Saturday, January 31, 2009

Weekly Geeks - 2009.03

I am so excited that I can take part in this weekly meme. I only found Dewey's blog a week before her passing, and I know that I have missed the opportunity to know a truly wonderful woman. It is so inspiring to see how others in the book blogging community have strived to keep her memory alive, and I have greatly benefited from reading the posts of the past two weeks.

This week's post, however, deals with classic literature - something that I am somewhat passionate about. There are 4 different questions to answer in the meme:

For your assignment this week, choose two or more of the following questions:

1) How do you feel about classic literature? Are you intimidated by it? Love it? Not sure because you never actually tried it? Don't get why anyone reads anything else? Which classics, if any, have you truly loved? Which would you recommend for someone who has very little experience reading older books?

2) A challenge, should you choose to accept it: Read at least one chapter of a classic novel, preferably by an author you're not familiar with.

3) Let's say you're vacationing with your dear cousin Myrtle, and she forgot to bring a book. The two of you venture into the hip independent bookstore around the corner, where she primly announces that she only reads classic literature. If you don't find her a book, she'll never let you get any rea
ding done! What contemporary book/s with classic appeal would you pull off the shelf for her?

4) As you explore t
he other Weekly Geeks posts: Did any inspire you to want to read a book you've never read before—or reread one to give it another chance? Tell us all about it, including a link to the post or posts that sparked your interest.

In high school I read the required classics, and occasionally enjoyed them (Of Mice and Men and Lord of the Flies are two that I remember reading and liking at the time). However, I rarely gave classics a thought after graduating college: too much "real" life was happening, like getting married and starting a family. It really wasn't until my mid-thirties that I began thinking of what would I like to accomplish in my lifetime, and many of the entries involved a reading of the classics. I realized that there were many "required" books that I had never read, and I didn't want to miss out on that knowledge. However, I was a little nervous about picking one up. It wasn't that I necessarily felt intimidated by them, but having been out of school for so long, I felt as though my brain had turned to mush and I just wouldn't be able to understand/appreciate them.

Well, God has a way of giving us our heart's desire, and often He does so with a bit of humor. My desire was to read more classics - and so He puts me in a British Literature classroom where I am supposed to teach the classics that I never read! Now THAT was intimidating. But the funny thing is.......if you really want to learn something --- teach it. I will confess that the first year I taught Macbeth (Shakespeare still intimidates me - but not as much) and Tale of Two Cities (Dickens is amazing - but it always takes me at least two reads to discover how all the characters are related), I was intensely intimidated - and very overwhelmed. But, I persevered, and oh how I am very glad that I did. I have come to learn that I cannot read the classics at the same speed as I would read a modern-day book. I need to slow down - pay closer attention to the word choice (and actually look up some of the words up in a dictionary). I need to try to connect with the characters in order to better appreciate their relationship with one another - and their surroundings. Sometimes I may need to take the time to do a little research (although I can easily go overboard in this area) and learn more about the author and the time period in order to fully enjoy the storyline and themes of the novel. But this extra effort is always worth the satisfying results.

I have learned that now I almost prefer the classics. Classics utilize rich, complex language - and rarely resort to the use of cussing in order to express an emotion. I don't mind the occasional cuss word in reading (it seems to be inevitable and sometimes it is useful in order to portray the realistic setting), but some books are so filled with these vulgarities that I lose sight of the plot because I am trying to wade through the "potty mouth." Classics also require a reader to use his/her imagination. There is plenty of sex, violence, action adventure in a classic - but it is not necessary graphically portrayed. I would rather a book allude to a scene than give me a play-by-play description. In a classics, it seems, there is a need to ponder what the author chose NOT to say, as much as to discuss what the author actually said.

Up until last summer, I must confess that I was still intimidated by the "long" classics. You know, those that are 750 pages plus. I had considered 500 pages to be the maximum limit for me. Well, again, God has that sense of humor, and the first class I took towards my Master's Program required me to not only read one, but two, of the "chunksters" - in addition to 3 other novels. We had to read Middlemarch, by George Eliot, and Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. I am so glad that I was given this challenge, however. Middlemarch was a delightful read and I am very anxious to find the time to read more of Eliot's works. If you want to read an absolutely delightful review of this book, visit Susan's blog, You Can Never Have Too Many Books. Bleak House was equally delightful, but true for Dickens, I know that I need to read it again to fully comprehend the intertwining plots.

I truly wanted to answer question 3 in this meme --- but actually, I really want to hear how others answered this question. I would love to begin pairing classic works with a modern-day counterpart. I would love to compare and contrast the characters and setting. I would love to realize how little our world has changed, even though technology has advanced exponentially. I am at a loss, however. Yesterday in my British Literature class I did take in the movie, You've Got Mail and showed two scenes where I thought the movie aligned very well with our current book, Pride and Prejudice (the book is mentioned several times in the movie as being Cathleen Kelly's favorite book). It was a fun class discussion.

