopped reading in an effort to make it last. Brain, get your shit together, yes?

My current research read is The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working Class Music by Manuel H. Peña. The topic is only slantwise related to my novel, so I won't read the whole book, but it's pretty interesting in itself. The thesis is that the conjunto musical style developed among Tejanos post WW2 because of the socioeconomic, racial, and asssimilation pressures particular to that era.

Next up: The university library books I borrowed for novel research are due June 1, so I've got to hustle through Where North Meets South: Cities, Space, and Politics on the United States-Mexico Border by Lawrence A. Herzog (the author's name is familiar to me from my days of polisci copyediting). If I finish A Rope of Thorns, I may start Dark Matter: Reading the Bones, ed. Sheree R. Thomas.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
By now, the sturm und drang over K Tempest Bradford's reading challenge to "stop reading straight white cis men for a year" seems to have blown over. I thought it was a worthwhile challenge for certain readers looking to diversify their reading habits, despite the complications that might arise trying to put it into action. (For example, how do you know a person is straight or cis unless they make that information public?)

Last year, I started noticing how many more blurbs on book covers came from (what seemed to be, judging from names) men or nongendered entities like the Times or LA Book Review than from women. Partly because of that inequity, at the beginning of the year, I made a challenge for myself: to make a dent in my TBR pile while reading a gender-balanced slate of books that alternated between men and women. Of course, I quickly realized I hadn't accounted for anthologies and then, much to my shame, I realized I'd defaulted to the faulty binary gender framework. Egads, these prejudices are hard to stamp out.

So I've adjusted my challenge. I'm noting and alternating genders as best I can, given my TBR pile and limited knowledge of author identities. This challenge does not apply to the books I read aloud with my daughter, since that's already a complicated negotiation process. ;) It's not been a difficult task thus far, as I'm a slow reader and read more than one book at a time.

I'd love to hear about reading challenges you've set for yourself, whether for this year or in the past. Tell me about them in the comments!

Read-aloud: We finished reading PIE by Sarah Weeks yesterday. My review is on Goodreads. In short, it was like a culinary cozy mystery for the middle-grade set, set in the 1950s, complete with pie recipes at the beginning of every chapter. I found it a little too wholesome (you know me, right?), but we inherited the book and it was on the short-list for a state book award to be chosen by Iowa students, so I persuaded Tweetie to read it with me so she could vote. I'm not sure what we'll tackle next. I've asked her to look for another nominee, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, but we'll see.

Nonfiction: I finally finished On the Rim of Mexico last night! Review here. tl;dr, It's a good book that could use a revised, post-NAFTA edition, and it's entirely my fault, not the book's, that I took forever and a Tuesday to finish reading it. I still have a lot of note-taking to do from it, so it's not off my desk yet, but it's off my conscience.

Fiction: I finished reading Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which I enjoyed very much. I reviewed it on Goodreads but will give it its own blog entry in a minute, just in case folks want to chat about it!
cafenowhere: Latina in surgical gear examining something up close (lana parilla)
I've started no new reading since last week, just chugging along with the same trio of books. Since I have a novel revision looming, however, I've been unable to disengage editorial instincts as I read.

For example, Mouseheart, the read-aloud I've been doing with Tweetie, begins with a prologue. I've heard so many agents and editors advise cutting prologues and just start the story already that I automatically question the necessity of such intros. As I near the thrilling conclusion of this middle-grade talking-animal fantasy, I've pretty much decided that this book did not need a prologue. So the question is, why use one? In this case, it gives the reader a more swashbuckling hero at the start, and it introduces a feudalistic fantasy element that the publisher might think helps distinguish the book from other talking-animal stories, which...maybe not? LOTS of books take animal "kingdom" literally these days.

(Also, at some point we need to talk about why we give our kids a steady stream of feudalist-inspired battle-and-intrigue fantasies, especially when YA novels are so dystopic lately.)

