Feminist re-tellings seem to be the thing nowadays. A Thousand Acres is one such novel - a re-telling of King Lear through the eyes of Ginny, who is aFeminist re-tellings seem to be the thing nowadays. A Thousand Acres is one such novel - a re-telling of King Lear through the eyes of Ginny, who is a reincarnation of Goneril in the play. With this book, Smiley tries to bring some balance into a story that is largely told from a patriarchal perspective, where male characters are granted complexity but female characters fall into the tired cliche of the madonna-whore dichotomy. A Thousand Acres seems a bit hit-and-miss to me; some moments I found believable and compelling, while others I thought were a bit of a stretch. It does make for interesting reading as a companion to King Lear, and prompts the readers to think about aspects of the play that they otherwise might have not picked up on.
The setting is rural Iowa, and Lear is now Larry, a well-to-do farmer who comes from a family that embodies the whole pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps American ethos. He is an overbearing and stubborn man who commands respect in the community. He owns a thousand acres of land, and one day he decides to create a corporation in which his three daughters will have equal shares. Ginny and Rose are both married to farmers and are eager for this chance to expand their land and make a better life for their families, while Caroline, a lawyer who no longer lives in the area, is reluctant to tie herself to a life that she has long since left behind. Her father sees her hesitation as a personal insult, and so the drama begins.
Smiley does a good job of exploring the destructiveness of a patriarchal structure where power is tied to the land. In the play, the chaos that ensues is solely the fault of the daughters, whose greed and ambition result in death and destruction for the entire kingdom. In the novel, Smiley shows that land is so intertwined with status and power that you can't have one without the other. It is the struggle for this land that causes rifts between neighbor and neighbor, or even father and daughter. The daughters want this land not because they are particularly greedy, but because it is the only way to survive in the world that they live in. Yet they are the ones that are hurt most by this societal structure. They are used in bargaining chips in land deals and are expected to be mutely grateful to the fathers and husbands that sweat and toil for a living. Yet as the farmers ruthlessly work the land with their chemicals and pesticides, they poison their own wives and daughters with the run-off from their own fields. Blinded by their desire for prosperity, the farmers refuse to acknowledge that their lust for the land is killing their own. In this interpretation, Goneril and Regan are not heartless, power-hungry villains, but rather two women trying to hold their own in a society that wants them to be meek and accepting of their fate.
Unfortunately, the feminist perspective that Smiley uses to tell her story renders her male characters flat and uninteresting. It could be argued that she is simply reversing the point of view in the original - Shakespeare did not bother to make his female characters complex or sympathetic, so why should she grant any favor to his male characters in her own story? Yet part of what draws readers to King Lear is the progress of the protagonist - how he starts off as arrogant and learns humility by the end. There is pathos at the end of the play because we feel that has gained wisdom yet lost everything he cares about, and he dies pathetic and confused. I have to say that at the end of A Thousand Acres I did not have a strong emotional reaction to anything. Ginny's ending is a sort of trailing off, and lacks the emotional impact of Lear's death scene. I suppose that is the postmodern way; yet as a reader I found it less satisfying.
We read this book in my AP literature class; it definitely helped my students look at King Lear from different perspectives. I was pleased when a few of my students expressed disagreement with Smiley's point of view as expressed through her novel. Regardless of whether or not I personally enjoyed the book, I think that the questions it raises about the original text are worth discussing....more
Sort of a modern-day Little Women - a story of four sisters and their various escapades. It fits nicely within the tradition of books for young girlsSort of a modern-day Little Women - a story of four sisters and their various escapades. It fits nicely within the tradition of books for young girls who like to read, along with others like Anne of Green Gables. There's nothing particularly new or exciting about the storyline, but the writing is cute and charming without being cloying, and even as an adult I was sufficiently invested in the characters to care about what happened to them in the end. Definitely something I would put on my daughter's bookshelf some day....more
It REALLY annoys me when people write books about Korea or Korean culture and they are clearly talking out of their asses. So many details about KoreaIt REALLY annoys me when people write books about Korea or Korean culture and they are clearly talking out of their asses. So many details about Korean culture and Korean language were just plain wrong in this book. What, you can't get an actual Korean person to read over your book and tell you when you're wrong? Lazy, lazy, lazy....more
My overall reaction is a resounding "meh." Sure, the book touches upon themes of Big Brother and conformity and what price, O Lord, what price a worldMy overall reaction is a resounding "meh." Sure, the book touches upon themes of Big Brother and conformity and what price, O Lord, what price a world without conflict but with no personal freedoms. But it's been done before and done better. The Giver, though shorter and with less complex of a plot, evoked a lot more emotion in me than Uglies. Hunger Games, while still fluff, at least had a badass heroine. Tally is certainly no Katniss. Even the briefest of comparisons with Brave New World would have Huxley spinning in his grave.
Basically, this book is Brave New World for teenboppers....more
For a kid's book, it's pretty entertaining. Teddy comes across as a smart but bored kid who is more interested in animals than normal kid things likeFor a kid's book, it's pretty entertaining. Teddy comes across as a smart but bored kid who is more interested in animals than normal kid things like TV and video games, which I have a sneaking sympathy for since that's how I was for much of my own childhood. Also I've never been more jealous of a fictional childhood. Growing up in the Congo in the middle of the wilderness - what would that be like!
The mystery part of the book was pretty well done for a kid's book (it's not exactly an Agatha Christie novel, but it was enough to keep me curious). And I think it's an enlightening insight for kids as to how a zoo works and how animals in a zoo should be treated - kind of like a Life of Pi for young readers (well the first part of the book, anyway). Summer, the daughter of the zoo owner, was cute if a bit boring. The descriptions of Large Marge made me grin a few times. The mom and dad were pretty cool (especially the dad, he was awesome, even though he doesn't appear until way later in the book).
Notes for Chase - this doesn't really seem like a J610 book to me. It's a fun read, but there's not a whole lot to discuss. There is a sort of overarching theme about zoos and how they should value animal rights vs making a profit, but compared to a lot of the other J610 books there is not a lot of subtext going on. It seems closer to an EL510 book or something (contentwise, anyway)....more
I love anything to do with fairytales, so I really really wanted to love Breadcrumbs. The story is based on Andersen's The Snow Queen, and revolves arI love anything to do with fairytales, so I really really wanted to love Breadcrumbs. The story is based on Andersen's The Snow Queen, and revolves around a girl named Hazel who embarks on a quest in search of her missing friend Jack. Hazel and Jack used to be best friends, but then Jack suddenly becomes cold and distant. And then he just vanishes.
The main reason I couldn't fall in love with the book was Hazel herself. Maybe it's because I tried to identify with her too much. When I was her age, I loved reading books - fiction and nonfiction - and coming up with my own stories as well. I feel like that was strongly tied to the insatiable curiosity I had about everything. I was equally happy reading about Narnia as I was reading about rare diseases. So for me, Hazel's disinterest in anything to do with science just felt really weird. In the very first scene, where she is enthralled by the first snowfall and then immediately tunes out her mom telling her about snowflake patterns - that made me furrow my brow. I get that one of the themes in the book is rational thought vs creativity and imagination. But I really don't like it when the relationship between the two things are presented as a dichotomy. They don't have to be incompatible.
Also, Hazel's friendship with Jack seemed extremely one sided. She came off as a bit obsessed. I used to be extremely attached to my friend at that age, but still I couldn't really empathize with her slightly crazed emotions concerning her friend.
I did enjoy the fairytale bits of the story a lot. I thought they were done very well, with just the right touch of shadows lurking in the corners.
PS - something about the illustrations rubbed me the wrong way as well. They seemed too artificial and computer generated. Not really what you expect from a fairytale story....more
The trend for children's fantasy these days seems to follow a set formula: write long, lengthy books that turn into a sprawling series where the plotThe trend for children's fantasy these days seems to follow a set formula: write long, lengthy books that turn into a sprawling series where the plot is full of OMG! and WTF!. Make sure that is complicated enough so as to span several fan wikis where characters and plot points are lovingly and painstakingly detailed, and fans can get into fierce and heated arguments over which characters should hook up and which shouldn't and how some chance dialogue in Book 1 was a cleverly hidden bit of foreshadowing in something that happens in Book 12.
The charm of the Chronicles of Prydain is that it manages to have complex characters and gripping storylines without spanning hundreds of pages per book. The plots are fairly straightforward and don't require that you remember minutiae from previous books in the series. In fact, each books stand pretty well on its own.
The Black Cauldron is the second in the series and possibly the best. It follows Taran, Assistant Pig Keeper, as he joins the effort led by Prince Gwydion to find and destroy the Black Cauldron, which is being used by Arawn (the bad guy) to create undead warriors called the Caudron-Born. It is a satisfying adventure story, but it also does a great job of exploring the grey area between good and evil, and what it means to be a hero. Taran desperately wants to be a hero, but throughout the story he has to face his own weaknesses - vanity, pride, and a desire for greatness.
Lloyd Alexander does an excellent job of writing a story simple enough for younger readers to easily follow yet creating characters that invite readers to think about their own desire, prejudices and weaknesses. His endings are never perfectly happy, but they are always satisfying....more
This book is soulless. The plot is entertaining enough, I suppose, but it held no charm for me. Everything is so slick and contrived. To be fair, I amThis book is soulless. The plot is entertaining enough, I suppose, but it held no charm for me. Everything is so slick and contrived. To be fair, I am obviously not part of its target audience. But if I had kids of my own, I would not encourage them to read this series. It is the worst kind of children's book - one that is obviously a franchise, aimed at making as much money as possible. Ick....more
This book feels like it was written by a teenager, which I suppose is what the author was aiming for. It starts off as a mystery - why did the narratoThis book feels like it was written by a teenager, which I suppose is what the author was aiming for. It starts off as a mystery - why did the narrator call the cops at a party last summer, thereby ostracizing herself from all of her peers? - but the mystery is clarified fairly early on. Most of the book focuses on the narrator's psyche - her loneliness, her frustration, and her refusal to speak out.
