Random Acts of Reading

When I was a freshman at Whittier College in nineteen…mumble, mumble, every student in the freshman class did a final paper on Moby-Dick, written by Herman Melville and first published in 1851. Not only did we do a paper, we had to first construct a classification on some aspect or topic of the book. This was not a five paragraph essay. The huge project had people buying rolls of shelf paper to roll out in the dorm hallways just to have enough room to work on the classification. Most students were annoyed or angry that we had to do it; but, as a team-building exercise for a whole student body, it was brilliant. And everyone who attended Whittier in those years has a Moby Dick story.

So when one of my critique groups decided, in the spirit of learning good writing from good writers, to read Moby-Dick (intro and notes by Carl F. Hovde and published by Barnes & Noble, Inc. in 2003) together (as in “aloud together”) I was game to go back and compare a current perspective to my teenage perspective.

The group found incredible richness and humor in Melville’s allusions and references. We also found that it would probably take three to four years to complete the book using our method (very fun and very slow).

However, in the course of our investigations, I came upon a condensed version of the full-length 655 page epic.

Twin brothers Jack and Holman Wang are making Cozy Classics board books—twelve word versions of classic works of literature. One brother writes and the other makes needle-felted illustrations. When I read that they had discussed doing twenty word versions but decided that would bring in sub-plots, I knew I had to have these books.

Both Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice finally came out in the fall of 2012, published by Simply Read Books. I love them. How fun to read with a child, who can later find a mature version of a favorite childhood book. The illustrations are wonderful. I’ve heard adults laugh out loud at the simplicity of the language. And, as I get close to 400 words, they are models to writers of the art of being concise (anybody know the noun form of ‘concise’ that I can substitute for four words?).

After I wrote about Red Sled (“More Christmas Books for Children and a Blatant Ad” post of 12/20/12), I decided I should take my own advice and asked two preschoolers if they would “read” the story to me using the pictures. What Fun! We laughed and had a great time. I didn’t give the book to my great-nephew after all. Maybe next year or the year after that. I have to read it a few more times first.

The middle grade book of the week is The Lightning Thief, the first book in The Olympians series by Rick Riordan and published by Disney*Hyperion Books in 2005. If you love Greek mythology, if you want to love Greek mythology or just need a reason to care, if you know a kid with ADHD who needs a hero, check this book out. It’s an exciting adventure as Percy Jackson discovers his missing father is actually a god and that he, Percy, must race to avert a war between the gods—a war that will have disastrous results for humankind.

Finally, for young adults and older, look for Between Shades of Gray, written by Ruta Sepetys, published by SPEAK, the Penguin Group in 2011, and winner of The Golden Kite Award. Do not confuse this book with the other “shades of gray” books. They are not alike. Ms. Sepetys’ novel deals with a piece of history that was overshadowed by other WWII horrors. The author chose historical fiction to emotionally protect people in Lithuania who are still afraid of Stalin.

The very first sentence is simple and compelling. “They took me in my nightgown.” Ms. Sepetys does a masterful job of jumping right into the story and providing little nuggets of back story as the events unfold. I was able to hear her speak about the process of discovering her family’s history while learning more about herself as she researched and wrote the book. Both stories haunt the reader or listener. There are very good reasons her fellow authors picked her for The Golden Kite.

WARNING: don’t start the book late at night.

Does this log look like a crocodile to you?

Eureka! This week the post is finished by Thursday. Now go read a good book.