Tuesday, September 25, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #50 The Night Circus

I started this book last Fall...yes, last Fall. And, if my status updates are any indication this book was gosh darned slow to start. Slow as H-E-C-K!

Reading Progress

09/09page 280
73.0%"I suppose you get to a point where this book moves fast enough."
09/09page 181
47.0%"'Second verse same as the first.' I feel like I should wear more black, white and red. I have students who will love this book."
09/08page 121
31.0%"if I may be quite honest I started this like, um, last fall and got to page 31 and then stopped...wow, it was so boring and then I put it on a reading challenge and must have it read by the end of the month...the beauty of the language keeps me going. not really sure why it can't be told in sequential order. books that go out of time without a reason make me want to punch puppies."

This book was probably at a "2" until about half way, and, then, frankly, by the end it was a delicious and solid "5"...hence, the "4". It's one of those books where you can tell the author loves the world that has been created and this is the first book that I've ever read where the world that has been created is so magical and beautiful (like made for a movie that I'm sure is going to be created soon) that it distracts from the plot and from the characters. I couldn't tell if I wanted the two main characters to get together in the end and I wasn't sorry when any characters died...I didn't get to know them that well, I loved the ending so much I forgot about the beginning. And, gah, any character development happened in relation to that darned circus. It takes about 100 pages to go anywhere and that's a lot of darned circus talk.  Although I just didn't love all that rising action in the beginning, I do love me some circus action. And, really, who doesn't love a circus?

Yeah, that darned circus with it's beautiful maze and wishing tree and bonfire and delicious cider. Uh, uh, that circus with its contortionist and fortune teller and wide-eyed red-headed, mystical twins. Of course, there's a love triangle, of sorts and an aged old magicians bet. I wish I could have seen more of that...the bet, the mysterious characters, the love story. Read this and you'll want to grab your black and white dress or tux, throw on your red scarf and find some wonderful place to skulk about at night hoping for your dreams to come true, just don't plan on finding any characters to fall in love with on your journey, well, that is until the circus is about ready to close.

Monday, September 24, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #49 The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight

OK, so we've already established that I love romance and schmoopiness and chick-lit...I'd like to share with you one more very important point.

I am an over-the-top, dorkopatamus, hopeless Romantic. This book by Jennifer E. Smith, The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight, totally encapsulates this sentiment.

I could gush on and on about the cover alone with it's perfect hand-writing font and it's adorable drawn-on heart doodle and the black and the white and the red and the airport PDA, but I'd much rather talk about Oliver and Hadley and my favorite place in the world, London, and, you know, my romantic view of airports and my teenage girl dream of meeting a lovely British boy on a plane.

I believe that airports and airplanes are two of the most romantic places in the world. They are brimming over with possibilities and full of stories...hearts being broken and courted and hopes being crushed and dreams being answered. And, I cannot count the amount of times I have sat in my seat hoping that someone would sit next to me and this someone would change my whole life. Of course, that's not how it went at all...but, I still have that dream in my soul. Passionate airport kisses and over-whelming desires to have them were just an added bonus to this dream.

Smith writes her characters in such a way that I totally believe that a girl could meet and fall for a guy in 8 hours. I totally believe that said guy would not feel totally weird about meeting said girl at an awkward time, and would put himself on the line just as much as she would to make sure that they saw one another again.

To add to the layers, Hadley's going to England to be in her father's wedding to a woman she has never met and doesn't want to meet. As Hadley gets to know Oliver more, we, in turn, begin to understand that she isn't very different from her father. And, we begin to understand that there are different types of love and not all of them end in happily ever after. We begin to understand that we have to be true to ourselves and accept the consequences of our actions.

I believe in love at first sight and, I love thinking about the idea that all of this happens because Hadley was running four minutes late. Because what would love at first sight be without fate playing the biggest role of all.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Infinite Summer #14: So, You've Finished Infinite Jest...oh, wait you haven't!?

Neither have I...

Think of these Sunday posts as jumping off places...discuss what I've posted, post something yourself, answer questions, ask questions, add links...do whatever it takes to make this experience enjoyable and understandable for you!

