Category Archives: Reading

The Penderwicks

I’ve recently moved from a iPad for reading to a small 6″ screen Kindle. My daughter says that the backlight on the iPad is bad for settling you in to sleep at night. That may be true, but also true is the the fact that a book may be bad for settling you in to sleep at night. I have a tendency to read and forget the time. At least the iPad let me turn off the beside light.

Which brings me to the Penderwicks. Or Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks.  I was looking for a book that would not have any relevance to what I was currently writing which was narrative non fiction and middle grade mystery, looking for something that would be totally different. For night time reading I use the North Carolinas Digital Library. I like it because I can go on at 10 pm at night, find a book and read for an hour. And while I miss the physically holding and hoarding of books on my shelves, truth is I would be going to the library on a regular basis were it not for the digital library and, Sigh, they are usually not open at ten at night.

the-penderwicksSo, back to the Penderwicks. the-penderwicksThere are four books that start with the family as they go off on vacation. There are four sisters between age eleven and baby. These are nice kids, obedient, loving, careful of each other’s feeling when they remember, which is most often. The feel of the stories harken back to a time when play was mostly out of doors, families ate dinner together, and respect for adults-father, teachers, neighbors–was a good thing and always present. While the setting seems contemporary the story also feels like it’s historical, a long time ago.

And once you are hooked on the lives of the family and their neighbors you continue to read in the series because you have come to care about their relationships, their problems and how they manage their solutions. What I love about the stories is the way Ms. Birdsall was able to give us completely distinctive children, with different voices, likes, dislikes, and talents. I was enchanted with books one and two. By book three the oldest of the siblings was off on her own vacation, leaving it to the remaining three to carry the story. By book four, it was primarily the youngest who, along with a step brother, takes you to the end of the saga.

It was grand that Ms. Birdsall gave us closure to the family story, although, I think it came at a price I was not willing as a reader to pay. I personally prefer stories to end at a good place, not necessarily the end of the story.  I get that JK Rowlings ending Harry so there couldharry be no more stories, but Wait! there is. Now I have not yet read this, but there was a promise at the end of book seven that this was it. We knew Harry married Ginny [about which there is a ton of commentary] and they had children and  Hogwarts as a school of magic continues. Good. Then This?

Back to the Penderwicks. Rosalind is all grown up and in love with the obvious choice. Skye is still independent. Jane is working toward being an accomplished author and Batty, the youngest, is now a responsible child, no longer the baby of the family.

Hmmm….I get that it’s the author’s right to say how the story ends. Somehow, tho, as a kid, I always the the best stories were like The Giver, where the author led us to the end of the story and let our own imaginations take the character where ever we wanted. Lovely as The Penderwicks are…I’d would have loved to imagine, rather than being told, where they would go.

The Long Series

Long Earth, Long War, Long Mars, Long Utopia. Four books. Long books.

I bought them because the name Terry Practchett was attached to the cover. I don’t really know Stephen Baxter, but I think, now that I have read these books. I might. No, I must. If for no other reason than to be happy with having spent the time on these.

‘Long’ was very apt to have in the title. And, now that I have read the ending, Philistine and shallow person that I am, I am not sure I get the point. Oh, yes, there is the land issue. The ability to get to Mars. The haves versus the have-not–well really, the steppers versus the non-steppers. The harm to earth. The ability to leave a harmed earth and move on to another more compatible earth and treat it better. The sideline issue of whether or not God knows about all the parallel earths.

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NEVERWHERE A book report

On the jacket, at the bottom, is the AUTHOR’S PREFERRED TEXT. Underneath that is WITH A SPECIAL INTRODUCTION BY THE AUTHOR AND A NEW NEVERWHERE STORY.

We, i.e., the reading public, is informed NEVERWHERE was first published in 1992,  a breakout novel for Mr. Gaiman. In the introduction Mr. Gaiman writes this is NOT the NEVERWHERE you read before, if you read Neverwhere before. It’s not the second NEVERWHERE either. And that it started as a TV series. But in his head it was always a book. And, this version, THE AUTHOR’S PREFERRED TEXT, is sorted from bits and pieces–drafts and the original UK text–and that redundancies have been removed. This is a definitive version.

Well.

This is the story of Richard Mayhew who is an okay looking guy, of undetermined age, dating a woman he feels is a step or two up from his social level and he is damn happy to be dating her. But he’s not really. She demands, she criticizes, she improves. All of which make Richard wonder why they are dating. Not that he’s not happy. But he’s not really.

A simple act of kindness–that of helping a young woman who is bleeding on the sidewalk–turns into a look at what life is like in Neverwhere. Neverwhere is not a nine to five job. It is not a steady paycheck. It is not finding a nice girl, settling down and having children who are only going to repeat the cycle. Neverwhere is some parts magic, some parts adventure, some parts psychotic. And it is not what life looked like for Richard just before his act of kindness–it is not dull.

There is a lot of running to and fro under London. Matter of fact, Richard learns there is a London Above and a London Below. There may just be the ability to move back and forth in time, but you don’t really know that–you do think it is possible. There are memorable characters,  places where death may be imminent, angels, rat-speakers, sword fights, escapes, cults, and some truly disgusting antagonists.

