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Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

two by marsh


Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie, and John Dickinson Carr, occupy a special place in my childhood history of reading. Sometime in between The Hobbit and Foundation, I went on what can only be described as a British mystery reading spree and attempted to read everything these people had ever written. Along with,of course, everything Arthur Conan Doyle had ever written. Ngaio Marsh, though she had the smallest number of books (and, well, is technically a New Zealander), outshines everyone on pure quality of her writing.
Two of my favourites are Vintage Murder and Death of a Peer, and, as I wend my way through my library, I picked them up to read during our recent snow storm.
Vintage Murder is an early, and fun, book in the Roderick Alleyn series. This one takes place as he is travelling through New Zealand and recovering from some unspecified operation. It is early in the canon as he is not yet married or dreaming of his future wife. There is a rugby-hooligan type incident on a train that ends with a bruised backside on one of the characters and a theft before the main murder even occurs. This book has a number of characters, and following every movement of each person can get baffling at times; however, Marsh never makes the reader feel as if Alleyn knows something special or has super-powers, merely that his powers of deduction are sharp and that all of the information is there that is necessary to solve the mystery along with him.
It is interesting to note that the translations of the book all mention the murder weapon, but lose the pun inherent in the original title.
Death of a Peer, though, contains at its heart one of Marsh’s best creations, the Lamprey family. Dotty, eccentric, lovable, they form the center of a locked room mystery–and distract the reader from the horror of the crime itself. They nearly distract the detectives as well, but as Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn can always be relied upon to re-center himself, the distraction does not prove fatal and all of the clues are neatly laid out in the narrative itself. One of the characters even appears in a later book (Night at the Vulcan) and the quiet romance is dealt with deftly. Very well-plotted, very “British”, very enjoyable.

If you enjoy Christie, or even more recent incarnations such as Anne Perry, Ngaio Marsh would be well worth giving a try.

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While trying to explain how very cool it is that Neil Gaiman won the Newbery (which mostly consisted of me naming other books and sighing: The Hero and The Crown! The Tale of Desperaux! The Witch of Blackbird Pond! A Wrinkle in Time!) I also starting blathering on about Coraline, another book of Gaiman’s that was very, very popular in my classroom. To begin with, it had the three magic elements that attract middle school ambivalent readers: it looked short; it looked scary; it looked simple. Of course, all of those things were merely ways into the book. Although it was short, the story it told was complete and felt world-shaping. Although it looked scary, it was really *creepy* (more on that later). And, although it looked simple, the story, and the conversations it prompted in my classroom, proved it was anything but.

My favourite conversation of all was between two of my most-anti-reading girls. After nearly two years with me (and improving their reading levels a LOT), they were now willing to read, but still very picky and demanding about the amount of effort they had to put into the process. These were girls who would rather read a “meh” book that demanded less of them than an excellent book they would have to work at. (Of course, they were also Twilight obsessed, but that’s a different story). Coraline, though, Coraline got passed around the group like some sort of trifecta pick: the teacher liked it, the students liked it, the parents liked it.

Why was that? Well, everyone comes to a book from a different place, but I think these girls liked Coraline because it felt like an adventure. Also, though, because (as I overheard one day… what? teachers are consummate eavesdroppers!)

Dude, Coraline isn’t SCARY. Scary is, like, Nightmare on Elm Street. Scary’s not REAL. Coraline is CREEPY. I kept thinking that if I opened the wrong door at my own house, I’d end up somewhere really not good.

(13 year old girl)

So that was the magic then. These girls never really connected with Harry Potter, Frodo, or Merlin. Their lives were, quite frankly, too fraught with REAL danger to tolerate fantasy danger. But, they did connect with Coraline–the danger she faced, evil adults and world that made no sense, was something they felt was more real. It was creepy not scary. And they loved it.

Now, why they loved the completely unreal and unbelievably perfect Edward and Jacob is fodder for another post.

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So, I’ve just spent two fun days pretending that I owned an e-reader. I converted some books I owned to a file that my little XO (the OLPC laptop) could handle and cheerfully sat on the couch reading away. I can tell you that the four hours I spent reading two books far exceeded my tries at the Kindle and at the Sony E-Reader in both length and pleasure. It’s not that I have anything, at all, against the idea of e-books, although I would always be leery of dragging anything electronic to the beach, but there are a few…advances…that I need to see before I embrace to e-book as something that will serve as a real replacement for my physical library.
First, I need the e-book catalogues to have more depth to them. Some of the books I own, I own because I cannot depend on finding another copy. They are not necessarily rare (as in expensive), but they are difficult to find. If I’m going to adopt an e-book reader, I want to be able to find all of those wonderful books as well.
Second? Well, I’ve played with the Kindle and the Sony E-Reader. I was impressed with the e-ink technology. But, as someone who reads quickly, I really struggled with how often I had to refresh/change the page and how long it took for a new page to load. The e-reader also had a strange response to being set in portrait mode–it skipped back a section so that the last sentence you *had* been reading was suddenly in the middle of the new page. Needless to say, that drove me nuts. And, it didn’t solve my problem of having to load new pages every thirty seconds.
And last? for now? I’m not sure how I feel about DRM. I am all for artists, writers, creators, and those who bring their works to the public, getting paid. I would, however, be very, very, very annoyed if a book I had bought suddenly stopped *working* because of an argument between a publisher and a distributor. Or, simply because my e-reader died for some reason.

I did love reading my books on my XO. It was great to trot from room to room in the house with both the books and somewhere to type notes on them. The XO is light and has a great battery life, and, because it loaded the entire book at once, I didn’t need to wait for it load–I just scrolled down.

