Friday, October 31, 2008

" 'I'm nervous,' said Jumpy Jack to his best friend, Googily."

Happy Halloween!

While looking for good Halloween-type books, I found Jumpy Jack & Googily which was recommended in a parenting magazine. This is a cute book by Meg Rosoff & Sophie Blackall. The illustrations are adorable. You can't help but fall in love with these little characters.

Jumpy Jack is a snail and Googily is a blue monster in plaid pants and a green bowler hat. Jumpy Jack is very afraid of monsters and so everywhere they go, he has Googily check for monsters. The thing is, that by checking for the monsters, he puts himself in the same situations that Jumpy Jack is fearful of. Yet Jumpy Jack is not afraid when it is his friend peering through the mailslot or hiding in the shed. And in the end, Jumpy Jack is able to help Googily when he is scared -- of a sock under the bed.

This book is so witty and fun that your child will love it any time of the year. Z was excited about this book simply because the names of the characters were so perky. In fact, he ran around the library shouting these names until we were forced to leave early.

In love with a monster and a snail,
K and Z


Buy Jumpy Jack & Googily on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Bestsellers of Recent Times

USA Today has just released a list of the top 150 books of the last 15 years, since they started their bestsellers list.

I've narrowed the list down to the ones I've read. Here they are:

Rank - Title - Author
1 - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre
4 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre
5 - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre
6 - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre
7 - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre
8 - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre
9 - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre
14 - What to Expect When You're Expecting - Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, Sandee Hathaway
22 - To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
32 - Oh, the Places You'll Go! - Dr. Seuss
43 - Wicked - Gregory Maguire
59 - Life of Pi - Yann Martel
67 - What to Expect the First Year - Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Murkoff, Sandee Hathaway
69 - Green Eggs and Ham - Dr. Seuss
79 - The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
81 - Goodnight Moon Board Book - Margaret Wise Brown, art by Clement Hurd
98 - Lord of the Flies - William Golding
102 - A Series of Unfortunate Events No. 1: The Bad Beginning - Lemony Snicket
125 - The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien
139 - 1984 - George Orwell
140 - The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
148 - Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

I've read 22 of the books, mostly children's and YA fiction, literature I had to read in high school and parenting books. Otherwise, it seems that I steer clear of most "bestsellers". Interesting.

Apparently not one of the majority,
K

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"I was down in Surrey, on business for Lord Cromwell's office, when the summons came."

A few months ago, I had been recommended C.J. Sansom's Dissolution based on other books I have read. I finally got around to reading this mystery set in the time of Henry VIII and I enjoyed it. The first in a series featuring the hunchback lawyer, Dr. Matthew Shardlake, this was also Sansom's first novel. Unlike some other first novels I have read lately, I thought that this one was well put together with a good plot and tone. It was a little slow-going to start and didn't really have much build-up until the very end but it was still engaging and interesting.

The topic is the dissolution of the British monasteries after the rise of the Church of England. This particular Benedictine monastery happens to be the site of the murder of a government official and Shardlake is sent to investigate. I would definitely consider reading at least the next book in this series. This isn't a time period that I have read a lot about so I feel like there is more to learn from Sansom.

Glad to be in the 21st century,
K


Buy Dissolution on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"In a city called Stonetown, near a port called Stonetown Harbor, a boy named Reynie Muldoon was preparing to take an important test."

Sometimes I dearly wish that certain books had been written 20 years ago when I was a kid. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart is one of these books. It was totally enjoyable now but I think it would have been even more so had I been able to read it in my youth.

The book starts with the administration of a special test to some special kids. Only the most extraordinary ones pass and they find that they have been chosen to attempt a task that, if successful, will mean saving the world but if not successful will mean a very bad outcome for the youngsters and many, many others. The kids each have their own strengths but must learn to work together and to trust in themselves to be successful in their task.

This book is the first in a series -- the second came out recently -- and I think it will be a good standard for the new generation. It is empowering and puts a lot of emphasis on thought and reasoning but also values personality and physicality. Every kid will find someone to relate to and look up to in the Benedict Society.

One of the smart kids,
K


Buy The Mysterious Benedict Society on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Endings and Beginnings

My question for my handful of fantastic readers is this -- how long do you wait after finishing one book to start another one? I usually have to take a half day off but sometimes I will take another day or two to finish absorbing certain books. Even if it was a really lighthearted read, I can't just jump straight into something new.

