Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

My mom loaned me this book and reminded me of what happened in Sarajevo in the early 90s. I kind of remember "Benefits for Bosnia" during my freshman year of college, and I feel guilty I didn't know more of the plight of this city. As the story takes place, Sarajevo is surrounded by snipers, "the men in the hills," who target civilians sending shells and bullets at random into the city. The water supply, electricity, everything has been cut off from these people. Their lives are in constant danger.

I really liked this book. It focuses on 3 characters who are living in Sarajevo during the seige that lasted about 3 years. It is fiction, but I'm sure paints a very realistic picture of how the war affected everyone's daily lives. It is so sad. The chapters alternate between a father carring empty plastic bottles tied to a rope across town to get water for his family, a man heading to the bakery where he works so he can eat a meal, and a young woman who is a defensive counter sniper.

The story is inspired by true events. Twenty-two people in line for bread were killed, and an acclaimed cellist witnessed it all. He then chose to play his cello, Albinoni's Adagio in G minor, for 22 days, in public, in their honor.

The Cellist is introduced in the first chapter, but then is only mentioned by the others. He is used as a catalyst for self-reflection and reasoning in the other characters lives. They are not heros, but they are trying to find meaning and purpose in the horrific situation they find themselves.

I liked the writing style of this Steven Galloway. I liked how it realistically shows the tragedies of war, without being gratuitous or gory. The characters are interesting and likeable.

Here are some quotes:

"But he could not refuse her. No person he would want to be would do that."
"Even if every building is rebuilt so it's exactly as it was before, he doesn't know how he could sit in a comfortable chair and drink a coffee with a friend and not think about this war and all that went with it. But maybe, he thinks, he would like to try. He know he doesn't want to give up the possibility."

In recalling his son's birth:
"Afterward he had an overwhelming feeling of benevolence, not just for his son, but for the world around him, wishing it were everything it wasn't, wondering what he could do to make things better."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

the summer i turned pretty by Jenny Han

I enjoyed this sweet Young Adult Summer Romance. I would have really liked it when I was 14.

It is a story of a girl who spends every summer at a beach house with her mom, brother, her mom's best friend and her two sons. Who, of course, are handsome, funny, and cool. The story is sweet, as all the teenagers are dealing with different emotions of growing up. There's divorce, first kisses, cancer.

Belly is the girl, of course she has an embarrassing nickname. Most of this book is cliche, and would make a sweet teen movie. One thing that I really liked about Belly's character is that she bravely faces situations. There are a handful of times where she sees something, or hears someone talking about something, and I think she's going to hide and pretend she didn't. But she doesn't, she confronts them head on. I liked that about her.

There is a vulgar insult hurled from one of the minor characters in the story, and some mention of "getting to second or third base." But it doesn't explain what that is. Just so you have a heads up if you want to recommend it to a younger reader.

It was a nice story, and mainly made me nostalgic for the summers I spent reading books like this!

Monday, June 14, 2010

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Often I forget where I first hear of a book, or who recommended it. I usually just put holds on them online right away, and then by the time they come in I don't remember. But I'm pretty sure I first heard of this book from Kacy, whose blog is awesome. So of course I trusted her opinion. And, phew, this was a worthwhile read for me.
First complaint, the title. I understand it needs to be catchy, but I think the subtitle, New Thinking About Children, is more representative of what you'll find as you read. And there are lots of new ideas in here. Some are kind of obvious, but others are more surprising. Overall I found it very intriguing.
Sometimes it is hard for me to get through non-fiction books. Especially ones that deal with a lot of statistics and results. I really am interested in those things, but I'm skeptical. Like I have to think if those could actually prove something else, and if I really believe the results really show what the author is telling me they show. I felt that way especially when I read Blink, but this is a way better book.
So here are somethings I thought were cool:

When you praise children, make sure to emphasize their effort, which is something they can control. Like if your child does well on a math test, don't say "you are so smart at Math." Because then, if and when they do poorly, they will think it's out of their control, they just aren't smart enough. And even worse, they won't try hard things because failing will mean they aren't smart. But if they understand they did well because they studied and worked hard, then if and when they do poorly, they will think they just need to work harder and study more. Doesn't that make perfect sense? These studies were very cool to read.

I thought the info on why kids lie ( to avoid punishment and to make their parents happy) were interesting too. And especially the part about tattling, because isn't tattling the worst? But their studies show that kids actually only tattle once for every 14 times there is an offense. So maybe give them a break, they were trying not to.

Third grade is when public school curriculum gets much harder because kids are asked to reason through math problems instead of just memorizing, and read for comprehension and not just to learn how to.

The need to do intelligence testing at an older age (at least the end of 2nd grade), and to retest students was very interesting. When you test really young, like kindergarten, you are mostly testing social skills and good parenting. Well, that's over simplifying, but it's too hard to explain briefly.

The chapter that follows gifted education is about sibling fighting. Both of these are real concerns and interests of mine, so by this point in the book, I was totally hooked.

