In the wake of some professional development that my dept. had done last week to discuss articles on reading and the issues / difficulties that the newest generation faces as it continues to make sense of the past, I decided to ask you about what you read in your spare time, have recently read, and/or are planning on reading when you get some spare time.
I know, I know, what spare time? Right? Sure, with everything being so hectic the way it is, sometimes we have to carve out some spare time for ourselves to unwind, unplug and just chill with a good book. I find that time at the end of the day before I go to bed – sometimes it’s 5-10 minutes and I’ve fallen asleep w/ the book in my hands b/c I’m so tired – not b/c the book is boring.
Well, here’s what I’m currently reading:
1. Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell – I love Ms. Vowell and her quirky eye for the unusual bits of American history and culture in her previous novels on the Pilgrims and Puritans (The Wordy Shipmates) and her travels to Washington D.C., Buffalo, N.Y., and places in between where 3 American presidents have been shot and killed in Assassination Vacation.
In Fishes, she examines the history of America’s involvement with Hawaii, from its earliest missionary settlements in the 1820s to the battle w/ Queen Lilioukalani over independence in 1893 and the islands’ annexation in 1898 during the Spanish American War. Her story moves like a travel book (as do the previous two I’ve mentioned) where she examines current Hawaii and searches for the remnants of its past with comments like:
Remember the opening credits of Hawaii Five – O, when [actor] Jack Lord stands on a roof, surveying the panorama of then-modern Honolulu? I’m on a balcony – around here it’s called a “lanai” – on the 20th floor of the very same building, the Ilikai…Wish I could say I was taking the Ilikai’s elevator down to street level as to get cracking on a day thwarting PCP smugglers or rescuing the diabetic scientist kidnapped by my Red Chinese archenemy, like Jack used to do every week. I chose to stay in this building b/c it’s within walking distance to the Mission Houses Musuem’s library and archives where the closest thing to a felony is taking notes with an ink pen instead of a pencil.
I’m about half way through it so far, and I like it because I’m learning a lot about Hawaii’s early history, how American missionaries used stowaway Hawaiian boys that landed on American shores and learned English as examples of how the “savages” could be civilized (we see this pattern again with the Native American schools at the end of the 19th Century), and the odd connections to other parts of American history. For instance, in the archives on the island, Vowell found a painting of a missionary couple painted Samuel Morse, same guy who invented the Morse code and telegraph. I didn’t know that he used to be a painter as well. It’s only 231 pages, so I hope to be done with it before the end of the school year.
Unfamiliar Fishes Intro read by Sarah Vowell
2. Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor – I mentioned this book in class to you as written by a former student of mine, Groves alum ’01. She is currently an English teacher at Berkley High School and raises her young son, Kai with the help of family and friends. She’s doing this on her own b/c about three years ago her husband died tragically when she was five months pregnant with Kai.
The book is a raw, almost unfiltered look at the emotional rollercoaster that she went through in the next year and a half. Natalie tells you how hard it was to move on without Josh, to do simple things like come home from work or sleep through the night. There are parts where I almost got emotional and wanted to cry, but I was reading it at lunch or in public so I had to put the book down and take a break. Normally, I don’t read heart-breaking memoirs, but b/c I knew Natalie and her family personally and had heard about the tragedy, I bought the book.
I also discovered that there are some amazingly freakishly funny parts to this book as well. Natalie finds humor / pathos in some of the strangest places, and as a dog owner with a poorly-behaved dog, I got it. As a father, I also could empathize with some of the sleepless nights where you go to school smelling vaguely like sour milk from baby spit-up (b/c you’re too tired to change your clean clothes that you just put on). And she described some sadly awkward moments where people / friends treated her as if she’d been dipped in a radioactive residue – most likely b/c they didn’t know what to say or do or possibly send her into a crying fit.
I am amazed at Natalie’s strength and courage and proud to have been her teacher. I also give her huge kudos for arranging each chapter of the book around a classic work of literature that applies (somehow!) to what she was going through at that time in her life.
Natalie Taylor on Fox
3. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare – This is the third in a series of books (City of Bones and City of Ashes) about angels, wizards, demons, vampires, werewolves, Shadowhunters (humans that have angel-like abilities and weapons who constantly battle and destroy demons) and humans caught up in this whole mess. When I put it like that, it sounds like every other supernatural romance adventure / thriller teen novel out there. And there are similarities to a 7-part series about a boy wizard named Harry (evil nemesis returns after long absence to split the Shadowhunters apart, evil nemesis has amazing new powers and uses them to try and destroy the “old order”, mortal humans can’t see any of this unless they have a special gift). But this series is soooo much better than the other uber-popular series about a fawning girl named Bella and glittering vampire friends. There is romance, and the main character in the City series is a female but she’s tough and is torn between her old buddy, Simon, and Shadowhunter golden-boy, Jace.
Like the final book of the HP saga, there is a gay character and homosexuality is an unwelcome trait amongst the warrior Shadowhunters. So, he has to hide it. A bit of social commentary in fantasy fiction? What a concept!
I’m still not exactly sure why I like this series – maybe it’s because I had planned on writing something like this years ago, but only with angels and humans, not all the other Downworlder stuff as vampires, werewolves and wizards are called. But, I also like the fast-paced story and intertwined stories and interesting characters. I think it’s the characters that have made me want to continue reading, to find out who falls for who, to find out if they survive the final battle with Valentine (evil nemesis).
Here’s the series’ website: http://www.mortalinstruments.com/
Originally, I thought this was just a 3-part series, but according to the website, a second set of three books began with City of Fallen Angels began just this past month. Also, there is a new series on Victorian-era Shadowhunters beginning with A Clockwork Angel. http://www.theinfernaldevices.com/ I have both books but probably won’t get to them until the summer.
Here is my personal online library – books that I’ve owned, read, or currently own and plan to read (mostly the 3rd category, much to the great frustration of my wife). http://www.librarything.com/catalog/geoffwickersham
Your job: Tell me – in a short book review – about something you are reading right now, something you’ve already read recently, or a something you want to read soon. It can be a book for school, but it can also be something completely non-school related (preferable). Tell me why you picked the book, what you thought of it (or what you think so far if you’re not finished), and why you initially picked the book in the first place. If you can find a link about the book to the author’s website, that would be good too.
Please read some of the reviews already on the blog, either mine or from other students, to get an idea of how and what to write about. Make sure that your work is your own.
Due Wednesday, May 4. 300 words minimum.
Wall Street Journal’s article, “Why Gen Y Can’t Read Nonverbal Cues” by Mark Bauerlein. This guy is also author of The Dumbest Generation and you can see his provocative comments on his website: http://www.dumbestgeneration.com/media.html