Currently Reading, End of Vacation Edition

I’ve had an absolutely lovely vacation, packed to the gills with lots and lots of reading and enough jewelry making to keep me very happy – not to mention all the time spent by the woodstove with the cats (which helps explain how much reading I’ve done!).

I’m still chipping away at Joe Jackson’s musical memoir, A Cure for Gravity, and it’s one of the best books that I’ve read in a very long time. I’m definitely a fiction reader, and I don’t often seek out nonfiction (my husband is the exact opposite – he is always reading nonfiction, usually about music or history), but Jackson’s memoir has held my interest because it is witty, wise, fascinating, laugh-out-loud funny, and has expanded my musical horizons. The book is dense, and draws you into Jackson’s life (mostly his professional and artistic life) in a way that makes it hard for me to read more than twenty or so pages at a time; I find I need to take breaks from the book in order to fully appreciate it, if that makes sense. He is an amazing person, and as a very longtime fan it is so cool to learn about his journey from working-class Portsmouth kid to the Royal Academy of Music in London (from which he graduated with a degree in percussion) to the cusp of stardom (my bookmark is on page 210, which is 1976). I’m looking forward to reading about his experiences from 1976 to 1999, which is when the book was published. Highly recommended, even if you’re not a Joe Jackson fan.

On the flip side, I’ll admit to being very disappointed by Neil Patrick Harris’s The Magic Misfits, which I read for the 4th grade book group. I found it to be poorly written, but, more importantly, incredibly condescending to its intended audience. In my experience, children are pretty good at figuring out the meaning of words they don’t know from the context clues that they can find around the unknown word – and as a former teacher of reading, I know that use of context clues is something regularly taught in schools. Children are not stupid, and many children actually love to puzzle out the definitions of new words on their own. So I was annoyed by Harris’s constant defining of words and terms for his audience. I’d include an example here, but I hated the book SO much that I returned it to the library immediately in order to get it out of my house. Blech. Having said that, though, the 4th grade book group members absolutely loved the book. I kept my mouth shut about my own opinion, and let them carry the discussion on their own, since I’d hate to wreck a book for them that they love so much. Once again, a children’s book that shows the divide between what an adult “expert” thinks makes for good children’s literature, and what the intended child reader actually enjoys. There will always be a disconnect here on some level for every children’s book; I see my duty to be to nurture the love of reading in kids while also gently encouraging them to try some of the deeper, better written books in addition to the books that they will pick up on their own. Sort of like having your vegetables along with the dessert – a body can’t exist on dessert alone, just as a mind can’t exist on bestsellers alone. But dessert sure is nice, and makes life a lot more fun.

I’ll quickly list two books here that I was also disappointed in, though I know from the starred reviews both earned that I’m a bit alone in my harsh opinion of them. The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd feels to me like a book that was written with the hopes of winning an award: it’s very conscious of how lovely and unique it is, and for me that puts it in the two stars out of five category. It’s not a bad book, and I enjoyed it to a point, but I wish that it had been less obvious in its intent.

I’ve also heard great things about The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty, but for me it didn’t quite live up to the hype. I think this is partly because I so love Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, a book about a similar type of character. Lightning Girl (Lucy) has OCD and acquired savant syndrome, which sets her apart from her peers, while Rose is autistic and misunderstood by both her father and her classmates. But Martin’s depiction of Rose feels more genuine, understanding, and complete than McAnulty’s portrayal of Lucy, and I was left wanting much, much more from McAnulty’s book.

On the happy surprise side, I loved Monstrous Devices by Damien Love. Unique, creepy, breathlessly exciting, and hard to put down, this book is one of my recent favorites. I wish that the 6th grade book group hadn’t already decided on all of their books for this year, because I would love to share it with them (but at least I can tell them about it!). I don’t want to give away the plot, because it is so unique, so I’ll just say that fans of fantasy that is based in reality (think Harry Potter) should give this book a try. Even better: the sequel is due out soon, so if you read Monstrous Devices now you won’t have to wait long to find out what happens next…

Finally, I just started The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, and so far am enjoying it. I like Albert’s writing style, and I’m intrigued to see where she goes with the plot. I’ve also started Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly, and can’t wait to read more. Of these two fiction books that I’m currently reading, I think that I’ll finish Lalani first, since I have a suspicion that it’s a contender for the Newbery Medal…we’ll see if I’m right about that soon enough.

And that’s been my reading for this vacation, in addition to various magazine articles and the Sunday Boston Globe. A little more jewelry making is on the docket for today (before and after the Patriots game), and then it’s back to work tomorrow!

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