Friday, September 23, 2011

Banned Books Week - September 24 - October 1

From the American Library Association:
Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.
 Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.  BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.
Celebrate this intellectual freedom by reading a banned book this week! Here's a list of ALA's 100 most frequently challenged books from the last decade.

Some of my favorites include:

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeline L'Engle
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson
The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

And here is a list of ALA's most frequently challenged classic literature books.

Some of my favorite banned classics include:

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
The Awakening - Kate Chopin

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer

   It's the early 1960s, and Charlotte is the new girl in a boarding school.  As if making friends and getting used to a new home isn't hard enough, Charlotte is dumbfounded when she wakes up on her second morning at the school and finds that everything is different.  The furniture is different.  The scenery is different.  The people are even different.  Everyone seems to know who she is, but they all call her Clare for some reason.  After asking a few inconspicuous questions, Charlotte realizes that she has switched bodies with someone named Clare and has traveled back in time to 1918.  Only Clare's sister, Emily, knows about the switch, and together they must come up with a plan to switch Charlotte and Clare back to themselves before this change becomes permanent.

   For a children's book, Charlotte Sometimes has some surprisingly adult themes.  Being that Charlotte's second life takes place during WWI, the children in this book must deal with war, death, and loneliness at an early age.  At one point, there is even a seance, which I did not expect at all (especially for a book written in 1969).  I did not expect the book to be quite so serious, but I liked it anyway.  It book became kind of a cult classic when The Cure recorded the song "Charlotte Sometimes" in 1981. Here's the song if you're interested:

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky

   Rosa is the type of person who believes she has never made a mistake - that all of life's misfortunes can be attributed to the stupidity and carelessness of others (especially members of her own family).  But when her daughter, Sulfia, gives birth to a baby girl, Rosa's life takes on a new meaning.  She spends all her time and efforts on her beautiful granddaughter, Aminat, in hopes that she will someday make her grandmother proud.  All Rosa asks is that Aminat become a rich and/or famous Tartar woman.  However, Rosa is so cold-hearted and impersonal that she has no idea how to develop and maintain relationships, especially with a child.  She is sometimes hilariously clueless, and sometimes tragically so.

   Rosa knows that her family cannot survive in Soviet Russia, so when an older German man takes an inappropriate interest in Aminat (who is only 12), Rosa interprets this as their opportunity to move to the west, where she truly believes her daughter and granddaughter will thrive.  But Rosa, who has never understood sympathy and compassion, is baffled when she finds that her family is unhappy in Germany.  Of course she sees this as typical ungrateful adolescent behavior for which she is in no way responsible.  In turn, she becomes increasingly isolated and alone, and she has no idea why.

   Rosa is one of the most unreliable narrators I have ever come across.  She believes that she loves her family and is doing what is best for them, but her ego and pride are what really control her decisions.  She holds family loyalty and respect in high regard, but is incapable of bestowing these sentiments upon others.  Alina Bronsky's portrayal of a mother who completely lacks maternal instincts is funny and entertaining, but is also a disturbing window into the tragic outcome of failed relationships in a world where human connection has become an art that requires talent.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Decatur Book Festival Report.

   Hey everybody sorry I've been away from my computer for a while, but I've been at the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, GA with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. There was a lot going on, but we managed to hear a few author readings and get some books signed! I got the opportunity to meet Karen Russell, author or Swamplandia! and St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.  She read from the first chapter of Swamplandia!, which I have not read yet but am looking forward to.  We also got to hear from Tom Perrotta, author of the new book The Leftovers, which is about the people who are left behind in a strange rapture-like event.  A lot of children's book authors were there, including Judy Schachner and Eric Litwin.  I really wanted a copy of Wildwood, which is by the lead singer of The Decemberists, Colin Meloy and illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis, but since he was the keynote speaker, all the signed copies of his book were snatched up pretty early. But my sister-in-law is going to check some local bookstores for me to see if she can find a few strays.

   The Decatur Book Festival had way more activities than we could attend, but the highlight of the even for me was getting to see (and meet) Clyde Edgerton, author of the new book The Night Train.
If you ever get a chance to see Clyde Edgerton at an author event, you seriously better go. It was one of the most entertaining author readings I have ever attended.  He told stories and jokes, sang, danced, played live music, music recordings, and even read to us a little.  It was hilarious and I cannot wait to read The Night Train (which Mr. Edgerton signed for me! Eeek!)  We got to see a lot of really talented people on this book binge and I would definitely recommend taking this trip to any bibliophile. I hope to return next year (and take more money with me as Atlanta shopping is pretty much the best).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Nectar by Lily Prior

   Ramona Drottoveo  may not be the most beautiful woman in Italy, but there's something about her that makes her irresistible to men.  She is an overweight, albino servant, yet she emits a scent that all men find intoxicating, and this allows her to manipulate people into giving her whatever her cold little heart desires.  Ramona is used to special treatment, and is also accustomed to countless lovers, daily marriage proposals, and oh so many gifts.

   But there's just one problem: when Ramona gives birth to a child, Blandina, her scent disappears and takes the magic of her aroma with it.  Yet Ramona is greedy and spoiled and determined to get what she wants with or without the enchanting scent, so she must be a bit more creative in her manipulations in order to maintain the lifestyle to which she is accustomed.

   This is a very quirky little book, but Lily Prior's simple and straightforward prose makes Nectar read like an anti-fairy tale.  While I was reading this novel I was continuously reminded of The Princess Bride (the movie).  Nectar exudes a similar sense of sarcasm and witty humor, with a fuzzy dreamlike quality.  In fact, I would not have been surprised if Ramona had come across an ROUS or two in the Italian countryside.  Just to give you an idea, here's an excerpt from chapter 37, in which a man who has lost his sense of smell in a terrible accident believes he is still affected by Ramona's scent, despite that fact that the aroma disappeared with Blandina's birth long ago:
And when he couldn't sit with his head buried in her lap, he insisted on carrying an item of her clothing around with him, like a child with a comfort blanket.  He had started talking to the aroma, having identified it with a particularly soft female voice inside his head.  He wrote poetry to the scent and recited it.  He had taken up painting and started painting pictures of it. (page 217)
    Recently, a few friends and I started a book club, and Nectar is our first official book club choice.  We haven't met to discuss the novel yet, but I hope everyone else liked it as much as I did.  Nectar is charming and funny, and through this novel, Lily Prior provides us with an ironic and entertaining portrayal of the effects of temptation and desire.