Monday, February 26, 2007

February's Reading: Classics, Kids, Cows & Commas

I read slightly over 7 books this month. I don't think I'll finish book #8 before the end of this short month. My current read is Andersonville, by MacKinlay Kantor, 766 pages, and I'm only 200 in. Engrossing,with good writing and excellent research, but I sure do miss the quotation marks. Was there/is there a school of literary thought that says a book is really deep and serious if it doesn't use quotation marks? Perhaps because of the gravity of his subject matter, Kantor wanted the reader to struggle optically while reading about the way those poor Yankee prisoners struggled under the unspeakable conditions at the notorious Civil War POW camp.

The books I finished were:
A Pound Of Paper -John Baxter Baxter discusses, in a non-linear fashion, his lifelong love of books. His upbringing in a small town in Australia during the 1940s and 50s sounds so much like Larry McMurtry's description of growing up in Archer City, Texas, with never enough books. When he was a young man, he was heavily into science fiction fandom, and for a few years, he was obsessive about collecting Graham Greene's work. Sometimes his writing seems a little disorganized, and there's a lot of name-dropping, but since it's all book-related, I not only forgave it, but I actually sat up and leaned forward so I wouldn't miss a single word. I cheered at what is a bookworm's version of a happy ending: After living in Paris for years and years, Baxter finally sends for the books he's had in storage in England and Australia, and for the first time in his life, got his complete library under one roof.

Shirley - Charlotte Bronte I already wrote about this novel in another blog entry. The next one in the Bronte queue is The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.

Gilgamesh -Joan London I also wrote about this novel in another blog entry. I meant to add that in Gilgamesh, the books Jim read growing up in his small town in Western Australia were similar to John Baxter's early reading in A Pound Of Paper. Another reviewer wrote that this book has a quiet and shy voice, much like Edith's. True, but don't let that fool you-- it packs a punch and it's a classic-in-the-making.

Captain Underpants And The Perilous Plot Of Professor Poopypants -Dav Pilkey
Captain Underpants And The Invasion Of The Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies From Outer Space... - Dav Pilkey These books were so silly. I loved them! It takes me back to when any variation on semi-naughty words like booger, snot, pee, poop would have me rolling on the floor in hysterics. I'm also reminded of the "secret" club my brother organized in first grade with 2 of his friends and their "secret" club names were items of ladies' underwear: my brother was "Pantyhose". Anyway, the books were a quick, easy read, good for a couple of belly laughs, and I even love the cheesy "Flip-O-Rama" pages. After finishing the books, I headed over to Dav Pilkey's website, which is also gleefully fun and surprisingly informative.

All Creatures Great And Small -James Herriot I enjoyed reading the first in the series, for I finally learned how James came to Yorkshire, his initial meetings with his eccentric boss, Siegfried Farnon and Siegfried's party-boy and reluctant vet student brother, Tristan, and how James met, courted and married Helen. And of course, there's all those animals and their owners.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves -Lynn Truss Even as an English teacher, I didn't think a book about punctuation could be so much fun. Truss begins by railing against the misuse of the apostrophe. I was really surprised that they misuse it in England! (I guess it's the accent; they sound smarter than Americans, so I just always automatically assume they are!) Truss has a funny ancecdote about one greengrocer who does it on purpose just to get people to come in and complain so he can talk them into buying something. Then, it's onto the comma, and a description of ongoing fights between James Thurber and New Yorker editor Harold Ross on how it should be used. Truss regularly trots out Gertrude Stein who found fault with all punctuation. Truss finally asks in an exasperated aside: "Don't you get the feeling that there was something terribly wrong at home?" George Bernard Shaw also makes an appearance or two -- full of crochets about all the different marks, but also packing them into the lines in his plays so the actors can't put their own spin on the dialog he's written. I also discovered the interrobang, which I don't think I can demonstrate on a computer. The interrobang --interro = question and bang = printer's slang for the exclamation point -- is a question mark and an exclamation point on top of each other. Surprisingly, it doesn't seem to have caught on. It's a little sad, but if it were in use, it would also be in misuse, and being abused to beat the band. Really fun book. I'm charmed with the little punctuation repair kit in the front and the back of the book. Too bad there's not enough quote marks to cover Andersonville.

Well, it's back to work next week. Where have these 6 weeks gone? I guess I should feel refreshed and ready to go back and teach, but that'll take some doing. I'm gonna miss my free time; I'm gonna miss it like hell.


SuziQoregon said...

I love the Captain Underpants books :-) Such fun.

kookie said...

I started buying the Captain Underpants books for my son when he was younger, now he is almost 17, and I buy them just for me! I also have a Captain Underpants lunch bag that I always take with me to the zoo. I'm 12 on the inside.

Isabella K said...

I can't bring myself to read the Truss book because I can't get past the fact that "zero tolerance" (as an adjective) isn't hyphenated.

kookie said...

According to, there is no hyphen in the phrase 'zero tolerance'.

Bybee said...

I think "zero tolerance" just cries out for a hyphen.

Les said...

My hubby loved this book (what editor wouldn't?) and it's in my stack for reading this year! Probably for the nonfiction challenge.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to add A Pound of Paper to my wishlist - sounds right up my alley!

And I loved Eats, Shoots and Leaves. I'm a bit of a grammar-nazi myself, so it was like reading the words of a kindred spirit, and funny to boot! Two of my biggest pet peeves in this area are the multiple exclamation points!!!! And when I see signs that have words purposely misspelled (like Kozy Kitchen). Argh!

BabelBabe said...

I HATED Eats, Shoots, and Leaves and I used to be an editor.
Anyhoo...what I really wanted to say was that my 6-year-old totally digs Capt Underpants and so do I, and I am relieved to find another adult who thinks they are funny, too.

Sycorax Pine said...

We are having a very similar conversation about quotation marks over at the New York Times Notable Books blog!

I am also very glad to read your thoughts on "A Pound of Paper" and "Gilgamesh," since I am always on the lookout for books for my "Year of Down Under." "Gilgamesh" is one that is already sitting on my shelf, and after reading your review I think I may move it up my TBR list!