Tuesday, April 27, 2010

To Keep Reading or Not To Keep Reading... That is the Question

At what point do you, as a reader, give up trying to read a book? I find it difficult to call it quits when I'm reading--I keep pushing myself, thinking, "It might get better on the next page. What if I miss something?" The fear of missing something is what made me never want to take baths in the evening as a kid--what if I left the living room and something amazing happened while I was gone? I couldn't let myself be the only one to miss something potentially amazing. When I look at books, I look at each page as being a new possibility for something amazing, so it is no small feat for me to put down a book only to never pick it up again--I might wait a year before actually finishing it, but I usually finish books I start. If I don't finish them, it's a testament to how much I dislike the book (whether the dislike is due to style or plot or character or all of the above).

Why am I stressing about this now? Nearly a year ago, I started reading I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles after a student suggested the book. At first, I was enthralled because the language drew me in, and I'm fascinated by Queen Elizabeth and that whole era. But then I started getting frustrated by the density of the book and by Miles's take on Queen Elizabeth. I've found that I'm a fan of interpretations of Elizabeth as a minx--no, a vixen--who knew what she wanted and did what she needed to in order to get it. I like thinking of her as a progressive woman before her time who took the world and moved it in the direction she saw fit. In I, Elizabeth, though, Elizabeth is portrayed more as a woman who had things happen to her instead of being a woman who shaped those things. She is more passive and innocent, which is making it hard for me to continue the book and cheer her on. I'm frustrated. I'm 273 pages into a 618-page book, and I feel like the story still hasn't started yet.

I made it a goal for me to finish that book before picking up The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes, but I just couldn't. So I started reading MK's book, and I'm halfway through it already and loving every minute of it. And I'm staring at I, Elizabeth, wondering if I should push myself to continue, little by little, and finish the book or call it a bust and put it in the donation pile. I keep thinking that maybe the next chapter will be the one that pulls me in, but, as my sister so wisely put it, if I'm 270 pages into a book and still not intrigued, chances are I won't find that something amazing on page 280. Even if I do, would it be amazing enough to be worth the first 273 pages of lackluster reading?

What would you do? Would you force yourself to finish the book? Or would you realize the book just wasn't for you and move on?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Perfect Reading Days

I love remembering perfect reading days. Some reading days are perfect because of what I am reading—how could any day that I get to read Sarah Addison Allen be a bad reading day? But other days are perfect because of the atmosphere I’m in while I’m reading. The book being good is an added bonus, but the atmosphere is what I remember--and the atmosphere is what I'm celebrating today. Based on atmosphere alone, here are my top five perfect reading days:

5. Family Camping Trip
This one is the vaguest of the memories I have because I don’t remember how old I was or where exactly we were… but one summer while my family was camping (a pretty regular summer tradition for us back then), I spent my days sitting outside in a lawn chair and reading. Book after book. I don’t even remember what books I was reading, but since I know I was young-ish (9-12 range), they were probably not incredibly long or in-depth books. Even with all the vagueness surrounding the memory, what is crystal clear is the feeling I had as I was sitting in nature and completely losing myself in books. As soon as I finished one, I got another because I never wanted the feeling to end. For me, everything physically surrounding me disappeared: the mosquitos (even as they were eating me alive), the humidity, the heat—everything but the sounds of nature to add a soundtrack for my reading.

4. College, freshmen year

When I was a freshman in college, a friend loaned me some Frank Peretti books. I devoured three books in one weekend, and while I enjoyed the books, I remember even more clearly the sensation that I was being taken away as I read. My mind went fuzzy and forgot all the stress that had been building up about my first semester of college and everything that goes with college life, and I just was. In the background, I had my Enya Paint the Sky with Stars CD playing so that even now when I hear Enya, I’m immediately taken back to that place where I was as I sat in my bed and read word after word, sentence after sentence, chapter after chapter, book after book while the world melted away from me.

3. Alaskan week
This past summer, I was a little stressed. My family and I had done our second cross-country move in just over two years, and I was starting a brand new job while my husband was still, for all intents and purposes, jobless. I was miserable because stress was tearing away my ability to enjoy what I did have while I worried about what we didn’t have figured out yet. When my sister mentioned she was thinking about going to Alaska to visit our dad, my husband jumped online and bought me a plane ticket. I didn’t complain. During my week in Alaska, I got to do absolutely nothing. I say I got to as in I was able to—I was able to kick back, not think about anything and just enjoy. [Insert satisfied sigh here.] While the majority of my week was devoted to defeating the world of Peggle, I was able to spend some time reading and doing crossword puzzles. I didn’t read so much that I read entire books, but when I did read, it was perfect.