I especially like the idea that if siblings fight, but also spend lots of time playing together and enjoying each other, they will probably stay friends as adults. Phew! It's much better to be best friends/worst enemies, than to take no interest in each other. The latter kind of siblings probably won't be friends as adults.

I also like the explanations about teenagers risk taking. My favorite part was that when teenagers argue with their parents, it usually means they are telling the truth, and they think there's a chance they might be able to get you to change your mind. So if they argue with you it's more respectful than if they lied to avoid any conflict. Like they lie and then just do what they want. It's more intersting than I'm making it sound.

I have read the concept before that you should listen to your kids, and maybe be flexible to change your mind about something, or to compromise. This reinforces their ablity to stand up for their ideas and to present their case. But of course you should never give in just to get them to shut up! I really believe this, and with my obnoxious children, I usually have to remind them that if they want to suggest something or make a deal with me they need to talk to me politely and I would be glad to consider it. At least when I feel like being a good mom.
And then on another note, "being disciplined is more important that being smart...being both is not just a little better, it is EXPONENTIALLY better." I think that makes perfect sense. Being smart is nice, but you have to have self-control and work hard to actually accomplish anything. I think, and so does Po Bronson.

There is a great study of a new preschool/kindergarten curriculum called Tools of the Mind. I am totally going to have my kids set goals for what they want to accomplish each week this summer. Maybe have them write up play plans too. You have to read the book to understand what I'm talking about.

And lastly, the speech studies with the 9 month olds were so cool. Turns out it doesn't matter how much you talk to your babies, but how quickly you respond to their efforts to talk. Kind of made me wish I had an infant to try it out on.

Sometimes I had a hard time really getting the common thread of each of the chapters. They were all cool, and seemed like pretty fresh and new ideas, but not always inter-related. The Conclusion chapter finally helped me understand the authors' thoughts on what all these had in common.
Have you read it? What parts did you find interesting. I'm sure I've left out some really important parts!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale is one of those books that I have seen around and heard bits and pieces about for awhile. I mainly like to read books that people LOVE, because I'm picky. So I finally picked up a copy after hearing people use the L word.

This story is dark. That's my over all impression. It has interesting characters, good mysteries, and a story within a story within a story really. There is modern (1980's maybe?) woman who is an expert on old books, and she is approached by a dying famous, successful writer who wants to finally divulge her life story. The truth this time. Margaret has her own secret past that has shaped her life, and she decides to take on this writing assignment.

I was a bit disappointed in the Margaret story. I felt like the author kept coming back to it and giving us a few details then immersing us in Vida Winter's story. The back and forthing was kind of weird for me. I'm not sure if the book would have been any better without giving us so much of Margaret's, but I think I would have preferred it. It felt kind of like extra stuff to me.

Just as with The Book Thief, I am in awe of Setterfield's ability to come up with such a crazy, complicated story. I definitely give her credit that the story is in the style of the Bronte sisters. Remember how I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a little while back? It's been years since I read Jane Eyre, which is consequently mentioned throughout The Thirteenth Tale, but I know it well enough to categorize this in the same genre. That being said, it's not my favorite type of book.

And since I'm starting with the negative first, the most disturbing part of this book to me (and there are quite a few to choose from) is the idea of an evil child. Adeline is so awful. Most of the book I kept the hope that she grows out of it in the end (you'll see why as you read) but sadly, that isn't the case. Maybe it's just too close to home for me with my 4 stinkers, but it was upsetting. If you've read it, you understand that she wasn't given a fair chance from the beginning, so maybe I can pass it off as one of those terrible results of horrific circumstances.

Now, after all that, I did like this book! I recommend it! Specifically if you like Emily and Charlotte's work. But just know I warned you of the DARKNESS.

At the beginning, Margaret is asked in a letter by Vida Winter to write her biography, and Margaret has no interest. She doesn't think of herself as a contemporary writer, and has no interest in Ms. Winter's wildly popular fiction. UNTIL she starts to read her books. Then she is hooked, and I love the description of how she devours them. "these days when i read all day and half the night, when I slept under a counterpane strewn with books, when my sleep was black and dreamless and passed in a flash and I woke to read again--the lost joys of reading returned to me." Nicely said.

Here's another example of Setterfield's good writing:

"the water logged sky that pressed down claustrophobically on the land, on the road, on the car."

"Weightless, I wandered all night long in Miss Winter's story....peering at the mysteries beyond its bounds."

I loved Miss Winter's description of the characters in her future books appearing to her as a large group, then disappearing one at a time as she wrote each of their stories. Her explanation for why she was finally telling her life story, was that her sister was the only one left in these visits.

I also liked Margaret's description of reading books in a row, "You leave the previous book with ideas and themes--characters even--caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you."

I'd love to hear why you did or didn't like this book. I can think of many reasons for both. Plus I have more thoughts about the ending, but I don't want to spoil anything.