A Friend Indeed

Date: 29 December 2013

Books Completed: 216

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”—George Washington

I recently read Wendy Mass’ other new book this year, Pi in the Sky. It was a sci-fi book, so a bit of a departure for Miss Mass, not to mention the on-target sense of humor she gives her characters was not as much in evidence as usual. She did, however, incorporate her other trademark device (one that I so count on as I read her books), and that is friendship.

Miss Mass’ specialty is the relationship between a boy and girl who are best friends. This scenario seems to be becoming more popular in children’s books, but in general, best friends tend to be just boys or just girls. And the portrayals of these friendships are often my favorite parts of children’s books.

Most of us gravitate to characters and experiences that mirror the people and experiences in our own lives. I certainly am no exception. All my life, I have been more of what Washington described above—the kind of person who is friendly with many people, but friends with just a few. My friendships are usually solid and relatively sans drama. In elementary and junior high school, Carrie T was my best friend, in high school it was Diana G, and in college it was my sophomore-through-senior roommate and suitemate, Kelly S and Polly Z. I am still in touch with all these ladies to varying degrees (thank goodness for Facebook!) so while we are no longer close, there is still a bond.

As I said, these friendships were pretty drama-free. In fact, I don’t remember any drama with Diana, Kelly, and Polly, and just a little with Carrie.

Carrie and I met in kindergarten and kept the friendship going strong until we went to different high schools. Things between us were smooth sailing until middle school and the boys started to flock—to Carrie. She was pretty with long blond hair, blue eyes and inborn flirting skills. I was shy and a bit overweight and never knew what to say or do, so the boys pretty much ignored me. Carrie was quite interested in them and all the attention (how could she not have been) and I was still interested in the music, books, and TV shows we liked and used to talk about when we just hung out. In retrospect I can say we were growing apart, but at the time I just remember feeling sad and a little left out.

This is why Winnie in Lauren Myracle’s Eleven and Callie in Winnie Mack’s After All, You’re Callie Boone resonate so strongly with me. Winnie and Amanda have been friends forever, but while Winnie is still interested in the games and activities they’ve done all their lives, Amanda is now too “grown up” to have fun in the same ways and is very interested in boys and dating. Callie faces a similar situation. She and Amy have been best friends forever, but now Amy has other interests, including a new best friend who shares Amy’s new delights in clothes, boys, and dating. Fortunately, Carrie and I never had a “break up” of our friendship in the way that Winnie and Callie had to experience, but I understand and empathize when one friend goes in one direction, leaving the other friend behind.

What I so totally don’t get is what I call turncoat friends. Frenemies. Honestly, why would someone want to be friends with a person who would be equally willing to help or hurt you? Frenemies are not in my personal experience. There have been girls I didn’t particularly like or trust, but I would never have called them friends. We might have been friendly, but not friends.

Because of this, it surprises me a little how much I love the Mother-Daughter Book Club books. Throughout the series, I identified strongly with Emma (shy, a bit socially awkward, a bit overweight, not into fashion, voracious book worm, wants to be a writer—sound familiar?), even though Cassidy eventually emerged as my favorite (her experiences with her own Mr. Darcy certainly may have influenced that!). My least favorites were Megan and Becca—the frenemies. Interestingly, it was Megan who actually annoyed me more. From start to finish I didn’t like Becca because she was a Mean Girl over the course of the entire series, although those sharp edges did mellow enough that I had least had some sympathy for her by the last two installments. But Megan, on the other hand, she inspired the most anger. She and Emma had been friends in elementary school, and then they grew apart with dissimilar interests. Painful, but OK, it happens. What so angered me was the fact that Megan still liked Emma and never stood up to Becca when Becca was downright cruel to Emma. Never once told Becca she was out of line, even though Megan was very uncomfortable with Becca’s behavior and still considered herself Emma’s friend.  In my book, friends don’t do that. I know it’s hard, going against the popular kids, but friends don’t abandon each other. If you’re going to be friends with two contradictory people, at least have the decency to have both friends’ backs. Mrs. Frederick does a good job detailing Megan’s struggle, but ultimately Megan was someone I would not trust and therefore not want as a friend.

My friendships and reading patterns have not altered much over the years. I still am friendly with many and friends with few. These days, Natalie T and Ruth C are my confidantes, and my relationships with each of these amazing ladies have greatly enriched my life and been decidedly drama-free. I still like reading about relationships between true friends and not frenemy turn-coats. I suspect that my tastes in friends and reading material will, indeed, stay as they are.

“Good books, like good friends, are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable.”—Louisa May Alcott

Accident or Design?

Date: 14 December 2013

Books Completed: 205

Yes, I’ve reached and surpassed my goal. I’m continuing to track what I read and I’ll post some thoughts and comments about it all at the end of the month.

 

Not surprisingly, I subscribe to Goodreads, along with several of my friends. I love it when I get an update about books they’ve read or want to read. I always look through their choices to get suggestions for myself. Of late, I have noticed an incredibly frequent trend: series. For the past several years I’ve seen this with children’s books as I manage the collection for my library. Now it seems to be quite prevalent with g-u books, too. So I have to wonder, what’s behind all the series? Does the success of one book beget another (accidental series) or did the author plan for the story to continue over several books (design series)? Ultimately, does it matter?

