Monday, October 28, 2013

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman (2013)

In the King James Bible, a "word of wisdom" is a spiritual gift.  I'm not sure what Neil Gaiman's religious bent is (I'm assuming atheist, or at the very least agnostic), but in Make Good Art, he is giving us some words of wisdom, and a truly spiritual gift.  The text is from a speech he gave at Philadelphia's University of the Arts (see here:; the words are then arranged graphically, in a few flat colors, on each and every page.  The book itself is good art.  You could probably read this again and again, and take away some little gem of truth each time you read.  The entire thing could be broken down into brilliant bits, and taken as a whole, it's inspirational.  Quite a marvelous little book.

"If you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.” 

“Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.” 

“I hope you'll make mistakes. If you're making mistakes, it means you're out there doing something.”

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a gem of a book, and brilliant as well, taking a graduation speech Gaiman gave at an art school, and then making good art using the text and book format.  Break up the text, and you have shining sound bites; taken as a whole, it's an inspiration especially to artists - but we all can take something from the book.  The origin of the phrase "words of wisdom" is from the Bible - the "word of wisdom" is a spiritual gift.  Regardless of Gaiman's religious (or non) bent, he's given us a spiritual gift here, truer words of wisdom couldn't be found.  

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World : Volume 2 by Bryan Lee O' Malley (2005)

I'm still intrigued by this graphic novel series; it's interesting and witty.  The friend who suggested it and I had a conversation about how to describe the book's (series's) humor.  He called it "vague" and while I think that describes the plot (s), and meaning of the book (theme?), I'm not sure that captures what I think the humor should be called (although he is an expert on this series, writing a thesis about it, and I know nothing, really).  Deadpan / dry?  Droll?  Flippant (although the definition of flippant has some negative connotations, and I don't consider this humor negative).  Ironic? Hipster humor (yes).  Mordant?  Parks and Recreation on television has similar humor, I think.

It's still difficult to tell the characters apart, but I'm getting better.  Unlike some graphic novels, the graphics - although beautifully rendered - aren't the core of the story.  The writing, which is witty and clever, is the core.

I want to explore this term "vague" as I read more; I called this "hovering" too - there is a theme, action, plot constantly hovering above the story, and then swoops in.  Like a video game, I presume.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (Scott Pilgrim, #2)Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World by Bryan Lee O'Malley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's hard to review a series of books individually that are tied together.  An interesting, intriguing volume in the six-parter.  Graphically speaking, each panel is almost a little work of art, beautifully eye-catching and engaging.  But this as much or more about story, character and plot as it is about graphics - and the story really pulls you in.  The writing is deadpan, clever, witty; Scott Pilgrim is developing into a charming oaf of a man-boy, seriously crush-worthy. A sold entry in the series.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life: A Portrait by His Daughter Susan Loesser (1993)

Methinks Susan Loesser was cashing in on the success of the successful last Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls.

For such a long title, this book was remarkable only for it's piss poored-ness.  This would have made a far better documentary, I think.  Now that I would like to see.  It's not that Susan Loesser is a bad writer.  And she has great source material.  But I'm not really sure we learned much new about Frank Loesser and why he ticked.  It's clear (and sad) that Susan Loesser doesn't know herself what made her father tick.

I'm such a hater of memoirs - I'm a bad judge of them.  I'd rather read a biography like William Manchester's biography of Winston Churchill that subtle injects the author, and explores the demons and angels of the subject.

I did learn a few new things about Frank Loesser.  Mainly, that he he sounds like a complete and utter douchebag.  Wow, what a jerk.

Also, the whole story about him slapping Isabel Bigley, the original Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls at rehearsal because she wasn't singing something right, proves that he was a dickhead, and is a great Broadway story.

A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life: A Portrait by His DaughterA Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life: A Portrait by His Daughter by Susan Loesser
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book has a remarkably long title, for a remarkably meh sort of book.  Susan Loesser isn't a bad writer, but she's not really all that good either.  Methinks she was cashing in on the successful 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls.  What I came away with from the memoir is that Frank Loesser was a remarkable dicksmack - he sounds awful.  Still, the book has some behind the stage Broadway gossip, some of which was new at least to me.  So it wasn't all bad.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (1994)

This first time I read Catherine, Called Birdy, I remember liking it very much and laughing out loud quite a bit.  I wasn't quite as enamored of the book this second time, fourteen years later or so, but I still mostly enjoyed it.    I picked it up as a companion to The Lady of the Rivers - when the Woodvilles send their daughter Elizabeth off to live with the Greys (the family of her future first husband), I thought I could read Catherine, Called Birdy to see what life was like for a medieval girl of some means.  Catherine's family and the Woodvilles wouldn't have been all that different; the Woodvilles were most definitely more highly set than Catherine's family.

