30 June 2010

BOOK GRIPE - Overly Lengthy Novels

Just putting it out there...Why oh why are books so long now?  Don't get me wrong, I love reading, and since I've been off work, I've been getting A LOT of it done.  But even with my (considerable) amount of free time, I still abhor needing to pump some iron just to be able to hold my book up. 

Currently, I'm reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and it's great so far.  But can it be great for the next 800+ pages??? I'm skeptical.  To me, this fascination with overly lengthy novels started with Harry Potter.  It has since continued with the Twilight series, among many others.  I get it, that some authors/editors are the "more is better" type, and that for some classics (like Homer's Iliad) longer truly is better...but let's not kid ourselves.  The books I'm griping about are not destined for great things, they are fun, summer reads; nothing more and nothing less.  No doubt there are lots of things that should be long:  walks on the beach, legs, winding roads that lead me to your door, etc.  Anyway, am I alone out here?  Do you think that novels are getting out of control?  Anyone...anyone?  Bueller?

29 June 2010

REVIEW: The Soloist by S. Lopez

Title:  The Soloist
Author:  S. Lopez
Genre / Pages:  Nonfiction,  Mental Health/ 304
Publication: Putnam, 2008
Rating:  4th shelf  
Source:  Borrowed from a dear friend
lj's plot in one pot: A gifted and troubled musician's journey, and the friendship with a columnist (Lopez) that changed both their lives.

Normally, I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to people raving about books (especially when these books have been made into movies).  I always feel like the hype overwhelms me and I am usually let down.  So true to form, I hadn't planned on reading, let alone enjoying The Soloist.  A friend lent it to me without a word and it sat on my pile of books to read for about a month.  When I finally made my way to it, I was pleasantly surprised!  

The Soloist takes the reader on a journey, not so much through the world of classical music, but rather through the rabbit hole that is mental illness.  Lopez befriends the musician, Nathaniel (who has schizophrenia) and learns a lot about mental illness, how it looks in daily life, and the grip it takes on everyone surrounding the person who is mentally ill. 

The writing can be lengthy at times, I felt myself skimming sections until the plot picked up (for example, during Nathaniel's various rants) and I found Lopez to carry on too long in his moments of self-reflection. 

"His first offering is a Beethoven cello sonata, and this drab concrete corner of downtown Los Angeles, with its nearby settlement of bug-bitten denizens and moving clouds of noxious vehicle exhaust, is transformed into a place of lilting repose." p.37

For more information on the LAMP program, please click here.  
To help artistically gifted people with mental illness, visit the Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation here.  
The author, Steve Lopez's website can be found here.

18 June 2010

REVIEW: The School of Essential Ingredients by E. Bauermeister

Title:  The School of Essential Ingredients
Author:  E. Bauermeister
Genre / Pages:  Fiction,  Food / 258
Publication: Berkley Trade, 2010
Rating:  2nd shelf  
Source:  My lovely Aunt Terri
lj's plot in one pot:  Various cooking students work through life's gifts and challenges through Lillian, the head chef / cooking instructor / unknowingly 'life coach'.

This book was given to me during a really rough time in my young life and so I hope I can be objective and not too lovey-dovey with this text.  It is a sweet collection of glimpses into different peoples' lives, artfully woven together through their interactions in a cooking class.  Bauermeister attaches each student / character an ingredient that is fitting to their struggles in life.  The most fitting, in my opinion, is the section about Isabelle, an elderly lady who is battling Alzheimer's Disease; she is paired with sage.  

The text is pretty and savoury - I wanted to both see the places the author invites the reader to, and I wanted to eat (or at least smell) the food the students prepare together.  I would recommend this book to foodies, as well as anyone who has fought for (or against) something in their life - I guess that would probably mean everyone!  The reason I didn't give this text a higher rating was that it just isn't my genre of choice.  There was little plot, a lot of details are (intentionally) left out, some details were overbearing in their presence.  In short, I can appreciate this text, I can safely offer it up to many people, I enjoyed it to some extent, but whether I would seek out this author again is still up in the air.  

"Sometimes, nina, our greatest gifts grow from what we are not given." p.30
Interested in more info?  Check out the author's website here

LF: Great Books for Intermediate Readers

I'm taking a second from my reviews to ask you for some of yours...I'm looking for ideas about texts for intermediate readers (aged 11 - 13) that will engage my students, get them to think critically about things and people, make them laugh, etc.

Any advice you have would help me out, but please no "books for girls" or "books for boys".  I find these detestable.

Thanks a lot! 


Review: Lost at School by R.W. Greene, Ph.D.

Title:  Lost at School - Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges Are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them   
Author:  R.W. Greene, Ph.D. 
Genre / Pages:  Nonfiction,  Education / 305 
Publication: Simon and Schuster, 2009 
Rating:  Top shelf  
Source:  Chapters Indigo 
lj's plot in one pot:  School discipline is failing kids by not teaching them the behavioural skills that they lack.

Having (fairly recently) completed my bachelor's degree in education, and remembering how little anyone can tell you about classroom management/behavioural issues, I think this text should be mandatory reading for all who want to teach.  (big statement eh??  Let me try to back that up.)