I suppose if I were to recommend a classic to anyone who has never experienced the joy of reading one, I would recommend that they start with a classic that closely mimics the style of modern literature they do enjoy. If they like action/adventure - start with Alexander Dumas. If romance, Jane Austen. If mystery, perhaps Dickens or Wilkie Collins. A librarian is an invaluable resource to help pair a reader's interest with an enjoyable read.

Well, I must now prepare to read, analyze and fully comprehend another classic (although a fairly modern classic) The Old Man and the Sea. I need to teach it on Wednesday. I hope all have a great weekend!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New Addition.......

Well, our life has been greatly enriched, once again, by the addition of a new white lab puppy! We were not actually in the market for a new pup, but a friend of mine had this 10-week old bundle of fur and had decided that this was just not the time to add a large breed dog to her young family. She asked me if I would mind taking the dog as a favor to her --- are you kidding?!

Bella came home from school with me yesterday and was immediately welcomed (well....maybe after an hour or so) by Ralf and Jude. Jude has become her surrogate caregiver --- following her around to make sure that she doesn't get into trouble and giving her many deserving licks. Ralf has just decided that he will never be the only dog again.

She does not quite sleep through the night, nor is she house broken -- but she has discovered the doggy door and knows how to use it, so I am hopeful that all will come together in about a week.

Anyway, as you can imagine, I am not getting much done in the way of lesson plans, much less personal reading --- but am sure having a lot of fun.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Many thanks for Undeserved Awards

I have been so very remiss at publicly thanking two wonderful bloggers for recognizing my site with an award. First of all Maria at A Passion for Books honored me with the Premio Dardos Award for the blog which "acknowledges the values that every blogger shows in his/her effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary and personal values every day." Really?! I am just truly honored that anyone considers my blog capable of transmitting cultural and literary values. In a private note Maria commented that she thought I might be a good candidate for certification in media science. I must say that since reading that suggestion, I have been mulling the idea over and over in my head. I am so grateful to Maria for her generous offer in providing information to help me explore that possibility.

The second award I received was from my first blogging friend - Sheri at a Novel Menagerie. If you haven't visited Sheri's site (and I am sure few of have missed it -- she is quite the blogging social butterfly) -- you absolutely must check it out. Visiting her site for my daily dose of good humor has become as much of a habit as my morning cup of coffee. It is quite ironical, therefore, that Sheri honored me with the "Well Worth Watching" award - since she is at the top of my "well worth watching" list. The award states: This award was created by The Book Zombie. The details of the award are simple. It is for all those blogs you cannot wait to read every day, that you look forward to seeing updates on and that have inspired you in your own blogging!
Again, I am so truly humbled. I find it hard to believe that anyone would find my little "cozy" blog worth reading day after day - but just knowing that one person thinks this way inspires to me to do even better.

In passing along these awards I find myself at a crossroads. I would like to honor others in the same way that I have been honored (and who doesn't need a "pat on the back" every now and then) - while at the same time I do not want to risk leaving anyone out of the circle of recipients. I have truly been blessed by so many of you over these past few weeks. When life isn't going as well as I had hoped, or I have not been able to read my own TBR list as much as I want, I log onto your blogs and I am swept away to a magical place of eloquent book reviews and humorous anecdotes of everyday life (just not my everyday life - which makes it so much more entertaining). I toyed with the idea of listing every blog I follow, but since that is nearing the 100 mark, I thought that would not be such a good idea. So I hereby honor anyone who has ever taken the time to read my blog - and anyone who has ever taken the time to write a blog - these awards. You are ALL truly inspirational as you transmit cultural, ethical, personal, and especially literary values each and every day.

Topics Re-Visited

OK - so I am not ready to admit defeat in the area of audio books. I shared my problems of being a visual learner, so when I listen to audiobooks it as though I translate the words spoken into words written so that I can understand the story --- exhausting! So here is my latest idea. I will try to listen to audiobooks of books that I have already read - but just need to brush up on before teaching in class. I drive 30 minutes one way on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I am thinking that this might be a great way to review - and perhaps free up some time in the evening to read something of my own choosing. I'll let you know how it goes.

This new experiment dictated my library loot for this week. I checked out the following three audiobooks - Old Man and the Sea - Walk Two Moons - The Hobbit. I am fairly familiar with all storylines, so I am hoping that the narration allows me to catch subtleties that I may have missed.

The other topic I wish to revisit is where I receive inspiration for books to read. This week I have learned that my students can greatly inspire me. I think I have shared that I am a very clear cut - realistic - pragmatic person. I have a difficult time with romance novels and I especially have a difficult time relating to fantasy / science fiction (I have only just now grown to enjoy the Hobbit and that is after teaching the book for 4 years). Over Christmas break I asked all my students to read one book of their own choosing (I know .... what a mean teacher to ask students to read over their vacation) and then come to class prepared to give a 3-4 minute book review. The only caveat was that the book review had to be positive and persuade the audience to want to read the book.

Ok, so suffice it to say that many of the junior high girls selected the Twilight series books (and I refused to have a book repeated - so I heard reports for all 4 books in the series), I was amazed at the number of fantasy books that were chosen. I listened to the reports, but to be honest, I was not at all persuaded to go out and begin reading them (this was really not due to the student's review, but my own personal issues). EXCEPT..... I had two 7th grade students give amazing book reviews that truly have inspired me to give this genre another try (although probably not for a while due to other time commitments). One student read the Fellowship of the Ring at the beginning of break and was so taken with the series that he chose to read The Two Towers as well. His presentation consisted of drawing a map on the board and illustrating the journey. While most of us were very confused --- we were also very intrigued.

The other 7th grade student read Madeleine L'Engle's a Wrinkle in Time and again, was so taken by the first book that she voluntarily read the 2nd book in the series as well. Once again, the audience was rather confused at the character names, but this student was so enthusiastic for the story and author's writing style that I absolutely must attempt to read these books soon.

Finally, a last source of inspiration is the internet and a number of email loops to which I have subscribed (mostly AP English groups). This past week a question that was posed to the loop - and I would like to ask here (in the hopes of receiving further inspiration) is this: do you ever pair a classic with a modern/contemporary piece of fiction --- and if so, what pairings would you suggest? One of the ideas that I have heard is to pair Pride and Prejudice with Bridget Jones' Diary - so when I saw the latter book for sale yesterday for a dollar, I simply had to pick it up. Are there other great pairings that would work?

Sunday Salon - 1.25.09

I realized this weekend that I now have 4 full weeks of school before our next little break (President's Day) and I must admit that I was a little depressed. It is not that I don't enjoy teaching - I LOVE it --but I do miss my free time and ability to read books of my own choosing. In the grand scheme of things, however, I consider myself VERY fortunate.

My student book club will be discussing Wuthering Heights tomorrow (the final Masterpiece Theater episode is this evening) and then we will begin reading the Book Thief -- a favorite book selection of one of my students. I have been trying to stay ahead of the game, so I began the Book Thief over Christmas break. I was truly looking forward to this read as I have heard nothing but grand reviews. The concept of Death being the narrator also had me totally intrigued. I am ashamed to say, however, that it has taken me quite a long time to "get into" the book. I probably re-read the prologue at least 3 times. I LOVE the author's writing style - his use of syntax is fascinating to me (so many fragments that eloquently move the reader forward) and his diction is superb (in fact, in the back of the book there is a mini-interview with the author, Markus Zusak - and he shares that "he likes the idea that every page in every book can have a gem on it." He certainly delivers!!).

However......I found that the first few chapters of the book left me totally perplexed most of the time. Now that I have completed nearly half the book, the confusion seems to be kept to a minimum and I now wonder if perhaps this bafflement was supposed to be intentional. The narrator is Death --- and Death, by its very nature is confusing. Why does Death choose to take one person over another? Also, prior to reading the book, I had a pre-disposition toward what I thought Death should sound like. Death should be evil and sinister; in other words, I thought of Death as being synonomous with Satan. This narrator is not. In fact, this narrator is very matter-of-fact and even shows compassion. This image of Death not living up to my expectations has also contributed to my comprehension difficulties. While I think I can understand the author's intent, I am not sure that I like it. When I am confused in my reading I feel stupid -- I feel like "I should be able to understand what is going on --- what is wrong with me?" Especially when the intended audience is Young Adult! However, I have pesevered through this feeling of inadquacy and I am beginning to appreciate the book. The storyline is becoming less cryptic; more intense; and I know that I will immediately desire to re-read the book in order to make sense of what I found confusing to begin with.

In the meantime, I want to share a quote from the book (although it is absolutely true - there is nearly a quote per page that is worthy of highlighting). I enjoyed the quote in context, but I also think it is a beautiful way to summarize my feelings of any library/bookstore. The "book thief" has just discovered the numerous book shelves in the hidden library of the mayor's wife. How I wish I could put my feelings into such eloquent word pictures:
"....and when she eventually stopped and stood in the middle of the room, she spent many minutes looking from the shelves to her fingers and back again ...... she did it again, this time much slower, with her hand facing forward, allowing the dough of her palm to feel the small hurdle of each book. It felt like magic, like beauty, as bright lines of light shone down from the chandelier. Several times, she almost pulled a title from its place but didn't dare disturb them. They were just too perfect." (page 135)

AH.....this is exactly how I feel each and every time I walk into a bookstore or a library. I am just in awe of the shelves and shelves of "perfect" books -- each one begging to share its knowledge and adventure and romance and ideals with me.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inspiration to Read

Todays Booking Through Thursday's prompt reads:
Since “Inspiration” is (or should) the theme this week … what is your reading inspired by?

To be honest, I have never really thought about this before. So as I pondered the answer to the weekly question I found myself reliving my past.......