And despite my ranting last week about the awful female character, I continue reading Valley of Bones. What's interesting is that Gruber can write great female characters--when they're positioned as maybe villains, maybe victims. Not your typical noir femme fatales, much better than that. In fact, in this very book, he presents a really fascinating woman, Emmylou, telling her own story of how she got caught up in huge, possibly supernatural events. But this Lorna character he's created... She's the love interest of the male lead, Paz, and she just revolts me. The one thing that might have made me sympathetic to her--her mother's death from cancer and her own consequent hypochondria--is just buried under racism and classism and fat-phobia and superiority. I've tried to interpret her as a variation on a theme--how is she like/not the "villain" here?--but it's exhausting.

So I'd have cut Lorna out completely. :D But something else I might cut from the story are the numerous excerpts from a supposed history of an order of nuns. One or two have been useful, but I'm not sure why we couldn't get the same (much-abbreviated) info via the point-of-view characters. I like to withhold judgment on such things until I finish reading the book and I see how it all (might) come together, though.

Because I've been reading this book so critically, I've also realized that Lorna's pov is written in present tense, whereas Paz's is firmly in past tense. Going back to the first book, I see Gruber did the same thing there, alternating between tenses for the two leads. Here it bothers me, and I think it's because we're already veering between past and present in Emmylou's account of how she got involved in these murders that Paz is investigating, PLUS we have those excerpts of nun history. So, I'm feeling unnecessarily tangled up.

All of which contributes to much wariness as I contemplate the third book in the Paz series. I think/hope that having worked through this second book, I will be more willing to bail on the third if it annoys me half as much. :D
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Currently Reading: a book of poetry, When My Brother Was an Aztec, which is Natalie Diaz's first collection. I should have finished by now. It's not long and it's very good, but I'm in an emotional slump where if I'm not working, I'm sleeping. So I still have part 3 to read.

Something that I've been thinking about as I read (only tangentially, if that, related to Diaz's work): Why do poems end where they do? Probably everyone has had the experience of reading a longish poem and turning the page, expecting more, only to find there's just a few words left. It's disorienting, and it doesn't happen just because of page formatting.

When the poem has a narrative thread, it's easier to understand why it stops where it does. If it's formal verse, then usually it's obvious why it ends even if you wish for it to go on, and good poems often do leave us wanting more.

But if a poem isn't narrative or formal, then what? I look for a realization or wisdom bestowed. I seek crystallization, a sense that the poem has finally gathered itself into its most potent terms, or a crescendo of emotion. When I don't see these things, I wonder what I'm missing. Do our brains operate so differently that I don't see/feel what the poet's put on the page? Or do they have a drastically different aesthetic philosophy, and they don't think what I'm looking for makes for a proper ending? (Here I'm assuming competency; incompetency reveals itself much earlier than the last lines.)

Theories welcome. Nay, encouraged! Tell me what makes for a satisfying conclusion in a poem.

Also Currently Reading: I continue reading Mouseheart with Tweetie and I continue to enjoy it.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (coffee addicted)
I feel like I've done so much, it has to be February already, but I don't want it to be February yet, because then I'd be behind. Hi, my name is Lisa and I have more than two problems.

I just finished reading Easy Street (The Hard Way) by Ron Perlman with Michael Largo. I liked it a lot, but it's not a good book, per se. As I've learned from watching DVD commentaries, there's usually a reason an actor is an actor and not a writer. Perlman is a great storyteller though, and I've always admired his work. My gram watched the nighttime soap Beauty and the Beast, which put him on my radar, and over the years I came to think of him as "the guy who can act through all the makeup." I loved him in Cronos and The City of Lost Children, and I perked up whenever I saw him in some low-budget flick because he classed the place up. I was really glad when his ship (also known as Guillermo del Toro) came in, and the Perl got some well-deserved recognition.

(I enjoyed him in the first few seasons of Sons of Anarchy, too, until the Hamlet redux got lost and I couldn't stand any of the characters anymore. Not coincidentally, Perlman is very brief, and generously discreet I think, about his SOA experiences.)

