Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Reading”

Reader Round Up: June


Sometimes a novel stands out from the others. It shines out its brilliance so noticeably that it deserves an entire post. Leif Enger’s Virgil Wander is such a read.

Five Star–most def

Halfway through the book Virgil , out titular hero, and Rune, think Gandalf with kites, are drinking a Nordic spirit, apparently possessing the kick similar to sake, and Rune makes the philosophic observance “…that just because a thing was poetry didn’t mean it never happened in the actual world, or that it couldn’t happen still.”

This is what is so noteworthy about Virgil Wander as a novel. It is not exactly real-world in scope, neither is it magical realism, but neither is it so unbelievable as to be dismissable. The naysayer critics argued that Enger’s engaging tale is stretching unbelief a bit too much. Like Rune noted, just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

It seems storytellers, the ones like Garrison Keillor who come from Minnesota are the ones who take the ordinary and lean it somewhat so that you have to tip your head to get it all in focus. Or at least I do. I took it with a grain of salt when Keillor spun his hometown stories of seemingly average citizens and transformed their lives and situations into above average. Enger does the same with his own Minnesota tale. He takes a small town on the banks of the Lake Superior and tips its inhabitants a bit sideways and creates intriguing situations out of the mundane. For instance, a sturdy sturgeon that is repudiated to be the cause of death for one fisherman takes on menacing qualities akin to Moby Dick. That homey festival that every small town hosts, the one with corn dogs, a parade, face painting, and a band? Enger turns into an event celebrating the hard luck days of the town, complete with children dressing up as frogs to replicate the day it indeed rained frogs upon the fair town. There may or may not be a bomb threat involved. There is even a raven who becomes mildly domesticated of his own volition.

If the novel sounds odd in highlighting aspects that caught my eye. Well, it is odd. Odd wonderful. Oddly captivating. Odd how I couldn’t stop reading it, being irritated when I had to stop periodically to eat or sleep.

I vastly relished Enger’s debut novel Peace Like a River, and so did the nation. It only took eighteen or so years for his third novel to appear (haven’t caught up to his second one yet), but it sure was worth the wait.

Looking for amusing, Keillor-style storytelling, winsome characters, unforgettable setting, and a couple of mysteries to sweeten the plot? Then I hope you locate a copy of Virgil Wander.

Let me know if you found a copy or if you have read it. Let’s dialog this five star find.

Bard Bits: May


I managed to go to school without any experience with Shakespeare (yeah, how did that happen?) I can easily relate to my student’s bewilderment when we begin our drama unit. Freshmen study Romeo and Juliet, sophomores experience Julius Caesar, juniors skip Shakespeare to study American Literature (The Crucible), and depending on the teacher, students have a range of selection from an overview of the comedies to a dive into tragedy with Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, or Macbeth.

I am usually prepared for groans from my sophomores when I announce we are studying Shakespeare. “Not again!” “We did him last year.” “Shakespeare is so boring.” Instead of coming up with excuses and defending our Wily Bard of Stratford, I agree with them. This gets me some interesting looks–most def.

I do agree with my students. Shakespeare can be boring, or at least his plays were until I got the hang of them. Watching, let alone reading the plays, was painful to endure, and I felt I could never get anywhere, no matter how hard I tried. Then again, learning how to ski was painful, and I wondered if I would ever get down the mountain without a initiating a yard sale. Hmm, I should use this analogy with my students since they have grown up with a mountain in their backyard.

Here are two thoughts on Shakespeare:

“I am more easily bored with Shakespeare, and have suffered more ghastly evenings with him, than with any dramatist I know.” Peter Brook, English theatre director

“We find Shakespeare boring because we’re lazy. We’re not willing to get through the language. That’s the only barrier. If a play is performed right by those who are properly trained, after about twenty minutes you won’t be aware of the language because the human story is so strong.” –David Suchet, actor

What are your experiences with Shakespeare? Bored, frustrated, from having to endure year after year of his plays in school? Perhaps initially bored, but then the story unfolds and the words are no longer a barrier and serve as a contribution to the experience? Or maybe you grew to appreciate him with time and experience?

One of my standout memories of teaching my favorite play, Hamlet–sorry, I do mention that often, don’t I?–is after we wrapped up the unit, one student, from my regular, not AP class, stayed behind. “You know I’m going to miss discussing Hamlet, I really got to like this play.” He grew thoughtful. “I can’t discuss Shakespeare with my father.”

I never discussed Shakespeare with my father either. But I sure discuss him with my own children when I get the chance. Shakespeare boring? Not for long. Hang in there, dig in your poles, don’t cross your ski tips, and you will enjoy the thrill of going from snowplow to slalom. That applies to skiing as well.

Igniting a Discussion on Happiness


In my day job as an AP teacher I have the privilege of introducing students to literary works of merit. I look forward to their insights and perspectives.

