Friday, April 29, 2011

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, I need to thank my cousin for recommending this book to me. I literally read it in one day. It's a YA book, which helps explain that, and it's going to be a movie starring Hermione Granger (okay, I know she has a real name, but whatever). The reviews compare it to Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace, but I felt more like Catcher in the Rye and The Pigman.

I'm trying to find the right adjective to describe this book, and clever and compelling are both close but not quite it. I liked that this is a coming of age story that took place in the 1990s, when I was in middle school and high school, so that made it very relatable. Also, it was written as a series of letters, and I found the voice to be very accurate. There were the run on sentences similar to the way I thought in high school, and there were some grammatical errors, just as would have happened had someone been writing letters that they hadn't bothered to proofread.

If I hadn't known better I would have guessed that Charlie was a girl, because he thought many of the same things I thought in high school, but maybe teenage boys think that way, too, and just don't tell teenage girls. I have never claimed to understand the inner workings of the teenage boy mind.

You never find out who it is that Charlie is writing the letters to, which is a little frustrating. Sometimes I felt like it was Sam, and other times Bill, and sometimes even his Aunt Helen, or maybe that we were the ones receiving the letters and we had never met Charlie.

My mother is very good at guessing the ending of books and movies. I shouldn't say guessing; she frequently just knows. I rarely just know, and while I wouldn't say that the ending of the book was a surprise, once I reached the end, little details throughout made sense.

The book is divided into four parts and an epilogue. I didn't find any value in the way the book was divided up, so that editorial choice is probably my one main criticism of the book.

All in all, I thought it was a great read, with relatable, interesting characters. It's not a new story, as coming-of-age stories rarely are, but it was still captivating.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Waiting for SUPERMAN: A Participant Media GuideWaiting for SUPERMAN: A Participant Media Guide by Participant Media

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Don't bother reading this. It's not so much that it's a bad book; it's just that it's nothing I didn't already know. The book talks about, basically, that money is not the solution to education; good teachers are the solution. It also talks about how kids that are from disadvantaged areas need a longer school day to catch up, but, as an educator friend of mine pointed out, the book didn't discuss how the teachers were paid, etc. for the extra time this required of them.

I don't know any teachers who don't work hard and who don't want their students to learn, but at the same time, I don't think it's an altruistic field. Teachers need to be rewarded for their work, and I really have to ask of the schools in the book that are open Saturdays, etc., what's in it for the teachers? I've had to work Saturdays, and I don't get paid any extra for it, and it's no fun at all, and I'm not even dealing with 30 children.

The book is presented as almost a series of editorials, and one states that in low-income communities, once you get the kids learning and showing results, then the parents get on board. That makes no sense to me. I don't understand, and never have understood, why low-income neighborhoods don't have a culture of learning. I don't understand why it's uncool. When I was in high school, my friends and I never said to each other, come hang out on the streets instead of doing your homework. That wouldn’t have even crossed our minds. Homework was something to be done. It wasn't always fun, and it wasn't always what we wanted to do, but we know, even in our "advantaged" neighborhood that not graduating from high school, and not going to college was not going to get us closer to a life in which we could do what we wanted.

And maybe kids in low income neighborhoods don't even know what choices are out there, or what they could do if they had the opportunities. And I understand that parents in these situations might be more worried about feeding their kids than whether or not they know algebra, and that many times the parents also don't know what options are available to them.

Also, nowhere in the book is an actual teacher included. Many of the writers had been teachers, and moved on to administration, or had other experiences with school systems, but perhaps asking an actual teacher what their struggles were might have provided a balanced perspective.

The book also talks a lot about the need for good teachers, how to improve middle-of-the-road teachers, and how to remove poor teachers. Many writers in the book suggest that there are ways to make education more equal and comparable across the country, but I'm not so sure that's really possible. I think the country is so vast, with so many different cultural attitudes, that making education the same everywhere is not likely possible.

I'm not trying to sound dismal about the state of education in the country, but I think that there's not just one problem and not just one solution. I think there's too much of a blame game going on, and maybe rather than spending so much time analyzing what's not working, it's time to just try something, anything, new and see if that helps. If it doesn't something else can always be tried, or we can just go back to the old way of doing things. I still plan on watching the movie, because I'm curious, but I think that if you want to change education, you're better off spending your time doing something than reading this book.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Loving EdithLoving Edith by Mary Tannen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a completely enjoyable read. The story line was easy to follow, but the characters were interesting enough that it didn't matter that the plot was fairly straight forward. The story was set in the early '90s, but it didn't really feel like the '90s as I remember them, although that did not detract from the book at all. Also, when I finished the book, it struck me as something that could have easily been written as a play. All in all, if you're looking for something on the lighter side that isn't brainless, this is an excellent choice.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Up the Amazon Without a PaddleUp the Amazon Without a Paddle by Doug Lansky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a totally entertaining book. My favorite chapter was "Rudolph's Last Stand: Reindeer herding in Sweden," despite the fact that he misnamed Donder, Donner. Everyone else does this too. This chapter was totally silly mostly because of coffee cheese. I'm generally pretty willing to try just about any food, and I even had cheese soda in Switzerland, but coffee cheese, I've never before heard of.

