Friday, November 30, 2012

Poetry Friday: Window Seat

Yesterday the poem that came in the Poem-A-Day email from the Academy of American Poets was a remarkable one by a poet I'd never heard of before, Jacqueline Osherow.

Here's part from the middle of this poem, "Window Seat: Providence to New York City."

the window
of my train
might be rolling
out a scroll
of meticulous
ancient Chinese
painting: my heart-
beat down its side
in liquid characters:
no tenses, no
conjunctions, just
emphatic strokes
on paper from
the inner bark
of sandalwood: 

You can read the rest here.

I love the way Osherow has turned the view out of a train window into almost an ekphrastic poem, making me think of exquisitely calligraphied Chinese scrolls.  "My heartbeat down its side in liquid characters" - isn't that beautiful?  I kept thinking about this poem all day.  

There are lots more beautiful poems to keep you thinking all day  here at the Poem Farm, which is hosting the Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Almost Over

NaBloPoMo is almost over, to which I say, yay!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Edwidge Danticat on Disaster

On the occasion of a publication of a new anthology about the 2010 Haitian earthquake, entitled So Spoke the Earth, Edwidge Danticat did this interview. I can't wait to get my copy of this trilingual anthology of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and not just because I am sure Edwidge Danticat's piece will be amazing, but because of the variety of Haitian women represented, and particularly Nathalie Cerin, one of our alumni.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stuff I Read Lately

I made it through this day, but I am not feeling very cheerful and don't want to write a post wherein I whine and feel sorry for myself, so here are a few pieces I've read and appreciated lately.

It appears that this island, which has appeared on maps as long as anyone can remember, really doesn't exist at all. It has now officially been undiscovered. Best quote:"It just goes to show the oceans are so underexposed. It's actually really shocking that we haven't not found more islands." It makes you wonder. How did that Manhattan-size island get on the maps in the first place?

In the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, these love letters came to light. It's nice to hear about letters coming to light that aren't scandal-filled; these are sweet memories of a courtship in the forties.

This beautiful article explores the metaphor of teaching English as a second language as a picture of faith. The author finds new joy in her native language through teaching it to others and watching them create new ways of speaking; in the same way, her faith becomes new to her as she shares it with people who haven't heard those stories before. It's also a little bit scary:
Letting go of your ownership of the language of faith can be frightening, unmooring. Instead of being the person with the answers, you become a person with questions.

What is hope? This article has some beautiful answers.

And finally, this "prank" which made someone's day. Watch the video and then go to the Improv Everywhere site for more information.

Excuses

I made it all the way to November 26th before missing a day of NaBloPoMo, in which I was supposed to post something on my blog every day of the month.  Last night my plan was to write after putting my son to bed, but as I reached the top of the stairs in the dark, I slammed my bare foot against a trunk in the hallway, and the pain chased my plan out of my head. 

I took ibuprofen right away, and this morning the school nurse said that she doesn't think I broke anything, but still I am experiencing constant reminders today of my clumsiness and also of how much I should be grateful when nothing hurts. 

I could put yesterday's date on this, but that would be cheating.  But please accept my excuses, anyone in the blog world who is paying attention.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Winter

When my children and I were living in the United States after the earthquake, and my son complained that his lips hurt, I immediately starting worrying about food allergies. It simply didn't occur to me that his lips were chapped, because I'm not used to living in cold weather. I don't worry about chapped lips.

It's getting cold here now. And by cold, I mean that I'm sitting here in my bedroom, the warmest room in the house, in the hottest of part of the afternoon, and I don't have the fan on. On the street, the merchants are now selling jackets so that people can prepare for the coming winter. It's 79 degrees.

This time of year, I don't like taking cold showers. Most of the time, it's not a problem (though I don't linger - I get in, get clean, get out). But it's too chilly right now.

 I've lived in countries that have real winter. I spent four years in England, and I remember sitting on the radiators in the morning in my classroom to warm up, wearing fingerless gloves indoors, having to force myself to get out of bed in the morning because it was so bone-chillingly cold. I spent many years in the States, and have experienced snow days and other such miseries.

And now, this is as cold as I want to get, a Caribbean winter. It's nice, sleeping under a blanket, wearing a light sweater to work, turning off the air conditioner in my classroom when I'm working in there by myself in the afternoon. At the same time, it gets up to 90 degrees most days, and I can go the beach, and I hardly ever wear closed-toed shoes. My skin doesn't get dry and the only coat I own is in the attic in my parents' house. This is just the way I like it.



Friday, November 23, 2012

Poetry Friday: Pablo Neruda and Coldplay, Together at Last

I like to read and write Odes around Thanksgiving (here's last year's), so for today, the day after Thanksgiving:


Ode to Laziness
by Pablo Neruda
translated by W.S. Merwin

Yesterday it seemed
the ode wouldn't leave the ground.
It was time, it should
at least show a green leaf.
I scratched the earth, 'Get up,
sister ode
- I said to her -
I've promised you,
don't be afraid of me,
I'm not going to chew you up,
ode with four leaves,
ode for four hands,
you'll take tea with me.
Rise,
I'll crown you among the odes,
we'll go out along the shore
of the sea, on a bicycle.'
No use.

Then
high up in the pines
laziness
appeared naked,
I got up in a daze,
half asleep,
on the sand I found
little broken fragments
of oceanic substances,
wood, seaweed, shells,
feathers of sea birds.
I looked for yellow
agates but found none.

The sea
filled the spaces,
wearing away towers,
invading
the coasts of my homeland,
pushing forward
successive catastrophes of foam,
Alone on the sand
a ray opened
a ring of petals.
I saw the silvered petrels
pass, and like black crosses
the cormorants
nailed to the rocks.
I set free
a bee dying in a spider's web,
I put a little stone
in my pocket,
it was smooth, very smooth,
like a bird's egg,
meanwhile on the coast
all afternoon
the sunlight and cloud wrestled.
Sometimes
the cloud was filled
with light
like a topaz,
other times a moist
ray of sunlight fell,
and yellow drops fell after it.

At night
thinking of the duties of my
fugitive ode,
I took off my shoes by the fire,
poured the sand out of them
and almost at once fell
sound asleep.

Somehow the combination of the ocean and yellow and the fugitive ode and the somewhat melancholy mood that is on me today made me think of this song.  I wonder if Coldplay and Pablo Neruda have been combined before.





Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thank You

Yesterday, I had the girls in my small group share what they were thankful for, and they listed everything from "my new fish" to "my brother" to "school" to "my own room." I added "chocolate" and "books" and "plenty to eat." Others mentioned family members that they are getting to see more of lately, a place to live, a favorite musical group, Google, music, Facebook, good grades.

I'm thankful for all of the above (except I have no new fish, nor do I have my own room). Probably most of all, I'm thankful for the people God has put in my life. I am loved and supported so much, more than I have any right to expect or hope for. I have a wonderful husband, who puts up with me and loves me in spite of myself; funny, loving children; an extended family spread out over many thousands of miles, but close anyway; and loyal, sympathetic, incredibly high quality friends.

I am blessed, and I know it.  Thank You, God.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reading Update

Book #40 of 2012 was Article Five: Compliance is Mandatory, by Kristen Simmons.  Ember lives in a post-apocalyptic United States where the Bill of Rights has been replaced by the Moral Statutes.  As the novel begins, Article Five has just been instituted.  It states that children born out of wedlock will be taken for rehabilitation.  The Federal Bureau of Reformation, the FBR, will take care of making everyone conform.  This is a bit heavy-handed, and Ember is a very annoying heroine, sometimes seeming deliberately obtuse and making baffling choices.  We're told she is close to other characters, but we don't really observe their closeness.  There's plenty of action and suspense, but compared with other books I read for my Adolescent Literature class, this dystopic world isn't believable and the characters aren't compelling.

Book #41 was a needed break from all the YA I had been reading.  I picked up Blessings by Anna Quindlen knowing it would not be full of action, heart-thumping plot twists, and post-apocalyptic drama.  I knew this both because of the title and because I've read Anna Quindlen before.  This is the story of Lydia Blessing, aging in her home, Blessings, and the caretaker she has hired, Skip.  In the first chapter, a baby is left at Blessings, and Skip takes charge of her.  Quindlen tells a beautiful, satisfying story, and there's not a chase scene in sight.  Whew.

With book #42, I was right back to dystopia, but this time it was a real-life, historical dystopia.  This harrowing novel is the story of a family arrested in Lithuania in 1941.  Unfortunately, the title is Between Shades of Grey. Surely the author, Ruta Sepetys, regrets this title choice every single day.  She must get so tired of saying, "No, not that Shades of Grey..."  I had a hard time reading this because it was so terribly sad and hopeless.  Based on many true stories of what the Soviets did to Lithuania, the book never lets up on the horrible nightmares experienced by Lina and her family.  Just to give you an idea, there's a scene in the cattle car while the arrested Lithuanians are heading who knows where, and they find out that Hitler has invaded their country.  They are full of excitement because now things will surely get better.  I groaned aloud.  But I am glad that I persevered and finished the book.  It's very much worth reading.