I wondered a bit who the audience was for this book.  Sitting down reading it as an adult, I understand some the jokes are on her, and all 13 year old girls. For example:   “I am near fourteen and have never yet seen a hanging. My life is barren.”  As a 43 year old man, I get that we are meant to laugh at Catherine because she's speaking like a 13 year old girl would today.  I'm not sure, however, that a 13 year old girl would find that as funny.  Maybe they would though.

Catherine, Called BirdyCatherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second time I've read Catherine, Called Birdy, and I still enjoyed it fourteen years later.  The book is hilarious in parts, moving in others, and Catherine acts and speaks and thinks like a real 13 year old girl with real (albeit medieval) problems.  Some of those problems will be familiar to 21st century thirteen year olds - friends, boys, crushes,chores, parents.  And some will be shocking - arrange marriage to a man the same age as your father, for example.  Or fleas. Or witnessing an execution of boys younger than you.  Much up for discussion here.  Cushman's world of 1290 is made to seem both near and far from our own.

View all my reviews

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory,, 1874-1932 by William Manchester (1983)

First of all,a figure as grand and important and institutional and interesting as Winston Churchill not only gets a Prologue, he's gets a goddamn Preamble.  Delightful!

A wonderfully written, wondrous biography - stupendous in length and depth and breadth.  But could any biography of Winston Churchill be otherwise?  He was a man of wonderful, wondrous width and length and depth and breadth.  Manchester's prose in places is quite moving and beautiful, sometimes even haunting.  Here he is describing the end of World War I:  "Outside, the rapturous demonstrations continued through the afternoon, frolickers romped over the Mall, throwing firecrackers and confetti.  Suddenly, the weather took an ominous turn. The sky darkened. Rain began to fall, hard.  Some Londoners sought refuge in the lap of Queen Victoria's statue, but after huddling there a few minutes they climbed down.  They had found little shelter there, and less comfort.  The arms were stone cold."  Oh, what delicious foreshadowing, and written so poetically.


The wit of Churchill is well known, and I don't want to quote ad nauseum all the clever and humorous things he said.  Here is one, deprecating and brilliant, retold by Manchester:  A gushing woman asked him:  "Doesn't it thrill you, Mr. Churchill, to know that every time you speak the hall is packed to overflowing?"  Winston said: "It is quite flattering, but whenever I feel this way I always remember that, if instead of making a political speech, I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big."


He was always in debt, and lived like a king.  He was always late.  "He would always be unpunctual, always missing trains, ships, and, later, planes, until he reached a station so exalted that they all waited for him."  He never seemed to hold a grudge.  He was completely full of himself, always, all the time:  "We are all worms.  But I do believe I am a glowworm."  This with cruelly uncaring, dismissive and absent parents.  He loved his wife to the ends of the earth and back.  He lost, and lost - kept falling off the horse, but kept getting back on.  He suffered from deep, black depression.  A great man mixed with good and bad, he was larger and small, heroic and racist, a drunk and a gentleman.  Completely without shame.  One of the greatest politicians of all time, one of the greatest men of all time.  

“It is the definition of an egoist that whatever occupies his attention is, for that reason, important.”  


The Last Lion 1: Visions of Glory 1874-1932The Last Lion 1: Visions of Glory 1874-1932 by William Raymond Manchester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Simply, one of the best biographies I've ever had the pleasure to read.  Manchester prose is often moving, always vivid, incredibly witty, and occasionally brilliant.  This is a book stupendous in length and depth and breadth.  But could any biography of Winston Churchill be otherwise?  He was a man of wonderful, wondrous width and length and depth and breadth. Come on, right off the bat you know you are opening up something special about someone huge and grand - Winston Church is so interesting and inspirational that he requires a Preamble in addition to the usual Prologue and Introduction.  He was always in debt, and lived like a king.  We learn so much about the great man, and he still remains something of an enigma.  He was always late.  "He would always be unpunctual, always missing trains, ships, and, later, planes, until he reached a station so exalted that they all waited for him."  He never seemed to hold a grudge.  He was completely full of himself, always, all the time:  "We are all worms.  But I do believe I am a glowworm."  This sense of self worth with cruelly uncaring, dismissive and absent parents.  He loved his wife to the ends of the earth and back.  He lost, and lost - kept falling off the horse, but kept getting back on.  He suffered from deep, black depression.  A great man mixed with good and bad, he was larger and small, heroic and racist, a drunk and a gentleman.  Completely without shame.  One of the greatest politicians of all time, one of the greatest men of all time. Well worth a month of reading, that's for sure.  With two more volumes to go!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Broadway Babies Say Goodnight by Mark Steyn (2000)

"In theater, opera is the purest musical form. Which is to say that the music comes first, and you make allowances for everything else."

"The traditional emotional trajectory of the American musical can be seen in any Astaire-Rogers picture: they talk; and then, when they reach an emotional point beyond speech, they sing; and then, when they reach an emotional point beyond song, they dance."

True Love

Bess Truman on her true love:

"Harry and I have been sweethearts and married more than 40 years - and no matter where I was, when I put out my hand, Harry's was there to grasp it."