Image result for f451 images are you happy

We have just begun Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian tale of government control: Fahrenheit 451. This deceptively easy read contains complicated topics. One discussion topic is happiness. Guy Montag is not a happy fireman, or at least he was one until Clarisse asked him, “Are you happy?”

Image result for f451 images are you happy

So I put it to my students a discussion statement prompted by Clarisse: “Happiness is a choice, not a given.”

A lively discussion developed with a split between total agreement and a few who decided happiness was a complicated issue and they couldn’t come to complete agreement about it.

I then prompted them with this question: “What is the difference between happiness and joy?”

Their conclusions were opposite of my mine.

They said: “Happiness is long lasting, while joy is a temporary emotion.”

Hmm, I’ve always reckoned it to be the opposite. Happiness is a temporary state, dependent on outside circumstances, yet joy lives deep in our being, dwelling in our soul.

Nope. They didn’t buy that. Maybe I did have it wrong. I proceeded in the course of action that all teachers must do when wondering if what they are teaching to their students is baloney. I Googled it.

This is what I found: Joy or Happiness?

What are your thoughts? Is happiness dependent on outside circumstances? Does joy stem from emotional contentment from within?

Interestingly enough Guy Montag, F451’s protagonist, upon realizing he is not happy begins making decisions involving enormous collateral damage. Joy is never mentioned as Guy Montag seeks happiness. Does he find happiness or joy? I will have to reread it and decide if he actually did. And that’s why F451 remains a classic—it keeps asking the reader questions after the last page is turned.

Image result for joy vs happiness
What are your thoughts about joy vs happiness?

Reader Round Up: February


Oh, Yay—made it to March. January and February are the funky winter months around these parts. Too much snow mixed with occasional icy windy Arctic blasts with a rounding off of a surprising amount of rain. Indoors weather for sure, as I no longer ski having learned to appreciate my extremities staying in one piece, thank you muchly.

February might be the shortest month, but this year is leap year which calls for an extra day of reading. Nice.

To celebrate leap year, February’s Reader Round Up consists of the usual star reviews and links to Goodreads reviews with the added bonus of one sentence teasers.

Image result for on the beach nevil shute book cover

On the Beach by Nevil Shute ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ The rabbits win.

Image result for tommorrow is forever book cover

Tomorrow Is Forever by Gwen Bristol ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Fortunately the book was shorter than the war.

Image result for howards end book cover

Howard’s End by E.M. Forster ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Sometimes the movie is actually better than the book.

The Breaking Wave by Nevil Shute ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ In this case, it wasn’t the butler who did it.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️ Some people have a burning desire to read a good book

Reading Round Up: January


January is a complex month: it’s a fave in how it ushers in a new year full of promise, yet it drags in with it the continuance of winter. There is also a remainder of the semester, about two weeks before a week of finals with a scant couple of days into the second semester.

Not that anyone is asking me, but I would like January to be a reset month. Turn the corner, flip the calendar over, and it’s a new year, new month, new semester, new weather. None of this leftover stuff. Until that grand plan gets off the drawing board I will continue to forge on and meet my goal of reading 101 books this year (I’ve met my goal for the last three years with a bonus reading *woo hoo*).

Setting up the Goodreads Reading Challenge is a marvelous way to keep track of my books. Some I remember clearly, some are hazy. Some are “I read that?” I should read as Francis Bacon suggests, which is to savor and digest slowly; however, even he acknowledges some books end up being consumed quickly since they are so tasty, like in that chocolate truffle was so yummy that I consume it in one bite and can’t really remember how it tasted, except it was really, really good. Some books are like that.

Here are the highlights from January. I have added the links should you be prompted to read the review. Reading gets me through the gloom of January’s continuous wintry days.

Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Conan Doyle ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Diary of River Song: Series One by Jenny T. Colman, et al ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The West End Horror: A Posthumous Memoir by John H. Watson, MD by Nicholas Meyer ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Breaking Wave by Nevil Shute ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Goodreads Challenge minder gently admonishes me to stay on track by letting me know how many books I am behind. This sets up a bit of panic as I imagine this growing pile of unread books trailing after me from month to month. I basically have to average eight books a month to hit my goal. Not always easy when there is a riveting PBS Masterpiece series on. We’ve been immersed in Howard’s End with Haley Atwell and Matthew MacFadyen. Of course the series prompts me to go and grab Forster’s book from the library. Maybe there will be a comparison between the book and the film (Emma Thompson) and the PBS series…hmm, is the library got late hours today?

Reader Round Up: December 


December, amidst traditional and expected festivities, is Christmas break. A lovely respite from the storms of education. Trust me, both teachers and students appreciate the time off from school. Parents might also appreciate the time with their kinder–that is a case by case decision (especially depending on the weather and inside time).

