Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beautiful Blogger Award

I will be offline for a week or thereabouts, so will be around to do some blog visiting as soon as I can after that. See you all soon! And now for our regularly scheduled post. :)

The lovely Ruth Schiffmann of Out on a Limb has tagged me for this award. I'm supposed to list seven things about myself. Okay, here goes.

1. I'm having trouble with this list already. Truth is, I write, I teach, I read, I pray, I do family stuff, and there's not much else.
2. Truth is, I'm speaking in the voice of one of my characters right now.
3. Oh, yeah, and we might be doing some painting on the house right now. Not the whole thing. But changing up the color scheme of the trim a bit. Minor excitement. :)
4. I've always been interested in nutrition, but I'm redoubling my efforts to eat well and make sure I walk at least 30 minutes a day. I can't afford to turn into the blob here -- bodily or mentally.
5. Reasonable amounts (drat:)) of dark chocolate are part of good nutrition.
6. Good habits on a daily basis will forgive the occasional (drat:)) ice-cream indulgence.
7. I sleep 8 hours per night. No boasting here that I can get by on 5 or 6, or that I'm too important to afford sleep (being overbusy is a status symbol, don't you know). I need it, and so do most of us.

I hope anyone who's reading this will consider themselves tagged. I'd enjoy getting a glimpse into seven things about YOU. :)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June Book Pick II -- Wonder, by RJ Palacio

Ten-year-old August, who narrates most of this novel, tells us early on that he won't describe what he looks like, because whatever we're imagining, it's worse. He was born with facial abnormalities that literally make people scream and run away, despite the fact that he's undergone numerous surgeries since birth. He's been homeschooled his whole life, and now his mom thinks it's in his best interest to enter a good, private middle school in New York City for fifth grade. (His dad isn't so sure.) At first, as we might guess, Auggie wants nothing to do with it. After all, he spent most of his early childhood hiding inside a toy astronaut helmet. But then, in a believable fashion, he decides he will visit the school for a trial run, and he enrolls. Because one of the first things we learn about August is that, helmet or no, he has come to accept the face he has. He doesn't pity himself. He doesn't believe his entire existence is a tragedy, and I think the main component of the reader's initial attraction to him is respect.

August comes from a wonderful family: Mom, Dad, teenage sister. Yes, they have their problems. Yes, Mom and Dad don't always agree. But all of them love each other fiercely. It's the love and the upsets and the loyalty and the mistakes and the acceptance that make them wonderful. They are doing a first-class job of raising Auggie without having to be perfect; they, like Auggie himself, send the message that life is precious, livable, and purposeful, even when you have a problem this serious.

Yet, now August must figure out how to cope in the wider world. And yes, some of the kids he meets are as cruel as we'd expect. But many are not. Auggie makes friends because of the good person he is inside, while at the same time some reject him because they just can't cope with his deformities. And we get to hear from many of the people in Auggie's world in their own words, because Palacio uses eight narrators in all.

This story manages to be full of hope without being at all Pollyanna-ish. I'm reaching the point where I'm going to start gushing and burbling, because so far this is my favorite middle-grade novel of 2012. And from a writer's point of view, it's interesting to note that several of these narrators are teens, yet the book was apparently (thankfully!) not seen as unmarketable for that reason. It is still MG, and rightly so.

For me, this book raises the meaning of rooting for a main character to a whole new level. It's about how cruel we can be, how kind we can be, how triumphant we can be, and how powerful love is. You will be cheering at the end, and do make sure you have tissues handy! If you can read only one MG novel this year, you could hardly go wrong picking this one.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Quoth the Writer

It's been a while since we've had a nice quote round-up. Hope you enjoy these.

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium -- Norbert Platt

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction.  -- Mark Twain

A metaphor is like a simile. -- Unknown

Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind. -- Catherine Drinker Bowen

I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top. -- Unknown English professor, Ohio University

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. -- Hannah Arendt

The expression "to write something down" suggests a descent of thought to the fingers whose movements immediately falsify it. -- William Gass

Writing is a struggle against silence. -- Carlos Fuentes

Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. -- EL Doctorow

What do you think? Which ones do you like? Got any other good ones?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

June Book Pick -- The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter

The Humming Room is a middle-grade novel based on The Secret Garden, and this delightful book may well send readers scurrying to pick up the latter, if they haven't already. Dark, yet sweet, this revisioning is modern yet hints at timelessness as well.

Roo Fanshaw likes to hide, and she has very good reason. Just as Mary Lennox becomes an orphan at the start of The Secret Garden, Roo also loses her parents suddenly and violently, to a murder that occurs in her trailer home while she is hiding beneath it. Like Mary Lennox, Roo is unlikable, and Ellen Potter does an outstanding job of creating sympathy for and emotional identity with her to compensate for this disadvantage. Since Roo has spent so much time under the trailer lately, while her family life disintegrated, she has made friends of tiny living things and likes to put her ear to the earth and listen to the life inside it.

Roo is shipped off to a wealthy uncle -- her father's brother -- who she didn't know existed (counterpart to The Secret Garden's Mr. Craven) and picked up for the journey by the acerbic Ms. Valentine (Mrs. Medlock). The uncle's mansion, a former TB sanitarium for children, is on an island somewhere in New England that the locals call Cough Rock. There, Roo meets Violet (Martha), is forbidden to go into the east wing, spends a lot of time puttering around by herself, meets a mysterious boy named Jack who has an uncanny connection to animals (Dickon), and finally, hearing horrible screams, goes to the east wing where she meets her unruly, sickly, bad-tempered cousin Philip (Colin). And, she takes an accidental trip down the body chute that had been used to remove TB victims during the building's days as a hospital, and discovers the secret garden, walled up and neglected after her uncle and Philip suffered the death of their wife and mother.

First Roo, then Roo and Jack, and finally the threesome of Roo, Jack, and Philip bring the garden, and themselves, back to life.

The Humming Room succeeds on all levels, and it does so, I was surprised to find, in a mere 182 pages. I was dimly aware, all the while I was reading, that this book was so much shorter than I would have guessed, yet the pace was never rushed. Beautiful language, convincing emotions, just lovely. Highly recommended.