Monthly Archives: January 2013

Jane’s Boekentips

THE CASUAL VACANCY by J.K. Rowling

I have to give J.K. Rowling a lot of credit. She did not need to write this book. She could have sat back on her stack of Harry Potter books and counted her money for the rest of her life. This writer did not need to publish another book. She did not need to make more money. But she decided to do what she wanted to do and that is to write a novel for adults. A novel that did not have any magic wands or children flying. She wrote a novel that basically put up a mirror to life in England, whether we believe it is accurate or not, is another story.

From the outside, Pagford looks like a nice little English village. But this is not the village that Miss Marple walks through on her way to the church fair. This is a village in turmoil, as there are many secrets and lies. A political battle is brewing over plans to redraw municipal boundaries after the sudden death of a parish councilor. The debate is about a nearby housing project and a methadone clinic…most of the village leaders don’t want to have anything to do with them, and want the neighboring town to take responsibility.

In this novel, we follow eight households. There is alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, racism, teenage sex and lots and lots of gossip. Rowling not only focuses on the grownups, but gives equal time to the teenagers. And they are not happy. In fact, there is not much happiness in this village.

It is a character driven story that succeeds in showing us contemporary England and it is definitely a page turner. As a reader, you care about these people. Some of them are horrible human beings and you want to see if they get a taste of their own medicine. There are many snobs here and an upper middle class superiority that seems pretty realistic. The children of these parents are the ones that should worry us. They are not talking to their parents about anything, they hold on to secrets, fears and their anger. No one is really listening to them or paying attention. If you are a parent and read this book, I promise you that you will make more of an effort to ask questions and actually listen.

I am aware that the book has gotten some mixed reviews. I picked up this book with the knowledge that I may not like it all. But I was pleasantly surprised at how much I really loved it. It is a long book, but it did not feel long. I was caught up in these lives and was invested in finding out what was going to happen and if goodness wins out. It is a sad story, but Rowling was not pretending to do anything else but tell us a tough story.  I hope that she writes again, as I am interested to hear what she has to say.

Recommended viewing:  A lot of buzz has been going around for the film AMOUR. It deserves your attention. Wonderful acting and overall, a fantastic film. This is a film that makes you think and you will want to discuss.

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MODERN TIMES

I do not remember a time in my life when I did not read. My life has been filled with books. I loved buying new books, but I also loved library books or getting a bargain with a used book. Books were books, to me. In school, we had Scholastic Books which were these wonderful paperbacks that we bought and were then delivered to our classroom. I would have my stack of books on the desk and could not wait to take them home. The biggest decision I had to make was what book was I going to read first. They felt slick and cool to the touch and they smelled brand new.

One of the first “chapter books” that I read was the Bobbsey Twins series. I was so hooked on those books, that I would negotiate a little extra time to read before the lights had to go out. When I was about to nod off, I would slide the Bobbsey Twins underneath my pillow and when I woke in the morning, my hand would take out the book before I even got out of bed. Books were a presence for me and I guess that even at bedtime, I did not want to let them go.

Library books were usually hard cover and the pages were worn and soft. Inside you had the pocket with the card of names of previous readers. In middle school and high school, I always had a book with me or in my locker. As much as I was a talker and had lots of friends at school, I was always  prepared for a few free minutes when I could read a page or two. Books were a reward to me, they were a constant that never let me down.

Fast forward to my life as a librarian. One of the greatest benefits of being a librarian is having quick access to books. I was completely spoiled. I was able to read a book as soon as it was published. The books were cracked open by me and it was a joy to not only to read a brand new book, but then to pass it on to the next reader.

I no longer have that luxury, as my life has dramatically changed. The challenge that I now have is that I am living in The Netherlands and it takes time for many American books to come here. The Utrecht library is wonderful and they have been so welcoming towards me and mindful of my needs and many others who live in this area. But for me, it was still frustrating to wait to read a “hot new” book many months after it was published.

So I decided to go where so many of my friends have already gone and get an ereader. I never thought I would do this but the reality of my life demanded some action. I viewed this leap into technology as a supplement to books. I was going to use the e reader for the brand new books that I really had to read right away, but I would still read books the old fashioned way. That was my goal and I think it is what I will end up doing.

