August Reviews- Please Let it Be Over

If only I could grade as well drinking wine...
I feel like August has been, well August, for sixty or seventy days, rather than thirty-one. Between several days over 100 degrees and starting work I'm in a definite hurry for this tedious month to be over and September to begin. Oh, and the mountains of summer work papers I've had to grade have really put a damper on things. Work will still be work, and the temperatures will still be high, but at least September is closer to October, which is then closer to November. November is where it's at- cooler weather, hoodie wearing, leaf crunching, tons of days off, pumpkin fro-yo, and the beginning of vacation season. So close and yet so, so, so effing far away. 

In through the  nose, out through the nose.

August reviews:

Thank You for Arguing by Jay Heinrichs
336 pages
I read this one for work, which, as it turns out, was unnecessary. I had planned on teaching an AP course (for which this book was needed), but they had to redo my schedule to add another IB class, therefore taking away the AP one. Basically, unless you're interested in rhetoric and organizing arguments this book may not be for you. I do feel like a learned a lot about my own personal arguing style from this book (I'm a tad heavy on the pathos...), though. I know it will come in useful as I teach, I just won't bore everyone here with talk of fallacies, logos, and other such exciting argumentative terms.

Verdict: Only if you want to write better arguments...

Antigone by Sophocles
70 pages (just the play)
I remember reading this in high school and maybe seeing the play (or did we see Oedipus?), hating both. While I'm still not in a huge hurry to load up on the ancient Greek tragedies I definitely have much more appreciation for this play now that I'm older. I've really enjoyed watching my students debate Antigone's status as a hero and battle the language (I'll probably be singing a different tune when I read their essays this weekend). If all else fails, the incest factor surrounding Antigone's family is always cool. Oh, and by the way- if I hear one more person pronounce it Anti-Gone I'm going to flip out. 

Verdict: You probably should.

"Master Harold"... and the Boys by Athol Fugard

64 pages
First of all, hold your tongue and say "asshole"- it kind of sounds like the author's name. And no, I did not have the kids do that. Anyway, I am terribly, terribly ashamed of the fact that it took me two-thirds of the way through this play to realize I had also seen the play in high school (my IB classes went to San Fransisco once or twice a year to see plays). I really enjoyed reading it and look forward to covering it with my students... next spring (damn late program change). Race, knowledge, ballroom dancing, kite flying and father figures galore.

Verdict: It's a really quick read that's packed full of symbolism and theme- if you want something quick, yet substantial go for it.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
544 pages
The Art of Fielding is reminiscent of John Irving's older works- there's just this way about it that makes you feel like your holed up in some rich person's library on the East Coast sipping a hot toddy and talking to a wonderfully smart older man that has a tweed jacket with elbow patches. Oh, and a pipe! Although his first novel, Harbach has the voice of someone much more mature, but at the same time manages to allow his youth to infiltrate the text. Anyway, the book is about a young man who's an amazing baseball player- he gets swooped up to play for a small liberal arts college where he is mentored by an older player who has all the answers. His roommate is gay and ends up having an affair with the college president, who's daughter becomes involved with the mentor. So, so much happens in terms of plot and character development, but I don't want to give anything away since you should all go read it (like right now).

I guess Vanity Fair did a mini eBook on the publication process of the book, which I of course am quite interested in. I find myself on the horns of a dilemma (I heard that phrase for the first time in third grade and thought it was incredibly intellectual; this may be the first time I've ever used it)- do I download the effing Kindle App so I can read it or stay strong? It's not published in paper form since it's really a glorified article- this may be my loophole. 

Verdict: Please. Now.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
232 pages
My second graphic novel! I really enjoyed this one, but felt bad that it didn't take me long to read. Fun Home is autobiographical- Bechdel grows up living with her dysfunctional parents (her dad is a homosexual who she eventually learns has affairs) and must come to terms with her own sexuality (she is a lesbian). The pictures are simple compared to the Craig Thompson's Habibi (my only point of reference) but the coming-of-age message for the main character is extremely complex.

