Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Ugly Dachshund

This book is hilarious. First published in 1938, it was out of print for a long time. It's the story of Tono, a Great Dane who is raised with a litter of Dachshunds. Growing up with them he does not realize that he himself is not a Dachshund. He longs to be carried under his master's arm and to sleep upon his master's feet. There are many amusing characters, mostly dogs, who are worldly, intellectual and very conscious of social order and manners. Some are fluent in French and German and one even makes reference to Flush, Virginia Woolf's novel written from the point of view of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog Flush.

This book is sweet, funny and would make a great gift for any dog lover.

The Secret of the Old Clock

This is a vintage re-issue of the the original. First published in 1930, it's quite different from the re-written, trimmed and expurgated version I read in the 1970s. Applewood Books re-printed the first twenty one Nancy Drew books. The Secret of the Old Clock was the first book. Nancy sleuths alone in this one. Bess and George (and boyfriend Ned) are introduced later in the series. This edition features racial stereotypes typical of the 1930s. It was interesting to compare it with my later edition. The inebriated African-American caretaker of 1930 was replaced with an older, cranky Caucasian caretaker in the later edition.

Frankly, the book itself was a bit dull, but not as dull as the updated version of The Mystery of the Hollow Oak, which I read to my daughter when she was seven. At that time I wondered how I could have read so many of these when I was younger. They are facile and obvious, but in many ways a good introduction to independent reading.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Wow. I really loved this book. The main characters are very strongly drawn, defined not so much by description, but by their actions. The respect that Shane, Joe and Marion all have for each other is so great that it is almost emotionally overwhelming. The writing is simple, the drama compelling and the last 25 pages so moving that I bawled my way through them. Not at all what I expected when I picked this book up. After reading it it's easy to see why it shows up on so many lists of classics.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Windy Hill

What a lovely book. The Windy Hill by Cornelia Meigs was one of the first Newbery Honor books in 1922. Meigs' Clearing Weather (1929) and Swift Rivers (1933) were also Newbery Honor books. She won the Newbery Medal in 1934 for The Invincible Louisa, a biography of Louisa May Alcott.

The Windy Hill is a tale that wraps family history, adventure, personal integrity and forgiveness in to a charmingly written package. It's a story that portrays its juvenile characters with as much importance and respect as any of the adults. It demonstrates that children can and should be taken seriously as individuals and illustrates the critical role they can play in family and the larger community.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Early Autumn

I finished Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield yesterday. It won the Pulitzer in 1927. It reminded me a lot of The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, which won the Pulitzer in 1921. One of the characters in Bromfield's novel even thinks, "Her mother, she saw now, belonged to the America of the nineties. She saw her now less as a real person than a character out of a novel by Mrs. Wharton." Early Autumn, while set in the mid 1920s, is chock-full of such characters, who consider money, rank and family lineage as the most important factors of life. I found the book a bit depressing and not as enjoyable as that earlier one "by Mrs. Wharton."

Having now read the first decade of the Pulitzer winners I can recommend "His Family (1918) by Ernest Poole, The Able McLaughlins (1924) by Margaret Wilson, So Big (1925) by Edna Ferber and Arrowsmith (1926) by Sinclair Lewis.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Higher Power of Lucky

I finished The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron two nights ago. It's this year's winner of the Newbery Medal. I'm trying to read the medalists in chronological order and am still stuck on the first one, The Story of Mankind, which is just deadly. Reading Lucky was a relief.

Lucky's world is a challenging one, She lives in a poor community in the desert. Her mother has died and she does not know her father. She is being parented by a guardian (who happens to be her father's first wife). Lucky is intelligent, resourceful and brave, but very human, with plenty of shortcomings, including her "meanness gland." I've read some cranky reader (and obviously non-reader) reviews of this book. Some folks felt that it was not worthy of the medal, that the subject matter was inappropriate or too worldly, but I think it's just right. Kids are growing up in a world that imposes adulthood on them far too soon. Lucky's world is a shaky one. I think kids reading this book might feel relieved to encounter characters who, like themselves, grapple with non-nuclear family scenarios, death and dying, poverty and an uncertain future.

The American Library Association states that the purpose of the Newbery Medal is to " encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children's reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field." I think the originality of the setting, characters and their circumstances within The Higher Power of Lucky more than qualify it to receive the medal.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Way of All Flesh

Yesterday I finished The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler. An ominous title. The book itself, while long and often dry, had its moments of scalding criticism of Victorian values. I first became aware of it while reading Christopher Morely's Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop. The bookseller Roger Mifflin idolizes Butler and even creates a dish called "Eggs a la Samuel Butler." Morley's two books are so delightful that I had high expectations for Butler. Unfortunately it turned out to be a long haul. There were times when things had a decidedly Dickensian lilt to them, but it wasn't enough to keep me reading at a rapid pace.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Just So Stories

Listen and attend oh Best Beloved. I have finally finished this book. It was my first encounter with Kipling. I'm not sure why I took so long with it. Perhaps because it was almost too fanciful for me. Or maybe it was the redundancies of phrase, which were a bit irritating. Anyway, of all the stories I enjoyed The Elephant's Child and The Butterfly That Stamped the best. While reading I imagined the stories being read aloud to Christopher Robin and them ultimately influencing his play, what with all that watching out for heffalumps and jagulars.