Wednesday, January 11, 2017

December Recap

Library Books:
Here I am : a novel / Jonathan Safran Foer.

Books Purchased:
Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids by Nicholson Baker
Classroom Management Techniques (Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers) by Jim Scrivener 
Frankenstein: A Pop-Up Book by Sam Ito
The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz (Hiro)
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury 
Library Books for Hiro:
Mesmerized : how Ben Franklin solved a mystery that baffled all of France by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacapo Bruno.

Committees and Research is the main focus of this month, as all my deadlines seem to be piling up before the end of the year. Currently I am on the FCC- faculty curriculum committee, FLC- faculty learning Committee-with a research project for Classroom Management, doing research for a Drawing for 3-D presentation as well as being asked to present at someone else's research round table.

But since we are now in the periphery of the dark ages, with the recent most depressing election result, I must keep reading -not newspapers and social media posts- (thank god I got rid of Twitter) but fiction to keep my spirits up.
So when I saw that Jonathan Safran Foer published a new book, I immediately requested it from the library...and was surprised that it was immediately available.

Here I Am- has one of the most beautifully written biography of a life in one long sentence opening the novel:

"He had lived in an apartment with books touching the ceilings, and rugs thick enough to hide dice; then in a room and a half with dirt floors; on forest floors, under unconcerned stars; under the floorboards of a Christian who, half a world and three-quarters of a century away, would have a tree planted to commemorate his righteousness; in a hole for so many days his knees would never wholly unbend; among Gypsies and partisans and half-decent Poles; in transit, refugee, and displaced persons camps; on a boat with a bottle with a boat that an insomniac agnostic had miraculously constructed inside it; on the other side of an ocean he would never wholly cross; above half a dozen grocery stores he killed himself fixing up and selling for small profits; beside a woman who rechecked the locks until she broke them, and died of old age at forty-two without a syllable of praise in her throat but the cells of her murdered mother still dividing in her brain; and finally, for the last quarter century, in a snow-globe-quiet Silver Spring split-level; ten pounds of Roman Vishniac bleaching on the coffee table; Enemies, A Love Story demagnetizing in the world's last functional VCR; egg salad becoming bird flu in a refrigerator mummified with photographs of gorgeous, genius, tumorless great-grandchildren."

But in the end, I ended up quitting this heavy 571 pg book because it was too....tooo... tooo....much.
Foer's latest book continuously makes references to current or most recent news reports- just drops them in as images such as  when discussing how it was unfair that the hardware store could stock so much stuff is compared with "a world where the bodies of Syrian children washed up on beaches" being "unethical".  I don't need that kind of juxtaposition.  It felt like news flash dropping like visual sound bites.

I want to read something that feels timeless, and all these modern day specifics of the current climate of NYC, of Brooklyn, of Park Slope already seem dated.
So I dropped it on page 89, after the second chapter titled "Epitome"

This time of year every notable paper and magazine starts to publish the "gift guide" or "best books of the year" into their book section. So I've begun my next year's book list...and also bought a few hard bound books to tide me over...and thus Nicholas Baker's Substitute was purchased.

 Its a light read, though heavy in weight and heft.  Each chapter chronicles a one day in the life of a substitute teacher- covering any subject matter in any grade from K-12.  It was meant to be humorous, but in the current teaching hell I'm going through- with one student (one of the worst I've had in a while) bringing me up on charges for discrimination, and having to constantly reprimand students to put their cell phones away while I lecture, I could not get through it. Though I did get an eye opening reason as to why my first year college students are the way they are in terms of not having the "grit" to follow through and stay on task since high school seems to be a place to socialize (having "theme" days to make school fun to go to by having superhero day, sports day or pajama day) and make playlists.  Mr. Baker, the poor sub (though he was upbeat and caring) spent most of his time telling kids to be quiet or juggling curriculum with outside interferences such as students sneaking to play video games during class, and basically a lot of time spent dealing with iPads, smart phones and music devices.

