Reading life review: August

WWW : Wake (Robert J. Sawyer)
Science fiction. Perhaps the ideas in this novel, the first in a trilogy, are familiar to a more widely read sci-fi aficionado, but they were fresh to me. More, I appreciated the bold way in which Sawyer linked seemingly disparate subjects: sight-processing in people blind from birth, math giftedness, the bicameral mind, Asperger syndrome in adults, the differences between life in Canada and life in the States, information technology, the web behind the web, the analogy between the brain and the web, and artificial sentience in the web -- the latter of which I first learned of in the Ender series (Orson Scott Card). Recommended.

Nothing But the Truth (Avi)
YA fiction. Described as "a documentary novel," this book caught my eye when we stopped at a bookstore between the morning and evening shows at the Shakespeare Festival. (Related entries here, here, and here.) I'd press this on anyone interested in public education. Note that there are no easy answers here, no heroes, no villains. As the author's note reveals, many readers saw themselves and their school in the novel.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (Chris Crutcher)
YA fiction. This is certainly gritty stuff (though not as gritty as the Laura Weiss titles I read in May), but I appreciated the authenticity of the narrative voice, and frankly? I also appreciated that the conclusion didn't announce itself three chapters in.

A Girl of the Limberlost (Gene Porter Stratton)
Classic. With the Misses. While I know that many readers find Stratton hopelessly old-fashioned, we absolutely love Elnora and her story. In the text's front matter, the characters are described thus:
ELNORA, who collects moths to pay for her education, and lives the Golden Rule.
PHILIP AMMON, who assists in moth hunting, and gains a new conception of love.
MRS. COMSTOCK, who lost a delusion and found a treasure.
WESLEY SINTON, who always did his best.
MARGARET SINTON, who "mothers" Elnora.
BILLY, a boy from real life.
EDITH CARR, who discovers herself.
HART HENDERSON, to whom love means all things.
POLLY AMMON, who pays an old score.
TOM LEVERING, engaged to Polly.
TERENCE O'MORE, Freckles grown tall.
MRS. O'MORE, who remained the Angel.
See? Hopelessly old-fashioned, right? But aren't you intrigued?

Invisible (Peter Hautman)
Rash (Peter Hautman)
YA fiction. I had recently finished Chris Crutcher's Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes when I read BookMoot's post about the Teen Lit Fest. She points readers to Pete Hautman's blog, exhorting them to also peruse the comments: "Chris Crutcher's thoughts are so on target." First, BookMoot's own remarks on this unfortunate episode are also "so on target" -- take some time to read her post before clicking over to Hautman's. Second, by golly, you know how much I love serendipity, sychronicity, and synthesis. Naturally, then, the mention of Crutcher delighted me, but as I read over Hautman's blog, I realized, Oh, my goodness! He's the author of Godless! I read this National Book Award winner six years ago and really loved both the subject and author's style. That's how I ended up consuming Invisible and Rash in a few bites. The first, which is equal parts mystery and psychological exploration, leaves the reader feeling alternately unsettled and saddened. I will certainly never forget Douglas MacArthur Hanson. The second stirs satire, school, sports, and social commentary into a futuristic setting with surprisingly entertaining results. Both are recommended, as is the excellent Godless.

Lucy (Laurence Gonzalez)
Fiction. For a while there, it seemed like everyone was talking about this novel. I picked it up after reading an EW review and hearing Steve and Johnnie's on-air raves. Thought-provoking and entertaining. A perfect end-of-summer read. Oh, Mr. M-mv also enjoyed it.

Bicycle Diaries (David Byrne)
Non-fiction. The Talking Heads founder, frontman, and songwriter offers a view of many of the world's cities from the seat of his bicycle. Sort of. Rather than a travelogue, Byrne offers his thoughts on the politics, art, museums, economy, and planning (or lack thereof) he encounters. Check out his blog for a sample of his writing style because while I thoroughly enjoyed this ramble, others may not.

The Call to Brilliance: A True Story to Inspire Parents and Educators (Resa Steindel Brown)

Twelfth Night (William Shakespeare)
Play, classic. With the Misses. Two years ago, we (the Misses and I) read Bruce Coville's adaptation and watched the 1996 film. This week, we read the play, discussed it at length, and watched the film again. Brilliant stuff, both. (This was my third go at Twelfth Night, reading, watching. It seems so many, many years ago that Master M-mv and I first studied it: August 2003. Oh, how we all miss him!)

Trouble (Gary Schmidt)
YA fiction. Schmidt followed The Wednesday Wars (see July's reading life review) with Trouble. The Richard Peck-like narrative sensibility (i.e., the twisty turns and the penchant for layered coincidences) is still evident, but the tone is decidedly more somber here. That said, I really loved this book, even though it features one of the most heartbreaking parent-child exchanges I have ever read:
"Henry," he said. "Henry, do you think Franklin would have grown into a good man?"

Henry was so startled, he took a step back.

"I know," said his father. "How can anybody ask that? But lately it's the only question I seem to be able to ask. Not: Why was Franklin taken from us? Not: What should happen to Chay Chouan? But: Would Franklin have grown into a good man? And I'm not sure I have the courage to hear a true answer."

This is an excellent novel. Period. Forget the YA designation and find a copy. Soon.

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