Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to in May 2020

Image by Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay

Time again to take a peek at the TBR and a few books I’m especially excited about in the next month.

1. Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History by Jaipreet Virdi (May 1)

Through lyrical history and personal memoir, Hearing Happiness raises pivotal questions about deafness in American society and the endless quest for a cure. Taking us from the 1860s up to the present, Virdi combs archives and museums in order to understand the long history of curious cures: hearing trumpets, violet-ray apparatuses, pneumomassages, electrotherapy machines, airplane diving, bloodletting, skull hammering, and many more. Hundreds of procedures and products have promised grand miracles but always failed to deliver—a legacy that is still present in contemporary biomedicine.

2. Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos (May 5)

Since the release of her first, career-defining solo album Little Earthquakes, Tori Amos has been one of the music industry’s most enduring and ingenious artists. From her unnerving depiction of sexual assault in “Me and a Gun” to her post-9/11 album Scarlet’s Walk to her latest album Native Invader, her work has never shied away from intermingling the personal with the political.

3. Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts by Kathryn Harkup (May 5)

Shakespeare found 74 different ways to kill off his characters, and audiences today still enjoy the same reactions–shock, sadness, fear–that they did over 400 years ago when these plays were first performed. But how realistic are these deaths, and did Shakespeare have the science to back them up?

4. Tasting Qualities: The Past and Future of Tea by Sarah Besky (May 12)

What is the role of quality in contemporary capitalism? How is a product as ordinary as a bag of tea judged for its quality? In her innovative study, Sarah Besky addresses these questions by going inside an Indian auction house where experts taste and appraise mass-market black tea, one of the world’s most recognized commodities. Pairing rich historical data with ethnographic research among agronomists, professional tea tasters and traders, and tea plantation workers, Besky shows how the meaning of quality has been subjected to nearly constant experimentation and debate throughout the history of the tea industry.

5. The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch by Miles Harvey (May 12)

In the summer of 1843, James Strang, a charismatic young lawyer and avowed atheist, vanished from a rural town in New York. Months later he reappeared on the Midwestern frontier and converted to a burgeoning religious movement known as Mormonism. In the wake of the murder of the sect’s leader, Joseph Smith, Strang unveiled a letter purportedly from the prophet naming him successor, and persuaded hundreds of fellow converts to follow him to an island in Lake Michigan, where he declared himself a divine king.

6. Sunny Days: Sesame Street, Mister Rogers, and the Children’s Television Revolution by David Kamp (May 12)

In 1970, on a soundstage on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a group of men, women, and Muppets of various ages and colors worked doggedly to finish the first season of a children’s TV program that was not yet assured a second season: Sesame Street. They were conducting an experiment to see if television could be used to better prepare disadvantaged preschoolers for kindergarten. What they didn’t know then was that they were starting a cultural revolution that would affect all American kids.

7. We Had No Rules by Corrine Manning (May 12)

A young teenager runs from her family’s conservative home to her sister’s NY apartment to learn a very different set of rules. A woman grieves the loss of a sister, a “gay divorce,” and the pain of unacknowledged abuse with the help of a lone wallaby on a farm in Washington State. A professor of women’s and gender studies revels in academic and sexual power but risks losing custody of the family dog.

8. Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake (May 12)

Fungi throw our concepts of individuality and even intelligence into question. They are metabolic masters, earth makers, and key players in most of life’s processes. They can change our minds, heal our bodies, and even help us remediate environmental disaster. By examining fungi on their own terms, Sheldrake reveals how these extraordinary organisms–and our relationships with them–are changing our understanding of how life works.

9. The Language of Butterflies: How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists, and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World’s Favorite Insect by Wendy Williams (May 12)

Monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles each year from Canada to Mexico. Other species have learned how to fool ants into taking care of them. Butterflies’ scales are inspiring researchers to create new life-saving medical technology. Williams takes readers to butterfly habitats across the globe and introduces us to not only various species, but to the scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying them.

10. The Equivalents: The Untold Story of the Five Friends Who Started a Personal, Political, and Artistic Revolution by Maggie Doherty (May 19)

In 1960, at the height of an era that expected women to focus solely on raising families, Radcliffe College announced the founding of an Institute for Independent Study, offering fellowships to women with a Ph.D. or “the equivalent” in artistic success. Acclaimed writer and Harvard lecturer Maggie Doherty introduces us to five brilliant friends–poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, painter Barbara Swan, sculptor Marianna Pineda, and writer Tillie Olsen–who came together at the Institute and would go on to make history. Drawing from their notebooks, letters, lecture recordings, journals, and finished works, Doherty weaves from these women’s own voices a moving narrative of friendship, ambition, activism, and art.

Down the TBR Hole #21

I started drafting this post in January. Good gracious.

Down the TBR Hole was originally created over at Lost in a Story.

Most of you probably know this feeling, your Goodreads TBR pile keeps growing and growing and it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. You keep adding, but you add more than you actually read. And then when you’re scrolling through your list, you realize that you have no idea what half the books are about and why you added them. Well that’s going to change!

It works like this:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10, if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?
  • Keep track of where you left off so you can pick up there next week!

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser
Published: May 12, 2011
On TBR Since: April 20, 2013

This topic has definitely stayed relevant. Sadly.

Stay or Go: Stay

Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live by Marlene Zuk
Published: March 11, 2013
On TBR Since: May 1, 2013

Still want to read this one.

Stay or Go: Stay

Out Behind the Desk: Workplace Issues for Lgbtq Librarians edited by Tracy Nectoux
Published: 2010
On TBR Since: May 6, 2013

I’ll get to it. Eventually.

Stay or Go: Stay

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code by Margalit Fox
Published: May 14, 2013
On TBR Since: May 6, 2013

“In the tradition of Simon Winchester and Dava Sobel”… how am I supposed to resist that?

Stay or Go: Stay

Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet by Finn Brunton
Published: March 29, 2013
On TBR Since: May 9, 2013

Not only do I still want to read this, but I’ve just put in a request for my library to get the ebook.

Stay or Go: Stay

The Cool Impossible: The Coach from “Born to Run” Shows How to Get the Most from Your Miles—and from Yourself by Eric Orton
Published: April 2, 2013
On TBR Since: May 11, 2013

Just not happening.

Stay or Go: Go

Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries For Today’s Complex World by R. David Lankes
Published: January 12, 2012
On TBR Since: May 17, 2013

I probably should have read this when it came out. But I’m just not going to get to it.

Stay or Go: Go

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller
Published: January 1, 2009
On TBR Since: May 26, 2013

How have I not read this yet? Right, off to download it now.

Stay or Go: Stay

This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson
Published: January 15, 2010
On TBR Since: May 26, 2013

The moment has passed.

Stay or Go: Go

Children’s Play: The Roots of Reading by Edward F. Zigler
Published: March 22, 2004
On TBR Since: May 28, 2013

The topic is good, but there are newer books on my list.

Stay or Go: Go

Six staying, four going. We’re not going to talk about how many books I’ve added to the TBR this week.

Classics Club Spin #23

I’m joining in on the Classics Club Spin for the first time. The lucky number is 6, which on my list is:

Paradise Lost by John Milton

I’ve been looking forward to reading this one. Well, reading it again. I read it probably 15 years or so ago, but I don’t remember much from it.

Do you suppose “Paradise” would count as a place name for Back to the Classics Challenge purposes?

Classics Club Spin

The Classics Club have issued their latest challenge for another Classics Club Spin!

The idea is for members to select 20 books from their list of 50 classics which they have challenged themselves to read within five years, then read the selected book before 1 June 2020.

My Spin list:

  1. Iliad by Homer, translated by Caroline Alexander
  2. Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson
  3. Aenid by Virgil, translated by Sarah Ruden
  4. Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
  5. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated by Dorothy Sayers
  6. Paradise Lost by John Milton
  7. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
  8. Tales from Shakespeare by Charles & Mary Lamb
  9. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johnn D. Wyss
  10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  11. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  12. Devil’s Pool by George Sand
  13. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
  14. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  15. Villette by Charlotte Brontë
  16. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  17. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  18. Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy
  19. The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
  20. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

The Time Machine

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us. His grey eyes shone and twinkled, and his usually pale face was flushed and animated.

Chapter 1: Introduction

So begins Wells’s classic “scientific romance”, published serially in The New Review in 1895 (and in revised novella editions after that). Over drinks with some gentlemen friends, including the narrator, the unnamed adventurer shares his theories on the nature of time as a fourth dimension in which one can travel. His friends are skeptical, even after seeing a demonstration using a model he has constructed.

For my own part, I was particularly preoccupied with the trick of the model. That I remember discussing with the Medical Man, whom I met on Friday at the Linnaean. He said he had seen a similar thing at Tübingen, and laid considerable stress on the blowing-out of the candle. But how he trick was done he could not explain.

Chapter 3: The Time Traveller Returns

A week later, the narrator is again at the Time Traveller’s home for another dinner party. The Time Traveller appears after his guests have arrived, and the details of his adventure form the main narrative. He has gone hundreds of thousands of years into the future, where he encountered the Eloi and the Morlocks, apparently the two strains of humanity left at that time.

The Eloi are small, delicate, and child-like. They spend their days playing in the sunshine, picking flowers, and eating fruit. They do no work, the genders appear nearly identical, and there is little difference between the children and the adults. They sleep in groups in large structures. They seem to be unafraid, in the way of those who have never encountered anything of which to be afraid.

“Seem to be unafraid,” because the Time Traveller eventually learns that the Eloi are scared of the dark. They stay away from shadows and refuse to venture out at night. After nightfall, the Morlocks – pale, large-eyed, and ape-like – come out their underground tunnels, and they are on the hunt.

Now, indeed, I seemed in a worse case than before. Hitherto, except during my night’s anguish at the loss of the Time Machine, I had felt a sustaining hope of ultimate escape, but that hope was staggered by these new discoveries. Hitherto I had merely thought myself impeded by the childish simplicity of the little people, and by some unknown forces which I had only to understand to overcome; but there was an altogether new element in the sickening quality of the Morlocks — a something inhuman and malign. Instinctively I loathed them.

Chapter 10: When the Night Came

My first encounter with The Time Machine was with a Moby Classics illustrated abridged edition when I was in elementary school. I mostly remember the Morlocks being very, very creepy and scary. Having read the full text, I still think the Morlocks are very, very creepy, but also very sad. As a child, the life of the Eloi was appealing: play all day and eat lots of fruit. Aside from, you know, the terror of what might happen at night, it looked ideal. As an adult reader, I was struck by the horror of the exact circumstances under which the Time Traveller meets Weena. (No details, because I’m still glad it came as a surprise to me.)

The entire vision of the future of humanity presented here is disturbing. There is the vacuous beauty left above ground and the terrifying existence below. No wonder the Time Traveller was delighted to find himself back at his own table. And yet, he clearly still has questions. He clearly still wants to explore. So, maybe, he even still has hope.

The narrator asks us to deny the implications of the narrative he has just recorded. It is a striking way of ending this little puzzle of a book, an appeal that seems to throw into doubt everything that we have just read. What a perverse start to a literary career!

Roger Luckhurst, Introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition

For this reading, I borrowed the Oxford World’s Classics edition of The Time Machine from the library. The supporting material is excellent. The “Chronology of H. G. Wells” includes significant personal events and world events, as well as noting the publication of various influential works, giving context on multiple levels. The expanded version of the chapter “The Further Vision” is included as an appendix, as are two scientific essays published by Wells in 1891 and 1893.

Roger Luckhurst’s introduction expands on some of the ideas Wells engages with in the novel. Evolutionary theory – both biological and social – was very much in the public consciousness. Would people and society forever march toward perfection, or would both reach a zenith and then inevitably deteriorate? The utopian fiction of Bellamy and Morris get satirical jabs in the Time Traveller’s description of the future. Luckhurst provides pointers to further reading on all of these and more. I appreciated the very helpful and engaging explanatory notes, as well as the fact that the introduction begins with a note that there will be spoilers, so newcomers might want to read it as an afterword, instead.

Source: Checked out from my public library

Challenges: Back to the Classics (6: Genre Classic); Classics Club; Read Harder 2020 (#17: A Sci-fi/fantasy novella); Victorian Reading Challenge (January: Journeys & Travels)

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Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to in February

Image by Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay

Time again to take a peek at the TBR and a few books I’m especially excited about in the next month.

1. Chirp by Kate Messner (February 4)

When Mia moves to Vermont the summer after seventh grade, she’s recovering from the broken arm she got falling off a balance beam. And packed away in the moving boxes under her clothes and gymnastics trophies is a secret she’d rather forget.

2. The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper (February 4)

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

3. American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Winkler Dawson (February 11)

Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities–beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, and hundreds upon hundreds of books–sat an investigator who would go on to crack at least two thousand cases in his forty-year career. Known as the “American Sherlock Holmes,” Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America’s greatest–and first–forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence, and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural.

4. The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird by Joshua Hammer (February 11)

The Falcon Thief whisks readers from the volcanoes of Patagonia to Zimbabwe’s Matobo National Park, and from the frigid tundra near the Arctic Circle to luxurious aviaries in the deserts of Dubai, all in pursuit of a man who is reckless, arrogant, and gripped by a destructive compulsion to make the most beautiful creatures in nature his own. It’s a story that’s part true-crime narrative, part epic adventure—and wholly unputdownable until the very last page.

5. In the Land of Men by Adrienne Miller (February 11)

A naive and idealistic twenty-two-year-old from the Midwest, Adrienne Miller got her lucky break when she was hired as an editorial assistant at GQ magazine in the mid-nineties. Even if its sensibilities were manifestly mid-century—the martinis, powerful male egos, and unquestioned authority of kings—GQ still seemed the red-hot center of the literary world. It was there that Miller began learning how to survive in a man’s world. Three years later, she forged her own path, becoming the first woman to take on the role of literary editor of Esquire, home to the male writers who had defined manhood itself— Hemingway, Mailer, and Carver. Up against this old world, she would soon discover that it wanted nothing to do with a “mere girl.” 

6. Ink in the Blood (Ink in The Blood, #1) by Kim Smejkal (February 11)

Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison.

7. And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks (February 11)

At once humorous and unapologetically fierce, these stories shine an interrogating light on the adage that “history likes to lie about women”— as the subjects of “A Short and Speculative History of Lavoisier’s Wife” and “You Won’t Believe What Really Happened to the Sabine Women” (it’s true, you won’t) will attest. Blending fairy tales and myths with apocalyptic technologies, all tethered intricately by shades of rage, And I Do Not Forgive You offers a mosaic of an all-too-real world that fails to listen to its silenced goddesses

8. The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall (February 12)

Haunted by the loss of her parents and twin sister at sea, Henna cloisters herself in a Northeastern village where the snow never stops. When she discovers the body of a young woman at the edge of the forest, she’s plunged into the mystery of a centuries-old letter regarding one of the most famous stories of Arctic exploration—the Franklin expedition, which disappeared into the ice in 1845.

10. Fighting for Space: Two Pilots and Their Historic Battle for Female Spaceflight by Amy Shira Teitel (February 18)

When the space age dawned in the late 1950s, Jackie Cochran held more propeller and jet flying records than any pilot of the twentieth century-man or woman. She had led the Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots during the Second World War, was the first woman to break the sound barrier, ran her own luxury cosmetics company, and counted multiple presidents among her personal friends. She was more qualified than any woman in the world to make the leap from atmosphere to orbit. Yet it was Jerrie Cobb, twenty-five years Jackie’s junior and a record-holding pilot in her own right, who finagled her way into taking the same medical tests as the Mercury astronauts. The prospect of flying in space quickly became her obsession.

10. Lurking: How a Person Became a User by Joanne McNeil (February 25)

In a shockingly short amount of time, the internet has bound people around the world together and torn us apart and changed not just the way we communicate but who we are and who we can be. It has created a new, unprecedented cultural space that we are all a part of—even if we don’t participate, that is how we participate—but by which we’re continually surprised, betrayed, enriched, befuddled. We have churned through platforms and technologies and in turn been churned by them. And yet, the internet is us and always has been.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. It’s a great post to organise yourself. It’s an opportunity to visit and comment, and er… add to that ever-growing TBR pile! So welcome in everyone. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date.

What I Read Last Week:

  • Courting the Countess by Jenny Frame – Read Harder task 14 (A romance starring a single parent)
  • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells – Back to the Classics 6 (Genre Classic), Victorian Reading Challenge (January: Journeys & Travels), Classics Club, Read Harder task 17 (Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novella)
  • Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus

What I’m Reading Now:

What I’m Reading Next:

Down the TBR Hole #20

Down the TBR Hole was originally created over at Lost in a Story.

Most of you probably know this feeling, your Goodreads TBR pile keeps growing and growing and it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. You keep adding, but you add more than you actually read. And then when you’re scrolling through your list, you realize that you have no idea what half the books are about and why you added them. Well that’s going to change!

It works like this:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10, if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?
  • Keep track of where you left off so you can pick up there next week!

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
Published: January 11, 2005
On TBR Since: March 30, 2013

I think I’m one of about 10 people on the planet who haven’t read this book yet.

Stay or Go: Stay

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
Published: February 19, 2008
On TBR Since: March 30, 2013

See Blink, above.

Stay or Go: Stay

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures, and Innovations by Mary Beard
Published: March 1, 2013
On TBR Since: April 1, 2013

That’s quite a cover, isn’t it? From the reviews, this is really a collection of Beard’s published reviews, which isn’t quite what I’m looking for.

Stay or Go: Go

The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible by Simon Winchester
Published: October 15, 2013
On TBR Since: April 1, 2013

Winchester stays.

Stay or Go: Stay

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley by Neal Thompson
Published: May 7, 2013
On TBR Since: April 3, 2013

I remember being endlessly fascinated by Ripley’s show as a kid.

Stay or Go: Stay

True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart by Tara Brach
Published: January 22, 2013
On TBR Since: April 3, 2013

I really should read this sooner than later.

Stay or Go: Stay

Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America by Wenonah Hauter
Published: January 1, 2012
On TBR Since: April 3, 2013

Still interested in the topic, but not so much this book.

Stay or Go: Go

Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins
Published: 2003
On TBR Since: April 3, 2013

I’ll get around to this one eventually.

Stay or Go: Stay

Kings of the Road: How Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar Made Running Go Boom by Cameron Stracher
Published: January 1, 2013
On TBR Since: April 15, 2013

Another one where the topic is still interesting, but this particular book doesn’t sound like one for me.

Stay or Go: Go

The Atlas of New Librarianship by R. David Lankes Published: April 4, 2011
On TBR Since: April 28, 2013

Is it still new librarianship?

Stay or Go: Go

Six to stay, four to go. Ending last week: 1827 . Beginning this week: 1838. Ending this week: 1834.

One of these weeks, I’ll remove more books than I add. Visit my to-read shelf to see how very far I still have to go!

Book Beginnings: Basil of Baker Street

Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

Gillion @ Rose City Reader

The mystery of the missing twins could never have been solved by an ordinary detective.

Chapter 1: “Basil, the Super Sleuth”

This week, I’m reading the Basil series of books by Eve Titus, beginning with Basil of Baker Street. The flap copy about this “Sherlock Holmes of the Mouse World” says:

Meet Basil, mouse sleuth extraordinaire. He lives in the cellar of Sherlock Holmes’s house, where he studies at the feet of the great detective himself.

In 1986, Disney released The Great Mouse Detective, featuring Basil and his companion, Dr. David Q. Dawson. Hence the rebranding on the cover of my 2016 edition of the book.

The mystery in the book is different from the movie, as well. In the book, Basil is hired by Mr. and Mrs. Proudfoot to find their missing twin daughters, Angela and Agatha. The back cover copy is the ransom note:

Baker Street Mice — Beware!
So far the twins are safe. They’ll stay that way if you do what we say. We’ve decided to make your Baker Street cellar the headquarters for our gang. Everybody must be out in 48 hours. It’s Basil’s job to move you all out, just the way he moved you in. Better make it fast! And leave the furniture — we need it.
This is the only warning you’ll get. And listen — if you don’t follow our orders, you’ll never set eyes on those twins again!
THE TERRIBLE THREE

I’m looking forward to finishing this and the sequels, which are currently stacked up on my desk. What are you reading this week?

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Song for a Whale

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Grandpa told a story, I saw it as clearly as if it were happening right there in front of me. His signing hands showed me the whale in an ocean that suddenly went quiet, swimming over there, over there, over there, trying to find the sounds again. Maybe that was why she’d been there on our Gulf of Mexico beach instead of in deep ocean waters where she belonged. Sei whales didn’t swim so close to shore. Only her, on that day.

Iris was named for the whale that beached itself on the day she was born, at her grandmother’s request. After second grade, her family moved to Houston, only able to visit her beloved grandparents once a year. Now 12, Iris misses her grandparents more than ever; after her grandfather passed away, her grandmother lost her spark and spends listless days in a senior housing complex. In her free time, Iris repairs radios that she gets from the junkyard, bringing abandoned antiques back to life. The vibrations from the speakers tell her when her work has been successful. Like her maternal grandparents, Iris was born Deaf.

School has been especially difficult since the move. The only Deaf student in her school, Iris relies on an adult interpreter who accompanies her to classes. He does not come to the cafeteria with her for lunch, leaving her alone to deal with well-meaning but uncomprehending fellow students.

She learns about Blue 55 in Science class. A whale who sings at 55 hertz, much higher than the usual range for whales, he sings into the ocean, but no one understands his song, and he cannot understand anyone else. Iris hatches a plan to record a song for Blue 55 to let him know that he’s not alone in the wide world. Now she just has to find a way to get it to him.

This is a lovely and poignant novel about the loneliness that so many of us feel. There are so many ways to communicate, which is shown so beautifully throughout the book. The desire to reach out and connect with another, to know that one is not alone, underscores the entire story. What tween (or person who has been a tween) has not had trouble understanding and making oneself understood by classmates, friends, and family from time to time?

Kelly is a long-time ASL interpreter, and her respect for Deaf culture shines through. For Iris, hearing or not hearing is not the problem. Her Deafness is just part of her, like hair color or eye color. It’s other people who are flustered or confused by it.

An Author’s Note at the end explains some of the mechanics of whale communication and the story of 52-Blue, also called the Loneliest Whale in the World, on whom Blue 55 is based. A second note on Deafness and Sign Language gives more information about Deaf culture, the development of ASL, and why Kelly made particular narrative choices. Finally, there is an illustration of the ASL for “Song for a Whale”.

Source: Checked out from my public library

Challenges: Read Harder 2020 (#21: A book with a main character or protagonist with a disability (fiction or non))

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