The Boggart

I originally read The Boggart in elementary school, and then re-read it back in December, so no matter how you slice it I’m cheating a bit (or have fallen quite far behind) to bring it up for a book post in February. To which I say: come at me, bro.

Scholastic Books edition of The Boggart by Susan Cooper
Image courtesy Scholastic

Author: Susan Cooper

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.75 stars

Language scaling: B1+

Summary: The Vonik family inherits a castle in Scotland and brings a boggart with them back to Canada

Recommended audience: Fantasy fans; people who enjoyed Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series; Scottish mythology fans

In-depth thoughts: My occasion for re-reading this one was actually for work. One of my younger (former) students is very much into ghost stories and the like, and while I was trying to figure out the next thing I wanted to read, my eyes lighted on my battered Scholastic book fair edition of The Boggart. Mischievous ghosts and drafty Scottish castles? On brand!

I was right — it was a bigger hit than the other books I’d brought in — but my point here isn’t how I’m awesome at picking out books for students but about how much I haven’t grown out of this book.

I didn’t remember that much about it, except that it had a ghost and that ten-year-old me loved it. (How else would it survive countless book purges and a trip across the ocean?) The perfect time to re-read a book!

The first or second lesson I read along with my student, we got to a section about the titular boggart mourning the death of their very first human friend, and it choked me up. If your middle grade fantasy novel brings grown-ups to tears, then you’re a competent and accomplished writer. Also, points for using semicolons (happy semikolonets dag!) and having the characters’ mother apologize to another adult for being “bitchy.” We don’t have to banish semantic complexity or linguistic realism from children’s literature!

While charming, The Boggart still isn’t as effortless as The Dark is Rising; Cooper has to do a lot of heavy lifting to get her modern Canadian family to clue in to the ancient Scottish spirit turning their lives upside down, and it gets clumsy in places. A couple of moments are clearly meant to be whimsical or wonderful but feel a bit much, and a third act bad guy appears out of nowhere, to no end except to be a vague menace. What is considered the latest technology is also a key plot point, but this was the latest technology back in 1993, so there are also portions that are incredibly dated when you’re reading in 2019.

Friday 5: Then You Begin to Make it Better Better Better Better Better Better Yeah

close-up shot of an icicle melting.

What’s something you hated as a teen but love today?

I’ve made peace with getting up (relatively) early in the mornings, running, and even the pop music of my youth.

What’s something you recently dreaded that turned out not too bad?

I actually haven’t been dreading anything recently, so hard to say.

How do you feel about February as it compares to January?

There’s more snow and more sunlight, so I’d say it’s an improvement.

Who among people you know is really making the world a better place?

One of the founding members of the Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club works with allocating funding to victims of violent crime and I’m super proud of him.

In what way is today better than yesterday?

Every day these days is a little lighter and a little closer to spring, so I’ll take it.

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

The Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club kicked off the year with Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach.

Cover of Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson
Image courtesy Tor

Author: Kelly Robson

My GoodReads rating: 3 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.71 stars

Language scaling: B2+

Summary: It’s a distant, post-apocalyptic future and the powers that be have just figured out time travel. Minh is an expert in rivers restoration and travels to ancient Mesopotamia to collect data that will help restore the Tigris and Euphrates river regions.

Recommended audience: Science fiction fans; geology and hydrology nerds might or might not enjoy seeing a future version of their science at the center of a story.

In-depth thoughts: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is a pretty quick read. My only complaint is that it’s too quick: the beginning of the story sets up a lot of intrigue and possible plot points that are never really pursued or resolved. Given how abrupt the ending is, and how much is left unfinished, it feels like Robson left the door open for a sequel, but who knows if that will materialize. What’s there is fun, good writing — I just want there to be more of it!

Robson’s style and syntax itself is simple and uncomplicated, but EFL readers might trip over some of the more technical science and laboratory terms. (The story is about scientists, and the main thrust of the story is about them gathering samples, after all.) I’m a native speaker and it was hard to tell where the current-day science jargon ended and the future science jargon began. But if you can cut through some of the  academic-sounding vocabulary, it’s a fast-paced read.

Music Monday is a Thing Now I Guess: Ennio Morricone

Stockholm was a destination on Ennio Morricone’s farewell tour. Or 60 years of music tour. Hard to say what the proper title really is. Either way, if you have a chance to see a living legend, you take it. Nothing like a live performance of “The Ecstasy of Gold” conducted by the composer.

And probably the only time in my life where the audience whooped, cheered, and whistled for an orchestral performance, which is almost too bad. People should always be that excited for concerts, no matter what the genre.

Friday 5: Teal This Record

I didn’t realize that “Africa” had become a thing again in the year of our Lord 2019. Along with Weezer and Weird Al? Time is meaningless anymore.

Where in Africa would you like to visit?

There are lots of places, really. Soudha is in Singapore for university right now, if memory serves, but her travel logs series on Of Stacks and Cups really made me want to visit Mauritius. One of my teacher friends and former coworkers studied in Ghana for a semester when she was in university and made it sound like a lovely place to visit. Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt are also on my “someday” travel list.

 

If you ruled the world, what would you forbid people to talk about in the company of strangers?

Nothing, actually. Even the most banal smalltalk has its purpose.

