Thursday, November 10, 2011

THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET – Brian Selznick


The middle grandson said he liked this book and since the movie is coming out and we might want to go see it together I decided to get a copy. Yikes! I asked him if he knew it was monstrously large at 533 pages. With much eye rolling and sighing he informed me it has a lot of big margins, pictures and blank pages and I could handle it. He and I and my other grandson went to the bookstore on a Sunday and I read it that evening after they went home.

It is beautiful. As soon as I finished I went to the scholastic website to investigate where I learned that Selznick wanted the book to feel like an old movie. At http://www.theinventionofhugocabret.com/about_hugo_intro.htm there is also a wealth of information about the author's inspiration, old movies mentioned in the book, the real train crash, and information about automata, specifically the one that was the inspiration for the automaton in this book. But I digress.

In 1931 twelve-year-old orphaned Hugo is trying to survive living in a Paris train station. His uncle who is the clock keeper for the station is missing, and though Hugo keeps the clocks running and picks up his uncle's checks he doesn't have any way to cash them. Having no income, Hugo is forced to steal food and try to remain undetected. Hugo also is skilled mechanically and steals nuts, bolts, metal, and gears from the toy seller to work on an automaton that his father had been working on before he died. Hugo's existence is threatened when he is caught stealing. There is suspense, a train wreck, and a close encounter with death.

I don't know how to adequately describe this book. Pages of fascinating illustrations are followed by pages of text and I couldn't read fast enough or look long enough at each picture. I read it, explored information about the author and the real people and events portrayed in the book and then read it again. It would be a lovely book to share with a child and I am looking forward to the movie. Hope my grandsons will let me go with them.

THE HIDDEN MAN – Anthony Flacco


If you are pining for something to make your skin crawl this is a book for you. I picked this up at The Strand in NYC on my last trip there in 2008. Why it got shuffled to the bottom of my “to read” pile I have no idea, but since it has been gloomy and windy I was in the mood for a tale noir. This didn't disappoint.

I remember picking it out of a basement bin at The Strand and being intrigued by the beautiful cover art which is a photo of lighted buildings at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibit in San Francisco. What is so great about the cover art besides the beauty of the scene is the way the title and author's name seem to be reflected also. Another thing that interested me was the author profile in the back. There I read that he is a screen writer. This book actually read a bit like a movie – chapters occurring simultaneously or seconds, minutes, or hours apart.

The city is busy rebuilding on the rubble of the great earthquake a decade before, and preparing for the world's fair. A famous mesmerist is struggling to keep his act going while spiraling into a drugged world of his own where he battles the onset of Alzheimer's. Detective Randall Blackburn deals with unethical dealings within the police department while teaming with his son to solve a murder which hasn't happened yet. A nondescript man, who is actually a demented killer, stalks victims (and Blackburn's fiance) in broad daylight. Many people see him yet he goes unnoticed. Blackburn's daughter keeps the plot hopping too with her efforts to be an individual in her own right as an independent woman in this stuffy 1915 upper crust society.

A lot of action, intrigue, and yes a lot of blood and guts. Actually quite well written and nice short 275 page afternoon read. My only complaint? Typos! Argh!

MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS – Rhoda Janzen


I bought this title last year when our neighboring community, which has a large Mennonite population, was buzzing about it. However, it was one of those books that I kept meaning to get to and kept moving around my bookshelf. Then the Jay County Public Library Book Group picked it which prodded me to get it read. I did like it a lot and recommend it but I have to confess at times Ms Jansen could have moved along if you know what I mean.

Everyone at discussion liked the book, some more than others. All of us could identify with being down and out but knowing that you can always go home and those there will still love you.

To put this book in a nutshell - Janzen unfolds a story of a person leaving roots and religion behind, making a life out in the world, then coming full-circle home to heal in the bosom of the family she left behind. She begins her memoir with her decision to go home after the breakup of her marriage and a serious automobile accident. If you pick it up though don't expect to get a tale of religious rebirth or a prodigal's return. While she tells us heartwarming stories of growing up in a close family, and the goodness found among her own people, she does not ever seem to feel that leaving was wrong and she certainly does not reaffirm her faith. Instead she points out the issues from her past that made her want to flea and how those issues still bother her.

This book is a memoir but also a look inside a denomination that most of us are not acquainted with of long skirts, submissive women, bonnets, and disapproval of higher education. We also get to see, over a 40 year period, how there seems to be some mellowing or softening of some of the rigid rules that Janzen grew up with. For instance when she was a girl dancing was against all rules. By the time she returns 15 years later, there is “liturgical movement” at church and young girls are allowed to take formal dance lessons.

I feel like much of the book was therapeutic for the author to help her accept the failure of her marriage to a man who after fifteen years revealed he is a homosexual. She still loves him and perhaps she always will. Janzen uses humor and sarcasm which I appreciate but she also illuminates her family and friends so tenderly that one can't help but feel an affinity with them. She doesn't stay but taking the trip home with her is worth the ride.