Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Little Miss Brontë?

So is this the kind of thing rich kids grow up with? BabyLit? "A fashionable way to introduce your child to the world of classic literature." This is not an abridged version of Jane Eyre, but rather a counting primer under the header of "Little Miss Brontë." The text is by Jennifer Adams and the illustrations by Alison Oliver.

I have no business owning a ten dollar, children's counting primer, but you know that I can't resist collecting copies of Jane Eyre--and a children's counting primer? That's so random that it's fascinating. 

The little blue book has twenty pages. On the left is the number and the thing(s) that it describes; on the right is a picture of whatever you're supposed to count. It starts off with one governess and goes on to count things like the towers of Thornfield Hall, the chalkboards that Jane uses to teach Adele, and the pearls that Rochester gives to Jane. It's strictly a counting book with no plot, but by using familiar things from Jane Eyre, it is almost like an extremely abridged version of the story--if you already know the story, that is. 

If you don't, then once you finally read it or watch a movie version of it, some of it will already be familiar. And that is, it would seem, the intention of this book series--to get children familiar with the characters and places of these classic stories. It's strange that something so very simple as a counting book can still bring back memories of one of my favorite books. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Just One Day

The best books exist both at surface level and at a deeper level--the best stories are enjoyable in the moment for certain reasons and are also enjoyable continually after for even more reasons. Just One Day, in a mild sort of way, fits into this category of double levels.

I suppose this is the fourth book by Gayle Forman I have read. If I Stay is, of course, her most famous book. She's a good author, and I enjoy reading her, though it did take me a while to get to Just One Day. You know what I think she does well? She has a talent for illustrating both the individual and groups, which in turn becomes an illustration of human interaction. If I Stay was about family. Sisters in Sanity was about friendship. Just One Day is about one-on-one relationships. 

From the title, the cover, and the summary, you would assume that this book is a romance. And it is, basically. But not really, not all the way. The first third is a love story, developing exactly as you would expect: two characters deciding to spend just one day together in Paris. But that's just the start, just the premise. What this book develops into is so much more. It's a story about the development of personal identity, which I always say is absolutely necessary for a successful relationship. (I like to talk about that a lot with Jane Eyre, about how it was only after Jane and Rochester spent time alone/apart and developed who they were that they could come back together again and really succeed together.) 

There are so many themes about identity in this book. Allyson's journey toward discovering who she has been, who she wants to be, and who she is becomes the most important thing about the book. And maybe because of this, I didn't get the basic love story I was expecting (and maybe kind of wanting), but what I got was so much better. One of the things that helped add this extra level of depth was the element of Shakespeare. In a way, the book begins and ends with Shakespeare, and Shakespeare is all throughout. His plays and his themes make their way in everywhere. For a book that is categorized as teen, it enters fully into interaction with Shakespeare, instead of dumbing things down or keeping it at surface level. (One particular set of books that I won't name did this, except with Egyptian myths instead of Shakespeare. The author seemed smart, but like she was holding back, like she could have written something better.) I was quite glad that I spent a good deal of time with As You Like It in my college Shakespeare class since that was one of the plays featured most. 

It's interesting that Shakespeare is the artist Gayle Forman chose to feature so much in this book. I said that she's good at portraying human interaction, and isn't that exactly what Shakespeare does? He sets up scenarios with a set of characters interacting, and it is the way they interact that creates the power of the plays. And it is the way that Allyson interacts with her parents, her friends both new and old, her coworkers, people she meets while traveling, and Willem that define who she is. How she acts toward them is who she is. It's like she's right at that melting point, where she can see directly how her actions affect the world around her. Sometimes she doesn't like what she sees, so she tries to change it. Sometimes she is successful; sometimes she's just confused. But whatever she is throughout, her journey is fascinating, with little facets of it being relatable and the ultimate climax of it all being what? Hopeful. Hopeful--just what I said I like to see in fiction. I like to see a character struggle and wonder and then look up with hope. 

(Admittedly, I'm glad the story doesn't end the way this book does. I have the sequel waiting for me on the shelf, and I can't wait to read it.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Story of Land and Sea

I have mixed feelings about this book. Although it is entirely like me to have a complicated opinion, it seems to be all doubly complicated this time. When I was doing my birthday month exploration of Barnes & Noble last month, I happened on this book in the New Releases area. The title looked interesting, my brief glance at the summary seemed promising, and as I flipped through to read random sentences they also seemed very nice. There was something about the language that I instantly liked. It seemed like the kind of book that would be poetic, expressive, thoughtful, and strong, the kind of thing that has a point to make and makes it eloquently. It is The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith.

