Mindy

[Steps up to microphone, taps softly on microphone, waits for reverb to quit] “There comes a time in every readers life when he or she is handed a book by a friend, an autographed book, and said friend says, ‘Please read this; I think you’ll like it.’ What you are about to read is a review of a book I wouldn’t normally choose.  Thank you for understanding.” [Bows, turns, and walks off the stage].

MindyMindy by June Strong is a story about a Christian young woman who marries an agnostic, and her journey through life trying to live her faith and raise her children as she knows best.  While I appreciate romance, I like it as a background theme and not as the main theme of a novel.  I was just about to tear my hair out during the first half of the novel.  Not that I don’t appreciate love, but it’s just not what gets me interested in a novel.  Also, I’m too logical to empathize with a headstrong 16-year-old girl who falls in love with a guy just after meeting him for the first time!  How does that even happen?  And then she marries him a year later, knowing he doesn’t share her faith and wants nothing to do with it.  How did she not see problems coming down the line? Blerg.

Now let’s have a chat about the actual writing.  The author should have stuck to just telling the story.  Instead she attempted to romanticize the story and in effect came across as amateur.  The dialogue is quite flat and makes the characters one-dimensional and in many cases, whiny.  Then we have foreshadowing.  Which I’ve learned is like vinegar-a little bit goes a long way.  For example, Mindy’s father catches pneumonia.  She goes and sits with him and “knows she won’t see her father again.”  The next paragraph starts with “a week later Mindy sat at her father’s funeral wondering where the years had gone.”  Wow.  Who knew Mindy could predict the future?! This happens every time someone falls ill.  Her mother, Mindy herself.  It’s more like foretelling and not foreshadowing.  It’s frustrating because it basically gives the plot away.

After all that the book does settle into a more palatable rhythm.  Once Mindy and Carl have their children the plot focuses more on the struggles of life than on romance.  The conflicts do help flesh the characters out and Mindy becomes more three-dimensional.  I do feel for her struggles she faces as she sees one son continue her faith but leave their Vermont home for Alaska, and the other son completely reject his faith and destroys his life in the search for peace from grief and the next rush.

So in the end I gave the book three stars.  The plot was good but only in the second half and the writing was terrible.  I liked the message from the book, overall, and I might recommend it to a few students, but it won’t be something I’ll be promoting from the mountain tops.

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Tale of Sand

I’m a huge Muppets fan.  My parents were too, so they started my brother and I young.  So I was shocked the other day when I was at the library browsing the graphic novels section when I ran across Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl’s Tale of Sand.  Before you get too excited, they actually didn’t create the graphic novel.  They created a screenplay way back in the day that never got made.  So the Henson company decided to release it in the graphic novel format.  After reading it, I think this was a wise choice.

TAleJust browsing through the art work, it appears that this is a mash-up between a Western and an Action/Adventure a la Indiana Jones type of plot.  Sadly, that’s only the icing on an oh so dry cake.  In fact, the plot is a surrealist, nihilistic adventure of a man, we never know his name, being told to run in the desert and trying to reach a specific landmark and comes across all sorts of weird situations that reveal there’s nothing real and you can’t trust anybody or anything.  I was disappointed to say the least.  Partly because I had set up high expectations, but secondly, but I’m not a fan of surrealism.  It’s just not choice for reading.

I’m still trying to decide what’s the point of the book.  I feel like my English Teacher side could come up with all sorts of analyses, we’re good at spinning gold you know, but honestly I don’t think there’s a real interpretation.  I think that the point of the work is that there is no point.  However, because I hate nihilistic literature, I kinda feel like Henson and Juhl were using the surrealism to backhandedly critique Hollywood.  If you take each vignette as a movie set, in fact one of them does end up being a movie set, you could read the entire work as an actor’s kunstlerroman and realizing that Hollywood is fake, reality is surreal, and you can’t really trust anybody.  So, would I recommend it? Yes.  The illustrations were amazing!  I was drawn in page after page without much effort.  But maybe don’t have too high an expectation for this one.

The Best American Comics 2014

ComicsI keep seeing these Best American editions in my library and as someone who enjoys lists and finding out about unknown sources of literature, I’ve always wanted to pick one up and get to know some new authors.  The Best American Comics 2014 edited by Scott McCloud and Bill Kartalopoulos gave me the idea that I should get more familiar with the graphic novel/comic world.  I’ve read a few for Cannonball Read 6, but I wanted to expand my horizons.  Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.Understanding

Scott McCloud is well-known for his work, Understanding Comics, something I’ve taught in class.  So I started out thinking I wasn’t a total newbie.  And then I started reading the anthology.  All the authors except for one I had never heard of.  And I realized that I must be the audience that McCloud and the other editors in the series are trying to reach.

While I was only given parts of these amazing works, it only served to whet my appetite.  Being the good Cannonballer, I quickly created a list of the ones I liked and you will be treated to many of them during CBR 7.

HyperboleOne of my favorite comics is Hyperbole and a half by Allie Brosh.  I get a kick out of her work every time there’s a new post.  Even though her artwork appears quite elementary, her way of carrying out a theme and connecting with her audience is phenomenal.  I’m glad that they included a piece of her work.  She’s considered a Web comic due to the fact that she publishes on her website.  That’s not quite true anymore considering she published a collection of her work.Jane Eyre

Another standout was a comic about a young girl who is isolated by the other girls at school.  Her only escape is when she reads the book Jane Eyre.  The comic does a brilliant job of showing her escape by coloring the every-day events in blacks, whites, and grays, while the world of Jane Eyre is in color.  For those of you interested it’s called Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault.  It’s comics like this make me appreciate the genre and the unique ways in which words and visuals can combine to tell a powerful narrative.