Verdict: If you're trying to find a graphic novel to read, this may be a good one to start with. It is definitely controversial, though, so if things like homosexuality, puberty, naked male corpses, and suicide bother you, maybe pass. 

Here's to September and October flying by. 

Top Ten Tuesday- Confessions

Given the fact that I'm not Catholic I've never had to do the whole "forgive me Father for I have sinned" rigamarole. And given my personality type it's probably a good thing- I'd start recording my sins in an app for easy reference or check the confessional for bugs (because you never know). I prefer sharing my faults publicly via Facebook or going straight to the Big Man (or Woman or Two Headed Purple Monkey) myself. To each her own. 

A confessional at the Vatican in Rome.

The Broke and Bookish has anticipated the need for their little flock to confess some of their more bookish secrets this week, so here we go. I hope I don't traumatize you too much.

1. I swore that I'd get a book tattoo as soon as something happened to make the time right (how's that for vague?), but two month later I still don't have one. I don't know where exactly to put it and have been more squeamish about needles lately, despite my recent upgrade to big girl panties during recent blood tests- not even an urge to pass out! I just don't know...

2. I signed up for an Amazon Visa a few months ago and now charge everything to it so I get the points. I pay it off every month so it's not that big of a deal, I just feel guilty for feeding into the big-business, small-bookstore crunching mentality of Amazon.

3. I get depressed when I run the numbers on how many books I'll actually read in my life. Say I read, on average, 40 books per year, since I was like 13. I plan on dying when I'm 102, so that means I'll only read 3,560 quality texts in my lifespan. It's simply not enough.

4. The idea of running out of bookshelf space makes me very anxious. I have been blessed with a decent sized house, so it's not like we're lacking space, I just don't know what we'd do next.

5. I've never read The Bible. I don't really feel guilt regarding this on a religious level (God and I have this deal that allows me to do whatever I want and not have to feel bad for it until I die and... wait- am I talking Catholic?), but instead a literary one. There are a million religious references that I'm sure I'm missing since I'm not really up-to-date on my scriptures.

6. The only book that has ever made me cry is Where the Red Fern Grows.

7. Sometimes I go to appointments early on purpose so that I can read in the waiting room.

8. I fantasize constantly what it would be like to write a successful novel and live the life of someone paid to write all the time and yet do absolutely nothing to make that happen (wait, should I pray? Will God send someone to write a book for me? How does that work exactly?).

9. I wish someone would infect all eReaders with an permanent virus that changed all their ebooks to that stupid meowing rainbow cat.

10. I want to sock people in the face when they tell me they don't have time to read. STOP WATCHING TV AND PICK UP A DAMN EFFING BOOK! Seriously. Just say you don't want to, don't say you don't have time! If you have time to watch shows about homes being remodeled, cakes being decorated, or teenage girls getting knocked up you have time pick a DAMN EFFING BOOK.

Did I mention my God has a damn good sense of humor? Obviously, looking at our world...

Why I Joined Audible

Basically, I joined Audible (an online audiobook service) because I don't want my dogs to die early. Cordie, at almost eight, is at the age where we need to keep her as a healthy as possible in order to keep her around as long as possible (Golden's have a life expectancy of 10-12 years old), and Chomsky is going to have a lifelong battle with his weight (he's a Lab with a metabolism slower than molasses). 

What, still don't get it?

I come from the camp that thinks exercise can prevent/solve/improve 90% of health problems in both people and animals, and now that the summer is winding down my dogs need daily (or at least 5 days a week) walks that are 30-60 minutes long. I've always been pretty good about making sure they get out to play every day, but that really isn't a substitute for structured activity, like walking and swimming. Some days this is easy- my neighborhood is very safe, there are lots of different routes, and my dogs walk relatively easily. Other days, I'm prone to laziness, not wanting to be alone with my thoughts (ah, the plight of the class over-analyzer), or lack of time. Enter audiobooks. 

My first, and foremost rule about audiobooks is that one cannot say they've read a book when they've just in fact listened to it- audiobooks do not count as reading. With this in mind, I will only download books that I've read before and that I own- no exceptions, ever. This is hard, because there are some books I'm interested in but have no interest in actually reading (like Tina Fey's Bossy Pants, or Steve Jobs' biography). Nonetheless, no exceptions. I also only plan to listen to them when I walk or if I have to drive far (like to visit my family) alone. That's it. 

I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of another monthly payment, but Audible really isn't a bad deal, considering how much audiobooks cost (much more than expected, by the way). The first month was free, the next three months are $7.99, and after that it's $14.99 a month. You get one book a month included in the price, and then 30% off anything else you want to download. There's an iPhone ap, which is nice, and you can also download them into iTunes. Personally, I don't see myself listening to more than one book a month, and since most cost at least $20 it's worth it. And you cancel whenever you want, which is great since I hate commitment (um, except in regards to marriage).

The first book I got was A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving- I haven't read it since senior year in high school, so this is a nice refresher. I want to get some classics in the future that I had to read in high school and college, like maybe Emma or some Thomas Hardy. I started listening to Owen Meany yesterday and I've noticed that I definitely have to train myself to focus- my mind wanders constantly. For now I think it's a good distraction for walks, but I'm not completely sold it will last. Like everything else in my life, we'll just have to see!


No, you may not read this for outside reading: 

Don't mind me, I'm just sitting shirtless on a ball of straw.

Or this:

So bad they can't show faces.

The English Department at our school has decided to implement mandatory outside reading- something I've never done, since teenagers are cheaters. They aren't bad kids, they just get lazy or wait until the last minute. But now that I am teaching IB students I really believe that this is a necessary move and would have done it even if it wasn't policy- students simply aren't reading enough academic or literary works that will help them prepare for the texts in college. Sure, some of them read, but the majority of it is books that belong in the "reading for pleasure" category- YA fiction, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, etc... These books aren't going to help them build better vocabularies or develop the comprehension skills necessary for higher-level books. 

With that in mind I told my students that the 700 pages they have to read per semester has to be approved by me, and that it has to be a text (nonfiction or fiction) that lends itself to college readiness (they also have some assignments to do with it). Basically, I've become the Outside Reading Nazi* in a matter of a week. I have to admit I'm kinda sorta loving having the authority to veto the less challenging (I didn't say "crap"- this is all kinds of progress, guys) books they come up with. The ultimate power trip for a book nerd like myself.

I'd say 75% of the 150 IB kids I have are embracing the challenge- they've asked about Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, On the Road, Macbeth, Into the Wild, Oedipus, The Odyssey, The Bluest Eye, To the Lighthouse, Eva Luna, The Left Hand of Darkness, and plenty of other great titles (and don't worry, their parents have to approve what they read... I know not every parent is as liberal as mine were). And I'm not being insanely, unreasonably picky- I'm letting one girl read The Help and another a horror story by HP Lovecraft.

Unfortunately, some are really struggling to come up with quality selections (see pictures above). The first day I was a little frustrated, but it occurred to me that they really just don't know what distinguishes "for fun" books and "for at least semi-academic purposes" books. I've worked with several of the students to try to figure out what their interests are and suggest books that I think would work, so we'll see. I am a little concerned that some of these kids are going to be in shock making the transition between text types, but, honestly, I ultimately don't care. If they want to survive IB and go to college they have to make the jump. It's for their own good. 

I know a lot of teachers are letting their students read whatever they want, and I did seriously consider that option. But then I read their summer work and saw the difficulties the students were having with higher level fiction and realized these kids need to stretch themselves. Whatever they're reading right now probably isn't working (not for all, though, some of them read great stuff- many of those kids are the same ones that write well, too, of course). Believe it or not, I've actually felt some guilt telling kids that they had to find a new book. Didn't see that coming! I want them to develop a love of reading, which I know is hard when you're having your titles being shot down, but they also need to be prepared for IB testing and college, and Nicky Sparks is not going to help them there. I'm hoping, though, as they transition to their second and third books they'll start seeing the value.