I enjoyed reading as a child, but I did not enjoy English class. My love in high school was foreign languages and travel. I would rather
learn how to say the same expression in several languages than to try to discover the hidden symbolic meaning of a river in literature. So this passion translated to a major in French and dreams of international travel to exotic places. By my junior year I had returned to reality: I was going to marry when I graduated and decided that life in America with my husband was better than overseas travel alone. I also discovered that I really enjoy Constitutional Law - and in my senior decided to add Political Science as a 2nd major (most students choose to coax by their senior year --- I choose to add a 2nd major. Sometimes I wonder about me.....) Anyway, IF I were to read all the texts that were required, I had to read 500 pages a week for the entire year. Needless to say, upon graduation I was BURNT OUT and vowed I would not pick up another book for 6 months. In reality, it was closer to a year.

I am a type-A, singularly focused personality. When I read husband/wife quizzes in pop-culture magazines, I tend to answer the questions like the husband - not the wife (told you --- I often wonder about me.....). I am NOT a multi-tasker like most women, I am very goal-driven and I am rarely emotional/affectionate. So, my reading tends to be compartmentalized; I read in spurts and usually tend to read all the same "genre" at one time. Our 2nd year of marriage found me commuting an hour one way to New York City. One evening, before leaving Grand Central Station, I decided to buy a magazine to read on the train. What prompted me to pick up Bon Appetit I have no idea, but I devoured that magazine on the trip home. I began to cook which quickly led to gourmet cooking. For the next several years most of my books were inspired by recipes (mostly desserts) and the thought of becoming the next Martha Stewart. I even tried my hand at catering.

Fast forward about a decade and we have found ourselves in Kansas (a LONG way from Greenwich Village, NY let me tell ya!) and through a series of family trials and tribulations, have come to know the Lord. This led me to be inspired to read all I could get my hands on regarding God's mercy and saving grace (I was raised Episcopalean and attended parochial school for a number of years. I had "head knowledge" of the Bible, but NO heart knowledge. I knew Him as a God of "thou shalt nots" rather than as a God of love. Still working on improving that ......). I joined Bible study groups, read the Bible and devotions, was truly totally consumed with this new passion. This eventually led me to discover the "self help" section of the bookstore. I never knew such an area existed! I was in heaven --- for a control freak like myself I loved reading about all the wonderful ways I could actually control my life - and my reactions to life. Fiction at this time was thought of as silly --- why read about something imaginary when I can read non-fiction books that will truly affect my life for the better (naive, I know....but that was the mindset at the time).

Again, another decade later and I now find myself in a career that I never "wanted" but can not imagine giving up. I started teaching 6th grade and as part of the literature curriculum I taught Tuck Everlasting and My Side of the Mountain. I had never "taught" literature before (remember, I did not like English) nor had I ever been a part of a bookclub --- so talking about a book after I read it was foreign to me. Thank goodness for the internet. I did constant research for lesson plans of these two novels (still can't give up that love of "self-help" non-fiction books, although n
ow they tend to be within the education industry). Through teaching these books I discovered the wonderful truth that Fiction can actually lead to self-discovery and appreciation of the human condition. I also discovered that the "Children's" section of the library is not just for children (as my very black and white brain originally thought). There are wonderful picture books and YA novels that can teach and entertain adults as well.

So this now brings me to the present......what inspires me to read today? I am still very much controlled by the classes that I teach. Since I teach at a small, private, Christian school - I must be very selective in the novel studies that I present to the students. I do try to slowly, but surely, stretch those boundaries because I think the students need to learn to read and discuss controversial subjects with a Christian worldview. This will better prepare them for the real world. I am also controlled by the classes that I take in an effort to earn my Masters degree. This summer I plan to take a class on writing (LOTS of books for that class which I will post later) and a pedagogy class on Shakespeare (4 plays to read and study for that). In my free time what do I choose to read? Well, true to my "one genre at a time" personality, I spent quite a bit of time this fall reading mysteries -- mostly cozies and police procedurals. I was inspired to try this "new" genre by reading about an independent bookstore in my local area. The article was persuasive, and the pictures of the store so inviting, that I decided to go and check it out. I am thrilled that I ventured outside my comfort zone!

I am also inspired by a desire to read the classics. It is one of the items on my list of "things to do before I die" -- that is, to read several of the classics that I somehow missed in my youth. I not only learn more about myself and the human condition, but I am mentally challenged by the diction and yes, subtle symbolism (funny how life comes full circle, isn't it?)
Lastly, I am very much inspired by the reviews of others. It goes without saying that many of you have inspired me greatly in the few short weeks that I have been a part of this wonderful booking community. I have also discovered a wonderful magazine that I truly LOVE -- Bookmarks. If you are unfamiliar with this little treasure, it is published every two months and reviews the reviews of books. Sounds redundant, but actually it is very thorough, easy to understand, and right up my ally. My husband gave me a subscription for Christmas and I was in heaven. I have also discovered a new website that I think I might use in the future called the Literature Map. You insert the name of an author that you enjoy and it will recommend other authors who you might also like.

