■ Boot Camp (Todd Strasser)
YA fiction. Uses a “ripped from the headlines” approach to reveal the horrors of disciplinary boot camps.
■ The Other Mother (Gwendolen Gross)
Fiction. A somewhat heavy-handed examination of the so-called “Mommy Wars.”
■ Wish You Were Dead (Todd Strasser)
YA fiction. Again, there is some “ripped from the headlines” appeal here: An unpopular student blogs about wishing several popular students dead, then those same students disappear.
■ Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village (Laura Amy Schlitz)
YA non-fiction, read-aloud. A gentle re-introduction to regular studies, completed just after New Year’s. Everyone and her mother has already raved about this Newbery Medal winner, so let me simply add my voice to the chorus: highly recommended.
■ The Homeschool Liberation League (Lucy Frank)
YA fiction, read-aloud. Recommended by Semicolon, this novel pleasantly bookended our reading-thinking-learning days for a week.
■ The Canterbury Tales (Geoffrey Chaucer)
Classic. With the Misses as part of their literature studies.
■ Give a Boy a Gun (Todd Strasser)
YA fiction. This book rounded out my experience with Stasser’s oeuvre. Much preferred Nancy Garden’s Endgame, which covered similar ground more compellingly. (Related entry here.)
■ A Man for All Seasons (Robert Bolt)
Play, modern classic. Perfection — even Bolt’s introduction and his description of the characters. Plays are, of course, meant to be seen, not read, but this was a superlative reading experience. Chapbook entry here.
■ The Merry Widow (Victor Leon and Leo Stein; translated by Christopher Hassall)
Libretto. Wonderful entertainment. Related entry here.
■ A Friend of the Family (Lauren Grodstein)
Fiction. Reminiscent of Joyce Carol Oates writing as Rosamond Smith, particularly The Barrens.
■ What Learning Leaves (Taylor Mali)
Poetry. Related entry here.
■ The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Allison Weir)
History. Mr. M-mv and I watched Season 3 of “The Tudors” over the winter holiday (Thank you, Aunt M-mv!), which reawakened my interest in Weir’s books. Her writing is a competent blend of clarity and scholarship.
■ Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement (Robert J. Marzano)
Education. When combined, subject-specific vocabulary instruction and sustained silent reading (particularly SSR with a personal and in-depth focus) can develop the sort of background knowledge one needs — for success in school, yes, but also for meaningful lifelong learning. While this text addresses classroom instruction, a seasoned tutor or home educator can easily adapt the ideas and techniques.
■ Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (John J. Medina)
Non-fiction. Easily understood and and implemented, most of the ideas here (e.g., forgo multitasking, rest well, exercise regularly, repeat material to remember it, etc.) are familiar but worth reviewing. Includes a DVD, but the additional material is also available at the author’s website.
■ Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli)
YA fiction, audiobook. A reread, this time with the Misses. I loved the book when I first discovered it. This audiobook, read by the late John Ritter, made me fall in love all over again. Original, lovely, memorable. The Misses also give Stargirl an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
■ Little Bee (Chris Cleave)
Fiction. Beautifully written and (to lean on a cliché) haunting. The characters and their story have lingered in my thoughts so much longer than usual.
■ Shutter Island (Dennis Lehane)
Fiction. Many readers solved the “mystery” by the novel’s midpoint, and I did, too, but for several reasons (not the least of which was Lehane’s well-styled dialogue), I wasn’t that disappointed.
■ Empire (Orson Scott Card)
Science fiction. Blame the heat and chlorine fumes, I guess, because this poolside companion didn’t seem nearly as awful as many people maintained. Yeah, there are implausible bits, and, no, it’s not quite as compelling as Ender’s Game, but I was hooked and entertained, and sometimes, that’s all I demand from a book.
■ The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (Ken Robinson)
Non-fiction. Call me mercurial. How else can I explain why Brain Rules, which also covers familiar territory, gets my recommendation, and The Element does not? Perhaps it’s this simple: A feature-length article would have been the appropriate length for Robinson’s rehash. Nearly three hundred pages? Overkill.
■ The Sword and the Circle: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (Rosemary Sutcliff)
YA fiction, classic. With the Misses. A competent retelling of the Arthurian legend.
■ The Gift of Dyslexia (Ronald D. Davis)
Education. A popular and widely recommended book on this subject, but I didn’t find it as informative as others have.
■ Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us (Robert D. Hare)
Psychology. Like Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door, this bit of pop-psych is readable, fascinating, informative, and, yes, frightening.
■ Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization (Andrew Pudewa)
Poetry. The introduction to this resource can be found here.
■ The Questing Knights of the Faerie Queen (Geraldine McCaughrean)
Classic. A competent retelling of Edmund Spenser’s epic poem. We loved it; and, no, you’re never too old for illustrations in your text.
■ The Hole We’re In (Gabrielle Zevin)
Fiction. In 2008, I read Zevin’s Elsewhere, a YA meditation on the afterlife. It was all right. Her most recent novel dispenses with fantasy elements and examines a decidedly adult issue: personal financial debt. My verdict? Don’t miss this one.
■ The Bronze Bow (Elizabeth George Speare)
YA fiction. Newbery Award Winner. With the Misses.
■ The Snow Goose (Paul Gallico)
YA fiction. Aloud. Angela Barrett’s lovely illustrations will confuse some readers — they will think it is a picture book, a child’s story. It is not. The lyrical prose and the deeply felt story are meant for adults, young and old. Beautiful, beautiful.
■ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)
Fiction. Oh, how I resisted, dismissed, and denied this book! I finally succumbed because I remembered that Girl Detective (who had also resisted, dismissed, and denied it) mentioned it in the same sentence as Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road — without guffawing. I share her conclusion: “more than a mere confection.” Recommended.
■ I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President (Josh Lieb)
YA fiction, audiobook. Underscored our at-home artistic pursuits during the last two weeks of the month. Lightweight entertainment.
■ The Secret Life of the Dyslexic Child (Robert Frank)
Education. In a word, excellent.
■ The Passenger Pigeon (A.W. Schorger)
Nature. From the book description: “Through painstaking research, [Schorger] examined every aspect of the species — behavioral characteristics, feeding methods, traveling and roosting habits, nesting – and the various stages of the species encounter with man, from utilization by the Native American to extinction at the hands of white settlers.”
■ Birds of California: Field Guide (Stan Tekiela)
■ Birds of San Diego (Chris Fisher)
■ Torrey Pines State Reserve, Third Edition
These three books were my literary companions during our trip to Southern California.
■ One Second After (William R. Forstchen)
Fiction. Billed as a book “so important it has become the topic of a congressional debate,” this novel offers a compelling premise — What would life be like if the country were crippled by EMPs? — in prose so inelegant that I had to set it aside after only sixty pages. I had thought it would be the perfect airplane/airport book, but it didn’t even rise to that low standard. Believe it or not, I do plan to finish it, though, since I want to know how it ends. WARNING: Some creative skimming may be involved.
■ Poems from the Like Free Zone (Taylor Mali)
Poetry, audiobook. I listened to this twice — once in O’Hare and once in the air (from LAX to O’Hare). Mali is, in a word, brilliant, and I, like, love him? Heh, heh, heh.
■ Burnt Toast on Davenport Street (Tim Egan)
Juvenile fiction, read-aloud. This is one of my favorite books in all the world. Egan writes offbeat narratives and punctuates them with some of the quirkiest, most endearing illustrations I’ve ever found in a children’s book. Other faves include Serious Farm, Metropolitan Cow, and Friday Night at Hodges’ Cafe. (Do I need a note here to remind folks that reading aloud from old family favorites is a good — nay, a grand idea, no matter how old the kids are? I sure hope not.)
■ Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter’s Uncommon Year (Laura Brodie)
Memoir; education. Chapbook entry here.
■ An Abundance of Katherines (John Green)
YA fiction. An endearing (and witty) protagonist-and-best-buddy duo coupled with a somewhat less than plausible plot make this a lightweight but entertaining YA novel.
■ Rules of the Road
I passed! Only one question wrong! Yay! More, my license photo is quite nice.
■ The New Global Student (Maya Frost)
Education (a re-read). As I have mentioned here and elsewhere, the Misses are fascinated by the idea of completing their college education abroad. Frost suggests a number of ways to make this happen.
■ Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes; an abridgment)
Classic. With the Misses. A serviceable retelling.
■ The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Philip Pullman)
Fiction. Part of the Canongate myth series. Pullman attempts to (re)define the nature of writers and narrative using the greatest story ever told. By turns interesting… and irritating.
