Posts Tagged ‘books’

Ritual Habit

15 September 2011

Dear J-

Studies have shown that the more overtime you work, the less efficient you become. I’m not doing well on Sundays lately as part of it sees the time as time away from family and resents it while at least another part of me sees it as time away from family and takes advantage of the uninterrupted moments to listen to the music I want. Work suffers accordingly, but it’s work and at the moment work has become a steady drip punctuated by brief moments of time off. Next up is a dentist’s appointment on Monday and that should help alleviate the gnawing anxiety I have at work that I’m still directionless and not going anywhere.

I’ve been reading a couple of actual dead-trees books, though not exactly from the library — a few weeks ago we ran into a Friends of the Library book sale stacked with all kinds of surplus books, so I picked up some young adult fiction hardbacks. YA fiction gets rapped as full of useless angst but I find it strangely soothing: at that point in my life I was escaping the everyday drudgery of school and piano and store so reading it, in a way, takes me back to those places. The latest novel has been from the ever-reliable Chris Crutcher who writes triumphs-through-sports plots with the same reliable characters (damaged kids that everyone else has given up on redeemed through athletic achievement; wise,  cool mentoring adults, bullies and parents who are bullies).

I find comfort in the familiar. Routines become habits, habits become rituals, rituals become justification: that’s the way it’s always done or I don’t have to think twice about it, I’ve done it a million times before. They say that much of your brain development and habits are ironed into your mind by age five; the rest of it is fleshing out your knowledge and skills. The books we read are full of fantastic coincidence and fabulous luck but also clever characters; I hope that the stories we pass down the figgy and Calcifer are as thrilling as they’ll find in the years stretching out before them.



Andersen Tales

6 January 2011

Dear J-

Because the library’s been closed the past couple of Saturdays I’ve had no chance to get different books for bedtime, and so I’ve had to read the same stories over and over — it’s what used to drive me to get new books week upon week when I was still shopping at the used book store. Some of the stories aren’t bad, given the repetition, some I was sick of after the first time, but there’s only one that stands out for its complexity — The Snow Queen.. The particular version I’ve checked out has been retold from the original Hans Christian Andersen by Amy Ehrlich (it is a pretty decent effort, hewing close to the source which means that there’s logical discontinuities, but c’mon, i’ts a fairytale and you’ve got to expect that) and illustrated by Susan Jeffers. Make no mistake, it’s the illustrations that are the main draw of this version, but the original plot is worth discussion.

I’m pretty sure I must have read a translation of the HCA fairytale at some point — I read through a dictionary-thick compliation billed as the complete set when I was in school — but it’s the Joan Vinge-penned reversioning that stands out in my mind. The more I read this kid’s illustrated storybook, the more I realize how much the core plot of Vinge’s novel — girl loses boy, girl searches for boy, evil Snow Queen — comes from the HCA source, where before I used to think it was all Vinge in all but title. It’s all right. It makes me want to dig my copy out and see if what I remember has any basis in fact.

I have read a lot of books this past year — before the two weeks of holidays, we were at the library every Saturday like clockwork, even when Calcifer was born, and I’d check out ten picture books for bedtime and, time permitting, snag a book or two for myself. There are few of the picturebook stories that stay with me beyond a month or so, though I’d probably be able to give you a decent synopsis if I saw the cover again. I’m not sure why The Snow Queen keeps turning up in my life; I choose picture books exactly the way I shouldn’t: by the cover and if the title is clever (or the author familiar), but I’m glad I stumbled upon this one. I’ll have to look for more HCA stories, depressing (Little Match Girl, Steadfast Tin Soldier) though they tend to be.



8 December 2010

Dear J-

While I’m at home this has fallen into a review of the day instead of some deep thoughts I’ve dreamed up while riding my bike to the vanpool (on vanpool days, assuming that I’m not driving that day, I write in the van — I have used a Treo 650 (with built-in keyboard and with a bluetooth ThinkOutside XT), a Nokia N800 (with the XT; that thing is awesome, and my fingers have memorized the three-finger bluetooth salute in the dark by now), and an iPod Touch (surprisingly decent, assuming that the WordPress iOS application ever becomes useable again)).  As it is I tend to come up with various topics throughout the day and, failing to write them down, you’re stuck with whatever I can think of in the quiet time before bed.

The solution is not, as my fevered mind wants to tell me, a voice recorder, that favored accessory of the mid-90s executive (hey, it was my formative years as far as work goes, and I’m still stuck trying to tell myself I don’t actually need a Palm Pilot).  It would be one more gadget to carry around all the time, and now that I’ve actually figured out how to use the Flip video camera, it’s taken up residence in my shirt pocket — so I’d say it would have to be no bigger than that — 4″ x 2″ x 5/8″.  And yet my criteria should be something more than how something looks; like the folks ask me, is it something you can live without?  Or is it some kind of misplaced nostalgia:  the first electronics I ever used extensively were radios and tape recorders.

