Monday, October 13, 2008

Reading, Watching, Listening ...September in Review

Books I Read in September: 9

Professional Book Club Read
A Teacher's Guide to the Multigenre Research Project by Melinda Putz

I really enjoyed this book. Putz presents a "twist" on the research paper in her multigenre research project. This isn't the first time I've heard of this kind of project. Melinda Putz doesn't claim to have "invented" the assignment. She has, however, explained it in a way that is very explicit and user friendly. She includes at the end of each chapter her actual handouts she gives students. I found myself flipping to these in order to make sense of her explanations. She includes student work to illustrate the explanations and goes a step further by including a companion CD with pdf or ms word files of each of her handouts for teacher use as well as one complete student multigenre project and many snippets from other students' work as well. Because much of the multigenre project is visual, the CD option really added my my understanding of the projects students produced.

It's impressive to consider all the ways a unit like this can impact students reading, researching, and writing. They must do a decent amount of higher level thinking, inferring, and synthesizing and I am always looking for ways to encourage that in students.

Finally, it's a project that --I-- want to do. Instantly I was running through possible topics in my mind and was trying to think of different genres I could use to depict the essential elements of those topics. It's easy to get excited about something so creative and I have a feeling that would be the same for students too. I am definitely going to try this with my students I just need to figure out how to adapt it to our school setting (block schedule) and at what grade level I want to begin.

For those curious about ways to engage students in research in creative ways this is a book I would highly recommend.

Young Adult/Juvenile Fiction
Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

I've settled into this series and now am looking forward to each new episode. I enjoyed this one quite a bit and I'm not sure why it was more fun for me because it had all the same elements of the other books. Of course, this one featured the famed Greek labyrinth and Daedalus and Icarus and Helios Cattle and Kronos still is striving to return... I understand Book 5 is due out sometime this spring. I learned this from a 6th grader. Why not? All I can think is really? I have to wait THAT long?

RRVWP Book Club Pick--Fiction
Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins

I enjoyed the way the author portrayed the characters in this novel-- the watery-eyed, blinking, science nerd Foss, his young wispy white-haired wife Opal, the sometimes drunken, womanizing, says-it-like-it-is, Flash.

I also were impressed with the time span of the book and the historical references made to things like the Scopes Monkey Trial, WWI trench warfare, prohibition, Ku Klux Klan, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Manhattan project.

The story is a tender, intriguing, often heartbreaking look at a young couple's journey through these years reflecting both his desire to contribute to science and passion for things that are luminescent and their mutual desire to have a child.

Wiggins uses imagery relating to fish, to things that are illuminated, and of course there is the the frequent reference to things unseen. I really enjoyed this book and book clubbers, who finished it, seemed to as well. There was some comment that the ending seemed a bit "pat," or a bit too neat, but that didn't really detract from the overall experience for me. I would recommend this book.

Book about Books--Essays
Housekeeping Versus the Dirt by Nick Hornby

Housekeeping vs. The Dirt is a collection of Nick Hornby's columns in The Believer. Since I can't afford a subscription to the magazine I periodically read bits online and I buy Hornby's collections when I find them at a used book shop. I read The Polysyllabic Spree awhile back and didn't even realize another book was out there. Oh my goodness, I just realized the pun in the title. They are both book titles Hornby read and reviewed. Sheesh.

His subtitle is "Fourteen Months of Massively Witty Adventures in Reading Chronicled by The National Book Critics Circle Finalist for Criticism"

Each column begins with the month and year, next the list of books bought by Hornby that month and then the list of books read. What follows is an essay that discusses the books he read and his views on them blended with his witticisms on life and literature and "censorship" by editors (the 'polysyllabic spree' at The Believer... all very tongue in cheek). He gushes over Gilead, makes comments about his pal Sarah Vowell and her most recent book. He explores the ideas behind what makes a classic a "classic" and the difference between being a "person of letters" and simply a person who loves books. It's a conversation that keeps coming up in my life. Interesting stuff. Hornby's even sold me on reading a few of the titles he writes about. If you like books about books and a wry sense of humor you might like this. I did.

Big Cherry Holler by Adriana Trigiani
Milk Glass Moon by Adriana Trigiani

Big Cherry Holler picks up Ave Maria's story eight years after Big Stone Gap. In this one we explore the mind of Ave Maria, wife and mother, and discover that things are more complicated than the "and they lived happily ever after" we've come to expect with love stories that culminate in the basic plot of guy meets girl, overcomes obstacles, and marries her... the end. This is the book that follows. I found myself frustrated with Ave Maria in this one and angry with some of her choices but I could empathize too. The story deals with overcoming the loss of a child, her husband's livelihood being stripped from him as the mines close, and the struggle of fidelity in marriage. The same cast of characters are back and their own stories continue to develop as the story unfolds. Despite some of my discomfort with Ave Maria in this book, I still enjoyed it and the way it explored her humanity.

