Monday, March 31, 2014

My Latest Haul

Last week for my birthday I only got two books. I know, I know: this is uncharacteristically restrained for me. But lately my book collection has become more about quality than quantity. (Not that quantity is every going to be a problem. At last count I was nearing 800 volumes—counting picture books, but not Kindle downloads—though my personal library is in a constant state of flux.) Most books I own I've bought myself, usually at obscenely low prices at book-sales, out of bargain bins, or even for free from "book drops." When I ask for a book for a gift, knowing it will be bought at full price, the titles I select are few and with a great deal of deliberation. So when I say I only got two books, what I mean is I got two books that I know I will treasure for years to come.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Reviewing Cervantes' "Don Quixote"

I like to review books that I recommend as opposed to standing next to a book with a warning sign, partly because my mission is to encourage you readers in the great expanse of the internet to love books as much as I do, but also because, as my fellow English majors would agree, it’s easier to criticize a book’s failings than laud its merits.** So as an exercise in positivism, I stay away from books I hate and try to put forward the hidden literary gems from classic and not-so-classic genres. 

That said, being a voracious reader sometimes comes with the same side-effect as being a food critic. Just as a gourmand may turn up their nose at a lot of things in favor of one quality bite, I sometimes find myself feeling “meh, it was okay” about most books. But then once in a while that one quality book comes along that reminds me of what drew me into reading in the first place. 

One of those books was El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha AKA The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, AKA Don Quixote.  Now, I’ve owned this book since I was about twelve and started to snobbishly buy any book that looked old and had gold leaf on the spine. 

“Oh look,” I’d say to myself (quietly because this was usually at a library book-sale and librarians tend to frown on exclamations of joy even when said exclamations are caused by reading material***), “This book has gold leaf on it, it must be a classic!  I am SO smart and will read this and be cultured, sitting in my leather wing-back chair next to a fireplace with the theme song from Masterpiece Classic playing in the background.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Spiderwick Chronicles: A Review

Showing kids that it is fun to read is an ongoing challenge.  There are probably hundreds of books written by parents, psychologists and educators who could come up with different theories of why this is.  I’m none of these three, so I’m going to humbly put forth a simple and unscientific theory of my own, and you can do with it what you will.  My theory is that children are not naturally averse to books or reading.  Look at how many toddlers will waddle over to their parents with a stout board-book in their grubby paws and eagerly await the story to be read to them.  Then look at how many teenagers hate to read.  There are no Cliff’s Notes for toddlers like there are for high-schoolers.  What happens between those years to change book-loving kids into electively illiterate adults? 

Technology might be one of the problems.  A girl once tried to turn the page of my hardcover books by sliding her finger over it.  “Doesn’t it have a touchscreen?” she asked.*  I see news coverage of students in classrooms using pads and pods and things for learning—which is fine, unless it is somehow training them to view anything that doesn’t resemble a video game as “boring.”  Another problem is, sadly, parents.  Remember that toddler?  What happens when he brings a book over to his dad, and said dad is too busy watching TV to read to his kid?  Parents, not teachers, are the examples that their children are going to try to emulate.  While working in a library, I cringed every time a family came into the Children’s Section and, when the child ran to the book section, the parent pulled them away to “pick out a DVD.” 

But I digress. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

The “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Review

Well here it is, the dawn of a new month!  And, at least where I live, no sign of spring in sight.  This winter has been brutal, either sunny and the bitterest of colds or snowing copiously.  It’s the kind of winter where you want to just curl up beside a fire and read a long novel from the 1800’s.  It’s basically the human form of hibernation.

Or, rather than just one book, you could probably tuck in a whole series of them.  Yep, in honor of this Long Winter, today I’m going to talk about Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose “Little House” books contain quite a few wintery doozies themselves.