Saturday, July 25, 2009

Summer 2009 Reading Spectacular #13

(Five months to Christmas!)

As this was my last day on the Hermitage, I wrapped up a few things I was reading, but that didn’t stop me from starting a couple of others.

First off, I completed The Underwood See by Michael Lawrence. It’s the final book in the Withern Rise trilogy, and I have to admit that I’m a bit split in my opinion. The series deals with alternate realities of a family and homestead in England, called Withern Rise. The first book (A Crack in the Line) got things off to an interesting start as two kids, Alaric and Naia, accidentally find themselves moving between their worlds. In one, Ivan and Alex(andra) had a boy and later Alex dies. In the other, they have a girl and the mother lives. After discovering one another, the two dimensional travelers accidentlly end up stranded in the other’s reality. In the second book (Small Eternities) things got more complicated, with other realities colliding and other characters entering the scene. In this third volume, the story gets further complicated before being resolved. And yes, things are reasonably resolved, which is a good thing. It kept my interest.

But the flip side is that this volume took on a distinctly darker tone, in places, and it didn’t seem quite to fit with the tone of the other volumes. Now, it has been quite some time since I read volumes one and two, so perhaps I’ve just forgotten, but if not, then I find it a bit disappointing that this one wandered off the path a bit. Course language, an attempted rape, and some moderate religious disdain seemed to come out of nowhere. An interesting series, but I just wonder if the author became a bit self-indulgent by this point.

Next, I read Maus: A Survivor’s Tale Volume One – My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman. The first half of a graphic novel (originally serialized in Raw magazine), it’s a biographical comic based on the author’s father’s experiences as a Jew in Germany and Poland during the Second World War. There are several interesting things about the book. First off, perhaps inspired by the quotation on the back of the title page (“The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human,” by Adolf Hitler), the characters are represented as animals. Jews are mice (hence the title), Polish are pigs, and the Germans, cats. Secondly, the narratives are a combination of conversations between the author and his father and step-mother (as mice, of course) and the stories themselves passed on by the father during these interviews. There’s a real sense of transcription to the manner in which the story is told. Finally, the book is interesting in that the characters, particularly that of Vladek, the father, are not idealized. At one point, in fact, the author, as represented within the body of the text, distresses that his comic’s representation of his father might reinforce awful stereotypes of the Jew.

I’m looking forward to finding and reading Volume Two, but also to finding out more about the comic, its history, and the author. The name “Art Spiegelman” rings a bell, but I have no idea why.

Finally, I finished a fluffy little dessert book for kids called 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. In a nutshell, it’s a “Groundhog Day” story about a girl who, having had a falling out with her lifelong friend the previous year, begins to relive her eleventh birthday over and over again. It was ... fine. What made it meh for me, in particular, was the feeling that the author seemed to try and overcomplicate matters, trying too hard to add “layers” to the mystery of what is happening to Amanda and how to resolve the problem. A simpler, cleaner resolution (perhaps one about the need for this slightly whiny, self-indulgent protagonist to suck it up and stop thinking only of herself) would have rung more true to me; instead the second half of the book took on a sort of “just ‘cause” feeling. I’m sure many kids will like it.

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