Catching Up

I have read so many books lately, but I just haven’t had time to comment on them. Here are a few words on each of them.

Tales from the Arabian Nights (A Whitman Teen Age Book), as told by Lee Wyndham, illustrated by Robert J. Lee
Grade: A+

I love this book. Its tanned pages have that ideal old-book smell that makes me want to move into the library and wall myself in with books forever. The stories—3 tales of Aladdin, “The Feast that Never Was,” 4 tales of Sinbad, “The Fisherman and the Genie,” “Bah-Ram the Unlucky and How He Followed His Dream,” “A Fortune in Glass,” and 3 tales of Ali Baba—are told simply, just they way they should be. I’ve had this book for as long as I can remember, and it will continue to live on my bookshelves for many years to come.

Stories from the Arabian Nights, retold by Laurence Housman, illustrated by Edmund Dulac
Grade for the stories: B
Grade for the illustrations: A+

I bought this book at the going-out-of-business sale at a local used bookstore. The books were so cheap that I could buy anything that struck my fancy, and I did. What attracted me to this particular book were the illustrations, which are marvelous. Indeed, had this been the edition that was published with more of the Dulac illustrations, it would be worth some real money.

Alas, it is not, and my opinion of the book is consequently divided. You see, the stories, IMHO, are not told well. First, they are racist. I know, I know. I’m not supposed to care because it was published before both civil rights and political correctness, but I would not want to read it to my son without censoring it. Second, some of the stories are ridiculously long and strange. For example, the story of the fisherman and the genie, so short and simple in my favorite Tales from the Arabian Nights (see above), goes on and on in this book and rather unpleasantly.

However, there are some stories that I had never heard before, such as “The Magic Horse,” which were interesting. And the illustrations, as I mentioned, are just so beautiful.

Difficult decision. I have too many books, though, so this one goes. If I ever find a copy of the edition with more of the Dulac illustrations, it will be a different story.

Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer
Grade: B

Any series that grows beyond three books is bound to suffer a downhill slide in quality, and that is sadly the case with the Artemis Fowl series. This is the weakest one yet by far. The title told me to expect a paradox, but when it was revealed, I was extremely disappointed. So while I still love this series, I would call this book a waste of time for all but seriously devoted fans of the series. For now I will keep the book, as my rule for a series is to keep all books up to the last one that I like, and this series isn’t over yet. There is still the possibility that Colfer will write another really good one. I hope he does!

Look at the Birdie: Unpublished Fiction by Kurt Vonnegut
Grade: B+

Look at the Birdie is a collection of previously unpublished stories by Kurt Vonnegut. The stories are written well, but they don’t have Vonnegut’s trademark “snap,” and I suspect that’s why he didn’t publish them during his lifetime. Like Twain, though, Vonnegut is an author whose worst is still better than most authors’ best. I would recommend these stories for any fan of Vonnegut, because it’s a blessing to be able to read “new” stories by such a great author. I would also recommend this book for anyone trying to learn how to write short stories, because Vonnegut was an extraordinarily competent writer, and following his example couldn’t do any harm.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Grade: B+

I have to admit, I liked A Wrinkle in Time much better when I was younger. I don’t know why it didn’t work for me this time around. I’ll keep it though, because it’s still an “A” in my memory.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Grade: A

Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler is a funny narrator. She has all sorts of quotable things to say. While I enjoyed this book reading it as an adult, I think I would have loved it when I was a kid. Like most imaginative children, I dreamed of running away and having grand adventures. A story about kids who run away and hide out in a museum would have had great appeal to me. I’ll make sure my kids read this while they’re at the age to really love it!

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Grade: B+

The Phantom Tollbooth is another book that I wish I had read when I was a kid. The story just didn’t work for me and that was a distraction from the wordplay, which is this book’s real strength. I will try reading it to Marshall someday. Perhaps trying to see it through the eyes of a child might help me understand why it ranks so high on the top 100 list of children’s books.

The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee by Paisley Rekdal
Grade: B+

The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee is a collection of essays written by a woman of half-Chinese, half-Norwegian descent. While I found several of the essays fun and interesting, particularly the one about Bruce Lee, there were many times when I had no idea what the author was talking about. She got just a little too introspective and since her hold on my attention was already tenuous because I didn’t identify with her, I sometimes dropped out of the current of the story and floundered around for pages before getting back into the flow. Still, it’s overall pretty good and potentially of interest to people who have read and enjoyed books by Amy Tan.

The Second St. Nicholas Anthology
Grade: C

I bought this book because it was old, it had lots of stories, and it was virtually free. As I have found out since, there was once a St. Nicholas Magazine, published from 1878 to 1941, whose target audience was the 5-18 crowd. This is presumably a collection of stories from that magazine. While the magazine was known for publishing some great children’s literature, I just couldn’t get interested in the stories and poems, even the ones by revered authors like Frances Hodgson Burnett. This book is headed for the Chopping Block. Since I didn’t actually read the whole thing, I’m not going to list it on my Book Love page.

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