sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

January 13, 2012

space, non-native speaker, and customer service
posted by soe 11:49 am

Oops. I meant to finish working on the last item yesterday while we were traveling, but then airport misadventures meant that Rudi and I took entirely different routes to Salt Lake and the computer went with him. By the time we both arrived, I was pretty knackered and forgot computers existed, let alone that I had a blog post to finish.

But here, a day late, are three beautiful things from the past week:

1. Taking down the Christmas tree means the living room feels spacious.

2. “I’m speaking duck,” a boy tells his parents at the Georgetown park.

3. Rudi and I messed up our flight yesterday morning. Rudi overslept slightly and I caused us to leave the house late, which meant that we did not have the time necessary to recover from subsequent bad decision-making caused by a lack of sleep. So when our plane left, we were not on it. But every single Southwest person we talked to yesterday — and we conversed with a bunch of them — were pleasant and helpful and kind. I don’t know what sort of training they do with their workers — or if they make special efforts only to hire exceptional people in the first place — but it’s really working, and these two tired, sheepish, stressed out travelers were remarkably grateful.

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

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January 11, 2012

into the stacks: the christmas rat
posted by soe 2:27 am

I read this over several days during the first week of the month — commuting, a sunny lunch break, and one evening to finish it up:

The Christmas Rat by Avi

From the jacket: “He is one weird Christmas visitor — his hair and moustache an unearthly white-blond, his voice a gruff rumble. He fills the apartment doorway. From two metal cases he produces what a boy would expect from an exterminator: Toxic roach powders and poisonous fog bombs. But a crossbow?”

My take: Eric, a middle-schooler living in New York City, is home for Christmas break. His parents are both working, his friends have either left town or are sick, and he’s already discovered his presents tucked under his parents’ bed, leaving him bored and restless. He’s got nothing to do but sit around the apartment, which puts him at home when the exterminator arrives.

The man, ex-Army, bears a crossbow, keys to every lock in the building, a blood-red business card, and a seeming hatred of all things pestilent. Anjela “Anje” Gabrail tells Eric to keep an eye out for rats around the building. When Eric sees one in the basement and calls Anje, the man invites him to help do some recon work and find the rat’s nest, so as to best destroy the problem. Lacking other distractions, Eric agrees, but later he begins to have second thoughts. Unfortunately, the game is on, and Anje is not one to back down.

Will Anje get his “man”? Or will the rat still be scurrying around the building come Christmas morning? Ultimately, Eric is going to have to decide which side of the battle he’s going to come down on, and it will take all of his focus and resources to ensure victory.

The story is probably a little intense for those children under the age of eight, but fair game for the rest of us. Plus, I will say that although I recognized the book as an allegory early on, it wasn’t until I read the author’s note at the end that the final bit fell into place for me. Clever.

Pages: 135

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January 10, 2012

into the stacks: wonderstruck
posted by soe 4:00 am

The first book finished in 2012:

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

From the jacket: “Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.”

My take: I loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret when I read it nearly two years ago. I loved the cover when I saw it at the bookstore and bought it for myself based solely on that feature while it was still new in hardcover, which anyone who knows me in real life will tell you is something I never do for authors I don’t already love. So when I learned that Brian Selznick was writing a new book, I vowed to read it, too.

Rudi and Sarah and I got to hear Selznick talk about his second book, Wonderstruck, at the National Book Festival this fall, and it sounded truly promising, especially for a stand-alone sophomore work.

But then work happened this fall, and I essentially stopped reading and sort of fell into a book slump. So when Rudi surprised me with a copy for Christmas, I was utterly delighted and started reading it in restrained little chunks the very next day.

Wonderstruck takes what Selznick did with The Invention of Hugo Cabret — combine words and art in a singular way that defies easy characterization into a genre of literature — and expands on it. In this work, he tells parallel stories within the two styles of storytelling, eventually drawing them together into a single, comprehensive tale.

Ben, whose story arc comprises the text portion of the novel, is a twelve-year-old boy in small-town Minnesota 1977. He has been living with his aunt and uncle and their family since the sudden death of his single mother three months earlier. His prized possession from earlier days of happiness is a wooden box containing a collection of small items that have meaning for him. One stormy night, he discovers a secret his mother kept from him and sets about unraveling it, with nearly disastrous results.

Rose, whose portion of the book is told through illustration, is growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey, 50 years earlier. She has a view of New York City from her window, a bedroom filled with books and models of skyscrapers, and an obsession with the life and career of silent film star Lillian Mayhew.

Told in concert and interspersed over varying numbers of pages, Rose and Ben’s stories will overlap in unexpected places and ways. And, eventually, the lives of these two children born a half century apart will bring them both to the same place — New York’s American Museum of Natural History — in their quests for answers.

Charming and masterful, Wonderstruck offers you essentially a movie inside the cover of a novel. Do not let the book’s size scare you off, as it will only take a few delightful hours to read it start to finish, and when you close the cover with a smile, you’ll be tempted to begin again, or, at the very least, flip back through to better appreciate the detail that went into the pictorial portion of the novel. A recommended read for … well … everyone.

Pages: 637

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January 9, 2012

a week in and already a resolution broken
posted by soe 3:29 am

It’s only been a week since the dawn of 2012 and already I’m behind on my book reviews. Please know that it is the fault of civil engineering and the need to understand the different types of drawbridges that got in the way, and I can’t see that being a repeat problem. (Procrastination, on the other hand, will be a relentless foe.)

Rest assured that I’ll be writing about Wonderstruck on Monday. And later in the week I’ll share thoughts about The Christmas Rat and Ivy + Bean. But for now, I’m turning in.

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January 6, 2012

happy christmas!
posted by soe 10:58 pm

Today is Russian Christmas and the 12th Day of Christmas in Western Christian religions (also known as Three Kings Day). I did not get twelve drummers, but I did get an Icelandic cd on which there is some drumming (I think…).

Christmas trees in front of the Masonic Home in Wallingford, CT, ... on Twitpic

I hope your celebrations have been merry and that your upcoming year is one of good fortune.

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January 5, 2012

unseasonable, preamble, and good catch
posted by soe 10:09 pm

The first Thursday of a new year brings a fresh opportunity to highlight some beauty of both the outgoing and incoming calendars. Here are just three such moments from the past week:

1. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are so unseasonably warm it encourages spending time outdoors. We bike to and from the cinema for our annual film watching marathon, and we spend most of our time at Michael and Julia’s open house sitting on their deck.

2. Before the second of our New Year’s Eve movies, someone from the movie theater comes in and describes their upcoming features in an excited kind of way. It feels very homey, and, as Sarah said, alerts us that the staff are film aficionados.

3. Up early for a meeting, I am toasting an English muffin and doing something else at the same time when I turn around to discover that my toaster oven is on fire (we apparently hadn’t emptied the crumb catch in a really long time; that’s now been remedied). Because I am right there, I can blow it out, and the sirens that stop at our intersection not five minutes later are not for us.

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

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