14 November 2007

Books Read Since October 22

• Re-read: Harvest at Stillmeadow, Gladys Taber
More sketchily written than Taber's later Stillmeadow books, this covers two years of life at Taber's Connecticut home. Her children are young in this first book, so interspersed with the dog stories are amusing boy and girl stories as well.

• It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic, Lee Mendelson, with Bill Melendez
Similar to the "making of" volume about A Charlie Brown Christmas, including the conception of the plot and a chapter on Vince Guaraldi's memorable score. Includes the entire script for the classic television special.

• Best Friends: The True Story of the World's Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary, Samantha Glen
I love real-life stories about veterinarians and animal rescue, so I was prepared to enjoy this. I did and I didn't. There were some great animal stories in it, but most of the stories were about the people building this sanctuary with lots of offbeat religious commentary. The author also occasionally tries to be too clever with her words, such as this cutesy-poo line from a chapter about a Hollywood fund-raiser: "Timothy Leary dazed onto the lawn." This was followed by a couple of other descriptions of this flavor. Pity, because the animals are so memorable.

• Doctor Who: The Legend Continues, Justin Richards
Coffee table book chronicling all the television adventures through the ninth Doctor and introducing the tenth. There are better episode guides but this has beautiful photos and interesting sidebars about the various reworkings of the theme, various alien species, conceptions for each new Doctor, etc.

• Re-read: National Velvet, Enid Bagnold
The ordinary Browns—well, except for Mrs. Brown—find their lives changed when their plain but horse-worshiping youngest daughter Velvet inherits five horses from a dying landowner and then wins a high-jumping piebald horse in a lottery and determines to train the undisciplined animal for England's greatest steeplechase, the Grand National. If you've only seen the Elizabeth Taylor movie, you'll find a grittier tale, with more horses (the Pi of the movie seems a combination of Sir Pericles and the Piebald), one more sister (Merry is the canary-fancier in the book and Mally the snippy one), a different past for Mi. Donald, unfortunately, is still annoying. :-) Written in unsentimental language; a glimpse of a long-gone way of life in a 1920s English village.

• Gaits of Heaven, Susan Conant
Is it me, or is Conant getting cranky? Holly Winter is apparently happily married, yet she's kvetching about her late mother. Having taken in a young woman who's overweight to rescue her from the poisonous atmosphere at home, instead of just providing shelter, food, and a shoulder to cry on, she goes on and on about the girl's obesity. (Has Conant got something against overweight people? She harps on and on, not just about it not being good for the girl's health, but more about how ugly it makes her.) Psychologists also take a beating in this book; you mean people really put up with this analyst crap as Conant portrays it? Oh, yeah, and she goes on for three pages justifying keeping her cat locked in her office because it's so unfriendly but at least she's giving it a home. Also, the asides written as "imaginings" to portray events happening away from Holly's view are really...annoying. But the dogs are still great.

• The Original Boy's Handy Book (Daniel Carter Beard) and The Original Girl's Handy Book (Lina and Adelia Belle Beard)
Both these books were written in 1887 as The American Boy's Handy Book and The American Girl's Handy Book and some time ago were reprinted in trade paper format, but I found the price then prohibitive. They have been reprinted yet again in hardback format at a better price. The boys' book, of course, covers more manly subjects like hunting and fishing, while the girls' book has the usual china painting and flower pressing, but there are surprisingly useful items in the girls' book about building items for use in the home and for public occasions. The two together are a fascinating portrait of the projects and amusements for young people of over one hundred years ago (and of the once-common items that you can't get any longer!).

• The Daring Book for Girls, Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz
This is a companion book to the infamous Dangerous Book for Boys. I find both interesting, but the girls' book has too many sports entries to be satisfying. Why not more about reading or pets? The math tricks chapter is fascinating as well as useful, though.

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