Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What We're Reading Wednesday: A Mixed Bag



I have been seeking books and movies about or set in Spain, seeing as how I have a vested interest there.  I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino was a wonderful find.  A fictional autobiography of the slave owned by master Baroque portrait painter, Diego Velazquez, I, Juan de Pareja succeeds as the narrative of a slave, an historical account of Seville, Madrid, and Italy in the 1600s, and as a study of the art of Velazquez.

Not only is I, Juan de Pareja interesting and well written, having won the Newbery medal in 1966, it is also a beautiful story of our Catholic faith.  Juan is a Catholic and finds solace in prayer, Mass, and confession.



The name Elizabeth Borton de Trevino was familiar to me, as I recalled several years ago, I was in a book club that read her autobiography.   an American woman marrying a Mexican man and emigrating to Mexico.  A lovely romantic comedy by the name of My Heart Lies South, is the story of an American woman marrying a Mexican man and emigrating to Monterrery, Mexico.  For reasons unbeknownst to me, there is the regular edition and the "Young People's Edition."  My library only carried the Young People's Edition, which I think is fine for all ages.



The search of my library's catalog for fiction about Spain also led me to a total waste of time and paper called Spain or Shine.  I read maybe a hundred pages before giving up on the shy heroine studying play writing in San Sebastian, Spain.  I could not detect a plot, but there were lots of descriptions of boys and bikinis.

Just because it's listed, doesn't mean I liked it.

Another title I picked up was Blood Secret by Kathryn Lasky.  Blood Secret is about Jerry, a young girl in New Mexico.  We first meet Jerry when she is five years old.  She is camping with her mother at a concert.  Her mother earns her living selling jewelry at concerts.  Jerry awakes to discover her mother is not there.  Assuming that her mother has gone to the bathroom, Jerry peeks out of the tent only to see the bare bottom of her mother disappearing into the tent of the man who sells her weed.

Jerry's mother is not in the story anymore as we fast forward to other episodes in Jerry's life.  Her mother abandons her at age eight, which is also the age Jerry stops speaking.  Jerry ends up getting dropped off at the home of great-aunt Constanza at the age of fourteen after being raised by Catholic charitable organizations.

In the basement of Constanza's house, she finds an ancient wooden chest.  When Jerry opens the chest and touches an object, she is transported to the time of the object.  She sees and hears what happened long ago, as a memory.  The objects in the chest take Jerry back to various times of her ancestors during the Spanish Inquistion.

Jerry's and Constanza's ancestors were Jews in Spain.  Jerry's trips to the past begin in the 1300s, where some of her relatives were forced to convert to Catholicism.   Through subsequent "memory trips"  we learn of torture, killings by breaking necks or burning at the stake, forced entry in convents, disfigurement by boiling oil, among others.  Her ancestors were forced to flee from town to town in Spain, eventually moving to Portugal, and then New Leon or Mexico.

Even after escaping to the New World, their troubles are not over.  Jerry's ancestors inter-married with local Indians who were also forced to have their children baptized if they wanted to do business with the mission friars.

On and on goes the tale of tragedy, interspersed with episodes in the present day.  Jerry slowly recovers the power of speech.  She notices the little "superstitious" things that her aunt does, candles at sunset on Friday, never sweeping dirt out the front door, and throwing a piece of bread in the oven, are remnants of their Jewish heritage.

Jerry stops going to Church, even though the contemporary Padre and Sister Evangelina seem like perfectly decent folks.  Jerry shares what she has learned of their past with Constanza and by the end of the book, Constanza stops going to Mass as well.

This sad, sad story strikes me as very one-sided.  In every instance of oppression throughout history, there are always heroes defending the helpless, but this book does not tell of any.  Rather Blood Secret shows Catholicism and thus all Catholics as terrible and cruel.

I am ashamed to admit that I know little to nothing about the Spanish Inquisition.  I was amazed to learn from  the author's note at the end of the book, that the Spanish Inquisition lasted 500 years with the last death in 1826.  I had no idea that all Jews were kicked out of Spain in 1492.

But I think the author used a very broad brush painting all Spanish Catholics of that time as murderous.  That last link, from the Jewish Virtual Library states, "In the final analysis, all of these events took place because of the relentless will of one man, Tomas de Torquemada."  I've read enough post WWII literature to know terms like "collective guilt" would apply to Spaniards in the time of the Inquisition. Just as I don't believe that every German is responsible for the Holocaust, I think the story of the Spanish Inquisition is a little more nuanced than Lasky allows.  

I fail to see why the main characters, who've never been shown anything except friendship and generosity from Catholics in their own lifetimes, decide to turn their back on the faith they've practiced their entire lives.  




And now for something completely different...

