Sunday Post: Getting Behind on Reviews

The Sunday Post hosted by the Caffeinated Reader is an opportunity to share with the blogging community what bookish things are happening in our world. So what have I been doing?

psych7Grading, grading, and more grading. Again. Actually this will probably be my life next week too. BUT – and this is a big but here – this coming week is the LAST WEEK OF THE SEMESTER. Hallelujah. Now, I won’t lie, it’s not like I have done nothing but grade, eat, and sleep. For those times when I just can’t possibly grade another paper without failing everyone, I’ve been plowing my way through Season 7 of Psych. I love this show; it’s hilarious.

One of the things I like about this show is that each episode is its own closed book. While there are certain plot lines that carry over, for the most part, these are standalone episodes that you can understand and enjoy without prior knowledge. This is good for my family as my husband is not a tv person – and I am, an avid tv person. If I tried to get through a series on “hubby time” it would take ten years; I’m more a season a week kind of girl. With Psych, I can turn it on when he’s around and he’ll enjoy it, even if I’ve watched six episodes without him. There are not many shows like this.

Upcoming Reviews:

  • Black Ink: I promised a review in my last Sunday Post; however – as also mentioned in last week’s Sunday Post – grading took over. I have the review ready to go for this week though, so look for Tuesday’s post!
  • The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act: I finished this one and ordered the next two volumes in the series. While I wasn’t enamored of this first volume, I was certainly hooked enough to see what happens next.
  • Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It: Read as part of a faculty book club, this broad, shallow dive into the importance of curiosity is worth the read, especially if you are a liberal education supporter who likes reading about how awesome you are. I know I do. 🙂 I hope to write this review today or tomorrow and publish Thursday.
  • The Glittering Court: I finished this weeks ago, and honestly I haven’t thought about it since. I was not a fan, but I’ll try to write up a review sometime in the next week or so to explain why since I seem to be in the minority here.

Obviously, I am behind on reviews. This is sort of a constant state for me though, so it’s not like I’m stressed about it. While I can appreciate the excitement and specificity of an immediate review, I kind of like the slow roll with reviewing, letting the book settle. Plus, for those books I love, doing this allows me to then thumb through the book to readjust my thoughts on it. I will hopefully be able to catch up though because I only have one upcoming read right now.

Upcoming Reads:

  • How Full is Your Bucket?: The college where I work has just chosen this work by Tom Rath as a summer book for us to read. Quick note: There is a kid’s version of this book. This fact combined with the cheesiness of the metaphor has me going in to the book with a minor bad attitude, but I’m willing to give it a try. If anyone’s read it, let me know if I should adjust my attitude or prepare myself for an eye-rolling read. The book has a corresponding personality test called the StrengthsFinder which I will be posting about soon.

Finally, we are going to see our local theatre group’s production of The Little Mermaid today, and I am excited and nervous. While Ariel is my daughter’s favorite of the princesses, I am not a fan of the story; the whole giving up your entire life for a man concept annoys me. I am, however, thrilled that I have convinced my 6- and 3-year-olds to go see a play. So there’s that. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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The Balancing of Grading and Reading

stack-of-papersFor this week’s Sunday Post hosted by the Caffeinated Reader, I thought I’d start by explaining where I’ve been the past three weeks. Now, your brain probably went somewhere exotic and exciting, but alas I have mainly been……at work. We are in the last three weeks of the semester at my college, and as such I am overrun with grading. And grading. And more grading.

I teach multiple sections of English 2, a composition course which includes a 6-8 page writing in the disciplines paper and a subsequent 8-10 minute multimodal presentation on the process and the product for that assignment. Both of these assignments are completed in the last five weeks of the term. So between student questions and grading, I haven’t had much time for anything else.

