Monday, December 5, 2016

Book Lists

Two years ago, I thought reading every novel, short story, essay and magazine article that Hemingway wrote would be a good idea.  Two Hemingway's later I was sidetracks by books about Hemingway, and then books about people who knew Hemingway, and then books by anyone who had anything at all to say about Hemingway.  Overall, I'd give myself a D+ for that goal.

2016 seemed like a good year for mystery reading.  I had recently begun reading the Longmire series, in addition to developing an addicting to British crime dramas on PBS.  I did a little better with that - a strong C.

I just don't do well with setting goals and keeping personal promises.  that explains why I remain short and round.  Sure, I could change the short part easily by wearing stilettos with my jeans, but Reeboks are more my style.  I anticipate no changes in either of those dimensions in the coming year.

Last week, my friend Steve asked what my reading project for 2017 will be.  I wonder if it even pays to dream something up.  Lest you think I will list some of the many titles that led me astray from my year of murder and mayhem. Actually, last year we kept a list on display of what everyone who works here read.  If Debbie, Karen and I read the same book, you will see a number after the title showing how many of us read that book.  Jenny didn't get in on the list since she recently joined us again.  Jenny was actually the first person I hired when we opened almost 20 years ago.  The she finished college, bought her parents' farm and left us until recently.  I so happy she's back.'s a partial list of what we all have been reading.....

The Killing in Badger's Drift
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats X3
The Dinner X2
West with the Night X2
Finding Winnie
Deadly Wandering
Missoula (I read it twice)
A Man Called Ove X3
Eating the Cheshire Cat
In a Dark Dark Wood
Shotgun Lovesong X3
Beneath the Bonfire
At the Edge of the Orchard
Orphan Train X3
The Great Gatsby
The Museum of Extraordinary Things X2
Little Women X2
The Girls
Baby Girl X2
Chronicle of a Death Foretold X2
At the Existentialist Cafe
Everything I never Told You
I am Malala
Te Kitchen House
The Distance Between Us
A Walk in the Woods
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake X2
Glory Over Everything
One Child
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry X2
Memory of Running
The Paris Architect
The Hunger Games
Catching fire
A Stolen Life
Silken Prey
Songs of the Humpback Whale
Diamond Willow X2
Casual Vacancy
Freud's Mistress
A Wedding in December
Hand to Mouth

There you have it.

Other than the Hunger Games trilogy, I don't see any young adult or tween books on this list.  Maybe that's where I set my intentions and see how deeply into 2017 I get before the tugging in a different direction becomes impossible to resist.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Don't Sleep there are Snakes/The African Sveldt

"Words. Words. Words...."  I think it was Hamlet who chanted that word endlessly during one of his crazed moments, or one of his pseudo-crazed moments depending on where you fall on that interpretive continuum.  I spent the weekend with words and was finally able to get back to Everett's book.  This anti Noam Chomsky linguist tells a fine story woven with lots of intellectual and sociological goodness.  

Chomsky was the fellow who decided to simplify our understanding of language structure in a system he called "transformational grammar". Let me tell you, this man and his system caused untold sleepless nights for me.  I began teaching the year my district adopted a new text for Freshman which including a switch from traditional to t-grammar. What a nightmare.  It made no sense to me and I was lucky to stay one page ahead of my students.  Halfway through the year, after a momentous struggle with that crap, I discovered that the other 9th grade English teacher had secretly stashed the new text and had reverted to the tried and true system we were all used to.  

Chomsky asserts that all humans share the same underlying linguistic structure no matter what the sociocultural differences.  He rejects B.F. Skinner's notion that we are born with a tabula rasa - a blank canvas - and that language is a learned behavior.  I guess Chomsky would think that with some rudimentary study, it is possible to decode any and all language systems.

Along comes Daniel Everett who blows that theory all to heck.  He spent decades among a Brazilian tribe called the Piraha.  Their language appears to be 100% independent, having no relationship to any other known language.  They have no words for color or for niceties like "please" and "thank you."  They do not say "Good night" at the end of the day, instead warning "Don't sleep, there are snakes."  And there are!  And tarantulas. An vicious jungle animals.  The only number word they is "one".  

