Welcome to my bookshelf


I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brother Step

Currently Reading: Lost Boys

Pg 96: "...he hated his life and his job even though he loved his family and his work."

It seems like I haven't posted in forever, but I see from my previous one that it has only been since Monday. I had a hard time picking the last few books I have read. I keep starting and stopping so many. I did read a Terry Pratchett though and may get into the whole DiscWorld thing. We'll see. I know there are tones to choose from.

I have read a ton of Orson Scott Card books, but while perusing my school's library, I stumbled upon a few that I have missed. This one is all about programming, well not all about, but has it in it and I love reading about it. I know that sounds weird, but it is a skill I so desire. My one attempt in college did not go over so well and I have been reluctant to try again. I mean come on! My math brain should get it, but I think part of my problem is that I am not creative enough. The thing about this book that I am not so enthused about is that the main character and his family are hard core Mormons. I just can't get into that. The whole Amish thing I can understand, but this, no way. I am trying to forgive Step this and allow myself to take in the rest of the story. Yes, the main character's name is Step. I guess I can relate.

I included the quote because I felt it was applicable to many of us. I don't necessarily hate my job, but there are times when I wish I could shut the door and live in my own little classroom and focus on only my students. That represents the loving the work part. I am stuck in a rut and making a lot of my decisions based on how they will affect my routine. I love my routine or so I think. I just get all anxious when I don't get to do it perfectly, however, I feel guilt and remorse about turning down so many opportunities and behaving like a pill about change. I know that doesn't fit exactly with the words of the quote, but I think the sentiments hold.

I am so sad for a bunch of the stuff that is happening in Step's life and so annoyed by a lot of the stuff he is doing and totally dying to know how things will progress. These are all things that mark a good book. So even if I don't agree with all of Card's politics, I still enjoy his tale telling. Well, I am off to finish up my grad school assignment so I can really get into this book.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Just like us

Currently Reading: Typical American

Is assimilation such a good thing? The main character of this book moves to America to go to school and build a better life for himself. He takes the name Ralph, gets his doctorate. His sister moves with him. He marries a girl also from China. He builds a home, has children, and gets a dog. Then he is swindled and hoodwinked by a Chinese man who was born in America and is totally American and takes advantage of Ralph's naive sense of what is right and normal. This is so sad and so common. Since these immigrants don't know what is usual here, they are bullied and takne advantage of. Now I must say that I am not liking this book so much. Is it because of the slow corruption? I'm not sure. Maybe I just can't relate. We'll see. Right now the characters are in dire straights and horrible things have happened that never would have occurred if it weren't for Grover, the deceptive Chinese American man. Even though I wouldn't probably recommend this book, it still raises some things to think about. Do we American's really have the right idea about how to live and what is right? Maybe we should have listened to and learned from these other cultures instead of focusing on rubbing them out.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Possibles

Currently Reading: Never Let Me Go

I love literary science fiction. Perhaps because it is a blend of what people traditionally view as serious literature and the futuristic, scientific experiences that are seen throughout science fiction. Others who write these types of novels are Margaret Atwood and Mary Doria Russell. Sometimes I feel bad that the science fiction that I so love is not taken are seriously as it should. These are the stories of tomorrow and what our future holds. Of course there are fluff space battles and whatnot, but what genre does not have its fluff? At least with science fiction, there is some basis in fact. Oh well. I will continue to read and enjoy the space.

This book is interesting because it takes the entire book for you to finally realize what is actually happening and what the background story represents. Cloning is the focus here. Children are "grown" to be organ donors. They live at a school of sorts where they are allowed and encouraged to participate in educational programs as well as expand their artistic and creative abilities. The children know what lies ahead for them, but this is simply fact for them. They do not rage against it or try to break out of the system. It is expected of them and they do it. They sometimes look for their "possibles", the people they were cloned from, but this is more of a fun game as opposed to serious searching. Some of the children go on to be carers before becoming donors. This means that they tend to their peers after they have undergone a procedure for ceding and organ. The main character in this book is so good at being a carer that she never moves on to being a donor. While she remains consistent, she watches her childhood friends deteriorate as more and more of their parts are taken. It is sad in so many ways, and yet uplifting in that she is able to provide comfort and familiarity to her friends. There are a couple of people with whom she is very close and as they go through their procedures truths are brought about and apologies are made. These people have such a short amount of time to make amends. They never experience anything approaching an average life. It is an interesting perspective to take and I wonder what the main moral intended by the author. He is Japanese and his narrative from that of a middle aged woman is unique. Apparently it is going to be a movie or something and that would be interesting to see.