Across the Universe by Beth Revis is a post-apocalyptic tale of a society contained in a spaceship.  Wall-E anyone?  This ship also contain one hundred cyrogenically frozen people, field specialists in things like genetics, weapons, finance, etc. who will help re-build society once the ship reaches it's destination.

Seventeen-year-old Amy was allowed the chance to be frozen and taken onboard, only because both of her parents were "necessaries."  She believes she will be frozen for three hundred years.

She gets woken up fifty years too soon by an unknown homicidal maniac who is killing off the "frozens."  The society she wakes up in is completely controlled by one man known as Eldest.

From the hormones in the water controlling a mating season, to genetically engineering the fetuses to have specific traits, to editing history to show "difference" to be the downfall of society, Eldest is manipulating everything.

His replacement, Elder, also seventeen, takes a liking to Amy and unlike the rest of society who has been told that Amy is crazy, he listens to her.  (Everyone else in the Society is either 21 or 42 or in their 60s.  The generations are controlled.)

There is sex in this book. During the Season, the drugged out people of the ship copulate like animals, anywhere, everywhere, with anyone.  The book uses terms like "rutting" to describe this behavior, which is not sensual or lascivious at all.  Amy is attacked by two men during this time and is nearly raped.

I would let my high school kids read this book, not just because the sex is portrayed as something less than human.  Part science fiction, part murder mystery, very small part romance, Across the Universe is the well-told, thought-provoking tale of a sick society and the two youths who want to fix it.

I thought I'd hate Across the Universe, but I didn't, and I'm fairly certain that Isabel and Angela will like it too.



In contrast, I thought I'd like The Incredible Charlotte Sycamore by Kate Maddison, but it was just "meh."  There's nothing bad in it, well I take that back.  More on that later.  It's a steam punk Victorian adventure story in which our heroine sneaks out at night (little bit of bad right there) to practice sword fighting (with her steam-punky spinning blade sword) with friends.  They all get attacked by rabid mechanical dogs and her two friends are seriously injured.

The rest of the story involves Charlotte trying to uncover the evil genius behind the mechanical dogs and get her friends out of quarantine.  Queen Victoria is in the story too.  She has a magical chess set.  Lots of details like that, make the story clunky.  Why the spinning blade?  Why the magical chess set?  You see these things in action, but they don't really add to the story.

Charlotte, while repeatedly risking the life and livelihood of her maid, saves the day and even at the very end of the story, the part when you think she's going to come clean to her father about the sneaking out, the rabies-infected bite she got on her foot, her desire to choose her own spouse, her interest in the field of medicine, etc. she doesn't.


Everybody LOVES Each Peach, Pear, Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.  My older kids loved it, and Jill loves it and I love it because it's short and interesting and rhymes, but not in an annoying way.  I have memorized the text, that's how many times I have read it.

Books with hidden pictures are the best, and someone is hiding on every page in Each Peach Pear Plum.  Not just anybody, but characters from fairy tales and nursery rhymes are all together in this tale.


This page is "Mother Hubbard in the cellar, I spy Cinderella."  

I know there's a sort of sequel out there called The Jolly Postman, however I am well aware that in The Jolly Postman the letters COME OUT OF THE ENVELOPES!  That sort of book would be very short lived in Jill's hands.  Maybe come Christmas-time, she'll be ready for it.

Well, that should give you some things to look for at the library in between praying for Dwija and the Supreme Court and this country.  It's raining here, so we'll do what we always do on a rainy day:  Make cookies and watch TV!  Probably Dr. Who and Angelina Ballerina on the TV and oatmeal raisin in the oven.  

It feels like an oatmeal raisin day.

7 comments:

  1. Baby J might be too small still but I highly recommend the hidden picture book- Adele and Simon by Barbara McClintock. I don't like Adele and Simon in America as much but they are both beautiful!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. That does look like a good one!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Always the happiest days are "What We're Reading Wednesdays".

    ReplyDelete
  4. I lived in Seville in college, so I'm definitely checking out the first one! When does your baby get home?

    ReplyDelete
  5. On your recommendation, I read Across the Universe, and it was a page-turner! I enjoyed it very much. I found the sex a bit descriptive, though. I might hesitate to give it to a teenager. It was definitely animal. I was a bit disappointed with Elder's lustful reaction to Amy, but I suppose that's to be expected from a young adult without moral and religious guidance as such. It left a lot of room of questions and good discussions. Thanks for the excellent read!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I just found your blog and have enjoyed seeing what books you have read. I wanted to comment since I just finished (yesterday) reading The Queen's Vow, which focuses on the life of Isabella of Castile and includes the topic of the inquisition. Torquemada is even in it. It gave an interesting, although fictional, perspective of that time.

    ReplyDelete
  7. If you are waiting for Christmas to get the Jolly Postman, you might just want to get "The Jolly Christmas Postman", my family has loved it for years, even though we only get it out at Christmas to keep it safe and in one piece.

