Newbery vocab · stuff I read

I, Juan de Pareja

I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de TrevinoI am woefully behind in my Newbery project!  Only one book this year!  The 1966 winner of the Newbery Medal.

I, Juan de Pareja is the imagined autobiography of real-life painter Juan de Pareja.  Juan was born a slave of mixed-race in seventeenth-century Spain and willed to master painter Diego Velasquez on the death of his mistress, becoming Velasquez’s assistant. He was later freed and became a respected painter in his own right (The Calling of St.Matthew is his most famous work, apparently on display at the Prado but I can’t get a link for it). 

de Trevino’s rendition of Juan (or Juanico, the diminutive used for much of the book) presents him as a an open, good-hearted boy, a good Catholic, and an earnest servant with some self-awareness that he is different from Spanish servants.  As a young man he becomes more aware of his situation as a slave.  Although he does not actively rebel against “the system”, there is some feeling of injustice or unfairness in how he can be owned simply for being dark-skinned and born of a woman enslaved. 

The best passages of the book come from Juan’s budding fascination with painting and his attempts to learn to paint as Velasquez does although the slavery laws forbid it.  Juan’s awe at how Velasquez used light and dark in the paintings, how the colors were mixed, can be shared by the reader.  I don’t paint or draw and I felt awestruck just reading the imagined depiction of Velasquez’s studio.

This book is not a fast read despite being fairly short.  I think it would be of good use in a unit on slavery to show that the concept was not limited to certain parts of the world and to introduce the historical foundations of racism and slavery.

Now for the vocabulary – there were so many words!  Some are in Spanish or have a religious or historical origin.  Definitely a good book for making word-lists:

laboriously, siesta, sweetmeats, mantilla, mangy, urchin, rosary, melodious, vestments, deceit, maravedis, constricted, cipher, ignominy, conviction (idea, not jail), sullenly, niggardly, coddled egg, morsel, frugal, Damascu paper, capricious, dictated, “Ay de mi”, taciturn, fretful, portended, premonition, miser, penury, Romany, subservient, crony, scourged, real (coin), zaguau, prophetic, intuitive, retching, ravenously, “Quien?”, pattered, magistrate, tottering, convent, mortars, apprentice, obligated, commissions, taffeta, azure, schemer, copyist, scrivener, dais, vulgar, frivolous, inconspicuously, corpulence, puritanical, parasite, stripling, indefatigable, sanctity, shriven, manumission, slap-dash, departure, jovial, craggy, impetuous, retinue, unguents, encysted, despondency, repentence, temerity, wallowing, miasma, ominously, swart, obeisances, coolly dispassionate, Regent, cosset, meticulous, adulation, communicant, scrupulous, treachery


crazeballs · mini-review · stuff I read

Bonk: a mini-review

Bonk is a really good general-audience science book, not only for the information it conveys but also for highlighting the issues of pure research vs industry-driven and the fact that homo sapiens still have a lot of hang-ups (for realz). When you (and your spouse) have to volunteer as subjects for a 4D ultrasound of human sexual activity just to see what goes on, you deserve a medal.

Bonk also has an interesting dichotomy in the scientific material Roach quotes and presents and the hilarious footnotes highlighting some of the crap she found surfing the ‘Net.

mini-review · stuff I read

Geek Girls Unite: Mini-review

Saw this on the non-fiction new paperback table at work and I was like, “My people, yes, we must unite!!”

And then I read it…this is not a uniting-type of book.  Should have read the reviews first.

I’m feeling a combination of “meh” and “I feel trivialized by the very book that is supposed to celebrate my peeps”.  I did NOT appreciate the snarkiness of the quizzes and frenemies sections (and, for a book that asks in the introduction that we all be more accepting of one another, it gets pretty mean at times).  The chapters were really repetitive and this felt less like a celebration of geek-girl culture and more like a humorous attempt to put us into neat little boxes.  It has excellent lists of websites, books, and movies (although some did start to feel condescending at times) but loses over the annoying footnotes.

