Demon Copperhead and Wuthering Heights

 Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

This is a contemporary re-telling of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, with many parallels to the original but told with so much swearing and salacious language that it got tiring. I have a reasonably high tolerance for vulgarity, probably higher than it should be, but this one is a bit much. I've always found good writers able to get their point across without resorting to detailed descriptions of sex and constant cursing. Barbara Kingsolver is an excellent writer, and as a member of my book club put it, “She’s better than this.” I’ve heard the argument that such language makes the story realistic, and maybe it does, though I’m sure people in Dickens’ time swore like sailors and he made David Copperfield painfully realistic without it.   

Demon’s story is heart-wrenching for sure, and a tragic picture of what kids in the foster system can endure. The story is great, I just got tired of the cursing and sex talk. Call me old-fashioned – I’ll take it as a compliment – but I don’t like my reading this gritty. Life is more than gritty enough as it is.

 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I read this years ago and remembered it for its good writing and dark tone. Lately it’s become quite popular again – or maybe it always has been and I just haven’t been paying attention – and I’m hearing people say what a beautiful story of romance it is, it’s their favourite book, they read it every year, etc. My memory of it was so completely different I thought I’d better read it again.

 I am completely baffled. Where is the romance, the beauty? Catherine and Heathcliff are in love, yes, but it’s more of a selfish obsession than anything. They are both awful people who do awful things to everyone but each other. His cruelty and abuse of others would land him in prison today. 

There are a few romantic (when taken out of context) quotes, but only a few, and everything in between is great writing of a horrible story. How anyone can see it as a beautiful love story or want to read it every year is beyond me. But, then, many things are beyond me, and isn't it our differences that make people, and life, and reading so interesting?

 "In literature as in love it is astonishing what is chosen by others." 
  Andre Maurois

The Null Prophecy

 The Null Prophecy by Michael Guillen

A science fiction novel with an interesting premise but  characters who come across as not quite real.

Scientists are predicting the sun will soon experience a solar storm so intense the EMP will cause blackouts, damage to technological infrastructure, and even disruption of essential services. But it gets worse...with large gaps now in the earth's magnetosphere, certain spots around the globe are unprotected and could suffer horrible loss of life and property. (I didn't check the science on any of this, just accepted it as a reasonably credible scenario for disaster. Have no idea if it actually is.) 

There are skeptics who deny it all and insist there is no danger, but others who believe it a such a momentous event that it will herald no less than the Second Coming of Christ. One man, who believes himself responsible for the damage to the earth's magnetic shield, hopes he and his super-powerful new machine/boat/thing, which he's named "Hero", can save the day. He can't stop the sun from erupting, but just maybe, he, with the help of an intrepid reporter and her unwavering faith, can at least limit the damage.

This book's dramatic style of dialogue sometimes made me think of tv shows from the 50s and 60s, shows like The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, not a bad thing at all. They were good shows. But in places it felt forced, and the characters lacked relatability, never developing into more than made-up people in a story.

It builds tension with each chapter heading counting down the days and hours left, so I had to finish it to see how it would end, but with writing that is mediocre at best I can't say it's a great book, just not bad.


Beatrice and Croc Harry

 Beatrice and Crock Harry by Lawrence Hill

Beatrice, age 11, wakes up in a treehouse knowing only her first name. She has no idea how she came to be there, where she's from, or what her life was like before. As she explores the forest outside the treehouse she meets Croc Harry, a huge, turquoise - "the favourite colour of any reasonable person" - crocodile; an annoying speckled rabbit called Horace Harrison Junior the Third; Fuzzy, a bright blue tarantula; Killjoy, a lemur hairdresser/ dentist; and Ms. Rainbow, a rainbow who talks. In the Argilia forest all creatures can talk.

From Ms. Rainbow, Beatrice learns that she must pass several tests to get out of the forest and back to where she came from. But first she has to find the hidden clues, making her way through adventures comical, fantastical. and sometimes perilous.

The story begins in a fairly light tone, then weightier elements are introduced as Beatrice's memories start to come back. The last few chapters are darker as the awful truth of what happened to her becomes clear. In the end though, wrongs are righted and all turns out well. Sort of - I still have questions about some of it.

Themes of social justice, racial prejudice and reconciliation are prominent, handled I think in a way appropriate for most children. Beatrice learns to stand up for herself, and for others who are being treated unfairly, and she forgives the one who has done her great harm, making of him a friend rather than an enemy. 

What I love about this story - which was written for Middle School age - is that it's full of book references and wonderful, wacky words. In Beatrice's treehouse there is a large dictionary called "The St. Lawrence Dictionary of Only the Best Words, Real and Concocted", a portion of which is included at the back of the book. Some of these words are used and mulled over by the characters, but be sure to read through the rest of it because it's a lot of fun.

