Kids Reading!

September 30, 2009 at 8:42 am | Posted in Reading with Kids | 1 Comment

As an update to an earlier post this week, I spoke with my coworker who wanted his third-grader to read more.  I am happy to report that he took his son to the library and got him his first library card!  They spent two hours there, and my friend found that his own library card was so old it wasn’t recognized in the system any more.  He replaced this card, which he had carried in his wallet – unused – for nearly 30 years, and used it to check out a book for the neighbor boy who came on the trip.

Curiosity overwhelmed me; I had to know what a third-grade boy would want to take home on his first trip to the library.  It turns out to have been Star Wars books.  I said, “Great!”  There’s an entire Star Wars franchise, and he could most likely read Star Wars books written for different ages for the rest of his life.

One conversation, two new library cards, three patrons, and three books.  It’s a win!

“Early Autumn” trilogy

September 29, 2009 at 11:41 am | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments

It’s a sneaky trick:  award a Pulitzer prize to one volume of a series, thereby giving the nod to them all.  In this particular case, Early Autumn is the third volume of a trilogy by Louis Bromfield.

The first volume, The Green Bay Tree, is my personal favorite.  It’s a sprawling, decadent story about forbidden passions, defiance, family ties, social hypocrisy, and the place of the artist in society.  The characters are magnificent.  It’s very “beach read” for a Pulitzer author.

The second volume, Possession, tells the story of a supporting character from The Green Bay Tree over the same time period.  The two female leads do have stories to tell, but it was a bit repetitive reading these volumes back to back.

Early Autumn is a great family saga, with all the drama and heartbreak one could want.  In my opinion, though, The Green Bay Tree was the better book.  It was published in 1924, the same year as The Able McLaughlins, which makes me shake my head a bit, because I think it could have won that contest as well.  It might simply have been a question of the more scandalous nature of Bromfield’s work.

100,000 Pages

September 28, 2009 at 11:34 am | Posted in Book Blather | 4 Comments

I’ve read 100,000 pages this year!

Last year it took me until November 16 to read that much.

The sad thing about this is that I feel woefully behind.  I’ve hardly been reading at all lately.  It seems the more you read, the more you want to read, and it’s probably impossible to feel “caught up.”

Reading with Kids

September 25, 2009 at 9:30 am | Posted in Reading with Kids | 5 Comments

This week a coworker asked me for advice on how to get his third grader to read.  We talked about it for a while, and I realized this might be my calling in life.  I’ll share with you what I know.

We have half custody of my step-daughter, and so on alternate weeks we have Family Reading Hour.  This was meant to be a single chapter a night, but that didn’t work, and somehow we’ve crept up to two solid hours.  It would probably be more, but we’re forced to choose books we can finish in 6-7 nights, so we pace ourselves.  I first met our little bunny when she was nearly 11, so I missed the early years, but I feel like I know how to shape a reader.

First, be a reader.  Both my parents and all my grandparents read for pleasure, so I just took it for granted that this was a desirable activity.  We were surrounded by books – Grandma carries them in her purse, which is cavernous – and someone was always saying, “Just a minute, let me get to a good stopping point.”  My coworker admitted that he “tries to do his reading during lunch,” meaning his kid doesn’t see him indulge.

Second, treat it as a privilege.  Nobody ever had to plead with me to get my daily assignment in.  I used to sneak into the bathroom after bedtime with a book hidden under my pajama top so I could turn on a reading light without arousing suspicion.  (That didn’t last long).  My coworker says his son “has to do” 20 minutes a night.  You have to treat it like a reward, not a chore.  Incidentally, this trick also works to get kids to eat new foods – my parents would always say, “It’s for grown-ups; you wouldn’t like it,” and we all favor exotic ethnic foods to this day.

Third, build your schedule around reading time.  Take it from me – if you want to read 500 books in one year like I’m trying to do, it doesn’t happen by accident.  In practice, this means making it awkward or impossible to watch TV or play video games.  We have a TV, but no cable, so as far as I know we don’t even get reception on basic channels.  (Nobody has tried in the five months we’ve been a family).  On occasion someone will watch a DVD, but the single chair in the room with the TV is not very comfortable.  We no longer allow the GameBoy in the house.  If your kid isn’t reading, look around for things with plugs and batteries that are most likely too distracting – and get. Rid. Of. Them.  On the other hand, if your kid is actually outside getting exercise and interacting with other kids, you may just have a natural athlete, so don’t discourage that.