Of course, part of it might be that I need to catch up on all the things I neglected while I was caught up in a book ... like laundry and vacuuming and giving Z a bath ... hmm ...

Musing during SNL,
K


Sidenote: Have I ever told you that I really like Coldplay? They are on right now and I need to go hear about when Chris Martin ruled the world.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"I wish you, first of all, to imagine that you are standing beside me, peeping over the rail of an arched and curtained gallery ..."

I finally got to read The Glass of Time over the past couple of days and I finished at 3:30 this morning! This book was all that I hoped it would be and more. As a sequel to The Meaning of Night it is fantastic. I was worried that it would have the same tone and be too similar but it was a different kind of book. Michael Cox has successfully written in the two styles that I have noticed in Wilkie Collins' work. In one style, nothing is known to the reader and we are constantly blind-sided by revelations both shocking and unexpected -- examples from Collins are The Woman in White and The Moonstone. In the other style, we are more omniscient and we watch the characters discover what we already know yet there is still some mystery in what the consequences will turn out to be -- Collins used this method in Armadale and No Name.

The Meaning of Night followed Edward Glyver as he tried to regain a birthright (that of Lord Tansor of Evenwood) that he was kept from as a child. He falls in love with Emily Carteret, a distant relative of the same family, and fights against Phoebus Daunt, a poet and scoundrel, who is attempting to con his way into being adopted into the birthright. The Glass of Time happens twenty years later, when the orphan Esperanza Gorst is sent to be a lady's maid to Emily, who is now Lady Tansor, heir of the birthright. Esperanza doesn't know why this path has been chosen for her but her task and her history are revealed to her over time by her guardian and she also does some sleuthing of her own to discover her destiny. I really don't want to give too much away because these books are so fantastic in revealing the right amount of information at the right time. I think that this book also gives enough information that it works as a standalone book as well. However, I strongly suggest reading them together as it will be a much more fulfilling experience.

This is my third book for the 2nds Challenge and I would read anything else Michael Cox writes in future, if he is able -- he has had severe health issues over the past few years. In fact, I would like to read his biography of M.R. James, an early 20th Century ghost-story writer.

Wishing to travel to Evenwood,
K


Buy The Meaning of Night and The Glass of Time on Amazon or find them at your local library.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Bloody Cool Discovery

If you are looking for the ultimate Halloween gift for yourself -- because honestly, who gives Halloween gifts to anyone else? -- why not splurge on The New Annotated Dracula by Leslie S. Klinger, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. With my favorite classics, I sometimes like to find an annotated version to gain more understanding of the author and the meanings of some parts that may not be readily approachable in the modern era. This book is full of Bram Stoker history, Dracula lore and literary analysis. What could be more comforting on a lonely autumn night than to snuggle up with a mug of cocoa, a thick protective scarf and this big vampire book?

Closing the windows tightly,
K


Buy The New Annotated Dracula on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Scary Things Made Lovable

We haven't had much luck lately finding library books to replace the joy that Z gets from Wolf's Coming! -- which we still have -- but I think I may have found a pair by Tomi Ungerer that have a chance.

The first book is from 1958, Crictor, the story of a boa constrictor sent as a gift to an old woman in France from her son in Africa. The snake is not only friendly but helpful and smart. He wears a sweater in the winter. He attends the school where the woman teaches and learns his alphabet and numbers. He helps kids get kites down that have gotten stuck. Finally, he foils a burglar and gets a statue put up in the town and a park named after him by the grateful mayor. A boa constrictor should be a scary thing but this story makes the snake as cute as a kitten.

The second book, from 1962, has an even more menacing subject, The Three Robbers. We meet the three robbers and see their weapons and how they use them to rob carriages. But one night they stop a carriage that only has an orphan in it and so they take her off to their lair. She sees all their treasure and asks them why they hoard it and they aren't quite sure. So they set to spending their money in a perfectly fantastic manner -- by helping "lost, unhappy and abandoned children". They buy a castle which becomes a village and the children always remember their benefactors kindly. This is a story about redemption and how children can change the world. These are both really great books.