They'll thank me later.

*No disrespect to Jewish readers; the Nazis were bad, bad people.

Top Ten Tuesday- Best of the Best

The blog these days has been a bit, well, lackluster on my part. Top Ten Tuesdays (they're fun, but they require very little effort from me), Books on Your Back posts, and the occasional school-related story... This whole "going back to work thing" is really cramping my style. Umm, and on that note, another Top Ten Tuesday brought to you by the Broke and The Bookish, who ask us to recommend the top ten best books from the life of your blog. As difficult as expected (with links to my brief reviews):

1. The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano- Such a simple, sad, but beautiful story. And Giordano is pretty easy on the eyes.

2. The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni- Two very different teen boys become good friends. Oh, and one of them live in a glass dome with his cooky grandma. 

3. The Selected Works of TS Spivet by Reif Larsen- Oh, how I love my TS. Child cartographer's adventure for the Smithsonian. 

4. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan- So simple, yet powerfully written in McEwan's signature style. Honeymoons aren't always so sexy, let's just say.

5. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett- Doctor goes to the Amazon to find lost colleague while investigating the key to elongate female fertility.

6. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer- Good piece of nonfiction about climbing Mount Everest. 

7. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn- The mayor of a fictional island takes away the letters his people may use as they fall off a revered statue. 

8. Family Fang by Kevin Wilson- Another one I've mentioned many times- a family of performers is reunited under less-than-desirable circumstances. 

9. The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky- Hilarious Russian story about a woman whose teenage daughter gets pregnant (you know, always a laughing matter). 

10. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer- I of course love him, but given my decision to stop eating meat this book really impacted me.

I Am Not a Math Teacher

A kid stopped by room today and asked me if I was a math teacher. Please. Do I look like a math teacher? Perhaps it was the sheer exhaustion written all over my face that made him think I was some sort of crazy number cruncher. Let's pretend.

72- The number of kids enrolled in just my 6th period class

70- The number of kids that showed up today (who are all truly nice and smart, by the way, it's just a space/scheduling/noise issue)

30- The number of pages I read in The Art of Fielding this afternoon when I made the mistake of laying on the couch before dinner (never happens, since I have a hard time getting up...)

700- The number of pages my juniors have to read per semester in outside reading

100- The approximate number of groans I heard throughout the day when I gave them my "you can't read James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, Stephanie Meyer, or Suzanne Collins because you are reading things of literary and academic merit on the basis of college readiness" speel

35- The number of authors I hyped up to them instead ("guys, I think you'd really love Crime and Punishment... it's about a guy who kills an old lady, robs her, and then..")

3- The number of kids that got super excited when I told them that Tolkien would be approved 

1- The number of students that actually had a copy of A Picture of Dorian Grey in class to to start reading (be still my heart)

1- The number of students that had on a Jane Austen shirt today (she may have also been the one wanting to read Oscar Wilde from above...) 

8- The number of books I've put into my cart on Amazon to buy and haven't

91- How hot it still is, at 7:30 pm, where I live

15- The amount of Teddy Grahams I've consumed in the last hour

26- The number of questions on the Antigone test I'm currently writing for tomorrow 

3- The number of times I've heard the NFL theme song thingy in the past 5 minutes (apparently it's fantasy draft time for some people). Go football. 

The first week back is always the hardest. I really love the courses I'm teaching and the kids in the classes- a few kinks just need to be worked out. The heat, though, that's another damn story... 

Books on Your Back- Work Can Wait

I try to justify reading pretty much whenever I want on the basis that I'm an English teacher and need to remain an active reader in order to inspire and motivate my students. You know, because they give a shit. 

$26 Megan Lee Shop via Etsy

Back to Work.

After a measly 6 weeks summer vacation (five days of which I spent doing work-related things) I'm back in the saddle tomorrow. I'm not recharged, I'm not refreshed, I'm not rejuvenated. In fact, I slept ten hours last night and took a two and a half hour nap earlier in the week. It is not go time. 

I know, I know, most people don't get summer breaks, and that's unfortunate and isn't relevant because this is my blog and I don't care about other people. So sad. I think the world would be a much happier place if we were allowed more time off (doesn't Europe get like five months off a year?). But, dealing with over 170 teenagers ever day for 9.5 months requires time off. There's no way around it. Being a teacher isn't necessarily hard, but between the pressure from various people and the amount of grading and planning it's exhausting (I must say, elementary was much, much less time-consuming for me). Not to mention the early wake up call- waking up before seven in horrible, but setting my alarm before six is downright brutal.

But, I'm trying to get pumped. I'm making my beginning of the year PowerPoints and syllabi and am excited that the courses I teach this year require some real literature. I'll teach The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and maybe Julius Caesar with my AP students, and then Antigone, Master Harold and the Boys, Catcher in the Rye, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Stranger and Chronicle of a Death Foretold with my IB Juniors. During a time where it seems the push is to lean heavily on expository text it makes me happy to get to focus on literature with my IB class (no so much AP, though). 

I'm also legitimately excited to see the students. I'm taking a lot of my old sophomores from AP Language last year to IB this year, and will also have a lot of returning kids in yearbook. My numbers are outrageously high (so high I'm not even going to say it publicly at this point, for fear of making everyone laugh so hard they piss themselves) and still need to be tweaked, but I'm sure it will be worked out soon (it has to; if not- well, let's leave it at that). 

I desperately need the routine work brings into my life. The last few weeks I find myself unmotivated to much of anything and being unproductive makes me feel worthless. There's only so much reading by the pool this girl can do. Wonderful things happen when I work- I actually schedule time in my weekend for cleaning the house, I burn more calories during the day on my feet, and I really truly value happy hours (I must add that I probably consume a lot more alcohol during the school year- causation for sure).  

Dammit. Here we go.

This is old (don't ask) but demonstrates my sediments exactly.

Books on Your Back- Reading in Dogs

My sister put this quote on her Facebook one day and I made a Moby Dick reference, which is hilarious because I've never read it (I should, though, I know. I know!). I do really like this shirt though- books and my dogs are definitely in the top five all-time favorite things ever list.

$22.50 Red Brick Wall Shop via Etsy

Nonfiction Nagging- So You Think You Want to Hike

Aside from a few little hikes here and there on field trips, I've gone on two major hikes in my whole life: Half Dome and.... Half Dome. Granted this is a serious hike- thousands and thousands of feel in elevation game, 12+ hours on your feet, cables, mountains, rocks, and terrain changes. Nonetheless, I have decided that I'm basically a semi-expert hiker (shaking head vigorously as these words are for some reason pouring out of my mouth-er fingers- lies!) and need to grace nature with more of my presence. After this bullshit is over, anyway:

It's even 5 degrees hotter where I work. Total crap. 

My biggest problem with hiking is that I have absolutely no idea where to go- I know of a few trails, but they're all really popular and extremely easy. My abnormally awesome hiking capabilities need to be challenged. Obviously. Did I mention I've done Half Dome twice

So, I of course bought a book:

50 Hikes in Orange County by Karin Klein is an extremely detailed guide that I recently picked up that offers hikes at every level, all over Orange County (I don't actually live in Orange County, but, let's face it- I prefer the terrain and it's much, much cooler than this sauna I live in). For each of the fifty hikes Klein provides:

- The location (city/neighborhood)
- The total mileage 
- The type (out and back, loop, shuttle, etc...)
- Elevation change
- Difficulty
- Suggested season to hike
- Fees
- Parking
- Trailhead coordinates
- Contact
- Pictures
- Detailed description of the actual hike

I really appreciate the information regarding getting to the trailhead and parking- not having those details have been a huge deterrent for me in the past. 

