Archive for January, 2009

I took the book quiz to see what I am–and this is it. Oh well, at least it’s a classic by a Nobel Prize winner!  The link follows if you’d like to see what book you are.

Ms. W.

You’re The Sound and the Fury!
by William Faulkner
Strong-willed but deeply confused, you are trying to come to grips
with a major crisis in your life. You can see many different perspectives on the issue,
but you’re mostly overwhelmed with despair at what you’ve lost. People often have a hard
time understanding you, but they have some vague sense that you must be brilliant
anyway. Ultimately, you signify nothing.

Take the
at the .

January 30, 2009

“A Nation of Wimps” by Hara Estroff Marano

I just finished reading “A Nation of Wimps” this weekend, and while high school students are not its target audience, it is about people like you—what helps you succeed and what makes you fail. The information, case studies, and statistics discussed can be useful for a psychology class research project. For a more ingenious use of the book, you can read it, and then blame your parents for anything that you don’t achieve in your life.

This book, written by an editor of “Psychology Today” magazine, blames American parents for being so invasive in their modern parenting styles that they are raising kids who can’t help but fail—a nation of wimps. I had heard the term ‘helicopter parenting’ before, and Marano uses it in describing the popular style of parenting in which mom and dads ‘hover’ over their kids, in an attempt to make sure nothing ever happens to them. Unfortunately for the kids, when nothing happens, they never learn to have coping skills. This infantilizes them—they’ll never be adults who deal with the stresses of everyday life. Marano also uses the term ‘snow plough’ parenting, one I hadn’t heard before, to describe this style. Her metaphor is that parents clear all blocks from their children’s roads in life, but they also leave high piles of ‘snow’ on the sides that prevent young adults (that’s you) from taking new paths.

This matters very much as kids become adults and move onto college. (Again, that’s you!) Once there, they often cannot handle being somewhat on their own. They are still tied to their parents, in a way that earlier generations never were, through cell phones. Parents on speed dial still tell their over-eighteen kids what to do and how to solve every problem. In the meanwhile, college counseling centers are seeing a huge rise in student need for psychological services as normal life issues with relationships and university life send them over the edge.

Marano tells parents that they should allow their kids to fail—and fail early—so that they can develop the life skills needed to simply get over it and move on. Children are not trophies and their achievements do not belong to their parents. Use this book as an argument for your parents to allow you that post-graduation road trip across the country with your friends. And if you get a flat tire, make sure you know how to change it yourself—or have had the forethought to join the auto club. Your parents won’t be there to smooth the way to happiness, but the happiness will come because you’ll be facing meaningful challenge.

January 27, 2009

“The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama

It’s actually been a few years since I’ve read this book, and while it may seem surprising now, I read it to find out who Barack Obama was. I knew he was running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination (I didn’t think he had much chance against the much better known Hillary Clinton), but otherwise knew nothing about him. So, I learned that he was a good writer before I learned that he was a good speaker.

Though some of the political positions Obama discusses are now quite well known—positions on the war in Iraq, free trade, education, and renewable energy—this is still a worthwhile read. It’s a great choice for those of you looking for a nonfiction book to read to fulfill an American Government class assignment.

Two things that you probably don’t know about Obama and politics will emerge. One is his interpretation of the Constitution, which he explains while giving examples of other interpretations by past Presidents and Supreme Court justices. Another is just how crazy the political game really is. If you think there’s anyway that a successful politician can keep his or her hands clean by refusing to compromise with lobbyists, fundraise for election campaigns, woo the media, and swap favors with other legislators, Obama is going to gently remove those rose-colored glasses. He criticizes both parties (more so the Republicans, as you might imagine) for the many failures that our political system generates. The ‘audacity’ is in hoping for better. And while I don’t believe that what he argues for is all that audacious, it is worth trying to achieve.

January 26, 2009

“The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria Perhaps I’m feeling too much like ‘Chicken Little” (“The sky is falling!”), but lately I’ve been drawn to books about the future of both the world and the United States. Thankfully, I’ve generally enjoyed reading them, as I find their assertions to be thought-provoking without being alarmist. I also think that they would be very useful for a debate or an ‘issue’ paper. So it is with “The Post-American World,” a book that provides rich detail about the future of the world and the United States’ place in that future—economic, political and cultural.

