Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Book: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Date Read: August 14 to September 10, 2017img_5077

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This is one of several books that I have placed in the category of “I can’t believe nobody made me read this before I was an adult.” I know that I had wonderful and well meaning English teachers throughout my time in school, and many of them probably assumed that another teacher would have us students read the classics at some point, but somehow I missed out on several books such as this. Alas, I somehow escape high school without ever opening a book by Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, or myriad others that are considered the “books everyone has read” (or, perhaps, read just enough of to pass the class). Turns out, I actually quite like reading books typically labeled as “classics.” Admittedly, I probably have not read as many as I should. I digress.

I did feel a bit at a disadvantage for not reading Tom Sawyer first. I realize that this is not exactly a sequel to the other book, but felt there was a bit of lacking of background that I may have gotten from the other book. However, that did not stop me from enjoying this one. I enjoyed the series of adventures, strung together into a plot, but often possible to consider as independent storylines. I appreciated getting a glimpse of Tom Sawyer as a character in the end, although I admit that I liked Huck Finn better as a character. He is presented very much in the context of his “white trash upbringing,” but is smart and often thoughtful in spite of it.

The writing in period/southern dialect took a bit of getting used to, but was not a huge challenge to read. Of course, everyone reviewing this book must address the frequent use of the “n word.” Yes, it’s there. Personally, I can get past this considering the time and context– we are talking about a book that was set and published in the 1800s. I actually found it to have aged better than other publications from the time period.

Boris’s thoughts: “Classics? Are those the kinds of books that make you sit on the couch for a long time at night? I like those too. 4 paws.”

The Year of Goodbyes

img_7713Book: The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy

Date Read: July 7, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Following the World War II theme from last week, I have a book with a very different feel. Debbie Levy presents this book based off of her mother’s posiealbum from 1938. It is an autograph book, filled with poems written by her friends. These poems provide the framework for a series of journal entries and reflections that string together the events of the year, from the perspective of the 12 year old author.

It was an interesting read, although a bit unsettling. The book shows the gradual change from normal life to the fear and uncertainty that lead Jutta’s family to flee Germany. Goodbyes from friends leaving, or in some cases disappearing without explanation. I suppose the gradualness of the change, people slowly losing their friends, family, and rights, is what is most unsettling, knowing what comes next. While there is definitely an emotional element in the book, it seems stronger in retrospect, realizing the history of what happened just after the year of the posiealbum.

I can see this being a good book as an introduction to the history of World War II for kids in upper elementary, middle school, and perhaps high school. Much of the content is taken from the perspective of someone in that age range, and there are certainly many possible discussion topics. The poetry is an interesting element, although admittedly not really my personal cup of tea.

Boris’s thoughts: “Short and sweet and lighter than your hardcovers. 4 paws.”

Mother Night

Book: Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

Date Read: July 4 to July 11, 2018img_7558

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I feel that I need to preface this with a warning: I love Vonnegut. I realize that his writing is not for everyone, but I have thoroughly enjoyed all of his works that I have read. I recently read something online that described Vonnegut as the “ultimate cynic and ultimate humanist,” which I think is the perfect embodiment of my feelings as well. Vonnegut is satire and black humor, but with an undercurrent of pure, imperfect humanity.

While not his most popular or well known novel, Mother Night is perhaps the ultimate example of that dichotomy. Howard W. Campbell Jr. tells the complicated story of his involvement in the war: he was a Nazi, but secretly working on the side of the Americans. In order to be a good spy, he had to be a good Nazi. And so, of course, most of the world knew him only as the prominent Nazi that he became. After the war, he is saved from execution by his double-agency, and slowly fades into obscurity. The past, however, has a way of coming back around. I do not want to give away anything further to the conclusion, but will say that I did not quite expect it to end as it did, although in retrospect I wonder if I should have.

In the introduction of the novel, Vonnegut tells the reader the moral of the story: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” It’s laid out pretty clearly throughout the novel, so I do not intend to dwell there. The element I found more interesting was Campbell’s musings on why he was so successful: “this is a hard world to be ludicrous in, with so many human beings so reluctant to laugh, so incapable of thought, so eager to believe and snarl and hate.” It is something that resonates, although it does not quite sit well with me that it does. So it goes.

