Favorites Friday: Newbery Medal Winners

I’m on my second year reading Newbery Medal winners, reviewing as I can, but I’ve never done a best-of reflection on Newbery Medal books.  Here’s a round-up of favorites–some I read before this challenge, others read in the last couple years.  In no particular order…

  1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  2. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz
  3. The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
  4. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  5. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
  6. Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt
  7. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  8. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsberg
  9. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
  10. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Bank

What are your favorites among the Newbery winners?  (Not sure? Find the complete list here!)  Maybe you’ll give me an idea for what I should read next.

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Classic Review: Star Wars, Original Trilogy

I was glancing through old posts, and found it’s been more than five years since I reviewed the original Star Wars trilogy…which was well before all the new developments in the franchise, when the expanded universe was still canon, there were only three movies (that wasn’t a typo) and Star Wars was much less on my mind.

More than any other Classic Review I’ve posted, this one feels like it was really from a different time in my relationship (because there is one) with what I’m reviewing.  As discussed below, I’m still a Trekkie first, in the great debate.  But this kicked off a lot more reading (or rereading) of Star Wars books, and I happen to be in a book club that frequently winds up discussing Star Wars.  And, you know, things happened in the franchise.  So I’m definitely more into Star Wars now than I was when I wrote this.

Though I don’t think I’ve actually rewatched the original trilogy since then.  I may have to get out those VHS tapes again…

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The sci fi kick I’ve been on lately has led me back around to Star Wars, which I must admit I haven’t paid much attention to for about ten years–and it had probably been that long since I watched the original trilogy.

First, a little history.  The trilogy was re-released in theaters when I was in elementary school, and me and everyone around me became Star Wars fans.  I read probably 10 or 12 Star Wars books too, but lost interest when it began to feel like every book was basically “let’s mop up the last traces of the Empire…and then the last last traces…and then this last one…”  More significantly, I also found Star Trek.  For me, the fandoms co-existed for a while, but in the end, the traveling turned out to be more interesting than the fighting (I’m convinced the difference really is all in that second word of the names).

All of this is to say that I identify as a Star Trek fan, but I like Star Wars too, and there was a time when I really liked Star Wars.  And lately I’ve been thinking I’d like to revisit the galaxy far, far away.  So, over a recent weekend, I dug out my very old, shiny gold Special Edition VHS tapes of the original trilogy (a very big deal purchase when I was much younger!) and rewatched all three movies over three days.

And you know, they really are wonderful.  The characters, the strange landscapes, the magic of the Force…even the battles.  It’s often the characters that count most for me, so let’s start there.  Remember it had been ten years (or thereabouts) since I saw these movies.  The biggest “change” was Luke.  Han is right when he’s calling him a kid at the beginning!  You can’t see him the same way when you’re a kid yourself.  I think you have to be older to properly see Luke’s character arc, from a whiny kid on Tatooine (he really is whiny in spots) to the serene and confident Jedi Knight.  It’s the classic growth of a hero story, and it’s very well-done.  I enjoyed Han’s growth too, from refusing to stick his neck out for anybody, to General Solo of the Rebel Alliance–but still with some of that scoundrel edge.  The one who grows less is Leia–she’s awesome from the first moment and stays that way, whether it’s blasting Stormtroopers or making acid comments to Han.  I remembered she was great, but I think I forgot just how much so.

I thought other characters were excellent too–Threepio, with his constant worried commentary, gets some of the funniest lines.  And at the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the looming and menacing Darth Vader.  I don’t think I ever noticed before–his entrance gets more impressive with each successive movie.  I wonder if they didn’t quite know what they had in the first one.

I thought the plot rockets forward at a nice pace, and each time I finished one movie it made me want to watch the next one.  It’s fun to revisit all the iconic lines and moments, and my memory of the later two movies may have been part of why I wanted to go on to watch them.  The trilogy is also a great example of a story which is complete unto itself, despite previous events which influence the present.

Which leads me around to the newer trilogy.  I watched that as it came out, and I don’t think I had seen the original trilogy since watching Episodes 1-3.  Rewatching Episodes 4-6 largely brought home to me how irrelevant the first three episodes really are.  I don’t feel like they added anything to my viewing of the original trilogy.  It was a bit interesting to see the references in the original to the past, and to know how they expanded those references, except that mostly I don’t much like the way they expanded them.

If anything, the new episodes hamper viewing of the original; now when Leia talks about her mother, I’m stuck thinking about Padme’s really stupid death; when anyone talks about Anakin Skywalker, it’s now harder to think of him as a heroic Jedi when I’ve seen him as a sulky teenager who, after the age of nine, was never all that likable.  And even though I like Padme, seeing Leia again makes Padme look like a poor imitation.  It’s sad, really–the original trilogy points up how far the new ones fell short, and how we really already knew anything we needed to know about the backstory.

