Monday, July 30, 2007

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

I actually forgot to blog about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets over the weekend, so I am almost done with it now. In fact, I would have finished it last night if I hadn't've been so tired.

Anyway, like with the first Harry Potter book, I am rereading this one to refresh my memory before I read #7. Once again, I am noticing differences between the book and the movie; they usually surprise me, because I have seen the movie several times but have only read the book once, and that was six years ago!

I'm struck again by what an amazing writer J.K. Rowling is. I've heard people criticize her for using ploys such as cliffhanger endings on paragraphs -- but hey, this is popular fiction, not the Dead White Male literary canon. (And if it were, it certainly would not be encouraging kids to read more.)

My reasons for thinking J.K. Rowling is a good writer include:

1) Strong characterization
2) Complicated plots
3) Believable dialogue (so many writers struggle with this!)
4) Great description
5) A great sense of humor, and an amazing ability to weave it into her writing so that it catches you off guard
6) An understanding of what makes kids tick (and read)

She may not be Shakespeare, but I think J.K. Rowling is just as important in our times as Shakespeare was in his. It might be an ambitious statement, but realistically, I don't think importance is judged by the moralizing content of your work -- after all, Shakespeare's plays were intended to entertain the people then as Harry Potter is now.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone by J.K. Rowling

With the newest (and last) Harry Potter book now out, I decided to re-read the first 6 before I start #7. With some of them, such as Sorceror's Stone, it has been as long as 6 years since I last read them.

I am amazed at how in many cases I remember the movie better than the book. In fact, several times I've noticed places where the action or the dialogue in the book differs significantly from the movie. For instance, when Harry is picking out his wand in the book, the wrong ones don't blow anything up as they do in the movie -- they just don't do anything at all.

Michael is reading the 7th Harry Potter right now, but the way I'm cruising through #1, he'd better hurry up. We got the new one out from the library -- I had put a hold on it more than a year ago, so I was one of the few who was able to get a copy right away -- so I have 3 weeks to read all 7.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I am now reading Jodi Picoult's newest book, Nineteen Minutes. The basis for this story -- the Columbine shooting -- is close to my heart, as I attended Chatfield, Columbine's sister school. Although I had graduated nearly two years before, I still lived in the area, and my sister was at Chatfield at the time of the shooting. Also, as my dad later pointed out, had we lived in the first house my parents made on offer on when we moved to the area, my sister would have been at Columbine for that shooting.

Having known Columbine students, including members of the so-called Trenchcoat Mafia, and having lived in Littleton for most of my life (including the years following the massacre), I of course was closer to the incident than most people who heard about it on the news. However, my own experiences with bullying and my feeling about public schools -- that they are far too lenient in dealing with it -- has also made me feel more invested in the social outcome following Columbine.

Picoult does a good job of exploring what a crisis such as a school shooting does to a small town or suburb. Although Littleton was not the kind of place where everyone knew everyone else -- as the small town in Picoult's novel is -- it was a sleepy suburb. Our schools were some of the best in the state, certainly in the county. We had soccer moms and straight-A students. No one would ever have dreamed that something as horrible as a school shooting could happen, and therefore the impact of the event created waves that rippled through the community for years afterward.

In Picoult's fictional high school shooting, she makes the shooter someone who has been bullied and virtually friendless all of his life, just like the real shooters in many of these incidents. Although I haven't finished the book yet, so far I think she does a superb job of turning the antagonist into a sympathetic character. I love that about Picoult -- that she can take a crime and put a human face on it, make you see the many facets of the act and the character who committed it.

In Nineteen Minutes, Picoult literally picks you up and drops you into the head of a chronically bullied child. If you haven't dealt with severe bullying on a daily basis, or if you can't understand why school shootings always precipitate an outcry against bullying in schools, you need to read this book -- if only to make you understand what might go through the head of a child bullied past the point of human tolerance.

Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult

I just recently finished reading Perfect Match, by Jodi Picoult. As I've come to expect with her, it was a beautifully crafted novel, with a sudden surprise near the beginning to draw you in, just the right amount of suspense to keep you reading throughout, and several surprise twists along the way (with the biggest one at the end). It wasn't, however, an all-nighter type.

This one is about a lawyer who specializes in prosecuting child molesters, and then finds out that her five-year-old son has been sexually molested. What would you do -- or what would you want to do -- if it happened to you, and you knew firsthand how ineffective the system was at taking care of these things?

