Reading Report for Northern, Central Texas: May 2017

May was beautiful. Look at what has been blooming this month.  May always seems like a busy month. The reading list is short.  I haven’t been able to keep up with our household reading this month!

Sarah

May is always a busy month for teachers.  Sarah still managed to finish a book and start a new one.

  • Harkness, Deborah.  A Discovery of Witches.  New York: Penguin, 2011.
  • Harkness, Deborah. Shadow of Night. New York: Penguin, 2013.

Alexis

I wasn’t quick enough to grab all of Alexis’ books before she returned them to the library.  Here’s her short list for the month.

  • Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (or Not) Getting by in America. New York: Orbit Books, 2002.
  • Knight, Jim. Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2015.
  • Ryan, Anthony. The Walking Fire. New York: Orbit Books, 2016.

 Jim

  • Krauss, Lawrence M. The Greatest Story Ever Told So Far: Why Are We Here? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.
  • Baxter, Stephen. Ultima. New York: Ace Books, 2016.

Robin

  • Chesterton, G.K. The Complete Father Brown Stories. Herefordshire, England: Wordsworth Classics, 1972.
  • Hearne, Kevin. Hounded. New York: Del Ray, 2011.
  • Juster, Norman. Illustrated by Jules Feiffer. The Phantom Tollbooth. New York: Scholastic, 1961.
  • Riordin, Rick. The Dark Prophecy. New York: Hyperion Books, 2017.

Armada

Cline, Ernest.  Armada. New York: Broadway Books, 2015.

I have lived near Austin for many years and have never attended the Texas Book Festival.  Every year, I think this is the year I will go.  Well 2017 was the lucky one! Last fall we drove down to Austin (shudder!), found the right parking garage near the Texas Capitol and attended the Texas Book Festival.  It was a dreary, misty day.  What the day lacked in ambiance, it made up with books and authors!  I bought some good ones!  I missed Ernest Cline’s presentation or panel at the festival, but I did manage to snap up this signed copy.

I have struggled to write this blog.  I am not a video game player so it has been difficult to focus on the points others might like to know about Armada. On the way home from the gym, I heard a story on the World Video Game Hall of Fame on the radio. I didn’t know there was one. Today they were announcing their 2017 video game inductees.  It was fate!  I had to complete this brief review on a book about a video game for you today.  I learned that these games are chosen on 4 criteria: Icon Status, Longevity, Geographical Reach, and Influence.  After reading this book, I wonder if Armada, the fictional video game of the book would meet these criteria?

As the book opens, we meet Zach Lightman, high school student, video store clerk, and an avid video game player.  When he is not in school or being tormented by the class bully, he is at the video story playing the online, multiplayer, flight simulator game Armada. He happens to be one of the best players in the world.  As he gazes out his classroom window, he sees a spaceship straight out of his video game zip across the horizon. Did he see it? Is he going crazy?  No one else seems to notice.

He isn’t crazy and that spaceship is real.  He isn’t playing a game, but has been training for the life-and-death alien attack some authorities fear is inevitable.  Read this book to find out how Earth got embroiled in this conflict.  Do they defeat the alien or are they defeated?

Cline has many nods to modern video game developers, movie makers, and other science fiction movies and books.  Most of that escaped my notice!  As I was reading, I thought of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. 

I think this would be an enjoyable read for a youthful student who lives for video games.

Ernest Cline

I just read his autobiography from his website.  It is one of the funniest I have read of late.  I like a guy who doesn’t take himself, too seriously.  Like many of the rest of us, he has been warped by his childhood, but managed to pull himself up and grow from a boy to an author.  Both his books Ready Player One and Armada have been optioned for movies. I liked both books.  They might make your average or above average video game player pick up a book and read.

About Ernest Cline

Reading Report from Northern, Central Texas: April 2017

This final day of April has been lovely here in my part of central Texas!  It started out gloomy and cool and has ended sunny and mild.  From my new blogging spot, I can see our backyard bathed in the late evening sunshine.  It is a lovely evening.

Can you believe that a full quarter of 2017 has sped by?  I can’t imagine where the time has gone.  I would have liked to have spent more time reading.

Jim

This book’s title looks interesting.  I need to get a copy for myself.  I will get him to write a guest post, when he finishes it.

  • Krauss, Lawrence M. The Greatest Story Ever Told So Far: Why Are We Here? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Sarah

Sarah had a little extra time for reading this month.  Here is a partial list for her and some of the comments she posted on Facebook about these books.

