12.31.2012

Books read in 2012

Total as of December 31: 137
My comments on the books read this year are collected here.

Notes:
1. The revised total reflects that fact that the five volumes of Hugh Howey's Wool saga are more appropriately considered a single work.

2. The list of books read, which had previously been more or less chronological, has been sorted: Plays, Classics (a debatable category, I know), Poetry, General fiction, YA fiction, Non-fiction, and Graphic works (comprising both fiction and non-fiction and non-fiction). If you really dig chronology, though, you can find the old list here.

3. As I mentioned throughout the year, my one reading goal was to read at least 52 non-fiction works. I read 50 (three of which were graphic works).

4. While all of the books listed under Plays, Classics, Poetry, and Graphic works were compelling, my favorites in the remaining categories -- General fiction, YA fiction, and Non-fiction -- have been moved to the top of their lists and separated from the remaining titles with a bar.

~ Plays (19)  ~
Coriolanus (William Shakespeare; play)
Timon of Athens (William Shakespeare; play)
The Taming of the Shrew (William Shakespeare; play)
Othello (William Shakespeare; play)
Henry V (William Shakespeare; play)
Hamlet (William Shakespeare; play)
Three Sisters (Anton Chekhov; play)
The Iceman Cometh (Eugene O'Neill; play)
The Misanthrope (Molière; play)
No Exit (Jean-Paul Sartre; play)
Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett; play)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Tom Stoppard; play)
Electra (Sophocles; play)
Oedipus Rex (Sophocles; play)
Our Town (Thornton Wilder; play)
The Crucible (Arthur Miller; play)
Black Watch (Gregory Burke; play)
Metamorphoses (Mary Zimmerman; play)
Equivocation (Bill Cain; play)

~ Poetry (1)  ~
Nox (Anne Carson; poetry)

~ Classics (11)  ~
The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien; fiction)
Dracula (Bram Stoker; fiction)
Watership Down (Richard Adams; fiction)
Animal Farm (George Orwell; fiction)
The Island of Dr. Moreau (H.G. Wells; fiction)
Frankenstein (Mary Shelley; fiction)
Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury; fiction)
First Love (Ivan Turgenev; fiction)
Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson; fiction)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Emmuska Orczy; fiction)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie; fiction)

~ General fiction (25)  ~
Tell the Wolves I'm Home (Carla Rifka Brunt; fiction)
The Age of Miracles (Karen Thompson Walker; fiction)
Things We Didn't See Coming (Steven Amsterdam; fiction)
A Thousand Cuts (Simon Lelic; fiction)
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (Jan-Philipp Sendker; fiction)
Sister (Rosamund Lupton; fiction)
The Middlesteins (Jami Attenberg; fiction)
 ___________________________________

The Devil All the Time (Donald Ray Pollock; fiction)
The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller; fiction)
Defending Jacob (William Landay; fiction)
The English Teacher (Lily King; fiction)
The Group (Mary McCarthy; fiction)
The Playdate (Alice Millar; fiction)
What Alice Forgot (Liane Moriarty; fiction)
The Silver Linings Playbook (Matthew Quick; fiction)
Gone, Girl (Gillian Flynn; fiction)
The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady (Elizabeth Stuckey-French; fiction)
Amped (Daniel H. Wilson; fiction)
The Lifeboat (Charlotte Rogan; fiction)
Bedbugs (Ben H. Winters; fiction)
Stay Close (Harlan Coben; fiction)
Never Knowing (Chevy Stevens; fiction)
Fly Away Home (Jennifer Weiner; fiction)
Pariah (Bob Fingerman; fiction)
Wool [complete] (Hugh Howey; fiction)

~ YA fiction (23)  ~
Feed (MT Anderson; fiction)
The Fault in Our Stars (John Green; YA fiction)
Going Bovine (Libba Bray; YA fiction)
UnWholly (Neal Shusterman; YA fiction)
I Am the Cheese (Robert Cormier; YA fiction)
Adventure Unleashed (______ __. _________; unpublished fiction)
___________________________________

Mr. Monster (Dan Wells; fiction)
I Don't Want to Kill You (Dan Wells; fiction)
Happy Endings Are All Alike (Sandra Scoppettone; YA fiction)
Are You in the House Alone? (Richard Peck; YA fiction)
Daughters of Eve (Lois Duncan; YA fiction)
The Wave (Todd Strasser; YA fiction)
The Hole (Guy Burt; fiction)
Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses (Adrian Mitchell; poetry, prose, myth)
The Tale of Paradise Lost: Based on the Poem by John Milton (Nancy Willard; fiction)
When You Were Mine (Rebecca Serle; YA fiction)
Shelter (Harlan Coben; YA fiction)
Falling for Hamlet (Michelle Ray; YA fiction)
Tiger Eyes (Judy Blume; YA fiction)
The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins; fiction)
Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher; YA fiction)
The Project (Brian Falkner; YA fiction)
Epic Fail (Claire LaZebnik; YA fiction)

~ Non-fiction (47)  ~
Counterfeit Kids: Why They Can't Think and How to Save Them (Rod Baird; non-fiction)
One for the Books (Joe Queenan; non-fiction)
Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (Joshua Foer; non-fiction)
The Autobiography of an Execution (David R. Dow; non-fiction)
The Memory Palace (Mira Bartók; memoir)
The Fiddler in the Subway (Gene Weingarten; non-fiction, journalism/essays)
The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg; non-fiction)
Hamlet: Poem Unlimited (Harold Bloom; non-fiction)
My Ideal Bookshelf (Thessaly La Force, editor, Jane Mount, illustrator; non-fiction) ___________________________________

Say This, NOT That to Your Professor (Ellen Bremen; non-fiction)
The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe; non-fiction)
The Birding Life: A Passion for Birds at Home and Afield (Larry Sheehan; non-fiction)
January First: A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her (Michael Schofield; non-fiction)
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr; non-fiction)
Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl (Stacey O'Brien; non-fiction)
The Essential Voter's Guide (TIME; non-fiction)
Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV, Part I (Peggy O'Brien; non-fiction)
Drawn In (Julia Rothman; non-fiction)
No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at age 16 (Alexandra Swann; memoir)
The Fat Flush Plan (Ann Louise Gittleman; health)
Are You Liberal? Conservative? Or Confused? (Richard J. Maybury; non-fiction)
The Year of Learning Dangerously (Quinn Cummings; memoir)
The Paleo Diet (Loren Cordain; non-fiction)
The Primal Blueprint (Mark Sisson; non-fiction)
How to Retire Overseas (Kathleen Peddicord; non-fiction)
Where to Retire (John Howells; non-fiction)
The Outsourced Self (Arlie Russell Hochschild; non-fiction)
Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? (Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D.; non-fiction)
Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age (Michael J. Gelb and Kelly Howell; non-fiction)
The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need (Andrew Tobias; non-fiction)
Lament for a Son (Nicholas Wolterstorff; non-fiction)
Roy Lichtenstein, 1923-1997 (Janis Hendrickson; non-fiction)
Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas, editor; non-fiction)
Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (Pamela Druckerman; non-fiction)
Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading (Lizzie Skurnik; non-fiction)
Bossypants (Tina Fey; non-fiction)
Retirement without Borders (Barry Golson; non-fiction)
The World's Top Retirement Havens (ed. Margaret J. Goldstein; non-fiction)
Let's Go: Peru, Ecuador & Bolivia (ed. Michelle R. Bowman; non-fiction)
iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us (Larry D. Rosen; non-fiction, psychology/technology)
The Difference (Jean Chatzky; non-fiction, personal finance)
The Pen Commandments (Steven Frank; non-fiction, writing)
Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books (Leah Price; non-fiction)
Immortal Bird (Doron Weber; memoir)
Stop Acting Rich... And Start Living Like a Real Millionaire (Thomas J. Stanley; non-fiction; personal finance)
Like Shaking Hands with God (Kurt Vonnegut, Lee Stringer; non-fiction)
Artist's Journal Workshop (Cathy Johnson; non-fiction, art)

~ Graphic works, both fiction and non-fiction (11)  ~
Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me (Ellen Forney; graphic memoir)
Are You My Mother? (Alison Bechdel; graphic memoir)
The Zen of Steve Jobs (Caleb Melby; graphic non-fiction)
American Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yang; graphic novel)
Sweet Tooth Vol. 5: Unnatural Habitat (Jeff Lemire; graphic fiction)
Sweet Tooth Vol. 4: Endangered Species (Jeff Lemire; graphic fiction)
Sweet Tooth Vol. 3: Animal Armies (Jeff Lemire; graphic fiction)
Sweet Tooth Vol. 2: In Captivity (Jeff Lemire; graphic fiction)
Sweet Tooth Vol. 1: Out of the Woods (Jeff Lemire; graphic fiction)
Kill Shakespeare: Volume 1 (Conor McCreery; graphic fiction)
The Night Bookmobile (Audrey Niffenegger; graphic novel)

Reading life review

Number of books since last review: 4
Number of books read in 2012: 137
Complete list here.

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady (Elizabeth Stuckey-French) Fiction. Because it was purchased with two of my favorite reads from this year -- Sister (Rosamund Lupton; fiction) and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (Jan-Philipp Sendker; fiction) -- I had high hopes for this... and was disappointed.

The Middlesteins (Jami Attenberg) Fiction. It was the setting (Chicago) that first interested me, but the quirky family dynamic and dark humor kept me turning the pages (well, electronically -- read this one on the Kindle).

Say This, NOT That to Your Professor (Ellen Bremen) Non-fiction. Read in order to recommend to the Misses as both plan to dual enroll in either Fall 2013 or Spring 2014. Clear, practical, recommended.

The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe) Non-fiction. Reviews here and here.

12.23.2012

Few people visited the Milwaukee Zoo on the Saturday before Christmas.

Although we were among the only humans stirring, we had a wonderful time!

12.21.2012

"You can't dream big enough!"

 We met legendary broadcaster Orion "The Big O" Samuelson at a recent book-signing.

12.19.2012

The year in adventures

Over our long (and well deserved, if I do say so myself) winter break, we plan to see Les Miserables and The Hobbit in (GULP!) a movie theater. We're also counting on another Milwaukee County Zoo visit and Starved Rock State Park birding hike. Otherwise, though, our break will be centered on home, comprising conversation, food, books, games, swim practices, walks, and family film nights.

But although we're concluding 2012 on a rather quiet note, the rest of the year provided us with ample doses of adventure.
THEATER
The Feast: an intimate Tempest at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater
A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater
South Pacific at the Cadillac Palace Theatre
Short Shakespeare! The Taming of the Shrew at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Being Shakespeare from the Chicago Shakespeare Theater at the Broadway Playhouse
Timon of Athens at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater
The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre
Crowns at the Goodman Theatre
Three Sisters at the Steppenwolf Theatre
Sunday in the Park with George at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Hamlet at the Writers' Theatre
Equivocation at the Victory Gardens Theater
Black Watch from the Chicago Shakespeare Theater at the Broadway Armory
Metamorphoses at the Lookingglass Theatre
Les Miserables at the Cadillac Palace Theatre
A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre
The School for Lies at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater


CHICAGO SYMPHONY CENTER
■ Joshua Bell
■ Leif Ove Andsnes
■ Yo-Yo Ma 
■ Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma


LYRIC OPERA
The Magic Flute 
Elektra


MUSEUMS, ZOOS, AND THE LIKE
■ The Field Museum (multiple visits)
The Art Institute  of Chicago (multiple visits)
Morton Aboretum
Brookfield Zoo (multiple visits)
Lincoln Park Conservatory
Lincoln Park Zoo 
Volkening Heritage Farm
■ The Vera Meineke Nature Center at Spring Valley
Milwaukee County Zoo
Museum of Science and Industry
Volo Auto Museum
Cantigny: The First Division Museum and the Robert R. McCormick Museum
 
OTHER
Job "shadow" (marine mammal training) at Oceans of Fun
■ Bristol Renaissance Faire
■ Yankees v. White Sox

■ "Wild Encounter" (marine mammal training) at the Brookfield Zoo

What a year!

12.15.2012

Reading life review

Number of books since last review: 5
Number of books read in 2012: 133 *
Complete list here.

Counterfeit Kids: Why They Can't Think and How to Save Them (Ron Baird) Non-fiction. After reading Joanne Jacobs' entry on Baird -- "Helicopter-ed kids in the classroom" -- I downloaded Counterfeit Kids to the Kindle. Throughout, I nodded and even periodically spluttered, "Amen! Sing it, brother!" You can check out the preface and a sample chapter here. Recommended.