Loving the sweetness of it all,
K and Z


Buy Crictor and The Three Robbers on Amazon or find them at your local library.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Book Burning in 2008

I just finished reading an article about a mother in Oregon who didn't approve of the library book that her 13 year old son brought home. I applaud her for paying attention to what her son is reading and for bringing to the library's attention that the book may be shelved in an inappropriate age range. What I don't agree with is her decision not to return the book to the library and to BURN it eventually. Shame on her for teaching her son the wrong lesson.

Keeping warm without burning books,
K

Monday, October 20, 2008

"The first thing I noticed was the ivy, not the sun-bleached tombstones with their off-white color ..."

It was very odd when I picked up Joanne Dahme's Creepers and saw the handdrawn map inside the cover and the cemetery called Memento Mori. Since I had just finished Muriel Spark's Memento Mori, this seemed like a sign that this would indeed be the next book I read.

Creepers is about a teenage girl who moves to a small town in Massachusetts and into an old house which is of course covered in ivy. The house is situated next door to the town's cemetery which has the words Memento Mori, "remember death", over the entrance. At the cemetery, Courtney meets a historian, Mr. Geyer, and his daughter Margaret. The Geyers enlist Courtney to help them solve the mystery surrounding another father and daughter, Christian and Prudence Geyer -- eighteenth century residents of the same house by the cemetery. This is the perfect ghost story with tombstones, a witch and some quick-growing, purposeful ivy.

This was Dahme's first novel and unfortunately it showed a bit. There was nothing wrong with the plot of the story and I definitely enjoyed it. However, it seems that the book needed some more input from an editor. The story was supposed to be told from the perspective of a young teen girl but her vocabulary level rose and fell mysteriously. There was a strange overuse of italics and proper names and a lack of contractions. It just wasn't believable as the voice of a 13 year old. One cool thing is that the book has a stationery-like feel with ivy-printed pages and a variety of fonts for different voices.

Pulling up the ivy,
K


Buy Creepers on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Dame Lettie Colston refilled her fountain pen and continued her letter:"

The second book I read for the 2nds Challenge that I am participating in was Memento Mori by Muriel Spark. I decided to read this book by her to see if I could improve upon my opinion of her after I read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I liked both books but wasn't in love with them. I have to say that I'm not sure I would read anything else by her now.

This book is about a group of elderly friends/frenemies who start receiving phone calls that ask them to "remember that they must die", hence Memento Mori. Each person seems to receive the call from a different caller. The police can't find any evidence to trace the maker of these calls. So we follow these people as they finish out their lives in the shadow of these mysterious messages.

The only thing I really found interesting about this book was actually because I recently read The Amber Spyglass. In that book, we are introduced to the idea that from the time we are born, our death comes into being as a sort of spirit that follows us until it is time to guide us to the other side. It is postulated in this book that the calls are actually coming from Death. It just seemed interesting to imagine each person's "death" giving them a little warning phone call to remind them that their meeting is inevitable. Some people would appreciate the consideration and others would be very frightened -- which is what happened in this book.

Hoping the phone doesn't ring just yet,
K


Buy Memento Mori on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood."

We have Always Lived in the Castle is a strange title for a book that only mentions a castle once. I thought it would be the name of the house or something like that. But besides the less than meaningful title, this was an engaging and incredibly sad book. Prior to this, I had only read one other story by Shirley Jackson -- The Lottery. This book didn't have any shocking turns like that other book but it most certainly was shocking.

The family members that live in the house are eighteen year old Mary Katherine, Merrikat for short, her older sister Constance and their father's brother Julian. They are all that remains of a family that fell victim to arsenic in the sugar bowl one night at dinner. Constance was tried but acquitted for the crime. Now they live together, each with their own eccentricities and flaws. One day, a cousin Charles appears and threatens the precarious balance they have in their lives.

There was such a palpable feeling of sadness during the entire book. I don't think I have ever read something quite like this. Jackson is certainly very good at making one feel while reading. It's somewhat disconcerting. I think this is the sort of book that you read once but are affected by for the rest of your life.

Highly disturbed,
K


Buy We Have Always Lived in the Castle on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"In a valley shaded with rhododendrons ... where a stream milky with meltwater splashed ... lay a cave ..."