I purchased a Kobo Glo and it is a welcome addition to our family. It is easy to handle, weighs only 6 ounces and has a built in light that allows you to read in complete darkness. I am surprised at how I easily adapted to this thing and surprised that I liked using it.

The first book that I read on the Kobo is THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich. A novel that got wide praise and that I had been wanting to read for quite a while.  It is a fabulous novel and Erdrich proves once again that she is one of the best writers around.  The story is about a 13 year old boy whose mother has been attacked and how he not only deals with this horrible situation, but how he tries to solve “the case”.  I urge you to put this on your reading list, you won’t be disappointed.

One of the best features of an  ereader is that you can adjust the size of print and that is very handy for me. I have noticed that in the last few years, books are getting smaller print and I have to hold the book farther away from my face. Have you noticed this too? Once I finished the ereader, I went right to my next book and this was actually a book, not an ereader. How strange it was to hold a hard cover book…I confess that I really missed that light. But it was also like greeting an old friend and I was back to my comfort zone, with a book in my hand. Now, in my life, there is a place for both: a book and the Kobo.

Our children are so happy for me, to have dipped my toe into modern times. But even they say that it is weird for them to see me holding the Kobo and not a book. Today, I will look more like my old self with a book in my hand. It is a library book, hardcover and published in 2002. The pages are yellowed and very soft and there are library labels on the outside. There is no built in light, but that is okay. I was smiling as I turned to the first page. A new story begins…

Recommended reading: I have just started this book but it sucked me in right away. So far, I love it.  IN THE CASTLE OF THE FLYNNS by Michael Raleigh.

THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Six years ago I was approached by a college student about teaching a writing class. I was the director of a public library and was always interested in free programs for adults and this student proposed a short story course for adults. He needed to do this class in order to finalize his graduation with a Master’s degree. It was a win win situation for us both and after checking out his references, I agreed to his proposal. This student was very charming, bright and determined to do a good job. Once the class started, I learned how much the participants loved not only the class, but their teacher. This teacher, who was already teaching in a school elsewhere, had a dream of being an author. At this time, I had no idea how good he was, as a writer. But he had such a passion for writing, for writers and for great books. I liked him and kept in contact with him, via email, as he went back to his job and other life.

That student wrote a novel and got it published. He emailed me his big news. He asked if I wanted to see a preview of his book, months before it was coming out to the public. I was eager to read it and also, I admit, nervous. He could have been the nicest guy in the world, but what if the book was not any good? Or what if it was not the kind of book that I would enjoy? I had nothing to worry about. I read the book as soon as it arrived and I fell in love with it. I embraced the characters and the entire story.

This student was Matthew Quick and the book was THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. I could not wait for this book to be published, as I was going to talk about this to anyone would listen. I ordered multiple copies of the book for our library and was ready for its arrival.

After the book came out, I invited Matt back to the library to talk about the book. We had two discussion groups who met to talk about his book. The passion never left Matt, it just got bigger. It is so much fun to see the excitement of a first time novelist and it is so satisfying to see such genuine and sincere talent. Since then, he has had two more books published, both of them young adult novels (that are perfect for adults to read): SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR and BOY21.

And now the movie…by now you all know about the film THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. If you have read the book, you know that there are differences with the screenplay, but the story remains the same. The characters are true to the original novel. I think David O. Russell did a great job adapting the screenplay, and the bottom line is that it all started with Matt. He created the plot and the characters. Russell brought the book to life on the screen and the whole shebang is quite wonderful. I wish everyone would read the book first and then see the movie, but I know that some people will do the reverse, and that is okay too.

All I can tell you is that I am so proud of Matt, not just because he is super talented, but also because he has handled this fast moving train of stardom so well.  He keeps writing, he wants to tell stories and how lucky for us that he has more books coming out. In August of 2013, his next young adult book will be published: FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK. His next adult novel does not come out until the spring of 2014, but the film rights have already been purchased by DreamWorks, and that is THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW. What a perfect title for what is going on right now for Matt, except it was not just luck but his hard work and storytelling talent that got him where he is right now. There is a lot of buzz right now swirling around him, and that is to be expected. But anyone who knows Matt, knows that he is eager to get back to writing again. And we will just wait for the next story to come from his mind and his heart.

THE ARTIST

I recently saw this posting at the Anne Frank House website (see link at the bottom of this page) about music that was banned by Hitler. After I read this, a question popped into my head: what was Hitler afraid of? Why did art scare him so much? Why did he need to control artists? The easy answer is that he did not want anyone to think or feel on their own. He wanted a purity of thought and certain artists would taint his idea of creativity. He did not want anyone exposed to Jewish writers, composers or musicians, performers or artists.

Reading this story made me think of the book burning that was conducted by the Nazis. It started in 1933 and the order was to destroy, by burning, books not only written by Jews but those books that were considered of an “Un-German spirit”.

Here are some examples of authors whose books were burned or at least removed from schools, libraries, bookstores and homes.

  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Jack London
  • Victor Hugo
  • Helen Keller
  • Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Louisa May Alcott
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Albert Einstein

The list of writers goes on and on. Imagine standing at a bonfire that has hundreds of books burning. You see pages and pages going up in flames. Books that you love and books you have still not read. It does not make a difference whether the book was your type of book, just imagine seeing a tower of books on fire.

As for music, Hitler banned all Jewish composers and musicians. He even banned composers who were not Jewish just because their music did not sound German enough.

When you find out that a book or piece of music has been banned, then that is the time to turn up the volume or pick up a book. That is the time that you pour water on the bonfire. Unfortunately, during World War II, nothing could be done to stop the German army and their shut down on creativity. Your risked your life to stand up to this regime.

Now the books can and should be read. The music must be played and heard. The art must be displayed and we must honor the freedom to express. It does not matter if it is the art that you like, it just matters that we respect the fact that it was created in the first place.  

I think that art is extremely powerful and essential to our world. It can be very revealing and it sometimes challenges you to question authority. Art also takes us to places we may not normally go, it breaks down our fears. So you can see why Hitler wanted to control creativity, he did not want anyone thinking for themselves or asking questions. Art can be safe and yet it can be wonderfully dangerous. Live a little…read a book. Walk on the wild side and play some music. And don’t let anyone tell you no.

http://www.annefrank.org/en/News/News/2013/januari/Hidden-treasures/

HOUSE OF GAMES

I have very fond memories of playing the game of Monopoly as a child and as an adult. It is truly a game for all ages. I loved the board, the cards, the money, the hotels and houses and those tokens that traveled around the board. The big debate was always which one would you get?  Was it the racecar, the dog or the top hat?

Hasbro has announced that they are trying to update the current list of tokens by bringing in one new one. The tokens that come in a box today are: iron, battleship, dog, racecar, top hat, wheelbarrow, shoe and thimble. The company has decided to retire (that is the polite word for kicking one of them out) one token to make room for a new one. One of these guys is going to jail, and no card will help them. And guess what? The people get to decide what new token is added by voting on Facebook.

Here are the five possibilities for the new token: cat, diamond ring, guitar, toy robot and helicopter. Remember, one comes in and one has to come out.

I wondered about the Dutch version of Monopoly. It arrived in The Netherlands in 1961. The American version has been around for almost 80 years. The Dutch game is naturally all in Dutch, with Dutch streets and towns. Everything is in Dutch and it looks basically the same. And they not only have the same 8 tokens, they even have two extra: a horse and a spinning wheel.

I thought that it would be fun for every country to come up with their own tokens, instead of the standard ones from America. For The Netherlands, I am suggesting: a cow, windmill, wheel of cheese, wooden shoe, ice skate, umbrella, bicycle and tulips. Have the tokens reflect the culture of that country.

I asked our 12 year old daughter what new tokens would she add to the current list and here are her suggestions for this great American game: a cheeseburger, a flag, Statue of Liberty, President Obama, the White House and Hillary Clinton. I like the way she thinks.

Recommended viewing: this is the movie awards season, so I will be posting a lot about movies, I think. Just saw a wonderful film starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor called THE IMPOSSIBLE. This has a great cast and amazing special effects. But this is also a film with a terrific heart. 