Though a fan, I had no idea Perlman was married and has two grown children. I'd really love to read his wife's side of the story. She must be amazing. I understand her desire for privacy, but there's next to nothing about how women have affected his life. All his heroes, men. All his mentors, men. All his cohorts, men. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, given his macho persona, but in an autobiography, the absence of women echoes.

Nor did I know that Perlman had battled clinical depression or that his older brother was bipolar and committed suicide. This is another reason the book resonated for me as it might not for other readers. As laced with cliche as some of his recovery talk is, there's profundity to the cliche for fellow creatives facing the same battles. And Perlman expresses such deep respect for and joy in the arts, it's hard not to feel buoyed by his encouragements.

In way other news, my read-aloud with Tweetie is Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler. Fiedler doesn't talk down to her readers, which makes the story delightful on the sentence level. I currently identify so hard with the (thus-far) minor character Pinkie, the protag-mouse's little sister, who has extreme anger issues. Imagine Lilo from Lilo and Stitch, but she uses more teeth.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (xmas)
Little to report this week.

Tweetie and I are nearing the end of Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat. I don't know what our next read-aloud will be. We've been doing the book-a-night tradition for Advent. Last night's story was Bialosky's Christmas by Leslie McGuire.

I've made progress with On the Rim of Mexico. I've pinpointed my problem with the book: The information is not recent enough to apply to current situations--for example, it was written before the Border Wall was constructed--but it's not in-depth enough in my areas of interest (1930s, South Texas) to serve as research for my book. I'm still finding stuff that will make it into the novel, but I've had to stop reading it with the mercenary intensity that research brings out in me.

I'm still reading The Master and Margarita and have actually reached the appearance of the Master! I realized, when I woke up sick one night, that I was narrating my unwellness, which was a direct result of reading TM&M before bed. Because of the Russian names in TM&M, I have to use a much more "vocal" internal reading voice than I do with my usual reading, and once I get going, it's hard to stop!
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Read Aloud: More than halfway through Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell with Tweetie. Not much in the way of characterization, and sluggish pacing, but it's a pleasant enough way to start our mornings.

Novels: Finished A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files and could'a kicked myself for not having the sequels waiting on my shelf. I didn't realize what a cliffhanger it'd be! Started The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and it's better than I expected. It must be a good translation, since I'm laugh out loud enjoying the story despite being ignorant of Russian politics.

Nonfiction: While cleaning this weekend in preparation for putting up the tree, I unearthed my copy of On the Rim of Mexico. For my next trick, I will actually open the book and find where I left off.

Short Fiction: I highly recommend "Mothers" by Carmen Maria Machado in the latest issue of Interfictions. (despite the typos, my inner copyeditor insists I add) A bit harrowing, heavy on heartbreak, but beautiful, too. These lines resonated with me: I believe in a world where impossible things happen...Where love can overcome brutality...

Me too, Carmen. Me too.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (so tired)
Last week Tweetie had the school day off and I was not feeling well, hence, no Wednesday Reading report. Honestly? I haven't been reading much. I've been writing and revising. I feel as if I fell down a well and I've just dragged myself out. Still catching up on events in the "real world."

Tweetie and I finished The Fast and the Furriest and moved on to Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell. Tweetie gets really indignant at unfairness, in life and fiction, and this book has her outrage flexing at regular intervals. I confess, I find it amusing, because in most MG fic the unfairness is obviously a calculated move by the author to engender sympathy for the child protagonist. I don't know if Tweetie feels especially sympathetic for the protag, but she's definitely annoyed by the over-the-top injustice of the adult characters.

I've made absolutely no progress with On the Rim of Mexico. I haven't even seen the book in days. This may be a case of the right book at the wrong time for me.

