Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests





Thursday, November 29, 2018

“The One and the Other” - A Short Story by Sylvia Townsend Warner - first published January 22, 1972 in The New Yorker - included as the lead story in Kingdoms of Elfin in 1977, one of sixteen stories





“The One and the Other” - A Short Story by Sylvia Townsend Warner - first published January 22, 1972 in The New Yorker - included as the lead story in Kingdoms of Elfin in 1977, one of sixteen stories .  Reprinted in 2018 with a Forward by Greer Gilman and an introduction by Ingrid Hotz-Davies

One of the joys of The Reading Life is Reading your first work by an author you had never before encountered and knowing this is someone to add to your list of beloved authors.  Once I found Warner loved Siamese Cats that was all it took.  I like stories about alternative worlds overlapping this one and am drawn to fairies and spirit beings.  In certain times the feeling seems mutual.  

The fairies in the stories of Warner border on evil, like those in the stories of the great Irish writer of supernatural stories, Sheridan de La Fanu.  

“Elfindom is an aristocratic society, jealous of its privileges. The ruling classes engage in such pursuits as patronizing the arts or hunting with the Royal Pack of Werewolves, while the lower orders take pleasure in conducting brutal raiding parties into the world to torment mortals.

The Kingdoms of Elfin are more diverse and widely scattered than is often thought; from the Welsh Elfins who, though constitutionally incapable of faith, remove mountains, and the elegant and witty French Court of Brocéliande where castration almost becomes a vogue, to the Kingdom of Zuy in the Low Countries, trafficking suppositories and religious pictures” - from Goodreads

I loved the descriptions of how fairies took Human children and replaced them with fairies.

“.Elfhame is in Heathendom. It has no christenings. But when a human child is brought into it there is a week of ceremonies. Every day a fasting weasel bites the child’s neck and drinks its blood for three minutes. The amount of blood drunk by each successive weasel (who is weighed before and after the drinking) is replaced by the same weight of a distillation of dew, soot, and aconite. Though the blood-to-ichor transfer does not cancel human nature (the distillation is only approximate: elfin blood contains several unanalyzable components, one of which is believed to be magnetic air), it gives considerable longevity; up to a hundred and fifty years is the usual span. During the seven days, the child may suffer some sharpish colics, but few die. On the eighth day it is judged sufficiently inhumanized to be given its new name. ‘Dear little thing,’ said Tiphaine. ‘I hope he won’t age prematurely.’ For when grey hairs appear on the head of a changeling he is put out of the hill to make the rest of his way through the human world; which is why we see so many grey-haired beggars on the roads. Mrs Tod, the baker’s wife, did not notice the difference between her baby which had been stolen away and the elf-baby left in its stead. She was busy making sausage meat and pork pies that day; and this was not her first child, to be studied like a nonpareil39. Indeed, it was her ninth, though not all of them had lived.”

Written in amazing prose it seems to real.  Who is to say it is not?

For sure I will read all the stories.