Here's a fun counting story.  While attempting to decipher their numbering system, Everett dropped a stick to the ground."  "One stick has fallen" he was taught in the native tongue. Then he dropped two sticks. The statement to define that action was "More than one stick fell to the ground."  

More than a linguistic study, the book chronicles Everett's evolution from missionary to atheist.  

Needing a break from the heavy duty language lesson, I read a few chapters in the book at the right.  The title pretty much sums it up.  I was expecting this to be a book of pictures and related language bloopers, and for sure, there is some of that. But it's mainly a collection of essays showing how complex and inventive English is and how, ironically, it works even when it doesn't.  Menaker manages to make logical sense out of many misspoken phrases including "never seizes to amaze me", "the throws of packing" and "I am sobbing wet".  All good fun.

Friend Steve recently inquired how my year of mystery reading went.  I'm not telling.  Let it be a mystery to you.

Thanks for stopping by.
Posts will be hit or miss in the coming weeks....although I will do my best to read a couple kids' books for you.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Different Class

My weeks are filling quickly with seasonal shopping, plans for the holidays, directing a children's play at UW-Manitowoc and Heart-A-Rama prep. Starting a book that I didn't feel compelled to committing to seemed smart, but that won't be the case. I had a hard time putting it down, and although I am not far, I can already tell's gonna be good.

For starters, I'm drawn to anything set in a school.  A British school makes it even better.  And a private school at that.  We all know those British, private school kids all have a secret life.  Then there's the fact that the book was written by Joanne Harris, author of Chocolate (which was made into a move starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp).  She never fails me.

Here's a concise bit from the back cover....

After thirty years at St. Oswald's Grammar in North Yorkshire, England, Latin master Roy Straitley has seen all kinds of boys come and go.  Each class has its clowns, rebels and underdogs - all who hold a special place in the old teachers. heart.  For the many good children Straitley has come across, he has seen his fair share of damaged ones - after all, St. Oswalds is no stranger to scandal.
      With insolvency and academic failure looming, a new headmaster arrives at the venerable school, bringing with him modern technology, sharp suits and even girls to the dusty corridors.  But while Straitley does his sardonic best to resist these steps toward the future, a shadow from his past begins to stir again.  A boy who still haunts Straitley's dreams twenty years later.  A boy capable of terrible things.  

The book alternates between the boy's diary written twenty years prior, and the present school year.  It is shaping up to be a doozie.

Before beginning a novel, I always red the author's bio.  I love this line about Harris -"She lives in Yorkshire with her family, plays bass in a band first formed when she was sixteen, works in a shed in her garden, likes musical theatre and old sci-fi, drinks rather too much caffeine, spends far too much time online, and occasionally dreams of faking her own death and going to live in Hawaii."

Thanks for stopping by....maybe I'll have some spoilers for you next week,

Monday, November 7, 2016

Little Women

Old fashioned.  Tender.  Sentimental.   Sweet. Yes, Louisa May Alcott's novel is all of these, but it also extols universal truths, both touching and hard edged.  Some people may argue that the four March sisters, having been groomed in skills needed by all good wives of their day, do not set reasonable examples for young girls reading the book and facing challenges of the 21st century.  It's true that with the exception of Beth, the sisters dream about the castles in the clouds, fine dresses and marriage.  But there's more. 

These are two pre-teen and two early teen girls who, along with their mother, keep a household organized and efficient while their father/husband is away at war.  The have little to live on and yet always find enough to share with neighbors who are less fortunate.  Meg works as a governess and Jo is a companion to an elderly aunt.  Each girl is her own person and not a paper doll, pliable to the expectation of society.  I found them to be real people, flawed like all of us.  

Alcott's writing shines in the two chapter devoted to Beth, the sister I would guess most 12 year-old girls are drawn to.  The second sister, Jo, probably challenged Alcott's first readers the most.  She is a tom-boy, quirky, witty, surly at times, and does something I believe to be rare in those day; she has a platonic relationship with a boy!  She also dreams of being a career woman, a writer and she relentlessly hones her craft. 

