Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—July 4, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks

Below is a link to an NPR discussion about the simple fact that there’s no way you can read, see and experience all the things that are available to be experienced. The two methods for dealing with it are culling (i.e., cutting out certain genres that don’t interest you, etc.) or surrender (i.e., just making peace with the facts and enjoying what you can in the time that you have).

So, do you cull, or do you surrender? Or do you do both?

I think I do a bit of both. I am very selective about which books I will read in certain genres. For instance, my nonfiction reading is almost exclusively limited to history, education, and literature, although if a book looks interesting and doesn’t fall in those narrow confines, I will read it. I am fairly selective about fantasy and sci-fi. I don’t read a lot of it, but I am careful about what I do choose to read in those genres. My favorite genre is historical fiction, so I tend to broaden my scope and will often read historical fiction, even if I don’t think I’m interested in the subject. I have too often discovered that I can become interested if the book grabs me.

I set a goal to read 50 books this year. I keep a to-read list. I can feel the pressure to read as much as I can before I can’t read anymore, but I have also accepted that I just won’t be able to get to everything that is good and worth reading. So I also have made peace with the idea that the article calls “surrender.” Life is too short to read bad books, but I am determined to enjoy the ones I have time to get to.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—June 27, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks

Have you ever read a book that inspired you to take up a cause? What book was it, and what is/was the cause?

I have never exactly taken up a cause because of a book, but I have changed my opinions or practices because of a book. Barbara Kingsolver is one author who has changed the way I think about things on a couple of occasions. Robin Bates wrote about the issue of illegal immigration recently, and I left a comment on his post about how Kingsolver’s novel [amazon_link id=”0061765228″ target=”_blank” ]The Bean Trees[/amazon_link] helped me understand the issue is not black and white. In the novel, the character Mattie helps illegal immigrants sort of like a stop on the Underground Railroad, and it is through Mattie that Taylor, the protagonist, meets Estevan and Esperanza, who are illegal immigrants from Guatemala. Estevan and Esperanza came to America to save their lives. Had they gone through the proper channels, they likely would not have been allowed to come to America, but if they hadn’t left Guatemala, they would have been killed. Sometimes, it won’t work to just request asylum. The novel shows how an issue that is usually portrayed as black and white—illegal immigrants are breaking the law—becomes more complicated. We don’t necessarily know the whole story behind why someone chooses to enter the country illegally, and we don’t know what they are leaving behind.

Kingsolver’s novel [amazon_link id=”0061577073″ target=”_blank” ]The Poisonwood Bible[/amazon_link], one of my favorite books, examines the role America played in pillaging Africa. The British have examined this colonial role in their own literature, but Americans like to think that because they had no colonies, they were well out of it. It’s a gorgeous book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

While not revolutionary, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s book [amazon_link id=”0131950843″ target=”_blank” ]Understanding by Design[/amazon_link] changed the way I teach and assess students on their learning and has continued to be influential in my life. I can’t compare it to a cause, really, but I have taken to trying to convert as many teachers as I know to backward design.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—June 20, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks

Do you like movies made from books? Which ones do you think have been done well—kept mostly to the plot of the book, etc?

I do like movies made from books, and I find that it is OK for them sometimes to veer a little from the book. I think books and movies probably need to be viewed as separate entities and enjoyed accordingly. Even though the [amazon_link id=”B001UV4XHY” target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter[/amazon_link] films have cut some of the things I like best about the books, and sometimes even added details that were not in the books, I have still enjoyed them immensely. Most of the Jane Austen films I have seen have been pretty good. I even liked the 1999 [amazon_link id=”6305907145″ target=”_blank” ]Mansfield Park[/amazon_link] (but will admit the Fanny Price in the movie was not the Fanny Price in the book). My favorite? Eeesh. I don’t know. It’s hard to pick between Ang Lee’s [amazon_link id=”0800141660″ target=”_blank” ]Sense and Sensibility[/amazon_link] and the two Pride and Prejudice films. ([amazon_link id=”B00364K6YW” target=”_blank” ]Colin Firth[/amazon_link] or [amazon_link id=”B000E1ZBGS” target=”_blank” ]Matthew Macfadyen[/amazon_link]? You see the dilemma.) [amazon_link id=”1451635621″ target=”_blank” ]Gone With the Wind[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”0061990477″ target=”_blank” ]The Thorn Birds[/amazon_link] were great both in print and on film.

