Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Little Bloggy Vacation

Getting the new academic term up and rolling is no joke when we only have a 48-hour turnaround! I'll be back when I can see past the piles of paperwork again!

Monday, July 25, 2011

BookClubSandwich: The Kitchen Daughter

It's that time again! Time for a BookClubSandwich discussion, and this time we're tackling Jael McHenry's The Kitchen Daughter.

My partner in crime--Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness--e-mailed me last week asking if I would mind kicking off discussion. I didn't mention at the time that this book didn't work out for me in a couple of different ways. Surprise, Kim! I hate to be that discussion leader in the blogosphere who has a reputation for not finishing assigned reading, but sadly, I may just be that person!

I got this book wayyyy ahead of discussion time. I believe I was just wrapping up two of my favorite reads of the year, ROOM and Everything Beautiful Began After. In other words, The Kitchen Daughter had really big shoes to fill--something that is decidedly not the novel's fault. I was initially very attracted to this book because I love foodie fiction. Something I did not realize is that the main character is Asperger's-afflicted--something I have hit and miss luck with in books.

At first the premise was intriguing enough. I like that Ginny could conjure the dead with her cooking and that she fled to the kitchen in times of stress. However, this premise was not enough of a grabber to keep me going. I found Ginny really hard to "be with" in the book. Her nervousness and social anxiety just made me feel nervous and anxious and drew the book out to a point that was almost painful for me to read. It grated on my nerves, got a bit under my skin, and ultimately I did not finish. I intended to! I tried to get it back from the library (and remain #2 on the holds list), and I just couldn't convince myself to buy the e-book version with some pinchy financial stuff going on at my house.

Now, I want to know what I missed! What did you think of the  book? What were the best and worst bits? How do you jive with characters whose personalities overwhelm you? These and a number of other questions are fair game for discussion.

Please post your thoughts on your own blog and leave a link in the Mr. Linky below or the comments section here. I can't wait to read what you all thought, and Kim will wrap things up toward the end of the week. For now, The Kitchen Daughter is my third DNF of the year.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Poking Head Out of a Hole

Hey splendiferous people! It was not my intention to take a bloggy break, but I had to act like a teacher this week. That is, our August term is getting ready to kick up at my dear sweet day job, and I'm in the tizzy planning for my Literature and Film, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and Fundamentals of Writing courses. I'll also be teaching the usual College Writing I and II online, along with Children's Literature, this Fall. How crazy am I? A whole hell of a lotta crazy!

For a good week or two I did not touch a book. Did not so much as stroke the cover of one, but that little reading burp seems to be over. A Facebook buddy and former grad school colleague of mine sent along a copy of Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger (only slightly gnawed by her cat). So far I LOVE THIS BOOK. So much more than the part of Affinity that I read.

I was one of the sixty gazillion people seeing Harry Potter 7.2 on opening weekend, and I've since decided it's a crackerjack idea to re-read the whole series from the beginning to see what I missed along the way. And can I just say, in regards to the film, NEVILLE ROCKS! There. I needed to get that out of my system.

Finally, I will be hosting the BookClubSandwich discussion of Jael McHenry's The Kitchen Daughter on Monday the 25th! If you haven't finished reading, you should. Or you should at least try and come discuss. At that juncture you will see why I am a pot calling a kettle black. Ahem!

So that's about it. Crazitude teacher planning + exhaustion + summer sluggery in the 104 degree heat + a renewed interest in reading make me a blog comer backer. See me coming back!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Grand Adventure: Ruining Children's Lit for Adults

Several years ago, when I'd just graduated with my Masters degree in English, my mentor threw me a wonderous bone. It was a recommendation for teaching an online Children's Lit course at a university one state over. I've been teaching the class for almost four years now, and I love every twisty minute of it. It's populated primarly by students who are Education majors, and teaching the future teachers of America to analyze and become more aware of the history and implications in children's and adolescent lit is SO COOL. For me, anyway. :D

As you might imagine, I receive pushback occasionally. For some of my students, seeing mixed messages in literature they always loved is a shocker and a terror and downright treason!!! For me, seeing multiple perspectives and acknowledging my changing attitudes as an adult enriches the reading experience, but for some of my students it feels like I'm trying to tarnish perfection.

Case in point, The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister is an all-time favorite picture book for many readers. It's a beautifully illustrated story about learning to share and developing a communal attitude. Or is it? Some academics posit that the book is actually forcing a beautiful, well-endowed fish to share his scales unecessarily. At its core, the fish self-mutilates because of peer pressure!!! Sort of reminds me of a "friend" in kindergarten who wouldn't remain my friend unless I gave her my ring I bought at the Dollar Store. Bitch!

But anyway...

Children's literature -- like all literature -- is full of mixed messages, friction, and irony. We look for it. We find it. We understand it. Even if my students don't always like it. They do learn to be more careful readers and to take multiple perspectives into account and make more informed decisions in their own classrooms. Is it really wise to read In Our House -- a picture book about owning things and having a nice (middle-class) place to live -- to inner city children? It's their decision, but they learn to take factors into account that they may not have before.

