Thursday, September 13, 2007

Some of the Items I Read This Summer

Summer is not, of course, officially over, but with school now in it's third week of our new year, it feels like fall has already arrived. Today, for the first time this season, it was actually chilly in the morning. To be truthful, the bite in the air was refreshing. Still, I think of the summer now lost and my accomplishments over the past few months.

This year I achieved my summer resolution ~ to rest. I had not been feeling well at the end of the school year, and I vowed that I was going to spend the greater part of my summer lying on my bed or my glider with my feet up. An added benefit of all the time I spent on my backside is that I read a lot of books and caught up on months of backlogged periodicals. Here is a report of what I read.

The Higher Power of Lucky. This title was the recipient of the 2007 John Newbery Medal. The story begins with so much promise: twelve year-old Lucky she is employed to clean up after the many twelve steps meetings that are held in a local restaurant. As she waits for the meetings to adjourn she eavesdrops on the members as they tell their stories of downfall and redemption by a higher power. Lucky, a motherless child being cared for by her father’s French ex-wife, desperately wants to find her Higher Power. In my opinion the characters in this book were never fully developed, and the resolution was way too easy. I was disappointed when I finished reading this story. If I were to recommend this book to any age group, it would be for fourth and fifth graders.

So Totally Emily Ebers. I liked this book. I totally understood Emily, a twelve year-old girl whose mother divorces her father and forces Emily to move to a new community across the country. She is sad, angry, hurt, and yet hopeful that her old house will not be sold and her parents will realize their mistake and reconcile. Ultimately she will be disappointed but will come to accept this fact of life. Her mother decides she and Emily should be friends and asks to be called by her first name. Emily is totally embarrassed by her non-mother- like, hippie mother, and she is enraged when her mother makes her join a volleyball league. Joining the team brings Emily in contact with two new friends and with the cool, trendy kids she would like to befriend. Throughout the course of the story, Emily learns a lot about love, friendship, and that people are not always what they seem. I recommend this book for fifth grade and up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I read this book twice. The first time through I read it for the purpose of finding out what happened to Harry and his friends. I read the book the second time to get a deeper appreciation of the writing and plot development. I remain in awe of J.K. Rowling’s genius. I will not write a spoiler here, but I will say that this book is not for a child who has not followed the series from The Sorcerer’s Stone through The Half-Blood Prince. This is not, as a stand-alone work, a children’s book. It is a worthy, satisfying read. I would highly recommend it for those who have read the first six books. But I am sure you have already read it anyway!

The White Man’s Burden - This was probably the second most thought-provoking book I read this summer. William Easterly's premise is that the West donates billions of dollars each year to developing countries around the world, but those donations have limited impact on the lives of the intended recipients. The main problem, Easterly contends, is that the West tends to superimpose its ideals of what the Rest needs rather than involve intended recipients in determining need.

Full Frontal Feminism - Many of today's young women are shying away from identifying themselves as feminist. The author of this book contends that many of these same young women are indeed invested in feminist ideals, such as equality of sexes or access to birth control, but refuse the label because of the negative conotations of the word. My own daughter, who is perhaps the most vocal woman I know when it comes to issues of fairness and equality, rejects the feminist label. The author contends women should proudly label themselves as feminists and enjoy all it stands for.

The Mysterious Benedict Society - Many bright children assembled to take a series of challenging tests but only four children were chosen to be members of the ultrasecret Benedict Society. Strangely, all four of the children have no adults in their lives. Remy and Constance are orphans; Kate's mother is dead, and her father deserted her when she was two; Sticky is a runaway. Together these four have been chosen to overthrow an evil mastermind who plans to take over the world.

Freakonomics - According to this book's premise, economics can explain almost everything. A major focus of this short book is how incentives affect human behavior. I found this book insightful in several ways. One scenario I found interesting was that in Egypt, a day care center began fining parents who arrived late to pick up their children. The outcome? More parents became tardy. The presence of a fine system gave parents permission to pick their children up late, since they would pay for it. Other interesting case studies include an economist who spent several years observing gang/drug dealer behavior. I would recommend this book for someone seeking a layman's introduction to incentives.

Rules - Catherine is trying hard to be a normal kid with a normal life, even though she has much responsibility for her younger, autistic brother. To help her brother cope, Catherine makes rules to help him in various situations. A gifted artist, she makes pictures for the word book of a nonverbal parapelegic boy she has befriended. Little does she realize she will learn as much from him as he will from her.
This was a 2006 Newbery Honor Book. I liked it so much better the Higher Power of Lucky. The characters were much more fully drawn and believable. This book is on the 2007-2008 West Virginia Book Award list. I highly recommend it.

Perfectly Plum: An Unauthorized Celebration of the Life, Loves and Other Disasters of Stephanie Plum, Trenton Bounty Hunter - For fans of Janet Evanovich's fiesty heroine, this collection of essays was just enough to tide us over until the release of Lean, Mean Thirteen. A hot topic of debate is whether Stephanie would be better off with Joe or Ranger. Another realistic writer discusses the likelihood of her actually obtaining auto insurance, and a particularly thoughtful writer suggests that Lula could have a career as a self-help guru. I would recommend this.

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War – This was by far my favorite read of the summer. It is not, necessarily, about deer hunting or religion but is about the ironic circumstances that bring members of the downtrodden working poor to believe that they are middle class. Author Joe Bageant returns to his hometown of Winchester, VA to find that his neighbors have lost ground economically since he grew up in the late 60s. He documents how the working poor tend to tirelessly support the government and economic institutions that have in fact kept them poor. He decries the predatory lending practices of mobile and modular home financing that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to gain real wealth through home ownership. The writing is humorous as well as insightful.

Lean, Mean Thirteen - Janet Evanovich returns to top form with the latest installment of the Stephanie Plum series. Things haven't changed much for Steph. She still has difficulty apprehending the most innocuous skips, but fortunately she still has Joe, Ranger and Lula watching her back. Unfortunately she is a suspect in her ex-husband's disappearance. Things with Steph are never boring!

Incantation - Fifteen year-old Estrella is proud of her family but is confused when she begins to realize how different some of her families customs are from her neighbors. Set during the Spanish Inquisition, Estrella, whose given name is really Esther, watches in fear and disbelief as her family one by one is taken into custody and burned at the stake for being Jews. Who can she trust to help her get to safety? Alice Hoffman's first person narrative takes us step-by-step as Estrella's eyes are opened to the truth about her family, her community and herself.

The Weather Makers - Australian Tim Flannery explains in lay language how climate change has affected the earth and why the current warming cycle is different from previous cycles. Among the topics discussed are carbon footprints, the coal industry, the Kyoto Accord, and the ability for large cities to create their own weather. The information in this book has made me think seriously about ways I can reduce my carbon footprint, and I do understand global warming much better than before reading this book. One caveat: it tends to be repetitive and is not what I would consider a page-turner. Still, I think we have a responsibility to learn as much as we can about our impact on the environment, and this book does fill that need.

No comments: