The Week in Books 2008, No. 38

I found John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist
one of the best books on writing I’ve encountered yet, primarily because rather than focusing exclusively on his own ideas about the writing craft, he takes a wider view of writing. Gardner considers traits that can be inborn or cultivated that will bolster writing ability, the differences that determine if a writer is more suited to poetry or short stories or novels, a macro view of what makes a timeless novel, and other interesting topics. I appreciated his stated purpose in the introduction, “I write for those [aspiring novelists] who desire, not publication at any cost, but publication one can be proud of – serious, honest fiction, the kind of novel that readers will find they enjoy reading more than once, the kind of fiction likely to survive.”

Although the book is obviously primarily about writing novels, it would probably be useful to writers of other genres as well, and I highly recommend it.

The Book Tree: A Christian Reference for Children’s Literature
is primarily a series of short reviews of the authors’ favorite childrens books, broken down by age group. There are many books out there that do the same thing, but where “The Book Tree” diverges is in its distinctively Christian worldview and emphasis on classic books. The book has sections of preschool books all the way up through high school books, so there is something for any age group. I could see this being a useful reference for families, especially if you have older kids who are constantly asking for book suggestions. I would imagine that it’s harder for parents to keep up with what their kids are reading once the books pass a certain length, so having a reference of unobjectionable and excellent literature to recommend would probably be helpful.

As a life-long Jane Eyre
fan (I read it for the first time in second grade and have loved it dearly ever since), I was intrigued to hear that one of Jean Rhys’ books was based on the character of the first Mrs. Rochester. I have to admit, even in my many readings of “Jane Eyre” I have not spent much time considering the first Mrs. Rochester, apart from her role in thwarting the marriage of Jane and being a madwoman and all that. In Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys explores the character further, and comes up with a story about the girl and her descent into madness following her marriage to Mr. Rochester. The book is so strong on its own merits that I hesitate to call it a prequel, since that makes it sound like one of those painfully derivative and second-rate knockoff jobs that people do of good books. Though clearly inspired by the character in “Jane Eyre,” Rhys puts so much of her own flavor and intriguing twists into “Wide Sargasso Sea” that even an inveterate “Jane” fan will not find fault or feel insulted.

My ongoing quest for science ideas led me to Pint-Size Science: Finding-Out Fun for You and Your Young Child by Linda Allison and Martha Weston. Many of the activities in the book would work for younger preschoolers, and I marked two in particular to try out this week: making a wind ring and making a static electricity experiment in a two liter bottle. I may have to postpone the wind ring if the weather doesn’t cooperate, but I think the static electricity activity will be really fun for Hannah and for Jack. I liked that this book made use of materials you probably already have on hand, rather than requiring you to go out and procure a bunch of unusual items.
Bubbles, Rainbows And Worms: Science Experiments For Pre-School Children is full of activities that I thought would be easily adapted for younger children, or would work well if you have kids of different ages. The activities include vocabulary and questions that might be better for older preschoolers, but younger ones could still enjoy learning the basic concepts and seeing how things work. I marked several activities that seemed interesting but didn’t require special equipment. Another good feature in this book was that each section contains a list of children’s books that might pertain in some way to that topic. So, for example, if you’re doing some of the plant-related activites, perhaps you’d want to read From Seed to Plant
by Gail Gibbons, and so forth.

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