Friday, July 30, 2010

Ways to read

What should I read? Any ideas?

What should I read next?
How do I know what is valuable?
Should I join a reading club?
Should I use someone else's reading list and adapt to my own needs?
Just how do I go about reading?

It can be perplexing with the millions of books out there on shelves and in cyberspace. You've completed your education--or should I say degree--are we ever finished with our education? Now you say, Just give me a reading list. Tell me what to read and I'll read it.

Should you go that way? You can. It's certainly better than reading the same ol' kind of books for the rest of your life. Please allow me to make some suggestions:

1. Read eclectically, that is randomly, from this list, that list, what you run into in review forums, what friends and family advise, what you see in emails (I think of that book President Obama was carrying that incited so much controversy), and so on. This is certainly a legitimate way to read, keeping you abreast of what's new and classic and downright fun and entertaining. I just read Craig Ferguson's memoir because he mentioned it on his late night show. Found it fun and informative. I read what friends on Amazon recommend and find my horizons expanding, for example Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski.

But am I missing anything really great by reading eclectically?

2. Read by genre:
-Science fiction (even if you don't think you like it). Google or Bing a list and read a classic first or something highly recommended. My recommendation here is Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke
(A note about recommendations: Who recommended it? Is it someone you know and trust, someone whose tastes and interests parallel or intersect yours, or someone you would never follow? Always consider the source of recommendations!)

-Fantasy: I'm told that EVERYONE should read The Lord of the Ring cycle. I never have, so maybe that should go on my list.Here's a reading list for science fiction/fantasy:

-Historical fiction: Again read a highly acclaimed book first if you've never delved here. There are fantastic examples out there. One of my particular favorites is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, a book set in medieval England. or, of course,
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, even if her history is a little altered.
I just found a fantastic historical fiction reading list. Here's the link:

-Realistic fiction, for example, Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, or

-Young adult fiction: There are fabulous examples here, all falling under their particular genres. Don't pooh them away as written for tweens and teens. The quality and themes are also applicable to adults. One of my particular favorites is Tangerine by Edward Bloor. It is dramatic, humorous (laughing out loud funny), warm, compassionate, everything a good story should be.
Another example is one I recently read: Firegirl by Tony Abbot.

Or Andrew Clements' finest (but any of his books will suffice) is Frindle (a word now in the dictionary).

Or the fantastically popular Harry Potter series or Twilight series (YA fantasy):

My favorite series in YA is Alex Rider, which could be classified as a spy thriller.
Here is the first in the series--Stormbreaker--and I just discovered that there is a Book 8. Oh. My. Goodness. Excuse me while I order it--oh, here it is:

For a really fun and thorough list of all kinds of genres and sub-genres, check this link:

For my own suggested reading list, look to the left of this blog.  For another way to read, try my list to the right: alphabetical list of books. 

There's no dearth of reading lists or reading material. They are out there in cyberspace, just beyond your fingertips. The more you use your brain, the stronger it gets. The more you read the more you know. Oh, I'm a librarian. We know all these sayings.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The theme of evil in us

Lord of the Flies is singularly the most important novel for required reading, whether assigned in school or self-imposed. It regularly appears as number one on my own list of best books.

Let's play "What if." What if a plane carrying a full load of school boys crashes on a deserted island with no adult survivors? What would happen to those boys? What would you expect to happen?

William Golding works with this premise: an idyllic setting, innocent schoolboys. One boy, an older boy just short of teenage years, a boy with fair hair, assumes leadership to stir the others into some semblance of organization and survival mode, much like adults would do if adults were present. He also saw a need to defuse the web of fear of the younger ones. Where are we? How long will we need to wait before someone comes for us? All questions with no answers at this time.

Ah, yes, Golding tells us, everything goes well for a while. But remember the "scar" made by the crashing plane? Something ugly is on this island (but it's not the scar). It's in the bushes, in the dark, in the depths, in the depths of hearts, and it grows like the malignancy it is.

A blatant revelation of what is about to come occurs when Roger silently and stealthily watches a littl'un, unbeknownst to the little child. All the little'un is doing is running a stick through the sand, disturbing a crab in a tiny pool of water. Even he imposes control and fear on a helpless creature as Roger boldly picks up a couple of rocks and tosses them the youngster's way. He deliberately misses but comes closer with each throw. Next time he will probably hit the young boy, but not yet. This taboo--deliberately and unnecessarily causing pain to one smaller than you--has not been broken--yet.