■ As You Like It (William Shakespeare)
Play, classic. With the Misses. This was our selection for celebrating Will’s 446th birthday. We also (finally!) watched Branagh’s film version and were deeply disappointed.
■ I Am Not a Serial Killer (Dan Wells)
YA fiction. No, John Wayne Cleaver is not a serial killer — not yet, anyway. And this mixed-genre novel is not what you think. One word: Wow! I haven’t met a sociopath this interesting since Joyce Carol Oates’ Zombie.
■ The Other Family (Joanna Trollope)
Fiction. If you’ve never read Trollope, this is as good a novel to begin with as any other. She crafts quality prose and develops memorable characters. The phrase (pardon the cliché) “keenly observed” comes to mind when I think of her books — this one, yes, and others I’ve enjoyed, including The Choir, A Village Affair, The Rector’s Wife, The Men and the Girls, Other People’s Children, and Marrying the Mistress.
■ DMZ Vol. 1: On the Ground (Brian Wood)
■ DMZ Vol. 2: Body of a Journalist (Brian Wood)
■ DMZ Vol. 3: Public Works (Brian Wood)
■ DMZ Vol. 4: Friendly Fire (Brian Wood)
■ DMZ Vol. 5: The Hidden War (Brian Wood)
■ DMZ Vol. 6: Blood in the Game (Brian Wood)
■ DMZ Vol. 7: War Powers (Brian Wood)
Graphic series. Civil war has reduced Manhattan to a rubble-strewn and violent demilitarized zone in this compelling comic book series. I’m not fond of the artwork, but I’m staying for the story, which in the seventh volume, returned its focus to its morally ambivalent protagonist, journalist Matty Roth. Vol. 8 is due in early June.
■ William Eggleston
Photography. Unlike March‘s William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008, which included several insightful essays, this volume was strictly a catalogue of the 2002 French exhibition of the photographer’s work.
■ Taken (Edward Bloor)
YA fiction. Solid entertainment from the author of the excellent novel Tangerine.
■ Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Deborah Heiligman)
Biography. The author paints a remarkable portrait of a marriage if not defined then certainly shaped by the conflict between one spouse’s religion and the other’s science. Replete with insights into Victorian society and excerpts from primary source materials (letters, journals), this is a near-perfect biography. One quibble: The writing is sometimes painfully simple. If the intended audience can make its way through the excerpts from Darwin’s texts, the passages from Jane Austen’s novels, and the quotes from family letters and journals, then it can certainly handle a more sophisticated prose style from Heiligman.
■ Hate List (Jennifer Brown)
YA fiction. In January, I read Todd Strasser’s Give a Boy a Gun and promptly asserted that I much preferred Nancy Garden’s Endgame, which covered similar ground more compellingly. (Related entry here.) Well, Hate List — another entry in the YA fiction sub-genre “school shootings” — approached the quality and impact of Endgame: thought-provoking, moving, and, yes, uncomfortable (e.g., in the aftermath of the shooting, the relationship between the protagonist and her father is simply painful). Recommended.
■ An Education (Lynn Barber)
Memoir. In April, I was mesmerized by Carey Mulligan’s performance in An Education, which is based on one section of Lynn Barber’s brilliant memoir. This was one of those situations in which reading the book followed watching the movie, but neither work suffered by the comparison. In fact, I highly recommend both the film and Barber’s wry autobiography.
■ Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature (Robin Brande)
YA fiction. I read Brande’s Fat Cat late last year (also recommended by BookMoot) and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I added Evolution to my TBR file. Realistic and likeable characters make this a quick, enjoyable read — perfect for poolside. For me, it was also a weird-but-neat complement to Charles and Emma (see above).
■ The Perilous Gard (Elizabeth Mary Pope)
YA fiction. With the Misses. I added Gard to our collection
a couple of five years ago, on BookMoot’s recommendation, but the Misses and I finally pulled it out this month at Melissa’s urging. Good stuff.
■ Caught (Harlan Coben)
Fiction. Coben’s Hold Tight entertained me last year, so picking up his latest at the bargain price of $9.98 made good sense when I was looking to be entertained poolside during stroke clinic.
■ Matisse from A to Z (Marie Sellier)
■ Matisse (Nina Hollein)
■ Henri Matisse (Jude Welton)
Juvenile/YA non-fiction. The Misses and I read these prior to seeing the Matisse exhibit (related entry here) and, in particular, heartily recommend the series of which the third title (Welton) is a part — Artists in Their Time. Simple without being simplistic, these introductions to such artists as Matisse, Claude Monet, and Andy Warhol include biographical data, images of the artist’s work and the work of artists who inspired and/or were inspired by him, context-setting commentary on the artist’s work, a timeline, and more.
