Thursday, April 28, 2011

Not Writing, Still Busy

Writing every day is important to me and it's not something I'm doing at present. The urge is still there. I abandon my bed, driven from potential (and much-needed!) sleep by the need to write. Ideas buzz around in my head, eager to be let out.

Then I sit at my computer and hear: the baby waking, an older child requesting assistance (or attention), the pug needing to go outside, my email inbox pinging and pinging and pinging, or just my carpets crying for merciful attention from the vacuum cleaner.

I jot down my thoughts in outline form, hoping to get back to "flesh them out" later. This process satisfies the urge to write but rarely (never) produces anything worth sharing.

Indeed, this is less than half the post it was intended to be. But Ada needs water for her paintbrush and lunch isn't putting itself on the table.

Looking back over our Picasa site for the last month, it appears that I haven't just been on a "babymoon." I did have a baby a month ago and he's rather the center of everything right now. (And rightly so!)

But I've also written a bunch of thank you notes, read several books, gone to book club twice, toured a local Frank Lloyd Wright house, assisted in homework-related projects, hosted lots of company, gone to church and related meetings (several), attended a reunion event, put together a Seder and Easter, taken the dog and child to the vet and pediatrician, respectively, and coordinated the first annual Paul invitational marathon and supported my husband's running in general. Not too shabby.

From Ellie's nonfiction writing project "How To Make Cornbread for Chili:"

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Permission to Change (Seasons)

My apologies for the erratic weather we've had so far this year. I recently realized that it's all my fault.

See, in December a friend gave me a novel called Snow by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk. As I read it in fits and starts, it took me a really really long time to finish. But I'm finally done! And so now the snow can stop and spring can commence in earnest.

You're welcome.

As for why it took me so long to finish this book, well, that's all me I suppose. I kept flipping back to the front cover to verify that the seal on the front proclaiming, "Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature!" was still there and not just something I dreamed.

Later, I'd turn the book over and peruse the blurbs again. "One of the best books of the year" according to just about everyone from The New York Times Book Review to The Economist. Rave reviews from truly impressive people.

Repeatedly I read the jacket copy. "Slyly comic." Also, "humor," "wicked grin," etc.

I was excited to read this fabulous book, which came so highly recommended and is set in Turkey. (My in-laws lived in Turkey for years and my husband was actually born there; they returned to the states when his sister was ready for elementary school.)

But I just didn't get it. I didn't engage with the story, I didn't connect with the characters, and I felt frustrated by the pace. (The first day seemed to me like it must have been at least 48 hours long. Is Ka really in his late 30's as it appears? If so, how come the 17+ year age difference between close sisters Ipek and Kadife is never discussed?) I utterly missed the humor.

Obviously, this is all on me since apparently everyone else who's read Snow loved it. But I spent the first 200 pages trying to figure out why the author gave most of the unrelated main characters the same last name (Bey). Then I figured it must be a subtle comment on the provincial nature of Turkish society (the cerebral humor I'd been missing?). By page 300 I'd realized that "Bey" must be a sort of honorific (and it is). Some of my confusion might indeed have been cultural. I certainly feel like an uncultured ignoramus for my utter failure to appreciate this highly acclaimed novel.

But I finished it, and now it's spring!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rope 'Em! by Stacy Nyikos

I love participating in Barrie Summy's Book Review Club, and I get especially excited when she asks for a volunteer to review a children's picture book. The last one I reviewed was An Apple Pie for Dinner, which is still a favorite of both my girls. So when Barrie asked if anyone was interested in reviewing a picture book by another member of the Book Review Club, Stacy Nyikos, I jumped at the chance. And I am very, very glad the author sent me a copy!

At first I was concerned. suggests the book for 9-12 year-olds, which seemed a bit old for a picture book. Would my 7- and 4-year olds enjoy the story or would it be too much for them?

As I started reading, I remained concerned. A lot of the book - which is hilarious, incidentally - is an extended pun I doubt my 4-year-old understood. It's a Western. Set underwater. At the "OK Coral." On every page I felt like there were at least two jokes I needed to explain in order for my children to "get" the story.

But I held off and just read the story, instead. And then I read it again. And again. And, later, again. When my Ada's preschool class started a unit on the ocean I allowed her to take the book with her to school to share with her friends. (Ada has a thing for the ocean and another current favorite picture book of both of my girls is a western: Susan Middleton Elya's Cowboy Jose.)

I'm probably underestimating my kids. I bet they do get the humor in a bull shark chasing cowfish. And what's not to love about a sea horse who's a champion herder?

I'm still not sure exactly what my girls like about this book. They can't quite articulate why it's so great, but they certainly ask for it at bedtime again and again. They love to hate the shark. They sympathize with the heros. And my preschooler is a big fan of the TEAMWORK message that ends the story and dovetails nicely with a concept emphasized at her school.

The writing is clever, and with all the puns there's plenty for 9-12 year-olds (and adults) to enjoy. But the story also works on a simpler level for younger children. There's not too much text on the page, and Bret Conover's illustrations are worth the journey through the book all by themselves.

I can tell you what I like about the book, but for a children's picture book I think the highest praise is when a child requests the book over and over. And that's certainly happening at our house. Cowboy José had to go back to the library yesterday, but we still have Rope 'Em and I know we'll read it again tomorrow!

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