Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares

After reading The Here and Now by Ann Brashares, I was anxious to read something else by her.  Of course I have read (and listened to the audio versions of) The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series but that had been several years ago.  I was intrigued by My Name is Memory.  It is the story of Daniel, a young man who has a remarkable memory, so remarkable that he can remember his past lives.  Most people don't remember who they used to be, but Daniel does and he is searching for Sophia, the one person with whom he has been in love for centuries.  

As we join the story, Daniel and Sophia (as she is in her current form) are in high school.  He is unsure of how to explain the truth of reality to someone who can't possibly believe him.  The story also bounces back to Daniel's previous lives, illustrating how he has come to love Sophia and all the many lives he has spent trying to find her.  "I knew her hair and her coloring and her shapes would be different next time, but the way she wore her body would keep on."  An additional element that makes their lives difficult is the man whose sole purpose is to destroy them both.  

I loved this book.  It was interesting, exciting and  a little romantic.  Try this thought-provoking concept:

"And why can't I remember?"
"You can, more than you think.  Those memories are in there somewhere.  You act on them in ways you don't realize.  They determine how you respond to people, the things you love and the things you fear.  A lot of our irrational behavior would look more rational if you could see it in the context of your whole long life."

I enjoy historical fiction and fantasy and this book was both.  We learn about Daniel's struggles with moving from one life to another, leaving people he has known and meeting them again in another form.  The only thing I did not like about this book is that I was not aware that it was part of a planned trilogy.  It ended with a terrible cliffhanger and I was not happy to learn that the next book doesn't yet have a release date four years after the release of this one.  I do hope Ms. Brashares will continue this story as I can see it having so much potential.  And even if she doesn't, she has given my imagination quite a head start.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen was published just a little over two months ago and it was very popular on the reserve list at our library.  I think I was number 368 on the wait list!  Ms. Quindlen is the author of fifteen books, but this is the first of hers that I have read.  Still Life with Bread Crumbs features Rebecca Winter, a sixty-year-old woman struggling with her stagnant photography career, frustrations over a years-ago divorce, aging parents, and a financial situation that is less than ideal.  Rebecca rents a cottage in the woods while leasing out her expensive Manhattan apartment.  While hiking the woods, she discovers small wooden crosses that become the subject of her next project.  She also becomes involved with the people she meets in this small town.

I have to say that this isn't exactly my kind of book.  I would categorize this as chick-lit, though others may take issue with that.  A book about an older, unhappy woman attempting to "get her groove back" is just not interesting enough for me.  Am I wrong?  Did I miss something?  Tell me about it.  I would love to hear your opinions.

The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings

So, this school year has been one of questioning our place.  As the first year of Common Core, it has been interesting to see the way our school has had to change.  This is the fifth year at our school and we've been very happy, but as I listen to parents of older students I have wondered if this where we need to stay.  I have considered the academically rigorous charter school nearby and the more structured "traditional" charter school a little farther from home and I have also considered homeschooling.  The thought keeps occurring to me that my children can come home and do an hour or two of homework after school or we could homeschool and have the entire day's worth of work completed in just two or three hours.  When I came across Quinn Cummings' book, The Year of Learning Dangerously, I was intrigued.  I particularly appreciated the appeal of teaching "a curriculum tailored specifically" for each child.

Ms. Cummings begins by detailing the constant struggle with her daughter Alice over math.  Alice had come to the conclusion that if she didn't care for math, she could manipulate her teachers into letting her ignore it.  Because her current school wasn't working very well, she enrolled her daughter in a private school.  She was surprised to discover that this did not solve the problem and so she thought she would try her hand at home schooling.  She admits to being "highly anxious about my own qualifications to educate my kid", but she certainly puts in the effort to find the right way to do it.  

Among the advantages she lists for home schooling are these:
  • There are no bullies in homeschooling.  At home you can be eccentric and survive lunch.
  • The curriculum can, in fact, be tailored for each child's exact needs.
  • Anything you do with a homeschooled child outside the home can be described as a 'field trip'.
And of course Ms. Cummings addresses the constant concern about socialization:
  • Peer groups are an important part of social development.  But so are older people.  And babies.  And cousins you get into trouble with.  And great-aunts who make excellent pies.  And neighbors who can fix bikes.  
  • Compulsory schooling in the United States is less than a hundred and fifty years old.  It is, arguably, too soon to tell whether the peer group should be considered a developing child's best social influence.
  • How will these kids learn to deal with bullies and jerks?  As luck would have it, there are bullies at the Scout meeting, in the mall, on the playground and even at family reunions.  There are jerks everywhere.  Children who homeschool do get to negotiate with socially toxic people.  What they don't get to do is grimly endure an entire year sitting two feet away from a person who makes their lives miserable on a regular and predictable basis.  
Ms. Cummings attempts several styles of homeschooling and explores the options of many others.  She and her daughter try online state-sponsored homeschool, independent online homeschool as well as several different sources of curriculum.  She visits at "unschooling" convention, a Fundamentalist conservative Christian homeschool conference, and even tried to get a look at the Gothardite homeschool materials (those used by "their reigning first family, a perpetually smiling Arkansas couple with [as of this writing] nineteen children and 'very conservative values', who spread the gospel of a pure soul, a debt-free lifestyle and sexually segregated hairdos via basic cable").

By the end of the book, Ms. Cummings feels they have found a good solution that works well for their family.  She suggests that "American education is going to have to become smaller and more nimble, taking what resources it needs from anywhere it can get it."  She imagines a time when a high-school student may take some of her classes at the local high-school, some at the community college, some online, some from a private tutor while still receiving some instruction from a parent at home.  Why can't we design our own educational experience?  I find this method particularly compelling.  

Ms. Cummings is entertaining in her description of the journey she and her daughter took exploring the different options for homeschooling.  She is self-deprecating and at times sarcastic.  She admits her own shortcomings and looks forward to her own growth.  It is not often that I read non-fiction and this was enjoyable enough to not feel like work.  There was so much that I would have like to share here, perhaps you will read it for yourself.