Meg, the oldest, is the first to marry and have children, twins.  Mothering does not come easily to her, especially with a high spirited son and a husband who is, in my opinion, a pill.  Admitting that motherhood can be draining and even sometimes impossible is a message that until recently was unacceptable.  Amy could be considered the most superficial of the group, yet she matures into a likeable person giving hope to parents and those who have difficult people in their lives.  

This book doesn't drip with saccharine as I thought it would.  Instead, I found it pleasant, sad, thoughtful and more than well worth the time it took to read the 400+ pages in tiny, tiny type.  I wonder if I would have been impressed had I read it when I should have, around age eleven.  I also wonder who tells people to read it now.  This is one of those books I hope will always find a place on bookshelves in many homes.  I hope reading it will be as pleasant a surprise to future readers as it was to me.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Dog Bytes

Since my person forgot to blog last week, I have taken over the k-board lest she once more fails to fulfill her duties.  However, I will have to keep this short since today is my day. My talents as Halloween are legendary and thus I must prepare. Vocal warm-ups - gotta be ready to announce the guests; neck stretches - gotta see who is approaching around that troublesome cul-de-sac; teeth sharpening - in case any candy falls to the floor.  Most importantly, I will practise patience.  Sometimes I get so excited to give treats to members of my tribe that I drop a biscuit or two into the wrong bags.  

While my person has been reading and complaining about reading 500 pages of Little Women, I have read and re-read this book at least twice.  Now, modesty aside, I cannot relate to pets with no curb appeal, but I have run across one or two with what humans like to call "resting b#%*h face".  Not pretty  - but you shouldn't judge a dog by the set of the jaw.  Billy is little boy with a big heart.  He goes to the pet shop and just doesn't get that warm fuzzy feeling from the pretty dogs and cats in the store.  You know the kind.  I guess in the people world they are the faces that grow up to be the cheerleaders and class presidents, leaving everyone else to populate the audio visual society and the office helper brigade.  We have those positions in the animal kingdom as well - lots of unappealing behaviors that condemn them to the back row, like the $200 used cars on bargain lots.  

Those dogs speak to Billy. I guess they need him as much as he needs them.  This is a real nice love story. After the trick or treaters leave tonight I'm going to fill my bowl, grab a fun size candy bar, steal the new throw off from the couch (I like calling it a davenport) and settle in to read as much  this book as I can before nodding off for the night.  Might get to page two or three if I'm lucky. 

By the way, even though my person grumbles about the bunch of pages in Little Women, she says she is enjoying it.  It surprised me to hear that she had never read it before.  Imagine that.  She and I have seen just about every movie version of it ever made but she never read the book.  So far she has smiled, chuckled, laughed,  goten angry, and might have even been sad once or twice.  She also sneezed but that might not have had anything to do with the book.  I'm sure she'll tell more about it later - the book, that is, not the sneeze.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Rosemary - The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

That beautiful face on the cover belongs to Rosemary Kennedy, one of nine children of Joe Sr. and Rose Kennedy.  I'm at a loss for words here when it comes to characterizing this book.  Many passages angered me, others had me choking back tears.  Existing side by side with some appalling societal attitudes and labels given to cognitively delayed persons  are moments of pure triumph.

A judgment call on the past of a labor nurse during Rose Kennedy's delivery of Rosemary may have resulted in the baby's delayed development.  That charge has been discussed, but apparently never addressed in any legal capacity that the biographer could uncover.  In simplest terms, Rosemary was delayed, but she could read, she could write, and she participated in family events along with the rest of the children.  When it came to Rosemary's education, her parents worked to find schools, and other opportunities that would allow her to move through the system at a normal pace while receiving private attention where needed.  

Rosemary was not "hidden" as the title suggests until the middle period of her life.  In fact, she was even presented to the King and Queen of England during the much celebrated "coming out" season. She functioned at such occasions with grace. Change was rough on Rosemary, and years of shifting schools caused her to lash out frequently, becoming uncooperative and backsliding in her abilities.  Eventually, without consulting family members, Joe Sr. decided that a lobotomy should be performed.  

