Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #11

Alright, it's time to catch up. I've got three things to document, so I'll do each quickly and briefly.

A few days ago I finished reading Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. The story behind my choice to read it is this: Several years ago I was approached to play the part of Lucky in Waiting for Godot, but unfortunately circumstances being what they were (surgery, to be specific), I couldn't make the commitment. The director went off and cast someone else and I never was able to even see it. So now, I've finally read it.

Lucky would have been an interesting challenge to play. He says nary a word for the bulk of the play, save for one three-page monologue. The thing is, it's a huge nonsensical monologue (did I mention that the play falls into the realm of Theatre of the Absurd?) with no punctuation and which rambles in loose cycles through themes and images. Maybe it's good that I couldn't commit, because memorizing that thing must be a killer!

In the end, I enjoyed the reading and would like to see a good prodution of it some day. I say good production because in reading it, it's obvious how wrong it could go without a strong director and cast. It could go off the tracks so easily, but could also be a fascinating bit of theatre, too.

Next, I finished reading Fragile Things. It's a collection of "short fictions and wonders" by Neil Gaiman. As a Neil Gaiman fan (everyone should read Neverwhere), I always enjoy his quirky, sometimes macabre short stories, and just as much enjoy reading his brief author's comments for each in the introduction. Among my favourites from this collection are "The Flints of Memory Lane", "Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulso, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky", "How to Talk to Girls at Parties", and "The Monarch of the Glen" (which is a short follow-up/companion to his novel American Gods.)

Finally, yesterday I wrapped up a short children's novel, What Jamie Saw, by Carolyn Coman.

When Jamie saw him throw the baby, saw Van throw the little baby, saw Van throw his little sister Nin, when Jamie saw Van throw his little sister Nin, then they moved.

From there, the story, simple and effective in both voice and plot, follows Jamie and his less-than-perfect mother try to cope with uncertainty and fear as they try to settle into a new life in a trailer out on their own with his baby sister in tow. Coman earned a Newbery Honor for What Jamie Sawin 1996.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #10

Owls in the Family is one of those books that everyone seems to have read in school except for me. So I read it.

Now I must admit that Farley Mowat has never been a particular favourite of mine, but I haven't been particularly disdainful of his writing, either, nor am I now.

What I found most interesting was this constant sense of "My, how times have changed" as I read. In the midst of the story, which focuses on a boy and his family affectionately living with two pet owls, there's all of this stuff that might well make more modern animal-lovers cringe just a little. Like the random snaring of gophers for sport. Like stealing incubating eggs from wild birds' nests. Like the mass killing of crows by the boy's father after they upset a fishing trip. It's just so odd by today's (particularly urban) sensibility. It seems such an odd contradiction between seeming animal-loving characters who engage in the activities.

Still, it's easy to be gently amused by the crazy shenanigans of those owls! Oh, that Wol! He doesn't seem to realize he's not a human! Har har!

Random Road Trip Addendum

I realized that I had intended to discuss one other random observation from my trip and neglected to do so.

On my final day, I stopped for gas at a station in New York State and was a bit off-put by the store there. Call me crazy, but I think having a little cooler by the cash register filled with chilled single cans of beer labeled "Manager's Special: 79 cents each" is perhaps sending a message that is inappropriate. It's a GAS station, giving a person fair reason to assume that visitors are driving. Single cans for 79 cents, cheaper than a Coke, have a certain immediacy to them, don't they?

I was further disturbed by the presence of a display of "Beer Pong Balls". Seriously. They were labelled and signed as Beer Pong Balls, not just regular ping pong balls that buyers could ... um ... figure out a use for.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #9

Having just finished reading Uzodinma Iweala's debut novel, Beasts of No Nation, I find myself at a loss for words which can adequately capture even a hint of its impact. Saying it's a powerful narrative seems trite.

It is the story of a boy, Agu, recruited into child soldiership in some unnamed African country and flung into the horrific, mangled world of war. The voice, first person and in a relentless and haunting present tense, is frank and graphic, always teetering on the edge where the naivety of childhood meets the brutality of Agu's experiences, what he sees and what he does, and how he tries to justify and make sense of the world in which he finds himself.

