Staff Picks: Classrooms and Classics
September is upon us. If you are looking for an addition to your fall “to read” list, take your cue from the recent reads enjoyed by our Technical Services staff.
Let’s start with two great fiction books on CD. They are perfect choices if you are in the “back to school” mind-set. Both follow young protagonists through the complex and often confusing social jungle that is school.
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
“Cat’s Eye” finds painter Elaine Risley thinking back over the formative years of her childhood as she prepares for a retrospective exhibit of her art. When her itinerate scientist father takes a teaching position and settles the family in Toronto, nine-year old Elaine enters school for the first time. Though she is eager for female friendships, her inexperience and unusual upbringing mark her as different, and the three girls who become her closest friends also become her biggest antagonists. The story follows Elaine through elementary school in late 1940s through college and beyond, but it is those early years that I find most compelling, particularly the portrayal of girl bullying, sinister and subtly cruel.
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
“Black Swan Green” covers a single year in the life of Jason Taylor, a thirteen-year old English schoolboy. Like Atwood’s Elaine, Jason is a target of bullying by his peers because he is different, struggling to overcome a speech impediment. As he tries to raise his position in the middle school hierarchy of losers and rebels, Jason must also contend with his parents crumbling marriage, the climate of unease caused by the Falklands War and the vulnerability of being not quite an adult but no longer a child.
Though set on different continents and in different decades, both books contain timeless emotional truth about growing up and finding ones identity. Semi-autobiographical details—Atwood’s father was an entomologist, for example, and Mitchell had a lisp as a boy—merely cement the feeling that these two authors have drawn from their own experiences to produce such authentic narratives. Both “Cat’s Eye” and “Black Swan Green” are written in the rich, evocative prose styles of their respective authors and either one would make a satisfying read (or listen). Read both for a thought-provoking contrast between the nature of female and male peer bullying.
∼ Elizabeth, Cataloger, Technical Services Dept., Warrenton Central Library
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
I like to read a classic book every now and then to experience life back in the olden days. I’ve been cataloging fiction books for the past 9 years and every time I come across a copy of Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” I keep saying to myself that I need to read this. Well, after 9 years of saying this, I finally set down to read it. It is a good read, but probably best read in a reading group type setting , because there is so much I would have loved to discuss and to get other people’s opinions about, especially about the main character and the choices that she makes. The book, written in 1899, was at the time very controversial about a woman in a stifling marriage who took means to free herself. At times I understood why Edna did some the of things she did, but other times I did not. I know that in 1899 there weren’t many options for a woman.
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
This was my first Thomas Hardy book and at first I was just awestruck at how Hardy uses words. It seems that each word has an important meaning to tell the reader and putting these words together, the sentences flowed easily like a gently moving stream. At one point in the story, a big storm was approaching. The words he used to describe every detail of this storm were simply amazing. I was right there feeling every breeze, bolt of lightning and seeing each and every cloud. It was never boring, but had me waiting to see what would come next. I can definitely understand why this book, after over 100 years, is still with us today. At first, this plot could be of many cheap romance novels – a beautiful, strong willed and independent woman who has three suitors, each very different from one another. Midway through the book, I was asking myself, “Why do we women always fall for the handsome bad boy?” It’s been going on for centuries and we still haven’t learned our lesson. With “Far From the Madding Crowd” you get so much more than a plot, but the beauty in the Wessex’s landscape. “Far From the Madding Crowd” was written in 1874 and like Kate Chopin’s “Awakening” featured an independent woman in an unhappy marriage. I enjoyed this book much more than Kate Chopin’s “Awakening.” I understand “The Awakening” has importance in literary history, but “Far from the Madding Crowd” will appeal to wider audience and to those who simply enjoy a good book.
∼ Debbie, Technical Services Associate, Warrenton Central Library