Except a trip to Iowa to see my cousins of course…one must have priorities. My grandparents, mother, my kids, and I made the 7 hour road trip and hung out with my aunt, two of her kids, and their kids for the weekend. We even had a little adventure when a nasty storm, complete with tornado, hit and we lost power during dinner…with seven kids under 7. They thought it was awesome and spent some post-dinner time telling each other (completely not) scary stories:

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I have also of course gotten into a handful, and even finished, a few books since my last post here:

  • Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading and Writing – This collection of writings by talented black authors, sharing their thoughts on the role of reading in black lives from restriction to revolution, is one of the best collections I’ve read in recent years. I hope to have a review up this week.
  • Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It – I read this as part of a faculty book club at my college, and ultimately I loved it, in part because the book spends a great deal of time arguing the necessity of a liberal arts education. The book makes many excellent points – which I primarily agree with – but it was definitely a shallow dive rather than a deep academic exploration of curiosity. I have one or two chapters left, so this review will probably be next week.
  • The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 1: The Faust Act – The first graphic novel I’ve picked up in over a year, The Wicked + The Divine has not captured my interest the way I wanted or expected it to. Right now, I feel like I’m not getting into the story because it’s flipping around too often and too quickly. I am willing to admit, however, that a big part of the problem may be the way I’m reading it – short snippets of time – and I typically read graphic novels in long stretches.

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And last, but not least, I created a new Stuffed Peppers Recipe that my whole family (including my picky kiddos) loved. Now, neither kid ate any of the red pepper, and I had to pick the black olives out of Madison’s, but you know still a major win for me as I get very tired of meat you can dunk in BBQ sauce with a side of green beans or corn – my kids’ preferred meal.

I would love to hear what all of you have been up to lately!

Persepolis: Part 1

persepolis1Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is the graphic memoir of a young girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Satrapi tells her story with a simplistic intensity that drew me in right away.

Marji’s left-leaning parents allow her to be a freethinker, challenge her to question the Shah and the subsequent regime both of whom were pretty damn intent on imposing particular and restrictive ideologies upon the country.  Marji questions her teachers, revels in stories of revolutionary heroes, and rocks out to Iron Maiden in her Michael Jackson jacket and forbidden blue jeans.  In the midst of cultural repression and the subjugation of women, Marji is all punk and sneakers.

In this graphic novel, the relationship between the images and text is symbiotic, each necessary to the other for the full story to be told. The images do not merely visualize the text, they add to the text, and sometimes do so in a dramatic fashion.  Juxtaposing words of pride in the heroic men with images of the dead really highlights the ideas of a child with the reality of a war.  I was impressed by the starkness of both the words and the images.

As a teacher myself, I can’t help but latch onto the images of education in this graphic novel. In one scene, a teacher who had been telling her students that the Shah was put in power by God does a complete turnabout once said Shah has been displaced. Marji calls her out on this contradiction. Go Marji! Bad teacher!

On multiple occasions Marjane says exactly what is in the reader’s brain, and we can’t help but admire her hutzpah while simultaneously seeing the danger in her very visible and vocal rebellion.

I am ashamed to admit that even though my first reading of this graphic novel was years ago, I still haven’t read Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. It’s honestly just a “so many books, so easy to forget to read that one you really meant to read” situation.

I was able, however, to watch the film Persepolis which encompasses both graphic memoirs. If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it. Satrapi helped write and direct the film, and it is an authentic adaptation of her graphic novels. A wonderfully low-fi, two-dimensional, monochromatic visualization of the story, the film carries Satrapi’s simplistic intensity easily.

The Girl with All the Gifts

girlwithallthegiftsM.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts is the most entertaining and original post-apocalyptic zombie tale I have read in quite some time. Not only is the story populated with unique characters, not only is the plot surprising, but also the tale focuses on science. The zombies are given a wonderfully scientific and plausible origin story, and portions of the plot focus on how science attempts to solve the problem of the zombies – or hungries as they are called in the novel.

We see the story through Melanie’s eyes, a ten-year-old girl we meet while she lives in a cell on an army base, a girl whose existence is confined to this cell outside of a once-a-week feeding and daily lessons. Transported from cell to classroom strapped into a wheelchair, Melanie never is free, never is outside, never is touched…except once by her favorite teacher Miss Justineau who Melanie has quite the crush on. The reality of Melanie’s situation becomes clear quickly to the reader, if not to Melanie, and within a chapter or two, Carey’s ability to not just play on readers’ emotions but to manipulate them over the long-haul is clear.