■ Such a Pretty Girl (Laura Wiess)
■ Leftovers (Laura Wiess)
■ How It Ends (Laura Wiess)
YA fiction. The label “problem novel” emerged in the 1960s to differentiate contemporary YA novels about such topical social issues as poverty, rape, divorce, and homosexuality from more conventional fare. Although few critics employ the phrase now, it is precisely the description that came to mind when I was reading Such a Pretty Girl, a first novel notable for its clear prose, narrative symmetry, and unflinching approach to exceptionally gritty subject matter. Leftovers, Wiess’ second novel, also offers crisp writing if less compelling protagonists, but Wiess finally earned a spot on my list of best books read in 2010 with How It Ends. Again, some pretty gritty subject matter, but what an engrossing and original story with plenty of crossover appeal.
■ The Unwritten, Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity (Mike Carey)
Graphic series. Recommended to me by Girl Detective, who writes about the volume here.
■ Alan’s War: The Memories of GI Alan Cope (Emmanuel Guibert)
Graphic biography. Absolutely brilliant. (Related entry here.)
■ Fractured (Karin Slaughter)
Fiction. Serviceable entertainment for the minutes between the completion of paper-grading and the return of my morning swimmers.
■ Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (Cory Doctorow)
Science fiction. While I loved Doctorow’s Little Brother (related entry here), this was just all right.
■ The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)
Classic. With the Misses. (Related entry here.)
■ Death without Tenure (Joanne Dobson)
Fiction. The early Karen Pelletier novels (Quieter Than Sleep, The Northbury Papers, and The Raven and the Nightingale) were entertaining enough, if mostly implausible and somewhat predictable (as most mysteries featuring female English professors are, with the notable exception of the early Amanda Cross efforts). But each subsequent entry into the series became less and less satisfying, so believe me, there’s actually a hint of praise in my assertion that at least Death without Tenure was better than The Maltese Manuscript.
■ The Sixty-Eight Rooms (Marianne Malone)
■ Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl (Marianne Malone)
Our June/July read-alouds. The first has, of course, has inspired plans for another trip to the Art Institute. And the latter? Well, we love birds, don’t we?
■ Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers–and How You Can Too (Soo Kim Abboud and Jane Y. Kim)
Education. Supported by anecdotes from their own experience and that of some of their acquaintances, much of the practical advice the authors offer is simply a restatement of familiar parent-teaching maxims (e.g., “Play an active role in your child’s education” and “Teach your child to value academic success over popularity”). The rest of the volume comprises perplexing assertions about, for example, the value of choosing a career for its income potential. Not recommended.
■ Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917 (Stephanie D’Alessandro and John Elderfield)
Art. An excellent follow-up to our recent visit.
■ The Passage (Justin Cronin)
Fiction. Some notes on this tome here.
■ The Core (Leigh A. Bortins)
Education. Observations about this title can be found here, but in a nutshell, The Core reads like a well crafted study aide for those who have no intention of reading an 800-plus-page book on classical education.
■ The Confessions of Max Tivoli (Andrew Sean Greer)
Fiction. In the June 15 issue of Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum writes, “David Nicholls owes a plot finder’s fee to When Harry Met Sally… for his irresistible way-we-were novel One Day.” (You’ll find the complete review here.) If I may take my cue from Schwarzbaum, then, Andrew Sean Greer owes a plot finder’s fee to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” for his sincerely delivered (if somewhat overwrought) love-at-first-sight-and-forever novel The Confessions of Max Tivoli, a book I think everyone else read five or six years ago. I know it has been on my shelves for at least four years, which means, Yes, Mr. M-mv, I think maybe I just might get to all of these books. Eventually. Anyway, back to Max. He made for pleasant-enough companionship during a swim meet. Is that a recommendation? You decide.
■ Ex Machina, Vol. 1: The First Hundred Days (Brian K. Vaughan)
■ Ex Machina, Vol. 2: Tag (Brian K. Vaughan)
■ Ex Machina, Vol. 3: Fact v. Fiction (Brian K. Vaughan)
■ Ex Machina, Vol. 4: March to War (Brian K. Vaughan)
Graphic series. I loved Y: The Last Man (related entries here and here) so I thought I’d give this a go. Not bad. Not bad, at all.
