Friday, June 30, 2006

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

Okay, I'm not going to provide any kind of synopsis as nearly everyone who has a high-school degree has read this book. I'm only going to tell you what I got out of the re-read.
This time around, I viewed this from a parents perspective. As such, I can only hope that I am half the parent that Atticus Finch is to Jem and Scout. They are the epitome of everything I want for my children. They have all of the "i's": they are intelligent, inquisitive, and imaginative.

Where in high school, I read this book as a requirement and only took so much out of it, this time I realized what a wonderful story it is. Definitely not a waste of my time. But brain candy it was not. I certainly did not have to "dumb down" to reread it, but I didn't need to think, either. Which makes me wonder why it is a staple of high school reading lists. It conveys a moral message, but I wonder if it is too late for it to hit home in a high schooler. They've pretty much already made up their minds (or had it made up for them) about where they stand on racial issues.

So what is the right age to share this great piece of literature? I would actually love to read it to/with my daughter, whom is Scout's age. I think she's at the perfect age to process and contemplate the issues. Except for the whole rape thing. I doubt I will end up sharing this book with her (yet) because I'm not prepared to have our first conversation about sex be of rape. I'm definitely not ready to have a conversation about sex at all. She's only turning 8. Of course, Scout's first encounter with the topic was the rape, but, keeping it all in perspective, Scout is fictional.

If anyone reads this, thoughts, please. Would you read To Kill a Mockingbird to your 8 year old?

The Modern Library's Best 100: Not on the board's list, #5 on the reader's list

FYI: My local library was out of the next two books I intended to read for my summer online book club (Catch 22 and The Great Gatsby, I put them on order, but in the meantime, I will be reading Lady Chatterley's Lover for another online club I joined. It's a good thing I took the summer off from school... and that I love reading.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Book Review: Brave New World

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I finally finished the first of four books that I need to read by July 10 for my Barnes and Noble reading group. I don't normally read so slow, but children tend to put a huge dent in one's free reading time (for the better, normally!).

Huxley creates a futuristic world where technology has taken the place of the natural in terms of reproduction. Babies are no longer born to parents (in fact the terms "mother" and "father" are taboo and embarassing). Babies are created by "artificial" means, women give an ovary out of a sense of social responsibility- and for a big paycheck. The actual reproduction process is generally recreated quite well, the fetuses live in a simulated womb.

There is a caste system and the classes are separated by letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. The fetuses are conditioned according to which class they are predestined to become. Each class is happy because they have been given the physical and mental capacity only to fufill which role has been predestined to them. For example, the lower classes have been genetically engineered from eggs which have been split up to 96 times, producing up to 96 twins. The Alphas and Betas, however, are always of one egg and one sperm and are never twins. Another example of the "genetic engineering" that allows the lower classes to be perfectly happy in their lives is the injection of alcohol into their "blood surrogate" when they are fetuses to stunt their growth, physically and mentally. All diseases are wiped out through fetal injections as well.

After they are born (decanted), they are further conditioned while they are sleeping ("I'm so glad I'm a Beta... I love buying new clothes...") to be happy in their station, to be promiscuous, to take the civilized world's "happy drug", soma, and to encourage economic prosperity. This reminded me a great deal of Ayn Rand's Anthem, it's a world where no one thinks for themselves, it's all predestined, and the motto is "community, identity, stability."

The year is given as "A.F. 632." While it is never spelled out, I deduced that "A.F." stands for "After Ford." Henry Ford is their god- not like God or Jesus (they worship no such god), but as the best person who has ever lived. The people reproduce the letter "T" as the symbol of this "religion," in their jewelery (like crosses around the neck), in midair (forming a letter "T" instead of a cross), all as tribute to the Model T.

Throughout the world, in areas where the "civilized" men have determined the area to be inefficient to inhabitate, there are "savage reservations." These are places that are separated and fenced in where people live like they used to. It's when an Indian reservation is visited and a woman who was stranded and left there from the civilized world and her (gasp) son are found and brought back to civilization that the majority of the plot unfolds and we see what happens when an individual (the son, his mother dies) is brought into this type of world.

I enjoyed this book a great deal. The prose was excellent. I would give it a high recommendation as it passed my two main criteria: it wasn't a waste of my time and it provided brain candy.

Now, I will be re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird and hope to have it done by Wednesday.

NOTE: Once upon a time, when doing a research paper, I stumbled across The Modern Library's 100 Best Novels list. This list was compiled in 1998 and consists of what the board of The Modern Library considers the 100 best novels as well as what readers consider to be the 100 best novels.

