Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reading Update

I've been an absent blogger lately, and one of my readers has even complained. Given how few readers I have, this is a serious matter.

I don't have much to say, but here's an update on what I've been reading lately.

Book #5 of the year was a re-read - Twilight. Well, half my students were reading it, and putting pictures from the movie as the wallpaper on the classroom computers, and writing about Edward. Like most books that are almost entirely plot-driven, this one didn't hold up as well on second reading. I think all the books are funny, and I enjoy the satirical comparison of "normal" teenage life with what Bella is experiencing - like the prom scene. My favorite scene in the whole saga is the one in Breaking Dawn where Charlie, Bella's father, has just been filled in on the whole alternative world of vampires - information he'd just as soon not know. He deals with his new knowledge by...sitting down to watch televised sports. (I also read the draft of Midnight Sun, available here. Again, all the kids were doing it!)

Book #6 was Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt, a memoir about his thirty years teaching. McCourt's writing is wonderful and vivid as always, except that I get irritated by his lack of quotation marks - but that's just me. Here's a taste:

Every moment of your life, you're writing. Even in your dreams you're writing. When you walk the halls in this school you meet various people and you write furiously in your head. There's the principal. You have to make a decision, a greeting decision. Will you nod? Will you smile? Will you say, Good morning, Mr. Baumel? or will you simply say, Hi? You see someone you dislike. Furious writing again in your head. Decision to be made. Turn your head away? Stare as you pass? Nod? Hiss a Hi? You see someone you like and you say, Hi, in a warm melting way, a Hi that conjures up splash of oars, singing violins, eyes shining in the moonlight. There are so many ways of saying Hi. Hiss it, trill it, bark it, sing it, bellow it, laugh it, cough it. A simple stroll in the hallway calls for paragraphs, sentences in your head, decisions galore. . . . You might be one of those cool characters who could saunter up to Helen of Troy and ask her what she's doing after the siege, that you know a nice lamb-and-ouzo place in the ruins of Ilium. The cool character, the charmer, doesn't have to prepare much of a script. The rest of us are writing. . . . Dreaming, wishing, planning: it's all writing, but the difference between you and the man on on the street is that you are looking at it, friends, getting it set in your head, realizing the significance of the insignificant, getting it on paper. You might be in the throes of love or grief but you are ruthless in observation. You are your material. You are writers and one thing is certain: no matter what happens on Saturday night, or any other night, you'll never be bored again. Never. Nothing human is alien to you. Hold your applause and pass up your homework.

McCourt is great on the mind-games teachers play, the way you find yourself playing to one particular student, imagining what he or she is thinking, only to find afterwards that you were completely wrong, totally misjudged the situation.

Book #7 was The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. I liked this one fine, but I thought the press it got was exaggerated, and so did my highly literate 11-year-old.

Book #8 was Flush, by Carl Hiaasen. My seventh graders are currently enjoying this one. They think it would make a good movie - and for sure, it would. The characters are memorable and the kids can all picture them in their heads. The book was the source of a great minilesson on character development last week. This is a lot of fun and non-stop action - just what that class loves.

Book #9 was Hero-Type, by Barry Lyga. This one is thought-provoking, the story of Kevin Ross and his journey from nothing to hero and back again. I'd hoped this would be a read-aloud for my eighth graders, but eventually decided to pass because of a little too much "mature content." The ending, though, blew me away with a spiritual sensitivity I did not at all see coming.

Book #10 was Alabama Moon, by Watt Key. I enjoyed this book - it's the story of Moon, who lives in the woods with his slightly wacky survivalist father. After his father dies in the first chapter, Moon is on his own and has to make his way in a world that's different from the one for which his father prepared him. Moon is 10, and I found him a little too mature in spots, but he's a strong character and I think kids will want him to succeed.

I'm reading several books right now and I hope the next Reading Update will not be quite so long in coming.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see you!

I tried some Neil Gaiman a few weeks back, but it didn't take. The writing was good, but the plot turned me off quickly (American Gods).

I've never read anything by Frank McCourt, but the name is so familiar. I'll have to put him on my list.

Ruth said...

Janet, McCourt wrote Angela's Ashes.

This was my first Neil Gaiman book. I might try another. What is American Gods about? I'll have to look it up...

Andy Bowen said...

Welcome back. It's been a loooong time! Maybe you have more loyal readers than you know. Don't forget that lady that decided not to get up that day (what was her name?)

Anonymous said...

I liked the premise of 'American Gods.' Things Americans allegedly worship get personified... at least, I think that was where it was going. The way it spun out was kind of gross, though. (Just trying to impress you with my highbrow language.)