Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Best Gift

I was going through last week's newspapers and I found this short article in the December 16th edition of Parade. I think it nicely fits into our conversations about our love of reading and how to pass it on.

The Best Gift To My Son

There's a nice list of Patterson's "Favorites for Every Child" at the end.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I Love the Library!

I just had to write this quick post. In honor of being "officially" done with the semester (though unofficially I still have a few papers left to read and portfolios to assess), I paid a visit to the Waukegan Public Library. I had a printout of my "to-read" bookshelf from and a big cloth bag ready to hold my selections. Yippee!

Of course, my slightly underfunded library did not have many of the titles I was seeking but they did have some. Unfortunately, somebody had checked out Second Helping, the second Jessica Darling novel I was hoping to indulge in as my first bit of vacation reading. However, I found some great young adult titles (as well as some other mind candy) to take her place . . . for now. Here's what I came home with:

Bust: Kevin Bruen & Jason Starr
Size 12 is Not Fat: Meg Cabot
A Great and Terrible Beauty: Libba Bray
Hero: Perry Moore
Before I Die: Jenny Downham
Broken: Kelly Armstrong
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things: Carolyn Mackler
What My Mother Doesn't Know: Sonya Sones
The Protector's War: S. M. Stirling
Caucasia: Danzy Senna

There's nothing like coming home with a big bag of books . . . just waiting to be read. My inner ten-year-old is very, very happy at the moment and is quite content to ignore the house cleaning, bread baking, Christmas present wrapping, and holiday letter writing that needs to be done . . . for at least the next hour anyway.

Happy Reading and Happy Holidays all!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Spring Fiction

This is not actually a post from JNJ, but EJ instead.  I see I was mentioned way back in the second post of this blog in July, so perhaps I can be an honorary contributor.  It sure beats grading.

Just a few weeks after I finally planted our garlic, the first seed catalog arrived in the mail, signaling the start of next year's gardening season.  J has been teasing me for reading it in bed before going to sleep at night, but what's not to like?  It's the Fedco Seeds catalog.  While not exactly literature, it does make for more entertaining reading than most seed catalogs.  And, as reading-about-gardening, it fills in the middle part of the Venn diagram for this blog.

Why should you, literate gardener, get a copy of this catalog?  Simply put, because it has a huge variety of interesting things to grow, written about in an interesting way.  The catalog is much less slick than the average seed catalog (e.g. Burpee) - it's black and white, on low-grade paper, with no photos, just line drawings.  At 138 pages of 10-point type, it packs in a lot of content.  But the best thing about this catalog is the tell-it-like-it-is way the plants are described.  Every entry gives a clear sense not only of how long things take to mature, but what they actually taste like (to the extent that that can be captured in words), and what their weaknesses are.  This, for me, brings back a feeling of small-town ways of doing business that I don't see around as much as I would like any more.  It's about knowing your product, and trusting your customers enough to give them the information, both positive and negative, that will let them make a good decision about what to buy.

For example, take the Early Girl tomato, a popular early hybrid.  As to flavor, Burpee says only "Bright red and meaty with a lot of flavor and aroma", but from Fedco, you get this

Ann Gerhart of the Washington Post claims, “The true tomatohead disdains the Early Girl…not great eating, your Early Girl, but first, yes.” Accordingly, this girl is well-loved by commercial growers who need heavy yields of good-looking slicing tomatoes early in the season when the market commands high prices. It was the highest yielder among 12 cultivars in a 2006 New Jersey trial, averaging 9.7 lb. per plant. Gerhart notwithstanding, Early Girl delivers fairly good flavor for such an early tomato—sweet, meaty with a hint of tartness. The slightly flattened bright crimson globes average 4-6 oz. with firm texture, blemish-resistant skin and a long production period.
Over and over again in the catalog, there's this great sense of what a particular variety is really like, from tomatoes that have a "smoky flavor like a good single malt scotch" but which "disintegrate like a hunk of road-kill" if they get too ripe (Black Krim tomatoes), to pumpkins that taste "insipid and watery" but which possess "spectacular beauty" (Rouge Vif d'Étampes pumpkins).