  • Wiles, Deborah. Countdown. New York: Scholastic, 2010.

So, my car is in the shop this week so no dance for me so I’ve been doing some extra reading. I started with this book, Countdown, and what a great read! It’s a historical fiction documentary type book that centers around the life of an 11-year old girl during the Cuban missile crisis.

“There are always scary things happening in the world. There are always wonderful things happening. And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to approach the world… how you’re going to live in it, and what you’re going to do.”

  • Lorenzi, Natalie Dias. Flying the Dragon. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2012

Yesterday’s book, Flying the Dragon, was a fun short read. The story focuses on two children Skye Tsuki and Hiroshi Tsuki.

Skye lives near Washington DC. Her mother is an American and her father is Japanese. She has never really explored or taken an interest in her Japanese heritage until she is forced to when her cousin Hiroshi’s family and her Grandfather move from Japan into the neighborhood.

Hiroshi loves living in Japan, he especially loves spending time with his grandfather who is a master kite maker and the rokkaku champion of their village. Hiroshi must now move to America with is family and encounters many challenges at school and at home.

  • Dauvillier, Loïc. Illustrated by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo. Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust. New York: First Second, 2012.

Hidden is a short book about a little girl who wakes up one night to find that her grandmother is recovering from a nightmare. When the little girl inquires about her grandmother’s dream she is told the story of her grandmother growing up as a little Jewish girl in France during WW2.

Alexis

As always, our most prolific reader.  Here are some of the books she read this month.

  • Griffith, Clay and Susan Griffith. The Shadow Revolution. New York: Del Rey, 2015.
  • Martin, Nancy. Dead Girls Don’t Wear Diamonds. New York: Signet, 2003.
  • Haines, Carolyn. Greedy Bones. New York: Minotaur, 2010.
  • Alt, Madelyn. No Rest for the Wiccan. New York: Berkley, 2008
  • Alt, Madelyn. Where There’s a Witch. New York: Berkley, 2009
  • Alt, Madelyn. A Witch in Time. New York: Berkley, 2011
  • Page, Katherine Hall. The Body in the Vestibule. New York: Avon, 1997.
  • Haydon, Elizabeth. Rhapsody. New York: Tor, 1999

Robin

This month I finally finished the first book of The New Sun by Gene Wolfe.  Considered a classic of science fiction, I am glad to have persevered through it.  At one point in my life, I might have liked this book, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought.  It puts me in mind of  Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan, also considered a classic, and I feel the same way about both books.  They are dark and dystopian.

  • Wiles, Deborah. New York: Scholastic, 2010.
  • MacAvoy, R.A. The Book of Kells. New York: Open Road, 1985.
  • Chesterton, G.K. The Complete Father Brown Stories. Herefordshire, England: Wordsworth Classics, 1972.
  • Cline, Ernest. New York: Broadway, 2015
  • Wolfe, Gene. Book of the New Sun (The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator). London: Orion, 1980, 1981.

Island Boy

Cooney, Barbara. Island Boy. New York: Viking Kestrel, 1988.

This lovely little book was a gift to Alexis for Christmas 1991.  I don’t remember how I happened to acquire this signed copy, but I am glad I did.  This is a stunning book.

It is a full circle story from youth to death. It is a story of determination and a life well lived. It is a story of leaving and homecoming. This is the story of a boy of Tibbets Island, Matthais. He is kind, loving, and determined.

Matthais’ Pa began the process of taming the island.  He called it Tibbets Island.  He cleared the land, dug a well and built a house.  When he was ready, he moved his family to the island.  At that time Matthais’ family had Ma, Pa, and three children.  By the time Matthais came there were six boys and six girls.  Matthais was the youngest.  When he was small he helped where he could.  When he wasn’t helping, he was sitting under the shade of the red astrakhan apple tree, his Ma had planted. He was watching his island and dreaming of the big, wide world.

In time, he joined his siblings in the steamy winter kitchen and learned to read and write.  He helped plough the fields and chop the woods.  As his brothers and sisters grew up, they left the island for jobs or to marry. His brothers told him he was too young to leave home.  Matthais didn’t pay attention to them.  He longed to see what was beyond his island.  His Uncle Albion was a ship builder.  Uncle Albion built a handsome schooner, the Six Brothers. When it made its maiden voyage, Matthais served as a cabin boy.  For fifteen years, he sailed on the Six Brothers.  He sailed with her here and there, up and down the coast in all kinds of weather.  He eventually became the master of this grand vessel.  Despite the work and joy from sailing, he remembered his island and he longed to return.  He decided one day to return and he did.  He was determined.

He returned to the island and repaired his boyhood home.  He married and lived a full life.  He was clever and knew how to make a good life for himself and his family.  The book ends with his death.  It would be sad, but he lived a life that spoke to so many people.  Many people came to pay their respects to him.  His grandson, Matthais saw all those people, who came to pay their respects and he heard comments like this,

“A good man…” “A good life.”

What more can we ask?  This is a wonderful book to read.  It could be maudlin, but it isn’t.  Matthias lived a full, useful life and it was laid before us in all its quiet glory.  With this book, a meaningful discussion can be had with children about life and how we live it.

This book is worth picking up just for its luminous illustrations.  It reminds me of the primitive folk art style that I have seen at Colonial Williamsburg and other museums.

Barbara Cooney

The book Island Boy is a story about beginnings and endings.  Barbara began her life in Room 1127 of the Bossert Hotel in Brooklyn on August 6, 1917.  Her family was prosperous and they lived in the suburbs. She began summering in Maine at the age of two¹.  It seems to call her back, just as it did, Matthias.  She returned to Maine to a little house overlooking the sea.  She died in Damariscotto, Maine in March of 2000².

It is said that these books are her most autobiographical, Miss Rumptious, Hattie and the Wild Waves, and Island Boy.  Like Matthias in Island Boy, she traveled widely, but was called back to the wilds of Maine. In Miss Rumptious, a book I haven’t read, Miss Rumptious is encouraged to do something to make world more beautiful². Barbara took this to heart and her books are beautiful.  She earned the Caldecott award in 1959 for Chanticleer and the Fox and again in 1980 for Ox-Cart Man.  Her illustrations are detailed and sumptuous. Illustrating books may have been a way to earn a living, but it gave her the opportunity to make the world more beautiful.

You can read more about this author on these websites.

¹http://www.carolhurst.com/authors/bcooney.html

²http://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/barbara-cooney-1917-2000-she-created-many-popular-books-for-children-139578164/116646.html

Guest Post: Why Science Fiction as a Genre Is Important

Photo M81
M81 in Ursa Major / Astrophotgraph by James Reimund / San Gabriel Observatory

Back in November, when I wrote about The Paper Bag Princess,  I mentioned a post from Reading Rainbow titled “Raising Science Fiction Readers.” According to that post,

For young kids (and for many adults!) there is something irresistible about the combination of smart ideas, exploring new worlds, and escaping the boredom of everyday life. Science fiction and fantasy books are exciting! But the appeal of these books goes beyond mere excitement. Science fiction and fantasy stories make us feel strong and adventurous, and for many kids, these are some of the only worlds where they feel they fit in.

I find I like the out of the world experiences and thought-provoking ideas I have when I read science fiction.  For those reasons and others, I find science fiction to be an important genre.  My husband, Jim has his own ideas about why this genre is important.  He has detailed his ideas in this guest post.

Science fiction isn’t always considered high prose.  At least not in the sense of other types of literature such as poetry, satire, and morality stories.  These types of literature have been around for centuries and people know of their potential value and beauty.  They provide an elegant means of instruction.  Some literature tells instructional tales and provides warnings to people who might behave poorly or need life perspective.  I think of “Gulliver’s Travels” for the former and “Ozymandias” for the latter.  Anyway, literature can be a means of communicating about life and the human condition.

Science fiction is, in my opinion, no less a player on this stage.  In fact, I would argue that because of the fast pace of technological development, it is essential.  We now have capabilities that were unimaginable even 50 years ago.  The accrual of wisdom to use these new capabilities is usually a much slower proposition.  In order to have time to think about new possibilities and how they should be used requires thinking about them ahead of time.  Science fiction provides a means of attempting this.  Even if the technical details are fuzzy, the ramifications of new technologies can be thought about and discussed.  At the very least, a better set of questions can be thought up to help figure out the possible ramifications of new technologies.

Example:  “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

This novel predominately explores the effects of society when human reproduction is entirely controlled in such a way as to support the state.  Sex is dissociated from reproduction and reproduction is controlled in factories to provide the “correct” population mix of talents.  Consequences of this society are explored, including the necessity to have a “wild population” of humans in order to maintain a genetic mix so that all of humanity can’t be wiped out by disease because of limited genetic diversity in the “civilized” population.  How is this relevant now?

Today, genetics is very much more advanced than in 1931 when the book was written.  It is now possible to tinker with the genetics of the unborn (determine the sex, fix genetic issues, and clone).  No longer is it a stretch to think that humans could someday be “produced” ex-utero. So, for 85 years (book was actually published in 1932) we have had time to think about such reproductive issues and how power over this process could be used or misused.  Has advantage been taken of this time to examine and think about where our current genetic technology is taking us?  Possibly.  Today there is much ethical discussion around most technologies having to do with human reproduction.  Human cloning is no doubt possible (certainly other mammals have been cloned), yet there are prohibitions on this in most countries.

Other examples can be found for time travel, space exploration, and robots/artificial intelligence to name a few more.  As humanity is able to control ever more powerful forces such as energy and genetics, more and more thought must be applied to the wisdom of usage.  This is why the futuristic thoughts and themes of science fiction are important.

March 2017: Reading Report from Northern, Central Texas

March2017Greetings!

March was a very busy month!  The weather was mild and we spent extra time outside.  The whole of central Texas turned green.  It is always amazing to see the springtime transformation.  We had rain so the roadways are abundantly decorated with wildflowers.  You see Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush and a variety of yellow blooms almost everywhere you look.  In my yard, I have Anemones, Prairie Verbena, False Garlic and Yellow Evening Primrose.  It is a beautiful time of the year.  I spent much of my time working in my gardens to spruce them up for the coming year.  I was tired at the end of the day so my before bed reading time was diminished.  Despite the extra yard work, I was able to finish a good book or two.

Green Trees Texas
My backyard this afternoon.  Look at how green it is.

Robin

One of my favorites this month, was Newt’s Emerald.  It was written by Garth Nix.  Some of you may know him from his Old Kingdom Trilogy: Sabriel, Arbhorsen, and Lirael. Newt’s Emerald is a charming Regency romance, think Georgette Heyer.  How can you fail to love a character named Lady Truthful Newington, Newt to her family. It was fun to read.

  • Nix, Garth.  Newt’s Emerald.  New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2015.
  • Cho, Zen.  Sorcerer to the Crown.  New York: Ace Books, 2015.
  • Bujold, Lois McMaster. Pendric’s Mission.  New York: Spectrum Literary Agency, 2016 [eBook].
  • MacAvoy, R.A. The Book of Kells. New York, Open Road, 1985.
  • Chesterton, G.K. The Complete Father Brown Stories. Herefordshire, England: Wordsworth Classics, 1992.
  • Cline, Ernest.  Armada.  New York: Broadway Books, 2015.

Jim

  • Robinson, Kim Stanley.  2312. New York: Orbit, 2012
  • McDevitt, Jack.  Hercules Text. New York: Ace Books, 1986.

Jim invested several months in the book 2312. He wrote a guest post for this blog earlier this month [https://withagoodbook.wordpress.com/2017/03/19/guest-post-2312/] on this book.

Alexis

  • Nix, Garth.  Newt’s Emerald.  New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2015.
  • Knight, Jim.  Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring and Connected.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2016.
  • Connoly, Tina.  Seriously Wicked. New York: Tom Doherty & Associates Books, 2015.
  • Griffith, Clay and Susan Griffith. The Shadow Revolution. New York: Del Rey, 2015.

Guest Post: 2312

2312Robinson, Kim Stanley.  2312. New York: Orbit, 2012.

If you have been keeping up with the monthly reading reports from Northern, Central Texas, you might remember that Jim has been reading the book 2312 for the last couple of months.  It is a tome of 640 pages.  I haven’t read it so I asked him to write a little something about it for this blog.  He graciously acquiesced.  Here are his thoughts on this book.

The book 2312 takes place in a future where humans have spread throughout the solar system.  Mars and Venus have been/are being terraformed.  Mercury has a city that forever just stays out of the reach of full sunlight.  Even the large minor planets and moons like Ceres/Titan have populations as well as hollowed out asteroids.  That doesn’t mean, however, that all is well.  Factions exist on Venus.  The Earth is suffering from climate change and the ever-present contentions between countries still exists.  So, not much has changed over 3 centuries.

Well, not everything is the same.  Progress has also brought about artificial intelligences.  These intelligences, at least some, are cooperating and making more.  Some that appear human.  These intelligences have conspired with political forces on Venus to create meteor bombardments.  Some bombardments were to test the concept of bringing thousands of small meteors together at a single point at the same time.  This prevents the immediate discovery of the attack.  Other attacks were to make political statements.

Not all AIs are in on this and help to bring the conspiracy to light.  So, as in real life, there is no clear line between good and evil.  One must always keep an open mind and be observant.