Nana Has Wrinkles

Learning, laughing and loving in a world that tells it like it is.
Browsing Good Books

Catching up on books…

February13

June, 2012

Isn’t this supposed to be a slower time of the year for educators? I’m not feeling it. Wonderful, joyful, and miraculous family happenings have been filling each day, so it’s all good.

While rocking babies and playing with toddlers I’ve gotten through many great books this spring. Here are the highlights:

Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson and Image Grammar by Harry Noden: Many of my preservice teachers feel ill-equipped to teach grammar. I read these two books to be able to recommend them (or not) as resources. There is a great debate in our field as to the teaching of grammar. Most agree that embedding grammar instruction within the writing process is effective. However, if students don’t have the language of grammar and a good grasp of basic mechanics, that embedded instruction is difficult to deliver. Each of these books tackles this problem. Mechanically Inclined speaks more to my comfort level. Anderson carefully collects data regarding real world mechanical issues with which his students needs help and pre-teaches some of those solutions so kids have the vocabulary and background knowledge to deal with them when needed. These would be excellent lessons to record as YouTube videos for kids to refer to as needed during the school year. Flip those lessons, people!

So, What Do They Really Know? Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning by Cris Tovani: I love Cris Tovani’s work. There. The bias has been revealed. This book is helpful in many aspects.

With Rigor for All: Meeting Common Core Standards for Reading Literature by Carol Jago: Disclaimer–this is another author I admire greatly. If you don’t follow her on Twitter, you’re missing some great stuff.

Lest you think I’m no fun at all, here are the “light-hearted” fiction pieces completed this spring:

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Faith: A Novel by Jennifer Haigh

Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock

The Might Have Been by Joe Schuster

Calico Joe by John Grisham

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Meh. I felt as though I had to read this one, you know? It’s one of those books. Didn’t like it, didn’t hate it. Glad I got through it, but wouldn’t want to do it again.

Can’t wait to see what the summer e-Reader will hold!

February, 2013

The post above was written at the beginning of summer and never completed as I hoped to add thumbnail shots of each book about which I wrote. That perfectionistic desire is gone, so here is an update of the books that occupied my time over the summer and throughout autumn:

Insurgent and Divergent by Veronica Roth – This fabulous YA trilogy will conclude when the author releases the final book in the series (currently untitled) this fall.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

The Age of Miracles: A Novel  by Karen Thompson Walker

The Fallen Angel: A Novel (Gabriel Allon) by Daniel Silva

Freeman by Leonard Pitts – Loved this story.

The Prophet by Michael Koryta

The Light Between Oceans  by ML Stedman

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel by Rachel Joyce – Beautifully written!

The Absolutist by John Boyne

Love Anthony by Lisa Genova – This book create visuals that helps one see the world through the eyes of an autistic child.

One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season by Tony LaRussa

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Tell the Wolves I’m Home: A Novel by Carol Rifka Brunt – A great read–highly recommended.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe – Fabulous!

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Crossing to Safety  by William Stegner – I LOVE this book.

Vanished: A Novel by Irene Hannon – A pleasant book that takes place in St. Louis.

The Good House by Ann Leary

Where’d You Go Bernadette: A Novel  by Maria Semple

…and various chick lit books I read to keep up with my Mom. She tends to enjoy books written by authors such as Kristin Hannah, Nicholas Sparks, Dorthea Benton Frank and Mary Alice Monroe. They are great treadmill stories.

 

 

 

 

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Wonder

March15

The world of literature being written for children and young adults is just exploding with fabulous works these days. Or, maybe I’m just getting lucky at finding the motherlode of excellence.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio is the sweetest story I’ve read in quite a while. August Pullman, a fifth grader with a badly malformed face, begins fifth grade at Beecher Prep Academy after being home schooled all his life. Obviously, his family (and first line of defense from the real world) has very mixed feelings about the whole thing. Auggie’s ups and downs are told by a variety of narrators, and each character is fleshed out quite nicely. The main themes of the story are the “power of one’s friendship, the strength of one’s courage, the test of one’s character” and “being a little kinder than is necessary.”

I dare you not to cry as you read it.

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Missing Gracie

March6

Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain is really a tough book to read after you’ve lost a good and faithful dog, but it’s strangely cathartic, too. Our Gracie dog succumbed to a brain tumor in December of 2011. There is nothing like being greeted with a wagging tale, wet nose, and unconditional love after a long day away from the nest. We still miss her every single day. Stein uses Enzo the terrier, loyal companion to race car driver Denny, as the narrator for his story. The book chronicles Denny’s charmed and troubled life through Enzo’s eyes. If you are a dog person, you will love this book. Enzo is a character who will linger in your mind, and when you pet your dog, I bet you’ll hear his voice.

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A Western?

February27

After finishing Cutting for Stone, I wanted to plunge in to another book that would be engaging from chapter one and take me to a new place in the world. Almost with panic in my voice, I asked my dear friend Nancy for a recommendation. She immediately responded by suggesting The Sisters Brothers, which sounded intriguing to me until she mentioned that it was a western. I can honestly say that I’ve never, even once in my life, read a western. But Nancy was right (she always is); this is a great story.

Author Patrick deWitt uses an extremely intriguing voice for the narrator, and I was drawn in from the get go . Though the brothers are tough, murderous types, there is an awful lot of philosophical ruminating going on in the brain of brother Eli as he rides from job to job. deWitt analyzes some pretty heady topics with beautiful prose all of which is set against an expansive backdrop of the wild west during the Gold Rush. You won’t be sorry you read this one!

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An Ethiopian Saga

February21

Doesn’t that sound like a drag of a book? I though so, too. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese was published in 2008, and though many friends raved about it at the time, I passed. The book synopsis often begins with, “Well, the story opens in an Ethiopian operating room in 1954…” and with that, many eyes glaze over. Verghese’s debut novel (he has authored two prior works of non-fiction) is anything but boring. It’s one of those well-written books that sweeps you into another world and causes you to lose sleep. I admit to reading at stoplights during certain segments of this one. I say parts of the novel captivated me more than others because there were stumbling blocks–saggy, overly wordy interludes describing medical procedure and bits of historical information that could have been presented more crisply. However, it was just what the doctor ordered for a gloomy week of reading in February.

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A Very Good Book

February7

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was just published on January 10, 2012. Find it on Amazon and look at the customer reviews. I’ve rarely seen a rating that high, but it is very well deserved. Written for a Young Adult (YA) audience, the book’s examination of universal truths will appeal to mature readers of all ages. It’s the sort of book that will make high school students ponder their place in this world with the gift of a new lens through which to examine their thinking.

Green’s writing is beautiful, almost poetic at times. The characters he creates are solid, lovable, and believable to a certain extent. Their dialogue, at times, stands in the way of believability, as do a few plot twists, however, it’s easy to overlook those faults in light of the big pictures.

The book is about two teenagers living with cancer and dealing with big questions: Will my life have mattered to anyone? Will anyone remember me when I’m gone? What is the reason I was placed on this earth? Both characters are intelligent, curious and grounded by a reality many teens never contemplate. It gives each of them a unique, powerful, and yet very poignant voice.

This book is one that most people will read at least twice–once to get through the story and another to enjoy its beauty.

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Summertime and the Living is (Too?) Easy

August20

Confession–household chores, as my mother likes to call them, are not being completed to any noticeable degree at our home this summer. However, the list of summer books I’ve consumed has never been longer. If you stop by for a tall, cool beverage, you’ll likely find me stretched out on the sofa with iPad in hand. Never have I experienced a more sedentary, lazy summer. The type A motor seems to be sputtering, which is a change I have come to appreciate.

More to chronicle my summer (and lessen my guilt) than to entice others to read these books, here are brief notes on the books in the “Done” pile. In list form, it’s obvious there is a dearth of heavy, literary fiction and a plethora of  light fluff. Like any good child, I can blame some of this on my Mom with whom I share a Kindle account. My purchases are often made in light of the fact that Wilma will be reading each download. The books are listed in order read, not in order of preference.

Stan Musial: An American Life by George Vecsey-A classic, in my opinion. Vecsey’s breezy, storytelling style about one of my childhood  heroes makes this the perfect summer read. The humorous stories that took place during the olden days of baseball are charming. The landscape for professional athletes has changed drastically since Musial played. Humility of any visible amount is often lacking in modern day athletes, but that’s where Musial shines even today.

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story by Elizabeth Bard- This is a great treadmill book.* Bard tries to find herself  between                     the rat race of NYC and the obscure streets of Paris. Each chapter includes recipes about which she writes in her story. I enjoyed the Paris scene, and though I feel as though I’m totally cheating on Rome for saying this,  the book made me want to go back to Paris.

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher-Light, fun, predictable, yet enjoyable.*                

The Pretend Wife by Bridget Asher-I must have been on an Asher roll here. This was a nice story, as well and was the more entertaining of the two.*

Home: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson-This story frustrated me, but I stuck with it. I had the plot twist figured out early on, but was  hopeful that there was going to be something more. Not bad, but surely not fabulous. Robinson tells her story through slow, sometimes tedious character development.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett-Patchett’s research always sucks me in to her stories. She does a fabulous job of teaching as she tells a story. I’ve talked with others (my mother included) who did not attach to this story very well, but I enjoyed the characters and the way Patchett used the setting to power up her story.

The Beach Trees by Karen White-Loved this sweet story of the south. I purchased it on the advice of my reader friend, KW. It was definitely worth the read.*

On Hummingbird Wings by Lauraine Snelling-Though my disdain for hummingbirds almost stood in the way of buying this one, it was a KW suggestion, so I caved and enjoyed.*

The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack-This is a great book about words and the power of word play. Pollack, a former speech writer for President Clinton, understands the power of a word and is the 1995 winner of the O. Henry Henry Pun-Off Championship. Pollack contends that puns require very high levels of critical thinking and analysis. This would be a fun book to use with high school students who have yet to discover the joy of word play. It may be a nice companion piece to any play by Shakespeare.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson-Probably my favorite light choice of the summer. I enjoyed this love story about two (gasp) older folks. Good redemptive story line, which always speaks to me. Another KW recommendation.*

 

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman-This is a must read for parents, teachers and anyone who loves a child.  It made me wish I had new students coming into my classroom this month.

