Thursday, April 19, 2012

Recent reads (a rhapsody)

I'm always late. Late to blog, late to read the books the rest of the world raves about. Late to meetings, late with paperwork. Never late for meals. Here at last is a recap of some of my recent reads. More to follow soon. Judge for yourself whether I have good reason for chronic lateness, when such delicious distractions sit on my bedside table. 

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
Another instance of being late to the party. This story kept me captive, and so did the writing. Either one would have been enough on its own, but the combination was compelling. I couldn’t put the book down. A tapestry celebrating the interconnectedness of nature and time, of living and dying, of love and pain, of relationships spanning generations, dramatized by a cast of creatures natural and mythical whose stories converged stunningly. Like a river that seems to meander on the surface, the poetic narrative often feels leisurely, yet an insistent undercurrent propels the players swiftly toward their fates. An impressive achievement; a piece of joy. Strongly recommended.

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
In every school visit, I tell the kids that if they thing fairy tales are only for pink Disney princesses, they need to read their Grimm’s. Where else could so many body parts be hacked off and successfully reattached? Adam Gidwitz takes Hansel and Gretel on a dark, sinister journey through several of the original Grimms’ tales, where they test this limb-severing-and-grafting phenomenon to its ultimate limits. I’ve started mentioning this title now in my school visits. Strongly recommended, but maybe not for the squeamish.

I admire books that are unafraid to dive down deeply into strange territory and defy convention. Peter Nimble has a wonderfully trippy quality, with enigmatic settings, dark villainy, and a blind and gifted hero with the strangest of allies. A wooden box filled with eyes becomes a conduit to dark and perplexing adventures. So many memorable bits: the bay bobbing with bottles stuffed with unmet wishes; the teakettle rock; raven battles; the miniature horse-cat. (My sons have absconded with my copy so I’m sure my words aren’t spot-on.) Recommended.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
The urge to reread this, for nostalgia’s sake, came upon me with, I expect, something like the yearning the Water-Rat felt for spring, or perhaps the call both Ratty and Mole heard from the piper at the gates of dawn. I know the story well, and I even understand how it works to uphold illusions of Edwardian English bachelor male gentility. Nevertheless, I just need to reread it now and then. In times past, Toad and his exploits have stolen stage center, for me, but this time it was the rhapsodic nature-bliss of Ratty and Mole that spoke to me. I had less patience for Toad this time around. The prose is lush; too lush, no doubt. But it was just what I wanted. I wish I had a Badger in my life, tucked in palatial underground Roman ruins, to turn to when times get tough.

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex
I’m an unabashed Adam Rex fan. If he’s going to write a book about an evil cereal company out to take over the world, featuring leprechauns and unicats and rabbit-headed men, and a genius girl wearing orthodontic headgear of such metallurgic beauty that orthodontists weep, and a boy whose name is Scottish Play Doe, and a secret, elite Masonic-like society of cereal cultists who chant about dragons, and movie stars who punch the queen of England, and children as experimental guinea pigs in the hands of men in pink suits, am I going to read it? You betcha. The start of a new series; sure to stay crispy even in milk.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
It seemed significant that I read this book on the day Dick Clark died, since his apparently agelessness was an important plot point. I’m always late to the party; the rest of the world knew this book was a treasure before I ever got around to reading it, but let me add my delight to the pile of offerings around this altar. I loved this book. Relativity and A Wrinkle in Time are both dear to me. A remarkable marriage of the realistic school novel with the fantastic, true to the essence of L’Engle’s book, which the novel frequently invokes. A novel fearfully and wonderfully made. My congratulations to Ms. Stead for every well-deserved accolade. Strongly recommended.

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
** spoiler alert ** An escapist romp of a Regency romance! The main character, Elinor Rochdale, is excessively fond of exclamation marks! I was hard-pressed to find statements that did not employ them! Her favorite word was odious! She called the handsome, rich, imperious, undoubtedly well-washed and scented Lord Ned Carlyon odious on his every visit! Naturally he would insist on marrying her! What man could resist the allure of an exclamatory woman who finds him odious?!
 Forgive my snarking. A fun read, and a happy instance of a proud, poor, blue-blooded maiden boarding the wrong coach and ending up, not a governess, but a wife twice over. 

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