Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Recent Reading

During each of my English 4 classes, I require my students to read silently for 15 minutes. They may read whatever book they choose, and they are only graded on participation. The best part of this assignment is that I get to read for 15 minutes of each class period. (Despite the benefits to them, I'm much more concerned with the benefits to me. I'm selfish like that.) The first book that I read for silent reading this year was Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Speak is a young adult literature novel that I should have read for my children's literature course this summer, but I never found the time. Valerie, however, did read it and loved it, so I decided that I would read it despite my antipathy for ya lit. The novel is narrated by Melinda, who spends her freshman year hardly being spoken to or speaking to anyone. She has a secret, but she can't bring herself to tell even her old friends why she called the police to an end of summer party. Instead, her silence becomes a wall between her and just about everyone she knows; her silence is also armor against the angry reactions of other students. Melinda's (Anderson's) observations about high school and teachers are so accurate and funny and sad. I really liked this book more than I ever thought I would.

I love this vignette, Hall of Mirrors, detailing Melinda's search for a new self.

"I scurry out to the three-way mirror. With an extra-large sweatshirt over the top, you can hardly tell that they are Effert's jeans. Still no Mom. I adjust the mirror so I can see reflections of reflections, miles and miles of me and my new jeans. I hook my hair behind my ears. I should have washed it. My face is dirty. I lean into the mirror. Eyes after eyes after eyes stare back at me. Am I in there somewhere? A thousand eyes blink. No makeup. Dark circles. I pull the side flaps of the mirror in closer, folding myself into the looking glass and blocking out the rest of the store.

My face becomes a Picasso sketch, my body slices into dissecting cubes. I saw a movie once where a woman was burned over eighty percent of her body and they had to wash all the dead skin off. They wrapped her in bandages, kept her drugged, and waited for skin grafts. They actually sewed her into a new skin.

I push my ragged mouth against the mirror. A thousand bleeding, crushed lips push back. What does it feel like to walk in a new skin? Was she completely sensitive like a baby, or numb, without nerve endings, just walking in a skin bag? I exhale and my mouth disappears in a fog. I feel like my skin has been burned off. I stumble from thornbush to thornbush--my mother and father who hate each other, Rachel who hates me, a school that gags on me like a hairball. And Heather.

I just need to hang on long enough for my new skin to graft. Mr. Freeman thinks I need to find my feelings. How can I not find them? They are chewing me alive like an infestation of thoughts, shame, mistakes. I squeeze my eyes shut. Jeans that fit, that's a good start. I have to stay away from the closet, go to all my classes. I will make myself normal. Forget the rest of it."

I wasn't expecting such powerful emotion from a ya lit novel. I also wasn't expecting poetry. I am always on the alert for poetic language in the prose that I read, and I really appreciate it when it is completely unexpected and doesn't seem to self-consciously poetic. In a vignette entitled Snow Day--School as Usual, Melinda offers this description of the snow: "Hawthorne wanted snow to symbolize cold, that's what I think. Cold and silence. Nothing quieter than snow. The sky screams to deliver it, a hundred banshees flying on the edge of the blizzard. But once the snow covers the ground, it hushes as still as my heart." What a great description of snow!

So far, one of my students has borrowed this book from me, and another is waiting for it. I hope it gets passed around the whole year. Speak is a book that deserves to be heard.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Back to Blogging

I can't believe that September is almost over, and I haven't blogged since the 15th. Where have I been? Oh yeah, work and grad school are in full swing. I should be better at making time for posting blogs though. I'm going to try to be a more regular blogger. Valerie made a vow to blog something everyday, and I have decided to follow her lead.

I keep making notes on my Palm and in my Moleskine about possible blogging topics, but I keep letting other things get in the way of my blogging. I'm going to try to be more disciplined about it though. I feel good when I blog more, and I know that I get more readers on a regular basis when I blog regularly. As silly as it sounds, I do like it when people that I don't know in real life comment on my blog, and I would love to have a larger, regular readership. I envy bloggers who have a much larger audience than I seem to have. I know they are probably better writers/more entertaining bloggers than me, but I also know that if they didn't blog regularly then I wouldn't read them as often. I have several posts that I need to create: my reaction to the Zadie Smith reading and On Beauty, which I am reading now; my response to Speak, a young adult literature novel that I read recently; and anything else that I think someone might be interested in reading about.