■ Bamboo People (Mitali Perkins)
YA fiction. As I mentioned here, Book Moot’s review prompted me to pick this up, and, boy, am I grateful. I was both moved and informed by Perkins’ exploration of the antagonism between the Burmese government and the Karenni people and the difficult lives young people on both sides face.
■ Faith of Our Sons: A Father’s Wartime Diary (Frank Schaeffer)
Memoir. This is the follow-up to Keeping Faith, which I reread in January, when Master (now PFC) left for boot camp. I now realize that while I certainly (over)identified with Frank Schaeffer’s angst in the first volume, I much preferred his son’s measured and, in the end, more compelling voice — a voice overpowered in the second volume by his father’s shrill, self-absorbed narrative.
■ The Maze Runner (James Dashner)
YA fiction. Meh. Great (if derivative) idea predictably executed. Will not be seeking out the next books in the series.
■ DMZ Vol. 8: Hearts and Minds (Brian Wood)
Graphic series. As I mentioned in May’s entry, this is one compelling story.
■ Ex Machina, Vol. 5: Smoke, Smoke (Brian K. Vaughan)
■ Ex Machina, Vol. 6: Power Down (Brian K. Vaughan)
■ Ex Machina, Vol. 7: Ex Cathedra (Brian K. Vaughan)
■ Ex Machina, Vol. 8: Dirty Tricks (Brian K. Vaughan)
■ Ex Machina, Vol. 9: Ring Out the Old (Brian K. Vaughan)
Graphic series. And as I mentioned in June’s entry, I loved Y: The Last Man (related entries here and here) so I thought I’d give this a go. Volume 10 is due out in November.
■ The Gold-Bug and Other Tales (Edgar Allan Poe)
Classic. With the Misses. Naturally, we held an Edgar Allan Poe-Vincent Price film fest once we completed our reading. We also discovered Professor Elliot Engel during our Poe unit: Edgar Allan Poe: A Light and Enlightening Look. Great stuff.
■ To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
Classic. With the Misses. And, yes, we also revisited the film. (Related entry here.)
■ The Tempest (William Shakespeare)
■ William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Bruce Coville)
Play, classic. With Mr. M-mv and the Misses, in preparation for our trip to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. (Related entries here and here.) By the way, Professor Elliot Engel’s William Shakespeare: A Light and Enlightening Look was a fun complement to this month’s reading. It’s pitched toward those newer to bardolatry, but we still enjoyed it.
■ The Wednesday Wars (Gary Schmidt)
YA fiction, audiobook. I actually read The Wednesday Wars two years ago: In fact, it made my list of best books read in 2008 — as much for the many Shakespeare references as for the Richard Peck-like narrative sensibility. I was delighted, then, to read Book Moot’s recommendation of the audiobook. Ahhh! I thought. I now know how to fill the hours of our long drive to and from the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Imagine my delight on (re)discovering Sycorax and Caliban (the rats and the mystical beings). Re-entering Schmidt’s world was a wonderful bit of that ol’ synchronicity / serendipity / synthesis magic, I’ll tell you. But don’t just take my word for it: Mr. M-mv and the Misses give The Wednesday Wars their enthusiastic thumbs-up, too. Highly recommended, both text and audiobook.
■ WWW : Wake (Robert J. Sawyer)
Science fiction. Perhaps the ideas in this novel, the first in a trilogy, are familiar to a more widely read sci-fi aficionado, but they were fresh to me. More, I appreciated the bold way in which Sawyer linked seemingly disparate subjects: sight-processing in people blind from birth, math giftedness, the bicameral mind, Asperger syndrome in adults, the differences between life in Canada and life in the States, information technology, the web behind the web, the analogy between the brain and the web, and artificial sentience in the web — the latter of which I first learned of in the Ender series (Orson Scott Card). Recommended.
■ Nothing But the Truth (Avi)
YA fiction. Described as “a documentary novel,” this book caught my eye when we stopped at a bookstore between the morning and evening shows at the Shakespeare Festival. (Related entries here, here, and here.) I’d press this on anyone interested in public education. Note that there are no easy answers here, no heroes, no villains. As the author’s note reveals, many readers saw themselves and their school in the novel.
■ Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (Chris Crutcher)
YA fiction. This is certainly gritty stuff (though not as gritty as the Laura Weiss titles I read in May), but I appreciated the authenticity of the narrative voice, and frankly? I also appreciated that the conclusion didn’t announce itself three chapters in.
■ A Girl of the Limberlost (Gene Porter Stratton)
Classic. With the Misses. While I know that many readers find Stratton hopelessly old-fashioned, we absolutely love Elnora and her story. In the text’s front matter, the characters are described thus:
ELNORA, who collects moths to pay for her education, and lives the Golden Rule.
PHILIP AMMON, who assists in moth hunting, and gains a new conception of love.
MRS. COMSTOCK, who lost a delusion and found a treasure.
WESLEY SINTON, who always did his best.
MARGARET SINTON, who “mothers” Elnora.
BILLY, a boy from real life.
EDITH CARR, who discovers herself.
HART HENDERSON, to whom love means all things.
POLLY AMMON, who pays an old score.
TOM LEVERING, engaged to Polly.
TERENCE O’MORE, Freckles grown tall.
MRS. O’MORE, who remained the Angel.
TERENCE, ALICE and LITTLE BROTHER, the O’MORE children.
See? Hopelessly old-fashioned, right? But aren’t you intrigued?
■ Invisible (Peter Hautman)
■ Rash (Peter Hautman)
YA fiction. I had recently finished Chris Crutcher’s Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes when I read BookMoot’s post about the Teen Lit Fest. She points readers to Pete Hautman’s blog, exhorting them to also peruse the comments: “Chris Crutcher’s thoughts are so on target.” First, BookMoot’s own remarks on this unfortunate episode are also “so on target” — take some time to read her post before clicking over to Hautman’s. Second, by golly, you know how much I love serendipity, sychronicity, and synthesis. Naturally, then, the mention of Crutcher delighted me, but as I read over Hautman’s blog, I realized, Oh, my goodness! He’s the author of Godless! I read this National Book Award winner six years ago and really loved both the subject and author’s style. That’s how I ended up consuming Invisible and Rash in a few bites. The first, which is equal parts mystery and psychological exploration, leaves the reader feeling alternately unsettled and saddened. I will certainly never forget Douglas MacArthur Hanson. The second stirs satire, school, sports, and social commentary into a futuristic setting with surprisingly entertaining results. Both are recommended, as is the excellent Godless.
■ Lucy (Laurence Gonzalez)
Fiction. For a while there, it seemed like everyone was talking about this novel. I picked it up after reading an EW review and hearing Steve and Johnnie‘s on-air raves. Thought-provoking and entertaining. A perfect end-of-summer read. Oh, Mr. M-mv also enjoyed it.
■ Bicycle Diaries (David Byrne)
Non-fiction. The Talking Heads founder, frontman, and songwriter offers a view of many of the world’s cities from the seat of his bicycle. Sort of. Rather than a travelogue, Byrne offers his thoughts on the politics, art, museums, economy, and planning (or lack thereof) he encounters. Check out his blog for a sample of his writing style because while I thoroughly enjoyed this ramble, others may not.
■ The Call to Brilliance: A True Story to Inspire Parents and Educators (Resa Steindel Brown)
■ Twelfth Night (William Shakespeare)
Play, classic. With the Misses. Two years ago, we (the Misses and I) read Bruce Coville’s adaptation and watched the 1996 film. This week, we read the play, discussed it at length, and watched the film again. Brilliant stuff, both. (This was my third go at Twelfth Night, reading, watching. It seems so many, many years ago that Master M-mv and I first studied it: August 2003. Oh, how we all miss him!)
■ Trouble (Gary Schmidt)
YA fiction. Schmidt followed The Wednesday Wars (see July’s reading life review) with Trouble. The Richard Peck-like narrative sensibility (i.e., the twisty turns and the penchant for layered coincidences) is still evident, but the tone is decidedly more somber here. That said, I really loved this book, even though it features one of the most heartbreaking parent-child exchanges I have ever read:
“Henry,” he said. “Henry, do you think Franklin would have grown into a good man?”
Henry was so startled, he took a step back.
“I know,” said his father. “How can anybody ask that? But lately it’s the only question I seem to be able to ask. Not: Why was Franklin taken from us? Not: What should happen to Chay Chouan? But: Would Franklin have grown into a good man? And I’m not sure I have the courage to hear a true answer.”
This is an excellent novel. Period. Forget the YA designation and find a copy. Soon.
