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Archive for May, 2011

“Princesses” – The Book’s Eye View From Vermont: Just because we wear clogs and flannel shirts doesn’t mean that we’re not interested in royal wedding dresses being worn across the pond! Both Lisas watched from a clapboard house on a dirt road as William and Kate tied the knot in Westminster Abbey and then kissed at Buckingham Palace. These are the books that then came to mind. 

Listen Now to Princesses or download http://www.box.net/files#/files/0/f/0/1/f_765741554

The recent royal nuptials (what a fun phrase to write and say – royal nuptials – try it), got us thinking about life as a royal personage.  And we started to think, as we tend to do, about books to help us empathize/fantasize about royalty.  Our conclusion? — even with the best books, there is no way to truly relate to the royal treatment other than to actually be in a royal family.

So we decided to focus on a former commoner like us – the newly crowned Princess Kate. Then we turned to stories about princesses. And once we started along this line of thought, the titles kept on coming.  We edited a bit, and the books we dicussed on the BookJam podcast are:

Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch  In this classic picture book, Princess Elizabeth wears fancy clothes and is to marry Prince Ronald. Then a dragon abducts Ronald.  So she dons a paper bag, tracks and tricks the dragon, and rescues Prince Ronald.  When Ronald says “You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess,”  well let’s say they do not live happily ever after. But she does save the prince.

The Light Princess by George Macdonald – a tale from the 19th century – really. We surmise that Gail Carson Levine read it somewhere along the way (see next entry).  The Light Princess is a simple tale, written for children. A princess is cursed by a wicked witch with lightness and thus is condemed to float blissfully about the castle all day long, missing gravity, weight, sorrow, suffering and love. The tale relates how she finds her own gravity — and how she saves the prince, too.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine – This Newberry Honor Award winner has a cursed princess too.  At birth, Ella is given the gift of obedience by a fairy named Lucinda. Thus, anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. As with many fairy tales her mother dies, her father remarries a wicked woman and her life is not so great.  But Ella decides to solver her problems herself. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this version of Cinderella sticks with you with twists and deviations from the original.

The Princess Tales by Gail Carson Levine- As in Ella Enchanted, Carson Levine turns fairy tales upside down and inside out.  We enjoyed her versions of a sleeping beauty who wakes covered in dirt and cobwebs and a Rapunzel who chooses her own entrapment.

Other titles of interest that we mention on the podcast include:

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman – Takes all the elements of a classic fairy tale and up ends them a bit.  This is a great book that also made an excellent movie.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot – Mia Thermopolis, your average urban ninth grader, discovers her father is prince of a small country and that she is now considered the crown princess! She doesn’t even know how to begin to cope, but we enjoy watching her try. (Good movie as well.)

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory  – Sisterly rivalry drives this vivid retelling of the story of Anne Boleyn.

And since most of this podcast focussed on books that are often downright silly, we end with a more serious recommendation – Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel provides a fantastic well written look at life in the court of King Henry the VIII.

Musical selections to bookend this podcast include Margaret Whitman’s original recording of “Moonlight in Vermont”  and “Dig a Little Deeper” performed by Jenifer Lewis (Mama Odie).

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“Don’t Lie” – The Books Eye View from Vermont: Our local elementary school teaches second graders about proverbs. To wrap up the unit, students put on theatrical productions of their own. At the end of staging the plays, J Lisa’s son said he’d learned “Never trust a liar!” Hmmm, true enough! This recent proverbs unit coincided with the publication of several new books focusing on virtues. It’s good to have lots of reminders, even if you’re a grownup and if you live in such a virtuous state! These are the books that caught the BookJam’s attention.

Listen Now to Virtues or Download http://www.box.net/files#/files/0/f/0/1/f_745975870

This week we’ve put together a specially themed show dealing with subject of “Virtues” – or perhaps the lack thereof.  Over recent weeks, J Lisa took notice of several new releases hitting bookstands that deal with morality in its many forms – some even got play time on National Public Radio. Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America: From Bernie Madoff to Martha Stewart was discussed in early May on the Diane Rehm Show. It focuses on what author Stewart sees as an epidemic of perjury in our culture — and when the original crime is only made worse when the perpetrator lies about it.

Next we take a brief look at another new release entitled Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue by Eric Felten. An erudite and scholarly work which is also as thoughtful as it is entertaining,  Felten explores the history of loyalty — from the way it was understood by the ancient Greeks to our now modern society in the age of Twitter and Facebook. Fascinating, but not entirely surprising considering that the author is a prize-winning columnist for the Wall Street Journal. He was also interviewed on the Diane Rehm Show this spring — maybe she should also get a little credit for noticing this trend in non-fiction releases!

But the majority of our Bookjam conversation focused on the Ian McEwan’s fictional masterpiece, Atonement. This gracefully, perceptively written book examines the the events of a spring day in 1935 that has life changing effects for all involved.  J Lisa commented that “this is the only book I’ve ever read where I wanted to reach into the book on a certain page and tell the child to stop!” It deals with perspective, lying, misconception, love and, of course, atonement. Sounds heavy, right? So why would anyone want to read it? The Lisas offer a few opinions: for one,  it takes the sedentary act of reading and makes readers want to take a physical action. And, it is helpful exercise in reminding us to challenge our assumptions and to assume other perspectives before judging anyone.

Here at The BookJam we always try to end our discussions on  light, positive note. So for the “Virtues Episode”,  we close by taking a brief look at Jon Sciezka’s’ humorous book The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! A picture book for all ages, Sciezka deconstructs this famous fable by presenting us with the big bad wolf’s perspective. Did you ever stop to consider that perhaps the falsely accused wolf didn’t mean to cause any harm – maybe he just wanted to borrow a cup of sugar! Read it and laugh…and challenge your assumptions.

The musical selection at the end of our podcast is Annie Lenox’s “Why.” And, we’ve inserted a new tune to welcome listeners: a snippet from Margaret Whiting’s original recording of “Moonlight in Vermont”. It seemed only just a little perfect considering we’re a couple of gals who spend their moonlight hours in Vermont reading up a storm. Happy reading.

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Listen Now Stories for Old Men Waiting  or download http://www.box.net/files#/files/0/f/0/1/f_732747352.

The fact that 1) Lisa LC picked up and enjoyed Rules for Old Men Waiting, and that 2) we both have recently read and loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand  by Helen Simonson led us to a discussion of what we see as an emerging trend in books: those in which men are reflecting upon their lives and, well let’s face it, are doing so as they wait to die -ahem, we mean living out what’s left of their golden years!

So, since we love a challenge, we spent this BookJam attempting to paint an upbeat yet truthful picture of these books while actually discussing narrators who are “waiting to die.”  The books we chose to include are:

Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey

This novel shows us an 80-year-old man who loved his wife and is passionately missing her since she died.  The plot finds him waiting to die so that he may join her again.  Lisa LC says it is beautifully written and completely atmospheric – you will tremendously enjoy the time you spend in the novel’s Cape Cod setting. And you enjoy the time you spend with the man while he waits.

Old Filth by  Jane Gardam

“Failed in London try Hong Kong – FILTH” is a description attached to the main character in this novel – Sir Edward Feathers, a barrister who has divided his life between Great Britain and Asia.  The big question for the reader as you learn about his life is -does this nickname actually apply to Sir Feathers? We both enjoyed the humor, the wit, the knowledge gained from Old Filth as he looks back on his life as a barrister and his loveless (unlike in Rules for Old Men Waiting) marriage.  As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that this marriage was to a woman, now dead, whom he did not truly know at all.  The cause for all this reflection?  Well, his life’s rival moves next door to the secluded home Old Filth chose for an uneventful retirement.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson – The randomness of neighbors jump starts the reflections in this novel as well (See Old Filth above).  When the brother of a childhood friend moves next door to Trond Sander, a man dwelling in self-imposed exile on the edge of Norway, it causes Trond to think back on a day in his childhood where Trond and the childhood friend chose to spend the day stealing horses.  The entire book is beautiful, but bleak.   It also has you questioning what decisions you have made that will become the point (apparent only in retrospect of course) that your life turned.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – Lisa LC describes this novel as “full of energy and youth” with writing that is “unusual and brilliant”.  Do we need to say any more to get you to read this book after that?   In case we do, here is a bit about the plot.  This book is about a book – a long-lost book that  reappears and connects an old man  – Leo Gursky – searching for his son and a girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother’s loneliness.  In the present, Gursky is merely surviving, tapping his radiator every day to let his upstairs neighbor know he’s still alive. But years ago, in the Polish village where he was born, Leo fell in love and wrote a book. This book lives on in the life of the girl of this novel.  Read it for details of how these stories connect.

To help those of you who made it through the melancholy and would now just like a book that makes you laugh, we both recommend Family Man  by Elinor Lipman.

The narrator – Henry Archer, a divorced gay man – in this novel has seen fewer years than the men in the books discussed above, but is never the less reviewing his life.  And yes, again the review is instigated by a change in neighbor. (Maybe this podcast should be titled Old Men and Their New Neighbors.)  In this case, his long-lost step daughter moves in with him rekindling a relationship he loved long ago and causing him to reflect on many of his decisions and past loves. If you like screwball comedies, you will enjoy this book. And, if by chance you love Manhattan, you will like the fact that NYC comes across as a character in the Family Man.

We also briefly mentioned Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer as part of the discussion of The History Of Love.

Hmmm Maybe this podcast will inspire some Father’s Day reading/gifts.

Happy Reading!

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