Lawrence Hill, an exceptional writer, has written a children's book both light-hearted and serious, entertaining and educating. I can't say I loved everything about it, but my few hesitations aside, it's an imaginative story with a number of opportunities for talking to children about difficult, but very current, realities.  


Filling the Void - Capitalism, Emotion and Social Media

 Filling the Void by Marcus Gilroy-Ware 

Capitalism, emotion, and social media - it seemed an odd combination, but after reading this I can see the connections, and that has been both enlightening and disturbing.

"There is an awful lot invested in social media maintaining their perceptions as innocent, fun, social, and above all, harmless. We shouldn't be so sure." 

This book was published in 2017, and in the years since we have indeed learned it is not harmless, and surely not all innocent. But the author asks us now to consider not only the effect it's having on us, but also how we created the "void" that it fills, how we came to be psychologically ready to succumb to it no matter the eventual cost. 

"Rather than speculating about what it is that technology makes us feel or do, we would do well to start asking what it is in us that makes us find any given technology - or action within that technology such as 'liking' something - appealing". He suggests we are using social media to find something that is lacking in our lives, or simply to avoid those lives. "By allowing the user to encounter a stream of novel media stimuli from familiar sources, the timeline facilitates an easy way to feel something other than the emotions that the user would otherwise be experiencing at that moment in time"

This doesn't even scratch the surface of what he has to say. I could keep quoting - I think I highlighted half the book - but you'd do better to read it yourself. It's well written, citing many studies with dates and titles so you can check his stats yourself. He isn't trying to convince us not to use social media so much as to be aware that they are also using us. Social media companies are in business for profit, not our well-being no matter what their slogans may say, and "as the increasingly common saying about digital services goes, 'if it's free, you're the product'." 

It's an interesting perspective and an enlightening read.


David Copperfield

 David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

The narrator, David, begins by stating his intention to recount the story of his life. This he does, from the moment of his birth, through a happy few years with his mother and his nurse, Peggity (his father died before he was born), and then painful years of neglect and abuse. His mother meets and marries Mr. Murdstone, a cold, mean, punishment of a man who will rigidly control everything they say and do.

David is sent away to school, where he is befriended by an older boy, James Steerforth, whose charming facade convinces David he has found a true friend. He hasn't. Then David's mother dies unexpectedly and Murdstone, refusing to pay for any further schooling, puts David to work in one of his counting houses. Neglected, alone, and still a child - David runs away, searching for an Aunt he's hoping will take him in. 

She does, and in his new life with her he continues his education, meets the lovely Agnes, with whom he will grow up as sister and brother, and is introduced to the unsettling Uriah Heep, surely one the of the most obnoxious of Dickens', or anyone else's, villains.  

The story is lengthy, 716 pages in my copy, but with a large cast of characters there is rarely a dull moment. Several different story lines to follow means someone is always in difficulty of some sort, keeping the reader turning pages expectantly. Well, I wasn't exactly turning pages because my copy was very poor, with lines of text so jammed together that it hurt my eyes and forced me to switch to an audio version.  

Now, let me tell you about this audio book. I do still prefer the printed page, but I've discovered in the past few years the luxury of being read to. It's true I've experienced some narration so awful I couldn't finish a book, but most of the time I feel priveleged to have someone tell me a story. This one - David Copperfield narrated by Richard Armitage - was something special. He doesn't just read it, he acts - inhabits really - every single role. Each character has his own voice, particular manner of speaking, and distinct personality. It's a one-man play. I was mesmerized.

And moved - I've never been so moved by Dickens as I was listening to this. The scene where Dora lies dying as she and David whisper their final words to each other was gut-wrenching, and the shipwreck scene was so vivid, so immediate, that I found myself pushing back in the chair to get out of the way. I've never heard anything like this. I knew Richard Armitage to be a great actor but it doesn't always follow that they'll be a good narrator and I have been disappointed with a few. But this one - this one was stunning.

Wonderful book. Superlative narration.

The Last Chance Library

 The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson

A small town library is threatened with closure by a town council looking to cash in on the interest of a property developer. Some of the library's patrons stage a "sit-in" to protest and the town rallies around them, but the council isn't backing down. Even after a council member is found to be involved in an underhanded scheme to influence the votes, the library's future is not assured. The fate of the staff and the people who love the library remains in the hands of a cash-strapped council.

The plot had potential, but the characters could have been fleshed out more and some of their interactions didn't make a lot of sense. Too many unlikely scenarios, but it's entertaining enough if you're looking for a little light reading.   

 

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