The symbolism is pretty heavy-handed, but I think it's a good book to teach to teenagers before they are given more challenging texts. Classroom discussions on the meanings of the tree, the closet, and Melinda's bleeding lips would probably go in fairly obvious directions. It might be interesting to hear students' opinions as to whether they feel the same way Melinda does about school life. I've read some reviews mocking Melinda for being unrealistically angsty, but I don't think that's fair. First of all, there is a very good reason for her angst; also, I remember myself as a teenager and back then I was extremely emotional and every little thing was the end of the world. I remember cutting classes and wandering through malls under my own little cloud of existential angst. And I didn't even have Melinda's excuse.
I'm a little nervous about teaching this book, but I'm also looking forward to it as well.
King Matt the First is a story about a prince who becomes king at a young age. Obviously he has no idea whaI do not understand the love for this book.
King Matt the First is a story about a prince who becomes king at a young age. Obviously he has no idea what a king is supposed to do, so he starts off doing wacky things like making a huge doll for a random girl he meets, then runs off to war to play soldier. Later he creates a children's parliament, where children can govern themselves however they see fit, which of course leads to all sorts of trouble. Somewhere in the middle he befriends an African king named Bum Drum (I wish I were kidding) who wears bones in his hair and eats the flesh of men.
I understand the book is a product of its time, so even though the blatant racism was really distracting for me, I won't comment on it. I think what really bugged me about this book was that the characters all seemed flat and stupid. Especially the children. They all acted as if they were seven or younger, which didn't make any sense since clearly older children were also supposed to be present. I teach children for a living, and the children in this book didn't seem believable to me at all.
The narrator's voice was also extremely annoying. It seemed wooden and condescending all at once, which is odd if you consider the fact that the story is told from a third-person omniscient POV.
Honestly, I felt more moved after reading the blurb about the author on the back cover than I did after reading the actual book....more
I'm not sure what the point of this book is. Everything is black and white and none of the characters seemed particularly interesting. I wasn't sure wI'm not sure what the point of this book is. Everything is black and white and none of the characters seemed particularly interesting. I wasn't sure why Ellen was considered to be so bloody special. The only remotely complex character was Otto.
The kids seemed to like it, but there really wasn't much to discuss....more
I'm not sure what my kids thought of it. I think the dated language and expressions confused them mostly. (For example, Gemmy keeps saying "Gaw!" andI'm not sure what my kids thought of it. I think the dated language and expressions confused them mostly. (For example, Gemmy keeps saying "Gaw!" and my kids had to ask me what that meant.)
I thought it was a good story and managed to bring a bit of depth to its characters without being overly didactic. Although at the end of the story I was left with one question - did the author name "Captain Hairy Nips" with a straight face?...more
Short version: This is a more involved and philosophical version of The Velveteen Rabbit.
Long version: I have to admit, I was initially skeptical of tShort version: This is a more involved and philosophical version of The Velveteen Rabbit.
Long version: I have to admit, I was initially skeptical of this book. It is an odd tale of a wind-up toy that consists of a father mouse and a child mouse (although they are one toy, they have separate consciousnesses). As is the fate of all toys, they are sold to a family, but are not played with because they are considered too valuable. Then a tragic accident flings them out into the wide world, where they must fend for themselves as best they can. The animal world is cruel and bloodthirsty, but they manage to win themselves allies in their quest to become something more than simple clockwork.
It's really a brilliant story. The plot in and of itself works well as a straightforward adventure, but for adult readers there are bits of clever satire aimed at modern ideas of art and philosophy. I mean, what kind of children's book includes a satire of a Samuel Beckett play? The book is also rich with symbols - the main one being the dog food can with the label of a dog serving a dog food can with a label of a dog serving a dog food can ad infinitum. But mixed in with the satire and symbolism are heartfelt questions about the meaning of existence. The mouse and his child were specifically design to twirl around in the same pattern and entertain children with their antics. That is what their existence is supposed to be about. Their story is mostly about how they bravely rebel against what seems like an inevitable fate. Who knew a children's book could be so existential?
My kids had mixed reactions to this book - some liked it, some found it boring. I think it really is one of those books you have to read at least twice to digest properly....more
Interesting book. Starts off with an iron giant that eats metal and ends with Kepler's theory of the music of the spheres. Seriously, Ted Hughes, WTF?Interesting book. Starts off with an iron giant that eats metal and ends with Kepler's theory of the music of the spheres. Seriously, Ted Hughes, WTF? If you're going to write a children's book, then write a children's book, and keep the pretentious shit out of it.
My kids seemed to enjoy it for the most part, although they seemed a bit confused by the ending. Hey, no worries kids, so was I....more