I almost always say the book is better than the movie, but there are some exceptions. Because of its superb casting, I felt that the film version of [amazon_link id=”B000TJBNHG” target=”_blank” ]The Princess Bride[/amazon_link] improved on the book. I also thought the film based on [amazon_link id=”B00005JOC9″ target=”_blank” ]The Da Vinci Code[/amazon_link] was better than the book, perhaps because Dan Brown’s strong suit is not character development, which is something actors can compensate for. Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” was great, but the [amazon_link id=”B00005JOFQ” target=”_blank” ]film[/amazon_link] fleshed out the characters and storyline more, and I thought it was better (one of my favorite films, actually). I haven’t read [amazon_link id=”0743453255″ target=”_blank” ]Forrest Gump[/amazon_link], but I did read [amazon_link id=”0671522647″ target=”_blank” ]Gump & Co.[/amazon_link], the sequel, and if Forrest Gump was written similarly, let’s just say that the film was probably an improvement.

On the other hand, no one can deny that films sometimes butcher the story badly. Perhaps because I haven’t seen it, I should not speak about the latest [amazon_link id=”B0011NVC98″ target=”_blank” ]Beowulf[/amazon_link] film, but come on—Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother? And Grendel is the—well, one hesitates to use the word love child, but—love child of Hrothgar and Grendel’s mother? And the dragon is the unholy offspring of Beowulf and Grendel’s mother? Nope. That’s playing too fast and loose with the material for my liking. I don’t even care that Neil Gaiman wrote it. And do you remember the [amazon_link id=”B003RACGZM” target=”_blank” ]evil Disneyized version[/amazon_link] of Lloyd Alexander’s [amazon_link id=”080508049X” target=”_blank” ]The Black Cauldron[/amazon_link]? No? Good. I’m trying to forget it. I am saddened by the notion that plenty of people never picked up those wonderful books because of that horrible film. [amazon_link id=”0679751521″ target=”_blank” ]Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil[/amazon_link] is one of my favorite books, but [amazon_link id=”B003ASLJQ8″ target=”_blank” ]the film[/amazon_link] stank. A lot. Funny story about that, too. John Berendt was the keynote speaker at Georgia Council of Teachers of English conference in 1998. He was asked what he thought of the film, and he replied that he had been so good… then diplomatically added that he liked the film for many reasons, not the least of which was that it sold a million copies of his book. The [amazon_link id=”B00005JKKY” target=”_blank” ]film[/amazon_link] based on A. S. Byatt’s [amazon_link id=”0679735909″ target=”_blank” ]Possession[/amazon_link] was OK, but there are too many layers to that book to capture on film.

I haven’t seen Water for Elephants yet. I don’t have major problems with the casting, as some folks seem to have had, but I’m scared it will stink. And I loved [amazon_link id=”1565125606″ target=”_blank” ]that book[/amazon_link]. The reviews have been mixed.

Some book-based films I’m looking forward to seeing are The Hunger Games and The Help.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—June 13, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?

I devoured [amazon_link id=”1565125606″ target=”_blank” ]Water for Elephants[/amazon_link] by Sara Gruen (review) in the space of a day, but I can’t remember how late I stayed up reading to finish it. I do remember clearly staying up really late because I was hooked on [amazon_link id=”0385737637″ target=”_blank” ]Revolution[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly (review). It’s not something I have done in a while; I have had a run of four-star and lower books. It’s usually the five-star books that keep me up at night. I will say that [amazon_link id=”1439191697″ target=”_blank” ]The Kitchen Daughter[/amazon_link] by Jael McHenry is running on five stars right now, as is [amazon_link id=”1401302025″ target=”_blank” ]The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School[/amazon_link] by Alexandra Robbins. I think some of the books that have kept me up most have been the [amazon_link id=”0545162076″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter[/amazon_link] series and the [amazon_link id=”0545265355″ target=”_blank” ]Hunger Games[/amazon_link] series. I have yet to read books to match those two series for making it impossible for me stop turning pages.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—June 6, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks

Where is your favorite place to read?