But they are only screaming like Devil is coming for them. I am not Devil. I am not bad boy. I am not bad boy. Devil is not blessing me and I am not going to hell. But still I am thinking maybe Devil born me and that is why I am doing all of this.

Read this book.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #8

The random road trip cut into my reading time a bit, but I'm verging on completing a few books, so there may be a rush on updates soon enough.

I did finish The One Left Behind, though. This was the last book from Willo Davis Roberts before her death last year. It's a novel for young readers and, though not one of her strongest, is a quick and motivated read. Davis was a three-time Edgar Allen Poe Award winner (in Juvenile and Young Adult categories, though she also wrote for an adult audience) and I know that her mysteries certainly keep youngsters on the edge of their seats wanting to know what happens next. If I have a complaint about some of her later novels, it's simply that she seems to go to great lengths to get her protagonists alone at the wrong time so that adventure can occur. In Hostage, it's an allergy attack that requires nasal spray. Seriously. In this case, it's a big family scattered to the four winds with weekend plans, all assuming that the youngest is with someone else. Still, the set-ups aside, her books tend to have clean, adventurous storylines that appeal to kids who are ready for just a little danger in their reading.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Random Road Trip: Day 3

Well, it was homeward bound today. (Interpret that as "It was not an interesting day on which to report".)

Upon packing up from my divey motel and heading out, I, in the light of day and without the obscuring factor of torrenial downpours, realized more about the surroundings. What a surprise that my divey motel was located almost across the street from a "Gentleman's Club" and a shop which selled leather fetish-wear. Hahahaha!

Having plotted my route before leaving, I hopped on the highway and went merrily on my way.

I have to say that Pennsylvania and upstate New York remind me a bit of northern Ontario, minus the lakes. So the days spent driving all over the place were quite pleasant, really.

I stopped off the highway for a fast-food lunch and then went back to driving. It started torrentially downpouring once again, slowing things up for a stretch, but then eased off into light drizzle.

Soon I was in Buffalo, hopping over the old Peace Bridge, I was shortly back home safe and sound.

The Random Road Trip was officially over!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Random Road Trip: Day 2

It’s the end of the day and my legs are POOPED!

It all started by sleeping in. Ahhhh! I set the alarm, but hit snooze for almost an hour. Not bad, not bad.

Then it was up and back to Alvira to see what else I could discover! I drove all the way to the end of the road and what was right in front of me? Another one of those odd little bunkers. This one was quite messed up and was behind a fence topped by barbed wire. What to do, what to do? Go past the fence? Stay where I am? What would you do, little children?

I’m an obedient fellow, so I just took pictures from my side of the fence. No trespassing for me! Not this time, anyway.

Right beside it was another cemetery with big posts at its entrance. It appears that this cemetery was the site of mostly older graves, many of people born in the 1700s who passed away in the 1800s. There were some fascinating stones, and one that had quite an extensive write up about someone’s father, but unfortunately some cracking and general weathering made it impossible for me to decipher the bulk of the message. In the picture, I don't even think you can tell that there is any writing across the bottom, it was so faint.

I went up the road a ways to another bunker I’d noticed when I passed. Its entrance was surrounded by junkety-junk-junk and lots of it. Not one, but TWO broken televisions were the centrepiece to this mess.

After taking a picture of that one, I started exploring some of the paths and roads. The trick, I discovered, was to look for paths that showed signs of having once been proper roads rather than simply short/crushed grass paths. Sometimes there’s not much indication, to be honest.

As I was making a “return trip” down one such road, I saw a mound, practically hidden by the forest growth.

I couldn’t see any entrance on my side, but decided I could probably climb it. If there was a chimney vent in the top, I knew I’d found another. Up I climbed, and sure enough, chimneyville.

I clambered down the other side and found the entrance, partially obscured by growth, unlike the others I had found.

And guess what.

The door was wide open.

I made my first entrance into the domed, igloo-shaped bunker.

