Monday, August 24, 2009

Xanth

It is time for another book review, actually a series review! The Xanth series by Piers Anthony is one of Diana's favorite (perhaps her very favorite) series of books. She compelled me to read them, and I have been chugging along through the series off and on for the last few years. I just today finished book 21, Faun & Games.

Although your views may vary, and Diana's views certainly do, I find a lot of problems with these books. First, they do not hold my attention. I can never seem to pin down exactly what the problem is. There is fantasy. There are interesting plots. The books are filled with unique characters, and yet, it is very easy for me to put the books down. I honestly think it is the writing style.

Note, this isn't a problem with Piers Anthony in general. I loved the Incarnations of Immortality series which I read in its entirety in one fell swoop. I have also read other random Piers Anthony novels with no problems. It seems to be the Xanth novels in particular that I have a problem with. They do not seem completed. It is more like someone had an idea for a book and just wrote about it off the top of their head with no proper plot development, character development, subtle foreshadowing, etc. I think I like my novels a bit more complex.

I also have a problem with the stereotyping. Others seem to find it a form of social commentary, but I just find it trite and not creative.

A bit of background for those of you who are not familiar with Xanth, Xanth is a world that looks rather similar to the state of Florida. In Xanth, all people have magic talents. There are also a host of magic creatures like centaurs, dragons, fauns, and griffins. Plots tend to revolve around various quests that the characters need to complete, and figures from our world (Mundania) figure prominently in many of the books. In some ways, Xanth is a Utopian world. The material things that people need grow on trees so it is not necessary for people to work for those things in the typical "mundane" way. The literalization of puns plays a huge part in the world of Xanth and the plots of the novels.

Faun & Games tells the story of a faun, Forrest, who is the caretaker of a sandal tree. His best friend is the faun who is the caretaker of the clog tree near his. When the clog tree faun disappears, Forrest heads out on a quest to find a new faun for the clog tree so that the clog tree will not suffer the horrible fate of becoming mundane. The book was not the worst of the series nor the best.

If you choose to read this series, I do find it best to read all the books in order. Many say that they don't, but there is a lot of background information built into the earlier novels, and all of the novels regularly refer to things that took place in the earlier novels with an expectation that you will have some inkling what is being talked about. I think if you just jumped in, you would miss out on a lot!

If you like fantasy and puns, you may want to give this series a try. The first book A Spell for Chameleon has a particularly nice plot and very lovable characters. When I have complained about the lack of complexity in the plots, Diana has stated that they are children's books, but I definitely disagree on this point. The books are not marketed to children or teens. There is a lot of sexual innuendo, which although we do not mind it in our family, I know many people would feel was inappropriate for children, but most importantly, if I find a book boring, I think that kids would find it even more so! I would not recommend these books to my kids although they are welcome to read them if they so choose.

If you try the Xanth books, and don't find them to your liking, don't give up on Piers Anthony. You may want to give the Incarnations of Immortality a try (again the first book, On a Pale Horse is stand alone good) or one of his other series. Please don't judge this talented and prolific author on one series that seems like just a fill in to the good stuff to me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Not Back to School

I am writing this post particularly for the Carnival of Unschooling Life which has the theme of Not Back to School this month. The thing that hit me when I thought about the theme is that we don't even really note the "back to school" time in our household anymore.

I do remember though, back when my now 21 yo was a five year old, and when she didn't go to a first day of kindergarten. I definitely noticed all the buses that year on the first day. All the children lined up in stiff new clothes that looked too warm for the weather and brandnew backpacks filled with school supplies. Of course, in a week, they all look pretty much as worn as the ones from the end of the previous year, but that day, I could nearly smell the freshly sharpened pencils as I watched through my front curtains.

Emma was up and writing something on a piece of paper and seeming quite content. I was content too, but maybe there was a part of me that was wistful for the idealized version of school that many seem to fall victim too.

Fast forward sixteen years. My four still at home kids now 11, 13, 15, and 17 don't pay any attention to the first day of school. I don't even know when it is! We do occasionally take advantage of back to school sales; you can't beat 25 cents for a box of 24 Crayola crayons or 500 sheets of lined paper for a dime. Since these sales seem to start right after the Fourth of July in our neck of the woods, they don't really correspond to school starting.

We just live our lives. School is something other people do for reasons that we often find hard to fathom. I wouldn't have it any other way.