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.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mind Control

Currently Reading: The Terminal Man

Pg 107: "The human brain far exceeded that complexity, and the programming of the human brain extended over many decades.  How could anyone seriously expect to understand it?"

Pg 209: "All the important programming was finished by the age of seven.  Racial attitudes, sexual attitudes, ethical attitudes, religious attitudes, national attitudes.  The gyroscope was set, and the children let loose to spin off on their predetermined courses."

The Terminal Man is a very appropriate title for this book in two ways.  First, Harry Benson embodies on definition of "terminal" in that he is a device for entering data into a computer.  Said computer, happening to have been implanted in his body by some radical doctors.  Second, Benson also represents the end of man as we know him and the beginning of a new super-species, combining the biological parts of a human and the processing power of a computer.  A hybrid of sorts.  Yet again, Michael Crichton manages to amaze and astonish with his carefully researched and well thought out novel giving us a possible situation that could most undoubtedly take place in our world as it stands now (or in the 1970's since that is when the story takes place).

The goal of the doctors in this book is to stop Benson from having epileptic seizures by shocking the appropriate areas of his brain when an impending seizure is detected.  Of course what they don't take into consideration is that, as the above quote suggests, the human mind is a complex thing and the combination of Benson's mind and the computer connected to it manage to figure out a way around the intended results, thus causing him to run amok completely.  The doctors are flabbergasted because computers are infallible.  Whenever they have issues, it is always due to some human error in the programming or software algorithms.  But when you put together the vast abilities of a computer, with the flexibility of a vastly more powerful computer, the human brain, all bets are off.

Once Benson escapes and the surgical procedure is revealed to the public, the words "mind control" are bandied about by the media.  Of course, as Dr. Ross, Benson's psychiatrist, notes in the second quote, aren't we all products of a certain type of mind control ourselves?  No one is born with certain tenancies such as racism or sexism or even religion.  These things are feed to us by our parents and other authority figures in our lives.  I found the quote and the surrounding paragraphs to be very interesting as a high school teacher (I am harping on that a lot, aren't I?).  We have a goal as educators to better prepare our students for their future careers and to help them become better citizens.  I am constantly amazed by some of the things that come out of their mouths, but how effective can I be against such ingrained ideals?  It is sort of depressing in a way.  Are they really lost by the time they reach fifteen and sixteen.  Is there really nothing I can do?  I suppose I should just continue teaching some math and hope that one of them goes on to figure out a solution to the problem in their capacity as a doctor, scientist, or researcher of some sort.  That is what I try to think about.  You know the whole quote, "those who can't do, teach"?  Sometime it is disheartening because I can "do" to some degree, but it is correct in that what I really do is help my students fulfill their destinies.  I like to tell my kids that I continue to teach Algebra 2 because I really want to retire on Mars and I need one of them to get me there.  I don't know how much motivation that is, but I try.

So what becomes of Harry Benson?  Nothing good.  But Crichton leaves us with the feeling that, if nothing else, this is only the beginnings of a journey towards future discoveries and methods to control the mind and the body, thus "perfecting" the human race.  Of course, when humans are involved, nothing is ever certain.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Igorance Is Not Bliss

Currently Reading: Big Girl Small

Pg 41: "...numbers can be kind of comforting.  I mean, at least there's a predictability to the way they behave."

Truer words have never been said.  As a math teacher, I am thoroughly a fan of the objectiveness and all around truisms that are embodied within mathematics.  So now onto the completely subjectivity of this book.  Judy, the main character, is a typical teenage girl.  Dealing with false friends, longing for cute boys from afar and competing with her peers in grades and extracurricular activities.  What makes Judy different though, is that she is a midget.  Despite her being exactly like her peers in every other way, this one, glaring difference, causes Judy's high school experience to be profoundly harder than that of a "normal" high school girl.

Having a fairly crappy high school experience myself, and of course living within the drama each day as a high school teacher, I can relate to the hardships that Judy is faced with.  Of course, being short of statue, but certainly not a midget myself, I cannot possibly imagine what it must have been like.  This book brings to light how horrible and yet wonderful these years can be.  What makes them good or bad are often those around us and our responses to their actions.  Judy's real troubles do not come until later in the book.  In the beginning, she is starting a new year at a new school specializing in the arts.  Judy is an amazing singer who manages to earn a spot in the highest choir and even gets a few solos.  She is enrolled in AP classes and makes a few close, authentic friends.  The troubles come from the same place most high school troubles stem from, boys.  Judy falls in love with a popular young man who, at first, appears to genuinely like Judy for who she is, ignoring her stature and appreciating her talents.  Needless to say, he is not what he appears to be and what he does is unforgivable.

Judy is lured into his home and has sex with him.  This occurs a couple of times, discretely on both their parts, and they continue to exist in the outside world merely as acquaintances.  The third time Judy is invited over, he drugs her and tapes not only their sex, but her having sex with two other classmates as well.  Of course, the video gets out and Judy feels the only option is to run away and avoid the issues completely.  Eventually, through the support of her family and friends, Judy returns to school and attempts to continue as before.  The stigma though, is always there and we are left not knowing exactly how the year ends up for Judy.

