Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Book Time

17 October 2010

Dear J-

Not only has the library made me healthier and handsomer (who knew it was possible!) it’s put some extra money in my pocket from not having to buy everything I read to figgy at night.  Besides the obvious (if I’m not reading the same darn books over and over, it makes bedtime stories that much more interesting), I like the freedom to try all different kinds of picture books without the penalty of having to buy new ones.  The good ones at the used shop I used to frequent were all pretty bad, upon further reflection:  if they were really good, people wouldn’t be selling them back.

The temptation is that there’s been at least a few that I haven’t wanted to return, though I’m not sure that they’d bear over-reading; it’s nice to have the library to try out some of the flood of books that have come out in the years since I was little.  Here’s some that are worth picking up:

Angelo (David Macaulay)
Yes, the David Macaulay that I remember from the detailed drawings in Cathedral and Castle has kept writing books.
Zen Shorts (Jon Muth)
I thought the Zen stories would be pretty cheesy, but they’ve resonated in my head these past couple of weeks, especially the one about letting go of your burdens.
Brundibar (Maurice Sendak/Tony Kushner)
Not your typical story (dialogue is in the illustrations) and not your typical ending, either.
The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (Eugene Trivizas and Helen Oxenbury)
I’m glad I found Helen Oxenbury’s drawings, which help put this spin on the typical tale on its head with the required whimsy.

Reading books out loud is easy, and unless you have an Inkheart-type problem*, one of the best ways to wind down for the night.  There’s more that would probably make the list (we’ve checked out probably fifty distinct picture books since the library adventure began again) but I can’t remember them all at this point.


* Inkheart by Cornelia Funke; if you liked Harry Potter and Philip Pullman, you owe it to yourself to read.


Why Not What If

10 June 2010

Dear J-

I’ve said that Neal Stephenson is possibly the single best reason to get a Kindle (put the Baroque Cycle in your bag and you will regret it), but I haven’t actually read anything he’s written on the iPhone until these past few weeks. I’m a third of he way through the aforementioned Baroque Cycle trilogy and it’s been an excellent read so far — at the start, I wasn’t crazy about it, as that first book seemed to drag on while they described the doings of Isaac Newton and the fictional Daniel Waterhouse in school and the genesis of their young careers.

That’s something that runs throughout the book, at least as far as I’ve spot-checked; the nice thing about the e-book is being able to look up things on wikipedia nearly simultaneously (note to application developers: figure out a night mode with black backgrounds and I’ll be more willing to use them) and finding out once again that the truth is often stranger than fiction. You might think it’s a sort of conceit, hanging fictive details on the framework of truth and history (and that canvas is broad, from Cromwell to Louis XIV and William of Orange), but it works very well together. On the other hand, the story moves at a crackling pace when history moves to the background and his constructs take center stage.

My schedule is no longer my own; I’ve become more involved and that means committments up and down all hours of the day. I’m not going to go so far as to say that the winds of history are filling my sails, but it feels like I’ve just sit down before ten hours pass and I’m out the door again. Life is attitude, isn’t it? Attitude is a choice, not a mandate, and if I learn to accept that I’m going to have days and nights that aren’t my own, I’m going to have a better time with it. The most wickedly gleeful character thus far, Jack “L’Emmedur” Shaftoe, would have you believe that it’s some wayward perverse impulse that keeps him from doing the right thing all the time, but I recognize it as the why-not what-if that rules my mind.


Walter Read

5 March 2010

Dear J-

I’m reading a lot more lately, even if it is unfathomably fluffy stuff like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter; not sure if it’s inspired more by wanting to relive my youth or having to, given that our bedtime jobs are for me to read books and theVet to sing songs together with figgy. I woke up a little early so that I could finish The Last Olympian, in fact; despite me writing it off as being relatively unoriginal (Greek myth-based universe where the gods have survived and, unsurprisingly, continued to create more and more demigod children with the rest of us mortals), the books were a fun read and interesting enough to keep kids turning pages.

It’s got me thinking about the differences betwen cultural icons; in our Judo-Christian world, the God is a distant power, influencing everything, perfect, and yet relatively unknown, at least in comparison to the Greek gods, who loved to sport with humans and who wore their warts with some pride — jealousy and discord were never far from any Olympian gathering. God, it’s said, makes man in His image, and yet it seems we’ve made our stories in our image instead. The polyglot of United States citizens means that we’ve at least got a passing familiarity with many different influences, even if Greek gods underpin much of Western culture.

