Monday, August 08, 2011

Recent Reads, Listens, and Current Reads

Quick updates.

Recent Reads:

Okay For Now

This has received quite a bit of Newbery buzz; of course, I can name any number of books that had significant Newbery buzz that either received the Honor or nothing at all, so I'm keeping that in mind.

Okay For Now reintroduces us to Doug, a character in Gary Schmidt's Newbery Honor book, The Wednesday Wars. Doug's father has taken a new job in upstate New York; a rather dull and depressed town where nothing much goes on. Right from the start, Doug unfairly receives a bad reputation due to the police's suspicions about his older brother, Christopher. His refuges are in Lily, a girl he meets at the library (and daughter of his store keeper boss) and in drawing lessons he receives from one of the librarians.

Doug's home life isn't much better. His father and brother are both physically abusive, which makes this story difficult to read. There's one instance of abuse that's literally breathtaking. His older brother returns from Vietnam, physically and emotionally damaged. It's quite a lot to take in, so this might not get a wide readership.

Although there's a multitude of issues swirling about, Schmidt manages them quite fine until Doug and Lily get involved in a Broadway show. This was completely unbelievable to me. Actors on Broadway belong to a union (Actors Equity) that, even in the 1960s, would never have allowed a non-union and inexperienced girl take a chorus part, much less the significant child role of Helen Burns in an adaptation of Jane Eyre. No way. Preteen/teen actors would give their eyeteeth to play such a meaty role. And the role of Helen Burns would definitely have an understudy. If Schmidt had set this plot segment at a nearby community theater, it would have been totally understandable. But not a Broadway show. Not to mention that the kids are apparently traveling to Manhattan to perform on the weekends? What happens to the weekday performances; who's taking care of that? Or did I miss something?

That being said, I can understand why this is getting Newbery buzz. It's a powerful read. It's on my shortlist (I'll confess that I wish that a book for younger children would win; the reading/maturity level for recent Newbery winners has been at the high end of the eligibility requirements), but let's keep in mind that we still have many fall books that haven't been published yet!

Mindset Lists of American History

If you enjoy reading the annual Mindset Lists or social history in general, you'll enjoy this very much. Starting with 1880 and ending with the class of 2009, Tom McBride creates lists for nine generations of Americans, followed by extensive chapters detailing the social and political norms for each generation. It's an amusing read, but keep in mind that, for the most part, the experiences described are largely those of Caucasian middle-class students (save for the Depression generation). Not a major criticism-just an observation.

Recent Listens:

A Garland For Girls

Finally finished listening to A Garland For Girls, and it turned out to be more enjoyable than I expected it to be (especially after the initial story of the young Lady Bountifuls and the great unwashed masses). I particularly enjoyed the stories of Rosamund/Button Rose and the impoverished sisters who used to be rich, but are now invalid or teaching dance to little rich girls. The narrator, C.M. Hebert, recorded other Alcott stories, and I just may have to listen to them. She's an exceptional reader.

Current Reads:

The Peach Keeper

Part of my ongoing quest to read more adult fiction books. I'm enjoying this very much. A Southern historic house has been renovated, bringing together old acquaintances. It may also be haunted. When I left our heroes and heroines this morning, they had just discovered a skull. Oooh.

Department 19

A teenage boy joins the super secret Department 19, Britain's vampire fighting agency. I'm not much for vampire reads, but this is quite the page turner. Perfect for those who prefer their vampires scary rather than sexy (I think a teenage vampire vamp turns up somewhere in the book, but these are hardcore vampires).

Current Listens:

The War to End All Wars

This is another absorbing book from Russell Freedman; it doesn't flinch from the realities of World War I battles. I think a narrator with more gravitas would have worked better, though. He has a singsongy aspect to his voice that jars with the text, in my opinion. It's still a worthwhile listen.

We just ordered some terrific new books for August; stay tuned!

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