I apologize but I had to do some editing with the 45 word first sentence for the subject line. Here's the entire text:
"In a valley shaded with rhododendrons, close to the snow line, where a stream milky with meltwater splashed and where doves and linnets flew among the immense pines, lay a cave, half-hidden by the crag above and the stiff heavy leaves that clustered below."

Philip Pullman is very good at building a clear picture for the reader of the many worlds and many settings he has created. He is the most masterful in The Amber Spyglass, the third and final volume of the His Dark Materials series. He introduces radically different species to us and yet makes them somehow familiar and comfortable. I anticipated a much more emotional response to this book based on other people's reviews but I have to admit that I didn't shed a single tear because I felt that everything resolved just as it was supposed to. This book follows Lyra and Will through the final stage of their journey toward destiny.

The Amber Spyglass relied the most on Catholic dogma for its plot and characters so I think it would have been helpful to have been a bit more familiar with those precepts. (I had previously only heard of Metatron through the Kevin Smith movie Dogma. Not exactly an educational source, is it?) Regardless, I really enjoyed this series and the book. It certainly questioned --and perhaps tried to disprove-- religion but I don't see that children or young adults reading this book would have any real concept of that. When I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a child, I had no idea that it was analogous to Christianity. I will certainly suggest it to Z when he is of an age to be interested in books like this.

Sad to see the end of the series,
K


Buy The Amber Spyglass on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days."

There are some books that you know you will have to read at some point. For me, Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day was one of those books. It is a Booker Prize winner and on the 1001 Books to Read list. Back in my younger days, I sat in a room where the movie version of this book was playing but I can't really say that I watched it.

The premise of the book is that it is an impromptu memoir written by Stevens, a butler who has undertaken a week-long driving trip to visit a former colleague. He means to be writing a sort of travelogue but his mind constantly goes back to days gone by. He remembers his former employer, Lord Darlington, whom he served for 35 years. He talks about his relationship with Miss Kenton, the woman he is going to visit who he hasn't seen in 20 years. He is a man singularly obsessed with his life in servitude and really cannot think past it. Although he was completely loyal to Lord Darlington throughout his entire time in service, he finally begins to truly evaluate the events that happened at Darlington Hall during the time between World War I and World War II as Lord Darlington mingled with politicians and ambassadors.

This book is slightly humorous in that Stevens is so unable to relate to normal human interactions. He thinks constantly of opportunities to practice "banter", which he believes is required to interact with his new American employer. The book is also very sad when you begin to realize that the entirety of this man's life is spent outside of himself, in service to others. He doesn't notice when others are trying to interact with him in a social or personal manner and indeed, he even discourages it when it does happen. This story is a portrait of a bygone era and a bygone profession. It wasn't an exciting book but was definitely a good read.

Viewing the remains of the past,
K


Buy The Remains of the Day on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sequel to Suspense

I totally didn't realize that Michael Cox's The Glass of Time was a sequel to his first book, The Meaning of Night, but this has just bumped it up to the top of my TBR list. I found this tidbit out in this review of the book. If I wasn't already sold by the fact that the first book was amazing, I would jump right on board when the reviewer calls Cox a "modern-day Wilkie Collins". If you haven't read The Meaning of Night yet and you like Victorian era mysteries with shocking and heart-rending twists, read it immediately.

On a side note, I will be using this as one of the books for my 2nds Challenge now.

Seconding the excitement,
K


Buy The Meaning of Night and The Glass of Time on Amazon or find them at your local library.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Will tugged at his mother's hand and said, 'Come on, come on...' "

When I opened the book to copy out the first sentence of The Subtle Knife, the second in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, I thought I had grabbed the wrong book. The story ends so incredibly far from where it starts that I almost didn't remember how simply the journey began. This book was different from the first one with more action and a very quick moving plot. While reading The Golden Compass, I wasn't sure what exactly the religious controversy was about but it began to come the foreground in The Subtle Knife.

It's hard to talk about the plot of this book without giving away too much of the plot of the first book. The subtle knife in the title is a knife that is able to cut through the fabric between universes and allow travel between them. The journey that Lyra started on in the first book continues on in this book through parallel universes where she teams up with another child, Will. His quest to find his adventurer father becomes Lyra's as well and they bravely fight together. With the help of characters we have already met like the witch Serafina Pekkala and the aeronaut Lee Scoresby, we see Lyra and Will move closer to their destinies.