  • teacher's conversation: pg 195.  The iPads had been a financial disaster, he felt.  Any kid who messed up his iPad and had to have it restored should get a detention.
  • pg 197  during class: Bethany, Kimberly and Felicity began planning a group Wonder Woman selfie.
  • pg. 208 during class: Regan was playing hip-hop from his iPad speakers.
  • pg 223 in class "pointing accusingly at (student's) iPad.  "Busta Ryhmes?  You have so much work to do! You have everything done?"
  • pg 229.  He stuffed his earbuds in to get rid of me.
  • pg 209 about using difficult and hard to use software to teach in class: Educate.  I wondered for a moment about how much money (the school) had spent  to lease and customize and troubleshoot this fancy, colorful software, plus Edmodo, Infinite Campus, IXL, and other.  Probably a fair amount.  Educate, a company founded in Alaska by a group pf homeschooling data analysts from the oil industry, had sold it's "mass personalized learning" system to low-test-score districts all over the country"

We have a nation of children being taught by the large corporations and oil industry's greed...

Though I did pick up some snappy lines to make kids quiet without being rude:  "All right, it's starting to get above the plateau! The plateau of misery where the SOUND IT TOO LOUD!"

And my Year of Reading ends with some vintage Sci-fi.  The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury.  Frighteningly accurate in how he saw the future, which is where we are now.  Impersonal, being ruled by computers and bleak.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

October Recap

Books (still checked out) from the Library
The Casual Vacancy / J. K. Rowling.
Flaubert's Parrot / Julian Barnes. /by Barnes, Julian.
The Devil in the White City : Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America / Erik Larson.
First flight around the world : the adventures of the American fliers who won the race / by Tim Grove.
Effortless Bento : 300 box lunch recipes / [translation, Maya Rosewood].

Children's books for Ready Set Kindergarten Program:
Gimme cracked corn & I will share / Kevin O'Malley. /by O'Malley, Kevin, 1961-

Hiro's Library Books:
The villain virus / Michael Buckley ; illustrations by Ethen Beavers. /by Buckley, Michael, 1969-
 Attack of the bullies / Michael Buckley ; illustrations by Ethen Beavers. 
Tesla's attic / by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman.
The five masks of Dr. Screem / R.L. Stine. /by Stine, R. L. Hall of Horrors ;
When the ghost dog howls / by R.L. Stine. /by Stine, R. L.
I totally funniest : a middle school story / James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein ; illustrated by Laura Park. /by Patterson, James, 1947- author.

First off, a confession.  I checked out Flaubert's Parrot for a total of 12 weeks x two times and still I never was able to finish it.  It started out good.  I liked the writing but then it got a bit too academic and so I lost interest...then when I tried to get back into it, the time limit for renewing the book was up and I was not able to keep it any I got a $3.50 fine to boot.  So, sorry Julian Barnes, (and Elise who read it for a book club) I couldn't get through it...but I really sincerely tried.

The Devil in the White City was suggested to me by Christian the bartender who we see on a weekly basis at Nick and Toni's cafe across the street from Lucy Moses every Thursday before group lesson.  Happy Hour consists of 2 for 1 glasses of wine and 1/2 price pizza, along with chitchat and banter from Christian.  As all bartenders should be, he is all knowing about many subject matters because, as he says "he reads a lot"  but like most guys- he likes only to read non-fiction.  So this well researched account of two different stories concurrently happening over 100 years ago was recommended to me. 
The narrative alternates between the architect of the Colombian Exposition- ie the worlds fair which occurred in Chicago 1893 and the gruesome biography of Dr. Henry Holmes who was basically a serial killer.  Why these two tales were told in one book was a mystery, but I guess it made for a more interesting time period as well as doubling the page count. 
The facts were interesting and the cast of characters and their interactions were amusing to read, but the narrative overall is no Richard Russo or J.K. Rowling.  Because this is a work of nonfiction, everything had to be accounted for, including the dialogue and time frame.  The author did due diligence creating these intense character, splicing together volumes upon volumes of research and letters but in the end, I was more interested in the research methods rather than the actual narrative as a whole.  I kept thinking how much fun and chilling this must have been to unearth and read all the personal letters, even though some of them were one sided.