From The Sylvia Townsend Warner Society 

Sylvia Townsend Warner was a highly individual writer of novels, short stories and poems. She contributed short stories to the New Yorker for more than forty years, translated Proust's Contre Saint-Beuve into English, wrote a biography of the novelist T.H.White and a guide to Somerset.
Born in 1893, Sylvia was the only child of Harrow School housemaster George Townsend Warner (remembered as a brilliant teacher) and his wife, Nora. After an unsuccessful term at kindergarten she was educated at home. Sylvia was an accomplished musician, and it is said that the outbreak of War in 1914 alone prevented her from going abroad to study composition under Arnold Schoenberg. In 1917, she joined the Committee preparing the ten volumes of Tudor Church Music published by Oxford University Press between 1922 and 1929. One of her fellow committee members - and long-time lover - was Percy Buck, a married man twenty-two years her senior.
Tall, thin and bespectacled, Sylvia was a disappointment to her mother, with whom she had an uneasy relationship. After her mother's remarriage (George Townsend Warner died suddenly in 1916) matters improved, but mother and daughter were never to be close.
In 1922, Sylvia, at the instigation of Stephen Tomlin, a charismatic if manipulative figure who later became part of the Bloomsbury Group - and who was a former pupil of her father's - went to Chaldon Herring in Dorset to visit the writer Theodore Powys. This melancholic, withdrawn man, whose large family included John Cowper and Llewelyn Powys, had been writing unsuccessfully for years.
Along with Tomlin and the writer David Garnett, Sylvia Townsend Warner was instrumental in the publication of Theodore's novels and short stories which had languished unseen for years. First to be published was "The Left Leg", three stories dedicated to his trinity of supporters. Powys and Warner became great friends and for a time there was almost a "school" of Chaldon writers, quirky, droll and rustic, which included Sylvia's novel "Mr Fortune's Maggot", Garnett's "The Sailor's Return" and many of Powys's short stories.
Also in Chaldon, at Theodore Powys's house, Sylvia first met the poet Valentine Ackland. When in 1930 she bought "the late Miss Green's cottage" opposite the village inn, she invited Valentine to live there. So began a love affair which lasted until Valentine's death from breast cancer in 1969. The couple's joint collection of poems "Whether a Dove or Seagull" was published in 1933. Although most of their life together was spent in Dorset, they also travelled widely and lived from time to time in Norfolk notably at Frankfurt Manor, Sloley and Great Eye Folly, Salthouse (which was later destroyed by the sea).
In 1935, Sylvia and Valentine became committed members of the Communist Party, attending meetings, fund-raising and contributing to left-wing journals. They twice visited Spain during the Civil War. Their lives at this time and most of their writings - like Warner's "After the Death of Don Juan" - were charged with politics.
In 1937 the two women moved to a house on the river at Frome Vauchurch in Dorset. Here Sylvia produced many of her most important works, including "The Corner That Held Them", (1948) set in a medieval East Anglian nunnery. Valentine met with less success in her own painstakingly-sustained career. After her death, Sylvia published a collection of her poems, "The Nature of the Moment". Sylvia lived on for another nine years, dying on May Day, 1978. The couple's ashes lie buried under a single stone in Chaldon churchyard.






Sunday, November 25, 2018

“That New Girl” - A Short Story by Brian Kirk - 2018



Brian Kirk’s Website


“That New Girl” by Brian Kirk

Brian Kirk is a poet and short story writer from Dublin. He was shortlisted twice for Hennessy Awards for fiction. His first poetry collection “After The Fall” was published by Salmon Poetry in November 2017. Recent stories have appeared in The Lonely Crowd Issue 7 and online at Fictive Dream and Cold Coffee Stand. His story “Festival” was long- listed for the Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize 2017/8. www.briankirkwriter.com.



I have been reading short stories by Brian Kirk since March of 2013.  I am always pleased to learn he has a new readable online short story. 

"That New Girl" will resonate with anyone who has worked in an office with a high rate of employee turn over, especially an office in which a lot of the workers are relatively young.  Whenever a new woman, they call her a girl, starts everybody wonders what she will be like.  Sexual curiosity runs high. The narrator of the story, married a couple of years, sees the girl interested in Dan. He seems a bit jealous of the fact that the girls all seem to like him.

Kirk has a gift for bringing characters to life in a few sentences:


"Anyway, when I was single I was never that popular with the girls, so I can’t see how my being suddenly unavailable would affect anything either way. Sure, I enjoy a night out and used to do my best with the chat up lines when I had a few drinks inside me, but I was never a player; not the way Dan is. All the clichés you hear about women liking a bastard appear to be true in his case. For some reason this bothers me; probably because I consider myself a nice guy. Over the years that he’s been with the company Dan’s dated most of his female co-workers. Some have been one-night stands, some longer, but never for more than a month or two. I don’t mean to judge him or anything, but somehow it doesn’t seem right.
It’s always the new girls he goes for. Fresh meat, he calls them. We laugh, Sara and I, when we talk about it."

As the story progresses we see the strains the narrator's marriage is under.  

Nothing shocking or flabbergasting happens in "That New Girl".  It is simply a great pleasure to read the elegant prose of Kirk while maybe you think back on your days working in an office, either as a young man or as a "new girl" or you contemplate the state of your marriage.

Mel u






Saturday, November 24, 2018

“Balzac’s Favourite Food” - by Maeve Brennan - from The New Yorker - included in The Long Winded Lady- Notes from The New Yorker





Gateway to Maeve Brennan on The Reading Life



January 6, 1917.  - Dublin

November 1, 1993.  New York City

“A feuilleton is best described by what it isn't. It isn't news. It isn't the metro report. The opposite of an editorial, a feuilleton is descriptive, philosophical, meandering and poetically inclined. Though the word is French, the form reached its apogee in fin-de-siècle Vienna. An early master, Alfred Polgar, said, ''Life is too short for literature, too transitory for lingering description . . . too psychopathic for psychology, too fictitious for novels.'” Jeffrey Eugenides

Maeve Brennan's life should have been a fairy tale of one happy and exciting day followed by another.  It was not.

Brennan's father was the first Irish Ambassador to the United States.   Her father fought for freedom from British rule in  the Irish War for Independence.     The British imprisoned him for a while.    Brennan and her family lived in Washington DC until 1944 when her father returned to Ireland.   She stayed on in the US and moved to New York City where she got a job writing copy for Harper's Bazaar.   She also wrote a society column for an Irish publication.     She began to write occasional articles for The New Yorker.    In 1949 she was offered a job on the staff of the magazine.   She was incredibly beautiful, very intelligent, witty, petite, always perfectly dressed and made up.   She moved about frequently and had extravagant tastes.    Some people feel she was the inspiration for Holly Golightly, the lead character in Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958).   In the 1960s people began to observe that she was now beginning to appear unkempt.    In the 1970s Brennan became paranoid and was an alcoholic.    She began to drift in and out of reality and was hospitalized   several times.    She ended up living either in transit hotels or in the ladies room at the offices of The New Yorker.   (I also read William Maxwell's introduction to one of her collections of short stories published posthumously and learned that to its great credit the magazine had secured for her a place where she could stay and be fed but she rarely went there.)    In  the 1980s she all but disappears.   She died in 1993 in the Lawrence hospital, a  ward of the state.    As I read this I could not help but be reminded of Jean Rhys but I think the story of Brennan is more tragic in that Rhys partially recovered from her years of darkness and was seen as a great writer while still alive.

The Long Winded Lady - Notes from The New Yorker is composed of the contents of her 1969 collection of that name plus ten additional works added for the posthumous 1998 edition.  

To call them essays seems somehow inappropriate.  Using a word i learned in a café in Vienna in early 1930s, i think they should be described as feuilletons.  Joseph Roth, who would have fallen for Brennan, is a master of this art.  Maybe  the days when such pieces can be published in mass journalism is over. 

My main and nearly my only reason for this post is I want Maeve Brennan on The Reading Life, in these dark ignorance worshipping times.  

I decided to begin my exploration of collection with a piece entitled “Balzac’s Favourite Food”.  I have been working my way his La Comédie Humaine so this seem a natural starting place.  It is about a visit to a book store,  in the days when book sellers loved books.  Brennan’s elegante prose is just a joy:

“The afternoon was a slow one, and the city was amiable and groggy —no complaints that I could hear. Such a siesta mood is remarkable in New York City and, in the very middle of the city, strange. It was a mysterious occasion and a lighthearted one, as though all the citizens had just been given their seasonal allotment of time and had found that they had enough and to spare —plenty of time, more than they ever would have imagined. In the bookshop, all was calm. You might have been far away, in some much older city, browsing alongside the antiquarians. The pace was intent and unhurried as the customers meandered among the works of Henry James and Rex Stout and Françoise Mallet-Joris and Ivan Turgenev and Agatha Christie and the rest, more and more names turning up in front of my eyes as I stood looking. I had already collected all I intended to buy —five books under my arm —and I was looking through another book, one I cannot remember the name of, and I was reading a description of Balzac’s favorite food. What he liked best was plain bread covered with sardines that he had mashed into a paste and mixed with something. What was it Balzac mixed into his sardine paste? I was just looking back to find out, reading it all again and thinking how delicious it sounded, when my ears were insulted by hard voices screeching right outside the door —people making remarks about the books in the window. “Hey, Marilyn Monroe has been reduced!” a man’s voice shouted. “Five seventy-five to one ninety-two!”

The Long Winded Lady is available as a Kindle for $1.95



















Thursday, November 22, 2018

“The Latehomecomer” - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - first published July 8, 1974 in The New Yorker








August 11, 1922 born in Montréal, in 1950 she moves to France to pursue her dream of being a writer 



February 18, 2014, dies in Paris, a place she dearly loved




Buried in Print, a Blog I have happily followed for years, is embarked on a grand project, a read through of all of the nearly two hundred Short Stories of Mavis Gallant.  I have access to about half of the stories and am Reading along as I can.  

“The Latehomecomer" expands on the story of a German man drafted in his teens to work on anti-aircraft batteries defending Berlin, right near the end of the war. He was in his teens.  He has appeared in two previous stories, "Willi" and "Ernst in Civilian Clothes".

His mother had enrolled him in The Hitler Youth to get him a uniform and meals. As the German war was in the last stages, he was taken as a POW by the French.  He sort of got lost in a missing paperwork nightmare that kept him stuck in France for several years.  The French did not care anything about keeping him but until he at last got permission to go he was stuck.  He was assigned as a worker to a French family and had a sort of romance with a French girl.

The story wonderfully conveys what it was like to live in post war Germany with shortages of food and social changes compounded by a nation in mourning the dead and their loss pride.  

One sense I got from the story was how the war aged people.  In the POW camp men over forty thought themselves old.

When Willie at last makes it home, he finds his mother has remarried, his father died in the war.  Her new husband was a street car conductor until he was hurt on the job.  He gets a pension,was a widower, owns the apartment they live in as well as two other apartments.

Willie lives with his mother and stepfather. We see everyone trying to adjust.  The personalities of all have been impacted by defeat and the destruction wrought on Germany. 

There is just so much to admire in this masterful story.

I suggest you read the very perceptive post by Buried in Print on this story

Mel u








Sunday, November 18, 2018

“Sylvia Wears Pink in the Underworld” - A Short Story by Alison MacLeod - 2017 - from her collection All the Beloved Ghosts






The Gateway to Alison MacLeod on The Reading Life






“Daddy” - Read by Sylvia Plath


Homepage of Alison Macleod - includes links to two stories


Sylvia Plath on The Reading Life


"My ability to dowse for the voice of a story or novel, to hear it and trust in it, feels like a gift.

Literary craft and technique are vital. Research is often crucial. But the voice of a story is its essence or spirit. I'm its conduit. I'm both less and more myself as I write. At its most powerful, a story, like a fire, eats up all the air in the room. Its life is perhaps the thing that makes me feel alive."  Alison MacLeod


“Sylvia Wears Pink in the Underworld”


“How wrong you must have looked here. When I arrived in 1987, I discarded every bright skirt and top I’d packed. I was afraid of blotting the streetscapes of England with too much colour. Like you, I learned how to be less vivid. I found Topshop, a houndstooth skirt and a dark, oversized cardigan. Ahead of us, a mother” - from “Sylvia Wears Pink in the Underworld”


I recently did a Google search on “Best Short Story Collections of 2017.  All The Beloved Ghosts by Alison MacLeod was among them.  Having read one of The stories from collection (there is a link in my post above) i decided to acquire the collection, as easy decision.  

Looking the collection over there is a story involving a visit to the grave site of Sylvia Plath. I have recently been reading her three Holocaust poems, trying to understand the connections she is making.