I wasn't put off at all by the religious and anti-religious undertones but it was a bit shocking to read about so much violence surrounding and involving children. I can't wait to read the final book in the series to see how this all ends. There were some sad losses in this one and I know there will be more in the next one.

Through two of three,
K


Buy The Subtle Knife on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"From his perch behind the clock, Hugo could see everything."

Ever since I first saw The Invention of Hugo Cabret on the shelf at the bookstore, I knew I wanted to read it. This book by Brian Selznick is very unique in that it is told partially in text and partially in hand-drawn black and white pictures by Selznick. It's 530 pages but only took an hour and a half to read so don't be put off by the tome-like quality of this book.

Hugo Cabret is a twelve year old boy that lives in the train station and maintains the clocks. He is very good with machinery and he steals mechanical toys from a toy stall in the station. One day he is caught and the toyseller has a very strong reaction to Hugo's notebook which was actually his father's and had sketches of an automaton man in it. With the help of the shopkeeper's god-daughter, Hugo sets out to find out the secret behind the automaton and the toyseller.

The best part of this book is that it incorporates a real-life character, Georges Melies -- one of the filmmakers in the early days of cinema. His role in the story is fictional but he was a real man and pioneer in the cinema. He directed over 500 films and used his knowledge of magic to produce some of the first special effects on film. He also began the science fiction and horror movie genres. Go read about his life if you are interested. If you just want a brief introduction to Melies and a good story about kids having an adventure, read this book.

Clockworks and automatons,
K


Buy The Invention of Hugo Cabret on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"A distant howl rides the breeze, echoing through all the trees."

Z took his dad with him to the library for the first time this week and they picked out Wolf's Coming! by Joe Kulka. This is an adorable book that starts with gasping and ends with laughter. Wolf is coming and everyone starts running home. They hide in the dark, keeping quiet until Wolf pokes his head in the door and then ... Surprise! It's a birthday party for Wolf! Z was cracking up and he loved this book. He liked the release of tension and the happy ending. He takes this book off the shelf every day and we enjoy it over and over.

As a side note, this book has been nominated for this year's Washington Children's Choice Picture Book Award. The award will be decided by Kindergarten through Grade 3 kids in Washington State.

Surprised by this happy book,
K and Z


Buy Wolf's Coming! on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"It is the immensity, I believe. The hugeness of things below. The darkness of dreams."

Fragile Things is a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman. I had never read anything by him before and was always curious. I watched Mirrormask about a year ago and knew that Gaiman has a very vivid imagination and is not afraid to explore new territory in his writing. This book starts with a Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Emerald, and when I started it, I wasn't overly impressed until I hit the end of the story and shouted (in my head) "Brilliant!" He had my attention.

There are stories about children and depraved adults, the living and the dead, the fictional and the surreal. Some of the stories made me uncomfortable, some perplexed me and some amused me. These are definitely stories for adults with adult topics which was a change from a lot that I've been reading lately. Another of the stories that I really enjoyed was Closing Time - a very good ghost story.

There are also poems including one which is the best I've read in a long, long time -- The Day the Saucers Came. It's funny and preposterous and heart-rending all at once. I didn't finish every story in this book but that's the freedom you have with a book of short stories. This was a good read and a good introduction to Neil Gaiman. I'm definitely interested in his new book, The Graveyard Book, a book about a boy raised in a graveyard by the undead.

Exploring new writers,
K


Buy Fragile Things and The Graveyard Book on Amazon or find them at your local library.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Herb loved storybooks."

A favorite around our house is Lauren Child and the Charlie and Lola series. I thought we should try another of her books and so we got Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book? from the library. This is the story of Herb, a boy who doesn't take the best care of his books even though they are well-loved. One night, he falls asleep on his book and then he falls right into it!

First he meets Goldilocks who is very upset that he has invaded her story. Then he runs past Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel and Puss in Boots. Finally he reaches a fancy home where a party is going on. He has a series of run-ins and mishaps due to his mistreatment of the book -- cutting out pictures, drawing in moustaches and telephones and other things. When he finally gets out of the book he takes the time to repair and clean it and set everything straight again ... well, almost everything.

This is a cute book that would be good for a bit older kid than Z. He didn't enjoy a lot of the dialogue because it was confrontational and even sarcastic. I found it amusing, of course. The book is made to look like Herb has abused it, with a cup stain on one page that I could swear was made by Z! I was about to lecture him about how we treat our books until I started reading it with him and realized that the book damage was intentional and printed on the page. Silly me!

Taking care of our books so that they don't take care of us,
K and Z


Buy Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book? on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Captain Everard Gault wounded the boy in the right shoulder on the night of June the twenty-first, nineteen twenty-one."

I decided to read William Trevor's The Story of Lucy Gault because it was on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list. This book begins in Ireland in the 1920s and extends to presumably somewhat modern times with the brief mention of cell phones and internet.

The story begins when Lucy Gault is a child. Her parents decide to move after foiling an arson attempt at their home. Lucy doesn't understand why they have to move and doesn't want to leave her childhood home and so she attempts to run away. She gets hurt in the woods and can't return home but in the meantime her parents find some discarded clothes by the ocean and think that she has drowned herself in her grief at leaving everything she loves. Her parents move away to the continent with no forwarding address and when she is eventually found, she returns home to an empty, boarded-up house. We then follow Lucy, her parents and also one of the arsonists who loses his reason and thinks that he actually did set fire to the house and that the young girl died in the fire. All of these lives are affected by tragedies that never happened.

This book read a lot like a short story. A very long time period was covered in less than 250 pages but I didn't feel like anything was missing. It was a good study in emotion, blame and coping and did a good job of showing the different points of view and effects of a single choice. I will definitely read some other books by William Trevor.

Obeying the "before you die" list,
K


Buy The Story of Lucy Gault on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

"Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall ..."

I have always been curious about Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy so when I was at the library this past week I picked up the first book - The Golden Compass. We actually watched this movie a few months ago so I was familiar with the story but wanted to see how the book differed. I was surprised to see that the movie followed the book quite closely. There wasn't much that was left out or changed -- much different from, say, a Harry Potter movie. I think the movie didn't have a strong box office take so it's uncertain if they will be continuing the trilogy.

For anyone completely unfamiliar with this series, the series name "His Dark Materials" is taken from Milton's Paradise Lost and refers to the matter used to create the universe. The first book, The Golden Compass, tells the story of Lyra, a young girl who slowly heads toward her destiny. We aren't sure what this destiny is and we are told that she must not know either because she has to enter into it blindly. This book is set in an alternate reality where each person is accompanied by a daemon -- an animal shape that is essentially the person's soul. The daemon of a child is able to change shapes and then it chooses a form at puberty and becomes a representative of the nature of the adult.

Lyra, an orphan, grows up at a college in Oxford and has a relatively uneventful life until the day that she chooses to eavesdrop during a meeting of the university Scholars and her Uncle Asriel. There she learns information that will lead her to discover not only things about the world but also about herself. She eventually leaves the school in the company of the mysterious Mrs. Coulter and begins the journey toward her destiny.

This is a hard book to summarize without giving anything away because it is like a flower, slowly opening and unfolding. I really enjoyed it and will be picking up the other two books in the series immediately. The next book, The Subtle Knife, is set in the alternate universe and also our own so I am interested to see how that is done.

Following the adventure,
K


Buy The Golden Compass on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Sorted Books Project

Today I read about The Sorted Books Project and Lenore's effort inspired me to make one of my own. Here is my very depressing short story.



Feeling imaginative,
K

Thursday, October 2, 2008

American Literature for Dummies?

One of the judges of the Nobel Prize for Literature has come out and said that basically Americans have no chance at the prize because they are "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture". He also said that Americans are "too isolated".

I'll admit that most of what I read is not by Americans. I usually find the subject matter not to my taste. Much of American literature seems to focus on the darkest things in our lives and our souls -- drugs, rape, abuse, depression, murder. Life is too short to spend time immersed in these negative things. Although, I would venture that if I read books by many of the European Nobel Laureates, I wouldn't necessarily be in love with them either.

Here are some American authors that I do enjoy: Gregory Maguire, L. Frank Baum, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Peters, Matthew Pearl and of course Edgar Allan Poe. Most of these authors would not ever be considered for a Nobel Prize but I think that they are very original and interesting authors.

What do you think? Is American literature up to par with the rest of the world?

Living in one world but reading in another,
K

Related Content by Wordnik