Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Additional information

I forgot several important facts in the new post below.

1. Rob found tadpoles in the path between the raised beds in the veggie garden, where the water is an inch or two deep.

2. The Unnameables is on Education.com's summer reading list for middle school kids, and in the June Hall of Fame at teensreadtoo. As reported on The Enchanted Inkpot, it's on the American Booksellers Association Spring/Summer 2009 Indie Next List for Reading Groups and, closer to home, the 2009 Cream of the Crop list compiled by the Southern Maine Library District. Sorry about all the links.

3. It's raining again.

The Rain in Maine

I know that somewhere in the world people are suffering from drought. And yet I feel the urge to whine. Maine has had roughly five dry days this month, and the coast is the worst. Yesterday, the temperature never got above 55 degrees F. Our corn isn't planted. The spinach has rotted. My zinnias, cosmos and dahlias are outgrowing their pots because we haven't had a chance to fertilize and turn over their sites.

And here, on the left, is our front hall. The laundry's been out there for three days and is dampish. Whine, whine, whine.

In other news, my next-door neighbor Cope (neighborhood hostess at Christmas and Labor Day) had her hip replaced and several days later nearly died of anemia. Friends and neighbors have been cooking things and sitting with her in the hospital to give her husband, Greg, as much of a break as possible. (He stayed on a cot in her room in the ICU, good heart that he is.) Greg designed my web site.

I'm happy to report that Cope is home now, exhausted but, in her words, "the queen." Greg's working from home for a couple of days. One neighbor took them lentil soup last night. I'm cooking Thursday. Not sure what's happening tonight and tomorrow, but The Neighborhood will provide.

In still other news, the Brooklin Youth Corps season started yesterday, spirit undampened. We have somewhere between eleven and thirteen kids, depending on who's coming and going for which family responsibility or music camp. Rent a Wreck in Hampden kindly gave us a whoppingly cut rate on two rental vans, one bright red and one burgundy. They have a group picture of last year's Youth Corps on their wall.

I do love Maine. Even when it rains.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Kids Today. Honestly.

I just went to the annual yard sale in the school gym, and came home with...more books! Rob is thrilled! Maybe this means he gets to build a new bookcase! Instead of painting! And meeting his deadline! (Actually, a new bookcase is so unlikely that I'm saying this just to get my muscles primed for writing fantasy.)

But the big amazement was running into the parents of one of my former writing pals at the school, now completing her freshman year in high school. I ran into her, too, but she prated along about a sign she'd made for the school playground. Very nice, of course, but her parents told me the far more interesting news that she'd written a book, gone to ComicCon, and submitted synopses to a bunch of publishers. She got nice letters back telling her she had to get an agent.

This is not the first kid I've run into who's hell-bent on publication. Even the third-grader I'm mentoring talks about it. I am woefully impressed, by which I mean delightfully envious. Getting a book published wasn't in my sights until my early 50s. Where do these kids get the chutzpah?

I suppose some of it is Christopher Paolini. But also, I think schools today, for all their failings, have a practical approach to education that is enlightening and enlivening. They don't just tell kids to write fairy stories because it's good for them. They make the everyday connections and encourage them to see things through to the logical conclusion.

Can't remember if I've told this story on the blog before (I know I have on the forum I belong to). When Rob and I were building this house, he was figuring out the span of something or other, scribbling in pencil on a spare 2x4. I peeked, goggled, and said, "That's algebra!" He said, "Well, yeah, how else would you do this?" I said, "There's a use for algebra?"

The more I thought about this afterwards, the more pissed off I got. I hated algebra. It seemed like some exercise Miss Whatsername was making me do just because she was a nutcase. (Which she actually was...she left school in the middle of winter and then we had a sub the rest of the year.) Why, oh why, did no one ever tell the college prep kids that there was a practical use for all those formulas? (I'm sure the kids in the wood shop learned about it.)

My mother had the obvious response, saying tartly: "Another child would have asked." Rob seems to have figured it out, after all. And the same is probably true of the publication thing. I mean, Stephen King caught on when he was a kid, and he's even older than I am, I think.

But still. Wouldn't it have been OK to just tell me? I mean, what was this, a quiz show?

Whatever. Kudos to Kids Today. May their dreams see reality sooner than my new bookcase.

PS I just had a wonderful thought. I can put the books where the TV used to be!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bye-bye Broadcast

For the moment, we are a television-less household. We'll see how long this lasts.

It's not that we were ill-prepared for the switch to digital. We got our converter boxes months ago, and used them this winter after our local public television and ABC stations went digital on the original deadline in February.

But then the troubles started. We discovered that we only got digital signals when the skies were crystal clear. Then the trees sprouted leaves, and we lost all digital entirely.

We have an antenna in the attic, which we always liked a lot because we didn't have to worry about northeasters and ice storms. Now we have to spend $200 or so for a ginormous rooftop antenna, and possibly still more than that for a signal booster. And even then we're wondering if we'll get a signal.

It was very nice of the feds to help us out with converter box coupons. But the boxes are turning out to be the least of our needs.

We don't get cable in our little town--not that I'd want it, being easily distracted from my daily round. God help me if I had a bazillion channels to choose from, plus the guilty feeling that I'd better be watching them because I paid money for them. (New Englander? Me?) And even if I wanted to be channel-enhanced, I wouldn't get a satellite dish for the great pleasure of losing tv and internet every time the sky got cloudy.

