More Books Read

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
Grade: A-

In a war-torn Balkan country, a woman searches for the stories of her grandfather’s past and his recent death.

This is a brilliant first novel that doesn’t quite live up to its potential. What it becomes is a collection of character sketches, all beautifully drawn, but at the end you are left with the feeling that there’s no real story or character development. If you read the online reviews, quite a few people speak of an emotional distance or coldness that they felt while reading. I felt it, too. However, The Tiger’s Wife is IMHO quite well written and worth reading for that reason.

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
Grade: B+

A seventh son of a seventh son learns that he is one of the Old Ones, gifted with the magical powers of the Light. His mission is to find the six Signs with which to fight the powers of the Dark.

The setting is a small English village at Christmastime and during a severe winter storm. The author spends a lot of energy on this setting, giving us an old-fashioned Christmas with a loving family, traditional decorations, caroling, gift-giving, and the the exciting-yet-scary feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world by snow. That much is good. But the main character, Will, really doesn’t do anything. He just blunders from place to place (home, a farm, a neighbor’s house, church, etc.) and everything he needs is given to him, even the understanding of how to use his powers.

The lack of action and character development ruined The Dark is Rising for me. This book is on the list of top 100 children’s books, and I guess that’s not so surprising given the general quality of the writing, but I personally have no desire to read the rest of the series.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Grade: A

An orphan boy asks a gypsy the question that has been burning inside him, and the gypsy’s answer is that he will find what he seeks by following the elephant. But where can he find the elephant?

The Magician’s Elephant is a lovely children’s book, but for adults. The main character is a boy and the events of the story put it solidly in the children’s-book category. But the way it is written—the melancholy atmosphere, the themes of hope and forgiveness, the poetic quality of the language—all make it more of a book for adults. Here is an example I found by opening up the book to a random page.

The manservant looked into the boy’s eyes and saw himself, young again and still capable of believing in miracles, standing on the bank of the river with his brothers, the white dog suspended in midair.

“Please,” said the boy.

And suddenly it came to [the manservant], the name of the little white dog. Rose. She was called Rose. And remembering it was like fitting a piece of a puzzle into place. He felt a wonderful certainty. The impossible, he thought, the impossible is about to happen again.

I could be wrong, but I think you need to be older to really understand the epiphany that the manservant is having here, and The Magician’s Elephant is full of these kinds of moments. So, while I really liked it, I doubt that most children would number it among their favorites. Still, I’m going to put it in the children’s section of my library, because where else could it go?

The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon
Grade: A

The Little Bookroom is a wonderful, old-fashioned collection of fairy tales and other stories by Eleanor Farjeon. Farjeon’s best-known work in America, the book says, is the hymn “Morning Has Broken” (the lyrics of which you can read here, on Wikipedia). I had not known that she wrote that hymn, actually, though I love the Cat Stevens recording of it. It’s a shame that so much of Farjeon’s work is now out of print. I hope I get to read more of it someday.

Most of the stories in The Little Bookroom are excellent, but my favorite part of the book was the author’s note at the beginning. In it, she describes the little bookroom of her youth, the place where she learned “to read anything that can be called a book.” I also enjoyed “Tea With Eleanor Farjeon” (by Rumer Godden), which is included at the end of this edition (The New York Review Children’s Collection).

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2 Responses to More Books Read

  1. sprite says:

    Ooh! New things to add to my to-be-read list. Hooray!

    I’m sorry you didn’t particularly care for The Dark Is Rising. I can see your point about Will’s story, but I think the tight time-frame is part of the problem. It’d be hard to acquire all the knowledge (let alone self-knowledge) needed within the two days the novel contains. Interestingly, I feel like the two books stand on their own, separate from the series, quite well, so you might give Over Sea, Under Stone a shot before you write off the whole thing since you didn’t object to Cooper’s writing. (There’s only one overlapping character between the first two books, if I’m remembering correctly.) I’ve read through Greenwitch, where the story arcs of the two books come together, and like the series thus far.

    Also, regarding the Farjeon book, I like the Rumer Godden I’ve read so far, although they’ve only been her children’s books. The Diddakoi was catalogued as as adult fiction in Middletown’s library, but I don’t know why.

  2. Pingback: Three Unusual Books | Blue-Footed Musings

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