Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Audacity of Rebel's Book Club

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about the books I’ve been reading… and I have actually been reading. I don’t know how much you folks get out of reading my highly opinionated and minimally educated reviews, but I like going back and refreshing my memory on books I’ve read. I hate it when someone mentions a book I read and I can’t even remember if I liked it or not. So here goes.

The Audacity of Hope, Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream – Barack Obama

Plot: The country is broken, and it really doesn’t have to be.

Motto: Yes we can.

Opinion: The book reads like Obama’s manifesto, and is very clearly a campaign tool, but nonetheless it is a very interesting read about the challenges facing America and the ways in which we can approach them as a country, rather than as opposite sides of a political battle.

I read this one back in March I think. Unfortunately, I've now waited entirely too long to write up this review and I can’t remember enough specifics about it to go into any detail. But I will tell you this- I get bored really easily when talking about government & politics ... but when I read this book I was engaged, and I intend to read it again so I can more fully understand some of his points. Obama is a very good author, his style is clear and focused without over-simplifying anything...I'm putting Dreams from my Father on my 'to read' list too, regardless of how the election turns out.

Sense & Sensibility – Jane Austin

Plot: Girls get the boys, girls lose the boys, girls get get the boys!

Motto: Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters…

Opinion: I liked it, but I liked the movie better.

It took a while for me to get into reading Austin’s style of writing, some of her turns of phrase are just not used any more. Having seen the movie (with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet) helped me follow the plot a lot better than I might have otherwise. But on the other hand, having seen the movie SEVERAL times, I couldn’t read the dialogues without hearing Thompson or Winslet’s voice.

There’s a reason this is a classic though. Austin develops her characters so fully, and you can really see the change in Marianne and Elinor as the story progresses. Both of the Miss Dashwoods have their flaws as well as graces. I appreciated seeing glimpses of Elinor’s selfish and emotional sides in light of her mature, responsible exterior. Also, in the book Willoughby is much more of a scoundrel, although he does get a chance to explain himself.

I really enjoyed the book, but I probably would not have liked it as well as I did if I had not seen the movie first. The movie is so well acted, with certain exchanges emphasised so much by tone of voice and significant glances. So my recommendation is that if you’ve seen the movie, read the book. If you’ve read the book first however, they’ve chopped a good bit out for the movie… so I’m not sure the recommendation would go both ways.

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

Plot: Two out of shape, middle aged men attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail.

Motto: Are we there yet?

Opinion: This is the second Bill Bryson book I’ve read, and I really like his style. He’s funny, factual, thoughtful, and tends to use a chatty style of writing that pulls the reader into the story.

Bryson starts out his adventure with lots of intellectual and material preparation, sharing with the reader a bit of history about the 2,100 mile stretch of trail running from Georgia to Maine. His college buddy Katz is somewhat less prepared. Although they do not walk the entire trail, they get a good feel for what life is like on the trail. There are lots of trees, for example, lots and lots and lots and lots of trees. And there are people along the trail, helpful kind people, and of course unusual and annoying people as well. Bryson does an awesome job of describing the people so colorfully that you can just about see them walking along the trail. You can also just about hear the sound of bears sneaking around somewhere out there on the trail with him!

The book takes a few somber turns when talking about the environmental degradation that has taken place along the Appalachians, and the state of the Parks Services tasked with taking care of the trail. But he’s not out to make a statement about it. If he has a statement at all, it’s that the reader should spend some time out exploring the natural world around them. Advice I intend to follow this summer after I stop working.

I’d recommend this book as a good vacation read, or a getting ready for vacation read. It’s not too heavy, but not pure fluff either, and parts are genuinely funny. I’ll be putting his other books on my ‘to read’ list ... but I’m in no hurry.

Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire – Rafe Esquith

Plot: Hardworking, self sacrificing teacher brings out the best in his poor, mostly immigrant students.

Motto: High expectations + lots of work = lifelong success.

Opinion: This is a very inspirational and impressive story. But rather than making me feel hopeful about what kids can accomplish, it made me feel sad that he had to give so very much of himself to make a difference. It also makes me a little sad that I didn’t have a teacher like him when I was in school. Not that I’m bashing my education, I had a lot of really good teachers, it’s just that I got the impression, while reading this book, that so much more is possible. Like… this is the man who could have taught me math!!

