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text 2017-01-29 00:25
Read the Book, Skip the Movie
A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

If you are a regular reader of this column, or a friend IRL who is used to my dogmatic proclamations, you know that I always make an honest effort to Read the Book First before seeing a movie. 

 

Sometimes, that reading is so profound and hits me in such a visceral, emotional place I know the filmmakers could not possibly do justice to that experience. Let's face it, they're just going to F-it up. 

 

Had one of those experiences recently with "A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness. So grateful to my friend, L., for the recommendation and the affirmation of that recommendation by the trusted B. This book broke me a little bit. Yes, it's amazingly heavy-handed in its use of symbolism (http://carissagreen50.booklikes.com/post/1511966/knock-knock-symbolism-calling), but it touched a really primal place in me, so it worked. I ugly-cried over this one. Twice. 

 

Add this one to the list that includes, for example, "The Giver" by Lois Lowry, "The Book Thief" by Marcus Zusak, and anything "Narnia." Filmmakers, your films won't measure up. You can only fail with these. They'll undoubtedly disappoint me and retroactively mar the book a little bit. Sorry, try again with something I love a little bit less. 

 

-cg

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2016-08-17 01:11
Of Poets and Picture Books
The Good Luck Cat - Joy Harjo,Paul Lee

Big news in the book universe this summer was Sherman Alexie's first picture book, "Thunder Boy, Jr."

 

But how about a flashback to a picture book by Joy Harjo, another Native American poet, one whom Alexie himself cites as a significant influence on his work? 

 

"The Good Luck Cat" is a poignant, if ironically-titled story. The poor cat in question, Woogie, demonstrates the multitudinous ways a feline can risk its nine lives, and through the story's narrator, the little girl who lives him, we wish him good luck at every turn. 

 

-cg

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text 2016-07-16 22:32
I wish . . .
The BFG - Roald Dahl,Quentin Blake

I wish I had a child so that I could read this book aloud to her. Or I wish I could go back in time and have my Dad read this book to me. 

 

The BFG's delightful portmanteaux and creative diction are musical, magical, and delighted me. What a whoppsy book.

 

-cg

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text 2015-10-05 00:45
Theme Reading - Exhibit style
Chasing Vermeer - Blue Balliett

Last March, I went to see Vermeer's "Woman in Blue Reading a Letter" at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The painting was on loan for the museum's 100th anniversary. It was a wonderful spring break adventure. 

 

In honor of that trip, my "theme reading" was Blue Balliet's children's book, "Chasing Vermeer." In that charming novel, two Vermeer paintings in particular are discussed, "A Lady Writing," and "The Geographer." 

 

Lately, I got quite excited, because the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is having a special exhibition, in which two Vermeers will be on view -- the very ones Balliet referenced in her book, as I mentioned above. Except I'm not quite right.

 

Yes, MFA is getting "A Lady Writing" from the National Gallery. But the other Vermeer that will be on loan is "The Astronomer," not "The Geographer." However, it was a natural mistake - "The Geographer" and "The Astronomer" seem to feature the same model. They are nearly the same setting. 

 

I sincerely hope the exhibition motivates young people in Massachusetts to read the book. Theme reading is a fine thing, and Petra and Calder were great characters.

 

You can preview the exhibition here: http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/class-distinctions.

 

-cg

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review 2015-08-22 19:12
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DUMMY Review
Night of the Living Dummy - R.L. Stine

Synopsis: Lindy names the ventriloquist's dummy she finds Slappy. Slappy is kind of ugly, but he's a lot of fun. Lindy's having a great time learning to make Slappy move and talk. But Kris is jealous of all the attention her sister is getting. It's no fair. Why does Lindy have all the luck? Kris decides to get a dummy of her own. She'll show Lindy. Then weird things begin to happen. Nasty things. Evil things. No way a dummy can be causing all the trouble. Or is there?

 

*****

 

Like a couple of other books in my Goosebumps reread so far, I went into this with almost no memory of what it was about or my younger self's general impression of it. I knew Night of the Living Dummy was about two sisters and... that was it. In a way, that was a blessing. I didn't know what was coming next, and it was nice sitting back and taking in the action of this short children's book like it was the first time I was reading it. I felt like I was in elementary school all over again!

 

However, if I could have remembered how bad this one is, I might have just skipped it altogether. 

 

Okay, first off, the cover. This book's cover is among the better Goosebumps artwork (which was and is, in all honesty, the best thing about this series), but it really misleads the reader. Slappy, the dummy portrayed on the front of the book, is introduced about fifteen pages into the story and makes almost no appearance again until the last page. He isn't alive, and he isn't the cause of the mayhem that goes on. In actuality, it is Mr. Wood, the dummy brought in after Slappy, that is alive (although he doesn't gain life until the last 30 pages). I had completely forgotten about Mr. Wood because the second and third Dummy books focus on Slappy and his hi-jinks. So the cover is really, really misleading. 

 

So, what happens in the story? you may ask. If Mr. Wood doesn't come alive until page 100 -- which is what this book is about, given the title and all -- what happens until then? Well... a whole lotta nothing, honestly. The book revolves around Kris and Lindy, two twin sisters who do nothing but argue and belittle one another. Seriously... that is their entire personalities. It gets old reading their constant snide comments and bickering after about ten pages in. Their parents, in Goosebumps tradition, are there to do nothing more than react to whatever their kids get up to and say "It's just the wind!" and "Wait until tomorrow when we punish you." Seriously, Stine. I get it that this book series is written for kids and that's why the books focus on the kids... but can't you at least try to make your adult characters seem not so apathetic? 

 

So the book's plot mostly revolves around the sisters arguing over any and every thing and, eventually, trying to outdo each other with their dummy routines. Okay, so... am I the only person who thinks it's weird that two twelve year old kids have such fascinations with dummies, anyway? That's something that strikes me as odd about all three Dummy books. Stine writes his kid characters as absolutely obsessed with dummies and not creeped out by them whatsoever. They tend to carry them around with them everywhere they go... eat with them... sleep with them... yeah, I dunno. It's just always struck me as odd. 

 

And finally, the climax. The moment the book is leading up to. Mr. Wood, by way of one of the girl's stupidity (I honestly cannot remember which girl it is because they each have the personality of a stale graham cracker) -- i.e. chanting some weird, foreign words that somehow bring Mr. Wood to life??? okay???? -- draws breath and tries "enslaving" the family. He doesn't actually do anything... he just runs around and yells "You'll be my slaves!" until the girls eventually defeat him, and rather easily at that. Seriously. Yawn. The whole thing just feels so anti-climatic and boring and rushed, especially after having to read through a hundred pages of mindless taunting and one-upping between the two sisters. 

 

This book is easily the worst Goosebumps book I've read thus far, but I have a feeling it won't keep that distinction too long. Filled to the brim with cardboard characters (and that's really saying something for this book series), boring and unrealistic dialogue, and a climax that is disappointing by any standard whatsoever, this is a book from my childhood I'll definitely never read again. 

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