Maira's Books

In January of 2005 I started this blog as a record of books I’ve read as I was afraid I would forget what I have read. I have often referred back to my own blog to remember a book's contents or see what I have read by an author. I have enjoyed passing my books on to friends or recommending books to read. I know I have missed recording some, but in general I try to keep up with what I have read or listened to.

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Location: Kalamazoo, MI, United States

I am a librarian at Waldo Library at Western Michigan University.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowlins

Another wonderful Potter book. I read it quickly, because I really did not want to overhear or read about the ending somewhere. Though some pretty horrendous things occur, I felt this book was a bit more laid back, less constantly tense than the last one, which I appreciated. A lot of action was just daily life at Hogwarts. We got a lot more background information in this book, and the romances started heating up. But the cattiness and misunderstandings of young adulthood were all there, wonderfully depicted by Rowlins. They are all growing up and I was happy to see Harry had gotten less angry, which is another reason why the last book was harder to read. Snape remains a big mystery to me, though we learn a lot more about him and Voldemort and Dumbledore and the whole lot. I feel this was the lull before the final big storm, and at least we have a couple of years to wait until we see how Voldemort is finally defeated, or is he?
(finished reading July 21, will be listening to the tapes with son later this summer)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Notes on Jorn Barger and Blogging

I don’t believe it has taken me so long to put up a blog. I just came across an article in Wired about Jorn Barger, who I met in Chicago and spent some time with in the late 1980’s. He is a self-educated genius type who was working at Northwestern on Artificial Intelligence at the time. It turns out he is credited with coining the term “weblog,” after posting his own insights on the Web. His interests are pretty diverse including an obsession with James Joyce and singer Kate Bush. Here’s the article from Wired, a piece on Jorn in the Wikipedia (he was clean shaven when I knew him) and his famous Robot Wisdom Weblog, though I prefer the Map page, where I find most of the links still valid.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Book Without Words: A Fable of Medieval Magic by Avi

Picked up the latest by this award winning children’s / young adult author at ALA with signature. Somehow this did not grab me, though I liked the title. Maybe because it was that I’m gearing up for the latest Harry Potter and this story was too simplistic. A guy is into alchemy, looking for a way to live forever. He involves a talking crow and poor servant girl, who end up saving the day.
(finished reading July 18)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowlins

Reread (or listened to) to prepare for latest book. Still enjoyable.
(in July)

Blink : The Power of Thinking without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

This was a fascinating non-fiction book about our first impressions, the decisions we make, the thinking we do that isn't always explainable. This is basically a series of stories with research findings backing up certain phenomenon, but no real conclusion on what we should do or not do. Gladwell starts with a story about a statue from antiquity that the Getty Museum planned to purchase. After 18 months of research and expert analysis, they decided it is for real and purchased it. Other art specialists started coming to look at it and had immediate insights that it is a fake. Turns out they are right - but how?
One story is about couples and how one researcher can analyze 15 minutes of a conversation between them and predict with 95% accuracy if they will stay together.
I loved the marketing section - it started with a musician, that didn't fit into any category, and though music experts found him wonderful, but he had a hard time breaking into the business, because he didn't do well in surveys of sample listeners. The book told of the classic Pepsi - Coke story, where taste tests showed that people liked Pepsi better, so Coke changed it's formula making a huge mistake and having to bring back Coke Classic. This series of stories was about how people often can't tell you what they think, or it is out of context (sip test for the drinks instead of drinking a whole can at home), or just don't know how to react to something new (like the musician) and it is interpreted as dislike.
I also like the Pentagon war games story, where they spent enormous sums analyzing an enemy and building a virtual force to fight them, but the person who was asked to lead the virtual enemy defenses used his gut military instincts and did unpredictable things, that toppled the great virtual US army.
(finished listening July 17)

Pay the Piper: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

I bought this at ALA to get Yolen’s signature, and she had a co-author who was a musician. The doubly signed book came with a CD with a few of the songs from the book, bookmarks and a reader’s guide. I found out that Adam Stemple is Jane Yolen’s son and this is their first novel collaboration.
Another quick read, but I really enjoyed this retelling of the Pied Piper story in modern times with explanations for some of the older versions of the tale. 14 year old Callie gets to interview the band the Brass Rat during their concert in her small town. But something doesn’t feel right and she can’t seem write the article for the school paper. When her little brother and the other kids in town disappear on Halloween… anyway, you get the gist.I am wondering: How DO authors collaborate. I can understand on a scholarly article, but on a novel? Did Adam write the song lyrics/poetry in the book? Did he provide the background on the rock band’s life while Jane provided the mythology? In either case, I’m glad I bought it. I’ll have to keep reading Yolen.