Some hikes that I'm looking forward to:

San Gabriel River to Turtle Overlook (Seal Beach/4.5 miles/easy)- While it's basically just a walk I'd like to see the huge turtles that are supposedly there year-round.

Santiago Peak via Holy Jim Canyon (Cleveland National Forest/16 miles/very strenuous)- This one is obviously tough but the view is supposedly worth it.

Vernal Pool Loop (Santa Rosa Plateau/5 miles/easy)- I would have to check the condition of the trail since I know a fire just went through, but the book says there are some really beautiful pools that were used many years ago.

Big Mo Trail (Coal Canyon/5.7 miles/moderate)- This one is appealing to me because it's quite close to where I live, plus it has a waterfall,

Guna Peak and Emerald Canyon (Laguna Coast/10 miles/strenuous)- This hike is supposed to be really beautiful, with plenty of trees, a creek, a great view and a waterfall). I think I'm most looking forward to this one.

Now who to make ask really nicely to go with me... 

Fall Wishlist

ETA: I wrote this last month but am recycling it for The Broke and the Bookish's meme. 

I think the term "wishlist" is a bit deceiving, in all honesty. Yeah, I wish for what's on my book list, but it's not like I'm not not going to get them. You know? A two-hundred dollar Fossil bag or super overpriced dress from Anthropologie are definitely "wishlisty" items, but, let's face it, my book wish list is more of a "remember what to buy" list. So here's what I'll be spending some hard-earned cash on this fall when these books are finally released:

NW: A Novel by Zadie Smith- I loved On Beauty and have White Teeth and her collection of essays waiting to be read. I appreciate her position in literature- young(ish), feisty, and smart as hell.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan- I saw this on another blog the other day and was instantly hooked on the idea of a mystery surrounding a bookstore opened all day. 

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz- Since Oscar Wao and Drowned I have officially become a huge fan of Diaz. I don't even need to know what it's about.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan- I am a huge McEwan fan and thoroughly enjoyed going to his reading a few years ago. I know his last book Solar took a little heat (get it? Solar? Heat?), but I appreciated the environmental message behind it. It seems like this new one is maybe going to be a turn back towards some of his past novels. 

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon- I'm also excited for his reading at the Hammer Museum in September. 

San Miguel by TC Boyle- Like I even have to say why...

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling- While I don't think my expectations for her venture into adult writing is as high as some people's, I am curious to see how her writing shifts. 

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver- In all honesty, I've never read anything by Kingsolver, but I know if I did I'd like her. I just know. I bought Animal, Vegetable, Miracle recently, and have plans to read The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees at some point in my life. Plus, the plot summary really does some interesting. 

You know what I love? All 8 of these books in hard back cost less than the Fossil bag or the dress. And that, my friends, is why I love books more than pretty much anything else.

Top Ten Tuesday- Me, Me, Me!

The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday instructs us to list the top ten blog posts that describe us, as a reader and a person, best. While I'm sure you've all read every single blog post I've ever put up already, here's a walk down memory lane:

1. Why Fifty Shades of Gray is a Bad Idea- This is by far my most popular post in terms of page views and I think comments. A tad snarky, a smidge fun, and a whole lot of unabashed hating. 

2. Valentine's Day Edition- CILFs- In this post I talk about Characters I'd Like to, um, Fondle. Not only does it represent my overall tone, but it also shows the diverse sampling of books I've read over the years.

3. Lucky to Be Alive- I have a very complex relationship with my pets....

4.This is Why I'm Not a Writer- Still so, so true. 

5. If There is a God- Where I talk about religion and compare Dumbledore to Jesus (or is it God? Christ? The Father? The Son? The Holy Ghost? I get so confused...).