I'm going through old books I read in 2003, that I'm adding to Goodreads, and ran across this deliciously bitchy review of The Loving Friends: A Portrait of Bloomsbury by David Gadd from November 20:

About Bloomsbury.  I read nearly all of this before I got bored.  Their lives (I presume I meant the Bloomsburians, not David Gadd) are shallow and stupid, all they cared about was one another, and quite possibly they are the most unpleasant group of people to walk the face of the earth.  What utterly unlikable individuals.  Their lives are loud, obnoxious and meaningless - just like something written by Viriginia Woolf.  Too bad more of them didn't commit suicide - and at an earlier age.  No more Bloomsbury for me!

Wow.  How did you REALLY feel, 2003 Shawn?

Two Ships Passing

He said
"I have a crow."
We were in the same aisle
At the grocery store.  He was an
old man.

I was
Buying dog food.
"What?" I asked, startled out
Of my rote purchases and lists.
"A crow,"

He said,
Again and smiled,
At me.  He had food stuck
to his teeth and he needed a shave.
"My pet,"
He said.

Wasn't I in
A hurry?  Didn't I
Still need to buy catfood deodorant
radishes and
a Newspaper?
I didn't have time to stop

And listen
To a lonely
Old man talk about his
Pet crow.

"He won't leave.  I feed him cheerios.
He listens to my granddaughter
more than me.  She lives with me, my granddaughter.  She's
a girl, he's a boy.  He listens to her.  She has a Pekingese,
the darnedest thing. The two of them
get into trouble
together. All she has to do it
say "Don't you do that," and
they both will stop before they even start."

"Ah, that's cool."

He said, "the vet, he says he
stays because I fed him.  It's against the law, you know,
to put them in a pen.
A house is a pen.
But welfare,
they said just open the door
and I said you open the door and see what happens."

"He won't leave?"

He said, "Nope.  He had a
broken wing.  I fixed it.
I think the cat across the street got him.  But now when the cat comes over he flies up into the tree and calls all of his buddies and they chase him away."

"He must have it good."

He said, "Yes!  One night I cooked a steak but it wasn't so good and when I came back it was gone and I thought he had a good meal but the next day I was lying on my swing on the porch and he dropped it right down on my head!"

"Wow.  He doesn't fly away?"
"Never," he said.  His eyes shine.
They are wide and vivid and
Stare into mine.  "Never.  I've
had him four
My grandson... one...
Christmas tree...
He flew...

Deodorant.  Radishes.  Do we need
Lettuce? Lightbulds.  I still need

"That's a cool story.  Thanks."

I cut
Him off and turn
My cart around but not
Before I see his face fall, just
A bit.
Just enough.

In the car, on
The way home, I wonder.  That
Man and his Crow.  What an
Interesting story.
And I wonder if
I will someday be that man,
Eager to share a small miracle
With a total stranger who is
Like me.

I forgot to ask the crow's name.

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory (2011)

At this point, I think I've read almost everything Philippa Gregory has written, with varying degrees of appreciation.  I either read The Queen's Fool or The Other Boleyn Girl first; I know I read one after the other, many years ago, but I don't remember in what order.  I read The Constance Princess and remember nothing at all about it; I read The Boleyn Inheritance about Jane Rochford and Catherine Howard, and enjoyed that one immensely (if not as much as the first too).  The Virgin's Lover I remember feeling "meh" about.  The Other Queen, Mary Queen of Scots' story told from the point of view of Bess of Hardwick was quite good as well.  I remember really liking two of her earlier books set in Elizabethan times,  Earthly Joys and Virgin Earth as well.  (there are a few books by Gregory I haven't yet read; I definitely will add them to my list, because quite frankly, her early books are among her best written; they seem less hurried.).

The Cousins' War is Gregory's latest "series."  The White Queen was about Elizabeth Woodville, which I devoured.  The Red Queen was about Margaret Beaufort Tudor, and I gave that a poor review and wondered if Gregory was writing too fast and losing her touch.  The Lady of the Rivers, however, places Gregory right back into the stable of authors I enjoy.  The Lady of the Rivers isn't as good as her earlier works; it lacks some of the mystery of The Other Boleyn Girl and The Queen's Fool, and a few parts seem a little rote - there is definitely a Gregory "style" and The Lady of the Rivers follows that formula:  unique first person narrative.  In this instance, it was Jacquetta Woodville, mother of Elizabeth Woodville, accused of witchcraft, and ultimately Henry VIII's grandmother.  The Woodvilles, at least in books I've read about The Wars of the Roses, tend to get painted with the same brush - slick upstarts who tricked (or witched) their way into King Edward IV's bed and court - very much like the Boleyn's.  Gregory's use of Jacquetta as the narrator of the story of the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses is quite clever and interesting.  Margaret of Anjou always gets tarred and feathered as well, and using Jacquetta, a dowager duchess and lady in waiting to Queen Margaret as the eyes and ears of this particular court, one gets a slightly different picture of the queen.  She's still a she-wolf of sorts, but who can blame her - a husband who thinks sex is a sin, who ends up mentally ill; surrounded by lusty men like Edmund Beaufort; in the end, she must protect her son - a lioness rather than a wolf... but also sadly out of tune to the time and place of England at this particular venture.  That is another characteristic of the Gregory formula - to take a familiar historical character, and turn them on their head.  Henry VIII becomes a petulant, spoiled, arrogant fool.  Elizabeth Woodville, a white witch rather than wicked.  Margaret of Anjou, slightly more sympathetic (certainly more than Sharon Kay Penman's Margaret in The Sunne in Splendor, a book that only deserves to be read once).  Gregory, by hook or by crook (or bell, book and candle in this particular series?), makes certain that we the reader understand that women's choices in this age and time were never, ever cut and dried.  Gregorian women are always powerful, and but always powerless too - like the wheel of fortune that plays such a prominent role in The Lady of the Rivers.  All Gregorian female protagonists are on the Wheel, which takes them up and takes them down.  I guess history proved that to be true as well.  Gregory obviously takes artistic license with the lives of these women, but they truly lived these lives.

I was trying to figure out the current queen of England would be descended from Jacquetta Woodville as well, and in turn the river goddess Melusina, right?  Although the blood of that goddess must be pretty thin by now.  (Jacquetta of Luxembourg } Elizabeth Woodville } Elizabeth of York } Margaret Tudor } King James I & VI} Elizabeth Stuart } Sophia of Hanover } George I } George II } Frederick, Prince of Wales } George III } Prince Edward, Duke of Kent } Victoria } Edward VII } George V } George VI } Elizabeth II).  Very thin.

The Lady of the Rivers (The Cousins' War, #3)The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A solid entry in the growing works of Philippa Gregory.  This is pure Gregory - the narrative and first person point of view, a plot that involves powerful women rendered powerless, reviled historical characters seen through sympathetic eyes. Jacquetta Woodville makes a terrific and interesting protagonist, and Gregory brings her to life; in fact, all the Woodvilles (usually placed on the historical dustbin just above the Boleyns) are given an amiable light.  Even Queen Margaret gets sort of a white washing, although she doesn't come out of this smelling like a red rose.  This doesn't have the weight and mystery of some of Gregory's earlier works, but it's still a ripping read.  

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens

'We have an obligation to imagine' … Neil Gaiman gives The Reading Agency annual lecture on the future of reading and libraries. Photograph: Robin Mayes
It's important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members' interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. I'm going to tell you that libraries are important. I'm going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I'm going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.

And I am biased, obviously and enormously: I'm an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living though my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.

So I'm biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.

And I'm here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.

And it's that change, and that act of reading that I'm here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What it's good for.

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn't read. And certainly couldn't read for pleasure.

It's not one to one: you can't say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it's a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it's hard, because someone's in trouble and you have to know how it's all going to end … that's a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you're on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

I don't think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children's books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I've seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

It's tosh. It's snobbery and it's foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn't hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian "improving" literature. You'll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. (Also, do not do what this author did when his 11-year-old daughter was into RL Stine, which is to go and get a copy of Stephen King's Carrie, saying if you liked those you'll love this! Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years, and still glares at me when Stephen King's name is mentioned.)

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You're being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you're going to be slightly changed.

Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.

You're also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it's this:

The world doesn't have to be like this. Things can be different.

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It's simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you've never been. Once you've visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

And while we're on the subject, I'd like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it's a bad thing. As if "escapist" fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn't you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.

Another way to destroy a child's love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books. I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the children's library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the children's' library I began on the adult books.

They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader – nothing less or more – which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.

But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories – they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.

In the last few years, we've moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. That's about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.

Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before – books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.

I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.

A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. It's a community space. It's a place of safety, a haven from the world. It's a place with librarians in it. What the libraries of the future will be like is something we should be imagining now.

Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.

Libraries really are the gates to the future. So it is unfortunate that, round the world, we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open.

According to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, England is the "only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest group, after other factors, such as gender, socio-economic backgrounds and type of occupations are taken into account".

Or to put it another way, our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are. They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems. They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable. All of these things. And as a country, England will fall behind other developed nations because it will lack a skilled workforce.

Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.

I think we have responsibilities to the future. Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting. All of us – as readers, as writers, as citizens – have obligations. I thought I'd try and spell out some of these obligations here.

I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.

We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language, or to pretend it is a dead thing that must be revered, but we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.

We writers – and especially writers for children, but all writers – have an obligation to our readers: it's the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers' throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves.

We have an obligation to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we 've lessened our own future and diminished theirs.

We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. I'm going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. It's this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.

We have an obligation to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world we've shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled.

We have an obligation to tell our politicians what we want, to vote against politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy. This is not a matter of party politics. This is a matter of common humanity.

Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. "If you want your children to be intelligent," he said, "read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.

• This is an edited version of Neil Gaiman's lecture for the Reading Agency, delivered on Monday October 14 at the Barbican in London. The Reading Agency's annual lecture series was initiated in 2012 as a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries.

Scott Pilgrim: Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley (2004)

My favorite panel in the book
So I asked a new, younger friend (twenty year difference in our ages) some suggestions for graphic novels.  As a librarian (and a former teen librarian), I'm certainly familiar with graphic novels; I'm not a novice.  But I'm certainly not a connoisseur of the literary art form.  I have similar trouble talking about picture books - I don't feel like my knowledge of art (style, terms, history) qualifies me to say anything pertinent or interesting about picture books, and I feel the same way about graphic novels. I  know what I like, and what I don't like, and sometimes that's very vague.  It's not exactly like Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock saying "We know what art is - it's paintings of horses" or Harry S. Truman's ham and eggs art: "He liked the old masters.  His taste in American art, not surprisingly, ran to the paintings of Missouri riverboatmen and Missouri politics by George Caleb Bingham, or the western scenes of Frederic Remington."  (I'm quoting this from one of my favorite biographies and one of the best biographies ever written, Truman by David McCullough).  It's more like I can appreciate art, but I can't talk about it intelligently.

Literature I can talk about intelligently (well, at least I think I can; I'm certainly not a college professor, but I have a semblance of education, and I'm good at reading and reasonably good at interpretation).  So as literature, Scott Pilgrim: Precious Little Life is really quite good.  It was engaging, the story kept me going, the dialogue seemed sharp and smart.  I had to discuss the ending with my friend (I won't give it away) and that led to further discussion about the book have similar plot points to a video game (the samurai-esque battle of the ex-boyfriends and their magical powers, for example), which his generation kens and accepts far more easily maybe than my generation (or at least me).  Once we discussed that, I was like "Ohhhh, I get it" which made the book all the more enjoyable - I adore clever and witty, even when I don't always instantly (or ever) understand it (read:  Terry Pratchett).

But graphic novels are more than just literary in form, they combine literature and art, and that's where I get stuck.  Graphic novels aren't always very easy to read (I was lost for most of Watchmen, for example, although at least I tried).  I tend to swing back and forth on manga, and Scott Pilgrim certainly shares characteristics of manga (another discussion we had) even if it's not strictly manga (or is it?).  Things I liked were perspective (see illustration above); the use of black, white and gray (particularly the snow storm in the middle of the book, which was quite lovely and moving).  Things I didn't like are the same things I generally don't like about graphic novels:  the characters aren't always very distinguishable from one another (is that on purpose?  Or is that my fault?).  I'm never sure where I need to be looking at any given moment (read or look at the pictures, read or look at the pictures).  I have the same trouble with pictures books sometimes; I also have the same problem at the opera (watch what's going or read the translations).

This is only volume one of six volumes, which I plan to read - so I have a way to go.  My initial reaction has been "I like this.  It's quite good."  If the next five are equally humorous, witty, and well told, then I'm going to be a happy reader by the end of book six.

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Scott Pilgrim, #1)Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My taste in graphic novels tends to run more towards Uncle Scrooge, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this first of six volumes.  Literature-wise, Precious Little Life was engaging, with sharp, funny dialogue.  I had to discuss some of the finer (and frankly, weirder) points with a younger graphic novel connoisseur (who suggested this to me in the first place), who explained that the book has as much in common with a video game as it does a novel or comic book - that was a eureka moment for me.  I adore witty and clever books and authors (Terry Pratchett), even when I don't always fully understand the joke.  I think this is also artistically very successful as well.  There is a great use of blacks, whites and grays; the snow storm in the middle of the book is really lovely.  Some of the perspectives are incredible (I thought the "swing" scene was quite beautifully done).  If the next five books are as good as this one, I'm going to be one pleasantly contented and happy reader at the end of book six.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 p.m to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health by Mark Bittman (2013)

I love How to Cook Everything.  But there doesn't really seem to be a good way to mix How to Cook Everything with VB6.  Made me more thoughtful about what I'm eating I suppose, but I didn't want to finish it.  

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)

I know we read The Grapes of Wrath in college, but land sakes, I cain't remember which class. Or, quite frankly, much about the book, other than Rose of Sharon gives her breast milk to a starving man somewhere in the book.

It started out slow, but has built into something grand.  I hope that's not a false start and it keeps getting grander.

"The Western States nervous under the beginning change.  Texas and Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas, New Mexico, Arizona, California."  HA.  I get into this argument with Californians occasionally, who refer to every state west of Nevada as "the midWest."  I've sort of given up trying to explain that Kansas isn't the Midwest; or at least most of Kansas isn't the midwest (eastern Kansas has some Midwestern characteristics).  John Steinbeck knows - Kansas is the west.  (the Great Plains, actually).  I've never heard Arkansas referred to as the West, but I suppose parts of Western Arkansas have more in common with the West than the South.  Maybe. I've never been to Arkansas, so I cain't be sure.


