Friday, March 7, 2008

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare

When I was in the 5th grade, Mrs. Holzman assigned us to read The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Though I was an avid reader, fantasy had never been something I liked (for example: I hated with a passion the movie "Neverending Story"), and I was positive that any book that had "witch" in the title must be ridden with creepy fantasy creatures. I was so hesitant to read this book, but there was no way you could get away with not doing your homework in Mrs. Holzman's class (you would've thought we were seniors in college, instead of 5th graders in elementary school). So I started reading. And (as soon as I realized that it wasn't one of those "fantasy-ridden" novels) I read and read and read, and even now when I pick it up to read it again it is hard for me to put it down.

The story is about a young woman named Katherine, who goes by Kit, and her journey for the first time in to 17th century America. After her grandfather's death, Kit travels alone to live with her aunt and stern uncle. While she has two female cousins about the same age as her to keep her company, Kit feels totally out of place in this new world. Everything she does seems wrong or flighty somehow, and she ends up being befriended by an elderly woman who lives out by Blackbird Pond. Unfortunately, the elderly woman is known throughout the stern Puritan town as a witch, and Kit becomes somewhat guilty by association.

It is a fresh story, opening up the stern Puritanism lifestyle of the times to young eyes. The characters are refreshing and easy (personally, my favorites are Mercy and John Holbrook). The lessons learned from it are also very valuable, such as learning not to judge others by appearance, learning how to be kind to others, finding useful employment for oneself, and how sometimes there are good choices, better choices, and best choices.

Incidentally, I do enjoy a good fantasy novel now. I guess it just took a few Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter books to coax me in to the genre.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The 100 Best Poems of All Time, edited by Leslie Pockell

Lately, I've become interested in poetry. I like to read different poems, take them in, think about them. Anthology's of poetry are great, because if you don't like what one poet has written, you can turn the page and find another poem that is completely different. It's sometimes funny to me how one poem can mean absolutely nothing to me one day, and then a few weeks later I read over it again and it almost stabs my heart.

This little poetry book is one that I found in the library the other day, and it has some of my favorite poems in it. It also has a few new treasures that I've never read before. If you like to read poetry, or if you don't know whether or not you like to read poetry, I would suggest this book. Here are a few of the poems that are included in this little anthology that I enjoyed:

He is more that a Hero, by Sappho
Moonlight Night, by Tu Fu
Rubaiyat 51, by Omar Khayyam
Inferno, by Dante Alighieri
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time, by Robert Herrick
When I Consider How My Light is Spent, by John Milton
The Prologue, by Anne Bradstreet
Amazing Grace, by John Newton

Well, there are quite a few more. So I suppose you'll just have to read through them yourself, and choose which ones you like best.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

I was able to read The Kite Runner during my traveling escapades of the past week. Considering that I read most of it either waiting for or sitting in an airplane, it was a very fast read.

I have two opinions on this book. My first is that it is beautifully written, with vivid descriptions and characters that reach out and grab you. You can really picture Ali, Hassan, Rahim Khan, Amir and his father and the tension between them. I also liked that there was a little bit of a twist in the storyline that helped Amir follow through with his search for forgiveness. The story flows wonderfully. Hosseini is very talented at foreshadowing events to come, giving you a sense of foreboding that pushes you to continue reading until the very end. I found it very hard to put it down.

My second feeling is thus: the New York Times Book Review chose the precise word when they used the word "haunting" to describe the story. It is a difficult read if you have a weak stomach. I warn those who avoid reading violence or abuse: this is not a book for you. There is some sexual abuse between children described, and sexual abuse between adult and child intimated. There is also physical violence described.

It is an important book. I say that because I think that it is important that we realize that these sorts of things are happening now--not just 60 years ago in World War II. Now. Today.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

This book was urgently thrust at me by a fellow co-worker. She handed it to me with a sparkle in her eye, and said "You have to read this!" Now, it isn't often that my co-workers and I share books. My friend, Crystal, and I talk about books all the time, and we frequently stop by a bookstore whenever we hang out--though I think we have somewhat different tastes. Colleen and I hardly ever talk about books though, so I was a little astonished when she handed me A Thousand Splendid Suns. I had heard of Hosseini's other book, The Kite Runner, and that it was considered very great and that there was even a movie out based on it, but I hadn't gotten around to reading it yet. I think it was momentarily lost amongst the piles of books that line the walls of my parents' house. So, since Colleen decided to give me Hosseini's second novel with such urgency, I decided to oblige her and read three days. It is that good.

