Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Since I have had Mrs. Dalloway on my bookshelves for several years now, I knew that I had to also acquire The Hours so that I could attempt to make the same literary comparisons that Matt found. I tend to do this. I LIKE reading similar literature at the same time. I think it helps me to hone my literary analysis skills as it forces me to focus on subtleties of language and style, and not just plot and character. However, just because I like to do this, does not mean that I make the time to do it very often. In fact, I have several literary pairings that I would read "when I have the time." A few of those that interest me are:
All 6 of Jane Austen's novels in the order in which they were published. Her literary canon is so small compared to other great authors (Shakespeare - Dickens etc) that this seems like it would be an achievable goal. I would love to see how this woman of meager means who focuses solely on the inhabitants of small English villages rather than the politics of the world at the time manages to fully develop characters and story lines that are uniquely different and positively engaging.
Jane Austen's original Pride and Prejudice and then some of the more recent Elizabeth and Darcy spin-offs (most notably Pamela Aidan's trilogy that looks at the novel from Darcy's point of view and Rebecca Collins who extrapolates the story after their marriage).
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens and Drood by Dan Simmons. I have heard such rave reviews of Drood and have wanted to read it since it was first released, but somehow I have convinced myself that I will not truly appreciate this work unless I read Dickens' original work first.
The entire Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis - in "chronological" order (rather than the order in which they were written). I have thoroughly loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but I have not allowed myself the pleasure to learn the history of Narnia nor to follow the adventures of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy post White Witch encounter.
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff and The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. Both of these novels surround the polygamy issues of the Mormon tradition, although The Chosen One is written as a YA novel and therefore for perhaps a younger audience. I think the theme is mature enough for any adult and I have read fabulous reviews of both these books. I think to read them in combination with one another would be a powerful literary experience.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and March by Geraldine Brooks. I read Little Women many decades ago when I think I was much too young to fully appreciate the story. I would love to re-read this classic and then follow up with the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning book which focuses on the parallel story of Mr. March and his adventures in the civil war.
While I am sure that I could go on forever with possible literary pairings that would be of interest to me, I am very excited to hear from you. Do you ever read books in conjunction with one another (either several books by the same author - or all the books in a particular series - or perhaps two completely different authors in totally different time periods?) I would love to hear your favorite pairings in the hopes of expanding my literary horizons and adding variety to my ever growing TBR bookshelf.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
This will be my 2nd year (out of 5) in this program. The goal is to complete 2 courses each summer over the course of 5 years in order to obtain a Masters of Arts degree from Middlebury College. At the end of this summer I should be 40% complete.
So what makes a nearly 50 year old woman decide to go back for her Masters? I mean, I thought at the age of 50 I would be thinking about retirement (oh jeez -- who am I kidding. Ten years ago I was a Stay-at-home mom and loving every minute of it. I never expected to have a career from which to retire!) Well, God works in mysterious way, that is for sure. He nudged me (well, He pushed me) into the classroom 8 years ago. I was not happy at His direction at the time, but I am so thrilled that I followed Him despite my personal feelings. Teaching has been the greatest thing to happen to me since marriage and children. I simply cannot imagine my life without it.
However, I have never been adequately trained to teach. I have a degree in French and Political Science circa 1982 from Gettysburg College. The last "official" English class I took was as a senior in High School (circa 1978). Doesn't God have an amazing sense of humor? I am fairly adept at surfing the internet, however, and have numerous lesson plans to aid me in this career. I have reached a point, however, where I realize that I have truly taught myself all that I can and if I wish to progress to the next level, I need some outside guidance. The Bread Loaf School of English fits the bill perfectly.
Last year was my first year and I was nothing short of a basket case prior to leaving Kansas. It had been nearly 2.5 decades since I had been a student - had a roommate - and lived in a dorm. I mean, I own a 4 bedroom house, for goodness sakes. You mean to tell me that I must live for 6 weeks in a 6x8 foot room?! I have cooked my own meals for nearly 27 years - and now I must rely on the cafeteria menu?! I grade papers to help students become better writers and literary analysts - you mean to tell me that I now must be graded?! While these fears were somewhat unfounded, I did remain on at a high level of anxiety for the entire 6 week period. However, I did pass all my classes (you must pass with an 80% or higher) and I am now looking forward to this year's program (still with anxiety - but also with excitement).
I have already outlined my courses in the Sunday Salon posts (parts 1 and 2), so I won't bore you with repetition. When we arrive on campus on Tuesday, I will be assigned my room, unpack, relax (ha!) and then attend a reception at 5:30. Then it is off to attempt a good night's sleep and I will hit the ground hard on Wednesday morning, from 9:00 - 11:45 with the writing ccourse.
I will update as possible....hope you don't find them too dull :)
Monday, June 15, 2009
The author, Laurie Halse Anderson, has received a lot of accolades this spring with her newest release, Wintergirls. While waiting for my turn for this book at the local library (I believe I began as number 75 in line back in March), I thought I would read Speak, which is now touted as "a contemporary classic" All I can say is WOW! I was immediately transported back in time to my high school days -- not necessarily a place that I ever wanted to revisit, but as a parent, a place that I needed to revisit.
Here is a quick plot summary according to GoodReads.com:
Since the beginning of the school year, high school freshman Melinda has found that it's been getting harder and harder for her to speak out loud: "My throat is always sore, my lips raw.... Every time I try to talk to my parents or a teacher, I sputter or freeze.... It's like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis." What could have caused Melinda to suddenly fall mute? Could it be due to the fact that no one at school is speaking to her because she called the cops and got everyone busted at the seniors' big end-of-summer party? Or maybe it's because her parents' only form of communication is Post-It notes written on their way out the door to their nine-to-whenever jobs. While Melinda is bothered by these things, deep down she knows the real reason why she's been struck mute...
