19 August 2008

Another A~Z Reading Challenge Catch-Up

“D” title: Daphne du Maurier's Classics of the Macabre (Doubleday, 1987) by Daphne Du Maurier.
Why? I loved Rebecca and was completely chuffed to discover Du Maurier had written the short story “Birds” -- supposedly the basis for Hitchcock’s film. I say “supposedly,” because the one seems to have nothing to do with the other aside from, well, birds. I haven’t seen Hitchcock’s film all the way through (too campy), but I liked Du Maurier’s story immensely. All dark and claustrophobic, it creeped me out quite nicely. It’s hard to imagine that chilling tale transferred to Hitchcock’s sunny California town -- the story needs broody rural Cornwall and the memory of WWII (bombing raids, BBC broadcasts, and the very real fear of invasion) to carry it off. The other stories (“Don't look now,” “The apple tree,” “The blue lenses,” “The alibi,” and “Not after midnight”) were also quite excellent. Du Maurier’s stories are, to my mind, reminiscent of those by Shirley Jackson or Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The horrors are subtle and more often implied then explicit. In that way they seem terribly real and far more creepy then something with werewolves or midnight graveyards. I look forward to reading more of Du Maurier’s stories in Echoes from the Macabre (DoubleDay, 1976) and in any other collection I can get my greedy little hands on.
“S” title: Sunday You Learn How to Box (Scribner, 2000) by Bil Wright.
Sunday You Learn How to Box tells the story of Louis Bowman, a bright and sensitive (read: “sissy”) teen who lives in the housing projects of suburban 1960s Connecticut with his abusive mother and stepfather. His mother suspects (fears?) Louis might be gay, so she sets up regular Sunday boxing lessons with his stepfather to both teach Louis how to “be a man” and to help him protect himself from the other project kids. Also, they’re a nice way to legitimize of the physical and psychological abuse Louis’s mother and stepfather already dole out. Louis faces other hardships, too, but Wright handles them skilfully and with a dry wit that takes some of the sting away. While this novel is certainly not sentimental, it does have a certain sweetness and wistfulness about it which made this novel hard to put down. I only wish there were more of it.

09 August 2008

A~Z Reading Challenge Catch-Up

“R” author: Empress of the World (Penguin, 2001) by Sara Ryan

Empress of the World (Lambda finalist and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults selection) is novel about friendship and first love. While attending a summer college program for gifted high school students, Nic(ola) falls in with a pack of geeky-cool teens and befriends a girl named Battle (the perfect daughter of a ex-actor turned Christian minister). Somehow friendship turns into love … and then not-love and then friendship, again.

I enjoyed the fluidness of Nic and Battle’s relationship -- that they could go from friends to lovers and back to friends without the end of that love making them any less friends. Oh, yes, there was teen drama and angst, but the heartbreak was well-managed and realistic. No-one vowed they could Never Love Again.

I was also amused by Nic’s refusal to be pigeon-holed as a lesbian. All her (straight) friends seemed to really want to slap the "L" label on her and her relationship with Battle, but she refused it. Nic had dated boys before Battle and, maybe, she’d date boys again. Or, maybe, she’d find a nice girl. She'd crushed on a girl before Battle. Did any of that matter, anyway? Was it anyone's business what she called herself? On the other hand, she's didn't think much of the "B" word:
[bisexual is a weird world. it sounds like you have to buy sex. or it could be one of those one-celled creatures you study in biology. "today, class," we will study the life cycle of the bisexual." "oh, i thought those were extinct."]
“M” title: Madapple (Knopf, 2008) by Christina Herendeen

I picked Madapple largely because of the cover art. I found the cover image (ghost pale girl with shadowed eyes holding a vibrant orange butterfly under an oppressive sky) to be very compelling and couldn't wait to read the book. The novel's connection with herbalism/natural history also appealed.

Madapple (while nominated for the ALA Best Book for Young Adults list) has received criticism from those who perceive it to be morally and/or religiously objectionable. This isn't, after all, a novel which touches lightly or particularly kindly on Christianity. The novel's religious authority figures don't come off well and belief seems, overall, to be a tool of madness. That said, the novel's take on Christianity isn't really that ground breaking -- there are Virgin Birth and Messiah stories outside of Christianity? Gasp. I never guessed.

Honestly, I really don't know what to make of Madapple. None of the characters were particularly likeable or supportable. Frequently, it seemed as if I was reading an herbal or a religious primer. Very seldom did I feel I was reading about a real girl. Bouncing between the court transcripts from 2007 and the events of 2003-2004 didn't help as I found it really interrupted the flow of the story and just left me confused about what the heck was going on.

Overall, I suppose the novel was ... interesting ... yet I don't feel anything but tiredness when I think of it.

Would I have liked it better when I was thirteen? I don't know. The natural science and incest themes (I liked Flower in the Attic around that age, after all) would have fascinated me, but I think I would have lost patience with all the religion.

Wrong Book? Wrong Reader?

08 August 2008

"Long Live the Glorious Cockroach Revolution!"

Last night, a little girl told me she had eaten a maggot.¹ Bemusedly, I asked her what it tasted like and she said “cheddar cheese.”

Dr. Bugman was at the library last night as part of Children's bug-themed summer reading program. To the delight of many children, he filled the library’s basement with gross and disgusting creepy crawlies. Yes, tarantulas, scorpions, roaches, millipedes, freaky hairy spiders were all scuttling around -- just waiting for the right moment to begin the Glorious Insect Uprising of ‘09.

Sursum per Insecta?

But I exaggerate. All the buggies were quite well-behaved and the humans certainly sounded like they had a good time. Several other brave souls did consume buggy goodness -- the Head of Children’s, bless her, ate a bacon and cheese flavored cricket.

Bacon. Flavored. Cricket. I must reconsider my core belief that there is nothing bacon can't make better.

(Speaking of bacon, Daisy the pot-bellied reading pig, will be at the library next week to "pig out" on reading).


¹ Maggots are good eating, you know. Or so Johann Wyss's novel, The Swiss Family Robinson, taught me in my formative years:
In the pith I saw some fat worms or maggots, and suddenly recollected that I had heard of them before as feeding on the sago, and that in the West Indies they are eaten as a delicacy.

I felt inclined to try what they tasted like; so at once kindling a fire, and placing some half dozen, sprinkled with salt, on a little wooden spit, I set them to roast.

Very soon rich fat began to drop from them, and they smelt so temptingly good, that all repugnance to the idea of eating worms vanished; and, putting one like a pat of butter on a baked potato, I boldly swallowed it, and liked it so much, that several others followed in the same way. Fritz also summoned courage to partake of this novel food; which was a savoury addition to our dinner of baked potatoes.

-- excerpted from Chapter VII
(Oh, yes, The Swiss Family Robinson taught me many things. By eleven, I was positively pining to be a shipwrecked on a deserted isle).