Tag Archives: reading

“Divergent” by Veronica Roth – further reflections

I took a look at the Amazon entry for this book, and what do I see at the bottom of the description?

Supports the Common Core State Standards”

Can somebody tell me what this means? Divergent is part of an American education? Why? Is it “literature”? Is it being taught in high schools? It is reasonably grammatical. Is that what it takes to “support the Common Core Standards”?

So why am I surprised? I know that The Giver, also decidedly dystopian, is taught in middle schools.

On the one hand, I’m all for books that youngsters will actually (and enthusiastically) read. I was delighted by the Harry Potter series. But that was FANTASY. It got “darker” as the story line progressed, but was ultimately a story in which good (including hard work, loyalty, intelligence) triumphed. When the last book came out, a friend posted on Facebook “Thank you, JK Rowling, for helping me raise my children”. I know what he meant. I think many families found that Harry, Ron and Hermione became “part of the family”. We cared about them.

The Harry Potter series does not bear the “Common Core Standards” imprimatur, at least not on the Amazon website.

So I guess this means I don’t think every book that gets kids reading is equally worthwhile. What about the Twilight series? Vampire romances… It’s not marked “Common Core Standards”. I think I read one volume and was not impressed. If my child brought it home from high school, I would be on the phone complaining.

So what do I have against Divergent, besides personally finding it depressing? Does it glorify risk taking? If so, is it any different from all the high risk action on TV and in the movies? Here’s an issue – it emphasizes corruption in people in positions of authority, a problem I acknowledge. Would it “push” a person towards conspiracy theory, the fear that ALL authority is hopelessly corrupt? Is it asocial or antisocial?

Enough… I like literature with some element of transcendence. I like to see people learn, resolve, grow, accomplish, and often this takes place in the face of daunting challenges. I suppose I should read the whole trilogy to see if Divergent supplies this. But I’m not sure I want to invest the time.

Does Divergent belong in the high schools? I’d love to hear your opinion! And what’s the BEST (contemporary) book currently being taught?

Why I read “so much”!

I’ve been asked how I find time to read so much. That leads me to think about what I would be doing if I didn’t “read so much”. I know one thing I should be doing… housework! I’m sort of minimalist in the housework department. I tolerate dust. I imagine other people have schedules – wash the floor once a week or once a month or whatever. I’m more of an “at need” housecleaner. My cooking involves as many shortcuts as I can figure out.

I read because I can’t help it.

I’m reading a bit more than I was two years ago, because I had to (mostly) give up knitting and crochet. I severely damaged my by hands binge gardening. Yes, a gardening overuse injury. Every joint in both hands was involved, leaving me temporarily in very bad shape, unable to do anything requiring hand strength – open a can of Coke, lift a gallon of milk… Gradually, the pain receded and some strength returned. Except for my wrists. There the pain still lingers… I consulted a specialist, who took x-rays and said that my scaphoid bones (one in each hand) are ruined. So I have arthritis, and its probably here to stay. Maybe also tendonitis, which might get better.

So I gave up knitting and crochet, and gardening. Two major hobbies, lost in a single stroke! I could argue that I should give up housework, but I don’t like to play that card. I haven’t even tried to play piano.

An odd consequence of this is that I’m now reluctant to shake hands, and if I must, I tuck my thumb safely against my palm and offer only my fingers. Sometimes I just nod and apologize, referring vaguely to injury. Wouldn’t you think, as a society, that we would have some polite way to signal “I’d love to shake your hand but I can’t”? Sometimes my body language seems to convey the message, and I haven’t been victimized by an overly enthusiastic handshake in the past six months.

In the good news department, I can still use a regular computer keyboard, and it is in fact easier than writing with a pen. So my blogging habit hasn’t suffered, nor has my work.

My New Kindle – not a rave review

A few months ago, I promised a review of my new Kindle, the previous device having met an unfortunate end (see June 11, 2014 blog entry).

My new Kindle is a Paperwhite, the kind that lights up. I love that feature! To read easily in the dark is a great amenity. The battery seems even better than in my old Kindle. I can read and read on a single charge.

Aside from those advantages, my new Kindle still feels awkward. For a time, I had trouble with downloads from Amazon. It’s harder for me to know whether or not I have the wi-fi turned on. I get “updates” without “accepting” them or knowing why I needed them, which makes me vaguely uneasy.

I have a whole suite of features and services I don’t completely understand and don’t use.

I got a durable case for my new Kindle. It’s small and I can tuck it into my purse. So I’m still a Kindle user, but soon I may figure out how to meet my reading needs using my phone or a tablet. Then the Kindle (like so many specialized devices) will be history.

Literary Flu

The highest compliment I can give a book is to say it gave me a case of “literary flu”. You know the ailment, right? You start reading a book, and its time to go to work, but you just don’t feel good. Something aches… or twitches. Getting dressed just seems like too much effort. You might be coming down with something! YOU don’t want to be the bad guy who brings Chicken flu or whatever to the office… Better stay home!