As the character, Nina, says herself in the book, she only did what every parents always wants to do in that situation -- but can't quite get up the guts to act on it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Man Who Listens to Horses by Monty Roberts

My current goal is to learn as much as possible about horse training methods and theories -- in about a month, we are moving my horse from the inlaws' place in the country in order to have him nearby. I am very excited, as it has been difficult not to be able to see Panama very often this past year. I want to start working with him, as he has had little to no training, but I need to find out how to start.< The Man Who Listens to Horses is, as it turns out, a great place to start. I've known that I don't want to use any harsh training methods, and Monty Roberts is living proof that I don't have to. His book is very detailed in describing the body language of horses, which he calls "Equus," and how he uses it in order to train them.

Of course, since the book is also told in the style of a memoir, there are plenty to hold one's attention, too. The stories of his childhood, his abusive father, and his early encounters with horses are fascinating. In fact, I stayed up past my bedtime last night because I was so engrossed in the book. :o)

If you are a horse person and have not yet read this book, I highly recommend it. The insights Monty offers are quite valuable for someone who wants to train their horses in a way that fosters a respectful relationship for both parties. And even if you think "gentling" horses instead of breaking them is hokey, you may still find Monty's personal experiences intriguing.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs

I am currently reading Magical Thinking, a collection of essays by Augusten Burroughs. The essays are about various events in his life, but what is most noteworthy is the sense of humor with which he approaches everything. Burroughs is sarcastic and laugh-out-loud funny -- and believe me, it's not often that a book gets me to laugh out loud.

The biggest surprise for me was the discovery, several essays into the book, that Burroughs is gay. He lets the reader know gently, by first talking about how one of his childhood heroes was a transsexual. I totally didn't pick up on the cues at all, so when he started talking about how he had considered getting a sex-change operation, I was shocked.

All in all, the experience was kind of humbling. I write regularly for a GLBT parenting site, so sometimes I start thinking like I've got "them" all figured out. Clearly, that assumption -- including the reference to GLBT people as "them," an other -- stems from some sort of prejudice that I have been socialized with and unknowingly retained. I don't think of myself as prejudiced at all, but this just goes to show that getting rid of socialized prejudice is easier said than done.

But back to the book. My surprise at finding out the author is gay hasn't changed my enjoyment of the book any. In fact, I have to point out that another one of the funniest books I've ever read -- The Kid, by Dan Savage -- was also by a gay writer. I love a sarcastic sense of humor, and both of these guys have got it in spades.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

My new blog template

One of the things that happened while I was too busy to update this blog was that I got a new template for it. (So I guess I was updating it, just not with posts about my newest reads.) Goofy Girl, who created my blog template, is absolutely wonderful, and I highly recommend her to anyone who wants a unique blog template.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

The newest Jodi Picoult novel that I'm reading is Plain Truth. Although the subject matter and setting of this book is different than her other books, I am starting to notice a pattern.

First of all, Picoult's books almost always involve a crime, or at least a violation against someone's rights. And it almost always goes to trial (Picture Perfect being the only one I read that didn't include a trial). However, Picoult's books are different than most lawyer fiction because she gets to the heart of the issue -- she puts a human face on the crime. So although the court scenes are very suspenseful and do an excellent job of drawing the reader along, they are secondary to the emotional and psychological drama that is taking place both in and out of the courtroom.

But back to Plain Truth... Like I said, this one is a little different -- in a way. It is about an 18-year-old Amish girl who is being accused of neonatacide (killing a baby). The hospital determines that the dead premie in the barn is indeed hers, but the girl is having problems even admitting to herself that she was ever pregnant. Of course, eventually she is able to come to terms with her pregnancy (and the act that got her that way), but the question now is -- how did the baby die?

This book is shaping up to be quite good. It is definitely another book I would recommend -- but then, what Picoult book wouldn't I recommend?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

Well, I did it again -- stayed up all night to finish a Jodi Picoult book. This time, though, I was already about 100 pages into Salem Falls when I got in bed to read around 1:30 am last night. I finished the book around 5:30 -- I think -- before finally going to bed.

Basically, Salem Falls is a modern version of The Crucible -- a play that fictionalizes the Salem witch trials, where a group of girls started a witch hunt by pretending to be bewitched and giving false evidence against the women in the community. Whereas the witch trials dealt with the worst crime the residents of Salem could imagine, however, Salem Falls deals with one of the worst crimes imaginable today: sexual assault on a minor.

Although Salem Falls didn't grab me from the first few pages, as My Sister's Keeper did, by the time I was a third of the way through it I couldn't put down. Like her other books, Picoult has a lot of seemingly unrelated side plots going on at the same time, but which all seem to come together in the end. Unlike her other books, Picoult doesn't drop a bombshell within the first ten pages, and then spend the rest of the book exploring the before and after of the crater it makes. Instead, the bombshell comes later in the book -- but that doesn't make it any less compelling, proving that Picoult's skill as a suspense writer comes not from parlor tricks but from pure talent.