Challenge Accepted

So, what to do for this year?

I could set a new goal of even more books, but really, what is the point of that? I will still track my books with my trusty spreadsheet and try to read a great deal, but simply setting a new number goal does not interest me.

So what does interest me? Not just reading, but also writing.

Keeping this blog the past year has reawakened my interest in writing skills. For the most part, I worked on each posting for several days before publishing. I found myself concerned with the hook, the conclusion, word choice, direction, voice, and a whole host of other writing techniques. I say I want to be a writer, so this year’s focus will be on writing, connected to reading.

How to go about doing that? Simple. Book reviews. I had some book review pages on the blog last year and started off enthusiastically, but those pages dropped off as other things pressed. This year will be different. I am challenging myself to write one book review a week. I hope to post the reviews on Saturday or Sunday, and if I should miss a week due to vacation, illness, whatever, then I need to post two the following week. There are 52 weekends, so that means I’m challenging myself to write 52 book reviews.

I intend to write about the recent new-to-me books I’ve read, both Children’s and G-U. The first weekend starts tomorrow and I likely will not finish a new book in time to write a review of it, so I’ll write one for a recent first-time read. I may play with format as the year progresses, as I hope to research (ever the librarian!) professional reviews, so we’ll see what the year brings.

For each book, I will identify the audience (C=Children, G-U=Grown Up) and genre. I will also rate each book using the following system:

book = Horrible, don’t waste your time

bookbook = Not good, but had something worthwhile about it, although not worth a re-read

bookbookbook = OK, , enjoyable, but run of the mill, might read it again

bookbookbookbook = Good, interesting, definitely would read again

bookbookbookbookbook =Excellent, superlative, worth re-reading on a regular basis

Each review will include a brief synopsis and commentary, as all book reviews should. Since this is my blog and not some detached professional review source, the reviews may or may not be personal. Who knows? I’ll just take one week and one review at a time and see how this goes.

I think, I’m up for the challenge.

 

 

 

Out of the Everywhere

Date: 23 June 2013

Books Completed: 120

Books Left: 80

I know—a great jump in the number of books read these past 10 days. For the record, 9 of them were picture books I read to prepare for a reading program I’ll institute at school in the fall. There will only be 6 more, and the rest of the (hopefully) 185 will be chapter books.

 

Out of the everywhere we find inspiration. This post is about someone who has become a source of inspiration to me.

I’ve been a Paula Danziger fan ever since I read Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? when I was in seventh grade. As I was re-reading that book a few weeks ago I realized there were so many of her books I’d never read. A trip to the library (not mine) was in order and I checked out every Danziger book they had.

I started off with The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. I remember reading it as a tween, but not since then, so I forgot most of what the story was about. All I really remembered was that it was a bit painful at times to read. Soon into the book I saw why: Marcy’s dad was autocratic and downright cruel, far worse even than Lauren’s overbearing, insensitive father (Malpractice). Miss Danziger did write about some very good fathers (Aurora’s in This Place Has No Atmosphere comes to mind), but the bad dads seemed to be a theme. This made me wonder how much of Paula was in Marcy’s and Lauren’s experiences.

Turns out I needed to wonder no more. The library’s edition of Gymsuit contained a 30 year anniversary note by the author. Ah.

Reading the author’s note left tears in my eyes, and not just because it was penned shortly before Miss Danziger’s sudden and untimely death. My unanticipated emotional response was because the note made me feel both discomfited and inspired.

In the note, Miss Danziger comments on the events in her life that led her to writing Gymsuit, and on the fact that she and Marcy were similar in many ways—they were both overweight kids who want to be writers and have tyrannical fathers. This revelation moved me in a way I wasn’t prepared for.

I’ve had difficulty this week putting into words how Miss Danziger’s admission affected me. The word I keep coming back to is raw. In admitting the closeness of her connection to Marcy, she was exposing so much of herself. It almost seemed intrusive—like I knew some very private information about her. However, Miss Danziger chose to make the disclosure, she chose to open up and allow herself to be vulnerable. In her willingness to make this acknowledgement I saw a bravery that I both admire and envy.

The truth is, I relate to Miss Danziger in many ways (with one crucial difference—I DO NOT have a tyrannical father!). I was an overweight kid and until recently an overweight adult. I was, and still am, plagued with body-image issues. I am a former teacher who dreams of being a children’s book writer—something I first wanted to be when I was nine years old. I tend to keep my thoughts and feelings inside. I often do not speak up for myself. Et cetera, et cetera.

Is it any wonder I was inspired by Miss Danziger’s journey to authorship? She started by writing about what she knew and basing a story on her own life experiences. A couple of months ago I began jotting down ideas, feelings, interesting anecdotes, intriguing names, and remembrances from my own past in an observation journal I now carry everywhere with me. My hope is to one day turn these scribblings into a story. I’ve also photocopied a part of the Gymsuit author’s note that particularly spoke to me and pasted it in my journal. Perhaps the ever-present reminder of Miss Danziger’s own story will help me to “get my Jane on,” conquer my own self-doubt demons, and realize a long-held dream. Here’s hoping.

The First 100

Date: 13 June 2013

Books Completed: 103

Books Left: 97

On June 9th I reached a milestone in my quest to read 200 books this year—I hit the halfway mark. To honor the occasion, I thought I’d take a moment and reflect a bit on the first 100 books I’ve read this year

82 have been children’s books, 33 of which were new to me. Out of those 33, one, Maus II, was brilliant, and two, Shadow of a Bull and Mr. Chickee’s Messy Mission, were so awful that they were a chore to complete. Some were charming (the entire Mother-Daughter Book Club series), some not so much (After Many Days, The Best School Year Ever, and all of the Fudge books). There are titles I know I’ll read again (The Center of Everything, Guitar Notes) and tomes I’m happy to permanently keep on the library shelves from whence they came (My Chocolate Year, Hazel Green).

