"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Monday: May Wrap-up

I declared May as the month I would read only what I wanted month. So how did my month of free-choice reading go? Here's my wrap-up:

-I read ten books.  A goodly number yet below what I hoped to accomplish. (See list below.)

-I read three books from my TBR pile at home, which helped me toward my goal of reading at least 12 books that are piled up around the house, but I really hoped to read more.  In fact, at the beginning of the month I pulled the books I hoped to read from my various book shelves and I still have five in that pile.  Ugh.  The books I read from this pile were: Fearless Fourteen; This Book is Overdue!; Anna and the French Kiss.

-Five YA books topped my favorites of the month.  I try to consume at least half YA books every month. I really liked all five of these books.

-I "had" to read only one book on my list, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.  I listened to it on books on CD and it took forever to finish (over 19 hours of listening).  I confess that I wouldn't have read this book or finished it if it weren't a book club selection, even though I ended up liking it.

- Three audiobooks are on the list.  I love listening to books read aloud.  I guess it hearkens back to my childhood when my happiest memories are related to times that my mother or father read to us.  I always have an audiobook going in the car.  I LOVED A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs.  He did a wonderful, magical job reading it.  It was my favorite book this month.

-I started two other books this month that I haven't finished yet: 1. Brain Rules and 2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  Both are nonfiction and fascinating.

1. Remarkable Trees of the World by Thomas Pakenham (Nonfiction)
2. Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway (YA)
3. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell (Book Club selection, Audio)
4. Split by Swati Avasthi (YA, Audiobook)
5. A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux, translated from French by Y. Maudet (YA)
6. Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich
7. This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson  (Nonfiction)
8. Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett (YA, Audio)
9. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (YA)
10. Kofi and His Magic by Maya Angelou (Picture book; nonfiction) 

-In addition to reading, I set some blogging goals which I accomplished. One was to increase my readership and be a more active blogging "follower". I felt good about both of those!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

"French the Llama!" I sure do like Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. (OK, So my daughter, a full-fledged Nerdfighter, challenged me to use this saying coined by John Green, one of the Vlogbrothers and the original Nerdfighters. John says that the author, Stephanie Perkins, is a Nerdfighter, and he really likes the book.  He says it is all "sweetness, funny, and awesome... genuinely romantic." So it is all good! And...if you are just a little bit nerdy/geeky about books and other things and you haven't checked out Nerdfighters, I think you really should.  You might actually find a whole community of people who think just like you.)

Quick summary of the book: Anna's father, a famous author, decides to send her to the American School in Paris for her senior year.  The timing couldn't be worse.  She wants to stay home with her mother and younger brother, her best friend Bridge, and her almost-boyfriend Toph.  Once in Paris she meets a really nice group of new friends, but she is especially attracted to one boy, Etienne St. Clair.  He also seems to like her, unfortunately, he has a girl friend. As the school year starts to draw to a close will they ever get together?

My thoughts: The book was a slow-starter for me.  I was about a third of the way into the book before it really caught my attention and then I couldn't read it fast enough.  I glad that I was patient with it. Anna and Etienne have some almost-spicy scenes which make me smile to recall.  I like it when authors honor good values and don't have every character jumping into bed and having sex. Though I was frustrated that Anna and Etienne often got tangled up with bad communication, I could overlook that as essential to pulling the story along toward the climax.

I know this book will find its way into the hands of many girls at my school, as I will now be pushing it on them.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Hat Full of Sky by Sir Terry Pratchett

Something is coming after Tiffany ...Tiffany Aching is ready to begin her apprenticeship in magic. She expects spells and magic — not chores and ill-tempered nanny goats! Surely there must be more to witchcraft than this!
What Tiffany doesn't know is that an insidious, disembodied creature is pursuing her. This time, neither Mistress Weatherwax (the greatest witch in the world) nor the fierce, six-inch-high Wee Free Men can protect her. In the end, it will take all of Tiffany's inner strength to save herself ... if it can be done at all.---Goodreads

I'm in love!  I have just fallen in love with Sir Terry Pratchett and his writing.  A Hat Full of Sky is a nearly perfect story and I wanted it to go on and on so I could stay entangled in it's magical pages and the world that Pratchett created.  In fact, I think I'm experiencing a mild depression right now because, alas, the story did end, exquisitely, but it ended.

