Monday, March 29, 2010

A long time coming

I just finished The Great Gatsby. It's been on the list of books I should read for a long time, and I was pushed by a colleague on the English Companion Ning to just read it...which I finally did. My goal was to finish it by my birthday, but I finished early!

I did not love it, but I did not expect to love it. In fact, I was pushed to read it despite the fact that it did not appeal to me in the least. It was OK. I didn't hate it. Mostly I thought they were all pitiful. Even Nick--who was supposed to have some semblance of moral fiber (wasn't he?)--just rode around with his cousin's husband Tom and Tom's mistress. Really? He just accepted the fact of this adultery? Hmm. Not to mention the fact that he arranged for his cousin Daisy to secretly meet her former lover...Did he really not suspect why Gatsby wanted to see her again, or did he not care?

I did find myself frequently wondering how on earth it is taught in so may high school classrooms! What do students take away from the experience? What connection does it have to their lives? I am anxious to speak to students who have read this in class to see what they think.

Time Marches On

I finished Little Brother by Cory Doctorow last Wednesday and almost forgot to post a blog--whoops!

It was a fascinating look at what might happen as people allow their fear to overrule their desire for freedom (not to mention their common sense). It was smart and well-written, but I have a few grumbles.

First, there was an apparently gratuitous sex scene in the middle of the book. Worse than most, because there was an implication that these teenagers who have known each other for a few weeks somehow needed to have sex in order to cement their relationship. I would have a hard time sharing this book with students as a result...but I also felt like it undermined the main message of the story. This kid who runs ParanoidLinux and single-handedly pioneers a revolution would trust a near stranger so intimately? It just didn't ring true.

The other grumble I had was the oh-so-happy ending. I won't give it away, but it was much too neat and tidy at the end of an otherwise realistically complicated novel.

A smart, smart, smart book that many people will love, Little Brother certainly raises a number of issues that we should all be considering carefully.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Food Rules!

Tonight, rather than endure the torture of watching Inglorious Basterds (I made it through about 35 minutes), I read Food Rules by Michael Pollan. It was a quick read, lots of good information, guided by the mantra: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." If you forget that, just follow the advice your grandmother gave you, and eat the foods she ate--at least when she was a girl.

My favorite tip? Don't eat anything a third grader can't pronounce.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Not so funny this time

I just read The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams while I waited for the clothes in the dryer to dry. Well, I started reading it when I put the clothes in the the clothes are waiting for me, because I couldn't put the book down until I finished it.

I am a big fan of HBO's Big Love, so I was looking forward to this book. I didn't really expect it to be anything like an HBO series, but I also didn't expect what I got. I just couldn't stop reading until I was absolutely sure that 13 year old Kyra would escape the compound before she was forced to marry her 60 year old uncle. It was not unlike watching a train wreck--I couldn't believe what I was seeing, and as much as I wanted to look away, I just had to keep reading.

What's more upsetting than the violence and victimization in this book is the knowledge that this happens--perhaps not often, but it does happen. That is terrifying.

And with that in mind, I will need to start another book once I fold the clean clothes waiting for me in the dryer. Sadly, I'm afraid it will still be Kyra--and her mothers, and her sisters--waiting in my dreams tonight.

Marching Forward, 2 at a Time

I just can't seem to stop myself from using a cheesy play on "March" in the title of each blog this month. I wonder if that's symptomatic of a larger psychological issue...must inquire further.

Earlier this week, I finished reading Unwind by Neal Shusterman. It was...amazing. The premise? The second civil war, the one between the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice armies, has ended when all sides agreed to a new policy: abortion is illegal. All babies have a right to be born. Teenagers, however, can be "unwound." Parents can choose to have their children unwound for any number of reasons...100% of their bodies (well, legally, 99.4%) are "recycled."

Not only was Unwind well-written, it probes all kinds of issues. At what moment does a human being acquire a soul? If all the parts of a person are alive, is the person alive or dead? Does the fact that something is legal (or illegal) have anything to do with whether or not it is morally right (or wrong)?

There were, of course, things that I struggled with. There were churches mentioned, but no churches seemed "good." I definitely believe that there are "bad" churches (and, more often, people who do bad things in the name of religion) in the world, but I am not so hopeless as to think they are all bad. In the book, the only description of religion appears to be religious fanatics. This was hard for me.

Of course, I also struggled with the idea that either side of the abortion debate would settle on "unwinding" as a compromise. But that was a pre-existing premise of the book; I found I didn't have to think about it too much.

The other book I finished this week was Darklight, the sequel to Wondrous Strange. I liked it almost as well as I did the first book...almost. There appears to be a lot of promiscuity in the land of the fae, and while I very much appreciate that Lesley Livingston leaves it all to the imagination, it still makes it difficult for me to recommend these otherwise wonderful books to my 8th grade students. Since it's a sequel, I'll leave it at that--and encourage you (if you are over 14) to read this smart, wonderful series!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Marching On

On Saturday, I finished Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston. What a book! She incorporates Shakespeare into a tale of faerie, changelings, and the Unseelie Court. She clearly knows these areas quite well, and ties them together brilliantly. My only complaint is that I read this on my Kindle--now I have to order a paper copy for my classroom library!

I'm almost done with Unwind by Neal another blog soon!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March comes in like a...lamb?

Today is March 9, and I just--JUST--finished my first book of the month. I need to get reading!

The book was Whose Body, the first Lord Peter Wimsey book by Dorothy L. Sayers. I realized about halfway through that I really had read this before, but it was so many years ago it was worth finishing. What does one say about the quintessential murder mystery? At one point I found myself imagining MTV's Celebrity Death Match: Dorothy L. Sayers vs. Agatha Christie. I mean, it really doesn't get much better.

I also read one whole chapter of The Great Gatsby. My goal is to finish it before my birthday. We'll see. It's not one that draws me in--I have tried it before--but I am experiencing English teacher guilt at giving up on a book that everyone else seems to love.

So I will read a second chapter of Gatsby before I begin my next book--at this point, it looks like it will be Shusterman's Unwind.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Early Finish: 1:03 a.m. on 3/1

First, my February summary:

  1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  2. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
  3. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  4. Murder Takes the Cake by Gayle Trent
  5. Candor by Pam Bachorz
  6. The Hollow by Jessica Verday

I was feeling a little sad about reading only six books in February. Goal for March: ten or more!

In the wee hours of the morning--so it was barely March--I finished reading The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. It was another book that was tough to read because it was all too possible: what parents wouldn't go to any length to save their child?

Jenna Fox was in an accident. She can't remember much, and she isn't sure about anything. This book is as much about Jenna and her need to figure out her past as it is an exploration of bio-ethics. Although it was written for teenagers, I'd suggest that the real "must read" audience is parents.