These post will be CHOCK FULL OF SPOILERS for the reading for that week (Just in case you didn't already know that!). I think knowing this will stop those of us that aren't at a certain place from reading on and will enable those of us who are writing to do so without worrying if someone knows that fact or not. If you are reading ahead and want to post about the pages ahead please wait and if you want to talk about other books, not Infinite Jest and are giving spoilers please indicate that in some fashion...even a *spoiler* before the comment would be nice.

And, finally, if there is anything I can do to make this run more smoothly please don't hesitate to message me on here, on twitter or on Goodreads and I'll see what I can do.

Let's Begin the Discussion...

I feel like it's cheating to come out of blog hibernation to talk about a book I've yet to finish. I'm stuck somewhere around page 725. Life happens...ya know...

What I do know is that I lovely this book...strangely I do. Every time I pick it up I wonder why it took me so long to pick it up. I will finish it. Hopefully I finish it in 7 days...

Of note:

1. I'll predate #12 and #13, so they go in the proper spot on the blog. I just didn't want you to think I was cheating when I do this.
2. Teaching is kicking my butt right now...hence the lack of post to even talk about how much it's kicking my butt...so I'll catch up, post some reviews, talk about Summer (sigh I remember Summer) and finish this danged book!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Infinite Summer #13: Gabe Habash's Take on the Top 10 Characters

I have a bit of a nerd-girl crush on Gabe Habash. It all started innocently enough with his post about reading 55 books in 2011, grew to laughing about his absurd taste in silly books and continues through his nerd love of all things literature. Imagine my surprise when I noticed all these posts he written about IJ, just at the point when my friends and I had decided to make it our summer challenge! I've saved the best for almost last...

Anyway, enough gushing...Gabe has posted on Publisher Weekly's blog, PWxyz, his Top Ten characters in the novel. Here's what he has to say:

One of the many joys of Infinite Jest, made possible because of its tremendous length, is its massive cast of characters. The deeper you go, the more characters you encounter and, as you go even deeper, the intersecting lines between the characters become apparent. Just take a look at this diagram. To celebrate the book’s huge ensemble, we’ve counted down the 10 best characters. For the list, we’re excluding the book’s two “main” characters, Hal and Gately, because they’re given time and consideration that the rest of the characters don’t get, and thus can’t be evaluated in the same way. Be sure to tell us whether you agree of[sic] disagree with our selections in the comments!

Anyway, here's his list
(click on the character name to be taken to an individual post about said character)
10] Barry Loach
9] M. Hugh Steeply (aka Helen)
8] Mrs. Waite
7] Bruce Green
6] Ortho ("The Darkness") Stice
5] Avril Incandenza
4] Joelle van Dyne
3] Michael Pemulis
2] Eric Clipperton
1] Mario Incandenza

Out of the characters listed above who is your favorite? Did he miss someone? Would you rearrange the order? Tell me and then go to his post (linked above) and tell him. Oh, and here's a poll, if you like that sort of thing...goodness knows I do!

Like what Gabe Habash has to say?...follow him on Twitter @gabehabash

Can you believe we're almost finished?!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Infinite Summer #12: Should this book be considered science fiction?

OK, so we've read enough of this book to argue the point.

Here are some interesting view points

1] Infinite Summer #7: Is Infinite Jest Science Fiction?
2] Is Infinite Jest Science Fiction?
3] Why IJ Doesn't Really Count as Science Fiction

This is a hand-out that I give the students when we talk about SF.
No, we don't even begin to talk about all the sub-genres only those we will come across throughout the school year.

Here's what I say
I suppose it does fall under some sort of alternate or futuristic type of SF. And, it does thoroughly follow the definition...I don't know where I found that definition:

1. Takes a scientific hypothesis (there are several for this book...I'm focusing on one for this exercise)
Our need for technology really doesn't plug us in and help us to communicate. It just gives us one more piece of entertainment to be addicted to and this addiction alienates us even more from our fellow man.

2. Vision of what life would be like if the hypothesis were true
People would be selfish and narrow minded. Even those that had feelings, even those that bothered to think would be squashed by society and by 'the machine' (cue Pink Floyd). To beat 'the machine' we have to join it? It hurts me that I am part of 'the machine'...and, yet, I don't want to be like Thoreau and live in the woods either.