6. How to Build a Library- Creating a space for my books in our new house. That room, and my collection, is still one of my favorite spaces in the world. 

7. PSA for Today- My reflection on how being bipolar has impacted my family after reading Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot. Luckily I don't suffer from the condition, but I grew up with a father who did. Borderline oversharing, but an important issue. 

8. Finished, I Am- Ah, the joy that comes with finally finishing Underworld... 

9. Justified- I have a serious book-buying problem. I consistently have about 50 books to be read, meaning I buy them at basically the same rate I read them. I have an Amazon Rewards card (booo, big corporations that make things so attractive for people who want good deals, hate leaving the house, and read books that can't always be found at Barnes and Nobles), which makes it even easier to get them now with the points. Sigh. So, I spend a couple hundred bucks a year on books. Get off my back already. Geez.

10. Nonfiction Nagging- This is cheating, since it's really just a search term on the blog. Over the past year or two I have made a significant effort to read more nonfiction. I've talked about things like Scientology (crazy SOBs), runners (again, crazy SOBs), vegetarians (6ish months and still going strong),  antibiotic overuse (stopping being germaphobes and taking Amoxicillin for everything, people!), and whether to partake in the whole baby-making thing (sigh).

Flashback Friday

Today I did something that I haven't done since college. 

Not THAT. Geez. I still do THAT. 

Just kidding. I really have no idea what THAT is. 

Anyway, I went to a coffee shop, ordered a drink, and read some required reading outside under the flimsy umbrellas. I understand how ridiculously mundane and routine this sounds, but it was absolutely the highlight of my day (not that there was much competition with the blood tests, laundry, warmer-than-expected dog walk, and scrambled eggs for dinner). It was just so... nice. 

Until some asshole showed up smoking and playing Nickleback loudly on his phone. 

Why Reading Matters

Last week I was at a super exciting English teacher workshop put on the local community college and was very saddened to see the heavy emphasis on expository writing. While I do have an obvious bias towards literature, I do definitely understand and support the need to teach student to comprehend and utilize expository texts. It's imperative for succeeding in other content areas, success in college, and survival in the real world. But I also believe there needs to be a balance, as does David L. Ulin in his extended essay The Lost Art of Reading- Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time

I "wasn't able to attend" the last day of the completely voluntary training but did receive a text from a colleague saying that another one of the attendees said that "the teaching of literature in the high school classroom is dead." After getting over the feeling of wanting to punch someone in the face, I decided that after owning Ulin's book for awhile it was time to read it. And instead of giving a long, boring summary, I decided I'd simply pick ten quotes that best represent the heart and soul of his message. That's it. 

1. "Literature... is conscious, yes, but with room for serendipity, a delicate balance between craft and art" (2).

2. "What I was after [reading], in other words, was not merely an escape but also a point of entry, a passport, or a series of passports, not to an older version of myself but to a different version- to the person I wanted to become" (11).

3. "This, of course, is what readers, as well as writers do- participate, be part of the back-and-forth, help bring the text to life... Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being" (16).

4. "...she relied on books to pull back from the onslaught, to distance herself from the present as a way of reconnecting with a more elemental sense of who we are" (35).

5. "Stories, after all- whether aesthetic or political- require sustained concentration; we need to approach them as one side of a conversation in which we also play a part. If we don't, we end up susceptible to manipulation, emotional or otherwise" (45).

6. "Rereading can be a tricky process, in which, for better or worse, you're brought face-to-face with both the present and the past. It's different than reading, more layered, more nuanced, with implications about how we've changed" (51).

7. "I flipped ahead to see how many pages were in each chapter, as if to calibrate my experience. This is something I have always done, a way to position myself in a book. But such knowledge can be a two-way street..." (55).

8. "How do we pause when we must know everything in a instant? How do we ruminate when we are constantly expected to respond? How do we immerse in something (an idea, an emotion, a decision) when we are no longer willing to give ourselves the space to reflect?" (78).

