Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tasty Literary Treats

The Seattle Weekly's Voracious blog had a post on the five top foods in children's lit. Now this is my kind of debate. I was very pleased to see their inclusion of turkish delight from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Though I'm not a fan of the sticky candy in real life, in the book, Lewis makes turkish delight sound like the most tempting of treats (and to poor WWII-rationed Edmund, it probably was).

Talking about food in books isn't unique to our televised cooking competitions/food-blog obsessed age. In Little Women, Jo and Meg March talked about how it's impossible to read Charles Dickens without having a snack in hand. I found the same thing to be true with The Boxcar Children, which had a way of making even simple bread and milk sound like ambrosia. Reading Harriet the Spy made me long to try a chocolate egg cream (though I had no clue what one actually was). The occasional treats in the Little House girls' stockings made what had to have been a very ancient orange sound amazing.

And finally, there's Harry Potter. The Weekly's list called out butterbeer, but that delightful sounding tipple is just the tip of the food iceberg in Potterworld. I'd estimate fully a quarter of the books are devoted to descriptions of banquets, candy, and/or birthday cake. Is it any wonder that they're some of my favorite rereads? One of the most painful secondhand experiences I've ever had is going with a friend who hadn't eaten to a Harry Potter movie. By the time we hit the second banquet scene, he was whimpering in his chair. I don't want to know the kind of crimes he would have committed for a chocolate frog.

So tell me dear readers, what children's literary taste sensations am I missing?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

You know how if someone has a particularly lovely or compelling speaking voice the old adage is you'd happily listen to him or her read the phone book? Well that's how I feel about Sherman Alexie's authorial voice. It's awesome and I will read whatever he wants to write for as long as he wants to write it.

That being said,
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian feels like the book I've been waiting for him to write since I first picked up Reservation Blues in high school. A semi-autobiographical tale of Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a high school freshman growing up on the Spokane Reservation, TATDOAPTI is at once hilarious and heartbreaking.

Near the beginning of the book, Junior makes the unpopular decision to leave his reservation high school to attend the all-white Reardon High School. What prompts this decision is when he realizes that he will be using the exact same geometry book his mother did in high school. As a veteran of a high school where textbooks often looked like they'd survived the Great Flood, I could sympathize. However, leaving the reservation for school just isn't done and by challenging the status quo, Junior finds himself at odds with his best friend Rowdy and the unwilling focal point of a lot of attention both at home and at Reardon.

Alexie does a masterful job balancing the hopeful (Junior's progress in school and making friends, however unlikely) with the tragic (the body count in this novel is higher than many murder mysteries). He doesn't shy away from the bleakness of the future for many of Junior's family and friends, but he also shows the love present in almost every Spirit family scene.

Junior is the kind of hero you don’t even realize is one until the end of the story. By focusing on his broken brain, general nerdiness, and lack of appeal to the opposite sex, Alexie camouflages the fact that Junior is also willing to walk miles in the blistering sun or freezing cold, face down the majority of the reservation, and, perhaps most intimidating, enter an entirely new high school as a complete outsider in order to get a better education.

Writing a YA novel right now seems to be the thing to do amongst well-regarded novelists. Jane Smiley, Cory Doctorow, John Grisham, and Neil Gaiman are just some of the names flooding the market. With such an influx it's always hard not wonder if their agent suggested they write a YA book because 1) they're hot right now and 2) they're shorter. Thus I approach most of their offerings with a healthy degree of skepticism. However, I don't care if Sherman Alexie thinks YA is the scratch lotto ticket of the literary world. Whatever prompted it resulted in his best book to date - and one I would recommend to any reader I know.

YA is right for Alexie and Alexie is right for YA. His voice - funny and furious - is a much-needed addition to the high school lit oeuvre.

The Wakefield Twins are back

Sweet Valley Confidential - the long awaited follow up to the endless Sweet Valley High series - is finally looking like something more than an urban legend. I've been hearing vague rumors about an adult novel that would feature everyone's favorite lavaliere-wearing, perfect size 6 sisters for years, but had given up hope of it ever getting published. But now, if you visit this website, you can sign up and get an email with a link the first chapter. It looks like the full novel will be published next March.

I know what you're dying to know what the first chapter is holds. And clearly I read it within fifteen minutes of realizing it was available. I won't go in to details, but suffice it to say that the writing hasn't improved, the twins are NOT both living perfect lives in Sweet Valley, and Bruce Patman gets a shoutout. If you read the original series (which I think may have been a requirement for girls growing up in the 80s), it is definitely worth checking out.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Elizabeth's Bookshelf

I've been in a bit of a reading slump (gasp!) lately what with moving to a new apartment and lots of oh-so-lovely overtime at work, so I apologize for my lack of posting. Now that I have a bit more free time, however, my bookshelf selection has expanded. Here are a few of the books I'm currently reading:

Heidi W. Durrow's The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

Durrow's debut novel begins with a mysterious family tragedy. The only survivor is--you guessed it--the girl who fell from the sky, Rachel. As the daughter of a white Danish mother and black G.I. father, Rachel's exploration of her racial identity is compounded by her broken family. Durrow's prose is excellent; deliberate and evocative. Durrow doesn't shy away from hard truths about what it means to be biracial in America or having to deal with difficult family dynamics. My only disappointment was that while The Girl Who Fell From the Sky starts off strongly, the narrative loses some of its drive towards the end. However, I would still recommend this title, and I'm looking forward to more of Ms. Durrow's writing.

Check out Heidi Durrow's excellent blog, Light-skinned-ed Girl.

The Best American Series: The Best American Comics 2009

When I realized that this installment of the Best American Series was edited by Charles Burns, I immediately ordered it. Charles Burns is one of my favorite graphic novelists (if you haven't read Black Hole do so immediately) and I was excited to see which established and up-and-coming graphic novelists were showcased in Comics 2009. So far there's an excellent story by Adrian Tomine and a sweetly sad brother-sister tale by Laura Park. The Best American Series rarely disappoints, so I'm eager to continue reading.

**To build off Kerry's previous post, David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is amazing. I'm more of a fan of his inventive rather than traditional narrative; Cloud Atlas is one of my favorite novels while it took me a while to get through Black Swan Green, so I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be as engrossed by the traditional narrative of Jacob de Zoet. I should never have doubted you, David Mitchell! Jacob de Zoet might be Mitchell's best novel yet. Add your name to the crazy-long library queues now.