Wow -- that was quite the stream of conciousness and I probably lost all readers by the 3rd paragraph. It was a good cathartic exercise for me, however, and I now need to go teach two of the novels that have truly become "old friends": The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Hobbit.

Have a great Thursday!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Literary Merit

Today was a fun day for me. I took 3 of my book club students to Lawrence (home of KU Jayhawks) to browse two 2nd hand bookstores. We all took books in to trade and came out with some new bargains. My best find was a copy of Helene Hanff's The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (the same author wrote the more well-known 84 Charing Cross Road, but I much prefer this book as she actually visits London and regales us with her traveling adventures). I also found a few other treasures, as did my students. We spent a total of 6 hours together and I think they truly could have stayed longer if I didn't have to get back to lesson plans.

This book club class is a very informal, one-credit hour class that involves the reading and discussion of literature. There are no tests or papers in the class (you would think that it would be better attended than just 6 students), but every single one of these students LOVES to read. We began the school year developing a list of books to read first semester: some were tried and true classics (Of Mice and Men and Great Expectations) and others were more contemporary (Screwtape Letters and Phantom of the Opera). This has led to several discussions of what constitutes literary merit - and what makes a novel worth close academic study vs an enjoyable read. We have devised - albeit very unscientifically - a formula for literary merit which we continue to hone each class period. So far, here is a list of possible criteria:
  1. timeless - as in, it is pertinent in the year it was written as well as years (centuries) afterwards
  2. timeless - as in, it can be read and enjoyed by a variety of age groups (teens through 80s)
  3. begs to be re-read - as in, each time the story is re-read the reader gains a deeper appreciation or learns more about human nature or gains a different perspective than the first time (I would not put the Twilight series in this category as I think these books are re-read because the characters are like close friends that one may wish to revisit, but not necessarily present a new academic focus)
  4. unique - as in, the author has experimented with a new genre or writing technique that is then adopted by others (for example, Poe's horror or Capote's True Crime)
  5. layers of meaning - as in, there is so much symbolism and/or themes and/or textures in the novel that it simply cannot be absorbed all at one time
  6. writing style - as in, the language is so rich in diction and/or syntax that the reader is drawn into the story as much through the words as through the plot, characters or setting
So far, that is what our small group has discussed. I would love to hear your views on what you think constitutes "literary merit". I am not looking for the definitive meaning of the term - but rather a brainstorm of what could it entail in the hopes that this might spark some great class discussions as well as individual critical thinking.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Salon - 1.18.09

Well, if you read my last post - and noticed my lack of posts for the week - you have surmised that my free time has diminished considerably since school started. While I do still feel overwhelmed, I also feel blessed that I "have to" read classic literature for a living. How great is that?! So while I have not had much time to read books for fun, I have been reading.

I am still not confident enough in my writing/reviewing capabilities to post a full-scale review (I am hoping that I will overcome this inferiority complex in due time), I can tell you what books I have been reading and my limited insight into them. First of all, I read Wuthering Heights over the Christmas break (yes, it was the first time that I had read this amazing classic) and I read it in anticipation of the PBS Masterpiece Theater production - which will be shown in 2 episodes, beginning this evening and continuing next Sunday evening. I also understand from the Barnes and Noble classics bookclub that the episode will be available online through February 1. So, if you have the time, you might want to check it out.

I did manage to read one book that I can count towards the "Just for the Love of it" reading challenge hosted by Sheri of A Novel Menagerie. I read the collection of three short holiday stories by Truman Capote entitled, A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, and the Thanksgiving Visitor. I requested this book prior to Thanksgiving and it only became available after the holiday season. The book was a quick read (only 107 pages total), but the effects were lasting. I have only read In Cold Blood by Capote (and only read that this fall) and so I am not familiar with his writing style. He tells a good story, with plenty of detailed description, but the endings are not of the "warm fuzzy" holiday tradition. I am guessing that Truman Capote does not like the "happily ever after" endings because his personal life did not mimic a fairy tale story. Capote seems to want to tell a story of "real" life and real life cannot be summed up in a neat, tidy package. My first reaction was somewhat negative when I finished reading the book, but I have found myself pondering the stories over the course of the week, which probably attests to his gifted writing ability. If I were to rate the book, I think I would give it a 4 out of 5 stars and I do plan to read it again - just not during the holiday season when I like all my stories to have that "warm fuzzy" feeling.
The book that I have spent the most time reading this week is for my 8th grade English class - The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway. This is another one of the many classics that I had never read as a student and have wanted to read as an adult. As I read the book, and some of the commentaries, I have discovered that I need to keep my audience in mind -- 8th graders! There are so many layers of analysis for this very short novella, that I am sure graduate students could be kept busy for months discussing the potential meaning in every sentence. Suffice it to say, the 8th graders will certainly understand the book on the literal level - an old fisherman's fight with a worthy opponent; the endurance necessary to complete a task; and that success does not always mean material success but rather a job well done. I hope to bring out some of the allegorical elements of the story (Santiago is compared to Christ and Mandolin his disciple) in an effort to help students learn to recognize symbolism in writing. I think I will be doing well if I can accomplish this much in the 4 Wednesdays that I have to teach the book. I know that this will be one story that I can read and re-read and each time I will find something different, perhaps more profound, than the previous times.