Book #43 was the long-awaited The Casual Vacancy, the new book by J.K. Rowling, her first since Harry Potter.  This one is most decidedly not for children.  It shows us a whole new Rowling.  Her talent for plot is much more on display because she has a much smaller canvas: a small town instead of a cast of thousands.  There's not a single admirable character here, except maybe the one who dies in the first chapter.  Everyone has sordid secrets.  Who knew Rowling had this in her, I thought as I read, and then I thought of Voldemort, Dolores Umbridge, Dobby at his self-hating, self-punishing worst.  This book is darker than the Dark Lord.  It's brilliantly done and I couldn't put it down, but there's nothing remotely uplifting about it, so be warned.  I think I need to cleanse my palate with another Anna Quindlen book now!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mitali Perkins on Multicultural Stories

I'm working on a project for my adolescent lit class, and here's some interesting insight from Mitali Perkins that I've discovered in the process.



Monday, November 19, 2012

Pride and Prejudice for 2012

I have written here before about how I am a die-hard Jane Austen fan.  I love her books for their caustic characterizations, but also because they are so very familiar to me, like old friends.  I posted here about how Pride and Prejudice was one of the first books I read after the earthquake, when I started to come out of my inability to concentrate or read much beyond news reports.  A friend commented that that isn't a book, it's a member of the family.  That's right - that is how I felt, too. 

I've also written about how I keep trying to read people's attempts to imitate or spin off from Jane Austen, and how I'm always disappointed, because somehow it never quite works.  And yet I'm very much enjoying The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  If you're a Jane Austen fan like me, I'd love to know what you think of this multimedia adaptation.  Lizzie Bennet posts two video blogs (vlogs) a week on YouTube, and her sister Lydia also has a video blog (which I like much less).  Some of the characters have Facebook pages and post on Pinterest and Twitter.  (I don't do Pinterest or Twitter.  There aren't enough hours in the day for me to get involved on yet another online time-sucker.  Well, except for LBD, of course.)

My daughter is reading P&P in her English class right now, and also following along with the LBD, and she says she likes the characters much better on LBD.  I know, I know, sacrilege, except that I do see that Jane Austen very much writes people off.  Of course Lizzie is wrong about Darcy, and about Wickham, and she gets straightened out, but nobody ever rethinks Mary, or Mr. Collins, or Lady Catherine.  They are all fairly one-dimensional.  And as my daughter points out, Jane Austen really does "tell" a lot, instead of "showing."  ("She interrupts scenes to inundate you with adjectives," as my daughter puts it.)

You can get started here, where you'll find links to the YouTube channel.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Night

Is it just me, or is Sunday evening a melancholy time for other people, too? There's the obvious fact that the weekend is ending, and tomorrow we will be back to school or work or just the normal routine of life.  But it seems that there's more to it than that, a bittersweetness that I feel even when I'm on vacation, that after-Sunday-night-church wistfulness.  As though I could have squeezed more out of the weekend than I did, and now the opportunity is gone for another week.

Today I spent the day in bed, sick, and I'm worrying about whether I will be well enough to teach tomorrow; I'm planning to, but worrying anyway.  That adds to the slightly glum feeling of this evening.

I remember when I was a child, sometimes on Sunday night we would sing people's choices of hymns.  I would carefully choose one, and wave my hand to ask for it, and sometimes I would get called on and sometimes not.  I remember being so little that I had to stand on the pew so that the person in the pulpit would see me.  I remember standing on the stairs after the service, shivering in the dark, while my parents talked to everyone.

I remember in boarding school, the weeks we would have evening chapel, and how we would always sing "Abide With Me," and how I would focus on the words "fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide."  I remember praying that He would abide, and somehow He always did.  I remember stepping out of the little wooden chapel into the night, and the brightness of the stars in those Kenyan highlands, brighter than they have ever been since.  I remember drinking hot cocoa before going back to our dorm.

I remember the cold, lonely rush to the cafeteria in college, after changing into a skirt (at my conservative Christian college we weren't allowed to go to the cafeteria in sweatpants on Sunday night, and sweatpants were what I had inevitably been wearing in the dorm).  I remember looking for a friendly face, someone who would beckon me over and say, "Sit with me!"

Sunday night, an in-between time.  It's not really the weekend any more, and it's not the bustling week yet, but we can't stay up late because we have to get up in the morning.  I'm reminding the kids about backpacks and P.E. clothes, and I'm looking ruefully at tomorrow's schedule and wondering how I will do it all.  I didn't get to choose a hymn tonight.  Fast falls the eventide.  Sit with me, abide with me, while Sunday dies away.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Gary Schmidt on Books and Reading

I love Gary Schmidt's books and he speaks a lot of sense here about reading "controversial" books.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Poetry Friday: Flowers

I just finished reading The Language of Flowers, and even before that I was thinking about flowers. I have a flower poem I've been working on for over a month on my desktop, and a flower post in my mind, but while I lack time to work on these things, here's a flower poem from someone else. I have been using this sonnet for a while with my students, but didn't realize that the author was practically a neighbor, from Guyana. You can get more information about him at the link at the end of the post.

Flowers

I have never learnt the names of flowers.
From beginning, my world has been a place
Of pot-holed streets where thick, sluggish gutters race
In slow time, away from garbage heaps and sewers
Past blanched old houses around which cowers
Stagnant earth. There, scarce green thing grew to chase
The dull-gray squalor of sick dust; no trace
Of plant save few sparse weeds; just these, no flowers.

One day, they cleared a space and made a park
There in the city’s slums; and suddenly
Came stark glory like lightning in the dark,
While perfume and bright petals thundered slowly.
I learnt no names, but hue, shape and scent mark
My mind, even now, with symbols holy.

Dennis Craig

I love the picture this poem paints of flowers in the middle of a dirty city, and how even a tough kid who knew nothing about flowers found them "holy."  I don't know many of their names either - though I'm learning more - but I too love their "stark glory like lightning in the dark."

Photo Credit: Matsu 

Here's more information about Dennis Craig.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reading Update

All four of the books I'll be reviewing in this post were assignments for my Adolescent Literature class.

Book #36 of 2012 was Chinese Handcuffs, by Chris Crutcher.  This was my least favorite book I read for this course.  Every student had to choose a different novel by Chris Crutcher, well known for writing "problem novels" that are often challenged and that come from his career as a therapist.  I'm sure Crutcher has seen the worst, and this book includes all of it: suicide, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, a motorcycle gang, a barroom rape, cruelty to animals.  It really seemed a bit much to me.  I liked some elements, particularly the friendship between the main character and Jennifer, a basketball star to whom he's close but who has a secret that she won't tell him.

Book #37 was  The Silence of Murder, by Dandi Daley Mackall, winner of the Edgar Award.  There's murder, mystery, and courtroom drama here.  The protagonist, Hope, is desperate to prove that her autistic brother, Jeremy, didn't commit the murder he's been accused of.  

Book #38 was Baffling and Bizarre Inventions, by Jim Murphy. Don't buy the Kindle version - the formatting is all wonky and difficult to read. But the content itself is a lot of fun. Using pictures from ads or patent applications, Murphy shows us strange inventions and asks us to guess what they are for. After we guess, we can read a description of the invention and find out its purpose. The book ends with some information on the patent office and a chapter on creativity and what it takes to succeed (basically, never giving up). Every class member had to choose a Jim Murphy book to read; he's written loads of information-packed non-fiction like this one.

Book #39 was Jack Gantos' latest book, the winner of the 2012 Newbery Award, Dead End in Norvelt.  Strange and funny and endearing, this is the story of young Jack, who lives in a planned community called Norvelt (named for Eleanor Roosevelt).  Jack is grounded eternally for obeying his father against his mother's wishes, and is only allowed out to spend time with Miss Volker, the town medical examiner and obituary writer.  Because of her arthritis, she needs Jack's help to type her obituaries, and in the process of helping her he is drawn into the drama of the town.  And why are so many people dropping dead, anyhow?