    ReplyDelete

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What We're Reading Wednesday: A Mixed Bag



I have been seeking books and movies about or set in Spain, seeing as how I have a vested interest there.  I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino was a wonderful find.  A fictional autobiography of the slave owned by master Baroque portrait painter, Diego Velazquez, I, Juan de Pareja succeeds as the narrative of a slave, an historical account of Seville, Madrid, and Italy in the 1600s, and as a study of the art of Velazquez.

Not only is I, Juan de Pareja interesting and well written, having won the Newbery medal in 1966, it is also a beautiful story of our Catholic faith.  Juan is a Catholic and finds solace in prayer, Mass, and confession.



The name Elizabeth Borton de Trevino was familiar to me, as I recalled several years ago, I was in a book club that read her autobiography.   an American woman marrying a Mexican man and emigrating to Mexico.  A lovely romantic comedy by the name of My Heart Lies South, is the story of an American woman marrying a Mexican man and emigrating to Monterrery, Mexico.  For reasons unbeknownst to me, there is the regular edition and the "Young People's Edition."  My library only carried the Young People's Edition, which I think is fine for all ages.



The search of my library's catalog for fiction about Spain also led me to a total waste of time and paper called Spain or Shine.  I read maybe a hundred pages before giving up on the shy heroine studying play writing in San Sebastian, Spain.  I could not detect a plot, but there were lots of descriptions of boys and bikinis.

Just because it's listed, doesn't mean I liked it.

Another title I picked up was Blood Secret by Kathryn Lasky.  Blood Secret is about Jerry, a young girl in New Mexico.  We first meet Jerry when she is five years old.  She is camping with her mother at a concert.  Her mother earns her living selling jewelry at concerts.  Jerry awakes to discover her mother is not there.  Assuming that her mother has gone to the bathroom, Jerry peeks out of the tent only to see the bare bottom of her mother disappearing into the tent of the man who sells her weed.

Jerry's mother is not in the story anymore as we fast forward to other episodes in Jerry's life.  Her mother abandons her at age eight, which is also the age Jerry stops speaking.  Jerry ends up getting dropped off at the home of great-aunt Constanza at the age of fourteen after being raised by Catholic charitable organizations.

In the basement of Constanza's house, she finds an ancient wooden chest.  When Jerry opens the chest and touches an object, she is transported to the time of the object.  She sees and hears what happened long ago, as a memory.  The objects in the chest take Jerry back to various times of her ancestors during the Spanish Inquistion.

Jerry's and Constanza's ancestors were Jews in Spain.  Jerry's trips to the past begin in the 1300s, where some of her relatives were forced to convert to Catholicism.   Through subsequent "memory trips"  we learn of torture, killings by breaking necks or burning at the stake, forced entry in convents, disfigurement by boiling oil, among others.  Her ancestors were forced to flee from town to town in Spain, eventually moving to Portugal, and then New Leon or Mexico.

Even after escaping to the New World, their troubles are not over.  Jerry's ancestors inter-married with local Indians who were also forced to have their children baptized if they wanted to do business with the mission friars.

On and on goes the tale of tragedy, interspersed with episodes in the present day.  Jerry slowly recovers the power of speech.  She notices the little "superstitious" things that her aunt does, candles at sunset on Friday, never sweeping dirt out the front door, and throwing a piece of bread in the oven, are remnants of their Jewish heritage.

Jerry stops going to Church, even though the contemporary Padre and Sister Evangelina seem like perfectly decent folks.  Jerry shares what she has learned of their past with Constanza and by the end of the book, Constanza stops going to Mass as well.

This sad, sad story strikes me as very one-sided.  In every instance of oppression throughout history, there are always heroes defending the helpless, but this book does not tell of any.  Rather Blood Secret shows Catholicism and thus all Catholics as terrible and cruel.

I am ashamed to admit that I know little to nothing about the Spanish Inquisition.  I was amazed to learn from  the author's note at the end of the book, that the Spanish Inquisition lasted 500 years with the last death in 1826.  I had no idea that all Jews were kicked out of Spain in 1492.

But I think the author used a very broad brush painting all Spanish Catholics of that time as murderous.  That last link, from the Jewish Virtual Library states, "In the final analysis, all of these events took place because of the relentless will of one man, Tomas de Torquemada."  I've read enough post WWII literature to know terms like "collective guilt" would apply to Spaniards in the time of the Inquisition. Just as I don't believe that every German is responsible for the Holocaust, I think the story of the Spanish Inquisition is a little more nuanced than Lasky allows.  

I fail to see why the main characters, who've never been shown anything except friendship and generosity from Catholics in their own lifetimes, decide to turn their back on the faith they've practiced their entire lives.  




And now for something completely different...

