Saturday, February 11, 2012

I've been reading a recent edition of John Holt's book of homeschooling, Teach Your Own, mostly because I think John Holt is brilliant. I don't, of course, need to be convinced that homeschooling is a good idea, but sometimes it is helpful to be reminded why I'm choosing to keep my children at home instead of sending them away and getting a little peace and quiet! In the 1970s, Holt wrote a letter to the ACLU, which I'm quoting at length below. It's a little extreme, and I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but it's a perspective that still isn't considered, even with homeschooling becoming more widely practiced. It's interesting. Read it and see what you think.

[I've omitted a few items that are not, I believe, relevant any longer, such as corporal punishment in schools.]

...compulsory school attendance laws, in and of themselves, seem to me a very serious infringement of the civil liberties of children and their parents, and would be so no matter what schools were like, how they were organized, or how they treated children; in other words, even if they were far more humane and effective than in fact they are.

Beyond that, there are a number of practices, by now very common in schools all over the country, which in and of themselves seriously violate the civil liberties of children, including:

1. Keeping permanent records of children’s school performance. This would be inexcusable even if there were nothing in the records but academic grades. It is nobody’s proper business that a certain child got a certain mark in a certain course when she or he was eight years old.


4. Filling these records, as experience as shown they are filled, with many kinds of malicious and derogatory information and misinformation. These may include not just unconfirmed teachers’ reports of children’s misbehavior, but also all kinds of pseudopsychological opinions, judgments, and diagnoses about the children and even their families.
5. Compulsory psychological testing of children, and including the results of those tests in children’s records.
6. Labeling children as having such imaginary and supposedly incurable diseases as “minimal brain dysfunction”, “hyperactivity”, “specific learning disabilities”, etc.
7. Compulsory dosing of children with very powerful and dangerous psychoactive drugs, such as Ritalin.


9. Lowering students’ academic grades, or even giving failing grades, solely for disciplinary and/or attendance reasons. Not only is this practice widespread, but school administrators openly boast of it, though what it amounts to in fact is the deliberate falsification of an official record...


To return once more to compulsory school attendance in its barest form, you will surely agree that if the government told you that on one hundred and eighty days of the year, for six or more hours a day, you had to be at a particular place, and there do whatever people told you to do, you would feel that this was a gross violation of your civil liberties. The State, of course, justifies doing this to children as a matter of public policy, saying that only thus can it keep them from being ignorant and a burden on the State. But even if it were true that children were learning important things in schools and that they could not learn them anywhere else, neither of which I admit, I would still remind the ACLU that since in other and more difficult cases... it does not allow the needs of public policy to become an excuse for violating the basic liberties of citizens, it ought not to in this case.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

A few months ago, my husband and I decided to embark upon a Jane Austen Retrospective, re-reading and discussing each of the novels together. So far we've read Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, and Mansfield Park, and of course I've intended to write down my thoughts about each one as we've finished our discussions! I will try to return to the first three, as we did have some very interesting thoughts and conversations about them, but for now I'll just ramble about Mansfield Park, since I'm impatiently waiting for Bill to finish reading it.

I'll admit it: I used to be a Mansfield Park/Fanny Price hater, like many Jane Austen fans. Now, both have risen highly in my esteem, as I've recognized more of Austen's brilliance in this novel. It is, especially at first, hard to enjoy reading about Fanny: she is too self-effacing, even for someone in her position. Yes, she owes everything to the Bertrams, and could be sent back to her own wretched family if she makes a wrong move, but we see in the end that the more vivacious Susan is also welcomed by Lady Bertram (though this may be because of Fanny’s example). She hides behind her shyness and humility to such an extent that no one really knows her, and her humility frustrates people who are trying to be kind to her (at the ball, etc). But it’s unfair to dislike her because of her shyness, and also unfair to dislike her because of her physical frailty--she is not a strong and healthy person, and that’s clearly not her fault. She does take walks and ride; she’s not indolent, like Lady Bertram. And I think her bodily state greatly affects her emotional state.