Coming soon: books #40 - #43.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Go Look at What Someone Else Made

I'm doing lots of stuff like making a video and writing a book review and researching for a presentation, PLUS grading my students' work and getting ready for a meeting tomorrow.  So you can chat amongst yourselves, or take a look at this wonderful United States of YA map. It includes a YA novel for each of the fifty United States, and there's a link to the project to make a list of a YA novel for each country in the world. Ambitious? You bet!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Being a Student

I've mentioned before that I am taking a class this semester online. I'm getting many reminders of why I stopped at my master's degree, instead of going on for a doctorate and a career as a professor, as I had thought about doing at one point. I love to learn, love to study, and have always been an excellent student. I never did all-nighters or threw papers together. Instead I would start assignments well in advance and research every little homework task as though it were my dissertation. But I found that I didn't much like the driven, competitive me that I was as a graduate student.

Now, more than twenty years since I finished my master's degree (how did that much time go by? I actually had to stop and count because that seemed too big a number), I have discovered that the calmer, more reasonable, less stressed-out person I've become, and whom I'd attributed to growing older and wiser - that person was an illusion. A compulsive gambler may feel cured as long as she stays away from an environment where gambling takes place. But once she's around slot machines, she feels that old temptation. In the same way, get me in the student mode, and I'm just as I always was. If anything, the online setting makes me worse, because working at my own pace to me means that I have to be way ahead, or I feel behind. I could always go post one more time on the discussion board, so therefore I never feel done.

Do you think this is why I sometimes have trouble understanding my students? Mind you, I know that my attitude is no more healthy than that of a student who does everything at the last minute. I was always obsessive about my grades, driving myself and everyone close to me crazy. Although I love to read and learn new things, I rarely would relax enough to just enjoy it. Instead I would fret about whether I was doing enough, and about grades, and about being the best. Even though I have enjoyed the exposure to lots of new books, and answering fascinating questions, and thinking through new ideas, I will be glad when the semester is over and I can stop being an official student for a while. I won't stop learning, but I'll learn in an environment that doesn't turn me into someone I don't particularly like to be.

Monday, November 12, 2012

After Disaster

After disasters, people loot and riot, right? Well, apparently not. I was interested to read this blog post about a book that argues otherwise, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster.
"Author Rebecca Solnit takes a close look at disasters including earthquakes, floods, and explosions. She finds tragedy and grief, but something else too, something rarely noticed. During and after these horrific crises there shines from the wreckage something extraordinary.
People rise up as if liberated, regardless of their differences, to act out of deep regard for one another. They improvise, coordinate, create new social ties, and pour themselves into work that has no personal gain other than a sense of meaning. While they do this, they often express strangely transcendent feelings of joy, envisioning a greater and more altruistic community in the making. Even those suffering the most horrific misfortune often turn around to aid others and later remember it as the defining moment of their lives. This is a testament to the human spirit, as if disaster cracks us open to our better selves."
The post details ways people are helping each other in the north-east United States in response to the destruction brought by Hurricane Sandy. In Haiti after the earthquake, it was equally heartening to see the way people took care of each other. In those moments of being "cracked open," people are also often open to deep connections with other people. Many people have commented on the depth of their "earthquake friendships."  But the strain, stress, and lack of sleep can also put people's worst sides on display.  It's not just buildings and livelihoods that are destroyed in a natural disaster; people's relationships and even their very sense of themselves can be, too. 

Solnit apparently draws conclusions about human nature (I haven't read her book). My conclusions about human nature are that people are capable of the most terrible atrocities and the most stunning goodness. I believe both in total depravity and in the indelible image of God on every human being. I think of the words in Prince Caspian: "'You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,' said Aslan. 'And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.'"

Lately I have the sense that all the time, somewhere, people are recovering from a disaster, sleeping wherever there is a space, gathering new belongings to replace the ones that are gone.  Creating new lives, too, the "new normal" everyone kept telling me about after the earthquake.  Cracked open, vulnerable, at their worst and their best.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

City Full of Stories

After the Storm, a City Full of Stories. This article from the New York Times follows what happened to an assortment of New Yorkers who have been featured in the Times' regular Character Study column.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Friday, November 09, 2012

Poetry Friday: Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?

From the first time I heard this song in the TV movie of "Cinderella," I loved it. On one level, I suppose, it's just a silly ditty, but the questions it asks are deeper than that. In addition to the questions that Cinderella and the prince ask each other about whether they are inventing what they see in each other (answer: probably, since you've only known each other for ten minutes), there is the question of what makes us love. Why do we love people, places and things? Is it because of their inherent beauty? Or do we see the beauty in people, places, and things as we grow to love them? Of course, the answer is yes. There's something beautiful that attracts our notice, but as we grow in love, we see more and more that someone who wasn't paying such close attention would miss completely.