Fourth, let your kid decide what to read.  As I advised my coworker, if the kid wants to read a tractor manual or the phone book, let him!  Manga and other comics are fine, too.  The single important factor for young kids is that they learn to enjoy sitting and focusing on the page.  Boys may find non-fiction more interesting, so I listed off topics I thought an 8-year-old boy might like: pirates, sharks, ninjas, monkeys, space travel, NASCAR, construction equipment, dinosaurs…  Just set the kid loose in the library and see what he brings back.  Here’s the other thing.  It doesn’t necessarily need to be a book.  My friend said he reads the news online in the evenings.  Why not have the kid read that for his 20 minutes?  If he’s browsing for stories about glow-in-the-dark puppies or cybernetic limbs, you’ll probably have trouble getting him to go to bed, much less stop when his 20 minutes are up. 

The dark side of this coin is that sometimes your kid will stumble across something you’d rather he didn’t.  It’s always something.  I discovered Stephen King when I was 8, and there was no turning back – I’m still a horror fan.  My family’s preference seems to be sci-fi, though I’d prefer non-fiction or “improving classics of children’s literature” for our reading time.  There’s some stuff out there that would certainly seem to be inappropriate, and you have to walk a careful line when you decide to censor something.  I’m in favor of it, though, if it’s not draconian, because there’s no spice like the excitement of sneaking off to read a forbidden book.  If that won’t make a reader of your kid, nothing will.

My parents grew a young reader in all the right ways.  My mom would drop everything to read to me whenever my toddler self asked.  She took me to the library until I reached school age, when I could go myself.  Both my parents read as if their lives depended on it.  I had free run of our few bookshelves, and everyone in the family knew to send books for gifts.  Most of all, we always played with language, punning and inventing word games.  If you heard a word you didn’t know, nobody would define it for you – you had to pull out the big dictionary, look it up, and read the definition to everyone.  We spent plenty of time rotting our brains in front of the cable box and the Nintendo, but it was in the context of a vocabulary-rich environment.

When you read aloud with your kid, take turns.  It’s much more natural that way.  You’ll stumble and stutter sometimes, and that helps take the pressure off.  Stop and discuss whenever anyone starts wiggling.  Sweetie Junior will practically hop out of her seat sometimes when the suspense is building.  She has to chime in with her speculations about where the plot is going.  The other reason we stop, though, is for unfamiliar words.  I have to watch her because she won’t say anything when she doesn’t know a word.  Sometimes we only get through ten pages an hour, but hey.  It’s the journey, not the destination, right?

Happy reading!

Daisy Chain #7

September 24, 2009 at 9:38 am | Posted in Daisy Chains | 1 Comment

Weird connections abound between one book and another.

Garden Spells -> The Magicians: turret bedrooms

Garden Spells -> The Children’s Book: a magic apple tree

Bad Things Happen: a character with my new last name, Denham

The Wilderness -> Border Songs: Alzheimer’s test

Border Songs -> Vaux’s swifts, which we saw a few days earlier.  The book is also set at the Washington State/Canada border, where we were traveling.

The Wilderness -> The Seven Days of Peter Crumb: astrological signs

Northanger Abbey -> Early Autumn: a  character named Mr. Tilney

Ender’s Game -> The Kindly Ones: the word ‘megalomania’

Possession -> The Kindly Ones: a character (or dog) named “Hansi”

The Kindly Ones -> March: graphite in the air.  Probably one of my most surprising daisy chain connections.  When do you read about that two days in a row?

The Kindly Ones -> God Lives in St. Petersburg: shashlik, whatever that is – some kind of Russian grilled meat thing?  (checking) K, it’s a shish kebab.

What’s Up

September 23, 2009 at 10:26 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Boy, there hasn’t been a lot going on in my blog here lately.

I’d like to tell you it’s because I’m doing cute newlywed things and all.

Really there’s been a sort of black cloud over our heads.  Rocket Scientist’s mom has lymphoma – again.  They’ve known for about two months.  She started chemo this week.  The good news is it’s only Stage One this time, and they caught it early.  She’s optimistic, and with the new drugs she says she’ll be able to keep her hair.

The bummer is they told RS the day before the wedding, but nobody told me.  “Gee, why does the groom seem oddly depressed?”

Anyway.  I haven’t been doing all that much reading lately, at least, well, not much for me.  I can advise anyone who was considering it not to read The Seven Days of Peter Crumb in the same week as The Kindly Ones.  I’d ask for escape reading recommendations, but I still have 53 Pulitzer winners to read this year.

“The Magicians”

September 23, 2009 at 9:56 am | Posted in Fantasy, Fiction | 5 Comments

We read The Magicians during our honeymoon road trip, and I have to tell you, it’s now one of my favorite books ever.  I don’t care what they say about this book, it would be impossible to over-rate it.  We were transported.

Product Details

That being said, if you’re not a die-hard, lifelong lover of children’s fantasy novels, don’t read it.

The great thing about The Magicians is that it’s a fantasy novel about fantasy novels.  I think it succeeds on both levels.  The other great thing about it is its blend of high-falutin intellectual conversations and hipness.  It’s decadent, dissolute, yet it has this untouchable innocence at its heart.  Imagine Bad Santa clapping for Tinkerbelle.

My heart is in my throat waiting for Lev Grossman’s next.  Please let there be another.

A Book and a Town

September 16, 2009 at 3:08 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 9 Comments
We stumbled across something on our return from our honeymoon trip.  The ferry from Victoria stopped in Port Angeles, Washington, where we decided to stop for gas and lunch.  Little did we know, this was the place that portrayed the town of Forks from the Twilight series in the film.
Dazzled by Twilight

Dazzled by Twilight

 Above is a photo of a shop dedicated solely to Twilight memorabilia.  It has another location in Forks.  There was also a restaurant that advertised itself as the location of Edward and Bella’s first date.  (We opted for Chinese instead).  Port Angeles appeared to have Twilight fever.

The real town of Forks has probably also found itself beset by vampire fans.  It looks like you can take a tour of locations in the book if you travel there.  Imagine, an entire tourism niche dedicated to one foot of bookshelf!

I’m trying to think of another literary town whose tourism industry might be based around a particular book.  I myself once took a visiting guest to Snoqualmie, Washington to visit sites from Twin Peaks, but that was a TV series.  (What is it about Washington, anyway?)  Ah.  Now that I think about it, I imagine New Zealand had to fend off thousands of tourists after the Lord of the Rings movies came out.  Chambers of Commerce around the world probably bid for the right to host the latest blockbuster literary/film phenom.

Readers, do you know of any other book-related tourist traps out there?

Booker Prize Short List Predictions!

September 7, 2009 at 7:51 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 5 Comments

I’m so excited I am posting my Booker short list predictions before I post anything about my honeymoon trip!  They are announcing it tomorrow, though if I recall from last year it won’t be until late evening.

Due to various reasons, one being the difficulty I experienced acquiring all the books in advance, I’ve only managed to read through seven of the thirteen titles on the long list.  But hey, this is significantly more than last year.

Here are my predictions, assuming there are six slots.  I’m putting a * by the ones I have managed to read.

The Glass Room – Simon Mawer

Brooklyn – Colm Toibin *

Love and Summer – William Trevor *

Summertime – J. M. Coetzee

Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

I really enjoyed reading the half of the stack I managed to read in time, and I’m pretty thrilled to know I have time to read the other half before this year’s winner is announced.  (Except the Coetzee, which still won’t be published by that time).

I also want to say that I don’t understand why everyone is throwing such a fit over Me, Cheeta being on the list.  Plus, I think Not Untrue and Not Unkind is a terrific, very approachable read.

I’m not hedging my bets or anything.  I looked around and I couldn’t seem to find anyone else who was willing to put a little cred on the line and try to predict who would be on the short list.  I’m not proud.  Last year I did the same and managed only to guess two correctly, though one was the winner.

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.