Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Literature”

Book Booster Boogey: Milemarker


Today marks my 💯 milestone! Usually I read about 100 books for the year, but 2020 has influenced my reading habits immensely. Staying at home means I am either working in the yard, writing on the computer, or reading in my hammock. Guess which one garnered most of my dedication?

And the 💯th book is….

No surprise, eh?

Yes, without intentionally doing so, my 💯th book for this year is a book by a Reader writing about reading specifically “The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life.”

Even though school starts for me on Monday, I shall continue reading. I have four more months until the end of the year. Hmm, how many more books can I squeeze in by the Goodreads tally deadline?

What are your guesses?

25?

37?

52?

State a guess in the comments below and we will see what happens by December!

Reader Round Up: July


July proved diverse in reading interests. I reread Austen’s Emma, which prompted me to view the different flavors of cinematic Emma.

I then forged on and submitted a few of my TBR requests to the inter-library loan quadrant of our library since that train is allowed to roll down the track to provide literary supplements to the collection once again. I also wandered amongst the shelves*, selecting book titles that caught my fancy as a means of prolonging my visit to the library. It is one of the only places in town that requires masks (not suggests or recommends), creating a safe atmosphere that promotes a sense of peace.

*sadly, the library has recently closed until further notice, but the good news is that curbside service is still running along with inter-library loan.

Here are my highlights–click on the Goodreads link to read more thorough review information.

6969
Not my favorite Austen, yet it is fun anticipating the lines from all the different films. Goodreads
54336472. sx318
Written by a friend and former writing group comrade, Dianna has written books for Scholastic and her writing is engaging and interesting in the topics she tackles. This one is based on a true story of a courageous bull terrier. Goodreads
80616
I revisited the Thin Man films with William Powell and Myrna Loy–then I read the book. Verdict: I preferred the films. William Powell is soooo funny (although the drinking part got tiresome). Goodreads
Finally, I have read all three of the Bronte sisters. Agnes Grey is an appetizer, not a full meal—at least compared to Jane Eyre. Goodreads
Winner of the 1964 Hugo Award—if you like Ray Bradbury, check out this winner of a galactic tale. Goodreads
Gladwell knows how to conversely present a complicated topic, in this case, he dials in the factors of what creates success. Goodreads
Westover’s memoir is worth the hype and acclaimreading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers before her book added more depth to Westover’s story of overcoming adversity to reach academic success. Goodreads
Pride and Prejudice enthusiasts might enjoy this focus on Mary, the middle Bennet sister. Purists? Hmmm… Goodreads
Amelia and her Egyptian adventures definitely provide a lively read. Goodreads
Clever idea of telling a story through physical construct instead of the usual chapter within. A quick, fairly engaging read. Goodreads

Have you read any of these titles? Any of the titles entice you?

Bard Bits: Hamlet/Hamnet


I have my reserve in for the new Hamnet. I am anticipating and checking my library notifications frequently. If you are unaware—

This is a fictional account of a playwright (who is supposedly not named in the story) and his 11 year old son, his only son, who dies, perhaps of the bubonic plague. Of course it got my attention. If it looks like Shakespeare, talks about Shakespeare, might shed more light about Shakespeare—gotta read it. Being a Bardinator sets one up for mandatory reading at times.

A new view of Shakespeare, perhaps?

Since I have yet to read the novel, I thought this installment of Bard Bits would focus on what others have said of the play, which is supposedly a reference to Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son, whose name is thought to have alternately been spelled Hamlet. There is ongoing academic conversation about that connection.

So-no thoughts yet on Hamnet. However, here are what some think about the titular character of the play:

A rich kid from Denmark.

—Diane Sawyer

A sad, screwed-up type of guy.

—Holden Caulfield

A half a dozen characters rolled into one.

—George Bernard Shaw

An Anglo-Saxon bore who talked too much.

—Henry Miller

What Hamlet is, before he is anything…is an authentic tragic hero who is himself a man of genius.

