Monday, July 31, 2006

James and the Giant Peach

It's been a rolled-up-in-a-blanket, Roald Dahl kind of day, dahling.

James and the Giant Peach was the other Dahl treat that I packed into my backpack for my week at home. I remember reading this book in grade 3 and being scandalized by the fact that a school book had the word "ass" in it. (The centipede has a bit of a sass-mouth, what can I say?)

Anyway, having read the book in grade 3, the plot was a bit foggy for me. I didn't remember the ending at all. But I did remember particular parts of the story and how absolutely enchanting I found them as a 9-year-old. This book falls into the "good books to read aloud" category and, if I ever end up teaching 3rd or 4th grade, there is a very good chance that this book will be among the books we study.

The Twits - Roald Dahl

I've got a 76-page pleasure read in front of me, heavy on the illustrations. I'd like to say that my whole reason for choosing this book is to discover another piece of children's literature that I can use while teaching next year. While this may be true, my real reason for reading it, is simply because I want to.

There's a line in Bachelor Brothers' Bed and Breakfast by Bill Richardson, that states something to the effect of, "a large part of reading used books is finding treasures inside--receipts, bookmarks, notes in the margins, etc. This particular copy of The Twits was purchased at a Goodwill store. "Marcie" is neatly but crudely inscribed on the inside cover in multi-coloured gel pen. It's a Scholastic publication and, nestled between the pages of this book is the Arrow Book Club order form from September 2001, with "Twits" neatly checked off, at the list price of $2.00. (I love book orders!)

Well, here we go: off to devour this little snack before lunch time!

Yup, you really can't go wrong with a little Roald Dahl. This book has the usual twistedness of a Dahl plot, but it also has the usual humour and simple language. Very cute! In sum, the twits are these two cruel and stupid people who are mean to each other and to the animals and children around them. Thanks to their meanness, Mr. and Mrs. Twit get what's coming to them.

As a p.s., the official Roald Dahl site is info rich and adorably entertaining. (It even has teacher resources!)

The Well of Lost Plots

My 2nd foray into Jasper Fforde's insanely delightful, imaginative book world ended up being the 3rd book in the series. (The 2nd book wasn't among the $5.99 bargains at Benjamin Books, but the 3rd and the 4th ones were.)

Grown at least slightly accustomed to the bizarre-ness of Fforde's fiction, I was worried that this book would be slightly boring, or simply old tricks beneath a new cover. Happily, this is not true!

The Well of Lost Plots combines a plethora of English Lit. classics, including:
  • Macbeth
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Alice In Wonderland
  • Great Expectations
  • The Mill on the Floss
It also combines a plethora of characters from literature:
  • Sir John Falstaff
  • Ms. Havisham
  • Mr. Toad (from Wind and the Willows)
  • Beatrice and Benedict

I am going to start recommending that every English Lit. grad add the Jasper Fforde series to their post-grad reading list as a means of entertaining --"silly reading for smart people" as the back cover review puts it.

3.5 / 5 stars for this lovely book.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Eats Shoots and Leaves

I think my roommates like it when I'm reading. It keeps me quiet. Today, while halfway through The Red Tent, Jer dropped another book in my lap. "It'll probably take me two years to read this," he said, "but my Dad says it's really good."

Having had little contact with this book--aside from an occaisional brief browse through its pages once or twice at the bookstore, I'm up to the challenge of reading a second book this weekend.

Eats Shoots and Leaves shall be my dinner companion....

The Red Tent

I just finished reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

This book was left on my desk with a note from Jenny, shortly after I finished reading The Da Vinci Code at her urging. I will happily take any scraps of praise I tossed at Da Vinci and heap them on top of the loads of praise I'm bestowing upon this novel.

Following on the tails of another between-the-lines Biblical narrative that I read earlier this summer (Findley's Not Wanted On the Voyage), Diamant uses the story of Dinah--and the stories of Rachel, Leah, Jacob, Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph--as the basis for a creative imagining of everything that happened in Dinah's life, aside from the brief mention of her rape and her brothers' revenge.

Like the women in her work, Diamant is a skilled storyweaver. She portrays womanhood eloquently, beautifully, and powerfully. She makes no claims to truth telling: her story isn't meant to be Biblical, but it is meant to be humane--and she succeeds.

A couple of things I want to make note of, from the cover and included notes, before returning this book to Jenny's shelf:

-According to the cover, this was a NYT Bestseller.

Excerpt from the included readers' guide:

Anita Diamant says it was the relationship between Leah and Rachel that stimulated her thinking about The Red Tent. "The Biblciacl story that pits the two sisters gainst one another never sat right withme. The traditional view of Leah as the ugly and/or spiteful sister, and of Jacob as indifferent to her, seemed odd in light of the fact that the Bible gives them nine children together. As I re-read Genesis over the years, I settled on the story of Dinah, their duaghter. The drama and her total silence (Dinah does not utter a single word in the Bible) ried out for explanation, and I decided to imagine one."

Aiding her work was "midrash," the ancient and still vital literary form, which means "search" or "investigation."

"Historically, the rabbis used this highly imaginative form of storytelling to make sense of the elliptical nature of teh Bible--to explain, for example, why Cain killed Abel. The compressed stories and images in the Bible are rather liek photographs. They don't tell us everything we want or need to know. Midrash is the story about what happened before and after the photographic flash."

She points out that "The Red Tent" is not a translation, but a work of fiction. Its perspective and focus--by and about the female characters--distinguishes it from the biblical account in which women are usually peripheral and often totally silent. By giving Dinah a voice and by providing texture and content to the sketchy biblical descriptions, my book is a radical departure from the historical text."

Links of Note:
(1)Online preview has cover shots, prologue, family tree.
(2) Book info on the author's website.
(3) Reading Group guide

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

DreadfulWater Shows Up

"So, your sister likes to read?" my little sister's boyfriend's mom asked her.

"Yes. A lot."

"What does she read? Mysteries?"

"Um...not really."

(Katie and I snickered about this little bit of conversation later. And in honour of this little bit of conversation, I decided to read a mystery.)

The latest book to move off my "To Read" list is DreadfulWater Shows Up by Thomas King, writing as Hartley GoodWeather. I didn't know that T.K. wrote under a pseudonym, and actually, the copy of the book that I have has THOMAS KING in giant letters across the top, so I guess his publicists decided the pseudonym wasn't working? (Is King that much of a name brand?)

Anyways, it took me a long time to get into this book. I read bits while waiting at bus stops, etc. but continually shoved the book back in my bag with no real desire to continue. Today--a sick day, without a TV--I decided to truck through it, and I actually kinda sorta got into it.

I'm not a fan of mysteries, so this book isn't exactly my style. And well, I'm not really sure that the mystery novel is King's key genre. But I still like his sense of humour that pervades all of his writings, and I love the way he peppers even a mystery with social commentary.

The basics: Thumps DreadfulWater is a retired cop-turned-photographer, who gets himself involved with investigating a murder case at the new casino/condo development on Native land in the U.S. Originally, he shows up at the scene to take pictures of the body, but when he finds out that his girlfriend's son, Stanley, is the prime suspect--and when his gut instinct tells him that Stanley's being framed--he starts back on the detective beat again.

After finishing the book tonight, and while washing dishes, I flipped on the CBC and was entertained by T.K. once more. I had forgotten about King's return to radio: "Dead Dog in the City" is pretty decent!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Currently on the Go:

The Self-Completing Tree by Dorothy Livesay.
Thumps Dreadful Waters Shows Up by Thomas King, writing as Hartley Goodweather

Women of the Bible - Jean E. Syswerda
The Red Tent
Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
Impact Teaching