Laurie Halse Anderson's first novel is a stunning and sympathetic tribute to the teenage outcast. The triumphant ending, in which Melinda finds her voice, is cause for cheering (while many readers might also shed a tear or two). After reading Speak, it will be hard for any teen to look at the class scapegoat again without a measure of compassion and understanding for that person--who may be screaming beneath the silence. (Ages 13 and older) --Jennifer Hubert
They say that growing up today is totally different than it was when we were younger. I do agree with that statement, to a certain extent. I don't remember worrying about being gunned down in the hallway by a fellow student, but I do remember being intimidated and embarrassed by the jock crowd. I don't remember fearing for my life, but I do remember wishing I could crawl in a hole and disappear for 3 years of my life. And yet, so much of what I read in this book was completely reminiscent of emotions and feelings that I experienced in school. How does Ms. Anderson do it?! I mean, she is only two years younger than me (I did a bit of research on the internet), and yet she was so capable of recalling those distant memories as if she just recently experienced them. Let me see if I can give you just a few examples:
The First Ten Lies they tell you in high school:
- We are here to help you.
- You will have enough time to get to your class before the bell rings.
- The dress code will be enforced.
- No smoking is allowed on school grounds.
- Our football team will win the championship this year.
- We expect more of you here.
- Guidance counselors are always available to listen.
- Your schedule was created with your needs in mind.
- Your locker combination is private.
- These will be the years you look back on fondly.
- You will use algebra in your adult lives.
- Driving to school is a privilege that can be taken away.
- Students must stay on campus for lunch.
- The new textbooks will arrive any day now.
- Colleges care about more than your SAT scores.
- We are enforcing the dress code.
- We will figure out how to turn off the heat soon.
- Our bus drivers are highly trained professionals
- There is nothing wrong with summer school.
- We want to hear what you have to say.
Ms. Anderson also creates a list of all the cliques in this Syracuse, NY high school, which honestly, has not changed much in the past 3 decades when I was in a CT high school:
....ninth-graders are herded into the auditorium. We fall into clans: Jocks, Country Clubbers, Idiot Savants, Cheerleaders, Human Waste, Eruotrash, Future Fascists of America, Big Hair Chix, the Marthas, Suffering Artists, Thespians, Goths, Shredders. I am clanless. ..... I have entered high school with the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, the wrong attitude. And I don't have anyone to sit with.I remember reading an interview with Markus Zusak (author of The Book Thief) where he said: "I like the idea that every page in a book can have a gem on it." This is exactly what Laurie Halse Anderson does in writing Speak. I am sure that I could turn to any random page in the book and find some "gem" from which I could read, re-read, analyze and relive my adolescence. I do not wish to post all of them in this short review (as I think you simply must go out and read this book for yourself), but I will leave you with one thought that is true for people of all ages. These words of wisdom are being said to Melinda, our 9th grade protagonist, by her art teacher, Mr. Freeman:
I am Outcast.
Art without emotion is like chocolate cake without sugar. It makes you gag......Think about love, or hate, or joy, or rage - whatever makes you feel something, makes your palms sweat or your toes curl. Focus on that feeling. When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You'd be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside - walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It's the saddest thing I know." (page 122)Is that not powerful?! And the entire book is full of such insightful thoughts and expressions, some from adults, but most from Melinda's perspective.
If you have a teen - or a child nearing the turbulent adolescent years, you simply must do yourself the favor of reading this book. Not all our children will experience the traumatic event that Melinda had to endure, but I guarantee that all teens experience trauma. We, as parents, must walk a very fine line. We must know when to give them their space, and when to interfere and encourage them to speak. We must promise to listen - really hear what they are saying. We must offer compassion, but not trite answers. As the saying goes "a child does not care how much you know until you show them how much you care."
Sunday, June 14, 2009
This sounded SO interesting to me. I love to read, I love to write, and I am a very introspective person. However, in reading the 8 required books, I am starting to think that this is more of a creative, fiction-writing class than what I had originally thought. I am quite anxious/nervous about this course, as I do not think I am creative enough to develop fictional narrative --- but I am determined to get the most that I can out of the class. The books that we will be studying in this course are:
A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines. This is the only novel that I have not completed yet (but will do so prior to the first class). I intentionally saved this book for last because it is the first book we are supposed to discuss and I wanted it to be fresh in my mind. Initially I was very confused: each chapter is told from a different character's Point of View --- and there are a LOT of characters. The reader experiences the ordeal as it unfolds, so without background information I found it difficult to understand what was happening until about page 30. After that point, however, I felt I knew enough information that I have since become engrossed in this fictional narrative involving Louisiana race relations.
What Narcissism Means to Me by Tony Hoagland. This is the other book that I have not yet read - although it is less than 100 pages long and filled with contemporary poetry. A genre of literature that I most unfamiliar and tend to do better when I focus intently on the subject matter. I anticipate that we will discuss this as a class early on.
The Story Behind the Story compiled by Peter Turchi and Andrea Barrett. This is a collection of 26 short stories that also include the author's insights and inspirations for that particular story. I read all of the authors' "behind the story" essays, and I skimmed through most of the short stories. I thoroughly enjoy reading how writer's write --- so the essays were of great interest to me. I must confess that some of the short stories did not appeal to me at all; some were ok; and some were brilliant. I am very anxious to see how we incorporate the information from this book in our class discussions and writing assignments.
