Saturday, July 22, 2017

Cranford High School Summer Reading

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So here is one of my long-awaited updates on my take on summer reading selections from the high schools in Union County, NJ. I'm starting with Cranford High School. It looks like all students are supposed to read two books over the summer. AP and Honors students are supposed to read one "fictional" work selected by the teacher and one work of nonfiction from the list. Um, actually, mythology is generally cataloged under nonfiction just as poetry is under a section of nonfiction, so that's not strictly correct, but, okay, Cranford HS. You do you, boo.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Status Update

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Time flies when you're having fun . . . or not having fun. I guess it has been a mix of both since my last post. Currently, I am doing Camp NaNoWriMo and trying to rewrite a draft of a novel that I pitched to an agent at PPWC (by the way, this was a huge agent and if I mentioned his name, you would probably recognize it and boy would my face be red.) He was really interested in the idea and I came home, hopped on the computer hoping to give the ms a quick rewrite so I could send it off to him and I could only find a few pages. So, that was upsetting, but I didn't let it get me down too much. Unfortunately, shortly after that happened and I got back on the writing every day bandwagon, one of my dogs knocked a glass of Bloody Mary into my Macbook Pro and killed it. I know I'm creative, but seriously: I can't make this stuff up.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: Richard Nixon: The Life, by John A. Farrell

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Richard Nixon: The LifeRichard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I actually wanted to give John Farrell's latest oeuvre 5 stars, but I couldn't bring myself to do it because this book was so long and such a project to work through. Of course, I'm conflicted because had it been shorter and less detailed, it wouldn't have been quite as amazing as it is--at least I doubt it. Rachel Maddow introduced this book on her show back in December and I was going to ask someone to buy it for me for Christmas, but I realized it wouldn't be out by then, and with all the insanity happening around the 2016 election, I needed to get my hands on it ASAP. Lucky for me, Doubleday came through on NetGalley and I was able to snag an ARC. I'm glad I did because it took me months to finally get through this.

Since most of us at least think we know the story of Richard Nixon's life, I'm not going to get into a lot of the details here. Let's face it: we know how the story ends--he got impeached. Farrell does manage to cover a lot of the details that are less well understood like Nixon's bizarre relationship with his family in part because of the strange circumstances surrounding his childhood and early adulthood. Both of his brothers died young due to diseases that were thought to be well under control at the time. Nixon idolized his mother and never seemed to feel like he was good enough for her. Perhaps when he engaged the help of "The Plumbers" at the White House, he was trying to prove any negative thoughts she had about him right. I don't know.

Even though Nixon developed a love for politics that stuck with him after his run for Congress against Jerry Voorhees, he remained extremely sensitive to the press's critiques of him and much like the current administration, tried to silence and discredit the press at every opportunity. That ended badly for him when he was taken down by strong investigative reporting conducted by Woodward and Bernstein of The Washington Post.

Nixon's presidency was much more complicated than I was ever led to believe by my parents who lived through his presidency and demonized him. He wasn't a great president, but he did do a lot of good things that often go unacknowledged. He opened relations with China even though doing so was a bit controversial and sent him and Kissinger into mini-breakdowns in the process. He also established the EPA because he really did care about reducing emissions and pollution. Of course, it's worth noting that the Democratic and Republican parties were different in Nixon's time. Republicans were a bit more like Teddy Roosevelt in that they cherished open spaces and wanted to protect them for future generations. Meanwhile, Democrats were mainly from the south and in many cases, much more openly racist than Republicans. Nixon actually was friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. And Jackie Robinson. Those relationships were strained when he failed to come through on supporting them during some key moments in the fight against segregation and for equal rights, but a lot of that had more to do with Nixon's insecurities about losing elections over being perceived as too liberal than basic beliefs about his ideal future for race relations in the United States. At the time, both parties were filled with privileged white men who just wanted votes however they could get them. There were probably some notable exceptions because there always are, but even Jack Kennedy overall took a less enlightened view than Nixon when it came to the rights and treatment of African Americans.

Richard Nixon: The Life is a must-read given the current political climate. When you get to the part about the Watergate scandal, the parallels between that and the current investigation into Russia hacking the U.S. Election are eerie. In many ways, this is one of the most frightening books I've ever read, but I'm glad I did it. Just be prepared to be reading it for a while because it is really long.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Project

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As a high school student, I hated summer reading. I was a slow reader, and I didn't like anyone telling me I needed to select anything from a list. Also, since my mom was an English major in college, I never was at risk of just reading Stephen King all summer (not that there's anything wrong with that), but the books I chose to read were usually right along the lines of the ones included on the summer reading lists anyway.

These days, a lot of local high schools are making summer reading optional and I agree with that philosophy. I also want to support summer reading for a couple of readings: 1. A lot of people really love it (teens, tweens, and adults). The summer is a great time to catch up on good books. 2. I know it's a vain hope, but I like to think that like a fitness routine, if you get into a good reading routine, we might find it easier to continue that. I can dream, right?

