September 15

Blog #77 – What did you read this summer?

I love to read,  LUV it.  The summer is when I really get a chance to find things that I like and just consume them.  I think I read 20 books this summer, an average of almost 3 a week.  Here is just a sample of what I read:

1. Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King – Most of you might have heard of Stephen King as the master of the horror genre.  He’s got lots of talent besides just making you jump in the middle of the night.  He’s also a pretty good short story writer, and this collection here includes an award winner, “The Man in the Black Suit,” (about a boy who is visited by the devil himself), and a really creepy one called “Autopsy Room Four”.  I started reading Stephen King back when I was in middle school in the late 70s / early 80s and since last summer, I decided to reread some of his really old stuff to see if it still creeped me out.  So far, Salem’s Lot is my favorite – a vampire story.


2. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – Kidd is the author of a book you may have read or will read later this year called The Secret Life of Bees.  In Wings, she tells two stories set in early 19th Century South Carolina: one is of a slave named Hetty “Handful” Grimke who is given as a playmate to the other narrator of the story, Sarah Grimke.  Hetty undergoes trial, loss, and other problems as a slave working on a South Carolina plantation, and Sarah, from a very young age, feels that slavery is wrong despite growing up with it all of her life.  Sarah tries to free Hetty several times as she gets older, and discovers that Southern women are meant to be seen and not heard.  Sarah becomes a real abolitionist near the end of the story as she leaves SC and moves to Philadelphia.  Hetty is freed by Sarah to run away when the chance arises.


3.The Martian by Andy Weir – once I heard that this was coming out as a movie this fall starring Matt Damon, I picked it up and I loved it.  The main character, Mark Watney, is stranded on Mars after his space mission is doomed by a massive dust storm, and he is separated from the rest of his crew as they leave the planet.  Everyone thinks he’s dead, but he is definitely alive and trying to find ways to survive on a planet that has no air, food, and freezing temperatures.  The story is part journal written by Watney as he struggles to survive, and the other part of the story is what is happening on Earth and in space to try and get Watney home once they discover he’s alive.  I really enjoyed this novel and I think you would too.

Your job: give me a description of a book / graphic novel / manga that you read this summer and really enjoyed.  If you’re having trouble picking one, describe a novel, etc. that you really liked that you’ve read within the past year.  Your answer should be a minimum of 250 words and is due BY CLASS on Friday, Sept. 18. 

January 6

Blog #70 – What have you been reading?

Usually once a year, I check in to see what you guys and gals are reading for fun – outside of class / school.  My hope is that you are finding something to read, whether it be YA fiction, non fiction, manga, biographies, or other stuff.  Here’s a couple of things that I’ve read recently:

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – This is a post-apocalyptic story that doesn’t really focus on the future, it focuses on the characters before the epidemic flu event that wipes out 99% of the population.  The book starts on a night in Toronto before the flu hit when a famous actor playing King Lear dies of a heart attack on stage in the fourth act.  The story follows one of the young actresses, Kirsten, who survives the flu.   Twenty years after the flu, she is part of a traveling symphony / actors’ guild that tours what’s left of Michigan along the coasts of Lakes Michigan and Huron.  But  the story also follows the famous actor and how he started out as a fledgling actor doing commercials then moving up to small roles in films.  It’s a really good story that is more of a grown up dystopian novel that doesn’t have a teenaged girl as its main protagonist (Hunger Games, Divergent).  There are several well-rounded characters who you end up caring about after the novel is done.

2. The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. This is a strange story about the creator of WW, an experimental psychologist who also happened to be a huge feminist in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.  William Marston met and married his high school sweetheart and both studied psychology in college.  His wife, Sadie, was a liberated woman of the time period who wanted everything, a career, family, and a husband, but didn’t want to sacrifice work in order to have children.  So, William and Sadie bring another woman into their marriage, Olive, who will raise their children but also be married to William too.  Between Sadie and Olive, William is the father of four kids and lives with two wives.  Out of this interesting mix, Marston goes on to create Wonder Woman who is a reflection of his two wives and also a reflection of suffrage literature.  The early WW, along with Batman and Superman, were the most popular comics in the 1930s and 40s until the backlash came out against comics in the 1950s.  Wonder Woman has been used as a feminist symbol since the late 1960s, especially when she appeared on the cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine in 1972.  Until this book was put together by Lepore, the whole story of WW’s origins and her creator has never been completely told, especially because the Marston family had been uncomfortable with the arrangement of Sadie and Olive as wives of Dr. Marston.


Your job for this blog is discuss one book that you have read within the past year that you really enjoyed.  If you’d like, you can pick a book that you want to read and tell us why you want to read it.  Whatever option you choose, tell us how you first heard about the book, and why you liked it (or want to read it).  I’d prefer that you not use something that you’ve read for school, because I’m trying to promote outside school reading.

This is due by class, Thursday, January 8.  200 words minimum. 

February 6

Blog #47 – What are you reading?

Since we’re studying American writers from the turn of the century, I figured that now would be a good time to talk about stuff that we’re reading.  Your job is to share a book that you’re currently reading, have read recently, or plan to read soon.  Tell us why you picked it, and give us a brief summary of the book.  If you’re planning on reading a book, tell us more about why you want to read it / what you’ve heard about the book (essentially, what piqued your interest in it).   (The Jungle is NOT an option, but another book for another class is acceptable).

1. The Murder of the Century – Paul Collins — this book is a true story that reads like a quick crime novel.  Parts of a man’s body are found scattered around the New York City area, and this eventually leads to two suspects being tried for murder: the man’s mistress and the mistress’s new boyfriend.  The book goes into lots of detail about the competing New York tabloids, The Journal and the Herald, run by  Pulitzer and Hearst as they compete for readers w/ sensationalized headlines and gruesome stories.  It’s also the story of immigrants coming to America trying to find a better life but running afoul of the law.  Highly recommended. 

2. The Other Wes Moore – Wes Moore — a story of two young men named Wes Moore who both grew up blocks from each other in Baltimore in the 1970s and 80s.  Both lost their fathers at a young age.  One man was sent to military school when his mother wouldn’t put up with his skipping school and failing grades.  The other man got involved in the drug trade, especially crack as it became infamous in the 1980s.  He was involved in shooting an off-duty cop and is now serving life in prison.  The other Wes graduated from high school, went to college, became a Rhodes Scholar, and served in Afghanistan afterwards.  He regularly appears on MSNBC and is a child advocate.  The book came about because the soldier/college graduate wanted to find out more about his imprisoned namesake.  It’s a good book that explains the pressures of growing up a young, black male in today’s society. 

3.  Bertrand Russell in 90 Minutes – This is one in a series of books that helps someone learn more about philosophy in a short amount of time.  Bertrand Russell is an English philosopher who tried to show how math is logically sound in a book that took him ten years to write.  The problem was, about halfway through it, he discovered that math had a paradox within it that defied logic as he saw it.  So, he had to reclassify his illogical discovery and reconfigure his book.  Russell has written several books that I’ve read including The History of Western Philosophy, Why I Am Not a Christian, and The Problems with Philosophy.  While I was doing some research on Russell, I also discovered a graphic novel about him called Logocomix, so I’m going to be reading that book too as soon as I get it. 

You can list one, two or as many books as you want.  The word minimum is 200 words, so please have this done by Friday night at midnight (February 8. 2013).   Thanks.


April 30

Blog #17 – What are you reading now?

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:

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   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).


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: