29 November 2006

17. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Not a bad little book. It was a fast read and I enjoyed most of it. The ending was "sweet" in a warm, nice way and not a sugary, sticky way.

The book is about David, a young English boy whose mother is dying at the start of the book. Soon after she dies he begins to have attacks, where he blacks out but remembers the fluttering of flags and images of castles. He hears books murmuring to him. His dad moves him out to the country to avoid the dangers of the German bombing attacks on London. Things get really weird after his dad remarries and a new baby brother joins the family.

One night he runs off into the garden and makes his way through a crack in the wall and finds himself in a dangerous new world: Bleeding, murmuring trees; a caring Woodsman who escorts him to the King's castle; vicious half wolf/half human creatures who want to eat him whole; and an errant knight on a quest to find out what happened to his love. And David is being pursued by the Crooked Man who wants to use David to replace the old King with David.

What I enjoyed the most was the way Connolly weaved the elements of other fairy tales into his story. Little Red Riding Hood is there, though a little bit more worldly than we recall, and so too is the Gingerbread House of Hansel and Gretel, also not quite the same way.

The atmosphere of the book was cool, but ultimately not as captivating as the setting of The Golden Compass novels. I liked the book a lot and it was just short enough at 339 pages, or fast enough, that I didn't get sick of it.

16 November 2006

16. "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller (not Henry)

First of all, Marilyn Monroe didn't marry Henry Miller.

Second, this was a damn fine play. There's some subtlety that is over looked, I think, because of our familiarity with the theme and plot of the play, but Miller has a nice touch, especially with the character of Hale. John Proctor is a little over the top, and that takes away from some of the other characterizations. But don't we all know an Abigail Williams? And don't we all try to escape her clutches? And don' t we, sometimes, run from Abigail right into the arms of another Abigail? Blameth not the John Proctor.

And certainly we are a Nation of Mary Warrens. In fact, from now on, whenever I refer to these United States, I shall also call upon the spirit of Mary Warren. I hope you enjoy it, you MaryWarrenlanders (and Canadians).

15. The Scarlet Letter by Nate Hawthorne

It's damn difficult to read books outside the curriculum I teach these days, but I am slowly working my way through a few fiction books right now: The System of the World, the final book in the Baroque Cycle; The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. And a few non-fiction ones: Instant Weather Forecasting by not the Zen-Master Alan Watts; and the Boatowner's Electrical Handbook by Charlie Wing.

But I have asked you here to tell you about the glorious writing that is Nate's. I had not read The Scarlet Letter before reading it to teach it. Nothing better to clarify your concentration than having to get in front of 25 16 year olds and lead a book discussion. The AP Language class read the book, and we looked at it both as a piece of fiction, and as an argument. That Hawthorne was critiquing the Puritans in the plight of Hester, Chillingsworth, and Dimmesdale, and even criticizing his own ancestors (his grandfather of some great-kind, was one of the judges in the Salem Witch Trials, a fact that shames Nate so much that he adds the W to his last name to put some distance between the two of them. Old Judge Hathorne is a character in "The Crucible."). We looked at the monologues as editorials and Nate's language - his syntax and diction.

It was a fascinating way to read a book with teenagers, to really take a close look at the words in the text. For example, in the 200 pages of the novel NH uses the word ignomony 21 times. So we examine why that word, and why in those places. I really enjoy close reading and my best classes in college where the ones where we took a critical eye to word choice and the multiple meanings of words. (I realize that that close reading lead many a folk to the evils of the post-modern, but I found it intellectually satisfying right to that threshold.) I also learned that the kids, or at least these kids, will get as nerdy about language as you make it safe to be so.

A section I especially loved, and it will come as no surprise to my fellow Wordsworthians, was when little Pearl was in the forest, and the woods seemed to welcome her: the melancholy brook, the birds, the wildflowers that called out to her - I never knew Hawthorne to have such a delicate eye for nature and the sympathetic, in-tune feelings of his fellow transcendentalists. There are sentences, paragraphs even, where Hawthorne uses all of the descriptive finesse of Hank Thoreau.