This disastrous surgery led to permanent hospitalization for Rosemary along with the need to regain motor skills.  Speech therapy recovered basic communication skills, but she never progressed much beyond baby talk.  

Stunning details of disabled individuals housed in rat infested hospitals where they were  not fed properly and were often sexually abused by staff fill the pages.  Medical professionals defined them as "idiots", "imbeciles" or "morons" depending on their IQ, and the Catholic Church called them "genetic accidents" and would not administer Communion or confirmation to them.  Sickening.

The author bravely weaves in details on blatant dysfunction within the Kennedy family, painting unflattering picturesof both Joe and Rose.  The real hero of the story is Eunice Kennedy who became her sister's best friend and advocate.  At Eunice's urging, JFK enacted legislation that began long overdue advances in medical care for the disabled, and in educational reform to address special needs individuals.  Without Rosemary, and without Eunice and their influential family, I wonder how and when these changes would have been initiated.

Put aside the historical context.  Don't dwell on the personal Kennedy family matters.  Read this book as a celebration of two women, both who struggled and who, in the end raised the bar for everyone when it comes to accepting and caring for all persons in our lives.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Don't Sleep, There are Snakes

 If I figured out how to use the new feature on this blog site, you're seeing a previous post on Garcia Marquez's novel, Chronicle of a Death Foretold to the right.  If I didn't figure out how to turn on the feature, these comments will be senseless.  My LaDeDa book group has selected the Marquez novel for this Friday's discussion and I know that Mary, and sometimes Valerie and Karen like to get a sneak peek at what I thought about the book (Hi Mary, Karen and Val!)  

I found the book a little confusing this time around, but I'm blaming it on the translation, the overuse of pronouns with hard to find antecedents, and my distraction due to excitement about the pending Sunday night debate.  

Out next book group choice is Little Women; that's a long book, but should be a quick read because we all pretty much know the story. Who hasn't spent pre-adolescent hours repeatedly watching and sobbing over one of many film adaptations?  My favorite - Katherine Hepburn as Jo.

The book pictured about has intrigued me for a while, and so it's next on my list.  Words, language, linguistics, and the history of language caught my attention way back when I had a college professor who allowed (at the time I would have used the word "forced") us to read Beowulf in Old English and The Canterbury Tales in Middle English.  We studied word origins and evolutions, and the grammar system evident in each piece.  My inner nerd couldn't have been happier.  Apparently, I was a star at reading these languages and so she cooked up a performance opportunity called "Culture Corner".  Our first performance - my first performance - was one Friday during lunch.  Sr. Salome set a mic up in the cafeteria and I read from Beowulf in a crazy, growling, Germanic type delivery.  We did it again the following week. just me.  I read from The Canterbury Tales that week. A little less silly, but still awkard for me, and annoying to those trying to each lucnh peacefully. On the Third Culture Corner Friday, we entered  the forced stage.  Salome made me read original poetry while my friend Steve Heise played guitar and Wayne Wolfmeyer played bongos.  True!  Steve and I still laugh about it. I wish I could find Wayne to see how far back in his memory bank he pushed that incident.  That incident, by the way, was the last Culture Corner ever.  Lunch and literature.  I guess we were just ahead of our time.

Back to the book.  That explains my interest, but since I haven't started it yet, here's what the back cover tell us:

Daniel Everett recounts the astonishing experiences and discoveries he made while he lived with the Piraha, a small tribe of Amazonian Indians in central Brazil.

Daniel Everett arrived among the Piraha with his wife and three young children hoping to convert the tribe to Christianity.  Everett quickly became obsessed with their language and its cultural and linguistics implications.  The Piraha have no counting system, no fixed terms for color, no concept of war, and no personal property.  Everett was so impressed with their peaceful way of life that he eventually lost faith in the God he'd hoped to introduce them to, and instead devoted his life to the science of linguistics.

The Chicago Tribune called it "A scientific grenade that Everett lobs into the spot where anthropology, linguistics and psychology meet."  I also understand that the book, Everett, and his assertions really ticked off Noam Chomsky.