Nada

One of my reading goals for this year is to read one book written in Spanish by an Iberian-American author, for every book I read in English.  I’ve been pretty bad at keeping up with reading in Spanish and I figure why not start something new?  So where to start?  I decided to start with a list of award winners from several of Spain’s publishing firms.  I figure why not start with the best?  Well due to the limitations of my library system, the newest winners aren’t available, yet they had the winner from the 1943 Nadal Prize, Nada by Carmen Laforet.  Go figure.

NadaThose of you familiar with the plays of Tennessee Williams know that the families that are displayed in his works are CRAZY!  They are close-knit, have love-hate relationships with one another, are abusive, and cling to the idea they are better bred than they really are.  Well Laforet seems to be the Spanish equivalent.  The protagonist, Andrea, is an orphan and has been living in/being schooled at a convent in central Spain.  She wins a scholarship to the university in Barcelona, along with a stipend, and decides to move to the city and stay with her mother’s family.  She remembers the family having some wealth.  Yet when she arrives, she finds things sunk into poverty and all out Cops-material chaos.

Her grandmother is in all out denial that she’s wealthy and hey-stella-oall her children are successful.  Her uncle, Roman, was a successful musician but who’s happy to play with everyone’s minds and basically give Lokhi a run for his money.  The next uncle, Juan, is abusive to his wife and seems to only know how to shout and swear whenever he’s spoken to.  Juan’s wife, Gloria, tries to hold every one together, mostly for her own purposes, but with good intentions.  Then there’s the creepy, spinster aunt, Angustias, who plays the martyr even while she’s taking out her frustrations out on Andrea.  In fact, Angustias decides the only to escape is to join a convent.  Sounds like a good plan to me.

Ultimately Andrea has to come to terms that her dreams of living in somewhat wealth and a cosmopolitan setting are not going to come true.  And she’s starting to learn that her poverty excludes her from the friends she can make.  It’s hard to watch but she’s a fighter and it doesn’t get to saccharine.  She does make a friend with Ena, somewhat wealthy, but who doesn’t care about wealth.  Ena is Andrea’s lifeline.  Her family is normal, as normal as families can be, and Andrea finally establishes a place where she feels she can grow and be nurtured.

There’s more that connects Andrea and Ena, but that would be revealing major plot points.   What I will say is that, just like with Williams’ works, while it’s crazy and your mind is screaming to get away from the chaos, Laforet makes you feel for Andrea and even for some of the secondary characters.  Somehow it’s a world we don’t want to leave even while we know we can’t stay.  And maybe that’s where the brilliance is, because isn’t that what Williams’ and Laforet’s characters are trying to do?  Maintain their families and yet find a place that is healthy for them.  And really, when it comes down to it, depending on the level of crazies in your family, don’t we all struggle with that as we transition to adults? We want to be our own person and yet we still love and care for those at home.  Who knew becoming an adult was going to be such an ordeal!

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

This was the book that I almost didn’t read.  I was at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) convention and of course going through the exhibition hall.  This was my first convention and I didn’t know that on the last day of the convention, the vendors give out books like candy.  So all I knew was that people were shouting out book titles and people were pushing and shoving to get them.  Basically it was a bibliophile’s Mardi Gras.  So I was at one vendor who was just handing out one book after another.  And I’m not the type to turn down a free book.  So after collecting an arm full of books, I took them back to my room to look at the booty.

Shadow CatcherShort Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan, stood out amongst the rest.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been trying to beef up my reading about Native Americans and/or by Native Americans.  Also, this particular book won a National Book Award, just adding to its gravitas.  The book is a biography of Edward Curtis, a photographer from late-1800’s Seattle, who made it his life’s work to document the languages, religions, customs, and everyday lives of the Native Americans.  He started this work after taking several portraits of chief Seattle’s daughter, destitute and living off of scraps from a trash heap.  He was curious to know more about the Native Americans living near Seattle.  What he saw shocked him.  He found civilizations that were in danger of becoming extinct.  The few Native Americans that were still living on their own land showed Curtis that they were not the savages that the government and popular beliefs made them out to be.

While establishing himself as one of the premiere photographers not only on the West Coast but the U.S., he used the earnings from his studio to fund excursions to reservations such as the Hopi, Navajo, Cheyenne, Crow, Sioux, Blackfoot, Kwakiutl, and the Inuits.  He brought with him to the reservations assistants to record language, customs, and ceremonies.  After collecting data from each tribe, they would all hole themselves up and put it all into words.  After realizing the undertaking of this task, of documenting the crumbling world of Native Americans, Curtis applied to J.P. Morgan for help.  Morgan gives him the money and continued sponsoring the project until its completion.

Sadly, like many great artists, Curtis’s personal life was in shambles.  Because of his devotion to the project, he neglected his life at home.  Alone, constantly on the brink of bankruptcy, his wife finally divorces him.  Luckily, his children understood his passion and eventually sided with him in their adulthood.  Also, like many of the greats, he wasn’t appreciated in his time.  He didn’t sell enough subscriptions to actually make any money from the project.  The only copies that were purchased were by academic institutions and by foreign dignitaries.  However, during and after his lifetime, he has been lauded for his efforts and achievement to document the lives of Native Americans.

It was a bit of a tough read merely because it was hard to read about the disappearance of entire civilizations, not due to time but due to governmental mismanagement and racial intolerance.  Plus it was hard to listen to Curtis’s life crumble around him even while he’s trying to document the lives of others.  I’m glad that Egan left readers on a good note.  Several of the tribes Curtis documented, later went back and used the information to recreate, rejuvenate, and even reinvigorate their language, cultures, and religions.   It’s inspiring to know that even while the Native Americans were being pushed onto reservations and their way of life completely altered, a few people stood up to the injustices and tried to give a voice to people who didn’t have an audience.