I know the author’s work from reading copies of “Newsweek” magazine where Zakaria is an editor and consistently contributes articles on international issues. The title of “The Post-American World” sounds alarming, but Zakaria’s take on the future is very positive—provided that we don’t panic and remember that America has adapted to change before and has learned to excel. Zakaria argues that the United States is not ‘racing to the bottom,’ but that other countries are coming up in the world to be on more equal footing with America—and that’s a good thing because it takes people out of poverty and desperation. Excellent topics of research and discussion in this book include the rise of both India and China. India is an ‘inefficient’ democracy—as all democracies are because people can’t be told what to do by a dictating government. China on the other hand, though embracing capitalism in the last twenty years as an economic system, is still a dictatorship, willing to use brutal tactics in the name of progress and efficiency. Zakaria shows the reader why ‘inefficient democracies’ can continue to grow and succeed in changing times.

Another topic that would make a great argument for a history class project is what the United States should do to secure its future (and how it must be unlike Britain of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries)–not as a unipolar world power but as a legitimate broker of world power, the ally that is the hub in a wheel of nations, connected to the US through spokes of diplomacy.

January 21, 2009

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is the next book for the Teen Book Club here at the library, sponsored by the Ontario City Library, Colony High Branch. Since the discussion date is quickly approaching (January 26), I moved this title to the top of my list and read it last week. I can see why it’s a ‘cult classic.’

Charlie, the protagonist, sends letters to an unnamed ‘friend’ without giving his identity away. He discusses what it’s like to be in high school. He’s a wallflower in the sense that he is an observer of all that goes on, yet he is not a participant. Something about his writing style made me think of the narrator of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” a character with Asperger’s Syndrome. Charlie is much more average on the scale of normal interaction, but still, he doesn’t quite understand social situations in the same way that most people would.

Despite the strikes against him, Charlie befriends a small group of misfits—and the novel makes clear that just about everyone in high school is a misfit, even the most popular cheerleaders and football stars. Though “Perks” has been compared to “The Catcher in the Rye,” partly because it deals with teen depression, the subject matter is more contemporary—the characters must deal with current sexual attitudes, parties and drugs, date rape and teen pregnancy. Not that they don’t have fun—some of the most poignant passages in the book are on how carefully Charlie chooses gifts for his friends, how well he ‘reads’ their hearts and how much he loves them—and receives love in return. This is a truly engaging and honest book for mature readers. It’s also a quick read, so if you’d like to check it out before the discussion on January 26, come by the reference desk and pick up a copy!

January 15, 2009

“And You Invited Me In” by Cheryl Moss Tyler

I’m writing a blurb on this novel not because it’s got terrific writing, but because the story is one I’ve wanted to read—or at least see available—for a long time. I’ve often thought about the moral dilemma it presents and how various parties would react.

One of the protagonists, Alex Marshall, is a gay man dying of AIDS in 1994. In the 1980s, as a young man, he ran away from home and his community of fundamentalist Christians in Hallton, Wisconsin because he couldn’t face them and the truth about himself. After a period of wildness, he settles down with his partner, Scott, and becomes a lawyer who is active in the gay community. Other than at his father’s funeral, he hasn’t seen his family members since he left for Atlanta.

Annie Whitley, another of the book’s protagonists, is Alex’s sister. She’s shocked when he calls her out of the blue, and asks her to care for him as he is dying of AIDS. Her church and community hold a stance of keeping away from bad influences—and they regard Alex as just that. Yet, Annie had always loved her brother and believes that a Christian should have unconditional love for others. With this in mind, her husband encourages her to go care for Alex.

The novel details Annie’s discomfort in living with a gay couple and the gay couple’s discomfort in living with someone who judges them as sinners bound for hell. Both parties soon recognize how important they are to one another, how much they love one another. With this, Annie decides to bring both Scott and Alex back to Hallton. The community squares off—those who oppose this, believing the devil is taking over Annie’s goodness, and those who are there to support Annie, remembering how they loved Alex when he was young. And, of course, other secrets of the town’s most upstanding members start to come out.

So, this is a good story about opposing values and how people can accept one another without necessarily condoning one another’s behavior. (FYI—there’s nothing in here that’s beyond a PG-13 rating. Very mild stuff, intended for conservative Christians.) The one problem I had with the novel is that, frequently, the characters talked as though they were reading paragraphs from an essay. That is, they were just mouthpieces for the two philosophical points of view, and didn’t sound like real people. Overall, though, it’s worth reading as it deals with the basic Christian tenets of reconciliation and forgiveness.

January 8, 2009

“A Three Dog Life” by Abigail Thomas

Here’s a memoir that truly is poignant (a word very much overused). When a teacher assigns memoir reading, ask if you can read “A Three Dog Life.” It’s short at 182 pages—many teachers here require a minimum of 200—but has more to offer than many much longer works. Point out to your teacher that the writing is wonderful, exactly the type that English teachers want you to be exposed to. The figurative language is quite simply lovely.

