Thursday, May 29, 2008
I am sneaking in some reading, though.
Today was gorgeous, so I staked Miss Daisy out in the yard with a chew stick while I sat on the porch and read After Dark, by Haruki Murakami. It feels like I haven't picked up a novel in ages. Between my slow reading in general and my non-fiction/environmental jag, I guess it sort is the first novel I've read in a while!
This is only my second Murakami offering, after Norwegian Wood, but so far it certainly lives up to my expectations. His writing is simple, straightforward, readable. I do love that there's a surreal glaze over everything. It doesn't strike me as magical realism, but there are some funky, otherworldly elements. In After Dark for instance, there is a lot of play with images. The book follows the characters through one late night. Each chapter is a different time in the night. One particular character is sleeping peacefully when her TV comes on and "we"--the reader and the narrator--see a man in a suit with a translucent mask on watching her sleep through the TV screen. Later we realize that she is now in the TV with the man while an empty bed occupies her room.
I'm not sure what the point of the surrealism is just yet--or if there's a purpose at all--but it certainly is striking. Murakami's knack for including affecting detail without overdoing it or making the writing tedious is his greatest strength. It's all very movie-like in my head. Love it!
In other reading endeavors, I decided it's been far too long since I bought a book, so I went to Books-a-Million during my downtime between classes today. I picked up the audio version of Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, by Mary Roach. I know a lot of people have said they didn't particularly like this book...especially in comparison to Stiff, but so far I'm enjoying it. I love Roach's humor, and if nothing else, I'm sure I'll find that part of the book satisfying.
I also picked up a copy of Green, Greener, Greenest, by Lori Bongiorno. I've been lusting after it for a while, and I intend to include it in the goals I set for the first leg of the EcoJustice Challenge. I was particularly interested in Bongiorno's introduction. She mentions that her interest in environmental issues is rooted in health. Her husband died after a fight with melanoma, and she began to reevaluate what she was feeding her kids, slathering on their bodies, etc. Green, Greener, Greenest tackles food, cleaning, clothing, and other facets of everyday life and shows a continuum of green things a reader can do dependent upon their level of interest, finances, and commitment to the particular area in question. For instance, I'm really interested in the food part of going green. She writes about how foods are certified organic, gives the three levels that one might go to in order to be green, greener, or greenest. She emphasizes making small changes in everyday life, thus the options and ideas for picking and choosing what works in one's everyday life.
All in all, my reading is awesome this week in comparison to what it's been lately. Hopefully I can keep the momentum going. This pretty weather certainly helps. Daisy will drag me outside as MANY TIMES AS SHE CAN every afternoon, so if we can both lounge, everybody wins.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Monday, May 26, 2008
The most refreshing part of my break was the reading!
Daisy is still teething (lost two molars today), so she spent quite a bit of time feeling icky and napping. That meant uninterrupted reading time for me. Just enough time to polish off Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver.
You can read a review-in-progress (that I wrote last week) in this week's Finicky Reader installment at Bibliobuffet. Now that I'm finished I can give you a better idea of what I loved about this book. And LOOOOVED it I did (four O's worth!).
First, I have to say, this is probably my very favorite book of the year so far. That's pretty impressive given the fact that I've read or listened to some stellar books Now that I'm done, Kingsolver's masterful book will go straight to my "keep forever" shelves, and I'll use it as a reference book, recipe book, and I'll certainly re-read it when I need some inspiration.
The Kingsolver-Hopp family's year as locavores (eating as locally and organically as possible) is nothing short of inspirational. It's so much better for the environment and personal health to cut out preservatives and all the gas guzzling that goes on to transport foods across the country. Why not at least try to seek out local foods? I'm lucky to have a good piece of land at my disposal...our garden takes up a good half-acre...and live in a rural area with tons of farms. I'm growing my own herbs, attempting to cook more, preserve more food, and thanks to Kingsolver I have some great new recipes and techniques to try. Did you know you can make homemade mozzarella cheese in about 30 minutes?! Holy crap! I'm a cheese FREAK, so it's wonderful to know that some of those out-of-reach products can actually come to fruition over my home stove.
It's hard to put into words what's so damn great about this book, but it is so SO great. It's equal parts education and inspiration, and I can't wait to try even more new changes in my kitchen. I'll keep you posted here, and certainly at Unlikely Activist.