                                                         "Welcome To The Machine"

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been? It's alright we know where you've been.
You've been in the pipeline, filling in time,
provided with toys and Scouting for Boys.
You bought a guitar to punish your ma,
And you didn't like school, and you know you're nobody's fool,
So welcome to the machine.
Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
What did you dream? It's alright we told you what to dream.
You dreamed of a big star, he played a mean guitar,
He always ate in the Steak Bar. He loved to drive in his Jaguar.
So welcome to the machine.

3. Uses scientific imagination to tell a story about consequences and holds a mirror up to tomorrow in order to examine contemporary life
The world of this novel is so similar to our own that I find myself questioning basic idioms I've always believed to be true. You know "It's no longer recreational if you have to do it to survive. It's an addiction."...it seems that DFW would argue if it ever was recreational at all. We just allowed ourselves to think that. I also wonder about television addiction and Facebook and even blogging. Am I communicating or am I just glorifying myself. What aspects of new technology help us to become more global and what aspects hinder our growth.

Hmmm...so Infinite Jest is Science Fiction.

What do you all think?

Friday, September 7, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #48 The Bloody Spur

"But when they should endure the bloody spur, 
They fall their crests, and, like deceitful jades, 
Sink in the trial. Comes his army on?"
~Julius Caesar Act IV; Scene 2

I love film noir and I love classic pulp fiction. There's just something about an underpaid under-appreciated guy looking for the truth, trench-coat flapping, cigarette burning. Cleaning my classroom this summer I found a bunch of old books and in that pile was this lovely book The Bloody Spur (1st edition, opposite of mint condition). I cataloged the book and looked to see if they had it on the Nook, as I knew I wanted to read it, but didn't want to hurt the spine or break the cover any more than it already was.

Just, so you know last month they began to offer this classic pulp novel as an ebook and it's only $.99. It's got a few typos, but still it's a fun read.

The story opens with the funeral of a prominent newspaper man. At the grave-site and across the way there's a procession for a murdered secretary, the second, they believe, in a row of ghastly murders committed by the same evil man.

And, like any good piece of pulp this book goes off on many devious and bawdy tangents. There are four men vying for the spot left vacant by the newsman's death. These men are sleeping with their secretaries, one hires his mistress to seduce and blackmail someone else, there's lying and thieving and conniving and in the middle of it all there's these grisly murders. Based on real life events:
In 1952, he wrote a successful book called the "Bloody Spur," which was based on the crimes of William Heirens, the "Lipstick Killer," who terrorized Chicago in the mid-1940s. Movie director Fritz Lang later made the book into a celebrated 1956 film noir called "While the City Sleeps," which was set in New York.
Now, I've got to just find that movie...although, I'm sure it's taken out all the juicy bits. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #47 The Amazing and Death-Defying Diary of Eugene Dingman

When it comes to coming of age novels I enjoy an good story about an angsty, awkward teenage boy. I especially enjoy this kind of book when our male protagonist narrates. It's no wonder why I am in deep love with the blonde, uncomfortable male lead in the novel The Amazing and Death-Defying Diary of Eugene Dingman by Paul Zindel. Eugene Dingman reminds me a lot of Holden Caulfield, both are angsty and self-absorb, but when I was younger I felt they hung the moon.

I didn't realize how much this book is a foundation of my being until I re-read it. My favorite quote and philosophy of living comes from this novel.
"It doesn't make any difference what you do in the bedroom as long as you don't do it in the street and frighten the horses." ~Mrs. Patrick Campbell
Although I thought it was my idea to read Madame Bovary, I think it started here with Eugene.

I also didn't realize how many references, pop and political, lit and theatrical, exist in this book and you can't tell me that the Kauffman's (think Friends') and the Palladino's (think The Gilmore Girls) weren't subtly influenced by this book and Zindel as well.

One can not argue that this novel is a classic, a classic YA novel that I just had to nominate for the classic YA read for the month of August, (Nobody's commented on my comments if you want to join, read and do so that would be awesome). It follows the basic classic literature tenets.

From About.com and a conversation had at YA Reads...
1] is an expression of life truth or beauty this is a coming of age novel that has a male protagonist that deals with many of the things (family relationships or lack thereof, thoughts of suicide, friendships, running away) that teens deal with, and we read about his life 1st hand in his journal...whether the authors know it or not, this book is a foundation for books such as The Perks of Being a Wall-flower, An Abundance of Katherines's and  Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, as they have conflicted male voices as protagonists.