I bought a few books on this particular trip, since I had a few extra dollars to spend. So even though this hardcover came in at about $26, I thought I would splurge and get it. I was pretty excited about my new books and wanted to read them all quickly, but when I got to this one, I slowed down. The book I had been so excited about, the one I had found randomly, the one I had paid so much for, well, I didn't much like it. 

You see, this book is divided into a couple of sections. And the first one is quite sad. It has a touch of As I Lay Dying to its tone and honestly, I didn't see the point in making such a sad illustration. But once you finish this part, the timeline switches by some years and the characters shift slightly, to some we have seen somewhat and to some we haven't seen yet. And along with this switch, the events become less . . . mournful. It's still a book with joys and sorrows, but after that first section, I could handle it all better. The era is Colonial America; the people are of the land and of the sea, all faced with haunting questions about life and death and eternity. Such questions about religion give it a slight reminiscence of stories like The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter

There is such a modern sense to the flow and language of this book. It's told in the present tense, which is fairly common these days. The language is simple and yet rich in its metaphors and imagery. Simple, everyday items and events become symbols of everything great (by which I mean expansive and important, not fantastic) about life. Yet with all the modern format, it's very much sunk into the era. There are questions of class and slavery along with the religion and propriety. There are descriptions of the land, the sea, the boats, the houses, the shops, whatever it is that these people come into contact with. The characters are few, but they are all developed. As far as all of this goes, this is quite a well put together book. It is poetic and deep, just as I had originally thought it would be.

But my remaining uncertainty exists in the ultimate point and purpose. You can appreciate and even like how a book is written without necessarily liking what it is about or what it is saying. And I find myself pausing over what this book is saying. I find myself wondering what its attitude toward hope is. As I've said, these characters go through a lot, some joys but also a great deal of sorrows. So they question the world a lot. And what I wonder is, did any of them ever find hope? Did any of them ever rise above their sorrow, in the end? I believe in hope--and that makes it difficult for me to embrace a book that seems only to be commenting on sorrows and questions and tragedies. Then again, there are many books like that, many, in fact, from around the time of As I Lay Dying. So if you like those or just enjoy some good prose, I would recommend this book. But as for me, I will remain with my mixed feelings, my complicated opinion. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Annie's: Chocolate Bunny Grahams

I've been a longtime fan of Annie's Homegrown for their Cheddar Bunnies (do be careful, though: they come in both Organic and non-Organic versions), which have forever replaced Goldfish and the like. Annie's makes a lot of things for children and specifically for children's lunch bags. While that is all good and well, it does mean that when you're a certain age, you feel odd buying the brand more than occasionally--or buying more than one type of product from them. So it was a while until I tried the Chocolate Bunny Grahams. 

The packet here is one of the snack sizes, as you can see. It's up against my small Life Factory water bottle. The design is basically the same as with the Cheddar Bunnies, just in shades of brown. These bunnies have a different shape from the cheddar ones, though, and I find it oddly suiting the brown color. The orange bunnies are all happy and leaping; these are warm and cuddled. Anyway. The reason that I decided even to do a review of these was not because of the bunny shapes, but because this is a chocolate product that does in fact taste like chocolate--and that's too often a rare thing. 

No, they're not rich and decadent: they're not intended to be. They're light and crunchy, like thin and flat biscuits, halfway between a cracker and a cookie. Although the ambiguous "chocolate flavor" is among the ingredients, further up is cocoa, and I think it is the cocoa that I taste, along with some sugar and vanilla. For a simple snacking product, the flavor really is quite good. Not all the ingredients are organic, but the main ones are, so it's enough for this package to say it's certified organic. The main thing is, there aren't any artificial flavors, synthetic colors, or synthetic preservatives, so there is some degree of monitoring of what goes inside. And that comes through in the flavor. If, for whatever reason, you are buying products like this, whether often or occasionally, Annie's Chocolate Bunny Grahams are a good one to pick out of the crowd. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Doctor Is Gone

It's been one of those weeks where I don't know if I've been really busy or just haven't been doing anything at all. Time just keeps on passing and passing.

I'm also a bit sad. Partially. Partially sad. Only sad about one thing: I've finished all of the First Doctor's episodes. 

Although I have the boxed set of the eleven Doctors' action figures, I decided to only remove each one when I started watching each character's episodes. That's why the pictures I posted earlier had the odd collection of the First, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors. (I also keep going back and forth on whether or not to capitalize the numbers--what's the standard?) Who is this Second Doctor? I don't even know what his accessory is, if it's an early sonic screwdriver or something else.