The Misanthrope (Molière) Play. Read with the Misses in anticipation of The School for Lies at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien) Fiction. A re-read for both me and Mr. M-mv, this time with the Misses in anticipation of the movie.

The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller) Fiction. This book, a re-imagining of the Achilles narrative as a love story, will not appeal to everyone, but I though it was both moving and compelling. Reviews (mixed) here, here, here, and here.

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl (Stacey O'Brien) Non-fiction. The Misses and I were working on this book more than two years ago but ended up setting it aside, apparently. A recent discussion about wildlife rehabilitation led us to remember O'Brien's memoir, and then we wondered, "Hey! How did that end?" We simply restarted, which is just as well since the first two-thirds of the book are better than the last third. By the time she began struggling with her own crippling health issues and Wesley's advanced age and inevitable death, she was -- as expected -- not the same person she was at the beginning of the narrative, but her story ceases to be as engaging -- or perhaps, more fairly, as easy to relate to -- at the conclusion as it was at the outset.

In progress:

With the exception of Moby-Dick, the following books may be completed by the end of the year.

The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe) Non-fiction.  This will likely be the next book completed.

 ■ The Uncoupling (Meg Wolitzer) Fiction.  I admired her The Ten-Year Nap (related entry here), but this is a bit of a slog. We'll see.

Here Comes Trouble (Michael Moore) Memoir. (Still) listening to this compelling, author-narrated memoir when I ride my bike, which is mounted on a trainer in the garage for the winter.

Physics for Future Presidents (Richard A. Muller) Non-fiction. With Miss M-mv(ii).

Shine (Lauren Myracle) YA fiction.

Quiet (Susan Cain) Non-fiction. 

Kill Shakespeare, Vol. 2 (Conor McCreery) Graphic fiction.  

Moby-Dick (Herman Melville) Fiction. Completed Chapter 17 of 135. As I've mentioned, the Misses and I are doing the Moby-Dick Big Read

* The revised (effective December 13) total to date reflects that fact that the five volumes of Hugh Howey's Wool saga are more appropriately considered a single work.

12.06.2012

The Girls Rule! School: A progress report

The Girls Rule! School operates year-round, our academic year begins in August, and our studies generally sort themselves into three terms: August through December, January through April, and May through July. Rather than taking an extended break, we enjoy "relaxed" periods of study that usually coincide with the winter holidays, the conclusion of winter swim season, and the conclusion of summer swim season. ("Relaxed" here means, minimally, math-music-literature, but also includes wrapping up aspects of independent study projects, working on neglected art pursuits, and taking additional field trips, particularly those related to birding or nature study.)

With the first term of the 2012-2013 academic year drawing to a close, then, I find myself reviewing our progress, including adequate work with Destinos (Spanish); an term-long history unit focusing on the U.S. Constitution, political philosophy, and the presidential campaign and election; and excellent work in math, logic, and science.

Here are some other highlights:

LITERATURE
Shakespeare studies: 
Hamlet
Henry V

Plays (other than Shakespeare's works):
Three Sisters (Anton Chekhov)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Tom Stoppard)
Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett)
No Exit (Jean-Paul Sartre)
Oedipus Rex (Sophocles)
Elektra (Sophocles)
The Misanthrope (Molière)

Novels:
Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
The Island of Dr. Moreau (H.G. Wells)
Animal Farm (George Orwell)
Watership Down (Richard Adams)
Dracula (Bram Stoker)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie)
The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Life of Pi (Yann Martel)

Poetry:
Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools
Poetry Out Loud

Noteworthy non-fiction:
Are You Liberal? Conservative? Or Confused? (Richard J. Maybury)
Physics for Future Presidents (Richard A. Muller) [Miss M-mv(ii)]
Essential Animal Behavior (Graham Scott) [Miss M-mv(i)]

FIELD TRIPS AND OTHER ADVENTURES
Theater:

Crowns at the Goodman Theatre
Three Sisters at the Steppenwolf Theatre
Sunday in the Park with George at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Hamlet at the Writers' Theatre
Equivocation at the Victory Gardens Theater
Black Watch at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Broadway Armory)
Metamorphoses at the Lookingglass Theatre
Les Miserables at the Cadillac Palace Theatre
A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre
The School for Lies at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Music:
■ Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma at Chicago Symphony Orchestra


Opera:
Elektra at the Lyric

Museums:
Volo Auto Museum
The Art Institute  of Chicago
Cantigny: The First Division Museum and the Robert R. McCormick Museum
■ The Field Museum

Other:
■ Yankees v. White Sox
■ "Wild Encounter" (marine mammal training) at the Brookfield Zoo
■ The Vera Meineke Nature Center at Spring Valley
■ Miss M-mv(i)'s first violin recital
Five swim meets: three rec team and two USA Swimming
■ Weekly volunteer gig coaching young swimmers
■ Miss M-mv(i)'s first paid job (lifeguard)
■ Weekly piano (both Misses), violin (Miss M-mv(i)), and guitar (Miss M-mv(ii)) lessons and daily practice

11.28.2012

Reading life review

Number of books since last review: 7
Number of books read in 2012: 132
Complete list here.

The Silver Linings Playbook (Matthew Quick) Fiction. Between and during numerous appointments today, I read Quick's debut novel, which features a likable if troubled narrator. The story was both sad and sweet but not too much of either. More, the characters who served as Pat's support system were good people. Recommended.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie) Fiction. A reread, this time with the Misses. *possible spoiler alert* This is, of course, the grandmother of the "unreliable narrator" plot twist, but what is truly remarkable is how well it holds up, even on rereading. Excellent.

Dracula (Bram Stoker) Fiction. With Mr. M-mv and the Misses; we all thoroughly enjoyed it. With such a slow, methodical build, though, we were somewhat surprised by how hasty the resolution seemed.

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me (Ellen Forney) Graphic memoir. Not as deftly handled as Alison Bechdel's work.

 ■ Bedbugs (Ben Miller) Fiction. Began as one sort of novel and gradually became an quick, entertaining horror story.

Stay Close (Harlan Coben) Fiction. Meh. Should have been more entertaining than it was.