I can’t even begin to describe adequately the sound inside one of these bunkers. For a moment, I thought there were bats or birds fluttering around inside, but there were none. The tiniest sounds made by each step were amplified and reverberated almost endlessly. The best way I can describe this strange popping-crackling-twinkling sound is to imaging those weird sonic tube things they sell at dollar stores (you know, with a coil inside to sound all spacey) and multiply that sound and feeling a hundred-fold. It’s so eerie and exciting and strangely electric.

Unlike the open bunker I’d read about from a previous visitor, this one was pristine. Possibly because it was not on the main road, possibly because it was quite hidden, vandals and punks had not damaged it at all. The only evidence that ANYONE had been there, was a single piece of plastic, a wrapper of some sort. I think it was some sort of jerky or meat stick. It was crazy dark once you were past the entrance way, so I had to keep taking pictures, just to see the walls.

The Inside of the Dome

The Wall Opposite the Door (see how clean!)

The Door from Inside

Fairly nearby, I soon discovered three more bunkers, all open, all clean and graffiti-free, though with more signs of visitation in the form of a few cans, candy wrappers, packages from those instant-heat hand warmers (must have been winter visits), and a few ziploc bags. (Hmmm. I wonder what those held! I’m sure with the darkness and eerie acoustics, more than one person has gone there to get stoned...)

I was on a roll! Next up, I walked a long road to nowhere (and turned around long before I got to nowhere) and then up another branch to find ... one of the bunkers I’d found yesterday. Ah, the roads converge, at times!

(Remember, at this point I’ve been hiking madly for about two hours... HOT and SWEATY! Yack!)

Nearby I found the elusive #2 I hadn’t gotten to yesterday (which was good, because I’d already planned how I wanted to display a few of the pictures, and I needed #2). Then I found #4, which the person from whom I’d gotten directions had not found. (Of course, at this point, I was way past the total of four that she’d discovered.) Numbers 8, 10, and 13 followed, requiring a few long walks through long grass. (Of course, I later deduced that the paths in that area of the park likely followed a fairly logical plan or organization.

In any case, I called it quits, not because I’d exhausted my options (rather I suspected I could find all of the missing numbers to 13, at least, if I’d wanted), but because I’d been hiking around the park for too long. I was thirsty, exhausted, thirsty, hungry, thirsty, and a little weak in the legs. I was also a little scratched up, though I didn’t realize that until later.

Having plotted a route to my next intended stop, I hit the road. I stopped for a quick McLunch (and lots of beverage), and continued on my way.

Now, remember how I pointed out how much Pennsylvanians like their signs? Yeah, that’s just road work signs. Their signage in other ways stinks. STU-INKS! After a lengthy jaunt, I came through Frackton and made it as far as Ashland on my way to a place called Centralia. Well, the poor signage coupled with some weirdness regarding North-South-East-West directionality (seriously, there’s a lot of weirdness in Pennsylvania with directions of routes according to their signs), I found myself curiously near my starting point of Frackton and decided that, since time was wasting, I would call it quits on that one. It’s unfortunate because:

#1: Centralia is interesting because it was evacuated years ago because of an underground fire burning which is, reportedly, still burning.

#2: Along my way towards (or so I had thought) Centralia, I passed some interesting places and buildings which I had hoped to photograph on the way back. These sights included the (sort of odd) enormous statue of Whistler’s Mother, the house with the rainbow-coloured roofing, and the derelict Prism theatre.

Zero on both counts.

So it was off to my next intended stop, Eckley Miners Village. (I really wish it were Eckley Miners’ Village.) More sign-trouble delayed me by about ten minutes (the signs to Eckley are sporradic at times, but even worse, change colours at various points along the route). That made me arrive at 5:02. The village “closes” at 5:00.

No matter, though, I walked around anyway.

But what’s weird about Eckley? It’s now a historic village for tourists and history buffs, with original buildings, a gift shop, and whatnot, but SOME of the homes are still inhabited! So I felt a little odd walking up the street of the village while occasionally seeing people at their homes. That’s when I need someone less shy than me, because I would have loved to ask them questions about living in the “village”, but instead just sufficed with sheepish smiles, the occasional “Hey”, and a “Good evening, how are you?”