Back to William Hartnell. When I say I've watched all his episodes, I of course mean that I've watched all the ones that are available through Netflix and Hulu--I haven't hunted out audio recordings or anything like that. It is tragic that there are so many missing episodes . . . I always like to watch everything, and this time I literally can't. 

What is strange right now is that the phrase "Classic Doctor Who" always was synonymous with William Hartnell to me. When I watched the new series, there were three (or four, if you count the War Doctor) actors. But when I watched the old episodes, I was always watching William Hartnell. He was the Doctor of "then"--of the past. Having so many decades in between, it really was sometimes as if they were two different shows, or at least the same show within alternate realities. When I first saw the TARDIS in the pilot episode, or the first appearance of the Daleks, it was like seeing something familiar, but also something in a completely different context and atmosphere. 

Everything was the same. A mad man in a box. Time travel to anywhere and any time. But everything was different. Black and white, slower pacing, more historical episodes, a different relationship with the companions (a little more distance, I'd say). Then there is that comparison with Matth Smith. Where the Eleventh Doctor, as they said, is old trying to be young, the First Doctor is younger trying to be important. He is important, smart and quick-thinking and all--but more in the tradition of the daft inventor/professor/scientist. He's like the best of the professor in Journey to the Center of the Earth

I really grew quite fond of the First Doctor. That closeness to old traditions, plus the turn of the century outfit, must have added to it. I like his little laughs and the way he admonishes his companions--and the cane. I love a character with a cane. (Mr. Gold, anyone?) He's not "my Doctor:" my first Doctor was Christopher Eccleston and my favorite is David Tennant. But he's the First Doctor. Yes, I found a few of the episodes boring, but I also really enjoyed many of them. (I do tend to be fond of TV from the sixties, as I often mention.) And William Hartnell was a big enough part of my enjoyment that I'm very sad to see him go, as it is always sad to see a Doctor go. Maybe I'll wait a few more days before meeting Patrick Troughton.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Adventures of Connor & Abby: Part 20

Sometimes time and space reveal amazing things, like four Doctors in the same room (or standing on the same book, as the case may be). 

And sometimes, it all goes one step further, as Connor and Abby found out when they found themselves in the presence of the tenth Doctor. Connor was thrilled; Abby was rather bemused by how thrilled Connor was.

Time for snapshots?

Then behold, along came the eleventh Doctor, as well. Just when Connor thought it couldn't get any better. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Is Belle a Social Climber?

While I do think that Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful movie and one of Disney's best, I've started to have a problem with something in it. It has to do with the song "Belle (Little Town)" at the start of the movie.

This movie has good songs, this one included. But as someone who has chosen to live in a little town because I like it here, I'm pausing over the lyrics more than I used to. The question is, why does Belle have a problem with this town? Is it because it's small? Does she just want the chance to go to the theatre at night and a bigger book store during the day? Or does she want to pretend she's fancy folk? After all, the movie puts Belle in an ambiguous social standing. Traditionally, she is the story of a merchant, but Disney made her father into an inventor. He and Belle live alone in what appears to be a humble cottage home (they do have chickens, too) and seem to be counting very highly on his invention being successful. So Belle, in the movie, doesn't seem to have a very high social status--so why does she complain about the "little town" she lives in?

Admittedly, there is the problem of culture. Belle appreciates culture. She likes to read and think and come up with ideas. She's surrounded by farmers and bakers and hunters who don't understand her fascination with books. She simply wants people she can have a conversation with, and that's understandable. But that feeling of isolation can happen anywhere, even in a city. Why does she have to complain that the baker bakes bread every day? Then she's just acting like him, complaining that she reads books every day.

Then there is the desire, which often comes with youth, for adventure. Belle sees the town as little because she is just at the start of her life. She wants to travel, to see places, to meet people--to have adventures. Such a desire often implies that there will be a Wizard of Oz ending. You know, where Dorothy has a series of adventures that teach her that everything she wanted could be found within herself, wherever she happened to be. In Beauty and the Beast, I feel like there is no resolution for Belle's condemnation of the town.

In theory, Belle learns about what is most important. She learns that beauty is found within. She learns that a true connection between two people has nothing to do with outward circumstances. But this is also what Belle does: she leaves a small town to marry a rich prince in a big castle. True, he happened to be a beast when they met--but she always knew that he was cursed. What would have been the story if he were a cursed farmer? Would any of Belle's desires to get away from the "little town" have been satisfied then?

My next question is, should I even be complaining? What if we decide that this is an issue where there is no resolution within the movie. Does it really matter? Not everyone likes small towns. Some people like "to see the world." Belle decided she wanted something more and she went for it. What's wrong with that?