So what do I teach? Three units:
  • Picture Books (and a Graphic Novel)
    • In Our House
    • Otto's Trunk by Sandy Turner
    • The House That Crack Built by Clark Taylor
    • Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti
    • The Babes in the Wood by Randolph Caldecott
    • I'm Glad I'm a Boy! I'm Glad I'm a Girl! by Whitney Darrow
    • Arlene Sardine by Christopher Raschka
    • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
    • Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
    • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  • Folk and Fairy Tales (multiple versions of each)
    • Snow White
    • Cinderella
    • Red Riding Hood
    • Hansel and Gretel
    • Bluebeard
    • The Little Mermaid
  • The Novel
    • The Giver by Lois Lowry
    • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
    • The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
    • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodson Burnett
    • Skellig by David Almond
It's a whirlwind semester every semester, as you can see. I do plan to discuss these books more in depth throughout several posts in the near future, but in the meantime, what have you read and loved from this list? Anything you would recommend I add to the course if I change it up? How have mean, nasty professors stretched, hurt, or opened your mind when reading for a class? Or have they just irrevocably turned you off?

Monday, July 11, 2011

BookClubSandwich Reminder: The Kitchen Daughter

A quick reminder: BookClubSandwich will begin discussion of Jael McHenry's The Kitchen Daughter on July 25th. 

Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness was kind enough to share the following links to cool stuff about The Kitchen Daughter on her blog, so I'm passing these red-hot links along to you again in case you forgot to visit the first time.

I hope you'll take the time to dive into this book and begin sharing your thoughts on the 25th!!!

Monday Reading - Old Friends and a Book Purge!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly event to list the books finished last week, the books currently being read, and the books to be finish this week. It was created by J.Kaye’s Book Blog, but is now being hosted by Sheila from One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books!

With the last Harry Potter movie set to release on the 15th, I decided it's time to actually finish my re-read of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. As I've been watching the trailers I find myself thinking, "Oh yeah! AND how/why did that happen?" So a refresher is in order. I have about 100 pages left. Haven't cried this time around, but it is yanking at my ole heartstrings.

Sadly, I had to return Louise Erdrich's Shadow Tag and Bloodroot by Amy Greene to the library unread. I just haven't had the motivation! On the other hand, I'm still enjoying Ben Loory's short story collection, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

Finally, I had a very bookish weekend when I purged something like four boxes of books yesterday. We're cleaning out our rented storage unit, and if the books aren't favorites, books I'll teach, or something I'm still dying to read after two years in storage, they go! I will have quite the haul to sell to Half-Price Books after work today. On the one hand, it's always sad to kiss books goodbye, but it also feels like a bit of a weight lifted. The books I have left are titles I'm absolutely sold on reading.

How was your weekend? Any bookish events? Anyone else feeling the need to purge?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

An Elegy for Amelia Johnson

I've been trying to write this review for DAYS! And people keep coming into my office or needing my attention at home. Needy buggers. Let's try this once more...

When I needed a break from my literary fiction challenge, I decided to jump into a graphic novel. I found this one--An Elegy for Amelia Johnson, written by Andrew Rostan and illustrated by Dave Valeza and Kate Kasenow--on NetGalley.

I finished it about five days ago, and it's taken me until now (and all those interruptions) to really figure out what I want to say. I could pussyfoot around the issue, but I'll just stay it...

I didn't like it!

 First, the positive stuff! The premise is great:

Amelia Johnson has been suffering from cancer for a year and her battle is winding down. She recruits two of her best friends to travel the country delivering messages to her friends and acquaintances from various points in her life. A brother, former boyfriends, college buddies, mentors. You get the picture. The two people she's closest to, that are doing the delivering, are a self-obsessed award-winning documentary filmmaker named Henry and a pensive, uptight writer and former roommate named Jillian.

The premise caught me, but I quickly discovered that An Elegy for Amelia Johnson was not my cup of Jack and Coke. A few things that bugged:

The characters are flat. The characters as they're written are shallow and underdeveloped. Reviewers on a number of comics blogs totally disagree with this and found themselves in tears by the inevitable conclusion, but I felt absolutely no emotion about Amelia's final days and this trek on which she'd sent her friends. The banter and obvious sexual tension between Henry and Jillian is fun sometimes, but it wore thin after a hundred or so pages. It's made clear from the beginning of the novel that Henry wants to make the trip into his next award-worthy documentary while Jillian thinks he's a bit of a jerk. The folks they meet on their journey are varied and quirky and a lot of fun, but I also found them to be an afterthought, so they were never really developed. These peripheral characters could've added a great deal to the overall story arc.

On the literal 2-D side, the illustrations are super-flat. For a story that strives to be emotionally charged, I felt the illustrative style was out of whack. I expected something more stylized, perhaps moody. The characters, as evidenced by the cover, are cartoony and cutesy and left me wanting for something more visually interesting.

