21 July 2010

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Don't you love it when a book just seems to fall into your lap? I only picked it up because the cover caught my eye as I walked past a book store table aimed at youth.

I Am The Messenger (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)

The cover was quirky; eye catching. Then I noticed the author is Markus Zusak, the writer of one of my favourite books, The Book Theif. That did it. I had to buy the book.

The LOST television series recently ended and so that was on my mind as I read the book. I have to say that this book is written in a manner that reminds me of LOST. Yeah, it's that intriguing. It has nothing to do with the subject matter, just the general feel of the story. If you enjoyed LOST, chances are you will enjoy this book.
The book is marketed to young adults but all along I felt as if it were an adult-read. I guess I feel that if the writing is excellent enough that designating a book as a juvenile read often prevents its notice by adults who would equally enjoy it. What a shame. And so the proverbially judged book cover sucked me in this time.

Ed Kennedy is the main character. He leads a life of mediocrity. Same stuff every day. Boring. He really amounts to not much.
His life changes when he reacts to a bank robbery and is suddenly thrust into the spotlight as a hero. Soon, though, the spotlight fades and his heroics are forgotten. But then he receives something odd in the mail. An ace of diamonds. What does it mean and where will it take Ed Kennedy? Read the book and find out.

(Granted, I should have been able to figure much of this story out. I think I was so lost in the excitement of the story that I never quite ruined it for myself by seeing where the story was headed.)
My favourite quotes from this book:

'I'd rather chase the sun than wait for it.'

'I hold her close now around her hips and she holds me back. She places her hands around my neck and rests her head on my shoulder. I can smell the sex on her, and my only hope is that she can smell the love on me.'

Sometimes when reading a book I get the idea that I should play 'casting supervisor' with the book, pretending I am casting it for a movie. Sometimes it works out really great, as it did this time!

Here is my cast:

Ed Kennedy - Ben Stiller (but I think Adam Sandler would also work well.)

Marv - Owen Wilson

Ritchie - Seth Rogen

Audrey - Drew Barrymore

Cemetery Security - Ted Levine

Milla - Betty White

Mr. Tatupu - Rob Schneider
Read  our son's review of the book here:
click here > Aaron's Review of I Am The Messenger by Marcus Zusak

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella

What a neat little book about reading! I spotted this on a table of specials at a bookstore in England.
A quick glance through it and I knew I had to read it.

At the beginning of the book the Queen and her annoying little barking Corgis have set out for a walk and happen upon the City of Westminster traveling library by mistake. She had never seen the traveling library on-site before. She decided to step inside and apologize for her dogs' rudeness and ended up borrowing a book simply out of kindness to the driver/librarian.

The queen ends up falling in love with the act of reading and appoints for herself an amanuensis. (amanuensis: to run errands, exchange her library books, look up awkward words for her and find her quotations...the true meaning of the word is manual laborer; someone to do things by hand. Now the word is often used to mean a secretary or scribe.)

Eventually the queen finds herself reading while traveling and not minding the actual travel anymore. However, she finds all her engagements as bothers now because her book is pulled from her, and hidden, so that she must focus on the event at hand. What a bother. She often has 2 or 3 books going at once. Those around her, excepting her amanuensis, are increasingly annoyed by the amount of time she is spending reading and hence this incredible sentence in the book:

"Thus it was that the dawn of sensibility was mistaken for the onset of sinility."

Reading continues to transform her. Eventually she feels that all the authors she has read have had "a voice" but that she, even as Queen, truly has no voice; no freedom. That brings on the surprising little twist at the end of the book! I was very happy with the way the author chose to end (or begin, depends on how one looks at it) his story. If you love to read I believe you'll enjoy this quick little treasure.

I found that I wanted to highlight sections of this book as I read it. I am going to give a few of those examples here:

"Pass the time?" said the Queen. "Books are not about passing the time. They're about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand." (Sir Kevin is from New Zealand and is embarrassed by the fact.)

"The appeal of reading , she thought, lay in its indifference: there was something lofty about literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. ... All readers were equal, and this took her back to the beginning of her life. As a girl, one of her greatest thrills had been on VE night, when she and her sister had slipped out of the gates and mingled unrecognized with the crowds. There was something of that, she felt, to reading. It was anonymous; it was shared; it was common. And she who had led a life apart now found that she craved it. Here in thses pages and between these covers she could go unrecognized." (I find myself wishing to know if, indeed Queen Elizabeth and her sister were allowed to mingle with the celebrating crowds on VE night...I read in another book recently that they actually experienced the same rations as the commoners. Then I read another quotation which said they experienced no sacrifices. I find that very interesting.)

"These doubts and self-questionings, though, were just the beginning. Once she got into her stride it ceased to seem strange to her that she wanted to read, and books, to which she had taken so cautionsly, gradually came to be her element."

"Had she been asked if reading had enriched her life she would have had to say yes, undoubtedly, though adding with equal certainty that it had at the same time drained her life of purpose. Once she had been a self-assured single-minded woman knowing where her duty lay and intent on doing it for as long as she was able. Now all too often she was in two minds. Reading was not doing, that had always been the trouble. And old though she was she was still a doer."

"Above literature? said the Queen,. "Who is above literature? You might as well say one was above humanity."

Are you surrounded by people who read?

Every where I look these days I see people reading. With the prevalance of video games and mindless tv and movies (and good ones) it really feels to me as if there are a lot of people who still read. In fact, our library is chock full of people every time I visit. And at the pool this summer I see other people reading or they come up to me to ask about the title I have at hand. Books are a great ice-breaker. And I love to talk about the books I read.

