Monday, June 30th, 2008
I met Ellen and Sylvia for dinner this evening in Montclair -- Sylvia started art camp at the Montclair Art Museum today, where she is happily learning how to draw animals. In one of her classes they are doing a group project, a sculpture of Huckleberry Finn -- Sylvia has never read it, so while we were eating we decided to swing by our favorite bookstore and pick up a copy... of course it is hard to leave there without a bunch of books. Our haul:
- Huckleberry Finn
- Tom Sawyer -- nice to have this on hand for when she's read Huck Finn -- it is a lesser book of course, but I remember it being a fun read.
- The Prince and the Pauper, to round out the kid-friendly Twain selections.
- The Golden Compass -- people keep recommending this to me; I should take a look. Sylvia is loving the Harry Potter books these days, and this seemed like it would be in a similar vein.
- Teddy Roosevelt -- Sylvia's pick (after she found out that no, we're not buying Dragonology today), from a series of biographies of important Americans. Teddy Roosevelt is, she explained, her favorite president: I'm not totally clear on whether this is because 26 is her favorite number, or vice versa.
- The Cave -- my pick.
Thursday, October 23rd, 2008
Sylvia has been absolutely absorbed with reading and listening to and watching the Harry Potter books and books-on-tape and movies for a couple of months now. This is my introduction to the series as well -- I am pretty familiar with the plots of books 1 and 6 now from hearing Sylvia's tapes repeatedly, and have a glancing knowledge of the rest of the series from her narration of the events. Somehow it's not really drawing me in to read them myself -- some interesting bits but the overall structure doesn't really appeal to me.
But I did recall having Pullman's His Dark Materials series recommended to me time and again, and that seemed like it would have enough points of similarity to Harry Potter to be generate interest quickly. So we've been starting to read that together over the last few days. Really nice language and plot, and Lyra's character is starting to come together. Sylvia's totally interested in the dæmons, what they are and what they do.
Thursday, October 30th, 2008
Chapter 4 of The Golden Compass: Sylvia and I are both, separately, trying to figure out why the Master sends Lyra off with Mrs. Coulter, who is obviously a Bad Guy. Sylvia laid out her hypothesis to me:
That's a good thought. I also am working on an idea where maybe Mrs. Coulter's kid-stealing activities are actually benign, or serving a greater good, and we've been misled by the children's talk of Gobblers. The distinction between Good Guys and Bad Guys is not as clear in this book as in most of the other stuff we've read before. But I think Sylvia's idea is probably closer to right.
Sylvia: Dad? What is that thing the Master gave Lyra? What did he say it could do?
Me: The Alethiometer you mean? He said it was a machine that would tell her the truth.
Sylvia: ...I think it's going to tell her that she's a Gobbler. He knows it and he wants it to tell her.
Me: Hm, that sounds like it could be...
(A minute later) If he knows though, why doesn't he just tell her?
Sylvia: Because she would probably just refuse.
Monday, November third, 2008
Chapter 5 of The Golden Compass -- now things are starting to get really interesting. Sylvia and I are both on the edge of our seat.
I really like the way Pullman drops hints about what's going on -- very graceful, they are not so cryptic you can't easily pick up on them, but they are not hammered into your ears either. A bit like reading a good whodunit. And at the end of the cocktail party scene, the transition to Lyra fleeing from Mrs. Coulter's house was handled very well. This book just feels elegant.
(Note from an adult reading a kids' book -- it was such an eerie feeling I had, to be identifying with Mrs. Coulter as I read her cruel disciplinarian lines to Lyra before the party. I can't recall ever feeling this way though I've read many children's books with authoritarian adult figures in them.)
Saturday, November 8th, 2008
Chapter 7 of The Golden Compass is a trip. When Sylvia and I were reading it this afternoon there was a lot of talk back and forth -- "Oh, so that's what was happening!" "Oh, so that's why Lyra was at Jordan!" etc. This is a really nice trick -- there was a lot in the first part of the novel that we were just accepting on faith without really understanding, the exposition is placed so that you've just about gotten used to not being sure what's going on in the plot -- you're just reading and enjoying the characters and the action, and suddenly you turn a corner and much of the mystery is laid bare. (Not all -- there's still the central mystery of what the G.O.B. is using the kidnapped children for, and what's the city in the sky, and why is Asriel being held prisoner.)