In my almost six years as high school librarian I have had exactly two students who adored Pratchett and have begged me to buy more of his books. The first was five years ago and I did.  I bought several more of Pratchett's books that have sat languishing on the shelves after that young man graduated until this year when another fan came along and once again begged for more books. Now I am going to actively work to increase the readership of these wonderful books.  No longer will I allow one Prachett fan per every five years!  Before I heard from this year's fan, I had already decided to read one of his books as part of my challenge to Read the ALA 2011 YA Winning Books  Sir Terry Pratchett won the Margaret A. Edwards Award which honors an author for significant and lasting contribution to YA Lit. 

I want to sing out hip-hip-horray! If anyone every deserved such an award it is Sir Pratchett, if, and I suspect it is, this book is representative of his writing style and his story-telling skills. I randomly selected A Hat Full of Sky because it was available at my public library in the audiobook format. This book is actually the second book in the series of Wee Free Men but it worked fine. I was never confused or felt like I had missed some critical piece of information from the earlier book.

So what was it that I liked about A Hat Full of Sky? First, the story is imaginative and clever. "By turns hilarious and achingly beautiful, this be just right." (Kirkus Review)  I listened to it on audiobooks read by Stephen Briggs, who adds to the whimsical, magical story with his wonderful Scottish brogue.  I could listen to him read forever.  (Can you tell I'm in love?)

Here are a few of my favorite quotes... or quotes I just wanted to remember:
The nose is a big thinker. It's good at memory---very good. So good that a smell can take you back in memory so hard it hurts. the brain can't stop it.--Ch. 8
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there you see differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. --Ch. 15
The words ran through Tiffany's mind as she watched the sheep, and she found herself filling up with joy --- at the new lambs, at life, at everything.  Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. it's a feeling inside that can hardly be contained.--Ch. 15

I just adore that quote: "Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle." I'm saving that one up for a rainy day!

Now, which of his books should I read next?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ten Books I've "Lied" About

The Broke and Bookish
Ten Books I've Lied About...or at least stretched the truth:

1.  The Complete Works of Shakespeare
I confess I haven't read anywhere near the complete works.  I think I've read about two or three complete plays of Shakespeare, a few Cliff notes, and that's about it. I have, however, seen a fair number of the plays.

2.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Up until last summer I thought I had read Huck Finn so I always counted it as a read book.  When I actually read/listened to it last summer I realized that I probably had only read the first few chapters before.  BTW- I love it now.  It is one of the funniest books ever written.

3.  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
I don't think I've ever told anyone that I read this book, but I think I've acted like I know what it is about.  I don't.  No idea whatsoever.

4.  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Why, just last week-end I gave a woman the impression that I'd read this book when she referred to it in conversation.  I should know this book, I'm a librarian after all. Well, I don't know it and haven't read it.

5.  The Odyssey and the Iliad by Homer
If we read these when I was in school, I wasn't paying attention.  But since everyone always acts like did read them in school, I pretend I know them well, too.

6.  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
I didn't care for this book when I read it years ago.  Now it is so popular and everyone talks about how much they like it.  I shrug and smile, acting like I like it, too.  It's been too long since I read it to remember clearly what I didn't like about it.  Oh well...

7.  Anything by "the Russians"...
I think I may have read at least some of Dr. Zhivago, but then maybe not.  (I'm trying not to lie.  I truly don't remember.) Otherwise, I've read none of the Russian classics, but I act like I have when students want to know about them.

8.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
I decided that I didn't like the book (series) and announced as much after I read it over a year ago.  But the story has really stuck with me (of course, I did see the movies) and now I think I've changed my mind about the books.  Do I have to go back and confess as much to everyone?

