Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for Young Adult Fiction

Reading: Back when I was choosing on my topics for the A-Z Challenge, Y was one of the first I decided on.  I love Young Adult (YA) fiction.  Then, I read an article about which my cousin-in-law Jo had tweeted and that solidified my decision.  You may have read the article by Joel Stein in The New York Times in which he opined that "Adults Should Read Adult Books".  It's a short column, part of the opinion page "Room for Debate" and of course I understand that it was written to inspire discussion.  And so I will discuss.
My first issue with his opinion is that he has not read any of the books he dismisses because they are for children.  Certainly I have grumbled about reading certain books (the first Harry Potter book, Twilight, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, for example), but then I READ them and could express an informed opinion about them (loved it, hated it, hated it).  One of my favorite things about book club is that we read a wide range of books, and that I attempt to read them all (of the nearly 170 books we have read over the past 15 years, I have not completed approximately 7 of them).  Sometimes I have discovered a new favorite which was disguised as something I was not interested in initially. 
Mr. Stein acknowledges that adults occasionally watch Pixar movies or play video games and his opinion is that is okay because those don't require much from our brains, but that books are one of our few chances to learn.  The implication here is that we can only learn from adult books.  My response to this is that I have learned a whole lot more from reading Harry Potter than I have from reading The Horse Whisperer.  The vocabulary including Latin, sentence structure, plot lines and details, references to mythology and folklore in the Harry Potter books are all more complex and challenging to my brain than a story about a woman who has an affair with a cowboy for no good reason, has sex all night long and then gets up on a horse the next day.  I find the possibility that wizards exist more likely than that.  (That is my official synopsis of Horse Whisperer, by the way.)
He states that he will read The Hunger Games when he finishes "the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults".  I just feel sorry for him that he will be reading Nicholas Sparks novels when there is such a richly diverse, well-written world of young adult and children's fiction for him to read.  Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (I liked this one infinitely better than her sister's book Eat, Pray, Love)
The Giver by Lois Lowry and the companion book Gathering Blue
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Godless by Peter Hautman
and of course such classics as The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, The Chronicles of Narnia series, Lord of the Flies, and more.

Many YA books (and even those written for children and tweens) are written at a higher reading level (and therefore more challenging) than the vast majority of "adult" books.  I acknowledge that there are different reasons for reading: for learning, for pleasure, for passing the time.  And depending on why you are reading, one book may be a better choice at that time.  If I am laying on the beach and relaxing, I want what I call "brain candy" meaning something that I don't have to think too much about.  We don't always read to be challenged or to learn, of course, but let us not dismiss YA books because they are "for children".

What are some of your favorite non-adult books and what do you love about them?

Until we read again,

Friday, April 27, 2012

W is for Watson and X is for Xeriscape

Yesterday somehow escaped before I realized I had not done my daily post.  My apologies.  To make up for it, here is a two-fer.

Reading: Before going into my post about Larry Watson, I have a confession.  I love Montana and many things related to it (I would say all things related to it but there are some really messed up things there, too.).  My mom's entire family moved there when I was young and we spent many summers with my grandparents in the western part of the state.  I love the mountains, I love the air, the water, the rocks.  I know the wildflowers and trees of that part of the world better than those in my home state.  And of course I love to visit my grandparents (Underpants Grandma, in case you were wondering).  I also like to read about Montana. 

I am not sure where I picked up Larry Watson's novel Montana 1948 but the slim volume is marked as a library book.  I have bought many a discarded library book but this one puzzles me a bit since it is not from the county I live in.  That matters not.  This little novel packs a punch and I have read it multiple times.  There is a powerful sense of place and the characters are people you know, or think you know.  Our narrator, David, starts with this line: "From the summer of my twelfth year I carry a series of images more vivid and lasting than any others from my boyhood and indelible beyond all attempts the years make to erase or fade them..." And this story is one that made in indelible mark in my mind, too.  David's father is the sheriff in the small town in eastern Montana where they live, his uncle is a charming war hero and respected doctor.  Marie Little Soldier, David's family's housekeeper, becomes ill but refuses to let the doctor treat her.  What is revealed when the sheriff investigates why Marie refuses treatment rocks the foundation of this family and the events that unfold challenge their values, beliefs and ideals.  From the back cover,"It is a tale of love and courage, of power abused and of the terrible choice between family loyalty and justice."  I don't want to give away too much but once you pick up this book, be prepared to read it in my sitting.