Boris’s thoughts: “Funny. Sad. Funny. Sad. You humans are odd. 2 paws.”

Elephant and Piggie

img_7573Book: Today I Will Fly by Mo Willems (Elephant and Piggie Series)

It feels a bit like cheating to have two children’s books from the same author in short succession. But this is my blog, and I make the rules, so I am going to do it anyway.

Piggie is a free spirit. She has an imagination and likes an adventure. Elephant Gerald is more practical, and a bit more cautious. He doesn’t see the world in quite the way that Piggie does, but they are still best friends.

These books are super fun, and great for beginning readers. They are set up in a comic book like style, relying on pictures and speech bubbles to tell the story. There are many Elephant and Piggie books, and I have not come close to reading them all. However, I enjoyed all those that I have come across. Many of them have a theme of friendship or lesson to learn, but there are also some that are simply fun. In some, the characters speak not just to each other, but also directly to the reader.

The book pictured, Today I Will Fly, was the first of these published. Piggie has decided that she is going to fly. Gerald, of course, knows that pigs cannot fly. Ridiculous! So Piggie knows she is going to need some help. I read this book to a classroom for First and Second Grade students this spring as part of our Reading Month celebration. The kids went wild for it.

Boris’s thoughts: “At least this one did not come with that creepy mascot thing. 4 paws.”

The Giver

Book: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Date Read: Variousimg_5854

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I can say without a doubt that there is no book that I have read as many times as The Giver. There is something about this book that brings me back, again and again. Despite that, this is a somewhat difficult post for me to write. I love this book, but I have a hard time putting my finger on what exactly it is that draws me in. I do not quite have the words to describe the feelings I have when reading it. On one of my re-reads of this book, I decided to keep a highlighter and pen nearby. Mark it up. Write it out. Really dig down into what it was about this book that has me so enthralled. I finished it without making a single mark in the book. I could not find a passage, or even a sentence, that captured the heart of this story.

My first encounter with this book was in middle school. I read it again for a project in high school. I read it a third time when my younger sister had to read it in high school. Shortly after that, I finally bought my own copy. Since then, I have re-read it every year or two. My most recent read was just this summer, where I for a second time did much of my reading with a notebook by my side. I still do not feel fully satisfied that I am writing a review that will truly capture what I have to say, but I will try.

The world that Lowry builds is sparse. We get a basic description of the things that can be found in the community, but little else. Very few details, not really enough to paint a clear picture.This is true not just for the setting, but also the characters of the novel. With an exception for the main characters, we do not get much depth. While I can see why some readers would find this annoying, I think it fits perfectly with the story. The world Jonas lives in is based on Sameness– those details that we are looking for are not important. I think that is part of the beauty of this book. There is a simplicity.

But then we add complexity. As Jonas learns of the world of the past, we get glimpses of the path that lead society to this state. While the general idea we get of the world is dystopian (perhaps disguised as a Utopia), the progression is seemingly logical to a point. No hunger? No war? Certainly, a world with more security would sound appealing to many. I suppose the question becomes where the line gets drawn between safety and freedom. Is it necessary to take away all freedoms to create the order needed to eliminate these problems? Does the ability to choose the color of your clothing really impact the world on a larger scale? Maybe. Is a world without pain worth giving up those things needed to create it? I suppose this comes down to the dichotomy of life– if we eliminate the risk of pain, is there a possibility for true pleasure? Which of those is the real purpose of living? To get through life unscathed, or to collect the bumps, bruises, and scars that lead to happiness? Obviously, I do not have answers to any of these, nor would I even attempt it.

Finally, of course, is the ambiguous ending. I feel somewhat differently about this each time that I read it. When I first read the book, I did not feel the ending to be ambiguous. I made my interpretation as I read, and that was good enough for me. In future readings, I realized that it could be open to additional interpretations. I find this an interesting aspect to the story, although I have always preferred by initial interpretation.

Boris’s thoughts: “I suppose if you like it that much, it can’t be bad… I guess… 3 paws.”