The questions to ask now are would this have happened if Judy was not who she was and would the fallout have been the same?  Also, how often does this kind of thing happen for any teenage girl?  Judy assumes they only did it because she was a novelty, but it turns out that the boys had videos of other girls as well.  Why on Earth do teenage boys do the things they do?  Even at my own school, there are cases each day of sexual harassment.  As our technology evolves, so do the ways that these teenagers use to torture each other.  Raunchy and rude Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and even text messages are constantly being brought to light.  It is a new way to bully not only girls, but boys as well.  How can we stem this epidemic?  Taking away the technology does not seem to be the answer.  What can we do to better educate our students as to how to be responsible, respectful citizens?  It seems that any ways we devise end up being squashed by those who follow a "don't talk about it" policy.  Well folks, like it or not, sex is the first and foremost thing on most of our teenagers' minds, despite the taboo nature of it.  Perhaps we should take a look at those other developed countries who take a more open and honest approach to sex.  Look at their numbers for rape cases and harassment suits.  Maybe they are on to something.  The most horrible thing about this whole novel is that what happened to Judy is happening to young ladies and gentlemen all across the country each day.  This needs to stop, but can only happen if the adults take charge and start educating, not ignoring these impressionable minds now as opposed to after the fact.  And I am clearly not the only one who feels this way.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Favorite

Currently Reading: Birds of Paradise

But since that one is barely started, I am going to talk about one I have been meaning to blog about for days.  It was my read this past weekend and may have earned a spot on my list of favorites.  The book is called "The Night Circus" and is sheer awesomeness.  Not only are the characters intriguing, but the setting, plot line, and even the writing style leave you breathless as you turn the pages with desperate hunger to find out what happens next.  Wow is the best way to describe my thoughts once I finally put it down.

So onto the tale.  The Night Circus revolves around the proteges of two aging magicians (or illusionists) who hail from differing schools of thought.  Each "madman" thinks his way is the best, and so to test their skills, they agree to use their techniques on two young children and groom them over the course of years to compete against each other in a behind the scenes contest of skills and wits.  Both of the pupils know that they are part of the competition, but neither initially knows who his opponent actually is.  As the years go by, they grow up, developed personalities other those that dictated by their teachers, and even discover new techniques on their own.  Their paths collide on the set of the Night Circus.

So onto the circus itself.  The Night Circus is the brainchild of a producer who prides himself on bringing unique and imaginative spectacles to the public.  His circus does not let down.  It is open only during the high, from sundown to sunup, and caters to those looking to be amazed by the unusual.  No, not lizard men and bearded ladies, but rather contortionists, living statues, fortune tellers, unbelievably realistic imagined landscapes created by the dueling illusionists themselves.  In fact, these tents are actually part of the game.  Who can outdo the other in a match of the fantastic.  One of the things I loved the most about the book, was that it gave my mind the opportunity to stretch itself around the descriptions, adding to them my own personal twist and yet still fitting in with what the author depicts.  I often found myself wondering what was going through her mind as she came up with these amazing scenes and places.

The ending is something I don't want to delve into too deeply because I want all of you to go out and enjoy this book with your own imagination, sans my personal biases.  So go out and imagine the Night Circus as you will.  I promise it will be a mind bending, spectacular ride.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

School Girls

Currently Reading: The Academie

Back Cover: "Enter a world of glamour, power, and danger at an exclusive French boarding school..."

So this is what led me to pick up this book from the campus library.  I love me a good book about boarding schools such as The Secret History, The Lake of Dead Languages, and Miss Timmon's School for Girls.  Little did I know that it actually related to another favorite series of mine about the lovely Josephine Bonaparte.

The young ladies we follow in this novel happen to be a visitor from Virginia, Caroline Bonaparte (Napoleon's sister), and Hortense Bonaparte (Napoleon's step-daughter).  They of course do the typical thing of young French ladies and fall in love at first sight with all sort of inappropriate young men.  The usual class barriers not to mention political upheaval cause these girls to find all too many complications and snags in their quest to nab their true love himself.  Yes, all too familiar, but still leading to an intriguing, if unimaginative, tale.

The think I liked the most about the book is that I was seeing events and characters who I already was familiar with from another perspective.  (Can you say run-on?  Alas...)  Josephine plays a bit part, but Hortense and even Caroline were relatively consistent in their characters across the Bonaparte books I have read so far.  Also the dapper Eugene and General Murat make their own subtle, yet important appearances.  Eugene being the object of affection for Eliza, the American, and Murat being the love of Caroline's life.  The book takes place at the time where Napoleon is amassing his forces and preparing to overthrow the Council of Five Hundred.  It is interesting to see how the author perceives the actions of the girls affect the political scene in an ever so slight way.  Is it true, historical, tale?  No and not nearly as researched as Sandra Gulland's series, but still an excellent way to get those young adults to start reading some historical fiction and maybe even educate themselves a bit.

One last little note.  The book touches on the idea of slavery in both France and America.  Eliza is dismayed to discover that one of her new friends (not the Bonaparte girls), was a former slave.  She thinks slaves to be the lowest of the low based on the mindset in America at that time.  After meeting her friend, she changes her mind a bit and rethinks what her parents have been preaching.  Why is it that America leads the much of the industrialized world in things like armaments and whatnot and then lags when it comes to religion, ethics, and basic human rights?  Interesting...