In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien. This was my favorite novel of the group. I had not read the author before (I think his most famous work is The Things They Carried), and I was not sure that I would enjoy this one. However, the characters are well-developed and the focus is not so much on the Viet Nam war, but rather how that event was just one of many defining moments for the main character. This is a novel that is character driven, but with plenty of drama and suspense.
The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter. This is another author with whom I am unfamiliar. I still haven't decided how I feel about this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the first third (graduate students struggling for identity and relationships in an intellectual society) and I liked the middle third. The ending was confusing (I think that was intentional - though not sure) and when I am unclear on the meaning of the book, that translates to poor self-esteem ("I must be stupid" - "I'm sure everyone else understood this" - "What is wrong with me? and I call myself an English teacher") So....I am most fearful of this class discussion (not sure I will have much to contribute) while at the same most interested to hear the insights of others.
Home by Marilynne Robinson. I purchased Gilead several years ago, but never got around to reading it. When I learned that Home was a required book, I decided to read Gilead first. I am glad that I did. Home is a stand alone book, but I think I was able to glean more about the characters from having read Gilead, and I think I also learned more about the author's writing style, having read both books back-to-back. Personally, I enjoyed Gilead more than Home. I think I enjoyed the aging pastor's point of view and the fact that he truly seemed to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk. I enjoyed the character relationships more in Home, but I found the aging father figure to be almost hypocritical - which bothered me. I am anxious to see how this book will be discussed in class - especially since it recently won the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This was the first book that I read for this course and I completed the book over Spring break. I did not take adequate notes for a class discussion (I learned over time how to fine-tune that process), so I will definitely have to re-read the book again. I do remember that my overall reaction was DEPRESSING. I was amazed how many different ways the author could depict gloom, black, gray, ash, and depression. The story focuses on the relationship between father and son in the aftermath of a disastrous event (we are never really told what happened - or why. We know the story takes place in America, but we do not know if the disaster was worldwide or not). While their world is destroyed, their relationship is sustained by a love and mutual respect for one another. Again, I am very curious to hear class discussion on this 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, and to see how the instructor will ask us to use this book in our personal writing endeavors.There are 2 non-fiction books that we will be reading and studying throughout the course. The first one is entitled, Crafting a Life in Essay, Story and Poem by Donald M Murray and the second one is You Must Revise Your Life by William Stafford. I skimmed through both these books and found them quite enjoyable and resourceful. Both authors seem so genuine: fully of sage advice and compassionate encouragement. I am hopeful that these books reflect the character of my instructor. In that case, I know that I will be stretched to the limit - but in a way that will be edifying, encouraging, and ultimately, rewarding.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
I thought you might be interested in knowing what books will be discussed in the upcoming weeks (I will be in class in Asheville, NC from Tuesday, June 16 through Thursday, July 30) and you can decide whether you might be interested in reading the upcoming reviews.
I originally planned on this being a one-post topic, but quickly realized that there is too much information for one posting. So....this entry will focus on my Shakespeare class and tomorrow's entry will focus on the writing class.
We are reading 4 plays for the Teaching William Shakespeare course. A portion of the course description reads: The aim of this course is to work with teachers to develop methodological and interpretive approaches that are easily integrated into thier syllabi......Issues to be explored include: how to read Shakespeare script; Shakespeare's themes - universal and parochial; film vs stage; and teaching for the poetry and interpreting for the performance. The 4 Shakespearean plays that will be reading include:
Macbeth - this is a play that I have taught for the past 4 years. However, everything that I teach has been gleaned off the internet and I am very interested in learning more about this play from an academic expert. Macbeth is a great action-packed play that shows the quick demise of a promising ruler due to unbridled ambition. If you haven't read Macbeth, I believe it is a fairly easy play to read, understand, and relate to. Lady Macbeth is a strong female character, although not someone that I would consider a close friend (the expression - keep your friends close and your enemies closer would be apt dealing with her).
Midsummer Night's Dream - I have also taught this play for the past 4 years, most recently to a group of 8th graders who truly enjoyed the experience and even though they had fun - they actually were learning Shakespearean language (but shhhh! -- don't tell them that they actually learned something. That would take the fun out of the experience). This play is funny is so many areas - farsical - bawdy - and romantic. It truly has it all, and again, would be a great entry into Shakespeare if you haven't read the Bard for a while (warning: ACT III is very confusing - but it is meant to be. Keep a handy list of characters and just keep in mind WHO is supposed to be coupled with WHOM by the end of the play)
The Tempest - I was totally unfamiliar with this play prior to reading it last week. It is GREAT. To me the most amazing aspect of the play is that it takes place within a 3 hour time period - so basically as long as it would take to perform this play, that is how much time passes within the story. The play has humor - suspense - fantasy - and a happy ending. How can you go wrong with this?
The Merchant of Venice - I read this play in high school -ever so many decades ago - and really remembered nothing except the characters of Portia and Shylock (who could forget those names?) I have very mixed emotions about this play. One the one hand - I LOVED the courtroom scene - incredibly suspenseful, surprising and intriguing. I have a real problem with the anti-semitism of the play. I am hoping that the professor will shed some light on this subject that will help me understand the offensive tone in this area.As I voiced earlier in the week, I had originally thought that this course might focus more on how to make Shakespeare fun and relatable to a high school audience. From that perspective, I thought the course might center around hands-on activities rather than in-depth critical analysis. While I do not enjoy acting/performing in front of a group, I have psyched myself up for this type of learning experience. I am now second guessing myself and am afraid that perhaps I am in over my head. We shall soon see.