My Ideal Bookshelf (Thessaly La Force, editor, Jane Mount, illustrator) Non-fiction.

In progress:

The Misanthrope (Molière) Play. With the Misses. In anticipation of The School for Lies at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Moby-Dick (Herman Melville) Fiction. Completed Chapter 13 of 135. The Misses and I are doing the Moby-Dick Big Read, a chapter a day, so we'll be on this into 2013. We're also enjoying Matt Kish's wonderful art book, Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page.

Here Comes Trouble (Michael Moore) Memoir. Listening to this compelling, author-narrated memoir while riding my bike each morning. (The bike is mounted on a trainer in the garage for the winter.)

Physics for Future Presidents (Richard A. Muller) Non-fiction. With Miss M-mv(i).

Shine (Lauren Myracle) YA fiction.

Quiet (Susan Cain) Non-fiction. 

The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe) Non-fiction.  

Kill Shakespeare, Vol. 2 (Conor McCreery) Graphic fiction.   

11.26.2012

Seven things

Magnificent Octopus has tagged me with seven bookish questions:

1. What book (a classic) do you hate?
Tess of the d'Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy). You know, it's really rather unfair of me, too, I'll freely admit that. I read the book for a graduate course in Victorian literature at Temple University. Spring semester 1988, I think. Class met in the early evening at one of the satellite campuses. A lot of eager English lit types, the sort who turn in single-spaced papers with quarter-inch margins in order to say all they feel compelled to say while remaining within the professor's strict weekly two-page response requirement.

The week we were to discuss Tess, he opened as always, with a leading question about our response to the novel. For whatever reason, the class was silent, almost guiltily so. Didn't they read it? I wondered. He asked again. The absence of pseudo-erudition became most uncomfortable. We can sit here all night, people, the professor sighed.

Well, I offered with a light laugh and a glance around the room, that Angel is rather a slow one, eh? Who knew he'd be such a pill?

I was being a smartass. The lone journalism major among this set of English prof wannabes, I turned in papers according to conventional standards -- double-spaced, one-inch margins -- and I actually read the books. Every book. Every page. Of course I realized that Angel was a creature of the conventions and limitations of his time, but wasn't it fun to call him out on his double standards from the relative comfort and social tolerance of the late 1980s?

I guess not.

The professor spent the next two hours using my remark to demonstrate how utterly "some people" missed the point of the novel, how "limited" readers are when they can only frame their responses from their own experience, and so on. And my classmates? Who hadn't even read the feckin' novel? What a bunch of sycophants they turned out to be: Oh, yes, professor. Some people. So limited. How foolish.

They had nothing to say about Tess or Angel or Victorian mores. No, better to talk about a reader's flippant comment than the actual text, especially if you haven't read said text. I remember it all as if it happened last night.

I hate Tess of the d'Urbervilles because isn't it much more acceptable to say you hate a book than to say you hate a person?

2. To what extent do you judge people by what they read?
Where once I judged -- sharply! -- what people read, now I am often just so grateful to see that people read at all.

3. What television series would you recommend as the literariest?
"LOST" comes to mind simply because of the number of books referenced, but if by "literariest" you mean "like a good book," then I recommend both the Wallander series featuring Kenneth Branagh and the Sherlock Holmes series featuring Jeremy Brett.

4. Describe your ideal home library. 
Mine.  


5. Books or sex? 
Both, of course.

6. How do you decide what to read next?
The book chooses me. Oh, I can acquire and stack and list and plan and organize and commit, but the book chooses me.

7. How much do you talk about books in real life (outside of the blogging community)?
More than most readers have an opportunity to do, I suppose, since I am steering two readers through high school, but less than I would like. In a perfect world, it is what I do all day long: Read. Talk about what I'm reading, what others are reading. Read about what I'm reading, what others are reading. Write, often about reading. Read some more. Sleep.

Pages Turned, Girl Detective, Semicolon, would you folks like to answer the same seven questions?

1. What book (a classic?) do you hate?
2. To what extent do you judge people by what they read?
3. What television series would you recommend as the literariest?
4. Describe your ideal home library.
5. Books or sex?
6. How do you decide what to read next?
7. How much do you talk about books in real life (outside of the blogging community)?

11.08.2012

Reading life review

Number of books since last review: 7
Number of books read in 2012: 125
Complete list here.

Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV, Part I (Peggy O'Brien) Non-fiction. Technically, this belongs in my September review, but I neglected to include it. Folger's "Shakespeare Set Free" series is a wonderful resource.
Each book includes:
• Clearly written essays by leading scholars to refresh teachers and challenge older students
• Effective and accessible techniques for teaching Shakespeare through performance and engaging students in Shakespeare's language and plays
• Day-by-day teaching strategies that successfully and energetically immerse students of every grade and skill level in the language and in the plays themselves—created, taught, and written by real teachers
The Essential Voter's Guide (TIME) Non-fiction. And technically, this belonged in my October review. It was so utterly forgettable, though, it's no wonder that I forgot it. What a disappointment! The slim volume is simply a collection of rather dated articles on the candidates, their families, and their campaigns. Discussion of the issues was superficial, at best. What were you thinking? you ask. Really? I was just hoping for a survey to complement some of our discussions.

Sweet Tooth Vol. 5: Unnatural Habitat (Jeff Lemire) Graphic fiction. This volume collects Issues 26 through 32.

Black Watch (Gregory Burke) Play.

The Birding Life: A Passion for Birds at Home and Afield (Larry Sheehan) Non-fiction. It would be easy to dismiss this as a coffee table book, what, with its large format and sumptuous photographs. 'glad I didn't make that mistake.

Watership Down (Richard Adams) Fiction. This was my third pass through this deceptively simply novel. As Sawyer says, ""Helluva book. It's about bunnies."

One for the Books (Joe Queenan) Non-fiction. The much linked and shared WSJ article "My 6,128 Favorite Books" (October 22) was adapted from One for the Books. Since books about books and the reading life are some of my favorites, this was a delight.

In progress:

Dracula (Bram Stoker; fiction) Completed Chapter 10 of 27. With the Misses. We'll be done by November 20, after which we'll tackle The Misanthrope (Molière), in anticipation of The School for Lies at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Moby-Dick (Herman Melville; fiction) Completed Chapter 4 of 135. The Misses and I are doing the Moby-Dick Big Read, a chapter a day, so we'll be on this into 2013. We're also enjoying Matt Kish's wonderful art book, Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page.