The Casual Vacancy:  When Berry Fairbrother dies at the beginning of this book, he takes all hope and anything pleasant along with him to the grave.  We learn of the infighting and bickering, backstabbing and animosity that runs on all levels in this small town of Pagford; from teens against one another, against their parents, the parents against one another and pretty much there are no relationships without conflict and Rowling has created a very bleak town where things only get worse as the book progresses. I found myself trying to root for someone, anyone to have a better position in life, but little by little, all hope is extinguished, and the one character who I thought would come out ok at the end kills herself.  The one person who comes out on the better side (though not quite happy) is a surprise. 

There are class differences and social tension, as expected when a town is so small that everyone seems to live within a fishbowl.  There are convoluted threads of relationships running concurrent between different factions of the town.  It reminded me of a book I had when I was little called  "Who's Got the Apple" by Jan Loof, where one apple travels through out a little town and each character interacts with it and one another.  There is a surprise ending in that one as well, though much more pleasant since it is after all a children's book.

One thing I found myself thinking about and hating myself for is that the the character of Krystal is white...but if this story were to take place in the US, she would undoubtedly be black- I found myself surprised (and ashamed to admit)  each time when I realized that she was a white girl. 

The quality of Rowling's writing is fabulous no matter how bleak:  lines like "Aubry, had never touched money during his office hours, and yet he caused it to move in unimaginable quantities across continents.  He managed it and multiplied it and, when the portents were less propitious, he watched magisterially as it vanished."  and it ends at the funeral mass with a Rihanna song: "Umbrella"

Saturday, October 22, 2016

September Recap

Books Checked out:
Empire Falls by Richard Russo
That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
Flaubert's Parrot (second time around)
The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

Hiro Books from Library:
Nerds Book Two: M is for Mama's Boy by Michael Buckley
I Totally Funniest: A middle school story by James Patterson and Chris Graberstein
The Wiener Strikes Back by Max Brallier

Gift Books for Hiro:
lots of Minecraft books for his birthday 
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (using the winnings from Harry Potter costume contest @ Astoria Bookshop)
In anticipation for the Film release soon..... 

I finished up the 641 page Richard Russo book Bridge of Sighs, from last month at the beginning of September and was so sad it had to end that I promptly checked out two more books by Russo.  As  my memory of The Death of a Salesman from high school mixed with a bit of Philip Roth, were always in the periphery as I ached over the lives of Lucy, Bobby and Sarah, I was pleased to see Russo dropping Willy Loman into the narrative as an aside toward the end of the book.

The next Russo book I picked up was the much shorter That  Old Cape Magic, a novel of personalities in two acts.  It describes a screen writer who was living in LA, who moves back to the east coast and has to deal with the death of his snobbish academic parents as his marriage of over 30 years is unraveling.  The two acts takes place over two different weddings held one year apart.  The tone of this book is so different from Bridge of Sighs, that I was never confused as to where I was or whom I was reading about, as could happen when reading some other authors books back to back.

I was excited to read Empire Falls next, but couldn't imagine it being better than Bridge of Sighs...though it must be since that is the novel that won the Pulitzer..... The story was solid, and likable characters, though in the middle of it, I was so tired at the end of the day I broke down and watched the 2 part HBO film before I completed the book. Russo wrote the screenplay acted out by  Ed Harris as Miles, Helen Hunt/Jeanie and Paul Newman fabulously disheveled as Max.  The film was actually quite accurate with story line, tone and even a lot of dialogue was verbatim, though having read the back story and the characters inner thoughts beforehand gave the viewing much more pleasurable.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

August Recap

Library Books:
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
Flaubert's parrot by Julian Barnes
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
The Angel's game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, translated by Lucia Graves
This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Hiro's Library Books:
I Funny by James Patterson and Chris Graberstein
How I Learned to Fly by R.L. Stein
Welcome to Camp Slither by R.L. Stein
Dr. Maniac vs Robby Schwartz by R.L. Stine
Goosebumps Horror Land #1: Revenge of the Living Dummy by R.L. Stein
Day of Doom by David Baldacci
Unstoppable: No Where to Run by Jude Watson