Just for thought. The "school" that the children are at is called Hailsham. Is this similarity to Mrs. Havisham intended or not? Am I attempting to read too much into things?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BFF

Currently Reading: The Girls from Ames

These women are so inspiring, and yet the book makes me slightly sad too. They have so many hardships, but deal with them successfully through the support of their friends. What is making me sad is that I have no friends. Seriously. None. These ladies have a bond that has stood the test of time and their lives are so much fuller because of it. Not to mention the fact that the author keeps talking about how much healthier and long-lived people with strong friendships are. What am I supposed to do about this? The book doesn't really give much insight as to how to gain friends. They became friends due mostly to location and just being in the same place at the same time. They became friends at the age when making friends is an everyday occurrence. What about us oldies who have missed this critical opportunity? How do we fix it? I guess I need to step up my game and be more proactive. But how much easier it is to be friends with books. They do not judge you and expect nothing? Can I live up to expectations? Or should I even try? It seems like a true friend would have none, although, as these ladies prove, having high expectations for each other is a healthy thing. Sure they will listen to you, but they will also speak their minds frankly. I am still pondering the implications of this book. Is he telling us that this is how we should be or is he just relating a heartening tale. Either way, I suppose I have some catching up to do.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Selfish Poops

Currently Reading: American Fuji

Pg 176: "The Japanese might be just as prejudiced against the less able, but it was a relief to have it out in the open. They didn't whitewash hardship by calling it "challenges". And they recognized the reality of illness by providing health care to all legal residents regardless of employment or preexisting conditions."

So Gaby, as an American woman residing in Japan, experiences many prejudices due to her nationality and gender, she still remains there because she is ill and wants to take advantage of the health care that is provided. It is a shame that she is forced out of her own country, where she could experience success and fit in, only because she cannot afford to have her particular illness there. Why is it that we are the most prominent among the developed nations and yet we cannot come to terms with an idea that most other developed nations have? We are all humans and we all need care for our bodies and yet the system is totally set up to deny care, rather than provide care. This just sucks. And what is worse, we consider ourselves better because we do not have national health care. This is the stupidest idea I have ever heard. We have a responsibility as a superpower to help those in need. Survival of the fittest is an archaic idea. And here it isn't even the "fittest" who are surviving, it is the richest. Now I have insurance through my job, but know many other hardworking, intelligent and employed people who are not so lucky. Wouldn't it be wonderful if they were provided a choice? No. That would make them the same as the rich. So not acceptable here. In this book, Gaby is OK, but really not in the happiest place and only because of this issue. Her story would be so much different if we were able to get our heads out of the sand and make some changes. This is but one reason why I am going out to vote a straight ticket tomorrow. Someone needs to take a stand. Oh and I used poop in the title since I wanted to be PC and Gaby's illness actually relates to issues with the expelling of waste. I won't go into details.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Unfamiliar Territory

Currently Reading: Room

Pg 138: "I'm not in Room. Am I still me?"

We all live in our own little worlds, but what if that was all there was? In this book, poor little Jack and his mother are held captive in a shed. This is the only world that Jack has known since he was born there and lived out his first five years within those four simple walls. This is a painful tale where not only are the characters isolated physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. When we travel to a foreign country, we feel out of place and uncertainty. For Jack, when he finally escapes Room, the entire world is new and uncertain. He doesn't understand what to do and what to say. His normal routine is not consistent with the way that Outside works. The saddest part of this story is that his mother was content with the way things were when they were stuck in Room, but once they are out, she is familiar with the way things are and cannot understand Jack's inability to adjust. They are really both children in the world. Neither one is comfortable, but at least Ma has a source of reference. Will Jack ever become comfortable with Outside? Will his mother be willing to work with him and allow him the time he needs to adapt his norms? She is impatient with him and it reminds me of when we are impatient with those who just can't understand where we are coming from. Maybe we should cut people more slack. Sure we know what we are looking for and what we want, but that doesn't mean that it makes sense in someone else's world. For example, I am stuck in weird routines and other people cannot understand why I freak out if the routine is messed up. And of course, I do not understand why they can't understand. We all have our own idea of how things should be. The problem is that our ideas don't always match. Read this book.