10.31.2012

Reading life review: October

Number of books read in October: 18
Number of books read in 2012: 118
Complete list here.

Oedipus Rex (Sophocles) Play.
Electra (Sophocles) Play. With the Misses. We read the latter in anticipation of seeing Elektra at the Lyric Opera (which was simply amazing; related review here). What an intense drama Electra is! I thought Oedipus Rex was the height of Greek tragedy and the "filial horror story" genre. Heh, heh, heh. Was I ever wrong, eh?

The Playdate (Alice Millar) Fiction. If you like Ruth Rendell / Barbara Vine, you may enjoy this competent psychological thriller. I did.

Equivocation (Bill Cain) Play.
We saw a production of this wonderful play last month at the Victory Garden Theater.
In London in the year 1605, a down-and-out playwright called Shagspeare (yes, it’s him) receives a royal commission to write a play promoting the government’s version of Guy Fawkes’ treasonous Gunpowder Plot. As Shag navigates the dangerous course between writing a lie and losing his soul, or writing the truth and losing his head, his devoted theatre troupe helps him negotiate each step along the way. At once an explosive comedy of ideas and a high-stakes political thriller, Bill Cain’s award-winning Equivocation deftly reveals the cat-and-mouse games in politics and art, and the craft of learning how to speak the truth in difficult times.
I tracked down a copy of the manuscript through the Dramatist's Play Service. Terrific stuff, both onstage and on the page.
CECIL:
You make them happy, but not so happy as to make them reject their unhappiness. You make them angry, but not so angry as to inspire action. You reduce all of reality to spectacle, making action unnecessary, even impossible. You are the perfect civic religion.

(deep admiration)

Your work will outlast the Bible -- which it resembles -- but you've improved on it.

SHAG:
How?

CECIL:
You've kept the willing suspension of disbelief and gotten rid of the moral demands.
Kill Shakespeare: Volume 1 (Conor McCreery) Graphic fiction. Given the subject, one would have thought this would have been a particularly delightful and fast read for me, but it languished in the partially read pile for a quite some time. The cuts from one story line to another just seemed too abrupt, and I set it aside until this month. Now Volume 2 in in the TBR queue.

Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses (Adrian Mitchell) Poetry, prose, myth. The Misses and I thoroughly appreciated this "lite" introduction to Ovid.

Metamorphoses (Mary Zimmerman) Play. Exquisitely beautiful. Read in anticipation of seeing "this very special anniversary production, ten years after its smash hit Broadway opening."

The Fat Flush Plan (Ann Louise Gittleman) Health. Although weight loss is certainly a wonderful benefit of this detoxifying health and nutrition plan, I reread Fat Flush this month to reacquaint myself with simple ways to use food and vitamins to feel better and maintain good health.

No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at age 16 (Alexandra Swann) Memoir. I share neither this family's faith nor its commitment to accelerated schooling, but I did appreciate Swann's earnest narrative.

Drawn In (Julia Rothman) Non-fiction. Subtitled "A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists," this selection complemented Artist's Journal Workshop (Cathy Johnson) from earlier this year.

Nox (Anne Carson) Poetry. From the description at Amazon:
Nox is an epitaph in the form of a book, a facsimile of a handmade book Anne Carson wrote and created after the death of her brother. The poem describes coming to terms with his loss through the lens of her translation of Poem 101 by Catullus “for his brother who died in the Troad.” Nox is a work of poetry, but arrives as a fascinating and unique physical object. Carson pasted old letters, family photos, collages and sketches on pages. The poems, typed on a computer, were added to this illustrated “book” creating a visual and reading experience so amazing as to open up our concept of poetry.
From Nox:
Prowling the meaning of a word, prowling the history of a person, no use expecting a flood of light. Human words have no main switch. But all those little kidnaps in the dark. And the luminous, big, shivering, discandied, unrepentant, barking web of them that hangs in your mind when you turn back to the page you were trying to translate.
Gorgeous, original, memorable. Reviews: New Yorker, New York Magazine, NYT, the Washington Post.

American Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yang) Graphic novel. National Book Award Finalist in 2006. Michael L. Printz Award in 2007. Amazon.com Best Graphic Novel/Comic of the Year and the Booklist Top Ten Graphic Novel for Youth. These are just a fistful of the awards and accolades heaped on Yang's "ethnic bildungsroman." Superb in every way and highly recommended.

The Zen of Steve Jobs (Caleb Melby) Graphic novel. This delightful reimagining of the friendship between Jobs and Zen Buddhist priest Kobun Chino Otogawa sent me to my shelves in search of Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs.

January First: A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her (Michael Schofield) Non-fiction. Related article here.

The Hole (Guy Burt) Fiction. Although I can find nothing on M-mv (which entered its tenth year this month) or in my reading journals, I felt that I had begun or skimmed this before. And, no, I haven't seen the movie. In any event, it was an intriguing, if awkwardly written, psychological "thriller."

Shelter (Harlan Coben) YA fiction. While I've read and recommended some of Coben's adult fiction titles (e.g., Hold Tight and Caught), I thought this YA selection was improbable, to say nothing of impossibly "gappy" -- that is, too many plot-holes.

Henry V (William Shakespeare) Play. A re-read, with the Misses, for St. Crispin's Day.

Never Knowing (Chevy Stevens) Fiction.When Toby's Room appeared in my list of recommendations, Pat Barker's magnificent Regeneration Trilogy, which I read and pressed on anyone who would listen years ago, was recalled to me. Suddenly, there were a couple of Barker novels in my cart, and I thought, In for a penny, in for a pound, and perused the rest of the recommendations. Never Knowing was among them, and the price, which should have frightened me off, actually sold it: $2.73 in hardcover. (At this writing, it is $1.93.)

Yes, I'm certain quality fiction can be had at deep discounts, but this was not that. Never Knowing is simply a bound Lifetime movie: Adopted adult daughter never felt good enough. Has fraught family relationships, a handsome fiance, a whiny kid, a trusty dog, and an interesting job (one that allows her to run off and/or act erratically without making (m)any excuses). Visits a therapist. Tracks down her birth mother. A private detective later, learns the sordid truth about her conception. Gunshots! Kidnapping! Death! And of course, the requisite "twist." It was all so durned predictable.

