Thursday, April 7, 2016

Joint Book 2.16: Five Children and It

Dear Jenny,

Well, it's already April 6 -- time to talk about reading this little weirdo!

I first spotted this book at your house, as it is "N" from the Penguin Drop Caps series (as seen to the right there). We had heard of all of the other books you had in this series (I won't name them here, as they spell out your last name...) but this one? Nope. Neither of us had ever heard of it.

So I looked it up, found out it's supposed to be a children's "classic" and I suggested we read it together for our little blog.

Further reading about this book tells us that it was first published in 1902 and, according to Wikipedia, has never been out of print. Whhhhaaa---? How have neither of us heard of this book?!

And I thought it was going to be one of those things where we had never heard of it before but then, after we talked about it, we'd hear a bunch of people mentioning it... Nope. Haven't head a peep. This book's a mystery.

So! Let's get reading!

  • April 10: Chapters 1-3
  • April 17: Chapters 4-7
  • April 24: Chapters 8-11
I am concerned about my tolerance for a book written in 1902. Hopefully being a children's book, it will be easier to take?


Completed: The World According to Garp

Dear Jenny,

Oops. Slow start to reporting this year... my bad. We actually finished this in January, but then my world kind of imploded in February, so I haven't been great about focusing in 2016. Buuuut... here I am!

Basically, this book held up. We weren't sure if we would feel the same way about this WMFuN 20+ years later, but it was great. I kinda just want to end this review there, but we said some other stuff when we were reading it, so I'm going to jot down my notes here (I was going to try to arrange this into something coherent but it's now April, so let's just get this done)...

First chat (Chapters 1-3)

Jenny:  I don't have patience for world-building, and John Irving is a big world-builder, but it's in our world. He writes this entire whole other world (for instance, about the guy who founds the school), which just adds just a layer but we still love it and it's interesting. So I guess I have patience for "world-building" if it's our world.

Kelly: I remember this being a WMFuN novel, but so much of this has focussed on Jenny (his mother)

Jenny: Does he marry a transgender person?
Kelly: I think he's going to marry the coach's daughter.
[Transgender person ends up being a friend of the family's -- Roberta. Garp's son ends up marrying another transgender person that Roberta introduces him to.]

Kelly: Doesn't he get his penis bit off?
Jenny: What?! I don't remember that. Whhhhat?!
[This ends up being Garp's wife biting off the penis of her lover when Garp rear ends his car.]

Interesting note about John Irving -- he always begins novels with the last sentence. (We speculated about how that works for awhile. But hey, we're not John Irving so what the heck do we know?)

Second chat (Chapters 4-10):

Kelly: We're getting to the WMFuN'edness now.
Jenny: I don't know -- Irving can write anything and I'll love it.
Kelly: Um, seducing the babysitter?
Both: [...]

Fuckups observed:

  • Screwing the babysitter
  • Having sex with the other prostitute [It's been 3 months since we read this book and I said, "Whaaat?" when I just read that. After thinking about it, I remember now, but man! Irving's books are like fever dreams!]

Redemptions observed:

  • Busting the rapist
  • Visiting the aging prostitute

Third chat (Chapters 11-19):

And then my notes devolve into truly random chatter about the book. I'm sorry. I should have written this down months ago! Here's what I've got:

Garp plays a traditionally "feminine" role in their household but never thinks anything negative about it -- he is the product of Jenny's views of "feminism." One theme from this book: You are just a product of your parents and your situation.

The story of the Pension Grillparzer: we thought it wasn't going to be good cause it's a book within a book, but... it's really good. Of course. It's Irving-within-Irving!

Irving's gift is that he writes a straight narrative with weird people and situations. He's a keen observer of life: People are weird. And he doesn't flinch from that.

It's so moving that the "reveal" of the son's death is delayed in the story for so long. You know something terrible has happened, but you don't know the details and it gets tougher and tougher as it goes on and you suspect what has happened. Jenny: Especially after the "forecasting" (more than "foreshadowing") that the son is going die leading up to that scene.