Books Purchased:
June B's Essinsial Survival Guide to School by Barbara Park
Rebecca Ringquist’s Embroidery Workshops: A Bend-the-Rules Primer by Ringquist, Rebecca
Encyclopedia of Embroidery Stitches, Including Crewel (Dover Embroidery, Needlepoint) by Nichols, Marion
Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology by Bolton, Andrew

Hiro's Purchased Books:
Who Was Gandhi? by Dana Meachen Rau
The Untimate Unofficial Encyclopedia of Minecrafters. by Megan Miller

Gifted or free books:
Story Thieves by James Riley (Barnes and Nobel free summer reading prize book)
Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown (Zev)

Frankie Presto was a lovely, quick, easy read skimming over the who's who of the history of music.  The narrative spanned over 3 continents and included  a bit of magical realism.  The narrative intertwined the charmed and cursed characters in and out of each others lives and made me want to listen to some Django Rineheart and Ella Fitzgerald again.  I haven't read anything by Mitch Albom since this break through best seller Tuesday's with Morrie decades ago, and was pleasantly surprised at this book.  

The two books purchased this month both came from shows.  The first one Junie B's Essential Survival Guide, was given to us for donating $20- proceeds that benefits Theaterworks- amazing shows put on for children during the summers for free. We went to see Hiro's awesome violin teacher  Mr. Lee playing many roles and Hiro loved his first musical experience. ...especially since Mr. Lee kept pointing at him in the first row.   

The second book is the catalogue for the Namus x Machina show at the Met.  A show I had wanted to see and was resigned to missing it but ended up dragging Hiro to after both Rob and Chris Sanderson, two completely unrelated and opposites in personality, recommended it highly.  It was a bit hard to really focus on each works in this huge show, so after skimming the works in the show, I ended up buying the hardbound catalogue, since I knew I would not go back to the exhibit before it closes the first week of September.

I saw The Angel's Game sitting on the recent fiction released shelf at the library as I was walking out.  I loved The Shadow of the Wind, also by Zafon, though I have no recollection of the narrative, only that it is about books.

The setting of Barcelona, scenery reminiscent in tone to Piranesi etchings and odd characters are intriguing, but the more I read, the more disappointed I became at how predictable it was.  There is a conflict between good and evil, a mysterious character Andreas Corelli is alluded to as being the devil.   Stereotypical symbolism such as dropping in the number 666 and things happening on Friday the 13 for example.  I also kept picturing Johnny Depp playing the title role, (in the film The Ninth Gate based on the book by Arturo Perez-Reverte's The Club Dumas.)

I got through it, but just barely because I wanted to know how it ended, which was a bit of a disappointment.  However, I could see the film version of this book being better for some reason...maybe using Johnny Depp. 

As August comes to a close, I am left with a stack of Jane Austin books, untouched.  My attempt to read some classics that I never read in high school....though the stack sits collecting dust since I became sidetracked with a wonderfully quiet, thoughtful book titled Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo.  

The main protagonist is curiously self aware, open minded and thoughtful even though he has never left his little town in upstate New York.  It's a part of the country we camped in this summer and got to know a bit, with all it's drunk driving, racism and poverty.  The writing is wonderful, the sentences and turns of phrase Russo uses warrants a slow read to savor. The narrative goes back and fourth between the protagonist (named Lucy) and his childhood friend Bobby Noonan's history from youth to old age.  Just lovely and a surprising read.

Monday, August 8, 2016

July Recap

Books Bought:
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling
The Awakening of David Rose: A David Rose Novel by Daryl Rothmans (Kindle)
Ruby Milk by Lucy English (Kindle)
Penny Legend by Lucy English (Kindle)

Library Books:
225 best pressure cooker recipes by Cinda Chavich.
Delicious under pressure by  Meredith Laurence ; photography by Jessica Walker
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan


It's been a slow month for reading due to several factors:
1. I began teaching summer school for PreCollege at Pratt.
2. I began working on Saturdays at the Windsor Terrace Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library doing a Ready Set Kindergarten Program.
3. I began riding my bike to those above places: Pratt and Windsor Terrace BPL, which cuts down a lot of time in transit reading.

