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Showing posts from May, 2011

Week 22: The Rising of the Moon

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The Rising of the Moon , by Gladys Mitchell Gladys Mitchell was quite a well-known mystery novelist in her day, but she isn't really very popular any more, probably largely because her detective was not really all that attractive. Mrs. Bradley is an intelligent psychologist (back when psychologists were a rare and strange breed) and good at solving crimes, but she's kind of caustic, frequently described as cackling with laughter or poking people in the ribs with her umbrella. The Rising of the Moon is a neat story because it's narrated (in retrospect) by a 13-year-old boy. He and his younger brother carry out much of the action. They mystery revolves around several young women who are horribly killed--but only during the 3 days when the moon is at its fullest. It's quite a good read (although I was irritated when Mitchell made the full moon rise whenever it suited her, at 11pm for example) and if you're a British mystery fan, put it on your list.

Week 22: The Great Typo Hunt

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The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time , by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson Jeff wants to change the world and make a mark. But what can he do? He is a lowly magazine editor/writer. Aha--he can travel the country, fixing the tide of typos that plagues the land! Armed with Sharpies, chalk, white-out ("Elixir of correction") and dry-erase markers, Jeff and whatever hapless friends he can convince to come along set out to fix the world. Naturally, they maintained a blog too (the link above). It's a reasonably entertaining book, somewhat too heavy on the personal meditation. I was ready to quit reading near the end, but it got much more exciting when he was dragged into court on a charge of vandalism--he had unwittingly fixed a historic sign at the Grand Canyon. Jeff did not, surprisingly, do this project for a year and then write about it. It only took about 3 months, plus aftermath. But it's pretty much the same gen

Take a Chance: Elegance

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Elegance , by Kathleen Tessaro 8: Which Book Pick: Go to Which Book and use the software to generate a list of books. Read a book from that list. I asked for a fun book and this is what I got. Sort of chick-lit, it's about Louise, who is unhappy about her sad-sack life and her empty marriage. She finds an old 50's book titled A Guide to Elegance ( evidently a real book !) and starts to revamp her life. As she pulls herself together, she has to start confronting her issues--and there are a lot of them, starting with her husband, who is in denial that he's gay. Louise has her ups and downs as she tries to straighten out her life with the occasional aid of her trusty book on elegance. I liked the book OK and it had some really really funny bits, but I was a bit surprised at how many issues Louise had to dig up and deal with. She's a mess, and that's kind of unexpected for the way it started out. So it wasn't as light as I had been hoping for.

Take a Chance: Seeing Voices

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Seeing Voices: a Journey into the World of the Deaf , by Oliver Sacks 5: Blurb Book: Find a book that has a blurb on it from another author. Read a book by the author that wrote the blurb. The last book I read for this challenge was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time , which had a blurb from Oliver Sacks on it, so I figured I would find an Oliver Sacks book for the next book in the challenge. I always enjoy his books, so I had to find one I've never read! Seeing Voices is a short chronicle of deafness and how sign languages have come to be understood as languages in their own right. The book was published in 1989, just as deaf people were really getting going as a group; the book culminates at Gallaudet University (a deaf college) in Washington DC, where thousands of students protest in favor of a deaf university president, and achieve their goal. Sacks talks a lot about the newest neuroscience research into deafness and sign language, and it's fascinatin

Week 21: Secret Daughter

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Secret Daughter , by Shilpi Somaya Gowda Secret Daughter chronicles the lives of two women and the child they share. Kavita is a young wife in India forced to give up her baby girl; Somer is a doctor in California struggling with infertility. Somer and her husband, Krishnan, adopt the baby and call her Asha, but Somer is always afraid that she will be left out. Kavita, meanwhile, gives birth to a son and moves to Bombay. As Asha grows up, she wonders where she came from, and eventually spends a year in India. I enjoyed the book pretty well, but I felt that Somer's character lacked something. It was hard to get a sense of her as a person and Kavita was much more real. It seemed to me that the author favored the Indian characters, while the Caucasian characters were always described as sterile and hollow, lacking depth. The story contains great descriptions of India, though. There's quite a lot about Kavita's farming village, Bombay--filthy, crowded, exciting, with

Week 21: Saturday is for Funerals

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Saturday is for Funerals , by Unity Dow and Max Essex Unity Dow is a judge in the Botswanan justice system, and here she teams up with AIDS researcher Max Essex to report on the AIDS epidemic as it's playing out in Botswana. Together they describe new treatments and efforts to curb the spread of AIDS: programs to diagnose and treat the disease, vaccination trials, even tribal chiefs bringing back traditional circumcision rituals. Judge Dow gets a lot of people coming to her for help, and she tells some of their stories. It's a really interesting book that highlights some of the dilemmas of AIDS, and also offers quite a bit of hope for the future. As one of Africa's most stable countries, Botswana has been able to make a lot of progress compared to many of its neighbors, so that there is no longer a funeral every single Saturday, the way there was a few years ago.

