Monthly Archives: August 2013

High School Reading

Books I was required to read in High School:

Lord of the Flies by: William Golding

The Catcher in the Rye by: J.D. Salinger

Animal Farm by: George Orwell

The Crucible by: Arthur Miller

The Grapes of Wrath by: John Steinbeck

Spoon River Anthology by: Edgar Lee Masters

Great Expectations by: Charles Dickens

The Old Man and the Sea by: Ernest Hemingway

Slaughterhouse-Five by: Kurt Vonnegut

The Chosen by: Chaim Potok

Our Town by: Thornton Wilder

My Antonia by: Willa Cather

It has been a slow week on the reading front. The local library is trying to get some books in for me. I’m going to take a break from the usual reading this week and spend some time taking about children and reading.

One of the best things that happened to me as a young reader was a fourth grade teacher who handed us a reading list, pointed us at the library, and told us to get to reading. The rules were simple. Ten (I think) oral reports to him by the end of the year. If there was something we wanted to read that wasn’t on the list, all we had to do was get his approval. That was the year I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond and My Friend Flicka and A Wrinkle in Time and Anne of Green Gables and Island of the Blue Dolphins. That was the year I found C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander, and Robin Mckinley. It was a wonderful year. It was a year that taught me how to use a library, and how to find other things I liked, back before Goodreads, or the internet even.

Then there were the High School years. The list above is not comprehensive. They are the ones I remember having to read. There were probably others. Of the High School list I enjoyed exactly three books. These were the years that would have put me off reading all together had I not already been a well established reader. Four years is a long time to go and find you only enjoy The Chosen, Slaughterhouse-Five, and My Antonia.

It is true that some of it could have been the teachers. I probably wouldn’t have hated Catcher in the Rye so much if Holden hadn’t been sold to me up front as someone I would understand and connect deeply with. But I still would have hated Catcher in the Rye.

Then there was the whole Dickens thing. Of all the Dickens books I’ve read since, I’ve never hated anything as much as Great Expectations. David Copperfield is a good read. So are Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Pickwick Papers. Plus, I only leave A Tale of Two Cities out because my teacher at the time assured me it was “to complex” for our class.

I once asked the same teacher who told me I would connect deeply with Holden Caulfield why we were reading so many books I hated in her class. She told me that it was important for us to have a shared knowledge base so we wouldn’t look like idiots to our employers and social groups. More than 20 years since that time, never once has any of these books come up in conversation at work, or at a social event.

So here today, the list of books I read on my own in High School, that I think should be a shared experience.

Things I read in High School because I wanted to:

1984 by: George Orwell

Jane Eyre by: Charlotte Bronte

Fahrenheit 451 by: Ray Bradbury

Flowers for Algernon by: Daniel Keys

The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by: Victor Hugo

Howards End by: E.M. Forster

The Caves of Steel by: Isaac Asimov

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

One the Beach by: Nevil Shute

Not included here are The Scarlet Letter by: Nathaniel Hawthorn and The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.   I think we did do both of those in class, but I had already read them.  So I don’t count them either way.

Have a great week everybody. I’ll see you at the library.


The White Princess – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

Dreaming Water by: Gail Tsukiyanma

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by: Gail Tsukiyanma

The White Princess : by Philippa Gregory

Hell is Empty : by Craig Johnson

Other Books I’m Reading:

Anathem by: Neal Stephenson

Much has been said over the years about how historically accurate Philippa Gregory’s works are or are not. I’m not going to belabor historical accuracy today. I don’t happen to agree with her theory that one of the Princes in the Tower escaped. Enough said.

The only thing left, if I’m not going to look at historical accuracy, is the quality of the novel as a work of fiction. That’s a whole different question. The White Princess is about the life of Elizabeth of York. Daughter of Elizabeth Woodville heroine of The White Queen and granddaughter of Jacquetta of Luxembourg heroine of Lady of the Rivers. Sadly while her mother and grandmother are portrayed by Gregory as women of action, sense, and strength, Elizabeth of York comes out as whiney, and frankly not that bright.

