Need a book recommendation? Just send your child's age, reading (and other interests), books or stories he or she has liked in the past to thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com, and we will post it on the blog with a recommendation from us, plus the helpful suggestions of other readers in the comments.
This blog is written with the much-appreciated help of Diana, 14, who is particularly interested in fan fiction, fantasy, and magic, and Chestnut, 12, who likes to read all sorts of things, as well as build boats.
I finally—finally—got Chestnut a copy of Watership Down. The trick, it turned out, was to look for the book not in fiction, not even to look it up on the computer, which pretended the library didn't have it, but to look in assignment books. Oh, how I hate the "assignment books" designation. It exemplifies everything that is wrong with labeling groups of books. It's like putting a skull and crossbones on them, and then (for good measure) taking them out of the library at all, because who's going to look there when browsing?
But I digress.
I'm here to talk about the back cover copy on Watership Down. Witness:
Er, notice anything...strange? Any...euphemisms? Any important information that is left out? Like maybe, rabbits? But why? What could it mean?
Here's where things start to get weird. Take a moment to appreciate this, if you will:
What...is this creature? What...will we do? What...is the deal with rabbits?
I'm sensing a conspiracy. Wait—hear me out! Look at the evidence! People are, for reasons we can only guess at, avoiding mentioning rabbits. Is this about how rabbits are supposed to procreate all the time? Is it because we ran out of creatures to be scared of? When is the next YA about killer rabbits coming? (Hint: please make it soon.)
Or, if you're more this way, explain to me some other reason you might write a description of Watership Down without mentioning rabbits at all—a reason other than abject terror!
Also, in case you're wondering, here is the cover the copy:
Would you know this was a book about rabbits? I didn't think so.
I love libraries, I truly do—the massive and magnificent, and the small and endearing. But I just made a trip to our local library, a tiny place that went through years of being closed, and emerged from its "renovation" with handicapped-accessible bathrooms (hooray!) and approximately 1/3 fewer books (huh?).
I think the idea was to make the whole physical space less cramped, more available as a place for people to read, or research, or sleep (judging by the impressive snoring the guy upstairs was doing), but—.
But I miss the books. A friend of mine tells me that I just need to use it as a way station, and to request books online that I can pick up there, and I do that and all, but it sort of kills me. I was just there with Chestnut, and I was unable to get:
Clan of the Cave Bear
The World According to Garp
The Color Purple.
I mean—nothing by Alice Walker? I feel like all those kids I see hanging out there would go ga-ga for The Color Purple, and it kills me that it's not there to just pick up. I know that list is a bit like "hits from the 70s and 80s!" but...it's the library. Aren't they supposed to hold on to books?
I think about how much Chestnut would enjoy those books, how much she had a great time reading Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, and what a drag it is that there aren't more books just lying around. I know, I know—e-readers, contemporary YA, space concerns, the internet, etc etc—but I say to you (or to me, who is really saying all of this of course): It's propinquity! Being near tons and tons of different books makes it more likely that people will pick one up and just like Alice fall down the rabbit hole into another dimension.
I want there to be a lot of different dimensions for people to fall down, that's all. Or maybe I'm being unfair, and I want her to fall through a rabbit hole into 1979? Probably so.
At any rate, she is downstairs contentedly reading Terry Pratchett, and I am up here complaining on my keyboard, and we have a whole slew of books on request. I'll let you know how it works out.
It’s We Recommend! In which we post a request that's been sent to us, and do our best to get that person the right book. Know a kid who needs a book to read? Send us (thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com) his or her likes, dislikes, favorites, quirks, and any other reading information that might be helpful, and we will think on it, and pose it to our oh-so-helpful readers. And look in the comments—all the best recommendations are there.
Hello, you old-fashioned readers of blogs, you! I'm still here, writing a blog! I promise that this time I'll make it worth your while, because we have a really interesting request, guaranteed to make you think hard about books, gender, age, and humanity—everything you like! Maybe!
My eight year old grandson has many interests and reads above grade level. He enjoys nonfiction right now having recently finished Harry Potter and wanting a change. Since he has a crush on a girl in his second grade class, he asked for some books that would help him understand her and girls in general! A friend told him to read the Dork diaries, but I know that is not where he needs to be so any suggestions will be appreciated.
Wow. The old "Help me understand girls" dilemma. Often also phrased as "Help me understand boys." Or just "Help" for short.
I've been thinking about this for a few days, and here's what I've come up with.
1) There is no such thing as understanding girls.
See, the premise of the the Dork Diaries is that there is a class of human beings, girls, and they act a certain way, and this is so funny, ha ha!