The book is basically a series of 60 adventures, each written in about the length of a blog post. I believe they were each travel articles that were compiled into a book, but I didn't bother to actually check that.

I did like the way Lansky ended the book with traveling in the US, specifically to Epcot. He makes an interesting point that as the world continues to become smaller, and people travel more, many unique locations try to become more what people (here he's referring to Americans in particular) expect them to be, and less what they might have been that originally drew people to them.

When my husband and I travel, we try to follow the "when in Rome" mentality as much as possible, but, as Lansky points out, most people speak some English. I always feel a bit like a typical American traveler because I don't speak another language, and I do feel a little bit guilty about forcing people in their country to speak my language.

But now I've digressed. This is an entertaining read, a "bathroom book" is the way the woman who loaned to me described it. At any rate, it's perfect for when you don't want to think too hard, or for those times when you're, say, waiting at the dentist's and you don't want to get too involved in something.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Feast of RosesThe Feast of Roses by Indu Sundaresan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Feast of Roses was, unfortunately, not as good as The Twentieth Wife. Mehrunnisa is older now, and the emperor is madly in love with her. She is strong-willed and through the emperor manages to become his equal in ruling. But you never really understand why she wants that power, or what she does with it. Is she a just and fair ruler? Does she help the people of her country? Does she help empower other women? You never learn.

Then there's a whole section of Thomas Roe coming to India as a diplomatic representative of the East India Tea Company. **Spoiler Alert!** He never gets his trade agreement. Because my memory of...what was it...8th grade pretty dim, I thought it was going to be Roe that got the agreement for the British that allowed them to eventually come in, and take over the country. But no, he just gets sick and goes home. Why did I need to read about that?

And finally, it was hard to sympathize with Mehrunnisa, or any of the other characters for that matter, while reading about how wealthy they are. It is really hard for me to sympathize with the rich when they are bemoaning their fate. Sure, if Khurram had just married Ladli, then Mehrunnisa would never have hated him and tried to make one of his brothers emperor. But, while Ladli did seem to be in love with Khurram, the real reason that Mehrunnisa wanted the match was so that she, Mehrunnisa, would not be inconsequential when Jahangir died. Really? She could have made any man that Ladli married rich enough that it wouldn't be a concern.

The language and the descriptions in the book were wonderful, and the book was well written, but I think I would have related a little more to Mehrunnisa if I understood why she wanted all of that power.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Resolution Update: March

Do you see how on top of things I've suddenly become?  It's April 1 and this is NOT A JOKE.  I am actually going to tell you how my resolutions are going.  March was my most successful month to date, with a 47% success rate, but that is mostly because I discounted my exercise and stretching for the 13 days post-surgery when I wasn't allowed to do anything, and I cut out 10 and 11 days, respectively, of diet improvement and finding a writing job. 

My new plan for diet improvement is to simply not buy anything while at work.  No snacks, no sodas, no Starbucks.  That should save my waist and money.  And I'm taking a hiatus from looking for a writing job because it's a tedious process and right now the pay rate for the work I'd get isn't worth the time I spend looking.  Don't think I've given up my dream of writing; it's just that writing articles and proofreading essays, while definitely in many ways better than my current job, isn't actually my writing dream

I was most successful this month at reading (big surprise!), with an 87% success rate, next at flossing, at, I'm embarrassed to say, a 55% success rate, followed by blogging (did  you notice?) at a 52% success rate.  I totally flopped at stretching and writing a novel.  But I think the stretching will come back when I can start running again (ON MONDAY!!!!!) and the novel writing when I'm not living at work.

Finally, one new resolution was formed for April: find a new job.  In case you hadn't been paying attention (and you're really better off if you haven't been), it is just time for me to close the chapter on my current job and move on.  Even if things with my boss miraculously improved, I just don't think the company is one I can get behind any more.  And I am in the incredibly fortunate position where my husband loves me and trusts me enough to go out and find new work, and hates that I'm miserable at my current work, and that we have enough saved up to pay the mortgage for a few months, that I can just quit my job if I want to. 

And you know, I'll be sure to keep you posted!