As an empty nester educator I look forward to getting some deep, uninterrupted reading accomplished. It’s my last push to hit my Goodreads goal, which is 101 this year. Oh, wait–I’m posting this in January so yes, I did make my goal and then some. Here are the highlights:

Surfacing by Mark Magro  ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

When Silence Sings by Sarah Loudin Thomas ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas (Elizabth Rokkan, translator)⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Stephen Snyder, translator) ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Reader Round Up: November


Finding time to read in November was as tricky as it was needed. The stress of parent teacher conferences, along with the trials of squeezing in continuity of lessons, made reading difficult due to a spate of interrupted days. But, oh, how I enjoyed my week off for Thanksgiving–so worth those two twelve hour days of trade off. Sitting down with a book in down moments proved a necessary tonic to abate frazzlement. The bonus being I found some really terrific reads (thus avoiding true frazzlement). 


The Girl Who Reads on the Metro by Christine Feret-Fleury

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


A fairytale of improbability, yet delightfully refreshing. It’s difficult to resist such a little charmer, especially when it involves spreading the joy of reading books.

Jim the Boy by Tony Earley

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


The story of Jim Glass, a winsome boy of ten being raised by his bachelor uncles and widow mother during the Depression. Laugh out loud prose that captures an era and the perspective of a well-loved boy, the definitive product of the South.

The Blue Star by Tony Earley

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


The sequel to Jim the Boy finds Jim as a teenager looking to enter war and facing broken dreams and a broken heart. Not as endearing as when he was ten, Jim is still a character worth knowing as he sets out to become a man sooner anticipated.

The Literature Lover’s Book of Lists by Judie L.H. Strouf

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


A bit dated (1998), yet it definitely provides bibliophile contentment.

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


Written when the author was a teenager in Australia, it is cousin to other heroine novels of discontent such as A Room with a View and Jane Eyre. Sybylla holds her own with Lucy and Jane. I imagine them enjoying tea together as they spout off their passionate observations about the world.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


I had no clue the classic sci-fi film began as a novel. And of course it is sooo much better than any of the adaptations. The edition I picked up (60th anniversary) had a forward by Dean Koontz which was quite enlightening.

The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


A riveting supposition concerning the Magi, those wise men who faithfully followed the prophecies of Daniel. 

Letters to Julia by Barbara Ware Holmes

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️


An epistolary novel of a teen girl desiring to become a writer who forms an unlikely friendship with Julia, a New York editor.

Having all these bonus good reads made November tolerable. Hope you find a title in the list that intrigues you.

Reading Round Up: October


The ability of freely reading after a long day of teaching and grading becomes an increasing struggle. Books are still a go to for defragmenting my brain, yet I find myself falling asleep way too soon as I relax while reading. It’s taking sooo much longer to get through my TBR stack. Sundays are becoming my reading days. And napping days. I do a bit of both.

Here are October’s highlights:

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Realistic slice of how one neighborhood copes with diversity.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Overall, a thoughtful contemplation about what to do when the realization that life might be shorter than initially expected. While the foreign names and places were sometimes difficult to keep straight, the challenge of absorbing deep truths proved worthwhile.

NOTE: As much as I appreciate Jeremy Irons, I found the film adaptation so different from the novel I had to resort to my “the movie is the movie and the book is the book” philosophy. The book, of course, is so much better.

  • Reading Goal Update

Though my usual reading time is cut almost in half with my attention diverted to school again, I’ve managed to read past my yearly Goodreads goal of 101 books, and I am now at 121 titles for the year. Should I reach for 135 like I have previously? Ooh, that might be a challenge to consider…

Debatables: LoL


Well, the odds were not in my favor this round.

But then, I knew that funny little kid in the round glasses would no doubt trounce the strong, courageous Katniss, at least in favorable voting. Get him in the Cornucopia? No competition.

I knew Mike had the win when he called Harry Potter. No matter.

I suited up and walked out on the field because I believe in Katniss. Oh sure, she got annoying sometimes with her “which guy?” conundrums, yet, she has pluck and she has been an influence in areas of significance beyond book parties and reading interest.

So-Mike, a win hands down. See you next month at your place.

Here’s a little fun to cap off our debate between Harry Potter and Hunger Games.

Debatables: July—YA best (series-ly)


This month’s Debatable gets serious about YA. Mike and I are taking on the great debate of which YA series is the most influential YA in terms of overall impact.

Yep, we are throwing down the quodlibet gauntlet and arguing whether the Harry Potter series bests the Hunger Games series. We are going for overall influence, not just books, but movies, social impact, topic genre–everything, everything. We are going big on this one.

As a reminder, here are the ground rules:

Each debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).