Anyway, my small contribution to all of this is what I am referring to as my Summer Reading 2017 Project.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Dear Envelope-Gate Bigots: Your Cluelessness is Showing

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Like many people across the country, I live-tweeted the Oscars last night. I was born and raised in California, so the Academy Awards are bigger than the Superbowl for me. I wasn't particularly invested in any of the movies, aside from Hidden Figures, but I love the fashion, and it's just a fun, mindless activity. As you probably know, this year's ceremony had a surprise ending when Warren Beatty accidentally read the card for Emma Stone's Oscar win for Best Actress in a Leading Role for La La Land and declared that film winner of Best Picture when the award actually went to Moonlight. The response to everything that happened last night on Twitter? A whole bunch of 45 loyalists claiming that the liberals in California got what they deserved because they were "all" making fun of the president the whole night. Not that it means anything to you, but not everyone in Hollywood is liberal or anti-45, and the only person who roasted the president all night was Jimmy Kimmel, who didn't present an award to anyone.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: Hillbilly Elegy

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hillbilly Elegy was an interesting and entertaining read, especially in the aftermath of the 2016 election. It is now often cited by liberals who are trying to be Trump apologists as a way of explaining the desperation that could lead people to vote for someone like Trump. If anyone is reading this book as a political argument or a road map to providing better social services to the Appalachian population, this is a poor choice. This is a memoir, not a piece of political analysis, and J.D. Vance is not a political scientist. He would make an extremely bad one. He's also not a social worker or social scientist and he makes a point of saying that his memoir is not meant to propose any solutions to the social problems that plague his community in Appalachia and the people from Appalachia who have migrated to towns like Middletown, OH in an effort to escape the poverty.

Hillbilly Elegy is a less poetic version of The House on Mango Street only it's about poor white people instead of poor Hispanic people. Sandra Ciscneros is a much better writer, and that's probably the main reason her book ever received the amount of attention that it did because what is clear from the reception of Hillbilly is America is dying for a reason to feel sorry for poor whites; Hispanics just shouldn't be here in the first place and deserve what they get, right? If they don't like it here they should just go back. I'm sure I'm missing some other choice comment.

In Hillbilly, Vance chronicles his experiences of growing up in a broken home, relying primarily on his grandparents as parental figures. He laments the ways his lower class family failed to prepare him for the art of fine dining, completing the FAFSA (because if you're wealthy, that form is fun), and navigating higher education. He joined the Marines right out of high school, probably because his ASVAB scores wouldn't cut it for any other branch of the military. I'm sure that's more elitism at work there.

I give Hillbilly four stars not because it is well-written because it's okay. It's nothing special. I like it because it is more revealing than the author probably intends when it comes to understanding the true machinations of the minds of this population of whites in our country who feel left behind and are dying for someone to blame. My philosophy is that it is always better to know the ugly truth than to not know. This book helps you know if you are willing to set aside whatever it is you want it to say and really take in how Vance describes his family and his perception of life so far. Approaching this work as that kind of journey will leave you more enlightened as a result.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: Once Upon A Lie

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Once Upon A LieOnce Upon A Lie by Michael R. French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alex, a teen from a wealthy family in the Toluca Lake neighborhood of L.A. meets Jaleel, a poor African American boy, on the other side of Cahuenga Boulevard and is immediately fascinated by his independence, optimism and impeccable taste in literature. What she doesn't know is he is also wanted for a double murder in Peartree, TX (which he didn't commit.) Alex and Jaleel become fascinated with each other's worlds, but danger lurks beneath the surface for both of them. For Jaleel, it's being on the run from the law for a crime he didn't commit. For Alex, it's a tangled web of dark family secrets that grow darker.

Once Upon a Lie has a lot of Dickensian charm for me. The characters are well developed, and definitely the greatest strength of this novel. It also is filled with chance meetings between people who are fated to meet again, and again. (The parallels go beyond that, but I would be spoiling the story for you if I shared.) French also makes some insightful observations about the limits of personal freedom in our supposedly free society (the story is set in the 1980s, but much of this is just as relevant now.) He touches on racial tensions and class as well, but the two often become conflated in this story since the main characters are from such different backgrounds.

Unlike Dickens, French has a much more concise style, and for the most part, this was clean work. I did spot a few anachronisms and minor usage errors, but since I was reading a digital galley, it's possible these have since been corrected.

Michael R. French has somehow never made it onto my radar, but once I started reading Once Upon a Lie, I found out that he has authored 20 books!

**This review is based on a digital galley that was provided for free by the publisher for review purposes. No form of compensation was provided for this review.**

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Book Review: Lust & Philosophy by Isham Cook

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Lust & PhilosophyLust & Philosophy by Isham Cook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ex-Pat in Beijing, Isham Cook, takes us through the mundane life of an adjunct English faculty member that turns out to be not so mundane after all. Isham has a habit of turning every interaction that is supposed to be just between a teacher and student in English into something suggestive. When he isn't doing that; he's setting off the nudity alarms at his massage school that was meant to be an escape from the over-intellectualizing of everything at Univerity of Chicago. Isham has a history of bad luck that precedes all this.