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Summer Reading Round-Up

September 26, 2013 in American Authors, American literature, Book Review, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Summer Reading

I had an interesting start to LT’s Summer Reading Challenge. I was already immersed in two books from our extensive Summer Reading List (Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick and MT Anderson’s Feed) when the Challenge list was ultimately decided. Neither of these books made the list. Nevertheless, I vowed to finish them both and at least one or two of the challenge list books by the end of summer.

Once Labor Day, the unofficial end of the season has passed, I decided to continue this pursuit until the technical end of summer, which gave me until September 21st. And I needed the extra couple of weeks. Amazing, isn’t it, how one day you can be on such a roll, laying on the beach and reading for hours at a time, tearing through chapters, and then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, some form of “life” happens and the book gets stuffed in the bottom of your bag, not to see the light of day or reading lamp for weeks. This is what happened to me and why I am failing the summer reading list challenge. I lost momentum.

I like to read two books at once. I like one hard copy (NO, not an e-book, an actual book with paper and a cover and pages you can flip) for the beach and the outdoors, and one audio book for the car. I don’t usually get the stories mixed up, and I don’t find it difficult to follow two stories at once. But there is a significant difference in the amount of quality reading I can partake in at the beach versus in the car. The beach is for my reading the legal equivalent of what steroids are for a workout. With open space, the white noise of waves lapping at the shore, and the feeling of the sun warming my back, there is little distraction other than the occasional nap. In the car, on the other hand, there is many a distraction. A phone call, being late for work, a traffic jam, an interesting talk radio show, a favorite song (or that terrible one you can’t stop singing), all can cause my focus and my “reading” to slack severely.

That being said, I chose to listen to Moby Dick on Audio. Why? Because it’s free on the Audiobooks app and I had never read it before. Because I thought driving while consuming classic literature was a great use of multitasking abilities. And after the wonderful Charlotte Bronte Audiobooks experience, it seemed like a great idea. Now, only at chapter 89 of 136, I am starting to think I’ll need to double up, with an e-book and audiobook, if I’m to finish this before summer’s end…or before year’s end. To add insult to injury, this book is not even on the Summer Reading Challenge that I agreed to partake in.

Not to worry, though. In the meantime, while Moby Dick is snailing along, I read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises for the first time. I completed the first half of the book in a day or two but then, after the aforementioned “life” experiences—weddings, weekends away, moving—I lost steam and took about three weeks to finish the remaining half. I’m a newcomer to Hemingway, having only read a book of short stories by the prolific author, so I was excited to get started and to experience the magic of Hemingway for myself. His style of writing, at once beautiful and yet simple and straightforward, makes one question how something so skillful can appear so effortless. The content of the stories, the places and well-developed but never cartoony characters, make one question whether her own limited life experience could ever warrant great writing. I won’t get too far into summary or review, but The Sun Also Rises was a long-anticipated journey into the world of Hemingway; one which I will be making again.

After the sun also rose and set, I dove into a book from our “fantasy” genre, E.B. Hudspeth’s The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black. When I say “dove in,” I mean that I am still swimming (and floating) in the sea of quirky darkness that is The Resurrectionist. A tumbler of scandal, science and docu-bio unveilings, this book has left me scratching my head wondering whether it’s fact or fiction. Seems too strange to be either. I’m midway through Dr. Black’s story, and I’m looking forward to getting to the good stuff. I’ll also be checking out the second volume of the book, an encyclopedia-esque index of sketches depicting mythical creatures and hair-raising skeletal structures thought, by Dr. Black, to be early descendants of humans. Just creepy enough to be interesting, but not enough to cause sleeplessness.

By the end of “summer” I hope to have finished four books from the LT Summer Reading list, two of which are LT Summer Reading Challenge books. Not to be mistaken for an overachiever, I’ve got a long way to go.

LT Summer Reading Challenge: An Alien Genre

August 5, 2013 in Fiction, Film, Science Fiction, Summer Reading

The genre of science fiction, although quite popular among many readers, had until recently remained relatively foreign to me. I had nothing against it, but the subject never seemed to grab my attention. However, despite all protests, my fellow bookworms held tenaciously to their predilections for the oddities that science fiction offers. So, under the influence of others and with the excuse of the LT Summer Reading Challenge, I proved amenable to a change; I delved into the depths of the incongruous as I began Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, surrendering to the vast sea of genres before me. Ender’s Game is only one of two science fiction novels that I have ever read, and I am pleased to say that I am effusive in my praise of the novel, as it was extremely entertaining and endlessly thought provoking.