THE HOSPITAL

Wonderment and awe—that is the best way I can describe my experience on New Year’s Eve. To stand in the middle of our street and turn completely around and see only fireworks was just amazing. It made me think about the Boston Pops concerts on the Fourth of July—I have never been to them, but the color, noise and smell must be similar to what I experienced. We were outside at midnight and after we have set off our firecrackers and we enjoyed what our neighbors were doing, we went inside to watch the rest of the show. The display went on for an hour. And these were all fireworks from families in our area. It was a magical night.

Now for the bad news. Across this country, there were 40 serious injuries attributed to fireworks. There were 14 partially or completely amputated hands. Obviously, there were more injuries than these, but only the severe cases are registered. All the victims were male and 45% of them were under the age of 18. And no big surprise here—64% of the fireworks in these accidents were illegal. In total, 637 people went to the Emergency Room…that is more than last year, when there were 576. Most of the injuries were to the eyes, some were blinded in one or both eyes. Plastic surgeons were very busy as they performed 43 surgeries and that is again more than last year, when they had 25 surgeries.

There has been much discussion about fireworks in The Netherlands. Most accidents happen because young people are using homemade fireworks. The government puts out a lot of information about the dangers of fireworks, but every year there are terrible accidents. Last year, 25 serious injuries were reported. This year, there were 40. Many people would like to ban the sale of fireworks completely and others say that it would make no difference. People will still make their own or go to another country and get some illegally. But really, accidents are happening whether the fireworks are legal or illegal.

The night before New Year’s Eve we saw a news report about a young man who lost three fingers last year. He had made his own firecracker and it exploded in his hand. Viewers were warned that they were going to see a disturbing image and we saw the photograph of his hand before the surgery. It was shocking, but I am so glad they showed it. Hopefully this story would frighten someone enough to not do something stupid. Apparently, not everyone saw this story OR they thought it would never happen to them.

It makes you wonder now about those that were injured. Do they now ask themselves was it worth it? For some big bangs and booms and for colors in the sky, was it worth it to get hurt?

Recommended reading: THE GILLY SALT SISTERS by Tiffany Baker. If you loved Baker’s first book THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY, you will enjoy this one too. I think I prefer her first novel, but this is a good Cape Cod story.

LINCOLN

I am an American who lived her early years in Europe. I went to school in England, Italy and The Netherlands. My father was an American and my mother is English. They decided to move back to America (where my sister and I were born) and make a permanent home.

I started my American education toward the end of the third grade. I really was clueless about American history. The first assignment I was given was a blank map of the United States. I was told to fill in each state and hand it in the next day. This was a great idea for me, as I needed to learn the states and just how big America was. But when I handed in the map  I was told I would have to redo it. I had written in the state names correctly, but I had not PRINTED the names. In Europe we used long hand for everything and I had never learned to print. The other big shock was that I quickly learned that I did not have to stand each time that I spoke in class. In my other schools, we always had to stand when we were  speaking. But in America, things were a lot looser and a lot less formal.

One of the very first books that I read after moving to America was a biography of Abraham Lincoln. He was the first president that I was really interested in and I loved the story of him as a young boy and how he succeeded in life. I also started reading the series Little house on the prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Those books were a great introduction to American history.

As I got older I became more interested in the Civil War, slavery and abolitionists. I have been reading all about the new Spielberg movie, Lincoln, and I was very eager to see it. It did not disappoint me at all, it was everything the critics said and even more.

While the film focuses on a specific time in Lincoln’s presidency, it really gives us the man. It shows us the frustration of not only being president, but how much patience is needed in being a leader. We see Lincoln as a husband, a father and as a practical man who has great vision. How many times have we seen politicians who actually listen? There are many scenes in this film where he is simply listening.

We watch this film and know that this is a great man…we know how great a leader he is. But we also see his humanity, we see him become small to be with others. He is on the floor  with his young son, he does not stand over others, and he sits to be at their eye level. He tilts his head to see faces and so they can also see him. His gentleness and his moments of quiet are the scenes of beauty in this film. Spielberg is introducing us to not only history, to a president, but also to a man. Daniel Day-Lewis never acts in this film, he IS Lincoln. He simply is.

I loved reading about Abraham Lincoln when I was a child and I loved finding him again in this film.