This is a 3 day weekend for us, so tomorrow I plan to take my student bookclub to Lawrence (home of University of Kansas) to roam around the independent used bookstore, The Dusty Bookshelf. We went there last October and they had such a grand time that they have requested to go again - on a school holiday! It should be a fun time.

Today will be spent reading and analysing Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. I will be teaching this to my 7th grade class and while I am sure there are layers of meaning with this YA novel, I am hoping that it will not be quite as deep as my Hemingway experience yesterday.

May you all be warm and cozy in your Salons this Sunday!

Friday, January 16, 2009


I knew that once school started I would become very busy - and I was afraid that my precious blog time (more like my time to read your wonderful blogs rather than writing my own) would suffer. Well, it has suffered indeed. I am going through a withdrawal of sorts by not reading your daily posts, and I am feeling very guilty for not keeping up with mine. I am hoping that this weekend I might be able to find the time to do a bit of browsing.....but for this entry I thought I would explain why my time is so limited.

Due to my husband's current unemployment status, I decided to take another part time teaching job. This University Model School meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which fit my schedule nicely. Also, this is a start-up school, so while I have added 3 classes to my roster, I only have a total of 8 students -- so grading should be kept at a manageable level. It is, however, the literature classes that I teach that have kept me beyond busy. For example, here is the list of books that I must read by next Tuesday/Wednesday:
  1. Pride and Prejudice - Volume I chapters 17-23
  2. Lion, Witch and Wardrobe - chapters 5-13
  3. The Hobbit - chapter 1
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird - chapters 5-8
  5. Walk Two Moons - chapters 1-8
  6. Old Man and the Sea - first 25 pages
This may not seem like a lot of reading, but I feel that if I am going to TEACH the material, I had best really KNOW the material -- so I usually read slower and take detailed notes as I read. I have read all the books a minimum of 2 times, but I always feel the need to refresh before class. I have attempted to work "smarter" rather than "harder" this semester - so the majority of the books I have taught before - and I have a comfort level in teaching. There are two novels, however, Walk Two Moons and Old Man and the Sea that I will teach for the first time and I have yet to develop discussion questions, vocabulary lists, vocabulary assessments or final exams. That is what this long, 3-day weekend is for :)

Anyway, this required reading is definitely keeping me from making any dent in my TBR pile - but I keep telling myself that it is only for a finite period of time. In the meantime, I will try to post when I can - read your wonderful entries when I can - and be grateful that I have a job that I love which allows me to read and re-read wonderful classics.

Monday, January 12, 2009


I just completed my 2nd book of 2009 -- yippee!! The first was Black, by Ted Dekker. Not my typical read, but I am glad that I persevered and finished it. The 2nd book completed is a small (111 pages) read entitled, The Little Guide to your Well-Read life, by Steve Leveen. This was definitely more my style. I love reading books about books - and this one was no exception. The subtitle to this book is "How to get more books in your life and more life from your books." How to find the time to read more books?? I was determined to discover this little secret so that I could apply it to my own life.

The greatest "secret" that I gleaned from the author is that audiobooks not only allow you to increase reading productivity (you can "read" while in traffic - washing dishes - doing laundry etc), but also help you to more fully appreciate the content. Professional readers (who are very often actors as well) add a dramatic element to the reading - as well as realistic dialect and accents - that silent reading does not afford.

I am intrigued by this statement - and I can truly understand the value. My problem, however, is that I am a VERY visual learner. I have tried audio books in the past (well, 1.5 books to be exact) and I seem to either focus so intently on the spoken word that I lose track of time - and location (drove right past my exit and had to turn around; makes me wonder what else I "tuned out" on that trip to work) OR....I unintentionally translate the spoken voice to written words in my mind so that I can "read" what the narrator is saying. Insane, I know --- and mentally exhausting.

How about you? Have you tried audio books? Do you like them? Does it take a while to acclimate to this style of "reading" (meaning I should give it more time than just 1.5 books) or are audio books for some but not for others? I spend about 20 minutes one way in the car each weekday. I am thinking that is 40 minutes a day x 5 days = 200 minutes (3+ hours!!) I could accomplish a lot of enjoyable reading in that time --- if I could just adjust to the format. Hmmm, I think I have just convinced myself to give it one more attempt. Now the question is....which audiobook should I try first?