There is so much going on in this book, about modern farming practices; about big business, banks, finance, and economics; about government assistance; about refugees and emigrants (and immigrants); about collective bargaining and labor and socialist and Communism.

About modern farming practices, Steinbeck writes this specifically:  "So easy that the wonder goes out of work, so efficient that the wonder goes out of land and the working of it,and with the wonder the deep understanding and the relation.  And in the tractor man there grows the contempt that comes only to a stranger who has little understanding and no relation.  For nitrates are not the land, nor phosphates and the length of fiber in the cotton is not the land.  Carbon is not a man, not salt nor water nor calcium.  He is all these, but he is much more, much more; and the land is so much more than its analysis."  This is about agribusiness as well, about large corporate farms swallowing up small farms.  And that the small farm is more connected to the land than the big corporations. Although conversely, you could say the small farms and big farms caused the Dust Bowl; they shouldn't even have been farming lands in western Kansas and the OK and TX panhandles, and eastern Colorado.  Big farm or little farm, those lands out there weren't meant to be plowed up, and the reaping of that plowing was the Dust Bowl.

Two scenes that - unexpectedly and surprisingly made me tear up:  the truck stop and Ma feeding the hungry kids.

The Bank of the West = Bank of America. Shenanigans in 1939, shenanigans today.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  That could be the whole moral of this plot.

"In the souls of the people, the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy,  growing heavy for the vintage."
It's like I say, the people on the lower rung can only take so much, and then they rise up.  American, French, Russian, Chinese Revolutions...

The abrupt end - what does it all mean?  What happens to the Joads?  Steinbeck clearly didn't want us to know, but 75 years later, we know what happened to the Joads.  Their descendants are still here, living in the suburbs, and maybe even pulling the same crap that got pulled on them - but this time against Latinos.

The Grapes of WrathThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The last time I read  The Grapes of Wrath was twenty-some years ago in college; so essentially this was like reading it for the first time.  I certainly don't remember being so moved by it as a twenty-something; as a forty-something, I was heartsick.  It is certainly a book that seeps into your soul; in the Joads, Steinbeck has created incredibly sharp, distinct characters, and an exact setting.  The Depression is a kind of character in the book as well, as is Big Banks, and Agribusiness, and (although never named as such) The Man.  And although this is an historical document, it still has much to say to the 21st century reader.  We still have injustice; immigrants are still marginalized and brutalized; big business still swallows little men and women; we call them Recessions not Depressions, but the impact is similar.  There are still rich people, and the poor will always be with us.  The moral and meaning of The Grapes of Wrath in 1939 was more immediate; but the moral for us today could be "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

View all my reviews

Friday, October 11, 2013

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner ; with art by Christopher Silas Neal (2011)

I love owls
 Another picture book that Goodreads recommended, and once again, at least for picture books, they were spot on. Instead of saying the book was "illustrated by" or "pictures by", the title page comes right out and says "art by Christopher Silas Neal."  I am in 100% agreement - these aren't mere illustrations.  Neal has created art.     New York Times called them "retro-style." Which is true - they could be from a Little Golden Book from 1947 (one of my favorite years stylistic, I think). I loved the color palette, and the "matte" of the book.  

I wasn't as big a fan of the text as I was of the pictures; I think for this kind of book, I was expecting something bit more poetic and not so prosy.  There were some beautiful turns of phrases though:  "strong, silent pines" ; "Under the snow, deer mice doze.  They huddle up, cuddle up against the cold" ; "Shadows dance in the flames."  I liked when the dad said "Look... Tracks.  Tracks always tell a story."  Which would make a great discussion starter if one were walking in the snow with a child.  

The end is full of information, which I also liked.  I had never heard of the word "subnivean" before; there was a list of animals found in the book and explanations of their winter behavior. There was also a list of books where you could read more about animals and winter, which I thought was great.  

Living in Southern California, you can go visit the snow - which is what is happening in this book as well.  I still miss snow though, and this gave me a good taste of winter.  

From an interview between the author and the illustrator about the creative process, which I thought was interesting: 
This balance wasn't achieved easily and It took a few rounds and some coaxing from Art Director Amelia Mack and Editor Melissa Manlove at Chronicle Books before we found the right mix. We started with a test piece which feels quite different from the art in the final book. The animals are blue and red- very cute and characters all to themselves. The problem with this approach is that they lack mystery and intrigue. They feel more like friends than they do an elusive ecosystem of creatures darting in and out of trees and freshly packed snow. With big eyes, and friendly smiles, we might expect the beaver, chipmunk or bear to strike up a conversation. 