Mike, that increasingly prolific writer of children’s books and always popular blogmeister, is my Debatable partner. He has chosen the Harry Potter series:

I am nominating the Hunger Games trilogy:

Image result for hunger games trilogy

As the month’s host, I defer to Mike to lead out the argument:

Mike’s opener:
Whether you love Harry Potter or are indifferent to Harry Potter, you gotta admit that Harry Potter changed everything we once thought we knew about kid lit. Before that little wizard showed up, young adult and middle grade fiction novels were relegated to the bookstore ghetto, to live and die as a dog-eared paperbacks. 

There have been many pre-Harry YA books of great distinction, of course, The Giver, The Outsiders, and about a jillion others that are far superior to anything J.K. Rowling could’ve ever conjured in her Hogwarty mind. But those novels lack a certain magical something that Harry had in spades: Crossover Appeal. 

Harry Potter did to literature what Star Wars did to movies, it found an audience with pretty much everyone. And, man, was that audience rabid. Remember the midnight release parties with lines stretching for blocks? Remember how revealing a spoiler was considered a Crime Against Humanity? Publishers sure do, and they have been attempting to recapture that ol’ HP magic, literally and figuratively, ever since. 

Once upon a time, the kid lit center of gravity was in picture books. Harry Potter (and its decade-long listing on the New York Times bestseller list) changed that business model. The big money is now is YA and that’s where publisher resources have gone—and will continue to go—for the foreseeable future. 

No, I’m not saying that Twilight or Hunger Games or Miss Peregrine wouldn’t have been published if HP didn’t exist. I’m saying that Twilight and Hunger Games are Miss Peregrine enjoy the popularity they have because HP exists. Without that incredibly influential wizard, they would be unfairly slumming with the latter-day Nancy Drews, ignored and overlooked by the masses.

 

Cricket’s remarks:
Granted, Harry and his school chums initiated a noticeable interest among middle/YA readers; however, Suzanne Collins made a lasting impact with her Hunger Games trilogy that is still evident today, going well beyond readership.

First off, Katniss is a relatable hero. Flawed, no superpowers, yet passionate in her beliefs, placing others before her needs, transfers into the real world.  Several articles on how Katniss is inspirational in her purposeful focus are found on the internet. Hunger Games can be found at the core of curriculums revolving around dystopia and totalitarian governments, sharing time with Antigone and I Am Malala. Wizardry may be entertaining, but standing up for one’s beliefs is riveting, inspiring, and powerful in its ability to influence.

Other aspects of influence include the three-fingered salute from Hunger Games, a gesture that’s become a global symbol of resistance. There is also a  resurgence in archery evidenced by Nerf’s crossbow. Hunger Games ushered in other dystopian-themed books/films such as Divergent and Maze Runner. Tricks are for kids; bad government is reality, and Hunger Games has influenced others to take on the reality of tyranny. Saving friends from foes with magical spells doesn’t work in the real world. Courageously standing up for convictions makes a difference.  

Katniss has firmly established that a female hero doesn’t have to be seductive or come from another planet to get things done. Hunger Games also has gender and age appeal–AARP members raved about the series. Even Time noted Katniss Everdeen as an influential character

Admittedly, Harry Potter filled some kind of needed hole in middle/YA  reading needs, yet a boy wizard can’t compare to the lasting influence of a young woman who started out wanting to save her sister and ended up freeing society from injustice.

Mike’s Rebuttal
First things first: Katniss didn’t use a crossbow. Second, the Nerf crossbow was first released in 1995, a full 12 years before the first Hunger Games book came out.

Now to the meat of your argument: Yes, Katniss is a strong, flawed, relatable, femal hero fighting valiantly against a totalitarian government—but she certainly isn’t the defining voice of today’s “Resistance,” as you suggest. (That would be Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale). And influential dystopian-age books for YA existed long before Katniss ever showed up (again, I reference 1993’s The Giver). 

Don’t get me wrong, The Hunger Games is a great, exciting read. In fact, I enjoyed THG trilogy more that Harry Potter. 

But this Debatables topic is about which book is more influential. In that particular Harry versus Hunger competition, Katniss wouldn’t even make it to the cornucopia.

Cricket’s Rebuttal

Thanks, Mike for acknowledging how Hunger Games is a better read-points for my argument of HG’s influence.  I am not interested in reading Harry Potter.

Why?

Magic is so unrealistic in solving problems compared to tenacity and fortitude in righting wrongs (you did notice the photo?). And while there have been a few unique female heroes such as Ripley and Sarah O’Connor, they were adults and Katniss is a teen. A brave young woman willing to sacrifice for family, friends, and the greater good is more admirable than a bespectacled kid wizard with a scar.

So–maybe HP influenced kids to read more than they used to–can Harry make the claim he has influenced politics or human rights concerns? Katniss and the Hunger Games series is an influence that  continues to resonate long after HP’s last spell has dithered away.

Alrighty, readers–time to weight in with votes and comments. Which series is more influential in your opinion: Harry Potter or Hunger Games?

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