Saturday, July 30, 2016

Fahrenheit 451

Where have I been this time? I was traveling in Canada. I stopped traveling with a laptop shortly after I got my iPad. Since the last time I traveled, I even purchased a keyboard for my iPad thinking it would be easier to blog while away. WRONG. Do you know how difficult it is to get used to typing on one of those little blue tooth keyboards? I keep kicking myself out... although I'm not sure out of what!

Once again, thank heavens for e-books. I was in the midst of reading The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony when I left for Canada. I was finding the book fascinating and thought for sure I'd be able to finish the book while waiting at the airport for my flight and then on the flight. Again WRONG. In fact, the book expired when I was only about one third of the way through with it. Thank goodness, the day before that expired, Fahrenheit 451 was available for download. While The Giver by Lois Lowry was my Books and Beer Club selection for July, it was also recommended that we read Fahrenheit 451 for comparison, because it's a book that everyone must read. Yes, I'd never read Fahrenheit 451. I remember it being a favorite of a good friend from high school. Somehow, I'd never been persuaded to read it. Another classic I can check off on my list of books I never read but probably should have. If you haven't read it, you probably should!

Wow! What a book. Like The Giver, Ray Bradbury's award winning novel is a dystopian novel. The government controls the lives of the people. The majority of the people seem content. But that's really where the similarity ends. In The Giver, the "purpose" of the control is to eliminate pain. That didn't seem to be the case at all in Fahrenheit 451. There were far too many miserable people in this book.

The overall premise is that books are bad. Firemen no longer fight fires, they start and control fires, in the quest to eliminate all books. 451 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale is the temperature at which paper combusts into flames. The book was written during the early days of people having televisions in their homes. Bradbury's plot, speculative fiction, wonders what life would be like if people no longer read books but got anesthetized by television. Reading this book in 2016, I needed to repeatedly remind myself that this book was published in 1953 and was the future as Ray Bradbury imagined it. So much of what he imagined is our reality today.

The world of Guy Montag, the protagonist in the novel, is not a nice place. It's a world full of war and darkness. The citizens seem even less connected to each other than in The Giver. It's a world where stomach pumping is a completely run-of-the-mill occurrence. It's a world where people found with books might be burned with their homes and their libraries, no matter how large or small.

To keep this post (and blog) non-political, I won't expound at all on my connections between the novel and the current situations, I just want to point out that there are many comparisons that can be made.

I can't imagine a world without books, where people sit numbed out in their living rooms watching larger than life television sets. Where "the family" refers to characters view on television rather than the loving people in one's life. But now... I'm off to search for the movie online...

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Gathering Blue - The Giver #2

Okay. I'm going to make a great big confession here. (Too bad none of my former students are following me. They'd love this!) When I read Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry in 2000, I saw no direct connection between The Giver and its sequel. It wasn't actually a sequel. It was called a companion book.

There were similarities. The societies in each book were tightly controlled. In The Giver, the population was generally content, well-fed, and clean whereas in Gathering Blue, the population was generally miserable, hungry, and dirty. Sounds opposite but in both cases a small group of people ruled the masses and all they did in each of the communities. The connection was ever so slight and if I hadn't just read Son I might have missed it again. Or... maybe I would have realized it rereading The Giver quickly followed by a reread of Gathering Blue. I'd like to think that the latter is true.

When I read it the first time, I loved Gathering Blue but in a standalone kind of way. I loved that even with Kira's miserable life she was still kind, caring, strong, as well as being braver than she gave herself credit for. I loved reading about her gift. I loved the spunk of Matt. Now I love it on a totally different level. It's a much grittier book than The Giver. The writing is concise yet still affords the reader the ability to visualize most of what is being read.

To say too much more will ruin not only Gathering Blue but The Giver as well. I don't want to do that. If you read The Giver and enjoy it, then I suggest following it up with Gathering Blue. And pay attention! You don't want to miss the connection!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Son, the fourth book in The Giver quartet

I'm still waiting for two books I requested online from the library to come in. After falling in love with The Giver (click on the title to read more), while reading it the second time, I decided to read the fourth book in Lois Lowry's The Giver series. The only book in the series I hadn't yet read. (I'm still on the fence about whether I'd like to reread the middle two books in the series.)

In this review, I don't want to give any spoilers to either Son or to The Giver so my review will most be fairly brief.

Son starts off at basically the same time, in the same place, as The Giver. The book starts in the same community. Many of the characters are the same. The point of view of this story is totally different. This story centers on a character that wasn't even in the first book in the series.

We get to learn a little bit more about the community and the workings of the community. We see Jonas and his nurturer father from the opposite perspective.

The time period covered in The Giver is the first third of Son. After that, the story follows the newly introduced character, Claire. There's a final section in Son that reintroduces characters from both Gathering Blue and Messenger. It also answers the question left at the end of The Giver. The question that caused much speculation and debate after The Giver was published. I got the feeling that everything was going to get wrapped up in a satisfying way. The beginning of the end was satisfying. But the very end, not so much so. That's why Son got a 4-star rating on Goodreads and The Giver got the 5-star.

I've seen the genre of The Giver listed as science fiction, social and family issues and dystopian. I can't quite pin down a genre for Son but to me, it was pure fantasy. It makes me rethink the genre of The Giver.

