Miraculous Work

Review #42

Book: The Miracle Worker by William Gibson

Audience: G-U

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating: bookbookbookbookbook

When I was in 4th grade my teacher, during our daily “Literature” time read aloud to us The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. Ever since then I’ve had more than a passing interest in this woman who overcame such disabilities with no technological assistance to accomplish so much. Later, I saw the movie The Miracle Worker with Patty Duke in the role of Helen. As wonderful as Miss Duke was, I was blown away even more by Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan-not just by Miss Bancroft’s performance but by Annie herself.

I’ve seen the movie multiple times, but I had never read the play from which it is derived. I can’t remember why I decided to read it, but I’m ever so glad I did.

There was nothing new to me in the story (although I believe there is an aunt here that was not in the movie) and in fact I kept picturing the movie as I read.  What struck me most was that even though I’m well versed in Helen’s antics, Annie’s methods, and the climatic water scene, I was still so inspired by Annie’s story and found myself tearing up when she finally allows herself to admit she loves Helen.  When I finished the book I actually said out loud, “SO damn good!” Any book that draws me so into the story, even when I’m quite familiar with it, has to get a top rating in Amyworld.

**Incidentally, I was not sure how to classify this book at first. While it draws on a primary source (Miss Keller’s above mentioned autobiography) it is not a product of true research by the author, and its original intent (and actual purpose) was as a story to be performed on television. While based heavily in fact, there are undoubtedly fictionalizations.  So, when unsure, I did what any librarian worth her salt would do—I researched it. In this case, I consulted OCLC’s WorldCat, a database of national and international libraries. Several libraries who have this book have cataloged it as 812—the literature section in nonfiction. Still kind of nebulous, but I figure if it were truly fiction the call number would have been F GIB; hence, my decision to list it as nonfiction.

A Moldy Adventure

Review #41

Book: The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy

Audience: C

Genre: Adventure/Fantasy

Rating:bookbookbook

Last spring I ordered a bunch of books for the library. Seeing that my collection was a bit girl-heavy, I tried to find titles that would interest the boys. I came across this title and decided to give it a try.

Not so sure it fits my intended audience.

It turns out that this book is the second in a series. In the first, Princes Duncan, Frederic, Liam, and Gustav, who are all Prince Charmings to some fairy-tale heroine, have adventures related to their dedicated tales with some surprising results. Liam is Prince Charming to Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty), and while the two are now engaged, Liam can’t stand his fiancée and is actually hiding from her. Gustav is Prince Charming to Rapunzel, but for a reason not disclosed in this book, the two of them are no longer together. Ella (aka Cinderella) is engaged to her Prince Charming, better known as Frederic, and Duncan did marry his fairy tale princess, Snow White. Duncan and Snow are actually pretty happy together, but Ella is not nearly as well suited to Frederic as she is to Liam.

Then there is the fact that all the Princes Charming, who call themselves the League of Princes, aren’t exactly hero material.

Well, perhaps Liam and Gustav are close. Liam wears his cape with flair, excels at sword fighting, is a natural leader, and brave to boot—except when it comes to facing his wedding-mad harridan of a fiancée. Gustav wants to be brave and heroic, and actually is, but living in the shadow of his six or seven prime specimen older brothers has shot his confidence a bit. Frederic is very tentative about everything and would much rather read a book than right wrongs and seek adventures. Duncan is very much in his own world and, let’s be honest, quite a bit of a dork.

The four would-be heroes begin this book by taking a break from adventures seeing as whatever happened in the first book didn’t go so well, and the League are now the butt of every court jester, troubadour, and balladeer in 13 kingdoms. That is, they are on a break until they discover that an object of great power (although they are not exactly sure what that object is at first) is in danger of falling into dastardly hands. So the disbanded League regroups, comes up with a plan, and tries to execute it while dealing with trolls, giants, an unwanted wedding, a stealthy and traitorous murderer, a ridiculous boy king who is their ultimate nemesis, and his tentative ally, a vicious war lord who is out to protect his own interests.

Being a fan of fractured fairy tales, I started this book in delightful anticipation. That wore off rather quickly as Gustav, Frederic, and especially Duncan failed to appeal to me. Then there was the whole let’s-gather-our-resources-together-so-we-can-execute-our-plan section of the book that just seemed to go on forever. I kept waiting for them to do something rather than just prepare to do so. Not to mention that their archrival, the boy Bandit-King Deeb Rauber, was so annoying that I wanted him to drown in his own moat. He, his collaborator Lord Rundark, and their collective lackeys were just irritating. The only one I found remotely interesting was Rauber’s fellow bandit Vero, whom I am not convinced is entirely a bad guy. There was something honorable about him and he reminded me so much of the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride that I was waiting for him to be something of a double agent.

