Fun Home: A Family Tragiccomic (Bechdel)

Since I am still just dipping my toes into the graphic book genre, I figured that I should get to the classics first. I’d heard of this one for a long time (and the Bechdel test) and finally decided to give it a go. I continue to hope that the publishers of graphic novels can find a way to make them cheaper. This one is denser than most (in my limited experience) because there are lots of different kinds of texts – letters, notes, journal entries, excerpts from books, poems, etc.., so its 232 pages took me a fair amount of time.

The story is brutal – more tragic than comic, in my opinion. Bechdel conveys her coming of age during a confluence of events, both personal and public, in vivid terms. (Don’t read this one around your children!) In fact, her personal upbringing was necessarily public as her home also served as a funeral home.

There is a focus on Bechdel’s relationship with her father, a relationship that is often based on books, including the works of Homer, Joyce, and Proust. Now I’ve read all three authors – Homer more than the others – and still found these sections challenging.

It’s a powerful and vivid story. A keeper, for sure. A classic? Someone who knows more will have to explain its status to me.


Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Dweck)

I’ve read this before. I didn’t even check to see whether I’ve reviewed it before. Last time, I read it as an educator / leader and was blown away. It immediately went to the top of my “books that change the way I see the world” list. This time, I read it more as a parent, a person, and an educator. And it still blows me. It’s the kind of book that will make you feel known. Dweck fixed and growth mindsets are everywhere – in all aspects of our personal and professional lives – and it is a book I plan to keep near my desk at school as a consistent reminder of how I want to approach my own growth as well as the growth of my students.

Having read this twice now, I want to know who argues against it. I recall the anecdote of the music teacher who doesn’t think a prospective pupil is worth it, but given all of the examples and ideas Dweck – in her first book written for the public (and I mention this only because that makes its clarity all the more impressive) – offers, how can you argue? Do you know someone who contests this?

An inspirational and important book.

The Lobster Chronicle: Life on a Very Small Island (Greenlaw)

I have this vision of a few places I’ve never been – Maine and South Carolina among them. So I thought I’d take a literary trip to Maine and read Greenlaw’s book. It never really sparked to life for me. There’s certainly much to be said about the particular year she chose as her subject, and she weaves in some history of the island, the conflicts over lobstering, lobstering techniques, and some family history. She also sensitively renders the other islanders as human when they may have become caricatures in the hands of another, particularly an outsider.

I am not sure why this slice of life memoir never grabbed me like I wanted it to. It’s certainly not the subject, so I think it has to be the writing. A disappointment.

Joyland (King)

I like carnivals and amusement parks; I admit it. There’s a kind of poetry in them, I think. Maybe it’s a romantic idea. Who knows? That, and the summer, and a forthcoming adventure of my own, drove to me to this Stephen King novel. I enjoyed it. Like 11/22/63, I found it immensely readable. The story just moves. The people and places come alive. Everything is three-dimensional, textured. If King uses the mystery writer’s trick once too often – “But later that day I went and got them again. Something else, too” – well, I figure, he’s earned it. (Why not tell us what he got? He tells us pretty much everything else.) Also, there’s the larger question of why our narrator, Devin, is telling us the story at all, considering. . . Well, no spoilers.

Entertaining. A good story from a great storyteller.

If the Dead Rise Not (Kerr)

The plot is certainly complex, the research useful and well-integrated. This one never sparked for me. Kerr clearly knows his Humphrey Bogart dialogue, but it comes across like he’s trying too hard. The ability of the protagonist, Gunther, strains credibility and the plot has far too many coincidences. There is also far too much exposition, all too often in the form of extended speeches. The Germany –> Havana split is part of what intrigued me, but Kerr makes a hash of it. I also didn’t care for how he had his characters intersect with figures from history. Once again, this move just made the story hard to believe.

The Horse and his Boy (Lewis)

I know there are some disagreements about the proper order of the books. Our copy of this one says it’s book 5, but others have it listed as the third book. In any event, it took the wind out of our sails. The children said it was hard to follow. It wasn’t much fun to read out loud. Lots and lots of exposition. I still hope we’ll continue the series, but we all agreed to take a break.

Wave (Deraniyagala)

A preview for the Ewan McGregor-Naomi Watts (playing the parents of the Belon-Alvarez family) movie, The Impossible, made me furious. There are many stories to tell about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or wave as Deraniyagala calls it, and Hollywood had decided to make McGregor and Watts the faces of it? Absurd. I wanted a different story.

Still, I hesitated before picking Wave off of my shelf. There was no way it was going to be a comfortable read, and Deraniyagala doesn’t allow us to settle in. The wave arrives on page 3. And then we follow her both forwards and backwards in time as she struggles to survive without her family (not a spoiler – it is indicated on the back of the book) and with her memories. It’s a raw book. Deraniyagala does not spare herself. And as we get to know her family, her struggles to find her way back to some kind of life without them take on more poignant urgency.

The New York Times Book Review called this one of the ten best books of the year.  The writing is certainly strong – detached at times, much like the author – but always vivid. And the story is important. Skip The Impossible; read this story.