■ The Education of Little Tree (Forrest Carter)
Fiction. With the Misses. Much is made of the author’s reputation, which was uncovered after the novel was embraced as a modern American classic. But I have always argued that a work can rightfully be considered as something apart from its creator, and the Misses and I enjoyed the synchronicity / serendipity/ synthesis at work when we were able to compare Carter’s employment of the vernacular to that of the master — Mark Twain. (Related entries here and here.)
■ Will I Ever Be Good Enough? (Karyl McBride)
Psychology. I saw this recommended elsewhere and after reading a review determined it might tie in neatly with previous reads, including Robert D. Hare’s Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us (Robert D. Hare), which I read earlier this year, and Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door, which I wrote about here and here.
■ Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare)
Play, classic. A reread, in anticipation of our trip to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (discussed here).
■ Citizen Girl (Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus)
Fiction. As it turns out, I actually did read more than three books in September. This one was just so completely dreadful that I had utterly forgotten it when I was preparing my round-up.
■ I Draw, I Paint: Colored Pencils (Isidro Sanchez)
Art. Sanchez’s I Draw, I Paint: Watercolor was helpful to me during last summer’s pursuits, but I can’t say the same about this book and my current class.
■ Room (Emma Donaghue)
■ The Good Daughters (Joyce Maynard)
■ My Lie: A True Story of False Memory (Meredith Maran)
Borrowed all three from the library and read them in quick succession. Random observations: (1) Room really is as unusual and well conceived as “everyone” says, but I didn’t love it. (2) Yes, that Joyce Maynard. (3) A lot of people live lives far more complicated and fraught with emotional danger than my own. I think that makes me one of the lucky ones.
■ Every Great Chess Player Was Once a Beginner (Brian Byfield and Alan Orpin)
■ Learn Chess Quick (Brian Byfield and Alan Orpin)
Non-fiction. You’ll find my PSA on these two books here.
■ Henry V (William Shakespeare)
■ Henry V: The Graphic Novel (American English / Original Text edition; adapted by John McDonald)
Graphic novel. The first, a yearly adventure. The second, new to me and well appreciated by the Misses. (Related entries here, here, and here.)
■ The False Friend (Myla Goldberg)
Fiction. Goldberg’s Bee Season amazed me, and I continue to recommend it to readers who enjoy and appreciate contemporary fiction with a literary lilt (as opposed to say, a decidedly bestselling beat). Perhaps I met her latest novel with too much anticipation and expectation, then, but where I sought a penetrating and offbeat glimpse into the world of middle-school bullies and the women they become, I found mostly petulant navel-gazing, not much of which was particularly insightful.
■ Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It (Maile Meloy)
Fiction, short stories. Picked up as an impulse-purchase and completed in a single Sunday afternoon. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.
■ Leopold and Loeb: The Crime of the Century (Hal Higdon)
Non-fiction, true crime. While reading this serviceable account of the 1924 kidnapping and murder of Bobby Franks, I revisited my entry on McCurdy’s article “The Childhood Pattern of Genius” and realized afresh that GENIUS doesn’t always mean GOOD, does it? Heh, heh, heh. I purchased the book after watching Compulsion (1959) three years ago, which means, yes, my purchased:read ratio is about 13:1. And that’s okay, says Mr. M-Mv. Some people stock up on tuna and canned vegetables. We stock up on brain food. Getting back to the seamier side of Chicago history (i.e., the Nietzschean supermen who botched their “perfect murder”): The book is, as I said, serviceable. The film, though, is excellent. (Related entry here.)
■ The Wright 3 (Blue Balliet)
Juvenile fiction. Speaking of Chicago, this follow-up to Chasing Vermeer (related entry here) finds the Lab School students chasing that ol’ synchronicity / serendipity/ synthesis all around the Frederick C. Robie House.
■ What to Do about Alice? (Barbara Kerley)
Juvenile fiction. Delightful.
■ The Unwritten, Vol. 2: Inside Man (Mike Carey)
Graphic series. Girl Detective recommended Volume 1, and now I’m hooked.
■ Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring (Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan)
Juvenile non-fiction. Related entry here.