Justice is just as good.  It takes place before the events in Montana 1948 with the same family, when Wesley and Frank (the sheriff and doctor in 1948) are in high school, college and young adulthood, and gives more background to those characters, but it is not necessary to read Justice before 1948.  In fact, I think it is even better to read it after 1948, knowing what happens to them in 1948, watching for the clues that led to the events in 1948.  The sense of place is again so strong that you may find yourself longing for small towns and wide open spaces, even if you are not a Montana-phile, like me.

Weeding:  X is for Xeriscape.  Xeriscaping is planting to use less water.  I picked this word because a) it started with X, b) the concept of using less water is very appealing to me, and c) I thought it would motivate me to learn more about it.  As with many of my plans, this one is not fully thought-out or executed well.  I didn't really do any research on it.  But I did realize that I have unintentionally been xeriscaping.  I don't pick plants because they are drought-resistant, but since I am a poor water-er, the perennials that survive in my yard are apparently drought-resistant.  I am xeriscaping by default, by laziness, and by luck.  If you want to know more about this, I would recommend checking out sources other than me.  Sorry.  Some garden related blogs I read are: Walnuts and Pears by Kate who consulted on my yard/garden about 10 years ago, and Gone Gardening by Sherry, a blog I discovered as part of the A-Z Challenge (actually I think Sherry visited my blog first and then I checked out hers and started following). 

Until we read and weed (and blog) again,

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Voyageur Toque, Viking Hat, and Veggie Gardens

Voyageur toque - Picture courtesy
Creating and Weeding: Originally I was going to post for "V" day about a Voyageur toque that I was planning to knit.  This was to be a donation for the annual silent auction which benefits a high-adventure camp that E is on the board of.  One of the trips they offer is in the huge voyageur canoe on Lake Superior and I thought there might be interest in a handmade voyageur hat.  Unfortunately, I did not get the project completed in time (full disclosure: I did not even start it.) for a variety of reasons/excuses.  So this post will not be about that.
Minnesota Vikings hat
My back-up idea (I may have had an inkling that I would not finish the voyageur toque) was E's Viking hat I made late last year before he went to the football game.  I have blogged this hat before, though, so that is kind of a cheater post.

I could also have written about volunteer plants but have already done that one, too.

So that leaves veggies, specifically veggie gardens.  A few years we built a small (5'x5' I think) raised bed in the backyard to grow vegetables in.  We packed in corn, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and carrots.  Most things grew well and we adjusted our planting (fewer cherry tomato plants for one thing) in the years that followed.  Last year we decided to build an additional bed to give more room for the corn and peppers specifically.  And we actually finished it!  We will plant it probably later next month, when it hopefully will be done freezing at night. 

Some people may think we are a bit crazy planting all those things in such a small space but it works.  The weeds are crowded out, it doesn't take up half the yard and other than the peppers getting shaded too much by the tomatoes which grew as tall as trees (I now know to pinch those back), everything did well.  The first year the corn turned out and we had enough.  One of the next years we kept getting summer storms with high wind, hail, etc., and the corn kept blowing down.  Then another year, the deer ate the corn.  We have since added a fence to help discourage the deer.  And now with the new bed, the corn will have more room.  Fingers crossed for our own fresh sweet corn (though last year we got plenty from our CSA)!

Here are a couple photos of the new raised bed.  I promised these last fall after we built the darn thing.  As I have said before, it is big enough to bury a body in there...

The first layer of timbers is in.  You can see the other bed on the far left.  The compost bins and huge volunteer tomatoes are also in this photo, above the new bed.

The new bed is complete! 

Body to be buried?  Nope - It's me! Just to give some perspective on the size.