Finally, it was time to head generally north and find a place to stay. In the end, I crossed over into New York State and stopped in at Binghamton. It was bucketing of rain, pitch black, and I was exhausted. I ended up on a stretch of road and gave up looking for a hotel. I caved and checked into a hotel that looked ... um ... okay.

It’s a dive.

I’m sitting in the dive-y-ist motel I’ve ever been in as an adult. I may sleep sitting in that chair over there...


Other observations for the day:

Pennsylvania has the worst drivers I’ve ever encountered in North America.

McDonald’s cheeseburgers taste different down here. I think it’s the bun.

I’ve yet to see a population listed on any town, thus you never know if it’s worth pulling off somewhere until it’s too late.

Gas prices vary greatly and in close proximity with one another. Prices such as $4.29 a gallon were spotted just up the road from $3.99.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Random Road Trip: Day 1

It began with a long, long, long wait at the border. (Okay, it actually began with me mowing the lawn, watering some plants and a tarantula, and tossing some bags in the car, but you get the point.) True to form, I was in a lane that was going nowhere while the lane to my right was moving quickly. I changed lanes, of course, and then watched while my former lane started whipping by. Such is my life...

Incidentally, does the Queenston/Lewiston bridge always smell like garbage? It was rather unpleasant. The customs fellow was quite funny,

Then I was off! I spent more time than I would have liked on Interstates (what’s with them all being similarly numbered? I was on the 190, the 90, the 290, and the 390 today. Of course, the Americans might take exception to our “400-series” highways, I suppose), and had I been more on the ball, I might have plotted a route that took me through more country roads and small towns. Still, along the way, I made some observations and drew some conclusions.

There’s an odd little state law in New York that says that your headlights must be on when you use your windshield wipers. Seriously. Hmmm.

It’s always a bit disconcerting to see emergency vehicles getting roadside assistance. As I drove past a fire truck getting a tow, I couldn’t help but think, “I hope that the truck broke down on the way back from an emergency, not on the way to the emergency.”

At one point, once in Pennsylvania, there were numbers spray painted on the shoulder. They appeared at regular intervals, each ten higher than the previous. 2340. 2350. 2360. Furthermore, they seemed to be more than ten yards apart, so I’m not sure they were counting off measures in that way. Perhaps they were ten yards apart, though. What do I know? To further complicate matters, every other number (those whose “tens” contained an even digit) was preceded by a little triangle. Any explanations? Anyone? Anyone? In any case, they abruptly stopped and were seen no more.

Speaking of Pennsylvanian road signs (sort of), they LOVE their signs! They must believe that Americans either have the world’s worst short-term memories or the world’s least attentive drivers. They sometimes overkill just a little in the sign department. “Right lane ends ahead.” “Right lane ends in ½ mile.” “Right lane ends in 1000 ft.” “Right lane ends.” These signs were on both sides of the road, sometimes close enough to one another that a person could probably spit from one to the other. It was a bit of a bombardment. And since there was a stretch of one highway with lots of closed lanes, they were insanely plentiful between left lanes and right lanes being blocked. (Come to think of it, there was a similar onslaught of signs in New York State, too. “Toll Booths 1 mile.” “Toll Booths ½ mile.” “Toll Booths 1/4 mile.” “Toll Booths ahead.” (And at one point I could read all of the latter three at the same time.)

Finally, on the subject of signs, there was a warning about a 6 3/4 % grade slope in the road. Percent of what? I am assuming they meant a 6 3/4 degree slope. [Edited to add: I saw tonnes of these signs the next day with varying measures, but all with a % sign. Odd.]

Before I get to the good parts of the Random Road Trip, let me point out one last conclusion I’ve drawn. People in “Small-Town America” are not as pure and innocent as they would have us believe. I saw THREE enormous Adult Stores, all in or just outside of teeny-tiny little towns. One was an “Outlet”, one was a “Superstore”, and one was a “Playtime Boutique”. And that boutique looked to be hopping with business when I drove by! Ha!

