Tuesday, March 4, 2008

February books

Aunt Dimity's Death
Aunt Dimity's Good Deed
by Nancy Atherton

A pleasant little mystery series where one of the main characters is a ghost, the eponymous Aunt Dimity. I'm reading it a bit out of order because those are the books I could get immediately from the library. There are a ton of books in the series, which starts out a tad depressing but has cheered up immensely over time. Enjoyable, lightweight mysteries that haven't even had any murders yet.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This is an incredibly powerful graphic novel about a young girl growing up in Iran in the late 70s and early 80s before, during and after the Revolution. Like many people, my education in American History rarely got into the twentieth century before the end of the year, let alone past World War II. So most of what I know of the history of the 70s and early 80s is from Doonesbury. Not surprisingly, while I've heard about the Iranian revolution, it was mostly in the context of the 1980 hostage crisis. Just learning about the history behind it was fascinating, and the personal story surrounding it was stunning. Highly recommended.

The Beasts of Clawstone Castle by Eva Ibbotson
Ibbotson is a highly enjoyable children's fantasy author. She writes an excellent lighthearted, yet well-crafted book that I would recommend getting for the 10-year-old in your life, or even reading yourself if you're in the mood for a quick, good read.

I feel certain I'm missing something here. I may well come back and edit if I remember what.

ETA: I remembered!

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
Definitely not the fuzzy friendly version from the Disney movie (although I was surprised that probably the most famous sequence in the movie - stepping into the sidewalk paintings - was taken from the book). Mary has some real edge in the book. I think it's going out on a limb to say that the book is far and away better than the movie though. It's perhaps better to say that they both have their individual faults. One way the movie improves on the book is that it has a narrative and character arc, which gives it a point. In the book, Mary Poppins appears because they need a nanny, but any nanny would have done. She leaves for her own ephemeral reasons, and while I'm sure the children learned a lot from her, it's hard to say what she accomplished at the house beyond child care and magical hijinks. She appeared, did a bunch of stuff and left again. This is not atypical of a certain type of book from this time period, but I find I prefer books that have a more connected plot. Or a plot, period.

Also, remember a few years ago when they wanted to revive stuff like old Dick Tracy strips or episodes of The Spirit or Warner Bros cartoons, only to discover that they're full of racial and ethnic stereotypes that were fine at the time, but are appallingly offensive these days? Oh my, they're in Mary Poppins too. Asian characters of the "Me so solly" persuasion and African Americans that stepped straight out of a minstrel show. As with the Little House series, it didn't make me put down the book, but will make me hesitate to give it to K until she's old enough to discuss and understand these things.

(Don't take these criticisms to mean that I think the movie is the best thing ever. As I said, they each have their individual faults, and both provide some enjoyment. But I never saw the movie as a child, so I don't have the nostalgia to improve it for me, and I found that I was ready to put the book down about 3/4 of the way, so it's not a huge amount of enjoyment for me).

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