Books 2013 – The Snow Child

Books 2013 – The Snow Child.

Books 2013 – News from Heaven

Books 2013 – News from Heaven.

Books 2013 – The Midwife of Hope River

Books 2013 – The Midwife of Hope River.

Books 2013 – Triburbia

Books 2013 – Triburbia.

Books 2013 – The Light Between Oceans

Books 2013 – The Light Between Oceans.

Despite all appearances to the contrary, I’m not trying to kill my husband.

A couple of weeks ago, we were on vacation at the Jersey shore, and we decided to go play some tennis. I don’t know why, but the latches for the gates to the courts were up really high, like almost six feet from the ground. The latch was heavy too. We had the kids with us, and they were running between our courts and the adjacent playground with a frequency that kind of messed with my game, but in the end it didn’t matter, Manfrengensen beat me in his usual fashion, 6-0, 6-1.

The latch was so high that The Princess couldn’t reach it at all, and Clooney even had a hard time, stretching to capacity to lift the thing, which must have weighed at least five pounds. When we had finished our match, we gathered up all of our things and left the court. Manfrengensen’s hands were full, and I didn’t realize that he was walking so close behind me, but when I let go of the latch, it came down right on his head. And his world exploded in stars.

Of course I felt awful, even more so as I watched the egg-sized welt rise on his pate. It looked angrier than he did. He takes pain pretty well, though, and he soldiered on through the day, complaining minimally about his cranium as the sun made its pass over our heads.

After dinner, we walked for ice cream, and then just as we were heading back, he mentioned that he felt light headed, so I said, “Oh no, maybe we shouldn’t let you go to sleep,” figuring that, though the possibility at that point was remote, if he had a concussion, he shouldn’t be allowed to go to sleep.

“What are you saying that for??” he asked. He reasoned that he was about to go to bed, and by mentioning the possibility, now he was freaked out and wouldn’t be able to sleep.

So, I tried to allay his fears. He’d been okay all day. In all likelihood he didn’t have a concussion, so it was probably safe to go to sleep. But then, as he got in bed, he pulled out the book he was reading, The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, and read, as incredibly as this sounds, about a character who gets shot in the face with a potato gun. Of course, he ends up with a concussion, and his friends and family express concerns that he will never wake up if he goes to sleep.

What are the chances of that kind of coincidence??

So, Manfrengensen kept catching himself nodding off, fighting it for as long as he could. He said that he had never been so relieved to wake up at 2 a.m. because he realized that he hadn’t slipped into a coma.

So, yesterday, we were visiting my parents at the shore, and my sister was down from New England to visit. She had a little accident on Friday night, twisted her ankle and had to go to the hospital. Kind of a bummer, since we only see her a few times a year, and here she was going to be holed up at the house while we enjoyed a day on the beach.

Because I had worked at my kids’ camp last week, I was exhausted, and looked forward to sleeping in on Saturday morning. Manfrengensen usually gets up early and goes for a run or a bike ride, picks up some breakfast, and then takes care of the kids until I wake up. He’s one in a million, really.

Yesterday, I felt his hand on my arm, rousing me from sleep. I figured, as I came up to consciousness, that I had REALLY slept in, that he was coming to tell me it was like eleven o’clock or something. “Egghead,” he said gently, and then repeated my name. I opened my eyes, and his face was an arm’s length from mine. He was holding his chin.

“I have to go to the hospital,” he said calmly. “I need stitches.” He then went on to explain that he had tumbled over the handlebars of his bike, and needed stitches in his chin.

Of course, I jumped out of bed, insisting on driving him. “I can drive myself,” he said, but I wouldn’t hear of it. I brushed my teeth, threw on some clothes, got him an ice pack and we got to the car. It was then that I saw the other side of his face, which was swollen and angry-looking. It looked like he may have broken the orbital bone near his eye. His hands were all banged up, as were his knees.

He talked while I drove, explaining how he had been riding two towns over from ours, and had been forced onto the shoulder by a passing car, but then his tires hit an uneven part of the pavement where there was a lip and gravel, and he lost control of the bike. He flipped over, landing on his left side. Thankfully, he was wearing a helmet, or I would have been awakened not by his gentle touch but by the call of the hospital.

As he spoke, I could feel my breath leaving me. My skin felt like it was on pins and needles. My vision began to go dark, so I pulled the car over. He got out, came around to the driver’s side and helped me into the passenger seat more kindly than I deserved, before I all but blacked out. He then drove himself to the Emergency Room with one hand on the wheel and the other with the ice pack against his face. Needless to say, I’m not too great in a crisis situation.

By the time we got to the hospital, I had pulled myself together. He got out at the ER, and I went to park the car. When I found him, ten minutes later, he was sitting in the waiting room, and having bled through his paper towel, was just sitting there with blood dripping from his chin like he had a crimson beard.

We got him all checked out, x-rays, CAT scan, five stitches, and thank God, he’s fine. Today his eye is black, but there were no fractures. We got a glimpse of how fragile life can be yesterday. Just feeling incredibly lucky today that we came out on the better side of what could have been.

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean

Debra Dean has written a wonderful historical novel, which I think, is even better than her first, The Madonnas of Leningrad, which I had trouble getting through. This one, The Mirrored Word, I could not put down, and read in about two days.

It tells the story of Russia’s St. Xenia, who lived during the reigns of Elizabeth, Paul III, and Catherine the Great. She has a normal childhood, though her father is killed in war, which is when she comes to live with her cousin. The two bond closely, and are brought into the society of the Russian court. Xenia falls in love with one of the court’s musicians, and after a few tragic events, begins to slip away from the material world.

