Thursday, December 25, 2008

This year's Christmas books

I love Christmas books, especially children's Christmas books, which is why we already have a collection of them even though we don't have any kids yet. I bought two children's books to add to our collection this year: Rocky Mountain Night Before Christmas by Joe Gribnau and illustrated by Salima Alikhan, and The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and illustrated by P.J. Lynch.

iconiconThis picture book is a really clever spin-off on one of my all-time favorite Christmas books, The Night Before Christmas. But instead of a family at home asleep, this one is a cowboy who is out on horseback when Santa shows up.

It's a hilarious story, in which Santa gets lassoed before the cowboy recognizes him — and then they "have a nip" and share cowboy stories. The illustrations are really beautiful too — gorgeous realistic pencil drawings with vivid watercolors. I particularly like the realistic images of horses.

iconiconI can't remember when I first read this short story of O. Henry's, but since I was a kid The Gift of the Magi has symbolized to me what Christmas and gift-giving is all about. If you haven't read the story before, you can find the full text here. (There was also a neat editorial about the short story this year, available here.)

But I highly recommend this picture-book version, because of what a beautiful little book it makes. The watercolor illustrations are beautiful and really capture the beauty of the story itself. I am sure that when we do have children, this will be a cherished book — and perhaps the beginnings of a family tradition!

What books are you reading to celebrate Christmas?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

iconiconI actually decided to read Bill Bryson's Shakespeare thanks to my husband, Michael, who is better than I am at staying up-to-date on the newest releases — probably because I write instead of looking at books when we go to the bookstore. However, the subject is one I'm pretty interested in, as an English literature major, so when Michael started talking about it I decided to read it after he finished.

Shakespeare is a pretty short book, which Bryson attributes to how little there is that is actually known about Shakespeare — and he is committed to avoiding any amount of conjecture in his biography of the great man. It turns out that most of what we think we know about Shakespeare is conjecture, so he spends a lot of time discussing why we don't really know what we think we know.

My favorite part of the book was the last chapter, where Bryson roundly thrashes any theory that anyone else might have written Shakespeare's plays — a theory that has always struck me as rather malicious and even a little bit sour grapes. Tearing down the reputation of English literature's greatest writer seems to make a great many people feel better about themselves.

I also really like Bryson's tone, which is delightfully sarcastic in all the right places. It's not often that a book makes me laugh out loud, especially a nonfiction book, but this one definitely did. It is a quick read, but definitely very enjoyable, not to mention illuminating. I highly recommend this one!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley

iconiconA few nights ago, I finished The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley.

I was interested in reading some more by McKinley after reading Sunshine a few months ago. I really loved Beauty when I was in high school, so I decided to try another one of her fairy tale retellings.

I ended up liking The Outlaws of Sherwood very much. I like McKinley's writing style, but it does take some getting used to — at the beginning of the book, you notice how long her paragraphs are and how much description there is, but by the end of the book the only thing you notice is how fantastic the description is.

I have to admit I don't know the Robin Hood stories very well — just what Disney ad Hollywood have relayed in their film version — but I enjoyed the book anyway. There were a few recognizable scenes where I could appreciate how McKinley tweaked the normal tellings of the story, but I never felt like I was missing something because I didn't know the myths.

Definitely a fun book. I will have to reread Beauty sometime (as it has been years since I've read that book) and see how it compares!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Jinx by Meg Cabot

iconiconI can't remember how I heard about Jinx — that's how long I had it out from the library before finally getting around to reading it — but I had read some Meg Cabot before... Nothing that has been turned into movies, though.

Jinx was a short but entertaining read. The book is about witchcraft, in the spirit of the TV show Charmed and the movie The Craft. However, I liked this take on it much better. It's typical Meg Cabot in that at the end, everything gets tied up in a neat and tidy bow, but it was also very satisfying.

Recommended if you need a short mental vacation for an afternoon or an evening!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

iconiconA few weeks ago, my husband and I watched the movie Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Dayicon, a hysterically funny British film about a middle-aged governess who stumbles into a nightclub singer's relationship crisis, and spends twenty-four hours in a world of parties, nightclubs, drugs, and sex.

After the movie, I watched one of the special features, and discovered the film was based on a book that was published in the late 1930s. The short video had a lot of interesting information on the book's publishing history and the author, who apparently was quite the businesswoman when it came to her writing. (She was quite ambitious about marketing Miss Pettigrew, and sold the movie rights to the book three times during her life.)

I was quite delighted to find the book much the same as the movie — a few differences in characters and scenes, but nothing major. Most importantly, the book had the same quick wit and hilarious dialogue that makes the movie so delightful.

Because so much of this book is dialogue, it is a fairly quick read. This is one of those rare cases where I think watching the movie first was a good thing — the movie is that true to the spirit of the book, and I think the movie is more fun when you don't know what is going to happen next!