Friday, August 28, 2009

Poetry Friday

Today's poetry roundup is here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Favorite Podcasts: The Story

I thought it might be fun to do a few posts on some of my favorite podcasts. Having something interesting to listen to is a good motivation for me to exercise. I look forward to riding on the exercise bike because I will have a few minutes to listen.

I have never listened to The Story on the radio, but only discovered it recently as a podcast. I don't find every single episode equally fascinating, but I think Dick Gordon is probably the most brilliant interviewer I have ever heard. He is able to get his guests to tell their stories in vivid detail. Some of the stories are about famous people but many of the most compelling are experiences of people you've never heard of before.

Here are some of my favorites:

Grizzly Bear Attack. This is one of the first ones I listened to, and you can tell from it just how good Dick Gordon is. This man is telling about something which happened to him in 1959, yet he remembers every detail. He actually remarks to Gordon that he has never told the story in this much detail before. Amazing.

Long Walk to a Better Life. This is the story of Jonathan Nkala, who made the journey from Zimbabwe to South Africa because of the intolerable situation in his own country. In the process he turns into a Dickensian hero. Again, amazing.

One True Conversation. An interview with Rupa Marya, a singer (her band is Rupa and the April Fishes) who is also a doctor. Fascinating ruminations on the connections between science and creativity. I went out and bought her CD, too, because I loved the music.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

First Day of School

And, we're back! Things went smoothly today except for a few glitches with the schedule - that is, which one we were following. It all worked out and a couple of seventh graders even told me they had had fun today. High praise indeed.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What I Read this Summer, part 2

Book #33 of 2009 was Missing Persons, by Stephen White. I like these books about psychologist Alan Gregory.

Book #34, Innocent Traitor, by Alison Weir, was about Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for nine days in 1554. Weir is an historian, and her portrayal of Grey is vivid and believable. Plus, I'm a sucker for books about the Tudor period.

Throne of Jade, book #35, and Black Powder War, book #37, were books two and three of the Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik (the first one in the series was the third book I read this year). I found my interest flagging a little during the third book. It's a fascinating premise - a retelling of the Napoleonic Wars, but with dragons.

Book #36 was The Senator's Wife, by Sue Miller. This author is great at writing about situations that are full of ambiguity, situations that make the reader feel uncomfortable. I guess her books are the opposite of escapist fiction. (The Good Mother is the prime example of this.) This one is about a couple who move in next door to the wife of a senator. We learn much more about both marriages as we see life from the perspectives of Meri, the young bride who has recently moved in, and Delia, the "Senator's Wife" of the title. All the characters are vividly drawn, and all are deeply flawed. Even though I knew something dreadful was ahead, I couldn't stop reading.

And as long as we're doing harrowing, book #38 was The Happy Room, by Catherine Palmer. This is the story of three siblings who face crisis as they attempt to come to terms with their upbringing as missionary kids. While my brain told me the ending was way over the top, my emotions cooperated fully with the author as I sobbed my way to the last page. It was brave of her to write this book, clearly based at least partly on her own experience.

This next book, #39, was probably the most intriguing one I've read so far this year. I hadn't quite finished reading it when we left my parents' state, so I took it with me, devoured the last couple of hundred pages in the car, and mailed it back. It was The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, by Mohja Kahf, the story of another missionary kid, but this one is a Muslim. Khadra's Syrian parents move to Indiana to open the Dawah Center, whose goal is to provide support for Muslims living in the United States. I can't tell you how much I learned from this book: specifics about training Muslims receive in the faith, fascinating glimpses at the wide variety of American Muslims, details about the pros and cons of wearing hijab, and why someone would choose to do so. Yet in spite of the huge amount of new, mind-opening information, I can also relate to Khadra like a sister: the way she journeys through various aspects of her faith until she decides what she believes on her own, the way she navigates the expectations on her, the way she struggles with her identity as an adolescent growing up between two cultures. Her mother saves aluminum foil, just like Mrs. Mossman in The Happy Room; I think the Mossman siblings and Khadra would have a lot to talk about. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand more about Islam in America by getting to know Khadra.

Book #40
was The Passion of Mary-Margaret, by Lisa Samson. Mary-Margaret is a religious sister with an unusual path. This is an unusual novel and I couldn't quite decide what I thought of it. It certainly kept me reading.

Book #41 was another Philippa Gregory book, The Other Queen. I have read many of hers in the past couple of years (here are the references to her so far in my blog). This one is about Mary, Queen of Scots. Once again, Gregory takes a familiar story (at least to me - see above) and puts a new twist on it. We see Mary Queen of Scots in her years of captivity and watch her enjoy the intrigue and plotting. We also see Elizabeth I as an insecure, frightened monarch. And we are introduced to Bess, a surprisingly modern woman who clings to Protestantism for her own reasons which are not all spiritual.

And to finish up my summer reading, since school starts on Tuesday and I doubt I will finish anything else before then, book #42, The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. This book keeps coming up lately: quotes from it, recommendations of it on my Amazon account, references to it in professional reading. Frankly, it was a bit of a disappointment. The book is beautifully written, of course, and there are memorable images in it - the homesickness of immigrants is always something I find compelling in books. However, I know it would not hold my students' attention, since it is far too lyrical for most of them and not at all plot-driven. I'm glad I read this one but I don't think I'll be reading it again.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What I Read this Summer

The moment is almost here when I will take up stacks of papers with lists of the three books each student read over the summer. Before I have to read those, I should report on my own summer reading. I brought home a pile of professional books but ended up reading mostly fiction instead.

Book #26 of the year was The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Stewart, and # 27 was the second book in the series, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. My then-11-year-old recommended these, and I was also intrigued by this terrific review of the first book. I loved these tales of unlikely heroes and unconventional methods of problem-solving. There's humor and fantasy but the books are surprisingly affecting as well.

Book #28 was Broken Music, a memoir by Sting, whose music I enjoy. This was interesting but I honestly don't remember much about it except that it could have used a bit of editing for tense consistency - it frequently went back and forth between past and present.

Book #29, The Luxe, is one several of my students had been lugging around recently. One had been reading it for weeks and had provided almost daily updates to her neighbor at the beginning of class. It sounded to me like a soap opera with a historical setting, and sure enough - the book depicts rich, spoiled teenagers in "the age of innocence," and even begins with an epigraph from Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. These girls aren't terribly innocent, though. While Edith Wharton is probably a more accurate source for the mores of 1899, as well as being infinitely more subtle, than this book, I could see why it kept my student's attention.

Book #30, White House Autumn, by Ellen Emerson White, is the story of a teenager whose mother is the President of the United States. I found the book a realistic portrayal of what it might be like for a young girl to attempt to live a normal life while under unusual pressures.

I almost didn't read book #31 because of its title, which struck me as overly cutesy and whimsical. I thought The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society would be a quite different kind of book. Although the word "charming" has been liberally applied in reviews, the main story is about a difficult time in history, the German occupation of the island of Guernsey during World War II. I was fascinated by the details of this time and found the epistolary style told the story well. An important theme is reading and the way books connect people. I recommend this one!

Next I finished off Susan Howatch's Church of England series, about which I wrote in more detail here, so book #32 was Absolute Truths.

So...there's a list of almost half the books I read over the summer. I'll write about the rest in another post.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

August 1st

Somehow I managed to go almost the whole summer without posting at all, but now that I am starting to gear up for going back to school, I have to show you the DP theme day. Today's theme is Night and that link will take you to thumbnails of the participants' photos. (You can also look at the July theme, Empty, which I neglected to post.)

Coming soon: a summer reading update.