Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rollie Loves Kids and Kids Love Rollie

Part of my job, until Friday, when the program was cut, was teaching kids. Humane education is the absolute favorite part of my week. I don't even like kids, but I love seeing them "get" it when I talk to them about responsible ownership or safety or pit bulls. I realized it was what I liked about library school- information literacy- and it was always what I liked about animal control- helping people learn to be better people to their pets. Teaching is a two way street- every time I go into a class, I learn something new about kids and how they think and learn and about how I can do better.

Today I got some amazing thank you's, many in English clearly from English learners. I teach a lesson with many components but the students really remember Rollie. I love it when they "get" the whole lesson, but I also love it when they get the safety part- maybe they won't get bit! They sent wishes for Rollie to get his sight back. I wanted to share them- photos with my slight translations below.

Richard House: The Kills

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Okay. I could NOT put this book(s) down. We've established that I don't read a lot of fiction, but I went through some "best of" lists lately and put some books down on my shrinking "to read" list that I keep on my phone in case I happen to stumble into the library or a bookstore. Some were fiction. I never remember where these books come from, and some of them are terrible. The Kills was not terrible. It was not amazing, either, but I couldn't put it down, and it was 1000 pages, so that is saying something. Half the time I had no idea what was happening, but I think that is what happens in a complicated suspense-mystery-type thing- you just wait till it all makes sense.

This book is actually four books (Sutler, The Massive, The Kill and The Hit) combined into one book. I'm not sure if they were written and published separately and then combined into one giant volume, and I don't really care- I'd probably recommend you read them as The Kills. I didn't get sort of weary of Richard House's writing till 900 pages in, and that's saying something. I also probably wouldn't read them as stand-alones, either, because they didn't really make sense by themselves, or at least, they didn't have resolution. And, honestly, I might be tempted to read them again, something I never do, to figure out the story better.

There are actually two stories: the story of gruesome murders in Italy and the story of fraud in Amrah City- a fake city in the desert being created by war contractors. Both are equally confusing and wonderful in the way that mysteries or suspense or good fiction are supposed to be. The characters are weird and wonderful. Just read this book(s).

Rebecca Alexander: Not Fade Away

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This is not the kind of book I normally read- it's a fast paced, medium-well written autobiography of a really inspirational woman- Rebecca Alexander- who has Usher 3 syndrome which causes complete loss of vision and hearing. The reason I read this book (which is really quite good if it IS the kind of book you normally read) is that Becky (as I remember her) grew up in my neighborhood and who wouldn't read a book about a former neighbor/schoolmate turned celebrity (especially if your mother hands it to you), even if the reason for the celebrity is sort of a terrible one.

It's kind of awful and wonderful to read about people you knew peripherally growing up- like a voyeuristic look into your neighbors house three doors down, with sound. They don't even know who you are, and now you know everything about them. I guess, though, that when people write memoirs, they put it all out there and expect that everyone is going to read it. They have the choice of what to include, and how to describe it.

The Alexander family was one of the cool families, the ones we all kind of talked about in the neighborhood. And now I feel so shitty about that. Alexander herself says that they had the perfect family, and still insists on it. Rebecca and her twin (his name is changed to Daniel in the book) are one year older than me, and I remember them and the Baker boys as the cool, handsome, popular kids that I would never be like- at school or at Temple. When their parents got divorced, I remember we all thought it was so sweet that their parents switched houses instead of the kids having to shuffle back and forth. That's not quite how Rebecca remembers it- the sweet part (the parent dance happened). And when Rebecca fell out of a window, I remember the gossip. How terrible I feel now, knowing that this was related to her disease. Communities can be really shitty that way. I didn't know that Rebecca was also asked to leave our small, fancy, expensive private school because they couldn't handle her disabilities- I left before they could kick me out. This is now the third story I've heard of them being less than accommodating- although they later gave her an alumnae award which she has accepted with grace, one can only hope they've come around. I don't have high expectations. All of this I feel like I know now, but shouldn't. On the other hand, I couldn't put the book down.

Would the book have been so compelling if I didn't feel a connection- however unearned- to the protagonist? Probably not for me, but maybe for readers of this genre. Rebecca is really amazing. Although deaf and almost blind, she has a therapy practice and is probably more physically fit than anyone I know. She has amazing friendships while living in New York- notoriously isolating. She seems to handle some of the most awful challenges out there with grace and humor. It's inspiring, even for those of us with hard hearts. And she's put it out there, for others to learn from.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Way Late Reviews

It's been a crazy month or two (death and dying, etc.) and I have been reading but haven't had time to review. So brief, better-late-than-never reviews.