Big week...mural work continues on Tuesday...not that I have to do anything other than watch, and feed pizza to the artists.  Wednesday, a meeting with Karla, Regional VP of the American Heart Association-Wisconsin Affiliate. Lots of Heart-A-Rama ground to cover with her.  We are so lucky that she is available for advice and support whenever we need her.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, October 3, 2016

At the Existentialist Cafe

My Saturday afternoon was consumed binge reading this book - a book that, by the very nature of its subject and intensity - laughs in the face of an attempted binge.  But, my on-line book group committed to this title, and not being one to shirk responsibility, I read.  Over a period of three or so weeks, I strolled though 1930's Paris, meeting and reacquainting myself with philosophers and ideas that hadn't been a part of my reality since college.  I read slowly, I took notes, I questioned and I tried to recall and to understand.  On some level I succeeded. After all, in only three weeks I have made it all the way to page 138.  Time to step it up...time to binge.

 This was not an enjoyable book for me - more of an awareness of  the moving bar of philosophy regularly reminds us to look, listen and evaluate the nooks and crannies of our lives.   

Whether we recognize or acknowledge it, we all live by a philosophy, that is until those idea and ideals are challenged by new, eclectic thoughts that reawaken our intellectual curiosity.  In 1933, Jean-Paul Sartre was challenged in a Parisian cafe, thus beginning his quest to refine, build upon, and concertize ideas put forth in a way of thinking called "phenomenology."  Through endless exploration and experimentation, Sartre defined what we we now identity as existentialism, a philosophy based on freedom,. responsibility and authentically.  

Much like the romantic writers, there are dark and light existentialists, and their tendencies become evident through the ways in which the philosophy manifests in their art, music, novels and drama.  In Beckett's Waiting for Godot, we meet Didi and Gogo, two bums on a dung pile.  They discuss their current situation and agree that they possess total freedom to make choices as they see fit.  Accompanying this reality is the sober realization that along with total freedom comes total responsibility.  What if they make the wrong choices?  What then?  The pair seems paralyzed by their freedom even though several opportunities to make a move present themselves.  Dark.   

But existentialism does not have to be seen as a recipe for a life filled with anguish.  In fact, it promotes the joy of individualism, of doing what is wanted, rather than what is expected - as long as there is acceptance of the accompanying responsibility.  It acknowledges the difficulty of change while celebrating the ambiguity of life.  

Did I like this book?  I can't say.  The title is a little goofy and gives the impression of a light read, but that is not the case.  I was also troubled by author interjection.  I much preferred the passages which simply educated me on the history of existentialism, the interaction of various thinkers, and the context of the times. I accepted that Bakewell is so entrenched and excited about her subject that she could not stop herself from putting things into a "me" perspective at times.

I would not suggest binge reading.  The meaning was clearer when I took the time to meander though the first couple chapters...but alas, other books are screaming at me and so the binging began.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Time for a Debate

What better time to remember what it means to do our civic duty than on the day of the much anticipated official kick-off to election season - the first candidate debate!  One can only guess what lies ahead as our two final candidates meet one on one for the first of several televised debates. Who will/will not be on his/her best behavior?  Who will/will not be in command of facts and figures?  Who will crack the first joke - and will that joke be truly funny or will it be a tasteless, knee jerk reaction to comments made by the opponent?  Oh, so much to look forward to.

This simple book, silly at first glance, opens eyes by bringing us back to simpler times when our lives where not led by 24 hour news services with overly dramatic, editorial readers dolling out "headline" news as if it were the whole story.

Info gathered from optimistic civics texts, civics manuals, government pamphlets and scouting manuals from the 1920's - 1960's, reminds us that good citizens are well-rounded, fun to be around, fit and mannerly. One publication tells us that good citizens eat meat while another emphasizes the importance of good penmanship, and fair play.

Being a good neighbor and tuning the blight of an ugly home into beauty are musts along with caring for the world, and never poisoning our neighbor's dog.  Here you have one of two pages on how good citizens remain healthy.  I find #7 particularly entertaining.  Have you been a good citizen today?  Don't answer, that's more than I need to know.

Most of all, we must be loyal and worthy of being an American.  May our Presidential candidates remember these lessons as they push forward to November.