I found this word in Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.

“If asked about her cooking, Grandma would look down at her hands which some glorious instinct sent on journeys to be gloved in flour, or to plumb disencumbered turkeys, wrist-deep in search for their animal souls.”

In my words: lighter, without a burden.

In their words: to free from a burden or other encumbrance; disburden.  http://www.dictionary.com/browse/disencumber?s=t

In pictures:

Deep Thinker 2 from Dandelion Wine

Quote: “In all the years not one single dish resembled another. Was this one from the deep green sea? Had that one been shot from blue summer air? Was it a swimming food or a flying food, had it pumped blood or chlorophyll, had it walked or leaned after the sun? No one asked. No one cared.”

Context: The narrator is explaining what dinner was like in the boarding house run by Douglas Spaulding’s grandmother. He’s making the point that Doug’s grandmother can make a great meal out of anything, and that no one ever cares to even ask what it is because it is so delicious.

This made me think: Aside from the cool and unusual way the author was able to describe people enjoying a meal, this quote reminded me of the way people enjoy food today in a world very different from the world Bradbury is describing in Dandelion Wine. Today, we get food from the store, from a restaurant, or from Burger King without ever stopping to think where it comes from, and sometimes without even thinking about what it actually is. It’s kind of ironic that this passage is used to describe people enjoying delicious homemade food, but it could also be used to describe very different people enjoying processed garbage mystery food.

Deep Thinker from Dandelion Wine

Quote: “Yesterday Ching Ling Soo died. Yesterday the Civil War ended right here in this town forever. Yesterday Mr. Lincoln died right here and so did General Lee and General Grant and a hundred thousand others facing north and south. And yesterday afternoon, at Colonel Freeleigh’s house, a herd of buffalo-bison as big as all Green Town, Illinois, went off the cliff into nothing at all. Yesterday a whole lot of dust settled for good.”

Context: Douglas and Tom Spaulding have just found out that Colonel Freeleigh, whom they refer to as a “time machine” because he is so old, has just died. In this passage, Douglas is commenting on the fact that there is no one else they know who can tell them about events of the distant past from personal experience.

This made me think: I thought this passage was cool because of the unique way it described the death of a person. Instead of just seeing Colonel Freeleigh’s death as sad or as loss, Douglas explains that the boys no longer have a direct link to the great events of the past through Colonel Freeleigh. I thought that the final sentence, “Yesterday a whole lot of dust settled for good,” was a particularly cool and well-worded image.


I found this word in the book Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.

“Oh, the luxury of lying in the fern night and the grass night and the night of susurrant slumbrous voices weaving the dark together.”

In my words: Like a whisper.

In their words: softly murmuring; whispering http://www.dictionary.com/browse/susurrant?s=t

In pictures:


Summer Reading Book 12

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

249 pages / Speculative Fiction / 4 out of 5 stars

As a literature major and an English teacher, I have a secret list of books that I am ashamed and embarrassed to admit (even though I probably won’t, unless someone metaphorically twists my proverbial arm, actually admit) I haven’t read. Fahrenheit 451 isn’t on that list (anymore).

As a teenager, I got really into cautionary speculative fiction. I read 1984 when I was fourteen and followed it up quickly with Animal Farm and Brave New World . Suddenly I was seeing propaganda and thought manipulation everywhere. But I never made it to reading Fahrenheit 451 until now.

I enjoyed the book, probably more than I would have as a teenager. Even though I like Bradbury, I get a little annoyed by his voice sometimes, and I wish the characters were rounded out a bit more. Otherwise, I don’t have any real complaints. I like the way Bradbury sets up his future world by dropping a few well-placed details here and there, without beating the reader to death with lengthy description. I like the way Montag is so intrigued and affected by Clarisse without quite being able to put his finger on the reason why. I especially love the way Captain Beatty looms as an almost otherworldly presence and threat throughout the book. His poise, detachment, and ruthlessness leave me wanting to compare him to an embryonic Judge Holden from Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West , aware of the absurdity and amorality of his role in the story, but nonetheless happy to fill it.

In addition to enjoying the story itself, the 60th Anniversary Edition had a few perks. The introduction by Neil Gaiman was a worthwhile read on the context of Fahrenheit 451 as well as an insightful examination of the reasons for writing and reading speculative fiction. There was a lot of great information following the story about the creative process Bradbury went through as he was writing it. A little less captivating were the critical reviews of the book, both from when it was written and years later. Even when the reviewers were authors I’ve read, like Harold Bloom and Margaret Atwood, there still wasn’t much to shed any new light on the book or its history.