Yes, I liked it. Especially when Mr. Gaiman channeled Terry Pratchett: Richard looked at the key. The key looked back. Ah, good times with Twoflower and the pearwood Luggage. For me it was reminiscent of Katherine Marsh’s THE NIGHT TOURIST, [2007] without all the Latin and the searching for his mother, the Orpheus-Eurydice Myth recast according to readers on GoodReads. Sorry, Mr. Gaiman, I read Ms. Marsh’s book first otherwise I might just say that differently.

If you’ve read other Gaiman books—Coraline, The Graveyard Book–the writing, the voice, the tone, the sentiment, the descriptions, the hovering over the dark and mysterious will be familiar. I found the ending too easy to predict. Sigh. Once, just once…well, never mind. Read it, if you like endings tied up neatly.

Access

newspapersnewspapersI read a lot. And most of my friends/acquaintances do as well.  But for me it is not just books. My mother, a lifelong reader and wordsmith, loved the newspaper. And it wasn’t just the news she read, although she did keep herself updated. She read magazines, recipes, magzinesbooks, labels, graphs, advertisements–anything and everything that used words. I read two newspapers a day plus online coverage.

Me? Yes, I love books. Although I am not a re-reader. I read it once, then I’m bored with trying to read it again. I know what happens. I don’t care to memorize lines, I think that’s too easy. And I don’t want that initial picture that forms in my brain, that first love type of picture, the one where I know–just know–what the character looks like, how he walks, talks, smiles, laughs, to go away. Not any of it.

But I don’t want a stack of books. I don’t want a huge library. I don’t want to dust it, catalog it, file and refile it. Nope, I don’t want to maintain it.stack of books Besides, somehow I feel I would be limited by the fact that all those things were in my library.  What I want is ACCESS! Yes! I want to be able to get any book now–as in RIGHT NOW–and read it. 

Oh, so yes, I would need the time to do that.  Hmmm…need to think that through a bit more.

And there it is. The problem. Slight, but not!  Damn, as if there wasn’t writingalways…It’s time. If I’m doing all that reading, when am I doing all this writing. And it is the story. Always the story. It is the story that draws me back into my own writing. So reading? Yes. Writing? double Yes.

Spies In WWII

My senior year in high school I participated in an experimental class. Twenty five of us were chosen. Bishop Alemany was a leveled school, grouped in homogeneous classes: college prep, comprehensive and duh! I have no idea what they called the last group. I had tested into the college prep group. And almost from Day One the nuns and I went round and round about what I was supposed to be learning. For me school meant being able to have a library in the same place I was required to be each and every day, and, bonus, no limit on the number of books you could take out, unlike the Burbank Public Library on Glen Oaks Boulevard with it’s only seven books at a time requirement.

So, understand, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet and I had different goals as to what was my education and what wasn’t. By my senior year, someone said, ‘okay, let’s try her in this class.’ I have no idea who to thank for this bit of grace. It was a history class. Since I was in third grade, I had said I would be a historian. My actual learning process, despite my parents amazing and continuing commitment, resembled more of a child being raised by educated librarian wolves of the great tundra, so, in truth, there was little chance I would fulfill my goal. But history, the past of just about anything, I considered my exclusive territory clear through my bachelor’s degree in college.

For most of high school, I was, to say a fan seems almost cruel, but I was, a fan of anything and everything surreptitious World War II. I focused especially Allied spies, members of the Resistance, POWs, mostly the RAF Spitfire pilots and small cadres of individuals who risked life and limb to defeat the Nazis and their war machine. Perhaps it was due to my library access the first eight years of my schooling, at Villa Cabrini Academy, the plethora of stories on the lives of the saints, saints who too had risked life and limb in the name of Christ. So, the uncertainty of spying and defeating what was true evil in the world by people who were not that much older me was maybe a continuation of my childhood reading. And so, in this independent study class, I wrote a thesis on spies.

Before spies were hi-tech, before they had gadgets, before they wore tuxedos, played baccarat inhabiting the world of James Bond, they lived difficult, grimy, horrendously scary lives, lives without fanfare, lives without rest or respite, lives of danger and terror. And, after the war, when they had a chance to come to terms with what they had won and what they had lost, they wrote their stories, histories. The stories were gritty. There was little glory, only the end of the war or death. And yet, they did this, volunteered, said yes, despite the fear. Because of these resistors, both homegrown and foreign nationals, the Allied forces triumphed. Much was lost so that there could be a win.

Elizabeth Wein‘s CODE NAME VERITY takes up that tradition of the dread of fighting covertly behind enemy lines. It is not a pretty story. It’s not a happy one. It is a story played out slowly, laboriously, and elegantly, letting us know how excruciating it was to fight a war from the inside out, and how many people were willing to risk, to say everything is so cliché, but all. No matter how many died in battles, assaults,  landings, and no question, we needed them, we praise them, we call them our Greatest Generation, we also needed those who were willing to risk their lives and save their souls on a narrow battlefield in one on one mental combat, a not-photographed battlefield, not trumpeted or on the front page of the Times, one that was shrouded in secrecy, unknown.

Ms. Wein says this is about women and their participation in the war. And yes, this book is. But there is so much more, because defeating evil knows no gender, no age, no nationality. And it is perhaps the most unlikeliest of us who raises her hand, almost casually, and says ‘I’ll go.”  CODE NAME VERITY is an excellent reminder of that ideal.