If I was going to get more backstory, I think I’d rather have it about the galaxy, not the individuals.  Star Wars has good character development, but not so much when it comes to races.  The Wookies, the Ewoks and the Jawas are the only ones I can think of who have their species name even mentioned in the original trilogy (maybe Jabba–is Hutt a species or a title?)  There are endless bizarre-looking creatures, but most of them we know pretty much nothing about.  We don’t need to know about all of them–but it would be nice to know about some of them.  I suppose that’s another reason I ended up as a bigger fan of Star Trek; there’s much more scope in exploring different alien cultures than there is in mopping up the last traces of the Empire.

But there’s plenty that’s good in Star Wars too, and I think I’m going to do a bit more revisiting.  The new trilogy added nothing to the old one for me, but what I remember of the books did.  I remember Wedge got to be a much bigger character, that Leia became a political leader, that Luke continued that character arc to found a new Jedi Academy, that Han kept trying to balance the general and the scoundrel.  I lost interest eventually in reading new Star Wars books, but I remember I liked several of the ones I did read.  So I think I’m going to track some of them down and see if they’re worth revisiting too!  [Edited to add: many, though not all, really were!  And the Thrawn Trilogy is still canon to me…]

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Blog Hop: Favorite Things

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: What is the most fun part/aspect of being a book blogger?

You know sometimes you read a book or watch a movie and you just have lots of FEELINGS about it?  And then you want to explore why, and discuss every aspect of why you loved it, or (sometimes even more) why you hated it, or why you almost loved it but somehow it just didn’t quite come together–and then it all circles around in your brain and you feel super passionate about it and you just want to share all this feeling and insight and analysis somewhere…

Or maybe that’s just me.  But having a somewhere to put all of that–yeah, that’s my favorite part of being a book blogger.  When I’m so angry with the end of Heartless, or I want to gush about the mad wonderfulness of the final Fairyland book, or I’m just so delighted to find a Star Wars reference in a fairy tale retelling…well, I do tell my friends “in real life,” but I like that I can type it up and put it out into the world too.

Other book bloggers, what’s your favorite part? 🙂

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Book Review: The 5 Love Languages

Carrying on my reading of psychological and spiritual reading (because they feel related in my mind), I picked up The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  It’s not quite either spiritual or psychological (maybe the latter sort of) but it seems to fit into the same general area.  I read one of the sub-versions of this book (there are several) years ago, and I like the concept immensely.  In fact, I liked the book immensely–for 11 of 12 chapters.  Let’s explore, shall we?

Almost everyone I’ve talked to had some familiarity with this book or at least its concept, so maybe you do too–but essentially, Chapman unpacks the ways we give and receive love, or perhaps we perceive it.  There are five essential categories, or languages, used to express love: affirming words, quality time, gift giving, acts of service, and positive touch.  People generally resonate most with one of these, their “native language,” and feel most loved when love is expressed in that language.

At the risk of overusing the word, I love this concept.  Of course I love the idea of taking something as amorphous as expressing love and making it actionable, practical and specific.  That’s kind of how my brain works.  It’s like the difference between “do good” and “volunteer at a food closet.”  “Do good” is a philosophy, while the latter is something you can go out to do tomorrow.  Similarly, being conscious of and acting upon the love languages is an immediate and specific action within a relationship. Continue reading

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Blog Hop: One (Wo)man’s Trash…

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: What do you do with books you no longer want? Do you donate them? Do you take them to a half-price bookstore? Does a friend or family member benefit?

This doesn’t happen very often to me, because I only buy books I believe will “wear well,” as my good friend L. M. Montgomery once said.  The vast majority of the books I read come from the library, so the ones I buy I expect to keep for the long-term; I fully expect that a good percentage of my books will someday (in fifty or sixty years, you know) be sorted out by my heirs.

But sometimes books don’t have quite that staying power, and a book that I loved for a season no longer seems like one I want to give shelf space to.  And I guess it happens often enough because I do have a policy around it–all unwanted books are donated to the library.  I take so many out, it seems only fair to put some back in.

My favorite book cycle is when I buy a book at the library warehouse sale (because at a dollar each, sometimes I do buy those unread), read it and then donate it back to the library.

What do you do with no-longer-wanted books?  I don’t read digital books myself, but do you find the arrival of ebooks is affecting this question, or impacting how often you have books to discard?

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