1. In your blog, list any books you’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet. If you’re all caught up on reviews, maybe you could try this with whatever book(s) you hope to finish this week.I really love this topic and wish that I had time to address each point listed. Unfortunately, this is just not the right time of year for me to participate at that level, BUT I do have a couple of outstanding books that I would like to discuss before I leave town. Therefore, I will take the intent of this meme, but modify it to suit my personal needs (I hope the moderator of weekly geeks is ok with these changes). I will focus on questions 1 and 2 -- but perhaps leave questions 3 and 4 for another time.
2. Ask your readers to ask you questions about any of the books they want. In your comments, not in their blogs. (Most likely, people who will ask you questions will be people who have read one of the books or know something about it because they want to read it.)
3. Later, take whichever questions you like from your comments and use them in a post about each book. Link to each blogger next to that blogger’s question(s).
4. Visit other Weekly Geeks and ask them some questions! finish this week.
I intentionally said I wanted to discuss not review some"outstanding books" because after several weeks of mulling over the books in my brain, I am still finding it difficult to formulate a review. I think the reason for this is two-fold. First of all, both these books are considered Young Adult - which is a genre that is relatively new to me. Because I am not the target audience for these novels, I feel as though I need to read these books on two levels: as personal enjoyment and as a teacher reading for her students (would they enjoy this book; are there themes we can discuss in class; is the book appropriate for the conservative Christian demographic of the school).
The second reason I am finding it hard to write a review is because both of these novels are futuristic - somewhat sci-fi in nature, and this is a genre that I definitely struggle with. I intentionally stepped out of my comfort zone with these books, however, because there are so many wonderful bloggers out there who LOVE science-fiction and fantasy fiction, and I feel as though I am missing out on a lot of great literature by self-limiting my reading selection. I thought if I tried this genre in the YA category, I might be able to comprehend it better, and then slowly work my way "up" to the adult novels.
The first novel up for discussion is Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I was first introduced to this series by one of my 7th grade students. I require students to read one book of their choosing over Christmas break and then a give a brief oral book review when we return to class. I was amazed at the number of students who chose fantasy and sci-fi books this year. I was introduced to Fellowship of the Ring, A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, and Among the Hidden. Here is the book's plot summary from GoodReads.com:
Luke has never been to school. He's never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend's house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend.
Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He's lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family's farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside.
Then, one day Luke sees a girl's face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he's met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows -- does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford not to?
Now the concept of a futuristic society limiting the size of families is not new to me, yet I had never read a book that focused on that issue. Luke is not only an outcast in this society, but he is nearly an outcast in his own family. His mother attempts to understand his feelings and tries to show compassion, but his father is so petrified that his son will be discovered by the Population Police, that his relationship with his son is very strained, to say the least. Discovering another shadow child in close proximity to his house allows Luke to have the social interaction that he has craved for so long. Jen has an agenda, however, and is more brave and daring that Luke has ever allowed himself to consider. He is torn between doing what he knows is "right" in this society, and doing what he feels is right for humanity. The book definitely ends on a cliffhanger and left me wanting to read the rest of the series.
The second YA book that I read was The Hunger Games. Now, this book adds a third element of review difficulty in that SO many other bloggers have reviewed it, that I really have nothing else to add. I can honestly admit that if I had not read the reviews of bloggers whose opinion I fully trust, I would never have picked up this book, based on its description from Amazon.com:
Sixteen-year-old Katniss poaches food for her widowed mother and little sister from the forest outside the legal perimeter of District 12, the poorest of the dozen districts constituting Panem, the North American dystopic state that has replaced the U.S. in the not-too-distant future. Her hunting and tracking skills serve her well when she is then cast into the nation’s annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death where contestants must battle harsh terrain, artificially concocted weather conditions, and two teenaged contestants from each of Panem’s districts. District 12’s second “tribute” is Peeta, the baker’s son, who has been in love with Katniss since he was five. Each new plot twist ratchets up the tension, moving the story forward and keeping the reader on edge. Although Katniss may be skilled with a bow and arrow and adept at analyzing her opponents’ next moves, she has much to learn about personal sentiments, especially her own. Populated by three-dimensional characters, this is a superb tale of physical adventure, political suspense, and romance. Grades 9-12. --Francisca GoldsmithNow, I don't watch much television, but this description sounds like a cross between the reality show, Survivor, and the Jim Carey movie, The Truman Show. These young children know that this is not just a game; this is truly a matter of life and death. They must quickly learn to use strategy, form alliances, and as the old saying goes, "keep their friends close and their enemies closer." Some of these children have been training for this event their entire lives, while others, like Katniss, just happen to be there because of the luck of the draw (I must admit that the first pages of this book was eerily like Shirley Jackson's short story, The Lottery, which continues to have a powerful impact on my life - 30 years after I first read it). But to complicate matters even more, the government has full control over the environmental elements of the games as well (which is what reminded me of The Truman Show, sans any sense of humor).
Is this a YA novel?! I must admit, the novel displays very mature themes that are perhaps not suitable for some adult segments of the population. BUT...there are many junior high and high school students that would thoroughly enjoy this style of narrative. An added benefit to reading this YA book is that the language and the graphic descriptions are kept to a minimum. If this were written as an adult book, I can almost guarantee that the writing would be too gory for my modest tastes. The author wastes no time in setting up the suspense, and she keeps the reader positively engaged in the story the entire 374 pages. While there is a satisfying conclusion to this portion of the tale, the reader is left with many unanswered questions about the future, which beautifully sets up the need to immediately purchase the sequel, Catching Fire, when it is released in September.