Summer Reading Books 9, 10, and 11

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

608 pages / History and Anthropology / 4 out of 5 stars

I read Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies a few years ago and was captivated. I loved the way that Jared Diamond has of bringing history into focus. Diamond takes broad samplings of the past and puts them together like the pieces of a puzzle, so that the big picture is suddenly clear. I was particularly surprised to be so captivated by writing so organized and so methodical. Diamond lays out every step in answering every question leading up to his conclusions in such a way that I feel like I want the answers just as urgently as he does, and that I am willing to slog through just as much data, albeit vicariously, as he is. This same spirit pervaded my reading of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. I have to admit, Collapse is a little slower than Guns, Germs, and Steel, and there seems to be a greater emphasis on slogging when moving through data, but the big picture is just as clear and satisfying in the end.

Whereas Guns, Germs, and Steel answers questions about why and how societies reached various benchmarks in the progress and advancement of civilization at different times, Collapse (as you might infer from the title) looks at what factors were involved in the collapse of past societies, examines how different factors affected different peoples, and concludes by cautioning the reader about these factors and their looming threat to our present-day global society. Although this tends to read at times like an environmental alarmist diatribe, Diamond is, as he puts it, a “cautious optimist,” believing that having identified the problem, or more accurately, the twelve major problems, that have undone societies in the past, we can now focus on solutions to avoid a similar outcome in our future.

The thing I like most about Diamond’s writing is his ability to articulate clear and direct questions to focus his research and respond to with his conclusions. As a junior high English teacher, I’m always looking for ways to help my kids learn to ask questions that will inspire them and motivate them to seek answers–and ask more questions. Even if a reader disagrees with Diamond’s conclusions, there is a lot to be learned from Diamond’s question and answer approach to research and writing.

Summer Reading Book 8

Ghostsitter by Shelly Brown

262 Pages / Junior Fiction / 4 out of 5 stars

I read this book with my seven and six-year-old daughters. The seven-year-old loved it, but the six-year-old thought it was too scary and eventually jumped ship. I think the book is probably better-suited to slightly older readers, like fifth or sixth graders. My seven-year-old was able to keep up with the vocabulary and action for the most part until the last twenty-five pages or so, when I felt like my kid was interrupting me every other paragraph or so to get me to clarify what was going on. This may have been because the end moved a little more quickly, like most climactic conclusions should, or it may be because the ending was a little confusing and took a little extra cognitive bridge-building to get over. There was at least one pretty significant plot hole at the end that bothered me, but I don’t think she picked up on it.

Overall I thought it was a good book. There were a few genuinely creepy moments and the mystery was well-crafted. The characters were well-rounded and believable. The baby-sitting element was a little hard for me to swallow, but I guess that’s because I read with the expectations of a crotchety old man, not a ten-year-old girl.


Atavism – the reappearance in an individual of characteristics of some remote ancestor that have been absent in intervening generations. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/atavism?s=t



Summer Reading Books 6 and 7

Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith

368 Pages (Counts as 2) / Young Adult Fiction / 4 out of 5 Stars

For the first hundred pages or so, I had just about made up my mind that Ghost Medicine could go back to gathering dust at the library. I chose to read Ghost Medicine because I had recently read the Winger books, Winger and Stand-Off , and wanted to see what else Andrew Smith had written. As I mentioned, Ghost Medicine started slow, but the time Smith took at the beginning to set things up paid off. There are several scenes in this book, particularly the scenes dealing with with animals and their medicines, that transcend my expectations for young adult literature. Smith created a feeling of mysticism not easy to carry in a book ultimately about teenage boys picking fights with other teenage boys. Those scenes were the payoff for the rest of the book. Ghost Medicine did for me everything I hope a good young adult novel will do. I felt connected with the characters and was able to remember what it felt like to be teenager.

Ghost Medicine did not have much in common with Smith’s books Winger and Stand-Off, though between the three, Ghost Medicine is probably the better book. Ghost Medicine is less focused and more ambitious in scope, but the powerful moments are much more powerful than in Winger and Stand-off. All three can get a bit melodramatic, but the Smith compensates for the melodrama throughout the rest of the books. As a side note, there is a lot less foul language in Ghost Medicine than there is in the Winger books, which I only mention because, as a junior high English teacher, I don’t have to be as careful about students to whom I recommend the book. And I don’t always say “to whom” to avoid ending my sentence with a preposition, but I did just say I was an English teacher, so it felt like an ethical obligation.