2] stands the test of time it's on many booklist, especially when looking for classic male coming of age books...and, i found several reading list, here are three of note:

Paul Zindel's Classic Novels
Various school districts including this one
Reading Suggestions for Advanced Readers

 It's also 'an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age

3] has universal appeal Zindel's books are much like SE Hinton's books in the sense that they appeal to a certain kind of kid, usually reluctant reader types or fringe kids as his characters exhibit some of these traits...Eugene Dingman is no exception.

4] makes connections From the back: "On his fifteenth birthday, precocious Eugene Dingman begins the amazing and death-defying diary of his summer spent as a waiter at a ritzy Adirondack resort." Here's a review from 1988 that I think hits the nail on the head. Any person who has doubted, wonder, puzzled and struggled will find something to relate to in the character Eugene Dingman. I know I did! Hope this helps! :D

Seriously, go grab yourself that mix-tape I know you've been itching to play since you found your tape player, pop it in and read this lovely homage to the 80s, brilliant teenagers full of ennu and summertime. Afterwards you might want to watch Dirty Dancing or any movie involving John Cusack as a teenager. You've been warned.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #46 On the Island

The following is full of spoilers...I thought I'd tell you just in case you were totally expecting the unexpected you will not find it in this book. Surely, I'm not giving ANYTHING away here. Does that cover look like the kind of book that would kill off its characters in the end?

Great Summer read...glad I wasn't reading it on a plane...wish I could have read it on a beach!

OK, maybe not a beach exactly...

I think I may be a romantic of the sappy variety.

Here are some of the signs:

1. I can watch the Lifetime channel all. day. long.
2. I like my 'Happily Ever Afters'.
3. I like the Hallmark Channel
4. I prefer Sandra Bullock to be in movies where she lives in Chicago and likes men who 'lean'
5. The shows that I love the most are shows that have a hard-core 'shipper' factor...The X-Files, Bones, Castle, sure these seem like murder mystery alien shows, but that's all a guise for the sexual tension.
6. I like sexual tension.
7. I love chick-lit. I don't think chick-lit is a derogatory word. I like my chick-lit in various forms and sizes.
8. When I grow up I want to be Bridget Jones.
9. My reading list this year has so many pinky, reddish, schmoopie colors it almost makes me embarrassed. Almost.

This book, On the Island, should be a sign unto itself. 30 year old woman meets 16, almost 17, year old boy recovering cancer patient. She's his tutor. They crash on an island. He matures. She *cough* matures. They um, well, you know it is an island and they are stranded there together for a long time.

And, the thing is nothing about the above story is creepy, at least Tracey Garvis Graves goes out of her way to make sure that we understand enough about their relationship that we don't find it creepy and she gives us just enough about the two characters that we do buy that he grows into a man and she grows to love him. TJ is probably more ideal than a lot of main male characters out there and he isn't just a puppy following Anna around until she decides to love him. They both learn to accept each other and they learn that they can survive no matter what. I mean there's this scene with a shark that's just wow.

I like that the climax is that they get off the island 3 1/2 years after crash landing and about 2 1/2 days (only slight exaggeration) after they decide to have a relationship. They have to learn to love each other in the real world. Each of them have to decide if the love is real. And, I love that TJ gets it first.

Anyway, every single part of this book is predictable and I loved every single minute of it. I really kinda a lot want to read it again...especially the last 40 pages or so *hubba, hubba*.

It's like Robinson Crusoe meets The Blue Lagoon...yeah, I just did that.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #45 Hands on Grammar

This is one of those books that you read more than one time and then you modify the lessons and you share the lessons. There are so many lessons that I will be using in my classroom. I can't wait to try these out and share them. Teaching grammar through mini-lessons in relation to a unit all year long seems like a better idea than the old-fashioned way of teaching grammar in isolation and this book is the ideal book to do that.

40 interactive lessons.


And, I got them all for free. 

