Monday, September 20, 2010

Adam Canfield, the Last Reporter by Michael Winerip

This is the latest (and, according to rumor, final) installment in the series of books about middle school student Adam Canfield and his school newspaper trials and tribulations. Adam is an obviously gifted student as are his co-editor Jennifer and Phoebe who is described as both the world’s greatest 3rd grade reporter and also the world’s most annoying 3rd grader.
These characters make for absolutely delightful reading for teachers, but I really wonder if kids enjoy these books as much as adults do. Adam and Phoebe act like normal kids much of the time, but there are many ethical issues and adult concerns brought into these stories. These issues include ethical conduct for elections, maintaining a “wall” between the business and news aspects of a news delivery system, and state standardized testing. I know that the author is a NY Times reporter and also a father of kids who are in the same age range as these characters, My overall feeling is that he has a pretty good handle on the capacity for 5-8th grade students to negotiate these issues, given a bit of adult guidance. These books would be terrific read-aloud choices for a classroom, parents and kids, or reading groups to discuss. I fear that many children would give up without finishing them if left to read and ponder them on their own.
For those reading this who are unfamiliar with the two previous titles in the series, they are:
Adam Canfield of the Slash
Adam Canfield, Watch Your Back

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Noah’s Compass
by Anne Tyler

Noah’s ark was not going anywhere. It just bobbed about in the water without a sail or engine to chart a course. Liam Pennywell is much like Noah’s ark in that he doesn’t seem to have a purpose other than staying afloat.
As the story begins, Liam has been “laid off” from his teaching job and is downsizing to a smaller apartment in a somewhat seedy complex. One of his work colleagues and his daughter’s teenage boyfriend help Liam move in, and as soon as his bed is made, he wearily goes to sleep. The next thing Liam knows, he wakes up in the hospital and learns that he had been assaulted by a burglar. Liam can’t remember anything about the attack and becomes obsessed with retrieving the memory of his assault.
The rest of the story revolves around Liam’s interactions with his semi-estranged family members and a lonely younger woman who finds him attractive.
Why is this book called “Noah’s Compass”? Because the assault served as the compass pointing the direction to those who were important in his life.
This novel is strictly a character study. There is very little action. I do enjoy reading a good character study from time to time and this one will fill the bill for awhile.
Now I need to find something with a lively plot!


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink
Dan Pink endeavors to persuade readers to embrace their brain’s right hemisphere capabilities as our culture moves from the Information Age into the Conceptual Age. The six senses he discusses are: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning.
As Asia, abundance and automation are changing the nature of our workforce, we must become more High Concept and High Touch if we are to succeed in the future.
High Concept is the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new.
High Touch is the ability to empathize, to understand subtleties, to find joy in self and elicit it in others, to stretch in pursuit of purpose and meaning.
The job market has shifted already and will continue to do so with the rise of Asian labor markets that can replace American backs and brains. Computers have also replaced blue collar workers and are now replacing white collar workers like engineers, who now must bring more creativity and design to the big picture while the computers (and lower-wage humans) work on the details.
The author also discussed other fields like medicine and law as professions requiring change as the Internet has allowed people to find diagnostic information and online forms to replace the need for left-brain tasks formerly performed by professionals.
When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, they are less valuable than the ability to place the facts in context and deliver them with emotional impact. Story becomes the vehicle for marketing goods and services in a world of abundance.
Pink asserts that the MFA is the new MBA. IQ tests and SAT exams are only giving a clue to people’s left-brain capacity. The EQ tests that have been developed are twice as successful in predicting success in college as is the SAT.
I was intrigued by all the websites (for testing EQ, etc.) the author included in
this book, and I intend to give some of them a try. All in all – a very interesting book!

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones by Alexander McCall Smith
Audio by Recorded books with delightful narration by Robert Ian Mackenzie.
From the series: 44 Scotland Street
I am still puzzling over the title of this novel. Scones are mentioned only briefly, and then in terms of their heaviness!
This is not the first book in the series, but as with other McCall Smith novels, one can pick up the story here and later backtrack for more installments in the lives of his intelligent, likeable characters. The residents of 44 Scotland St. (apartment house in Edinburgh, Scotland) live somewhat mundane lives punctuated by exchanges of philosophy, kindnesses, misunderstandings and their embarrassing consequences.
An underlying theme of this book is about the sense of community and identity that is being swept away by inclusiveness and globalization. The author uses his characters to make a point that people need a sense of belonging and believing; rituals have their place in our lives. They are important because we all need to feel that we belong. When old identities are taken away, some may turn to gangs; some need to find their identity from sports teams, etc.
A major character of this story is Angus Lordie, a portrait painter. Angus is a loveable character and the mouthpiece for many of the philosophical ruminations of the author. Angus thinks that the things that really bind people to one another are a shared sense of who they are; shared identity as Scotsmen or as Presbyterians, or as Cub Scouts. Common practices and loyalties are being deliberately dismantled; pluralists and relationists are dismantling culture. In the name of preventing offense, they scorn those who have a sense of themselves with a particular cultural identity (Scotsman, in particular).
The resolution to this problem is love; we can put the world back in order with love. Angus’ poem at the end of the book made me weep with its beauty and truth.
I have truly loved every story I’ve read by Alexander McCall Smith. Try ‘em… you may love them too!

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My ‘two-cents-worth’ on Writer/reader relationships:

I heard someone on NPR state that:
“The problem with ‘mental catch’ is that the ball you throw changes in mid-air”
He was talking about writers and speakers and the difficulty of knowing what someone else is hearing/thinking when they ‘receive’ what has been written or spoken. The reader may receive the ‘ball’ in a different form than the writer intends.

I think…
If no one returns the ball, it is much more like practice at a golf range than a game of catch. At a golf range, someone goes out later to retrieve the balls, but the golfer (writer) seldom if ever has the benefit of interaction with those who are out there doing the ‘picking up’.

If we are to grow as writers, we need feedback from readers.
And to grow as thinkers we need to become critical readers; not necessarily meaning that we criticize, but that we do more than decode and absorb words. We must read for the author’s meaning and then deliberate what we’ve read in the context of other author’s works and our own personal experience.

The advantage of blogs
is that the readers have the opportunity to return the ball directly to the writer and to other readers. This can profit both the readers and the writer as the flow of thoughts and ideas expands each person’s understanding. The problem on many blogs, unfortunately, is that some people respond with emotional (and too often rude) retorts rather than with thoughtful responses.
Not here!
My readers are kind and introspective and perhaps a bit shy.
If you would like to respond privately rather than posting comments on the blog, send them to my email:

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