19 October 2007

What I've Been Reading

Time for another installment on my reading list. I must say, this is one of the greatest perks of my job. People are paying me to read! My mother would have told you that this was my dream job.... How many times has she told me to put away the book? These are in no particular order, and I want to preface this with a disclaimer: Just because I read it doesn't mean I recommend it. This may be clear to some people, but I wanted it clear to EVERYONE so as not to cause needless offense. So here is the recent installment.

Sounder by William H Armstrong: This book I HIGHLY recommend. It is award winning and it is not hard to see why. Only about 70 pages, but they are beautifully written, and on top of that, the story is beautiful as well. In the tradition of Where The Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller, Sounder is the story of a boy and his dog. But even more than that, it is a beautiful story of learning to read, of loss and heartache in a black sharecropping family and of a boy becoming a man. I was bawling my eyes out almost the entire book! I bought it to see if it would be a good choice for one of my classes. If only they had the patience for a book that wasn't "urban."

The Prince by Machiavelli: This book is a classic for good reason. It took me several months to wade through the density of this text. Like Aristotle's Poetics, I read this because I felt like I should have read it in order to be truly well-read. It is dense, and the political and theatrical allusions are lost on me, but it is applicable to our current age and probably always will be. Machiavelli is ruthless in his estimation of men and almost nihilistically pragmatic about what it takes to rule them. There is no denial of the sinful nature of man, and that was refreshing. However, his emphasis on the need for the appearance of virtue, rather than actuality, and his wholesale distrust of all people completely lacked grace. One selfish happiness that came from it, however, was personal vindication of my opinions about Bill Clinton. I have always said that he may not have been a particularly wonderful president, but he was a FABULOUS politician. He almost perfectly embodied all the Machiavelli says a successful prince needs to be.

Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers: This book was assigned to one of my groups with a lower reading level, and since I want to have read what my students are reading, I picked it up. This book was chosen because it has a lot of themes that students can relate to: poverty, gang issues, single-parent households, harsh and misunderstanding schools, etc. Myers has written many books for students and young adults and this one is a Newberry Honor book. However, it is also dark and rather hopeless. It reminded me too much of Thomas Hardy and his fatalistic stories to be an enjoyable read for me, although I do not doubt its accuracy. Some of my students love it, some hate it. There is a lot of African American colloquialisms and that is rough for some of my Latino students.

True Notebooks by Mark Salzman: Subtitled "A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall" gives you a slightly better idea of what this book is about. Like Scorpions, it is an often stark picture of the lives of gang members, this time from the perspective of incarceration. Salzman was part of a program that arranged for writers to lead writing groups with high security inmates. He is an excellent writer (I absolutely loved his novel Lying Awake!) and the combination of his narrative and examples from the guys' writing makes for a readable, if not totally happy story. Anyone who works with urban youth would benefit from reading this, and people like Daniel and my Mom can probably even identify with it.

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld: One of my students asked me if we could read this book as a class, so I decided to take it home and see what it was about. It is basically a modern story of vampires, although Westerfeld's idea is that vampirism is a parasite, so every other chapter is a short discourse on some real parasite. The main protagonist, Cal, is someone who carries the vampire parasite, but is not a vampire himself. However, since he is a carrier he can pass it on to others through any bodily fluid and has some heightened abilities such as an ability to see in the dark, an inability to get infections, ultra-sensitive hearing and smell, extreme strength and a voracious appetite. Cal hunts down those he accidentally infected. Well, there is also a big conspiracy and the end sets up another novel where the vampires have to face a very serious threat.... Not fabulous writing, and not the most wholesome of storylines, but it does have enough action to keep your attention and it is clean, both strong recommendations. Next step is to discuss it with my boss, Kate, and see what she thinks.

That is it for my current reading list. Of course, I have at least 6 books on my bedside table, a couple started at work and a few more that I just bought as possible resources for work. Needless to say, this will probably become a regular feature of the blog. Also, if you have any recommendations of books that my students might be interested in feel free to pass them along!

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