Educated was my book for February’s prompt from The Unread Shelf Project: a book that was gifted to me. I received this for Christmas from a friend who also works in education. While I had seen the book many times before then, I really did not know much about it. It was described to me as a book by a woman who did not have any formal education until she was 17.
That description hits on the general premise, but there is much more here than I had expected. Although it centers on the theme of education, the scope of this book goes well beyond that. I think what stands out the most here is actually the overcoming of a traumatic and abusive past. It’s interesting to see Tara’s own view of her past, her struggling in how to view her own place in the world– is she part of her family, or is she part of the rest of the world? One of the things that seemed most striking to me, was actually fairly subtle. As Tara reflects back on many of the obviously traumatic ordeals from her childhood, she does not often overtly refer to her experiences as abuse.
Tara does much reflection on the fact of her pursuit of education creating the rift between her and her past. She makes many efforts to minimize the growing distance between her and the remainder of her family. Along the way, she catches herself hanging on to pieces that she really no longer believes– such as when she realizes that even though she is accepting of modern medicine, she has not gone to get her vaccinations. However, I found it interesting that throughout her education, she still hangs on to the original tenants of her Mormonism. While she relaxes some of the extremes in her personal practices, she retains the basis of her religion, and even extends this into her educational pursuits.
Boris’s thoughts: “Long stretches of reading means long stretches of naps for me, so 3 paws here!”
Cannery Row is not so much a novel, as a capturing of a moment in time. Light on plot, but heavy in description, it features dozens of characters that each play a part (however small) in the central story. Although there’s a long and winding road to get there, the main story centers on the planning of a party for Doc, orchestrated by Mack and the boys, a group of homeless men who have taken over an old warehouse. Their initial plan is ill conceived and leads to minor disaster, but eventually circles around through the community for a happier ending.
Taking place in a relatively quiet California coastal town during the Great Depression, the story is told through a series of vignettes of various length. There are some clearly driving the plot, and others that link to the main story in ways that are not obvious as you are reading. The style gives the book a inextricable feeling of community. The small details of each moment, the strings of each life in Monterey interwoven.
Part of what is interesting to me, is that each character seems to know their place and their part in the scheme of their own world. Most are destitute, but content where they are. Mack and the boys certainly know what they need to do to improve their situation, but are content to get by with life as it is. They have a roof over their heads, the little dog Darling to care for, and just enough niceties to make the Palace Flophouse home. Another character I found interesting was the woman who loves to throw parties, but cannot afford to actually put on a party herself. When she’s not able to help in planning for others, she contents herself with tea parties with the neighborhood cats. Well, why not?
Boris’s thoughts: “I am concerned with the collecting of cats for Doc… but would really enjoy a tea party, so I’ll even it out: 2 paws.”
You may have heard of it before, but in case you missed it… March is Reading Month! While I personally celebrate reading year round, I think it’s appropriate that we give some special recognition to one of the most famous authors of all time during his birthday month. To kick of the month, I decided to share one of my favorites from Dr. Seuss: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
Dr. Seuss is known for clever rhymes for beginning readers, and adding in a bit of weird silliness. I love weird silliness. While many of his books are built around simplicity (did you know the Cat in the Hat uses only 220 different words?), this is not one of those books. It holds true to the verse and rhyme characteristic of Seuss, and is extra heavy on the silliness, including a huge variety of nonsense words. There is a loose plot through the book (description of all the things that the narrator is seeing), but the focus is more on the rhyme and some fun play in the verses. There are opposites with illustrations, rhymes, tongue twisters, and some other structurally interesting verses tied in. One of my favorites is a page spread that has a poem on opposing pages, told in reverse order with accompanying upside down illustrations.
I see this is the perfect book to read aloud with early readers, and to encourage them to take a turn in the reading. The rhymes are silly and fun, and most of the book is decodable (i.e., you can sound it out). The rhyming makes it somewhat predictable, but there is still a variety in the structure of the verses that keeps it interesting. I especially like the nonsense words– one of the strategies we often teach kids is to look at the sounds, and think about the words that they know. While this can be a good strategy, it doesn’t always work. It relies on a strong vocabulary. I love the opportunity for kids to practice a skill, but to learn that sometimes things that sound silly or wrong, might actually be right. Oh, and what a perfect ending for a bedtime story– on the very last page of the story, it is time to go to sleep!
Boris’s thoughts: “I think you’re over-analyzing this, but I can get behind these rhymes. 4 paws.”
A recurring theme in my bookish habits is trying to work on getting my “to read” list under control. Late in 2018, I discovered The Unread Shelf Project, and decided that I would participate this year. The premise of the project is a reading challenge that will help you work through the books you already have on your shelf. For January, you were to choose ANY book off your unread shelf. This was my choice, a book that I have had for quite some time, but never quite got around to reading.
Although I cannot recall offhand if I have written about him before, I absolutely love Kurt Vonnegut. While he often writes on the edges of science fiction and fantasy, there is a theme of humanity throughout his work. He takes on big themes like the nature of humans and the meaning of life on Earth, and answers them with a bit of absurdity. While some might consider this flippant, I find it fitting. The Sirens of Titan follows a few different characters on their journey through time and space, their meetings and interactions seemingly at random, but also predestined. Each detail, even those that seem unimportant, stringing together for the ultimate goal of all humanity… which you will have to read the book for yourself to find out. While I do not presume to know what Vonnegut’s “point” or exact moral in this novel is supposed to be, I think it is that “the point” does not matter. We are here, so we may as well make the most of it.
One of the interesting things I find in Vonnegut’s work is that once you have read a variety of it, you start to see the places where it fits together. There were some definite elements in this novel that I remember from other pieces of his work. It creates for me a picture of an alternate universe, where things are very much like the one I live in, but slightly off. Even though many of the stories and situations in his work do not seem to fit together, I can see them all taking place in the same world, which is not a far cry from our own.
Boris’s thoughts: “I hate it when you get all philosophical. 1 paw.”
I spotted this book at my school’s book fair this fall, and simply could not pass it up. Prior to finding this book, I had seen a plethora of Pusheen merchandise, but had never seen any of the comics. This is a collection of many of the online comics, with a few bonus comics thrown in. Pusheen is a friendly cat, who loves food and various other cat things. Through the comics she shares some funny and valuable knowledge from the life of a cat: how to make cookies, where cats belong, and some other creative imaginings from the mind of a cat.
I have to admit, that there is a bit of a draw for the online comics. Although the animation is simple, it does add a bit of pizzazz that is lacking in the book. However, I still thought this was a fun book, and do not regret adding it to my shelves. I expect that it will be a great one to look at with my niece when she is a bit older. I imagine that we will have a bit of fun comparing Pusheen to Boris, my own fat gray cat who loves food. The book is primarily based in pictures, with fairly simple text throughout. It could make a good book for young readers who want to read longer chapter books, but may not be quite ready for them yet.
Boris’s thoughts: “Hhhhrrmmmph. I am NOT fat. I am just BIG. She is pretty cute though. But not as cute as ME. 2 paws.”
I am completely fascinated by the work of Brian Selznik. The way he perfectly intertwines illustration and narrative to tell a story is incredible. The concept he used in this particular book is unique even for him, and was done spectacularly.
The Marvels tells two stories– the first completely through illustration in the first 400-ish pages, the second in a traditional novel format. The whole time I was reading, I was trying to solve the mystery of how the stories would come together in the end. I was constantly making guesses as to where things were going, and constantly being surprised. When the stories began to overlap, I thought it was a clever twist that the novel turned to do the same thing that I was doing as a reader– putting words to the original illustrated story, and then trying to solve the mystery as well.
This book was beautifully put together. The illustrations beautiful, and the stories compelling. While perhaps geared more toward a younger demographic, there is much here to enjoy for readers of all ages. I was also thrilled to discover, as I came to the end, that this story was based, in part, on real events. While the story is completely fictional, the idea behind the story is based on an actual person and museum in London. I have definitely found somewhere that I will need to add to my travel wish list.
Boris’s thoughts: “This book is heavy, and I’m kind of over it. 2 paws.”
It’s hard to believe, but it has been a full year since I have started this blog! Along the way I have shared some of my favorite books, as well as many pictures of my favorite cat!! It has been a ton of fun, and I am looking forward to see where the next year will take me. I have some ideas to mix things up a bit for the next year, and hope that you enjoy the ride!
To celebrate my first year of posts, I thought it would be fun to show a little glimpse onto the other side of this project. While I will fully admit that I am in no way a professional photography, I try to choose the best of my pictures to include with my blog posts. While Boris is generally a good sport about these things, cats have a fickle nature, which has lead to quick a few “outtakes” along the way. Enjoy!