Shocking, isn’t it? Me with a cup of black coffee? I’ve definitely done my usual Return to Tea for Lent, but those coffee-making instincts die hard and I’ve been rather enjoying it black with a tiny dab of brown sugar. It makes me feel hard-core (not the brown sugar part, though).
I thought I would take a break from all the I, Claudius posts, mostly because I spent the weekend reading other books and neglecting poor Claudius.
I finally finished up One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke, which had gotten set aside when the Claudius craze began. It was delightful and slightly dreamy. I recommend it.
The characters spend a fair amount of time sleeping and dreaming, and the book ends up with an appropriately dreamy quality to it. It’s got its details, though, and a delightfully large cast of characters, and the loveliest little descriptions of things. And while there is a great deal of coincidence, particularly at the end, the characters admit that so much coincidence is bizarre, and that things like this never happen to their family, and probably never will again: it is, of course, their one whole and perfect day. The characters cover a nice age range, too – our main character, Lily, is in high school, but we spend a fair amount of time with the parents and grandparents, with her older brother and other students at his college, all of which I enjoyed. I have to admit a particular fondness for Jessaline, the astigmatic linguistics student turned cooking student, who stays up late baking and passes around her cookies and cakes. I may have been a trifle biased in her favor.
It also continued this recent trend of characters with names similar to mine. The first time was in Long May She Reign, in which the character was the crabby odd-ball in Meg’s dorm. No, I don’t identify with that character, either!
I read Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell (her of Chicken Boy fame) on Sunday evening. I’d gotten a copy from The Other Library, the one where I actually have to pay fines, so I had to hustle to read it before the due date. It was one of those focused stories, where the action takes place in a limited time and place (one summer, mostly in an army rec center and at Jamie’s house) and doesn’t try to evoke the entire world (being a first person narrative) yet it still manages to leave you a good sense of the larger picture.
Here’s ye olde Goodreads review:
It’s a slim and focused summer story about an army brat whose brother has just left for Vietnam. She learns to develop the film he sends back to her, and she changes her perception of war. While that sounds a little didactic, things are never heavy handed with Frances O’Roark Dowell, even when they are serious (I have fond memories of Chicken Boy). There’s plenty of gin rummy, great depictions of family dynamics, and a historical element without the story being too bogged down by historical detail. The jacket flap says Dowell was an army brat herself, so you know parts of the story are based on personal experience to some degree, but there’s never that sense of nostalgia that a lot of not-so-distant historical fiction acquires (see, Criss Cross; see, books I hate). So the story was excellently done, but who do you hand it to? Jamie is twelve (“I’ll be thirteen in December”) but the story could read younger; there are mentions of the horrors of war that Jamie sees in the pictures she developes, but nothing overwhelming. I think it could be passed off to somewhat thoughtful kids who like either historical fiction or realistic contemporary fiction, because the style is really more contemporary than historical. But I don’t think this would be a crowd-pleaser, reluctant reader type hit. I would’ve enjoyed it around 5-7th grade, when I was fascinated by my uncle’s pictures and letters from Vietnam, which I found deliciously tragic. This book would have given me a better perspective.
Which reminds me, a note about the ending – it’s neither maudlin and sentimental nor brutal and tragic, although it is heart-wrenching, and I thought it was the best possible way to end a story like this.
Thirdly, I finally got around to reading the last Printz Honor, Repossessed. It sat on the shelf looking amusing and snide and irreverent, and I wasn’t in the mood. In reality, it turned out to be amusing and a wee bit snide but not really irreverent – almost surprisingly thoughtful. I enjoyed reading it – plenty of laughs and a good tone that reminded me a bit of Bartimaeus as a narrator, but ultimately not something that really stuck to my ribs.
It was a very interesting mix of Printz Honor books this year, and now I’ve managed to read them all it seems even more interesting. One fantasy, with a historical fiction feel (the fantastic Dreamquake), one contemporary fiction (One Whole and Perfect Day), one biography in verse (the depressing Your Own, Sylvia), and one contemporary fiction/fallen angel story (Repossessed). Not to mention the winner, The White Darkness, with its combination of polar exploration and creepy suspense. Whew, what a year. They’re all solid choices, though – I don’t know if I would have picked the same books, but they’re all worth reading and recommending in their own ways.