I can't think of any others.  I generally own up to my reading deficiencies and confess that I started reading late in life and have a lot of catching up to do on the classics, etc.
How about you?  Any books you've lied about?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's Monday. What are you Reading?

Book Journey
It's Monday.  Time to reveal what I'm reading and listening to.

Currently Reading: 
1. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

One of my high school students described this book as "very YA."  So far I'd have to agree but I'm only a third of the way through it and I am enjoying the storyline.

2. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina

Let's just say I'm reading this for my brain.

Currently Listening to on Audiobooks:

A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

I am reading this as part of my yearly challenge to read the ALA/YALSA Book Award winners. Mr. Pratchett won the award this year for the author making an outstanding contribution to children's or young adult literature.  This book is very clever and funny.

Recently finished:
A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux

A beautifully crafted and touching story of love and war.  I read this book also as part of my challenge to read the ALA Book Award winners of the year. This book won the award for the best YA book translated from another language (French.)

What's Next:
The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To by D.C. Pierson

An Alex Award winner for the 2011.  I'm also reading this book for the above mentioned challenge.  I've already read one chapter and know I'm going to love it.

What's on your reading list?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

This Book is Overdue! by Marilyn Johnson

The title of the book says it all! This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson.  This book is about librarians and I think, for librarians. Therefore, I hereby grant you permission to not read this diary if you aren't a librarian. But if you are, I urge you to stick around and read this review and, hopefully, pick up the book and read it yourself.

I purchased this book almost a year ago and tucked it into a pile of books out of the way and promptly forgot it. So imagine my delight when I unearthed it earlier this month. The title alone enticed me to purchase it, though I admit that I am a sucker for any book, joke, story, video, movie, etc. where librarians are thought of as heroes (or at least good, decent folk!) The author, Marilyn Johnson, is not a librarian though she is obviously a fan as evidenced by the opening quotes:
Show me a computer expert who gives a damn, and I'll show you a librarian. ---Patricia Wilson Berger, former President, ALA
In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste. ---pg.1
Librarians' values are as sound as Girl Scouts': truth, free speech, and universal literacy. And, like Scouts, they possess a quality that I think makes librarians invaluable and indispensable: they want to help. They want to help us.  ---pg. 8
The book is organized around chapters that all point to libraries and librarians of the future. While well-researched and very factual, the book also uses concrete examples of real-life situations that I found to be both very interesting and inspiring (possibly even motivating) and, in some cases, a bit irrelevant.  As a school librarian I am not concerned with some aspects of the public librarian's job (such as archiving) though I found those chapters fascinating, and many aspects of my job weren't covered here.  Throughout my reading I found myself challenged to hone my technology skills and to find ways to make myself indispensable. I was also soothed by the author's compliments and recognition of our value as a profession.
Still---what price could you put on the professional who took up your whimsical search with enthusiasm and spent his day ensuring its success? ---p. 21
'Oh!' she said, her face lighting up, 'I love that book.' (Someday, I will stop being surprised at all the things librarians read; they'll read anything.) Then she took me to the...corner of the library, found Maus, and placed it in my hands with a blessing. 'I hope you love it, too.' --- pg. 49,50
I snickered my way through the chapter on the blogging librarian...because, hey, that's me (and I'm guessing it is you, too!)  Johnson said she thought that librarians would be the last people to get involved with social networking.  Yet she acknowledged with surprise that librarians have "taken up blogging with a vengeance." (50)

Pride for my profession swelled as I read the chapter about the Connecticut Four who stood up to the Federal government and the Patriot Act in defense "of free access to information and the right to privacy in our choices." (70)  I was in library school during the time when this case was being heard before the courts and I remember my husband calling me a "radical, militant librarian," a title which I still wear proudly.  No one can go all Big Brother on librarians because, well, we've read the book!
So here was the case in a nutshell: quiet librarians who wanted to keep quiet about patrons' records were told to give up those records and to remain silent about it. The librarians fought to be heard, and finally they were.  Now for the rest of their lives, they would be noisy, in defense of keeping quiet (81).
'Congress won't follow laws, the President won't follow laws, the FBI won't follow laws, but we still have our librarians.' ---ACLU counsel, Ann Beeson (83)
One of the many things I learned from this book is about the social networking site Second Life which has been very popular among librarians. Many also join the subgroup, InfoGroupies, and provide reference services for avatars on the site.  I attempted a visit to Second Life from my computer here at school, but it was blocked.  Ha-ha!  Note the irony.  I hope to learn more about this website but I'll have to do it from home or from a public library.