I spent much of tonight procrastinating on work by watching the Astros win their 6th straight game and catching up on reading all my favorite blogs. Now, it's late, and I need to go to bed, and I never did go sit outside and enjoy the unusually fall like weather in Houston tonight. Argh!! I should have taken my computer outside to do the blog reading and kept abreast of the game via the Internet. I should have created one of the above mentioned blogs too. Damn! I guess I will have to blog those topics tomorrow.

Before I go, this afternoon on NPR's All Things Considered, I heard this great commentary: "Mom, Meet Rocky Horror. Rocky Horror, Mom." It reminded me of how much I miss and loved my mom, not that I really needed a reminder. I don't have a Rocky Horror experience, but if you do, you should listen to this commentary. If you have ever felt guilty about something you did or said to your mom, you should listen to this commentary. I really enjoyed hearing this commentary--nothing like stating the obvious, huh?

Now I will sign off and go to bed. One more thing: GO ASTROS!!!!

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Shortlist

This week is the end of a grading period, and my library science class is in full swing. Sadly, I have little time left for blogging or pleasure reading. However, I am going to make time to go see Zadie Smith on Sunday, and I have started (barely) reading On Beauty.

I really don' need more books on my to-read list, but I wish I had time to read the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize, which was announced today.

Desai, Kiran The Inheritance of Loss
Grenville, Kate The Secret River
Hyland, M.J. Carry Me Down
Matar, Hisham In the Country of Men
St Aubyn, Edward MotherĂ‚’s Milk
Waters, Sarah The Night Watch

I don't think I have read anything by any of these authors. I have heard and read about The Night Watch, and I will probably buy it now for sure. Kiran Desai and her mother Anita Desai are doing a reading in Houston in March, so maybe I will pick up The Inheritance of Loss too. I know that I have read something about some work by Kate Grenville, but I can't remember what or where. At some point this weekend, when I take a break from grading too many papers, I will have to do some blog reading to see what others are saying about the shortlisted works.

For now, I have to go to bed. I should have been asleep over an hour ago, but I got caught up downloading music and updating my iPod playlist. Anyway, TGIF!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Reading while driving

This school year, I am commuting by myself. For the past two year, I have had a carpool partner, but she found a job five minutes from home and deserted me. (Yes, Valerie, I'm being melodramatic. I would have taken that job too, if I were you.) I usually listen to NPR or music on my iPod, but the past two days, I have grown bored with NPR on the trip home and resorted to an old bad habit--reading while I drive. I'm actually quite skilled at reading while driving; I honed this skill in the five years that I commuted alone. Also, I don't do it in the city or in traffic, only on long stretches of highway. I know that I could listen to audiobooks, which I have done in the past, but I just haven't made it to the library yet.

Today, I read the introduction to We and was reminded of something from the Salon article that I mentioned in the previous post. In the introduction, Bruce Sterling quotes Zamyatin: "True literature can exist only where it is created, not by diligent and trustworthy functionaries, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics." I am going to put this quote on my classroom board. Maybe one of my students will read it and start a conversation about it.

I wish it wasn't so late already. I would like to write about some of the "madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics" that I have read. Alas, I must go to bed now, so that I can arise early and grade about ten more essay before my first class in the morning. I will, however, take the madman Zamyatin to bed with me and read myself to sleep.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Books, Books, Books

Yesterday, Valerie and I went to a coffee shop to do some work--yes, teachers often have to work during the Labor Day weekend. At some point, Valerie stopped working and started reading a book review on Salon. The review was for a newly translated version of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. The more she read about this dystopian novel, the more excited I became to get the book and read it. For several years now, I have required my English 4 students to read Brave New World and 1984, and some of my AP students also read The Handmaid's Tale. I find dystopias disturbing yet enjoyable, and I would love to have a new book to introduce my students to this year.

I got so excited by the review that I just had to go to the bookstore and pick up a copy of the book. I had planned to start reading it tonight, since I finished The Loved One last night. However, I worked late and still need to grade some papers before I sleep. Damn. I hate it when work gets in the way of reading. Too bad I'm really enjoying Speak, which I am reading during silent reading time in my classes. If I wasn't I could take We to work and read it instead.
Now, another dilemma -- I arrived home tonight to discover that my hardcover of On Beauty had arrived, and I really want to start reading it and maybe finish it before Zadie Smith's reading here on the 17th. I would also like to write something about the books that I've read lately, but I just can't seem to find the time to formulate any interesting thoughts on the books.

I can say that The Loved One was extremely funny. I just love satire when it's done well.

And I can say good night because I must either grade a few essays before I go to bed or go to bed now and get up extremely early in the morning to grade essays. Later.