Friday, July 30, 2004

A Ship Made of Paper by Scott Spencer

This was the fourth book I grabbed earlier in the month at the Buy Three Get One Free sale at Borders. I knew nothing about it except that it had a medal sticker on the cover - National Book Award Finalist. I read this book pretty quickly. It is the story of a white man who falls in love with the mother of his daughter's black playmate. During a stormy night when the power goes out, he is stranded at this woman's house and a relationship begins that creates chaos in both of their lives. The book is set against the racial tensions of the O J Simpson trial, which I remember being glued to years back. Scott Spencer also wrote a book called Waking the Dead that was made into a movie directed by Jodi Foster, so now I am on a quest to find it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Above the Thunder by Renee Manfredi

This book was on the New Fiction shelf at the Strongsville Library and I picked it up because it had a blurb on the back written by Scott Russell Sanders, author of the article "Ten Reasons Why We Need A Story". I read that the author, Renee Manfredi has been a regional winner of Granta's Best American Novelists Under 40, so I took a chance. The novel is about a woman named Anna whose only child has been gone for many years. Suddenly, Anna finds herself caring for her granddaugher Flynn and a cast of characters from an HIV patients support group. The book is a little dark, but the ending is sweet.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Like the Red Panda by Andrea Seigel - Run Out and Read This Book

Wow. This is the new The Perks of Being a Wallflower on my list of books to recommend to (1) teenagers (2) AP/Honors students (3) angst ridden girls (4) parents of angst ridden girls. This book came to me from my sister-in-law from California who was in Ohio at David's parents for the family reunion weekend. David brought the book home and I read it every free moment I had. It is written by a 24 year old Andrea Seigel who captures the voice of an AP English student.

Anna Karenina - 0r A Big Book on the Bedside Table all Summer

The truth. I bought Anna Karenina the first week of summer vacation because it is one of those books I have never had to read - so I haven't read it. I know Oprah has resumed her bookclub to turn readers back on to the classics, and I think that is admirable. I wasn't excited about the length of Anna Kerenina, but I began the summer by calculating that if I read 100 pages of it each week, I could still read the pleasure books and not feel like I was spending a huge chunk of my summer with Anna. I have read the first 200 pages - and it sits like a brick on the bedside table. But I already know how it ends. Should I finish?????????

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Keeping Track

I'm just home from the Strongsville Homecoming Days parade, where I frequently see former students and students who know they are in my classes in the fall, I just don't know them yet. Strange circumstances to be told, "You don't know me yet. but I have you." Tonight I heard about some AP scores that last year's students have received in the mail, and it puts me in the mind to start recreating my summer reading so I will be ready on the first day of school. So starting at the beginning, this is what I've been reading this summer.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee

I chose to read The Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee because it was included in the list of novel titles on the 2004 Literature Free Response essay novels. I had never heard of the book and looked it up as soon as the tests were released. It is an interesting tale of a Japanese man whose life in the present is haunted by the events he witnessed as a medic in the Japanese Army in WWII. The prose is very rich and the story moves back and forth in time.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

The Mammoth Cheese by Sheri Holman

This book may be the surprise of the summer. I loved it. After having my name on the waiting list at the library for this book, I broke down and bought it at Borders and read it in just a few days. The story centers on a woman who owns a dairy farm in Virginia adjacent to the property owned by a couple that just had 11 babies. The media comes to town to cover the births, and since it is an election year, the presidential candidate who favors farmers becomes interested in the area. When he is elected, the town pulls together to recreate the 1,235 pound cheese that was made when Thomas Jefferson took office.
The book reminded me of Empire Falls and anything by John Irving. It made me laugh out loud. There is also a teenage daughter who has a crush on one of her teachers and a Thomas Jefferson impersonator.