2. Sunday morning with Sarah
A little over a week ago, my friend Sarah came to Texas for a weekend to visit her family. Since her family only lives a couple hours from where I now live, I happily jumped in my car and drove down to see her. We spent our “girls’ night out” on Saturday night at the local Barnes & Noble, where I perused the young readers’ section and found some gems to bring home with me. On Sunday morning, we woke up and gathered around the kitchen table for breakfast. Sarah and her parents were reading the papers, and I got out one of the books I had bought the night before—a book called Frindle by Andrew Clements (which I enjoyed so much that I’m thinking about requiring my students to read it to start discussions on language). 

Once Sarah finished with the paper, she also got out one of her new books, and we spent our day together reading. It’s marvelous to have people like Sarah in my life who understand that sometimes the best quality time you can spend with a person can be spent reading. It’s even better that our tastes in books are so similar because I know I can always turn to her for book suggestions if I’m looking for something new to read. After I finished Frindle, I got out How to Train Your Dragon. As both Sarah and I read our books, we’d throw out ideas brought up by the books or read a great quote out loud, but other than that, we just read.  You know it’s a good day when you can relax and read two entire books before noon while enjoying a dear friend’s company.

And my number one perfect reading day memory is...

1. Eiffel Tower
When I was living in Germany, my sister came over to visit, and we decided to take a day trip to Paris. We went to Belgium the night before to visit a friend of mine, and then we took a train to Paris in the morning. I love traveling with my sister because she is exactly like me when it comes to seeing a new place: There are certain things we wanted to see, but more than anything else, we just wanted to be able to soak up the atmosphere of the city. 

We spent the majority of our day in Paris sitting on a park bench right by the Eiffel Tower and reading. The day was a gorgeous spring day, and the sounds of the people enjoying the park—laughter, dogs barking, conversations in so many different languages I lost count—filled my spirit and enhanced the words that were seeping from the pages and into my mind. Every once in a while I’d stop reading and look up just to make sure I was still really there by the Eiffel Tower. Thinking back on that day, that atmosphere, reminds me of just how blessed I’ve been. Perfect day, perfect atmosphere, perfect company, perfect reading. That memory is, in a phrase, 'joie de lire.'

My nostalgia for my perfect reading days is making me look forward to the possibility of having another perfect reading day just around the corner. Could it be today? Or tomorrow? That’s the great thing about perfect reading days—they sneak up on you and present themselves in the randomest of ways. Any day could be a perfect reading day.

Have you had a perfect reading day lately? What’s the best reading day you can remember?

Happy 'joie de lire'!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

BTRN Poll: Voting is On for Round 1

I posted a poll that will last for 3 weeks to decide what book I should read next (hence the title of this post: Book To Read Next [BTRN] Poll). The four books in the running are these:

The poll is located in the left-hand sidebar, so please make your way there and cast your vote! You may select more than one book, but remember that selecting too many will throw off the numbers. :)

Thank you for your help in deciding what I should read once I finish my current list, and I'm excited to see what you all decide...

Happy reading and voting!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Note of Warning: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON Movie/Book

A little over a week ago, I was out shopping for books with my friend Sarah, and I happened to come across the book How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. Before then, I hadn't realized that the movie I had wanted to take my son to was also a book series, so it was a pleasant surprise for me. I bought the book, read it, loved it, and started reading it with my son, who is 4 years old.

How to Train Your Dragon, the book

As I had hoped, he is also enjoying the story. He loves the names of the characters in the books, and it doesn't hurt that there's a fair dose of dragons to spice up the story. I like that the story keeps his attention and has a good moral for kids to learn: sometimes the most heroic of us are the ones we think are the least likely. After all, the hero of this story is a boy who is the most un-Viking of Viking boys, saddled with an equally unlikely name: Hiccup.

Yesterday I took him to see the movie, thinking it would be great reinforcement for our reading the book (we're about 1/4 of the way through the 200-and-some-odd-page book). We were able to see it in 3D, which added to the excitement of his being able to watch a movie on the "big TV" about dragons.

