Friday, December 31, 2010

Childhood Challenge: ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK

I can't believe this is my last installment for my 2010 Childhood Challenge. I rather enjoyed my year of re-reading my childhood favorites and have a couple in mind for future re-readings when I get some free time. For the 12th and final book of my challenge, I chose to read On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is the fourth book in the Little House on the Prairie series.

From my memory
The most salient memory I have of any of the Little House on the Prairie books is reading them out loud with my mom and sister. We took turns reading chapters out loud in the evenings, and we read through the entire series that way. We also watched the TV series, which helped to make the entire Little House on the Prairie franchise hold a special place in my heart. However, I couldn't specifically remember any one book, so when I went to pick out one at the bookstore for my re-reading adventure, I relied on a friend who was with me to recommend her favorite book from the series. When she told me about some of the plot line, I was surprised at how little I remembered of the details from any of the books, so I was quite excited to break into this book this month.

After re-reading
When I started reading the book, I was a bit disappointed--the writing style is simple (and can be redundant) and meant for much younger readers than I had remembered (as in, the book read more like a chapter book for beginning readers). Once I got over the choppiness of the writing style, though, I realized why the books are so beloved: They lovingly recreate a time in history that is foreign to most modern readers. Laura Ingalls Wilder pays great attention to detail, describing exactly what the stove looks like that Pa bought for Ma, how the walls in the house drip when the summer weather gets too hot in the summer, how the incredible shifts in weather affected their daily lives--in essence, she provides a picture of daily life in a time long gone.

When Laura goes to school for the first time in her life (at the age of 8), she and Mary (who was 9) walked by themselves to town--a 2.5-mile walk. They had never been to town before and so followed their Pa's oral directions on how to get to the school house. They didn't wear their shoes because their shoes had to stay in good condition for snowy and icy weather. It amazes me that just over a hundred years ago, two kids were sent off by themselves to walk barefoot on a 2.5-mile journey that they had never been on before. But that was normal for them. It is books like these that remind us how drastically our country has changed.

As I read, I began thinking of discussion questions that I would want to go over with kids if I were reading the book with younger readers. Things like, "How did they cook their food before Pa bought Ma their stove?" or "How do you think you'd make a broom if you couldn't buy one?" or "What games would you play if you couldn't turn on any lights as it gets darker inside?" And there were times that Laura Ingalls Wilder describes things that happen without telling why they did; for example, she describes giant fireballs coming out of their stove during a huge blizzard but doesn't say why that happened. That would be an interesting start to a lesson on science spurred by literature.

I now want to go back and read all the other books in the series--to walk down memory lane and to better appreciate what I have in my daily life to make living easier.

Do you have any fond memories of the Little House on the Prairie books?

I hope you all have an amazing evening as we ring in a new year, and I hope your new year brings you a year of reading great books. Happy reading!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

NaNoReaMo 2010: Recap

At the end of November, I was proud to say that I had made it through my goal of reading 10 books throughout the month. Near the end of the month, I cheated a bit from my original guidelines by reading books that were not on my Kindle and by reading a book that wasn't even on my Unread Book Challenge list. But I'm okay with that--I still had a blast reading book after book, and I'm glad I did the challenge while I could. Now that it's the end of the semester, I know I'll be swamped with reading students' work rather than books for fun.

Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate was a breezy and enjoyable read. If you have read any of her books before, then you can guess the general premise of the book: a big-city gal who has her priorities in life a bit mixed up but still has a good heart underneath it all gets stuck in a small Texas town and meets a range of fascinating characters (naturally including a hot guy) who help her get her life on a better track. But just like I enjoy watching Lifetime movies no matter how formulaic they are, I enjoyed reading this book. Wingate writes from a Christian fiction angle, yet religion doesn't take over the story. If you enjoy light, romantic stories that leave you filled with a feel-good feeling, then you should check out this book.