[I wrote down the following sentence, but I have no idea what it means]: Who is responsible for the gear shift? The war.

We talked about some of the more ridiculous coincidences and your comment was perfect: "Life is full of ridiculous coincidences." Fair enough.

I have not done this book justice. But hey -- it's logged. We're movin' on!


Friday, February 19, 2016

Completed: The Checklist Manifesto


This might be one of those super short reviews---honestly, I just don't have much to say about this book. I probably would have really enjoyed it if it had just been a magazine article, but it didn't seem meaty enough to warrant a whole book.

The author describes how checklists are valuable when used in complex situations. It may seem counterintuitive, but when faced with complex, multi-step tasks, checklists help people make sure they have done the most important steps.

Gawande goes on to describe how checklists have helped in medicine, which is interesting enough. And he describes how they are also used in aviation, which is interesting enough. So, it's pretty convincing that checklists are helpful when there is complexity and procedures. But it was hard to see how this would apply in my own work. My job is complex but it's not governed by procedure. Good curriculum design just doesn't quite work the same way as surgery---and so it just felt sort of weird. I mean, dude, you're going to call something a manifesto, it should be something that everyone would benefit from, right??

Don't get me wrong. There's some interesting stuff about how to make good checklists and the different types of checklists, but it's not something I actually think I can implement in my life.

There were two parts of the book that I most enjoyed. Probably the best part of the book was the ending where he described how the pilots of US Airways flight 1549, which is the one that the pilots landed on the Hudson River after the engines were taken out be geese. Honestly, it's a great story! And he talks about how part of the checklist actually said, "Fly the airplane!" because under such stressful circumstances, it's possible for pilots to focus on everything going wrong and forget to fly the plane.

The other part I really enjoyed debunked something of an urban legend. I'd heard a story about how the band VanHalen required all their venues to remove all of the brown M&Ms out of the bowls of candy that were placed backstage. As it turns out, the brown M&Ms were just a test. The sets, lights, and staging of their shows were so complex that they threw that M&M clause in as a test. If they went backstage and saw brown M&Ms, they would know they had to go through and test everything else at the venue. It was a warning that there were going to be other problems. At one venue, after finding brown pieces of candy, they discovered that the stage would have collapsed under the weight and load of the set and were able to cancel the performance. This one item on the checklist helped them judge the level of detail at any particular arena.

There was nothing *wrong* with the book. It was fine. But it was not my manifesto.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Jenny's Book 2.16: The Checklist Manifesto


I've been reading lots of fiction for the Tournament of Books (so far I've read 8 of the 17), so I mightThe Checklist Manifesto is by Atul Gawande, a doctor who also writes for The New Yorker. I know I've suggested his book Being Mortal to you.
take a break and read a little non-fiction. And this isn't even the type of narrative non-fiction that I like to read that teaches history through a story.

I bought this book for a grad school class but ended up reading something else instead of it. This book makes a case for why using checklists can help us deal with the complexity of our modern lives. Certainly I know checklists are helpful for my students (there's even a checklist maker app my friend Andrea uses called Checkli). However, I'm sort of curious to see if the idea of using checklists is applicable to teaching or curriculum design.

At one point, I did read a critique of checklists in education, but I can't find it right now. I remember the book it was in, but I'm pretty sure it's at school.

Not sure it will be a super exciting read, but I think it's going to be just the thing I need after A Little Life. In fact, I've been mostly reading trashy romances about Russian Billionaires after A Little Life. Seriously. I just need a break from all that drama.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Tournament of Books is Here!


