Friday, March 24, 2017

Next Hiatus

Tomorrow is the beginning of Spring Break over here in Panther land, which means another short hiatus. Just a week this time. Then we will be back with more literature.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Review of Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is not my normal kind of book. I am not the target audience for this book. I usually dislike main characters that are oozing with teen angst. But...

I adored this book!

What's even stranger is how quickly I read it. I started halfway through the day Friday and then finished it up Tuesday evening. I put other activities to the side to I could read this book instead. That rarely happens with me. I haven't had many experiences where I couldn't put a book down, or where I read instead of doing other things. Sometimes I even have to force myself to read. But not with this book.

I was impressed with Anderson's writing. I expected a fairly typical teen, high school book, but Anderson has some chops. There were some very interesting choices, especially to show the reader the difficulties that Melinda is having throughout the book. It's almost like Melinda's problems block out the sun in portions of the novel, overshadowing everything and bringing this inescapable darkness. Like, maybe Melinda won't be able to get beyond these problems. This is also echoed by the seasons of the year and the marking periods of a year of school. The symbolism is a little obvious, but I think it would be really good for younger readers who are still learning about things like symbols (I'm looking at you my future Freshman). The symbol of the tree is the most overt but really works in this situation. I especially liked the point, towards the end, when Melinda's father trims the tree in their front yard, taking off all the dead and rotten branches that would have eventually killed the tree. MELINDA IS THE TREE! Just like LENNIE IS THE DOG! Like I said, it is fairly elementary for an experienced reader like me (if not a bit cliched), but my Freshman will eat that symbolism up. Anderson has really accomplished something with the character of Melinda. She was believable and fleshed out. I really felt like I got to know her and the way she thinks, and her arc was satisfying.

There is really so much to like about this book. If you haven't already, I would recommend giving this book a try. I mean, I liked it and I usually hate books like this.

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Here I Go Again On My Own: First Lines #3

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
This first line does a great job of helping the reader to see what the novel is all about. And Pride and Prejudice really is about getting a husband and the troubles related to that quest. There is also a bit of that Victorian, gentile sass in this opening line. I mean, "It is a truth universally acknowledged," is sassy. Oh my, a rich, single man...then he must need a wife. This works well with the characters who the reader will be introduced too quickly after.

Song of Solomon
by Toni Morrison
"The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o'clock."
This isn't a very interesting opening line until your continue reading and understand that by "fly" Morrison doesn't mean by airplane.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde
"The studio was filled with the rich ordour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn."
A beautiful opening image of a summer wind bringing in the scents of the garden. Sigh. What a peaceful and tranquil setting for the beginning of this novel. By studio one infers art studio. Seems like a perfect day.

Catcher in the Rye
by J. D. Salinger
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and that my lousy childhood was lie, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
Until I find something that can top this, the opening line from Catcher in the Rye is the winner. Best opening line yet. Salinger does this incredible job of capturing the voice to Holden immediately in this opening line. The reader instantly knows things about Holden. He knows that he is a cynic, he is a pessimist, he is well-read, and that he isn't too interested in sharing everything with his audience. You get the voice of Holden which is one of those literary voices that will stick in your head forever. Plus, there is that reversal in the opening line. Holden prepares us to receive the story of his "lousy childhood" because it seems like that is going to be very important to the story (which it actually turns out to be), but then at the last moment Holden switches it on us and doesn't share any of that information because he doesn't feel like it. A brilliant, brilliant opening line.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Problem with Diary Entries in Novels

I have been reading Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler, the grand-dame of science fiction, recently and I have a problem. The plot is fine. I would describe the book as a less-than-exciting Dystopian. No the plot or the characters aren't the problem, the problem is how the book is put together. You see, Butler writes each chapter as if it were a diary or journal entry. Each chapter starts with a quote from a book called "Earthseed: The Books of the Living" (which is another problem), but then the chapter will start with a date and off we go with our diary entry.

Now, I kept a journal religiously for two years and if you are writing a journal or diary entry, you are going to adopt a style of writing that tells rather than shows the reader what happened during the course of the day. You diary entries are reflections on past events, you are summarizing rather than using narrative to show the reader what is going on. And herein lies the problem with Butler's work. Often, in the middle of her chapters, she will launch into narrative and it really is jarring. One will read pages of descriptive summary, but then all of a sudden we are watching the characters have a conversation--complete with dialogue, dialogue tags, and beats. Here is an example from chapter 17:
"People on the highway, shadowy in the darkness, had begun to reverse the flow, to drift northward to find a way to the fire. Best to be early for the scavenging. 
'Should we go?' Zahra asked, her mouth full of dried meat. We built no fire tonight. Best for us to vanish into the darkness and avoid guests. We had put a tangle of trees and bushes at our backs and hoped for the best. 
'You mean go back and rob those people?' Harry demanded. 
'Scavenge,' she said. 'Take what people don't need no more. If you're dead, you don't need much.' 
'We should stay here and rest,' I said. 'We're tired, and it will be a long time before things are cool enough over there to allow scavenging. Its a long way off, anyway.'"
I mean, what is going on. This cannot be a diary entry. This is the author showing us what is happening to her characters. The thing is, I actually prefer this style of story-telling to summarizing what happened to a character. Show me what is going on through scenes and dialogue and description rather than just tell me. I guess the problem I have is that Butler isn't consistent. If you are going to adopt a diary-like style, then it should read like a diary entry. If not, then don't put a diary date at the beginning of each chapter.

Finally, the problem with the quotes from the Earthseed book at the beginning of each chapter. Early in the novel it is revealed that the main character is writing these sections of the Earthseed book. It is a philosophy she develops and then publishes later on. It seems like she later gains a following and almost starts a new religion? But here is the problem inherent in these quotes. Because it is revealed that the main character is writing these later in life, it ruins any tension that this book would have had. I know that the main character isn't going to die because she can't now--she has to live to write these silly Earthseed quotes. It is just like why I hate Harry Potter books. When you know the main character cannot die then there is no tension in the novel.

I really wanted to like this book, but I am considering dropping it.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

All Along the Watchtower

A few weeks ago I assigned my AP students to read and then analyze All Along the Watchtower, by Bob Dylan. This is all in an attempt to get them to push to deeper analysis and man did some of these students deliver. Some wonderfully deep and insightful comments about this classic song. Be sure to check some of the best ones out. I have also linked the song for you to listen to as you read.