Often called the Philosopher-Poet of the ecological movement, Derrick Jensen has produced fiction, non-fiction, spoken word, and even a graphic novel and a children’s book. When introduced to Jensen, finding a place to start can be intimidating. He covers an amazingly broad spectrum of subjects, and treats them all with intensity and passion. His two-volume manifesto Endgame is 960 pages alone. But even more daunting than the volume of his work is the subject matter. Jensen forces the reader to deal with problems that most people would rather ignore. As captivating as his work is, you can’t help but have a sinking feeling in your stomach as you read it. I often feel like a selfish child who’s been caught doing something wrong, and now has to face both my conscience and the consequences of my actions when Jensen confronts me. His beliefs, such as his argument for the destruction of modern civilization to save the world, are admittedly extremist in nature. But Jensen’s ideas that recycling cans and using better light bulbs are little more than the “green-washing” of a corrupt and collapsing culture hold more water than I’d like to believe.
How Shall I Live My Life is manageable in both size and intensity. The book is a collection of short interviews conducted by Jensen. While it lacks his impassioned, creative writing style, it is a good introduction to the subjects that he typically writes about. I’m not certain if it was his motive for compiling these interviews, but they do present a less heartbreaking introduction to the subjects. Sometimes when reading a Jensen book, I get the feeling that it’s “me and Jensen against the world.” When read as a collection of works from 10 different people, the situations don’t feel as hopeless. I found the interview with Jan Lundberg about the end of car culture to be the most compelling and interesting. The relatively short entry is still able to deal with the problems caused by car-dependency in a depth that I’ve found all together absent elsewhere. It made me feel like I’m not alone in banging my head against the wall trying to rid myself of my car. But each of the articles, on everything from human interaction in the modern world to corporate accountability for political instability, were all quite convincing in regards to what the book calls the “destructive, dominant culture.”
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Edward Eager (1911-1964) really ought to be better known. Although none of his books won major awards, they have stayed in print for more than fifty years and are still being read and enjoyed by elementary age children.
Mr. Eager was actually a successful playwright and lyricist. He wrote fewer than a dozen books for children, seven of them representative of what he termed his “daily magic” style. While reading aloud to his young son, Fritz, he discovered the books of the classic children’s author, Edith Nesbit (Five Children and It, The Railway Children, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Magic City, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and The Enchanted Castle, among others), and, admiring her style, consciously tried to imitate it.
His first “magical” sort of book was Half Magic, published in 1954. In this, as in the six to follow, he always paid homage to Nesbit by depicting his characters reading her books. Of her, he said, “Probably the sincerest compliment I could pay her is already paid in the fact that my own books for children could not even have existed if it were not for her influence”.
Okay, so what is so great about Eager’s books? Why should you read them aloud to your kids, or place them in your children’s hands? Although the world of his characters is that of his own childhood (1920s Toledo, Ohio), and there are certainly differences in lifestyle from our own time, there is also a timeless quality of childhood, a sense that magic can really happen to ordinary kids. As a character in another of his books, Seven-Day Magic, says, “The best kind of magic book …is when it’s about ordinary people like us, and then something happens and it’s magic. The best kind of magic book…is the kind where the magic has rules. And you have to deal with it and thwart it before it thwarts you. Only sometimes you forget and get thwarted”. The books exhibit a lot of humor and word play. The children in his books are reading children, and are often depicted visiting the library. There are many references to other authors and books running through his plots. The episodic chapters make the books perfect for reading aloud.
The characters introduced in that book reappear in Magic by the Lake, Knight’s Castle, and The Time Garden. Next, try the companion books, Magic of Not? and The Well-Wishers. Finally, you may want to read his last work, a stand- alone book, Seven-Day Magic, which is about a magical library book.
Half Magic appears on a number of lists of favorite or recommended books for children. Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, lists it as one of his favorite kids’ books. Terry Clark, head of the Children’s Library of the Vancouver Public Library in British Columbia, included it on her list, “If You Like Harry Potter, You Will Like These”. Finally, the modern children’s writer, Laurel Snyder, has continued the tradition of using imitation as the sincerest form of flattery by writing a book, Any Which Wall , which sets out to imitate Eager in just the way he imitated Nesbit. As researcher Charlotte Spivack put it, “…the best “daily magic” available to children is the magic experience of reading imaginative literature”.
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In Matt Haig’s The Radleys, the general populace is unaware of the existence of vampires. The Radleys, a modern vampire family live as abstainers, guided by a bible of abstinence which prohibits taking human life for blood. At times thoughtful, even mournful, the Radleys is also spiced with wry humor. ( Lord Byron, Jimi Hendrix and Danielle Steel are revealed to be vampires...Neckbook is the new social networking craze.)