The amount of variety here, while excellent, isn't quite as over-the-top amazing as that from Seed Saver's Exchange (about which more in a later post, perhaps, when the catalog arrives), but it's plenty to keep me happy planning my small garden.  There are lots of other things to like in the catalog, too.  I like the fact that it includes both open-pollinated and hybrid varieties, and that you can in many cases order very small amounts of seed (e.g. 0.2-gram packets of tomato seed for $1.20).  If that's not enough, they have the other end of the scale, too - 28 grams of Brandywine tomato seed (probably about 9,000 seeds) for $42.  (As you may have gathered from the Early Girl description above, a lot of their customers are small commercial growers serving farmers' markets.)  As a teacher, I love this line in the "How Not to Order" section:  "We will return illegible or difficult-to-collate orders.  We will mail you the proper order form so you can try again."  Since Fedco is based in Maine, they carry a lot of short-season or cold-tolerant varieties, useful for those of you in colder climes (I'm lookin' at you, Minnesota).  

That's enough meta-gardening for tonight, I think; time to get in bed and plan for spring.

Golden Compass licensing

On a slightly different topic, but continuing on licensing agreements and subsidiary merchandise, I wasn’t surprised to see that there are now plush versions of the Golden Compass daemons at F.A.O. Schwarz. I was quite taken with the idea of having a stuffed armored polar bear, but I bet DJ is not the only one who would prefer the Lord Asriel doll (your very own Daniel Craig doll! Ooh!).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Post Harry

There was an interesting article in the New York Times this morning about Scholastic’s effort to keep Harry Potter-like cash cows in the pipeline. Scholastic will publish the first of a series of 10 books in September 2008, with the sequels scheduled to appear in 2-3 month intervals afterwards. What I find interesting is that there isn’t much that’s organic about this series: the individual books will be written by different authors (the first by Rick Riordan, so I hold out hope for something entertaining; I like his Percy Jackson books). And Scholastic will hold the rights to all subsidiary merchandise, of which there will be a lot: the article lists Web-based games, collectors’ cards, and cash prizes; no doubt there will be many, many more items if the books are a success.

While I’m excited at the prospect of a new series aimed at 8-12-year-olds, I’m feeling pretty unhappy about the way Scholastic is going about this. For all I know, maybe many books or series are the result of market research, but this just seems awfully cold and calculating and artificial to me.

Friday, December 14, 2007

More Book Ideas

This blog was sent to my by the Hobbled Runner... he loves to suggest new ideas for fertileplots. Take a look for interesting new Kids Books - but don't be mislead by the Kids concept. As we have proven here, there are many young adult titles that are worth reading.

M has listened to the Emma-Jean title, and pronounced it a real winner. We have the Hugo Cabret book - it is a beautiful book. Kids have pronounced the story a bit dark for their taste, but love the images. I, for one, and thrilled to have a graphic novel type book get this much acclaim. And Knuffle Bunny, who wouldn't love another one of those?

I shelve in the library at school. I love having the chance to see all these books and sometimes stop and read them! I also enjoy the fact that I can rattle of authors for many of these books, and can tell you exactly which shelf they go on!!

Let us know if you have enjoyed any of the books recommended in the Books for Kids blog. I haven't read much more than the post linked above, but it has great promise!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hooray for a community of readers!

Thinking about what Sara posted in response to my ill-fated train conversation, and being part of a community of readers…I just want to say, thank you all! I’m enjoying reading more than ever now that I have a group of like-minded friends with whom I can share my thoughts, and I’m inspired by seeing what you’re all reading. You have introduced me to new authors and books. I am now thinking more about the process of choosing reading material and articulating what I particularly liked (or didn’t like) about a specific book. The meta-reading part of all this is making me a more thoughtful reader, I think.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A, B, C, D...

My brother arrives in less than two weeks for the holidays! He always stays in the family room, so this afternoon, after work, I decided it needed a little attention. There were some books piled up (like poor HP#7) that haven't made it into a bookshelf yet. I pulled out some old college books--turns out the kids have never really needed to put their hands on any Flaubert or the collected works of John Donne. These move to the basement shelves, making it quite the literary looking space.

As my hands started shifting books along the shelves to make room for the half dozen I had to put in, I realized I was shifting alphabetically, automatically! Am I the only one? I've always alphabetized my books, but strictly by bookcase, not the whole room or anything.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Happy Birthday, HoldenJ!

I'm sending happy birthday greetings from the beautiful Northeast. Hope you're having a wonderful, relaxing birthday doing all the things you enjoy the most!