I moved from Talk of the Town to Mossy Creek by Deborah Smith and many more authors. It is a collection of short stories about the people living in a fictional southern town (Mossy Creek) pulled together into one book by an overarching narrator. I was enchanted by the stories themselves--the people of the town have such intriguing stories that I found myself being pulled into them and wishing they were real people I could meet. Each short story was like a chapter in the town's story (my favorite is The Naked Bean). While I loved the individual stories, though, I got annoyed by the narrator who wrote a short snipped between each story. The town's newspaper gossip columnist, Katie Bell, was writing letters to a woman in England who wanted to know more about the town and its history. Bell's voice served as a "voiceover" of sorts to transition from one story to the next. Yet the style of writing in those transitions grated on my nerves, and I thought the book would have been much better without those snippets. Even so, I look forward to reading the second book in the Mossy Creek series: Reunion at Mossy Creek.

After that, I read Booth's Sister by Jane Singer, a book I was looking forward to reading because I have a special place in my reader heart for historical fiction, and I am especially fascinated by the exploration of often ignored characters in history. I never considered Booth's family and how they must have felt after Lincoln's assassination. Once I started the book, though, I was quickly disappointed and ended up speed reading through quite a bit of the book. The majority of the book takes place after Asia, Booth's sister, pretends to faint and hits her head on an iron. She then, in her subconscious, goes through highlights of her life with her brother John when they were younger. I thought the book's premise was just fine--I didn't like the narrator's voice. Half the time, I had to re-read sections because I couldn't figure out what the author was intending to say. The language and style left me feeling like my brain was muddled; in fact, at one point, I remember thinking that Asia must have been on an acid trip rather than under a fainting spell. By the end, I felt like I had wasted energy on getting through the book.

I had started reading another book on my Kindle when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I came out to theaters. When my husband and I went to see the movie, I realized how much of the book I had forgotten and quickly abandoned the book I had been reading in favor of re-reading the seventh Harry Potter book. The only problem with reading Harry Potter during my month-long reading fest was that I love Rowling's writing style so much that after finishing the book, I had a hard time getting into any other books. None of them were living up to Rowling, so I started and stopped several before settling on Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast, the first book in the House of Night series.

Marked is a vampire book for young adults and is a fun read, yet I don't feel compelled to go out and read any more books in the series. For me, the story was marred by the authors' attempt to use way too many obvious metaphors and snarky humor. If it hadn't been for the writing style, I think I would have enjoyed the story enough to keep reading the series. As it is, though, I found myself rolling my eyes far too often to enjoy the book.

The final book, Savvy by Ingrid Law, was so good that it will get its own post. I'll just say here that it was a perfect ending to a fun reading month.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Childhood Challenge: RAMONA QUIMBY, AGE 8

I can't believe this is already my 11th post for my Childhood Challenge; that means I only have one more book to read to complete my year-long challenge. This year has gone by fast! This month I re-read Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary.

From My Memory
The Ramona books were a staple in our household when I was growing up. My sister collected all of them, and I borrowed them from her. I remember thinking I was a lot like Ramona--Ramona had an older sister (Beezus), and even though they fought, I think Ramona thought her sister was pretty cool and wanted to be like her but came up short. Growing up, I often felt eclipsed by my cooler older sister and thought that I was just her dorky younger sister. It felt good to have a literary character to bond with. My favorite of the series was Ramona Quimby, Age 8, which I first read in the third grade—the same age as Ramona in the book. I read it on a day that I was sick and stuck at home (as a kid I much preferred going to school than staying at home), and I loved the book so much that I read the entire thing that day. Though I’m not sure how long it has been since I’ve last read this book, I know it’s been a while (as in more than 15 years). Two plot lines stick out in my memory of this book: Ramona and Beezus have to eat cow tongue, and they also cook their parents dinner, which in some ways turns out to be a disaster. Since Ramona Quimby, Age 8 was one the books that inspired my childhood joie de lire, I am especially excited to re-read this book.

After Re-Reading
After finishing the book, my first thought was “Beverly Cleary is amazing.” My second thought was “Man, I wish I could write like her.” She writes all the Ramona books in the third person but through Ramona’s perspective. It is oftentimes necessary and always brave, I think, for an author to tell a story meant for young readers through the eyes of a child so that the readers are able to better connect with the character and get more out of the story. I added the “brave” label because I think it is difficult for adults to capture children—their thoughts, dialogues, actions—and to make them believable characters to adults and young readers alike. Beverly Cleary does just that—she captures the characters. She doesn’t rely on outlandish plots to carry her books; in fact, the Ramona books are based on everyday occurrences. They’re not mysteries, they’re not exploring the wild unknown, they don’t have paranormal or magical themes… They’re real. They’re about life.