When my overworked eyeballs permit, I have read more in A Book of Tongues. Gemma does interesting things with chronology here (everywhere?) and sly things with slash fiction tropes. I like the love story that powers the book, as well as the weird western and Aztec elements. (Actually, elements is the wrong word for the latter. Aztec...superstructure?) If I weren't running on empty, I'd been zooming through the book much faster.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (hansel and gretel)
My read-aloud with Tweetie of The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry continues at a good clip. The characters are not as dastardly as the cover copy would have you think. The parents are comically terrible and die at a distance while the story focuses on the children, who are not so different from most kids, as is proven by their sweetly growing relationship with Nanny. I believe the book is styled after Lemony Snicket's "Unfortunate Events" series, which I've not read, but it reminds me of Roald Dahl. Next up is The Fast and The Furriest by Andy Behrens, which I bought for Tweetie a while back and which is now on the ballot for the Iowa Children's Choice Book Award.

On the adult nonfiction front, I've made only a smidge of progress with On the Rim of Mexico. The "Asymmetry" chapter is easier for me than the Peso one, but I've needed comfort reading this week.

Thus I began and finished Story of the Scene: The Inside Scoop on Famous Moments in Film by Roger Clarke. At only one page of text per scene (although Clarke felt Spartacus warranted 2 scenes), it was a fast read and informative. I'm a movie lover, if not a cinephile, and yet I was learning things throughout the book. I laughed, I "huh!"ed, I scowled. The entries are arranged alphabetically, which was unfortunate, for several reasons but most obviously because it means ending with a James Bond film, You Only Live Twice. There were a few scenes included more because they are iconic scenes than because Clarke provides any new or especially interesting background, but not too many.

Clarke chose a rather "macho" spread of movies, and it's telling which scenes involving women make the cut: Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet, Sissy Spacek in Carrie, Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. Not Sally Field in Norma Rae or Meryl Streep in Silkwood, for example. Though two Marilyn Monroe movies make the list, Clarke writes with such disdain for Monroe that I was irked. ...I think I just talked myself down from the 4 stars I gave this book on Goodreads.

Fictionwise, I've been loving There Is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton. What I like best so far about its depiction of Civil War-era America is that everyone and everything we encounter has a story, a point of view, a personality and desire--even the dead, even the animals, even the houses. And yet the story never feels bogged down in those details. Patty, a wickedly wise puppetmaster, plays a light hand over the myriad strings.

Now I'm thinking that comfort reads must be as various as comfort foods. What are your comfort reads? What kind of books do you turn to when you're feeling sad or sick or overwhelmed?
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (ivana baquero)
Tweetie and I are in the home stretch of Rising Storm by Erin Hunter. It's a much better written book than the last in the series, on a prose level, but I feel like a lot less happens also. Next up for read-aloud will be a book of my choice, The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry.

I finished reading Christopher Golden's short story collection, Tell My Sorrows to the Stones. I rather wish he'd stuck to the stones. My enjoyment of the book waned in the second half, once I realized Golden was relying on two story endings, either a sentimental "feel-good" ending or a revelation ending, where the story pretty much stopped at the most exciting part. One story actually stopped and started at the most exciting point, beginning with the end and telling the story in flashback. In another story (about a female sex vampire), the author combined the two endings to predictably awful effect: "Yes, I'm running for my life, but thank god my dead ex-wife (who I cheated on) is still looking out for me!"

The work-related themes disappeared over the course of Golden's book, which was disappointing. That was the facet I most enjoyed in the early stories. And, as I complained in my last reading post, the instant a woman becomes sexual in these stories, you know the hapless male protag is in mortal danger. Very juvenile and misogynistic trope.

After finishing Tell My Sorrows to the Stones, I started Blood Waters by Chaz Brenchley. It's a collection of short stories written when Brenchley was the crime-writer-in-residence on a public sculpture project. I've only read one story thus far, but it was sharp! I look forward to wading deeper into the bloody waters. ;)
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Last week, a storm knocked out our home internet access for three days, so I wasn't able to post a reading update. That I was as frustrated as I was suggests "Wednesday Reading" has become a habit for me, which is good. I think it might be especially helpful during the winter, when seasonal depression makes me feel as if I have nothing worth saying aloud, let alone worth blogging about.

