Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Frank L. Baum

Almost everyone I know is familiar with the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland, while far fewer are the people who’ve also read the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I read Ozma of Oz in 2003, thus familiarizing myself in the weird and wonderful ways that Oz exists. Ozma is book three in a series that began with Wonderful Wizard and continued on for thirteen more books. They are in the public domain and are frequently republished as classics and revisited as seen in the SyFy miniseries Tin Man or the book Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I will provide a summary of the book for those who are unfamiliar with it. You can skip to the next paragraph if you’ve heard this before: there is a little girl, named Dorothy, who lives with her Aunt and Uncle in a very grey and flat part of Kansas, a state in the United States. A terrible twister comes upon their farm and before Dorothy can get into the storm cellar, she is knocked to the floor of her house and carried away, with the entire house, by the Twister. After a long time traveling in the quiet eye of the storm the house lands, and upon stepping outside in a bright and strange world she is heralded a heroine. Apparently her house landed on a wicked witch who had been terrorizing the inhabitants of Munchkinland. After taking the silver slippers from the witches feet and asking how she can get back to Kansas, she is directed to the Emerald City in which The Wonderful Wizard of Oz resides. If the Wizard cannot help her, no one can. Along the way she comes across a man made out of tin, a talking scarecrow and a lion who is the most cowardly beast in the forest. Together they make it to the Emerald City where nothing is exactly as it seems and they are sent on another quest, to kill the last wicked witch of Oz. That isn’t even the end of the story — and it’s not a very long book! The book and this particular audiobook, narrated by Anne Hathaway in’s a-list series, where well-known actors and actresses read their favorite novels, really seems intended for children. Frank L. Baum reputedly wrote these books as modern fairy tales when he began in 1901. Anne Hathaway reportedly thought of her nieces when she recorded the audiobook. I wish I had gotten to these books a little earlier in my life. Anne Hathaway does a wonderful job bringing all the characters and creatures along Dorothy’s journey to life. Her accents and flamboyance are colorful and right in line with the overall tenor of the book: variety is the spice. Particularly memorable are her raspy scarecrow and valley-girl flamingo. Unfortunately this audio version is only available from Audible as a download — no possibility to borrow from the library. Considering how easy it is to get your hands on these books — here, links to the series on Gutenberg — I’m going to read the rest soon. Unlike other old children’s books, I find they hold up really well. A recent question about holding onto our childhood favorites for the wrong reasons, engraining in the young stories where girls are often passive, made me rethink my determination to read more of the older ‘classical’ books I’ve heard lauded for years. Here’s the quote: 
Female characters in books that are for "everyone" are often marginalized, stereotyped or one-dimensional. Especially in traditional favorites that are commonly highlighted in schools and libraries. For example, Peter Pan's Wendy is a stick-in-the-mud mother figure and Tiger Lily is a jealous exotic. Or, take Kanga, from Winnie the Pooh. There is nothing wrong with these books per se; they are wonderful stories, and they reflect a reality of their times, but continuing to give them preference -- out of habit, tradition, nostalgia -- in light of newer, more relevant and equitable stories is really not doing anyone any favors.
Here’s the source: What Does it Mean that Most Children's Books Are Still About White Boys? I see The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a break from that generalization. It may not compare to Winnie the Pooh, but it certainly is a classic worth revisiting.

The Best Reads of 2013

Last year I read 69 books, inspired by a recent blog post from the LibraryThing Blog, I'd like to share with you the best books I read last year. Despite a slow summer and a lot of genre fiction toward the end, I read quite a few really good books.

I started the year off on the right foot with On Writing, which I highly recommended to writers, but it wasn't one of the best; neither were Pagan's Crusade or Will in Scarlet, though I did buy them both for my brother. And even though I waxed on about how mind-blowing PostApoc was and how lovely Wives and Daughters turned out to be, they didn't make the list.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The love story of two young, terminally ill cancer patients. Tasteful and fun, despite everything. Captures youth of today, will be released as a movie in June and may become a classic in a few years. Very nearly perfect.

Favorite line:
“I've gotten really hot since you went blind.” 

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Favorite lines:
"I say, sir," said the young man quite suddenly. "If you'd rather have the lower berth--easier and all that--well, it's all right by me."
A likeable [sic] young fellow.
"No, no," protested Poirot. "I would not deprive you--"
"That's all right--"
"You are too amiable--"
Polite protests on both sides.

The Assault by Harry Mulisch 
A book which asked a lot of questions without many answers, although the big question asked by the plot is answered at last at the very end. This novel feels like the ghost of something else, not shallow but a pale memory of something better and happier. Stunning.