As for the 49 re-reads, I have for the most part enjoyed them. I tend to re-read books in groups—either by topic, series, or author. Visiting early colonial Connecticut (The Witch of Blackbird Pond), revolutionary Boston (Johnny Tremain), and Willow Falls (11 Birthdays, Finally, and 13 Gifts) were trips of undiluted joy. Spending time with Kevin and Sadie (the Joan Lingard books) was mostly pleasant, but there are moments in The Twelfth Day of July and Into Exile I can do without. My journeys to Biddle, Frell, and Ayortha were delightful, but Bamarre, as always, has its highs and lows (the Gail Carson Levine books). I did experience an unexpected windfall in my venture to Narnia. The Last Battle is my least favorite, and I usually read it simply to finish the series, but this time I actually found myself liking it much more than usual. Ah, the benefits of being a re-reader!

Only two of the grown-up books were rereads. I think I just needed the comfort of something familiar, so I hearkened back to my true-crime days and read two of the most fascinating I’ve come across. I don’t think this year I’ll re-read the mother of all true crime books, Fatal Vision, simply because it’s extremely long and I want to make sure I finish 200 books. (I do highly recommend it, BTW, to any true crime fans.)

So that leaves 16 new G-U books, 8 fiction and 8 nonfiction. I can’t say I loved any of the fiction. I did keep wanting to know what would happen next in The House at Tyneford, so I suppose that was my favorite so far. While I  eternally admire the style of Nancy Mitford, I couldn’t stand Sigi and Charles-Edouard, so The Blessing didn’t top my list (Besides, did she ever really surpass her own brilliance in The Pursuit of Love? I think not.). I’ve been quite vocal about my disdain for Dickens, the Romance Novel, and the Brontë book (though that one was somewhat redeemed) so there’s no need to rehash that.

In reading the G-U nonfiction, I fared much better. Low on my list was Her, but only because the subject matter made the book at times painful to read. Overall, I thought it was very well done. I thoroughly enjoyed my sister and English royalty books, and I’m finding that I truly appreciate anthology-styled interesting fact compilations (After the Fact and Rest in Pieces). Then, of course, there was the pure pleasure, the unmitigated bliss, the sheer enchantment of the book celebrating Pride and Prejudice. Life did not, cannot, get much better.

That was the first 100. Here’s looking forward to 100 more!

Regretting the Pickwick Pick

Date: 26 January 2013

Books Completed: 14     

Books Left: 186

I think this is a pretty good pace to make 200.

In my last post I mentioned that I was starting On the Way Home. Totally had a better appreciation of it now than when I was a kid. Wilder’s Little House books were written with child readers in mind. Laura’s travel diary was written with no intended audience. Why should this be interesting? Anne Frank, whom I consider to be the ultimate diarist, wrote her original diary with the view that it would make an interesting record of life in the annex. Then, from a radio broadcast, she got the idea that it could actually be published after the war. The Diary of a Young Girl known to the world is her revised diary. Revised by Anne herself, but written with an audience in mind. Laura’s diary was written for herself, so why should anyone, much less children, find it entertaining? Laura could be more interesting in her personal writing–her letters to her husband as published in West From Home attest to this fact. But when writing for herself alone, why bother do anything other than relate uninspired events in a flat, matter-of-fact way.

On to other business. For about as long as I can remember, I’ve read more than one book at a time. I’ve got about 5 going now, and I try to keep them pretty diverse. I’m reading one children’s book I’ve not read before and one that I have. I’m also reading one grown-up fiction and one g-u nonfiction (both new to me). Plus, one classic I’ve not read yet. I thought I would talk about that one tonight.

For some reason, I decided to read The Pickwick Papers by Dickens. Actually, I do know why. Louisa May Alcott, and the Little Women characters, as well as LM Montgomery, and the Anne of Green Gables characters, were admirers of the book. I appreciate those authors and characters, so I thought I’d give it a try. Yikes! Little did I know it was over 700 pages long. 700+ pages of a 19th century British male sensibility that I just don’t get. I know it was originally a serial, but really, the book is just far too long. Far too much eating, drinking, gentlemen getting their feathers ruffled and unruffled, outrageous and unrealistic characters, and overblown satire of the legal profession. Not to mention Dickens’ penchant for using 500 words when a dozen will suffice. Oh well, the whole book (at least the 530 or so pages I’ve read so far) is an ironic exercise in moderation so I suppose it’s only fitting that it goes on interminably–even if I do want to shout “Got it Charlie–move on!!!” from the rooftops. I am determined to finish it and cannot wait until that happy day arrives!

Welcome to the Book Diva Book Room!

Date: 21 January 2013

Books Completed: 10 

Books Left: 190

Finished 2 books today–Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster and Susannah of the Mounties by Margaret Dennison. I read Susannah as a kid (and MANY times since) but Long Legs was new. I chose to read it because the characters in Dear Pen Pal, of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, read it and I had never even heard of it. Completed it in two days and totally enjoyed it. I intend to read some more of Webster’s work.

Started On the Way Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder today. I recently finished The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure. In her book McClure describes her adult facination with all things LIW after loving her books as a kid. McClure spends some time addressing many aspects of On the Way Home. I got my own copy of it just a few months ago. I remember trying to read it as a kid and not faring well. I liked the beginning and ending by Laura’s daughter Rose, but could not get into Laura’s diary. Much easier to do now. Since I didn’t really read the entire book as a kid I’m counting this one as new.