On the van yesterday one of our riders pointed out to me that the picture our company had chosen to represent the current Year of the Tiger was terrible: it was cartoony, but the mouth was hanging wide-open. It’s like the prohibition on certain gifts (no knives as wedding presents, for instance, as it represents severing a bond) or numbers (four is unlucky, as it’s a close homonym to the verb “to die” in Chinese which is why you don’t see too many cameras with four by itself in the numbering scheme); it is inauspicious to depict a tiger ready to pounce. There is still so much to learn about everything; we can only come to a better understanding of ourselves and our fellow citizens by keeping an open mind.


Fox Box

4 February 2010

Dear J-

We’ve been reading a fair number of Dr. Seuss books lately, so my dark quiet mornings are filled with finding words to rhyme (it’s not easy to find something that matches “Encinitas” or “Leucadia”). One of the blurbs on the back of the books is a quote from Ellen Goodman how Geisel delivered a karate-chop to Dick and Jane by taking two hundred words and dreaming up Green Eggs and Ham. I think the real relief was from parents who find the stories far more amusing to read out loud than, say, Pat the Bunny (Now YOU do ___).

There are different tiers of Seuss silliness; on the one hand you have the smaller books, starting with Hop on Pop and including the iconic Cat in the Hat and the already-noted Ham which are suited for younger folks: lots of repetition, little words, silly antics and pictures (me, I still remember the absurdity of embedding a toy boat in a cake from when I was little). Then there’s the bigger books, like the various Hortons and Sneetches which are much more sophisticated and richer stories overall. I don’t think the small books aren’t without merit — they’re fun to read, even if you end up going sing-song halfway through — but there’s a clear difference in storytelling quality.

I know there must have been more worthy children’s literature published in the last twenty years or so, but yesterday we had Make Way for Ducklings, Horton Hatches the Egg, and The Marshmallow Incident (Judi and Ron Barrett) and of the three, my least favorite was Marshmallow. It makes me feel like a consummate snob: oh yes, we’ll read that, but we may not enjoy it; the classics, you know, are so much better. Yet part of it is my own ignorance of contemporary authors; I’ve read good things from Mo Willems, for instance, but haven’t taken the step of picking any up. It’s easier to keep revisiting the classics, as that doesn’t require the same investment in research and screening, but I’m sure I’d be surprised and impressed by the authors of today.


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!

Tale of Two Blogs

18 March 2009

Dear J-

I was reading a couple of blogs at work (the key here is that down time is not granted, it’s earned:  mental breaks keep me sane, and if I had to talk to one more vendor who disagreed with their web catalog, so help me) and wondering about how they see themselves.  Of course, a blog entry about blogs is precisely the kind of self-reflecting genuflection that drives me nuts on the TV and movie screen, but bear with me, here.

I’ve said before that part of the reason I watch reality shows is to see humanity writ in broad strokes (or if I didn’t say it before, it’s what I meant); really, you have to remember back not so long ago when we all watched the dirty end of an electron emission tube:  screens were glass and though the phosphors glowed, you’d still see your reflection at times.  I think we watch what appeals to us because we catch glimpses of our lives — they may be cloaked in metaphor (no high school is as crazy as that Gossip Girl one, right?  Please?), but we end up watching characters we can relate to.

I’ve written about The Online Photographer before; one of their recent entries dealt with how the editor was having trouble introducing himself as a blog writer:  one of his friends in the “legitimate” media took him aside and explained how lowbrow it sounded.  Not good enough.  So instead, he wanted to try out the new handle as being the proprietor of a moderately-large online photography site.  The impression was indeed that “blog” was a four-letter word, full of insufferable teen angst and moronic — and not really applicable to something with loftier aspirations.

I have a problem with that.  Once again a word without connotation becomes synonymous with a certain group; it’s a little like saying INTERNET=PORN.  There are many different styles of blogs — folks who find it convenient to keep family and friends updated, a pressure vent, a scratch pad for writers, a sounding board, a discussion amongst peers — and roundly congratulating yourself because you don’t fit in with another group of bloggers is another smug high school clique cliché:  we in the AV Club have no time for kids with black fingernail polish.  Pretension doesn’t make it so.

You end up finding your own voice the more you talk, I think.  Whether it’s the confidence of hearing yourself or seeing your ideas float out, the very nature of the sound makes it subject to being heard and overheard — and responded to.  So you can stick your head in an anechoic chamber and pipe in only praise, or you can stick out your neck and truly listen.  In reading Tea Leaves the past couple of days I think it’s remarkable how the lack of agenda and rigid structure makes for a better reading experience; true, the topics are often after my own heart, but the effect is startling.  It’s more of a blog by people you hang out with — buddies trying to convince you — rather than by folks who, with delusions of self-importance, merely lecture at you.  It’s that old echo chamber again:  how do you digest praise?