And as you can see from the above categories, Hiro also had not checked out or bought any books this month either.  This is because in anticipation of moving downstairs he packed up all his favorites from his bookshelves, which are now covered in plastic, and have been rereading all the Big Nate books as well as rereading the Harry Potter series from 1-7.  Plus he figures that in anticipation of the script for the Harry Potter play coming out at the end of the month, he'd better recap what went on.

So the end of the month found us as a family at the Astoria Bookshop for the much anticipated release of the new Harry Potter book at midnight in costume- this time as a 300 page script rather than a 500+ page novel.  We let the kid stay up since it was a literary once in a life time event and I was a bit curious as well, since I got on the Harry Potter book bandwagon years after the 7th book was published.   Of course when there is a costume contest, we are in it to win it.  So the discussion on Thursday as I picked up Hiro from camp went like this:

me: so there's going to be a costume contest at this Harry Potter event. And you know that everyone who will dress up will be either Harry or Hermione.  Plus we have all your Harry Potter stuff from the last birthday party in storage so there's no chance of you being a Hogwarts student even if you wanted to.

Hiro: I know I have the scar already and wear glasses but I already dressed up as Harry anyways... oooh I could put a bunch of rags on and go as Dobby instead!

me:  that would be good since its so hot out, you don't want to wear a robe anyway.

Hiro: or maybe I could duct tape that wooden chair leg onto my leg and go as Mad-Eye Moody.  And we can look in daddy's junk drawer and get those goodly eyed sunglasses out.

me:  ok ...well see...(secretly hoping for Dobby since it's an easier costume to put together, and the wooden leg he is talking about is an ornately carved claw footed 40" high chair leg.) let's work on it Saturday morning before your NAP.

So at 11:45 pm on July 30th, a few minutes before Harry Potter (and JK Rowling's) Birthday,  Hiro dressed as Mad-Eye Dobby (a morphing of the two) amongst all the kids dressed as various Hogwarts students, wins his 4th costume contest of his life (James Bond- age 2; Einstein as the Apple Store Genius- age 6; Headless Donald Trump- age 7, were the other hits).  The first place winner was called up and allowed to pick his prize from the following choices: a box of Bertie Botts Every Flavored Jelly Beans, a Harry Potter craft book, $10 gift certificate, or a 5 foot tall free standing cut out poster of the book.  So what does he pick?
The 5 ft tall free standing cut out poster of course, at which point my knee jerk reaction self screams out "Noooooooooooooo! We don't have room for that!!!!!!!!!" and everyone laughs and starts chanting "go for the cash, go for the cash, go for the cash!".

We got out of there at 12:10am, (with the $10 gift certificate) since I had already prepaid for the book.  Hiro work up at 7:30am (after only 7 hours of sleep) and proceeded to finish the book by noon.

I spent that evening finishing it, since it is after all a script for a play that lasts about 5-6 hours tops.  I was a bit disappointed in it.  The story felt a bit like I was watching an anniversary TV show with all the cast members returning to make cameo appearances mixed with the story line from Its a Wonderful Life and Back to the Future.  The whole premise being, what would happen if you went back and messed with time, how different would life be if George Bailey were never alive.

For the most part, when I wasn't preparing for lectures or getting together syllabi or program notes,
I spent catching up on the self-published books by high school friends which had been sitting on my Kindle for a few months.  Lucy's book was a nice light chick-lit read and easy to get through.  There were some problematic things about the story-line but over all I really liked the main character- Penny the social worker.

Daryl's book was a good return to my summer reading of YA fantasy/historical fiction.  Awakening was a unique tale about a historical time I never had any interest in...before now.The material was thoroughly researched and I loved all the facts presented on medieval times running alongside present teenagers' lives. Each character was believable and unique, the pain of loss is palatable and the relationship between the protagonist and his little sister was sweet and touching. As another reviewer noted, I wondered about who the intended audience was supposed to be. The writing is beautiful but unsure if it would appeal to YA, though the subject matter is perfect and readers who are into Rick Riordan series will surely love this book.

