Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!
Have I mentioned that I love epistolary novels? This one, set on the (fictional) island of Nollop, is a particular joy. The islanders revere their native son, Nevin Nollop, creator of the pangram, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,” but when letters begin to fall off of Nollop’s monument, the government decides that the fallen letters must be banned. The rest of the book is one big language game, as letter after letter is removed from the alphabet. I’d definitely recommend this book to homeschool teens—read it for language arts and enjoy the wordplay, or read it for history as a satire on the creation of a police state! HOMESCHOOL RECOMMENDED.
(LC Score: 0, got it in a library sale)
I’m trying to do a better job of reading widely so that I can be a better ally in the fight against racism and other forms of oppression. Plus, I don’t want to miss out on great books (like this one) because I wasn’t paying attention. This is Smith’s short but powerful memoir centering on his answer to the question, “How do you learn to be a black man in America?” Along the way he talks about sexism, homophobia, and his own deeply ambivalent (to put it generously) feelings about the Obama presidency. Smith is still a young man (29 when this books was published) and I’m hoping that he’ll write a part two at some point to bring us up to date on his journey. Another great book for teens—and anyone else who is concerned about the world we’re living in. HOMESCHOOL RECOMMENDED.
(LC Score: +1)
When I was a student at Georgia Tech, I often ate spring rolls at a Vietnamese restaurant that was literally a stone’s throw away from The Dump, the (then unrestored) apartment house where Margaret Mitchell wrote her magnum opus. At that point in my life, I had little interest in either Margaret Mitchell or Scarlett O’Hara. As part of my current quest to read all-things-Georgian, though, I recently made my way through Gone With the Wind (my opinion of which is a whole other essay) and then turned to this biography. I was delighted to learn that Margaret Mitchell—debutante, girl reporter, and world-famous author—is at least as fascinating as (and much more funny than) her heroine, Scarlett. I enjoyed getting to know her in this detailed biography, but I can’t ignore its major flaw: Just as Mitchell wrote a 1,037-page Civil War novel set on a Georgia cotton plantation yet somehow managed to almost totally ignore the institution of slavery, Pyron has written a biography that completely side-steps any examination of Mitchell’s racism. Aside from one anecdote about bad behavior as a Smith College freshman (when she pitched a temper tantrum that went all the way to the highest levels of the administration because a young black woman was enrolled in the same lecture class as she was), we ￼learn almost nothing about how Mitchell’s racist beliefs affected her personal or professional life, nor does Pyron look at how her famous novel is irreparably marred by her racism (in my opinion at least, see: a whole other essay). At one point, for example, Pyron says that Mitchell was infuriated when her novel was described as “anti-Negro,” but he never attempts to explain why she disagreed with that assessment. Despite this fairly gaping hole, I did like this biography and learning more about Mitchell (especially that she wholeheartedly concurred with the psychologist who diagnosed Scarlett as a “partial psychopath”), but, even though it would not be a fun read, I’d still like to find a book that grapples with the white supremacist side of Mitchell and the culture she grew up in, and how that is reflected in her work.
(LC Score: +1)
The final Mrs. Pollifax adventures! While I was sad to bid her farewell, I have to admit that I didn’t love the last book, published in 2000, where Mrs. Pollifax goes gallivanting around Syria, which had then just come under the rule of Bashar al-Assad. It was surprisingly uncomfortable to have the fictional CIA agent come so close to today’s tragic headlines. Gilman never published another Pollifax story after 2000; I have to wonder if she felt the same way about her black-belt grandma in a post-9/11 world.
(LC Score: +2)
This YA fantasy novel (which, honestly, I would have picked up just for the cover) is set in Jazz Age 1919 Boston, and tells the story of teenage best friends and nightclub performers, Ada and Corinne. They are hemopaths, meaning that they’re allergic to iron and have special powers: Ada can affect people’s emotions through her music, while Corinne can cast illusions by quoting poetry. Together they have to deal with anti-hemopath sentiment and escape the evil doctor who’s running hemopath experiments in the asylum just outside town.
(LC Score: +1)
In this collection of short essays, Ajayi explains how we’re all Doing It Wrong, laying down the law on topics ranging from personal hygiene to racism to #Hashtag #Misuse. Meanwhile, I’m judging my library system for only having one copy of this popular book in circulation—I was on the hold list for about six months!
(LC Score: +1)
In general, I agree with everyone who says that it’s better to see Shakespeare’s plays performed than to read them, but I’ve also found that the plays are a lot easier to follow if you’ve read a story-adaptation of the plot first. Over the years I’ve looked at several different Shakespeare adaptations, but this collection (and its follow-up, Shakespeare Stories II) is by far the best I’ve found. Beginning with Twelfth Night and including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth, I’ve used it as a read-aloud introduction to Shakespeare in our homeschool (in conjunction with the BBC series Shakespeare: The Animated Tales, and episodes of Shakespeare Uncovered, available on PBS streaming). I don’t usually include homeschool readalouds in Library Chicken, but we’ve just completed our very last read-through of the book with my 6th grader <sniff>, and I wanted to mark the moment. Now we’ve got a stack of film adaptations to watch and maybe we can catch a show at the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern! HOMESCHOOL RECOMMENDED.
(LC Score: 0, off our homeschool shelf)
Maybe one day I’ll learn that it’s a bad idea to check out that big ol’ nonfiction history book at the same time that I’m grabbing a dozen or so *must-read-this-IMMEDIATELY* sf/fantasy novels. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)
Library Chicken Score for 5/9/17: 5
Running Score: 22
On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:
The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan (I’m NOT a fan of the trendy term “cli-fi” for climate-change science fiction, but I won’t let that stop me from reading this novel about the world freezing over)
The Nix by Nathan Hill (this novel was all over the best-of-2016 lists)
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (because I’m the last one in the country who hasn’t read it)
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (also catching up on my Feminism 101 reading)
SUZANNE REZELMAN is home | school | life magazine’s Book Nerd. Subscribe to home/school/life to read her brilliant book recommendations and literary musings every issue. Your library list will thank you.