Musing Monday - 1.12.09

Today's Musing Monday asks:
How did you react to assigned reading when you were in school/college? How do you think on these books now? What book were you 'forced' to read when you were in school that you've since reread and loved?

I think I will use this question as a springboard. To be honest, I do not remember my high school required reading - or at least much of it. I just remember that it seemed one day we were discussing basic comprehension and the next day we were expected to analyze symbolism on our own. I don't remember being taught how to analyze - just the expectation. Being a very "black and white" person, the interpretation of symbolism did not come natural to me and I remember thinking how stupid I was. As much as I loved to read in elementary school, I was turned off to reading in high school.

I was a French major, so while we had to read French literature, most of our efforts were focused on the proper translation rather than the subtle analysis. I took no English classes in college.

Fast forward a couple of decades and here I am teaching high school English (don't ask - it is truly a God thing). I am expected to teach students what I myself didn't understand at their age. Thank goodness for the internet. I have vowed not to expect students to instinctively know how to analyze literature; I have vowed to try to learn right along with them. I first try to teach them how to discuss a book - then how to make connections with the story - then how to appreciate the author's word choice and writing style - then how to discern the character and theme development, etc etc. We take baby steps - not one great big literary leap.

The one "work" that I think I appreciate far more now than I ever did in high school is Shakespeare. In high school we came to class - were given our assigned parts - read the written words (no dramatic interpretation - no teacher interjection) - left and repeated the same thing the next several days. While I still do not totally understand Shakespeare (and I am convinced it will take me a lifetime to do so) --- I do try to make Shakespeare "real" for my students. This year we read Macbeth and we discussed each scene prior to acting it out. We had fun -- yes, fun --- with Shakespeare. I look forward to reading more of the Bard's works and relating these 400 year old stories to my own life in 2009.

Sunday Salon for 1.11.09

I know this is late, but for some reason my computer wouldn't allow me to access the "new post" portion of blogger yesterday. It is not that I have some great information to share with y'all -- that I didn't think you could live without. It is more that I had an insight in my reading yesterday that I want to verbalize for my own benefit.

My book club at school (student led, I am just the facilitator) decided to read Ted Dekker's book, Black, over Christmas break. Since I try to run the class as a democratic society, I agreed to read the book as well, even though it is not one that I would normally select. First of all, I am not a huge fan of Christian fiction. I hate saying that - the fact that I verbalized such a statement makes me feel like a heretic. It is not that I don't see value in Christian literature, but I usually find the character development somewhat lacking and the themes to be rather one-dimentional. I am sure there are some GREAT Christian authors out there, so I hope I have not offended anyone. I guess I just feel so far behind in reading the classics that I tend to put this particular style of book on the back burner.

Secondly, I am not a lover of science fiction. I am a realist, and my "black and white" brain simply does not understand the concept of alternate worlds. (For example, Ender's Game is rated so highly, yet I have tried to read the book twice and simply cannot get past the first 50 pages or so). Black deals with what I would call the "real" world of Denver, Colorado, and Bangkok; the "dream" world deals with black woods filled with evil black bats and the colorful forests where humans live with two "guardian" white bats: Michel and Gabril. BATS?! Anyway, I did force myself to finish the book and discovered that while it is definitely not a favorite, I was able to glean some favorable moments. The most siginificant moment for me - as a reader and a believer - came in chapter 22 when the young boy says to the Protagonist, Thomas (doubting Thomas): "Elyon (God) could open his mouth, and a hundred billion worlds like this would roll off his tongue. Maybe you underestimate him" WOW --- that still causes me to stop and take notice.

If I believe that God could speak Earth into existence, what prevents me from thinking that He cannot speak other worlds into existence. Have I truly put God in such a box that I do not allow Him such power? Sobering thought.

So, I am still not sure that I will ever consider science fiction as a favorite genre --- but I am definitely going to be more receptive to accept the creativity of these writers.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Library Loot - 1.8.09

As I was relaxing yesterday - reading several blogs on my blogroll - I noticed that Becky had posted about her most recent library finds. She had discovered a new weekly meme from Eva's blog, A Striped Armchair. Now this is a weekly (or perhaps bi-weekly for me) meme that I can write about. Since I had several books waiting on hold for me at the library, I thought I would wait until today to post my most recent "loot." Unlike Becky, who had a sci-fi theme, my books are mostly a hodgepodge based on YOUR irresistable recommendations. Some books were available immediately, others I am still waiting on (for example, I am behind 258 people before I will have the opportunity to read American Wife!!). Here is what I brought home:

Missing photo: Intro to Shakespeare by M. Chute

Quite the ecclectic group of books, huh? Well, the Truman Capote book has been on hold since before Thanksgiving! I have had the Somnambulist on my list since it was first released last spring and thought it would be a great book to read for one of my many 2009 reading challenges. I am always up to read any biographical book on Shakespeare, and this one had just recently been reviewed by Robin at Biblioshakespeare. The two books about reading books (which my children think is the most ridiculous topic) came very highly recommended from several blogs - and appear to be rather quick reads (which is about all I have time for anymore). And lastly, Chez Moi and The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti appeared on several "best books of 2008" and the reviews sounded very much like my kind of book. So there you have it. NOW....the big question is.....will I be able to find the time to read them??

