Tuesday, November 22, 2016

5 for Children

This is the last list of five that are not from lists, at least for a while. I have enjoyed reading off my list because my list was a bit overwhelming this year. I am pretty sure I will have at least five titles that spill over into next year. So many of my titles were dense and heavy and historic- so very adult. It was great to pick up a book a child could read. Although even there, I managed to pick up some heavy subject matter!

1) Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo- Can someone tell me what has happened to our culture that we think disrespectful kids who treat adults like they are idiots are adorable? I think it started with Saved by the Bell. I truly do. Mr. Belding was an idiot, Zach was impertinent, and the formula began. Almost every Disney Channel show has this formula. And way too many children's books have this formula. It makes finding appropriate reading or viewing for my children really difficult. Finding good books for Elspeth is where this is the most annoying. Elspeth doesn't like to read classics very much. I don't know what it is about books that make them feel new, but I sense it too. And she just likes how newer books read. (She does take an exception with the Betsy Tacy books. But honestly, who wouldn't love Betsy Tacy?!) Anyway, Flora and Ulysses is a book about a young girl who treats all adults like they are stupid. Now maybe the adults in the book are stupid. (Some of them are- her parents seem to be particularly idiotic.) I don't care. Why are adult writers continually writing stupid adults? What does this teach children who read and watch these stories day after day? That adults are stupid? That stupid adults don't deserve respect? There is also a squirrel who flies and writes poetry in this book. I have never been able to find squirrels endearing, but somehow the insolent main character and the not so super squirrel find friendship and she does eventually also seem to appreciate the people, including the adults, in her life. Needless to say, after pre-reading, I decided this would not be a good book for Elspeth.

2) The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate- This one was a little better, but it was kind of sad. It was about a gorilla who lives in a cement cage at a shopping mall and performs in circus acts. It has the true happy ending of the gorilla's story it was based on, but much of the story is made up. That's not to say that it isn't a cute and sweet story. I think I just always feel conflicted over embellished truth. I think I'd rather the whole thing be made up- then I don't have to wonder about what did and didn't happen or how what actually happened actually happened. I didn't think Elspeth would enjoy this one so I sent it back to the library when I finished. However, I can see that many kids would enjoy it very much.

3) The Green Ember by S.D. Smith/ The Black Star of Kingston by S.D. Smith- My dear friend Rebekah sent these books to my children after George and I visited and left the children with grandparents. Her children love these two and rightly guessed that mine would as well. Smith is a contemporary Christian fiction writer not unlike Andrew Peterson and N.D. Wilson. I love that children's adventures after the fashion of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia are newly available for young readers!

4) Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson - There's a lot of time travel in this. It was a bit confusing to tell you the truth. August read it this summer and was very confused. I think some of it was because he didn't want to wait for answers to come. Even with the answers that did come, I was still a little confused. I wanted to like it more than I did. But I am still eager to read the next ones in the series as they are written and released. The most interesting unanswered question to me was the reason all of Sam's friends share names with Jesus' disciples. Perhaps this will become clearer as the story develops.

5) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - ugh. I had this on my next to read list, had put in a request for it at the library, and then apparently Chelsea Clinton mentioned the book in a speech she gave at the Democratic National Convention and everyone started snapping it up. Little do they know that L'Engle is a Christian author. Or maybe they do. But my purpose in reading it was because she is a Christian author and because I remember loving the book when I was about Elspeth's age. I didn't particularly love it this time. I didn't hate it, I just didn't feel like it had as much to it as it needed to. But it's a classic and I am not an expert, so I am probably wrong. Also, I'm not a big sic-fi person, so that's another reason I didn't love it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

5 by Comedians

This is another list of five not on any list books I read this year. I love comedy more than any other genre. I don't often read books by comedians though because I'd rather read a funny story. However, most memoirs have good stories, and comedians have the habit of looking at the humor in stories- so memoirs by comedians are usually chock full of good, funny stories.

1) Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling -I enjoy Mindy. She is smart and doesn't take herself too seriously. But I fear that she may start to as so many famous people do. I can't remember where I read a short piece about her recently where she endorsed Hillary Clinton. I mean, I don't expect any less from a woman in Hollywood, but because I don't read news of any kind, and because she is not professionally qualified to comment on news in any way, this strikes me as the beginnings of her taking herself pretty seriously- a comedian/writer/actress discussing politics in a fashion magazine? Of course she's going to have an opinion, but I'd rather see her joke about the election than seriously weigh in on it- there's way too many celebrities already doing that and it's getting old. Anyway, if you can get past Mindy's emphatically liberal agenda, she's a fun one to read.

2) Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan - This is more or less his material about his family life from his shows put into book form. It's great! But it's not new if you've seen his specials a bunch of times. It's still good for laughs though- and especially if you haven't seen his specials a bunch of times.

3) Born Standing Up by Steve Martin - This was published in 2007 which means Martin would've been about sixty years old as he was writing. I did that math because I feel like the tone is sad, and I hope that over the coming years, he will be in the way of more joy. He says he grew up Baptist and I know he is a dad now when he wasn't at the time the book was written- I guess I just think of faith and parenthood as being two big time sources of joy for me. Anyway, I have always really liked Steve Martin, mostly because of his SNL appearances and The Jerk, but also because of his role as George Banks. I think I watched Father of the Bride almost once a week in high school. Something about Martin always reminded me of my own dad, not just when he played a dad, but always. Besides that they were both funny, and probably even something in their appearance, there was something else intangible- something I might even have called volatility, though now I'm not sure that's fair to Martin. Reading a little about Martin's life, I think maybe a more fair correlation might be drawn from the shared struggle with anxiety and the lack of a loving relationship with their fathers. Anyway, this wasn't a funny book, it was a book about comedy and about being a comedian. It definitely shows the exhausting and heartbreaking side of what makes the rest of us so delighted and forgetful of our own troubles for a while. I am grateful for comedians. I think I always have been, I just have a new appreciation for what they go through.