This book gave me the feels. I was in the story’s grip from page one, and I was fascinated watching Melanie, a child genius, slowly understand the world she lives in and her place in it. But Melanie isn’t the only character we get to delve into: we also get to know Miss Justineau – and not just as Melanie’s teacher crush – along with the just-trying-to-keep-it-together Sergeant Parks, the monsters-are-everywhere Private Gallagher, and the for-the-greater-good Dr. Caldwell. Each of these characters is given enough detail and page-time for me to understand and relate to them (although that relatability is quite different character to character).

I found the movie version of the novel, The Girl with All the Gifts, and as it is available through Amazon Prime, I might even give it a whirl. Let me know if you’ve seen it.

As I was reading and especially as I finished, I was 100% over the moon that it wasn’t a trilogy. While I love immersing myself in a world for months on end, reading book after book in a series, there was something so wonderfully self contained about this story that  I love it as a standalone. Then, about a week after reading, I heard that a second book from this world was released: The Boy on the Bridge. It’s a prequel of sorts, set in the same world but not featuring the same characters. I honestly don’t know if I will read this one as I was so satisfied by The Girl with all the Gifts. If you’ve read it, let me know if I should check it out.

 

 

Two Weeks of Writing and Reading

CCCC18I’ve been a bit absent lately but I haven’t been sitting idly by or overcome by the everyday, so I thought I would share a few highlights from the past two weeks. Plus, I’ve been seeing people posting their Sunday Posts as part of the Caffeinated Reviewer event, and I thought I’d join in.

First and foremost, I attended the 2018 Conference on College Composition and Communication, arguably the largest and most important conference for college composition professors (for those who don’t know, that’s what I do). There are 100s of sessions to choose from over the course of the conference as well as special interest group meetings. Half the fun of the conference for me is sitting in my hotel room on Wednesday night pouring through the session book choosing between roughly 45 possible sessions in each time slot. By the time the conference is over, my mind is always full of new, innovative ideas for instruction and learning. Ah, geeking out over composition, rhetoric, and (in this year’s case) social justice which was a central theme for many sessions.

Oh, and I got to eat. Man I love food. I had a Spaghetti Pomodoro that was to die for, an Eggplant Panini that I ate in its entirety despite being full after half, and some Tuscan fries I am determined to figure out how to make at home. Yum.

persepolisfilmStill, conferencing (and eating) was not my only excitement recently. I also got to present on Persepolis at my college for a series on immigration. The Humanities and Social Sciences division initiated a One Division, One Book program in which every Spring we, as a division, read the same book, teach it in (some) of our classes, and organize events around its theme. This year we chose Girl in Translation, which I reviewed here on the blog. We decided to show the film Persepolis as one of our events, and I, along with the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences (aka my boss), opened the film and led the discussion afterwards.

The students, faculty, and staff who attended were fantastic and we were able to explore issues of transnationalism, immigration, assimilation, and identity in light of the movie. And, of course, since I am also a film instructor, I was able to sneak in some discussion on the film’s aesthetic as well. I typically hate presentations like this as I hate public speaking. Seriously I get all nervous and light-headed and dry-mouthed, but this time was different as when I walked into the room, I saw about five of my own students in the audience right in the front.

Finally, I was able to read two books over the past two weeks: Persepolis, for obvious reasons, and The Girl with all the Gifts. I’ll have reviews of both books up this week.

I also am almost finished with Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading and Writing. I am loving this book. A collection of essays written by some of the most famous names in Black American literature, this anthology, so far, doesn’t have a single essay that isn’t well-written, moving, and thought-provoking. Despite the fact that I haven’t even finished (I think I have three or four essays left) I have already submitted it as a possibility for next year’s One Division, One Book program.

So what have you guys been up to?

Kafka’s Metamorphosis

MetamorphosisThe problem of interpreting Kafka’s Metamorphosis is two-fold: one, it lends itself to a variety of interpretations; two, it’s been interpreted and discussed so many times that even those who haven’t read it have thoughts on its meaning. To be quite literal, the story is about Gregor Samsa who wakes up one morning late to work and as he attempts to get ready for the day realizes he has transformed into a bug. The rest of the story covers how Gregor and his family deal with his metamorphosis.

Writing in the early 1900s during the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism, Franz Kafka uses The Metamorphosis to explore the effects of the dehumanizing process of these societal institutions on the lower- and middle-class worker. At the time Kafka is writing this text, the Czech Republic, like much of the world, is at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution, and Kafka used his text to explore social issues related to the economic and ideological shift.

Gregor’s transformation functions metaphorically as a physical manifestation of Gregor’s psychological reaction to his unwanted job and as a visual representation of how society views Gregor (i.e. as less than human). While the cause of the transformation is never directly stated, a reader can infer a causal relationship between Gregor’s job and his metamorphosis due to the continued negative references Gregor makes regarding his work. Gregor cannot help but mention his job from the very beginning of the story when he oversleeps and misses his train to work. By the fourth paragraph, Gregor is complaining about his job as “an exhausting profession” (Kafka 211). He is expected to work long hours, even traveling away from home for “the best part of the year” (Kafka 218). And despite his loyalty to the company and his tremendous effort, he is treated as subhuman.

Still, what I’ve always found striking about the book is the transformation of the family after Gregor’s metamorphosis into a bug. Prior to the metamorphosis, and hence prior to the opening of the book, Gregor’s father, mother, and sister were rather useless. All three relied on Gregor to support them, and while readers are given the impression that this is due to some rational explanation such as physical problems, age consideration, etc., the conclusion of the book clearly indicates that all three are capable of work.

The father failed in a previous business adventure, leaving the family in debt and Gregor responsible for paying it off. Gregor worked hard to do so and eventually Gregor “earned enough to meet the expenses of the entire family and did so” but the family “had simply grown used to it.” They expected it and seemed perfectly comfortable to let Gregor continue in a job he disliked, which forced him from his home for long periods of time, with no feelings of guilt. This easy allowance of one person to take on the burdens of an entire family is so antithetical to my philosophy that I am absolutely disgusted by the family almost immediately when reading the book.

When Gregor is turned into a bug and no longer capable of working, each member of the family gets a job which is “entirely satisfactory and seem[s] to be particularly promising.” Despite the many, many interpretations possible, I often read the book as a reminder that if everyone pulls his own weight and takes control of his own life, the world will be a happier place. It’s also, in my opinion, a slight admonishment of those who allow themselves to take on responsibility for others. After all, Gregor had to be forcibly removed from the family in order for his father, sister, and mother to become independent entities – and he dies, in part, because when they are finally able to take care of themselves, there is no longer a reason for him to exist.

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I perfectly realize and can even appreciate the other interpretations: the Freudian look at Kafka’s relationship with his own father, the social criticism of the way those who are different are treated, a look at the effects of isolation and loneliness, a metaphorical look at the writing process, a criticism of the bourgeois life, etc. and perhaps tomorrow I will have a different outlook on the book. And that, when it comes down to it, is the insight of literary interpretation: How a book is interpreted reveals more about the reader than the author.

I have read this story at least four times now, and to be honest, it is one I will probably pick up again sometime. I’m actually thinking of including it in Intro to Lit next fall.

Heartless – How the Red Queen was Made

heartlessMarissa Meyer’s Heartless is not a feel-good story. Watching the young Catherine struggle to assert herself, follow her dreams, be happy in love, and then fail at all of it is not easy. Don’t worry there are no plot spoilers here. We all know the Red Queen and her infamous line: Off with their heads!

As a prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandthe book works. Meyer’s has populated her book with characters from the famous tale and peppered the text with direct quotes, places, and events appearing in Carroll‘s story as well. This imitation of the original lends the novel an air of familiarity that I felt helped add an intensity to the story that was otherwise lacking.

I enjoyed the story, but I was, from time to time, downright annoyed at Catherine. Her hesitancy and inability to stand up for herself drove me crazy. Her position in society, the King’s desire for her, her lack of any true support – all of this adds up to an impossible situation. I’m just used to my YA female protagonists striking those obstacles head-on and overcoming them. Clearly, this can’t happen. The Red Queen can’t have a happy ending.

I can’t quite figure out the relationship I have with Catherine between annoyance, pity, and empathy. I certainly understand the Red Queen more now, but I can’t quite accept the choices she makes based on her admittedly horrible experiences.

