What? Yes? Reading?
My absence from the internet in times of business reaps benefits other than accomplishing my necessary tasks. It means that in those snatched minutes between breathless runnings to-and-fro . . . I can read! That, and I'm getting over a cold, and nothing says get-over-your-cold faster than forgoing all chores for reading in bed (while your two-and-a-half-year-old "deconstructs" the house).
What we're reading this Wednesday is:
1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
It started off a bit slow for me, which might explain why I never continued with the series the first time I read The Sorcerer's Stone. It picks up after the first three chapters or so, as my fellow book-clubbers promised. People seem to either love this one or hate--sometimes both. Reactions to chapters two-at-a-time can be found here.
2. House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones
This sequel to Howl's Moving Castle (one of my all-time faves) took a little bit more time to get into. If I had to put my finger on why, I'd say that the young girl in an old woman's disguise was an interesting inversion of the traditional fairy tale and that I was pretty much a Howl fangirl from the word "go" (why? I'm sure a real-life Howl would be outright insufferable!) But HoMW has proved to be quietly enjoyable.
The magic in Diana Wynne Jones's novels are of a domestic sort--you won't find wand-waving and army-conquering, at least not right away--what you do get is a lot of laundry multiplying, soap bubbles, and spells to unfreeze pipes. I like it a lot; it shakes off the staleness of high fantasy tropes while retaining the delight. Jones's characters are severely clear-cut: you've no confusion about them, how they feel about the world, and what their mission is just a few pages in, but they're not two-dimensional. There's quite a lot of hrumphing and foot-stomping. And it's nice to get such a straightforward plan of action from an author.
"What do you mean by tidying up my room?" Charmain demanded.
Peter looked injured, even though Charmain could tell he was full of secret, exciting thoughts.
"I thought you'd be pleased," he said.
"Well, I'm not!" Charmain said. She was surprised to find herself almost in tears. "I was just beginning to learn that if I drop something on the floor it stays dropped unless I pick it up, and if I make a mess I have to clear it away because it doesn't go by itself, and then you go and clear it up for me! You're as bad as my mother!"
"I've got to do something while I'm alone here all day," Peter protested. "Or do you expect me to just sit here?"
"You can do anything you like," Charmain yelled. "Dance. Stand on your head. Make faces at Rollo. But don't spoil my learning process!"
In the context of a story like House of Many Ways, the main character stating her growth mid-novel isn't just appropriate--it's hilarious. And there are a lot of moments like this one in HoMW. Also, Jones's style of writing makes a case that you don't have to write complicated prose for a good story, but you do have to be something of a wordsmith to make simple writing sing. I haven't finished it yet, but I'm already looking forward to reading it with my son when he's of age.
3. Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges
This beauteous picture book from the library has been one of our favorite nightly reads. I like east Asian culture in an amount disproportionate for someone with absolutely no ties to it (same with Scandinavia, actually), and the story is well-crafted and satisfying. The illustrations by Sophie Blackall are stylized effectively; I enjoy seeing something new in them with every read.
Ruby's Wish is about a little girl nick-named Ruby growing up in old China, as the grandchild of a very large and wealthy family. She loves to learn, but she is disappointed that only boys grow up and go to university. When she expresses this disappointment to her grandfather, he takes it carefully into consideration. Then, one New Year, instead of lucky money from her grandfather, she is given a letter from a university accepting her as one of the very first female students. The last illustration shows a two-part picture frame, with the illustrated little Ruby on the left, and a real photograph of the author's grandmother on the right--a true story!--gives me goosebumps every time I read it, and you'll have to discover the last line for yourself!