It's the most wonderful time of the year! The announcement of the short list for this year's ToB! This year's tournament has 17 books (I explained the play-in round to Darrell and he was cracking up.) and I've only read one of them! But, since I have the quarter off of grad school, I feel pretty sure I can get through a good number of them before March. And, even better, so many of the books sound interesting and I'm looking forward to reading them. And, in a fit of fantastic planning on my part, I hoarded all my gift cards from students and was able to purchase a bunch of these the ones that we didn't have in the school library. (Although my librarians are awesome, and I bet they will order lots of these.)

Let's take a look at the field.

You and I have both read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I was certain this would make the short list. It was just the big, buzzworthy book of the year. We've discussed this a lot already, so I'll just go ahead and say that I think it will be great for discussion.

In Progress
I downloaded The New World by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz. We talked a bit back and forth about this one. Apparently this was only released as a digital book, and that first version was available on kindle for $4.99. But you discovered they had also published it as a hardback, and that version is $10.99 on Kindle. The world is a confusing place, Kelly. So far, I can't really figure out what makes it interesting as a digital only publication. It's weird. Might require some research on what the story is there. As for the actual story, it is told in alternating voices: Jim, who dies suddenly but is experiencing some sort of afterlife. And his wife, Jane, who is pretty upset that Jim contracted with some nutball group to cut off his head after his death in order to bring him back to life. So. Yeah. Interesting premise for sure.

Library, baby. 
I got two books from the school library. The Sellout by Paul Beatty and The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. I read the first page of each of them, and they are both first person narrators. I'm a little burned on that right now. So I'm going to wait on those for a while.

Amazon Prime
As a thank you for the Fates and Furies book talk, I got a $50 Amazon gift certificate! Perfect timing. I also had some other Amazon credit I had been hoarding. I ordered Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving and A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. My guess is that I'll read the Anne Tyler after The New World. Obviously the play-in round is first, and we're already in the middle of another John Irving. So maybe save Avenue of Mysteries until later in February? I really like Anne Tyler and read a bunch of her books in college and my early 20s. At some point, I stopped reading her, I remember feeling like she had a shtick and I was tired of it....but, I can't remember what that shtick was anymore. I hope it will feel like hanging out with an old friend! I also ordered The Invaders and Bats of the Republic, and I know nothing about either of them except for the descriptions on the ToB site. Finally, Oreo by Fran Ross. I am super interested in this one, and if I had to make a prediction from the long list, I was hoping this one made it in. I have a feeling this will be pretty high up in the batting order, too.

My local independent bookstore
I had a $100 gift card left, and I really wanted to support my local independent bookstore. I went there this afternoon with the plan of just getting whatever I could find on the list. And they had Our Souls at Night, The Story of my Teeth, The Tsar of Love and Techno and The Book of Aron. Can we talk about how freaked out I am by the cover of The Story of my Teeth? Teeth freak me out. I'm worried about that one. But, look at this interesting bookmark that was inside of it! I guess that should inspire me to read more literature in translation. The only recent read that I can think of that qualifies is the Ferrante quartet I just finished.

And because I just spent the whole day at that superbooktalk, I also got The Wrath and the Dawn, a retelling of the Shahrazad story for a YA audience. I'm lucky I got away with only one non-ToB purchase. Bookstores=danger.

Already Own It and Dreading It
A Little Life. Obviously.

Coming out in Paperback 
Both The Whites and The Turner House come out in paperback by early March. I can wait for that.

Beg or Borrow
Ban en Banlieue. I just couldn't get the Powell's site to load. I'll figure out how to get it from someone.

Is that all 17? What about you? Any sound interesting? Any audiobook insights?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Joint Book 1.16: The World According to Garp

Dear Jenny,

Earlier this year, as we were bemoaning a few WMFuNs we had read, we got to talking about The World According to Garp and that it's a WMFuN but that we remember loving it so much. And we wondered if it would hold up for us, since we both read it when we were younger (you said it was high school for you, I read it the summer after my freshman year of college. So... 18 and under.)

So we decided to re-read it together this year as one of our joint reads and see if, in fact, it has held up.

Here's our reading/discussion schedule:
  • Jan 10: Chapters 1-3
  • Jan 19: Ch 4-10
  • Jan 31: Ch 11-19 (remainder of the book)
When I first read this book, I remember finishing it and thinking, "That was one of the best books I have every read." Instant favorite! Other than this one, I have had this experience with One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Great Gatsby. And, when I was very young, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. All of these books remain favorites for me today.

My copy (pictured here) is pretty cool -- it's a little 20 year anniversary hardcover published by The Modern Library in 1998. It's a fun "chubby" size -- the cover is not much bigger than a trade paperback, but the book itself is thick. And that photo on the front is a young John Irving with his "GARP" license plate. Ha! I spotted it about 10 years about ago at Powell's and snatched it up cause I thought it was cool. For the most part, I'm not a book "collector" but if I see a cool version of a favorite, I'm grabbing it.

While preparing for our read-along, I also looked for this book on Kindle (easier to transport and read on the go) but it's... not... available... on... Kindle. What?! Feels like a very long time since I last experienced that roadblock -- and it's especially odd when many other Irving books are available.

I also looked into the aBook but it has the absolute worst narrator! Seriously -- some terrible super-flat monotone. Ugh!

Sooo... it looks like I'm hauling my chubby little hardbound copy around with me this month. Oh well. At least it's for a book I love.


Friday, January 1, 2016

Our Books for 2016

This is our sixth year of committing to reading books from our To Be Read (TBR) piles and talking about them on this here blog. (Our lists from 2011-2015 can be found over in the sidebar.)

Last year, we picked four books to read and discuss at the same time. We enjoyed that, so we're doing it again. This year's joint selections were semi-random, but ended up being two re-reads (Garp and Beloved) and two "How have we missed these?" reads (Five Children and Housekeeping).
Here is the schedule for our shared reads:
  • January: The World According to Garp  by John Irving
  • April:  Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit
  • July: Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • December: Housekeeping  by Marilynne Robinson
Additionally, we each have each chosen 10 other books from our TBR piles all with copyright dates prior to 2015 (forcing us to dig deep on the shelf). Here are our complete lists for 2016... 

Jenny's Books
Here is a screen cap from Shelfari of the books Jenny has chosen:
(click to see that bigger)

In alphabetical order, they are:
    1. About a Mountain by John D'Agata
    2. Beloved by Toni Morrison (July)
    3. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
    4. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
    5. Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz
    6. The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate
    7. Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit (April)
    8. Housekeeping  by Marilynne Robinson (December)
    9. Master of the Senate by Robert Caro
    10. The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle of James Joyce's Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham
    11. Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement
    12. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
    13. Transatlantic by Colum McCann
    14. The World According to Garp  by John Irving (January)
      Kelly's Books
      Here is a screen cap from Shelfari of the books Kelly has chosen:
      (click to see that bigger)

      In alphabetical order, they are:
      1. Beloved by Toni Morrison (July)
      2. Detroit: A Biography by Scott Martelle 
      3. F. Scott Fitzgerald On Writing by F. Scott Fitzgerald
      4. Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit (April)
      5. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
      6. Housekeeping  by Marilynne Robinson (December) 
      7. Life After Life by Jill McCorkle
      8. Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips
      9. Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi 
      10. Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
      11. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer
      12. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
      13. Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton
      14. The World According to Garp  by John Irving (January)
      We each have a total of 14 books on our lists -- 12 for 12 months, plus two alternates, just in case we cannot stand a couple of them. Again, four of them are shared books that we will both read in our designated months, as noted above.

      As we finish them, we write about them here (Spoiler warning: we are spoiler-iffic with the spoilers) and then we cross 'em off of this list by linking to our reviews/reports.

      Credit where it's due: We originally started this project in 2011 by participating in the TBR challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader -- Adam is no longer hosting these challenges, but we still thank him for inspiring us to start this thing up.

      Here's to 2016!