Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bookety Book Books

I was going to write something like “So I’ve been up to my eyeballs in book stuff,” but then I thought, well, of course I am. That’s how I do. Anyhoo, that’s part of why I’ve been gone for so long: I’m writing the long book review for the summer issue of Brain, Child and my head and all of my typing ability has gone into that.

In other book news, Caleb is reading Jack London’s Call of the Wild at school. The Call of the Wild does not excite him. I originally thought, Oh, Jack London—all things considered in the canon, he’s not such a toughie. But, it turns out, he kind of is. We sat down to read together to catch up on the book, and this is the sort of sentence we got: “Civilized, he could have died for a moral consideration, say the defence of Judge Miller’s riding whip; but the completeness of his decivilization was now evidenced by his ability to flee from the defence of moral consideration and so save his hide.” And... enter Sandman.

Also, London is an out-of-fashionie. The main characters are dogs, so there’s very little dialogue and not much internal signposts of how a character is feeling. I emailed his teacher about the book—she’s given optional assignments before and I wondered if this might be one of them—but in the end, am I going to waste her time by entering into a debate about when kids should be exposed to The Canon of English Language Literature? And what parts of the canon? Nope.

I’m conflicted myself. On the one hand, you’re not going to think of reading as fun—and you’re not going to be a lifelong reader—if you learn that it’s something to be suffered though. And you’ll be suspicious of books and your own judgment in books if you’re also told that this thing you’re suffering through is considered one of the best our country has to offer. Score one for the Wii.

On the other hand, I totally get the argument that the next generation can’t be all slang and Captain Underpants. Brandon and I just finished the Up series of movies (and by the way—awesome! It’s a series of films about a group of English people. They started interviewing them when the kids where seven, and they go back every seven years), and it’s startling how articulate all the children were in 1964.

What to do, what to do. Very soon, I’m going to start my pal Dan’s book. He’s a cognitive psychologist specializing in education, and Why Don’t Students Like School? has gotten some mahvelous reviews. I imagine some light will be shed on this issue. Some moral consideration, if you will.

And speaking of friends with books—go ahead: admire that segue—I read Jessica Handler’s Invisible Sisters, and it’s just loverley. Jessica’s two sisters died from different fatal bone-marrow disorders and her book is an unsentimental look at what loss does to a family, to a person. Jessica is probably one of the most gregarious ladies I know—and she’s doing readings now. If you’re in the south, you’re in luck.

7 comments:

Elizabeth McCullough said...

1) I love the Up series.
2) Jessica Handler had a recent My Turn column in Newsweek. Her book sounds like a tough but meaningful read.
3) I read Call of the Wild in a Reader's Digest Condensed version for children and it was very readable. I would be happy to lend it to a struggling friend.

MemeGRL said...

“So I’ve been up to my eyeballs in book stuff,” you write, and make me giggle. That's like up to your nostrils in oxygen, no?
Good to hear from you, though, and thanks for the book tips. If Jessica wants to come north you know we'll give her a warm welcome!

Jennifer said...

Hey, thanks, Elizabeth--his teacher has chapter summaries available but he's saying that he doesn't need them. It makes me wonder, though, if *I* read some abridged version the million years ago I first read it.

MG--I didn't even realize that. (And I'm totally stealing the up to my nostrils in oxygen line!)

Jody said...

I love the Up series. We've seen them all. We were really addicted to them for a while. We had our favorite characters and not-so-favorites.

I never read Call of the Wild, but I remember, from when I worked in the school library, that the print was little. That was a turnoff for me. Even more so, now, as I'm getting blinder each day.

jessica handler said...

(this is a big kiss from me. Mwah.)

Tracy said...

OMG, Call of the Wild = totally brutal. If you want it off Caleb's reading list, call PETA asap. Srsly, I remembered liking that book (why?); but when I dragged it out and read a couple of chapters out loud to my animal-loving, book-loving then-4th-grader, we were both like, this book suxxxxxxxxx. Macho and violent and, truth be told, just not nuanced or brilliant. I would never even consider it as a "canon" book -- it was published to be cheap entertainment in its time -- and it has aged really poorly. Put a clothespin on poor Caleb's nose. And/or there are so many true native American stories that have been published since then, when a native would have never been shown a book contract... You can find him better things to read, just sayin.

Kate said...

Children's books these days are far more geared to their audience, in my opinion. I have my children "the classics", but pick and choose those I love. I find that there is nothing wrong with a little dose of Diary of A Wimpy Kid (my daughter's favorite) mixed in with Trumpet Of The Swan.