While The Giver was clearly written for middle-schoolers, the content of Son seems much more mature. While the first book in the series is appropriate for solid fifth grade readers and would most probably appeal to students in sixth, seventh or eighth grade, the fourth book in the series, in my opinion, is intended for a more mature audience. I wouldn't want my sixth grader reading this book. At many points in the novel, it read like adult fiction. Or maybe young adult fiction. But no way is this a middle grades reader.

This book was twice as long as The Giver but I devoured it in about 24 hours. And no, I didn't sit inside the house reading all day - or stay up all night to get this book completed. It just flowed so well that made reading it quickly fairly easy.

If one of my books doesn't come in from the library tonight, I might be downloading Gathering Blue. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Giver

This isn't the first time that I read The Giver by Lois Lowry. I was introduced to the middle grade science fiction novel in a graduate reading class in 1999. Not being a fan of science fiction, I read it begrudgingly and was surprised when I enjoyed it. I went on to read the sequels as they came out, Gathering Blue and The Messenger. The fourth book in the series, Son, came out after I left full-time teaching and my reading of young adult fiction slacked off. It's been on my "to be read" list for years. It might be time to pick that one up.

When The Giver was suggested in Books and Beer Club last week, I remembered that I did like the book. I remembered some of the story but not all. And I remembered that my favorite book in the series was The Gatherer. But for the life of me, I couldn't tell you why.

Some of the book club members mentioned that the movie of The Giver which was released in 2014 is on Netflix. Rather than my normal preference for reading the book and then watching the movie, I figured since I'd already read the book (albeit 17 years ago), I could watch the movie before the reread.

More details of the novel came back to me as I watched the movie. I loved the movie. It seemed very loyal to what I remembered of the novel. The cinematography was wonderful.

The night I watched the movie, I downloaded The Giver from the library. I started rereading it the following evening.

The setting of The Giver is a time in the future, after some really bad things have happened in the world and people are living in planned communities where sameness is the goal. There's no need for real decision making as the community makes all the decisions for the whole. Clothing and food and dwellings are provided by the community. Family units consist of a father, a mother (who are put in a family unit based on temperaments by the community) and two children, a boy and a girl (did you expect anything else?) specifically selected for them. There is no love. Every relationship is planned out by the community. After the children are grown and assigned to their own dwellings, the parents go to the place where childless people live. As opposed to the place where older people go.

In the community, there's no love. There's no emotion. There's no color. At twelve years old, children are thanked for their childhood and are assigned jobs based on their aptitude. Again, there are no choices involved.

Oh, and naturally there are no birthdays. There's nothing individual at all in the community. Each December there's a ceremony where all the babies born in the prior year are assigned to their family unit. There's a prescribed change for children at every single age. At 9-years old the children receive a bicycle, the only form of transportation in the community.

The year that Jonas becomes a twelve, all the other twelves are assigned to jobs. Jonas wonders what is going on when he doesn't get an assignment. The reason for that is because Jonas is selected for the most honored job in the community. Jonas is going to be the Receiver of Memory. Apparently memories, good and bad, interfere with living the kind of life those in the community wish to live. One person holds all the memories of past time so that everyone else in the community is living in the here and now. The previous Receiver of Memory is responsible for the training of Jonas. As such, the previous Receiver becomes the Giver. Through the transfer of memories from Giver to Receiver, Jonas begins to question the dystopian community he lives in.

As much as I loved the movie, I loved the book that much more. My memory served me correctly and the movie was very true to the novel with just some small exceptions. Since I was rereading the book and I'd seen the movie, I was able to move a little bit beyond the main story and catch details I hadn't caught before. There's definitely more to this novel that meets the eye.

I'd recommend this book to readers who enjoy young adult fiction and to those who have always wondered what it would be like to live in a world where you don't have to make choices, everything is done for you, there's no war, no religion, and people generally get along.

The Secret Garden

Even though The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was my mom's favorite book of all times, I'd never read it. I thought I knew the story - but I only had some vague snippets of the plot. Once I saw the musical in Philadelphia, I decided that it was about time that I read the book.

I can't believe I waited so long. I loved The Secret Garden. It was a story about how neglect and negative feelings about oneself leads to an unimaginably sad life. The reverse is also true. Positive feelings about oneself and real connections to others lead to a happy and healthy life. Colin would call these positives "magic."

Not wanting to give any spoilers is going to be tough. The story is about a 10-year old girl called Mary who was living in India with her parents when cholera took the lives of everyone she knew. She is shipped off to an uncle in Yorkshire, England. When she arrives, she is sickly looking and has no knowledge of how to communicate with people who aren't her servants. In a word, she's a brat. Her uncle lives in a large house - with over 100 rooms which aren't being used. There are many other secrets as well.

Mary is restricted to her bedroom, an adjoining sitting room and the gardens. Even though it's winter, she goes out to the gardens every day. She learns of a secret garden. The entrance to this garden was locked 10 years earlier. Mary now has a project: to find the secret garden. With the help of some new companions, first Mary finds the door for the garden. A few days later, again with a little bit of help, she finds the buried key.

Never having seen a garden before, Mary instinctively sets to work cleaning up the garden and preparing it for spring. Soon Mary has more help working in the garden. Spending time outside with a goal in mind and forming relationships with her helpers bring more than the garden back to life.

To whom would I recommend this book? First of all, you need to like books with focus on children. You need to be willing to read lots of Yorkshire dialect. And you need to love "magic."

FYI: The overarching theme of the book and the musical are completely the same. But the little details of the plot vary as do the traits of most of the characters.