Even though I read seventeen books last month, which keeps me at six books ahead of schedule, May’s five star reads were slim. There were several enjoyable reads, yet only one good read, or in this case a great read.
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Published in 1948, Paton’s book became a recognized bestseller that still has relevance today. The story of two fathers, one an umfundisi, a native reverend of a poor district, and the other a white landholder who owns a successful farm, High Place. Each father loses their only son, one by the hand of the other, yet the sons’ death brings these men together during a time when racial tensions are rising to a concerning level. A searing portrayal of the pain of separation–separation of family, separation of traditional values, separation of people inhabiting the land, the country. This was a rereading as I wanted to teach it as a unit to my juniors. So far it’s been well received. Plus, I don’t mind having an excuse to familiarize myself with excellent literature.
Any of you read at least one really notable book in the month of May?
That’s a big oops. My carefully planned blogging schedule has blown up due to malaise. I admittedly got caught up in the Winter Slumps and thought about posting but didn’t. I did read, though, which helped keep me occupied during the looonnng evenings (dark at 4 pm is cruel). Spring is now here and that means sunshine has restored my energy levels.
In order to get caught up I will select the favorites reads from the last three months to review. These are all five star reads.
Once upon a time, in the land of Russia, lived a charming count by the name of Alexander Rostov. And while it might seem demeaning to compare A Gentleman in Moscow to a fairy tale, Towles has deftly tweaked all the elements of that endearing (and enduring) genre into a sophisticated story that is enthralling, entertaining, enlivening, and quite satisfying. The bonus is once I learned Kenneth Branagh was Rostov in the planned series, the enjoyment became doubled as Branagh fleshed out Rostov’s appearance in my mind’s eye. One of the best reads I’ve experienced in quite a long time
The Art of X Ray Reading reminds me of Thomas Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Both books prompt me to practice closely reading the book in hand. While Foster provides a magnifying glass, Clark provides a kaleidoscope to better see the rich colors within the writing. His choice of books are hit or miss with me, but he did touch on a couple of favorites that I will absolutely pay more attention to on the next reading. The writing lessons alone are worthwhile and are inspiring. I applied the X Ray lens to an AP Lang lesson and brought new meaning to the piece. I look forward to my next AP Literature class and seeing how students pick up The Great Gatsby clues. Makes me wish I could teach Creative Writing once again.
Shades of The Maltese Falcon drift through this tribute to the 1940’s detective novel. Instead of a tough private investigator who runs with fast women and drives a faster car, readers contend with the “Princess P.I., a savvy socialite who has earned a reputation for being one of the best in the business. At first the cliche phrases and situations were off-putting, that is until I accepted them as pastiche. A solid plot worthy of a Bogart film, intrigue and humor, and a double storyline create a fast-paced read and an anticipation for the second book.
An amazingly positive story of how one man turned trash into a treasury of music. The story and colorful illustrations blend and harmonize as the background story of Paraguay’s Recycled Orchestra is told through Ada and her violin. Truly inspirational how beauty was found among the tons of garbage and how a dream became a reality that changed lives.
As a tribute to the recent passing of Beverly Cleary I grabbed Henry and Ribsy off the library shelf since she was an author I appreciated growing up. Granted, some of the situations and attitudes are a bit dated; however, kid and dog antics run true and are timeless.
When I first read F451 back in my twenties I no doubt appreciated Bradbury’s lyrical warning of a supposed future. This last read is a revisit due to both curiosity if it’s as good as I remember and because we are studying it as a class in AP Lang. Yes. It’s still as good. Wait–it’s much, much better due to Bradbury’s future coming fast upon us.
Books like The Borrowers, a tiny family in a big world, enthralled me as a child. Somehow, The Return of the Twelves, which echoes believing the unbelievable, escaped my reading attention. As an adult, and a “brontyfan,” I appreciate this story so much more. It’s rather a back door introduction for young readers to the brilliance of Charlotte and her Bronte siblings. The story itself is typical of the sixties, where children are precocious and are possessed of much more independence than their contemporary readers. Parents are presented as absent-minded, patronizing, or clueless of their children’s lives. Clarke’s story presents a likable cast of characters, particularly Max, who becomes protector of the Twelves or Young Men. His responses to their animation have a sense of verisimilitude as he both indeed at their existence while remaining fiercely protective of them. The plot cleverly provides the actions of the Twelves through a combination of the present and through Max’s imaginative efforts. At times the plot wobbles on timeworn, but will suddenly turn the corner with a refreshing twist. A satisfying read for those who like adventure and can still believe at least six impossible things before breakfast.
A quirky book difficult to place genre-wise. Love story? Quest? Mystery? Not muchly magical realism? In some ways it reminds me of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist in that an ordinary young man begins to discover the extraordinary by stepping out of his comfort zone. Love In Lower-Case explores how it is too easy to fall into a routine, desiring for a change and when change begins to happen, it is difficult to accept. A likable character, odd circumstances, a mysterious cat, an annoying stranger, and a Yoda neighbor all mix together for a satisfying, though not earthshaking weekend read.
I would like to think as a young reader I would have appreciated the skillfully crafted story of a young Jewish man who discovers that love is stronger than hate, especially when facing such a fearsome enemy as the Romans; however, I doubt that I would have. I am ever so impressed with The Bronze Bow—its plot, setting, details, message. And the ending. The ending is absolutely stunning. As an adult I am absolutely impressed and moved, and I would like think my young reader self might have recognized the value of Speare. Maybe.
So many good reads kept my wits from dullifying totally through this last long winter. I can’t imagine not having a book to read.