Attachment theory tells us that the love between parents and their infants is a sort of dance. Our babies are beautiful, so we coo over them and cuddle them. They respond by being even more adorable, "attachment-promoting behavior," as it's called. We in turn love them even more.

Aren't all loves kind of the same way? In romantic love or friendship, something about us is noticed and appreciated, and we respond by doing more of whatever the other person liked. We reach a point, with people we love, where we don't even see what they look like any more. We just see a face that is familiar and dear. 

C.S. Lewis wrote about friendship:
..."Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other people; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing."

But enough philosophizing...here are three videos of this song, and the lyrics as well. I hope you like it as much as I do.





Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?
by Rodgers and Hammerstein

Do I love you because you're beautiful
Or are you beautiful because I love you?
Am I making believe I see in you
A girl too lovely to be really true?
Do I want you because you're wonderful
Or are you wonderful because I want you?
Are you the sweet invention of lover's dream
Or are you really as beautiful as you seem?

 Am I making believe I see in you
A man too perfect to be really true?
Do I want you because you're wonderful
Or are you wonderful because I want you?
Are you the sweet invention of lover's dream
Or are you really as wonderful as you seem?






Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Reading Update

The four books I'll review in this post were all assigned for my Adolescent Literature class.  I've enjoyed taking a class with so much fun reading!

Book #32 for 2012 was Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi.  It's scarily appropriate with its "city-killer" hurricanes, which go up to Category 6.  (These days, in case you aren't a hurricane-watcher, the maximum is 5.)  The book is set in the Gulf Coast region of a future United States, where New Orleans, along with Orleans II, is drowned and replaced by Mississippi Metropolitan (MissMet), which they didn't call Orleans III because "even the most ardent supporters of the drowned city gave up on the spectacularly bad luck enjoyed by places called 'Orleans.'"  Nailer, the protagonist, works salvage on abandoned ships and lives like many teenagers do today in large third-world cities.  He doesn't really know or think about other lives until he and his friend Pima find a rich girl whose fancy boat has been washed ashore during a hurricane.  This dystopic novel is exciting and action-packed, but also full of thought-provoking ideas about whether we are doomed to remain in the world into which we're born.  Here's an interesting interview with Bacigalupi where he talks about writing YA science fiction, whether his books are really dystopias, and how what he writes connects with what's already going on in the world.

Book #33 was not originally written as a YA novel; it was chosen for an Alex Award, given to books written for adults but judged to be especially appealing to teenagers.  It's called Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, and it's the first novel I've ever read that is basically set on the internet.  Wade is a teenager living in 2044, a time when most people spend most of their time on the OASIS, which stands for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation.  One of the creators of the OASIS has died and left a will in which he gives vague and confusing instructions to find an Easter Egg which he has hidden in the system.  Whoever finds it will inherit his entire estate.  He has filled the hunt with references to his teenage years, the 1980s.  This starts a worldwide craze for studying eighties lore, but when the book opens, nobody has made much progress in finding the egg.  But that is about to change.  Cline obviously had so much fun writing this book that you have to enjoy it too.  I did find myself wondering who, exactly, his target audience was, since there are so many references to the eighties, which I remember very well, thank you very much, but which to my students seem like prehistory.  But this book has sold amazingly and there is even a movie in the works, so it must be understandable even if you never saw War Games and don't know what PacMan is.  You can see  Cline's blog here, and once again, he's having so much fun that it really is endearing, especially if, like me, you like geeks quite a bit.

Book #34 is a new favorite of mine.  I've already shared it with a class, my seventh graders.  It's called Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai, and it's the story of Lai's own childhood journey from Saigon in 1975 to Alabama.  Written in incredibly spare and yet evocative free verse, the story makes Saigon and Alabama come alive, as well as the characters, especially Ha, who narrates the book.  She's not always so grateful to be a refugee, and it's not easy for her to adjust to her new life.  As the mother of some earthquake refugees myself, I found myself identifying with Ha's mother!




Book #35 is another one that the author enjoyed writing, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, by Steve Sheinkin.  Sheinkin includes an afterword full of his sources, and writes, "I've been fascinated by Benedict Arnold's story for years and have long wanted to write my own version - I'm convinced it's one of the best action/adventure tales in American history.  In preparation, I compiled an absurdly large collection of books about Arnold, not to mention plays, historical prints, and other Arnold items I probably shouldn't have spent my money on."  C'mon, don't you like Sheinkin already?  He's clearly obsessed by his subject matter.  And his book is really a wonderful biography of Arnold, written like a novel.   Here's Sheinkin's website.

Coming soon: books #36-#39

This post is linked to the November 10th Saturday Review of Books.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Promises, Promises

I was looking back at past posts about President Obama, and I found this link that I shared back in 2008. It's called the Obameter, and it keeps track of the campaign promises that the President has kept, compromised on, broken, or stalled. Twenty percent of the promises are rated "in the works." There's more detail, too, on each individual issue. You can browse the promises in several different ways.

And here's an excerpt from Obama's speech last night:

"It's not small, it's big. It's important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won't change after tonight, and it shouldn't. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today."

The speech ended like this:

"I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We're not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America."

I hope it's true, and I'm praying for the President in the big job he has ahead of him.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Day



I guess we know who Big Bird would vote for.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Voting

Like everyone else, I am very ready for this election season to be over.  It has dragged on as long as I can remember.  Was there ever a time before these men were arguing with each other and everyone I know was arguing too?





But as much as I dislike the polarization we've seen during this election, I can't be cynical about voting.   I think about people around the world who have no voice in their government; I think about the photos of eager first-time voters lining up across the hills in South Africa in 1994; I think about women in the United States who fought for years for the right to vote.

Source: http://qu301southafrica.com

Voting is a privilege, and I hope my American readers will go vote tomorrow.  I sent off my absentee ballot last week.  I admit that it gives me a thrill every single time I vote, even though my first election was -- ahem -- a long time ago.


Sunday, November 04, 2012

Sunday Night

The problem with getting an extra hour of sleep last night is darkness coming early, depressingly, this evening. The problem with having two short weeks (hurricane days off, All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day) is that Sunday night comes, and tomorrow morning is Monday, and there's a five-day work week ahead.

Yeah, feeling a little gloomy, since it's dark and Novembery and we haven't had city electricity since yesterday afternoon (not the result of the hurricane, just the way things are). And I'm maybe just a teeny bit sleep-deprived in spite of the extra hour, because our neighbors had an all night bash last night complete with drumming until four AM.

 I'll try to be a bit more uplifting tomorrow.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Amy Wilentz on Sandy

I just recently found out that Amy Wilentz, author of the gorgeously written and controversial The Rainy Season, has a blog. I know I will be reading it regularly, because she writes so wonderfully and apologizes (in the post I'm quoting below) for being so Haiticentric. "I can't help it," she admits. Here she is on Hurricane Sandy. This is just a short excerpt from a much longer post, and she's also provided (in a separate post) the photo she refers to. Click on the link at the end to read the whole thing.  

"So when I look at the picture of a crowded gas station in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, ... I feel that I have been here before; I’ve been in that gas station so many times, only it was always in Haiti, and no one ever cared. In fact, no one really minded: in Haiti, gasoline shortages are habitual, just part of the program of underdevelopment — Haiti can run out of gas nationally because a tanker is delayed. One becomes rather insouciant and even fatalistic about it. It’s perfectly normal to say that you couldn’t get to an appointment because you ran out of gas or because you were delayed at the gas station for hours. Often you borrow someone else’s car that has more gas, if your meeting is really urgent.
And in Haiti, people who are standing in line picking up gas for distant empty cars don’t have those nice handy red gasoline holders to fill up; they have old vegetable oil bottles or dilapidated white buckets. (Did you know some gasoline is pink? I learned that in Haiti.) Also the cars that converged on gas stations in Port-au-Prince or in the provincial towns (in inefficient circles and wedges resembling the pattern at the Brooklyn station above), are not recent models. Suffice it to say that it is not surprising to look down while riding in a Haitian “taxi” and see the roadbed passing beneath your feet as if you were the aptly named Barney Rubble.
Also, by the way, hospitals have always had huge power problems in Haiti, all the time. I loved reading about how Bellevue hospital dealt with Sandy; it was so Haitian — the bucket lines, going up and down stairs on foot, without elevators, rushing oxygen tanks first to one bedside and then the next.  Welcome to the world as it is."

Here's the whole post.

And here's an article from the Atlantic on the hurricane damage in Haiti.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Poetry Friday: Another Hurricane Poem

Amy from The Poem Farm posted this poem, by a Puerto Rican poet, on Facebook this week. It was perfect for us, drying out from the storm, and I hope it doesn't seem frivolous if you're in New Jersey or New York. Believe me, I don't make light of hurricanes, this or any other. The latest statistics show that there were 157 deaths from this storm, and 51 of them were in Haiti. The damage doesn't have such high cost estimates here because people don't start off with as much to lose. All that said, I love this poem, especially the last line, so be sure to click through to read that.