Still not sure how we will take over the world. That part wasn’t very clear.

mom · thanks

God bless us, everyone!

Merry Christmas!

My family was so thankful this year for one very good reason:

Mom (and yes, that’s the hat I started knitting when she was in the SICU).  We got to have her for about six hours today for the Christmas holiday and it was so nice to have her home for a little while – it was the best present of all.  She’ll be discharged from rehab on Wednesday!! 

So to quote Tiny Tim:  God bless us, everyone.

'Tis the Season

‘Tis the Season: Are we there, yet?

The bookstore has been batshit crazy as of late.  People have suddenly remembered THEY NEED TO BUY CHRISTMAS PRESENTS and RIGHT NOW!  Which is a) a good thing for business, but b) kindergarten rules apply at the bookstore:

1.  If you (as a customer) see me (a bookseller) woking with another customer (showing him/her books, listening as the customer describes what he/she is looking for, looking something up on the computer while said customer looks over my shoulder, etc) DO NOT butt into the bookseller-customer conversation by saying “I just have a question.”  Congratulations, so does the person I am currently helping.  Now you look like an inconsiderate jerk and makes me not want to help you at all.  The only exceptions are emergencies like “Call 911!”, “I think there’s a fire!”, “I’m having a heart attack!”, or “I lost my child!”  Trust me – I, and my fellow booksellers, will drop everything to help you in those situations.  Your need to find Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible does not constitute an emergency.

2.  Remember having to line up to go to the lunchroom?  The same principles apply to queue lines during Christmas (or any time of the year, really, and are totally not limited to bookstores).  Line-jumping because you are “in a hurry” only gets you redirected to the back of the line.  Pretty sure the people who lined up politely are also “in a hurry” but will be put-out because you budged in front of them.  And some of those polite customers are vocal if you do!

For the chuckles, some random gems from the season:

  • “I need a copy of Wine Spectacular.”  (How about Wine Spectator?)
  • “Does the Elf on the Shelf come with the shelf?”  (Er, no.)
  • Related:  “Elf on the Shelf looks like it was resurrected from my Grandma’s garage sale.” (I completely agree…tacky and creepy…yet, I must sell them, boo.)
  • “Do you sell Wal-mart gift cards?”  (No, Wal-mart’s up the road.)
  • “Do you sell Amazon gift cards?”  (This one always tempts me to just be really rude.)
  • “Do you have my class textbooks?”  (It was finals last week.  Some college student just assumed we would have copies of her $300 economics textbook on hand for her to use.  Because we’re the library, donchaknow.)
  • “I need the book for the TV show.”  (For serious, which TV show?  Game of ThronesThe Walking DeadSimpsonsMad MenDownton Abbey?)
  • “Do you have books about South Carolina ghost stories?”  (Says the customer with the “Shop Locally” button from the Chamber of Commerce; dudes, we are in IOWA…unless you want Flannery O’Connor, which is about as close as I can come with on-hand stock, we have to get that from one of the stores in South Carolina.  It took nearly 10 minutes for me to convince her that paying for the item in store and having it shipped directly to the recipient from our warehouse was equivalent to “Shopping Locally”.)
  • “I need a book for my [insert middle-grade age here] grandson/granddaughter.  He’s/She’s an advanced reader.”  (They’re ALL advanced readers, every single one of them, yet when I actually get books that would be high school level – which is the level claimed – for a fifth grader those are always “too hard”; be honest with yourself and pick out something the child will actually read.)
  • “Do you have an abridged version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?”  (Considering thsi is a children’s book, written around a 4th grade reading level…no…but I do have a Sparknotes if you’d like that instead.)
  • “I want the English translation of Romeo and Juliet for my daughter in high school.”  (Must. Control. Fist. Of. Death.  Please, take this No Fear Shakespeare edition and run before the literature snob comes bursting out of my chest to hurl vitriol at you.)
  • “Do you sell athletic socks?” (Not yet.)
  • “Do you have The Self?” (This was a toughie…after going around and around with some questions, I figured out she wanted The Help.)
  • “Do you have the book I Killed Lincoln?”  (Close…so very close….)
  • “This book is too long.”  (It’s George RR Martin, what did you expect?  We’ve only been waiting for YEARS for it.  Also, this was said about the new Stephen King…nothing out of the ordinary there, either.)
  • “This book doesn’t have a Lexile score.”  (Take it up with Lexile – and then tell your child’s teacher to stop relying on a computerized system that downgrades Hemingway because he uses short sentences and won’t score books in blank verse because the computer can’t “analyze” them.)

Bonus:  Overhead at the hospital on Hanukkah:  “That’s a mariachi band – it has an accordion.” (No, that’s a klezmer band – accordions are not exclusive to South of the Border.)

happy dance · thanks

Surprises from my Secret Santa!

I received my Secret Santa package about a week ago but I’ve been really remiss in blogging about it (particularly as I would remember while at work and had no picture of what I actually received).
Well, my SS was Jill of Book, Books Everywhere and just look what was in my package!

Talk about getting spoiled!  I almost cried when I opened the box.  She sent EL Doctorow’s Ragtime (something I keep thinking I have then get home and realize I don’t have it), Tasha Alexander’s And Only to Deceive (my SIL says those are good), Richard Paul Evan’s The Christmas List, and Patricia Miller Mauro’s Safe from the Past AND chocolate (yum, yum).  Thanks so much, Jill!  This December has been hard, what with Mom’s diagnosis and surgery and all (she’s doing so well, we’re all so thankful), so a lovely box of Christmas cheer and book love was just what I needed. 
Thank you many times!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Austenesque · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Weekend With Mr. Darcy

Having read through two Austen-inspired books – and been rather underwhelmed – I tried out a third purchase from the Sourcebooks sale.

Victoria Connelly’s A Weekend With Mr. Darcy follows Jane Austen addicts at a conference.

Huzzah, these are my people!! An Austenesque novel that neither a) fails miserably in execution or b) stuffs enough sex scenes into the narrative to make even a Regency Rake want to take a powder (because that’s what an Austen variation/re-telling needs – lots and lots of uncomfortable sex).

At first, I wasn’t quite sure where Robyn fit into the narrative (and the beginning was a little pokey) but once all the characters got to Purley Hall for the Jane Austen Conference things started to pick up. It’s easy to teAt last. An Austenesque novel that neither a) fails miserably in execution or b) stuffs enough sex scenes into the narrative to make even a Regency Rake want to take a powder (because that’s what an Austen variation/re-telling needs – lots and lots of uncomfortable sex).

Oxford professor of English Katherine Roberts is off to attend the Jane Austen Addicts…and to meet her favorite author, Lorna Warwick.  The famously reclusive Warwick writes the Regency bodice-rippers Katherine is addicted to but Katherine is in for a surprise – the author she corresponds with is really Warwick Lawton…a man.

Robyn Love is saddled with a big problem, two actually: a Jane Austen addiction and a dead-beat boyfriend.  She feels unappreciated and jumps at the chance to attend the conference, a weekend to find other kindred spirits.  Can she find herself, too?

At first, I wasn’t quite sure where Robyn fit into the narrative (and the beginning was a little pokey) but once all the characters got to Purley Hall for the conference things started to pick up. It’s easy to tell Connelly is a Janeite – she knows all the books, variations, adaptations (and they’re almost all named-checked in the book as are the real books/movies) – and she gives the reader the best and worst of the breed. The narrative nods to the plot of Pride and Prejudice in places but takes the bones that it needs for plot and leaves the rest. Kudos also to keeping the falling action of the book from becoming overlong, stopping at just the right place.

If you’re like me, and have been wondering where to start to find an entree into Austen-inspired fiction, definitely take a look at A Weekend With Mr. Darcy