Although the dance of the spears, the primeval chants, the attack and killing of the pig, then feasting on its flesh, their kill, are shocking acts of savagery, this event is foreshadowed by the seemingly innocent lob of the stones. From a casual incident, but one with eventual intentionality, the ritualistic slaughter is not so far-fetched or surprising. Golding prepares his readers. This is how the chaos of society starts. It begins with one simple disconnect from the rules. It begins in the minds and hearts. Will I do what society expects? Will I follow the rules to keep things running and working? Do I break a rule or two for my own enhancement. Will I feel a power surge if my rock hits that littl`un?

Ralph would probably speak of the terror of knowing that rules WILL be broken. He would speak of the utter horror that any rule can be and will be broken and he won't live to tell about it. Just ask Piggy.

This novel is the only one I taught over and over during the twelve years I worked with high school seniors. My other choices I would switch around those years, drop some, add some. This one I kept. It is that important. I think of "Lord of the Flies" as a necessary manual fo
r societal behavior and an effort to keep the chaos of evil at bay.

Is it even necessary to ask how many times that rock has been thrown since this novel was published in the 1950's? Or how much chaos has imploded so many lives?

Like the way of manuals, some remain in circulation and are deeply read; others fall by the wayside out of disinterest. Some are thrown in the trash. Lord of the Flies--what is its current status? And society--how is it doing? Reader, are you a little bit fearful?

Addendum: (posted 7-27-2010) I recently viewed the film, Killer Inside Me, with Casey Affleck. This, I thought, is the perfect example of the consequences of taking that first step of hitting someone with a stone. How we have changed since the 1950's!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The new Bond

Quantum of Solace

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Firegirl by Tony Abbott

"It wasn't much, really, the whole Jessica Feeney thing....She was a girl who came into my class after the beginning of the year and was only there for a couple of weeks or so....Then she wasn't there anymore. That was pretty much it." Those are the thoughts expressed by Tom, a seventh grader, in the opening paragraph of "Firegirl" by Tony Abbott. The words seem simple, but they grabbed this reader. The essence of something profound just seeps through the simple tone of those words.

As librarian in a PK-8 Catholic school, I seek out books that will engage reluctant readers, not only to read, but to read compassionately. My school's motto is "Kindness is practiced here," so anything that can evoke kindness is a must-have book. "Firegirl" is definitely one of those books.

A bit overweight and highly self-conscious, Tom is not the expected candidate to befriend a lonely, excluded, severely burned girl who joins his class just after school begins its fall session. In fact, Jessica is so badly burned that students are horrified by her condition and fearful that they will get it, too, all the while knowing that such a condition is not contagious. Consider: These are children at an age when rejection is devastation. They feel that her "freak"-ish condition will harm them in some way and thus treat her as a pariah, then make up horrible stories concerning the origin of the fire that burned her. Anything to ward off her condition, one they impulsively, compellingly, subconsciously do not want--to stand out in such an undesirable way.

Yet Tom, who has one friend, and not a very pleasant one at that, is touched by her condition. When the teacher asks Tom to deliver a homework assignment to her house (they live just a few streets from each other), he agrees, but reluctantly. During prayer, since he sits closest to her, holds her hand. His selfish friend will not.

Jessica and her parents are in town for special medical treatment for Jessica and will leave when it's over. Her three weeks at this school with these kids, particularly Tom, will change both her and Tom in wonderful ways. "Wonder n. One that arouses awe, astonishment, surprise, or admiration; a marvel" --from

Early in the novel, I kept wondering why the author chose such a devastating condition to include in the lives of middle school students. What point was he going to make? Frankly, I was a bit leery of his intentions. By novel's end, I was stunned by the author's thoughtfulness and purpose. In fact, this is a book I may read aloud to middle school students this year to discuss compassion and all it holds and indicates.

This is a fine book to add to the middle school library. No doubt!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Killer Inside Me

Note: This is the first movie review I've included in my blog. The film is both controversial and mesmerizing. Everything about this film noir is superlative, but make no mistake, it is about the hidden person within us. In this case, the hidden person is violent--and Director Michael Winterbottom hides nothing--so, beware the content of this review as well.