Anyone who has ever felt the impact of a visit to the grave of a poet they love will cherish “Sylvia Wears Pink in The Afterlife”

I  felt deep impacts from a visit to grave of a beloved poet, W. B. Yeats, things that were not easily explained.

The narrator of the story, like Plath, moved to England after college or thereabouts.  She wonders as she is overtaken by emotions if she should speak using American style expressions or English,and  did Sylvia have the same problem. Of course we know Sylvia’s history, some of her poems and The Bell Jar.  Oh, and then there is Ted Hughes.  

The gravesite is kind of a literary pilgrimage destination, Sylvia represents much to many.  The narrator looks at the things people leave as offerings on her tombstone.  She wonders if Sylvia is somehow adjusted to life in The underworld.  Does she use the coins left to pay the ferryman or does she just ride for free? The narrator cannot simply release Plath, she needs her connection.  There is an often reprinted image of Plath (I want to call her Sylvia but can I?) wearing a pink bikini, laying in the surf.  I think the narrator wishes she wears pink in the underworld.

The lines below made me exclaim out loud, they are so deep, from a Ouija Reading:


“At my ear, the rim is as hot as an ancient fire cup. The base of the glass starts to vibrate against my palm. The strain of dimensions is too great. ‘And Ted?’ I call. It’s as if you’re fiddling with an earpiece. ‘Could you repeat the question?’ ‘Ted?’ ‘Yes,’ you echo, ‘Ted. He’s here too.’ ‘Is he enjoying the . . . the outing?’ Somewhere to my left, the Fates are clattering away with their spade.  ‘That’s –right,’ you say. ‘He’s . . .’ ‘Could you—’ A hairline crack is zigzagging up the bowl of the glass. ‘Are you—’ ‘He’s—’ ‘—happy?’ ‘—baiting a line. The fishing is good, we’re told.’ ‘In the Styx?’ ‘Hold on . . . The man is telling me . . .’ ‘I’m sorry?’ ‘—we’re nearly there.’ Through the splintering glass, your voice rises like a girl’s and, somewhere up ahead, fish gleam and flash for you.”

Ted Hughes, who loved fishing, baiting a line into The Styx-  an image for immortality.

This is just a marvelous story.  

There are nine other stories in All the Beloved Ghosts.  I greatly look forward to reading them all


Alison MacLeod was born in Canada and has lived in the UK since 1987. She is the author of three novels, The Changeling, The Wave Theory of Angels and Unexploded, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2013, and a collection of stories, Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction. Alison MacLeod is the joint winner of the 2016 Eccles British Library Writer’s Award. She is Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester and lives in Brighton..  


Mel u





Friday, November 16, 2018

All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski- 2006 - translated from the German by Anthea Bell


Read so far during 
German Literature Month Eight 

  1. Once a Jailbird by Hans Fallada - 1947

 2.    The Loser by Thomas Bernhard - 1988

  1. Doctor Fausus by Thomas Mann - 1948

  1. The Rider on the White Horse by Theodor Strom - 1888

  1. “The Foundling” by Heinrich Von Kleist- 1811- unposted upon




  1. All For Nothing by Walter Kempowski 2006


All for Nothing by Walter 


Kempowski- 2006 - 

translated from the German by Anthea Bell

All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski shows us what it was like to be part of a once welloff Prussian family in the final days of World War Two.  It is January 1945, the Russian Army, thirsting for revenge, is rumored to be close to entering  Germany.  Everyone knows the war is lost but no one wants to admit it to themselves.  Ordinary greetings begin with a “Heil Hitler”, no one dares appear a doubter.  The estate used to provide a very nice living but now the workers are all in the German army, numerous already dead.  The father is an Officer in The German Army assigned in Italy.  The estate is run by Auntie, we never quite learn her connection to the Family.  There are two maids from the Ukraine, constantly screaming at each other in their language.  There is a Polish man working also.  In the time Poles and Ukrainians were viewed as inferior but still better than Jews, of course.  The wife is a great beauty, rather ethereal.  They have a bookish 12 year old son, being educated by a tutour, he is probably Gay.