In this book, Ramona’s father is going back to college, which puts a bit of a financial strain on the family. Ramona knows it is important for her to be good to support her family while her mom and dad are stressed about paying the bills (and while her dad is stressed about having his own homework again), so a lot of the book centers around her struggle to be a good daughter and listen to her parents and her teacher and not fight too much with her sister or Willa Jean, the young girl whose grandmother babysits Ramona after school.

Ramona is at once an exasperating and enchanting character. The first day at school she meets a boy she terms “Yard Ape” and who picks on her by stealing her eraser and then calling her “Bigfoot.” Ramona shoots right back, “That’s Superfoot to you.” She’s sassy, full of life, and endearing. Her thought process reminds me of my own (both as a kid and an adult)—it is slightly random but completely connected in Ramona’s mind. For example, she is assigned a book report in which she has to sell a book about a cat and its journey in finding a home; she decides to perform a live commercial of sorts to sell the story. But as she is standing in front of her classroom reciting her lines for her commercial, she forgets what her ending line is. She goes to the only line she can remember from a real commercial and blurts out, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!” On the outside, it’s random; being privy to her thought processes, though, it makes sense.

The story is about a family going through changes, a young girl getting used to a new school, and a girl (and her older sister) trying to figure out this growing-up business. It isn’t fancy—it’s real. And lovable. After being enchanted all over again by Ramona Quimby, I am itching to go out and buy the whole series so I can regularly re-read them all.

I highly recommend the Ramona books for readers of all ages. Even if you never read them as a kid, I suggest you read one as an adult and cherish the memories of what it was like to be a child.

Monday, November 8, 2010

NaNoReaMo 2010: Week 1 Recap

I finished four books during the first week of my month of reading; three of those books I read in the first three days (the fourth took longer because we had company and a wedding in the family over the weekend). I've noticed a couple things about using all my free time for reading: (1) Reading for fun makes me more productive when I work; and (2) I have been more relaxed during the last week than I have been in a long time because I'm spending more time doing what I love. So far, I'd say that NaNoReaMo is teaching me that I need to read like a fiend more often because feeding my joie de lire also feeds my joie de vivre.

The first book I read was The Shunning by Beverly Lewis, which is the first book in The Heritage of Lancaster County series. The book is about a woman who had been raised Amish, only to find out much right before her wedding day that her family had been keeping a secret from her for 22 years. I liked the book because the Amish lifestyle fascinates me, but I didn't like it enough to go out and get any of the other books in the series. While a lot of plot lines can be termed predictable, I've found there's a good predictable and a bad predictable. For me, a good predictable is one in which you can figure out the general direction of the plot from the beginning but are so in love with the characters and/or setting that you feel propelled to keep reading and, in fact, end up feeling like the plot is new even though you guessed from the beginning what might happen. On the other hand, a bad predictable is one in which you not only know what is going to happen, but you also end up rolling your eyes as what you guessed would happen actually happens. The Shunning bordered on "bad predictable" territory for me. I can see why people like Beverly Lewis's books--even if they are predictable, they are also satisfying--but her books will most likely never make one of my "favorites" lists.

The second book, Beastly by Alex Flinn, came highly recommended by participants of YALitChat on Twitter. It is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that is set in modern-day New York and is told from the Beast's perspective. The beginning of the book enchanted me--I started reading it late at night, and even though I was tired, I literally had to force myself to put the book down. I was enjoying it so much that I made my husband listen to me talk about the book, which is something I don't do very often. One of my favorite things about the book is that the Beast (a.k.a. Kyle) joins a chat room for people who had been magically transformed. My favorite chatter is "Froggie" (who needs to be kissed by a princess to end his transformation); because he is typing with webbed feet, he often makes mistakes in his typing:

Froggie: stil no hop here. i meen ther is hop but not HOPE.
I am kind of hoping Froggie will get a book of his own... While I loved the beginning of the book, the plot fell apart for me when the girl came into the story. The Beast went from this wonderfully complex character to a flat stock character within one or two chapters. Maybe that says something about my reading tastes--I like the Beast better when he's mean than when he turns nice. Interesting...