The story is through two points of view, telling the story of two Afghani women living in the city of Kabul. It tells of all the tragedy, joy, shame, and hope that pervade their lives. You know, you hear in the news all the time the restrictions that are placed on Muslim women in these Asian countries, but I never really took the time to understand their cultural norms. Luckily, Hosseini weaves them seamlessly throughout his story, introducing us to this culture that is all at once beautiful and dangerous. The story is breathtaking and beautifully told, and I'm not too ashamed to say that it made me absolutely sob at one point, crying in my room for these friends that I had only first met two days before. But you'll have to figure out what point that was by yourself. Read it yourself, and I'm sure you'll find your own tender points where you can cry, scream, or simply stare at the pages in utter disbelief.

I found the Kite Runner in the living room "pile." I think I'll start it tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

Impelled by the recent masterpiece theater showings of everything Jane Austen, I decided that I should finally give in and read Northanger Abbey. I hate to say bad things about Ms. Austen. I really am one of her greatest fans. So I'll get my negative criticism over with right away, and then offer up my praises to her for everything else. There are far too many run-on sentences in this story. You would almost mistake her for Faulkner. Then again, it is her first novel, and she wrote it when she was only 23. So I can forgive her for almost any mistakes I notice in this story. Especially when you consider that she had to write the whole darn thing out, instead of using a handy computer--like people in our day.

There, now that that is over with: the story line is charming, Ms. Moreland's innocence is refreshing, and I think that I like Mr. Henry Tilney the most out of all Austen's male characters. A girl likes to be teased a little bit every once in a while, and Tilney seems to know the perfect balance between teasing and being serious and sincere.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Smallest Book in the World, by Joshua Reichert

Today I took five of the kids that I work with to the San Diego Central Library to visit their Special Collections room, where they have rare dictionaries on display. The three ladies that work there seemed so excited that we had come in, they all surrounded us and led us carefully around the small room to each of the glass cases. Old books really do fascinate me. It fascinates me that you have to keep them in secure cases with the light and humidity regulated, and that when you pull the books out to look at them the librarians give you special gloves and hover over you, ready to risk their lives for the book you are inspecting. It was incredible to me, the number of items they had on display in such a small space: A replica of the Rosetta Stone, the first dictionaries by Johnson and Webster, examples of writings on papyrus, reeds, copper, wood, and even little soft circular clay pieces that children held in the palm of their hands to practice writing, which they could then wipe off and start over again on--similar to a slate. Of particular interest to me were the books with intricate calligraphy on vellum, since I've been practicing calligraphy so much lately.

The crowning jewel of the whole trip, however, was when we saw the Smallest Book in the World. The ladies led us up to a glass case with many different miniature books inside, and told us how it was very fashionable back in the 1600s-1800s for people to carry around miniature books. They would carry the books in their pockets or next to their heart. Anne Boleyn supposedly even carried a little miniature copy of the Bible with her as she made her way to her death by beheading. In the middle of the glass case was a small box that looked something like a jewelry box. And there it was, the Smallest Book in the World. I capitalize it because I think it is so fun to say. The book is so tiny that there is a little magnifying glass hovering over it, in order for you to see it, and still it doesn't appear any bigger than a pin-head. Here is the description given by Die Gestalten Verlag, a visual design company:

"With its economical measurements of 2.4 x 2.6 mm, the Smallest Book in the World is indeed what it claims to be. A treasure for all bibliophiles, the tiny leather-bound volume is a glorious example of loving obsessive precision, an exhaustive exploration of the medium's potential. Manufactured in the traditional book city Leipzig, no other published edition comes close in size and execution. Replete with an exclusive alphabet by renowned German typographer Joshua Reichert the delicate but by no means fragile collector's item also contains a magnifying glass - for those brave enough to turn the pages, that is!"

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper was written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1899. She wrote it in response to her own nervous condition, and the suffering she felt when following a doctor’s orders to basically do nothing (including write) in order to cure her symptoms. This story fascinated me the first time I read it because it seemed to me that it was one of the very first clearly written expressions from someone with a mental health illness of what it was like to be inside her mind. The obsession that the main character has with the wallpaper in her room, the old decomposing house, and the way the young mother is shut off from her family and friends, including her own child, leaves you with a dark impression. Even more deranged is the way she writes of the same things over and over, as though she has forgotten what she has written previously, and has been driven into such a state of mind that she is no longer able to comprehend what is really going on around her. Worse yet is the very end of the story, with the image of the now completely escalated young woman crawling eerily around the room, hugging so tightly to the wall that she leaves a mark on it as she continues ‘round and ‘round and ‘round. I think it's important to realize that the wallpaper in the room isn't really the main idea of the story, as one might think. I believe that Gilman was hoping for us to focus on the characters' complete loss of rational thought, and how being locked up in a room has heightened her symptoms. The wallpaper is not what is making her sick. The wallpaper is a victim of her mind; a mind which has been kept depleted by doctor's orders, left to run rampant and feed on the only other thing available to it.

To read The Yellow Wallpaper, follow this link:
The Yellow Wallpaper

To read an explanation by Charlotte Perkins Gilman on why she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, click here:
Charlotte Perkins Gilman