Grapes of Wrath FAIL

Today a student told me that he’d ordered a copy of The Grapes of Wrath to read for my class, but the wrong book had been delivered. Turns out that some yahoo published a book with the same name as the Steinbeck classic. Maybe he thought he could get some sales through accidental purchases by students looking for school supplies.

There are clues that this is not the book you’re looking for. For example, it was published just a few months ago. Notice that people get the wrong book so often that Amazon suggests bundling this with another Steinbeck classic, Of Mice and Men.

But the reviews are priceless! Angry people feeling ripped off, confused people searching for meaning, and at least one reviewer who posted five-star praise about Steinbeck, for some reason.




Report On Family Summer Book Club

Last summer we started a new ritual: each summer, we would choose a book for all of us to read each month.  I got the idea for this because my oldest kids are too old now for our old habit of family story times to be regular any more.  This helps takes the place of that.  We’d have someone take a turn picking a book as each month started, scrounge up several copies from local libraries, and have a discussion at the end of the month.

Last year I just picked the books, and we only got to do two: John Steinbeck’s The Pearl and Esther Forbes’s Johnny Tremain.  Everybody liked The Pearl, but we loved Johnny Tremain.  It was an amazing story about a boy’s coming of age during the Revolutionary War.  Seriously, why don’t schools make kids read that one anymore? 

This year we did three books.  Here’s how they went:

19816383In June, my oldest daughter picked The Westing Game, a Newberry Medal-winning mystery that she’d read at school and loved.  We all thought it was excellent.  It was an extremely clever little puzzle book, well written and full of surprises, not the least of which are its many realistic, humane characters, and in a story appropriate for any young child!  I figured out some of the book’s puzzles, but a couple went right by me.  Here’s a hint for future readers: pay attention for compass directions. 





25169983In July, my oldest son chose The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters.  We all enjoy fantasy, so this was a good fit.  It was another wholesome story, with strong characters that you care about, and as much fun and excitement as any novel can have.  My favorite part was that the hero’s father–usually absent or a problem in most children’s literature–was a normal, helpful, decent guy here, who even understood and supported his son in his adventure.  Very nice!






27307846In August, my wife picked Orson Scott Card’s The Memory of Earth, the first book in his science fiction Homecoming series.  She’d had some other books by Card in mind, and wanted something with spiritual tones to it, but also something that would interest the kids.  To their credit, they figured out the parallel with the plot of the Book of Mormon very quickly.  Our discussion focused on comparing and contrasting the two, and how well Card’s story did or didn’t work in that context.  I, for one, just liked the inclusion of a pack animal called “kurelomi” in chapter two.  Clever, Orson. 






The Huston family summer book club is hereby adjourned until next June.

Book Review: Olive Kitteridge

38480424When Olive Kitteridge won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction a few weeks ago, a colleague reminded me that some of her AP students had recently gotten to have a luncheon with author Elizabeth Strout and talk to her about her book.  I’m told that the students’ primary question was why her book was so depressing, and that Strout retorted that her book wasn’t depressing, but realistic. 

With that personal connection in mind, I read Olive Kitteridge.  Strout is right: the book isn’t depressing.  But it is plain, ordinary, and underwhelming.

Olive Kitteridge’s closest kin in the American literature canon is Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio; each is a collection of related short stories, which taken together form a mosaic of a town and offer several perspectives on a principal protagonist, in Anderson’s case, Joe Welling, in Strout’s, the eponymous Olive Kitteridge.  In that sense, the novel also bears a resemblance to another, more recent work with this same conceit, David Shickler’s excellent (and superior) Kissing in Manhattan

Anthologies of short stories typically don’t sell well, and most authors avoid them.  The copyright page for Olive Kitteridge shows that many of its chapters were published alone over more than a decade.  This feeling of discontinuity–or rather, a forced continuity–is apparent throughout.  The chapters where Olive isn’t the main character yet she pops up anyway, sometimes only in a throwaway reference, stick out as desperate attempts to make the conceit work.  One wonders if older versions of these stories were lightly revised to include Olive’s name just so this could be published as a novel as opposed to the collection of short stories that it is. 

As it is, Olive Kitteridge isn’t bad, but blandContinue reading