I’m reading the Bartimaeus trilogy (Johnathan Stroud) — finished the first book today.  And sure, you can accuse me of running away from serious literature* (I can’t deny that, but our trips to the library lately have been smash-and-grab affairs, though we occasionally run into a gem or two that figgy can’t put down; this week’s treasure includes Caps for Sale, and I still remember we put that on as a play in the Reid Kindergarten), but this is a bit more complex than the other Harry Potter-ish stories I’ve been exploring (Charlie Bone, I’m looking at you with a stern glare).  Yes, the protagonist is gifted beyond his years, but he makes deadly mistakes and has a baselessly high opinion of himself that’s both endearing and exasperating — he wouldn’t get into the trouble he does without it, but we wouldn’t have much of a story, either.  I was hoping that Anathem hadn’t completely spoiled me on other novels for the rest of the year, and it’s been a pleasant surprise thus far.


* Also read since re-discovering the library:  all the Jerry Spinelli and Dianna Wynne Jones I can get my hands on, Repairman Jack novels (F. Paul Wilson), The Given Day (Lehane, disappointing).  Nothing anyone would consider a classic, and that’s all right.

Knowing Smile

25 April 2010

Dear J-

We actually didn’t finish Chitty Chitty Bang Bang until today, but we’ve been humming songs from it since. And it turns out that the belt I’d bought yesterday was too long, so it’s almost like I got to do yesterday over again (note to belt vendors: what happened to plain strips of leather, nicely finished on the edges, roughly an inch to an inch and a half wide?). The excitement of Friday is lost in the foreshadowing of the work week writ large on Sunday afternoon.

I wonder about the paucity of digital distribution solutions; I understand that it’s important to keep track of copyright and provide proper credit, but doesn’t it seem that the minor amount of potential theft would be outweighed by the benefits of not having to provide physical storage and supply. For some industries — music — digital distribution is an accepted norm; for others — movies — folks are still buying and renting DVDs instead of sending bits around (there’s a seedy air about torrents, no pun intended); and for still others — books — digital adherents are looked upon as heretical, despite being perfect candidates (relatively small amounts of data). After all, all those physical artifacts end up cluttering the house when you’re done with them (we’re not going to talk about the box of DVDs that were watched only once).

There is, after all, a lot of important information out there to be digested; life works and whole careers continue to come on market and impact other lives. Was it Newton or Galileo who said that they saw further because they had stood on the shoulders of giants? The easier it is to know, the more we will know.


Percy Jackson

28 February 2010

Dear J-

We are reading the Percy Jackson series (and by we, I mean that theVet is impatiently waiting for me to catch up so that she doesn’t blurt out important plot spoiler points in normal conversation), which is going mostly well; the pacing is exciting, and the books experiencing the same sort of bloat that Harry Potter did (each book getting successively longer and fatter, filled with fun story nonetheless, but at the expense of page count). In fact, the clearest analog or inspiration could be said to be Harry and his success; you have the same elements of the fantastical mixed in with the mundane modern world. As we so often dream, these books offer an escape from the ordinary and hope that we can all be special regardless of how little the outside world may think of us.

There’s two issues with Percy’s story (in the scant two out of five books that I’ve read, so far). First, there’s no sense of world-building; second, the dialogue keeps grating on my ear. Sure, the fantastical is pretty amazing here, but it’s all grounded in Greek mythology; the point may be to get kids interested in those ancient tales and seek out the source information, but I can see them being happy with the peeks under the tablecloth that they’re given here — the endless torment of Tartarus, the voyage of Odysseus. Unlike Harry, which featured a unique and accessible universe, the enjoyment of Percy is directly tempered by how big of a Greek geek you were/are. There are multiple instances where I find myself wishing I had some reference (Edith Hamilton, where are you?) available that I could bounce back and forth to check story details.

The pacing is good but every so often a character’s line from the book falls flat in a way that tells me it’s a middle-aged guy who wrote it, not a line some adolescent might blurt out. It wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t yank me out of the story abruptly; dialogue is a tricky thing, and adolescent dialogue is doubly difficult. I find myself reading the words aloud to see if it resembles the spoken vernacular (often it does not, so I tweak them to fit). It’s easy to be a critic, though, instead of reading for enjoyment and this is an easy, fun read. Recommended, with the caveat that you’ll want to bone up on your Greek myths between books.


Dad Meanie

24 August 2009

figgy:  I want … to read Frances [hands me Bread and Jam for Frances]

Me:  Okay, let’s start with this …

figgy: … read Spider [handing over Anansi the Spider]

Me:  Anansi.  He is “spider” to the Ashanti people —

f: … read Kim [One Kitten for Kim, book landing on my lap]

M:  Okay, okay, but let’s start with this one and let’s finish —

f: … Corduroy!

