National Book Festival – Reading and Listening

This weekend the 11th National Book Festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress, is on the Mall in Washington, D.C.   Meet authors and illustrators – or just celebrate the festival theme, “Celebrating the Joys of Reading Aloud,” by reading a book to someone.  Even adults like to listen to a story sometimes.

Jim Trelease first published his Read Aloud Handbook in 1979, listing resources for reading aloud – now in its sixth edition.  Skip the narrative and go straight for the lists at the back of the book.  The lists range from picture books to short and full-length novels, anthologies, and folk tales.   He includes the number of pages for each, as well as a short summary, and grade level recommendations (which you should override for interest level).  If you like the book, he also offers others by the author and books on related themes.  For each section, Trelease also includes a list of his favorites.

If you can’t get anyone to read to you, Katherine Powers of the Washington Post suggests listening to Scaramouche, for 12 hours of “swashbuckling adventure,” narrated by Simon Vance, sometimes known as Robert Whitfield.  For me, the voice of the narrator is more important than the content.  Vance’s mellow tones and characterizations create a whole other experience, and I look for audiobooks with his “Golden Voice.”

What’s your favorite audio book?

Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride

Today is Amelia Earhart’s birthday; she would have been 104, or maybe still is somewhere on a tropical island.  Amelia’s plane went down on July 2, 1937 en route from New Guinea -never to be found.  In looking for other books illustrated by Brian Selznick (author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret), I found Pam Munoz Ryan’s children’s story about Earhart’s famous friendship with First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt – Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride.

Ryan stays close to the historical facts: the two women were friends, the famous aviator did offer to be Eleanor’s flight instructor – Eleanor went as far as getting her student pilot license – and the famous night flight over Washington, D.C. in the story really happened.

Aside from the biographical information of the two women, Ryan offers children a look into the wonder of flying a small plane, and the magic of night flying in one.  Anyone who has experienced the majesty of flying into National Airport at night, amid the lights of the Washington Monument and the Capitol Dome, will appreciate Ryan’s description. But it was the wonder of flying in a small plane at night that brought back good memories to me.

Related Post:  Review of The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Baldacci – One Summer

Books that make you cry can be cathartic and a way to release stress – acknowledging that someone else’s life is more miserable than your own.   David Baldacci’s One Summer starts with a young father and ex-combat soldier dying – taking deep breaths from his oxygen tank, trying to make it to Christmas Day.  I was already through a box of tissues before page 20.  If you think it can’t get much worse – his wife dies in a car accident on her way to get his meds.  I had to stop – not only to get more tissues but to distract myself for a while.

What better tonic than the most recent New Yorker?  I have been reading old issues, happy to get them from the slow boat express that mails to the island, but finally I had access to the latest edition on-line – on the day of publication.  Looking forward to reading a timely “The Talk of the Town,” I read “Empty Wallets,” summarizing Danny Hartzell’s dilemma – jobless, ineligible for unemployment and medical, with a young daughter diagnosed with the big C.      Maybe Baldacci wasn’t so bad after all – at least that was fiction.

Baldacci eventually offers a respite from the tears, by making his hero a “Miracle Man,” cured from an incurable disease.  Before long, however, the story becomes a soap opera, with a vindictive mother-in-law and the hero overwhelmed with life.  The only place to go to recover – the Carolina dunes of his dead wife’s youth.  Grandma conveniently dies and leaves the rundown childhood beach house to our hero, who is also a self-employed handyman.  The story continues predictably – with frequent memory flashbacks, father and teen-age daughter confrontations, and the possibility of new love.

Life at the beach is good; the family slowly mends; and Balducci saves the story by firing up an ending with a tense courtroom scene and a dramatic sea rescue.

Better known for his mystery thrillers, Baldacci took a detour from guns and government agencies before in The Christmas Train, giving his character, tough reporter Tom Langdon, a forced change from air travel and the chance to find himself.  Otherwise, look for Baldacci in his thriller element  – Hell’s Corner – set in Washington, D.C. – where nothing is as it seems.

One Summer is an easy, fast, predictable beach read.

Bastille Day – Read Something French

To celebrate Bastille Day, a restaurant in Washington, D.C. is having a baguette relay race.  I remember a traditional waiter’s race in Annapolis – the waiters speed walk holding a tray of drinks (wine?); I wonder if they still do.  I’ll be looking for some crepes today, to eat while re-reading some of my favorite French books (not in French, of course).

Some ideas:

  • Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard
  • The Paris Wife by Paula McClain
  • Chasing Cezanne by Peter Mayle
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris
  • Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnick
  • My Life in France by Julia Child
And a new one I’m looking forward to –
David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris