Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How to Read Literature Like a Professor - Thomas C. Foster

Ah, the calendar ticks closer to July.  We know what that means.  It means that if I were to set foot in a Target, which I don't plan to until I have to, I'm likely to see some red-shirted associate earning his hourly by setting up the Back to School section in the back corner.  Rudely, this section always displaces the outdoorsy stuff, like the grills and lawn chairs, etc.  Pardon me, Target, but I'm not through with my lawn chairs yet, and I'm certainly not buying school supplies.

That last part is a lie.  I bought some white boards last week.

Nonetheless, with July approaching, a small portion of my brain needs to be devoted to thinking about the fall, the beginning of another group of youngins, and all of the work to be done there.  By this point in my career, which hasn't been extremely lengthy, I've worked with enough students to know a couple of the early challenges I'll face.  Let's go ahead and forecast them.  I'm likely to get at least a couple of students who've never struggled with school work and will have a difficult time adjusting to the demands of an honors class.  I'll have at least a few students who are determined to make me realize just how much they hate reading.  Finally, I'll have more than a few students who will become frustrated with the nature of literature itself: they will get mad when there's not one "right" answer to the discussion questions I pose.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Stay Interesting - Jonathan Goldsmith

I've enjoyed Jonathan Goldsmith's career for the past few years even though I didn't know his name until much later.  Goldsmith is the actor who played the central role in the "Most Interesting Man in the World" beer commercials.  I was always impressed by the one-liners the writers would include to describe this "most interesting man," such as

1. "He once went to a psychic to warn her."
2. "No less than 25 Mexican folk songs have been written about his beard."
3. "Sharks have a week dedicated to him."
4. "His business card simply reads, 'I'll call you.'"

...and perhaps my favorite: "He once had an awkward moment, just to see what it felt like."  I never suspected that the actor onscreen was anything more than just that: an actor.  Then, I came across this article in The New Yorker.  Turns out, there's more to the story of the actor.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Undoing Project - Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis's latest book joins a bunch of his others on my shelf courtesy of my brother, who bought it for me for my birthday.  When you've got a May birthday, a brother who gives books for gifts, and a job in education, your presents get put on hold until the summer.  Yesterday, I cracked the cover and reminded myself why I love Michael Lewis's writing.

You're probably familiar with Michael Lewis even if you aren't, probably not due to his art history degree or his master's in economics.  More likely, he came up on your radar with some of his financial journalism works, but most likely, you would know him as the author who wrote the book The Blind Side, from which the popular movie was adapted.  Lewis's other works include other nonfiction books adapted into movies, such as The Big Short and Moneyball.  In short, if you're looking for a good film, you need a good story, you need to be checking out whatever Michael Lewis is working on.

Perhaps The Undoing Project could be a future feature film; biopics about mathematicians sometimes do well.  Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind about John Nash was adapted by Ron Howard and won quite a few Academy Awards.  Nevertheless, it's late (of course it is; I've been up reading), and I need to get back on topic.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Looking for Alaska - John Green

It's been a while since I read anything by John Green, so here goes.  There was a time in my career when John Green was extremely popular with anyone in my classes who didn't have a Y chromosome.  Mr. Green (along with his brother) is prolific online, making himself into somewhat of an educational staple, like rectangular pizza.  My honors students watched one of his videos about Shakespeare.  Sheesh, what does this guy not do?

John Green's novels betray something about him that you could also pick up from watching any of his videos: he thinks it's normal that people have a high verbal velocity.  It's been since the days of a bygone college relationship that I've had to suffer through such quick dialogue (the offender then was Gilmore Girls).  Mr. Green's characters all talk the way he does.  They're also all extremely quirky, which makes for an interesting setup.  In the books I've read by him, which, granted, haven't been all of his, but enough to establish a good sample size, he seems to plop a protagonist down in the midst of a circus act.  Our main character seems weird for not being weird when everyone else onstage is weird.

Nonetheless, I always feel like I'm very critical of John Green, when in fact, I'm probably just jealous of his paychecks.  Let's get to some praise.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

That Summer - Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen's career in writing and teaching is remarkable.  She teaches creative writing at UNC, and has been a stronghold in young adult fiction for over two decades.  I've previously reviewed Sarah's work, but this time I'm reviewing where her career as a writer began, with her debut novel, That Summer.

Ms. Dessen gets unfairly lumped into a category sometimes as being a writer of romance novels, so if that's what you're looking for with this one, you're going to be let down.  This book is so much more; it's even more impressive considering its status as a debut.  It reads like a seasoned writer wrote it.  That Summer is great on two levels: it's fun to read because it's a good story, and it's interesting to read to see how much of the story's details are dated.  The book came out in 1996!

For example, nowadays the focus of teenage life doesn't seem to revolve around the mall as much as 20 years ago.  A character plays cassette tapes (and not in a pointed way like in Jay Asher's work).  A character complains about spending $20 for a child's shoes.  Our protagonist uses the word "retarded," which wouldn't happen in a modern book.  Other than these, though, the story holds up quite well.  Perhaps that's Ms. Dessen's genius, and I'm not using that word lightly.

Authors are supposed to tell us truths disguised as fiction.