While this book just wasn't for me, I'd like to try other offerings from Archaia in the future. When I was skimming reviews of Amelia Johnson, I stumbled onto some promising titles from their backlist, so we'll see how that goes.

If the premise of An Elegy for Amelia Johnson interests you, take a look at this preview to get a feel for the narrative style and illustrations.

Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: March 15, 2011
Publisher: Archaia
Format: e-galley
ISBN-13: 978-1932386837
Source: NetGalley

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

I Want to Eat This Book

It's not because it has calamari on the cover either. I just love, adore, and squee (!!!) every time I see this cover. The blue background is stunning and rich, the tentacle is a striking contrast. It's whimsical and foreboding all the same.

I want to eat it.

It's in my NetGalley queue, but not for long!

Blurb: Loory's collection of wry and witty, dark and perilous contemporary fables is populated by people--and monsters and trees and jocular octopi--who are motivated by the same fears and desires that isolate and unite us all. In this singular universe, televisions talk (and sometimes sing), animals live in small apartments where their nephews visit from the sea, and men and women and boys and girls fall down wells and fly through space and find love on Ferris wheels. In a voice full of fable, myth, and dream, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day draws us into a world of delightfully wicked recognitions, and introduces us to a writer of uncommon talent and imagination.

A Holiday Time Out and Back to the Books

That's right! This reading mama took a time out over the weekend. I did something Saturday I almost neverrrr do: stayed in my jammies all day long. Chuck was a huge help with Greyson, and I more or less laid around in a resting coma all the live-long day. It was awesome. Sunday we spent time at my mom's house, Monday for July 4th we swam and grilled out. All-in-all it was a very restful, non-bookish weekend, and I needed that.

I'm of the mind that the time we spend away from books is almost as important as the time we spend with books. Sometimes I just want to shut down for a moment and recharge. Now I'm itching to get right back to them!

I had my heart set on a re-read of Hotel World, by Ali Smith for Orange July, but I've discovered that it must be in storage at the moment, so I grabbed The Accidental off my shelves instead. I have to tell you, I was a little bored by the first chapter until the end when I met a very strange and enigmatic character, indeed. And now that I'm on to the second chapter, I'm meeting more enigmatic characters.

Smith's writing style is still quirky and stream-of-consciousnessy in this novel as it was in Hotel World, though not nearly as hardcore as someone like Virginia Woolf (for those of you who don't particularly like SOC). It certainly has shades of the unusual and the dark, and I'm excited to dig in a bit more at lunch today.

How was your weekend and holiday if you're in the States? If not, how's your week starting out?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Orangegasm! A Month of Orange Prize Reading

I promised myself no more challenges this year, especially after I challenged my own fool self to read all of the Tournament of Books contestants. BUT silly rules (especially self-inflicted ones) are made to be broken, so I'm hopping on the Orange July reading train!!! If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you should probably visit The Magic Lasso and find out. And there are giveaways!

The premise of Orange July is to read AT LEAST ONE book-- just one singly itty bitty book -- that's won, been shortlisted, OR longlisted for the Orange Prize. Ever. How easy is that???!!! Admittedly, I've never been a huge awards follower. I've had really-freakin' mixed luck with Pulitzer winners, Booker tends to sit a little better with me, and somehow I usually end up reading more male than female authors in any given year, so the Orange has been a point of interest but largely ignored.

When I heard about Orange July I perked up, especially since several of my Tournament of Books winners were on the Orange list this year. I started investigating my shelves and realized I have quite a few Orangey books already in my house!

  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (winner)
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith (winner)
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith (shortlist)
  • Hotel World by Ali Smith (shortlist)
  • The Accidental by Ali Smith (shortlist)
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (shortlist)
  • Great House by Nicole Krauss (shortlist)
  • The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht (winner)
Since it's summertime and I have less dispensable cash to buy books, it'll most definitely be a read-from-home and library July, so what better time to get better acquainted with these ladies?

The only book on this list that I've actually finished is Ali Smith's Hotel World. That was years ago and I ADORED it, so I'm keen for a re-read. It's written in a stream-of-consciousness style that's not quite as convoluted as Virginia Woolf. A little more accessible and it's got a certain creepy factor since one of the characters is a spirit in the hotel.  I've also had The Accidental on my shelves for a good long while, so I'm looking forward to that one.

I became interested in Tea Obreht earlier this year when I saw an interview of her discussing The Tiger's Wife, so I'm looking forward to finishing that one in July as well. I previously checked it out from my 'brary via the Overdrive e-book checkout system. Life got in the way, yadda, yadda.

Soooo many more books that I want to read, but I think these little beauties take the cake! 

If you're interested in Orange July what's at the top of your reading list? Also, are you interested in any particular bookish awards other than the Orange? If so, what are some of your favorite bookish award winners?

Images by Freepik