The author, Abigail Thomas, marries her third husband when she is 46 and he is 57. She describes him as the nicest man in the world, and they live together for thirteen years. Their lives crack open one day when Abigail learns that her dog, Harry, is in the apartment building elevator by himself. Where is her husband, Rich?

The tragic answer is that Rich has been hit by a car while going after Harry, whose leash had broken. Rich suffers a traumatic brain injury and it’s permanent. This nicest man in the world then has short-term memory loss, hallucinations, and becomes paranoid and violent. I expected here to have a story about what a drag Abigail’s life became—or a rationale for why she had to divorce her husband, as he must be hospitalized due to his rages. But no. Thomas discusses how she moved from her Manhattan apartment in order to be closer to her husband. Rather than seeing herself as a martyr, she shows the reader what is still good in her life. She records the strange and beautiful way her husband speaks and finds that, though he never put any stock in such things, he now has a sixth sense that surfaces under the strangest circumstances.

The title is based on the idea of a ‘three dog night’—a night so cold that one has to cuddle with three dogs in order to survive. (I actually knew this because when I was very young, a popular band was named Three Dog Night!) And in the course of her years after Rich’s accident, Abigail does acquire two more dogs. Thomas wrote another memoir that discusses the death of her second husband entitled “Safekeeping.” At present, we don’t have it in our library, but it appears to contain the same wonderful writing and lucid understanding of life’s foibles, so I’ll try to get (afford) it.

January 8, 2009

“The Sorcerer of the North” (Book 5 in “The Ranger’s Apprentice” series) by John Flanagan

I’m sure this book—and the series—is being marketed as a guy’s book—which it is—but I loved it. In fact, I’ve read all five of the books in the series and recommend all of them to anyone interested in adventure or fantasy.

Though books 2-4 follow, chronologically, right on the heels of the last, book 5, “The Sorcerer of the North,” begins with five years having passed. Will is now a true Ranger on his own rather than just Halt’s apprentice.

Will is assigned to the Fief of Seacliffe, a place where there is little action, because he is new to the job and needs some practical experience. However, very soon he is called to a secret assignment. On the kingdom’s northern border, Castle Macindaw appears to be beset by sorcery. Even those who don’t believe in such stuff cannot attribute their problems, such as ghost sightings and possession by evil, to anything else. And Lord Orman, the son of the deathly-ill proprietor of the castle, appears to be involved in practicing dark arts.

Will is to discover what is happening by going in disguise as a roving musician. Alyss, also no longer an apprentice, but a Courier in her own right, is also dispatched when things get rough. She, too, is in disguise—as a dimwitted, self-centered woman of noble caste. She and Will are romantically interested in one another. Even some Skandians with evil intent (the treaty of the last book is in jeopardy) make an appearance.

Although I did miss some of the characters I’ve come to know, especially Princess Cassandra (and Halt until he finally appeared about halfway through the book), I liked seeing Will with more responsibility for his own fate.

January 7, 2009

“In Our Own Best Interest: How Defending Human Rights Will Help Us All” by William F. Schulz

“In Our Own Best Interest” is a great choice for students concerned about global issues, students who care about what happens to other people and students who are writing or debating on any controversial issue related to these themes—public health and access to it, economic policies, environmental policies and human rights at home and abroad. The author, who was the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA when he wrote the book, obviously believes that people have a moral obligation to care about others. However, the book itself moves beyond this argument to detail the many ‘selfish’ reasons—practical reasons—that working for others’ rights benefits us. Don’t skip the introductions (yes, there are more than one!) because Schulz discusses his interaction with high school students.

In Schulz’s words, here’s what he hopes to achieve with the book:

“I propound here no grand new theory of international relations nor offer revelations about human rights that are unavailable to the avid reader of high-quality newspapers. Rather, this book is intended to reframe the debate about human rights for the intelligent layperson who wants to understand the role of human rights play in the United States and it people. It is designed to take the human rights debate out of the hands of ‘experts’ (on both sides) and make it accessible to the average American. After all, their interests are really at stake here, and it is they who will pay the highest price for American indifference. . . .

“Second, the human rights I treat herein are the traditional civil and political ones, like the right to vote, to express opinions without fear of retaliation, to demand a fair trial, to be free from torture.”

The book includes an appendix that is a directory of human rights organizations.

If you are doing research on human rights, global climate change, foreign policy, economic policy, or the changing business and economic map of the world, other good books to check out (whether you agree with their arguments or wish to refute them!) are “The World is Flat” and “Hot, Flat and Crowed” by Thomas L. Friedman; and “The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria. I’m hoping to write a little review of each very soon.

January 7, 2009


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