Dr. Greene's main idea is that kids do well if they can.  It's hard to believe that so many adults don't agree.  When a child is misbehaving (for the 2nd or 22nd time) it can be difficult to remember that he/she is not trying to manipulate you.  Most (if not all) children do not want to get in trouble, and if they are seeking attention in negative ways, it's probably because they don't know how to seek attention in positive ways.  What does this mean?  It means that standard discipline techniques, such as detentions and suspensions don't work because they aren't teaching the student anything other than what they did was wrong (which most kids already know).  Discipline should follow the Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) technique - but you'll have to read the book to find out more about that!

I loved this book for many reasons.  It is broken up into different formats (part 'how-to', part anecdotal and part 'Q & A's').  Although the anecdotal portion felt a little long, a little cliche, it was still helpful in understanding exactly how CPS is going to sound/feel.  Greene's tone is neither patronizing nor condescending, he really tells it like it is, and seems to understand the resistance that a lot of adults might feel towards CPS.  In general, I really appreciated the concept that there is no cookie-cutter plan that is going to work for all students.  Imagine that...treating each individual child like an individual!  That being said, all future (and current) teachers should RUN, DON'T WALK and read this book!

"These kids clearly need something from us...They need adults who can identify those lagging skills and unsolved problems and know how to solve those problems (collaboratively) so that the solutions are durable, the skills are taught, and the likelihood of challenging behavior is significantly reduced." p.35

Check out the CPS website here and the Lost At School site here

PS - If you're a parent and like the sounds of CPS, check out Dr. Greene's previous title "The Explosive Child"

16 June 2010

Review: The World in Six Songs - How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature by D.J. Levitin

Title:  The World in Six Songs - How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature
  D.J. Levitin
Genre / Pages:
  Nonfiction,  Science / 358
Publication: Penguin Group Canada, 2009
4th shelf

Source:  Chapters Indigo

lj's plot in one pot:  Levitin's research indicates that six songs (friendship, joy, comfort, religion, knowledge, and love) are the foundations of human society as we know it.

This book fed my love of music, science, human nature - quite a feat for just one text!  As I'm not a huge scientifico (yes I made that one up), I was a little concerned that I would be needing to look a lot of terms / theories up while reading this book.  However, the terms were very easy to understand and the theories were well explained...a little too well explained.  Levitin rehashes (on seemingly EVERY PAGE) the theory of spontaneous mutation.  I'm sure the author was trying to ensure that we all understood the fact that the mutation doesn't happen as a result of the environment, but rather spontaneously occurs and then happens to be favourable to the environment.  (Hey, I sound like I know what I'm talking about!  Thank you "Intro to Genetics" in undergrad!)  Moving along, aside from my irritation with Levitin's repetition, I really enjoyed this book.  Music is inherent in us all - just look at what babies do when they hear a good beat; and this book gives us the science to back it up. *If you want to learn more before you buy the book, check out this website.

The book gives each of the six songs a chapter, my favourite of which was Joy, where Levitin explains that the natural / biochemical reaction to joy is to sing, dance, jump or shout.  The author mixes scientific fact (i.e. the act of singing produces endorphins - which make us feel good ) with his, often hilarious, musical experiences (i.e. Sting and Levitin decide that probably the first "song" sung was a caveman making sounds and other cavemen joined in because it felt good). We sing for many reasons and we are many things because of song. 

"Music...is not simply a distraction or a pastime, but a core element of our identity as a species, an activity that paved the way for more complex behaviors such as language, large-scale cooperative undertakings, and the passing down of important information from one generation to the next." p.3

Review: Life, Sex and Ideas - The Good Life Without God by A.C. Grayling

Title:  Life, Sex and Ideas - The Good Life Without God
  A.C. Grayling
Genre / Pages:
  Philosophy / 236

Publication: Oxford University Press, 2003
3rd shelf

Source:  Chapters Indigo
lj's plot in one pot:  Through short essays, Grayling, a professor of philosophy, invites discussion as to what human life should be.

I hope my rating doesn't push any of you away...I loved this book.  But I loved it even more the first time I read it, when it was called The Meaning of Things.  Being a follower of Grayling's, I've read many of his previous titles ( see here).  I was disappointed in this text, as it feels to repeat the same ideas as many of Grayling's work.  This book is a collection of essays that seem to condense ancient and recent philosopher's (including Grayling's) ideas on different aspects of life; for example, moral education, luxury, safety, etc.  It is divided into seven categories (Moral Matters, Public Culture, Community and Society, Anger and War, Grief and Remembrance, Nature and Naturalness, and Reading and Thinking).  It is clear from the beginning (read the title) that Grayling does not subscribe to traditional religious beliefs.  I appreciate, however that he limits his ire to the religious institutions and the arbitrary rules they have set up.  Grayling uses simple, elegant prose to deliver his message, which usually boils down to "live life thoughtfully, and non-judgmentally".  The book is definitely thought-provoking - my partner hates when I read books like this in bed, because I keep waking him up to discuss something.  It's definitely a good read, but perhaps skip this one if you have already read some of Grayling's other work.

"Marriage as a mutuality of true minds and tender hearts, so long as it lasts, is the happiest of states, whatever the number and gender of the parties to it..." p.44