Earlier this week the NYT ran a piece about a family of four who created a book review blog. Seemed like a swell idea, so in that spirit, here is my family book blog, as recorded by me.
My husband is a publishing apostate turned academic, so he generally has his nose buried in an Arabic or Farsi text, which means I have more or less no idea what he’s reading: esoteric treatises by medieval Sufi mystics? Recipes for chicken fesenjoon? Post-modern literary criticism (in its own way as impenetrable as Farsi)? As far as fiction is concerned, he just finished Amos Oz’s The Hill of Evil Counsel, three linked novellas by the eminent Israeli novelist who was Ladbrokes heavily favored pick for last year’s Nobel. He didn’t win, but according to my husband, he should. Oz is a singularly humane writer, one who captures the relationship between fathers and children with particular sensitivity.
My son, who is just turning four, is on a fairy tale jag—and we just returned from the library with an armload of gorgeously illustrated pictures books. My love for libraries is a capacious enough to fill several dozen blog entries (so much available, all for free!) but that they stand between me and another reading of Green Eggs and Ham is enough to earn my gratitude. I love Sam-I-am as much as the next person, but man does not live by green eggs alone. So we’ve just read Jan Brett’s exquisite Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk by John Cech and Robert Mackenzie in which the otherwise terrifying giant is too afraid of heights to pursue Jack back down the beanstalk. The clever Jack escapes not only with the goose that laid the golden egg and the enchanted harp, but the giant’s beleaguered wife. Apparently, the giant’s bossiness, boorishness, and predilection for dining on dinner guests proves too much for the weary woman, and she leaves him to become a great friend to Jack’s mother. Peter Pan (this version adapted by Michael Johnstone and illustrated by Chris Mallone) however, is my son’s current hands-down favorite. I realize that children are, according to experts, supposed to be able to handle the scary bits of fairy tales, but my son descends, at least on his mother’s side, from a long line of lily livered scaredy cats, so any version in which people/animals are not hacked to bits, cooked in a pot, burnt in an oven, or otherwise imaginatively offed is fine by me. My son often speculates that Hook and Peter Pan go on to become great friends. As you might imagine, in my reading, Hook escapes the jaws of the ticking crocodile.
As for me, I am perforce also reading fairy tales, which, wimpiness notwithstanding, I also loved as a child. I was, however, older than four when I read the Andrew Lang’s Red, Green, Brown, etc. Fairy Books. I also read (to myself) a galley for One Day by David Nicholls, a UK import that Vintage will publish in June. The obvious comparison is Nick Hornby, whose enthusiastic blurb is prominently featured on the cover. It is a bittersweet, sprawling and beautifully drawn portrait of a friendship. That this friendship is between erstwhile lovers (on the night before graduating from university, the two main characters have a farewell fling) will likely invite parallels with When Harry Met Sally, but the novel is smarter and more subtle and blessedly free of Meg Ryan. I’m also reading Life is More Beautiful Than Paradise by Khaled al Berry, a candid, wry look at the path that a young Egyptian man from a moderate family took toward radical Islam. His gradual involvement in an extremist organization is eye-opening and oddly familiar. Yesterday I happened to catch an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with a “Recovering Skin Head” and the parallels between two young, wayward teens are interesting.
Here’s a great interview with al Berry on the BBC.
What’s your family reading?