Oh and thanks to Kathy for the fabulous suggestion.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Roughage

Currently Reading: The Road to Wellville

Dr. Kellogg runs a "spa" for wellness in the early 1900s. There he preaches the methods of living a healthy, toxin-free life. Do not eat meat, drink alcohol, take daily enemas, etc. Oh and don't forget to eat your corn flakes. Does this work? For some, it seems to be the cure, but for others, it is just a depraved life. Why do we focus so much on what we eat? Sure it is our fuel and we cannot survive on nothing, but seriously, it is the most prominent thing on most people's minds, myself included. We hear from doctors and nutritionists about what we are supposed to eat. We hear from ads and commercials about what is yummy and fun to eat. Chefs tell us what is "good" to eat and what is unami. Why can't we just eat what we want? Because we don't know what we want. We wait for someone to tell us what to do whether it is Atkins or Frito-Lay. We give others this life altering decision. I for one feel it is easier to have someone tell me what do eat. Therefore I cannot berate myself for making an inappropriate choice. I have read several nonfiction books about purity and reverting back to the ways of our ancestors, as in the original hominoids. But then again, how can we deny ourselves processed goodness? It is hard to escape the fake food and only focus on the natural stuff. Not to mention the fact that we have become accustomed to man-made foods. I would die without my processed sugar. Of course, that is an overstatement. Now I really have no conclusion to add to this post. I don't have the answer. In fact, I have no answers. It is still something to think about. But don't be too much like me and dwell on it. Have you ever heard the saying "do what you like and the money will follow"? Well I wish I could say, eat what you like and the results will follow. Obsesity or anorexia. How did we get to this state? There is no in-between for so many of us. If you have the whole food thing figured out, I envy you. Oh and I don't think Kellogg has the "answer" either. Enemas? really?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

He's so weird...or am I the weird one?

Currently Reading: House Rules

"But for the record, I personally subscribe to the belief that normal is just a setting on the dryer."

How true. I deal with this sort of thing everyday and I think that most people do. We strive so hard to be normal and fit in, and yet all we are doing is denying ourselves to simply be ourselves. How wonderful the world would be if we all were simply true to ourselves. I am who I am. Now this doesn't excuse erroneous behavior, yet it does allow us to be responsible to ourselves and make sure that we are doing things to the best of our ability. I used to wish I was "normal", but what is normal. It is whatever we define it to be for ourselves. So from here on out I pledge to not seek normal-ness, but rather Stephanie-ness. It will be a challenge, but if I just continue to be myself and not try to adapt my circle peg to fit into the square hole, I will be happier, healthier and better able to be there for others.

On another note, I was right about the story. I am getting better at this whole deduction thing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Aha!

Currently Reading: House Rules

So I am only about halfway through the book, but I have figured it out already. I am very pleased with myself. Usually I don't solve the mystery until much closer to the end, but this time I think I have it. I like trying to figure stuff out. It makes me feel like I am a player in the story. Now I am dying to see how long it takes the characters to figure it out too. They are not as savvy as I am I guess. In response to something I mentioned in the previous post, there are more points of view than just the three I mentioned. What is kind of cool about this book that Piccoult didn't do in her earlier books is that each character has his or her own font. You always know who is talking based on the type. Of course the styles are different too, but I like the extra touch. This is one of the details I always pick up on. Small changes. This also leads back to my previous post in that I am very aware of weird formatting and details like that. I think that this trait is another one that points to the whole Asberger's thing. Maybe Piccoult did this on purpose. Man she is a devious one. Well I am off to see if anyone else solves the mystery too.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Questions

Currently Reading: House Rules

Is it possible to have a touch of Aspergers? I think I may have a bit. I literally just started House Rules by Jodi Piccoult and the young boy who has it lists some of the things he really can't stand and I share several of them. Here they are.

Certain sounds
Too much noise or flashing lights
Having plans change (this kills me!!)
Loose hair (and really hair in general)
Being touched by someone I don't know

Now he has some that I have no problem with, which leads me to my question, is it possible to just have a wee bit of the disorder? Is it even a disorder? This is something that I need to research more. This is especially important for me since as a teacher, I have students who actually have Asbergers. I need to make sure that I am more well informed about the nuances of this unique type of person. See, this is what I like about reading. It opens your mind to new ideas and places as well as types of peoples and feelings. I read about stuff that I have never experienced in my own life, but this way I now I have a better idea about what it was like for someone else. I know that a lot of what I read is all made up, but still, the idea had to come from somewhere. Jodi Piccoult always does her research which is one of the things I like about her. The other thing I like is that she always shows all sides of the story. I know I have said this before since I've been reading a lot of her lately. In this book, each chapter is from a different person's point of view. One is the boy in question, one is his mom and one is his younger brother. I haven't gotten very far and so there could be more. I am interested to see where this ends up as I didn't actually read the jacket, but know that most of her books revolve around some sort of courtroom drama. We'll see. I'm sure there will be more posts as the book progresses, not to mention the fact that I seem to have some extra time on my hand. Easier assignments for grad school this week.