It’s also easy to dislike Fanny because of her shy and stuttering inarticulateness, and her dissolution into tears at the slightest provocation. This is annoying, but I think Jane Austen is sly here. None of the characters in the novel know or understand Fanny, and they all think they can control her--but they can’t. Not a single person, not even the awe-inspiring Sir Thomas, not even the worshipped Edmund, can persuade Fanny to accept a marriage that appears astoundingly fortunate and beneficial. Any other woman in her position would have swallowed her scruples and accepted Henry Crawford, but Fanny did not.

Which brings me to another point about Fanny--she is amazingly intuitive. As I read the novel, I found myself being annoyed by all the other perspectives shown to the reader, and began to wonder about it. Jane Austen doesn’t do this in any of her other novels, but here we are allowed to see exactly what other characters think and feel. This is not poor writing style (obviously, since it’s Jane Austen!); on the contrary, I think that she is emphasizing Fanny’s intuitive knowledge of the people around her. She sees their true characters and is not fooled by outward appearances or flowery speeches. She’s not even flattered by the Crawfords’ attentions, but instead is made highly uncomfortable by them because she knows they are insincere.

Fanny also sees the real desires behind the theatrical madness. It is not, as many have claimed, simply a group of young people wishing to entertain themselves with playacting at home. Rather, they want to playact so that they can express the desires that must remain hidden in their real lives. Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford want to flirt with each other, as do Edmund and Mary--there’s nothing innocent about the play or the emotions that it excites. Fanny recognizes this immorality, and refuses to take part.

It has also been said that Fanny does nothing throughout the novel--indeed, she rarely even speaks. And yet, everywhere she goes, she makes changes. She makes people notice her because she is not what they expect. She brings a small oasis of calm to her family home in Portsmouth, and improves the lives of her sisters Susan and Betsey with her small yet effective actions. She devotes herself to the comfort of her aunt Bertram, who might otherwise quickly devolve into a whining invalid. She is a much more devoted daughter to Sir Thomas than his real daughters, and shows him how to be a good father. I think she makes Mrs Norris and Mary Crawford uncomfortable as they recognize their own faults in comparison to her own steadfastness. She never breathes a word of her love to Edmund, and yet eventually he notices her as something other than a young cousin.

This is a book about goodness, about morality. It’s not about the romance (in fact, I suspect that the last rushed chapter is not because Jane Austen didn’t know how to end what she’d started, but to emphasize the real point of the novel), and there’s so much that happens. One just has to be patient, and dig deep, and trust in the brilliance of a literary genius.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, by Anthony Esolen, came highly recommended, so I started reading my library copy with much enthusiasm. My husband stole the book after I'd read the first few chapters, and devoured the whole thing in a day, saying at the end that it was fantastic and we needed to own a copy. For the first few chapters, I agreed with both recommendations and was ready to recommend it to others. The author echoed many of my own opinions, and I felt he was on the right track in warning parents about overstimulating modern technology that can destroy imagination and intelligence. He also advocates classical education, referring to many wonderful works of literature, poetry, history, science, and philosophy.

The book is written in a similar tone as C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, as if the author were in fact telling parents how to destroy their children's imaginations. He suggests television, video games, dumbed-down education, helicopter parenting, and other methods as ways to keep children from developing dangerous ideas and thinking for themselves. It's a clever conceit, but began to pall somewhat as the book went on, especially since the author seemed to have trouble keeping it up and it was sometimes difficult to gauge his sincerity.

Then I started to notice that he rarely mentioned girls or domestic activities. All of his examples of a good imaginative life were about boys doing things that might have come straight from The American Boy's Handy Book. At one point he mentions that he feels unqualified to discuss girls, having never been one. That's fine, but in that case perhaps the book should have been titled Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Son.

And then he started in on the feminists. Now, I can understand being less than enthusiastic about Virginia Woolf or Kate Chopin, especially if one is a man, but to imply that they contributed little or nothing to English literature is not only wrong, it's uneducated. And it shows a seriously flawed view of history to dismiss suffragists and other women's rights advocates as unpleasant females with nothing better to do than make themselves obnoxious. He even goes so far as to claim that no feminist ever risked her life for her cause. Mrs. Pankhurst, anyone? Emily Davison? The hundreds of women who were force-fed in English prisons simply because they showed up at a rally? There may be many people who think of feminists as "no-bra-wearin', hairy-legged women's libbers", but someone with the prefix of "Dr" should know better than that.