M:  Look, that’s already too many books.  I’m going to stop reading unless you stop bringing me books.

f: …

M:  Anansi had six sons —

f:  MEAN!

Debit Credit

9 July 2009

Dear J-

I spent a lot of money today — on plastic — and so I got to hear the query “debit or credit?” a lot.  The question dogged me from dentist (I love my dentist, but she has a disconcerting habit of talking about me as though I’m some sort of cretin [“Michael is a bleeder … and a mouth-breather, so that doesn’t help.”] while I’m in the chair, mutely protesting with two hands in my mouth) to doctor (more tests) to smog check (hooray, finally passed!) to tune-up (oil, radiator, transmission, and differential fluid all changed) to bookstore (more on this later), I flash the plastic and get that same challenge.  Debit or credit.  It makes me think of a check register, where you write down the innumerable debits paid to various businesses for items both needed and not, and sprinkled in here and there, the chocolate chips of credits:  paychecks, grandma’s birthday money, gifts from folks who’ve given up on guessing preferences.  I understand that the credit in credit card implies “I Owe You” but damn if it wouldn’t feel better to have the positive credits of a check register.

I like used books in general, and the Book-Off near our house in particular; it’s staffed by folks who don’t look askance at you for taking your time browsing through various titles trying to decide, and the shelves are unusually tidy — while I’m all for the occasional treasure hunt, it’s hard to buy books you can’t find.  Despite never quite knowing what it is I want as I arrive, I always seem to walk out with more than I had counted on (today, catching up on Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and the earlier Mail — now that episode in KCDS volume 4 makes sense).  I started in on used textbooks in college because they were cheaper, but I stayed around because the previous owner(s)’ underlining and highlighting were interesting — occasionally helpful, but each one was a mystery story:  why that phrase or equation?  I wonder about the folks giving up personalized books; it’s not in the same category as re-gifting, and it’s impossible to keep everything you’re ever gifted, but something inside me is always sad to open a used book to see some personal inscription inside.

Willie Keats 4261 -sm

It’s the end of the day and as part of the traditional taking inventory, I get to recount the things I did; between morning errands and lunch, I didn’t get home until roughly 2:30.  I still had time to break open the books and blaze through Ed Lin’s first novel (Waylaid; now need to dig up the movie somewhere; I believe Netflix is going to start calling before long), but caught myself whistling as I stepped out to walk the dogs later this afternoon.  That’s when it hit me — not only had I managed to successfully run all the errands on my menu (and therefore had a productive day), I’d managed to also steal a day from work as well.  No spinning my wheels trying to gain traction on the intractable issues; debit or credit?


Polyglot Balance

2 April 2009

Dear J-

When we find the dream, where do we turn to next?  The upside to reading actual books, compared with the virtual classics I’ve been grappling with the last six months besides having something newer than, say, thirty years to read, is the portability factor.  Sure, it’s easy enough to fit a lot of pulp into memory, but by the time you get everything put together — reader, preferences, buttons, launching — you end up missing the simplicity of flipping the book open to the right page.

There are times I wonder if we do things not because they’re the right thing to do, but just to show that we’re doing something.  I-was-present busywork pervades everything; to carefully balance the load volume with quality requires two eyes, one blind and one omniscient.  Strike a pose, take a stance; how do you choose between micromanagement and approving everything that comes your way?

Our lives are supposed to be made easier with technology — these pundits have never understood the polyglot of video codecs — and yet it seems that button counts and features both proliferate and isolate:  we end up splitting hairs over some minor criterion that we didn’t even know we needed, and yet it somehow becomes the single point to base a purchase on.  If you’ve ever rejected a camera system on the basis of not having a shift lens available without actually having bought a shift lens, you know what I mean:  figure out what’s needed without being distracted.


Kid Books

30 September 2008

Dear J-

It’s strange just how long the weeks have become; I could have sworn that today was Thursday already, but no such luck.  The shadows keep getting longer on the way back home, the mornings seem a bit darker.  Life keeps going by at fast-forward; we’ve now had nearly a year and a half with figgy, and it not only feels like no time has passed, the memory of life without fades into mist.  What did we do with all that time before (wait … don’t answer that one)?

I’ve embarked on reading Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Pyrdain (Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper) after stumbling across a complete set of the books in a thrift store a month ago.  Again, why did I wait so long to start this?  Granted, the first book felt a little LotR-lite, what with the underground passages (carved by dwarves), enchanted weapons, and restless evil, but it just goes to show (again) just how much LotR underpins so much of modern fantasy.

Maybe my favorite part of parenting is being able to reconnect with the medal-winning heroes of my youth, namely those Caldecott and Newbery books.  There’s several classics I want to dig up (Arrow to the Sun, Where the Wild Things Are), and, having sampled some of the newer fare from the 90s, I’m happy to report that putting Number the Stars on the same shelf as Island of the Blue Dolphins isn’t so jarring.  As much as she’s learned, there’s still so much to experience together.