Rick’s Recent Reads

One upside to traveling is having time to read. Below are some of the titles I’ve enjoyed recently:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney. Loved it. I met Jeff before I’d heard of his books, so I knew he was a nice guy, but now I’m a fan too! I finished this on the way to Utah. Actually, it was such a quick read I finished it by the time I got to Dallas, and was left thinking, “Great, now what do I read?” Jeff has a perfect understanding of the middle school mentality. I loved The Cheese Touch and the Halloween story at Grandma’s house. I can totally understand why these books are blowing the top off the bestseller lists. Well-deserved! I heartily recommend them for young readers, reluctant or otherwise. 
The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor. So I’m a little late coming to this, as it’s been out for a while, but I enjoyed his alternate take on the Alice in Wonderland story. The problem with doing a new treatment of such a classic tale is that you will have the purists up in arms, but I thought the story had a lot to recommend it.  I found Alyss a believable character and who wouldn’t like Hatter Madigan? I want his backpack. 
Gentlemen of the Road, by Michael Chabon. An adult selection. I listened to this one on audio, and it was a perfect companion for a trip from Dallas to San Antonio. I haven’t read everything by Chabon (my mom is still dismayed that I haven’t gotten to Kavalier and Clay yet, since I’m a comic book fan), but I enjoyed Summerland and I thought Chabon did a good job in Gentleman recapturing the feel of a Dumas adventure. The language of the narrative was as antique and exotic as the setting, and I mean that in a good way. It wasn’t an easy read, even in audio. I felt like I was listening to Faulkner — “I know there will be a verb in this sentence eventually, if I just keep going.” I probably had a very confused look on my face as I was driving, but about the time I hit Waco, I started getting into the feel of the narrative. The main characters — your typical Jewish Ethiopian and Jewish Frankish swashbucklers — were a perfect pair. I can definitely see a sequel to their adventures, although Chabon never does the same thing twice, so I’m not holding my breath!
Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin. I should have listened to this on audio, as Martin would’ve been the perfect narrator, I’m sure. Still, the memoir was very well done — not too sentimental, just the right mix of comedy and poignancy. Martin writes with a light touch, and comes across as a very centered, reflective, and well-grounded person, anything but wild and crazy. Of course, I grew up on Saturday Night Live and Steve Martin was my idol in middle school, so this had a lot of nostalgic value for me. I also liked it for its reflections about the fleeting nature of fame. A good reminder for anyone — writer, actor, musician — who dreams of a “big break.” Martin really worked for his fame, and those hard years helped him deal with fame when it finally happened. We have lots of examples of those who became famous too young too soon and self-destructed. The tabloids are full of them. Something to think about as we push for younger and younger icons in film, music, and even literature. 
The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama. I got this on audio and listened to it during my Charleston trip. To be clear, listening to a politician talk for six hours is not usually my idea of fun, but I thought I’d give the book a try. It certainly seemed like a timely choice as we go through primary season. I was impressed. I can see why Obama got a Grammy. His narrative is down-to-earth and genuine. He conveys a wry sense of humor and has a very personable style. I can understand why a lot of commenters on the download site, even those who don’t agree with Obama’s politics, complimented the book. I’ve lived in the reddest of red cities (San Antonio) and the bluest of blue (San Francisco), and I’m as cynical about politics as the next guy, but I found it hard not to be stirred by what Obama has to say, in general terms, about the American character and what makes this a great country. Okay, that’s as far as I’ll step onto the soapbox, but it was a good read. 
And now I’m onto Italian for Dummies . . . how’s that for a transition? The world’s worst linguist, I’m trying to pick up a few phrases prior to my first trip to Italy for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.  How do you say, “I’m American. Please don’t hurt me!”
I’ll let you know . . .

Rick Riordan