I hope the Americans in the bunch had a wonderful, relaxing Memorial Day holiday! As for the rest of you, happy Monday!
Friday, May 23, 2008
Thursday, May 22, 2008
- Thought I broke my toe Monday. Must've been a really nasty, deep bruise.
- Started back to work Tuesday. Love my classes. Love.
- Papers to grade, house to clean, dog to amuse.
- Not reading.
- Cluttered head.
- Must whittle obligations down to bare minimum to maintain some semblance of "Andi Time."
Will be back when I don't want to strangle innocent strangers or family members.Appropriate song for current mood: "Gunpowder and Lead"...see Playlist at very bottom of blog. Listen. Repeat.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Definitely a worthwhile read!
Read the review HERE.
Also, as a side note, check out my latest foray into vegetarian cooking at Unlikely Activist. This week's veggie dish (so far) is Artichoke-Feta Pasta. Yes, I know, I still dig dairy.
"Choose a political or social issue that matters to you. Find several books addressing that issue; they don’t have to books you’ve read, just books you might like to read. Using images (of the book covers or whatever you feel illustrates your topic) present these books in your blog."
I was going to choose environmental issues, but that's just too darn easy. Since I've really become impassioned about the environment lately, I thought I'd give you a dose of something new that's equally titillating to me. Because I am an educator I'm always involved in enriching my students' critical thinking skills, and as I age, and as I continue to grow as a critical thinker and chronic questioner, I'm incredibly interested in issues of intellectualism (or anti-intellectualism as you'll see in some of the titles below) and education.
It's been a number of years ago, but as a high school teacher I once had a student say to me,
"Miss Miller, you're smarter than you act." At first I wasn't sure what to make of his comment. Flattered or flustered? I tend to be one of those teachers that does not break into lengthy impassioned speeches with my students. I rarely hop on a soap box. I rarely hit them over the head with my values and ideals. Instead, I like to lead through example, asking open-ended and "devil's advocate" types of questions in an effort to lead my students into some critical thinking of their own and leave them free to express their ideas no matter how different from my own they might be. In short, I try to ask students the questions they've never had to answer. Back then, as a 22-year-old high school teacher, I was not brave as an educator. I was not a creative educator, and I certainly didn't want to make too many waves or come off as pretentious.
That, folks, is the problem. So many times in my own life, and in the lives of my students, we've run into situations where a family member, a loved one, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a stranger with balls the size of basketballs says, "You and that education. You're gettin' above your raisin'!" or "God, you think too much. You make things so much more complicated than they should be."
In other words, many of the folks who get really vocal about education, social issues, etc. are simply labeled pretentious, overthinkers, wave makers. Trouble makers. I've gotten old enough and secure enough to say "damn those people" and go on with my overthinking. To me, these types of attitudes tend toward a sweeping plague of anti-intellectualism in this country, and I'm really interested in reading some books about the topic to explore it further.
Generally, my laid back, "devil's advocate" approach seems to work in my classroom. It's rare that a semester passes without a few students telling me, "Wow, you really made me think. It was hard work, but I learned a lot." And I can only hope that my students will continue to think critically, question those things that are generally considered "givens," and confront the everyday binaries they run into.
With these sentiments in mind, I bring you some titles on intellectualism, anti-intellectualism, and education. I have no idea whether or not I agree with these folks--as I haven't read the books--but they're definitely on my wishlist.
Blurb: Jacoby offers an unsparing indictment of the American addiction to infotainment--from television to the Web--and cites this toxic dependency as the major element distinguishing our current age of unreason from earlier outbreaks of American anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism. With reading on the decline and scientific and historical illiteracy on the rise, an increasingly ignorant public square is dominated by debased media-driven language and received opinion.
At this critical political juncture, nothing could be more important than recognizing the "overarching crisis of memory and knowledge" described in this impassioned, tough-minded book, which challenges Americans to face the painful truth about what the flights from reason has cost us as individuals and as a nation.
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, by Richard Hofstadter
Blurb: A book which throws light on many features of the American character. Its concern is not merely to portray the scorners of intellect in American life, but to say something about what the intellectual is, and can be, as a force in a democratic society.