Kevin Kwan's quick chick-lit was a quick read with name dropping of designers I'd never heard or or ever would be able to afford.  And for the two cookbooks...just getting ready for more non stove top cooking with the new pressure cooker that everyone on Facebook is raving about.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

June Recap

Library Books:
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life by Michael Lewis
Moneyball: The Art of Wining an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis.
Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by  Michael Lewis
Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis
The New New Thing : a Silicon Valley story  by Michael Lewis
Next : the Future Just Happened by  Michael Lewis
You Can Be a Stock Market Genius by Joel Greenblatt
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
The Little Bookroom guide to New York City with children : play, eat, shop / Angela Hederman and Michael Berman ; photographer
The Complete Guide to Microwave Cooking by Carol Bowen

Hiro's Library Books:
A camping spree with Mr. Magee  by Chris Van Dusen
The startling story of the stolen statue  by Tony Abbott ; illustrated by Colleen Madden
The League of Unexceptional Children : when average calls by Gitty Daneshvari
Owen Foote, mighty scientist by Stephanie Greene ; illustrated by Cat Bowman
Trick or trap by R.L. Stine
The streets of Panic Park by R.L. Stine
The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World by Alan Greenspan


          The month began with the difficult decision of choosing a contractor, or rather having to pick between overly priced to the "are they insane?" priced companies.  The two that we narrowed it down to (though still double the amount than we originally thought) was between Fox Force 5 (who I liked because of the nod to Quintin Tarantino and Renval Construction, who seems too organized, smooth talking and good looking, thus too good to be true. We also realized that we had to find an extra $200K from someplace and so after spending money to meet with our accountant, we decided to do a cash-out refinance of our mortgage...A lot of numbers flying around in my head these days, and at the same time, our Netflix DVD queue delivered the next on our list: The Big Short, which seamed apropos for our current big money life.

      So after watching the bizarre history of mortgage bailouts and the stock market crash in America, of course I wanted to see what was missing from the Oscar winning film by reading the book.  By the way, the crash happened about 3 days after Hiro was born, and thus I was completely oblivious to what was going on since I was more worried about our jaundiced newborn, than I was about defaulting on our mortgage at the time.
     Most of the numbers and stockbroker terms that swirled around my head went undefined, but I got that individual greed is bad and rich people are never really punished.  The writing is good however, and I found myself checking out everything written by Michael Lewis.  So I read a lot about subjects that I have absolutely no interest in, such as baseball, football, sports in general and the financial world, and even enjoyed it.  The personal narratives were what made the books pleasurable to read.  The Stock Market book by Joel Greenblatt was checked out only because of it's mention by Dr. Michael Burry in the Big Short.  For someone who knows nothing about the stock market, it was too much for me to digest.  Even though the writing was good, using humor and understandable metaphors, I gave up on it in the 4th chapter.

Coach_Michael_Lewis_Novel                     Image result for the new new thing

The Blind Side was a story I was already familiar with, haven seen the tear-jerker movie starring Sandra Bullock.  But beyond the film, the book goes on to show the class differences and race relationships in the south, uses football (and sports) as a way for black kids to get out of their poor situations.  It is a book about more than just football, but economics and history of our nation.
"Leigh Anne Tuohy was trying to do for one boy what economists had been trying to do, with little success, for less developed countries for the last fifty years.  Kick him (Michael Oher) out of one growth path and into another.  Jump-start him.  She had already satisfied his most basic needs: food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and health care. "

Leigh Anne Tuohy was also finding things out about education that studies never could show before:
"She knew the literature and knew that studies of the effects of environment and nurture on mental development tend to create two study groups, the haves and the have-nots. 'The have-nots learn whatever words they happen to hear on TV the haves hear a million different words by age of three'.  But you only get to compare the two groups.  You almost never see a case where the subject moves from one group to the other. "

Moneyball was not so much one narrative about Billy Beane but read like a lot of short essays on baseball, statistics, Bill James (the writer of the Baseball Abstracts), history of the sport along side a biography of Billy Beane, the GM for the Oakland As.  I found myself skipping around quite a bit and in the end skimmed a lot of it.

