Sunday, August 5, 2012

Reading Recap

I'm dashing off a few notes on books I've read recently.

1. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund (borrowed from library).
It is a YA novel, but I'm pretty sure that as a high school student I would not have had patience for it had I not studied Persuasion by Jane Austen, on which the story is (loosely) based.  In fact, I did not study Persuasion until I had a course on Austen as part of my college major program, so I am not sure how YA-friendly this book really is except for the relatable ages of the characters--but most of them, including the protagonist Elliot (female), have grown-up responsibilities in this futuristic, post-apocalyptic world where after decades of technological and biomedical advances, some people rejected them and became Luddites (literally I guess) and some still messed around with inventions.  Elliot comes from a Luddite family but seems to be struggling with the constraints of not using any technology.  (Something else I have a hard time being patient with: understanding the constructed worlds of science fiction relating to the future and/or outer space.  I don't know why, but I struggle.  A setting in the past, I understand.)  Then she meets a couple who are using advanced technology and they rent one of her family's houses.  Also traveling in their party is Kai, the boy who worked on Elliot's family's property, but she hasn't seen Kai since she rejected his plea for her to run away with him.  He returns a man and seems completely cold toward her.

Obviously, drama ensues.

I can't really comment on the storyline because for the most part I knew it already, but overall, I felt the world was well thought-out and explained--but for some reason that made the ending even harder to comprehend, because it didn't seem to take any of that much-labored-over construction of history, culture, and ethics into consideration.  

SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS.  I mean, Elliot went through this whole emotional turmoil of being horrified at the biomedical things the renting couple had done in the name of research, and then double the horrification when she realizes that Kai has been biomedically enhanced--and all this dithering goes on and on, but when they both confess they love each other still, she's fine with it all?  What, because she considers herself a complete hypocrite for trying to grow one crop of "illegal" hybrid wheat that resists disease?  I totally did not understand why there had to be only two extremes in this world--either complete rejection or far-reaching embracing of invention.  I'm sorry, what about applying ethics to each individual situation?  What about considering the long-term effects of an innovation?  I mean, Elliot's all, oh I love you and we'll go off together, but what kind of life was she going to have with someone who was biologically superior to her?  (I bet he gave bone-crushing hugs.)  Or was she going to have the enhancements as well?  We aren't told.  She just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge.  I mean, the North estate.


I'll put it this way: Definitely read the book (refer to Shmoop's summary of Persuasion if you like--that's what I did to refresh my memory on some finer points), and see for yourself if you wind up having questions at the conclusion of the story.
I'll note that I didn't at the end of Austen's, and it is one of my favorites by her.  Good intentions, but I think For Darkness really didn't take the real themes/details of Persuasion to heart.

2. Jeneration X by Jen Lancaster (purchased with my own funds).
Somehow I didn't mention in a previous book club post that Lancaster's previous book of memoirs, which I had recommended enthusiastically for a club selection, was solidly slammed by at least one of the few members who read it.  (I tried not to take it personally, but that was definitely one of those indicators that said maybe this club is not for me.)  The most pointed complaint was, "I was reading this and wondering, 'How old is this woman supposed to be? Because she's really immature.'"  What, because she's interested in pop culture?  And the whole point of the story was that she was trying to gain culture and grow intellectually if not personally as well, so. . . what more did these people want?

I guess if they didn't have the full background on how she went from a great job to nothing and then to bestselling author, then maybe there was a bit of hating on successful women thing going on, which I cannot stand.  Especially from people who really claim to be all about sisterhood. . .  but how dare Lancaster talk about getting her hair done or watch reality TV or whatever.  (Real women aren't free to enjoy anything they happen to like? I am confused.)

This follow-up, which was published after Lancaster's foray into fiction which I have not read yet, probably would have pissed them off even more, because she details in chaptered vignettes some recent events that she realizes have significant lessons of adulthood and are a sign of her coming to terms with being a full-fledged person of middle age.

I, for one, enjoyed her stories as well as the little lesson at the end of each chapter, but maybe that's because I'm coming from the other side of her age group.  (If I had to guess she is maybe ten years older than I am, but I totally get and laugh at her nostalgic '80s references.)  This particular memoir actually employs less swearing/vulgar language than its predecessors, but all the brashness is still there in fine form, whether she's keeping an eye on the neighborhood through "Constant Vigilance(tm)" and her pointiest shovel, or dealing with the reality (or irony) of making a will while sporting a green manicure that seemed like a good idea at the time.  There were several points where I was laughing out loud.  And that's not even including the whole section on "As Seen on TV" products (her take and her husband Fletch's).

Bottom line: Lancaster tells good stories.  Some move you to laugh, some even move you to tears--especially if you are an animal lover (which she definitely is).

And, not surprisingly, she looks fabulous in her author headshot on the dust jacket.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Round-up

O.K., so I've plowed through several books in recent times--most of them pretty good.  Here are a few, reviewed briefly. (All titles were borrowed from the library.)

1. Jane by April Linder--This is a modern-day (young adult) retelling of Jane Eyre.  Full disclosure: I did not enjoy Jane Eyre when I had to read it for high school.  It was a drag and the relationships (and much of the events) made no sense.  So while Jane is a very good tribute to the original, I wound up not enjoying it for the same reasons I didn't enjoy the original.
But after saying all that, as I have been taking more of an in-depth look at introversion for my own personal insight, it has been said that Jane Eyre (the original character) was an introvert.  Lindner definitely writes that aspect of Jane Moore (the modern-day character) marvelously well.  (I even found myself identifying with some of the things she said she experienced!) Actually, I have to admit that Lindner's wordcraft in general really impressed and pleased me as a reader.
I read this in anticipation of a Twitter Book Club. . . that I wound up missing!  But I don't regret having read it.  I do look forward to reading her future work.  Even if I'm forced to rehash everything I read for high school.

2. The Girl Is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines--I forget where I read about this book and felt compelled to request it from the library.  [Update 07/24/2012: I remembered that Bri reviewed the next installment, The Girl Is Trouble, recently. I honestly didn't remember that as I was reading the book and writing this post, so my apologies if my post notes similar things!] It's pretty well-written YA (definitely for teens and not younger) set during the WWII era.  It was almost like crossing Meet Molly (yes, I had a Molly doll, a major indulgence from my generous parents) with Veronica Mars and making a novel: teen girl with mom gone helps disgraced dad (lost his leg while serving in the military) with his detective agency.  She goes rogue in an attempt to find out what happened to a classmate of hers and discovers a new sense of self, as well as ways to relate to her dad and others, along the way.  Definitely a good novel for mystery lovers.
The only thing that really turned me off at times was the attempt at authenticity sometimes tripped me up: too much lingo, not enough contextual clues.  It seemed gratuitous.  I found myself wishing for a glossary to which I could flip for help sometimes. [07/24/2012: And it appears that Bri enjoyed the things I didn't really like, so. . . that's different tastes for you! The second book does sound a bit more substantial, though.]

3. The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright--I read this one on audio.  This is a middle-grade book, so it's not a million CDs long.  And what a wild story it was!  Skilley the cat won't eat mice; he likes cheese.  He manages to get himself a job at a cheese shop and pub--a very odd place where he makes friends with the mice (and particularly the clever Pip) and is studied by pub patron Charles Dickens who comes in to work on his writing, as do several of his contemporaries.
Conflict comes mainly in the feline person of Pinch, a cat with several scores to settle.  It sounds like a story that is too far-fetched, but all the characters are really well-drawn (and oh, the Dickensian names!) and the action flows.  Bonus: Pip is well-read and loves using numerous "fifty cent words," often to Skilley's puzzlement but always for his edification.  I would love to see teachers use this remarkable story to teach vocabulary.
Double bonus: The illustrations are by Barry Moser, whose cat illustrations I recognized because our family loves Telling Time with Big Mama Cat.
It's a great read and would be a really fun travel audiobook, because the production is done with such animation (intelligible British accents included).

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Coming off Hiatus

Well, the book club leader moved out of town, and the half the club seems to be on summer vacation, so it remains to be seen if and when the next selection will be announced and a date set.  The next meeting, if it happens, might not take place until September.  And of course my participation is dependent on both the selection and the date.  (For all I know, I will have joined or started a new book club by then!)

In the meantime, I've been reading.  A LOT.  And I'm eager to share what I've read.

To that end, I'll be putting up posts discussing titles I've read.  The posts will be labeled "independent reading."  The things I read will vary in genre and reading level but will be not "younger" than Middle Grade (pretty good explanation here).  I'm in the middle of two pretty good--and very different--books at the moment.

Is anyone reading anything good for the summer?  Feel free to share in the combox. 


Monday, February 20, 2012


As my few followers might have guessed, this blog is going (has been) on hiatus.  There are several reasons:

The titles/types of books preferred by the majority of the club members just don't appeal to me.  I tried suggesting things, but nobody else was into them.  And the one time I did suggest something, the book was so savaged at the next meeting that--while I didn't take it personally--it certainly left me feeling that my preferences didn't fit it too well with the rest of the group.

The last meeting I went to was so poorly attended, mostly because people hadn't read the book (although most of the few who did attend had not read it, either!), that I felt I had wasted my time both reading the book and coming to the meeting.  What's the point?

It's not so much that book clubs aren't for me; really, it's about finding the book club that is for me.  That could involve starting my own club.

 I will update and/or change formats if and when I get the new club going (or join a new one.).  Thanks for reading--and keep on reading!


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Club Meeting Minutes

Considering the fact that I just got an e-mail reminder about this month's book club meeting--which is this coming Monday (yikes, need to do that reading)--I figured I'd better get in the minutes from last month's (i.e. September's) meeting.

Meeting: September

Book: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

This meeting, as mentioned previously, was hosted at my mom's house.  Summer finally was starting to make its exit, so she decided to make warm spiced cider and serve donut holes and candy corn (yum).  Also some praline-topped baked brie.  No booze.  I guess she didn't want any alcohol-related brawls--in vino veritas and all that.

Had I read the book?  Well, "skimmed" is more like it.  I just have a hard time getting into stories where it reads like a series of bad things happening to characters that don't really give me a reason to root for them (or maybe even just plain feel sorry for them)--or is it that I'm supposed to feel something for them by the mere occurrence of bad things happening to them all the time?  I don't know.  But in any event, I knew enough to get by in the discussion if not the "discussion questions" (more on those later).

There definitely were more people at this meeting than last time, I think about a dozen people.  What a difference five people can make.  Everyone seemed to like the cider and the food, and even though the praline sauce hardened a bit too quickly, it all got eaten up.  I for one cannot comment on items with cheese as I am allergic, but in general I think when one goes to the extra effort of making something, odds are it will be well-received, as it was at this meeting, especially when people were in the mood for something seasonal.

The most anticipated and/or feared part of the meeting followed right after the greeting and eating: The Format Talk.

Our group organizer--let's call her "Brooke" for ease of reference--had brought a notepad with her to jot down our decisions, I guess.  She sat in a chair that was in front of the fireplace.  To her left (well, not her immediate left because the landing for the steps is there) sat Leona.

"So, I just wanted to check in with everybody to see if they had any thoughts about the format of the book club, if there was anything we wanted to change," said Brooke.

Nobody responded immediately, but eventually someone said she was O.K. with it and most people agreed.

Then Leona started in about how everybody should get a chance to talk, and how she had brought discussion question with her this time.  You know, because she had already read this book for two other book clubs.  So she started pushing for having a moderator for each meeting.  Nobody really responded right away to that, and it was borderline uncomfortable silence.  I think people might have been torn between encouraging Leona (and possibly making her the moderator) by agreeing and getting on her bad side by disagreeing.  As a result, the discussion circled back to the duties of the organizer, and while Brooke said she had no intention of leaving her post as organizer, she suggested that the hostess for each particular meeting be the moderator.  

Nobody objected, at least aloud.  I kept quiet, although--my take?  I think having a moderator, especially for a group as small as ours, interferes with the organic development of the book discussion.  This idea of "everyone must talk" and answering prepared questions (as opposed to someone's posing a question that had arisen during her reading or in response to the reading) just goes against everything I believe in as an educator and just generally a person who recognizes that everyone's different and not all people have something to say at every single meeting.  It might be a classic extrovert/introvert misunderstanding.

So, why did I not speak up?  I often think I'm in the minority, especially as someone who feels on the fringes of this club--more of an auditor, if you will--so I'm not going to introduce an idea that's going to be met with that uncomfortable silence because no one wants to hurt my feelings.  Also, honestly, as much as I wasn't looking forward to talking about the book, I wanted this part of the meeting to end as quickly as possible.

Which it did, with the declaration that this change in format would occur the next time around.

This time, Leona did the leading, question printouts in hand.  Actually, she was fairly pleasant as the moderator, probably because it suits her, and also her extreme familiarity with the book contributed.  

The discussion got unpleasant at times because it ventured into discussions of fistulas (ugh but the medical people in our group were into it), abortions, and FGM (double ugh).  My question was my curiosity regarding the audience: Did those among our group who liked this book also enjoy medical dramas/melodramas on TV, like "Grey's Anatomy"?  Interestingly, the answer was no.  That result surprised me, and ultimately I still did not understand why the majority of the group enjoyed the book so much.  

And yes, I did voice my opinion that I didn't enjoy the book, but I merely said it wasn't my cup of tea.  It was just too sad and I'm still not crazy about reading medical stuff because my cat has cancer.  I don't personally find books full of tragedy and angst all that moving--not that I'm saying a book has to be full of sunshine and good news, but this idea that life is just a series of bad things that fall on hapless humanity is just so. . . I don't know, nihilistic or something.