And yet... not an altogether unpleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Heh, heh, heh.

10.15.2012

PSA: Identity thieves steal the social security numbers of dead children.

From "Social Security death list enables dead children’s ID theft" (Scripps Howard News Service, November 7, 2011):
Parents who recently lost a child are increasingly targeted by these thieves, experts say. Armed with the deceased child’s Social Security number and other personal information, the crooks falsely claim them as dependents and have the refunds routed to them.
You see, the Social Security Administration's Death Master File is sold to genealogy websites by the Commerce Department's National Information Service, which puts the numbers at the fingertips of researchers and thieves, alike. The latter file fake returns early, which results in the legitimate return being rejected.

In our case, this wasn't quite as traumatic as it could have been: Our son turned twenty-one the year he died but was no longer our dependent; hence, I filed a return on his behalf. In other words, our own return was unaffected. But it took many telephone calls and much paperwork to resolve the case, which was finally closed this past summer.

Families who have lost a dependent child may face the horror of dealing with the IRS regarding their own return, though.

I can't. even. imagine.

Here are a couple of related news articles and a post:

Identity Thieves Are Stealing Social Security Numbers From Dead Children 

Tax Cheats Troll Public List for Dead Kids’ Identities 

IRS May Have Lost Billions To Identity Theft, Treasury Says

I suspect there may be a special circle in hell for these people.
 

9.30.2012

Reading life review: September

Number of books read in September: 8
Number of books read in 2012: 100
Complete list here.

Our literature studies were the subject of a recent post, so this wrap-up may seem a little thin.

Hamlet (William Shakespeare) Play. With the Misses.

UnWholly (Neal Shusterman) YA fiction. A capable sequel to the disturbing Unwind.

Animal Farm (George Orwell) Fiction. With the Misses, who remembered hearing Mr. M-mv and I discussing this family book club selection with our son about eight years ago and arrived at the table with much to say about this "fairy story."

Hamlet: Poem Unlimited (Harold Bloom) Non-fiction. Reread to complement Hamlet studies.

Are You Liberal? Conservative? Or Confused? (Richard J. Maybury) Non-fiction. With the Misses.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Tom Stoppard) Play. A re-read, this time with the Misses.

Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett) Play. A re-read, this time with the Misses.

No Exit (Jean-Paul Sartre) Play. A re-read, this time with the Misses. Speaking of the last time I read this, neither then nor when I read the play in high school was there a film version readily available. What a wonder, then, to find it online this go-'round. This 1964 gem was directed by Harold Pinter, who also stars as Joseph Garcin. (Do you also find the music that introduces each of the characters via their death inordinately disturbing? *shudder*)

9.28.2012

Fine Art Friday

Then...
And now...
The Key, 1946
Jackson Pollock, American, 1912-1956

9.20.2012

Read. Think. Learn.

Warning: Cliché ahead.

Where in tarnation did September go, eh?

I could blame the missing month on the fact that the Misses' swim team is now a USA Swimming club. The winter season began more than a month earlier than it once did, and their practice group meets five nights a week (late!) for nearly two hours.

I could blame the missing month on the schedule demands (practice and lessons) of two students who study two instruments each.

I could blame the missing month on an assortment of home projects, like washing every. single. screen. and. window.

I could blame the missing month on the Othello app. But I only installed that yesterday. Heh, heh, heh. (Speaking of apps, Girl Detective recommends this one. I installed that yesterday, too, and I agree with her: Squee!)

To be perfectly honest, though, neither swimming nor music are to blame. Nor are the screens and windows. Or the app. Quite simply, the demands of shepherding two capable students, one of whom is angling to graduate two years early, through high school leaves me little time to chronicle said days. Be clear: I have no complaints. I do, however, have a considerable amount of reading, grading, planning, and studying. Forget math, science, history, Spanish, logic and philosophy, writing and grammar. Consider literature alone. Our academic year began just seven weeks ago, and we've already studied:

Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
Three Sisters (Anton Chekhov)
The Island of Dr. Moreau (H.G. Wells)
Hamlet (William Shakespeare)
Animal Farm (George Orwell)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Tom Stoppard)

To say nothing of our work on Poetry 180 and the discussions and additional reading that evolve from that. 

(Aside: My AP English class didn't cover that much material in a year, let alone seven weeks. Sometimes I don't know whether to be more amazed by the students or by the efficiency of this method of studying and learning.)

Naturally, we don't simply read these works. In late August, we saw the Tracy Letts adaptation of Three Sisters at the Steppenwolf Theatre (reviews here and here) and are still  in search of a more traditional interpretation of that play. More recently, we saw a marvelous production of Hamlet at the Writers' Theatre. (Reviews here, here, and here. We loved it.) We saw the Branagh film and read and studied the play. (Resources included four related lectures from Peter Saccio's two Teaching Company courses.) Synchronicity/Serendipity/Synthesis led us to watch Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990) before the performance, so the Misses arrived feeling well versed in "antic dispositions." Like me, they tend to have a deep appreciation for what we call the "Modern Wing of literature" (akin to the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago), so they really poured something of themselves into our oral interpretation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

We couldn't watch, read, and study Ros & Guil without delving into Theater of the Absurd: We have the "Beckett on Film" production of Waiting for Godot slated for this weekend's family film night -- this in addition to the 1980 Hamlet featuring Derek Jacobi and Patrick Stewart as Hamlet and Claudius, respectively. (Why? Because Professor Saccio said so. He also insisted that we see the 1948 version with Laurence Olivier. And we will.) I was unable to secure a copy of the 1961 Waiting for Godot my son and I watched. Featuring Burgess Meredith and Zero Mostel as Vladimir and Estragon, respectively, it was simply perfect. Here's hoping the "Beckett on Film" production works (nearly) as well. (Aside: Having learned that Brian Dennehy, who I just saw in The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre (related entries here and here), is slated to appear in Waiting for Godot at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival next season (short announcement here), we think we may already know how the 2013 edition of "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" ends.) We'll read the play next week, but "for fun," we're also reading Watership Down (Richard Adams).

Looking ahead, in early October, we'll "kick it old school" by reading and studying Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Electra, the latter of which because we have tickets to see Elektra at the Lyric Opera. Similarly, in advance of seeing Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses at the Lookingglass, we plan to read an adaptation of Ovid's Metamorphoses and/or selections from Charles Martin's translation (even though, yes, I know, Zimmerman used the David R. Slavitt).

We'll reread and re-watch Henry V in celebration of St. Crispin's Day and then it's on to It Can't Happen Here (Sinclair Lewis), a tie-in of sorts with Animal Farm and with our political philosophy / U.S. Constitution / presidential election unit in history; The Misanthrope (Molière), on which the Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The School for Lies is based; and The Murder of Roger Akroyd (Agatha Christie) -- just because.

Even if my students don't ever seem to require a reading break, I know I will, so I've decided that the month of December will be given over to The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien) in anticipation of the film (December 14).

Speaking of "in anticipation of the film," Mr. M-mv and I are looking forward to Les Miserables -- both the movie (December 25) and the upcoming production in Chicago. We already have tickets to the latter, so we will finally be able to introduce the Misses to our favorite musical. (No, I don't think we'll be reading the novel, not even the abridgement. Not this year, anyway.)

And speaking of musicals, we'll see Sunday in the Park with George at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater this fall, which we will, of course, complement with a trip to the Art Institute to see A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

 But now I am beginning to stray from the original topic: literature.

And the month of September, nearly gone.

Enough about us, then. What are you reading, seeing, studying, doing?

8.31.2012

Reading life review: August

Number of books read in August: 7
Number of books read in 2012: 92
Complete list here.

What Alice Forgot (Liane Moriarty) Fiction. If, on the eve of your fortieth birthday, you suffered a memory loss that essentially erased the previous decade of your life, how would you reconcile your older and younger selves and the gulf of experience (failing relationships, changes of heart, defining friendships, hurts, sorrows, triumphs, etc.) that separated the two? That is the question at the center of what proved to be a pleasant summer novel.

Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) Fiction. With the Misses.

Fly Away Home (Jennifer Weiner) Fiction. I'm actually a fan of Weiner's capable chick lit, but this was a disappointment.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home (Carla Rifka Brunt) Fiction. All of the hackneyed expressions apply: graceful prose, memorable characters, and a heartbreaking narrative. I loved it.

Three Sisters (Anton Chekhov) Play. With the Misses, in anticipation of the Tracy Letts/Ann Shapiro adaptation at the Steppenwolf.

The Island of Doctor Moreau (H.G. Wells) Fiction. With the Misses. A fascinating "companion" to Frankenstein, no? Our discussion touched on such topics as irresponsible "fathers," scientific fervor v. ethics, and the nature of being human.

The Year of Learning Dangerously (Quinn Cummings) Non-fiction. One's initial impression of the narrator is that she is a wry, bright, and often socially awkward introvert (in other words, someone many of us would understand well and probably like), but more than once, an unappealing arrogance seeped into in her "voice." (Consider, for example, the chapter on the Christian homeschooling conference.) And is this a memoir masquerading as a survey of homeschooling methods? Or vice versa? It is not a fully realized version of either, so for this reader didn't succeed as either.

8.01.2012

Reading life review: July

Number of books read in July: 19
Number of books read in 2012: 85
Complete list here.

The Age of Miracles (Karen Thompson Walker) Fiction. I loved this quiet work of post-apocalyptic fiction, even if others didn't. There is something about summer reading for me, though: It's more... forgiving.

The Group (Mary McCarthy) Fiction. Robin at 52 Books challenged folks to read a NYT bestseller from the week and year they were born. As it happens, The Group was #2 during my week. It was a dated but compelling read.

 ■ Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (Joshua Foer) Non-fiction. This was our audio accompaniment for our ill-fated trip to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Related entry here.

Amped (Daniel H. Wilson) Fiction. Entertaining if thin sci-fi from the author of Robopocalypse, which I enjoyed last summer.

■  Happy Endings Are All Alike (Sandra Scoppetone) YA fiction. My Chapter 8 -- "Him She Loves: Romanced, Rejected, Affianced, Dejected" -- choice for Girl Detective's "Summer of Shelf Discovery" reading project. Related entry here.

■  Falling for Hamlet (Michelle Ray) YA fiction. I wanted this to be better than it was. Sigh.

A Thousand Cuts (Simon Lelic) Fiction. "But trust me. Being bullied: it bites." Quite possibly the best book I've read this year. Related entry here.

The Tale of Paradise Lost: Based on the Poem by John Milton (Nancy Willard) Fiction. With the Misses. This abridgement has both fans and foes. I will simply say that it's serviceable.

■  The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need (Andrew Tobias) Non-fiction. Rudimentary but helpful.

■  Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age (Michael J. Gelb and Kelly Howell. Non-fiction. A repetitive retread of the same ol' "feed your mind, eat right, exercise" advice you've heard before. Neat bit of synchronicity, though: Tony Buzan, whose memory empire is featured in Moonwalking with Einstein, penned the introduction.

Things We Didn't See Coming (Steven Amsterdam) Fiction. I know I've heaped superlatives on this month's reading, but Amsterdam's collection of related short stories set in utterly recognizable and believable post-apocalyptic world was, in a word, brilliant.

Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? (Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D.) Non-fiction. Read this as "research" for a piece You know what? This book actually frightened me. Apparently, some teenagers are really quite awful. Note to self: You won the parenting lottery. Thank you, LCpl M-mv and Misses.

■  Pariah (Bob Fingerman) Fiction. Gratuitously violent and crass. Cardboard characters. A thinly explained "twist." The illustrations were the most compelling aspect of this otherwise mediocre bit of zombie fiction.

■  The Paleo Diet (Loren Cordain) Non-fiction.
■  The Primal Blueprint (Mark Sisson) Non-fiction. Others have probably already observed that these seem like a rehash of Atkins. If, like me, you're late to the low-carb discussion, The Paleo Diet was the more readable text. Sisson's presentation was repetitive and poorly organized.

■  How to Retire Overseas (Kathleen Peddicord) Non-fiction.
■  Where to Retire (John Howells) Non-fiction. I keep returning to this topic, making new and improved (tentative) plans, running the numbers with all sorts of scenarios in mind. It's not so much that I read such books as pore over them, adding notes to my "Retirement" file, daydreaming, and reading sections aloud to Mr. M-mv.

■  The Outsourced Self (Arlie Russell Hochschild) Non-fiction. Related articles here and here. The Time Bind and The Second Shift fascinated me, but this one... not so much. It may be partially my fault, though: I've been reading it in fits and starts for about six weeks.