—Orson WellesHamlet

Hamlet doesn’t care if he bites the dust. He’s dangerous. He’s a human time bomb.

—Mel Gibson

Indeed. Hamlet is a bit of all these impressions. But beyond his perceived personality is the remaining core of who Hamlet is and the engine of the play: he is a son who has lost a father. What is notable, is the play is written by a man who lost a son. The play is about how a father and a son are both lost. Sometimes it’s a fine line between life imitating art and art reflecting life.

All quotes are from the fun and fabulous The Friendly Shakespeare by Norrie Epstein. It is a treasure of a Bardinator resource.

What are your thoughts on Hamnet? No spoilers, please.

Feel free to add your two cents to thoughts on Hamlet. Having watched too many adaptations I have to push aside Mel, David, Jude and cohort before deciding on my own ideas. Above all else, I think Hamlet is a grieving young man who truly missed his father. I think Shakespeare did indeed reflect how grief wears heavy on a person in his play about how a person grapples with significant loss and how loss is absolutely a very personal experience.

Reader Round Up: March


March began in the usual way: school, home, the routine of routine. Then murmurings of a really bad flu flutter into the periphery around the middle of March (ironically teaching “Beware the Ides” with Julius Caesar walking to the forum). Routines are jarred as parents pull students from school and we watch and wonder if our school will also shut down with one week to go before spring week. We did and in two weeks all has changed and routine is a daily challenge.

Where does reading fit into this new normal? Reading used to be my anticipated reward, my stress reliever, my defrag from working with screens. Now, with only a scant handful of books (paper, not electronic, preferred) to last, who knows how long, reading becomes a quandary. Reading helps wile away the hours and keeps my brain from fogging over from too much screen time. Yet, I will clearly run out books on hand sooner than anticipated. Why didn’t I grab more books from the library before it closed?

Highlights of March:

The Rope Walk by Carrie Brown ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ A bit like To Kill a Mockingbird with a tomboy, an odd playmate, a mysterious neighbor and a life lesson.

Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ An old fashioned adventure in the style of Robert Lois Stevenson

In the Jellicoe Road by Marlena Marchetta ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ A YA that combines the ruthlessness found in Lord of the Flies with the mind-warping plot twists of I Am the Cheese.

Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️ One of those mad grabs off the shelf before the library closed and an unexpected joy as the book reveals the early days of Yellowstone Park through the witty and informative epistolary exchanges of a hodge podge of characters pursuing science.

Dandelion Summer by Lisa Wingate ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Imagine Henry Fonda from his role in On Golden Pond and a teenage Queen Latifah, you then would have Norman Alvord and Epiphany Jones, better known as J. Norm and Epie. These two form a symbiotic friendship as they battle their dysfunctional families.

The Least of My Brothers by Harold Bell Wright ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ A classic re-edited by Michael Phillips. Turn of the century story of the difference between being a disciple of Christ and a member of the church, with plenty of drama and characterization and a minimum of preaching making for a thoughtful consideration of what defines a Christian.

Ender’s Shadow by Scott Orson Card ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️ Having read Ender’s Game several years ago I thought it time to read its counterpart. Read it in a couple of days since I was able to dedicate that much time to reading a 400+ page book being on spring break.

A mixture of titles and interests as usual. As my library stash dwindles I will begin getting creative (or desperate) and begin prowling my meager collection which consists of read and reread classics or dipping into my hubs’ technical journals and how to manuals.

Bard Bits: March


One month to go until we celebrate William Shakespeare’s birthday or reflect upon his death. Tough call since Shakespeare was born/died on the same day–supposedly April 23. Which way to acknowledge that auspicious day? Rejoice in his birth? Remorse of his death?

“Shakespeare. When will there come another?”
Thank Antony for the paraphrase

Shakespeare shares this notable event known as the “birthday effect” with other famous folk such as the painter Raphael (April 6), Ingrid Bergman (August 29), Grant Wood (February 13), known for the painting, American Gothic, and Corrie Ten Boom (April 15).