Anyway, the good news--sort of--was that our next meeting would be around Halloween time, and the hostess for that meeting said she wanted a scary-ish read.  I had something in mind, but I couldn't remember the full title and wasn't able to describe it well enough, so off I went to my parents' computer upstairs (in what was once my bedroom for a few years after my brother moved out).

And of course while I was waiting for the slow-moving dinosaur desktop computer to get me the information I wanted, the conversation continued downstairs and a decision was made.  They were repeating the details when I was walking down the steps.

Oh, well.  They tend not to like my suggestions, anyway.  As a side note, after the meeting, the group got an e-mail from Brooke saying that someone had given the "great" idea of e-mailing around future book selection suggestions ahead of the next meeting, the point being that people could "research" them in advance.  Yeah. . . nobody did that this time around.  I do have an idea and I might send it around, just to see if anyone pans it outright.  Or if they'll wait until the meeting.

So, next meeting's reading is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which definitely sounds like something you read in the dark to scare yourself.  I have been woefully behind with everything on my to-read list--to the point of owing $3.00 in fines on overdue books! Even librarians miss due dates! We work hard!--so I haven't gotten to it yet.  I guess I'd better do that soon.

Mom and I were joking about dressing up in goth outfits to please our hostess.  Hmm, I should check with her to see if she still wants to do that.  Those costume stores might still be open with their clearance sales.  Maybe we can find some gothic wigs.

Our gung-ho participation might just win us votes for the next book selection. 



Sunday, September 4, 2011

And Further Confusion

Ultimately, the club organizer sent out a message declaring the book club meeting postponed to September 19.  I did not see any further correspondence about it, and I assumed that every member had agreed.  You know, without hitting "Reply All."

Last Monday, the original date of the meeting, I had joined my parents for dinner at their house to visit a while with my oldest nephew, whom Mom had taken shopping for back-to-school clothes.  "There's someone at the door," he told me shortly after we'd cleared the table and Mom was finishing up in the kitchen.  I went to the door and saw one of the book club members who lived across the street and down from Mom and Dad.  I realized at the same time that it was seven o'clock and that the dreaded book was in her hands.

"Book club is tonight, isn't it?" she asked as I opened the door.  I could see the confusion in her eyes as she scanned the living room and found it empty.  Not to mention only half-painted a lovely blue on the side where the piano resided.

"Actually, it got moved to next month--September 19th," I said.  "Did you see the e-mail?"

Shaking her head with a bit of a sheepish laugh, she replied, "No, I never read my e-mail."  Facebook has killed e-mail, I thought to myself, but I couldn't figure out how else she would know what was going on with the group, unless she talked to other neighbor-members--something less likely to happen recently as a lot of people go on vacation at the end of August.

Honestly, I felt bad she had made arrangements to be there that night, and the thought of her turning right around and going right home to dissolve her "night out" seemed unfair.  So I grabbed Mom and we stood on the front porch chatting for a bit about the book.  She said she liked it, and cared for it far more than the book she had been reading for another group, A Visit from the Goon Squad.  (I looked at it in Target last Friday while browsing books until my sister and my cousin were ready to go; I see how the changing perspectives could annoy readers.)  After a few minutes, I excused myself to spend a little more time with my nephew.

So I guess we will see her again on the 19th. . . at which point in time I will have read the club's selection.  I can't put it off for much longer- Ooh! What's that? Another cat mystery

How did I get hooked on those?


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mass Confusion = Reprieve?

Well, well, well.  All of a sudden, talk of postponing next week's meeting has popped up.

Maybe people were enjoying their summer too much to haul around the ol' required reading.  Me, I was just avoiding it.

The tiny but lovely readership of this blog may recall that my mom offered to host.  The poor dear actually rushed to paint the downstairs ahead of some family obligations that commenced mid-month, and while unfortunately the walls were not cooperative, it gives that nice added conversation piece of a work in progress.  Now that there is talk of postponement into September, the club will have to face the fact that Mom already made plans with certain days--like days the painters are coming--some of which happen to be Mondays.  

Our club organizer sent an e-mail asking for members to reply with availability.  Enter the flurry of responses via the dreaded "Reply All" button.  (Yeah, I know some members want to know what everyone says; me, I'd rather you just collect the responses and tell me what the new date is.)

One of the non "Reply All" users hit reply to the response my mom sent as future hostess explaining her limited availability in September.  Mom forwarded it to me because it was a bit puzzling.

Guess the mysterious author of the reply.  I'll give you a hint.  Her response included the phrases: "Great to talk to you," "you'll be ok [sic]," and "love you!"

I was a little puzzled, too, if that helps you any.