By the end of the book Esolen's argument had fallen into nothing more than a personal manifesto. He seems to believe that men should be men and women should be women, just like back in the good old days. While I'm one of the first to agree that men and women are and should be different than each other, I don't believe that that means traditional roles necessarily apply anymore. And at no point in history was there a magical time where everyone was imaginative and intelligent and happy. Modern technology does make it easier for people to dull their brains, and that's a great topic for a book. It's just too bad Esolen didn't stick with that idea.

I really wanted to like this book, and I think it might have been really good--if he'd had a decent editor. My husband and I both felt that the author simply didn't have anyone along the way to curb his rantings and bring him back to the original point. He got carried away and lost my approbation.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Well, I persevered through The Crowded Street, and in the end I suppose it was worthwhile. Perhaps I was in the wrong mood, or the comparison withMiss Buncle's Book was too stark, but I felt somewhat wearied by another story about a young woman whose family, situation, and disposition were all against her. Fortunately it ended well.

Then I picked up The New House, by Lettice Cooper--this novel was also published by Persephone, although the edition I read was a Virago from the library. At first it was depressingly similar to The Crowded Street, but overall I liked it much better. It was shorter, for one thing (The Crowded Street dragged on a bit too long), and followed more characters; and it covered the events of just one day, in which various members of a family deal with moving out of their house after the death of the husband and father. Some of them are glad to leave, and some are devastated, but all of them are changed for the better in the end.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I took this photo because I misread the rules for a photo competition as part of the Persephone Reading Weekend. The competition was for something else, but I liked the picture and decided to post it here. The book (illustrated in the photo by my son's toys!) is The Crowded Street, by Winifred Holtby, my second Persephone of the weekend, and I must say it's rather hard going after the innocent charm of Miss Buncle's Book. I shall persevere, however, and post my review upon completion.

In the meantime, here are links to several other Persephone Books, which I have read and reviewed in the past.

The Home-Maker, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, by Winifred Watson
Brook Evans, by Susan Glaspell
Every Eye, by Isobel English
Marjory Fleming, by Oriel Malet
Farewell Leicester Square, by Betty Miller
The Victorian Chaise-longue, by Marghanita Laski
Fidelity, by Susan Glaspell
William: An Englishman, by Cicely Hamilton

The Persephone Books are works of early 20th century literature, mostly by women authors, that were popular upon first publication, but that slipped through the cracks of time and languished unknown and unread for many years before being rescued and reprinted. You can find the full list of these wonderful publications here; so far I have read 25 out of 90, with several others currently in my TBR pile. Sadly I do not own any of the elegant dove-grey volumes yet, since they are somewhat beyond my budget, but I have been fortunate enough to find a number of them through our public library system. Though I have liked some much more than others, in general I highly recommend these excellent books.
I'm sliding this post in under the wire for Persephone Reading Weekend, I hope. We spent most of the weekend in town with my parents-in-law, which allowed me to read but not to blog. I had hoped to get through three Persephones, but sadly only managed one and a half; fortunately the one was very much worthwhile. Miss Buncle's Book, by D.E. Stevenson, reminded me a great deal of my first Persephone read, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. Both are the sort of novel that I wish was still written nowadays--perfect, sweet, charming, and delightful. They are not at all "realistic", but are lovely daydream-like stories where everything turns out for the best and everyone (well, nearly) is happy at the end.

Miss Buncle is a spinster living in an English village, who turns to writing when her inheritance begins to run out. Knowing nothing but the people around her, she spins a tale that is not exactly fiction; every character in her novel is easily recognizable as one or other of her neighbors. To her surprise, the novel is snapped up by the first publisher to whom she sends it, and even more to her surprise, it is consequently read by the very people who feature (not so favorably) within it. No one suspects Miss Buncle as the pseudonymous author, but certain members of the village are very determined to uncover the secret.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

As we amass an impressive collection of children's literature, and as our book-loving friends begin to have children as well, I have realized what a great opportunity I have for exchanging picture book recommendations. It is, for a number of reasons, difficult to browse the children's sections of bookstores or libraries, so I always like to have an ongoing list of titles and authors to look for. With so many to choose from, I like knowing what others have enjoyed so that we can give them a try. I hope others will post their lists of favorites after reading this post!