On providing services to all patrons Johnson quoted E.J. Josey, the second African-American president of the ALA, who said: "Information justice is a human rights issues; the public library must remain 'the people's university'...and librarians can get involved and shape the future or they can sit back and watch the changes." (204)  I like to think that school libraries are contributors to the 'people's university' as well, though we have limited patrons and we hope to send our patrons off to real college soon.

No longer can we just think of our libraries as brick and mortar buildings. As Tom Peters, blogging for the ALA, says:  "Perhaps a few forward-thinking library staffers...should openly declare that they serve the entire world, at least in theory." (246).  To which Johnson adds that she believes it is already happening.  And, "public libraries do, after all, hang signs that say 'public'."

In this day and age of budget cuts and job cuts, it was nice to read a book which clearly expanded on the value of my profession.  Johnson closes the book with this wonderful tribute to librarians:
I was under the librarians' protection. Civil servants and servants of civility, they had my back. They would be whatever they needed to be that day: information professionals, teachers, police, community organizers, computer technicians, historians, confidants, clerks, social workers, storytellers, or, in this case, guardians of the peace. (252)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux

The Mildred H. Batchelder Book Award  goes to the best YA fiction translated into English from another language.  The 2011 winner of this award is A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux, translated from French by Y. Maudet.

In this extremely moving and exquisitely crafted story we are introduced to two refugees, Koumail and his guardian Gloria, who flee from war-torn the Caucasus area of the country of Georgia as the Soviet Union falls apart. Their destination is France, Koumail's birthplace. For five years the duo travel by foot mainly, with little more than the clothes on their back to reach their destination. Along the way we are treated to the delights of Gloria's story-telling and her admonishments to never give in to despair. But there is so much to despair over...little or no food, freezing temperature, disease, and separation. Somehow the two survive clinging to each other in love and with a great deal of hope.

This is a charming story with many parts written so beautifully that I felt like my soul was nourished just by reading it. I did find the geography of the story quite confusing though, as I'm no scholar of the land sandwiched between the Caspian and the Black Seas.  It wasn't until I started writing this review that I took a look at the front of the book again and was astonished to see three maps of Koumail's journey.  Silly me.  They really would have helped as I tried to imagine the trip. I will certainly point them out to my patrons when they check-out the book, as I hope they will.
'Hush, hush! I never lie, Mr. Blaise. I may embellish things a little from time to time, that's all.' Gloria strokes my hair. 'There's nothing wrong with making up stories to make life more bearable.'
Among all the things she gave me, I know there is a foolproof remedy against despair: hope. So as my tears run down my cheeks, I promise her that I will live my life the way she taught me to. I will always walk straight ahead toward new horizons.  -p. 180
Oh, to be able to read this in it's original language.  Ah well....


Monday, May 16, 2011

Split by Swati Avasthi

Sixteen-year-old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret.

He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind—his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret.

At least so far.- From Goodreads             
Violence and secrecy.  The two go together. Family violence and its insidious effects on family members is the theme of this masterfully written novel, Split by Swati Avasthi.

Several years ago a dear friend escaped an unhappy marriage.  After she got away she shared with me the level of emotional abuse that went on behind the closed doors of her marriage.  As she started the healing process she read somewhere that abuse continues often because the victim doesn't say "STOP IT", particularly in the beginning and because of the pattern of secrecy that develops.

I kept thinking of this as I read Split.  The violence in this family was allowed to go unchecked for so many years because of the secrecy. Even family members wouldn't talk to one another. So there was little opportunity for true emotional escape even after a physical escape.