Then, once the plan started rolling and they actually went about trying to recover the mysteriously powerful orange jade things got more interesting, and I found myself interested in what was going to happen next, really rather despite myself. Snow proved to be far less than a bubble-head than she appeared, Liam’s sister Lila jumped on the girl-power train with Ella, Rapunzel came in to do her bit, and Briar Rose proved to have the tiniest bit of a heart under her incredibly thick shrewish exterior.

The adventure ended, the quest was successful yet not totally resolved, paving the way for a third book. And, amazingly, I found myself interested in some of the unanswered questions: Would Frederic and Rapunzel end up together (as they so should)? What about Ella and Liam? Would Gustav ever be appreciated in his own right or always be compared (unfavorably) with his brothers? Would someone ever put the reader out of her misery and totally kill off Deeb Rauber? Would my faith in the ultimate decency of Vero be rewarded?

So while the strong fairy-tale element leaves me not sure if boys are indeed the target audience, I can say that this girl ended up overall enjoying this story that grew on her. Who knew?

Expecto Contextus

Review #40

Book: Harry Potter and History edited by Nancy R. Reagin

Audience: G-U

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating: bookbookbookbook

I picked up this book as an impulse buy while visiting my local Barnes and Noble store. A quick glance at the back blurb gave me the idea that this book identified the historical references Mrs. Rowling used when creating her landmark series. For some reason this year I’ve been attracted to books about the writing of famous books (see the entry about Careless People last month and the one on Matters of Fact next) so this book seemed to be all of a piece of that. Not so much.

To be fair, there was some referential information. The chapter on the origins of spells and what the incantations mean ( expecto patronum literally means “I await a protector”) was exactly what I was hoping for. I also learned that there actually was a Nicolas Flamel who was an alchemist and how Mrs. Rowling drew on the real Flamel in the creation of her fictitious one.  Florence, Italy, was the home of medieval scholars, including astronomers and astrologers, and the name of the star-gazing centaur Firenze (Florence in Italian) is in homage to that.  Not to mention that while the name Severus is a Latin adjective meaning harsh and severe, fitting for Professor Snape, there was also a Roman emperor of that name (Septimus Severus), a non-nobleman who rose to imperial status (a half-blood prince, if you will) with one son who murdered another.

This was what I was expecting the whole book to be about. Knowing that Mrs. Rowling is a genius story crafter, I figured that there was a great amount of research that went into the Harry Potter series. I knew that she would not just create the mythology of the series out of thin air—that the Harry Potter universe and our universe would mesh and that she would use history to do that. I was anticipating learning about the connections she forged between the two worlds. I was disappointed that I got so little of that from this book.

So what did I get instead? I got a collection of essays about History and Harry Potter, just not how the former influenced the latter. I got information about the history of witchcraft. I got an essay on Wizarding aristocracy and the parallels between historical British schools and Hogwarts. I got a look at the treatment of werewolves in and out of fiction and how historically women were much better treated in the Wizarding world than in my own. I got a history lesson as to how the Ministry of Magic came to use and abuse its power, as well as one relating the Spanish Inquisition to the New Order and the Second Wizarding War.

My favorite essay, by far, was the one relating the New Order established by the Ministry of Magic beginning in Harry’s fifth year to the rise to power of and the terror inflicted by the Nazis. This essay intrigued me the most because when I read Order of the Phoenix I kept thinking that the Educational Decrees, Dumbledore’s Army (truly one of my favorite developments in the series), and the Inquisitorial Squad were very reminiscent of the Nazis and resulting Resistance movements. Obviously, I was not alone in making that connection and it was great fun to read the thoughts of someone else who shared my insights.

Yes, I did end up enjoying this book, for the most part. This was a compilation of essays by various writers, and a few of them had an element in their style I found most annoying. This was writing about characters and events in the Potter series as if they were real. There are places where I buy into that and quite enjoy it, but this wasn’t one of them. I suppose this was because I hoped the book would be about making connections between Mrs. Rowling’s’ creation and reality. For that purpose I wanted to be grounded in my own reality to appreciate her craftsmanship. Having an essayist put me in Harry’s world was confusing and downright tedious.

So, while I expected a book that would connect the history of my world to the present of Harry’s and didn’t get it, I did get a book that was a pleasurable one nonetheless.