As times goes on and the Russians  are getting closer, the road in front of the estate begins to fill with refugees from areas the Germans used to occupy.  A number of people seek overnight refuge and a little food.  We meet a very talkative Professor of Economics, who gives Auntie ration coupons, a Nazi Violinist, a Baron from the Balkans and even a  Jew.  I really liked the structuring of the plot around the stream of visitors.  We see things get worse for the Family and they decide to go stay with family in Berlin.  Everyone says what monsters the Russians are and of course they see Germans as innocent heroes.

It may not sound like it but there a numerous brilliant comic touches.  One of the Ukrainian maids gets pregnant and the family doctor tells her no activities that might jar the Baby.  She is observed frequently jumping down from chairs.
We see everyone is running scared but for The SS types and The Hitler Youth.  The Family has so far kept Peter out of the Hitler Youth.

All for Nothing belongs on your German World War Two fiction list.

WALTER KEMPOWSKI (1929–2007) was born in Hamburg. During World War II, he was made to serve in a penalty unit of the Hitler Youth due to his association with the rebellious Swingjugend movement of jazz lovers, and he did not finish high school. After the war he settled in West Germany. On a 1948 visit to Rostock, his hometown, in East Germany, Walter, his brother Robert, and their mother were arrested for espionage; a Soviet military tribunal sentenced him to twenty-five years in prison, of which he served eight at the notorious “Yellow Misery” prison in Bautzen. In 1957 he graduated high school. His first success as an author was the autobiographical novel Tadellöser & Wolff (1971), part of his acclaimed German Chronicle series of novels. In the 1980s he began work on an immense project, Echo Soundings, gathering firsthand accounts, diaries, letters, and memoirs of World War II, which he collated and curated into ten volumes published over twenty years, and which is considered a modern classic. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Rider on the White Horse by Theodor Strom - 1888 - translated from the German by James Wright







Read so far during 
German Literature Month Eight 

  1. Once a Jailbird by Hans Fallada - 1947

 2.    The Loser by Thomas Bernhard - 1988

  1. Doctor Fausus by Thomas Mann - 1948

  1. The Rider on the White Horse by Theodor Strom - 1888

Theodor Strom

1817 - Born  Schleswig -Holstein. Then an independent state 

1846 - Marries a cousin

1853- moves to Potsdam in Prussian when Schleswig -Holstein is incorporated into Denmark, being very Germanic in orientation.  Becomes a circuit judge- he had a law degree

1864 - when Schleswig -Holstein is conquered by Prussia, he moves back

1888 - dies

The Rider on the White Horse is considered the masterwork of Theodor Strom.  (It is the only one of his works available in translation as a Kindle.)  The setting is the low lying coastal area bordering on The North Sea.  The area is under continual threat from flooding.  In the past floods have caused great damage and loss of life.  Strom focuses on the impact of a dyke built to protect the area.  

The start has a bad omen.  The son of the dyke master maliciously kills the cat of an old woman.  She issues a curse on him even though he tries to mollify her.  A mysterious rider on a white horse is observed racing on the top of the dark.

There are five main characters.

  1. The Dyke Master, in charge of maintaining the dyke
  2. His wife, she is the daughter of the prior Dyke Master
  3. Their mentally challenged daughter 
  4. The Prior Dyke Master
  5. The old dyke masters top employee, who had expected to become dyke master and is now very critical of how the dyke is maintained 

The dyke is owned by a few local shareholders, with the Dyke Master and his father in law the major owners.  Strom did not really make it clear how the dyke functions as a business, how it makes money but it does.  In the local pub there is a lot of worried talk about whether or not the Dyke will hold.

Sure enough the sea rises up.  I will leave the ending untold 

This is classified as a novella.  I see it as for sure worth reading for those wanting to expand their knowledge of 19th century German Literature.  I enjoyed the depiction of the importance of the dyke and the community.

