Adventures in Reading

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley
December 13, 2007, 5:49 pm
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Earlier in the year a popular requested author at work was Michael Buckley, and it seemed everyone was interested in his Sisters Grimm series. Since then I have read the first four books and I have finally gotten around to the latest edition Magic and Other Misdemeanors. While reading the previous four I noticed that the books seemed to grow progressively weaker, but that could also simply be the result of reading too many of one author’s books at once.

While I am already only fourteen pages in I am at a point of great indecision with this book. Before I get ahead of myself allow me to explain the basis of the series: two sisters discover they are descended from the brothers Grimm, and along with a zany [1] cast of characters they run a sort of fairy tale detective agency. The idea on the whole is cute and it is also one of the few fantasy books for ages eight and up that offers a primary focus on two heroines.

So what am I indecisive or unsettled about? First, usually Buckley clearly states the folktales, myths, and fairy tales that he is referencing. However, this is the first time I noticed what appears to be references to modern tales of fantasy, but this is not referenced. When discussing “the black, gaping hole” or “What could any of them do to stop themselves, and soon the rest of the world, from being sucked into nothingness?” and I can only assume he is referencing Ende’s The Neverending Story where the Great Nothing of nihilism threatens the world.

Secondly, Buckley discusses “God” almost immediately and if my memory is correct this is the first mention of “God” in any of his novels. While there is nothing specifically bad about this, Buckley has for a long time been a favorite author for me to refer to customers at work, and part of my unwavering faith in suggesting him is that I have never had to earnestly consider on a customer to customer basis whether or not this would be appropriate. Not to say that “God” is inappropriate, but not every customer may want to purchase a book for a child that has religious tones in it.

And third, and practically the same as my first qualm, on page 14 the sisters stumble onto a group of chimpanzees and the docile chimpanzees turn on them when the sisters refer to them as “monkeys.” If that does not have Terry Pratchett written all over it I do not know what does!

So, are these huge issues? No, not particularly. But it does make me consider how an author treats references to other works of literature (and of course one could make the argument that Buckley is referring to neither Ende or Pratchett), and how do you suggest to customers and specifcally to children?

[1] Yes, zany is the only appropriate word.

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Emma by Jane Austen
December 13, 2007, 5:43 pm
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“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with verylittle to distress or vex her.” – Jane Austen’s Emma

I was thrilled to earn and receive an A on my Jane Austen Pride & Prejudice stock character paper, and was also encouraged by my instructor to submit it to the school’s writing review. Thus, for the next few weeks I will be extra fine tuning my paper. Between the research and writing of the paper I found the few odd moments to conclude Austen’s novel Emma too.

In many ways, Emma differs from Austen’s previous novels. Our heroine Emma Woodhouse faces no plight of financial or social existence that hinges on a good marriage. However, a theme of women “marrying up” persists in every marriage (and the book is full of them!). In addition, there is no clear cut villain such as Wickham or Willoughby. Instead, the closest Austen comes to a villain are Mr. Churchill and Mr. Elton. These two men are less of villains and more of cowards as a result of social and familial expectations.

While the heroine does marry in the end (to her brother-in-law’s brother) it is after much insistence that she will never marry or fall in love, and the resulting marriage has her husband moving into her household rather than the reverse. A special circumstance does exist as Emma does not wish to leave her (amusingly) sick father, which implies that perhaps her insistence was more to do with protecting her pride and heart.

Emma very much is a novel about matchmaking and the million small degrees of social status that exists. In regards to her own Yenta-like habits, Emma reflects that “The first error and the worst lay at her door. It was foolish, it was wrong, to take so active a part in bringing any two people together. It was adventuring too far, assuming too much, making light of what ought to be serious, a trick of what ought to be simple. She was quite concerned and ashamed, and resolved to do such things no more” (763). From decorum books I have read of the period I understand that matchmaking was not a thing to do, and was looked upon poorly.

The social statuses in the novel vary greatly from the Woodhouse home (where Emma is line for a 30,000 pound dowry if I recall correctly), to her ex-governess’ new matrimonial abode with Mr. Weston, to the now impoverished but once established Bates family. The novel thoroughly explores issues of marriage and relationship propriety for the people of Highbury. Since concluding Emma I have started on Northanger Abby, which is sensational. If anyone has ever doubted Austen’s wit, vivacity, and charm it is because they have not read NA!

Other opinions: Mommy Brain, Good Clean Reads, Deliciously Clean Reads.

Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis

“Goldfinch was flapping clothesline, a tenement delirious with striving.”

A few posts back I asked how reader’s decided which book to read next. I forgot to add that an excellent way to discover new writers and titles is asking at readings. Earlier in the year I heard two Canadian authors read. One was Steven Hayward author of The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke (which I still have not read) and the other man I entirely forget (except that a group of us went back to a friend’s house and ate take out sushi). However, both of these authors recommended David Bezmozgis’ Natasha and Other Stories, and ever since then the collection has been sitting in the forefront of my mind as a must buy.

And I did. Buy it, that is, and it definitely tops my list as a favorite purchase and read of 2007. Bezmozgis story collection follows the life of a family of Jewish Russian immigrants in Toronto, Ontario. To paraphrase from one of my favorite television shows Black Books: I laughed, I cried, it changed my life. The book does follow the same family in chronological order, so especially if you are not a fan of the short story format this is one to try.

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