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson-This one took a bit for me to get in to, but I enjoyed it in the end. Nice characters, and the setting is London in a post World War II world, which always lends a melancholy tone to the story. The protagonist does his best to pick up the pieces of the lives of his shattered family, but there is not only water under the bridge, there is a mighty flood.

 

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles- This is a great story. Combine plenty of plot twists and turns with richly developed characters and a setting of both great poverty and wealth, this is a sure winner. This is another book that is hard to put  down. I definitely lost sleep reading this one!

There are many books waiting in the wings. I vow to read even the spur of the moment purchases, so as not to waste money.

Currently, I’m reading Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay and Black Swan Green by David Mitchell.

What are you reading this summer?

*A treadmill book is generally a light piece of fiction through which one can easily flip (when in physical pain) while exercising, or a nonfiction work that allows for the ingestion of small chunks of new ideas upon which deep thoughts are pondered (when in physical pain).

 

 

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Wilma, Her Kindle and My Digital Library

May31

For Christmas, we gave my Mom a Kindle. For all of Wilma’s 88 years, she has been a low-tech person. When computers were introduced to her work place in the mid-eighties, Mom said, “Thanks, but no thanks” and retired. She likes to read and though her eyesight is good, print books prove to be increasingly difficult for her to read these days. Her eyes get tired and water easily. As a long time eBook reader, first on a Palm, then an iPhone, and now an iPad, I was anxious for Mom to try an eReader to ease the burden on her aging eyes. Her reaction to the gift, captured on Christmas Eve, is below. She looks thrilled, right?

I’m happy to report that Mom is getting along very well with her Kindle. She’s read several books this winter. Wilma appreciates the larger text and light weight of the device. Troubleshooting problems as they arise continues to require ongoing tutorials, but I’m proud of her efforts to make this big change.

Since Kindle allows for sharing over six devices, we can load the same books on Mom’s Kindle, my iPad, and all of my other wonderful Apple devices, providing easy reading access almost anywhere. I’ve been mindful of the books I order from Amazon, choosing titles I think Mom will enjoy. This winter we’ve read  Laura Hillenbrand’s beautiful story, Unbroken; Stan Musial: An American Life by George Vecsey–a must read for every Cardinals fan; two books by Bridget Asher–The Pretend Wife and The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted; Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen; Suze Orman’s The Money Class; and Emma Donoghue’s haunting Room: A Novel.

Some of these titles might not have been my first choice, but I purchased them because I thought Mom would enjoy them. Truthfully, it feels good to spread my reading wings a bit, and the added bonus of sharing my reading experience with Mom is priceless.

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Transitions

May15

School is out, grades are in, and break has begun. Transitions are sometimes smooth, sometimes rocky, sometimes just bleh. I’ve been somewhere in between the three, sort of waffling between the joy of having no schedule and the angst of having no schedule. Though in possession of a long To Do List, it’s always nice to take a few days off, don’t you think? The problem is I’m not good at being off.

I’ve read two books this week, but neither of them have satisfied my desire to be swept away into another world for days on end. While on Twitter yesterday I learned of the documentary, Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,” which I passed on to my friends who are wrapping up the novel with their students.

After reading To Kill a Mockingbird each spring for many years, I realized how much I missed reading Lee’s novel this year. I started in on it yesterday and got to page 90 which, as every freshman English teacher knows, contains the famous quote. It is rather liberating to reread this book without having to focus on similes, metaphors, symbolism and other elements of literature so pertinent to the beloved state curriculum. The language, word choice, sentence structure and small nuances of the rich story which I didn’t have time to explore with my students jump out at me now and have swept me away. Sometimes those sweet, familiar words are just the perfect balm for the restless, transitional soul.

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Remarkable Creatures

March13

I’m late coming to the Remarkable Creatures party. Tracy Chevalier swept me away with Girl With the Pearl Earring a few summers ago just after school was out for the year. I remember sitting on the back porch getting eaten by mosquitoes, but being so mesmerized by Chevalier’s characters that I was not able to put the book down long enough to go inside and get the Off.

Remarkable Creatures tells the story of the lives of two women who lived in early 19th century England and changed the scientific world forever with their fossil discoveries. Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot are unlikely companions, crossing boundaries of age, social stature and educational levels, but united in their passion to uncover long-hidden treasures of the past. It must be difficult for authors to take the lives of real people and weave their stories into a believable narrative. Chevalier excels at this art! The title says it all. I didn’t put my iPad down for two days and enjoyed this story very much.

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