But of course, what he really wants is to understand the girl in his class, and what do we know about her? Nothing! It's (comparatively) easy to "understand" groups of people rather than a specific person. For example, in some countries, "groups of people" will be offended if a woman has uncovered hair. We can understand this. But that doesn't help us to understand a specific person in that country very much; it might help to know that this is a belief in his country, just as it might help this boy to know the burden of stereotyping and society and who knows what else that have gone into forming this girl. But it won't help him understand her attachment to, say, Barbies or Star Wars or dogs. Or that she likes cookies, or is the youngest and is bossed around all the time, or is exceptionally strong, and likes to push heavy things.
The only way (I think) to understand girls, or at least to understand a girl, or to try to understand this girl in particular, is to know her.
However (oooh, I feel like the Wizard of Oz now), I do have something that might help him understand that girls are, after all, people, and as such are difficult to understand, and yet well worth it. That is, a book that is about not girls in general, but a girl in particular, and such a fully realized and true girl that it will help remind him that they (we) are simply people, like himself.
The other advice I would give him (that we should be clear would work with me and might not work with all girls, but is worth a try): bring an extra cookie and offer it to her. That goes a long way in connecting to others.
Do you have other ideas? Complementary? Contradictory? Put them in the comments, please!
I'm sick. Sick like grownups don't, and shouldn't, get, complete with fever, pathetic whining, texting Chestnut to bring me Tylenol, etc.
Here's the weird thing: the moment my temperature broke 101, I wanted to read one thing and one thing only:
Why? What power do Ms. Beck and Massman wield over me? Have they even written anything else? The Internet informs me that they've also written Fling, which is no doubt just as good at getting a person through a fever.
But what is the situation? Why am I like this? What is it about fevers that makes me want to read 80s trash? (My friend's favorite description from the book: "He had the latest haircut, cropped short on top, yet sensuously long in back.")
I like to think of Beck and Massman as best friends, having an awesome time writing their book (more sex! More Versace! More rhinestones!). But I am grateful to them for getting me through this stupid illness, which I hope will vanish soon, taking all 80s novels with it till next time.
Am I alone in this? What trash do you guys read when you're at your lowest?
The other night Chestnut and I were talking about a Terry Pratchett book—I don't even remember which one, there are so many constantly circulating around the house, maybe Lords and Ladies?—when Diana appeared from the other room and said, "Wait, the one you're talking about is great, but this one is also really great, and you should read it." She shoved it into Chestnut's hands, and Chestnut started reading.
This is one—one small one—of the many ways in which the great Terry Pratchett has reached out from England (and now from Beyond the Grave) and made huge amazing differences in my world, and (no doubt) the lives of more people than I can count. His books ferry busily back and forth between the girls' rooms, he is quoted (with great gusto) at dinner, he is searched for in the morning, so his books can go to school with them, providing some spot of light to remind them that the world is larger than it might appear.
As I struggle with what to write, when to write it, and even how to write it, I thought I would just mosey on over with our reading news of the moment.
Chestnut is trying to convince me that the New York Review of Books isn't boring, and I know she's right, and that my brain cells just need to work out more and pay attention and they will be richly rewarded, I am unable to make them do that. But then again, another thing she really enjoyed reading was the New York City Board of Education's Discipline Code. I am not sure where this will all end.
I took Oryx and Crake out of the library, and it promptly disappeared into Diana's lair, where it was devoured until nothing was left but bones. She frowned and spit them out, pronouncing it "good but too message-y." Hmm. Of course, I haven't been able to recover the body, so I don't know yet whether I agree with her.
I was happily diverted by What Alice Forgot, and read it all and fast in one day. Such a pleasure to do that sometimes, even if it did make me think about the ways I have become crusty and terrible since becoming a mother.
And you, dear reader? Do you have anything to recommend? Are you curled up with the discipline code? Are you out there searching for crocuses? What's happening with you?
Well. This weekend I heard the tale of a mom discovering from her son's browsing history that he has been, er, investigating the internet's copious troves of smut.
This is not the first time I've heard a story like this. While kids are aces at finding terrifying, hair-curling images online, with or without parental controls on the computer, they neglect their browser history (probably a good thing overall) and parents are confronted with: reality. Or really, not reality, but a shaved, degraded, creepy, freaky version of reality.
What are you supposed to do?
If you're ancient and wizened, like I am, you remember when it was more about a Playboy magazine in someone's garage. That seemed extremely risque at the time. And while I don't want to go whole-hog and say, "Internet porn is worse," I do sort of want to say that. Because there is SO MUCH of it. And it is SO SCARY. And also SO AVAILABLE. And how can you counter, or at least balance, these crazy images? And what about how women are portrayed? And oh my god what are you supposed to do?