I watched Killer Inside Me simply because Kate Hudson is in it. Not that I am a fan, but she appeared on The David Letterman Show to promote it and declared it unlike anything else she has done. Oh, how true! Normally, she plays fluff characters. This time, this time she plays a woman in love with a man who becomes quite simply, quite horrifyingly Jekyll/Hyde.

Who are we? Who is inside us? Is there a secret person just yearning to come out? How much is your public persona the very same being you harbor when no one else is around? Or does the mere presence of a particular other person urge the Shadow Self to declare itself? (Shadow: Jung's definition of the dark side)

Casey Affleck is the title character and plays it with absolute conviction. Was it difficult  going home after a day's shoot and returning to normal life? I wonder now what is normal for an actor who inhabits a character like Lou Ford, for this character and his actions made me sick. Note: I am not equating Affleck with Ford, but his stellar performance IS perfection.

I was flipping through movie choices when at the very bottom of the line-up, normally where the pornographic movies are listed, when I spotted this title and quickly rented it, remembering Kate Hudson's interview, not giving a single thought to the film's location. I should have. It has sado-masochistic, graphically violent content. Sickening content.

To what ends? What was the director's intent? Michael Winterbottom directs this film noir with an unflinching eye for veracity and sadistic boldness. He leaves some things to imagination, but vividly shows the circular route to self-destruction when a person loses hold on moral turpitude. He also shows what could be way down deep inside, idling, waiting to come out, as it is in Ford. In fact, I keep reflecting on Lord of the Flies, when one of the older boys continues to throw rocks closer and closer to one of the little ones, just short of breaking with societal rules. Lou Ford, however, takes this disconnect far deeper and, actually, to the utmost when he takes lives in the cruel abandonment of compassion, showing a total void of what makes us human.

The people in this 1950s West Texas town all know each other and have for years. Lou Ford is one of its favored boys all grown up and now deputy sheriff. Little did anyone know what he and his older sister (maybe stepmother, Affleck doesn't always enunciate clearly) did for fun. These memories serve as the trigger to his nihilistic, dead-end, dead-making behavior that rises from his assignment to chase the beautiful young prostitute (Jessica Alba) out of town. Instead, he connects psychically and sexually with her, opening the door to his hellish personality, the Shadow self, as Jung describes it.

There is always that little door in one's mind that must remain closed and locked. To open it is to invite disaster, mild or torrential. Once that door is open, it can never be closed again. Lou Ford opens that door when she slaps him. Let me be blunt: Violence begets violence. In fact, violence is pretty much a character in this film.

The number of murders good ol' boy, soft-spoken, loved-by-all Lou Ford commits from that point on is simply incredible. As with any deviant psycho personality, he believes he will continue his behavior undetected, although The Mentalist's Simon Baker is on to him. In the end Ford will be punished, but not the way the viewer may think or expect or want. Nor is the ending a good one. Just more shocking, horrifying aftermath.

So, what was Winterbottom's purpose, other than producing a very stylish, well-made film noir? The lessons are worthy: deviant behavior does not go unpunished, your companions may determine your future, doing something because it feels good may not be a worthy goal to pursue, it's best to leave some things alone.

Kate Hudson? Yeah, it's a different role all right. She definitely plays a character way out of her comfort zone. In fact, I did not recognize her in any way. 


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Another Katrina story: Molly the Pony

What happened to the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? Many stayed. Many relocated elsewhere. Some returned. And the animals? "Molly the Pony: A True Story" is just one story of many. In this case Molly was left with the intention of the return of her owners.

Molly was a "lucky" pony. Her owners left her enough hay to last the two weeks she spent in a barn in isolation and lock-down after the hurricane was over. During the storm the wind blew off the roof, allowing rain to fall inside and provide enough water to last those two weeks. Her owners had locked the doors to keep Molly safe; the abundant hay was surely an unknowing miraculous act for Molly. If you will remember, various people from the New Orleans area immediately started search and rescue efforts for people and animals alike after the storm. Molly is just one story.

A nearby neighbor took in Molly until her owners could return. As with many, they chose to relocate. Molly became Ms Kay's new addition. The story could have ended here but would not be as interesting as what happened. A huge dog wandered into the pasture and attacked Molly, biting her severely on one front leg. The wound would not heal and Molly lost her leg. The cover picture reveals that Molly was fitted with a prosthesis and learned to live with it (many horses could not). This still is not the end of a wonderful story.