The Elizabeth of the book is forced into marriage with Henry the VII after he rapes her repeatedly at the behest of his mother who doesn’t want to have a barren Queen. Actually truth to be told, Henry’s mother Lady Margaret Beaufort heroine of The Red Queen really wants no Queen at all other than herself. The wedding is just about the last interesting thing that happens in the book. The rest is Elizabeth whining. She whines because she misses her uncle/lover Richard III of England. She whines because her husband is under his mother’s thumb. She whines because her mother, her husband, and her mother-in-law won’t let her play their spy games. She whines because she can’t pick between loyalty to her husband and son, or loyalty to the York family.

Perhaps more annoying than Elizabeth’s constant dithering, is the constant questioning. Every time her mother, or her husband reveal some portion of their plotting, she has a thousand and one questions for them. No wonder they wouldn’t let her play their spy games. As well educated as she is supposed to be, she has no apparent grasp of politics, or world events. She can’t even seem to decide whether she thinks the pretender to the throne Perkin Warbeck is her brother Richard all grown up, or not. The whole thing adds up to a 522 page book that contains 500 pages of the heroine flailing about uselessly.

This book would have been so much better if Gregory had let Elizabeth pick a side and become a spy master. It doesn’t even matter which side she would have picked.

But wait! Then the book wouldn’t have been historically accurate.

That is true. But the book is not historically accurate as written either. That’s why it is called fiction. Better an interesting read, then a dull whiny one.

Favorite Scene: Watch for the repeated prophesying of Elizabeth I of England.

Favorite Quote: “When I think of the fortune that was spent on your education, Elizabeth, I am really amazed at how little you know.”

Enjoyability: I’m going with three stars on this one. It could have been worse. It could have been much better.

Where to read this book: Far away from any historical reference material that could tend to enrage you. In fact resist the urge to fact check all together.

Further reading: In the background I’ve been working through the Longmire series by Craig Johnson. It has been really well done. Lest anyone think they are to highbrow for a mystery series there was a joke about Cato the Elder about three books back that made me laugh as hard as I’ve laughed over a book in a long time. 

The Posionwood Bible – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

Hell is Empty by: Craig Johnson

Bel Canto by: Ann Pratchett

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by: Andrew Sean Greer

Breaking Point by: C.J. Box

The Poisonwood Bible by: Barbara Kingslover

Other Books I’m Reading:

Anathem by: Neil Stephenson

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingslover sounds like a good proposition to start with. Rev. Nathan Price decides he has a call to be a missionary in Africa. So he beats the Missionary Society who doesn’t want to send him to Africa into submission. Then he drags his wife, who is not equipped to handle the mission, and his four daughters to a small village in Africa. The book is set in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when Congo is starting to become Zaire.

Sadly this book turned out to be long on plotting, and short on execution. So what I’m going to do is make a list of the seven things I found most irritating about the book. Then I’m going to stop writing. This is not because my list will be comprehensive. It’s because I don’t want to get slimy venom all over the internet.

  1. Rev. Price is a Baptist. Yet, he believes in and preaches from the Apocrypha. There is no explanation given for this beyond one of the daughters remarking that her father believes the Apocrypha is scripture and thinks all Baptists should too. Okay then.
  2. Rev. Price seems absolutely bent on baptizing the native children in the nearby river. But the natives don’t want to be baptized in the river. They don’t want to get eaten by the crocodiles. Totally reasonable. Yet, though it is noted that at home they use a big bath tub for baptizing, Rev. Price continues to insist on the river. Why? Never explained.
  3. A Baptist preacher that wants to baptize children who have not yet reached to age of accountability. Hum. Interesting.
  4. When Rev. Price’s wife finally decides to leave with her daughters, she allows the seventeen year old to run off with the smarmy pilot who they have all disliked throughout the book. Even though it is obvious that the pilot has no intention of even marrying the daughter. Well, true, her parenting skills aren’t top notch. Still Mom should have been horrified at the idea.
  5. Likewise the sixteen year old daughter is allowed to stay in Africa unmarried, with the black teacher from the local school, who is clearly in love with her. At least this couple gets married. But boy, you’d think a white Southern Baptist mother from Georgia would be at least hesitant to promote an interracial couple in the 1960’s. Then there is the interesting parenting choice involved in leaving your sick sixteen year old in Africa with a man not her husband.
  6. After the women leave Africa, the book devolves from showing the action, to telling all that happens. It drags pretty badly.
  7. At no point is Rev. Price written in a way that allows me to believe he was the sort of pastor who could have kept an American congregation together, let alone fostered one in Africa. It’s not just that he’s unbending or a zealot. It’s more like he has no basic understanding of human beings, not even himself. In fact that whole Apocrypha thing probably would have gotten him fired from most of the Baptist congregations I’ve seen in action. So how has this man got a job in the first place?

