Thursday, July 9, 2015

Why I Rarely Re-Read a Book

I think my habit of not re-reading books started when I was a bookseller, which was my profession before I went to graduate school and became a teacher. As a bookseller, some customers relied on me to provide them with their next great read, and in some cases, all their great reads. Free books from sales reps and New York publishers arrived daily at the store, making it easy to read and then recommend the newest titles to our loyal customers. Their loyalty was intense and most of them were as voracious a reader as I am, which made reading all the newest titles, often before they were even officially published, a full-time job. Oh, but it was the BEST full-time job imaginable, at least before I started teaching at Park View. I just never had the time to re-read books when the new books never stopped coming. Now, as a teacher, I do re-read certain books every year. These are the fantastic books I share with my students when I read aloud to them every day after lunch. The books of E. B. White and Roald Dahl, Mary Pope Osborne's adaptation of Homer's The Odyssey, A Tale Dark and Grimm by the awesome Adam Gidwitz, and Pam Munoz Ryan's Riding Freedom are only a few of the treasured classics I happily read year after year. And I also discover and read aloud a few new titles each school year because you never know which title is going to become a classic. But I still rarely re-read books that are not intended to be read aloud to my students. This is true for both adult and kids' books that I just want to read for my own solitary enjoyment. You might remember that I want to read everything (or nearly everything) and I can't accomplish that if I re-read books. I comfortably own my weirdness! That being said, I want to recommend a three-book series that I've read more than once, and never out loud to my third graders. These are three of the all-time most exciting adventures I've ever read!

His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman, Random House Kids' Books, $7.99 each, ages 11 and up

These are not new books. In fact, the first title in the series, The Golden Compass, is celebrating its twentieth birthday this year, so you may actually have already discovered this MAGNIFICENT series. If so, you've re-read them too, I know it, and it's your job to help me spread the word. And if you haven't read Pullman's masterpieces of science fantasy, I'm going to do my best to remedy that intolerable situation with this post. But honestly, I wish the fact that these are among the less-than-a-dozen-books that I've read more than once could be enough incentive for you to head out to the library or used bookstore tonight. Oh, if you saw the movie version of The Golden Compass with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, get that out of your head immediately. If you didn't see it, don't!

The fantastical element of the series His Dark Materials that strikes me as the most magical and intriguing is the idea that all humans are constantly accompanied by daemon familiars, the animal embodiments of their inner-selves, which are fluid and form-altering when we're children, but which begin to settle into a fixed animal form when we reach puberty. The story takes place across a multiverse and moves between parallel worlds, including one which resembles England between the late Victorian era and the beginning of World War I. Also cool, their are no cars yet and zeppelins are a major mode of transportation. The hero of all three books in the series is Lyra Belacqua who, with her daemon Pantalaimon, runs wild among the academics at Jordan College, Oxford, under the not-so-watchful-eye of her uncle, scholar and researcher Lord Asriel. Upon her uncle's return from a research mission in the North, Lyra accidentally learns of the existence of a strange elementary particle called Dust, and thereby sets off a chain of thrilling and horrifying events that draw her into the heart of struggle so fierce and powerful Pullman needs three books to chronicle it's resolution. On her quest, for this is what the trilogy explores,  Lyra encounters many memorable allies and enemies, among them 12 year-old murderer Will, the mysterious Mrs. Coulter, director of grisly experiments involving children and Dust, the regal and armored exiled bear Iorek Byrnison, Lee Scoresby, skilled balloonist from the country of Texas, witch queen Serafina Pekkala, rebellious angels Balthamos and Baruch, and Dr. Mary Malone, former nun, physicist, and builder of the amber spyglass which allows her to see the otherwise invisible Dust.
Pullman is an incredible writer, filling each book in the trilogy with scenes of pulse-increasing adventure, heartbreaking sadness, hard-earned celebrations, and quiet contemplation. Lyra's story includes elements of physics, philosophy and theology. Readers are asked to think deeply and are deeply rewarded for doing so. The fate of the living, and the dead (YIKES), depends on Lyra and Will as they journey across Pullman's fully-realized, richly detailed worlds within worlds, coming closer to the the most devastating threat of all-and the crushing truth of their own destiny. So stretch out in a hammock, hang the "Do Not Disturb" sign on your bedroom doorknob, nab the lounge chair in the most remote corner of the pool, and embark on a reading experience that you too will want to repeat more than once.


Friday, July 3, 2015

Another Thing About Those Wild Things

The Last Wild by Piers Torday, Penguin Young Readers Group, $8.99, ages 10-14

As I shared in my last post, I've been experiencing some creature (dis)comforts this summer. Yes, yes, I know (this is for those of you who've read my last post) the goat and the bear made their only appearances in stories told to me, and some folks might not even consider spiders and moths creatures, as the word creature generally conjures up images of things bigger and more fierce than spiders and moths. Whether I actually saw them, or merely heard tell, regardless of how fascinatingly annoying or just annoying they are, goats, bears, spiders and moths have kept me connected to the animal kingdom. A connection to the animal kingdom is exactly what twelve-just-about-to-be-thirteen year old Kester Jaynes doesn't have anymore because he lives in a world where animals no longer exist. They were wiped out by red-eye, a "disease worse than a nuclear bomb", and which "turned animal bodies and brains into mush and, just before they died, made their eyes burn bright red like they were on fire inside." Kester, who is a student, well, really a prisoner, at Spectrum Hall Academy for Challenging Children in the Quarantine Zone, hasn't been able to speak a word in six years (when he tries to speak nothing happens), ever since the night he was bundled out of his home in the middle of the night and separated from his scientist father. What's really scary is that Kester doesn't know WHY he's imprisoned there. With help from some "varmints" (cockroaches and pigeons with whom he CAN communicate! Who knew!) Kester escapes from Spectrum Hall and is taken to a hidden enclave, the home of the only surviving animals in the land. This environmental thriller/science fiction adventure is the first in a series by Torday and is the beginning of Kester's journey to save the Last Wild, as well as prevent society from being taken over by the evil head of an all-powerful corporation. He isn't alone in his fight. A wise stag, the independent, fierce, and funny Polly (an actual human girl), the bossy General of the cockroaches, a determined wolf-cub, and a mouse who expresses all emotions through dance accompany Kester on his dangerous race against time. This is an entertaining and exciting book that presents a frightening picture of greed and corruption and forces readers to think about our precious relationship with the natural world.