The Radleys of Orchard Lane are a family pretending to be everything they are not-average, pedestrian, normal. Peter is a physician at the local clinic, and his wife Helen paints watercolors, and attends book club discussion. Their son Rowan is bullied at school, and daughter Clara is going vegan, and championing animal rights. Though they are keeping up appearances, Peter and Helen have been harboring a secret not just from the town folk of Bishopthorpe, but from their own children as well. Clara wonders why animals avoid her, and Rowan suffers endless torment from his classmates for his “differentness”. In spite of the wrenching control Peter and Helen have maintained over the years, a carefully constructed façade is on the verge of crumbling. The fragile peace of the Radley’s lives is violently shattered when Clara is overwhelmed by her true nature. There’s no turning back. As Clara’s crisis rocks the foundation of their world, the past is also catching up. Peter’s brother arrives on the scene, bringing his own threat to the Radley’s survival, and the police are closing in on Clara.
As tensions in the town tighten, bonds between the Radleys are tested. The lure of blood is strong, and each member of the family will be drawn into temptation and challenged to find the strength to take control of their destinies. Revenge, love, hope and rebirth coalesce at the conclusion. They may be vampires, but the Radleys are also strangely human, fallible, and very likeable. In a sea of current vampire novels on the shelves today, The Radleys is a stand-out. I hope we hear more from Matt Haig.
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Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman by Sam Wassonsubmitted by Debbe
My first introduction to Truman Capote was after he wrote In Cold Blood , a novel based on the true story of a Kansas family’s tragic murders. I was a teenager and Capote was a regular guest on NBC’s Tonight show. I found his talk show banter irresistible and was the perfect age to delve into what Capote himself called “a nonfiction novel.’ I read the book and then a year or two later saw the film.
Since then I have seen Capote , Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Academy Award winning depiction of the years Capote spent researching and writing In Cold Blood , and I’ve read Capote in Kansas: a ghost story by Kim Powers, a fictional work depicting the end of Capote’s life and how In Cold Blood haunted him.
Recently I read a copy of Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman by Sam Wasson. I was too young to read Capote’s novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s when it was first published and it wasn’t until about 10 years ago I saw the movie. The focus of Wasson’s book is on Capote’s writing of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and its adaption to the big screen. The author followed the entire process from the formation by Capote of the idea that spawned the novel until moviegoers saw the finished product.
Personalities involved in the movie production are giants in film history: film director, Blake Edwards; screenwriter, George Axelrod; costumer, Edith Head; composer, Henry Mancini; lyricist, Johnny Mercer; and actors Hepburn, George Peppard, Buddy Ebsen, Patrician Neal and Mickey Rooney, to name a few. The process of screenwriting, casting, costuming and the coming together of Mancini and Mercer to compose Moon River, the movie’s theme, is both informative and entertaining. Wasson explains why Capote’s novel was significantly changed; to accommodate the “morals” of the time; and how the selection of Audrey Hepburn to play the role of Holly Golightly was instrumental in the successful adaption. Capote’s novel would not have made it passed the censors of the time but the selection of Hepburn allowed more flexibility. Capote’s choice of Marilyn Monroe might have been less “suitable.”
Reading the Wasson book, spurred me to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s , watch the movie again and listen to the soundtrack, allowing me to experience them with an understanding of the process which created them. All books, DVDs and CDs are available at the library.
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It is the year 1811, just before King George III of Britain is set to be declared unfit to rule and his son, Prince George IV, is to be named Prince Regent. This distinctive and tumultuous time in history is the setting for C.S. Harris’ mystery novel, What Angels Fear . I must confess that the majority of Regency era books that I have read are primarily romance novels, beginning with all things Jane Austen and ending with all sorts of popular fiction that is not nearly so well written.
While sharing some familiar aspects with Regency romances, Harris gives us a grittier and more complex look at this time in history. Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin has recently returned from the Peninsular Wars. Unconventional at the best of times, he is now accused of the brutal murder of a young actress named Rachel York. Using skills he acquired in the war, Devlin is on the run from authorities and hiding in the underbelly of 1811 London. He is determined to bring Rachel York’s murderer to justice and clear his own name.
What Angels Fear is the first in C.S. Harris’s St. Cyr mystery series. It is a fast paced, suspenseful, and at times dark, mystery peppered with both real and imagined historical figures. C.S. Harris is a historian whose specialty is 19th century Europe and her expertise is demonstrated throughout this novel. The reader is shown the somewhat familiar world of Regency Era British aristocracy as well as the brutal poverty and desperation of the British poor. Overall, What Angels Fear is the beginning of a thoughtful and entertaining mystery series. I can see fans of Deanna Raybourn , Charles Tood , or Tasha Alexander enjoying this series as well.
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