So there you have it. Two discussions, rather than reviews, of two YA novels that I truly enjoyed, but simply could not find the time nor the words to adequately review them. I am glad that I have stepped foot outside my literary comfort zone. I anticipate reading the sequels to both of these books, and to continue reading more YA novels in these genres (I am currently listening to the entire Harry Potter books on CD and am having a BALL!! I have just started book 4: The Goblet of Fire - and I can't decide if I love JK Rowling's writing more or Jim Dale's narrative voice).
I would welcome any and all comments you may have on either of these books, any of these genres, and any recommendations you may have to help me expand my reading horizons.
Friday, June 12, 2009
I have taught this book in my English 1 class for the past 3 years and find the premise fascinating (in this futuristic world books are banned from society, and if a book is found, fireman are called to burn them. The protagonist fireman in this story, Montag, quickly realizes that books should be saved, not destroyed). When Elizabeth first wrote about this idea (a class activity that her mother uses when teaching the novel), I knew that this was something I wanted to include in my lesson plans this year. I wrote Elizabeth, asking her if she would mind if I copied this idea, and she responded with a resounding "YES" -- and "would you mind being a guest post contributor". How could I refuse.
So, this week is my week. If you are interested, please visit her blog to read my choices for the 5 "must save" books. And while there, please check out her other posts and book reviews. I consider her blog one of several "must read" blogs that I follow each week.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.)But then there are books that only YOU read. What niche books do YOU read?
There was a time in the not-so-distant past that my niche books focused on baking - and in particular, muffins. My husband was a branch manager of a local bank and he asked me to make muffins each Saturday for the loyal patrons. I would make mini-muffins (you know, the 2-bite morsel) and typically make 3 different varieties of muffins - 3 dozen each. As you can imagine, I went through muffin recipes rather quickly and so needed several resources at my disposal. I have not made muffins for years, but old habits die hard. Each time I go into a bookstore and see a muffin book, I initially think "I don't have that one; I need to buy it."
My youngest daughter is now following in my footsteps. She also loves to bake and is now finding her niche in cupcake cookbooks. She just recently bought this one and has made two of the decorative cupcakes in one week: sunflowers and butterflies. Watching her bake, decorate and create brings back some fond memories.
Currently I would say that my unique book collection centers around the academics of reading: books about books if you will. The first time I was introduced to this category of books was about 4 years ago when I was teaching British Literature for the first time and I was scared stiff (I truly felt as though I did not know what I was doing). I noticed the book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor on the end-cap of a local bookstore and picked it up while waiting in line. Once I got to the cash register I knew I had to buy it. I learned so much about HOW to read literature - and that it is not as scary or unattainable as I had once thought (and, like most things in life, the more you do it, the easier it becomes). This lead me to want to read more and more books about the process of reading and analyzing literature. Some of my favorites include: Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose; The 7 Basic Plots by Christopher Booker ; and How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler. For teaching purposes, I have truly enjoyed the The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer; and Mini Lessons for Literature Circles by Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
This is a photo of St. Anthony - patron saint of the festival (notice the dollar bills at the foot of the statue!)
One of the many street vendors selling wonderful Italian food such as: sausage & peppers, calzones, and pork braciole
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Italian delicacy of zeppoles - they are basically an Italian donut. Small balls of pizza dough are deep fried. When the dough is cooked, and while it is still hot, place the balls in a paper bag, sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar, close the bag, and shake vigorously for about 10-15 seconds. The result is a melt in your mouth taste of heaven.
While not a great picture - this at least shows the finished product ( I was too busy savoring my own zeppoles to take a picture)
For many more Wordless Wednesday posts, please click here.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
In reading all the TSS posts this morning I was struck by the variety of comments. Sometimes I enjoy reading the comments as much as I enjoy the original blog entry - the insights can be very profound and often thought-provoking. I find it fascinating that what others find as significant in a review, I totally miss OR what I find to be interesting no one else mentions. It is this dynamic exchange of ideas that I love about this community - and what I feel I miss by not being a part of a book club.
This observation caused me to think about book reviews in general. Sometimes I hesitate to post my reviews - either because the book is a "classic" and I feel everyone has already read it OR the book is an up and coming bestseller and it seems everyone is reviewing the same book at the same time. I allow myself to think that I have nothing more significant to add to the ongoing discussions. BUT...I never tire of reading book reviews. I might skim over the plot synopsis after the 3rd or 4th time, but I always enjoy reading and savoring the individual insights and opinions that bloggers share. Some focus on plot development - others on character relationships. Some provide insight into writing style, while others are passionate about the themes and insights into our human condition. Some bloggers have read several books by the same author and can provide a chronological comparison, while other bloggers read a wide variety of literary genres and can offer similar books as appropriate follow-up materials. Some bloggers research an author and include links to websites and other reviews, while others offer an author interview or guest post. The uniqueness of each posting helps me to better understand the book and whether it would be a good fit for my personal reading pleasure. Book review bloggers have a definite impact on the book buying habits of their readers!
