(EFF YEAH, I FINISHED!!!)
This book has been popping up a lot lately, even appearing on the Cannonball Read Best of list multiple times.
In this future Chicago, the populace has been split into 5 faction, each devoted to a particular valued trait: Erudite (learned), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (honest), Abnegation (selfless) and Dauntless (brave). At the age of 16, each teenager undergoes a test to determine which faction they best fit and then must choose which faction will be theirs for the rest of their lives. Beatrice and her brother Caleb were born into Abnegation, the group devoted to thinking of others, and the one responsible for city government. When Beatrice goes through her test, she is told that she doesn’t really fit into any faction; she is Divergent and her examiner warns her never to tell anyone. Beatrice’s test indicates that she could choose Erudite, Abnegation or Dauntless. She feels too selfish to stay in her birth faction, not interested enough in study to choose Erudite. To the shock of her parents, both Beatrice and Caleb choose to leave Abnegation, he for Erudite, she for the thrill-seeking Dauntless.
Given how great the divides between factions, Beatrice, who renames herself Tris, doesn’t really know what to expect from Dauntless and its initiation process. What follows like a combination of bungee jumping, Russian Roulette and Survivor as the initiates compete to be accepted into Dauntless. If they fail, they are condemned to live factionless: jobless, squatting in the ruined city and living off handouts. One of Tris’s trainers Four is daring and an excellent instructor. (Also hot.) The other Eric is ruthless and cruel. It appears that even Dauntless doesn’t even really know what it wants to be.
How will Tris survive the initiation process? What does being Divergent mean and why is it so dangerous? Despite very little explanation of how and why the factions came to exist, Tris’s experiences as she discovers more about the factions and herself is intense and thrilling. She also starts making friends for the first time in her life–Abnegation doesn’t encourage talking about yourself, so there’s not so many things to talk about. She starts getting clothes that aren’t form fitting and grey; she experiments with body modification: she can spend time on herself and not just look in a mirror quarterly. For the first time, she experiences physical attraction and desire. And she experiences cruelty, shame and guilt, not all of which are new. The first person narrative gives the reader a detailed feeling of all these emotions and events. Given what happens at the end, the sequel Insurgent will be well worth reading.
Posted in folios
Tagged #cbr3, reviews, ya
This small town in Montana might be the best place for Kendall. The one room high school she attends is small enough that she can fix everything to the exacting standards her OCD demands. She can arrange the curtains just so, and put each desk into exact groups, 6 per grade level, 24 in all. It even worked out with 24 kids until last spring when a freshman, Tiffany, disappeared. Since then, the town, and Kendall, have been on edge. Nothing like this happens in this quiet farming town. Then Kendall’s boyfriend Nico disappears as well. When Kendall discovers that Nico’s desk was Tiffany’s desk (same graffiti), it seems like more than coincidence. Kendall doesn’t think anyone will believe here, least of all new student Jacian. Of course, there’s more to the town of Cryer’s Cross than meets the eye.
I didn’t notice until after I’d finished the book that the cover image is the title carved into the top of a school desk, though that choice does make a lot of sense given what the reason for Nico and Tiffany’s disappearances ends up being. As the story goes on, there are italicized interludes hinting at the hunger of something unexplained. These really only served to confuse me, until the mystery became obvious and then they were just annoying. While the idea may have been interesting, the execution here is lacking.
(Look, only one review left! And I know what book it’s going to be about! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!)
Posted in folios
Tagged #cbr3, reviews, ya
Oscar Wilde, despite being Irish and a native English speaker, had a long obsession with France and really wanted to live in Paris. He even wrote one work in French, this play, which he hoped would be a star vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt, though that production never materialized. Wilde himself never officially translated Salome into English, so the translation attributed to his friend/lover Lord Alfred Douglas is the one that has been produced over the 100+ years since it was written. That version was quite heavy on the “thees” and “thous” of classic Biblical text, so Joseph Donohue decided a new translation was in order. Donohue includes a lengthy introduction discussing the history of the play, and his reasons for translating as he did: a freer, modern language version of the text, while still trying to maintain what he looks on as Wilde’s idiolect, basically a personal version of a language.
The play itself clocks in at an airy 78 pages. There’s really not much action–the situation is already set up with Iokannan/John the Baptist already in the cistern, and Herod, Herodias and Salome banqueting offstage. Soldiers and pages set up the situation, but really, not all that much happens until the dramatics at the ending. There is a lot for a director and actors to decide. How exactly do you interpret the sparse stage direction “Salome performs the dance of the seven veils”? The text is embellished with woodcut-inspired illustrations by Barry Moser, serving somewhat as mugshots of all the characters and somewhat as illustration of the action. In contrast to the almost-Japanese Beardsley illustrations common to many earlier versions, these are earthier and immediate.