■  Epic Fail (Claire LaZebnik) YA fiction. Loosely patterned on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, this was almost painfully cute.

7.01.2012

Reading life review: June

Number of books read in June: 13
Number of books read in 2012: 66
Complete list here.

The Iceman Cometh (Eugene O'Neill) Play. Related entries here and here.

Tiger Eyes (Judy Blume) YA fiction. My Chapter 2 choice for Girl Detective's "Summer of Shelf Discovery" reading project. Related entry here.

Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) Fiction. With the Misses. Recent chapbook entry here. From the archives: here, here, here.

Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas, editor) Non-fiction. Edited by the the series creator, this somewhat uneven collection of essays served as a lightweight diversion while we awaited Season 2 from the library.

Roy Lichtenstein, 1923-1997 (Janis Hendrickson) Non-fiction. Related entry here.

Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) Fiction. Folks have raved about this: here, here, here. I thought it was competent -- entertaining and well written -- but overpraised, which can irritate me. You know, earlier this year, I loved Sister (Rosamund Lupton), which is, for all intents and purposes, in the same genre. Sometimes, it's all about how you arrive at a book.

I Am the Cheese (Robert Cormier) YA fiction. One of two Chapter 3 assignments for the "Summer of Shelf Discovery." Related entry here.

Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson) Fiction. With the Misses. How did we miss this when they were little? What a lot of fun. Admittedly, it's just a straightforward adventure story -- one improbability heaped against another, with a beguiling narrator, a cunning pirate, and quaint prose. But... we liked it. More, Treasure Island may well prove to have been just the reading respite we needed since we now turn our attention to the demanding Othello, .

Daughters of Eve (Lois Duncan) YA fiction. The second Chapter 3 assignment. See link above.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr) Non-fiction. Finally! Chapbook entry with related links here.

Lament for a Son (Nicholas Wolterstorff) Non-fiction. Chapbook entry here.

Are You in the House Alone? (Richard Peck) YA fiction. A Chapter 5 selection for the "Summer of Shelf Discovery" reading project.

Othello (William Shakespeare) Play. With the Misses, in anticipation of this year's trip to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Chapbook entry here. I recently wrote to Aunt M-mv:
Of all of the plays, it is the least complex, structurally. It is a linear plot with neither comedic respite nor subplot to leaven its inevitability, and it's so easy to communicate its ideas to teen audiences -- the ease with which we can be worked up into sexual jealously, the ridiculous nature of Iago's grief against Othello, the sense that this is just a romantic comedy gone murderously wrong, etc. But most schools won't touch it with a pole of any size, which is too, too bad. This is likely the one that would hook even the most reluctant student.
Next up are the Saccio lectures on this tragedy, then the trip to the Festival.

6.01.2012

Reading life review: May


Number of books read in May: 9
Number of books read in 2012: 52
Complete list here.

The Night Bookmobile (Audrey Niffenegger) Graphic novel. Related entry here.

First Love (Ivan Turgenev) Fiction. Related entry here.

Are You My Mother? (Alison Bechdel) Graphic memoir. Related entry here.

When You Were Mine (Rebecca Serle) YA fiction. You know? I really wanted to loathe this retelling of Romeo and Juliet, particularly the "central casting" aspect of Serle's characterizations. But... it was actually rather sweet and old-fashioned.

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading (Lizzie Skurnik) Non-fiction. A reread for me. Why? Related entry here.

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (Pamela Druckerman) Non-fiction. This book takes itself quite seriously when, in fact, it's nothing more than commonsense parenting packaged as an exotic discovery. I realize that the circles in which Druckerman runs may eschew "The Look" (i.e., "Big Eyes") or early and ceaseless coaching in excellent manners as too authoritative and/or too robotic, but some parents (Alas! Too few, too few!) have quietly gone about the business of raising their children sans any reminders about who makes the decisions and why.

Bossypants (Tina Fey) Non-fiction. Listened to this one on the Kindle. Smart, funny, entertaining.

The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) YA fiction. Others have already amply praised this beautiful novel: NPR, Washington Post, TIME, and NYT.

 The Devil All the Time (Donald Ray Pollock) Fiction. Relentlessly grim but perfectly paced and neatly woven, this was the "it" book a couple of seasons ago. What seemed to capture many imaginations, though, was Pollock's personal history: He published his first book, Knockemstiff, in 2008 after working as a laborer in a paper mill for more than thirty years. While that is interesting, I think his work would have been compelling even without the backstory. The jacket copy notes similarities to Natural Born Killers and the stories of Flannery O'Connor, but I was reminded of that underappreciated 2001 film Frailty. Pollock's novel explores some of the same psychological landscape -- the twisted pursuits, the underlying faith, the inevitability of it all.

5.06.2012

"You must be very angry at your mother."

Are You My Mother? (Alison Bechdel)

Graphic memoir. Having branded Fun Home "Don't miss!" (related entry here), I wanted to read Bechdel's follow-up memoir on its release. Reviews have been mixed, though, even within one publication: the NYT and the NYT; Slate, Kirkus Reviews, and NPR.

And my own review is somewhat mixed, too. Intelligent, insightful, and abundantly gifted with both text and illustration, Bechdel blends personal history, including conversations with her therapists, with wisdom culled from her close reading of both Donald Winnicott and Virginia Woolf -- all in an effort to navigate what some have described as the most fraught relationship in the world: mother and daughter. Heady and universal stuff, right? So why am I not responding to it with the same degree of discovery and appreciation that  underscored my reading of Fun Home? I wondered. Then, the following exchange (pp. 200-203) between Bechdel and her mother helped me define my vague sense of frustration with parts of the work:
"The self has no place in good writing."

"Uhhh...Yeah, but don't you think that... That if you write minutely and rigorously enough about your own life... You can, you know, transcend your particular self?"

"Wallace Stevens wrote transcendent poetry, and he never used the word 'I.'"
I'm a fan of rigorous -- ruthless, even -- self-evaluation, but in some sections of Are You My Mother? writing "minutely and rigorously" resulted in the opposite of transcending "your particular self" -- and it was in those narrative weak spots that I grew restless.

That said, I do recommend this book, particularly to those who heeded my Fun Home recommendation.