Product DetailsLastly, I read his insights on being a father.  Funny from the male point of view and a lot of funny metaphors of parenting as finance and of course sports.  The book started off as a diary of the family's move to Paris, and soon became similar in my mind to Adam Gopnik's Paris memoir.

Lewis reads like Malcolm Gladwell and often the two can be seen blurbing each other on the back covers.  A lot of the books, whether it be about finance or sports, read like Outliers, in that success is not just about skill but on timing, luck, and the odd trajectory of events that the characters find themselves in their lives.  Lewis is at his best when describing a culminating scene, whether the As win their 20th game in a row, or as a child he throws the winning pitch in this little league game, when Michael Oher runs like hell with great strength to ehlp the team win, etc...The narrative is wonderful to read as Lewis tells many of the stories from the first person point of view, and as a reader, I can really feel like I was at the scene.  This is huge, since I have no interest in baseball, football or the financial market.

This month of reading about things I would never read about has even found me skimming the Sports and Business pages of the Times.  Thus going to show that interest in any topic can come from a great story teller.

And lastly: Chinese Chick Lit  light beach reading- though haven't gotten to a beach yet.

Friday, June 3, 2016

May Recap

Library Books:
Library Books for Hiro:
The Terrible Two  by Mac Barnett & Jory John ; illustrated by Kevin Cornell
The Terrible Two Get Worse  by  Mac Barnett, Jory John ; illustrated by Kevin Cornell
The dragonfly effect / Gordon Korman
Memory maze / Gordon Korman
Into the wild : yet another misadventure / Doreen Cronin ; illustrated by Jessica Warrick
The Chicken Squad / Doreen Cronin ; illustrated by Kevin Cornell
Francine Poulet meets the Ghost Raccoon / Kate DiCamillo ; illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Masterminds by Gordon Korman
Criminal destiny by Gordon Korman
Cover art I originally checked out The Boys in the Boat for Hiro but it ended up a bit too advanced for him, and since I was done with the latest Dave Eggers book, (not finished but abandoned in the middle of We Shall Know Our Velocity)   I gave the tale of nine boys in an Olympic crew team a shot.    Even with it's unfortunate title, this books was amazing.  Part history (of the American depression, the rise of Hitler with Leni Riefenstahl and Goebbels in supporting roles, and bad weather patterns in the Northeast) it also taught me about the grueling sport of rowing.  At times it read like a text book but the narrative was captivating.  

It covered the sport so completely, from the importance of team work, psychology of each team member and also explained the hand crafted shells made by George Pocock:

"Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) is a kind of wonder wood.  Its low density makes it easy to shape, whether with a chisel, a plane, or a handsaw.  Its open structure makes it light and buoyant, and in rowing lightness means speed.  Its tight, even grain makes it strong but flexible, easy to bend yet disinclined to twist, warp, or cup.  It is free of pitch or sap, but its fibers contain chemicals called thujaplicins that act as natural preservatives. It is beautiful to look at, it takes a finish well and it can be polished to a high degree of luster, essential for providing the smooth, friction-free racing bottom a good shell requires. " 

The circuitous route to my reading Japanese mysteries came about like this:
Hiro was writing an informational "magazine" for his writing project at school.  All the kids had to pick a topic they wanted to research and write extensively about.  Most kids chose Pokemon or ballet.  Hiro chose Goosebumps and R.L. Stein.  Sarah, his teacher asked parents to help their kids do research by taking them to the library and finding articles on the topic for them to read.  Since Hiro has more Goosebumps books than the library holdings, I looked up articles in newspapers and magazines on the topic.  One of them was the "Buy the Book" section interview with R.L. Stein in the NY Times book review section of the Sunday times from a year ago.  It must have come out when the Goosebumps movie came out and we missed it. Anyway, I was trolling for book recommendations, mostly for Hiro in that interview, when I read that Stein was going to read the next book out by Higashino, which are "intricate, tricky puzzle mysteries".