The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
The story of storytellers, written by a not-terribly-well-known Nobel Laureate.
Favorite lines:
It must have meant something, though, that at this turn of my life I grabbed up a book. Because it was in books that I would find, for the next few years, my lovers. They were men, not boys. They were self-possessed and sardonic, with a ferocious streak in them, reserves of gloom. Not Edgar Linton, not Ashley Wilkes. Not one of them companionable or kind. 

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
The sort of whimsical tale that might be uninteresting to the general folk, but is such an interesting and beautiful book that any fantasy reader should try it.
Favorite lines:
 “Your name is a golden bell hung in my heart. I would break my body to pieces to call you once by your name.” 

What were your favorites of 2013?

The 2014 Reading Challenge for the Morning Reader

This year I have challenged myself to read 7 'classic' authors who are new to me, 50 books in sum, a set list of foreign language books, and re-read some of my favorite books from when I was a child. In this post I will keep track of these, and also link to reviews as I read them. The lists are far from final, but I thought I'd put them out there already.

'Classic' authors shall be defined as authors both my parents have heard of and shall only include authors who are no longer living. Stipulation: if they are familiar with a book they have written, but not the author by name, it counts. Short stories will not count toward any of these challenges.* Children's books may be 'short' in comparison to books I read regularly today, but they still count toward these challenges.

All books read this year, in order read:

  1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank. L. Baum, Narrated by Anne Hathaway
    (Shoggoth's Old Peculiar by Neil Gaiman, Narrated by Neil Gaiman)
  2. Rhythm of Three by Kelly Jamieson
  3. Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton
  4. Daughter of Camelot by Glynis Cooney
  5. Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
  6. Catch My Breath by M.J. O'Shea
  7. College Boys by Daisy Harris
  8. Unteachable by Leah Raeder
  9. Artificial Moonlight by  D.J. Manly and A.J. Llewellyn
    (First Impressions by Josephine Myles)
  10. Sibling Rivals by Summer Devon
  11. Dark Edge of Honor by Aleksandr Voinov and Rhianon Etzweiler, Narrated by Jack LeFleur
  12. Making Waves by Lorna Seilstad
  13. Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino
  14. Katherine by Anya Seton, Narrated by Wanda McCaddon

Seven 'classic' authors whom I have never read before:
  1. Leo Tolstoy
  2. Gustave Flaubert

Some of my favorite children's books, to be re-read:
  • Blitzcat 
  • Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
  • Unicorns of Balinor: Sunchaser's Quest by Mary Stanton
  • Sort of Forever 
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman 
  • Witch Quest

Foreign language books:
  • Chéri by Colette
  • Austerlitz by Sebald
  • Der Vorleser by Bernard Schlink (The Reader)
*I may review these none-the-less.

Review of the Second Edition of Off-Topic

Preface to the Review:

Several weeks before Christmas, I was charged with writing the review to announce the publication of the print edition of Off-Topic, that which we are now calling the Second Edition. There were many changes and quite a few sacrifices we had to make before any online publisher would take our book and distribute it. As it stands now, we can offer the book for sale from both Amazon and Book Depository - which as any discerning person knows, is actually one and the same company. It was not easy, but now that we have finally made it, I hope you will join us on this final part of the journey.

Dear Reader,

I am pleased to announce the publication of the print edition of Off-Topic, a book we, the editors, began distributing for free several months ago, in eBook format. Everyone worked very hard, laboring over editorial decisions which only became harder, discovering tiny errors that had slipped through unnoticed for too long, and in my case, refining the cover, checking the spelling of 'protesters' and making sure we agreed on the gender of Ms. Reader.

It is with great sadness and trepidation that I tell you that our book, belonging to you as well as the editors, had been censored by people more careful than ourselves. An author whose name was not mentioned in the book, and whom I may presume has not read our book, notified of abusive content that had been found within and our labor of passion was removed. Readers, cannot be blamed.

When I was younger my understanding of publishing began and ended with the movie The Russia House. My journey through  the movie was guided by Michelle Pfeiffer and Sean Connery's attempts to publish a book while traveling around the Soviet Union. I didn't understand why the book in question couldn't be published in the USSR (not until I saw The Lives of Others) but I understood what censorship was as soon as I knew what banned books were.

This book isn't about authors or even books, not really. I will concede that some of the contributors to this essay collection are authors in their own right, and that we are book lovers, all of us, without exception. What unites us is that we don't want our books, our privacy, or our expression compromised. This book was about compromising our relationship with the books we read and the people we share that with.

