Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gretta's Lazy Book Reviews: Summer Reading Edition

If you know me—and I assume that you do if you're reading my blog, because this drivel is way too totally uninteresting for strangers— then you know that I have roughly 7,000 hobbies that I simultaneously adore and neglect. In my short life, I have picked up and put down a whole buttload of amusements because I keep running out of time and money. I promise myself that as soon as I get an extra $100 bucks a month or as soon as I'm done with grad school, I'll pick them right back up. And that's a lie. I mean, I hope it's not a lie, but come on, guys...the only thing I really do consistently is read, like, a ton. Also, I'm always eating gummy bears, as is evidenced by these bloody persistent saddle bags.

Reading is fun, free (sort of), and required (for me, anyway), so right now I do it constantly. You might be surprised to know all the things I get done while reading. I read while I'm walking the dog, watching TV, waiting at red lights, baking, laundering my underwears, sitting in church,'s true. (I guess you'll be thinking twice before you borrow one of my books.) It's the ultimate multi-tasking task. So I've made this little list of some of the books I've devoured this summer, complete with reviews. Really short ones, though. What, do you think I'm made of extra time? There are important episodes of Master Chef I need to catch up on.

Listen. I know the title of this post makes it sound like this is something I've done, like, more than once. It's not. So could you just ignore that please? Thanks, guys. You're the best.

The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America, Dr. Drew Pinsky
Oh, Dr. Drew. So wise. So very swoonable. And so right about the damaging effects of celebrity narcissism on all of us. I dare you to read this and not start pinpointing narcissistic traits in everyone you have ever known, ever. Everyone who hopes to raise a child successfully in this Reality TV era should read this book. Plus, gaining a little bit of sympathy and understanding for the fame-obsessed around us is helpful. Especially when you live in a toilet like Hollywood.

Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell
The people who haven't heard of this book are the same under-rock dwellers who haven't heard that Geico can save them a bunch of money on car insurance. I mean, this thing is everywhere. So I picked it up to learn what all the cool kids are talking about and let me tell ya, I have mixed feelings about it. Don't get me wrong, I am fascinated by Gladwell's findings. But I gotta say, I'm a tad discouraged. For example, the whole "perfect timing is imperative for success" thing? Doesn't that mean we Millennials are all pretty well screwed, much like those who got married and entered the work force during the Great Depression? Also, have any of us really spent 10,000 hours—the amount of time necessary to truly master something—doing anything? I mean, other than watching Saved by the Bell?

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Stephen Adly Guirgis
This play was recommended to me by my theater professor friend. He mentioned it as a must-read one Sunday after my church lesson on the Crucifixion, and being the type of person who appreciates semi-sacrilicious, biblically-based fiction, I took his advice and read the crap out of it. It is truly one of the most honest and provocative accounts of Judas I've come across. And it's beautiful. The final scene is wood-burned into my memory planks. I've got goosebumps just thinking about it.

Lives on the Boundary, Mike Rose
When I first started pursuing this Master's degree, I would get all panicky and defensive when people would ask me if I planned on teaching. Do I have to? I mean, can't I just read and talk about what I've read with other people who like to read? Like, you know, a pro book club or something? Fast-forward to six weeks from now when I'm teaching my own college writing classes. Holy...I think I just pooped my pants a little. Rose's account of his experiences in the public education trenches has taken me from "Why would I ever want to teach?" to "What kind of monster wouldn't want to be a teacher?" The fact is, for every Gretta Ruth Parkinson Whalen whose parents nagged her about homework and helped her study for Spanish and dropped her off at Jane Hinckley's for math tutoring, there are about a hundred kids who are struggling to stay afloat in school. Mike Rose knows who these kids are, what they're like, and how we can help them.

Guys, have you read these books? What did you think? I'm itching to discuss them and Rob has read exactly none of them. He has, however, read roughly 1,000 pages worth of The Walking Dead, which gives me comfort since we probably won't be having book club during the Zombie Apocalypse, will we?

But if we do, I'll happily lead the discussion on The Mirror Effect.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gretta! Heather here,
I'll bite! I love book talk.

I haven't read "The Mirror Effect" but now really want to. Do I want to borrow it from you or should I just march myself down to the library? (I have some overdue books to return anyway. What? They were due yesterday.)

I have read "Outliers" and I loved it because how could I not love something that begins with a story of Canadian hockey players? I actually enjoyed the whole book but immediately went contrary to his wisdom and enrolled Reed in school as the guaranteed youngest child is his non-English-speaking kindergarten and I have had zero regrets. Mr. Gladwell, and many local parents, and my in-laws, would have recommended I wait a year so he has the advantage of being older. I do agree that our generation is pretty much screwed, but I thought that before I read his book anyway. And that 10,000 hours thing? I actually use it as ammunition in my rant on "talent vs. hard work." (Loved your Saved By the Bell comment at the end!)

On Judas -- this has nothing to do with the book, but we have a theatre professor in our ward? Do you and I even attend the same church? I'm so out of it.

That teaching book sounds interesting. I've got very mixed feelings about myself as a teacher, and pray frequently and fervently that I never have to return to classroom teaching. But it's probably for the very same reasons that the author convinces people to go into teaching. I'm just wierd like that. And tired. I can't teach and be a mother and right now I don't really have an exit from this motherhood business...

Gretta said...

Thanks, Heather. You are officially my only REAL friend....

I will bring "The Mirror Effect" for you on Sunday. I'm sure it'll fascinate you.

Don't worry about Reed. I was a little/younger kid, too. And while I didn't smash any sports records (I did OK--I actually played competitive soccer with girls that were 2 and 3 years older than me and I was pretty solidly average, which means I was good for my age, I guess?), but I didn't really want to either. I did fine academically. Excelled, even. So will Reed, I'm sure.

10,000 hours, though. That's a lot of hours. I spent a LOT of time practicing singing, and when I tried to do the math, I'm pretty sure it didn't add up to 10,000. My mom practiced her violin for hours every day, and she might have just gotten to 10,000. I don't know.

Theater Professor = Adrian Alita.

Anonymous said...

Oh duh, of course it's Adrian!

I am so excited and honoured to be your only REAL friend that I'm replying instead of making food for my family! (I have awesome priorities. All week I've just fed them cake. Now that the cake is gone I'm walking around the kitchen saying, "so now what do I give them?" The answer: nachos, if I ever make them.)

I'm not worried about Reed at all, but Mr. Gladwell would not approve.

10,000 hours is a lot of hours. But it's a great example to show people that people are good because of hard work, and not because they've been arbitrarily chosen to be good. It drives me crazy when people tell me how "talented" I am at piano because
a) there are approximately eighteen bazillion people better than me, does that mean they are more favoured than I? and,
b) it negates all my hours (not 10,000, but many nonetheless) of hard work, and,
c) it puts the speaker off the hook, as they though they couldn't because they just weren't given than gift, when in fact they probably could if they tried.

oops, I got into my rant without even meaning to. Meanwhile, I think I hear Lord of the Flies behind me. Time to pay attention to the children...

I need to ration my Gretta time, because even online I feel like I could just talk to you forever.

thack said...

Gretta, I've recently become addicted to reading your blog--terrible timing too, though it has proved an excellent distraction from my thesis. That said, I did limit myself in posting this comment so that I could finish said Thesis, and now that's done, I wanted to discuss Mike Rose's book with you. Though I have only read excerpts, I think what he is doing is fascinating. And I really appreciate his approach to teaching writing. So effective. He validates students and sets them on an equal playing field with himself as the teacher because he doesn't simply correct their paper and return it. I love how he tries to discover the reasons behind the mistakes they make in their writing. Anyway, I could go on and on and on and probably talk about teaching writing for a hundreds of pages--oh wait, I just did. In my thesis. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts!

Gretta said...

@Thack Ah! A thesis! You're so brave. What did you write on? Oh the thought of writing a thesis brings stomach juices up into my mouth...thinking I'll just take the comps instead.

I agree...Mike Rose is a brilliant, blinding, heavenly light. He's actually inspired me to think harder about teaching composition, since I've been more literary-minded up until now. There is just so much work to be done. I feel like good old WHS and the IB program spoiled us, don't you? We were trained so well for college. Granted, there was still a great deal to learn. But I never struggled with writing the way some of these kids (and some of the kids I see in the Writing Center) have. Math, on the other hand...

When you've got everything all tied up, I'd love to hear more about your thesis!

thack said...

Gretta, so I typed up a long response and then the internet (not so) cordially booted me off, so my reply was lost in the black abyss of cyberspace.

Anyway, thesis is officially over (woot!). Not a smart idea--an economical one, rather. We have an option of taking two additional courses instead of doing a thesis, but that costs an additional $10,000, while doing a thesis is "free." Besides everyone is required to complete an oral exam (meaning you've done all of the reading/research for your thesis--I probably only consulted an additional 10 sources when writing my thesis).

My thesis was on teaching writing. Specifically, I argued that teaching writing conceptually (focusing on essential concepts--the large concepts or the way real writers think/the things real writers do) helps students become better writers. I looked at three essential concepts: authorship, audience, and the recursive nature of the writing process and argued that using an inquiry-based approach to teaching paired with reflection was an effective approach to help students first experience the essential concepts firsthand and then understand them. That is really the extent of my thesis...except that it goes on for a good 100 boring pages that no one will ever read.

But back to Mike Rose. I agree with you about IB, we were very prepared and even though I was terrified of failing college, I did just fine--better than most. Sadly most students are not prepared. High school curriculums are beginning to focus more and more on critical thinking, reading, and writing skills (the type of skills we had to master in IB to survive), but classrooms are still progressing in this area. And I am not trying to rag on teachers and public schools for not teaching these skills. They have been taught and are taught, and most teachers do a great job. But one of the problems lies in the fact that these types of higher-order thinking skills are not tested well on state exams and with all the high-stakes testing and teachers' jobs on the line, sometimes the skills get moved to the back-burner because the kids have to pass the test. Teaching writing is so tricky (well teaching anything really) because learning is such an individualized process and students are always at very different places.