Tag Archives: Reading

MarkReads (and reads, and reads, and reads)

Only four posts in, and the time has come already – blogception. This post will be a blog about a blog, specifically MarkReads.net. I discovered MarkReads the fall before last, during my time in Istanbul. While some days I loved wandering through the city in its perpetual autumn drizzle, sometimes it was just as satisfying to spend the day curled up in my dorm with a cup of apple tea and my laptop. I’d been trying to decide between the two Harry Potter conventions happening in the summer of 2012, Ascendio and LeakyCon. I saw Mark Oshiro of MarkReads listed as a special guest for Ascendio. Interest piqued, I innocently clicked the link to his website. I then proceeded to work my way through the entirety of his “Mark Reads Harry Potter” posts in only a few days

He’s even edited and compiled his posts into e-books, available at markdoesstuff.com

MarkReads provides some of the most in-depth book reviews I’ve ever come across. Mark Oshiro does chapter-by-chapter reviews of popular books and series. His whole enterprise started in 2009, when he undertook someone’s challenge for him to read and review the entire Twilight series (which he ended up hating). He later took on the Harry Potter series, writing reviews for each and every chapter of all seven Harry Potter books (which he ended up loving). I cannot even begin to fathom writing that many blog posts. Although he doesn’t review exclusively Young Adult books, many of the books he has reviewed in the past have been YA – Looking for Alaska, The Book Thief, His Dark Materials, The Hunger Games. For those of you less interested in reading, he also has sister sites called MarkWatches and MarkPlays, where he does similar-style reviews for television shows and video games.

On the surface, reading a review for every chapter of a book or series of books might not sound that enticing. This is where Oshiro’s writing comes into play. His writing tends to be full of humor, honesty, and enthusiasm. He sometimes includes details from his own life to explain why he connects especially strongly to a certain scene or chapter in a book. His posts contain unconcealed glee for well-developed characters and expertly executed plot twists. It’s not the kind of book review that gets printed in the New York Times but maybe it should be.

One of the best parts of MarkReads is that Oshiro knows little or nothing about each book he reads, which keeps the element of surprise almost completely intact for him. This leads to much ironic humor, as sometimes he’ll make joking speculations about future events in the story that turn out to be completely correct, or he’ll be totally off base with his predictions. If you’ve read the books Oshiro’s reviewing, reading his posts is the same kind of fun found in soap operas or books with third-person omniscient narrators; you know the endings, the character motives, the future betrayals, while he gets to be the hapless character, bumbling blindly through the book.

I suppose I should reveal my own secret bias. Right now, he’s reviewing all of Tamora Pierce’s books. He’s finished the first quartet (The Song of the Lioness) and is halfway through the second (The Immortals), and has already become a Tamora Pierce fan of my own magnitude. I sometimes think that the key to my heart is Tamora Pierce; every person I’ve ever met who enjoys her books turns out to be someone awesome (my former roommate, a friend from Germany, my little sister, etc). So nothing makes me happier than watching someone else fall in love with her work.

I’ll just wrap up by mentioning that Mark Oshiro is going on tour soon. For those of you who are also in the Central New York area, he is having an event in Syracuse on March 27th. At 6:30 p.m., he’ll be giving a talk at Le Moyne College called “Mark Reads & So Do You: Literacy Development Through Online Communities.” In his own words, it’ll be about “how Mark Reads started, why [he’s] so interested in promoting literacy and being a bookworm online, and how educators in the future need to consider things like online communities, identity politics, and the power of being a nerd when teaching English and literature.” I’d really encourage any local English and Creative Writing majors to attend; it’ll be a chance to get some insight from an extremely successful blogger, and any talk he gives is bound to be a lot of fun.

Facebook Page for Syracuse MarkReads Event

Edit: His reviews do tend to contain a lot of spoilers, so my advice is to either only read reviews for books you’ve already read, or read along with him. Much thanks to Carol for suggesting I add this disclaimer.


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Mr. Pudgins

I’m sure everyone has those burning questions keeping them awake at night. The things about themselves that they just don’t understand, no matter how many rainy days they spend mulling them over. Secrets that, when revealed, turn animated conversation to shocked silence. But I think the time has come for me to confess my most shameful secret: I don’t like Mary Poppins.

“What?” I hear you gasp. “Not like Mary Poppins? Everybody likes Mary Poppins!”

I don’t dislike it, per se, but the most I’ve ever been able to conjure up for the movie is a bland indifference. And while perhaps not my most haunting question, I have spent a substantial amount of time wondering why this is. Mary Poppins seems like something I should like. Whimsical, magical nanny? Check. Ordinary life becoming infused with magical events? Check. Dancing penguins? Check. Only recently did I solve the mysterious case of Mary Poppins and the Missing Affection. The answer is actually quite simple; my heart was already stolen by another magical babysitter.

Ruth Christoffer Carlsen’s Mr. Pudgins is one of those childhood books I grew up on. Even as an adult, I remember it with that magical aura reserved for childhood favorites. It recalls those fuzzy early years, my sisters and I curled up on my parents’ waterbed, listening as Mom would read aloud a chapter before bed. She was an expert at doing Voices, using a high-pitched squeal for one character, a lisp for another, capturing the gruff-but-pleasant cadence of Mr. Pudgins himself. It was almost always only one chapter, no matter the amount of begging or pleading glances we employed.

It’s not just my childhood memories that endear the book to me, though. The stories themselves are engaging. The  book revolves around three children: John, Jane, and Petey. Unlike the Banks of Mary Poppins, their parents are rather affectionate.  However, like all parents, their mother and father need to go out every now and then. That’s when their babysitter, an older-but-not-elderly man, comes over and the stories truly take off.

Each chapter contains a new adventure, a feature employed by many of my other childhood favorites.* Some of their adventures include a flying bathtub;  playing with the “mirror children” (the children’s reflections who escape from the mirror); encounters with a dodo bird; and my personal favorite, when all the faucets start running different kinds of pop instead of water. While each new development delights the children at first, each chapter has some dramatic tension as the children struggle to put everything back to normal before their parents return.

I think perhaps that was my main problem with Mary Poppins; while there is plenty of conflict in the Banks children’s reality – namely with their parents – their magical adventures with Mary act as escapist reprieves rather than character-building conflicts. It is the adults in the story that change, more than the children themselves, whereas in Mr. Pudgins, all of the magical adventures are infused with problems for John, Jane, and Petey to overcome.

I highly recommend Mr. Pudgins to everyone. If you don’t want to take my word for it, check out its thirty-three reviews on Amazon, all five-stars; or its 4.51 GoodReads rating. Unfortunately, the book is currently out of print. This may have something to do with the fact that Mr. Pudgins’ pipe-smoking serves as the catalyst for all of the magical events in the book. The story was first published in 1951, long before the dangers of smoking were widely-known. Maybe they are reluctant to reprint lest they are accused of encouraging pipe-smoking in children? Just speculating why such a wonderful book is no longer widely available. At any rate, although the book is out of print, there are several used copies available on Amazon** for decent prices.

Have a passionate defense of Mary Poppins? Or favorite childhood books or reading memories? Feel free to share in the comments.

*Similar childhood favorites  include Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Pippi Longstocking.
**I swear I am not trying to plug Amazon so much. If you know any other sites where Mr. Pudgins might be affordable and available, please let me know.


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