Until we weed again,

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Underwear!

Reading: When I was coming up with my topics for each letter, the first "U" word I thought of was "underwriter", probably because that is my job title.  But underwriting doesn't have anything to do with reading, eating, gardening or creating (well, actually there is a lot of reading, but it is 90% medical records which I will not and cannot blog about).  And I have already blogged about underwriting in another post.  So then I thought "Underwear!"  Not the clothing - I don't knit my own underwear or even sew any - but the book.  Underwear! by Mary Elise Monsell is a picture book and the fun story of Zachary the Zebra and Orfo the Orangutan, who love underwear, and Bismarck the Buffalo who does not. Zachary and Orfo love underwear so much that they wear multiple pairs at a time, sometimes on their heads, and have all different designs - spots and stripes and palm trees, even underwear with underwear on it!  They attend the World's Greatest Grassland Underwear Fair to stock up on all their favorites and to see what's new in underwear.  Bismarck, meanwhile, is so grumpy that even the bugs that live on his back fly away.  So Zachary and Orfo challenge him to say "underwear" ten times without laughing - and you can imagine what happens.  This is a fun book to read aloud to children ages 2-6.  My mom does some awesome voices for each of the characters, too.  And of course the giggles that launch into full out belly laughs are as much fun for the reader as for the listener.  Check it out and see if you can say "underwear" ten times without laughing.  One of the other great parts of this book is the pictures by illustrator Lynn Munsinger who has illustrated loads of other books including another of my favorites One Hungry Monster by Susan Heyboer O'Keefe.  The details on the boxer shorts that Zachary and Orfo wear are hilarious and to see them with underwear on every limb and on their heads is laugh-inducing on its own.

Speaking of underwear... In my post on quilts I said that one of my grandmas was Quilt Grandma and my other grandma is Underpants Grandma.  Now how does one get the nickname "Underpants Grandma", you may wonder.  Well, if you start to buy underpants for your grandchildren, and every year either send new underwear for the first day of school, you too may someday be Underpants Grandma.  She told us she liked us to have new undies because she was the youngest of eleven, born during the Great Depression, and didn't get new anything, not even underwear.  I can't imagine wearing hand-me-down underwear.  And thanks to Underpants Grandma, I didn't have to (though I am the oldest so I probably wouldn't have had to anyway).  I'm a little sad that Granny doesn't buy me undies anymore, but then again, I don't have first days of school anymore either.

Until we read (or change our underwear?) again,

P.S. I realize this is probably one of my more ridiculous posts, but really, what did you expect for a post about underwear?

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for The Time Traveler's Wife

Reading: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was one of my favorite book club reads.  It is the story of Henry, a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to inadvertently time travel, and Clare, the woman who marries him.  From his point of view, Henry never met Clare until they were both in their 20s but at that meeting, she states she has known him almost all her life.  Henry in his 40s has been time-travelling to Clare even as a child.  Time-travel is dangerous for Henry, as he does not know when or where he will show up and since, for some reason, he usually arrives there naked.  This could be kind of a creepy set up, with a 40-something naked guy appearing to a child in a meadow, but he is never creepy, and doesn't even know her, let alone love her, when they finally really meet in their 20s.

The premise of this novel sounds like sci-fi, a genre I typically really don't like, but I like time-travelling stories.  I like to think about how it would work, how a person could mess up the future if they did too much changing of things in the past (like in "Back to the Future" when Marty's picture is fading away because he is inadvertently changing how his parents meet, for example).  And this novel is also a love story as much as anything.  For a first novel, this had to be such a challenging one to write!  I thought she did an excellent job of keeping the reader aware of not only the time and place, but of what ages the characters are in each scene as well.

The Time Traveller's Wife was made into a movie as well, which was pretty well done, also, but as with most books and movies, the book was better.  This isn't a book you can read without thinking about - your brain will be doing a bit of work here - but it is well worth the read.  If you need brain candy, empty calories for your mind, try another book.  This is another one of those meals that you eat slowly, take time to savor and digest.

Until we read again,

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