Split is a hard book to read (though I read it in three days).  Even though there was great character development and an interesting storyline I doubt this book will get much traction in the YA world because the theme of domestic violence is such a depressing, negative subject.  That said, I think it is an important book to have in the library.  Books are such wonderful, neutral advice-givers.  But here is one thing I wish the book had (editors are you paying attention?): I wish the back of this book had a list of resources where a teenager trapped in domestic violence could go for help. I was admittedly shocked that the book didn't have it.  Perhaps the paperback edition could add this?!

Another note: Split by Swati Avasthi was the Cybil Award winner for YA fiction this year.  Way to go Ms. Avasthi, your first novel and its a winner!  Congratulations.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Little Bragging Allowed?

Woot! Woot!

I have to brag just a little bit. I just finished listening to the audio version of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. It was 17 discs long and took over nineteen hours of listening. Every time I've climbed in my car for the past three and a half weeks I've listened to this thing and I am done. Phew. That felt like a herculean effort and I've done it!

If you keep a list of books you read and listen to, do you ever feel like the titles on the page don't show the effort at all? I read a book in a two-hour session and I listened for 19 hours. Not the same effort, for sure.

I won't be reviewing the book at this time because it is a book club selection for next month and several of the gals in my club read my blog occasionally and we agreed to not reveal our feelings about our selections ahead of the club meeting times. But, if you are reading this RHS Book Club gals, I'd encourage you to get started reading now. This is not a quick read.

First Line Friday

First Line Friday: How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday.

A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux
My name is Balise Fortune and I am a citizen of the French Republic. It's the pure and simple truth.

I was almost twelve years old the day the customs officers found me in the back of the truck. I stank as badly as the garbage shed where Abdelmalik slept, and all I was able to say was 'Mynameisblaisefortuneandiamacitizenofthefrenchrepublicitsthepureandsimpletruth.'

I don't find this opening particularly interesting other than I know that this book is translated from French and that is won the YA Award for books translated from another language this year.  I also love the run-on sentence.  It makes me smile.  I've only read about 50 pages so far and I have found this book to be completely charming.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

 Some YA books are so thoughtful and touching, so mature, yet young and fresh. While other YA books are, well, so YAAudrey, Wait! by Robin Benway falls into the later category.  Don't get me wrong.  I liked the book.  In fact, I enjoyed it a lot. I just found the storyline and the characters to be so teenager-ish.  Perhaps, since I'm not a teenager, it is a good thing and, therefore, it should appeal to teens.  If an adult thinks that a book suffers from teenage-itis then it follows that teens should like it, right? (As a side note, a 12th grade girl stopped by my desk yesterday to tell me about another book I had asked her to preview for me.  She said, "I liked the books, but it was so teenager-ish." Guess I'm not the only one who notices.)

Here is a quick, quick summary: Audrey, a music-crazed teenager, breaks up with her musician boyfriend, Evan, who writes a hit song about the break-up called Audrey, Wait! As the song climbs the charts Audrey becomes an object of attention as the muse who inspired the song that everyone likes. Everything that Audrey does, no matter how small and insignificant, seems to just draw more and more attention until her life seems to be controlled by the paparazzi and "her fans".

I must admit that I was surprised by this twist in the plot.  I really thought when I read the summary on the back of the book that Audrey would have been unpopular for actually breaking up with Evan rather than becoming wildly popular herself.

Here are two quotes from the book that I think do a nice job of showing Benway's writing:

"If kissing Simon had been like a wildfire, kissing James was something smaller and stronger. It was birthday and prayer candles, ones made for good thoughts and strong hopes and wishes and promises. I needed some of those now." -p. 219
"My mom sat next to me. 'Aud,' she said. 'Sometimes you're gonna have to make decisions that not everyone is going to like. But if you think it's the right thing to do, you have to do it. Even if your boyfriend doesn't like it. Even if Victoria doesn't like it. Even if Dad and I don't like it. You have to start trusting yourself." -p. 294

I will certainly recommend this book to my patrons and hope to get it into as many reader's hands as possible.