Over the summer I attended a differentiated instruction conference in Chicago. My first session was about common-core and DI. We talked about all sorts of things, but spent a long time talking about how the common-core standards will change the way we look at grammar. Something that people have being saying in my AP (advanced placement) conferences for years. The reason is simple: we teach grammar mostly in isolation without critical thinking and critical thinking is a heavy component in the common core. Common Core will ask students to 'show' what they have learned not memorize and spit back.

It will be tough.

It will be hard...mostly for those of us who have a traditional approach to teaching. This book and it's author are definitely there to help.

She also sent me a couple of other lovely books and a t-shirt I'm wearing as I type this. If she's presenting at a conference near you, I highly suggest attending.

Dr. Katherine McKnight can be found at:

K-12 In-Service PD for Teachers
Katherine McKnight Literacy on Facebook

and here's an article: "What Teachers Need to Know About the Common Core State Standards"

Thanks! Dr. McKnight!!!

And, no, I didn't check this post for grammar errors...it's a blog!!! *hahaha*

Monday, September 3, 2012

55 Books in a Year: book #44 The Last Unicorn

My first memory of The Last Unicorn is from 1982. My grandfather had taken the three of us to watch the movie. I was 5 years old. I remember that he bought us popcorn and a soda and candy each, so we didn't have to share. I remember sitting on one side of him, my sister Marissa on the other, my sister Kim beside me. Eventually Kim moved into the seat with me (there are parts of that movie that really are scary to a 4 year old).

I was mesmerized by the unicorn "the color of snow falling on a moonlit night", I fell in the love the singing and I was enchanted by the story of a lone unicorn searching for her brothers and sisters. A unicorn who sacrificed herself to save those she didn't even know she loved.

I remember reading the book not long after and I realize, now that I've read it again, I didn't get a lot of it and the parts that I remember most vividly are the parts that are included in the movie; a movie I have seen at least 100 times. This book, like other fairy tales, is perfect in the sense that it has the fantastic story of a unicorn, a prince, a castle, the sea, adventure and love. As an adult I still had all of these themes floating around in my head and heart, but as an adult I could see all that the unicorn lost and I could see all that she gained. When I was a kid the story didn't seem so bittersweet. I just liked all the unicorns. I knew she couldn't be the last.

You can read the sequel...I guess one can call it a sequel here. It's even more bittersweet and, well, sad.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Infinite Summer #11: If I Were Going to Teach this Novel

Think of these Sunday posts as jumping off places...discuss what I've posted, post something yourself, answer questions, ask questions, add links...do whatever it takes to make this experience enjoyable and understandable for you!

These post will be CHOCK FULL OF SPOILERS for the reading for that week (Just in case you didn't already know that!). I think knowing this will stop those of us that aren't at a certain place from reading on and will enable those of us who are writing to do so without worrying if someone knows that fact or not. If you are reading ahead and want to post about the pages ahead please wait and if you want to talk about other books, not Infinite Jest and are giving spoilers please indicate that in some fashion...even a *spoiler* before the comment would be nice.

And, finally, if there is anything I can do to make this run more smoothly please don't hesitate to message me on here, on twitter or on Goodreads and I'll see what I can do.

Let's begin the discussion...

10 Thing I Would Do If I Was Going to Teach Infinite Jest
There are several articles that talk about teaching this novel. I'd like to note that in my world teaching this novel is soooo not in the cards. I'm not even sure I'd want to teach it even if I could, as it would take a long time and I'm sure that the students (even if they were in college) would lose interest somewhere in the middle. How would I keep them motivated? I promise you I think there are very few up to the challenge.

  1. I'd want to talk about David Foster Wallace as a person
  2. I'd want to steer clear of his suicide. I understand that I could not. I also understand that I'm not sure I should
  3. I'd consult Kathleen Fitzpatrick and the blog her students created
  4. I'd take a whole semester
  5. I'd make the book the backbone of the class, but we'd read other works either by him or about him before/during/after the reading
  6. I'd try not to have this crush on Hal...yes, I may love Hal...
  7. I'd read the book again, taking a better look at it's chronology
  8. I'd also take better notes...most of my notes now are focused how I feel, not why I feel or what DFW did to make me feel this way
  9. I'd have to be much braver than I am now
  10. Heck, I'd probably have to be a little stronger too
What would you do if you were teaching it?


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