There are computers everywhere, and from the story my excellent nephew told be about the bad kid at school, "We were supposed to be researching plants! But he went to a site and looked at ladies' bras!" , I think that it's very hard to keep it all out. Also keep an eye on that kid—he was 8.
It seems to me that: of COURSE 13-year-old boys want to see naked ladies on the internet (I'm trying, as I write this, to be honest but I must say I am terrified about what the keyword search situation will be on this post). But mostly what I think is that there need to be other ways in which love/sex/bodies/women are represented in their lives, and that goes beyond just the parents serving as a model for how to be. Maybe I am wrong about this? But I think it.
So I want to come up with books for boys, especially books that remember that boys are human, and girls are human, and it's all terrible and wonderful and complicated. It would be EVEN BETTER if I were able to include books that speak to boys, in boys voices, about boy stories, or have covers that are not embarrassing for boys to be seen with (though maybe they are like girls and everything is embarrassing? I think maybe this is the case). Also better still? If the books could acknowledge the reality of sex, in a humane sort of way.
Here are some ideas, all of them compromised by the fact that I don't have boys, I was terrified to talk to boys for a long time, and I am an ancient wizened crone. Still!
Or maybe this?
Or maybe this?
I haven't even READ that last one, but I read The Marbury Lens and I think he's a good writer and I trust him? And it looks like a book that isn't just about the girl's story? And basically: Help me, readers! You must know something about what to read, think, or do in these situations? (Aside from talking to the kid—of COURSE you talk to the kid.)
I've been thinking some about the idea of the unresolved ending in fiction, though I must say that Chestnut is mostly over it. A smart commenter suggested that series, particularly fantasy series, force you to pause in the middle of the narrative, and it's something to adapt to.
And I think this is an excellent point, but I also wanted to note that in the case of the Jo Walton book, the unresolved ending was an intentional question to the reader: which of these do you think happened? Never to be resolved explicitly by the author, in that book or any other.
Which made it clear to me why it bothered me so: Because both Chestnut and I believe that the narrative world in any given book is real.
Perhaps it's not in this "plane," and it's true that we can never enter it except through the magical conduit of a book. But—I have to face facts. I believe everything I read. In some part of me, I feel that all these fictional worlds exist, and I get tastes of them through books: Narnia exists, Wonderland exists, all of it exists, but you can only get these quick book-length glimpses. And when an author says "You decide," it seems to claim (or acknowledge, depending on your belief system) that these worlds aren't real, that what is said to happen is just based on the author's whim, not on actual fictional events in the other world.
I realize that this is maybe a little crazy? But it feels to me, in my heart of hearts (should such a place as that really exist), true.
When I was little, my babysitter was Mrs. Clancy, who wore polyester pantsuits (with the top part sleeveless, over a turtleneck) and a rhinestone letter A necklace (she was Alice Clancy). SHe smoked Kools, menthol. She was old and a little bit crotchety but in the most loving way imaginable, and she used to watch her stories in the afternoons and play solitaire at the table, and she was altogether the best babysitter in the world. I think of her often, but I think of her now, because she once told me that when she read Gone with the Wind, when she got to the last line, "I threw that book against the wall. Ooh, I was so mad! 'I'll think about it tomorrow?' What the hell is that? I wanted to know what happened!"
I'd brought it home from the library, and she snatched it off the coffee table and proceeded to devour it. She read it upstairs and downstairs and she carried it and read it walking down the street—you know the drill. And then the next day she came downstairs, furious. "It ends, but she doesn't tell you how it ends! I'M SO MAD!" She was the unwitting victim of...lack of closure.
There's a lot of lack of closure out there. You've got Eleanor and Park, which ends ... tantalizingly. There's Inception. (I know, a movie, but still.) What's your feeling on this? Personally, I like closure, it's so satisfying! We never get closure in life, at least I don't mostly, and it's weirdly reassuring to know what happens to those fictional people you fell in love with. But I know, too, that there is a case to be made for loose ends. And lifelikeness (I know, not a word).
What do you think? Do you get pissed off, like Chestnut? Are you more easy-going, like no one I know? What does it mean for a story to end anyway?
Suddenly the door opened and Pa burst in, saying, "Put your bonnets on, Caroline and girls! There's a meeting at the schoolhouse!"
"Whatever in the world—" Ma said.
"Everybody's going!" said Pa. "We're starting a literary society."