Looking for Alaska, John Green (2005)
Some months back I blogged about The Fault in our Stars, by John Green. I absolutely loved this book. I went in search of everything else the author has written, and with another title down, I have not been disappointed. Green’s 2005 debut novel Looking for Alaska was about as good a youth novel as I’ve ever read.
It’s almost impossible to write about this book without spoiling a major plot reveal. I loved the way the author managed this – it damn near took my breath away – and I don’t (Read more…)
In a New York Times op-ed, I’ve learned that BuzzFeed has announced the hiring of its first book editor, and will start publishing book reviews. But it will not run negative book reviews. Isaac Fitzgerald (formerly of The Rumpus and McSweeney’s) said: BuzzFeed will do book reviews, Fitzgerald said, but he hasn’t figured out yet what form they’ll take. It won’t do negative reviews: “Why waste breath talking smack about something?” he said. “You see it in so many old media-type places, the scathing takedown rip.” Fitzgerald said people in the online books community “understand that about (Read more…)
If you haven’t read anything by Zadie Smith, I highly recommend finding White Teeth, her debut novel, and diving in. Smith wrote White Teeth while still attending university, and it was published to great acclaim when she was only 25 years old. It’s a wonderfully sprawling novel, by turns wry, satirical, and poignant, crammed full of vibrant characters, multiple themes and threads, and brilliant, surprising language. It deals with the cultural clashes and changes of immigration, generations, and class differences.
If you read White Teeth and didn’t like it, stop right there; you’re not going to like anything else (Read more…)
For Canadians who fear and distrust the steadily growing militarism suffusing the culture of our country, two recent books are indispensable: What We Talk About When We Talk About War, by Noah Richler, and Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift.
Richler’s book focuses on the re-writing and re-framing the distant past. And as the title (with its homage to Raymond Carver) suggests, Richler focuses on language. He analyzes how Canada’s image of itself, in relation to war-making and the military, has been radically altered, bit by incremental bit.
The book (Read more…)
From Noah Richler’s What We Talk About When We Talk About War: We have a duty to be honest and rigorous, with ourselves and with others, and to be able to brook contradiction and argument in our discussions of past wars and the present one in Afghanistan. But instead, in today’s Canada, we have arrived at a point where the use of any language that is not euphemistic is greeted as an assault on the work of soldiers, on a singular view of our past, and therefore on the character of the nation itself. Ideology thrives. History hardly comes into (Read more…)
[The over-emphasis on Canadian military history] distorts and downplays the significant roles that Canadian politicians, diplomats, jurists and a variety of other civilians (such as artists) have had in shaping not just the domestic Canadian polity but abstract, universal ideas about statehood that have served as examples internationally – in Scottish constitutional development, for instance, and of course in the development of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted in 1948.
The nature of this contribution is significant specifically because the truth of Canadian history is that our military’s stake has not been inordinate. Resolution through discussion and compromise, (Read more…)
Over the summer, I wrote about The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, a children’s book with a suspenseful, convoluted story, lavishly illustrated with Selznick’s beautiful pencil drawings. (I scanned several of those images into my earlier post.)
I’ve just finished Selznick’s most recent book, Wonderstruck. Wonderstruck is filled with drawings in the same distinctive pencil style, but it is even better than Hugo Cabret.
The central story of Wonderstruck is more linear, so it’s easier to follow. But Selznick employs a brilliant device that adds mystery and suspense to a straightforward story.
The reader follows the story (Read more…)
The children’s library where I work services a huge age-range of young people and their caregivers, from birth up to around age 12. I enjoy the full range – helping parents understand the importance of reading to their children, helping kids find fun books to read, finding material for school projects and reports – all of it. But what I love best is connecting avid young readers – of the age group known as “tweens” – with books they enjoy.