Our library always has a summer reading program. They offer incentives to children and adults who read. I have been known to go a step further. Twice I have developed a reading incentive program for our family!

The first time the theme was "Outerspace". I designed celestial bodies, decorated them, and cut them out. Each of the kids and I designed our own rocket ship and emblazoned our name upon it. I affixed the planets on the wall of our dining room. The goal was to move your rocket ship along the row of planets toward the bright and shining sun! Goofy? Yes. But fun. The rocket ships moved along the trajectory for a certain number of pages read. The winner was the person whose rocketship first reached the sun.

Our second reading incentive program was designed around the theme of "Pizza". Each person was given a pizza crust cut-out to place on the kitchen wall. I designed all kinds of crazy topping. Each type of topping was worth a certain  number of pages read. The winner was the person with the most toppings on his pizza at the end of the contest!

What were the incentives? You know, I don't even recall. That just proves that the real fun is in the contest and not in the winning of it. The incentive could be anything you dream up though. My best friend and I are talking about having another contest, this time, among the members of both of our families. Some of the ideas for incentives that we've come up with for the winner of the contest are:

Winner gets to pick a restaurant where we'll all go to celebrate our contest and accomplishments.
Winner gets to pick an outing  for both families to share (ie: bowling, cinema, sleepover party...)
$5 or $10 gift card to a store of their choice.

Really, the possibilites are endless. The point is to get everyone reading for fun and to share the experience together. Reading brings people together.

Being an example...

My dad is a reader, and he'll read anything. He is a very well-rounded person. When I was a child he and my mom would rarely visit the grocery store without buying me a book, usually Little Golden Books. We ended up with quite a collection of them. I remember them reading to us when we were very young.

As time marched on my dad continued to set a good example of reading. He frequently took us to our local library in Greenfield, IN. Somehow, though, I managed not to fall under the spell of reading. My next older sister did though. I thought reading was boring and I wondered why she would choose to read.

Unfortunately that was the status quo for many years. I was in the midst of my high school years when I looked around our trigonometry class. We'd been given an assignment and I had finished it and was bored out of my gourd. That's when I noticed two other girls happily lost in reading novels they'd brought with them to class. Hmmm... Anything beats boredom, right? And so I investigated the titles they were reading the next time I went to the mall.

That was the first recreational reading I ever did. Sad, huh? But true. And I want to talk about it. I really think that while my parents certainly provided us with reading material and my dad set an example of reading for pleasure and information, that just wasn't enough for me. Now, my parents had their hands full. I was the oldest of six children and they ran a daycare as well as my dad working in the "real world". What do I think might have helped me?

Oh, I know the answer to that. I think it would have made an amazing difference for me if someone, anyone, had ever asked me about my interests (meaning a teacher). I was a real wallflower; and a "good girl". I always did as I was supposed to, never got into trouble; always turned in my assignments. I put little effort into my school work and managed to get decent enough grades for the lack of effort. I stayed beneath the radar. I was never particularly noticed by my teachers. By middle school I was certain I was completely invisible to most of them. I still believe that. I just didn't stand out. Still, if any one of them had ever asked me if I liked to read I'd have said no. But if they had attempted to engage me...hmmmm...what if?

And so I try very hard not to just set an example of reading around our children. That was especially true when I homeschooled them. I attempted to engage them. I encouraged them to read for pleasure. I tried to get them thinking about subjects that interest them. I've done okay. My results are not stellar, but everyone isn't as sold on reading as a past-time as I am. And so I continue to keep great books in our house. I make them accessible. I offer to take them to the library and they know I just can't say "no" if they ask me to buy a book! I also read to them as much as possible. With the busyness of school schedules and a home to maintain it isn't easy but I try to make the effort. It actually tends to happen more during the school year than during summer. We find it a peaceful addition to our bedtime routine. I try to read some titles to individual children and not to all of them at once just to make it more special and memorable. Also, I realize that while a title might be great for one child, it might not interest another.

I want our kids to enjoy reading. I feel that if a person enjoys reading they will read more frequently. People who read more frequently are going to be exposed to more and are going to strengthen their reading skills. I know I still try to strengthen mine. I also love to discuss great books. It is a wonderful way to interact witpeople and I enjoy that with our kids as much as with adults. I am happy to read juvenile titles too; they can be a lot of fun!

Today it is interesting to note that my dad reads more than ever. Of my five younger siblings, I would say that four of them read frequently and the other one probably wishes she could. My mother-in-law is a reader and we discuss books often. My husband's sister found herself rereading books as an adult which she was given as assigned reading in high school. That happened at the same time that her high school-aged kids were reading the books and invited discussions of the books and of her newly-found desire to read the titles...for pleasure even.

So, why did I choose the name for my site?

Online I often use the screen name TogetherForGood. I derived it from my favourite passage in the King James Bible:
Romans 8:28-30

28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

29For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

30Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

From that I further derived the domain name for my blog which is http://www.boundtogetherforgood.blogspot.com/.
"Boundtogether" comes from the fact that books have bindings.
Finally, my blog's title is "Not Now...I'm Reading".   I really only chose this in jest. I do read a lot. But I also make an effort not to allow it to interfere in my relationships. A person who can not relate to other people is going to be lost and lonely, even if they can escape into good books. Being alone to do things such as reading at times, however, is not the same as being lonely. And for that I am glad! Actually, I am not bothered by much as I read. I am sure it is in part because I am a mom.
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