March 12, 2009 @ 10:57 am | Filed under: Books
Trying something new here…instead of straight-up book reviewing, I’m going to blog my reading notes once or twice a week. I’ve always been an unfaithful journaler of my reading because one-way dialogue (monologue I guess) isn’t terribly appealing to me. And yet, as I’m reading, there’s always so much I want to make note of, remark upon, explore, remember, question, hash out with someone else. I’m thinking the blog may lend itself nicely to that purpose. So please feel free to jump in.
—Am finding I really miss having Little Brother to turn to on the iPod. Despite its bumps (I still don’t get how it’s a YA book; some of those scenes were decidedly adult), it was entertaining and thought-provoking, and I loved reading it. Am now of course even more freaked out about privacy erosion than I was before, which is saying something. I always knew those E-Z Passes were bad news. Downloaded Doctorow’s first book, Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom, and it too is massively engaging. Sci fi future set in Disneyland. There’s no real death anymore; computer implants are so integrated into human thought that people can access internet connections from within their own heads, and they can upload backups of their memories to be downloaded into new, cloned bodies in the event of accidental demise. CREEPY.
—Began Lucky Girl (ARC). Certainly compelling so far. Young American woman is contacted by her Chinese birth parents, discovers she has several sisters in Taiwan. They are all eager to meet her, sending letters & faxes, calling, imploring her to come visit. Kind of a shock to her to realize they are (now at least) middle class, not the starving, miserable peasants she always imagined.
—Began new read-aloud: Red Sails to Capri. Officially to Beanie, but I noticed the other girls couldn’t help but listen in. I tried to read this to Jane years ago, didn’t get past chapter 3. The corny dialogue tanked me. But I’ve heard such raves about it as a read-aloud that I thought I’d give it a second chance. This time, knowing the bulk of the action (at least in the opening) is conveyed through dialogue, I found it more engaging. Played it up, big comical voices. Beanie’s belly laugh is totally intoxicating, I must say. She’s a delight to read to.
—And later she asked if we could return to Theater Shoes. We started it, oh, ages ago. Fell by the wayside. So I had to start over. Gosh I love Streatfeild. Nobody quite like her. (Though I suppose I do get a sort of Nesbit vibe from her tone.)
—Another chapter of Theater Shoes. We met Alice the housemaid today, and I was so happy to see her—I always remembered a character who talked in Cockney rhyming slang but had forgotten which book she came from. This book is set in WWII London, which has generated some good discussion with Beanie. It was eerie to see the post-bombing neighborhood through the eyes of the children in the story, the one intact wall with mantelpiece standing in the middle of the rubble.
—More Red Sails. I’m still rolling my eyes at the repetitive dialogue, plus how many times can they say each other’s names?? “Michele!” “Pietro?” “Michele! Are you there?” “Yes, Pietro, I’m here.” “Michele, I must tell you something!” and on and on it goes. And since most of the exposition is handled via dialogue, the characters are forever telling each other things the other knew perfectly well already. But: the kids (all of them, even though Jane read it long ago) are LOVING it, howling with laughter. Or maybe they’re just laughing at my French accent. I think the only way I’m going to make this book work is to do it up big. It is quite funny, and maybe the pace will pick up once we get to the actual adventure. So far it’s all set-up.
—I reread Coraline. Have been meaning to do that for weeks. I think I liked it better this time. I mean, I liked it before; it’s a gripping story well told. But this time I knew how creepy it was going to be, so I wasn’t distracted by the thoughts of “good NIGHT this is going to scare the pants off half the kids in its audience.” When Coraline (SPOILER!) goes through the mysterious door and on the other side is a flat identical to hers, and she walks into the kitchen and there’s her mother with her back turned, preparing dinner, and then she turns around and she’s got BUTTONS for eyes—!! Possibly one of the creepiest scenes I’ve ever read. (I’d expect nothing less from the guy who wrote that John Dee diner story. Egad.) “I’m your other mother.” ::::shiver::::
It’s a perfectly paced story. Interesting, though, that Neil chooses a POV that is, for the most part, a neutral observer reporting the action. We’re not (or seldom, at least) thinking Coraline’s thoughts and feeling her emotions & sensory impressions; the narrative is quite straightforward. Actually, it’s very much out of the comics tradition, now that I think about it…clear, visual storytelling, with internal monologue occuring in lean, spare captions. This contributes, I think, to the novel’s chilling effect; we’re outside observers, watching these dreadful events unfold around this very nice child. But we don’t have (I don’t at least) the same kind of deep emotional attachment to the character the way we do with a Huck or an Anne Shirley or a Betsy Ray. Or even Mary Lennox. We’re a safe distance away.
Maybe that’s why I felt such a jolt of surprise at the warmth of Coraline’s reaction to the sound of her real mother’s voice:
And then a voice that sounded like her mother’s—her own mother, her real, wonderful, maddening, infuriating, glorious mother—just said, “Well done, Coraline,” and that was enough.
We never saw Coraline being driven crazy or infuriated by her mother, never felt her irritation or affection. All their exchanges were quite matter-of-fact. So this quite passionate and touching statement hit me as incongruous, nothing at all like the emotional wallop you get from, say, Mrs. Sowerby’s first appearance in The Secret Garden—and that’s a mother the child has only ever heard about, not met.
Still, I quite like the book. Rose won’t touch it: too creepy, she says; but Jane has read it numerous times and is a huge fan.
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E. B. White Essays
Reading Notes, Late April
Take a Book Walk with Cay