On the blog:
- A list of my Top 10 favorite reads when I was a tween
I’ve been wanting to read Water Is Water for awhile, though more for Jason Chin’s illustrations than for Miranda Paul’s text. Not that I have anything against Miranda Paul’s text. I just couldn’t figure out how a picture book about the water cycle was going to be anything but boring. I especially couldn’t figure out how Paul was going to make the topic accessible for very young readers. But the combination of Paul’s simple, rhythmic text and repetitive structure with Chin’s marvelous illustrations really does work–and really does make the water cycle comprehensible and even interesting.
Chin’s illustrations are absolutely deserving of the awards buzz–they’re so beautiful. I did find the last few pages of text confusing, as the water cycle disappears in favor of…. well, I’m not sure what. Suddenly instead of water in its many forms, we have tree roots, apples, and apple cider. Yes, trees need water if they’re going to grow apples, but that connection wasn’t made.
This Bridge Will Not Be Gray is an extra long (104 pages!) nonfiction picture book about the building of one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. And yes, it does explain why the Golden Gate bridge is orange instead of a more proper bridge color like gray. (Mostly because one man took it into his head that the bridge should be orange and wouldn’t rest til everyone else agreed.) I
f you know Dave Eggers’s work, you will be aware you’re reading a picture book by Eggers. For me, it worked. For other readers, some of the asides and repetitions may seem pretentious. The text makes for a very good read aloud: there’s something stately in Eggers’s prose, and he does a wonderful job of remembering that children may be children, but they can also be sophisticated thinkers.
The real star here, though, is Tucker Nichols’s cut-out paper collage art. So simple, so elegant. It’s a bit early for me to be picking favorites of the year, but this is definitely going to be on my list of favorite illustrations of the year. (Bonus: the book jacket unfolds into a poster! Now I need two copies of the book.)
I am so very late to the party on Station Eleven. I thought it couldn’t possibly be as good as all the reviews said; I couldn’t possibly enjoy it as much as all those other readers. But it’s absolutely that good. I loved it so much that I spent the entire day on Sunday reading the final 8 pages (a few sentences here, a few sentences there) because I didn’t want it to end.
Mandel manages something very rare: a post-apocalyptic novel with heart. I find post-apocalyptic fiction so interesting but I rarely read it because it’s just too unrealistic. What happens in these novels when people have to survive is that we all turn into giant assholes, and I just don’t buy it. People are naturally social, we cannot survive alone, and it simply doesn’t make sense that it’s every man for himself to the violent deadly end in so much post-apocalyptic fiction. Mandel manages to write a world that can be very difficult and ugly at times but where people, for the most part, still retain their humanity, and there can still be something like understanding and compassion even for the people who don’t.
Structurally, the novel is really interesting: several stories and time periods woven together where the full scope of the connections only become clear at the end. Mandel also manages another neat trick: there’s not a single moment of overwriting in the whole book! This one will definitely be on my top 10 for the year. Loved every moment of it.
It has taken me almost a year to finish reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. It’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read, but it’s really a hard read. Stevenson is a lawyer who works tirelessly to advocate for those who have been treated most unjustly by our judicial system: death row inmates; the mentally ill; the poor; children who have been sentenced as adults; racial minorities. He documents so much grotesque miscarriage of justice, corruption, and abuse in the judicial system. It’s clearly a system that is broken.
For so many of Stevenson’s clients, there has been no justice at all. Once Stevenson and his law firm begin advocating for them, there is at least some hope, but all too often, judges and prosecuting attorneys refuse to even consider the new evidence Stevenson and his research team turn up. The lack of care, compassion, and yes, mercy, in the court system is incredibly frustrating to read about, and one wonders how Stevenson keeps on. He’s an excellent writer, and his work is truly making a difference for people who have been unfairly treated. Although this is a very frustrating, even enraging, book to read, it’s not bleak: Stevenson and his firm advocate successfully for many of their clients and win releases and retrials for many of those unfairly imprisoned or improperly tried.
I listened to Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear on my commute over the last couple of weeks, read by Gilbert herself, and I enjoyed it very much, but I have to confess: I finished it last week, and I do not remember one single thing that’s in it. It’s charming, encouraging, inspirational, but not very big on substance that’s going to stick with you.