Notes on Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen has published over 250 books and I have read some for adults and children. At home I have one of her children’s books about four men who are good friends and who do chores for each other on their birthdays – maybe it was called Hands. I remember hearing Yolen speak at the one science fiction convention I attended some time in the late 1980’s. I didn’t realize she rewrites a lot of myths and tales – I believe I read some when I worked in the public library. I also note that earlier this year I read her Queen’s Own Fool. Looks like there are more in this series on the Stuarts.

The Wild Hunt by Jane Yolen

I just needed a small format book to read on the beach and I grabbed this, purchased quite a while ago. This children’s chapter book was a quick, but fascinating read. Yolen takes the age old myth of the fight between summer and winter, and gives it a unique framework. Or is it three frameworks?
(finished reading July 11)

Spendings (abr) by Mary Gordon

(finished listening July 6)

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Black Rose by Nora Roberts

I immediately recognized this as the second of the Garden Trilogy at the store, so I grabbed it. I needed something light after all that heavy history stuff and this fit the bill. As I predicted after reading Blue Dahlia (in Jan), Roz, the matriarch of the Harper House and owner of a garden center falls in love with Mitch, the historian/genealogist. Stella & Logan are getting ready for their wedding and Haley and daughter Lily are cementing their relationship with Harper (Roz’s son), though that relationship will develop in the third book – Red Lily. Again, I liked the gardening details – I wished I had Roz’s flair, my garden is fun at times, but a chore at others, and I hate digging up new beds or fighting the tree roots that try to claim all my good soil in flower beds. Back to the story. I like an older couple falling in love after their children are grown. I still like the mystical “ghost” which wreaks a lot more havoc this time around. I am starting to tire of Roberts’ one dimensional, very evil bad guys – this time it is Roz’s ex-husband – a brief mistake of a marriage. But all in all I again enjoyed reading about strong women and their complex relationships with children, lovers, society and each other.
(finished reading July 6)

Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America (Abr) by Stacy Schiff

(finished listening July 1)

Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime by Miles Harvey

This is the book we are Reading Together at work, so I will leave my comments until we have had our discussion. I will just say this was a great choice for library employees.
(finished reading June 30)

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young

I had a hard time deciding whether to get this Caldecott Medal winner or Young’s latest book, but I know I want to be collecting Caldecott books, so bought this and had it signed at ALA. I believe I first read this in my Children’s Lit class at KVCC with Raylin. The illustrations are just exquisite – often from interesting angles, sometimes broken into panels. And the well known story has a different twist to it. I liked the cleverness of the children.
(finished reading June 27)

Song of Creation by Paul Goble

Another ALA signed purchase. I have loved Goble’s books since my bookstore days and enjoyed not only his illustrations, but also his retelling of Native American tales. Mr. Goble looked a bit weary, when he was signing books, so I didn’t bother him with chit chat. This book is beautiful as always, and he has found a way to illustrate many Western animals and their habitats. The text is less inspiring – a prayer from all the animals and their surroundings, so the text repeats: “O you ____ (sun, moon, stars, frost and cold, moose, geese, ...), bless you the Lord: praise him, and magnify him forever.” I guess I could think of this as one long meditation, but it doesn’t speak to me as his tales have in the past.
(finished reading June 27)

Toulouse-Lautrec: The Moulin Rouge and the City of Light by Robert Burleigh

One of the many books I picked up at ALA and had signed, this is a children’s book about the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. I like the way today’s children’s authors deal with non-fiction subjects, and though I know of Toulouse-Lautrec and know some of his work, I didn’t really know his story. Burleigh tells the story simply and colorfully with lots of photos and images from Lautrec’s art. He describes Paris in the late 1800’s especially the music halls and Moulin Rouge (the Red Mill) in particular. He talks about the advertising posters, an art form for which Lautrec was known and the people in Lautrec’s work. I liked the story of the painting At the Moulin Rouge, where someone cut a piece of the painting off at some point, not liking an eerie face on the side, but luckily they found the strip and sewed it back on. I admire the ability to condense a story in this way to basics while still being informative and engaging.
(finished reading June 27)

Cat Who Went Bananas by Lilian Jackson Braun

Light reading
(finished listening June)

Churchill, A Life. Part 1 by Martin Gilbert

Comments coming.
(finished listening June)