After finishing Beastly, I read Skinny by Laura Smith, which is a novel that follows one girl's descent into an eating disorder. The portrayal of the main character, Melissa, and her struggle with trying to control her life through controlling her food intake is fascinating. Even though the book is Christian fiction, I would recommend it to anyone trying to understand what someone might be going through when they have an eating disorder. The resolution of the book came a little too quickly for my tastes, so I wouldn't label the book as wonderful or anything, but I do think it has a certain power from its honest look at a real problem.

Finally, I read Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, another book that came highly recommended by fellow YALitChat participants. This book was my favorite of my Week 1 books (and will most likely be a contender for my favorite book of November). Nick and Norah is an example of a good predictable--I had guessed from the beginning what would happen in the end, but I wanted to know all the details of how these two people got from point A to B. This is novel (a novel novel, if you will) in more than one way: the entire book takes place in one night; the story is told from two perspectives, with every chapter switching between the two as the story advances; and the plot feels real--I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that Nick and Norah were real people and that this was an autobiographical account of how they met. My hat goes off to Cohn and Levithan for writing such an incredible thought-driven journey. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I am excited that Michael Cera was cast as Nick (not just because I have a weird old-lady crush on him but also because as I read the book, I pictured him as Nick, and it just worked). Here are just a few of my favorite lines from the book:
"Sure thing," I tell him, even though Norah looks like the only use she has for the word fun is to make the word funeral.
"No!" Tony/Toni/Toné exclaims. "I saw the two of you canoodling. You're a regular Johnny Castle." I have no idea who Johnny Castle is, but I definitely approve of the name.
Sometimes when we slide together, we take a few seconds to separate ourselves. We're not to the point of deliberately touching again, but we're not about to turn down a good accident.
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist opens the dialogue between males and females--it's an exploration of the whole Mars versus Venus debate. Because we get to read the story from both their perspectives, it helps us better understand the magic of an incredibly good first date. My one warning label for the book is that it is rated R for language and content. If you are easily offended, you may not be able to enjoy the book; furthermore, I think many readers may find this book more appropriate for the 16 and above crowd. I honestly don't think I would have understood this book's brilliance if I had read it at too young of an age.

After such a strong Week 1, I hope my Week 2 will keep the reading energy flowing. Happy reading!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010

Last year, I participated--and completed--NaNoWriMo. When I tallied my final word count on November 30, I felt like a rock star, knowing I had written all those words in one month. Now, a year later, I have realized that while I felt like a rock star then, I haven't touched my novel since I typed in the final words last year. And I feel like the purpose of writing a novel all in one month should be that you spend the rest of the year editing to make your novel a finished work. As I have failed miserably in editing what I wrote last year, I have decided to not participate in NaNoWriMo this year. (Another reason for not participating might be that I'm running low on creative juices at the moment and can't even fathom coming up with enough material to write 1500 words a day for 30 days in a row.)

Instead, I am turning my November into NaNoReaMo (National Novel Reading Month). I may not have the creative energy to write, but I'd like to challenge myself to find the time to read more. When I first thought of NaNoReaMo, I thought I was being horribly creative in changing the acronym to suit my needs; however, I started seeing other bloggers who had already used the handy NaNoReaMo acronym (e.g., Between Fact and Fiction), so I can't claim creative license on the term.

I tried to come up with a reading list for November, but I didn't want to box myself in to reading certain books if another one caught my eye during the month. So instead of challenging myself to read a list of particular books, I am going to challenge myself to read a particular number of books: 10. Furthermore, all those books are going to be books on my Kindle, so I might be able to use a more fitting acronym of NaKinReaMo. Then again, I'm fairly sure my 'Kindle Reading Month' doesn't quite fit the 'National' label.

I'll update you on my progress throughout the month... I'm crossing my fingers that I'll make it to (and maybe even beyond) 10 books.