The Modern Library is a subsidiary of Random House Publishings and the methods used for compiling this list as well as the motives for it are highly questionable. However, there are some pretty great works on the list, so when I found it, I decided to print it and highlight what I read or have read as I go. Then, if I'm at a loss for a book to read, I'll read something from the list.
That said (and I may refer to this in the future, but will never explain all of this again!) Brave New World is number 5 on the board's list and number 18 on the reader's list.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead occupy the top 2 spots on the reader's list, but are nowhere to be found on the board's list.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Things I've Taught My Mother-in-law

My mother-in-law is looking for a new job because after 24 years, there have been cuts at her job and her hours have been drastically reduced. Sometimes things like this happen to people as they get older, but in her case, that's not it. She was one of the only, if not the only, paid employee of our local minor hockey association. So, if the board was looking to cut payroll (although it would be safe to venture that some of the reasoning was political), she would be the only one to get cut.

So, I've been thinking of her alot lately and how unfair it is that this should happen to her a year and a half before my deceased father-in-law's death benefits will kick in. I started to think about how knowing me for 13 years has affected her or enriched her and I'm pretty sure that there are many ways as we get on much better than most mother-daughter-in-law relations do.

For the most part, I'm confident that I've brought alot of laughter to her life. I leave you with one example that is rather superficial, but I think the rest is too private to share.

Three vocabulary terms my mother-in-law would never have learned if not for me: Camel Toe, Moose Knuckle, and Circle Jerk.

There you have it. As you can surely see, there are many more ways to enrich someone's life than those that appear as very obvious.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Famous Quotes. Wait for it...I'll get there.

I have two Barnes & Noble University online reading groups starting in July. One is for the non-fiction Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. The other covers four contemporary "classics": The Great Gatsby, Catch 22, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Brave New World, the latter of which I have just started. Of these the only two I've not read previously are the one I'm reading now and Catch 22. I read Devil recently, so I won't be re-reading that, but the others I've not read in many years, so I plan to re-read them by the start of the group (I must get moving on that!).

The same way I can't let different foods touch on my dinner plate, I can't read two books at once. This in mind, I worked furiously to finsh a book of John Steinbeck short stories I had been reading so I could begin my summer reading. While reading Tortilla Flat, I found a quote that I love. I will share it at the end as I am just now getting to the point of this blog.

I intensely dislike the concept of famous quotes. There are actual books dedicated to recording things that people have said or written because they are famous or their book was a bestseller. Teachers in my past have made us find famous quotes we like and then write journal entries on them. I've always found this to be laborious. Recently, I had a chance to figure out why.

I am a member of the newly formed Teacher's Education Club at my college. I normally am not much of a joiner, but this gives me a chance to do some volunteer work that will beef up my resume. The club decided to order T-shirts and wanted to come up with a logo that would define us. The idea was to have everyone in the club think of a logo and submit it so we could then vote for what we liked best. Mine was "The future is in our hands." The club (read: the club's president) decided that not enough people submitted entries to make this idea (of inventing a "logo" for our club) a good one. I didn't care, I wasn't attached to my submission, I was just being a good little joiner.

But then someone in the meeting brought in a list of famous education related quotes so we could vote on those. Everyone generically chimed in with their "oohs" and "aahs". What a great idea! We can let some famous, tired quote define our club! Wow, why didn't I think of that.

My opposition to famous quotes is this: In normal everyday conversation, people say some pretty remarkable things. But of course, it's not remarkable because they aren't famous. So we have this standard that it's only enlightening if someone famous already said it or wrote it and no one could ever hope to come up with something so wonderful. Blech.

But then, against my better judgement, I stumbled accross this in my Steinbeck book and now loathe myself for sharing it:
"Thus do the gods speak with tiny causes."

Now that I've shared my good quote, I will share the crap that one of which will be the Teacher Club's new slogan. Don't worry, people, I refrained from voting, and will likely refrain from sporting a T-shirt which bears this garbage. When I have more time, I just might post another blog ripping apart all that is evil about these quotes.

"A child is not a vessel to be filled, but a lamp to be lit." - Hebrew Proverb -

Teaching is an Art...And each child is a potential masterpiece. Unknown

I am not a teacher but an awakener. - Robert Frost

A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops. Henry Adams

The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn. John Lubbock

We cannot hold a torch to light another's path without brightening our own. Ben Sweetland

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.Albert Einstein

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. Wiliam Butler Yeats

Tell me and I'll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I'll understand. Native American Saying

Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~Author Unknown

Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater. ~Gail Godwin

A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others. ~Author Unknown

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. ~William Arthur Ward