Wikipedia defines the tween demographic as ages 10-12, but tweens may be 9-13, or may even be as young as (Read more…)
There’s a subgenre of youth books in which young people are cast into an alien and dangerous world, where they must struggle to understand their purpose, struggle to survive. If you remember your own adolescence, the metaphor should be obvious.
These books are often characterized as nihilistic or depressing, but I find that’s generally the thoughts of people who haven’t read the book. While a survival book may be frightening and sometimes violent, it usually offers positive messages about what it takes to survive. Young heroes find inner reserves of strength and courage, and learn how to cope with harsh (Read more…)
I’ve just finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning, a classic written by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl in 1959, republished with various forewords and epilogues in 1984, 1992, and 2006. It’s a book I had long wanted to read but had forgotten about, until I saw it on the Mississauga Library System’s “Raves and Faves” display, adult nonfiction division.
Frankl, who died in 1997, was a neurologist, a psychiatrist, and a therapist. He was also a Holocaust survivor whose entire family perished in the Nazi death camps. The original German title of Man’s Search for Meaning is (Read more…)
I am in the middle of reading The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, a book almost too painful to read but impossible to put down. It’s achingly funny, profoundly insightful, and utterly heartbreaking, all at the same time. The Fault In Our Stars is supposedly a youth novel, but please don’t let that stop you from reading it. It is simply a wonderful book.
Hazel has cancer, and her life expectancy is short. Augustus is a cancer survivor, and has the prosthetic leg to prove it. Hazel and Augustus, two smart, funny, and otherwise ordinary teenagers, fall in (Read more…)
There is so much truly excellent youth fiction out these days, and it’s not all vampires and zombies. Here are two wonderful teen novels in two totally different veins.
There Is No Dog, Meg Rossoff, 2011
Like many excellent novels, Meg Rosoff’s There Is No Dog defies easy classification. It’s a comedy, but it’s heartbreaking. It’s a fantasy involving gods and goddesses with power over life and fate, but it pokes holes in the peculiar fiction known as religion. It’s about the mysteries of falling in love, and also about the mystery of being alive.
There Is No Dog (Read more…)
In the aftermath of the flood and with our impending move, when I’m not dealing with those events, all I want to do is read and blog. If you enjoy my “what i’m reading” posts, you’ll be happy. If not…
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I’ve long wanted to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Now that Martin Scorsese has adapted it into the movie “Hugo,” I wanted to make sure I read it before seeing the film.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a wonderfully inventive and engaging book. It combines elements of picture books, graphic novels, (Read more…)
The Casual Vacancy, J. K. Rowling’s first non- Harry Potter book, received almost universally poor reviews, ranging from tepid to savage. Reviewers found the book too long for the subject matter, too slow, poorly paced. They thought the plot was a soap opera. They found the writing cliched, studied, heavy-handed. In a book full of characters, they found few noteworthy. As one reviewer put it: “Unfortunately, the real-life world she has limned in these pages is so willfully banal, so depressingly clichéd that “The Casual Vacancy” is not only disappointing — it’s dull.”
Backlash? Impossibly (Read more…)
Revolutionary thought of the day: I can’t stop looking at Rue, smaller than ever, a baby animal curled up in a nest of netting. I can’t bring myself to leave her like this. Past harm, but seeming utterly defenseless. To hate the boy from District 1, who also appears so vulnerable in death, seems inadequate. It’s the Capitol I hate, for doing this to all of us.
Gale’s voice is in my head. His ravings against the Capitol no longer pointless, no longer to be ignored. Rue’s death has forced me to confront my own fury against the cruelty, the (Read more…)
This is the first in a series of reviews of youth (formerly called YA, or young-adult) novels, which I will be reading in no particular order and with no particular method. I love youth literature, and it’s simply a pleasure to read what I want once again, with no schoolwork hanging over my head. As with all my “what i’m reading” posts, if it seems that I like everything I read, it’s because I only write about books I enjoyed.
