Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Second Grad School Reading List of Fourth Semester

If I have to read any more books for my lecture, I might actually cry. As in big, fat tears of losing my mind. I'm not sure how that translates to all of the animal books I read for this packet, but I sure did read a lot of them. And I'm not exactly a talking animals fan. But I did have fun reading a lot of these books.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt: Geez, I can’t read this book without hearing Kathi’s voice in my head, more so than with any of her picture books or poetry collections that I’ve read. (It also helps that I used to live on the Louisiana bayou.) While I don’t really care for books told from an animal’s perspective, the mystical quality and folk origins of this novel make the animal perspective work for me.

The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base: Nice concept, not such a nice execution. While the illustrations are beautiful, they're almost too pretty and too clever. The writing was weak at best, and the mystery never really came together.

Essential English Grammar by Philip Gucker: I probably need a linguistics refresher more than I need a grammar refresher—my spelling is atrocious—but it’s been a long time since I’ve taken a writing essentials class. So here’s to reviewing the rules so I can more effectively break them. This book is okay, but there's a serious lack of practical application.

Ms. Coco Is Loco by Dan Gutman, illustrated by Jim Paillot: Early readers are generally awful, and I’m really not sure why. It’s like this gaping hole in children’s publishing between the Caldecotts and the Newberys where it seems to be okay to have sub-par writing made up of stereotypes and bad puns…and not in a good bad punny way of Amelia Bedelia, which, by the way, I’m convinced were the last decently written early readers ever. (Although, to be fair, I was in second grade when I read the Amelia Bedelia books, so they might have been just as bad.)

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling: Reading this book has been a really interesting experience, a little like stepping into a narrative time capsule. With several of the "classics" that I've read recently, I've had to keep reminding myself that people viewed women, other cultures and even facts through the lenses of their time, but this book was a pleasant surprise with it's loving portrayal of Indian culture, even if there was still an imperialistic British feel to much of it. The narrative voice was probably the most interesting aspect of reading this as it's told in a remote, omniscient narrator so standard for the time. The narrator—a very traditional storyteller—sometimes referring to himself in the first person but still manages to slip across language barriers and even into the heads of animals. Sometimes the narrator is overly wise, giving us detailed translations of cultural instances, but at other times the narrator is all too human and withholds information from us. People like to complain about the first-person present novels so popular today, but every period has distinct narrative styles that kind of define the literature of the day. Makes me excited to find out what's next.

We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson: I can’t think of another book where the author inhabits a narrator like this one, which is totally unexpected for a nonfiction book. Although the narrator is never named, you feel his experiences as a Negro League ballplayer on such an acute level that you trust him implicitly. His timing and vocabulary are also spot on for the time period and the sport. (P.S. This was a re-read for me as I listened to the audiobook version years ago.)

Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast: Holy cow do I have a love/hate relationship with this book! A part of me wants to love it because it brings empowerment words that CoUNT. And another part of my wants to hate it because it portrays religious people as close-minded bigots. The reality is that girls have more to offer than their "virtue," but most people of faith are more moderate than media would lead you to believe. Ultimately, what is going to keep me from loving this book is that the verse tries too damn hard to be poetry when it's not.

The Serpent’s Shadow by Rick Riorden, narrated by Katherine Kellgreen: Is this fabulous literature? No. But for what it is—a fast-paced adventure novel with quippy dialogue and a diverse cast of characters—it’s a pretty fun.

Thrall by Natasha Trethewey: The way this collection deals with the father/daughter relationship dynamic is incredibly powerful. Though this specifically addresses the relationship between a white father and a black daughter, the themes and insights supersede racial barriers, but they also brought me a deeper understanding of the challenges multiracial children face, even within their own families. The last few poems were so beautiful and poignant that they had me fighting back tears—and not very successfully. As always, Trethewey’s use of diverse poetic forms to covey high emotion impresses me beyond all expectations.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters: I will admit to being rather underwhelmed by the quality of writing in this book, especially as it came so highly recommended by a friend. Yes, the story is intense and unique, but the descriptions tend to skim the surface rather than establish place like they should in historical fiction. Also, it very much inflicts modern-day views on historical figures, which is unfortunate as 1918 was an extremely pivotal/liberating point in the cultural history of the United States so modern views don’t really need to be imposed to make for strong female characters. Then there’s that gothic element that equates depression with madness that just settles wrong with me.

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