Monday, May 9, 2011

It's Monday---What Are You Reading?

Book Journey
I have declared May the month I will read what I want to read, not what I should or have to read. This, however, means that I am reading a little of this and a little of that and I'm not doing a good job completing anything. Here's what I've got going right now and my progress.

What I'm Currently Reading:
1. This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson
     A librarians book about librarians. Ha! I'm on page 39/256.

2. Audrey, Wait by Robin Benway
     A very YA young adult book. I like it but would rather read other things. I'm on page 203/313.

3. Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich
     I may have gone to the well one too many times on Evanovich and her Stephanie plum series. This book isn't holding my attention. I'm on page 75/320.

4. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
     This book was recommended by another teacher. I haven't made much progress, I'm only on page 20/440.

What I'm currently listening to on audiobooks:
1. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet by David Mitchell
     The last time I participated in this Monday meme I was just starting this audiobook. Well I've made progress but it is slow. That reminds me, I need to renew this from the public library. I'm on disc 12 of 17. I figure that is about page 360/510.

2. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
      I've only listened to disc one of seven and may have to set it aside until I finish several other audiobooks (include the above book.)

What I hope to read (and listen to) next:
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
     I promised my youngest daughter that I would read this book next.

The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To : a Novel by D.C. Pierson
    Another librarian suggested I read this and I really want to.  Soon?  I hope!

Spilt by  Swati Avasthi
     I have already checked out this audiobook from the public library.  I hope to listen to it on my road trip to Oregon and back this week-end. It won the 2011 Cybil Award for a YA book.

What about you?  What are you reading right now?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Read any "Weird" Books Lately?

A  few weeks ago I was supervising a group of students taking a test in the library.  To break up the tedium of that task I started pulling books off a nearby shelf to take a look at them.  I read a whole book on the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami (there were lots of pictures) and I still had time to cast about for something new to look at when I stumbled upon this gem, Remarkable Trees of the World by Thomas Pakenham, that I didn't even know I had in the library. At first I thought I would just look at the fabulous photos of magnificent trees but the text by Pakenham drew me in and I found myself to be completely captivated by this book about, ahem, remarkable trees of the world and Pakenham's experiences with them.

When I asked if you have read any weird books lately I don't mean weird weird.  I mean weird as in odd that I found myself reading this book now.  I guess it really isn't that weird that I would read a book about huge old and odd trees because I am a tree fan.  Who isn't? When my family and I traveled to the Redwood forests of the Northern California coast a few years back and I walked among those behemoths of all trees I thought my soul would burst for the pleasure of it.  It was as if my soul had ached for such a communion with nature.  When I started reading the book I thought that it would be the coolest thing on earth to make a goal to go and visit all these old trees.  But as I read on I realized that there is no financial way that I could travel to Madagascar or Sri Lanka  just to stand at the foot of remarkable tree, or traipse into the heart of the Australian Outback to see a tree.  But there are a few remarkable trees in my own state (Washington) and many others in California so perhaps I'll have a chance to visit at least a few of them. The rest I shall have to be satisfied to look at their pictures in this wonderful book.

The book is divided into themed chapters: Giants, Dwarfs, Methuselahs, Dreams, Trees in Peril. Pakenham's text tells a bit about the history of the species and what he was able to ascertain about the particular tree or grove of trees. I found it all fascinating. The chapter dividers included excerpts from poems.  Here was my favorite:

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I'll never see a tree at all.  
                         -Ogden Nash, The Open Road

Sacred grove formed by one banyan tree in Madagascar, Photo by Thomas Pakenham

The old camphor tree and shrine at Atami, 2nd largest tree in Japan, photo by Thomas Pakenham
Sunset at the Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar, UK book cover

(A portion of my favorite photo in the book.)

What "weird" book have you read lately?  I hope your experience with it was as wonderful as mine was with Remarkable Trees of the World.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

First Line Friday

A Few More Pages
First Line Friday: How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday.