My thoughts then carried over to the classroom (even in the summer teachers are always thinking in terms of the next school year!). I sometimes think that teachers are so concerned with having students analyze literature the "right" way, that we forget to allow students to relate to the literature in their own way. I try very hard not to fall into this trap (but I know I stumble several times throughout the year) - and I encourage students to provide their insights into the story, provided they can back up those insights with textual references. Now in this day and age, it is sometimes difficult to have the average American high student take the time to actually think about what they read (they would much prefer the teachers just give them the answers to the questions so that they can pass the class), but for those who wish to engage in active learning, this can provide a valuable educational experience for the class as a whole - and the teacher in particular. Just as different bloggers bring their own unique perspective to the writing of their book reviews (age - educational background - family make-up etc.), so can students bring their individual insights into the classroom. This is a great example of synergistic learning --- where 1+1 does not always equal 2 and where 2 heads are better than 1 -- and 10 heads even better still.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
The 2nd class I am taking is a pedagogical Shakespeare class. I have read all 4 plays - most of them more than once. I have a general idea of the characters, the plot, and the major themes. However, we were required to purchase the Norton critical editions for 3 of the 4 plays. Are you familiar with Norton? I would say that the actual play is about 20% of the book, and the remaining 80% of the books' volume focuses on critical commentary. I have no idea whether we are supposed to read all commentary - or if the instructor will assign only certain essays. I do not think it is feasible for me to read all commentary ahead of time - and retain any of it. However, I am feeling VERY nervous that I will not be adequately prepared for this course. I will try to find some happy medium this coming week.
I must focus my attention on these two courses for the next 6 weeks. I am actually looking forward to this intense study (as one fellow Bread Loaf student remarked, it is like summer camp for English teachers) - BUT I will have very little time to read much of anything else.
That brings me to my feelings of guilt and need to apologize. I tried so very hard to curb my excitement at BEA -- but since it was my first event I am afraid that it was quite easy to get caught up in the spontaneity of the crowd. You have read my post of the authors I met and books I brought home. While I would love to do nothing more than begin reading and reviewing these newly acquired masterpieces -- I simply cannot. I now feel as though I should not have brought them home, as the review will not be posted in a timely fashion. I feel as though I have taken a book that could have/should have belonged to someone else - and I feel as though I will be viewed as an irresponsible blogger by those in the industry that I truly respect. I hope that the publishing companies - and the publicists - can forgive my faux pas of being an overzealous newbie, realize that I have definitely learned from my mistake, and know that I will organize my life in August where I will only accept books that I know I can review in a timely manner.
My life these next 6-7 weeks will have different priorities. I still plan to post to my blog, but it will probably be only a couple of times a week, and the posts will center on class discussions of the books and plays that I am reading for school. This may or may not appeal to my readers, and I will apologize in advance if these posts are not of interest to you. I promise that I will be back to "normal" come August 1 - and I plan to devote 2 days a week to reading books for blog reviews.
All work and no play is never good, however, so I still plan to spend an hour or so a day keeping up with your blogs and making comments. I want to stay connected, even though I will be somewhat distant. I may even have time for an occasional tweet. I hope my lack of community involvement does not ostracize me from the community. I have come to appreciate each and every one of you and I hope to stay connected in some small way.
Friday, June 5, 2009
It was like Christmas at our house. The dogs were thrilled to have a box to chew; my daughter was thrilled with the newest YA books and couple of choice foodie books as well; my other daughter is quite anxious to read the Stephen Schwartz story (Wicked is her obsession); and my husband even received a couple of surprise gifts.
Now that I have attended my first BEA and I have "gotten my feet wet", I feel better prepared for next year. I now know to do thorough research prior to the event (discover which galleys are being given away at which booth and plot out the booth location; prioritize author signings to maximize time) and to be more selective in the books I choose to bring home (yes the galleys are free - but shipping must be paid). Also, I am still discovering my blog "voice" - so to speak - and want to try lots of genres before narrowing my focus. This year I chose a variety of books to ship home; next year I anticipate being more discerning in my selection. I am also hoping to persuade my 15 year old daughter to do some joint reviews of YA books with me. She loves to read (although she has rather discriminating tastes) and I think her Point of View will provide a unique perspective for the readers of this blog.
Well, enough of the background info - on with the loot. There are two authors that I wish to highlight right off the bat. The first is the duo authors of Novel Destinations, Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon. These are two of the nicest "strangers" I believe I have ever met. When I reached the front of the line I asked if they would mind if I took a picture for my blog. They immediately started asking ME questions - and requested that I send them a copy of the photo "if it wouldn't be too much trouble" - are you kidding?! Of course I would be happy to send them the photo. I then found enough courage to ask if they would mind autographing two copies of the book: one for me (I have read it twice from the library and definitely want my own edition) and one as a give away for my blog readers. They were more than happy to do so and even asked for my business card.
The second author I wish to highlight is Tom Wilson, the author (and cartoonist) of Zig-Zagging: a Memoir. Tom is the son of the originator of the Ziggy cartoons and he has now followed in his father's footsteps. Not only did he autograph each book - but he drew a personal ziggy in each and every book he signed --- the entire time he was drawing and writing he carried on a upbeat and humorous dialogue with his fans. As you can imagine, it took him quite a while to autograph each book so while I only able to have one copy signed (and he personalized it before I had the opportunity to request otherwise), he was kind enough to offer me a 2nd book as a giveaway for my faithful readers.
I was also fortunate enough to receive two autographed copies of The Physique of Deliverance Dane (sorry, no photos as the signing took place in the publisher's booth and it was very tight quarters). Again, the author and publicist were so accommodating of my request - and come to find out this was Katherine Howe's first autograph signing session ever!!
By now you certainly realize that I will have 3 different autographed books to give away. That is the good news. The bad news is that I leave for my summer school program in 10 days and will not have the opportunity to run effective giveaway campaigns in that amount of time (I would have a Post Office on campus - but the time commitment to this program is huge and I am afraid that I will not be able to maintain the blog activity as well as I should). I think instead I will run one giveaway later this week (my husband can mail the package while I am away); run one giveaway when I return; and then the final giveaway at the end of the summer. I hope that is satisfactory.