Card’s novel proved to exceed my uninitiated understanding of the genre, as I imagined the stereotypical Sci-Fi narrative centered around aliens and spacecrafts. In fact, I found that the story ignited many ponderings about deep philosophical questions. For example, one of the main themes that Card toys with is the notion that humans are merely parts to a much greater entity. This makes acts like betrayal or manipulation justifiable under the condition that they benefit this greater being or purpose we humans are serving. Under this idea, we, as individuals, become somewhat valueless. At the end of Ender’s Game, Card confirms that this manipulation is inescapable, for even Ender’s sister slightly manipulates Ender at the end of the book. She argues that he must help her save the “buggers,” and that if he doesn’t, he will simply be following the path set for him by someone else. Therefore, although Ender does end up living his life happily and by his own volition, I was left  with the big question: is Ender really free, or is he merely being used as a tool for a different purpose? And if he is in fact being used, is he free as long as he is happy?

It’s no wonder that Card’s story is considered by many to be among the best Sci-Fi novels ever written. He has a way of effortlessly combining action and adventure with an emotional, moving plot and relatable characters. There is also a flawless balance between fiction and reality throughout Ender’s quest to save the world. For example, the games he plays are fictitious simulation exercises, yet there are often realistic components involved that many readers can easily relate to, such as bullying. In this way, Card is careful to prevent readers from forgetting that Ender is not simply the typical Sci-Fi hero with superhuman strength and intelligence, but a little boy with feelings.

Card has opened my eyes to the potential of the science fiction novel, its limits vanishing along with any previous misconceptions I once had. I will be sure to branch out from my usual book choices to explore other inventive worlds. With high hopes and expectations, I move on to my next journey.

Summer Reading: Asking Teens to ‘Own the Night’

May 23, 2012 in Literary News, Summer Fun, Summer Reading, YA Fiction

It seems like everyone feels nostalgia for school days-past during this fateful time leading into June. A time when we were given that final homework assignment: Summer Reading. Either a daunting or exciting task, depending on the student. For some kids it was an albatross preventing them from fully enjoying their summer camp adventures; for others, like me, it was a task just to wait to see which books were chosen. I would run to the local bookstore where the summer reading lists from nearby schools were displayed at the front of the store. I am not saying I always loved every book that was chosen, but reading each one was like unwrapping a present to find out what was inside. Some were the equivalent of a style sweater you would never wear, but you just had to open it to find out!

I’m interested in what “the kids” are reading “these days”. I pay attention partly out of curiosity and partly to get in ahead of the curve. After all, with the popularity among adults of young adult fiction such as Twilight and The Hunger Games, it seems that, for better or worse, teen readers are on to something.

This year, the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP), in affiliation with libraries across the country, is giving teenagers an opportunity to ‘Own the Night.’ While students may not be able to avoid that assigned copy of To Kill a Mockingbird (C’mon guys, just give it a chance!), they can also be part of a program designed to encourage leisure reading in teens and young adults. The program is nationwide and a Google search of “Own the Night Summer Reading” pulls up library websites from Albuquerque to Boston and everywhere in between. While each library system is putting its own spin on the program to garner interest, the basic plan is the same:

The program runs roughly from June until August, targeting students entering grades 6-12, with a list of contemporary books involving creatures of the ‘night,’ including tales of zombies, vampires and other fantastical dystopian adventures. Books vary by library and different libraries are offering different incentives for participating.

The J.V. Fletcher Library in Westford, Massachusetts is offering raffle tickets in exchange for reading log entries; the more you read, the more chances you have to win prizes such as movie passes and gift certificates. The Jasper County Public Library in Indiana is offering cold hard cash with its “Books for Bucks” theme. The Gaston County Public Library in North Carolina is expanding its program to include a multitude of events: games, crafts and movie nights, as well as a “Gruesome Gala” where teens can dress as their favorite creature of the ‘night.’

With so many locations participating, make sure to check out your local library’s website for more information and don’t forget to pass the word along to the teenagers in your life. There are similar programs for younger children and adults as well. The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer and there is nothing quite like the joy of sitting in the sun with a good book. Whether you are a fan of the classics or in the mood for fifty shades of guilty pleasure, remember, summer reading doesn’t end with graduation. Whether you’re traveling to exotic places or venturing no further than your back porch, pick up a book and enjoy the trip.

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