Sunday, June 08, 2014

7 Sunday Reading Ruminations

1. I'll read whatever I want, and that includes Children's Literature and Young Adult books.  No embarrassment here.  It's true that I could hide behind my job (...just looking these over in case one of my students asks me to recommend something good with a manageable English level, heh heh...) but that's not necessary.  You see, I worked this all out back in 1993 after I read Ramona Forever and my spouse suggested that it was not eligible for my reading journal because it was a children's book.  I chewed on that for a couple of days, then entered it, defiantly pressing down with my pen.

2. Speaking of Children's Literature, I don't remember the nonfiction of my childhood --except for biographies-- being as captivating as the juvenile nonfiction I see these days. A fine example is a 2001 book I just finished reading. It's called Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850.  The book is beautifully researched, and the author, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, writes intelligently and not down to her intended audience.  Black Potatoes weighs in at 192 pages and there's not a word wasted nor did I feel skimped on information. 

3. I love and am so grateful for The Busan English Library, but one drawback is that graphic novels can't be checked out.  Initially, I chafed at this, but now I've turned it around and used it to carve out quality time at my library.  I grab a graphic novel, grab a table by a window in the Orange section (Adults) and sit down and read the whole thing.  This interlude has proved to be so pleasant that I wouldn't take a graphic novel home even if they suddenly reversed their policy.

4. Speaking of orange, I finally got on board and started watching Season 1 of Orange Is The New Black. Everyone was right.  It is good.  Piper Kerman's book is still fairly fresh in my mind, but I have plans to reread it and compare it with Brother One Cell by Cullen Thomas, a prison memoir about a young teacher who got busted for attempted drug smuggling in South Korea.

5. After Maya Angelou died, I decided to reread I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  While reading, I realized that I had never read the whole book -- only excerpts. Hypnotized by her writing voice, I quickly moved on to her next book, Gather Together in My Name, which covers the next three years of her life.  My new goal for 2014 is to read all the memoirs.  One thing about Maya Angelou:  She was not afraid to look the facts of her life calmly in the face and relate them, even the most cringeworthy ones.  A lesson for us all.

6. I always notice what people, both factual and fictional, are reading, and Maya Angelou was no exception.  In her late teens, she developed an appreciation for Dostoevsky, but she also mentioned a writer named Ann Petry in passing.  The name rang a bell.  Petry was the author of a children's novel called Tituba of Salem Village, which was based on the Salem witch trials.  Petry was also the author of a novel for adults called The Street.  Published in 1946, it was the first novel by an African-American female writer to sell more than a million copies.  I found a copy of The Street at the BEL and started reading it yesterday.  Petry isn't as gritty as Richard Wright, but she is unflinching.  Major book score. I'm never quite so happy as when I discover a new 1940s American novel.

7. Another author I discovered while roaming through the stacks at the BEL is Wright Morris.  His 1980 novel, Plains Song: For Female Voices is a beautifully laconic narrative featuring three generations of Nebraska women.  I was intrigued with the way Morris "mixed" the novel.  The high notes, the dramatic moments were layered deep, almost buried in the story.  Another interesting thing is the way he plays with time.  It seems to stand still or move excruciatingly slow, then unexpectedly, it speeds up, and a decade or more passes in just a paragraph or two.  Plains Song is illustrated with one photograph that appears at the beginning of each chapter.  It's an odd but fitting choice that enhances the atmosphere of the story and nearly becomes a character.  This is the most authentically Midwestern novel I've ever read.


Faith said...

Actually, I have a question. I'm looking for books for a 23 year old Hispanic woman whom I'm tutoring as she works toward earning her GED. She reads at a 4.5 grade level (she dropped out of school at the 9th grade - go figure.) Finding books that are not too childish (so as to be insulting), yet are simple, interesting, and horizon-expanding. I'm thinking of the Laura Ingals Wilder series - do you have any advice or suggestions? THANKS!!

Bybee said...

You can never go wrong with Laura! I'd also go with some juvenile nonfiction -- no joke, this is the renaissance for that genre! I also like those D-K biographies written for 7-12 grade level, illustrated with photos. Also, check into what her hobbies are or celebrities she likes and see if you can find related material. ESL stuff for adults is good because the graded language but mature topics. Hope this helps!

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Hey! I finally started watching OITNB this weekend also. I got tired of everyone on my Facebook feed talking about it and me not knowing what they were on about. It IS good. I'm excited for Piper to fade into the background a little bit as the season wears on -- she's by far the least interesting character to me.

Bybee said...

I'm only on Season 1 Ep 2, and I want to get to know the other characters better.

Lark said...

I unapologetically read children's fiction and YA fiction, too. I like a good mix of books from the classics to the kids section. Good books are good books, after all, whatever the age. Great post.