Zuzu and I just wrapped up Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, and I think that our next chapter book is going to be Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, though I'm also considering A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I think Zuzu felt the same kinship to Ramona that I felt as a kid, and I hope she rereads the Ramona books as often as I did.
Recently, she has been into reading some of our kids poetry books. Most of them are collections from various authors, but one of her favorite poems is an excerpt from The Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash.
Something that drives me crazy about kids books is when they are written to rhyme but the poetry is bad or off meter and painful to read. Ogden Nash's poetry is fantastic--he uses some made up words ("realio, trulio" and forces some funny rhymes "gyrate" rhymes with "pirate" in one poem), but it's always fun to read out loud. We liked Isabel so much that I ordered the full book (used, as it seems to be out of print) and did the same with another Ogden Nash book, The Tale of Custard the Dragon. I think Zuzu finds the poems so satisfying because they are not the Disney-fication of adventure. Isabel cuts off the head of a giant and Custard eats an entire pirate, head to wooden leg. It's a violent form of justice, but so is most preschoolers' vision of justice, right?
I recently finished listening to the audiobook The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields. It's historical fiction about Edith Wharton, and I found it fascinating. I've taught Age of Innocence by Wharton before, but I haven't read much else that she's written (aside from Ethan Frome) and this book has me eager to read The House of Mirth, so that's on my list for the summer. Before that, though, I'm reading a nonfictional biography of Wharton, so currently I'm about a hundred pages into No Gifts from Chance by Wharton scholar Shari Benstock (published in 1994). One thing that's interesting to me is that The Age of Desire focuses heavily on the relationship between Edith Wharton and the woman who served as her governess when she was young and later as her secretary and travel companion, Anna Bahlmann. The biography (so far) has not suggested that Anna Bahlmann had a significant influence on Wharton, so I was curious about why Fields would expand/invent that relationship so much. It turns out that she just felt since Anna was part of Wharton's life for so long, Fields just felt certain they must have had a more important relationship than biographers had suggested. While she was writing The Age of Desire (published in 2012), a collection of letters written from Edith to Anna was discovered, and Fields contacted the scholar editing them for publication and was able to read them and use them to help confirm what she had suspected about their lifelong friendship. (Hmmm... maybe I need to add that published collection of letters to my Edith Wharton summer reading list.)
I'm also reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. I'd heard about this book a few years ago--it explores the hyped up femininity of girly-girl pink princess culture--but it recently came back into focus for me when I heard a bit of an NPR interview with Orenstein about her new book, Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. (Oh, how that book could have changed Edith Wharton's life!) Girls & Sex is on my to-read list as well, but given that we are smack dab in the middle of princess mania around here, Cinderella Ate My Daughter felt like required reading for this summer.
My book club has decided on Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (a local St. Louis writer) for the July meeting, and I'm super stoked about that. Additionally, I plan to read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (it was a book club pick before I joined, and was highly recommended by those who read it).
I am also looking forward to reading The After Party by Anton Disclafani. I need to get up to Subterranean Books and see if I can still pick up a signed copy. I really wanted to see Anton when she was in St. Louis on her book release tour last week, but had a conflict I couldn't reschedule. Anton was in the MFA program at Wash U when I was in the PhD program, so we were acquainted there. Although we did not know each other well, she reached out to me after Eliza died and sent me multiple notes and cards in the first couple of years, remembering Eliza on her birthday and extending her sympathy. I can't express how touched I was by that kindness, and even if I hadn't been completely taken in by The Yonahlossee Riding Club for Girls (though I was), I'd still buy everything she ever writes because I think she's a fantastic person as well as a compelling writer.
I'm also going to check out Josie and Jack by Kelly Braffet. She's Stephen King's daughter-in-law and evidently writes some pretty creepy thrillers (I imagine them all discussing them around the dinner table and wish that I'd be invited over). Weirdly, I've never read a lot of Stephen King. I can remember in middle school one of my friends was reading It and I thought the clown on the cover was SO SCARY looking and I was curious about it (but also scared!) and my English teacher told me there are enough other good books in the world that I didn't need to be reading Stephen King right now. My parents had a few Stephen King paperbacks on the upstairs bookcase, but I remember my mom telling me that my dad was freaked out after reading Pet Cemetery, and I think that I decided any book that scared my dad was going to be WAY too scary for me. I do really like Stephen King's book On Writing, and after hearing a brief interview with his son on NPR this morning (not the one married to Kelly Braffet), I'm curious to read more of the whole family.
My tolerance for scary stuff varies these days--I liked In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, which is definitely a thriller, but I couldn't get through Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (whose other books I've enjoyed) because the premise is a woman (well, first a baby and a little girl) dying and coming back in other lives. So context is crucial for me! (Basically: all children and any animals to whom I get emotionally attached need to to remain alive, and right now World War II trauma is off the table). Josie and Jack appears to be a creepy, incestuous thriller (which makes me think of Flowers in the Attic, which I read while babysitting one summer and was so horrified and enthralled, I basically let the kid do whatever he wanted to I could get through the book (hmmm... Note that babysitting style becomes parenting style...).
My other literary read on order is Lady Susan by Jane Austen. It's the unfinished novel on which the new movie Love and Friendship is based. I can't wait to see the movie (it's babysitter worthy as far as I'm concerned!).
As I think about this reading list, I'm trying to imagine how much reading I'll get done while away from home. We are doing a fair amount of traveling this summer--at least the girls and I are (yay for the academic schedule!). We'll spend a week at my parents', a little over a week in California visiting friends and family, and another week in Branson near Table Rock Lake with my parents. Vacations with the girls definitely limit the amount of reading I get done, but I'm trying to plan what books to take and how to pack them. I had an ancient Kindle (it's more than five years old and it was the kind with the screen that doesn't glow) but it doesn't work or hold a charge anymore. I could use the kindle app on my phone, which allows me to check out electronic texts through the library (both audio and e-books) but my phone is not one with a huge screen. Or I could just take the actual books like the old-school person I really am...
I actually have nothing against reading on an electronic device, but for me personally, my recall and memory of a text is SO MUCH better if I read it on paper. It's like the process of holding the book and seeing the specific font just helps me remember the plot and characters and everything. Often, when I think back about specific moments in the text, or particular passages that were moving, I picture exactly where they were on the page and how many pages into the book. The books I read on a screen all blur together. On the other hand, audio books stand out because the different voices reading them make them memorable. Is that weird? I feel like it must be that way for everyone, but maybe it's just me.
(Speaking of which, I never got through Year of Wonders, though I thought it was well-written and interesting, because of the unease I felt knowing that the book was building up to the point where her sons die of the plague, and because the voice of the actor narrating it kind of grated on me.)
Any recommended reading for the summer that I should add to my list? Anyone else feeling conflicted about Princess culture? (I say this as I plan a Frozen themed birthday party...) Anyone else think it's normal to pack a few paperbacks in one's suitcase instead of downloading them to a screen?