Happy reading!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Childhood Challenge: PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY

This month I re-read the book Trouble at Alcott School, which is the fourth book of the Peanut Butter and Jelly series.

From My Memory
When I first told my sister about the Childhood Challenge, I asked her for help in remembering some of the books I read as a kid. I was mixing up a couple of books in my head, their plots coming together into one jumble, and I couldn't remember either title. Luckily, my sister remembered more than I did about this particular book, which was one half of the mixed-up plot equation. She remembered the characters had names that sounded like 'peanut' and 'jelly', which led me to my Google search of 'peanut butter and jelly'. The only things I remembered about the book was that there was a locket involved and that two friends worked together to solve a mystery about the locket.

After Re-Reading
The plot does in fact revolve around a missing locket and the mission Peanut and Jilly take to solve the mystery of its whereabouts. As cute as the book is, it was difficult for me to get into as an adult reader. The dialogue and characters and conflicts are oversimplified to the point that the characters come across as flat. For instance, the "mean girl" of the school tells another girl that she doesn't like the locket she's wearing, and the girl with the locket starts crying because of that. It's hard for me to get back in touch with my inner drama-queen child to remember what it felt like to have my day ruined by someone not liking my jewelry.

I can see why I was charmed by the story when I was in the second grade, but now it makes me a little sad to know that I've definitely lost that inner innocence that comes from looking at the world through childlike eyes. My adult-filled cynicism got in the way of my being able to reconnect with this book.

Even though I know I enjoyed this book when I was younger, I must not have been as enthralled with it as I was with others because I never did collect any of the other books in the Peanut Butter and Jelly series. That leaves me wondering why...

I hope you enjoy your Halloween weekend--I'll be spending part of mine finishing up The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, which seems like a good book to read during a spooktacular time of the year.

Happy reading!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Good" Book, "Bad" Book

What do The Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and His Dark Materials have in common?

We can start with the obvious: They are all books, and, even more, they are all series of books.

But let's dig a little deeper... They are all series of books marketed for younger readers and fit into a fantasy label. Each series features elements of fantasy and, dare I say, magic. Beyond the fantastic (and magical) elements, the series are all, at a deeper level, concerned with pitting good versus evil. While there is this dichotomy, the storylines in each of the series are complex and don't always offer clear-cut distinctions between who (or what) is good and who (or what) is evil.

In my eyes, these series share so many features that if I find out readers like one of the series, I will suggest another of these series for their reading pleasure. If I can see they share so much in common, why is it that some of these series have prominent places on lists of banned books while others are touted as national treasures?

Allow me to back up a bit and tell you some of the motivation behind this post. A few weeks ago, I was visiting a Barnes & Noble, perusing the books in the children's section. I was standing in the aisle, looking at The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and trying to decide if I wanted to buy the book and start reading the Percy Jackson series.

A young girl was in the aisle with me and started talking to me about the book. She asked if I had read it before, and when I said, "No," she said, "You really have to read the Percy Jackson books." She went on to tell me that they were her favorite books and that she was very excited that Riordan had started a new series, one based on Egyptian gods and goddesses (the Percy Jackson series is based on Greek gods and goddesses). This girl was so excited about the books that I couldn't in good conscience not buy the book and try it out for myself.

In the course of our conversation, I asked her if she had read the Harry Potter series as well. Her face became very serious, and she said, "Oh, no. I'm not allowed to read those books. I'm Christian."

I tried not to make any faces or have any other physical reactions to her remark, but I wanted to find that girl's parents and start a serious conversation with them about books and the backlash of banning them. I also wanted to hear their justification for saying that reading Harry Potter is un-Christian while reading the Percy Jackson books (books based on the idea that the Greek polytheistic system is still alive and well and that those gods and goddesses are out sleeping with mortals to create half-breeds) is entirely acceptable. I am dumbfounded by people's ability to label one fantasy book good and another bad.

I'm not going to spend my time speculating the division people draw between "good" and "bad" books because I think it's really a waste of energy. That line is completely subjective, and I am grateful to my parents that they never drew that line for me.