Let me know if you’ve read any of these, or if I have tempted you to plump out your TBR list.
As much as I appreciate Shakespeare, I’m not keen on his historical plays. Maybe one has to be British to embrace the life and times of former sovereigns. Then again I’m not favored towards American leaders foregoing productions about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the crew. Lincoln, I would probably watch.
And so, hearing there is a contemporary production of the Richards and the Henrys featuring favorite actors ranging from David Suchet to Jeremy Irons to Tom Huddleston to Ben Whishaw, I am intrigued and ready to binge some Bard.
Richard II features Ben Whishaw and he cavorts with the style and aplomb of a rock star. Production notes indicate Michael Jackson was suggested inspiration. Whishaw deservedly earned his accolades for his performance as he drifts between petulance and dedicated sovereignty. The cinematography rivals that of big screen artistry, bringing a dimension to the play that a stage production never could. An absolutely riveting introduction to the series.
Next up is Prince Hal played by Tom Hiddleston, around the time he began his Avengers role as Loki. Hiddleston brings the winsome bad boy pluck that he channels in Loki to the role of heir apparent. He cavorts in taverns with thieves and prostitutes instead of winning fame and glory on the battlefield. Hal gives his dad King Henry IV, played exceedingly well by Jeremy Irons, ulcers of shame.
Part One focuses on how Prince Hal is slumming around with Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s more endearing anti-heroes played with vamp and veer by Simon Russell Beal. A notoriously likable scoundrel, Falstaff nearly ruins Prince Hal, who fortunately realizes he needs to shed the scalawag before he becomes king.
Part Two witnesses the coming of age of a wayward son into prince realizing his duties to crown and country. Stellar performances from all. Tom Hiddleston’s rejection of Falstaff is especially noteworthy as he coldly belays the sly knight’s claim upon him, breaking the old man’s heart, while stepping up to the role of honor required of him.
Henry V fortunately continues with Tom Hiddleston as king. Viewers see his growth as an impetuous swaggering tavern trawler to a victorious warrior whose Crispin Day speech incites tears as it is lovingly and personally delivered to individual soldiers under his command. This king can shout when he has to but can also project tenderness and caring to a peasant conscripted to fighting a war he does not comprehend. His death as a ruler came much too soon.
Each segment features a different director which brings a freshness and varying perspective to each play. The only hindrance is the lack of continuity of actors from part one to part two since Rory Kinnear is very different from Jeremy Irons in looks and acting style, as king, as are the other characters. It was indeed a bonus to have Hiddleston continue as Henry V.
Once again it is proven that Shakespeare is not of an age but for all time as this production proves the Bard is far from boring.
Thanksgiving break proved extra relaxed this year since no traveling was involved and no expected or unexpected company . The only obligation was making two pumpkin pies. Oh, with a side of Thanksgiving dinner.
Less demands meant more reading time. Check out the links to the Goodreads reviews. Here are November’s highlights:
Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Sometimes seeing the movie can spark an interest in the book. Of course the book was better. A brother and sister are shipped to the country as part of the WWII evacuation. No matter how many of these type of stories I read I continue to find each of them intriguing.
The Right Kind of Fool by Sarah Loudin Thomas ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ The newest Appalachia story from Sarah. Her books are always provide an particular insight into the region based in some way a true story. In this case, the story revolves around a deaf boy and a murder mystery.
We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Based on a true story of a woman who gave birth while in an iron lung. A likable tale that transcends into an implausible fairy tale with a surprise appearance of Elvis.
My Daniel by Pam Conrad ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ A story of the enduring bond between a brother and sister set during Nebraska’s early settler days. An added element is dinosaur fossil hunting.
Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Another older Newbery find. A young girl is sent to live with her spinster aunt when her mother dies. The catch is she has a family in town and they are all on good terms, which is unusual for a story plot. Not an orphan, definitely loved—the conflict? Which family is her true home?
My reading list is still filled with a composite of classics, Newbery titles, and new releases. My favorites tend to be the old Newbery winners. Nothing like solid writing from the past where the big problems of today were not in residence.
Shakespeare didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, at least in the modern day sense, but he did know how to give thanks most eloquently:
I express my own thanks. It will be a quiet Thanksgiving, yet there is a joyful noise within my heart that as difficult as this year has been it has been one in which I appreciate how much I can count on the Lord to be my light on those dark days.
May the joy of thanks be a member at your table this year, for there is always something to be thankful for.
With the first month of school squared away with its new expectations and schedule, I felt a bit more at leisure to read in the evenings.
I’m finishing up my foray into Newberry winners and I am discovering the older titles can definitely hold the attention. I am also trying to whittle down my TBR list, and at this point the titles left are going to be though my library’s inter-library loan system, unless they value my request enough to purchase (that is always a fun surprise).
Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World by Cynthia Chin-Lee ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
With the hour turned back the evening comes just that much sooner, and the lingering outside in the fading autumn afternoon warmth is less appealing as the shadows overtake my outdoor reading nooks. More reason to cozy up inside in my lounger and linger longer in my reading.
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….
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?
State a guess in the comments below and we will see what happens by December!
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.
Have you read any of these titles? Any of the titles entice you?
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.
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.
A sad, screwed-up type of guy.
A half a dozen characters rolled into one.
—George Bernard Shaw
An Anglo-Saxon bore who talked too much.
What Hamlet is, before he is anything…is an authentic tragic hero who is himself a man of genius.
Hamlet doesn’t care if he bites the dust. He’s dangerous. He’s a human time bomb.
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.