sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

July 31, 2006

into the stacks 6
posted by soe 5:18 pm

I know I was going to start posting every two weeks about what I was reading over the summer, but, frankly, I didn’t read much of anything the first fortnight of July. The Knitting World Cup took up the beginning of the month (I’m not as talented as my grandmother who claims she used to knit and read simultaneously) and then it took a while for me to settle into something that I liked enough to finish. (This is particularly bad news for Democracy in America, which I’m supposed to read by the end of August. I’m in the introduction and am already grumpy.)

But in the end I managed four books in the last two weeks of the month:

The Pursuit of Happyness, by Chris Gardner with Quincy Troupe
From the book jacket: “At the age of twenty, Milwaukee native Chris Gardner, just out of the navy, arrived in San Francisco to pursue a promising career in medicine. Yet he surprised everyone and himself by setting his sights on the competitive world of high finance. But no sooner had he landed an entry-level position at a prestigious firm, Gardner found himself caught in a web of incredibly challenging circumstances that left him homeless with his toddler son. Instead of giving in to despair, the two spent almost a yera moving among shelters, ‘HO-tels,’ and soup lines, even sleeping in the public restroom of a subway station — ultimately making an astonishing transformation from the bathroom to the boardroom.”
Why this book? It was sitting on top of a pile of unread books, and the introduction kept me reading long enough to make me want to know more.
My take: I picked this up as an advance reader’s edition so it is possible that there has been some further editing since I looked the story over. But given how far along the book was, my guess is that the major copy work had already been done by that time. It’s too bad. Gardner and his ghost writer need an editor with a firm hand who is able to restructure the story slightly so that it’s less stream of consciousness memoir and more chronologically ordered. It’s frustrating to have an event alluded to in one place and then to have it referred to again in slightly different (but not much) detail later on.

That said, one can’t help but admire Gardner’s chutzpah, focus, and devotion to his son. His mother told him he could do anything he wanted to (despite her inability to remove her family from an abusive relationship) and he believed her, translating the risks of his rocky childhood into a profitable career in investing. And his own lack of a present father as a boy made him utterly determined to be there for his son.

[The seemingly misspelled title actually refers to a real-life misspelled daycare center Gardner strove to earn enough to enroll his son in.]

The book is going to be made into a movie by Will Smith, so if you like to read books before you see the movie, pick this one up.
Pages: 302

The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis
From the book jacket: “How captive Prince Rilian escaped from the Emerald Witch’s underground kingdom.”
Why this book? This book may (or may not) mark the final book in the Narnian series I read as a child. But I’m going to read all seven this time around.
My take: The books are getting less and less satisfying as I go along. I like Eustace and Jane and their Narnian guardian, Puddleglum, but Lewis’ narrator inserts himself into the story more and more with commentaries that have not held up to the test of time. The narrator’s views of women, co-education, and modern education are antiquated and annoying and it requires a constant internal commentary of “It was written in the ’20s” to get past it to focus on the story.
Pages: 217

The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber
From the book jacket: “How can anyone describe this book? It isn’t a parable, a fairy story, or a poem, but rather a mixture of all three. It is beautiful and it is comic. It is philosophical and it is cheery. What we suppose we are trying fumblingly to say is, in a word, that it is Thurber. There are only a few reasons why everybody has always wanted to read this kind of story, but they are basic: Everybody has always wanted to love a Princess. Everybody has always wanted to be a Prince. Everybody has always wanted the wicked Duke to be punished. Everybody has always wanted to live happily ever after. Too little of this kind of thing is going on in the world today. But all of it is going on valorously in The 13 Clocks.”
Why this book? I wasn’t planning to reread this present from Karen right now, but I was pulling out books for a minor research project, happened upon it, and knew immediately that my life was in need of a little Thurber.
My take: If you have never read Thurber, head right out to the library and pick up one of his books. He writes and illustrates his own works, and they are whimsical and funny and sweet all at once. You can space the story out or you can read it in one brief sitting.

And I enjoyed the re-read sufficiently that the next time I am at the library, I’m going to check out one of his other books or, maybe, one of the collections of his correspondence.
Pages: 124

Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
From the book jacket:Running with Scissors is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead ringer for Santa and a lunatic in the bargain. Suddenly, at age twelve, Augusten Burroughs found himself living in a dilapidated Victorian in perfect squalor. The doctor’s bizarre family, a few patients, and a pedophile living in the backyard shed completed the tableau. Here, there were no rules; there was no school. The Christmas tree stayed up until summer, and Valium was eaten like Pez. And when things got dull, there was always the vintage electroshock-therapy machine under the stairs….”
Why this book? We saw a preview of the upcoming film adaptation before The Devil Wears Prada, and Amani and I wanted to read the book before we saw the show. (Thanks to Sarah, who lent us both her copy of the book.)
My take: This book intrigued me when it came out, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading it until now. It’s really one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction kinds of stories. If it weren’t true, no one would believe it as a novel. (Burroughs has been sued for defamation by the psychiatrist’s family for exaggerating the story, so maybe I’ll have to eat my words.)

But either way, the characters are strongly written and thoroughly messed up down to the last one. If it is true, Burroughs deserves major kudos for surviving. If it’s fiction, he deserves major credit for his imagination.

I’m definitely looking forward to the movie.
Pages: 304

Total pages read for Kat with a K’s Summer Reading Program during July: 947
Total pages read to date this summer: 3150
Total books read this summer: 12

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