It took me a while to decide how to categorize these titles; I've listed our favorites first, then grouped the rest by attention span (according to the amount of text on each page, not necessarily the difficulty of the content). The author's name is first, followed by the illustrator.

Top Favorites

At the very top of any list is Tasha Tudor. I cannot recommend her books highly enough. Her stories are charming and delightful, and her illustrations are near perfection. My whole family adores her, and Sam regularly demands one of her books at storytime. Every one of her books is a treasure, but here are a few that we like especially: A Time to Keep; Pumpkin Moonshine; Becky's Birthday; Corgiville Fair; The Dolls' Christmas

We are especially fond of the following books as well, in alphabetical order:

Jill Barklem: Brambly Hedge books
The stories are somewhat lacking in plot and action, but the illustrations are marvelous!

Elsa Beskow: Pelle's New Suit
A sweet tale of a boy who works cheerfully for a new suit from his lamb's wool.

Betsy Bowen: Gathering: A Northwoods Counting Book; Antler, Bear, Canoe: A Northwoods Alphabet
Wood-cut illustrations accompany appealing descriptions of life in the Northwoods of Minnesota.

Barbara Cooney: Miss Rumphius
A little girl declares that she will do three things in her life: go to faraway places, live by the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful.

Irene Haas: The Maggie B
One of my absolute favorites. A little girl wishes for her own ship, and wakes up the next morning aboard the Maggie B, with her brother James for company.

Donald Hall, Barbara Cooney: Ox-Cart Man
A farmer loads up his cart with all the extra produce from his farm and goes to the market. This is pretty much my dream life.

Russell Hoban, Lilian Hoban: Bedtime for Frances; A Baby Sister for Frances; Bread and Jam for Frances
We love Frances! And we are in awe of her long-suffering parents!

Robert McCloskey: Blueberries for Sal; One Morning In Maine; Make Way For Ducklings
We love them.

Alice McLerran, Barbara Cooney: Roxaboxen
As children, my sisters and I were much inspired by this story of neighbor children and their own little town on a hill.

Iona Opie, Rosemary Wells: Here Comes Mother Goose; My Very First Mother Goose
Lots of nursery rhymes with cute illustrations.

Patricia Polacco: G Is For Goat
Cheery and colorful illustrations of little Russian girls and their farm animals (including Nubian goats!).

Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Two Bad Mice; The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle; The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin; The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse; Ginger and Pickles
Our particular favorites.

Alice and Martin Provensen: The Year at Maple Hill Farm; Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm
Fun and slyly humorous tales of life at Maple Hill Farm.

Richard Scarry: Cars and Trucks and Things That Go; The Great Pie Robbery; Find Your ABCs; Mr Frumble's Coffee Shop Disaster
How many times have we read these, as children and as adults? Oh, probably a million or so. But even though I groan when Sam pulls them out again, I still like them.

Jane Werner Watson, Eloise Wilkin: My Little Golden Book About God
A perfect introduction to Christianity. Theologically sound without being confusing, simple without being dumbed down. And lovely illustrations as well!

1-2 sentences per page

Allan Ahlberg, Janet Ahlberg: Each Peach Pear Plum
A long-time favorite--I spy fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters, with cheery illustrations.

Sandra Boynton: Blue Moo; But Not The Hippopotamus; Barnyard Dance!; Hippos Go Berserk; Snoozers
The board books are perfect for babies, and the songbooks/CDs are fun for everybody.

Margaret Wise Brown: Goodnight Moon; The Moon Shines Down; Seven Little Postmen

Judy Collins, Jane Dyer: My Father
A beautifully illustrated version of a lovely sweet song.

Lois Ehlert: Eating the Alphabet: Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z
Bright and colorful pictures of almost all the fruits and vegetables you can think of.

Cathryn Falwell: Feast for 10
Count to 10 with a family preparing a holiday meal.

Marla Frazee: Hush Little Baby
Lovely illustrations of an Appalachian family accompany the familiar song.

Taro Gomi: Bus Stops; My Friends
Odd little books, but Sam enjoyed them as a baby.