So, as I drove far too long along Interstates and major highways, I started thinking, “What am I doing? This is so random and an awful long distance to travel with little idea of why or what I’m going to do. Sure, there was at least one place (see below) that I was hoping to visit, but what a long trek to do that on a whim.

But before I did that, I stopped in a tiny place called Sonyea. That’s right, Sonyea. It’s like a very enthusiastic greeting for an old friend. It’s so small that, though there’s a sign for it on the highway, there’s no actual sign to say you’ve arrived there. As far as I can tell, the only reason Sonyea exists is so that a very large corrections facility can have a mailing address. Believe it or not, the sight of extensive chain link and razor wire glinting like chrome in the sunlight ... isn’t really that lovely.

Ah, but just across the road from the prison, there was a small cluster of abandoned farm buildings that I paused and photographed for fun.

There was also a lovely truck which appears to have exploded in its front end. Curious...

Then I arrived in the tiny town of Allenwood, PA. I grabbed the rather vague directions I had for a place called Alvira. (I hope to find out if it’s pronounced in a way that rhymes with Elvira or with Vera. So far I don’t know. I suppose it could also be “AL-vira”.) The directions I have don’t actually give a starting point, but I set out on the given highway just hoping I was heading in the right direction. For that matter, if I did hit my next benchmark road, would it be on the right or the left? And then I saw it, the road for which I was searching, and it was, indeed, on the same side as the directions. I must have started in the right place. I followed it along and found the location of Alvira as described. That’s when the directions get REALLY vague. No mention of where to find the remains of the town.

Did I mention that it’s located in a game park now? You know. Where HUNTERS go to shoot things? So I parked where the directions indicated (although there was no black Chevy or grey Aerostar between which to park) and followed the pathway straight ahead. Into a woodsy/fieldsy thing.

And that’s when I realized how ridiculous it all is. I’m in the middle of a game park in a US state and pretty much nobody knows where I am and I’m alone. If I get shot/fall down and break my neck/whatever, NOBODY will know about it!

Good thing that didn’t happen.

I returned to the road, realizing that wandering aimlessly about the grounds wasn’t going to be fruitful. I wandered up the road and realized that it was all going to be easier than expected, for there, on the left, was BUNKER ONE.

You see, the story of Alvina is that it was evacuated during the second world war, and by evacuated, I mean kicked off when the government took hold of the land to build a TNT factory. They originally said that the residents could buy their land back after the war, but that never happened. The built the factory and a number of bunkers in which to store the munitions, and then closed up shop before the war even ended, having overestimated the need for good old TNT. The bunkers remain, locked up and sealed, and two small cemeteries still remain from the old town. The cemeteries have mostly graves from the days of the village of Alvina, though some if their, um, residents died in the 70s. Some stones have been replaced with newer ones, but mostly original, weathered stones remain. What’s sobering are the number of child and infant graves from the turn of the century. Still more mark the graves of adults around the 20 year old mark.

But even in the midst of a cemetery, humour can be found, though it may well have been unintentional originally. Ah yes, the grave markers of the Canada family...

In the end, I had to give up searching for bunkers as the light of day was fading and I had yet to find a place to sleep. In the end, I found five bunkers (though I was only aware of four being there from my source) labeled 1, 3, 5, and two without visible numbers. None had open doors; one of the unnumbered bunkers appeared to have been newly welded shut. I also gave up the search for the reported church foundations, though there were a few stones “peeking” through the surface of the ground near the larger cemetery, so perhaps that’s where the church foundations now lay buried. Tomorrow I may return to see if I can find anything else before moving on.

On the way out of Alvira, the fireflies (or lightning bugs, as the case may be) were out in full force, blinking here and there as I walked and then drove. Do they blink all day, unseen because of the sunlight, or do they just turn on at night? In any case, it was lovely.

