Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Square Foot Gardening - Mel Bartholomew

This is our handbook for gardening, and we pulled it out again as we started building up our garden in our new yard - which, with the hard work of Kenyon and my dad, may now be just sunny enough to grow a few things. The peas, beans, and romaine I've planted have sprouted, and the lettuce we transplanted seems to be doing well.

Mel is a civil engineer who came up with the square foot gardening technique to make gardening more efficient. It's a rather fool-proof method of gardening that anyone can do, as evidenced by the fact that I've been able to do it. The keys are the contained, manageable space that means fewer materials and less work. The book is easy to use and informative whether you're an advanced gardener or just starting out, and I understand there's a newer version available! I might just have to check that out.

The author introducing the concept:

Frequently Asked Questions:

Reaper Man - Terry Pratchett

One of the better Pratchett novels; I think this was written when he was really getting into his swing, as it references his fun children's (or is it YA?) book, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, several times, and was followed by Night Watch, which I think I remember as one of my favorites. The Anthropomorphic Personification of Death is being forced into retirement for becoming too human-like, which leaves Death (in his newly assumed identity fieldhand Bill Door) facing death and causes problems all over Discworld. I sometimes wonder what it means that I was so able to enjoy a book in which one of the protagonists ("Windle Poons," the zombie of a recently-departed 130-year-old wizard) has to face an infestation of the dreaded parasite, the shopping mall, which in this case is an actual life form.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote

I've read Breakfast at Tiffany's before, I'm sure of it. I didn't remember too much of the details that differed from the movie, and I'm wondering how much of that was innocence the first time I read it. First published in the 1950's, the topics covered in the book are still on the far side of the line - promiscuity, drugs, crime, lesbianism, etc.

Rereading the book, the thing that strikes me the most is how poorly the movie captures the main character. I know, it's practically blasphemy suggesting that Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly is anything less than iconic, but really I think she very poorly portrayed the character as written by Capote. The second thing that comes to mind is the narrator-character, who has a fairly limited scope on the action and is not really central to the story. I'm reminded of The Great Gatsby, and this takes the whole outsider-looking-in theme a step farther - I'm fairly certain we never even learn the narrator's name. I'm tempted to write about how the approach affects the pace of the story and character development, but let's face it - it's midnight, and high school English was a long time ago. :) It's well written, even if, like Water for Elephants, a bit sensationalist. I think the books I admire the most are just as deep and fascinating without resorting to shock value.

Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

This was a fun book to read - I enjoyed the contrast between an elderly man's drifting focus on the minutiae that's left to his life (buttoning his shirt and trying to remember the name of his favorite nurse at the nursing home he's in) and his far more vivid memories of his scandal-filled days as a circus veterinarian. It was certainly entertaining (the author drew on the collective facts and anecdotes of the entire train-circus world and actually includes photographs taken from various circuses) and fact filled (she did a lot of research on elephant and other circus animals, and they are fully fleshed characters in her story). However, it also contains some scarringly graphic scenes that preclude me from recommending this to anybody whose soul I value. It seriously took me weeks to get over those scenes. *shudder*

Pretties - Scott Westerfield

Finally got book two! His books are funny - they're fast paced and small-scoped, but wordy so that it takes several hundred pages to cover what is essentially a matter of days, with the occasional skimmed week. I find myself reading them in one chunk (or, rather, "one" chunk, which means throughout the day), which makes sense for how much get covered in the book but is also inevitably more time consuming than I realize or plan for. In other news...yeah, I want a hoverboard.

I also read the first couple of books of his Midnighters series. They're cute enough, but his books do tend to somewhat glamorize dangerous teenage tendencies, such as cutting in Pretties and goth self-importance in Midnighters.

The Merlin Conspiracy and Mixed Magics - Diana Wynne Jones

I've got a lot to catch up on, so things are going to be out of order for a bit. I find myself putting off blogging about the most interesting books I'm reading, simply because I want to give them more than my usual "eh, it was ok" summary.

In her little book jacket bio, it claims Ms. Jones tries to say something different in each of her books, and it shows. Thematically and structurally, there's little that's formulaic in her writings. It's both good and bad - there's so much variety in her writings, that even though she has certain tendencies that pop up (such as giving her characters romantic relationships without doing much more than hinting at them), you can never be sure what you're getting into with one of her books.

The Merlin Conspiracy has dual narrators, telling what at first seem to be unrelated tales, in alternating sections. I think I see what she was going for, as she gradually intertwines the two plots and character sets, but it does leave the beginning quite disjointed. Aspects felt a little weak, but as always the world she created was fantastical and realistic at the same time. In some fantasies, everything is neat and clean and the magic is easy once you've got the hang of it, and I enjoy her realism and complexity. For example, in one of her worlds, the king of England travels constantly with his entire court and the Merlin (the head magical honcho). The result of this is that there are hundreds of people who live in an enormous caravan. One of the narrators is the child of a couple of magical courtiers and lives with the busloads of other children trailing the busloads and limosines of the important people trailing the king, and you get a view of all the behind the scenes dust. Overall, I think most of what she did worked.

Mixed Magics is an anthology of short stories with one of her early, previously unpublished novellas. Some of the stories were entertaining and fun, but the greater value of the book was the insight it gave into her writing process. The novella was especially interesting, because her writing style was very similar to her later work, but the characters were less dimensional and real and the story wasn't fleshed out the way it would have been in other of her works.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More Diana Wynne Jones and a Bunch of Gail Carson Levine

First off, Hexwood, by Jones, was bizarre. It's fairly non-linear, especially (deliberately) in the beginning. Kenyon couldn't have stomached it. The main character turns out to be someone completely different than she appears at first, medieval legends like Merlin and Arthur are resurrected (literally), and it's all set in a little British village in the 90's. ODD. Kinda got it in the end, though.

I was thinking about Hale's revamped fairy tales and remembered Gail Carson Levine, whose main schtick is exactly that. So, I checked out nearly every book she's written and have been picking them off over the last week or two. Her books are for children and so even easier to swallow than the YA stuff I've been downing. I've got a problem putting a book down once I'm into it - I like experiencing it in one piece, plus I'm all about the instant gratification apparently. And it always takes rereading a sentence or two to get back into it. Since I have to read in stolen minutes these days, this is a big problem when I try to read Steinbeck or Faulkner, but not a big deal with Levine's The Princess Tales series. They take me about an hour total, so Allison could probably finish one in about 15 minutes. :) They're sweet little bites of fluff, silly and absurd but cute, and they were especially nice while the kids were sick with a stomach virus. I'm reading The Princess Test, based on the Princess and the Pea, to Clara out loud, and she seems to be enjoying it for the most part.

I also read GCL's Dave at Night, which was about a young Jewish boy who's orphaned in the 20s. It reminded me of, or rather about, My Name is Asher Lev, which is a fantastic book by Chaim Potok and is also about a Jewish boy who aspires to become an artist. Overall, Dave at Night was OK, but not as good as Ella Enchanted, which I first read when working in a fifth grade classroom and reread this week. It has a lot more depth than some of the author's other works, while maintaining the whimsy. It has very little in common with the terrible movie adaptation, in case you were wondering. I recommend it. Updated 3-26-09: Kenyon read Ella Enchanted and liked it so well he bought a copy and is loaning it to coworkers. His imperious command when I mentioned I was going to the library (or mentioned a book I was reading or something): "Bring me more books like Ella." Ha! Seriously, it's good.