The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, by Elvin T. Lim
Blurb: How is it that contemporary presidents talk so much and yet say so little, as H. L. Mencken once described, like "dogs barking idiotically through endless nights?" In The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, Elvin Lim tackles this puzzle and argues forcefully that it is because we have been too preoccupied in our search for a "Great Communicator," and have failed to take presidents to task for what they communicate to us. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, he argues, spoke in a qualitatively different style than Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Reagan and Clinton merely connected with us; the two Roosevelts educated us. To alert us to the gradual rot of presidential rhetoric, Lim examines two centuries of presidential speeches to demonstrate the relentless and ever-increasing simplificaton of presidential rhetoric. If these trends persist, Lim projects that the State of the Union addresses in the next century could actually read at the fifth-grade level.
Post-Intellectualism and the Decline of Democracy, by Donald N. Wood
Blurb: Our society's institutional infrastructures — our democratic political system, economic structures, legal practices, and educational establishment — were all created as intellectual outgrowths of the Enlightenment. All our cultural institutions are based on the intellectual idea that an enlightened citizenry could govern its affairs with reason and responsibility. In the late 20th century, however, we are witnessing the disintegration of much of our cultural heritage. Wood argues that this is due to our evolution into a post-intellectual society — a society characterized by a loss of critical thinking, the substitution of information for knowledge, mediated reality, increasing illiteracy, loss of privacy, specialization, psychological isolation, hyper-urbanization, moral anarchy, and political debilitation. These post-intellectual realities are all triggered by three underlying determinants: the failure of linear growth and expansion to sustain our economic system; the runaway information overload; and technological determinism. Wood presents a new and innovative social theory, challenging readers to analyze all our post-intellectual cultural malaise in terms of these three fundamental determinants.
Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, by Rafe Esquith
Blurb: From the man whom The New York Times calls "a genius and a saint" comes a revelatory program for educating today's youth. In Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, Rafe Esquith reveals the techniques that have made him one of the most acclaimed educators of our time. The two mottoes in Esquith's classroom are "Be Nice, Work Hard," and "There Are No Shortcuts." His students voluntarily come to school at 6:30 in the morning and work until 5:00 in the afternoon. They learn to handle money responsibly, tackle algebra, and travel the country to study history. They pair Hamlet with rock and roll, and read the American classics. Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire is a brilliant and inspiring road map for parents, teachers, and anyone who cares about the future success of our nation's children.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
In other news, I finished one of my vacation/review books this morning. Why Animals Matter: The Case for Animal Protection (Erin E. Williams and Margo DeMello) was beyond awesome. It is some of the best non-fiction I've read in a while. As you might imagine, given my gooey attitude toward animals, it was not an easy read. However, it was incredibly informative, striking, and I daresay it will heavily impact some of the changes I make in regards to eating meat. More to come in the form of a review at The Environmental Blog, and I'm sure I'll discuss it more at Unlikely Activist.
Now I'm heavily into Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I hope I can finish it in the next couple of days. If I get some uninterrupted reading time I'll be set.
As for upcoming reading, I have some goodies on the horizon. I need to read Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote for the Year of Reading Dangerously. Beyond that, I have an assload (pardon my French, but I've gone way beyond a buttload) of review books to tackle with more falling in the door every day. Whew!
Keep an eye out for upcoming Daisy stories and pics. She's REALLY glad to be home from her boarding adventure at the vet's office, and she's losing teeth left and right!
Note: Check out the Why Animals Matter website for additional information about factory farming, animal testing, and links to animal aid organizations.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
These first two are from a random stop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We stumbled the short distance down the bank to stand on rocks in the middle of this flowing river. I picked up some gorgeous stones (the rock hound in me...my grandmother's fault) and put my toes in the icy water.
From a lookout point--5,000 feet above sea level--in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As you can see there was a storm moving in. These turned out much better than I expected at the time.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Saturday, May 10, 2008
I've been slowly but surely catching up on my blog reading, and I have to say, I've missed you all SO MUCH!!! If I wasn't so ready for a vacation I'd be really irked that I'll be another week behind on blogs soon.