On the read-aloud front, Tweetie and I finished Forest of Secrets by Erin Hunter. YAY! The review is here on Goodreads. My relief was short-lived, however, for Tweetie smuggled into the house the next book in the series, Rising Storm. I think it's better written, but maybe I've just been beat into submission. We are on Chapter 8 of that. Sigh.

In my own reading, I finished Amnesia Moon by Jonathan Lethem and really liked it. Lethem uses the dystopia to more metaphoric ends than most novelists in the subgenre. The laconic prose and swift pacing pleased me. I'd call it literary spec fic, because the science fictional aspects aren't explored in much detail. How our protagonist got into his mess is less important than his reactions to it, and the novel cuts off before we learn whether he succeeds in his rebellion.

For sure, the book had flaws: the women were one-dimensional--when they existed at all--and, as I point out in my Goodreads review, there were elements of transphobia, ableism, and fat-shaming. I was able to read past the first problem because, let's fucking admit it, I've had to do that all my life. The other gross elements I endured because (1) I came to the story with a certain amount of privilege and (2) I thought of them as authorial intrusions rather than part of the story itself. The metafictional aspects of the story (what is the nature of reality? how do we impose order on the contents of our consciousness?) sort of lend themselves to making that distinction, I think.

Now I am reading a poetry collection, Grace Notes by Rita Dove.

I put off starting Grace Notes until I finished a poem of my own yesterday, since I didn't want any "mental interference." I'm interested to hear: how many of my fellow writers avoid reading certain genres when they're working? If you're writing a short story, is reading short stories a problem? If you're a science fiction novelist, do you find it best to avoid SF while you're drafting? Or does reading within genre while writing that genre help in some way? Feel free to share your experience in the comments!
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (Default)
Tweetie is reading a new series called Dear Dumb Diary. I appreciate the main character even less than I do the guy in the Wimpy Kid books. For one thing, the girl narrating the Dumb Diary books is "looks-ist" and engages in the backbiting Mean Girls subcult I dread. I've told Tweetie I don't like the "heroes" because they're rude and unkind with no self-awareness, but I haven't done anything dumb like forbidden the books. (And I do read with her, on occasion.)

Last night I remembered, however, that my favorite character in Charlotte's Web was Templeton the Rat, who was selfish, rude, petty, and gluttonous (although redeemable). And my favorite character on Buffy was Spike, who shared all Templeton's traits. And my own character Heidi will never be Miss Congeniality. So, okay, the poison apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I guess the important thing is that, no matter how much we delight in reprehensible characters, we endeavor to behave honorably in real life. And Tweetie does. And so do I.

I've been looking for cooking odds and ends to encourage Tweetie to play and experiment outdoors. She already loves making "earth soup" and building "forts," which resemble tepees to me. We got her a used hand-crank grinder and she's been grinding up seed pods, leaves, flower petals, dry pasta...basically anything we suggest or approve. She also liked the idea of washing out some old bubble tubes to use as "vials." I thought she might like some tongs, but I haven't found any good ones yet. (we'll go to the secondhand shop this weekend) Also, a cheapie kitchen scale.

Any other ideas for cheap, repurposed tools conducive to the budding environmental scientist?  : )

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
I read about 32 books this year. It's hard to keep track, with all the co-reading I do with Tweetie.

Looking over the list, I suppose it was a bad year for nonfiction. With the exception of A Mind Apart by Susanne Antonetta, I don't have a lot of fond feelings for the book-length nonfic I read.

Adult fiction was better. Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman made me happy, and The Devil's Alphabet by Daryl Gregory has stayed with me. Zoo City by Lauren Buekes and Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson were also sturdy reads.

