The 19th Five! Books! 2008!


095) Our America: Life And Death On The South Side Of Chicago
by by LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman with David Isay, finished October 22
    This is a remarkable book, eye-opening. And the story of Eric Morse almost slew me--he was the age of the Big O at the time he died and the gap between him and his brother is the same as between my two sons.

    The authors, LeAlan and Lloyd were tapped to help make an NPR documentary about the projects of Chicago when they were 13, and they returned to their mikes again and again.

    Lloyd, LeAlan
    It's a look into the ghetto like I've never seen before. It's real and horrifying, but not depressing. The sense of human potential is large, which makes its squandering all the more tragic.

    The book's a quick read and highly recommended. We can't keep forgetting the forgotten America.

    three or four weeks

Will in the World 094) Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
by Stephen Greenblatt, finished October 21
    I had this book with me a few weeks ago, and a fellow English teacher said, "Stephen Greenblatt? Greenblatt! You know about Greenblatt, don't you?" I said I didn't and we were interrupted. So I still don't know about Greenblatt. Can you tell me about Stephen Greenblatt?

    This book was a Very Big Deal when it came out, as you may recall. I started reading it when it was about a year old and still all the rage among buyers of biographies and history tomes.

    It's good. It gets into Shakespeare and recreates the likely details of his upbringing, professional years, retirement. It's somewhat speculative, but is well documented and endlessly fascinating. I learned much.

    But I haven't had a lot of success bringing snippets from the book into the classroom. I'm thinking I'll try some of his Macbeth stuff this year, but we'll see.

    some months over three years

Carrie by Stephen King 093) Carrie
by Stephen King, finished October 14
    So I'm apparently on a sad high-school girl trip this month. Carrie is sadder than Melinda and sadder still than Bella. Carrie's about as sad as they get.

    Carrie's been on my to-read list for a long time, and although it's not as good as, say, Lisey's Story, it's important to remember that this little book was Stephen King's first book and as a first novel it's quite good. It takes chances artistically and delivers on the goods. Not as shocking or awful as I had expected, but a fine introduction to the Kingdom.

    A nice short little horror novel if you're looking to celebrate the season.

    almost a week

092) Barnaby by Crockett Johnson, finished October 9
    I didn't know that the Harold's-Purple-Crayon
    guy had written a thing called "Barnaby" before just a few months ago. My first encounter was delightful and made me want to read more. Finding a collection at a library sale a couple Saturdays ago was a major score.

    "Barnaby" was a serialized strip, but reading them collected, it's hard to imagine how they were broken apart. Together they form such a marvelous whole heavy on charm and humor and a dash of pure funny.

    Barnaby has a Fairy Godfather (Mr. O'Malley) whom his parents refuse to believe in. At this point, it's like Snuffleupagus, but later, I understand, Mr. O'Malley runs for Congress and pretty much everyone knows he exists except Barnaby's desperate-to-be-ignorant parents.

    I emailed Fantagraphics, asking them to collect and put out a gorgeous edition of "Barnaby" (like they do for other things like the Peanuts books I've been reading) but no word yet on their likely compliance.

    If they do, I'll pass the word along.

    Barnaby excerpt

    a week at most

Speak 091) Speak
by Laurie Halse Anderson, finished October 8
    I might as well just say it and get it over with: This book isn't all that great.

    I know! Everyone told me it's da shiz too! What gives? How did everyone miss is lousiness?

    I wish I could say that I just didn't like it because I've had insufficient unhappiness in my life, but really: what's to like?

    Speak is about Melinda who has a Terrible Secret and how, over the course of a year, she begins to deal with IT. She's a well developed character flopped down in a caricaturish high school (depressing version) with caricaturish parents (lousy version). The only interesting character outside Melinda is her art teacher, but it takes awhile for him to get rounded himself.

    The book is stuffed with clichés of setting and phrasing and a thousand other things.

    The author's desire to keep the Terrible Secret secret goes on too long, and when it's finally given a Big Reveal, it's done in a clunky artless way. Really, the book would have been better without the flashback. Just keep your secret. We'll figure it out.

    I started Twilight
    two days ago (don't ask) and I've had a hard time keeping the two books straight. When a simple fact, like both sad girls have smart lab partners, can meld the books together (now, which one's the clumsy one again?), you know something's wrong.

    The best part of the book was the climactic scene and I will grant that the main character's growth was made to seem organic as the book closed. But it still wasn't that great.

    I don't mean to come down so hard on this book. It's just that it's been talked up by so many people, I was expecting something extraordinary. And this is just regularordinary.

    I dunno. Where's Edgy? Maybe he can tell me where I went wrong.

    about a month



  1. For a moment I was narcissistic, and then I saw that what you have under Redoubt's Rainy Tears is not a link to my blog.

  2. Hmm. I'm not sure where to begin. I mean, anyone who could even jest that they confused Anderson's writing with Meyers' "writing" would justifiably be taken out to pasture for a mercy killing. And yet I think you may actually be serious.

  3. .

    About a hundred and twenty pages in, Twilight starts getting exceedingly boring, but that doesn't mean I started liking Speak more in retrospect.

  4. Greenblatt basically started the "New Historicism" movement of literary criticism, which meant he was big into the type of criticism that looks at contextual clues for understanding literature. Especially questions of power and social hierarchies, etc. The total opposite of textual criticism. Personally I prefer text-based approaches, but social history and context are The Big Thing on campus right now so Greenblatt is all the rage. He edited the Norton Shakespeare, which is what we're using in my class right now. So we talk a lot about Greenblatt and how he's so cool. I've been wanting to read that Shakespeare book, but probably won't have time until Christmas break or next summer.

    I read Speak a number of years ago and remember really liking it, but I don't remember any details.

  5. .

    That's the Shakespeare Lynsey brought into our marriage. It's based on the Oxford, of course, which I brought into the marriage.

    Check and mate.

    (And thanks for the explanation. It makes more sense now. I didn't know that was his deal. But I guess it has to be someone's. It's fun, but not really my thing either.)