Campfire Songs: The Carter Edition

23273Every summer my family finds time to spend around the fire. We used to have an actual campfire when we went to Raccoon Lake for a weekend trip; then it morphed into a fire in the backyard on the ground; and now it has become a fire in the backyard in a nice little fire pit (don’t want to ruin the grass anymore I guess). The campfire means three things: everyone wearing grandpa’s old flannel shirts, s’mores, and campfire songs. I should mention that my grandparents’ house – the party house – is in town. And we sing loud. And there’s alcohol.

My grandfather has three songs he sings, and we sing along every time, for as long as I can remember. We are currently teaching the fifth generation these essential tunes.

Oh, and yeah, the last is absolutely phonetic; I haven’t been able to find it online anywhere. Grandpa learned the song in boy scouts back in the late 40s, early 50s. He was told it was a Native American song. If anyone has heard it, I would love to know the name, proper spelling, origin, etc.

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Katy

K-K-K-Katy
Beautiful Katy
You’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore
When the moon shines
Over the cowshed
I’ll be waiting at the k-k-k-kitchen door

Here’s not-my-family singing it

1000 Legged Worm

Said the thousand legged worm
As he gave an awful squirm
Has anybody seen that leg of mine
But if it can’t be found
I guess I’ll hop around
On the other nine hundred ninety nine

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Shinaminadinamina

Shine-a-mine-a-dine-a-mine-a goshnik go
Qwik qway a, qwik qway a
Shine-a-mine-a-dine-a-mine-a goshnik go
Qwik qway a, qwik qway a
O Nee Mo Namo
O Shine-a-mine-a goshnik go
O Nee Mo Namo
O Shine-a-mine-a oompa oompa oompa…..

 

Returning to the Classics

I have been trying to read the classics I have sitting on the shelves (or lounging in the ereader) for quite some time. Now that I am back to blogging, it’s a great opportunity for me to reinvigorate this project.

Back in the day when I was blogging regularly, I participated in The Classics Club and I am thrilled to see they are still going. It’s time for their Spin – go here for more info – so I am posting a list of 10 classics I have waiting to be read:

  1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  2. No Name by Wilkie Collins
  3. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth
  4. Men without Women by Ernest Hemingway
  5. The Bostonian by Henry James
  6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  8. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
  9. Germinal by Emile Zola
  10. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

The list is technically supposed to be 20, but these are the 10 I am most interested in reading right now, so each book is two numbers.

If you want to check out my complete list of classics to be read, check out my Classics Project page.

 

A Philosophy of Teaching

einsteinthinkEvery teacher should have a philosophy of teaching, and this is my work in progress.


The guiding principle in my philosophy of teaching is that teachers need to provide students with the necessary skills to take responsibility for their own learning. My role is to give students the opportunity to practice those skills. From the foundations of time management and personal responsibility through advanced rhetorical strategies and critical analysis and argumentation, the skills students learn and practice in my courses provide the needed framework for future success.

I want to teach students what they need to succeed in the course, in future courses, and in the workplace, but I also hope to instill in students a desire for lifelong learning. I want my students to become critical thinkers who will be able to look at the world around them in a new light. One of the most rewarding experiences in my life occurs when a past student tells me he/she can no longer watch a movie, read a book, or listen to a speech without analyzing and critiquing.

I try to create an open environment where students feel comfortable to engage in discussion, ask questions, and explore their creativity. In my opinion, passive learning is not possible. I think that to truly internalize knowledge, students have to actively engage with the material through analytic and argumentative writing and critical, creative, and multimodal projects. Paper and project assignments directly engage with content, but students have the opportunity to adapt assignments to their specific interests and talents as I believe by personalizing papers and projects, students are more invested and create more critical, more creative, and more interesting finished products.

I encourage continuous revision on assignments as I am a firm believer that the traditional production line style of completing assignments is antithetical to contemporary educational pedagogy and counterintuitive to creativity. Creating is a non-linear process that can only benefit from flexibility, re-viewing, and re-envisioning. My classroom is intentionally collaborative where students work together on group assignments and help each other on individual works. Sharing knowledge and experiences stimulates learning and helps students open their minds to new possibilities. The ability to adopt multiple perspectives is a needed and necessary skill in today’s diverse culture.

The use of technology to improve education is a central component of my teaching philosophy. The possibility for personalized education coupled with the opportunity for creative and critical expression makes technology an integral part of educational strategies. I use various pieces of tech for instruction, and I require students to engage with technology for learning and assessment.