4) This is a Book by Demetri Martin - I have really enjoyed Demetri Martin's comedy specials that George and I have seen together and I got this book for him when it came out a few years ago. I think I must have been in the thick of reading through a list because I never read it myself until this summer. I laughed out loud a lot of times, but I think my favorite bit was "Megaphone."

5) In Such Good Company by Carol Burnett - I think I mostly chose this title to round out this list of five. I did love The Carol Burnett Show as a kid though. I think the comedy shows I watched as a kid made a big difference in my life. I'll have to think more about how. But anyway, this book was a little more than I wanted to read about a show I haven't seen in quite a while. But it really was fun to hear about all of those great guest stars and all from the perspective of a genuinely sweet lady who had all good things to say. It makes me want to track down the show to watch again now. It also makes me want to watch Jimmy Stewart movies- her story about her first meeting him had me reading out loud to George as we both laughed heartily; her other stories about him were sweet and endearing. I said above that Steve Martin always reminded me of my dad; Jimmy Stewart always reminded my mother of her own dad. Carol Burnett never reminded me of anyone though- she always was so uniquely and delightfully her. I think I may look into reading another of her books sometime soon.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

5 More Contemporary

I tend to read a lot of classics for some reason. I enjoy classics but they are certainly slower reads. Every now and then it is nice to pick up a book and move through a few hundred pages in just a couple of days. Here are five I read this year that were neither on my original New Year's list nor on my Summer Reading list- just five more contemporary books I picked up throughout the year:

1) The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - I think I held off on this one for a while because I thought it was supposed to be intense or scary. It was definitely suspenseful and the kind of book you were glad to be reading before dark when it came down to the last hundred pages or so. I solved the mystery with only about 85 pages left. I'd be interested to see how quickly others got there. I'm sure plenty of people would say they knew all along. But I hope not as I think the not knowing is what makes you want to keep reading!

2) The Matchmaker by Elin Hildebrand - I enjoyed The Blue Bistro last summer and thought I may enjoy another of Hilderbrand's novels, so I chose the one with the highest star rating on Amazon. I remember that there was a trashy feel to The Blue Bistro that was overshadowed in my memory by the yummy description of the foods! But if you strip away the bistro, you are just left with Elin's trashy characters. Somehow I couldn't like anyone in this book. And I don't really remember liking the people in the other book. I'm not going to say this is a rule for Hilderbrand, but maybe? Maybe she just writes characters that I find utterly hopeless and godless. Interestingly, if I had read the Amazon reviews instead of going with the highest average, I would've seen that the top five most helpful reviews for this one were all one and two star reviews. It seems like a lot of people hated this one and hated the characters in it, particularly the main character. Many of them claim to generally enjoy Hilderbrand so maybe I'll give her another chance another time. This one is definitely one to skip though.

3) Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty - I really like Moriarty. I am pretty sure I have read her entire body of work. I was one of the first in line for this book at the library so I was able to read it right away. It was not as good as two of her others that I have loved- What Alice Forgot and Big Little Lies.  I gave those two titles to my older sister for her birthday and she loved them as well. I have passed along the recommendation to many and have never had anyone come back and say yuck. So if you are looking to read Moriarty for the first time, I would go with one of those two. But if you are a longtime Moriarty fan, this one is also worth the reading.

4) A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - This is one that it seemed like a lot of my friends read but no one really recommended to me. I never heard anything bad but I never heard rave reviews either. Then one day I said something that made someone think of the book and whatever they said made me want to read the book. Of course I can't remember what they said at all now.  So now that I have read it, I wonder if I was being likened to Ove?! I hope not! Not that Ove is not a good guy, but either I don't know myself at all or this person does not know me at all because I see very little similarity between him and me. Maybe it was the whole loving your neighbor thing that they brought up. I don't know. Anyway, I can see why no one ever raved. Something about it is slow and not compelling. There's no sense of "I can't wait to see what happens!" However, it's a good story and it is good that people in our society are reading it. It is a story of loving one's neighbor and being part of a community even if they are not the people you would've chosen. It is a story where love wins. It's interesting to think of what one's motivation for loving one's neighbor would be when one is not compelled by the love of Christ or thoughts of eternity (though Ove does seem to believe in an eternal afterlife). It makes me wonder if Backman is a Christian. I read that he studied religion so he would at least be familiar with the teachings of Jesus. As I write, I realize there is a lot of room for discussion here. This is another one I'd say is definitely worth reading.

5) Belgravia by Julian Fellowes - I really wanted to like this one. The author is the creator of Downton Abbey, after all. But it was a bit tedious. The main characters were more or less senior citizens and their greedy heirs. It picked up about halfway through, but the book is 400 pages long, so you're talking about suffering through 200 pages of social politics of early Victorian England (which is more or less the same as that of Regency England which Jane Austen writes about so much more interestingly). I do think it would work better if translated to the screen, which I can imagine it will be eventually anyway. I did read that Fellowes is working on another project for television called The Gilded Age, a period drama set in New York in the late 19th Century.

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