Audrey, Wait by Robin Benway
The day I broke up with my boyfriend Evan was the day he wrote the song. You know, the song. I'm sure you've heard it.

I actually think this is an excellent first phrase.  It lets the reader know a few things right off: 1) the narrator has a song written about her, and 2) the contents of the song might not be very complimentary since it was written on the day the couple broke up. Sounds like a fun premise for a book.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Books I'm Glad Someone Recommended that I Read

The Broke and Bookish Blog
Top Ten Books that I read on a recommendation 
(and I'm glad I did!)

1.  Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
I credit this book for bringing me back to reading after a ten year hiatus.  I still think of it as one of my favorite books. (My sister, Kathy, recommended that I read it)

2.  Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
This was one the first classics I remember reading where I was just swept up in the story. (My friend Rita recommended it.)

3.  Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
I know this will be my favorite book club book of 2011. Even though it is long, it is worth the read.  Everyone in the book club really liked it, too. (Deborah recommended that we read it.)

4.  Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
My first Kingsolver, now a favorite author.  I read this book out-of-order (Bean Trees is first) because my friend was so high on it. (Rita)

5.  The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
I love this exquisitely written story translated from French (My friend Margaret, who is a French teacher, recommended this one!)

6.  Going Bovine by Libba Bray
This was the #1 YA book last year and it was a student, Kelsey, who told me that I should read it.

7.  Harry Potter and and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (in audio format)
The whole family listened together as we drove to California for vacation.  We all enjoyed it immensely. (My neighbor, Susie, loaned us her audio-CDs of this book.)

8.  Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Annie Lamott
This book really spoke to me on a spiritual level.  (My mom recommended that I read it.)

9.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is one of my favorite YA books ever.  It was a student who kept encouraging me to read it even though I had a hard time starting it, once I got going...WOW!

10.  Mountain Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder
This book that was recommended by someone at church, It really put a new idea of "mission" work into my head.

11. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
My oldest daughter, also named Rita, loved this book and kept at me until I read it.  I started reading it and then got derailed but she kept after me until I finished it.  I was so glad, too, as I loved it.

****Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is on my pile of books to read as it comes with the strongest recommendation from my youngest daughter, Carly.  I promise to read it this month.  Moms must not ignore recommendations from reading daughters if they expect daughters to not ignore them!

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


I have finally read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and now I know what all the fuss is about. This semi-autobiographical book was published in 1963 by Plath shortly before she committed suicide. The book is often found on banned or censored book lists because it is thought that impressionable people will want to kill themselves if they read it.

I don't deny that the book is disturbing, especially understanding the proximity of its publication and Plath's death, and I would never foist this book on anyone who didn't think they could handle reading it. Yet the book is so well-written and the story itself is quite compelling.  Several of the reviews I read seemed to miss an important aspect of the book.  Esther Greenwood, the main character, did have a mental breakdown just like Plath did in her late teens, but she didn't breakdown because her father died or because her mother was over-bearing.  She didn't end up in a mental institute because she didn't fit the model of a "nice" girl.  She had a mental breakdown because she was chemically imbalanced and was probably bipolar.  As I read the book I was fascinated by the way Plath wrote about this spiral down to debilitating depression.  Esther got so depressed that she didn't want to bathe and she kept her pajamas on under her clothes so she wouldn't have to bother putting them on at bedtime. At the same time she is making grandiose plans of writing a novel, traveling in Europe, and finishing her thesis ahead of schedule.

I think that this book is very instructive about the confused thinking of many people living with untreated mental illnesses.  A side note, the story takes place in the early to mid 1950s.  It does have a historical fiction feel to it.  Life in the '50s was different than today!  Among them, Esther talked about taking all college girls using Dexedrine (prescription uppers like Speed) like it was no big deal.  From what I know of these types of drugs they certainly could have been contributing factors to the mental breakdown.

"I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.
     I am, I am, I am." ---p. 243

So if you haven't read The Bell Jar do I think you should?  Yes! The book had me from the first sentence and I think it still has a lot to say to us in the Twenty-first Century.