As a practicing theatre artist, I can’t read a play without considering the production challenges inherent in this unknown dance and in producing a severed head. I also wonder if the play would feel weighty enough as it is so short. Is it worth it as an evening of theatre? The Douglas translation has been produced over the years, though a 1992 Circle in the Square production with Al Pacino as Herod was poorly received by the New York Times. The early productions and publication were plagued by accusations of indecency and banning by the Lord Chamberlain. A modern audience is probably not as easily shocked, but the dramatic action does seem abrupt.
Here we are, digging deep now that we’re down to the wire.
In this tiny book, Benson has collected a lot of different hilarious and wrong test answers. This book can best be summed up by this image. You get the idea. (Thanks to one of my Facebook friends who shared that a while ago.) The “answers” are separated out by subject, if you’re only really interested in the math answers, for example.
Good times. A good gift item for your favorite educator, so save that for next Christmas.
According to the cursory internet research I did, Gianni Rodari was a very well regarded children’s author in Italy. He died in 1980. It appears that some of his stuff has been translated into English, but not a lot, and not as much as it’s been translated into other languages including Spanish, French, and German. The original title in Italian was “C’era due volte il barone Lamberto,” which can be more literally translated as “Twice upon a time there was a Baron called Lamberto.” That gives you a good idea right there of the feeling of the story, which is really a modern fairy tale. Aside from the fact that there really aren’t any children in the book, I don’t see any reason for kids to not enjoy this book.
The Baron Lamberto is 93, and suffering from 24 ailments from arteriosclerosis to Zellweger Syndrome. He is scrupulously cared for by his umbrella-toting butler Anselmo, and his death is eagerly anticipated by his newphew Ottavio. Unfortunately for Ottavio, after meeting an Egyptian fakir, Lamberto may have a new lease on life. He hires six people to say his name over and over again around the clock. Within days, Lamberto starts to get younger–his hair grows in, his wrinkles disappear, he no longer walks with his canes. In fact, he swims twice around his island (San Guilio in Lake Orta, a real island in a real lake) every morning, just for exercise. Things seem to be going great for Lamberto, until 24 bandits take over the island, demanding 24 million dollars, one from each of Lamberto’s 24 banks.
The language in this translation by Antony Shugaar is wonderful, bouncy and descriptive. It feels remarkably like Roald Dahl, one of the greatest writers for children, and has much of his absurd sensibility. Everyone seems to get their comeuppance, in one way or another, and the smartest person is one you’d least expect. Whether you share this book with a child (mid-elementary school and up), or read it for yourself, expect a delightful tale that is deserving of its status as one of Italy’s most beloved.
Billy Harrow is a cephalopod specialist with a really great job. He works at the Darwin Museum in London, where they have the only giant squid specimen in the whole world on display. One day, as he’s giving a tour, the doors to the squid room open and on the plinth where there should be a giant tank with a squid in it, there is nothing. It’s not possible for the squid to have gone through any of the doors, and in any case, someone (or the security system) should have noticed something. It comes to Billy’s attention that he had already come to the attention of a Kraken-worshiping sect. Billy and Dane, a Krakenist warrior, go on the hunt for the Kraken, getting involved in a magical underworld Billy never knew existed.
Billy and Dane are caught between the Krakenists, the tiny police squad dedicated to cults (the Fundamentalists and Sect-Related Crime squad), and the Tattoo. The Londonmancers, who predict the future, see only the advent of Armageddon and no one knows how to avert it. There are elements of mystery and mysticism, adventure and apocalypse. Though there are elements of fantasy, this is serious literary fiction (whatever that means), textually dense and complexly plotted. Billy and Marge, the other magic newby who gets involved, both do an admirable job of working with the very little information they have. They must discover a whole second London behind, under and woven through the city they have called home. Why would someone want to steal the Kraken? What will they do with it? Can the end of the world be forestalled?
Another ebook chosen because of availability. I’ve been seeing it at work but it was appealing to bring a few things on my Nook to the cabin for the Christmas holiday, in addition to the 6 regular books I brought. Good thing, too. I read all or parts of about 8 books during that 4 day time span.
Karl Stern is a teenager in Germany during the mid-1930s. He is Jewish, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him, or his mother. His father and sister Hildy are a different story. With the recent rise of the Nazi party, Karl has been keeping a low profile at school but can’t quite avoid a trio of vicious boys who he calls the Wolf Pack. His father’s art gallery business has been suffering too, especially since many of the artist he champions have been outlawed. At a last show opening, a ray of hope appears in the form of boxer and national hero Max Schmeling. Max buys a painting and offers Karl boxing lessons in exchange for a second. Karl starts daily training, and spends night drawing comics for himself and for his sister. Over the next two years, Karl continues to train and his body and mind develop in surprising ways. As Karl improves himself, conditions for Jews in Germany continue to disintegrate in the ways that we’ll all familiar with.
