Feeling a bit panicky about the date: it’s the last Monday in July! How did this happen? I have so much to do over the next three weeks (before school starts). And at least one hundred books to read!
I didn’t get much reading done last week, but I did complete house projects: painted my dining room a beautiful chocolate brown (this link proves why you shouldn’t rely on the computer to choose paint colors: IRL, this color looks like a vat of chocolate sauce on the walls. Yum! Though perhaps fattening in a dining room?) and moved some furniture around to make room for new things given to me by my mom (thanks, Mom!).
There was also a great deal of kittening. Kittens, it turns out, are wonderful distractions from everything else that’s pressing in life. It’s always playtime, and they’re always cute.
Who could possibly choose a book over petting Frances?
I did read many, many picture books to my kids, most of which I did not enjoy. Even the three books we read by one of my favorite authors, Cynthia Rylant, didn’t work for me. I don’t know if I’m just in a picture book reading slump or if there really was something off about this particular group of books. When I look over the list of titles we read over the past week (nearly 50 picture books!), I do notice that most of them were not selected by me: either the kids or my husband picked them out. So perhaps the books weren’t as appealing to me for that reason. That said, we did read one really good book and one absolutely superb book.
First, the really good book: Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea.
This is a very funny story about a jealous Goat who thought he was pretty special until Unicorn moves to town. I love Shea’s illustrations–so dynamic and full of visual jokes. There are also some awesome lines: Goat’s “Taste my cloven justice,” for example.
And now the superb book:
In The Day the Crayons Quit, poor Duncan discovers that his crayons have gone on strike–and left him a packet of letters full of their protests and complaints. Black doesn’t want to be used only for outlining. Red is overworked and needs a break. Orange and Yellow aren’t talking to each other because each one thinks he’s the color of the sun. Beige doesn’t understand why he can’t be used to color something besides wheat. The letters themselves are hilarious, and Oliver Jeffreys’s illustrations are perfect. I especially love Purple’s letter + drawing perfection: Purple is a bit compulsive and very distressed that Duncan can’t do a better job staying inside the lines. This book is definitely in my picture book Top 5 for 2013.
The other books I completed this week were graphic novels (the kind for grown-ups):
Roz Chast’s What I Hate from A to Z took about 10 minutes to read. It’s slight but clever, and I had to laugh at a few of her anxieties that I share (General Anesthesia, for instance). I could imagine using this as a prompt in one of my writing classes. For most letters of the alphabet, she avoids the obvious fear and finds something a little more creative and interesting. No snakes here, for instance: instead, Spontaneous Human Combustion is the fear for the letter S.
Thanks to Amazon’s recommendations function, The Property led me to two graphic novels by Miriam Katin, a Hungarian Jew whose mother faked their deaths in order to escape from Nazi-occupied Budapest. This story, and their war-time wanderings through the countryside trying to survive, is told in Katin’s first graphic novel, We Are On Our Own.
Katin’s pencil art is really powerful. Look at this page depicting what happened to Budapest with the Nazi occupation. Almost no words. The art alone conveys the oppression and terror of that time.
This is not an easy story to read. I think it’s an important contribution to war literature, and especially to literature exploring what happens to women and children during war. It would make an excellent companion to Maus. I will definitely be adding it to one of the Graphic Novels courses I teach.
Katin’s second graphic novel, Letting It Go, is also a memoir.
Her son has decided to apply for Hungarian citizenship and move to Berlin, and Katin is horrified. She has long vilified Berlin as the symbol of the Holocaust. She ends up making two trips to Berlin–one to visit her son and the other to attend the opening of a museum exhibit that includes her art. The book explores what it means to attempt to come to terms with the past–which the Germans have a wonderful word for, vergangenheitsbewaltigung. It’s a thought-provoking book, and–to me–gorgeous to look at. (I also enjoyed the cameos by Katin’s mother. I think Katin’s next graphic novel should be the story of her mother’s life! I’m really fascinated by her.)
So even though I didn’t read a lot this week, I really liked what I did read. I still have 4 graphic novels to read before August 2 to complete the reading requirements for my graphic novels course, so I know roughly what I’ll be reading this week.