On another note, my blogger dashboard informed me that my last post was my 100th and so this is 101. Wow. I can't believe I wrote so much. This blogging has been a very fun experience for me. Here's hoping I make it to 200!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Connections

Currently Reading: Hard Laughter

Pg 3: "...the dictionary defines a "lagoon" as "any small pond like body of water, esp. one communicating with a larger body of water"."

I love Anne Lamott. Everything I have ever read of her's has been fantastic. This is her first novel and it was great to see that it was as fantastic as her last (that I have read, as I have not gotten to her latest one). Now this is not saying that she hasn't developed as a writer or anything, I'm just saying that it really enthralled me. The reason that I chose the quote is that this is a theme that Lamott typically uses in her stories. There is definitely a "main" character, but this character is still connected to so many other people in her life. I think that this is true of all of us. I think about the quote "no man is an island". It seems that we are all lagoons. Still our own people, and yet connected to the ocean of our community and the world itself. I find myself emulating a lake most of the time as I am very insular and don't interact with people as often as I should. Although I am definitely a loner, I am still affected by and truly affect other people in my life. I need to pay more attention to these connections and give them a larger part of my life. It is hard sometimes to be so alone, and yet I find that I love my loneliness. And I wouldn't even say that I am lonely, but I am aware that I need to branch out a bit more and allow more people into my life. As Lamott makes clear in this book, it is our relationships that actually define us and how we choose to acknowledge and develop these relationships really tell a lot about who we are. Will you be kind, empathetic, critical? All these are just a few of the ways that we connect to others. Just like the connections in any network or machine, it is important to keep the connections open and alive so that we can develop and grow as human beings. That is my goal for the moment. Improving connections.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Really and truly

Currently Reading: Airframe

I love books that are based in facts like historical and hard science fiction. This one is about an airplane malfunction that caused some deaths and injuries. It is not a crash or anything, but there is an investigation in progress and so many technical details. I think that I read about this incident in Outliers, which is about extraordinary people. That book was discussing pilots and how sometimes the culture that a pilot comes from, affects his or her decisions in the cockpit. Now these are commercial pilots, not fighters, a while different beast. It seems like many Asian pilots were steeped in tradition and cultural norms and so mistakes by the pilot were accepted by the "lesser" staff. I think that pilot error is going to be one of the underlying causes of this accident. It is funny how we spend so much time trying to lay the blame on someone or something else rather than properly analyzing the situation and finding a remedy. There is corporate intrigue as well as greed at the bottom of this story. Using shoddy parts just because they are cheaper is no reason to play with people's lives. This happens all the time when it is the bottom line that is important rather than the people involved. My mom recently made a post on her blog about tainted eggs. That was another case of managerial error that critically affected the public. Why do we allow these mistakes to happen? Why do we give free reign to people who are thinking only of how to better their own situation? We do this in politics as well.

It seems like I have gotten off topic a bit. Factual fiction is what I was really going to talk about. I believe that it makes the story so much more believable and so much easier to relate to. The book I read prior to this one was a Margaret Atwood book. Her stuff always takes place entirely in an environment created by her unique mind. While I find her stuff amazing, it just never seems as relevant to me and I have a harder time getting into the story. When there is something I can hold onto, such as a fact or a setting that I know, I can get more out of the story. Sure we always need a brief escape every now and then, it is nice to get a jolt of reality sometimes too.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Teenage Angst

Currently Reading: The Tenth Circle

Pg 117: "Even though parents don't want to admit it, school isn't about what a kid absorbs while she's sitting at a cramped desk, but what happens around and in spite of that."

This book hits home with me on a couple of fronts. First, as a high school teacher, I know all too well the drama and really trauma that kids go through each day. It is so sad to see such promising kids compromising themselves in the name of popularity. Why is it so important for them to be accepted by people who are actually not worth the effort. I so wish I could explain to them how so much of this won't matter in the future, but it is so hard to convince them of that. They are definitely creatures who live in the moment and focus on instant gratification. Speaking of instant, this is why I hate the Facebook so much. It is just another way to instantly accept and reject people, not to mention be accepted and rejected yourself. I have seen so many kids come to school in tears because of something someone said or posted on their page. Come on! When all you have to do is click and make something instantly public, way too many things that should have been kept quiet, are published for the world to see. So sad.