 Neal's mixed media, which I had been curious about:
This would probably be a good time to talk about how I made the final images for the book. My process is a mix of drawing, painting, printing making and digital art. I always start with an under drawing. From there I imagine how I might break up the image and how each part of an image will be created. The body of a chipmunk might be created by using acrylic paint, a brayer and a stencil. His eyes, nose and stripes created with pencil. I create each part separately, scan them, and put the parts back together again on the computer while also adding color. This allows to me use various different media for one image and the flexibility to move things around until I get it just right.


Over and Under the SnowOver and Under the Snow by Kate Messner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title page doesn't say "illustrated by" or "pictures by," it says "art by Christopher Silas Neal - and that's an apt description. These (like many of the pictures in children's literature) aren't merely illustrations, each page is really a moving and mysterious work of art.  Using a style and color palette reminiscent of a 1940s Little Golden Book, Neal's art brings to life the cold, "subnivean" (I learned a new word!) world of winter both above and below the snow.  The prose isn't quite as beautiful as the artwork, but it's still quite lovely and has some beautiful turns of phrase.  

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Billion for Boris by Mary Rodgers (1974)

My 1980 well-worn copy.  $1.52!
A Billion for Boris is one of my precious books. It's a paperback, the cover is about to fall off, and it's really  ratty.  The book was originally published in 1974; my "Starbooks" edition (whatever that publishing company was - I can't find anything out about them online, and they must be long gone) was published in 1980.  So probably between 1980 - 1982.   I don't know where I got the book - let's say off a spinning rack at K-Mart (there was no Walmart back then).  It was one of my favorite books, and while my love of this book has lessened slightly over the years, it's still pretty good.

A perfect book it's not.  The plot meanders around itself, and seems very episodic.  But then, so does Freaky Friday.  

It's pleasantly aware of itself (the end, with it's namedropping, sinks the meta.

It's most definitely another "New York City" book, but I'm not sure Mary Rodgers could write another kind of book.

It's stuck in time too - the songs ("Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme"), the television set itself, the relationship between Bart Bacon and Annabel (well, I think 14 year old girls are still trying to look 18 to snag 20something guys, but I don't think a book would use it as a plot point unless it turned out badly), the drinking of champagne, a mother who leaves her son behind when she gallivants off to California for a week or so.    Oh and the gambling!  Let's not forget the gambling.  Katniss and her kind may kill one another in a violent bloodbath, but I think they are babies compared to the teenagers in A Billion for Boris.   Annabel and Boris (and Virginia) all seem so suave and mature - they did to me then, and they continue to seem that way today.  This year they are all the main characters in A Billion for Boris - next year,  Company.  14 and 15 year olds may have the world at their fingertips (read:  lots of porn on the internet) but those teenagers of the seventies were Mature.

I suppose this would have been young adult - although I was reading it when I was ten and eleven.  It has a snarky humor.  Annabel's voice, as I think about it, has shades of gay man to it.  Again, knowing the author, that makes sense.

A Billion for BorisA Billion for Boris by Mary Rodgers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A childhood favorite, dug out of storage and re-visited - did not disappoint.  So what if it's not a perfect book (the plot meanders a bit).  I'm not sure if modern kids would understand or care about the book, but A Billion for Boris (along with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) introduced me to New York City (from a teenager of the 1970s viewpoint, at least); gave me the beginning of an appreciation for the gay voice (Annabel, on several occasions, sounds more like a gay man than a 13 year old girl, and knowing Mary Rodgers background, that should come as no surprise), and literary introduction to the concept of meta (an adult understanding of the name dropping in the last pages sealed that 30 years later).  Those teens of the early 1970s were Mature too, weren't they?  Annabel and Boris drink champagne and gamble.  Boris calls his mother by her first name (so 70s - didn't Phyllis's daughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show do the same thing?).  Fourteen year old Annabel claims to be dating a newspaper reporter in his twenties; he eventually (and let's face, humorously) ends up with her so called best friend Virginia. It's like they are starring in A Billion for Boris on day, and tomorrow it's  Company: A Musical Comedy.  Katniss from The Hunger Games may end up in a violent bloodbath, but I'm not sure the literary teens of YA-dom today would last long in the super hip world of Mary Rodger's 1970s New York City, where wit is the ultimate weapon. I'm not suggesting any child today should read this book.  But 40somethings wanting a walk down memory lane might have a fun hour.

View all my reviews

One Reason I Like Opera by Marge Piercy (2003)

One reason I like opera
By Marge Piercy

In movies, you can tell the heroine
because she is blonder and thinner
than her sidekick. The villainess
is darkest. If a woman is fat,
she is a joke and will probably die.

In movies, the blondest are the best
and in bleaching lies not only purity
but victory. If two people are both
extra pretty, they will end up
in the final clinch.

Only the flawless in face and body
win. That is why I treat
movies as less interesting
than comic books. The camera
is stupid. It sucks surfaces.

Let's go to the opera instead.
The heroine is fifty and weighs
as much as a '65 Chevy with fins.
She could crack your jaw in her fist.
She can hit high C lying down.

The tenor the women scream for
wolfs down an eight course meal daily.
He resembles a bull on hind legs.
His thighs are the size of beer kegs.
His chest is a redwood with hair.

Their voices twine, golden serpents.
Their voices rise like the best
fireworks and hang and hang
then drift slowly down descending
in brilliant and still fiery sparks.

The hippopotamus baritone (the villain)
has a voice that could give you
an orgasm right in your seat.
His voice smokes with passion.
He is hot as lava. He erupts nightly.

The contralto is, however, svelte.
She is supposed to be the soprano's
mother, but is ten years younger,
beautiful and Black. Nobody cares.
She sings you into her womb where you rock.

What you see is work like digging a ditch,
hard physical labor. What you hear
is magic as tricky as knife throwing.
What you see is strength like any
great athlete's. What you hear

is still rendered precisely as the best
Swiss watchmaker. The body is
resonance. The body is the cello case.
The body just is. The voice loud
as hunger remagnetizes your bones.

From Colors Passing Through Us (Knopf, 2003).

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wolves by Emily Gravett (2005)

A totally different style from the other Gravett books I recently read - but this one could be my favorite.  Utterly witty in a  meta-way, with cool illustrations.  Every reader has been in this rabbit's situation - completely into what you are reading and oblivious to what is going on around you.  In this case, reading about wolves but not looking around you FOR wolves gets a rabbit eaten at the end.  But there is an alternative purposely cheeseball ending in which the wolf is a vegetarian.  I'm sure there will be those Goodreads moms who decry the violence and say it's too scary for their precious tots - and I say bring on the scary!

WolvesWolves by Emily Gravett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great fun, particularly for readers who get so lost in books that they become oblivious to everything and everyone around them (I plead guilty to that as well).  The entire book is entertainingly and satisfyingly meta; it's a book within a book, a book featuring a reader that is about reading, a reader reading about wolves being stalked by one on almost every page.  The end is scary - but it should be - it's about wolves!

View all my reviews

Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett (2007)

Not a favorite, but I can see this used in storytime pretty successfully (with the right storytime librarian).  Emily Gravett's illustrations are warm and cuddly and lovely and fun, as usual.  Seemed almost like an excuse for her to picture different animals!

Monkey And MeMonkey And Me by Emily Gravett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nothing outstanding or spectacular here, but a strong picture book nonetheless. I certainly could see this used successfully for a rambunctious storytime, read by the right children's librarian.  Emily Gravett's illustrations are warm, cuddly, and lovely (as usual).

View all my reviews

Disturb Us Lord

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Orange Pear Apple Beaer by Emily Gravett (2005)

Sometimes simple is best, and often most beautiful.  Emily Gravett's Orange Pear Apple Bear is simply sweet, sweetly simply, and a perfect little book.

The illustrations appear to be watercolor and crayon? chalk? pastel?

The bear's face is so expressive, warm, friendly, and happy.  The warm colors of orange, pear, and apple are really quite lovely and inviting.

And it's about punctuation, which I didn't even realize until I read someone else's review on Goodreads.  Sometimes I'm unable to see the forest for the trees.

There are also only four different words in the entire book as well.

This isn't a book that will change your life, but it's meaningful just because it's so beautiful.

Orange Pear Apple BearOrange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes simple is best, and often most beautiful. This book is simply sweet, sweetly simply, and an almost perfect little book.  It's not going to change your life, but the meaning and truth of this book lies in the beauty and simplicity, in the warm browns, oranges, greens and reds of the watercolor (and pastel?) illustrations, in the friendly, happy, comforting expressions on the bear's face.  What a little gem.

View all my reviews

Monday, October 7, 2013

Church musings: Mark 2:13-20

For the last two weeks, I've lost my church bulletin; this week, though, I remembered the scripture:  Mark 2: 13-20, which I've copied and pasted from

13 Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them.   14 As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

The Question about Fasting

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ 19 Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

Here is King James:

13 And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them. 
14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. 
15 And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. 
16 And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? 
17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. 
18 And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not? 
19 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 
20 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.

The sermon wasn't all that interesting.  This had something to do with World Communion Day, but I forget what.  Something our pastor pointed out was that when Jesus went to Levi's house to sit "at meat" , what actually happened was that Levi "threw a party" and invited a bunch of sinners rather than the "quote-unquote good people."  Publicans and sinners, which, quite frankly, sound a helluva lot more fun.  We have a friend named Levi, and I told him via text this story.  Levi and his partner Zack throw fabulous parties, so I thought it was appropriate.  I told Levi:  "I'm not sure if the Biblical Levi threw a theme party, but I imagine he did."

According to The Interpreter's Bible, Levi was either "a collector of import and export duties on the highway that ran through Capernaum, or a tax officer of Herod Antipas."  This interpretation also had them eating at Jesus's own house, but the story if far more fun if Levi throws a party, right?

Blog Archive