Blog Hop: Early Days of Reading

I am–somewhat back!  Life has been and continues to be a rather frenetic affair (besides getting married, I’m also moving), but I wanted to start dipping back into this blog at least a bit.  I may not be up to my usual schedule of blogging quite yet, but I’ll at least be popping back in some.  So today, here’s a blog hop…but not actually this week’s question, because I liked one from last month better.  So I thought I’d answer it!book-blogger-hop-finalLast month’s Book Blogger Hop question was: Do you remember the first book you read by yourself?

According to family lore, the first book I ever read myself was The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree.  An earlier target-age than most Berenstain Bears books, it only has one or two brief sentences to a page.  Before I could actually read, I memorized the book and would “read” it to myself, turning pages and “reading” quite accurately.

I don’t know if I ever had a copy–it may have been a strictly library book–but I know I didn’t wind up keeping a copy.  So I bought it myself sometime around college, and was surprised to learn that all the dramatic reading my parents did (which I still remember, despite not exactly remembering being read it) was all invented, not based in italics or funny fonts or anything.  It’s strange to read a book you know well for the first time!

I don’t know what the first book I really read was.  Probably some early reader in school.  And I don’t know what the first book I chose to read was.  But the first book I “read” was The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree, and I’m happy to say that it holds up over time–with dramatic reading included, of course.

Do you remember the first book you ever read?  Or “read”?

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Blog Hop: Self-Improvement – Plus News!

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Do you ever feel like you have emerged better for reading a book?

Hmm, an intriguing topic.  I think reading the Tortall series at formative years made me better, or perhaps at least more confident.  Brene Brown is very influential for me and I think made me better able to navigate relationships.  And I hope my spiritual reading on the whole makes me better.  Thich Nhat Hanh comes to mind fastest in that category, with his emphasis on peacefulness and tranquility.

And now the news!  I mentioned some months ago that I was engaged.  Well, the wedding is fast approaching–May 12th, so just over a week away!  As you might imagine, life is just a little bit hectic for me right now.  So for the first time in the life of my blog, I’m going on hiatus–I should be back on here before the end of the month, but for now I’m suspending regular programming.  I have a few other things to do… 🙂 ❤

See you soon!

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Classic Review: The Ashwater Experiment

I thought I’d look back at an old review this week, and found this one on a very good YA book I ought to reread!  A fascinating premise with such good characters, I’ve read it several times and always found it engaging!

Have you ever felt that you’re not quite like anyone else around you?  I’m guessing most people have felt that way at some time or another–and that feeling is at the center of The Ashwater Experiment by Amy Goldman Koss.

Hillary wonders if she’s the only person who’s real.  You can hardly blame her for feeling disconnected from the people around her.  She and her parents wander the country in their RV, selling trinkets at craft fairs and never staying anywhere long.  By seventh grade, Hillary has been to seventeen different schools and is firmly settled in her pattern of never making ties to anyone.  So when she finds out her parents plan to stay in Ashwater for nine months–longer than they’ve ever stayed anywhere–Hillary feels trapped.  That’s when she comes up with the Watchers.

What if she’s really the center of an experiment?  Part holodeck and part Truman Show, she imagines that the world she experiences is really created just for her, with nothing existing outside of what she can see in that moment.  At first it’s easy to imagine–everywhere she goes has always seemed to have a pattern, with the same kind of people at every school.  As she stays longer in Ashwater, though, people start to seem more real than ever.

I’ve read this book before, and in the past I think it was Hillary’s imaginary (but sometimes so real-feeling) game about the Watchers that struck me.  This time, that seemed more like a sidenote.  It’s a very interesting sidenote–but the heart of the story for me on this read was Hillary’s feeling of being different, and of her gradually increasing understanding for the people around her.

When she first meets the kids at her school, she easily classifies them and easily sees them as stock characters.  As she gets to know them, she finds unexpected depth to Cassie the bookworm, Serena the society queen, and Brian the class clown.  Even the more minor characters, like Serena’s mother or Cassie’s grandmother, the nasty girl who resents Hillary and even Hillary’s own parents and grandparents, are eventually revealed to have their own problems and motives and complexities.  No one is simple.  And we all feel different sometimes–paradoxically, it’s a feeling we often have in common.

This is another one of those books that reminds me just how good and how deep a YA book can be.  It definitely is YA (or even Juvenile), appropriate for young readers and focused on young adults.  Hillary is in seventh grade, and she has seventh grader concerns: whether the girls at school like her, how well she’ll do on the math competition, whether her parents are weird.  But the larger feelings Hillary struggles with are really universal, and there’s a depth that makes this appealing–even though seventh grade was a long time ago for me.