.


















Monday, November 12, 2018

“All The Names They Use for God” - A Short Story by Anjali Sachdeva - 2017








An Interview With Anjali 
Sachdeva








Not long ago I did a search on “best short story collections of 2017”.  Among the results was All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva.  Through her very well done webpage I read a story. I  read a few of the numerous glowing print reviews.  I found the Kindle edition on sale for $1.95 so I hit “purchase now”.

Today’s story is the title work in the collection.  (The author talks about her research methods in the Q and A session linked above.) “All The Names They Used for God” is set in Nigeria, the central characters are two women kidnapped by Boko Haram at around age twelfe.  They escaped somehow and are now in their early twenties, both married.  Escaped does not at all mean they are free.  Sachdeva lets us see how their years of captivity involving forced  labour, sexual slavery, and rigid adherence to religious law, as seen by the Boko Haram have impacted them.  Both women are now married, they saw it as the choice between being raped by many men or by one man over and over.  One of the women has learned how to control her husband, using dark magic tricks she learned from a prostitute.  Both seem to hate their husbands, who can divorce them on a whim.

Based on this story, i greatly look forward to reading the other eight stories in the collection.

Mel u



















Saturday, November 10, 2018

Hoot by Carl Hiaasan - 2002- A Newberry Honor Book






Home Page of Carl Hiaasan








If you are looking for a great book for children and teens, you need look no further than the list of Newbery Award Winners.


The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Here is the description on the Newbery Award Website of Hoot by Carl Hiaasan:

"Hoot by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf)

"Hiaasen’s wildly funny satire features the new kid, Roy, joining forces with tough Beatrice and the elusive Mullet Fingers to defeat a bully, thwart an avaricious corporation and save a colony of burrowing owls."

Hoot is a very entertaining book, for young adult readers of all ages.  

The main characters are about 13, just getting interested in opposite sex, asserting their independent characters, and mixing in the drama of middle school.  The setting is South East Florida, an area the born in Florida Hiassan knows well.  Having a nodding acquaintance with the area, I put the location as in Collier County, South of Naples, not too far from the Everglades.  Only an author who really knows the area would include a reference to the invasive Brazilian Pepper Bush when depicting landscape.

The lead character, Ray, the  only child of a Department of Justice employee and a stay at home mother, recently moved from Montanna to Florida, when his father was transferred. He misses Montanna.  Being the new kid in school is never easy.  Early on we meet the school bully who has it in for Ray, Beatrice, a very athletic girl, a mysterious boy.  In the end it ends badly for the bully.

A new pancake restaurant, 469 in the chain, is under construction.  We meet the construction forum, a decent cop who wants to move up to detective (he gets in trouble when he falls asleep in his patrol car and walked to find the windows all painted black, a nasty corporate type, teachers, more kids and the guidance counselor.

Hiaasan does a great job showing the development of a teenage relationship between Ray and Brenda. Brenda is a very strong person, a star soccer player, nobody messes with Brenda.

We also get to know a policeman, the construction foreman, a few other adults. The poor policeman fell asleep in his patrol car.  When he awoke the windows were painted black and his captain was very mad.  Figuring out who did this helps drive the action.

It turns out an endangered species of Florida birds, the burrowing owl has nests on the site of the future pancake place.  It is a violation of Federal  law to disturb their nests without a special permit.  The restaurant chain tries lots of tricks to get around the rules.


There are several sets of parents, ranging from very good to models of parental dysfunction. 

I laughed out loud several times while reading Hoot.  There are very well done Everglades scenes, anyone who has ever done an Air Boat Everglades Ride will love  going along with Ray and Brenda.  Brenda's kind of mysterious step brother plays a big part in the plot.  At first he seemed just crazy but then Ray and I bonded with him.

I loved the ending.

I enjoyed Hoot a lot, so many exciting developments, great characters and strong values.

I think this would make a good Christmas gift for young readers


Mel u