Monday, November 17th, 2008
Sylvia asked the question tonight that has been bugging me since we started reading The Golden Compass: "How do people get their dæmons when they are born?" I have no answer -- I said well, do you think the dæmons are born with the people, and she was like maybe...
Thursday, December 18th, 2008
Ellen tells me she has gotten me two books for Hanukkah, both featured on this year's reading list: What Can I Do When Everything's on Fire? by António Lobo Antunes, and The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman. Thanks El!
Wednesday, December 31st, 2008
Remember how Sylvia and I differed on the merits of the Despereaux movie as compared with its book? Well on the subject of The Golden Compass we're more in agreement -- the book is a gem, the movie not worth the time spent watching it. Sylvia's review: "Whoever directed that movie, they didn't make it good."
For about the first half of the movie, I was thinking about writing a long post detailing every divergence with the book and for each one, explaining how it was to the detriment of the movie. But better I think, to tell what these differences have in common: in every case, the mystery in the book is discarded and replaced with clear, dry explication. Ambiguities are absent. What I loved about the book was Lyra's development from total innocence -- here at every step of the story she connects the dots like she had been expecting the solution all her life.
And maybe the worst offense is not to show Lord Asriel's treachery -- the whole ending was trimmed off, I guess because the movie was running over-long -- without this the story doesn't go anywhere. It's funny in a way -- I guess I think of the merits of this movie as being about the same as the merits of Despereaux, a fun visual romp with some sentimentality, and nothing like greatness -- but I would never recommend it the way I would recommend the mouse movie. It ought to be a great movie, a majestic movie. Falling short of that, it is not worth bothering with.
Monday, January 5th, 2009
Sylvia and I are wrapped up in The Subtle Knife. Liking it! I am having a little trouble getting as completely into the world of the novel as I got into The Golden Compass, I think primarily because of the introduction of "dark matter", the attempt to tie the fantasy physics of the first book's world into our world's real physics. It's a nice idea but a significant piece of my mind is refusing to suspend disbelief. OTOH Dr. Malone seems like she's going to be a really nice addition to the cast of characters.
Lyra's character has changed in subtle ways -- she is no longer in any sense an ingenue, she knows exactly what's going on and what she needs to do. This is a quality that I disliked about the rendering of Lyra in the movie of The Golden Compass; here it is much more plausible and sensible.
It occurred to me while we were reading just now, that Will's role in this story is comparable in some ways to Lyra's in The Golden Compass. The parallel is not exact, obviously; but as I read about Will realizing that his father had found a dimensional window like the one Will found, I'm responding in a similar way to when I read e.g. about Lyra making the connection from the General Oblation Board to the "Gobblers."
Some nice idle free-associations from tonight's reading:
Lee had once seen a painting in which a saint of the Church was shown being attacked by assassins. While they bludgeoned his dying body, the saint's dæmon was borne upwards by cherubs and offered a spray of palm, the badge of a martyr.
This somehow reminded me very strongly of the church scene from Saramago's Blindness. On the next page, Lee is trying to get information from Imaq, an "old Tartar from the Ob region":
I asked Sylvia if Imaq was reminding her of anyone, thinking as I asked her about Hagrid. She said yes, he was reminding her of "the detective from Moominvalley" -- nice association! I had forgotten about him, he's a character in one of the Moomin comic strip stories, whose signature line is "I shall say no more."
"What happened to [Grumman]? Is he dead?"
"You ask me that, I have to say I don't know. So you never know the truth from me."
"I see. So who can I ask?"
"You better ask his tribe. Better go to Yenisei, ask them."
"His tribe... You mean the people who initiated him? Who drilled his skull?"
"Yes. You better ask them. Maybe he not dead, maybe he is. Maybe neither dead nor alive."
"How can he be neither dead nor alive?"
"In spirit world. Maybe he in spirit world. Already I say too much. Say no more now."
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