In Milk Glass Moon the focus is on the relationship between mother and daughter. Etta grows from a 12 year old to eighteen throughout the book. Ave Maria must face the changes that brings and also find a balance between her expectations for her daughter and the reality of who her daughter is. Set in both the Appalachians and Italy, this book is much like the two that precede it .... it touched my heart, made me cry, and laugh and wonder what my own relationship will be to my children... if I ever have any.

Home to Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani
Bet Me by Jennifer Cruisie

I think this was my least favorite book of the Trigiani bunch. There was nothing wrong with it, but it just didn't resonate the same way the others did. In this one Ave Maria goes through a period of estrangement with her best pal Iva Lou and I had a hard time really understanding it. I enjoyed their trip to Scotland and it actually made me want to travel there based solely on their descriptions. This book also had a smattering of recipes included in the text when various foods were mentioned. I can't remember if that happened in the other books; if it did, I didn't notice. I thought it was sort of cutesy and though it wasn't a terrible thing in any way, I liked it better in Like Water for Chocolate (a great book, by the way... espec. if you like magical realism). Even though this final book in the Big Stone Gap series didn't rock my world I am quite glad to have read them again. They are a bit melancholy but satisfying and comforting too.

I've read about five Jennifer Crusie novels that I can recall. The best way to describe these is as "romance" novels. Light and frothy. A romantic comedy in print rather than on screen. Crusie is from Ohio and often sets her novels in the German Village neighborhood in Columbus, home of one of my favorite bookstores--The Book Loft. Also my sister used to live there. The books are quick reads and focused on relationships. I used to own a bunch of them but I think I sold them all a few years ago. This one I just found under my bed, unread, this summer when I was doing a bit of housecleaning. It's about a slightly overweight girl who gets her guy. I wasn't expecting the explicit sex toward the end of the novel, but that wasn't totally unwelcome. Why not? :)

Graphic Novel
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

I liked this book well enough. I was expecting it to be more like the most recent Batman movie and though there were traces of this book in the film, it was quite a different story. This graphic novel is intricate and the art is pretty awesome, however I felt as I was reading it that for every three frames I was missing one. I'm sure that's not the case, but at times, I felt it was difficult to follow. Perhaps I needed to know more of the backstory for it all to make sense. I would certainly recommend it for superhero fans.

What I was Watching in September

Project Runway Season 5
Friends Season 10 on DVD
Weeds Season 4
The New Adventures of Old Christine
Desperate Housewives
Brothers and Sisters
The Office
Grey's Anatomy
Two and a Half Men

Presidential Debate
Anderson Cooper 360

I'm enjoying Project Runway as always and wish that they would run this show year round. Even though I can't sew worth a darn, I really do love and admire the creativity of others. I do love most of Kenley's stuff even if the girl is a bit annoying.

Weeds. Wow. Season out. And it was a doozy. Things just don't seem to be getting better or easier for Nancy Botwin and it was almost getting hard for me to watch the train wreck in front of me when I'd sit down to the computer to see the next episode. I wonder what Season Five will bring.

As the fresh seasons of the network TV programs start I will say that I love Heroes. It's quite the frightening adrenaline rush for me. Truly as scary as it gets for me! This season does this back and forth from the future to now thing a lot and it could prove a little confusing. But it's one thing that I enjoy about Lost. And if I can't be seeing new episodes of that right away I am more than happy to have the mental workout Heroes provides.

While The Office remains as wonderful as ever, I have to say I just love, love, love The New Adventures of Old Christine. It doesn't get old for me. She's just too funny. A wonderful character, wonderfully acted. And the entire cast is superb!

The rest of the programs are a bit of the same old, same old... not sure why I'm watching them... etc. I will say I find the 5 years into the future shift for Desperate Housewives to be peculiar but maybe they needed something to give them more room for plot growth. It's okay, I guess.

I don't have much to say about the debates but I will mention that I think both Anderson Cooper and John King are pretty yummy.

Legally Blonde
The Parent Trap
Failure to Launch

All three are films I watched on TV on a lazy Sunday. All three are films I've seen before.

What I was Listening to in September

This was a light music month. Not that I wasn't listening to music. On the contrary. I was immersed in music trying to find good trivia songs and I even made it to a couple concerts. Still I didn't find myself immersed in one CD that I listened to again and again. I did enjoy a few LPs.

Here's one:

The Very Best of Connie Francis on vinyl

a random sampling from my MP3 player here is my posted shuffle:

September 14, 2008

Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers
If looks Could Kill by Heart
Is She Really Going Out With Him by Joe Jackson
I Hate Everything About You by Three Days Grace
Levon by Elton John

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