Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book 9- "Phantom of the Opera" by Gaston Leroux

When I was talking to my Grandma about this book list the other day, I happened to mention that since I have thus far really enjoyed most of the books I've read, I'm becoming a little afraid that I'm inadvertently front-loading my reading choices, leaving myself to a very dreary, dry, slow-moving fall and winter. When I finished "Sleepy Hollow," I decided I would choose one of the books on my list that I had been kind of avoiding, due to my assumption that they wouldn't be as enjoyable as others might be. Which is how I ended up reading "Phantom of the Opera." Which just goes to show how little I know.

I chose "Phantom" because I assumed it would be long winded and dry. I
mean, with an author named "Gaston Leroux" I knew it was French, and I've never been interested in or impressed by anything French (sorry, France lovers.) I mean, sure, I realize it's a huge success and a very, VERY famous book / musical / movie / Halloween costume, but I still figured I'd be biting a bullet and getting a crappy book out of my way.


I felt justified in my decision through the prologue and the first few pages, which were pretty long winded and boring... but that was about it. I read the whole book in less than 24 hours, unable to put it down for more than an hour or two at a time before I'd pick it back up again. I read it the whole way through my kid's naps and well after everyone had gone to bed. When the battery on my Nook finally gave out two pages from the end of the story, I thought I was going to die (which, in my opinion, is the ONLY drawback to e-readers.)

"Phantom of the Opera" starts out in the Paris Opera House, which is supposedly haunted by the "Opera Ghost." All kinds of strange happenings are blamed on the Opera Ghost, and although everyone jokes about it, everyone kind of takes it seriously too. The managers of the Opera House are retiring and being replaced by two other managers, and during the farewell celebration for the departing managers, an employee is found hanging in one of the cellars. It is immediately blamed on the Opera Ghost, and the departing managers confide in the new managers that the Opera Ghost, or O.G., has left them notes in the past and that they actually abide by a list of rules he left for them. Most importantly, O.G. demands a monthly sum of money and insists that Box Five never be sold, so that he can use it at his discretion to watch the shows whenever he feels like it. The new managers disregard the list as a joke, determined to prove that O.G. does not exist.

The parallel plot line involves Christine Daae, an up-and-coming opera singer, and Vicomte Raoul de Chagny, childhood companion of Christine. Raoul is so far above Christine socially that a romantic relationship is considered an impossibility for them, but that does not change the fact that they are in love with one another, although neither one has yet admitted it. When Raoul goes to Christine's dressing room to confront her with his feelings, he is pulled into a whirlwind of strange events going on in her life. The most dramatic event is her interactions with "the Angel of Music," a being who sounds suspiciously similar to the Opera Ghost. Christine believes that her late father sent the Angel to her to teach her to sing better and help her succeed, and only too late realizes that she is in real danger, and that things are not as they seem.

The two plot lines come together pretty explosively during a performance in which the star of the show, a woman for whom Christine is the understudy, begins inexplicably croaking like a toad. During the commotion that ensues, a chandelier comes crashing down from the ceiling, killing a woman who was a guest of one of the new managers. The new managers, for their part, had defied O.G.'s demand to put Christine in as star that night, and had further aggravated him by watching the show from his "private" seats in Box Five. After this performance, the managers disbelief in the Opera Ghost is shaken, and Christine disappears for two weeks.

I think I'm going to end my summary there, about two-thirds of the way through the story... there's just too much to the ending that could be given away by going further. I'll just say that although there was a lot of things happening that I predicted/assumed, there were a lot of twists that I didn't expect, and by the end of the story I couldn't believe I had ever thought that it would be stuffy and uninteresting.

I would recommend this book to anyone, almost as much as I recommended "Rebecca"... I think it could appeal to almost any kind of reader, although I would probably classify it as a romance. Or maybe "romantic suspense." Whatever the genre, it's a book that I know I will read again, and is the first that makes me want to track down one of the movie versions. I'm kind of dying to see how well it does or doesn't translate to screenplay... it better be as awesome as the book, that's all I'm saying.

(And I'm really confused as to why the movie stills I've seen portray the "Phantom" with a mask that covers about 1/3 of his face... in the book, that would definitely not be enough. I guess the movies have to make him a heartthrob. Shame. Confused? Maybe you should read it......)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Book 8- "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving

So this is the second time I'm going to be struggling to put my thoughts into words. And it makes sense, really... this "book" was even shorter than Alice in Wonderland, at 27 pages (on my Nook). I'm not ashamed to admit I picked "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" this time because I am getting way behind on my reading, due to my son's illness, and thought I could squeeze this one in during nap time with no problem.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," as most people know, is about Ichabod Crane, a school teacher living in a small, "haunted" town called Sleepy Hollow. The most famous ghost story told amongst the townspeople is of the Headless Horseman who supposedly rides around throughout the night and returns to the church cemetary in the morning. Most of the story is about Crane trying to woo local heiress Katrina Van Tassel, in competition with local eligible bachelor Brom Van Brunt. Eventually, Crane is rejected by Katrina, and on his way home from her house, he is scared by what he believes to be the Headless Horseman. It is later eluded to that the figure Crane saw was actually Van Brunt in disguise, but he is successful in scaring Crane away, as Crane is never seen in Sleepy Hollow again. It is later reported that he moved to New York and became a lawyer, but the townspeople insist on believing instead that he also haunts the town, a victim of the Headless Horseman.

I don't feel bad about "spoiling" the ending of this, as it is a very commonly known story... there are several children's book adaptations and movies of this book, and being that it's so short, it would be hard for me to summarize it without giving the ending away. I will say that, being so familiar with the tale through children's books and movies, the most surprising thing to me was that in my opinion, Ichabod Crane is a pretty unlikeable character; his interest in Katrina Van Tassel is purely financial, as he spends a lot of time fantasizing about all the food he'll eat and people he'll snub when he marries her and gains her riches, even though people treat him kindly and he has no reason to treat them so pompously. His thoughts and fantasies kind of take away some of his "underdog" likability and make him a completely different character, at least to me.

I did like Irving's descriptions of the town and its people... for instance, the description of Crane is as follows:

"He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield."

Some of Irving's descriptions were a bit too drawn out for my liking, but I did enjoy his word play and general language-- it made the book easy to read without dumbing it down too much.

Overall, it was worth reading, but if you've ever heard the story before, reading the book doesn't really give you any new information or different perspective. It's just a good story.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pickles on a River

Ok, one more blurb and then I seriously am going to bed.

Addison is getting better at figuring things out in context. She can figure out the meaning of a word by listening to the rest of a sentence, and figure out what an item is by using clues on the wrapper/packaging/etc. She's usually pretty right, but the other day, she was WAY off...

We were at Bath and Body Works, getting a strong air freshener for Owen's room. I had to run to the food court bathroom to change Owen's diaper (for the 2nd time in 15 minutes) and while I was gone, Addison happened upon this candle:
(Sorry about all the white space-- I stole it from Google image search and am too tired / don't care enough to crop it.)

After looking at the picture, Addison sniffed the candle deeply, looked at her Daddy, and said,

"Mmmmmm. Smells like pickles on a river!"

Ahh. So proud.

The Story of Boon

Let me begin by apologizing once again that I am falling behind in my classics-reading quest. I have not forgotten; Owen has been sick since December and I am struggling to find free time. It was easier when he merely had bilateral ear infections-- that didn't affect our daily routine much. But now that he has a rash on his rear end that the doctor has us treating with both antifungal AND antibiotic ointments, as well as fluid behind his ear drums and a serious bacterial infection of his colon, it's safe to say that free time arrives sparingly, and is usually used to tend to the slightly more important matters of laundry, dishes, and feeding my children.

So today, instead of relating to my readers a synopsis / review of a book I have read, I am instead going to TELL a story.


**The Story of Boon**

Once upon a time, a boy named Owen was growing up in a relatively small, quiet town in Pennsylvania. He was a happy child (once his first 4 or so months had passed) and needed little more than his parents and his sister to keep him entertained. He was, however, stricken with a paralyzing fear of balloons. On strings, off strings, floating in the air, being tossed around from person to person-- all balloons caused Owen to scream and cower in terror. His parents had to be careful about where they were seated in restaurants, because if they ended up in a booth by balloons, there would be trouble.

Then, one day, Owen went to visit his friends Matthew and Andrew. While army-crawling around on the carpet, Owen happened upon a really exciting looking string. He chewed the string for awhile, then started to pull on it, wondering what was attached.

Lo and behold! It was a balloon! Owen tentatively jerked on the string, first just once, then repeatedly, excited at the bobbing and jumping of the not-so-scary-after-all balloon. He spent the rest of his visit solely with the balloon (Matthew and Andrew had to entertain themselves with Owen's big sister, Addison), and a new love was born.

When Owen arrived home, he discovered that the gold Green Bay Packers balloon, only a few days ago so terrifying, was still in the house (stowed away in the office.) He began to bring it everywhere. What a friend! What a toy! It cured every boo-boo and righted every wrong! Even made it acceptable to let your sissy dress you up!

Owen's family, tired of addressing the new friends as "Owen and his balloon", shortened it to "Owen-and-Boon", and Boon followed him everywhere. Boon was there when Owen laughed, and there when he cried...

...until one day, when Owen realized that Boon could be temporary. During a particularly vigorous moment of play, Owen popped Boon.

(*not pictured-- a completely baffled, sad looking Owen with a piece of shiny gold balloon still stuck to his lower lip, trying persistently to toss Boon back up into the air. Could not get to the camera fast enough.)

Realizing what a devastating loss this was, Mommy went out to the store the same night and brought home a new Boon for Owen.

Excited, Owen was determined not to waste a moment with this new Boon. He played with it in his exersaucer. He played with it while Mommy changed his diaper. He even leaned on Boon's cheerful companionship to help him endure his sissy's "crawling lessons."

With Boon's loving assistance, Owen even began to ENJOY crawling around upstairs!

Alas, Owen had overcome his crippling fear of balloons and realized that sometimes, friends can be found in the most unlikely of places. He also learned to keep his friends close by his side, and that there are better things to put in your mouth than balloons. Like bottles.

** THE END**