Friday, March 28, 2014

Mis-Titled Books: An Epidemic

In a few short months, I have encountered more than one a book that was completely mis-titled, and that completely changed my expectations, and enjoyment, of the books.

Let's take Caleb's Crossing, which I thought was one of Geraldine Brooks' least successful novels. I couldn't quite understand what was wrong: I thought the narrator brought interesting perspective to the story, which itself was interesting... and yet —

My friend Carole suggested the title was misleading, and I wholeheartedly agreed. Had the title included "Martha's Vineyard," "woman" or "Harvard," I would have been better prepared for the lack of Caleb in the story. I can't say I would have liked it better, but I would have approached it differently. came Philomena.

This book club selection seemed pretty straight-forward: it was about an Irish woman named Philomena and her search for the son she gave up for adoption in Ireland and the British journalist who helped her. Wasn't it?

IThe title on the new paperback release of Martin Sixsmith's book, it turns out, was as new as the cover featuring Dame Judy Dench. The book also included a forward by the actor. I hadn't planned to read the book, but the movie seemed interesting. However, fate intervened, and I picked up a copy at Target.

I found the story tragic, but also confusing. I couldn't figure out why the book featured only a short bit of Philomena at the beginning. Readers soon left her behind to follow her toddler son to America, watching him grow into a tortured, confused and self-protective man. Every once in a while I'd close the book and look at the bright cover, the only place that featured Philomena. The author poked his head in every once in a while, which was jarring and drew me away from Michael.

Had I done a little more research, I would have been less surprised. The original title and cover were more appropriate to the story I had begun. The Lost Child of Philomena Lee was a tragic story about the boy Michael Hess, made all the more tantalizing by the fact that he was well-known in certain circles.

I stopped reading the book when Michael Hess was in graduate school. First, I didn't like the photos stuck in the middle that, unfortunately, revealed the end. More importantly, however, was the betrayal by the editor and publisher: the story I had agreed to read featured Philomena as the lead, not Michael. Perhaps had I finished, I'd have gotten the story I expected, but I'll never know.

I understand that covers influence readers, and subsequent editions and covers are more explicit or revealing (A Reliable Wife comes to mind, a delicious book with an accurate title and two very different, yet compelling, covers). Titles, however, are even more crucial, and a mis-titled book can confuse and possibly derail many an intrepid reader.

I usually peruse the Library of Congress information at the front of the book, but now I think I will have to make that required reading. I don't want to be tricked like that again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Poetry Wednesday: Long Island Sound

Poem in your Pocket Day is April 24 — are you ready? Here's a poem that will fit in your pocket — and start looking for others!

Long Island Sound

I see it as it looked one afternoon

In August,—by a fresh soft breeze o’erblown.

The swiftness of the tide, the light thereon,

A far-off sail, white as a crescent moon.

The shining waters with pale currents strewn,

The quiet fishing-smacks, the Eastern cove,

The semi-circle of its dark, green grove.

The luminous grasses, and the merry sun

In the grave sky; the sparkle far and wide,

Laughter of unseen children, cheerful chirp

Of crickets, and low lisp of rippling tide,

Light summer clouds fantastical as sleep

Changing unnoted while I gazed thereon.

All these fair sounds and sights I made my own.

— Emma Lazarus


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review: Ender's Game

Ender's Game is no Bridge to Terabithia — but it's darn close.

And no, that's not a compliment.

Unlike Bridge, I did not wish to throw Ender's Game across the room. Instead, I wrapped my arms around myself and let the tears come.

Had I read this as a child, I probably would have grown up jaded and mistrustful of all adults. However, as an adult, I thought the observances by both adults and children were cruel but brilliant.

Ender is the third child living in a future dystopia in which Earth was on guard for attacks by an extraterrestrial species that were similar to insects, or "bugs." Andrew is the youngest child in a family of particularly brilliant children who were nurtured (or bred) to cultivate  the "stuff" to become brilliant bug-fighters. The eldest was too cruel, the second was too empathetic. The third, however, was perfect — and herein lies the story.

Ender is the perfect child and almost the perfect fighter. All he needs is a push. Maybe more than one. And his battle-ready personality is cultivated without his knowledge, but with his full cooperation.

Frankly, I thought the story brutal and cruel. Orson Scott Card, like other "young adult" authors, wrote the story for himself as an adult. Had I read it as a child, I think I'd be much more cynical and perhaps a little more calculating growing up. (That may not have been a bad thing.)

And the end — well, just when you think the tale can't get any "worse," it does. The thought-providing conclusions spill out in waves, and I re-read the last few pages repeatedly to see if there was something I missed that would make it less [insert your word here].

And yet, I plan to share it with my godson. It's a brilliant story with amazing plot complications, and it's a morality tale that should be read. We will discuss it.

I'm not sorry I read the novel, but iI am sorry it was such a hard story to read. I don't plan to read the rest of the quintet. I don't want to return to that world. Once was enough for me.

I recommend this with great caution. I can see why it's a classic, but it still made me weep.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Review: American Decameron

Take a stroll through the twentieth century courtesy of Mark Dunn and his brilliant short story collection, American Decameron.

Based on Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron, Dunn tells a story for every year of the century. Every state is represented, as well as at least one location outside the country.

The author suggests only the first and last stories be read in order, and the rest could be read in any order.

I read the stories in chronological order, and I am glad I did. The stories progressed linguistically and tonally: the formality of the language and story tone evolved with the century, as did subjects, which also were very enjoyable.

On the whole, the stories were successful. Some were steeped in history, others were absolutely original. Many were rooted in fact (I plan to search for clues on the more obscure stories). Not all are stories in the traditional sense, and the imaginative approach to storytelling was revolutionary, entertaining and, at times, completely unexpected. A few of the stories seemed a little contrived and token (1982, I'm looking at you).

More than a few of the stories made me cry. A couple of them required me to compose myself after they were read, particularly the post-war stories. I read the book with Carole, and we called each other to see which stories we had read. ("Have you gotten to 1930?" "Oh, my stars, 1948!")

And for the record, 1948 was one of the most moving stories I've ever read. 1903 was imaginative and touching, 1907 had the most delicious twist. 1916 was profoundly heartwarming, 1954 nearly broke my heart.  1926 actually did break my heart.

I also am slowly making my way through the original Decameron. In fact, I plan to re-read American Decameron while reading the Italian story collection. Then, I'll read American Decameron again and again. It's the kind of collection that gives readers something new at every reading. If you are like me, you'll gorge on the stories for as long as your eyes will stay open, then a little longer after that.

I strongly recommend this book, and I can't wait to find out what you think.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Poetry Wednesday: After Love

After Love

Afterward, the compromise.
Bodies resume their boundaries.
These legs, for instance, mine.
Your arms take you back in.
Spoons of our fingers, lips
admit their ownership.
The bedding yawns, a door
blows aimlessly ajar
and overhead, a plane
singsongs coming down.
Nothing is changed, except
there was a moment when
the wolf, the mongering wolf
who stands outside the self
lay lightly down, and slept.

 by Maxine W. Kumin

from Selected Poems, 1960-1990. Copyright © 1970 by Maxine Kumin. 
Courtesy Poetry Foundation