Feminist Challenge: A Room of One's Own

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A Room of One's Own , by Virginia Woolf This is the May title for the Feminist Classics Reading Challenge, and I enjoyed reading it. I read it once before in college and remember several parts, but it was very nice to get the whole picture. I was really not in a mood to be patient with Virginia Woolf, but her assertions in this essay are difficult to argue with. Woolf points out that the reason that women in the past never did much writing was for the simple reason that they were almost never allowed to do so. No matter how much talent a woman might have had, she was kept much too busy serving her family; education and personal leisure time were not considered in the least necessary for women, and most likely bad for them. Woolf concludes that the only way for a woman to be able to become a writer is for her to have an income of 500 pounds a year without having to work for it (quite a nice income, which would allow for a flat and a servant or so) and a "room of her own&

Week 20: Reading Women

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Reading Women : How the Great Books of Feminism Changed my Life, by Stephanie Staal The Feminist Literature Challenge I'm participating in gave away a copy of this book, which seemed nicely thematic. I didn't win, so I went and found a copy for myself. Stephanie Staal is your average 30-something New York writer--very intelligent, went to a fancy college (Barnard), lived in New York City, high-powered career, got married to a nice guy and then had a baby girl. Motherhood and the usual attending difficulties--dividing time between work and family, less time for husband, too much housework and no time or help--threw her for quite a loop, and she decided to try to take some time to find herself and audit the same Feminist Literature courses she loved as a 19-year-old undergraduate. So this is part personal memoir and part reaction to feminist classics. At first I was quite annoyed by Staal, who has a very nice life--which, at least, she freely admits--and is kind of unhapp

Week 20: The War Against Grammar

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The War Against Grammar , by David Mulroy Mulroy is a classics professor, which gives him some really good insights into the issue here. He starts off by quoting the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and their steadfast opposition to the explicit teaching of grammar in schools. For several decades now, the NCTE has maintained that grammar instruction is actually counterproductive to students' writing and that grammar should never be mentioned in class except in passing as part of a writing lesson. Students should read and write a lot, and that will teach proper grammar intuitively. Now, I think I'm pretty much the poster child for this method of teaching. I learned very little grammar in school (I did not get as far as adverbs or prepositions), but I read all the time, and I did some writing for classes. On the whole, I can write coherent sentences and make myself understood. I'm about as good as it gets if teaching grammar is mostly ignored. And I a

Week 19: Spooky Children's Books!

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I raided my daughter's reading pile for some new children's fantasy! 100 Cupboards trilogy, by N. D. Wilson The 100 Cupboards trilogy has a typical-sounding plot--young boy discovers doors to other universes, finds companions, and battles evil witch who is trying to take over a world. But! The difference here is in the author's great writing style and creative use of the old tropes. I really enjoyed his writing, which is vivid and descriptive in a style that feels fresh and imaginative without being labored. Wilson takes his characters through traditional plot elements in a new way that makes the books hard to put down. The Stone Child , by Dan Poblocki This story is also a new interpretation of a traditional plot. Eddie moves to a new town and finds that its the home of his favorite spooky author, who disappeared years ago. The town is strange and may be haunted. Eddie and his new friends find an old coded manuscript and start to solve the mystery

Week 19: The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes

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The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes , by Jonathan Rose Jonathan Rose chronicles 150 years of working-class striving for education in this giant (but excellent) tome. In the early 19th century, it became possible to get books cheaply, and thousands of working people spent their time reading, attending clubs that encouraged education, and generally absorbing as much culture as they could get their hands on. Education was the path to freedom and equality, as well as leisure enjoyment and fuel for the mind. It's impressive to find out what people read and enjoyed; many of them seem to have loved authors that I find very difficult, such as Milton and Carlyle and so on. I guess that shows the awful effect of TV and the Internet. I particularly enjoyed the last couple of chapters, which covered the Edwardian period up to World War II and focused on the intelligentsia's opposition to working-class self-education. Modern authors such as Eliot, Forste

A Fun Game

Here's a cute little game I found on Subtle Melodrama . Fill in the statements with the titles of books you've read this year! In high school I was Living Oprah People might be surprised I’m At Home I will never be the Heir of Redclyffe My fantasy job is ( at) Planet Narnia At the end of a long day I need Strength in What Remains I hate it when the Luck of the Irish Ran Out Wish I had a Doll's House My family reunions are the Day of the Triffids At a party you’d find me with People of the Book I’ve never been to Barchester Towers A happy day includes a Room with a View Motto I live by : We've Got Issues On my bucket list is 2012 and the End of the World In my next life, I want to have the Mystic Grail

Week 18: Farm City

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Farm City , by Novella Carpenter I guess I just can't get enough books about gardening. This one is about a hipster type who moves to inner-city Oakland and starts a tiny little farm on an empty lot that she doesn't own (though apparently she has since purchased the land). She plants veggies, puts in a few trees, gets bees, poultry, and bunnies, and even raises two pigs. Carpenter is mostly pretty interesting as she chronicles her urban garden. She spends a lot of time dumpster-diving for rabbit and pig food, which I approve of. She manages to hold off on the smugness pretty admirably, though she ticked me off in the introduction by calling Berkeley "plush" (yes, bits of it are--so are bits of Oakland). And towards the end she gets kind of aggravating, but I guess she can do that. Oh, and she's utterly turned off when she goes to buy something and suspects that the woman might be...(horrors) a Republican. "Not my kind of people." I was pretty

Week 18: Generation X Goes to College

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Generation X Goes to College: an Eye-Opening Account of Teaching in Postmodern America, by Peter Sacks Peter Sacks was a news journalist, but when he moved to the Pacific Northwest in the early 90's, it was hard to find a job. So he applied to teach journalism at a community college. He soon realized that he had no idea how to teach college courses, especially not to Generation X 18-year-olds, whom he found puzzlingly disengaged and entitled. This book is his attempt to understand and explain both Xers and the problems that plague the higher education system. So it's 20 years out of date now, but there were some things to think about. It was an interesting book to read, because I was in college at the time that he was teaching; I'm one of the Xers he complains about. He says that his students are disengaged, rude, lazy, illiterate, and expect to be given lots of credit for trying hard, no matter how bad the result is. They feel entitled to easy As and want to be