John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath I have been wanting to reread Steinbeck but haven't been able to find my copies of Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. I was super excited when I found the same version of Grapes of Wrath that I had always had- not the one pictured- at a used bookstore. Somehow I had forgotten the plot, just the Depression-era stuff. I had also forgotten Steinbeck's unique writing style. Honestly, although I'm glad I reread the book, I wasn't as excited about it as I was last time. It was eminently readable- Steinbeck writes as beautifully as you would expect a humble blogger like me to say- but the plot was not as moving or as heart wrenching as I remember. Maybe it's because Steinbeck has become so engrained in our national truth? Maybe it's because it's not dramatic like we now expect our fiction to be? Maybe it's because I don't read fiction? I mean, I feel like a terrible person saying that I was only hmmm about a Steinbeck book- as a reader, as a former Steinbeck worshipper, as an American? How inappropriate!

C.J. Pascoe: Dude You're a Fag This is an amazing books for Dorks Like Me interested in education, queer studies, gender studies, etc. It's probably a terrible book for anyone else- a book like the ones you read in college and were like, who READS this stuff? I actually found it super readable, but, like I said, I'm a big, fat, dork. Pascoe studied kids at a generic high school for a year and looked at the intersection of masculinity, sexuality and race and class. She found that really, all those kids yelling "you're a fag" at each other, aren't really saying "you're so gay" in the way us older people might think. They're actually establishing and re-establishing masculinity. And, of course, she calls out most looks at this subject as over-simplified: some groups at the school got to "play" with masculinity and sexuality in ways that others didn't/couldn't/wouldn't. Black boys and girls could play on the margins of acceptable/defined roles in different ways than white boys and girls, although still in prescribed ways, for the most part. She also scathingly points out how the public school creates and reinforces heterosexuality and traditional gender roles through school rituals- things like requiring the boys to wear suits and the girls to wear low-cut dresses in their school pictures, and in outrageously (hetero)sexual skits to compete for the equivalent of Senior King and Queen. Worth a read if you're into this stuff!

Roz Chast: Can't we talk about something more Pleasant? Roz Chast is a genius. You know her cartoons from the New Yorker. This graphic novel (I know- what IS a graphic novel when it's a memior? We've talked about this!) is wonderful. It was timely and awful- I haven't decided if people should read about death and dying when dealing with death and dying. Chast dealt with the death of her parents- she wasn't close to them- and then graphic novel-ed about it. She is harsh on herself, and honest about her parents, and the difficulty in the whole process. It's not an easy process, and that's what is so great about it- the memoir is honest and you want to laugh- not just because it's cartoons- but because it's just so real. It's a fast read, and I didn't want it to end. I wanted to keep having a friend to read about.

Christopher Hayes: Twilight of the Elites My dad and I often note that wonderful New Yorker authors don't always make great book writers- the long form of article writing doesn't always translate to a full-length book. It's my understanding that Christopher Hayes hosts a show on MSNBC (I don't watch TV except for binge watching on Hulu). He may be a great TV host, and he's a very smart guy, but he's not quite ready for full length books. "Twilight of the Elites" is a really interesting book with a great premise and wonderful promise but poor execution. I really wanted to finish it, so I did, but it took me forever, and I can't even remember what I read. Essentially, he argues against the concept of a meritocracy. The meritocracy "allows everyone to imagine the possibility of deliverance, to readily conjure the image of a lavish and wildly successful future. So that even if the number of kids from the South Bronx who end up at Goldman Sachs is trivial, even if the number of college grads from rural America who get into Harvard Law School is vanishingly small, the dream of accomplishment for our own children is the one thing we all share." The dream of the meritocracy holds sway for both right and left- we all want to win because we're good! And the idea of America being founded on a meritocracy (an anachronism from last century) is useful to us- we want to believe in the people who run the country because we want to believe that they deserve to be there. Hayes explains (and it might be wishful thinking) that America is actually run by an elite- the 1%- who didn't really get there out of merit. Now we resent this elite and mistrust them- and all of our institutions that we need to trust- and we've got a problem. (Problems like people not vaccinating their children because doctors can't be trusted, problems like not believing in global warming because scientists can't be trusted, problems like government mistrusting experts because they're experts and going to war on bad information.) This book is a good compliment to (and mentions!) The Spirit Level. It's not, however, a great read. Sadly.