Tag Archives: book choices

“Used and Rare – Travels in the Book World” by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

This cheerful little “book about books” was published in 1997. It’s a reminder how much has changed in 20 years. The Goldstones didn’t carry cell phones and rarely used the internet. Out of curiosity, I checked on their ages. Yes, just about my age…

I wonder if the Goldstones are undergoing the “stuff crisis” (aka DOWNSIZING) that has gripped me and so many of my friends. The “stuff” in question includes books. Many books! I feel that my relationship to the printed word has changed radically.

  • I use Kindle and recorded books
  • I patronize the public library
  • I’m trying very hard NOT to buy books
  • I’m trying to GET RID OF books constructively

So in some ways, its hard to sympathize with these somewhat compulsive book buyers.

A number of bookstores and dealers are mentioned by name in this book. I wonder how many are still alive, or still operating. I am pleased to say that Brattle Books in Boston (mentioned several times) is still going strong!

I was very interested in learning what books the Goldstones really loved to read. Maybe I need to take another look at Dickens. I seem to have missed John Dos Pasos entirely. Unfortunately, there’s no index in this book. I will have to skim through it again if I want to follow up on their literary tastes.


Another Source of Books – The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

The local Great Books discussion group asked me recently to recommend a novel for summer reading. The group meets just once each summer. I can’t remember what suggestions I offered, and I suspect I will be away on vacation. The selected book is All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld.

A friend offered three titles, saying they were good novels she had read for a book group sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Really?! It never occurred to me that a horticultural society would sponsor a book group.

I tracked down one of the novels she listed, and will write about it soon. The other two were not in my local library – I’ll download them from Amazon for my upcoming beach vacation.

I looked at the PHS web site, and found no mention of a reading group. Maybe it is restricted to members? But they have so much going on! I can imagine myself having a great time with the Society after I retire.

The books I DIDN’T find yet are

  • The Last Garden by Helen Humphries
  • Flora by Gail Godwin

Have you read any good garden-oriented books recently?

Book choices in the public schools AND ELSEWHERE – personal history (3)

Two people responded to my last post on this subject (March 10, 2015), using private channels by preference.

From a friend near my age:

“I read Night as a college Freshman in 1964 or 65.  It still haunts me.   It is totally inappropriate for young readers!  I was especially horrified by it because so many of my friends growing up were Jewish and I saw it all in relation to them and their families.   Even though the next generation needs to learn about man’s inhumanity to man in an effort to teach them “Never again”, it needs to be introduced slowly so they can digest the concept.  I still find the Holocaust so terrifying that I have to keep from thinking about it too much.  I often find myself wondering would I have the courage to shelter someone who was threatened by genocide or persecution. I hope I never have to find out.”

That’s FORTY YEARS – a long, long time to remember a book. Teachers and parents, be warned!

From a young adult a few years older than my son, who (if you did the math) was twelve when I questioned assignment of the books Night and Deathwatch.

“I remember reading Deathwatch and wondering why it was a kid’s book, but it didn’t particularly upset me, probably because the good guy won, and in fact he did it without killing the antagonist.  Mostly I remember the hero eating raw lizards.  Funnily enough, I just saw that this is being made into a movie, for the second time apparently. (Apparently Andy Griffith played the bad guy in the first movie, which seems weird to me.) I suppose Deathwatch could have disturbed me if the bad guy won, or succeeded in framing the good guy, as was briefly threatened.

And I guess that goes to your point, kids can be upset by what they read, and I don’t think it’s censorship to question whether a good plan for teaching something and dealing with that exists.  It’s hard to predict, too.  Some of the Greek myths used to scare the hell out of me.”

And a final memory while we are on the topic of who should read what:

I read To Kill a Mockingbird around 1964. I don’t remember whether it was assigned for school, or if my sister brought it home from college. What I remember is that my mother decided that my grandmother should not read it! Gramma was, indeed, a Victorian lady, and I can’t imagine how she would have reacted to it, both in terms of content (rape and racial violence) and in terms of my relative youth (age 14 or so). Gramma was a semi invalid, walking little and with great difficulty. She read everything she could get her hands on. My mother saw her with To Kill a Mockingbird and simply walked up and said “Sorry, I need that book. Alice has to have it for school.” And that was that. Poor Gramma! Back to the Reader’s Digest. The sad thing is that I don’t remember anyone, ever, asking Gramma’s opinion about what she read.

Book choices in the public schools – personal history (2)

Entirely by accident and quite to my surprise, I found (on my computer) the reply I received from my son’s teacher when I “intervened” in the matter of a book that my son was assigned to read for school. So now I know the details I left out of my post dated March 5, 2015.

Here’s some context: Due to a medical catastrophe, my son missed several months of school at the beginning of 7th grade. He resumed classes gradually, and I was at the school daily, since he couldn’t ride the bus. I was much more aware of his classroom experience than before. My heightened level of involvement continued for several years.

The book I challenged was Night by Elie Wiesel. I had not read it. I still have not read it.

It is described on Amazon.com as “a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps.” It includes “a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald”. There is nothing to suggest that this is a book for younger readers.

So… who decided this belonged in 7th grade, being read by 12 year olds? Is the average middle school teacher of language arts equipped to teach it? What kind of support does a 12 year old need when being introduced to the Holocaust? Any group of 12 year olds has vulnerable members, some not recognized as such. And, as I mentioned in my earlier post, local families were experiencing troop deployment, the early mobilization for the Iraq War.

My son’s teacher and her supervisor kindly substituted other reading matter for the class.

Another book had apparently triggered my watchful radar – Deathwatch by Robb White. At least it was intended for the Young Adult audience. It received an American Library Association award. Amazon describes it as “An exciting novel of suspense, based on a fight to the finish between an honest and courageous young man and a cynical business tycoon.” Even assuming that “finish” means death, at least the reader is spared perversion and sadism. It was selected for the Battle of the Books, an activity about which I remember nothing. Evidently I agreed my son could read the book, or perhaps he had already done so. I don’t recall any further discussion.

So… was I right to get involved when I did? I’m not big on censorship or banning books, but a 12 year old is not an adult. What do you think?

Book choices in the public schools – personal history

Writing about Divergent and my reservations about its use in schools made me remember the one and only time I contacted a local school about a book on the curriculum. The details aren’t all that clear. It would help if I could remember which son, which grade and which school!

I think the book was Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, which I admit to not having read. Holocaust fiction for Young Adults.

Part of the problem was timing – 2003. We had only begun to process September 11, 2001. The United States plunging into the Iraq war. A local National Guard unit was being deployed, and families were stressed. I couldn’t see trying to explain the Holocaust to early teens when they were also dealing with parents leaving to fight and newspaper reports about American casualties.

(So it must have been my younger son…)

The teacher I contacted accepted my logic. The curriculum allowed some choice on the part of teachers, and, in my son’s class, a collection of classical Greek myths (violent, some of them, but safely distant) was substituted.

I believe that “holocaust education” is required by the State of New Jersey, and some of this is accomplished through the use of fiction. This leads to my other problem with the Number the Stars.

WHY FICTION? Don’t the facts stand on their own? There is considerable documentation about the Holocaust. Couldn’t a true story be offered?

I’m a very literal person. Maybe too literal?

My advice to parents – read every book assigned to your child. You’ll find some to love, and maybe some to question. If you ever decided to attempt an intervention, I would really like to hear about it!