The Chronicles of Prydain

chronicles of prydain

I’ve been checking for Lloyd Alexander’s books nearly every time I go into Pioneer Book, and I finally found them— a full box set in almost perfect condition. I was so excited. So I added it to the box. (What? It was a good sale. We bought a lot of books. I don’t have a problem.)

Most people are probably familiar with this series through the Disney movie The Black Cauldron, which I’ve actually never seen before. I was introduced to the series in elementary school, when I got to pick a free book for my birthday. In the box, I saw a glossy picture with fantasy cover art depicting an evil, antlered, skull-faced warrior on horseback. I thought it looked incredible. So I picked another book, because I didn’t want my teacher to know I was interested in it. (I don’t know what my problem was. Apparently, I was a really self-conscious kid.)

Anyway, after a few years and a little more self-confidence, I saw the same cover art somewhere and convinced my parents to buy me the book. It was the first in the series, called The Book of Three. The Book of Three was a wonderful adventure, and led me immediately to the rest of the series: The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and the series finale, The High King.

As a series overall, I highly recommend it. If you want a book-by-book recommendation, I would say that you should definitely start at the beginning. If you like The Book of Three, it’s worth reading more. If you start halfway through the series, though, you won’t understand everything. And whatever you do, don’t start with Taran Wanderer. That book is… wandery. It’s my least favorite.

The series gets a little more preachy and pedantic as you go, with the first two being sheer adventure and the last few being a little more “wise.” (That’s probably why The High King won the Newbery medal. It’s the most “instructional” of them, so I can understand a board of literary folks thinking it would be best for kids.) But even still, it’s worth reading them all. No matter your age. ♦

prydain

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The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks

gwendolyn brooks

The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks was an impulse buy. I was already in the bookstore. It was just staring at me. I had to buy it.

Anyways. I wasn’t very familiar with Brooks’s works before buying this book. I mean, I’d heard of her—she won the Pulitzer Prize, among others—but I couldn’t tell you what she’d written.

Well, she wrote poetry, and a lot of it is race-related. This makes sense; she was a Black woman in a very unfriendly America. But with the possible exception of Countee Cullen (who I haven’t read in a while), I think she may have described Black anguish better than any other poet I’ve heard. In addition to this, she followed the rules just enough to be taken seriously at the time, reinventing the sonnet.

You may have learned “We Real Cool” in school, if you want a sample.

I don’t think Brooks is my favorite poet, but she’s probably in my top 5. Go look her up. ♥

About My Mother: A Novel

about my mother

I picked up About My Mother, by Tahar ben Jelloun because it was from Morocco, and I’m trying to read a book from every country. But even though it was kind of a grab-bag, I thought ben Jelloun was a great writer.

The story is a (fictional) account of the author’s mother Fatma, as she grows older and deals with Alzheimer’s. The story jumps back and forth between his perspective and hers, and ben Jelloun does an interesting thing with the style. As the book progresses, the writing gets more and more disjointed as Fatma’s memory gets worse and worse.

This story is heartbreaking and sweet, and even a little depressing. Don’t read it as a pick-me-up—but it is beautiful. My only real complaint is that there’s a few sexual references thrown in there almost randomly; not sure if he was trying to be edgy, or if there was some symbolism I missed there. Overall, though, the book is a wonderful look at the culture of women in Morocco and the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease—both for the sufferer and the family. ♥

Hate That Cat

hate that cat

Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech, is a beautiful, funny look at poetry through the eyes of a young boy. And also, there’s a dog. And it made me cry.

So obviously, I had to pick up the sequel, Hate That Cat.

Much like Jack, I love dogs and hate cats. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and Jack finds there is at least one cat worth loving. The book is his poetry journal for school, but it includes his relationship with the world’s worst cat and the world’s cutest kitten. It also explores a little of his relationship with his mother, who is Deaf.

I love Sharon Creech’s writing. She does a great job of exploring pain, love, confusion, childish curiosity, and humor without ever getting pedantic. I will say: I liked Love That Dog better. Hate That Cat has a “my editor asked for a sequel” vibe to it— but it’s still well worth reading. ♦

Twenty Centuries of English History

english history

The one available used copy on Amazon.

About ten years ago, I was perusing a used bookstore in St. George, Utah, and stumbled upon a really cool book.

And by “really cool,” what I actually mean is “really old.” I had just graduated high school, had a little bit of a cultish attachment to books, and found a book that was published in 1889. I automatically assumed that it was rare, valuable, collectible, and must be high-quality. Plus, it was from England. And if American television has taught me nothing else, everything from England is high-quality.

I brought it back home with me, put it on my shelf, and called myself a collector. And then I forgot about it for about a decade.

I finally got around to cracking the old thing open this year, and discovered this book (Twenty Centuries of English History) is, in fact, a history book (as I suspected.) More than that, though, I’m pretty sure it was a textbook. It’s got lots of references to other works I’ve never heard of (probably because they’re outdated and out of print), and it frequently refers to events I’m not familiar with. But, even after almost 130 years, it’s still an interesting book.

Reading an English history—from an English perspective put American history more into a global focus for me. And also kind of made me feel insignificant. I mean, the entire (glorious, crucial, inspired) American Revolution is covered in about 2 paragraphs, where the author says that the colonists were good Englishmen who knew they were getting a bad rap. So they revolted, and the British decided it wasn’t worth the fight.

Not the story you hear in American textbooks. We were taught that we fought a glorious, bloody war, and neatly trounced our British oppressors.

It’s also very interesting to read such an old English perspective; very little is said about the Irish, and it’s seldom flattering. Same goes for most of the English colonies of the time, although the author seems to be puzzled as to why the Indians and Afghans would be so easily irritated. I think I’d like to get a much more modern English history, so I can see how times have changed.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys English history—although it might be a little hard to get your hands on one. It’s not really worth much, but it’s not exactly flying off the shelves at Barnes & Noble. ♦

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

sun and moon

Guess what? I finally made it to book club!

July’s book had to be a little shorter and easier to read than usual, since we only had a few weeks to read it. We decided to read a fairy tale retelling: Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George.

I’ve never read George’s books before, but she does a good job of keeping a story rolling. There’s a few tedious parts in there, but it’s still fun to read, and I enjoyed the retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” I was actually very impressed at how many small details she included from the fairy tale; I don’t think she threw anything out from the original story, just expanded it. I was also impressed that she made a fairy tale so short and nonsensical into a novel that made sense. I mean, it’s still fantasy—but she found reasonable explanations for even some of the stranger parts of the story.

The book is about a 17-year-old girl who has no name (because her mother had wanted a boy and refused to give her baby a name. I have some choice words for this mother, for quite a few reasons.) Anyways, “the lass” agrees to spend a year and a day in a palace with a polar bear, because he says he needs her to, and can’t explain why. She feels like it’s destiny. Also, the polar bear offers to make her family rich, which makes the worthless mother happy to no end.

As the lass wanders through the castle, she starts decoding the secret history behind the place, and the more questions she asks, the more nervous the servants get. And then the servants start disappearing. And also, someone’s sleeping with her at night. (Not sleeping with her, just sleeping in the same bed. Clarification.)

Having already read the fairy tale, I had some spoilers. But without having read the fairy tale, it would have been quite a mystery. And as it was, George adds quite a bit to the story, anyway.

Things I didn’t like: the main character’s mother. But you’re not supposed to, so there’s that. Having said that, I didn’t like the main character, and that was a problem. She’s supposed to be curious and bold and intelligent and all that, but I got a real whiny aftertaste from her. Also, pretty selfish. Like, ‘I think the reason the servants keep going missing is because I’m asking too many questions, so I’d better keep asking questions and endangering all the servants’ kind of selfish. Curiosity to a fault. Anyways. I really liked the story, I didn’t like the lass.

Still, I would recommend this book to anyone who’s read the fairy tale and liked it, or to anyone who hasn’t read the fairy tale, and loves a good fairy tale. ♦

No One Writes Back

 

No One Writes Back

No One Writes Back is a novel by South Korean author Eun-Jin Jang. The book is fairly short, and covers the travels of a young man traveling with his mp3 player and his dog. More comfortable with numbers than names, he gives each of the people he meets a number, then asks them to give him their address so he can write them a letter. He calls his old neighbor from time to time, asking about the mail. As the title suggests, no one ever writes back.

The story seems a little aimless, but the narration is still engaging enough to make up for it. And along the way, our hero (unnamed) meets a woman (whom he names 751) and strikes up an accidental platonic relationship with her. Against his will. She’s persistent.

The only caution I would give about this book is that, since the main character spends a lot of time at motels, there is a fair amount of sex mentioned. Not graphically, nor involving him, but still not something I would recommend for a kid.

This is a wonderful book, with a beautiful twist ending. (I did not cry. I’m kind of proud of myself.) I highly recommend it. ♥