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Books I'm Reading Even Now
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I'm on record as being an enormous Douglas Adams fan, and what's more, determined to get other readers hooked on his work. While The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is his most famous book, he had another series that doesn't get as much attention, starring Dirk Gently, he of the Holistic Detective Agency. I'm currently reading the second book, The Long, Dark Tea Time of the Soul. In it, an information counter is vaporized by what looks like lightning, though nothing else nearby is harmed. Investigators term it "an act of god." Dirk Gently, holistic methods front and center, is tasked with figuring out which god it was. 
Posted by vanduygh  On Sep 13, 2017 at 4:54 PM
Hurrah for book talks!

In the most recent round of book talks I made my way around the room, and I overheard a student describe a very interesting book to the others at their table. Upon investigation, I discovered that the book was...okay, it was absolutely gorgeous. I know, I know--I'm a language arts teacher, and I should be impressed solely by subject/verb agreement and suchlike, but have you ever seen a book that was just so cool you involuntarily said wow, and then had to dial it back? Well--Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1 by Joseph Fink is one of those books. Neat looking, absurd, and the sort of thing that feels like you could make your own (in a Harry Potter or Hitchhiker's Guide sort of way) it's 100% my sort of book. Absurd? Yessir. There's silly irony all over the place in this collection of short stories which were actually scripts for their podcasts are centered upon a sun-baked desert town. The narrator is a small-time radio DJ (as was I; that may have been a touchstone) and his local news missives are a silly delight. 

My opinion, had I chanced upon this book myself, would have been that it was too complicated for 7th graders. And yet, it was a 7th grader's book talk that drew me to it!

These wonderful kids never stop impressing me.
Posted by vanduygh  On Jan 25, 2017 at 7:31 PM
I'd really underestimated how much fun Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanacks were! It's so clear, and so applicable to modern times! To wit:

Who has deceiv'd thee so oft as thy self?

Write with the learned, pronounce with the vulgar.

Hast thou virtue? acquire also the graces & beauties of virtue.

If thou hast wit & learning, add to it Wisdom and Modesty.

The ancients tell us what is best; but we must learn of the moderns what is fittest.

Wish not so much to live long as to live well.

As we must account for every idle word, so we must for every idle silence.

Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others.

And one that has me googling the hours of the nearest tattoo shops:

If you wou'd not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worth reading,
or do things worth the writing

Posted by vanduygh  On Dec 19, 2016 at 10:18 AM
I'm still enjoying Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar--if only I'd have started it before our figurative language unit! Nearly every sentence is a vivid simile; the poor girl didn't know how to stop writing poetry. I think the students would have gotten a kick out of a lot of it, and I may need to take some excerpts from it for the figurative language review at the end of the year.

I also just finished reading Laura Jane Grace's Tranny, which surely is not everyone's cup of tea (nor mine, really, and I do wish they'd have titled it something else) but I enjoyed the bravery of the story and the unapologetic tone. The writer makes use of old journals and new writings in telling their story. They had everything to lose by being honest with their fans, but found a new bond and respect with them instead. It's an inspiring tale, but I won't be lending this one out to students anytime soon.

On that subject--students borrow books from me all the time, but I am careful not to lend anything that would not be appropriate. It's only responsible to consider cultural and familial norms when making a recommendation, and shirking that responsibility is to fail to provide the guidance that forms the core of good teaching.
Posted by vanduygh  On Dec 16, 2016 at 10:56 AM
I got to introduce two of my favorite pieces this week: Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" and Jack London's "To Build a Fire."

I am an impassioned defender of London--his writing is beautiful and image-packed without being tricky or overly clever. He just seems to understand what is beautiful and dangerous about the world, and works both into "To Build a Fire" in equal measure.

I'll let "Those Winter Sundays" speak for itself. 

Those Winter Sundays 
By Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early 
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, 
then with cracked hands that ached 
from labor in the weekday weather made 
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. 

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. 
When the rooms were warm, he’d call, 
and slowly I would rise and dress, 
fearing the chronic angers of that house, 

Speaking indifferently to him, 
who had driven out the cold 
and polished my good shoes as well. 
What did I know, what did I know 
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Posted by vanduygh  On Nov 29, 2016 at 5:31 PM
I first read Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar in college; I think that I probably felt I was supposed to. It seemed that arty types like me, Morrissey, and various professors had all read it and enjoyed disparaging it mercilessly in public. I read it quickly, saw what I was looking to see, and was as good at making fun of poor Sylvia as anybody. Fast forward 20 years, and it's a much different read for me. It's incredibly vivid, and I really like that the writing gets more chaotic and less grammatical as the narrator's state worsens. Some of the themes, such as the problem of women not being taken seriously as writers or thinkers, resonate louder than ever today.

I'm also reading Mckay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. I saw it mentioned in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, and decided to look for it. It's a very funny book, though the 19th century Scottish/English dialect can be a bit challenging. The author focuses on major historical events that modern culture has decided to misunderstand because the misunderstanding is more important to us than knowing what really happened. Subjects include Columbus in Hispanola, The Children's Crusade, and the Salem Witch Trials. It's neat stuff, and I'd recommend it for any history buff who is prepared to wade through Mackay's language. There's a whole lot of defining words in context here.

Posted by vanduygh  On Nov 17, 2016 at 8:57 AM