I’m all for e-books. I would love for entire libraries to be so portable that they are available for everyone, everywhere. It just hasn’t happened yet.

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So, I’ve just spent two fun days pretending that I owned an e-reader. I converted some books I owned to a file that my little XO (the OLPC laptop) could handle and cheerfully sat on the couch reading away. I can tell you that the four hours I spent reading two books far exceeded my tries at the Kindle and at the Sony E-Reader in both length and pleasure. It’s not that I have anything, at all, against the idea of e-books, although I would always be leery of dragging anything electronic to the beach, but there are a few…advances…that I need to see before I embrace to e-book as something that will serve as a real replacement for my physical library.
First, I need the e-book catalogues to have more depth to them. Some of the books I own, I own because I cannot depend on finding another copy. They are not necessarily rare (as in expensive), but they are difficult to find. If I’m going to adopt an e-book reader, I want to be able to find all of those wonderful books as well.
Second? Well, I’ve played with the Kindle and the Sony E-Reader. I was impressed with the e-ink technology. But, as someone who reads quickly, I really struggled with how often I had to refresh/change the page and how long it took for a new page to load. The e-reader also had a strange response to being set in portrait mode–it skipped back a section so that the last sentence you *had* been reading was suddenly in the middle of the new page. Needless to say, that drove me nuts. And, it didn’t solve my problem of having to load new pages every thirty seconds.
And last? for now? I’m not sure how I feel about DRM. I am all for artists, writers, creators, and those who bring their works to the public, getting paid. I would, however, be very, very, very annoyed if a book I had bought suddenly stopped *working* because of an argument between a publisher and a distributor. Or, simply because my e-reader died for some reason.

I did love reading my books on my XO. It was great to trot from room to room in the house with both the books and somewhere to type notes on them. The XO is light and has a great battery life, and, because it loaded the entire book at once, I didn’t need to wait for it load–I just scrolled down.

I’m all for e-books. I would love for entire libraries to be so portable that they are available for everyone, everywhere. It just hasn’t happened yet.

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The Penguin Book Blog is doing a fun “around the world in 80 books” journey through literature. It started with Great Expectations, and I must admit that it caused me to pause and wonder whether my dislike of that book was born of a not-so-great teacher and if I shouldn’t read it again. The post is definitely worth checking out. I posted one suggestion, and I then spent the next half-hour mumbling things like “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to Bloodsucking Fiends to Hard-Boiled Wonderland” in my attempts to circle the world reading fun books.
Oh, and, also?
There’s a review I wrote of P.C. Hodgell’s Godstalker Chronicles to be found here. Thanks bookgeeks!

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The title above links to a fun, short, blog post on how to read, basically, a book a day. Well, it’s not “how-to”–more of a “how she”. And, really, a “how-I”.
When students, and friends, ask me how I read so much (it usually comes up when they see me packing for vacation–I have been known to bring only one pair of shoes in order to have more room for books), I usually just answer “I’ve been doing it awhile; I’ve had a lot of practice.” But, when a particularly suspicious friend (he didn’t believe that I was “really” reading) observed me for a time, he drew the same conclusion that Sarah Weinman did about her own reading, I seemed to scan the page in chunks instead of line by line. I hear the dialogue, and see the settings, very vividly–I just see them very quickly. They are not rushed in my head, and I rarely feel that I am missing something. In fact, I usually only feel as if I am skimming when I am forcing myself to finish a book and don’t want to be paying complete attention anyway.
This talent, or freakish ability, came in handy at university. Since most of my coursework involved reading, and I could read quickly, I never felt as stressed out by it as some of my friends. And, because I can generally remember a book quite well, it also helped to speed through paper-writing when I would be able to find a quote/example quickly.
Other than that though? And using it as a party trick to get my students to read? I’ve never felt that it was that impressive a skill. Trust me, if you had asked my seventh grade self whether I wanted to be able to read that fast or make sense of social relationships I would have chose…the reading one, but there would have been a pause while I considered what it would be like to be able to make sense of interactions outside of books.
Occasionally though, when I’m re-reading a book, I love the fact that reading this fast gives me enough time to read new books I’m interested in and old books I love. Right now, I’m on my seventh book of the new year (although six of them are re-reads of Agatha Christie and P.C. Hodgell), so I’m right on track to keep on reading.

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I’ve worked, well, forever, it feels like. Certainly since the moment I was old enough to have a work-permit from school. I was a waitress, a cafeteria manager, a horseback riding trainer, a teacher, and an editor. So, now, to be without a job–it feels odd. I’ve noticed, though, that getting a job in my new country may not be the easiest task. Especially in the current economic climate, the general feeling is one of “this is going to take awhile”, and, even if my possibly-future employers didn’t have to call the U.S. to contact my references, I think it would be a difficult bet. I’m starting to worry that I won’t find a job anywhere because, as varied as my resume is, it doesn’t actually apply that well to the current UK job market.
Obviously, this is partially an excuse to swan around reading books and playing Oblivion, but I’ve also never not had a job while searching for my next job. Somehow, it’s easier to update your resume if you are doing it covertly on the computers of the business you are trying to flee. Misery, obviously, makes me work harder. And I’m not miserable. I love being married. I love swanning around reading and playing video games. I know, though, that I also need to work and have something to do, so I am slowly getting my resume together and trying to figure out what to do next. So far? I have a list that consists of: not teach (teaching, at least at a public school in the US, made me angry–not at the students but at the situation that teachers and students alike were forced to view as status quo), work with animals, work with adult learners, work at cool company, edit books, read, horseback ride. Obviously, the idea of reading for a living and horseback riding are hold-outs from my pre-teen years, but when you have to freedom to look around and move slowly? Who knows what will happen.

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