As it is, I don't have much to report in the book department. I haven't totally settled back into my reading just yet, but I hope to remedy that in the next week or so. Here are a couple of books that have landed on my review pile recently:
I am certain that Why Animals Matter: The Case for Animal Protection will tear me up at some point. I make a point not to read about animal abuse or mistreatment, but when this one came through for The Environmental Blog I couldn't really say no. It will certainly be informative and it's something I feel I need to read, but it will be tough going.
A very short blurb from the publisher:
"Animal experts Williams (who works for the Humane Society) and DeMello (Stories Rabbits Tell) deliver an excellent look at cruelty to animals on an institutional level in various industries, taking a 'common sense perspective' and revealing many disturbing facts that could turn the most ardent meat eater into a hard-core vegetarian. Read more HERE.
I tend to turn a blind eye to the treatment of animals by the meat industry especially. However, because I do live in an area with lots of meat processing plants and whatnot now, it's right in my face. It's not unusual to see an overloaded hog truck headed off to slaughter or poorly treated chickens riding to their death. Hog houses, turkey houses, chicken houses...all standard stuff in this area. It's really quite affecting.
From the publisher:
Author James Speth, contends that this situation is a severe indictment of the economic and political system we call modern capitalism. Our vital task is now to change the operating instructions for today’s destructive world economy before it is too late. The book is about how to do that.
I'll keep y'all posted on how these come along. I'm taking Why Animals Matter on vacation with me, so maybe it'll deter me from eating so much barbecue.
As for Daisy, I am sad to say that she will not be going with us on vacation. Our vet here in town is fantastic, and they have a really superlative boarding and play area, so she'll be their guest for the five days we're gone. I can only imagine how excited she'll be when we get back. Our laps will be full of puppy for a week. I've already started planning her list of things to pack (her pink blanket, stuffed rat, kong chew toy, and Science Diet Small Bites puppy food.
This week was one of milestones for our pup. I noticed on Tuesday night, when she was chewing on a rawhide chip, there was blood on the chew. I took a look, and sure enough, she was bleeding around one of her loose molars. Well, totally unlike me when I was a pup, she wanted that tooth OUT of there. She chewed as hard as she could (all the while my butt was puckering watching her), and the molar fell out in my hand. Thursday night she lost a second one. Now I have two cute little puppy teeth in my jewelry box.
In closing, Andi tagged me for the Six Things About Me meme. I think I've done this one before, but I'm sure I can come up with six more things you don't know about me.
1. I detest cakes that taste like fruit. That is to say, I can deal with fillings including real fruit--raspberry filling in wedding cake, etc, but fake fruit flavorings totally gross me out. Orange cake, strawberry cake, pineapple cake--God forbid, banana cake. YUCK!
2. I'm thinking of getting a tattoo of running cherry blossoms. I expect it would reach from my left shoulder blade to the base of my neck. I'd like something colorful and delicate.
3. My hair has grown out past my shoulders. I'm notorious for my rotating hairstyles and colors, and when I finally ran out of short cut ideas a year or so ago, I decided to go polar opposite and let it grow out. It's really really curly, so I tend to wear it up a lot to keep it out of my face. I think it's time to chop it off and dye it auburn again.
4. I'm a horrible movie watcher. I go through phases when I can't get enough movies, but right now I'm in a dry spell (have been for almost a year). I get a Netflix movie, keep it for two months, finally watch it, and then send it back for another movie I'll keep for two months. Luckily I've downgraded my package, so I'm not wasting *much* money.
5. I would love to bake more. I have lofty ideas of baking exotic desserts, massive cakes, and pies with towering meringues. And no counter space to do it. Hmmphf.
If you'd like to do the meme, leave me a comment and I'll check out your answers! I love doing these things and reading others' answers.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Almost done with grading! I should be back on the bloggy scene tomorrow.
Monday, May 05, 2008
But enough about that. Links!
This week's BiblioBuffet column is a rumination on my huge "to be read" (TBR) stack.
To read about my first foray into vegetarian cooking, try this post from Unlikely Activist.
And last, but certainly not least, give the newest issue of Estella's Revenge a look. This month's theme is "travel."
