Archive | March, 2011

Should Be Reading: WWW Wednesdays (2)

16 Mar

Since I haven’t finished many books lately, I haven’t had much to blog about. I want to remain in the habit of blogging about my reading habits – I’ve found it a very helpful practice so far. This year, I have read more than I have in previous years, and it’s been fun to track my reading on this blog.

In an effort to remain in the habit of blogging, I thought I’d respond to the Should Be Reading prompt again. This prompt asks: What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you think you’ll read next?

In my last post, I wrote about An Assembly Such as This by Pamela Aidan. I enjoyed being able to re-experience Pride and Prejudice through the eyes of Mr. Darcy. While I was not swept away with this book as I am with the writing of Jane Austen, it was an enjoyable read focused on an intriguing character.

I am so excited about the book I am currently reading! I just started The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck to fulfill my first book for Dana Huff’s reading challenge. When I entered this challenge, I shamefully admitted that I have never read any of Steinbeck’s works. Now that I have settled into The Grapes of Wrath I am even more ashamed … seriously, how have I not read this book before!? I have been missing out! Though I have just started, I am already enamored of Steinbeck’s lyrical writing style. His descriptions of Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl are richly poetic. From the very first chapter, Steinbeck’s portrayal of the withering landscape and disheartened farmers pierces my heart: “The people came out of their houses and smelled the hot stinging air and covered their noses from it … The men were silent and they did not move often. And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men – to feel whether this time the men would break … The children sent exploring senses out to see whether men and women would break” (3). Wow! After reading this description, I discovered that I cared for the characters even before Steinbeck introduced them. I suspect that this book will take me a while to get through as I am savoring each page.

I’m not sure what I plan to read next. I have an ever-growing stack of books I plan to read, but no plans yet. If it takes me a while to finish The Grapes of Wrath, I will likely choose a shorter book next time.

Re-Experiencing Pride and Prejudice

15 Mar

Whew! It’s been a busy few weeks. Between parent-teacher conferences and grading, I’ve had very little time to devote to reading. Yesterday I finished An Assembly Such as This by Pamela Aidan, the first book in the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series. I mentioned in a previous post that I am usually hesitant to read “knock-offs” – books that are based on the plot and characters of other bestsellers. As Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, I was especially nervous to read a spin-off based on her novels. And, boy, do the Jane Austen spin-offs abound! Despite my hesitation, I believe that Pamela Aidan’s novel helped to quell my disdain for literary sequels.

In An Assembly Such as This, Pamela Aidan tells the story of Pride and Prejudice through the eyes of Mr. Darcy. The story begins as Mr. Darcy guides his friend, Mr. Bingley, through the complicated world of property ownership. As in Austen’s novel, Darcy is introduced to Elizabeth Bennet while visiting Netherfield. At first, Darcy resists the forced liaison with the Bennets; as an eligible bachelor he seeks to avoid the scheming of zealous mothers with marriageable daughters. But no matter how hard he tries, Darcy cannot force Elizabeth from his thoughts. Following the storyline of Pride and Prejudice, Pamela Aidan gives us a satisfying glimpse into Fitzwilliam Darcy’s world.

My favorite aspect of this novel was that it gave me an opportunity to “re-experience” Pride and Prejudice. I have reread Austen’s book several times, but I never tire of it. Aidan’s spin-off let me relive the introduction of Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet. Aidan’s interpretation did not provide the wit and sarcasm I so enjoy in Pride and Prejudice; however, I suspect that can be attributed to the story’s focus on Mr. Darcy’s much more serious demeanor. I read this book based on a friend’s recommendation. While I did not enjoy it as much as my friend did, An Assembly Such as This was an enjoyable read – and a satisfying remedy for spin-off-phobia.

To Nook or Not to Nook?

8 Mar

When my husband first mentioned the idea of getting a Nook, I was very hesitant. After all, I have always enjoyed the reading experience. I love the way certain fonts look on a page. I love underlining sentences in a book that I wish I could claim as my own. I love folding the corners of pages that grab me, just so I can reread them over and over again (yes, I’m a page-folder). How could an e-reader even come close to replicating this experience?

Well, my husband surprised me with a Nook just after Christmas this year. I think it was his way of trying to lure me into the technological world. He does everything online, while I usually use more “old-fashioned” methods. As he handed me the Nook, I could just imagine him saying, “See? This is a book and it’s technology. Not so bad, huh?” And … he was RIGHT! I really enjoy reading e-books, much to my surprise.

Yesterday I discovered an interesting  link to a cartoon through Dana Huff’s blog. The cartoonist uses Matilda, a popular children’s book character, to decry the use of e-readers. In the cartoon, Kindle and Nook users are depicted as easily-distracted individuals who are  “swindled” into purchasing e-readers simply because they must accumulate technology. In addition, e-book readers are portrayed as unimaginative people who have lost the ability to use context clues to denote the meaning of unfamiliar words. Pretty bleak viewpoint of those who choose to read with a Nook or Kindle, huh?

I found myself frustrated with this cartoon for several reasons. First, people should be free to read in whatever mode they want without being criticized by others. I find this point to be especially true in my work as an 8th grade Language Arts teacher. I teach students who are part of the Facebook generation. At any given point in the day, most of my students are using multiple forms of technology – iPod, laptop, video game consoles, etc. Many of my students have also begun using e-readers. I’m not going to prevent my students from reading e-books – a form of technology they are comfortable with – simply because I have a preference for pieces of paper bound between cardboard covers. And I certainly don’t think they are intellectually inferior because of their electronic reading habits.

In addition, the portrayal of Nook and Kindle users as unimaginative “dim-wits” is unfounded. Yes, there are interactive children’s books that can be purchased for e-readers. And, yes, these children’s books can shaken, jiggled, and swiped to elicit a reaction. But I doubt this is the standard literary fare of most e-book owners. For example, I just finished Persuasion by Jane Austen. If I were to check out this novel from my local library, the text would be exactly the same as the version I read on my Nook. Therefore, since both print and electronic texts are the same, it is safe to say that an electronic version of a novel requires just as much imagination as a paperback copy.

Finally, what’s wrong with using the double-tap feature to define an unfamiliar word? Yes, it is often possible to use context clues to ascertain a word’s meaning. But sometimes context clues are not enough. As a teacher, that’s when I ask my students to consult a dictionary. I suppose double-tapping the screen of an e-reader is easier than looking up a definition in a dictionary, but isn’t the effect the same?

If you would have asked me for my opinion of Nooks and Kindles just one year ago, I would have smiled and said, “E-readers? I suppose they’re good for some people. But I prefer paper-and-ink books myself.” My, how the times change! And I suppose it’s our responsibility to keep up with them.


3 Mar

There are a few things I never do. I never refuse chocolate. Ever. I never travel anywhere without a camera, especially now that I have a baby. And I am never without a good book.

Well, except for now.

I haven’t wanted to read lately. I started a couple books that seemed interesting – including a Pride and Prejudice spin-off that reads like literary cotton candy, light and sweet. But I lost interest in these books shortly after beginning. Highly unusual. So what’s the deal? I’m sure the fact that it’s conference week at my school contributes to my reading dilemma – my spare time is at a premium. But I think the more likely reason is that I just finished reading a string of great books – the Hunger Games trilogy and Jane Austen’s Persuasion among them. After so many good reads, it’s difficult to find a book that “fits.” So … for now … I’m taking a short literary break. But I have a steadily growing pile of Must-Reads to pick up after conference week.

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