Miss DW (goldenmoonrose) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Miss DW

Books 76-80: Hitchiker's Guide, Vermont History, Wednesday Wars, and Sarah Vowell

"It's quite another to be the sort of animal that has to wrap itself up in lots of other animals at one point in your planet's orbit, and then find, half an orbit later, that you skin's bubbling."
76. Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams (202 pages) Arthur Dent slips into another universe and quickly finds himself The Sandwich Maker of a primitive planet and the father of a random, obnoxious daughter, named Random. Meanwhile, Ford finds himself a restaurant critic of the new Hitchhiker's Guide that threatens to destroy the very fabric of the universe, all of time, and all the infinite dimensions. Adams finishes his brilliant comedic science fiction adventure with brilliant comedy that is just candy for the mind. Loved this series. Grade: A 

"The 1777 state constitution was notable for its enlightened prohibition of slavery, protection of freedoms of religion, speech, and the press, and grant of suffrage to all adult males. However, Vermonters also gained a reputation for being rough, undisciplined, contentious, and irreligious--and for being as free with their fists as they were fervent about their freedoms."
77. The Counterfeit Man by Gerald McFarland (242 pages) In 1812, Russell Colvin, a dependent of his father-in-law, was engaged in a physical altercation with his brother-in-law, Stephen Boorn. When he was not seen again for several years, and mysterious dreams of Russell's ghost came to Stephen's uncle, Stephen and his brother Jesse were arrested for his murder. After the discovery of vague evidence, confessions and a trail, the brothers were sentenced to hang (Jesse' sentence was later commuted to life in prison). Just when all was thought lost, Russell Colvin wandered back into town to free his brothers-in-laws and convicted murderers. But was it really Colvin? Why did the brothers confess? McFarland's account of the events in not only fascinatingly told, but also wonderfully thorough. McFarland brilliantly relates the psychological, sociological, and historical context of the true rural Vermont mystery. He paints a detailed portrait of Vermont in the early days of emerging civilization on the frontier, of a mystery that encompasses an evolving justice system, and the very human, very flawed, and very odd characters that played a role in one of the strangest mysteries. Fascinating, engaging book. Grade: A


"Love and hate in seventh grade are not far apart, let me tell you."

78. The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (265 pages) Holling Hoodhood is forced by his seventh grade English teacher to read Shakespeare. As he makes sense of love and war upon the stage, he must also makes sense of it in his world of the late 60s. The Vietnam war rages, Bobby Kennedy is running for president, Martin Luther King, Jr. is shot, and it is all told from the very real perspective of a young man transitioning from innocent childhood to the harsh realities of adulthood, just as his country is. But the story gains its perfection through its episodic nature, turning the everyday (comic and tragic) life of a thirteen year old into powerful, momentous epic. It is an enchanting and cohesive kaleidoscope of baseball and track, atomic bomb drills, Shakespeare, young love, acting, bullying, hippies, parental issues, coming-of-age, tragedy, love, and comedy. Schmidt captures both the internal and external world perfectly, with pathos, drama, and humor that would probably please the Bard himself, and certainly does any English teacher. One of the most brilliant young adult novels I've ever read, resting on the shelf up there with Speak, Slam, The Outsiders, The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part Time Indian, and Stargirl. It's young adult books like this that transcend the age group and simply are brilliant novels. Grade: A

 79. The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French (200 pages) An orphaned girl and the younger son of a King find themselves wrapped up in an evil witch's quest to pay for her new dress of skulls by kidnapping princes and princess and turning them into frogs. The wacky, silly fairy tale has some interesting original ideas, and the writing is perfect for young tastes, but no one else. A fun, light tale, lacking in solid characters, theme, or plot. An okay read for 3rd-5th grade readers, but kind of mediocre. Grade: B-

"Then again, in the 1860s, at least half the country loathed Abraham Lincoln for filling up too many soldiers' coffins. Which is why Daniel Chester French isn't the only reason that marble likeness sits there on the Mall. John Wilkes Booth deserves some of the credit--a notion that would make the assassin want to throw up. After all, if no one had hated Lincoln, there would be no Lincoln Monument to love."

"It is interesting how, once one edits justifications for violence down to a length suitable for T-shirt slogans, political distinctions between left and right disappear."
"Though my personal favorite is the New Englander who was taken to task for his 'too frequent mention of Vermont.'"
"So, it took a while for the Lincoln Monument to come to mean what it's come to mean… But loving this memorial is a lot like loving this country… Now I don't care what it looks like. They could have carved it out of chewed bubble gum and I would think of it fondly."
80. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell (258 pages) Last year, I read Sarah Vowell's Wordy Shipmates, and thereafter vowed to read one of her books at least once a year. Assassination Vacation did not disappoint. Literally, I could not put the book down, and found myself reading and rereading pages. Not only did the book deeply appeal to my personal love of morbid American history and tourist spots, but Vowell's hilarious prose, deeply fascinating descriptions and poignant diatribes hit right to the core of the heart and soul of America. In her pilgrimages to these historical landmarks, Vowell comments on what made America, what turns the ordinary (objects and people) into the sanctified, what made both America's heroes and martyrs, and also its villainous monsters, all of which clashed at these assassinations. Brilliant, fascinating, deeply engaging, thought-provoking, poignant, and humorous book. If there were one complaint, it would be that it was way too short. Grade: A+


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