So you make tea, call out sick and nestle up with that book… And somehow, next day, you’re fine!

What books have had this kind of impact on me? Cold Mountain by Charles Frasier. Anathem by Neal Stephenson. A good friend succumbed to Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies. And the last book in the Harry Potter series.

I’m reading such a book right now. Watch for details in a few days! And leave a comment if you want to recommend a book that gave you a case of LITERARY FLU!

Book Source – Paul Dry Books

I don’t normally select books according to their publishers – indeed, I could rarely tell you who published a book I am reading. I met Paul Dry (of Philadelphia) a decade ago, shortly after he founded Paul Dry Books (PDB). PDB is a very small publishing firm that puts out whatever books strike Paul Dry’s fancy, at the rate of ten or a dozen per year.

Some of Dry’s selections are interesting, relatively obscure books that have gone “out of print”, a status that may be diminishing as the reach of Amazon.com and other mega-suppliers extends. Others are translations. The author list is eclectic in the extreme. The most published author is the very prolific Eva Brann, whose books are so scholarly that I have not actually finished even one of them.

I’ve fared much better with Paul Dry’s fiction selections, like His Monkey Wife and The Summer House – a Trilogy. I also enjoyed Nat Hentoff’s memoir, Boston Boy.

In a world of mega-corporations, bookstore chains, electronic publishing and giant publishing “houses”, it’s refreshing to come across a company as independent and quirky as Paul Dry Books. I’m putting several of his books onto my Christmas list and struggling with my conscience over the possibility of downloading some of his authors onto my Kindle (from Amazon).

My Kindle Died

My Kindle died! Maybe I killed it. I took it almost everywhere, and that included camping on Memorial Day weekend. A thundershower was closing in and we tossed everything under a convenient canopy before taking shelter in my brother-in-law’s Jeep.

My Kindle did NOT get wet! Damp, perhaps… But more likely it got torqued. It was in a bag full of miscellaneous food items… Do not pack your Kindle with canned goods. Half the screen was frozen with black streaks. Turning it off and back on and other interventions accomplished no improvement.

I shouldn’t complain. My Kindle was showing wear. I bought it three years ago, and found it wonderful for travel. Yes, I need six books for a week at the beach. Maybe more. I also appreciated the instant gratification of shopping in the Kindle store and the convenience of not having to remember to drive to a library. (I patronize several, none actually in my daily orbit.)

I was just plain shocked to be interrupted mid-book. For two or three days I compensated by writing in my journal. It’s not as if my house is short of books, but many fall into some inconvenient category –

  • already been read
  • reflecting someone else’s interests
  • I’m supposed to be interested but I’m not
  • purchased by mistake
  • given by someone with good intentions…

You know what I mean. Finally I yanked down a copy of Terry Pratchett’s Wintersmith. Great for bedtime or the odd moment when eating lunch. Pratchett’s wacky humor stands up pretty well. I wish I had a copy of The Wee Free Men.

After a week or so, I snapped out of my funk and ordered a new Kindle, a Paperwhite, the kind that lights up. I also found a stack of relatively new, unread books, and settled down with some good journalistic non-fiction. Stay tuned for a blog entry shortly. And a connoisseur’s evaluation of the Kindle Paperwhite!

Introducing… my partners!

One thing I didn’t anticipate when I started blogging was how I would use reference materials. After all, I only meant to record my reactions to books, and this isn’t being graded, so why do I find myself using “reference materials”? I guess its because my standards are a little higher in a blog that can be accessed by anyone who cares to visit, than they were when I was scribbling in a notebook.

My “partners” are two websites, Amazon.com and Wikipedia. I use Amazon to confirm authors names and find out what else they have written. Often I want to know the date of publication of a book, or which came first in a sequence. I use Wikipedia for further information about authors, and for other “fact checking”, especially on historical events. (I can get American President’s out of order, so imagine how confused I feel when pondering the Wars of the Roses!)

If information had been this readily available when I was a kid (and being forced to write book reports), maybe I would have enjoyed writing more. I know, my two sources are “casual” and serious investigation should go deeper, but it’s so nice to have my quick questions answered. Thanks, partners!

One unexpected outcome of my visits to Amazon is that I’ve started to submit reviews to them. Three, so far. In one case, I was shocked to find out that I book I very much enjoyed (Cities are Good for You by Hollis, blog posts dated August 9 and 26, 2013) had only one posted review! So I combined my blog entries and posted. Amazon has such good manners! They thanked me politely and didn’t rebuke me for being lengthy.

In terms of being read, reviews on Amazon are likely seen by many more people than my blog posts, but I don’t expect to become a “regular” with them.

Now I’m headed to Amazon.com to find out about the books of Oliver Sachs. I think I’ve read three or four, and don’t know how many he wrote.