Author Sharenow clearly brought a lot of research to bear in writing this book. Max Schmeling was a real boxer, help up by Hitler and the Nazis as a true Aryan hero, especially when he beat Joe Louis despite being a clear underdog. Sharenow also gives great detail of the implementation of Nazi restrictions on Jews, including the Nuremberg Laws’ sweeping changes and the terrifying destruction of Kristallnacht.
I didn’t know much about boxing before reading this book, but I though Sharenow did a good job of including enough for a novice like me, since Karl is learning it all too, but his training and fighting still feature enough action for a more learned boxing aficionado. He also tells an engrossing story of a German boy whose national pride is dismissed as unworthy. I also liked that this story takes place from 1935 to 1938, a time of the Third Reich less represented in young adult fiction. It’s important to think about how the Nazi party reached the height of their power and not just what happened once they got there.
Posted in folios
Tagged #cbr3, reviews, ya
A long time ago (i.e. before desktop publishing), most people probably didn’t know that much about fonts. And there were many of them, but they took forever to take–there were at least two things that had to be made before you could even make the little metal bit that goes into a press. (Clearly, I’ve not absorbed any of the technical info I read in this book.) Now, most people know at least about Palatino, Times New Roman and a few more, including the much-reviled Comic Sans. In these digital days, we get to pick our fonts, often from a list numbering at least 3 digits. In Just My Type, Simon Garfield explores the history of typefaces from Gutenberg to today. He talks about their designers, their uses and their controversies. He even profiles some fonts, as interstices between chapters.
I’d categorize myself as medium nerdy about graphic design–it’s not really something I do, but as a person who makes other aesthetic choices for money, it’s something I think about more than many people. As such, I really enjoyed Garfield’s examination of type and how it can make or break a sign, book or whatever. He talks about how the Nazis felt about fonts, and the recent controversy when IKEA changed their catalog typeface. The only thing I wished for was more examples. He lists at the end of the book all the fonts referenced in the book, but I’d like to see more of what each of those look like. Oh well, can’t have everything.
When Hannah wakes up in prison, her skin is red. Not pink like a sunburn, red. Due to prison overcrowding and the development of chroming, a skin dying virus, convicted criminals like Hannah aren’t kept away from society for the whole of their sentences. Their skin is colored according to their crimes, and after a brief period of incarceration, they are released back into society. Unfortunately for the chromed, people pretty much won’t deal with them, whether it’s renting apartments or hiring for jobs.
Hannah’s crime is serious enough to make her a Red, the third level up in the system. It goes against both the laws completely banning abortion (after a Scourge that severely compromised fertility) and her family’s religion. She became pregnant and then aborted that fetus. She also refused to name either the father of the baby or the doctor who performed her procedure. Hannah’s father has found her a place in a halfway house/rehab program run by a pastor and his wife, and it’s there, through the program staff’s brutality and her new friend Kayla’s more secular opinions, that she begins to see what is wrong with her old life.
There are flavors of The Scarlet Letter here–a woman being punished for passion outside of marriage. And there’s a chilling vision of a future possible if the religious right were ever to get their way and overturn Roe v. Wade. Though some of the Hannah and Kayla’s escape sequence feels a little too easy, and some of the secondary characters are more stereotype than fleshed out, I was thoroughly engrossed in this book. Hannah’s questions and journey, both physical and mental are fascinating. This book is classified as adult fiction, but as the blogger who suggestion I took to read it said, it will also appeal to older teens. I think I’m going to suggest this to my book club. There’s a lot to discuss here.
Little Women is one of the books I’ve read the most times ever. I used to read it at least once a year, and while that pace may have slackened somewhat, I still count it as one of my favorites. While Louisa May Alcott hasn’t inspired the same kind of prequels, sequels and reimaginings as Jane Austen, there are definitely some out there, as well as a number of biographies. By the time I get a book and read it, I often don’t remember where I heard about it, but it may have even been another Cannonballer’s post.
As the film “Becoming Jane” imagines events that inspired Austen to write Pride and Prejudice, based on her letters, and some imagination, first time author Kelly O’Connor McNees uses some historical fact and some imagination to explain why Louisa May Alcott, a woman who never married, would have been able to write so well about love. Like Jo March, Louisa did have 3 sisters, a mother who married down in station like Marmee, and a father who cared little for earning money. So who then was Louisa’s Laurie? McNees imagines a summer in Walpole, New Hampshire, where the Alcotts did spend some time, and the startling effect Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass had on the young author and on the (sadly fictional) shopkeeper’s son, Joseph Singer. Louisa is torn between her growing feelings for Joseph and her desire to return to Boston to write. This is a pretty straightforward romance, though the love triangle is between a woman, a man and writing; Louisa is sure she can’t have both. Whitman’s book was controversial at the time, and it’s easy to see how it could have stirred up unconventional thoughts in two young adults who were eager to find new ways to live their lives.
If you’re only going to read one book of Alcott stuff written by someone else, read March by Geraldine Brooks. If you want to read another one after that, this isn’t a bad choice. I was certainly entertained.