How to Train Your Dragon, the movie

As a friendly warning to anyone else who has read the book but hasn't seen the movie, they are totally different. In fact, the only similarities between the movie and book are the names (Island of Berk, Stoick the Vast, Hiccup, Gobber, Toothless) and the fact that there are Vikings and dragons. Nothing else is the same. Nothing.

While that might not be a problem for most people, it is difficult if you're trying to explain to your 4-year-old why Hiccup's dragon isn't the same in the book as he was in the movie or where the girl in the movie came from. Since yesterday, I've had to say the line "The book and the movie are not the same story, honey" at least ten times. I do like that he is even more excited than he already was about reading the book together (he really loves Hiccup now that he has a mental image for who Hiccup is), but it is difficult for him to understand the concept that a book about Hiccup can tell an entirely different story from the movie about Hiccup.

So for any parents wanting to take their kids out to see How to Train Your Dragon, I will tell you that it is a cute movie and will keep your kids interested; however, if you'd like for them to read the book(s), too, you'll need to remind them (possibly more than once) that movies and books aren't the same. It's a good lesson to learn at a young age, and this book/movie combo will definitely make the lesson a clear one.

I'm not sure why they changed the story so much when they turned the book series into a movie, but it works for the movie. The book is good, but so is the movie. They just aren't the same story.

Happy reading to the children in your life!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Unread Book Challenge: 2 Down, 105 To Go

I know I had said I would put up a poll when I was about finished with The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, but when I finished it, I realized I wanted to go ahead and finish all the books that were partially read on my bookshelf by my comfy chair. The next one I grabbed was Inkspell, the second book in the Inkheart trilogy, a book I had started reading over a year ago and then stopped reading about a year ago.

I had loved Inkheart and so was a bit disappointed when the second book was more difficult to get into. The language was still beautiful, but sometimes the story just dragged. I talked to my friend Sarah who has finished all three, and she said she had the same experience but was glad she kept reading the second because the third (Inkdeath) gets better. One of the reasons I like the idea of the trilogy so much is that it brings a world to life that is wholly dependent on words. Reading aloud can change the world in drastic ways. It reminds us that "reality [is] a fragile thing..." (Inkspell, pg. 568) and that words really are powerful, even if they can't perform magic. Being a word-lover, I appreciate the shout-out to the power of words.

The next two books that I'll be reading are Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr and I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles. Once I'm finished with those, I'll be rewarding myself with The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes. And then I'll feel better, knowing I've read those books that I've started but haven't quite made it through. There are a few more of those, but I know they'll be harder for me to finish, so I'm putting those off until I have more mental energy. Sometime this week, I'll put up a poll that will run for a couple weeks (at least) to vote on the book I read after I'm finished with the three I've listed here. Two of them are longer books, so it may be a few weeks before I'm reading to go beyond those.

Have you decided to read any unread (or partially read) books on your shelves? If so, how's it going for you?

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Childhood Challenge: SIGN OF THE BEAVER

This month I chose to re-read Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, who also wrote the Newberry Medal winners The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Bronze Bow. I don't remember reading any of her other books (though they may be more well-known to many readers), yet I formed a strong attachment to Sign of the Beaver when I read it as a child.

From my memory
I read this book in the fourth grade for a lit group; after reading the book, we had to--as a group--come up with an activity to do to share with the rest of the class based on the book. My group chose to do a play inspired by the characters (I fancied myself an actress at a young age), and I got to play the part of an Indian (er, Native American) girl. The headband I made for the play was red and blue, and I put my hair into two braids--there’s nothing quite like a pale, blonde-haired girl trying her hardest to be an Indian girl. While I remember really enjoying the book, I don’t remember anything else about it...

After reading the book
The most integral thing I had remembered about the book was that there was a girl in the Indian tribe, yet that girl only showed up for one of the 25 chapters in the book. I had completely forgotten that the primary story was that Matt, a 12-year-old (going on 13) boy was left by his father in the wilderness of Maine while his father returned to bring his family back to the cabin they had made. While his father was gone, Matt got into some trouble with a tree full of bees, and two Indians saved his life. Matt befriends a young Indian boy named Attean and begins to learn the ways of Attean’s tribe to snare animals, gather food from the forest, and make tools from parts of trees. The focus of the book is on that friendship and the personal journey Matt takes from thinking that the Indians in the area are savages to realizing that they were people he respected.

