Cites & Bytes @ Bailey

a library newsletter, a compendium of interesting tidbits, a communication tool....from Bailey Library @ Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. (Site Feed)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Recently Read, Heard....

Winter in the Blood by James Welch
I believe this is noted native American author James Welch's first book. It tells the story of a young man/the nameless narrator who seems distant and disengaged from everything around him. He wanders from his family home to the town and around the countryside, existentially observing and thinking about the deaths of his father, brother, and grandmother. The metaphor of the man who is not really at home anywhere is potent and to me, the main character seemed without hope until he made a connection with the man he discovers to be his grandfather. The writing is very simple but strong and according to various reviews, based on trickster tales and Blackfeet legends. Winter is the setting for his father and brother's deaths and for the stark survival story of his grandmother. This book is a selection for one of the spring reading groups and I look forward to its discussion to learn more about it.

Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
I mentioned that I was listening to this audiobook several weeks ago, but wanted to add that after finishing it, I felt that it was a little bitter. Of course, 30 years teaching in New York public schools (or anywhere else for that matter) would probably turn us all a little sour in spots. I did enjoy McCourt's reminiscences about classrooms out of his control, some unorthodox lessons like the reading aloud of recipes or the composition of excuse notes, and field trips gone awry. Some parts were very humorous, some sad. I want to compile a list of novels and biographies about teaching--I think books like Teacher Man or The Thread That Runs So True should be required reading for education majors. McCourt's commentary on his lifelong aversion to administrators alone presents some important lessons for teachers-to-be.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Not what you might expect... these potential princesses are mountain girls from an isolated "linder" mining community who share an ability to "quarry speak" or communicate telepathically. The academy involves learning to read and write as well as to converse and dance the minuet, which leads the little heroine to discover Commerce and the laws of supply and demand, which leads to some real improvements for her village. There is a budding romance, some inter-princess rivalry before teamwork and sisterhood take hold, and a dramatic escape from marauding bandits for suspense. Personally, I found it a little predictable (one of those Newbery picks that is a little puzzling) and as sacharine as a Shirley Temple film but I am not a twelve year-old girl, nor a candidate for princess, more's the pity...

Lies, Sissies, and Fiascoes: This American Life from NPR
Features several of my favorites... Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris, Ira Glass... and some new favorites like Dishwasher Pete who recounts his non-appearance on the Letterman Show. Delightful short pieces from the NPR series make the perfect companion for driving (I sometimes lose the thread of longer narratives when I need to make turns, count stoplights, etc.) Stories cover a wide segment of American life (pun intended) and include getting over a girlfriend, shooting a cannon off with dad, a production of Peter Pan that could not possibly get any worse, and a naked Chinese man who is memorialized by a punk band. Have fun!

Looking for Alaska by John Green
Sad, sad, Printz award winner about teens at a boarding school and that girl that all of the disaffected young boys fall in love with... Alaska is eccentric, moody, sexy, gifted, and doomed. The latter part of the novel deals with her friends attempting to reconstruct the circumstances of her untimely death. The characters were quite appealing in what seemed like a pretty accurate portrayal of bright, rebellious young people. I thought their relationships were very realistic, falling in and out of love, lust, and like in rapid succession. The narrator has a penchant for memorizing the last words of famous people and smoking and drinking play a large part in the social life of the group.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Currently listening to this bestseller (only up to lesson #3) so can't really comment on the big lesson, although I can feel it lurking out there on CD #5. Eddy, a maintenance worker at the Ruby Pier amusement park, dies while trying to save a little girl at the park. In "heaven," he meets the blue man who died of a heart attack after nearly hitting Eddy the child in the street, the Captain who shot Eddy to save his life during World War II, and the old woman for whom the pier was named. Loyalty and forgiveness are emphasized so far... good advice for the living and dead, I suppose. UPDATE: I must add that the pompous musical background and the portentious tone of the narrator really began to get on my nerves around CD #4 and I began to wish that dead Eddy would move along through heaven a little more quickly.

That Distant Land by Wendell Berry
This anthology contains Berry's stories based on the fictional community of Port William, Kentucky and includes many of the families and individuals covered in other entries in the chronicle (see former Recently Read posts on Hannah Coulter and The Memory of Old Jack.) The anthology is arranged chonologically, moving from 1888 to the modern day. The themes of land and family and friendship provide the warp to the weft of some standout stories... "Watch With Me," "The Wild Birds," and "Pray Without Ceasing," among many others. These stories are full of integrity, nobility, true and complex human qualities that really resonate off the page and present a richly textured portrait of a way of life that is fairly gone. I had not read any of the Ptolemy Proudfoot stories before; they were humorous in an old-timey farmer sort of way.


Post a Comment

<< Home