In what way do you tolerate (or enjoy) being used?

I can’t think of any. Moving on!

When did you recently have an a-ha moment?

About something or other at work, I’m sure. I feel like I have at least one every day.

What’s something you know about turtles?

Nothing that the average person doesn’t already know. I’m not terribly knowledgeable about these little guys.

L’Étranger

I read L’Étranger because I want to keep my French from slipping. I figured it would be a good choice because I’ve already read it twice—when practicing reading in a foreign language, a book you’re already familiar with is the best possible choice.

Cover of French edition of L'Étranger.
Image courtesy Gallimard.

Author: Albert Camus

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.97 stars

Language scaling: N/A (read the original French)

Summary: Meursault murders a man and finds his entire life put on trial.

Recommended audience: People who want to engage with “serious literature” (whatever that means) while they practice a foreign language.

In-depth thoughts: Something about mid-20th century French literature lends itself well to foreign language study. Okay, maybe not all of it. But this and Le Petit Prince are books I’ve read and enjoyed in a few different languages.

It’s L’Étranger. You’ve either read it or you haven’t and there’s not much need for me to weigh in on my opinion on the book, except that I’ll be balancing my (re)reading of this with a novel by an Algerian author. If you spend too long thinking about how the non-white characters in the book exist as plot devices to put Meursault on trial and then in prison it leaves an uncomfortable taste in your mouth, and the best remedy for that is to broaden your own horizons.

Otherwise I’m already falling behind on my Goodreads Challenge for the year. The falling behind doesn’t bother me as much as the not reading bothers me. Whenever I’m in a bad way, my reading drops off—or maybe a drop off in reading leads to grumpiness and depression. Impossible to tell; I’ve never paid close enough attention to notice which starts first. The two definitely feed into each other, regardless. But now I’m off the blocks and hopefully my momentum (and mood) will pick up a little bit going into February.

Friday 5: Movement

A man performing a skateboard trick in front of orange graffiti on a wall. His face is obscured by a red baseball cap and he's partially reflected in the puddle under him.
Photo by Rob Potter on Unsplash

What’s a song that recently moved you?

I still cry at “Rhapsody in Blue.” Every damn time.

What’s a song that recently moved you — right out the door?

Not a song as such, but a request.

When I lived in Korea, I used to go on long, late-night walks with another teacher friend of mine. By this time the pedestrian mall and downtown (“downtown”) Uijeongbu had been fully refurbished, with bits of greenery and benches and sculptures. It soon attracted any number of buskers, and in the warmer months our walks included stopping to take in a few songs.

One time we passed such a performance in front of an audience including a few drunk white men who were already on their way to behaving badly. We lingered, unsure if we could enjoy the music over the poor behavior.

“If one of them requests ‘Freebird,’ I’m going to lose my shit,” I mentioned to my walking companion, quietly and out of earshot of said potential troublemakers.

“What? Why?”

And as if on cue, one of them slurred “FREEBIRD!” and I had to feign a coughing fit to cover a scream of frustration. I nodded to my friend, who was still confused, and we kept walking while I explained the pointless tradition of requesting “Freebird” at concerts, regardless of artist or genre.

What kinds of dance performances interest you?

Not many, I’ll admit. I don’t have much interest in watching anything except tap or swing. I’ve watched to many Hollywood movie musicals, I guess.

What’s a good song with the word move (or some form of it) in the title?

I will never not post a Janis Joplin song if I have the opportunity to do so.

How do you feel about prunes?

I’ve never had them. But since I like raisins, I’d probably like prunes.

Currently (Still) Reading: Ulysses

Ulysses Modern Classics edition cover
Image courtesy Penguin

Here’s my initial hot take of the first few episodes of Ulysses.

When we last left our heroine, she had bemoaned “too much interiority.” Naively, she thought that she had hit the densest, thorniest parts of Ulysses. That turned out to be misguided hope.

Current thoughts: the connections between the episodes in Ulysses and the chapters of The Odyssey often seem tenuous, if there are any at all. I’m less than impressed. Perhaps the connection has been overstated by Joyce scholars over the years, meaning Joyce himself isn’t to blame?

How much work can you reasonably expect an audience or a reader to do before really, the truth is you’re a garbage writer? I recognize that Ulysses isn’t up there with Finnegans Wake in terms of impenetrability, but nonetheless there are moments. Is Mrs Dalloway a deliberately better book and an eyeroll at Joyce’s pompous view of himself? Or is it a diet version of an artistic vision Woolf had that was similar in scope and density to Ulysses, pared down out of a stronger tendency to acquiesce to other people’s opinions and input than the default male assumption of “but of course my way is the best”?

If you need an annotated version and a podcast and extensive notes to make any sense of a book, maybe the author didn’t do that good of a job. Of course studying a text deeply and thoroughly can add layers of nuance and appreciation in addition to a surface-level enjoyment, but that shouldn’t be the only way to make it through to the other side with any meaningful understanding.

Speaking of notes, I’ve let re:Joyce fall by the wayside. It was to be expected; I hate podcasts. I might listen to a podcast hateread this sucker, though! Other wise, the only study tool I’m using for this is to read plot summaries of each episode beforehand (or after) so I have a mental framework of what’s supposed to be actually going on in the world.