November 2001 – Recent Reading

Periodical of the month:

Granta: The magazine of new writing.

A little twist this month: Instead of a book, I’m recommending a magazine. Granta comes out four times a year, themed issues in the form of a paperback book. Mostly nonfiction– essays and memoirs–but sometimes fiction too, adult literature, not children’s. I’ve been reading Granta for about twenty years now and I find the consistently high quality of its contents very impressive: writers like Paul Theroux, Lorrie Moore, Simon Winchester, Ved Mehta, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ryszard Kapuscinski, to name just a few. The website is www.granta.com

  • Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer. MG fantasy. It is with reluctance that I put this book on a list of ‘recommended’ reads. However, as the book has received quite a bit of hype, I thought people might like to gather opinions about it. The plot: 12-year-old boy- genius takes on the fairy kingdom. The latter is by far the most interesting part of the story, and two characters, one female fairy and one male, are engaging and well realized. Artemis himself is poorly developed, certainly not well enough for me to empathize with him. ‘Gamers’ might like the complex technological hardware described in the book, and the comic-book violence. Otherwise, I have to say there are dozens of fantasy titles I’d choose for myself or a child before this one.
  • The Doll People, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, illus. by Brian Selznick. MG fantasy. Annabelle Doll and her 100-year-old Victorian doll family get new neighbors–the pink plastic Funcrafts. Sort of a modern-day ‘Borrowers’ tale. Annabelle is a terrific character, and there’s a mystery for her to solve: What happened to Auntie Sarah? Selznick’s black-and-white illustrations add to the fun of this novel–including wonderful endpapers. A perfect choice for younger midgrade readers looking to try a ‘bigger’ book. A Texas Bluebonnet Master List selection for this year.
  • Goin’ Someplace Special, by Patricia McKissack, illus. by Jerry Pinkney. PB. ‘Tricia Ann makes her first trip on her own across town through a maze of Jim Crow laws in 1950s segregated Nashville to get to a very special place. The quiet, moving story gains light and depth from the gorgeous watercolor illustrations. Where is ‘Tricia Ann going? Read this wonderful book and find out–the ending brought tears to my eyes.
  • Moonpie and Ivy, by Barbara O’Connor. MG coming of age. A seamless story– characters, setting, plot. A girl is abandoned by her mother and makes friends with the strange boy next door. Not a pretty picture, but one rendered with such care as to be beautiful. What I most admire here is the author’s courage with the plot, particularly the ending: Pearl experiences despair and hope in nearly the same breath. A real book for real life.
  • Stop Pretending, by Sonya Sones

and

  • What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones. YA. Fiction written in free verse, and well written too. Pretending is the story of a family whose oldest daughter ‘goes crazy,’ in the words of the protagonist, the younger sister. The second title is a first-love story. Both worth reading, but if you’re picking between them, I preferred Pretending for its more unusual storyline.
  • Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart, by Vera B. Williams. MG. Another free-verse book, not so much ‘novel’ as ‘portrait’ of a family: Two sisters who cope with being latchkey children. Indeed, Williams includes portraits of the girls at the beginning and end of the book. The book has been much lauded by reviewers and deservedly so (it’s one of my picks for the Newbery). Most of the reviews have praised the book for its vivid depiction of both girls, but here I have to disagree: This is Amber’s story.
  • Behind the Wheel: Poems About Driving, by Janet S. Wong. YA poetry collection. Terrific topic with the writing to match it. Titles like “Insurance for Teen-age Drivers: A New Plan” and “Lessons in Braking.” A great gift for a kid who’s just gotten his or her license.

Food book: Comfort Me with Apples, by Ruth Reichl. In the tradition of M.F.K. Fisher, autobiography via food. This is a sequel, so read Tender at the Bone first–both funny and well-written, with one of those voices that makes you think, ‘I wish she were my best friend.’

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