9. "Reading is a form of self-identification that works, paradoxically, by encouraging us to identify with others, an abstract process that changes us in the most concrete ways" (102).

10. "I think in pages, not screens; I like the idea of a book as object, of the book as artifact, of reading as a three-dimensional, tactile experience, in which the way a text looks or feels or even smells has an influence over how, or whether, I engage" (121).  

July Reviews

July has been very good to me- it's brought me two mini-vacations, a ton of time with friends, a family visit, more sleep than usual, and a healthy dose of good reading. Knowing that August is usually an asshole and is followed by the stupid bitch that is September, I'm becoming very nostalgic (I obviously hate the whole reestablishment of the back-to-work routine nonsense). And don't you dare give me the whole "most working adults don't get a summer vacation bullcrap"- you try being stuck in a room bursting at the seams with adolescent teenagers that are coming back from an even lazier summer than I enjoyed. So defensive, so unprovoked... It's a talent. So is providing brief mediocre analysis on the books I read:

Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman
464 pages
I actually already wrote about this text in a post, but I will once again say that it was quite interesting- Reitman offers a complex, detailed history of Scientology. There were a few dull parts, but those that were a little more scandalous made up for it. 

Verdict: If you're interested in the subject, or in religion in general, you will probably enjoy it. 

Underworld by Don DeLillo
5,555,555 pages
I wrote about this as well, considering it was such a freakin' feat to finish after tenish years of being in the process. DeLillo is an excellent writer and I'll probably read some of his shorter works eventually. I'm still really trying to hone in on what this book was about, but I can say one of the overarching concepts is connections- who we make them with, when we make them, and where.

Verdict: If I have to suffer you should too.

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle
432 pages
I really, really enjoyed LaValle's latest, which I think comes out later this month or next. It wasn't quite as serious or philosophical as his last book, Big Machine, but it was still fantastic. The main character, Pepper, is admitted into a mental hospital that he struggles to be discharged from. As he gets to know the other patients he also discovers that there is some sort of "monster" lurking the halls. The novel is of course much more complex, exploring themes of family, friendship, race, identity, and freedom. 

Verdict: Don't be discouraged by the length (not that most of you would)- it read fairly fast and doesn't have any dull moments. 

Arcadia by Lauren Groff
304 pages
Another novel I very much enjoyed this month (probably my favorite, actually). I have a soft spot for hippies- for some reason, despite my aversion for dirt, I feel like I would have been a bra-burning, commune-living, free-lovin' flower child if I had been alive in the sixties. Bit, the main character in Groff's novel is raised on a commune, where idealism and practicality clash on a daily basis. Eventually, when Bit is a teenager, his family has a falling out with the leader and they move to the city. The book continues to span several decades as Bit becomes a man, an abandoned husband, a father, and a caregiver for his mother. 

Verdict: I think this is a book that a lot of people with various types of reading habits could enjoy.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
288 pages
I posted about this million dollar acquisition the other day, arriving at the conclusion that while it's an interesting premise and an entertaining read, it's not worth the price Random House paid. The main character, Julia, is a sixth grader that must live in a world where the Earth has stopped rotating quite as fast, therefore slowing down the day. Life drastically changes, resulting in changes to the economy, agriculture, and social fiber of society.

Verdict: I actually think it's worth the four or so hours it takes to read it- it made me consider my own perception and reliance on time.

The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time by Daivd Ulin
151 pages
I plan on posting more about this tomorrow, but this short nonfiction text is really an extended essay written by David Ulin, a Los Angeles journalist. I've had this on the shelf for a few years and have kept putting it off. I thought it might help me get back in the school mode, which it did. The title is pretty self-explanatory- Ulin discusses in great deal why we need to keep reading and what it does for people as individuals and a society. 

Verdict: While I found it very interesting, I don't necessarily think this is one for everyone. It's a light-weight academic text and isn't meant to entertain, rather than to argue for the need to be conscious of how technology is constantly present and, of course, to read.