My job in this book was relatively small. I scoured Creative Commons for quality photography to replace pictures we could not legally distribute, adjusted my cover concepts as the editors weighed in, and moved pixels back and forth as we debated titles. We needed something dramatic - but self-mockingly so. We do take this very seriously, despite our jokes and laughter. If you've read Franz Kafka's The Trial, or, never mind that, if you've read Gibson's essay, reprinted in our collection, you see the big picture. Our plight began with reviews posted which did not follow a strict book-report formula, gushing criticism hard to swallow for many, and continued, in vague wordings, enforced in bizarre ways, to the kinds of essays found within this book, the type of review our community thrived on. Our book no longer focused on authors mislead into a world occupied by naïve consumers, but on those who continued to interact as they had before, albeit some a little more loudly, hoping to test the boundaries.

I understand that this picture may not be as clear to those who are not affected by the Patriot Act. Or those who have not lived or whose parents or grandparents have not lived under an oppressive regime - I have had the the misfortune of having all three. My grandparents lived to tell of The Third Reich, extended family survived the Iranian Revolution, lived in The Eastern Block.

To typists poised to tell me I'm seeing things, that I'm abusive, that I'm only ensuring that loud jerks continue to run their mouths, I would like to ask a question. Are you contributing to a culture without privacy or freedom intentionally or unintentionally? Our possessions have been sold, our words constrained and you have turned tail and run. Or you've enabled the powers that be to take far more control than when we joined this virtual community. By saying 'this is the way things are' are you willingly giving up rights you never thought you had?

Then again, we write our reviews for an oligarchy, lest we forget. We catalog in full view of the public and company employed statisticians. I may not like what you have to say, but I fully support your right to say it, comrade. This is the not Soviet Block, not by any easy stretch of the imagination, but I find my ability to stomach being a reviewer on Goodreads, not more than a piece of data, just as difficult as waking up under a dictator's iron fist. While I won't self-censor either, I certainly won't become a mere piece of data to be mined.

It is a rule of the internet that if you are not paying for something, you are the commodity for sale. This has become alarmingly apparent since Goodreads was sold. This book was a selected reaction to this rude awakening. With this revision we hoped to have a modern gift to give for Christmas. Due to the wrench thrown in our plans by misguided individuals and overly-prudent IT peeps, we had to find a new distributor and are now able to offer you a beautiful print edition from Amazon or Book Depository. Believe me, some editors suffered at my hand because I simply could not keep my file formats and fonts straight. But it's finally here. I've ordered my copy and hope that you will read this book. if you haven't already, and continue to pass along the word. And friends, continue to be off-topic.

Back for a Fresh Start into the New Year!

Hello fellow bibliophiles and welcome guests! I hope you had a cheerful and warm Christmas and a good send off into the new year.

A couple of months ago, I disappeared off this irregularly updated blog. I made a big deal about blogging and then went on an unannounced hiatus! But aside from moving back home and having a wonderful Christmas, not much has happened to me, so I'll get to the good stuff: my book-related resolutions!

1. Read books by 7 'classic' authors who are new to me.
Add 2+1+4, and you get seven - apparently seven is the number of the year. I'll trust it when the Chinese numerologists weigh in. I'm going finalize this list soon. Classic is also going to be loosely defined. Though I don't think Jonathan Franzen will make the list.

2. Read 50 books this year.
I reached for the stars last year and tried to read 100 books, cutting it back to 75 in the last few months and still not succeeding.

3. Create a book budget, ie Encourage self to read the books I already own.
Library books are lovely for this reason, though, especially when your library has gotten rid of late fees - not that I'm abusing that at all. (My library in Germany was actually lenient about late fees. I brought a book back a day late, and there was no late fee. Odd.) I also have over a thousand books in my possession. I even have a personal library catalogue. My friend was a bit flabbergasted when she found this out.

4. Read a set list of foreign language books.
I've been trying to read Colette's Chéri for a few years now. I'm sure some fairytales and poetry will make this list as well.

5. Re-read some of my favorite Children's books.
While I was in Germany I wrote the better part of a middle-grade novel. I was to go back and read some of the books I loved when I was younger, to see what I loved and how I can use that to inspire me as I edit.

I've already started a whole slew of books in the last dregs of 2013 and a couple more in the past two weeks. Among them is a Christmas present from last year, the best-selling Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff, a kobo freebie, an old but good-enough translation of Flaubert's Madame Bovary and I still haven't gotten much further with Born Wicked. I finished listening to a radio version of The Pirate Planet, Douglas Adams's first episode for Doctor Who, and Anne Hathaway's reading of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I finished reading all the books I had of Mercy Thompson, and am almost caught up with Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness mysteries.

I didn't get many books for Christmas or my birthday, but that may be the fact that I haven't seen my friends in a very long time. One friend has given me a belated birthday gift though: Conservation of Shadows, an anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy by Yoon-Ha Lee. I've never heard of her, but it sounds promising and a bit tempting. But I can't start it now, reading four books at once really is enough.

What about your reading resolutions for 2014? Is there a book you have to read this year? Is there a challenge you'll be setting yourself?