Since there’s pretty much nothing in Allenwood (and certainly no place I wanted to sleep), I went back to a place just up the road (past the Playtime Boutique) and asked at a trusty Quality Inn ... and was told that there were no rooms and probably none in town. Hmmm. It was back up towards Allenwood where I got a room at a tiny little family-run motel which was cheap and clean. Whew! Goodnight!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #7.5

Having just finished Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, I thought I should add it right away.

Given that the book is half cartoon illustration and the rest of the text is set in a faux hand-written font, it's not nearly as long as it appears to be on the shelf. It takes about an hour of actual reading, tops.

It's a fun, breezy little read (as can be expected from the title and format of the book) and is rather obviously slated for kids, who are likely to enjoy it. (Hence it becoming a bestseller and spawning a series.) Reluctant readers are likely to pick it up, which is good.

My one complaint would be the unsurprising use of stereotypes which abound. There are times when the author seems to be trying to step outside of the done-to-death stereotypes (the main character admits that he wants to take Home Ec 2 because he was good at Home Ec 1, but won't because being able to sew doesn't help your popularity), but settles comfortably into them the rest of the time (the girls in class want to design a robot that will give dating advice and have ten types of lip gloss on its fingers). I guess the one redeeming factor is that the whole thing is being told through the filter of a grade seven loser, so maybe he's the one creating the stereotypes, not the author. Maybe?

The second book (Roderick Rules) is already in my possession, so I'm sure I'll take an hour to read that one, too, at some point.

Summer Reading Spectacular #7

Yesterday I finished reading Swindle by good old Canadian Gordon Korman. Like most of his books, it's a breezy, enjoyable little romp for kids. You've got to hand it to Mr. Korman, he is churning out books like mad, and there's a certain formula to many of them, but he does seem to know his audience and can tap into what they find funny. I guess the trick of his is to take the ingredients for his formula (quirky characters with one being the hyper-focused ringleader, add in the immediate subject of the ringleader's focus, develop an obsessive plan or goal, and mix in rather outlandish plot elements which illuminate the character's ingenuity) and shuffle them into various situations from book to book. And it works. Kids are still eating his stuff up, and I can't deny that I'm still reading his stuff (old and new), too.

In this case, you've got a kid who was swindled out of a valuable baseball card and who, with the aid of several schoolmates with specific talents (a rock climber, a computer hacker, a budding actor, and an animal-loving "dog whisperer") hatches a plan a break-and-enter to reclaim what he believes is rightly his.

It takes virtually no time to read and serves as pleasant escapism for the duration. Hey, Mr. Korman knows what he's doing.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Undead Saturday

Yesterday was two-show day!

First it was Balls! at the Toronto Fringe. A two-hander about testicular cancer (yes, it's also about close friends confronting mortality), it has been working the Fringe circuit for a year or so and continues to do so for the rest of the summer. It was decent, though it could certainly use some continued workshopping. The two actors couldn't seem to quite maintain their commitment, and drifted in and out of being "present" in their roles. The writing has a lot of potential, but needs tweaking, particularly to more solidly define the characters through their language.

Then it was off to enjoy delicious Thai food (Cold Rolls, Mango Chicken, and Honey Fried Banana). Although slightly disappointed that their green tea came from Lipton's, it was still tasty tea.

Have you ever noticed that in many downtown-type restaurants, when you go to the bathroom, you feel suspiciously like you're descending into someone's rec room? Sometimes, as in the restaurant where I was dining, it feels like an abandoned rec room, cleared out for a move, while in other cases it seems like at any minute teenagers might appear and crash on the couch in the corner? In any case, then it was off to ...

Evil Dead: The Musical
! It's a hilarious, crass, bloody good time. It's a spoof of musicals, of horror films, and of spoofs of horror films. Although not sitting in the splatter zone, I did get mildly splattered (and given that the blood was a trifle sticky, was sort of glad I didn't sit in the splatter zone). I'm sure that it's great fun to get fake blood all over oneself, but I'm not sure I'm the oneself for it... Ha!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Oh Dear: The Return

Remember the Airport Plaza Jewelers guy? Well this fellow is his hero. Seriously. According the the Airport Plaza Jewelers myspace page, he really wants to meet Sammy Stephens.

Oh dear. What IS the world coming to. He RAPS about how his furniture place (Flea Market Montgomery) is "just like a mini mall". That's a selling point? "It's just like a mini mall?" Don't they know that there are actually people whom you can pay to create advertising campaigns?

Summer Reading Spectacular #6

I finished two books today, though I can't say I spent an inordinate amount of time reading. I was quite close to the end of one and the other was just a quick read.

This morning, while enjoying a cup of tea (Twinings Earl Grey) on the porch, I finished The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin. Not exactly the feel-good book of the year, it was a compelling, thought-provoking book about kids dealing with an erratic, abusive mother. The oldest (who narrates, writing a letter about their experiences to his youngest sister) sees a man stand up to a yelling father in a corner store and hangs his hopes on convincing that man to help. When his mother dates the hoped-for hero, things get more complicated. Part suspense thriller, part coming-of-age story, it was a National Book Award Finalist, and rightly so.

This evening, after supper, I went back onto the porch with another cup of tea (Coco Caramel from Teaopia) and finished Sexy by Joyce Carol Oates. Big Mouth & Ugly Girl, another novel by JCO, is on my shelf upstairs waiting to be read. A feel-good read? Not really. A popular teenager whos confidence and self-image are shaky at best discovers that his so-called friends are seeking revenge on a teacher by cooking up accusations of molestation. Although I found the book and Darren's struggle engaging (and a bit scary), the ending was distinctly unsatisfying for me. I don't mean, "It didn't end happily," because I'm by no means hooked on the Hollywood ending by any stretch; the final two chapters or so left me thinking, "Seriously? That's the ending? I read through an extra thirty pages for that?"

In the meantime, I've added two more books to my slate. (I am always reading several books at once, in case you haven't figured that out.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #5.5

I should have mentioned The Arrival by Shaun Tan. It's hard to describe this book. In a nutshell, it's a wordless and often surreal book about a man immigrating to start a new life for him and his family. His story intertwines with other immigrants' stories.

Summer Reading Spectacular #5

I've slowed down a bit on this, simply because my reading time has been down a bit. Go figure.

In any case, a few days ago, I finished reading Urgum the Axe Man by Kjartan Poskitt (that's right, he does have a great name). It's basically a little nonsense book for kids about the Last of the Barbarians. It took me a while to read it, not because it's long, challenging, or difficult to follow. It's just because it took a while for it to get my attention. It's a fine little bit of nonsense and it has some good moments, but for my money, check out Philip Ardagh for better work in a similar vein of humour. (Philip Ardagh is brilliant.) Kjartan must be doing alright with Urgum, though, because a sequel's already out there to be had. (He is also author of the Murderous Math series, which is about cool stuff related to ... well ... math.)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #4

Not long ago, I picked up a copy of The Black Pearl simply because it's by Scott O'Dell, renowned author of historical fiction for young audiences. He wrote the Newbery Medal-winning Island of the Blue Dolphins (his best-known work), Sing Down the Moon, and Thunder Rolling In the Mountains. In addition to the the Newbery Medal, he also earned four Newbery Honors (including one for The Black Pearl.)

So you can imagine why I wanted to read another Scott O'Dell book.

And about 30 seconds into reading it, I realized that I had read it years and years and years ago! Of course, back in those days, I had no idea who Scott O'Dell was.

A quick read, but satisfying. I didn't regret re-reading it in the least. It makes me want to reread John Steinbeck's The Pearl with which it shares some themes and several of its folktale-inspired elements.

Dear, Oh Dear, Oh Dear

When you look at this picture, you've got to know right away that the phrase "an arm and a leg" will feature prominently in the advertising for this place. And you've got to know that the advertising will include lame local television commercials. And you've got to know that the aforementioned commercials do NOT cost an arm and a leg, either.

Please feel free to click here, choose "Watch the Commercials", watch a few, shake your head, and then know exactly what I mean.

If nothing else, doesn't the sheer size of the place, roughly the size of a banking machine or a busstop, give you cause to pause?

And yes, I live close enough to the border to see these commercials.