For those of you who wondered, I did take Daisy to work with me on Wednesday!!! We had so much fun. First we stopped by the park down the street from the college and watched some kids play baseball. She was sensory overloaded by all the squawking and shouting children, but she had a fabulous time sniffing around once she got used to the noise. Campus was much quieter, so I took her out behind the building where we usually have class and let her chase some squirrels. My students loved her, and she loved them. By the time I got her home, she was totally pooped and she passed out on the couch early.
I need to go to Full-Time campus in G-vegas today to get some work done and drop in to a colleague's retirement party. Then I have to come home, gather up some grades, and go to K-vegas to Part-Time campus to drop off some more grades. We might load up our stuff and make another trip to the park.
I wish I had a picture of Miss Daisy at the moment. I have the computer in my lap, sort of off to the right side, and she's got her head on my knee on the left side. So cute. Just to remind you how cute....
I have no idea how she sleeps like this, but surprisingly she's been known to sleep in weirder, more painful looking positions. She's getting so big. Her new thing is to stand in the kitchen with her front paws up on the dining table and go fishing for bits of paper (receipts, grade sheets, essays, books). It's annoying, but she's so cute it doesn't matter much.
In minimal book news, I picked up The Omnivore's Dilemma last night!! I love it so far, even though I'm not far into it.
For now I'm off to enjoy a lazy morning until I need to leave for work. That's code for "read all the blogs I'm behind on!"
Sunday, May 04, 2008
I have an unusually large number of incredibly advanced students this semester. I'm teaching Literature-Based Research, which is a beginning composition course that focuses more on the techniques of research as related to literature than in-depth discussion of literary issues. That is, my students are just learning the language of literary analysis and how to hunt for and employ literary criticism. The class I'm grading at the moment is an 8-week online course, and I have to tell you, there are few things more daunting than trying to teach the basics of literary analysis (vocabulary, style, critical thinking), MLA format, and research (literary criticism, library datases) in 8 weeks without ever seeing the students.
Although teaching this class was a gargantuan task, I have thoroughly enjoyed my online students, and they've been joyfully up for anything when it comes to the course reading and writing. We did a short fiction unit that focused on William Faulkner's short story, "A Rose for Emily," a poetry unit that covered a mish-mash of stuff including Louise Gluck's "Gretel in Darkness," T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and Langston Hughes's "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" and "Theme for English B." Finally, we did a short Drama unit over David Auburn's Pulitzer-winning play, Proof.
So far most of the students have opted to write about "Emily" as that paper was the longest and most involved of the ones we completed earlier in the semester. They simply had to expand and deepen their existing analysis and add some sources to complete the 7-10 page final paper. However, I have some very brave, motivated students, and a few of them chose to go a different way and start largely from scratch.
In particular, I'm giddily pleased with two papers: one over "Gretel in Darkness" and another over "Theme for English B." Admittedly, I'm pretty excited about these papers because they're about two of my very favorite poems.
"Gretel in Darkness," as you might expect, is an offshoot of the "Hansel and Gretel" fairy tale. The poem doesn't retell the story, it ruminates on Gretel's fate after having killed the witch. Have a look...
This is the world we wanted.
All who would have seen us dead
are dead. I hear the witch's cry
break in the moonlight through a sheet
of sugar: God rewards.
Her tongue shrivels into gas . . .
Now, far from women's arms
and memory of women, in our father's hut
we sleep, are never hungry.
Why do I not forget?
My father bars the door, bars harm
from this house, and it is years.
No one remembers. Even you, my brother,
summer afternoons you look at me as though
you meant to leave,
as though it never happened.
But I killed for you. I see armed firs,
the spires of that gleaming kiln--
Nights I turn to you to hold me
but you are not there.
Am I alone? Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real,
that black forest and the fire in earnest.
I just adore the imagery Gluck uses in this poem. It's so dark and moody and daring.
Langston Hughes's "Theme for English B" has been a favorite of mine since I read it in an American Lit. survey course as an undergraduate. Hughes is another master of imagery and wordplay...
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you---
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me---we two---you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me---who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records---Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white---
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me---
although you're older---and white---
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
The student(s) really enjoyed the way the speaker in the poem humanizes himself to a white teacher and draws attention to shared experiences.
As a teacher myself, it's always exciting when the students see something admirable and fun in some of my favorites (although I never let them know which ones are my favorite pieces until after the fact).