Image result for Shakespeare's Birthplace
Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon
Don’t mess with the Bard’s bones

Born/died in 1616, the year marks of 2020 marks the 404 for William. It is appropriate that April is designated National Poetry Month, since Shakespeare perfected the sonnet, churning out some 154 of the iambic pentameter driven contributions to poetry and reflective muse.

While most Shakespeare aficionados and fans are content with being titled as Bardolators, I have chosen Bardinator since the difference is being a bit more determined to keep returning to understand his work–yeah, it is similar to a certain movie icon who keeps up with that line of “I’ll be back.” I teach Shakespeare, I relish his genius with words, yet I don’t like all his works (especially those with pies). I do want to keep returning to understand his wit and expertise with turning a phrase. After ten plus years of teaching Hamlet to high school students I am still discovering aspects of the play that just absolutely make me jump up and down with excitement. And yes, my students do wonder how I get so involved with Shakespeare. Even the Muppets appreciate Shakespeare.

Stay tuned for more Bard Bits as his birthday approaches…

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: 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.

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?

Shakespeare Celeb:The Wit of Sonnet 130


Image result for sonnet 130

I admit most of this month’s tribute to Shakespeare has been focused on his plays, or at least I have admittedly grievously ignored his sonnets. This post shall attempt to make amends.

It’s impressive he wrote 154 sonnets, compared to writing 37 plays. It’s thought he wrote sonnets when the Puritans or the Health Department shut down the theatres, either for indecency complaints or plague control. There must have been some serious down time.

From fact finding, I discovered Shakespeare considered himself more poet than playwright, having first got his fame thing going with the publication of a couple of poems: “Venus and Adonis” (1593) and “The Rape of Lucrece” (1594). These got the attention of the Earl of Southampton who became Shakespeare’s patron. Scholars say other things about the Earl, but we shall not pursue the matter here.

Today I focus on one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. If you are interested in his full sonnet selection, go here:

Yes, I do have a favorite. Actually more than one. Sonnet 130, to me, captures the absolute wit of Shakespeare, especially this version. I’ll tell you why after you watch it.

At first, it seems as if the speaker is downgrading his lover. Instead of promoting her virtues he speaks of her unruly hair, less-than-fashionable hue of skin, and the fact that she treads instead of glides. Reeks means breathes, not stinks–a denotation clarification. In fact, what Shakespeare does is set it down that the speaker’s mistress is a human, not a goddess, which is something many of the sonnet writers espoused, that the women of their poetry were so perfect, so amazing, and as Shakespeare points out, so unreal. The woman of Sonnet 130 is not perfect, and doesn’t have to be to attain the speaker’s devotion.

The first half of the sonnet grinds away at her apparent imperfections, and the reader must think the speaker cruel and heartless. When the turn arrives, the shift in attitude (technically called the volta), clear down in the couplet, we discover the speaker said all that to say this:

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
     As any she belied with false compare.

This is Shakespeare’s point: the sonnet had become this competition of writing with a practiced extemporaneous style, as if the subject were so inspiring, words just flowed from pen to paper. Basically, it came off as phoney baloney. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 speaker lays it down truthfully: “hey, my girl may not fit the Elizabethan Renaissance standards of beauty, but she’s my girl–talking about my girl.” She’s real. She’s not perfect. She makes me happy. Thank you, Bill. The purple prose of yesteryear , the false compare, does not speaketh the truth. Women, and men, are not perfect. There is beauty in imperfection, and Shakespeare tells us so.

 

Shakespeare Celeb: Beyond the usual Bill of Fare


Adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays can be easily found from traditional:

To interpretative:

 

There are far fewer films that delve into the life of Shakespeare himself. A couple that come to mind:

Liberties abound, although it was entertaining.

A rolicking funny version of Shakespeare’s purposed life:

And Branagh, as only he can do Shakespeare–a bit over the top, yet commendable:

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: