Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Macbeth was my book club’s October read. I missed this play in high school (my class read it while I was on exchange in Australia, where my classmates and I read The Merchant of Venice), but in some ways feel more familiar with it than any other Shakespearean play. In Mrs. Fay’s sixth-grade language arts and literature class, we performed a junior version. I was a weird sister (with the cool eye of newt and toe of frog speech and an awful homemade beard). I remember at our last high school reunion discussing Mrs. Fay (she was tough and scary) and remembering this play specifically. Many of us could still recite various lines — (“What, you egg! Young fry of treachery!”). As scary as she was, Mrs. Fay taught us a lot, and the highlight was experiencing Macbeth. The beautiful copy (above) was my yiayia’s.
This was the first time I’ve read Shakespeare without a teacher’s guidance or vocabulary cheat sheet. It helped to read some parts aloud. Other sections I read more than once. And this scene by scene synopsis was helpful, too.
A dual-voice middle grade told by Peter (a boy) and Pax (a fox). When an unnamed war begins, Peter’s father makes him release his beloved pet and takes him to safety at his grandfather’s house hundreds of miles away. But neither the fox or the boy can forget the other or the special bond they share.
Wow. What a work of art this book is! I’m so glad I didn’t read Pax a few years back when it first came out because I was able to savor it now. Every sentence was shaved down to its essence. So many beautiful ones I had to record (like the young reader who left stickies in the library copy I borrowed.) Every once in a while, a story knocks the wind out of me in a very good way. Pax is nothing short of stunning. It’s honest, heartbreaking, hopeful, and healing. I am so grateful it exists in the world. Please read it. Please share it with the children you love.
My Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary
This is the second of Beverly Cleary’s memoirs and begins in 1934 when she is eighteen and headed to college. The Depression colors everything, and Beverly leaves her home in Portland for a community college in California, where she lives with family. After two years, she’d admitted to UC Berkeley (called Cal at the time) and lives at a dorm for students who work to earn their room and board. Money is always tight, and she pays for increasing boarding fees by doing things like hemming classmates’ skirts (shortening them to make them more fashionable). She meets her future husband Clarence at Cal, and her parents — with whom she’s had a strained relationship — don’t like him because he’s Catholic. Beverly goes on to get a library degree and works in several libraries. It’s only in the last chapter that she begins her writing in earnest.
Reading what I’ve written above, this might sound rather dull, but I found the book fascinating. Beverly’s college years reminded me a bit of the LM Montgomery journals when Maud was in school (though in Canada and decades earlier). Cleary’s ability to tell a story is clear from the start. I found myself really involved and looked forward to settling down with my book at the end of the workday. Losing Beverly Cleary earlier this year made reading her memoir a personal goal. I’m so glad I finally got to it.
I don’t know much about birds (and thought they were the dullest animals ever when I was a kid), but over the years I’ve grown more and more interested. This book was a good introduction to the world of the bird. It opens with a quote I had to write down: “No wild animal lives so freely and in such variety and numbers among humans as birds do. For that reason alone, our relationship with them is unlike our connection to any other wild creature.”
I learned all sorts of interesting things while reading, like the “winglet” on airplanes (that upturned wingtip) mimics the wings of soaring birds like eagles and buzzards. This adjustment alone “saves forty-five thousand gallons of fuel per jet plane annually.” Amazing! Birds are incredibly smart, meaning having a “bird brain” is really a good thing. 🙂 Did you know that most birds innately know their species’ songs, but a few, like parrots, hummingbirds, and songbirds, have to learn them from their parents? In an experiment, young bullfinches (birds that don’t have songs of their own) were removed from their parents and taught folk tunes and songs like Chopin’s “Thou Art so Like a Flower.” So cool!
Yesterday in my backyard there were five different types of birds in my tree at one time — some mourning doves, a robin, a woodpecker, and two birds I didn’t recognize (though tried to figure out with Cornell University’s Merlin ID app. I think one was a cactus wren). I love how books like this one open my eyes to the world around me.
What have you been reading lately?