The other way I can relate to this book is that the main adult character in it is an illustrator and writer of graphic novels. My brother does this for a living and I also am a fan and so I could relate to Daniel as he went through his creative process. A neat thing that Piccoult does is that throughout the book, we see pages from Daniel's own graphic novel and see how the events in his personal life are shaping the storyline of his own book. It is really quite an effective story telling method.

I'm not sure why, but whenever I read Jodi Piccoult's books about a conflict between two teens, I always find myself on the side of the boy. Is this because I don't like "girl" girls very much, or do I just find them unbelievable? As usual, Piccoult does a fantastic job of showing everyone's point of view, but readers always find themselves rooting more for one or the other. I am interested in seeing the final outcome. I already know a few things that blew my mind, but as usual, I don't want to ruin any surprises.

On a general note, hooray for having read so many great books in a row!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Impressions

Currently Reading: Fever Dream

This isn't about the book, but I had a thought today and just wanted to share it with the world. I was thinking the other day how over the course of five years teaching, I have personally affected the lives of over 500 kids. Wow. Then today I got my hair cut and went to Target. At both places I saw kiddos who knew me from school, but who hadn't actually been in my class. I am affecting even more than just the kids in my class. I am all powerful! Whoa! It makes me pause when I think that just how I have been personally integral in many of these kids lives. This is why as teachers we need to be careful in not only our actions and words, but our thoughts and subconscious messages as well. How impressionable these young people are. Can you remember the name of your favorite teacher? How about that teacher who hated? Did they both affect you in some way? We need to be more diligent about making sure kids only have favorites to remember.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Much to Share

Currently Reading: Testimony


So this is going to be a long one. Sorry, but I have a lot to talk about. Prior to this novel, I read Jonathan Franzen’s newest book, Freedom. It was not my favorite of his books, however, it was quite an interesting read. I found myself both appalled and sympathetic for the characters throughout the entire, humongous thing. What I fin most interesting about Franzen’s tales is that his characters seem to mirror him in so many ways. I have read all his books, include the essay/memoir thing. In his earlier books, his main characters are mainly young men full of angst, basically what I imagine him to have been as a young man. As he has aged over the years, it seems his characters have too. This book is focused on middle aged people filled with angst. It makes me wonder a bit about his mental state. Is he really so unhappy? There seems to be very little happiness experienced by the characters in this novel. Even when they are doing something that you’d think would make them happy, having affairs and whatnot, they are still mired in their sadness and seem to find no solace no matter what the activity. I do like the perspectives he used throughout the book. You were really able to get into the souls of all the main characters. I appreciate that intimacy and it makes me care more about people who on the surface I would probably hate. The way the book starts, you really get a different picture of what one of the main characters, Patty is like. As you learn more about her throughout the story, you create a whole new picture of what she is all about, although I will say that I ended up liking her sad little husband more. Another cool thing about the book is that it treats current events in a realistic manner. They reacted to it similarly to normal, everyday people. The book goes through Vietnam drafts, the September 11th attacks, the real estate boom and fall, not to mention our past few presidents and legislatures. I felt like I was reading about someone on the street, although there was a bit of unbelievably. It is a novel after all. So overall, it was certainly not ground breaking, but good all the same.

Now onto Testimony. I just love Anita Shreve. She is so able to bring you into the characters and always writes from an interesting perspective. Just like Jodi Piccoult, you always get the full story, not just as it seemed from the viewpoint of one character. It allows you to come to your own conclusions about the situations and experiences in the book. In each chapter, the particular character is actually giving his or her own testimony about the main conflict in the novel, a gang rape of a young girl. It is unknown to the reader how willing the girl was and what the exact circumstances were. This definitely ups the suspense level. I am not quite done, but am truly engrossed. The most annoying thing is that there was another person filming the event, but no one seems willing to divulge the identity. I am hoping this will come out in the end. We’ll see.

On of the things that both these novels had in common is that they both mess around with time a lot. There were places where I found myself thinking, “Wait, didn’t that already happen?” or “Why doesn’t he know about this yet”. It was frustrating, but I guess part of the story telling process as both these novels tell a tale that takes place both in the present and in the past. Overall, lots of good reading over the past week. I love it.