I really started to love the book when I did a little research into the original Jefferson era cheese.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

I purchased a secondhand paperback copy of Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant in Asheville, N.C. because this book was on my mental list of books to read this summer. At the last AP Literature conference I attended, teachers were discussing which books to teach at the end of the school year when senior students have lost their interest in reading the serious books on the AP reading lists. This title came up as a book students enjoyed. I'm not so sure. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant has shown up on the free choice novel lists several times in recent years. The novel is the story of Pearl Tull, whose three children have very different personalities. I guess I'm just not an Ann Tyler fan. She has lots of good novels to her credit, but I'm just not convinced what might make this one AP worthy. I'll probably add it to my lists for students because it is a pretty easy story to read.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

A Sucker for a Borders Deal

Today we went to Borders and I discovered the Summer Reading Getaway shelves full of Buy 3, Bet a 4th Free deal. I was impressed by the selection and, although I was trying to use the library this summer, I spotted (1)The Mammoth Cheese on the shelf. This is a book I ordered from the library at the beginning of the summer, and since it hadn't come in yet, I bought it and had to buy three more books to get my money's worth. Also purchased, (2) My Invented Country by Isabel Allende, because Allende writes with such a lovely prose style that even this memoir will be enjoyable to read some day. (3) Second Glance, by Jodi Picoult whose novel The Pact is a favorite of juniors every year during free choice novel time. (4) A Ship Made of Paper by Scott Spencer because it is National Book Award Finalist and it has a photograph of an unmade bed on the cover. I may very well have bought Good Faith by Jane Smiley at the sale based on the cover photo of a woman in stockings and heels and a man in suit pants shot from the knees down. I'm something of a sucker for cover art. But luckily I was almost halfway through the book - from the library - which was sitting on our coffee table sporting a hardback cover that is much more boring. Like the book. I loved Smiley's A Thousand Acres, but Good Faith is a summer read that I stopped half way through.

Friday, July 02, 2004

The Sixpence House by Paul Collins - Or Buying Books on Vacation

True confessions - English teachers on vacation love to go to book stores in cool new places. Yes, I bought books while on vacation. At the bookstore at Hollins University, where Annie Dillard went to college, I bought a book about the Annie Dillard, Lee Smith and the Hollins Writers. At Atlantic Books and Folk Art in Asheville, N.C., I bought a used paperback copy of Anne Tylers Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (see later entry). At Carl Sandburg's Home we bought a few poetry books and at the Thomas Wolfe House we bought a copy of Look Homeward, Angel. In Richmond Virginia we escaped a thunderstorm by spending an hour in Cafe Gutenberg, the cutest establishment labled Books, Coffee & Wine Lounge. While it rained, I read so many of the poems in Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth by Alice Walker that I decided to buy the book. And I was very intriqued by a little paperback by Paul Collins called The Sixpence House, with the subtitle, Lost in a Town of Books. I bought it and read it almost entirely in a lavish room with two couches in The Jefferson Hotel. Collins, who works for David Egger's McSweeney's Books, took his wife and baby from San Francisco to live in the little village of Hay-on-Wye. This Welsh village has the distinction of having fifteen hundred inhabitants and fory bookstores. I loved reading this book and underlined lots of passages that I will probably use in class someday. In the ending of this memoir he describes trying to return to the U.S. without a passport in a scene that I labled Catch-22.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

In the River Sweet by Patricia Henley

This novel, by Patricia Henley, is another library book I brought along on vacation. I read it in a motel room in Brevard, N. Carolina while it was pouring rain on the first night that we were supposed to be camping on the trip. And I read it while sitting around the campfire listening to David's bluegrass on our IPod with portable speakers. We camped just outside of Asheville, N. Carolina and enjoyed touring the Carl Sandburg Home and Thomas Wolfe Home, keeping the literary interests alive on the trip. This book is about a mother who had had a baby with a Vietnamese blind boy she had been intimate with when she was young. The child remained in Vietnam with his father and the mother had gone on to marry and have a daughter, without ever telling anyone about her Vietnamese child. The child, now a young man preparing for marriage himself, finally makes contact with his mother, at a time when her own life is coming apart at the seams. Her lesbian daughter is being harrassed and needs her mother, too. I enjoyed the book.