■ The Mailbox (Audrey Shafer)
YA fiction. Let me be clear: I loved this book. I’m just a little ambivalent on the subject of its intended audience (twelve and up). Shafer serves up sophisticated ideas, including the horrors of war and the nature of some soldiers’ life after service, in a style alternately beautiful and, well, menacing. Sure, here and there, I thought I caught a Gary Schmidt vibe, maybe a little Richard Peck — mostly in the almost-too-neat manner in which central plotlines are resolved — but even on finishing, I thought, Boy, this seems awfully (for lack of a better word) heavy. Of course, your mileage may vary, as they say. Let me know what you think.
■ Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Graphic Adaptation (Seymour Chwast)
Graphic novel. Another delightful discovery. There were moments, though, when Chwast’s wry drawings (Dante looks like a hardened Chicago reporter) aroused in me the same shivers of worry and dread that the pigtailed version of myself experienced when I first read this page in Babar the King. Don’t miss this one.
■ Half a Life (Darin Strauss)
Memoir. Although his insurers and a detective at the scene declare Strauss blameless, he is, of course, never quite the same after a classmate swerves into the path of his car and is killed in the unavoidable collision. Half a Life traces his journey from the accident to his decision to pen a memoir as therapy. Strauss has written three novels, included the acclaimed Chang and Eng. I read More than It Hurts You (2008) shortly after it was released and found it thought-provoking, if disturbing. Half a Life is often emotionally draining and occasionally indulgent, but it also read true. It’s certainly not a book I will soon forget.
■ Stoner (John Williams)
Fiction. Related entry here.
■ Family Happiness (Laurie Colwin)
Fiction. So many people had recommended Colwin. Perhaps I chose the wrong title? Let’s just leave it at “Not my cuppa.”
■ A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
Classic. With the Family-Centered Learning Project book club. I now know that I was robbed in high school: The edition in our English textbook comprised fewer than one hundred pages. That’s not an abridgment; it’s text murder! Anyway, all of us loved this selection. Related entry here.
■ The Walking Dead, Book One: Days Gone By (Robert Kirkman)
■ The Walking Dead, Book Two: Miles Behind Us (Robert Kirkman)
■ The Walking Dead, Book Three: Safety Behind Bars (Robert Kirkman)
■ The Walking Dead, Book Four: The Heart’s Desire (Robert Kirkman)
■ The Walking Dead, Book Five: The Best Defense (Robert Kirkman)
■ The Walking Dead, Book Six: This Sorrowful Life (Robert Kirkman)
■ The Walking Dead, Book Seven: The Calm Before (Robert Kirkman)
■ The Walking Dead, Book Eight: Made to Suffer (Robert Kirkman)
■ The Walking Dead, Book Nine: Here We Remain (Robert Kirkman)
■ The Walking Dead, Book Ten: What We Become (Robert Kirkman)
■ The Walking Dead, Book Eleven: Fear the Hunters (Robert Kirkman)
■ The Walking Dead, Book Twelve: Life Among Them (Robert Kirkman)
■ The Walking Dead, Book Thirteen: Too Far Gone (Robert Kirkman)
Graphic series. News that AMC had developed a series based on Kirkman’s story of life after a zombie apocalypse prompted me to seek out the books. Thoroughly entertaining.
■ And the Pursuit of Happiness (Maira Kalman)
Art. Recommendation / related entry here.
■ Summer of My German Soldier (Bette Greene)
Fiction. With the Girls Rule! Book Club. This one is a childhood favorite and rightly deserves a place on this list. I don’t know how I left it off.
■ The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare)
YA fiction. With the Girls Rule! Book Club. Terrific!
■ Ex Machina, Vol. 10: Term Limits (Brian K. Vaughan)
Graphic series. As I mentioned in here and here, I began this series because I loved Y: The Last Man (related entries here and here). Term Limits brings this compelling series to an appropriately ambivalent conclusion.
■ Full Dark, No Stars (Stephen King)
Fiction.Meh. I suppose one of these years I’ll outgrow the need to give King “just one more chance” to get his fiction right again.
■ Virals (Kathy Reichs)
Fiction. From the author of the popular Temperance Brennan (“Bones”) novels (which I haven’t read). Fast-paced and not too deep, this novel, which is the first in a new series, features Brennan’s niece.
■ Matched (Ally Condie)
Fiction. Hey. Haven’t I read — or seen — this story before? It’s a mash-up of The Giver, Twilight (the torn-between-two-lovers, teenage angst colored in purity, not the vampires and werewolves), and Logan’s Run. Hell, I even caught a whiff of Fahrenheit 451 and Soylent Green.