I finally read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I’ve been intensely curious about this book since it was released (Read more…)
Roddy Doyle is one of my favourite authors. I read everything he publishes for adults, but I had never read any of his children’s books before. I recently read two of them, and I’m so glad I did.
Wilderness, Roddy Doyle, 2007
In this story, a mother and her two sons set out on winter adventure vacation in Finland. They need some time alone together, while the boys’ teenage sister (their mom’s stepdaughter) needs some time alone to meet her biological mother.
The girl is a sullen, angry adolescent, trapped in her own confusing emotions, which she feels unable to (Read more…)
It’s been a while since I’ve written about children’s books, and an even longer while since I’ve done an interspecies love post, so why not combine the two? There’s a spate of children’s books depicting cross-species animal friendships, some excellent, some better avoided.
Children love these stories for the same reasons we do. There is something so touching – and off-the-charts cute! – about these friendships between animals who should, by nature, be afraid of each other, or even in a very different kind of relationship – at mealtime.
For kids, some of these books have a moral overlay, teaching
. . . → Read More: wmtc: children’s books # 6: the return of interspecies love
In anticipation of an upcoming trip to Spain, I’m re-reading For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway’s novel based on his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. I haven’t read Hemingway since the 1980s, and I’m enjoying it much more than I expected to.
I had mis-remembered Hemingway as a harsher, more macho voice. Maybe it was his love of bullfighting and hunting, or his personal image as a tough guy, but I was expecting bellicosity and possibly sexism. I didn’t find it. The voice is warm and generous, and he writes with great sensitivity and respect, and keen
. . . → Read More: wmtc: what i’m reading (and why): for whom the bell tolls
Revolutionary thought of the day: Across the road at the sawmill smoke was coming out of the chimney and Anselmo could smell it blown toward him through the snow. The fascists are warm, he thought, and they are comfortable, and tomorrow night we will kill them. It is a strange thing and I do not like to think of it. I have watched them all day and they are the same men that we are. I believe that I could walk up to the mill and knock on the door and I would be welcome except that they have orders
. . . → Read More: wmtc: rtod
After finally getting Jill Lepore’s “Lie Factory” posted on this blog, I will go back even further, to something I’ve wanted to post for nearly two years. No matter the date, this piece is timeless, and more relevant with every passing day.
This lengthy essay by Nicholson Baker ran in Harper’s in May of 2011: “Why I’m a pacifist: The dangerous myth of the Good War”. It’s available by pdf download with a Harper’s subscription, or (I hope) at your local library, or from me by request. (Artwork from the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Swarthmore, PA.)
. . . → Read More: wmtc: and one great read from harper’s: nicholson baker on "why i’m a pacifist: the dangerous myth of the good war"
The current New Yorker stories by Joseph Mitchell has given me an opportunity to post something I’ve been meaning to share for ages.
Last September, Jill Lepore unearthed an incredible bit of history, a piece of the American past that is alive with us today, and more dangerous than ever. (I am generally interested in anything Lepore writes; last year I gushed over her reviews of books about Clarence Darrow, one of my abiding heroes.)
In this piece, Lepore writes about the roots of political advertising – the falsehoods and trickery, the lies and slander, the deception and
. . . → Read More: wmtc: two great reads from the new yorker, part 2: jill lepore on political advertising
The New Yorker has given us a singularly rare gift: new writing by Joseph Mitchell.
Joseph Mitchell wrote about New York City and the multiplicity of people who inhabit it. Mitchell wrote nonfiction portraits of quirky people, overlooked trades, unknown professions, obsessive collectors. His warm, meticulous prose brought people to life before your eyes. He wrote beautifully, and with great respect for the endless diversity of humanity, long before diversity was a buzzword.
First edition, found here.
Mitchell wrote from 1929 to 1964. Then he stopped writing – stopped completely. In one of the most famous writer’s blocks known in
. . . → Read More: wmtc: two great reads from the new yorker, part 1: joseph mitchell on himself