Instead, I want to focus on why banning books doesn't work and what parents might want to try instead. If parents ban particular books in their households, that creates one of two situations: (1) the children will find a way to smuggle in the book(s) and read it/them anyway, thus turning reading into an act of rebellion; or (2) the children will grow up under a misconception that a book--not the reactions of the readers to the book--can inherently be bad. Any book can be used in a negative light. If you don't believe me, refresh your memory on what the Inquisition was all about and what book that movement was based on. Books are not inherently "good" or "bad"--it is how we treat them or react to them that can make all the difference.

I would urge parents to consider a different route. Instead of banning a book, how about starting a dialogue about the book and why you, as the parent, feel that your child should wait until later in life to attempt reading the book? Let's face it--banning Harry Potter today won't necessarily keep your child from reading the books in five or ten years. And then your child might have some serious questions about why those books were banned while others weren't. So instead of waiting for that conversation, I think it's better to have that conversation up front and allow kids to make their own decisions about when to read the book. That way, when they do read it, they know they can openly talk with their parents about the material of the books rather than having to hide the books under their beds and read them by flashlight at night.

I am lucky to have had parents who let me read what I wanted to read and who would openly talk with me about the books I was reading if I had questions. I grew up knowing that I could be inquisitive about books and that books were not objects to fear. It makes me sad to think of all the kids who are being told what to read and what not to read based on subjective decisions. Instead of fearing books, how about we focus on what good can come out of reading them?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Update on Me

This post is an odd one for what I typically write, yet I'm compelled to post, so please bear with me.

Over the weekend, I read a post on the BookEnds, LLC blog about a school that needs book donations; you can read the same post here. It spoke to me, so I sent out a package of books to the school today. As I left the post office, I felt light and a bit giddy. I smiled more and felt more compassionate all because I sent some books to a school who wants to give out books for Halloween to their students. Isn't it amazing how doing even a small charitable act can make your day? If you feel so inclined to share a book (or two), the post has the address and information for the school.

In further news, I joined a contest to win a blog-writing position (you can see my badge in the left-hand sidebar). I need votes to advance to the next round, so please vote for me! You can see my profile for the contest here. Thank you in advance for your help.

I also feel the need to express my gratitude to my readership. My posts here may have gotten a bit more infrequent, but I'm still plugging along. Thank you to all of you who are sticking around with me on my 'joie de lire' blogging journey.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Childhood Challenge: HARRIET THE SPY

This month, I chose to re-read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.

From My Memory
I read Harriet the Spy when I was in the fifth grade. I adored it. It inspired me to write more frequently in my journal, made me want to become a spy, and left me wishing I could live in a big city. If I had to provide a summary of what I remember about the book, my summary would be very short: Harriet goes around her city neighborhood, observing the lives around her and writing all those details in her notebook.

After Re-Reading
Given the summary I just provided, you may not be surprised to find that I was pleasantly surprised at how much more there was to the book than I had remembered. Harriet the Spy has much more depth than being a story about a girl who writes everything down--Harriet writes down observations that are, quite frankly, rude. Yet honest. Painfully honest. Harriet started the book as a girl worried about her own life, not caring to think too much about how her observations might teach her about the people she's surrounded by: a nanny who has a complicated relationship with her mother, a best friend who has to be the adult for his often-drunk dad, a best friend who is misunderstood by everyone (including her family), and parents who don't know what to do with a child. As the book progresses, Harriet goes through a painful growing process when her nanny leaves and her friends discover her journals--the same journals that have all those frighteningly honest observations in them.

Through Harriet's turmoil, the thing that impresses me most is Louise Fitzhugh's ability to write such an honest character. Harriet doesn't let go of her ego-centric tendencies very easily (as most 11-year-olds don't), she throws tantrums, she behaves badly, she refuses to apologize... But she is lovable because readers can recognize a bit of themselves in her. Harriet is the definition of an honest character. Even while she's behaving badly, though, Harriet still writes observations in her journal that are so simplistic, they are poignant, like this entry, which was written after her nanny (Ole Golly) left:

(Harriet's journal entries are written in all-caps in the book.) As I read the book, I found myself thinking it would be a perfect book for a young girl to read with an adult. It made me wish my niece lived a little closer to me so I could share it with her (but at least I know she can share the book with my sister). Re-reading Harriet the Spy was possibly my favorite part of September.