I mostly read in bed. There isn’t really another good place to read in my house. I enjoy reading in the bath, but I won’t take my [amazon_link id=”B002FQJT3Q” target=”_blank” ]Kindle[/amazon_link] in the tub, so unless it’s a paperback or a magazine, I read it in bed.

I really enjoyed reading outside when I was in college. UGA, where I went to undergrad, has a beautiful campus.

Fountain, UGA, North Campus

I couldn’t find a larger image, but this fountain in particular was a favorite spot. You might be able to just make out the black wrought iron benches. I enjoyed sitting there while the fountain burbled and reading whatever I was reading. In fact, the girl in this picture could have been me about 20 years ago.

Image © Nancy Evelyn

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—May 30, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks

Describe the last time you were stumped for something to read, and you took measures to remedy that—either by going to the bookstore, the library, or shopping elsewhere. What book did you choose? Did it get you out of your slump?

My problem is never lacking for something to read, but I often have trouble choosing what to read next. One thing I have done to solve my dilemma in the past is to lay my choices in front of my daughter Maggie and ask her to choose for me. The last time I asked Maggie was a long time ago, and I can no longer remember what she chose for me. I also asked readers to vote on my next book once when I was stumped. They chose [amazon_link id=”0060558121″ target=”_blank” ]American Gods[/amazon_link]. Most recently, I have also used the Randomizer after assigning numbers to around five choices. It chose Melanie Clegg’s [amazon_link id=”B004R1Q9PI” target=”_blank” ]The Secret Diary of a Princess[/amazon_link], which I was leaning toward reading next anyway. I can’t really say I’ve been in a slump for a very long time. I just read whatever I have on hand or I download something new on my [amazon_link id=”B002FQJT3Q” target=”_blank” ]Kindle[/amazon_link].

Speaking of going to the bookstore, you know, I can’t remember the last time I went to one. I usually order books from Amazon or download them on my Kindle. I know I should frequent indie stores, but the closest one I know of (besides the used bookstores) is one all the way over in Decatur, and whenever we go to the Decatur Book Festival, we do in fact visit the Little Shop of Stories. However, I also note that I pay more for books in places like that. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a bit of a commission whenever people buy books I link to or visit Amazon and purchase items after following a link from my site. Most months, my commission is enough to buy two books. Some months, it’s more than that. I consider it fair trade for all the business I throw their way, and in turn, I use the gift certificates I earn from Amazon to purchase more books. It’s more cost effective for me to shop at Amazon than it is an indie store—on a variety of levels. And bottom line? I am a happy customer. They’ve always been good to me; even after I broke my Kindle, they asked no questions and replaced it free of charge. I have never had a complaint with them. My only quibble is that they won’t allow associates to delete associate ID’s they no longer use, and I have about three of those.

I haven’t been to the library in a long time either. Here is my problem with libraries: I don’t like the time pressure to finish books, and I am almost always late returning books. I also like to be able to keep books I liked and perhaps even mark in them. Libraries are so important. They perform critical functions in our society. Keeping up with library books nowadays isn’t all that difficult. I can check my account online. I have just found it one more thing I have trouble keeping track of.

I don’t often buy books from other types of stores. The selections are just too sparse and not usually to my taste. One place I do find lots of good books is from other book bloggers. I heard about most of the books I’ve picked up lately from a fellow book blogger or from Goodreads.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—May 16, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks…

The local Catholic school board is closing its school libraries, and parents and teachers—and even the students—are in an uproar. Budget cuts demanded that the board choose something to get rid of… they choose libraries. As such, many librarians have lost their jobs. And, the board is moving the books to the classrooms, instead. They feel that it is a good solution.

What do you think? Should the schools be without an actual “library” room? Is this a good solution?

I’m not sure where this school is located. No link to a news story in the post prompt. I think every school needs a library. So does every elementary school classroom, every middle school reading or language arts classroom (really, other subjects should, too), and every high school English classroom. Minimum. The library is more than just a room that houses books. It is a room that celebrates reading, books, media, and learning. It is a place for students to gather to study. It is a refuge for students like I was when I was young—a place to find new books, a place to hide, a place to think. I can’t imagine taking that away from students. Why so many people have decided we can do without libraries lately is beyond my comprehension. Even though I had moved away by the time it closed, I was saddened to learn the library I used to ride my bike to when I was a kid had closed. I wanted other children to be able to experience what I had experienced.

We also need our librarians. They stay current on good books and can help students find books to read. To push that role on overloaded teachers is not a solution. I can recommend books to my students. I read a lot. But no one can replace a librarian for expertise. How many kids have been turned on to their favorite book or even to reading in general because a librarian took an interest and made a recommendation? I loved spending time in my school library. When I was in fifth grade, I loved being chosen to be the office worker because I could finish all my school work by 11:00 and read for the rest of the day. The office staff let me go to the library to pick out books. I vividly remember asking a librarian to help me find an author’s address so I could write to him, telling him how I loved his book. She was more crushed than I was to discovered he had already passed away.

It doesn’t sound like the stakeholders—the students, parents, or teachers—want this. Surely there is a better way to save money than to remove librarians and a central library from a school.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—May 9, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks…

Do you ever find scenes from previous books you’ve read popping into your head at random times? If so, does it bother you? If it doesn’t happen to you, why do you think that is?

This is a strange question to me because I assumed this happened to everyone. Do you mean it doesn’t? Are there people who don’t have scenes from novels popping into their heads at random times? Really? Huh. In answer to this question, I share two quotes from two sage writers:

“I am a part of all that I have met.”—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses.” To me, this line means everything we experience forms who we are, and that includes what we read.

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.”—Ernest Hemingway

So, if Tennyson and Hemingway are right (and I think they are), then how could one not have scenes popping into one’s head? It is like calling forth memories, or if it’s not, then someone needs to explain it to me because I don’t get it.

Does it bother me? Absolutely not. Book memories are by and large the most pleasant ones, so they are welcome to pop in my head whenever they like. Except Stephen King’s It. Those memories can stay away. Especially that psychotic clown.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays—May 2, 2011

Musing MondaysThis week’s musing asks…

Do you care if the book’s storyline is unrealistic? Will you keep reading, or will you set the book aside?

My answer to this question is it depends. No modern reader can read [amazon_link id=”0743477111″ target=”_blank” ]Romeo and Juliet[/amazon_link] without wondering how Juliet’s family bought the notion that Juliet was “dead” after she took Friar Lawrence’s sleeping potion. My students always have trouble believing that Juliet didn’t breathe or have a pulse that her family could detect. And I try to explain that medicine has advanced a great deal; perhaps Juliet’s family didn’t know to look for certain things. But my students don’t buy it, and I am with them, if I’m honest. However, as a plot device, Shakespeare needs Juliet to fake her death so she can be buried in the Capulets’ monument. The fact that I can’t buy that one event in the story does not diminish my enjoyment of the rest of the play.

Also, fantasy and science fiction often have elements that stretch credulity, including characters and events that exist nowhere except in the minds of the author. Tolkien’s hobbits and Rowling’s dragons aren’t real, but I enjoy their books very much.

However, one thing that does bother me is a Mary Sue type of character who is just too perfect. I find those types of characters more unrealistic than wizards and elves. Flights of fancy and events that can’t really happen don’t distress me much, but the characters should have enough humanity that I can recognize them.