Esquith is clearly a man on a mission. He is passionate about upholding high standards for both himself and his students. He teaches academic subjects (not just science, math & reading, but also art, music, athletics, and theater) as well as life skills. And the whole time he is swimming against the stream of standardized testing, ineffective school administration, and ongoing cuts in funding.

The book starts out by describing Kohlberg's Six Stages of Moral Development.

He challenges his students to be level six thinkers. I have to admit, I spend a lot of time in levels 1 (what's in it for me) and 4 (rules are rules) right now… and if nothing else, am glad I read this book so I can start incorporating, or attempting to incorporate, more level six thinking in my life.

I highly recommend this book to teachers and parents. It’s unrealistic to expect other teachers to perform the kind of magic in their classrooms that Esquith does (I don’t want to diminish the amount of effort he puts into his classroom, but really, the man has a gift) but he presents some very practical ideas that could be used by anyone.

So those are the books I've most recently read. I'm currently diving into some books about Thailand and teaching abroad, in fact I'm on the last few pages of The Bangkok Survivor's Handbook. I should probably write up a review of that one before I start in on the next book. Any good recommendations for me?


Bezzie said...

I'm curious on a review of BO's *other* book you put on your list. Mom had a patron return it to the library the other day and said if more people read that book, that person doubted so many people would be on the BO bandwagon. Myself? Until HC drops out, I won't read any of his stuff. Not until I have to ;-)

Rebel said...

Yeah that is interesting... it could be because he did drugs and other naughty things as a teenager, he talked about that a bit in Audacity too. Or the fact that he went to a Muslim school as a kid (because it was the only good school where he lived). People are having a big problem with that too. And honey - you don't have to read anything you don't want to - regardless of who gets the nod.

Clare said...

Oh I love Jane Austin. Emma is my favourite. Agree with you about the film. We've just watched it for the umpteenth time. DD loves it!

Bill Bryson - brilliant! You ought to read the Thunderbolt Kid and Notes from a Small Island - in fact all of them! He is now an English National Treasure.

jovaliquilts said...

I have only read snippets of BO's books, but I'm an admirer. And I'm a Jane Austen fan, but know that I'm in the minority in not caring for Sense and Sensibility, and I couldn't even make it through the movie. I do watch P&P (the 6-hr version with Colin Firth) on a regular basis -- my daughter was just home visiting and we watched it this weekend, reciting dialogue with them the whole time. I used to read the book once or twice a year, but not since I've gotten that DVD. Don't know that Rafe Esquith book. I'll give some thought to inspirational books for teaching, esp. teaching abroad, but don't know any off the top of my head.

Olga said...

Here's my snooty uppity opinion of the movie- I love Emma but she was just too old to play the character she was- looked too old for my Mr. Grant.

Rebel said...

Yeah, that's one of the bigger criticisms of that movie. I adore Emma Thompson too, but I saw another version with a much younger pair of sisters and it made a lot more sense.

What I love though - is seeing them all again in Harry Potter! Seriously - half the characters show up in one movie or another.

Libby said...

Last night I finished "Persuasion" by Jane Austen for about the umpteenth time. I still LOVE it. My favorite Austen or a close tie with Pride & Prejudice. I think I just had to throw that in cause I'm so in love with that book, but if you're going to go for another Austen, that's my recommendation.

Batty said...

I loved BO's book. Usually not the type to read books written by politicians, but he manages to be entertaining while putting forth his platform... not an easy job, IMHO.

I seem to remember that Kohlberg's stages are somewhat outdated. There are some other interesting writings on moral development. If I could remember some of the feminist authors in particular, I'd tell you their names... I remember the discussions being really, really fascinating.

Michael5000 said...

Have you read Bryson's The Mother Tongue, Reb? It's my favorite of his, and it's a subject you're interested in. Hell, you could call it professional development....

One thing I like about Austin and other classic lit is the glimpse at the way people lived under different material circumstances. But, that can also make it a little hard to figure out what's going on. Seeing a good movie adaptation can really help you get into the text.

My favorite way that Austin's language is different from modern language is how her characters are always running around "making love" to each other. The first time you see that, you're like "omigod, British country life was a little more swingin' than I realized!" But eventually, the disappointing truth becomes clear.