Author’s Site: http://www.amygoldmankoss.net/

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Blog Hop: Memo Re: an RIP

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Have you ever thought of writing a respectful, but angry letter to an author to ask them WHY they killed off one of your favorite characters in a novel?

…no.  I don’t think I ever have!  I also don’t seem to run into this too often.  I don’t think I read that kind of a book typically (there’s a reason I have never picked up Game of Thrones).

No one dies in L. M. Montgomery books except angelic children who are too pure to live to be adults (it was a trope of the time…), elderly people who have lived a full life, and, of course, parents, who are usually ushered off before or at the beginning of the story.  No one dies in Edgar Rice Burroughs books except villains and inconvenient obstacles to the love story (though I was angry with him about Clayton, rival to Tarzan, come to think of it).  And the only person who dies in retellings of the Phantom is, sometimes, the Phantom and, well…so it goes.  That’s not my preferred ending, but it was Leroux’s ending so I can’t object too much.

The Harry Potter series provided a host of tragic deaths–the only one that really got to me was…oh dear.  The twin.  I say this is the death that bothered me, and yet I can never remember if it was Fred or George.  And that’s kind of the point, it was the breaking of the pair that made me sad.  That and the line about dying with the ghost of his last laugh on his face.  Sigh.  But I get it, you know?  Fighters and mentors and serious people can die and that’s just the norm, but when the funny guy dies, then it’s seriousSerenity is a good movie example of that too.

A character death can be sad, and sometimes it can just be unrelentingly grim.  Kira-Kira, a Newbery medal winner where the heroine’s sister has a long, sad illness and then dies, was just exhausting.  But that’s the thing, I usually find books like that unpleasant or depressing, not rage-making.

I don’t know that I ever get angry with a writer about a character death.  Sometimes a character has to die.  I’ve written at least one book like that (not a published one).  I’d have trouble articulating why the hero had to die at the end of that one, but he really, really did.  So I get it, when an author kills a character, usually it’s a necessity.  Or it’s the whole focus of the book (again, Kira-Kira) which means I probably won’t like the book but, eh, tastes differ.

I get angry with writers about other things, and if I was ever going to write an angry letter it would more likely be about abusive relationships presented as romance (yeah, I’m still kind of mad at Meg Cabot).  But it probably won’t be for killing off a character!

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Classic Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Today happens to be Shakespeare’s birthday (if you’re a Stratfordian, which I am) and so it seems appropriate to bring out this long ago review of my favorite Shakespearean comedy!

My love affair with the Bard goes back to high school, where I was a charter member of my school’s Shakespeare Society.  A lot of my best memories from high school involve Shakespeare (or Johnny Depp, but that’s another story!)  So I was definitely instrumental in my book club selecting a Shakespearean play last month.  Not solely responsible, but I was one of the ones who pushed.

Which is how I ended up rereading Much Ado About Nothing recently, and remembering why this is my favorite Shakespearean comedy.  It’s a great gateway play for people not very familiar with Mr. Shakespeare.

The story follows two romantic couples.  There are Claudio and Hero, whose romance takes a dark turn when Hero is falsely accused of wanton behaviour (and Claudio, the cad, believes it).  And there are Beatrice and Benedick, both known for their wit, who are continually baiting each other.  Their friends decide that they’d be perfect for each other, and set about on a plan to make each believe the other is madly in love with them.

My favorite scenes in the play are the gulling scenes, when each group of friends stages a conversation for the eavesdropping Beatrice or Benedick.  This preference may in part be because I performed in each of those scenes in my high school’s Shakespeare Festival.  But they really are brilliant comedy. Edited to add: Since originally writing this review, I saw David Tennant’s Much Ado.  His gulling scene is by far and away the funniest I’ve ever seen, though I can’t find it on YouTube, alas.  Nor is it on DVD yet, but I live in hope! </edit>

I was particularly noticing on this recent read-through how little Shakespeare gives in stage directions (though there is that one immortal stage direction in A Winter’s Tale: “Exit, pursued by a bear”).  It leaves a lot open to interpretation.  It doesn’t say that Benedick knocks over the potted tree he’s hiding behind at this point–but he can.

More significantly, many lines change completely by whether you believe the speaker is serious.  Was Don Pedro really proposing to Beatrice?  Are Benedick and Claudio really friends at the end?  You can go too far believing characters don’t mean what they’re saying, but there is room for reasonable interpretation–which makes the plays even richer.

If you’re at all interested in Shakespeare, try Much Ado About Nothing.  I recommend the Folger Shakespeare Library edition–good footnotes, and they put them on the facing page, which I find easier to read.  If you don’t feel up to reading Shakespeare, watch the Kenneth Brannagh version.  Excellent, although I can’t remember if he knocks any trees over.  I think I do recall some splashing about in a fountain though…

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