But this year, it was really MG and YA fic that thrilled me. The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban entertained our entire family, and I can easily see re-reading it every couple of years. Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi was an enormously ambitious adventure, with a rich cast of characters I cared about. Playground by 50 Cent was surprisingly effective and a lightning-fast read that I've already passed on to a friend.

But my favorite book this year, hands down, any category, was The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout. Meaningful action, inventive future, amusing and engaging characters, thoughtful commentary, and quite satisfying for the whole family. J read it on my recommendation, then he and Tweetie started reading it for bedtime, then while we were on vacation, Tweetie begged to be able to read it on her own on the iPad because the suspense was killing her, then once she'd finished it, I zoomed through it, and then I bought a copy for my niece and nephew for the holiday. Suffice to say, I want everyone to read it.

Tweetie's favorite book, ftr, is whatever she's just finished. :D

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (jack skellington)

Do you remember Golden Super Shape Books? We have Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in that form. Here's a photo from an etsy seller's site:

The shape is pretty much the best part of this book, aside from the idea that one of the reindeer is charged with playing with the Christmas kittens in the lead-up to Christmas night.

Somehow, we got three media tie-in books in this batch of advent books: Plain and Peanut and the Missing Christmas Present (Yes, the M&Ms), The Care Bears' Night before Christmas, and Elmo Saves Christmas. Also in this batch, a weird board book: The Teddy Bears' Christmas Cake, which was so short and seemingly random, the three of us sat staring at the last page in bafflement.

The cream of the crop, IMO, were A Gift from Grandpa by David Mazel (Weekly Reader Books, 1981) and Little Benjamin and the First Christmas by Betty Forrell (Concordia Publishing House, Arch Books, 1964). I'm certain I've written about A Gift from Grandpa before, because I absolutely love it, and it is so sweet, it even brings a tear to JJ's eye. Grandpa Zalman Podkovnik, a garbage collector for 30-some years, takes his grandson Davie out on his route one morning, asking "How would you like to see me lift the world?" Grandpa describes a clothesline of sheets and shirts and socks as dancing together to keep warm, and Davie asks, "Are you a poet?" Grandpa says, "How else could I lift the world? Muscles alone aren't enough." At the end, Grandpa gives Davie a beautiful violin he found in the trash. His explanation about lifting the world is priceless, and because the author's name is David, I like to think that this is a true story.

Little Benjamin and the First Christmas is a retelling of Luke 2:1-18, but it's done with such a light touch and such mythic illos by Betty Wind, that I'm happy to share it with Tweetie, regardless of my atheism. For one thing, the story is told from the point of view of the innkeeper's son, who has long heard promises about the coming Prince of Peace--so long, in fact, he's become incredulous. When Benjamin is told by one of the visiting shepherds that the newborn in the stable is the long-awaited prince, Benjamin's first reaction is "O rly?" Unmentioned in the text but constantly at Benjamin's side in the illos is the family dog, who is not thrilled about all these new arrivals (presumably unpaying), especially not the "rough-looking" shepherds. As a side benefit, this book helped Tweetie contextualize the live nativity she saw at a local church, where she'd mistaken the angels for fairies.

Right now, she's watching ThunderCats. Sometimes I wonder how kids juggle all the stories they hear all day long...


cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (Default)
Our winter book advent tradition continued with The Christmas Cub by Justine Fontes, illustrated by Lucinda McQueen. This treacly sweet book features a cub who refuses to hibernate over the winter and thus discovers Christmas. <digression> What is it with these books that validate kids' resistance to bedtime? I swear, Tweetie's going to get the idea that the grownups are having a blast after her bedtime and sneak into the living room to find out. But instead of a merry Christmas adventure she's going to get an eyeful of zombie-movie gore and traumatize herself forever. </digression>

Next up was Petunia's Christmas by Roger Duvoisin. This is one of my favorites! Petunia, a pet goose, discovers a handsome gander being fattened up for Christmas at the neighbor's farm. Using paints, she transforms herself into a fantastic monster and orchestrates the gander's rescue. When her love is recaptured, Petunia vows to earn enough money to pay his ransom. She gets outrageously crafty and gets a good business going, allowing her to pay the ransom and then some (just in case, to cover his price per pound). The neighbors relent and the lovers get married and live happily ever after. Go, Petunia!