Reading it now was an adventure. The book didn’t necessarily lure me in so that I was hooked, but it did make me want to read a little every day. I can see why it has won so many awards and why elementary schools everywhere use it as a book for their classrooms. It spurs discussions with ideas readers of all ages can take part in, and the chapters are short and low-key, making it possible for young readers to read several chapters at one time or read one chapter and focus on it in discussions.

I found especially intriguing the stories of how Attean helped Matt grow in terms of survival skills and of broadening Matt’s understanding of the world and how each chapter often featured one such story without really focusing in on those insights. It lets readers form their own opinions and--in many cases--conclusions. I think that's a perfect combination for getting young readers to think outside the printed page.

While I probably wouldn't suggest this as prime reading for grown-up readers, I would definitely suggest it for people trying to get young readers to interact with material in books. This book can teach those readers how to talk about and deal with fear and how, if we open our minds, we can possibly learn valuable lessons from those people who are different than us.

Have you re-read any of your favorite childhood books lately? I'd love to hear about your experience if you did.

Happy re-reading childhood favorites!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Challenge: Unread Books

My husband and I were sitting in bed the other night, watching an episode of Jay Leno, and I happened to glance over at my bookshelves and notice how many books I had stacked sideways because I had run out of room on the shelves for new books. I looked over on my nightstand and saw that I had five more books waiting to be read and shelved … somewhere. I love my books. Each and every one of them. So I can’t seem to part with the ones I’ve got—even if I didn’t especialy enjoy the book—to make room for new ones.

Well, at least I thought I loved all my books. But then as I raked my eyes over the titles on the book edges, I realized just how many books I have sitting on my shelves that I’ve never read. How can I love a book if I buy it and never open it to find out its secrets?

I took the time to make a list of all the books I had on my shelves, including the books I’ve downloaded on my Kindle, that I haven’t yet read (or that I’ve started but never finished). And the total number of books I have in my home that I still need to read is … 107 books.

Whew. That’s a lot of books, and that number doesn’t even include the books I want to re-read. I am a little ashamed of myself for spending money on new books when I’ve already got shelves of books in my house of books waiting to be read. So I am issuing myself a challenge: I am challenging myself to read those 107 books in the next 24 months. So by April 3, 2012, I want to have read every book I already own. That comes to about 4 or 5 books a month, which I think is a fair number, especially since that number doesn’t include any books that I might choose to re-read, books I might choose to buy, or books I might gt as gifts over the next two years. As a caveat, I will excuse myself from having to finish any book I downloaded on my Kindle for free (as I often check the free books and get any I might be interested in without knowing what quality those books are). I do challenge myself to read AND finish any book I’ve paid for, though (even if the book isn't my favorite). You might be double-checking the end date I have for my goal and wondering if I know what today is. The end date is the 3rd of April and not the 5th because I started the challenge on Saturday but waited to post and tell you all about it until today, figuring most people wouldn't be checking in with the blog over a holiday weekend.

I am asking you, my readers, for help in two ways: (1) send me good reading vibes when I’m going through a reading slump to remind me that I can do this challenge; and (2) participate in polls I’ll occassionally post, in which I’ll post a few books to choose from and ask for your input on which book to read next.

I've already started the challenge by picking up where I left off in Katherine B. Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane; once I get close to finishing that book, I'll ask for help in choosing the next book to read. I'm making myself wait until I've read at least two unfinished books (books I've started reading but never finished) before letting myself read the newest book by Marian Keyes (The Brightest Star in the Sky)--that will be my reward. When I blog about this challenge in the future, the blog post title will begin with the challenge name: Unread Books Challenge. It might better be called "Clear the Shelves Challenge," as I will force myself to part with any books I don't particularly enjoy (deleting books from my Kindle or giving books away from my shelves) so that I can make room for all the books I actually like reading.

I'm ready for some fun over the next two years and am glad to know I'll have some accountability because this challenge is a public one that is shared with my readers. If anyone would like to go on this challenge with me by making a list of all those unread books on your own shelves, make the list and leave a comment for me. You can be a guest blogger in the future (if you so desire), and we can support each other as we read, read, read. :)

Happy reading!