At first, the names are a bit hard to remember- I'm Japanese and still had a difficult time deciphering between Kusanagi, Kishitani, Yukawa, Mashiba, Mamiya, but after I figured out a way to make up word associations it was easier.  For example the Japanese word for smelly is Kusai- therefore Inspector Kusanagi was the older detective who was sniffing out the clues. This series was perfect for my Japan fix, since we will not be going there this summer. A Midsummer's Equation, especially made me nostalgic for inaka and summers spent in a sleepy little seaside town.

Brown, Daniel. The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a ...   The Indifferent Stars Above was my next Daniel James Brown book I picked up.  I thought maybe I should mix it up a bit and read some more nonfiction along with all the detective novels I had been reading.  This is the story of the insane trail traversed by a group of people going from Missouri to California in mid 1800's read like a suspense novel, even though we pretty much knew there were going to be some gross, tragic, horrifying things that would happen to the group.  Just as Brown did with the Boys in the Boat, he went back and fourth between the traveler's daily stress and traumas to comparing it to the present day as well as giving a historical overview of politics at the time, the unusual weather patterns, and homesteader life.  I especially enjoyed the descriptions of what they brought in their oxen pulled wagons (in the end, a total of over 3000 lbs).

Sugar raised another set of issues.  It could take the form of molasses in kegs or barrels; sticky, hat-shaped loaves of brown and white sugar, lumps of gooey unrefined brown sugar; or "Havana," a lumpy crushed white sugar that required still more crushing and sifting to be useful in baking cakes of pastries.  They brought hard candy, hard cheeses, figs, raisins, flavored syrups- lemon and peppermint being particular favorites- salt codfish, pickled herring, and jellies, jams, and preserves packed in stoneware crocks.  Some of the items they crammed into their provision boxes carried brand names that you or I might still find on our own kitchen shelves -- Underwood's deviled ham for one, and Baker's chocolate with which to flavor a sweet cake or make hot chocolate on the campfire. 
 So sometimes the return to the present day was quicker such as in this paragraph:
          It's hard for us in the twenty-first century to comprehend just how squalid life on the trail in the 1840s could be.  As they struggled across Nevada, Sarah and Jay lived somewhat as we now do when we go camping or hiking --except that they had no weatherproof polyester tents, no rechargeable Coleman lanterns, no flashlights, no toiletries, no propane stoves, no double insulated iceboxes, no mosquito repellent, no subzero goose-down sleeping bags, no self-inflating air mattresses, no sunscreen, no GPS trail finders.  And at four or five months minimum, it was an awfully long camping trip, at sixteen hundred miles an awfully long hike. 
          The travelers battled body lice, head lice, bedbugs, and fleas in their wagons and tents.  In the arid desert country of Utah and Nevada, their skin dried out and became scaly, their lips chapped, their eyes ached from the dust and the relentless glare of the sun.  All in all, they were physically miserable much of the time.

   It really was a case of the survival of the fittest, and even some of the fittest did not make it to the end.  I definitely would not have made it even the first month.  The book was a quick read, and the gruesomeness was not too graphic, and one could almost begin to empathize with the cannibalizing of one's families in dire situations toward the end.  but overall Uggggggggck! Yuck!!!!! and Disgusting!!!!!  and Horrific!!!!! One thing that I found curious also was the authors choice not to include a map of the trek, only a few photographs of the characters and some images of the trail.

   OK, so enough of that! Back to Detective mysteries....and since the last English translation of a Higashino book was going to take a while to come available, I turned to the last installment of Robert Galbraith, aka J.K Rowling's story of Cormoran Strike.  Titled The Career of Evil, title taken from a Blue Oyster Cult lyric, and had too many characters- much unlike Harry Potter books but not as interesting as the children's book.  Her books tend to be long- this one at almost 500 pages and not as good as the Higashino, it was nevertheless a good suspenseful read.