Showing posts from August, 2011

Take a Chance: Pnin

Pnin , by Vladimir Nabokov 1: Staff Member’s Choice: Go to a bookstore or library that has a “Staff Picks” section. Read one of the picks from that section. I did the last option first and the first option last! I had to cheat a bit on this one; the bookstore in my city doesn't have a Staff Picks section, but the library has a couple of troughs in the front with fiction and non-fiction. It's not exactly a Staff Picks section, but it's all I've got. I found Pnin in the fiction trough. Pnin is not exactly a novel, nor is it quite a collection of short stories. The stories were originally published serially in The New Yorker , and written as a sort of antidote to the difficult work of writing Lolita . Professor Pnin is comical, hapless, confused, and noble. Like many ex-patriate Russians of his generation, he mourns a Russia that is completely gone, and he spends years searching for a place he can feel at home. Once he seems to reach his goal, it looks

Feminist Challenge: The Woman Warrior

The Woman Warrior , by Maxine Hong Kingston This was a really famous and somewhat controversial book when I read it in college. I'm glad I got the chance to read it again now and absorb it better. The Woman Warrior is a collection of sort-of-personal-memoir, sort-of-fictional pieces with the common theme of a Chinese-American immigrant (or children of immigrants) experience, especially for women, with a lot of folk belief, imagination, and insanity thrown in. It's a very readable book with lots to think about, and would make a good book club selection. I also just like the look of Maxine Hong Kingston, and think she would be an interesting person to see in real life.

Week 35: The Fatal Conceit

The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism , by F. A. Hayek This is one of Hayek's last books; in it, he tries to refute the philosophical underpinnings of socialism (more what we would call communism, really). Hayek wishes to prove that socialism is based on a "fatal conceit:" the false premise that a group of people can gather enough information to plan an economic system that will work better than the unplanned, spontaneous economic activities of an entire population. (Note that he is using the term 'fatal conceit' to mean an idea that doesn't work, not a condition of arrogance.) In other words, a million ordinary people, making decisions just for themselves, will accidentally produce an economy that works better than one the 100 smartest people in the whole world can plan, because the million people know more. Hayek always writes very abstractly and densely. So if you want to read the material without having to struggle with Hayek himself, you

Week 35: The Hourglass Door

The Hourglass Door , by Lisa Mangum Abby enters her senior year of high school hoping for some changes. She has a nice (but dull) boyfriend and plans to go to the state college with her friends, but secretly she's hoping to get into a liberal arts college on the other side of the country. Then Dante, an Italian exchange student, shows up at school and Abby finds herself drawn into a mystery that transcends time! OK, so the story is really pretty good and well-written. There are distinct shades of Twilight , only with time travel instead of vampires and werewolves, but they aren't overpowering and there isn't so much of a love triangle. And Abby certainly has more personality than Bella does--even though she has the same problem of being inexplicably 'special.' Also, Mangum calls on Dante's Inferno instead of Wuthering Heights , which I think wins some points for originality. This is a YA title, the first in a trilogy (of course) published by Sha

Take a Chance: Plain Kate

Plain Kate , by Erin Bow 3: Blogger’s Choice: Find a “Best Books Read” post from a favorite blogger. Read a book from their list. I looked at Bookshelves of Doom's best books of 2010 list and chose Plain Kate . I have to say, this is the best YA book I've read in a long time. The writing is just wonderful, the story is great, the characters are real--it's much better than your average YA title. It's something of a fairy tale, with a Slavic feel to it. I don't want to go into the whole complicated story, because I wouldn't do it justice. Just trust me here. 10/5/11: Plain Kate just won the Canadian Children’s Literature Award! Now you have another reason to read it.

Week 34: Surprised by Oxford

Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir , by Carolyn Weber You can instantly tell from the title's invocation of C. S. Lewis that this is going to be a memoir about the author's conversion to Christianity while at Oxford. And--it's really good. I enjoyed it a lot and I think most of my friends would too. If there were more copies around, I'd use it as a book club selection. Carolyn Weber received a scholarship to study at Oxford for graduate school. She arrived there in the mid-90's as a fairly typical agnostic student somewhat allergic to the world "Christian" (since as we all know, Christians are rigidly judgmental and irrational). But Weber also feels a great lack in her life, and as she gets to know some truly wonderful Christians and reads the Bible, she unwillingly feels the hounds of heaven stalking her. Weber's story is very much a story of Oxford. She follows the Oxford school year, which is based on the liturgical calendar--finally, I

Take a Chance: Age of Wonder

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, by Richard Holmes 4: Critic’s Choice: Find a “Best of the Year” list from a magazine, newspaper or professional critic. Read a book from their Top 10 list. The New York Times Book R eview put Age of Wonder on their Top Ten List for 2009 . It's a very long book, and suffers from the flaw (common to modern non-fiction) of exhaustiveness. Otherwise, though, it's a very interesting book that covers an amazing period in scientific development. The late 18th- and early 19th-century era saw great developments in astronomy and chemistry. Botanists and zoologists began to go out around the world on collecting trips. People started to seriously experiment with electricity and chemicals. Everyone was talking about the implications of scientific discoveries; the Romantic poets wrote essays and poems about the new questions people asked. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein , which aske

Week 34: Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens

Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens , by Brandon Sanderson The fourth book in the Alcatraz series continues to be extremely silly and a pretty exciting story too. It looks like there will be five books in all, so I'll look forward to the final volume--even though the book covers are pretty darn bad. This is a great series for kids. If you struggle to find books your 10-year-old boy will be willing to read, give these a try.

NPR's List of the Top 100 Fantasy/SF Books

NPR just had a big poll about favorite fantasy and SF books, and here are their Top 100, with the ones I've read highlighted for your amusement and edification: 1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy , by J.R.R. Tolkien 2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galax y, by Douglas Adams 3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card 4. The Dune Chronicles , by Frank Herbert 5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin 6. 1984 , by George Orwell 7. Fahrenheit 451 , by Ray Bradbury 8. The Foundation Trilogy , by Isaac Asimov 9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley 10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman 11. The Princess Bride , by William Goldman 12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan 13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell 14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson 15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore 16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov 17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein 18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss 19. Slaughterhouse-Five , by Kurt Vonnegu

Week 33: Beany Malone

When I was in library school, I did a paper on Christian fiction for the YA market. As part of the paper, I read some Catholic YA fiction, and one was Beany Malone. (It's not actually terribly Catholic except that they go to mass regularly.) Recently I found 3 of the books in the series at my local library, where they will soon be weeded, so I thought I'd read them while I could. The Beany Malone series was quite popular in the 50's, and features the large and loving Malone family, with Beany (a teenager and the youngest of 4) as the star. Their mother died several years ago, and their father is often gone on business, so the teens often tackle their problems on their own. Beany gets in and out of scrapes, worries about whether the boy she likes will like her back--the usual sort of thing. The author must have had a bit of reluctance to write any romantic slushy stuff, because each book conveniently starts with Beany on the outs with her guy, and ends with the

Week 33: Stuff

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee Frost and Steketee try to explain the difficult and complex mental disorder of hoarding. Lots of people collect stuff or live in some degree of mess, but hoarders do it to an extreme and cannot let go of items, no matter how useless. This book focuses entirely on the psychological aspects of the illness: different manifestations (such as animal hoarding or trash-collecting instead of plain hoarding), possible causes, and the difficulties of treatment. It does not address topics such as physical illness caused by hoarding or damage to buildings, that sort of thing. It's a really interesting book.

Excuses, excuses...

Wow, I've been doing really badly lately! My excuse is that I gave two presentations at the state homeschooling conference this last weekend, and I've been so worked up about them that I've been unable to read anything but cozy British mysteries I've read 117 times already. Patricia Wentworth is great for comfort reading. Now that I'm done with that I ought to be able to read something less brain-candy-ful, so watch this space.