A little tidbit of information..... my recent poll - GoodReads vs LibraryThing - is now officially over. There were 16 of you who were kind enough to participate (which is about 15 more than I expected, so I am thrilled) and the majority (68%) prefer LibraryThing!! I found that very interesting, as I have not spent nearly as much time on that site as GoodReads. I will definitely take the time to investigate further - but in the meantime, if you wouldn't mind posting WHY you prefer LibraryThing (what features do you like to use on that site), I would greatly appreciate it.

Well, tomorrow is the last day of school for the week (I just love "easing" back into the school routine) and I am very much looking forward to the weekend.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wednesday Ramblings

I have several items of interest to mention today, but there is no real common theme, hence the title of today's post --- ramblings.

First of all, There is a cute little literary quiz floating around on several blog sites (I am sorry, I did not write down all the sites that mentioned the quiz!) There are only 12 questions to answer and the results are fun to read. If you haven't taken the quiz yet, I urge you to take 5 minutes time and have a little fun here. I am rather proud of my label: Literate Good Citizen.

Secondly, I was incredibly honored - and humbled yesterday - as I received 2 blogging awards!! I do not remember the last time I won ANY award, much less two in one day. It's funny, I was driving to an errand yesterday morning and a red fox ran across my path. I thought, "Hmmm...I know it is bad luck if a black cat crosses your path; I wonder if it could be good luck if a red fox crosses your path." I think the answer is YES! Not only was I given these two awards, but we found out that my husband does indeed qualify for unemployment (l-o-n-g story, but we are thrilled to have the little bit of money from this venue, since we have had NO money for the past 6 weeks); he was called for a job interview AND he was offered a job (a 100% commission which is not ideal BUT it was a job). God is good (and perhaps, so is the fox).

Anyway, I digress --- back to the awards. The first award I received was the Great Buddy Award from Carey at The Tome Traveller's Weblog. Although I have not known Carey for a long time, it is amazing how much we have in common. While we share the love of books, we also share the love of travel and I very much look forward to getting to know Carey better through 2009. In the spirit that this award was given, I would like to pass it along to two other bloggers that I have also met and truly consider them to be a "blogging buddy." First I would like this along to Sheri at A Novel Menagerie. Sheri befriended me shortly after I began my blog and we have found kindred spirits in our love of labs. Thank you, Sheri, for reaching out to me.

Secondly, I would like to pass along the Great Buddy award to Kim at Page after Page. Kim and I have both had, well, shall I say...challenging years in 2008 and she has been so kind to reach out in comfort and compassion to me. Kim, you are truly a blogging buddy, and I hope we can continue to encourage one another in 2009.

If you would like to brighten someone's day, consider passing along this award to one or two of your Great Buddies. The rules are simple and the blessings are enormous!

Rules to participate:
1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3. Award up to ten other blogs.
4. Add links to those blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message for your awardees on their blogs.

The second award I received was the Butterfly award from Lisa of Books and Cooks (just LOVE that blog name!!). Ok -- now I have to admit --- I had been reading several blogs who also received this award for the "coolest blog I know" and I was secretly a little jealous. BUT...being the competitive person that I am I thought "OK....this is something to shoot for next year" I NEVER in my wildest dreams thought that someone thought I had a "cool" blog. Lisa, you made my day - and all I can say is --- I hope to make the blog even "cooler" throughout 2009.

Now, here is the tricky part. How do I pass along this award?! I mean truthfully, I think every single blog I read is "cool". I have learned a little something from each and every one of you! So first and foremost if you are reading this post - no matter if you read it today or a month from today - consider yourself a recipient of this award. Just by venturing into the blogging community and "putting yourself out there" so to speak, deserves this award. However, since I do not have the time nor space to list all 55+ bloggers that I follow, I will limit my personal shout out of this award to the two blogs that I first visited and inspired me to try my hand at writing my own blog. I think everyone in the book blogosphere is familiar with Becky of Becky Book Reviews and J. Kaye of J. Kaye's Book blog. Both of these blogs are updated at least once a day and both of these ladies have an amazing amount of valuable information to share with us (in fact when I was first considering this adventure, I emailed them both to ask questions and they both responded within an hour with an amazing amount of useful information to help me get started). Becky and J. Kaye --- you are both INCREDIBLE!!

Again, I think this is an award that can continue to be passed around. So, if you would like to let someone know that they have a pretty cool blog, just do the following:
1. Put the logo on your blog
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you
3. Award up to 10 other blogs
4. Add links to those blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message for your awardees on their blogs.

Well, that is about all the ramblings I have for this Wednesday. It was the first day back at school and I my feet are killing me!

I wish you all the best-
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