Reading with Ms. Holmes: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

About a year ago, my friend Ms. Holmes taught her eighth graders Melba Patillo Beals’ Warriors Don’t Cry. It was a disappointing read: Beals’ memoir of fighting racism as a member of the Little Rock Nine is important, yes, but also repetitive and, sadly, a little bit boring.

This year, teaching sixth graders, Ms. Holmes took on Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. Her verdict: everything she wanted Warriors Don’t Cry to be and more.

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Dieters & Minimalists, Beware this Slice of Apple Pie: The Cider House Rules by John Irving

The Cider House Rules is too damn long.

It’s not a bad book. Certainly, it’s the only novel about abortion I’ve ever read. Given the ubiquity of abortion in American political discourse, that fact was, at first, surprising to me. But then, as The Cider House Rules went on and on and on, it pivoted almost entirely from the business of abortion to the business of apple farming: the very ubiquity of abortion – and the absence of moral ambiguity in its discussion – makes it unsustainable for fiction.

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Rec from a Friend: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Most sci-fi transports the reader to a universe far, far away, where the rules of reality don’t apply and the imagination has no limits. Jasper Fforde plays by the sci-fi (lack-of) rules, but in a theoretically familiar world: England, 1985. The result? A society both recognizable and bursting with whimsy. In Fforde’s 1985, literary figures are elevated to rock star status, Wales is a independent nation, major religions worship wombats, celestial bodies, and a universal deity combining the world’s major religions, and the power behind the parliament is an unscrupulous military-industrial corporation called Goliath.

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Perfectly Titled: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe

Your English teacher probably taught that any poem should be read twice. The first time through you try to wrap your head around what’s being said. The second pass is for figuring out how that message is communicated. More often than not with the stuffy old poetry set in front of high school students, reading a poem twice through simply adds insult to injury. With Milton or Wordsworth or Shelly or Shakespeare, that first read is likely an exercise in how little you understood of what just happened and the second time only serves to underscore your inadequacies.

In Marie Howe’s collection The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, a second read serves its intended purpose, revealing nuance, new ideas, new connections. The language of Howe’s poems is simple and modern, but simple words, rightly arranged, can reveal complex ideas. Continue reading “Perfectly Titled: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe”

Christmas Gift #2: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Fact: Humans need the nutrients provided by food to survive.

Anna O’Donnell has not consumed food in four months. The pious Roman Catholic girl spends her days praying and reading and singing, but appears happy and healthy, according to her village’s aging doctor. Anna claims she is sustained on manna from heaven.

That’s impossible thinks Lib Wright, Florence Nightingale trained nurse, veteran of the Crimean war.

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Rec from a Friend: Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing

In her famous play, Fires in the Mirror, Anna Deavere Smith depicts both Black and orthodox Jewish residents of the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn. The play is a series of monologues, and each monologue is written in free verse.

Is poetry not just the province of Shakespeare and Milton, but of everyday speech? Eve L. Ewing, in Electric Arches seems to answer Smith’s hypothesis with a resounding “yes.”

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Christmas Gift #1: Slow Horses by Mick Herron

Imagine this: my parents gave me books for Christmas! In 2018, instead of any particular goal, I’m going to use this blog to document and share what I read, from the Personal Library and beyond.

There is no greater happiness than a well-crafted thriller.

Plotiness is the most important quality: unexpected twists and turns, the occasional stiff, an ever shifting landscape of who’s good and who’s bad, who can be trusted and who can’t. Plotiness depends up premise: where does our protagonist come from, where does the adventure begin? Sure, anybody or anything could be the start of a good story, but how cliché is the “random bystander turned protagonist bad-ass”? (hint: very). A good premise, on the other hand, sets up moral dilemmas and establishes interesting characters. Ah, character, the third element. Plenty of thrillers run thin in the character development department, but the best ones? Yeah, they have complex characters, too.

Plotiness. Premise. Character. Get all three right and the result is the kind of novel that can’t help but be engaging.

Mick Herron’s Slow Horses is a masterpiece.

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