There's just about no entertainment worth watching on the regular networks, but we definitely will miss the news shows. Here's the plan: We'll watch the news on the internet, either later at night than usual, or the next day. We already read newspapers in the flesh and on line...we'll just do a little more of the latter and add a little more radio. We already watch Olbermann, Stewart, and Colbert on line, the evening after. For entertainment, DVDs or Netflix or Hulu.

And, of course, books, although there are times when the eyes just need a rest.

We may discover we're fine without TV. Except for one nagging feeling: Aren't the airways supposed to be ours for free? So how come we have to fork over $300 or so to get access to them?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

JUNE Book Review? Already?

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@Barrie Summy

Heh-heh. I guess this means it's a month since my last post. But, hey, I can sit at the computer without whimpering now, and my brain seems to be my own for the first time in two months. Plus I'm getting out more. Plus my computer's fixed.

So no excuse for NOT turning over a new leaf, right?

Tune in soon for more scintillating posts. And right now...here's the June edition of the Book Review Club. Click on the widget (above) to find other reviews. (The widget won't work until our esteemed founder, Barrie Summy, posts her review. She's in California so there may be a brief delay for us Easterners.)

By Terry Pratchett
HarperCollins, 2008

Thank you, Nation, for finally bringing me to Terry Pratchett.

For years my soul has struggled. I felt that Terry Pratchett was out there, waiting for me to come to my senses and adore him. Time after time, I picked up one of the Discworld novels, found the writing delightful, laughed out loud at least once a page…and threw the book across the room about halfway through, never to return.

Clearly, there was something wrong with me. This is the funniest writer since P.G. Wodehouse, my friends adore him—why was I incapable of finishing his books? I tried Good Omens, which Pratchett team-wrote with Neal Gaiman, and loved it. Tried a Discworld book again. Threw it across the room.

So I approached his young-adult novel Nation with trepidation, reluctant to be toyed with yet again. But it sounded so good, so completely up my alley. I had to try, just one more time.

And, praise Pratchett, I saw the light. Or at least a glimmer of an inkling of why I was having so much trouble with such a marvelous writer.

I then read The Wee Free Men, supposedly a Discworld book (I don’t know how you’d tell) written for kids. Loved it. I retrieved The Colour of Magic, the first adult Discworld book, from an obscure quarter of my bookshelf and tried it again. I finished it, praise Pratchett, but found it tough going in places.

The glimmer became a radiance. I knew what my problem was. Same old problem I always have: character.

Based on four and a half books (I tried to read Monstrous Regiment a couple of years ago but didn’t finish it), it appears to me that Pratchett believes books for younger readers must have real characters, with full histories and known desires and prejudices, while books for adults can be pure farce with characters we know only superficially. That’s why I—unlike, I admit, most reasonable adults— lose interest halfway through…I just don’t know these people well enough to care what happens to them.

In The Wee Free Men, we know all about fledgling witch Tiffany Aching’s childhood, her heritage, her feelings for her grandmother and baby brother, her love for cheese-making…and where she gets her courage. We’re rooting for her from the minute she clangs a water demon over the head with a frying pan. In The Colour of Magic, all we know about Rincewind is that he got kicked out of wizard school and has a big bad spell lodged in his brain. He’s a coward who learns that his survivor skills sometimes could be mistaken for ethics—which is growth, which is good, but not enough. Nobody else in the book learns much of anything.

Which brings us to Nation, where everyone learns and grows, even entire cultures. The writing is funny, because Pratchett can’t help it. (Description of a main character’s Victorian grandmother: “…a mixture of the warrior queen Boadicea without the chariot, Catherine de Medici without the poisoned rings, and Attila the Hun without his wonderful sense of fun.”) But there’s a serious tale to be told here, of two young people learning that other cultures are just the same old people, sometimes venal and silly but mostly deserving of respect.

The story is simple: A nineteenth century tidal wave washes two kids onto a depopulated tropical island, one a Victorian miss in pantaloons, the other a naked islander. Neither of them knows enough about the other’s culture to be anything but suspicious, but they must suspend their doubts and collaborate in order to survive.

Over time, as other refugees wash ashore, they create an island nation that combines the best parts of several cultures. The Victorian miss, who calls herself Daphne because she (justifiably) hates her respectable given name, Ermintrude, discovers that she has a soul and an affinity with island mysticism. She who had never before seen a naked table leg now is capable of birthing babies. Mau, the islander, grows from a grief-stricken, befuddled boy into the thoughtful, flexible leader of a multicultural society. Add a British succession crisis and earth-shaking revelations of an archeological and mystical nature, and the effects of their teamwork become global.

This could have been a preachy novel, but it isn’t. The fact that it isn’t is what makes it such a work of art. Daphne and Mau are just so achingly, humorously, recognizably human—this is unquestionably their love story as well as a coming of age story for them and the human race. And even the secondary characters are fully rounded—we know as much about Daphne’s father’s character in two chapters as we learn about Rincewind in an entire book.

Reading Nation has given me a better sense of Pratchett, which I think will carry me though a few more of his adult novels. I’m revisiting Monstrous Regiment first. If I bog down, I understand there are a couple more Wee Free Men novels to revive me. Praise Pratchett.

PS: This morning, I found out Nation had won the Horn Book/Boston Globe Award for fiction, on top of many other awards. Richly, richly deserved.