In the meantime, let me quickly show off the rest of my books.
This is the pile of books that I was able to have autographed while at BEA. Besides the 3 books spotlighted above, I was also able to secure autographed copies of:
The Memorist by MJ Rose (she LOVES bloggers and even requested my card)
The Overnight Socialite by Bridie Clark (a modern retelling of My Fair Lady)
Murder in the Latin Quarter by Cara Black (I now have the 1st and the last in this series)
Don't Know Much about Literature by Kenneth C and Jenny Davis
Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz by Carol de Giere
The Real Real by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (authors of the Nanny Diaries)
The Mysterious Benedict Society (volumes 1 and 2) by Trenton Lee Stewart
Food Jobs by Irena Chalmers (she was delightful! She gave me her business card when she learned that my youngest is interest in culinary school and signed it "Come to the CIA")
This pile of books focuses on the YA genre. Some of the books I picked up because I thought my daughter might enjoy, and some I picked up because I thought I might enjoy and/or I might be able to recommend to my students as outside reading material for next year. And yes, I was fortunate enough to snag (without autograph) the amazingly popular, Catching Fire!
School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari
Murder at Midnight by Avi
Peter and the Sword of Mercy by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Once was Lost by Sara Zarr
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Fire by Kristin Cashore
Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
The final pile of books is a miscellaneous grouping of adult fiction books that I thought I might enjoy. Some will stretch me outside my comfort zone, and others I am very anxious to delve into immediately.
Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom
Tell me Something True by Leila Cobo
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (hard to believe I have not yet read this modern day classic)
A Big Little Life by Dean Koontz
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James (I read her first book and LOVED it!!)
The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
Loving Mr. Darcy by Sharon Lathan
A Separate Country by Robert Hicks
Roses by Leila Meacham
Alex Cross's Trial and I, Alex Cross (double volume) by James Patterson
The Taste of Home Cookbook (newly revised)
Thursday, June 4, 2009
I am NOT a romance person - not in real life and not in the books that I choose to read. That would explain why I had never read any of Debbie Macomber's books before. However, as I was breezing through Sam's Club the other day (and I simply HAVE to glance at the book section every time I go), the cover of the book caught my eye (yes - I am one of those who often purchases a book on cover art alone). The sweet dog obediently sitting in the overstuffed chair surround by books was more than enough to entice me to pick up the book. The book's description on the backcover was equally engaging:
Anne Marie Roche wants to find happiness again. At 38 her life s not what she d expected--she s childless, a recent widow, alone. She owns a successful bookstore on Seattle s Blossom Street, but despite her accomplishments, there s a feeling of emptiness.Main character is owner of a successful bookstore? Character driven novel? Philosophical without being too deep? I was sold.
On Valentine s Day, Anne Marie and several other widows get together to celebrate...what? Hope, possibility, the future. They each begin a list of twenty wishes, things they always wanted to do but never did.
Anne Marie s list starts with: Find one good thing about life. It includes learning to knit, doing good for someone else, falling in love again. She begins to act on her wishes and when she volunteers at a local school, an eight-year-old girl named Ellen enters her life. It s a relationship that becomes far more involving than Anne Marie intended. It also becomes far more important than she ever imagined.
As Ellen helps Anne Marie complete her list of twenty wishes, they both learn that wishes can come true--but not necessarily in the way you expect.
While the book was a tad too easy-going and tidy for me (I like a novel that is a bit more edgy), this was certainly a pleasant way to spend the day traveling to NYC with a two hour layover in Philadelphia. The book was a quick read that did not need my undivided attention to follow the plot and understand the character relationships. As far as reading pleasure, I would rate the book a 3 out of 5 -- not because it is not a well-written book for its genre, but because it is really not my preferred reading material.
HOWEVER.....the basic premise of this book -- make a list of 20 wishes (things, activities, events that you truly want to accomplish in life) and see what happens -- has intrigued me all week. While the initial group of women are all widows of varying ages, the book quickly illustrates how this concept can extend beyond any age barriers. Elementary school children make wish lists; octogenarians make wish lists. Some even accompany the list with elaborate scrapbook pages to document the journey. Some wishes are as simple as "learn to knit" while others are more complex, like "visit Paris with someone I love"
While the characters in the book seem to be well on their way to accomplishing/receiving all 20 wishes in just a few short months (and this may not be true in our real-life circumstances), I do believe the key to this concept is to discover the desires of the heart (this is not necessarily easy or quick to do) - write them down - share them with a trusted friend - and have faith. I do believe that if these wishes are true desires of the heart - and there is a willingness to "do whatever it takes" to achieve them (this often requires the willingness to step outside that comfort zone), then with faith, hard-work and perseverance, many of them will ultimately become realities.
I have decided to challenge myself to begin making a list of 20 wishes. I may not get to 20 and I may not accomplish them all. I may choose to re-evaluate the list after a while and create a new list. BUT...I want to discover what I want my future to look like and begin taking those necessary baby steps toward that end. After all, if I don't know where I want to end up, how will I know if I am on the right path?
How about you? Have you ever made a list similar to the twenty wishes described in this book? Is this something that you think you might like to try?