Across the Universe by Beth Revis is a post-apocalyptic tale of a society contained in a spaceship.  Wall-E anyone?  This ship also contain one hundred cyrogenically frozen people, field specialists in things like genetics, weapons, finance, etc. who will help re-build society once the ship reaches it's destination.

Seventeen-year-old Amy was allowed the chance to be frozen and taken onboard, only because both of her parents were "necessaries."  She believes she will be frozen for three hundred years.

She gets woken up fifty years too soon by an unknown homicidal maniac who is killing off the "frozens."  The society she wakes up in is completely controlled by one man known as Eldest.

From the hormones in the water controlling a mating season, to genetically engineering the fetuses to have specific traits, to editing history to show "difference" to be the downfall of society, Eldest is manipulating everything.

His replacement, Elder, also seventeen, takes a liking to Amy and unlike the rest of society who has been told that Amy is crazy, he listens to her.  (Everyone else in the Society is either 21 or 42 or in their 60s.  The generations are controlled.)

There is sex in this book. During the Season, the drugged out people of the ship copulate like animals, anywhere, everywhere, with anyone.  The book uses terms like "rutting" to describe this behavior, which is not sensual or lascivious at all.  Amy is attacked by two men during this time and is nearly raped.

I would let my high school kids read this book, not just because the sex is portrayed as something less than human.  Part science fiction, part murder mystery, very small part romance, Across the Universe is the well-told, thought-provoking tale of a sick society and the two youths who want to fix it.

I thought I'd hate Across the Universe, but I didn't, and I'm fairly certain that Isabel and Angela will like it too.



In contrast, I thought I'd like The Incredible Charlotte Sycamore by Kate Maddison, but it was just "meh."  There's nothing bad in it, well I take that back.  More on that later.  It's a steam punk Victorian adventure story in which our heroine sneaks out at night (little bit of bad right there) to practice sword fighting (with her steam-punky spinning blade sword) with friends.  They all get attacked by rabid mechanical dogs and her two friends are seriously injured.

The rest of the story involves Charlotte trying to uncover the evil genius behind the mechanical dogs and get her friends out of quarantine.  Queen Victoria is in the story too.  She has a magical chess set.  Lots of details like that, make the story clunky.  Why the spinning blade?  Why the magical chess set?  You see these things in action, but they don't really add to the story.

Charlotte, while repeatedly risking the life and livelihood of her maid, saves the day and even at the very end of the story, the part when you think she's going to come clean to her father about the sneaking out, the rabies-infected bite she got on her foot, her desire to choose her own spouse, her interest in the field of medicine, etc. she doesn't.


Everybody LOVES Each Peach, Pear, Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.  My older kids loved it, and Jill loves it and I love it because it's short and interesting and rhymes, but not in an annoying way.  I have memorized the text, that's how many times I have read it.

Books with hidden pictures are the best, and someone is hiding on every page in Each Peach Pear Plum.  Not just anybody, but characters from fairy tales and nursery rhymes are all together in this tale.


This page is "Mother Hubbard in the cellar, I spy Cinderella."  

I know there's a sort of sequel out there called The Jolly Postman, however I am well aware that in The Jolly Postman the letters COME OUT OF THE ENVELOPES!  That sort of book would be very short lived in Jill's hands.  Maybe come Christmas-time, she'll be ready for it.

Well, that should give you some things to look for at the library in between praying for Dwija and the Supreme Court and this country.  It's raining here, so we'll do what we always do on a rainy day:  Make cookies and watch TV!  Probably Dr. Who and Angelina Ballerina on the TV and oatmeal raisin in the oven.  

It feels like an oatmeal raisin day.

7 comments:

  1. Baby J might be too small still but I highly recommend the hidden picture book- Adele and Simon by Barbara McClintock. I don't like Adele and Simon in America as much but they are both beautiful!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. That does look like a good one!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Always the happiest days are "What We're Reading Wednesdays".

    ReplyDelete
  4. I lived in Seville in college, so I'm definitely checking out the first one! When does your baby get home?

    ReplyDelete
  5. On your recommendation, I read Across the Universe, and it was a page-turner! I enjoyed it very much. I found the sex a bit descriptive, though. I might hesitate to give it to a teenager. It was definitely animal. I was a bit disappointed with Elder's lustful reaction to Amy, but I suppose that's to be expected from a young adult without moral and religious guidance as such. It left a lot of room of questions and good discussions. Thanks for the excellent read!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I just found your blog and have enjoyed seeing what books you have read. I wanted to comment since I just finished (yesterday) reading The Queen's Vow, which focuses on the life of Isabella of Castile and includes the topic of the inquisition. Torquemada is even in it. It gave an interesting, although fictional, perspective of that time.

    ReplyDelete
  7. If you are waiting for Christmas to get the Jolly Postman, you might just want to get "The Jolly Christmas Postman", my family has loved it for years, even though we only get it out at Christmas to keep it safe and in one piece.

    ReplyDelete