Happy re-reading and re-creating your childhood joie de lire!

Saturday, September 25, 2010


After writing my last post, I finally hit my stride with Inkdeath and started flying through the pages (still at a slower pace than I would typically read but faster than I had been reading). By the time I got near the end of the book, I was unable to put it down and carried it around with me everywhere I went so I could snag any free seconds I had and immerse myself back into the book.

My prediction was correct: The Inkheart trilogy still lives with me even after I finished the book, and somewhere down deep inside me, I'm hoping Cornelia Funke will write another trilogy, one devoted Meggie's little brother. In the meantime, though, I'm dreaming of the Inkworld and reveling in its ability to make me slightly uneasy because it inspires me to think of things I should be doing.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Slow Reads can be Good Reads, Too

I am finally reading the conclusion to the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke: Inkdeath. I bought all three books two years ago and read the first one (Inkheart) right away. Even though I enjoyed the book, it was a long read, and I didn't immediately start the second book. When I finally did start the second book (Inkspell), it took me nearly a year of reading it on-again-off-again to complete it. One of my friends had told me she'd had difficulties reading the second one but that the third one was worth it, so I kept going. She was right. I am immensely enjoying Inkdeath, yet I am finding that reading the book is slow going for me.

I am normally a pretty fast reader, and when I get pulled into a book, I often find that when I am released (usually because the phone rings or I realize I haven't eaten for a while or someone interrupts my spell), I will have read a hundred pages in what feels like no time at all. With the Inkheart books, though, it's more like I'll make it through twenty pages instead of a hundred. On the surface, it didn't make much sense to me that it was taking so long to read the books--the books are written for young readers, so I'm not dealing with words I don't know or hard-to-read sentences or anything like that. These books are just slow reads for me.

Before I encountered good books that are slow reads, I probably would have guessed that not being able to read through any book at a normal pace is caused by lack of interest. That is not always the case (in fact, a lack of interest sometimes causes me to speed up just to try to get through the book). I am now finding that sometimes a book speaks to me at such a deep level that part of my energy is focused on digesting the deeper connection, leaving only a fraction of my mental space open for digesting the words I'm reading on the page.

I am infatuated with the world Funke created in her Inkheart books; based on its vivid descriptions, Inkworld is a fabulous place, and I want to feel the complex emotions Funke so painstakingly describes at every step of the story. I want to meet these characters--even the evil ones--because she has put so much thought into making each and every one of them a round character and not simply a flat, stock character who plays his destined role in the background.

And more than anything else, her books are making me want to write. Her words are sparking ideas in me that I had left dormant because my schedule has been rather filled lately. Her words are making me feel guilty for not doing what's on my to-do list. So yet another part of me is pulled away from focusing on the words on the page, pestering me about what I should be doing with my time.

Although I'm a couple hundred pages from finishing (Inkdeath is around 700 pages, so I'm still a good way through the book), I already know that when I close its covers, I'm going to love the series. Even now, I acknowledge that the second book didn't quite draw me in as much as the first one did or the last one is, but I can't say I don't like Inkspell. Maybe it didn't draw me in as much because it was like the second movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy--I watched it because I needed the middle part of the story, but the second movie was so dependent on continuing what had already happened in the first movie and setting viewers up for the third movie that it didn't feel like a movie in its own rights. The second movie was my least favorite of the three. It felt like nothing happened because nothing was really begun or finished in its duration. I think maybe Inkspell was the same way for me. I can't like it the best because nothing was begun or finished in its duration.

Why mention the possibility of a good book being a slow read? Because I've found a new twist in my reading journey; I've found a new definition of 'joie de lire'. I used to associate good books with my hypnotic reading states--those periods of reading where I forget a world exists around me, and I end up reading an entire book in one or two sittings. And now I'm beginning to realize that not all good books do that to me. Some books, even those that could potentially end up on my 'top ten' book list, will not cause me to go into a reading stupor but instead will make me feel antsy with inspiration and provocation, making it nearly impossible to get through the book at my normal reading pace.

Have any good books caused you to slow down?