Thursday, October 1, 2015

Banned Books Week!

Yeah, I know. Banned Books Week is practically over, and Gen X slacker blogger here is only just now mentioning it. 

But I've been reading the banned books like a boss, people.

For my official Banned Book for Book Bingo, I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, which I liked so much I didn't even blog about it. 

(Did I mention: Gen X slacker blogger? This is getting quite shameful.)

But really, there's never a bad time to read a banned book. 

So in the spirit of Banned Book Week, which is about raising awareness, check out the American Library Association website -- a good place to find lists of books that have been challenged or banned

Put one of those books on your TBR, and read the thing. You can even go wild and read it not during Banned Books Week. And after reading it, you might just be left wondering, "Challenged... why???

It's quite the experience.

Friday, September 25, 2015

My mom always told me castles were drafty...

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

3 words: romantic, youthful, creative

This book had me from the first line: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
Seriously: how can you resist that?

My first reading of this lovely book was in 2000, at a time when I yearned for some serious comfort reading and found it in these pages.

Reading it this time—for book club—I no longer was seeking comfort, but it found me anyway.

This book is one of those gloriously comfortable old-fashioned novels that transports you into a story and a place far away.

Narrated by 17-year-old Cassandra, the younger sister of a quirky family that lives in a decrepit castle in England, this is a story of family, creativity, coming of age, and finding love.

There are shades of Pride and Prejudice here: a financially strapped family residing in a grand house, daughters of marriageable age seeking husbands (or not), and a cast of exuberantly vivid characters flailing their way through life.

So I mentioned that this book feels old-fashioned, and I mean that in the best way. Smith releases the story into various small tangents that reveal some of the messiness of people’s actual lives, and that made me really happy.

But since the book was published in 1949, the grittiness that would be included in a novel written today is buffed away. Things are hinted at, not made explicit. 

And there’s a more stately rhythm to the language.

So what we have here is a novel that beautifully combines the neat and the messy. 

Relationships are textured and complex, but none are beyond repair. Some storylines are wrapped up neatly at the end, and others are open-ended. 

Smith leaves room for the reader to express her or his creativity as the book ends. What’s next for Cassandra?

I’m pretty sure it’s something good.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Traveling to South Korea via iPhone*

Even If the Sky Falls Down by Susan Jackson Bybee

3 words: lively, interconnected, vivid

Our Bybee** wrote a book, guys, and reading it was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had all year. 

It’s pretty darn thrilling when someone you know (even if you haven’t actually met the person) writes a book—and you love the book. 

It made me slow down and savor it.

And while the voice of the book was clearly that of Lily, the narrator, I could sense the sprightliness of Bybee’s style—that quality that makes her writing such a pleasure to read.

The story: Lily is an American teaching kindergarten in South Korea, whose injured ankle sends her down a path toward an entirely different job.

From the beginning of the book, brief character sketches interweave with Lily’s narrative. These vibrant vignettes are the oral histories of older people in South Korea, many of whom have endured great hardships. They read like tiny short stories, and they pack a punch. I know several of them will stay with me for a long time.

As Lily’s story progresses, the character sketches link in to her narrative, and the storylines all merge in a very satisfying way.

I love a story that takes me to a new place and introduces me to people I’d recognize if I ran across them out in the world. Add a lively first person narrative, and I’m hooked.

The good news is also this: Even when you’re done reading the book, you can visit Bybee at Blue-Hearted Bookworm to hear that delightful voice saying things that are smart and funny and unexpected and comforting and delightful. 

*my eReader of choice these days

**claiming her as one of our book-blogging tribe

Friday, August 21, 2015

Conjunction junction...

Geekier than presidential cookies

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

3 words: smart, exuberant, geeky

One part memoir, one part grammar & punctuation handbook, one part investigative journalism (she gets to the bottom of the mystery of who added the hyphen to Moby-Dick).

My fellow book geeks: rejoice.

Mary Norris is a New Yorker copy editor who writes about words, her work, and her devotion to the #1 pencil.

I knew I could be her friend when I read: “…I had ordered so many pencils that Cal Cedar threw in a free sharpener. I loved having it with me, to sharpen pencils on the go or to whip out in a cafĂ© if a friend’s point had gotten dull.” (191)

Whipping out a pencil sharpener: I could be that person.

Add to that some smart explanations about punctuation, and you’ve got yourself a book nerd’s dream book.

And if you’re a New Yorker fan, there are some delightful anecdotes. One of my favorites dealt with the squeamishness of editor William Shawn: “According to Ian Frazier, the sentence incorporating as many Shawn taboos as possible was ‘The short, balding man wearing a wig took his menstruating wife to a boxing match.’” (p. 163)

If you’re a video type of person, you can also check out her Comma Queen videos 

Yes. I’m serious. The first one is about the comma.

I was enchanted.