Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bardiac's Yellowstone Adventure, Postlude - The Books

I'm one of those people who loves to have a book on CD/tape going when I have a long drive; the longer the drive, the more I appreciate the entertainment. And this drive was going to be long, so I took a number of books out of the library.

Barbara Kingsolver - Prodigal Summer - good reader, and mostly a really nicely done story, though the ending felt a little rushed or just not quite finished. Have you folks noticed how often in Kingsolver's fiction some woman gets kids without doing the whole pregnancy/birthing thing? This book made me notice that, though it's a primary premise in The Bean Trees as well. Have I mentioned that I only recently (re-listening to The Bean Trees) realized they're Wisteria? Yep, I'm that slow.

Anyway, I liked the twisted plot, though it took me a bit to follow it. I find plot twisting harder to follow when I listen to a text than when I read it physically. I think my visual memory helps me get stuff when I read.

Toni Morrison - Jazz - good reader, but a little hard to follow at times while driving. Still, Morrison's prose is so good, just chewy and flowing in the right places. This book left me wanting nothing.

And then, because the selection in the adult section seemed a tad slim, I went down to the kids' section. I didn't read much kid lit when I was a kid, so I have a lot of catching up to do, and they're publishing lots more all the time.

Kate DiCamillo - Because of Winn-Dixie - really excellent reader. Good story, just magical enough but also simple. I would have loved this as a kid. (A dog and its girl! What could be better?)

Lemony Snicket - The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room - Tim Curry is an incredible reader, but the coughing thing got irritating. I love the attention to language and wordplay, and the humor. This is a smart series, and I'm definitely going to try to listen to the next ones as well. There are female characters, and while the characterizations are a bit clunky at times, they actually have brains and participate in the action. Yay!

Jenny Nimmo - Midnight for Charlie Bone and Charlie Bone and the Time Twister - well read, and the plotting is okay, but big foreshadowing. It's like you just want to say, "that's your Dad, Mr. Pilgrim" but of course you can't anymore than you could warn John Wayne that he was riding into an ambush. On the other hand, I like that plot components will carry over from one story to the next (I expect). I'll maybe listen to the next book or so, but compared to the language fun of Lemony Snicket, this is more plot stuffs.

I think the start of this series made me think a lot of the Harry Potter series (I'm not sure which came first). Very special boy who has lost his dad vs very special boy who has lost his parents but really focuses only on his dad. Very special boy goes to British boarding school, amongst others, some of whom are also very special, while regular folks muddle on alongside. Female characters are pretty minimal, and not nearly as important as male characters.

Of course, Opal in Because of Winn-Dixie has an absent mom.

Absent parents have been a staple of kids' lit since forever, but I really got thinking about it because of the importance of it in these texts. It's not like "the parents are absent, let's have an adventure because no responsible adults are preventing it," but more like "the parents are absent and we're going to have an adventure and try to make a connection back to the absent parents somehow because parents are really, really important." And, yes, they are. But somehow that plot device started feeling more contrived to me than in, say, Dickens.

In the Harry Potter and Charlie Bone series, there's also this fantasy world of magic, which just isn't part of the Unfortunate Events series, or of Dickens. I guess I go back and forth on liking the magicalness. Let's face it, the world could do with magic, but, alas, if there's real magic, it seems to be missing where it's most needed in this world.

I'm also really tired of boys' stories. Winn-Dixie was good, but not nearly as full as the series of boys' stories out there.

But, I'm wondering, are boys reading more these days, or are these boys' stories being read mostly by little girls who are learning their "proper place" as adjuncts to male stories?

Are there good series with female protagonists who actually do stuff?

So, that's the adventure for the summer. Back to regularly scheduled early modern stuffs soon!


  1. I've been going back and forth on the Lemony Snickets - start or don't...thanks for pushing me over to read them.

  2. There are more and more series (and non-series) kids' books with female protagonists. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, as well as his Sally Lockhart mystery books (teenage girl detective in Victorian England); Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles; a number of Diana Wynne Jones' books - some are part of a sequence, some aren't; Tamora Pierce's work; In Cornelia Funke's Inkheart trilogy, the girl is a primary character who does things, but it is more of an ensemble cast;.

    Non-series books: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin; An Na's A Step From Heaven is absolutely beautiful; Margaret Mahy's Changeover: A Supernatural Romance; Markus Zusak's The Book Thief; Helen Frost's Keesha's House; Jack Gantos' The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs is hilariously twisted and dark; Sonya Hartnett's The Ghosts' Child; E. L. Konigsburg's The Outcasts of 29 Schuyler Place; Sharon Draper's Copper Sun is a horrifying (and good) story about an African girl's capture, middle passage journey, and enslavement; Pam Munoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising; Louise Erdrich's answer to the Little House books, starting with The Birchbark House are excellent.

    I could list many more. The books are there. One of the issues with children's lit, though, is that people tend to give kids the books that they remembered enjoying when they were kids. As a result, some of the newer books are overlooked sometimes. There are more strong female characters than just Anne of Green Gables (who I love) and Nancy Drew.

  3. Also, I don't know if you've read Hilary McKay? Another ensemble cast -- both her series are -- but in both series, strong female characters in both sets, and in both sets the parents are still around.

    In one set a father has died; the mother is still there, and she teams up with another set of parents with a large family (one kid is slightly disabled) to help raise her son. In the other series, which also has a disabled child (friend of one of the kids, but it's not like oo crip of the week book, she works this in so that you barely notice the kids are disabled, they're kids, really), the parents are separated but work together to raise the family. I love Hilary McKay.

  4. Funny, my friend with a little boy was lamenting the absence of boy heroes in fiction except for HP! (But then, she can be a tiche hard to please.) I suggested the Black Stallion series.