Then we read The Nightmare Before Christmas: The 13 Days of Christmas by lots of people. Safely offbeat, and a nice alternative to the song that might be driving you crazy.

And last night we got to Bialosky's Christmas by Leslie McGuire, a slightly less saccharine teddy bear book in which Bialosky is so busy being Martha Stewart and doing ALL THE THINGS all by himself for the holiday that he forgets to invite his friends. Apparently familiar with Bialosky's neurotic ways, his friends appear at the book, noting, "We were worried. We didn't see you all day." All day, people. I sometimes go without speaking to my friends in town for months. Nobody's on my doorstep Intervention style--and thank goodness for that.

Fa la la la la....

ETA: Relevant video: Flyleaf's cover of "What's This?" from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Because why should Facebook have all the fun?

Gift Books

Dec. 5th, 2011 01:47 pm
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (jack skellington)
Sometimes I lose sight of how awesome my life is. This weekend I met [ profile] sarah_prineas and [ profile] christophereast for coffee at a bookshop cafe. I hadn't had been to the store, or had a latte, for a LONG time. Chris gave me a load of sf/f magazines, and Sarah helped me pick gift books for my husband's niece and nephew. Had you told me when I was a kid that one day I'd be book-shopping with a famous children's author, I'd have said, "Well, duh! I will be a famous writer, too, and I will be surrounded by artists of all types." And while the fame thing hasn't come to fruition (understatement of the decade), I am indeed surrounded by writers and artists. Getting to shop with them is like icing on a cake I keep forgetting is in the fridge.

So the books...I bought four books for the niece and nephew, two for Tweetie (who was being very patient among all the adults), and one for me (50 Cent, published author? I couldn't help myself!). The gift books were The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout, Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, The Sisters Grimm Book 1 by Michael Buckley, and Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell. A couple of books I wanted were out of stock or not released yet. I hope I picked books the kids haven't read yet. They are good readers and their parents push their habit. I wrapped the books this afternoon, but I didn't put to/from labels on them. I figure, they should each read them all. :)

Tweetie begged for Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, arguing that they are so popular she has a hard time getting them from her skool library. (She's a good negotiator. Her teachers hate it.) I know she can read the Diaries, but they're a little beyond her emotional/experiential range, so I also bought her the first of [ profile] dorihbutler's Buddy Files mysteries. Dogs plus mysteries? How could she ask for anything more?

And for myself--as if I need any more books!--I got Playground by 50 Cent. The cover copy was really good, and I skimmed a few pages, SOLD.

Are you buying books for people for Christmas? Which ones?


cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book) In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak.

According to Wikipedia, In the Night Kitchen is 25th on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books for 1990-2000 and makes ALA's list of the 15 most controversial picture books.

The book is about a little boy's dream that he nearly becomes an ingredient in a cake baked by three Oliver-Hardy lookalikes. It's not nearly as scary as it might sound, because the boy, Mickey, is blithely, boldly unafraid. It's controversial supposedly because of the little boy's full-frontal nudity. I think it's more because the story follows its own unassailable dream logic and that upsets people who need to put things in neat little boxes.

My favorite line (although I'm an atheist--or maybe because I *am* an atheist) is when Mickey crows, "I'm in the milk, and the milk's in me. God bless milk and God bless me!" 

Indeed! Bless Mickey and his creator, Maurice Sendak.

What is your favorite banned book?


cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Perusing my tumblr dash this morning, I found a picture of this house of books:

children's playhouse constructed of discarded library books

And I exclaimed, "That's my house!" Actually, it's a playhouse in the children's section of our public library. Tweetie loves to drag a huge stuffed Clifford in there and read. Now her skool library is collecting books to make one of their own.



cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (Default)

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