Problems with Hurricanes
by Victor Hernández Cruz

 A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it's not the wind
or the noise
or the water.
I'll tell you he said:
it's the mangoes, avocados
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

How would your family feel if they had to tell
The generations that you
got killed by a flying
Banana.

Here's the rest.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

It's November! (Reading Update post)



It's November again, and since I have been a blogging slacker for the last several months (if it weren't for Poetry Friday, I would hardly post anything at all), I decided to try NaBloPoMo again this year.  Apparently this isn't really a thing any more; it's become more of a year-round challenge, and the official website just says something about "the birthday of this project." Never mind!  I will go by the rules I've followed for the last couple of years, which are, simply, to post something, anything, every day of November.

Since my last Reading Update post, I have read sixteen books, so I'm going to split those up over several posts and put one up whenever I have a day when I have nothing else to post.  I have time to do that today because we have All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day off from school. 

So here goes:

I actually read book #28 at the beginning of the summer but had somehow missed it in my blog list.  Ashfall, by Mike Mullin, is the kind of book that gives you nightmares.  In most dystopic novels, there is enough improbability (and part of that is the futuristic setting) that the reader can maintain some distance.  This book, however, is unblinkingly realistic, and set in the present day.  Did you know there is a massive volcano under Yellowstone?  I didn't.  Did you know what kind of results there could be if it were to erupt?  I didn't, but now I do.  Alex is forced to call upon all of his resources to survive the journey to find his parents.  On the way he meets Darla, and their growing dependence on each other is portrayed in an incredibly unsentimental, yet touching way.  You can read the first two chapters for free here, at the author's website, and you can also find previews of the second book, which came out a couple of weeks ago, and which I haven't read yet.  Having experienced an earthquake myself, and being immersed right now, like everyone else, in coverage from Hurricane Sandy, I am very much aware that this world is full of huge forces that are completely beyond our control.  This book reinforced that awareness.  Even so, I do recommend it for the way it draws you in from the first page, its believable characters, and its picture of human beings surviving because they have to, and even with a bit of hope in the midst of all the bleakness.

Book #29 was A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, by Nicholas Drayson. Many reviews have compared this book to Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. It was reminiscent of those books, and it also reminded me of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson.  Like Alexander McCall Smith's books, this one has an African setting that is not riddled with misery (though there are some glimpses of the problems of contemporary Nairobi), and like Helen Simonson's novel, there's a romance (or is there?) between non-youthful characters.  This was as light and amusing as the previous book was dark and terrifying.

Book #30 was another Alan Gregory book, Higher Authority, by Stephen White. Alan Gregory is a clinical psychologist who somehow is around a whole lot of murders. His girlfriend (wife in later books) is a DA, so that explains some of the mayhem that surrounds him, but seriously, he makes psychology seem like a very dangerous profession. Like most of the murder mysteries I read (mostly just Stephen White, P.D. James, and Elizabeth George), I like these books for the character development and relationships. I often forget the details of the murder plot immediately after reading them. This one had the additional interest of its exploration (mostly negative) of Mormonism.

The next bunch of books were assigned for a class I'm taking in Adolescent Literature.  One of the best things about taking a class or joining a book group is getting introduced to a stack of new authors and titles.  Some of these I wouldn't have chosen myself, but I'm glad I read all of them.  The professor chose many award-winners from the last couple of years.  Book #31 was especially excellent, and I recommend it highly.  It's called  Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science, by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos.  This is one of those books that made me see the world differently and made connections between disparate elements in my thinking.  There's a major Haiti component to the history of sugar, which explains part of my interest, but I was also fascinated to learn that the history of sugar is the history of slavery and industrialization and revolution.  Because human beings crave sweetness, the world changed.  I see abolitionism in a new light after reading this, as well; yes, abolitionists went without sugar in their tea to urge an end to slavery, but if a new way of producing sugar (from beets) hadn't been developed, would we still have the evils of plantation slavery?  Our craving for sweetness continues unabated.  This book reads like an action-packed novel.  You can see the authors' website here.



Coming soon: books #32 - #35!
This post is linked to the November 3rd Saturday Review of Books.