Edward Lear, Jan Brett: The Owl and the Pussycat
Brilliant illustrations accompany the familiar poem.

Thomas Locker: The Mare on the Hill
These aren't illustrations, they're paintings--absolutely gorgeous. The story is simple but sweet, about two brothers who tame their grandfather's mare.

Jean Marzollo, Walter Wick: I Spy series
These are great challenges for both kids and adults--some of them are really hard! The photos are really interesting and well-arranged.

Jill Murphy: Five Minutes' Peace; A Quiet Night In
Funny stories about Mr and Mrs Large and their occasionally tiresome children.

Kadir Nelson: He's Got The Whole World In His Hands
Beautiful illustrations accompany the familiar song.

Jerry Pallotta, Rob Bolster: The Construction Alphabet Book
A must-have for boys obsessed with heavy machinery. The sound effects are a little annoying, but the pictures are nicely detailed.

Antoinette Portis: Not A Box
Sam is highly amused by this short and simple story of an imaginative little rabbit.

Peter H. Reynolds: The Dot
An odd but inspiring little story of a girl who becomes an artist in spite of herself.

Stacey Schuett: Somewhere In The World Right Now
A look at what's happening around the world right now--as children on the East Coast go to sleep, children in China are waking up, etc.

Simms Taback: I Miss You Every Day
Simple and a bit silly, but Sam likes it.

Cat Urbigkit: Puppies, Puppies Everywhere!
Very simple text with sweet photographs of sheepdog puppies in Wyoming.

Laura Williams: ABC Kids
Cute photographs of kids demonstrating letters of the alphabet.

Short paragraph per page

Lloyd Alexander, Trina Schart Hyman: The Fortune-Tellers
A winning combo of author and illustrator, and a funny little story.

Dianna Hutts Aston, Sylvia Long: A Seed Is Sleepy; An Egg Is Quiet
Beautifully illustrated --easy non-fiction about seeds and eggs. The information is simple yet accurate, and doesn't try to avoid big words like chlorophyll or cotyledon.

Felicia Bond: Poinsettia and Her Family; Poinsettia and the Firefighters
A little pig learns to appreciate her family; and not to be afraid of the dark.

Jan Brett: Daisy Comes Home; Annie and the Wild Animals; Armadillo Rodeo; Hedgie's Surprise
Predictable stories but amazing illustrations.

Virginia Lee Burton: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel; Katy and the Big Snow
Must-haves for any child's bookshelf.

Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar; Animals Animals; Dragons Dragons; A House for a Hermit Crab; Pancakes, Pancakes!
I'm always amazed by his illustrations--so inventive. Lots of good poems in the anthologies.

Judy Dunn, Phoebe Dunn: The Animals of Buttercup Farm; The Little Goat; The Little Lamb
Simple stories and sweet photographs about farm animals and the children who love them.

Katherine Holabird, Helen Craig: Angelina Ballerina
The Angelina stories are actually pretty lame, but I love the illustrations, and I want to live in her house.

Shirley Hughes: Alfie's Feet; Alfie Gets In First; Annie Rose Is My Little Sister
Cute stories about a little British boy.

Jack Kent: The Fat Cat
My favorite as a child. A silly folk tale about a cat who starts eating everything in his path.

Patricia MacLachlan, Katy Schneider: Once I Ate A Pie
Odd, amusing little poems describing the personalities of various dogs.

Christine Kole Maclean, Mike Reed: Even Firefighters Hug Their Moms
I love the imaginative games that the little boy plays with his sister, although I wish their annoying mom would quit bugging them!

Bill Martin Jr, Lois Ehlert: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Silly. Fun. A good alphabet introduction. Sam likes it.

Kate and Jim McMullan: I'm Mighty; I'm Dirty; I Stink!
Hardly great literature, but fun read-aloud books for boys who like vehicles.

Jacqueline Mitton, Christina Balit: Zoo in the Sky
A wonderful introduction to the mythology of constellations, with beautiful illustrations.

Liesel Moak Skorpen, Doris Burn: We Were Tired of Living In A House
Four children move out of their house and try out various alternative dwellings. Cute and imaginative.

Robin Stemp, Carolyn Dinan: Guy and the Flowering Plum Tree
Another childhood favorite--a little boy wonders what will happen after he swallows a plum pit.

Judith Viorst, Ray Cruz: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day
Some days are like that, even in Australia.

Rosemary Wells: Max and Ruby books
Fun silly stories about Max the rabbit and his bossy older sister.

David Weisner: The Three Pigs
What happens when characters fall off the pages of their stories? They rearrange things to suit themselves, of course!

Laura Ingalls Wilder: My First Little House Books
These are a bit oversimplified, and the illustrations only try to be as good as Garth Williams's, but they are a nice intro to the longer books. Sam is particularly fond of Dance at Grandpa's and Going to Town.

Audrey and Don Wood: The Napping House; King Bidgood's in the Bathtub
Goofy and fun. Even better if you can find their CD and sing along.

Virginia Woolf, Julie Vivas: Nurse Lugton's Curtain
An odd little story found amongst Woolf's manuscripts.

Several paragraphs per page

Chris Van Allsburg: The Polar Express; Jumanji
The classic Christmas story and the very odd story of a board game that turns out to be very far from boring.

Judi Barrett, Ron Barrett: Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
Goofy fantasy about strangely edible weather.

James Harrison, Diana Mayo: My Little Picture Bible
A good beginner Bible. Most of the familiar stories are included, decently re-written, with small amounts of text on each page and illustrations that aren't too cartoony.

James Herriot: Treasury for Children
A lovely collection of some of his most touching stories.

Trina Schart Hyman: Little Red Riding Hood
Such an odd fairy tale, but retold well and illustrated superbly.

Virginia Kahl: The Duchess Bakes A Cake
When the duchess gets bored one day and decides to bake a cake, the results are surprising.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Susan Jeffers/Ted Rand: Hiawatha; Paul Revere's Ride
Wonderful read-aloud poems. Sam loves them both.

Marianna Mayer, K.Y. Craft: The Twelve Dancing Princesses
A gorgeously illustrated retelling of an odd but lovely fairy tale.

Louise Moeri, Trina Schart Hyman: Star Mother's Youngest Child
This is still a bit long for Sam, but it was one of my favorites as a child--a sweet Christmas story.

Jerry Pinkney: Noah's Ark
A nice adaptation--excellent illustrations and a decently re-written text.

Dr Seuss: Green Eggs and Ham; I Can Lick Thirty Tigers Today!; Dr Seuss's ABCs
I'm not a big Seuss fan, but these are tolerable.

John Updike, Trina Schart Hyman: A Child's Calendar
Poems for each month of the year, wih illustrations by one of our favorite artists.

For anyone who's wondering, yes, we do own all of these books (and oh, so many more--check out our complete picture book collection here). And Sam enjoys all of them at least as much as I do, including Angelina Ballerina and The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I always enjoy seeing the selection of books he chooses for storytime--it is invariably eclectic.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I love the new Blogger templates! I was never very happy with the last template I had, so I was glad to see some new ones, and had a hard time choosing one. Finally decided to stick with pink...

I've been reading a lot of short stories lately--not for any particular reason, just because I keep finding good collections. Here are a few reviews and recommendations.

The Montana Stories, by Katherine Mansfield
I didn't know what to expect when I picked up this book--I actually put off reading it for a while because I didn't feel in the mood. When I read the introduction I was almost turned off again, upon learning that Mansfield would not have approved of the collection at all (because it included unfinished and unedited stories). However, I kept reading, and then I couldn't stop reading. I think I may never write again, after reading her unpolished gems. I loved these stories more than anything else I've read by Mansfield--her prose absolutely sparkled, and I found myself desperate for more after each fragment. I can understand why she would have disapproved, but I'm glad Persephone published this collection anyway. Absolutely lovely.

The New York Stories, by Elizabeth Hardwick
I was excited to receive this book as my first Early Reviewers win from LIbraryThing; its summary caught my eye immediately, and my first impression when it finally arrived was promising. However, after reading it I had to wait a few days before posting a review because I wasn't sure what to say.

The stories were well-written. They were interesting. The characters were realistic, and each story was an accurate snapshot of human life and interaction.

But I didn't like them. Even in the earliest stories, the author's tone was modern and sardonic, and she wrote from a perspective on life that is very different from mine. Everything seemed dreary and hopeless and tired.

Speaking as objectively as possible, these are good short stories, and I think many people would enjoy them--but they're not my style.

Good Evening, Mrs. Craven, by Mollie Panter-Downes
An excellent collection of stories. Well-written, striking, and with that perfect little twist that makes one sit back and reflect after each story.

A Harvest of Stories, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
In the prologue, the author describes her perceived role as a storyteller:

" focus what powers I had on the effort to understand and to invite readers to join me in trying to understand what happens to and within our poor, fumbling, struggling human race... to bend the utmost effort of mind and sympathy on the lives nearest at hand."

And so she does, beautifully. I loved every one of these stories, and am finding it difficult to choose one or two favorites to mention. She begins with a collection of 'Vermont Memories', stories written about her family and neighbors in the Green Mountains, and ends with 'War', stories about the French people with whom she lived and worked during the World Wars. In between were more varied stories about 'Men, Women--and Children', and these I enjoyed most of all. I'm eager to read her writings on Montessori education, since I particularly liked the stories into which some of her theories slipped ("The Rainy Day, the Good Mother, and the Brown Suit" and "As Ye Sow"--both very inspiring to me as a mother). In fact, I'm eager to read everything she wrote, and wish that more of her books were available.

This is a wonderful collection of short stories, and I highly recommend it.

Muse and Reverie, by Charles de Lint
his is one of his more random collections. Several of the stories I'd read before, and some were not really very interesting. I did very much enjoy "The Butter Spirit's Tithe", however, and "The Crow Girls' Christmas" was as delightful as all the Crow Girls stories are. "Refinerytown" and "Da Slockit Light" were typical of de LInt's mediocre tales, like form-stories written on a deadline. "Newford Spook Squad" was amusing, and "Riding Shotgun" was pleasantly creepy. "Somewhere In My Mind There Is A Painting Box" is in several other collections, but it's a great story and a return to the woods of "A Circle of Cats" and "Seven Wild Sisters"; it nicely complements the last story, "The World in a Box", which is also excellent.

It's not his best, but being a diehard de Lint fan, I had to buy it in hardcover as soon as I saw it on the shelf at Powell's. Worth owning.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 1, by Jonathan Strahan
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this anthology, particularly the science fiction stories. Several of the stories were familiar to me from other collections, but the Elizabeth Hand and Connie Willis were new to me and quite delightful surprises. The anthology slows down a bit in the middle, with some stories that are more propaganda than science fiction, but picks back up quickly. I'll be on the lookout for more of these.

The Dragon Book, by Jack Dann
Lots of excellent stories in this anthology. The best one by far was Peter S. Beagle's "Oakland Dragon Blues", but that's not surprising since he's a fantastic author with a real knack for short stories. I was surprised by my second favorite, "The Dragaman's Bride", by Andy Duncan--I hope this author keeps writing and getting published.

Tamora Pierce's story was fun, especially for those familiar with her characters (and somewhat simplistic writing style); Gregory Maguire's "Puz_le" was also fun and reminded me a bit of Nina Kiriki Hoffman. The stories by Naomi Novik and Diana Gabaldon were light and amusing and rather silly, but I was a little disappointed in the stories by Jane Yolen, Tanith Lee, and Diana Wynne Jones--I always expect better from them. While I didn't really like Cecelia Holland's story, I enjoyed the writing enough to seek out some of her historical fiction, which is now on my TBR pile. I'll also be on the lookout for Sean Williams, with whom I'm not familiar but whose story was intriguing.

The worst story? "Bob Choi's Last Job", by Jonathan Stroud. I've occasionally thought of giving his Bartimaeus books a try, but this story convinced me to avoid them. I would recommend just skipping over this story, as it should not have been included in an otherwise well-written and enjoyable anthology.

And a few more that I haven't yet reviewed on LibraryThing:

The Poison Eaters and Other Stories, by Holly Black
Spell Fantastic, edited by Martin H. Greenburg
Great Short Stories by American Women
Minnie's Room, by Mollie Panter-Downes
The Matisse Stories; Little Black Book of Stories; Elementals, by A.S. Byatt