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I tried to do some preliminary research for indie bookstores in NYC before we left. While there are countless bookstores, some quite specialized, I knew I needed to be very selective in choosing the ones I visited during our very short stay. Fortunately the 3 bookstores at the top of my list were all located in the Village area - which was definitely a stop on our whirlwind tour. We used to live in the Village - on Bleecker between Sullivan and Thompson to be exact - and both my husband and I were very anxious to return to our old haunting grounds. We lived there from 1984 - 1988 and were absolutely amazed how much has changed in the past two decades, while at the same time, how much has remained the same.
Partners in Crime was the first store I visited and I could have stayed there for hours. As the name suggests, the store specializes in mysteries/thrillers and is stacked floor to ceiling with new releases, out-of-print, and used books. Their website describes the store as:
What We DoI spent about half an hour just perusing the titles on all the shelves (the store is well organized and it is very easy to browse at your leisure, although the staff would have been more than happy to help me). While I drooled over the selection, my husband immediately made friends with the owner. The shop was established 15 years ago - that is 5 years after we left the Village - and has been host to countless author signing sessions. There are two bookshelves filled with autographed editions. In the back of the store there is a table set up for upcoming autograph sessions - the next one happened to be Friday night when Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos were going to autograph their newest books. How I had wanted to return for that event - but alas, there was simply not enough time. I managed to limit my purchase to just one book: an autographed copy of Cara Black's first book in the Aimee Leduc investigation series, Murder in the Marais.
We are an independent bookstore devoted entirely to mysteries, and the largest mystery bookstore in Manhattan. We feature a complete selection of new titles as well as a broad array of our recommendations, classics, and out-of-print books.
We are known for our ability to match people with books they'll enjoy; so if you are an experienced mystery reader or just starting out and love mysteries, Partners & Crime is the bookseller for you. Over 85% of our sales are to repeat and referral customers.
The next book stop was only a few blocks away. I had heard such praises for Three Lives and Company and knew that it was a "must-see" The write-up on the website is accurately descriptive:
THREE LIVES is an anachronism.
A knowledgeable staff that reads prodigiously has been a key to our success, as has a theatrical and artistic display of the books we carry. Special orders remain a significant area of service, and we are meticulous about our follow through. We thrive on discovering literary books that might otherwise be overlooked, and thrill to give them to our customers.
- It is the shop around the corner.
- A touchstone in a neighborhood.
- A place with a human face and a cast of characters.
- 84 Charing Cross Road colored by the time and place.
- A haven for people who read.
One of the greatest bookstores on the face of the Earth. Every single person who works there is incredibly knowledgeable and well read and full of soul. You can walk in and ask anybody, really, what they've read lately and they'll tell you something - very likely something you've never heard of. [But] it's always going to be something interesting and fabulous. I go there when I'm feeling depressed and discouraged, and I always feel rejuvenated.
- Michael Cunningham,
winner of the 1999
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
That is a lot of praise to live up to -- but I must confess that I found the store to be quite charming and while the space is small, it maintains a vast selection of books in many genres. I was only able to stay and browse about half an hour, but in that timeframe no fewer than 10 other people came to visit the store as well. It is not on the main drag, so to speak. It is definitely a destination location and there are many who are determined to find it. Again, I used great restraint when making a purchase (but I HAD to make a purchase, right?) so I chose a small book entitled, Poems of New York. I thought this would be a book that I would be hard-pressed to find in Kansas - it would make a great souvenir for my first BEA - and I might be able to use it for inspiration in the writing class I am taking this summer.
Any booklover's trip to NYC would not be complete without a visit to the iconic Strand Bookstore. I forced myself to wait until after BEA to visit this museum of a bookstore, as I knew I would be too tempted to buy far too many books otherwise. It is a good thing I waited. I shipped home many more books than I had anticipated, so I limited myself to only the purchase of a bookbag at the Strand. I must admit that the store is just as overwhelming now as when I lived here 20 years ago. They advertise 18 miles of books, and I am sure that is no exaggeration. I truly think I could spend half a day in this store and still not see all that there is to see. Sometimes large stores can be cumbersome to navigate, but the Strand is very well organized, with appropriate signage. I focused my attention on the outdoor carts of $1 books (there must have been at least 10-15 carts to choose from) and the basement, where reviewer copies are sold at half the retail price. Boy, if I lived in the city - I would spend my rent money on books at this store. Everything is a bargain - and book bargains are the best!
Just one short block from the Strand is the Forbidden Planet bookstore - which specializes in fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and graphic novels. While this is not my typical reading genre, it was fun to visit and browse all the titles, games, and paraphernalia. If this is of interest to you, then I would definitely plan to visit this shop the next time you are in NYC. It is definitely a unique treat.
The one bookstore that I had wanted to visit, but simply did not have time, was Kitchen Arts and Letters on the upper East side. This store opened when I was still living in the city, and it is still located in the same spot. Their website's description is as follows:
Kitchen Arts Letters is the country's largest store devoted completely to books on food and wine. With more than 11,000 cooking titles in English and foreign languages and access to thousands of out
We help food professionals, scholars, and the food publishing community, as well as the general public, to discover books older and recent that represent serious contributions to the world of food and wine.
I was curious to see what changes had been made over the past 20 years and if they had expanded the space. As I (not quite so vividly) recall, the store was small but jam-packed with any and every food-related book I could ever hope to read. I oftentimes would spend 2+ hours browsing - and salivating - over all the book titles. I would envision creating 5 course meals for friends, or vacationing in the Bordeaux region of France. While it was very disappointing not to visit this shop this trip - I know that I will be back in the city for another BEA and will make it a point to visit at that time. My youngest daughter (junior in high school) is hoping to accompany on my next BEA trip, and she has aspirations of becoming a pastry chef. She and I will have a grand time visiting this lovely shop at that time.