The third phase of Molly's journey is her becoming a therapy horse--you know, like dogs and cats are. With the story of her own prosthesis, Molly is taken to various homes and institutions where she touches lives of children and senior adults with their own disabilities.

I summarized this wonderful story so that readers will know what "Molly the Pony" is about and why this true story is so worthy of being part of everyone's library. Although it was written for children--my library students, 4- and 5-year-olds were so intrigued!, adults will also love this lesson in persistence, determination, and a dogged/horsed will to live. Highly recommended! Comment

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Two Bobbies--a very special Katrina story

Note: Louisiana Young Readers Choice recently announced (March 1, 2011) that children in grades 3-5 statewide voted Two Bobbies as its number one favorite book for 2011.

 Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival--this story touched my heart profoundly, beginning with the cover illustration and the title. But then I know the story of Katrina and its devastation. I know that animals were left behind, not out of indifference or neglect, but out of necessity. Who knew that people wouldn't be returning to their homes any time soon or, in some cases, never? That means animals essentially, through no one's fault, were abandoned. Artist Jean Cassels captures the essence of devotion behind this oh-so-poignant story: dog looking at cat with closed eyes. A flooded street is depicted in the background. These two were "abandoned." But there is much more to this story.

Typically, when I write reviews of children's books, I test the book on at least one group of students in my school library. I am the librarian. This time the book arrived in a box of books via Fed Ex after school closed, so I am the testee. Frankly, I was moved to tears by this story. Much of it is speculation. How could Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery know exactly what Cat and Dog did during their journey to the animal shelter? But the two animals had to have a history together, so the two writers imagined one.

Young cat, young dog, both bob-tailed, perhaps were taken in together by their owner as two of a kind. Perhaps the dog was chained when the floods came, when the owners left, thinking they would return soon. Perhaps these owners left enough food for a few days. When days turned into weeks, apparently Dog broke his chain and he and Cat took off together. Perhaps they came across other strays, big and vicious. Perhaps they starved a bit (when they were finally taken in, their ribs were showing).

Whatever their scenario, they survived together for several months after the hurricane and before the next set of humans adopted them. The two companions, Dog and Cat, finally found a work site where a worker was keeping his dog. These two had a place and sure food--finally--for just one week. That's when the boss man said the two had to go.

They were taken to one of the animal shelters that spring up when animals need taking in. This is the place where an amazing discovery was made. When Cat and Dog were separated by race, Dog howled and barked and carried on until Cat was put in his cage with him. Finally, a human made the discovery that Cat was blind and Dog was his seeing-eye dog!

Now look again at the cover. Go back through the book and regard each illustration again. Cassels shows the viewer/reader this little tidbit--the cat's blindness, the dog's solicitude--in each illustration, but subtly.

The story does have a happy ending. The two are adopted together. This part of the story is also precious.

Bobbie (the Dog) and Bob Cat survived the storm, the flooding, and hardships lasting months. Their friendship and their survival are doubly special because of their unique situation and circumstances. Because of the merger of wonderful illustrations and a sensitively rendered story, this book is highly recommended! Comment

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Home canning!

I've grown my own cucumbers and turned them into pickles for years now. It's a very satisfactory experience, or "Putting up food when it's at its freshest is like sealing the best parts of summer inside a jar." That's a quote I found on the Globe Life website.

So far I've put up ten pints, both wide-mouth and regular, of pickles.

The other thing I've done this summer is put up four and one-half gallons of blackberries into quart and pint packages. What I do with these is make blackberry cobbler, my favorite dessert. Because I took the time to drive down to DeSoto Parish and pick blackberries for two hours at a time in the hot, blazing sun, I simply froze them. Later  I will make blackberry preserves, cobbler all winter, or just grab a bag of ones I added sugar to and eat from the bag. That is such a refreshing experience!

The bag to the left has sweetened berries (that make their own juice).

A favorite souvenir

A favorite souvenir
These are my two girls from Ireland!

Judy's shared items

Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)

  • *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
  • How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
  • The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
  • In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
  • *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
  • Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
  • The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
  • Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
  • Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
  • Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
  • The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
  • Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  • Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
  • *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  • A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
  • Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
  • *Ruined by Paula Morris
  • Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
  • Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo
  • *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
  • Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
  • *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
  • Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
  • *The Giver by Lois Lowery
  • *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski

School Library Journal - NeverEndingSearch


A semester course in one book about the Soviet Union. Click on image for my review.