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about some series with which I am familiar, both g-u and children’s. I’ve recently been indulging in one of my guilty pleasures, Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Emma Harte series. Well, the two books in the series that I like to reread. I actually really don’t like the first book, Woman of Substance, but instead prefer its sequel, Hold the Dream. I am convinced that WoS was written as a stand-alone and its popularity inspired Mrs. Bradford to create this accidental series. The giveaway? Inconsistencies. In WoS, working class Emma struggles her entire life with the toffy-nosed Fairley family, eventually wreaking her revenge, with the support of her dear friend Blackie O’Neill, and all but obliterating them. At the end, the two clans are peacefully united in the engagement of Emma’s granddaughter Paula to Edwin Fairley’s grandson Jim. Definite closure there. But in HtD, Paula’s marriage to Jim falls apart and Paula eventually finds her true love in Shane O’Neill, Blackie’s grandson. Terribly fitting, since Blackie actually loved Emma his entire life. So, in the end, the O’Neill and Harte families are united, not the Hartes and the Fairleys. And this is only one inconsistency, albeit the most glaring.

A good 15+ years ago I was into the Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell. I don’t remember which one I read first, I only know it wasn’t the first in the series. It’s been at least 10 years since I read any of those books, so I don’t know how the series progressed in later years, but I think Miss Cornwell wrote the first as a singular novel, and wrote more as popularity demanded. The giveaway? The mysteries were discrete and solved by the end of the novels. Typical of the genre, true. However, I think eventually Miss Cornwell planned on using more than one tome to complete a story arc. In some of the later books there was a carry-over with the cases Dr. Scarpetta worked on, and of course there was always some carry-over concerning her personal life. So perhaps the Scarpetta series is a hybrid of accident and design.

I think that same hybrid is present in the Narnia series. (Warning, I’m about to mount my high horse again). In the past 20 years or so, publishers have renumbered the order of books in the series to reflect the chronology of the Narnian adventures. However, if you read them in the order Mr. Lewis wrote them, as they SHOULD be read (reining in the horse now) a case can be made that the series was first designed as a trilogy. The giveaway? The conclusions of the first three books. As the Pevensies return to England at the end of LWW, the professor reminds them that “once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia” as he assures them he believes they will return. And indeed, the Pevensies return for more adventures in PC. At its conclusion, Peter tells Edmund and Lucy that he and Susan cannot return but that the two younger children certainly might. Which of course they do in VDT. At the end of that book, though, Edmund and Lucy are told they cannot return, and nothing is ventured about Eustace. In fact, Mr. Lewis gives a bit of a sum-up for both the Narnian and English adventurers, leading the reader to believe that the series is done. I believe that this is when popular demand stepped in and we got some “accidental” books added to the series.  Readers wanted more of Narnia, so Mr. Lewis obliged. But out of the four additional novels, only 2 continue the story. The other two are anachronistic, one being a creation story and the other taking place within the very large time frame of LWW.

Another hybrid is the Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass. As I’ve already discussed that in some length (see Same Old Song) I won’t rehash my thoughts about that one.

There is one series I am convinced was designed as a whole, and that is Mrs. Rowling’s Harry Potter saga. The giveaway? So many! For starters, the very set up—Harry goes off to a school where he is to spend the next seven years—attests to this. Then there is the gradual reveal. The series is ultimately about the conflict between Harry and Voldemort, and each installment discloses more and more of what Harry (and the reader) needs to know to prepare himself for the final confrontation. And then there is the foreshadowing (again, too many examples for a thorough discussion!) throughout the series, not just within a book. Those little carelessly thrown bits of information that come back, such as in SS Harry has the feeling that Snape can read his mind and then in OP we learn that Snape is a legilimens. In OP the kids find a locket that won’t open which is revealed to be a horcrux in DH. In CS Harry learns the expelliarmus spell which will save his life in both GF and DH. In GF, Dumbledore is pleased when he learns that Voldemort used Harry’s blood to come back to his body and in DH it is revealed that in doing this, Voldemort unwittingly gave Harry his greatest protection. I could go on, but you get the idea.

So does any of this matter? For me, to some extent, I think it does. I call the Emma Harte series a guilty pleasure because those books are truly not well-written, yet I keep going back to them. But Mrs. Bradford’s other bad writing habits would be far easier to overlook if her stories were consistent. My favorite Scarpetta books were the ones that have the carry-over I mentioned, otherwise I grew tired of thinking that a medical examiner gets put into mortal peril far too often for credibility—hence why I gave up that series. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that 2 of my three favorite books in the Narnia series are LWW and PC (with VDT a close 4th). Miss Mass clearly wrote 13G with the intention of following it up with LP, which turns out to be my favorite book in the series.  And Mrs. Rowling’s DH is a masterpiece because something from every preceding book in the series plays a significant role in this final installment.

So while I have had some “accidents” in my life that actually initiated some series of very fortunate events, when it comes to my reading tastes I seem to prefer the design school of thought. Go figure.