Thursday, August 18, 2011

Life of Pi by Yann Martel


A few days ago, it came to my attention that at that moment, in my backyard, was a very strong animal that, if I so much as looked at it in the wrong way, could ferociously rip me to pieces and devour my mangled body.  Easily.  What I think of as a harmless dog has the chops, claws, power, and instinct of a wild animal. 

Not that my dog isn’t domesticated.  Actually, he really is harmless – he’s never so much as thought about hurting a human.  He has the personality of a teddy bear.  And I wasn’t truly frightened.  It just amazed me that such a large, powerful animal has been tamed so thoroughly over the years, by a species inferior in physical strength and ferocity.

Monday, August 15, 2011

And Finally, My Conclusion on Summer 2011


In books, summers always start out boring, predictable, and lazy – and then turn out to be exciting and magical.  As a kid who read a lot of books, I always expected my summers to be that way.  And since I was a kid, I usually found my own ways of spicing up my summers.

But this summer, my first summer as a real live adult (well, technically, anyway), I discarded all my old summer fantasies with disgust.  I started on a bad note, leaving school and all my friends and coming back to boring ol’ home to live with my parents for four months.

Once I got home, I immediately got to work on cooking up a recipe for disaster: a cup of loneliness, several heaping spoonfuls of boredom and laziness, a dash of despair, and even a hint of self-loathing.  Nothing seemed to turn out right.  I was hoping to distract myself from my woes by busying myself with a job, but I couldn’t get a single interview.  I wanted to get involved in my ward, but I felt uncomfortable and unwanted at activities.  A heavy cloud of lousiness settled over me. 

After giving up hope on a job and a social life, I clung desperately to my last wish: to visit Cedar.  I just had to visit, even if only for a day.  What had once been everyday activities for me became misty, far-off dreams; I fantasized about laughing with my old roommates, re-reading the quote book from my old house, walking down Main Street to buy a quarter soda.  The more the summer dragged, the more impossible any such trip seemed.  My brain stretched 500 miles to a million.  But I hung on to my last shred of hope.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Wednesday Letters


I started Jason F. Wright’s book The Wednesday Letters last night just before bed and read for about a half-hour.  I started up again at 9 am this morning and finished by 1:00 pm.  This book is a solid 280 pages, and I’m no faster than the average reader.  That’s the magic of Jason F. Wright – in The Wednesday Letters as with his other book, Christmas Jars, he creates a story so real that you almost believe you’re in the room with the characters.  It almost seems as though if you were to put the book down, you wouldn’t be returning to reality; you would be leaving reality, as if your own life were some fictional world. 

What’s truly remarkable about Wright’s writing is that his characters and plots aren’t remarkable – just average people going through challenges, taking life one day, one hour, and one minute at a time.  Wright’s stories are not about action and superheroes; they’re about people, real people that we can relate to and love.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Teacher Who Couldn't Read


Did you know that in 1993:

--Between 21 and 23 percent of adults in America were unable to perform simple tasks such as filling out a job application, managing a checking account, and reading street signs?
--Between 25 and 28 percent of the adult population of the U.S. said they got help from family members or friends with everyday prose, documents, and simple literary tasks?
--20% of these same people with at the lowest level of literacy…had somehow received high school diplomas?

Just to be sure these statistics weren’t irrelevant and obsolete, I checked for more recent statistics. In 2003, a mere eight years ago, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (http://nces.ed.gov/naal) found that 14 percent of the adult population of America is nearly illiterate or completely illiterate, with no more than the most basic literacy skills.  29 percent are slightly above that level, but are literate enough only to perform simple, everyday tasks.  44 percent can perform moderately challenging literary activities, while only 13 percent of the population is considered “proficient” in our written language.

What exactly does illiteracy mean for an individual?  When I discovered the innumerable obstacles one illiterate person had to face, I was completely astounded.  In The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read by John Corcoran with Carole C. Carlson, Corcoran details his journey from being an insecure, violent child to his turbulent marriage – all affected tremendously by his inability to read.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Thoughts from a Former Old-Fashioned Child


A couple days ago, my friend shared this article on Facebook:

Intrigued, I read it.  And I can’t say I’m shocked by its findings.

It got me thinking about my own experience with toys.  In a previous post I mentioned that my childhood was pretty fantastic.

Here is my childhood in a nutshell: I had four older siblings.  On not-too-rare lucky days I got to tag along with my oldest siblings, whom I adored; on average days I played with my sister closest to my age.  Stephanie and I rarely disagreed and never fought.  What did we play with?  If it was just Stephanie and I, we’d play with toys – stuffed animals and our “little toy animals” (small plastic dogs, cats, and farm animals).  Occasionally we played with Barbies, too, but we didn’t play with them the way they were meant to be played with; our Barbies were much more adventurous, and as I remember it, quite a bit more magical. If we had friends to play with, we didn’t generally play with toys – just each other.  We’d run around and make-believe -  “I’m a magical fairy who can shape-shift into a bunny!” and things like that.  

Pretty standard for a kid, right?  Well, maybe standard for a kid 50 years ago, but nowadays I’m not so sure.  Sometimes I’m amazed that my parents were able to keep that kind of creative environment for me as a child.  My siblings played video games increasingly as we got older, but video games and television never dominated my life.  They eventually bored me.  I think my general focus on doing when I was a kid made it harder for me to lounge doing something so unproductive and, well, not fun.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Blink

A few days ago, my mom and I went through a bunch of her books, cleaning off shelves and deciding what to get rid of.  One book in particular caught my eye: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.

After seeing the cover, feeling its peculiar rough softness, and hearing my mom’s opinion that it was really good – despite her wanting to try to sell it – I made a split-second decision to read it.

It is this kind of split-second decision that Blink is all about.

Every day, we make decisions using what Gladwell calls our “unconscious” mind (I know it’s tempting, but try not to think too much about Freud here, even though it’s his term).  These quick, split-second decisions don’t use the same kind of rationality as weighing the pros and cons, or considering all the factors involved.  In fact, the more factors, pros, and cons you consider, Gladwell teaches us in the book, the more blind you will be to the wisdom of your unconscious.  Our experiences, education, and training all combine to create this second mind that can make important judgments in a fraction of a second, seemingly without any rhyme or reason.  But in certain cases, the unconscious should be used and trusted.   

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Atlas Shrugged

Well.  I’m finally done.

Finally, after weeks of alternating thrilling enjoyment and throw-the-book-across-the-room indignation, I have finished Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

I should warn those of you who haven’t read the book that although I really will try not to give spoilers, I don’t know if it’s even possible to review this book at all without giving spoilers.  The whole mystery of even the basic plot itself was part of what made the book really fun in the beginning – so if you’re the kind of person who believes in having the certain “right” kind of experience out of a book (like me), you might want to just not read this at all.  But if you’re feeling brave, read on…

I have a sneaking suspicion that Ayn Rand might have actually been slightly insane.  At first I was totally all for everything her characters were saying about capitalism – until they started applying their principles of economy to every other facet of life.  Her ideas get kind of disgusting, actually.  But as far as that discussion goes, I’ll just leave it there – I don’t want to get started on my disagreements with her philosophy when I have so much to say about the actual literature.