This book could have used a harsher editor. Or Zombies. Lots and lots of Zombies.

Favorite Scene: The last one. I was finally at the end.

Favorite Quote: I refuse to open this book again to find one.

Enjoyability: Two stars. One star for getting published, on star for having a plot.

Where to read this book: Don’t.

Further reading: Hopefully something that could not be improved through the addition of zombies. Which begs the question. Do Zombies make everything better?


World War Z – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

 Hell is Empty by: Craig Johnson

 Bel Canto by: Ann Pratchett

 The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by: Andrew Sean Greer

 Breaking Point by: C.J. Box

 The Poisonwood Bible by: Barbara Kingslover (The book club selection for this month.  Sadly, I am underwhelmed. Also, I think I may have read part of it before, and quit.)


Other Books I’m Reading: 

Anathem by: Neal Stephenson

It took me two years to give in and buy a copy of World War Z.  I had it on hold at our old library in Virginia for almost a year.  Their waiting list was long, and the copy kept getting lost.  So when we moved it was one of the very first things I requested from the new library.  Again with the waiting and the lost copies.  So finally I found a ten dollar copy at the Sam Walton family foundation, and bought the darn thing.  I admit I was a little snarly about the whole thing.  These days I usually only buy hard copy after I’ve decided I love the book and want it around the house.  The thing that finally broke me was seeing trailers for World War Z the movie.  It seemed important to read the book first.  

 I’ve got to say, Max Brooks got the book pitch perfect.  The premiss of World War Z is that a United Nations observer did interviews for a report to the United Nations.   Then he was upset when the committee he was reporting to only wanted his facts and figures.  So he complied a book of the interviews himself.

All of the interview subjects have unique voices and experiences.  All of them are believable, from the doctor in China who is confronted with some of the first cases to the veteran of the Paris underground battles once the living start to try and retake the world.  I think the thing that really sells the book is that Brooks committed to his zombies.  They are what they are all through the book.  They don’t suddenly develop special powers or speed.  They are slow moving killing machines that don’t need to eat, or breath, or think.  They aren’t bright, but they are dedicated, and you have to kill the brain to kill the beast.  Brooks set the rules, and he plays by those rules.

The obeying of the rules, gives so much power to the details of each interview.  It never occurred to me that something that didn’t need to breathe could live forever under water.  It occurred to Brooks.  Thus, the very scary roaming sea hordes that rise from the tide.  Also watch for the two guys who decide to clean up Japan, and the pilot who is downed in hostile territory.

The other thing I really like about this book is that there is some question about the survival of the human race.  As long as there are zombies, there is the very real chance of another outbreak.  Hum.  Food for thought.

There are random bloody body parts, and gross descriptions throughout the book.  I’m not usually one to be sensitive to such scenes and even I got the icks on occasion.  So sensitive readers beware.  This is also, thankfully, not a book with a love story, so don’t be looking for that.

I’ll be interested to see what Forster does with his fast moving zombies, and his underlying search for the source of the infection.  To be honest, I’m not holding out much hope for him.  I think I’ll be waiting for that one on Netflix.

Favorite Scene:  The interview in Siberia with Father Sergei Ryzhkov is complete and utter brilliance.  


Favorite Quote: “So typically Norteamericano, reaching for the stars with their asses still stuck in the mud.”


Enjoyability: Five stars with a heavy ick factor.  


Where to read this book:  Not at night before bed.  


Further reading:  I have to finish The Poisonwood Bible.  I’m on a deadline.  


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