Dean does a wonderful job of walking the fine line between madness and holy inspiration, as Xenia leaves everything behind to live among the outcasts, with her cousin Dasha always looking out for her.

The novel was written in beautiful, etherial prose. It reminded me of a cross between Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book and Sena Jeter Nasland’s Abundance, both of which were also amazing reads. I also liked that it was a look into a historical period that we don’t often see in Western literature, the Imperial Courts of 18th Century Russia.

I can’t say enough good things about this book, but I will say this: I have had a REALLY hard time finding something good to read in this year of 50 Shades and Hunger Games, something interesting, with compelling characters and plot, that felt nourishing to my brain as well. The Mirrored World completely took me there, and away to another place and time.

I deploraxed The Lorax

Was The Lorax originally meant to represent Teddy Roosevelt? He certainly has a convincing moustache.

I took the kids to see The Lorax yesterday. I really wish I had read the reviews before I had promised to do that. I was going to write a lengthy review, but A.O. Scott of the NYTimes said most of what I wanted to say, and I feel, said it more eloquently than I ever could have, so I’m sharing that with you.

I don’t mean to seem like I hate things, or that I am no fun, but I must tell you that as I sat in that darkened theater, I felt sad. Mostly sad for Dr. Seuss. I kept thinking that if he were alive, he’d go out in his yard, dig a grave and practice rolling over in it.

As Scott mentioned in his article, Theodore Geisel exercised tight control over his work, which his heirs have abandoned. That’s why we get these overblown adaptations that have little to do with the original story. These tales are perfect for the ten-minute-long animated shorts we got in the 1970’s. They don’t need all these added-on backstories that muck them up and make them run for 90 minutes.

Another thought that kept occurring to me was an article I’d just read about how folks today, for the most part, really aren’t that green. That everyone likes to use the buzzword “green” but in practice, we still keep consuming and discarding and leaving the saving of the planet to others who are too few to stem the tide. We need the latest smartphone, the latest TV, what all the other kids are wearing, and we feel better about ourselves when we throw our plastic bottles into a conveniently placed recycling bin, but overall, we can’t be bothered to carry our own reusable bags into the mall.

While the message of “save the trees” is still there, pretty much everything else Dr. Seuss stood for is not. Sure the little kids will walk away with that idea about saving the trees, but they will also come away feeling like they laughed a lot — at things that were kind of mean-spirited. Language is used to cut other characters down, and slapstick is what really gets the laugh. For some reason there’s also a fat bear that’s played for laughs as well.

Dr. Seuss was a genius, I’m not going to deny that. But his genius was his simplicity. The way he used his children’s books as allegories about racism, environmental issues and war is a great thing. But it’s not like he was the only one. I see a lot of Dr. Seuss’ words everywhere these days. They are plastered all over Pintrest, quoted on Facebook, painted on library walls. But you know, Theodore Geisel is no more the world’s greatest philosopher than Shel Silverstein is its poet. We are wise to use Dr. Seuss as a starting point to talk to our kids, but we need to back that up with more complex ideas — and follow through on those ideas ourselves.

Sexist, shmexist

The other day, The Princess was coloring a picture from The Nutcracker. It was a man in Chinese silk pajamas that she was coloring red with a big fat crayon.

“Who’s that girl?” Clooney asked.

“That’s not a girl,” The Princess corrected him. “It’s a boy.”

“It can’t be a boy,” Clooney protested. “Boys don’t do ballet.”

They got into an argument, which, they naturally brought to me for judgement. My ruling was that Clooney was being sexist.

“Cool,” he said smiling at his sister. “I’m sexiest.”

And I had to explain to him that sexist and sexiest are not the same thing at all. (And by the way, how does an eight-year-old even know what “sexiest” is??)

So, any way, speaking if sexist (not sexiest) I had been waiting a long time to be able to read the Madeline books to The Princess. At first she wasn’t into them, so we never really got through the story. Then the other night, I tried again, and we made it all the way through the first one. She liked it okay, but here’s the thing: Clooney loved it. Not only did he love it, but the next night, after he had fallen asleep, and I went to tuck him in, the Madeline book was lying by his bed. He had read it again on his own.

It never occurred to me to feed the Madeline books to my son. Sexist, right? So I bought one of the sequels, Madeline’s Rescue, and when I read it to them, he laughed and laughed like the end was the funniest thing he’s ever heard. Last night, he finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which he’d been working on since right before Thanksgiving. And when I went to tuck him in, after he’d fallen asleep, I found Madeline’s Rescue on top of the Rowling.

The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides was an audiobook that I really enjoyed. Sure, it doesn’t have the snappy, shocking subject matter of his smash hit, Pulitzer-winning Middlesex, but it is full of great characters and the same touching tragicomic prose that we have come to expect from Eugenides.

Many other reviewers have recounted the plot, so I will not bother to get into the details here. Mostly it involves a love-triangle between Madeline Hanna, child of wealth and priveledge and two guys who are not, Mitchell Gramaticus and Leonard Bankhead, all of whom have just graduated from Brown in 1982. We then follow the three of them over the next year as they try to figure out their relationships with each other and what the next steps in their lives might be.

I found the characters genuine, despite the litany of esoteric references to authors and ideas that don’t get much play outside the academic world. The book isn’t about those references, and I think there’s really only one spot where the narrative gets bogged down with them, but overall, the action keeps moving. There were times when I laughed out loud, and other times when I gasped at the twist that the story had taken.

In addition, I found David Pittu’s reading of the novel to be a wonderful experience. I wish more audio books were this lively. He did a wonderful job of changing voices for different characters, and really bringing them to life.

The ending of the novel may be less than satisfying for some readers, but for me, the only disappointment, was that the story ended too quickly.