Category Archives: Books I enjoy!

Saturday’s Book: “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah

Now you see a bench but…
Naomi’s Photos
… does it still look like a bench now? Naomi’s Photos

This is audiobook number two of the three books I am treating myself to and it was an EXCELLENT choice as a book AND as an audiobook.

Trevor Noah is a brilliant narrator of his own tale. Trevor knows how to employ different accents and make his characters sound differently. This is the kind of book you want as an audiobook.

Noah combines his memoirs of growing up as a mixed race child in South Africa before and after Apartheid ended (hence “born a crime” – white father, black mother, it was illegal!) with historical information and background. From his unique perspective as a child who moved in different circles (he spoke 4 languages!) but didn’t seem to belong anywhere, he takes care to point out how different groups of people viewed the same events, situations or concepts.

South Africa’s borders are not Noah’s borders. He connects his personal childhood experience to a much bigger picture of our world in general. As a language teacher I would love to teach in class the chapter in the book where Noah presents the advantages of knowing four languages. Knowing languages is really a superpower – it lets you connect to people but also allows you to perceive others from a totally different perspective. This knowledge helped Noah deal with complicated situations – students could relate to that.

Hmm… I guess there is a disadvantage of having heard this book as an audiobook. I can’t quickly flip through the book and tell you which chapter it was that I’m talking about. You will just have to read the book yourself!

Saturday’s Book: “The Last Days of Night” by Moore

Illuminate!
Naomi’s Photos

So how would you like to “meet” Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell and J. P. Morgan? Or “see” the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as it is  being built and “visit” the new Metropolitan Opera (it seems the old Opera House wouldn’t accept the likes of Rockefeller and Vanderbilt so they needed a new one…)?

I did!

Well, not exactly. But it feels that way!

I treated myself to three audiobooks, and this historical legal thriller is the first. The excellent narrator was able to make each character sound a little differently, which added another dimension to the book. The book is rich with details and background information and in many parts its quite easy to imagine being a fly in the room, with a front row seat to the legal battle.

Naomi’s Photos

Make no mistake – while there’s a lot of fascinating history here, this is  a legal thriller in the tradition of any of those courtroom dramas series you happen to favor on T.V. It turns out there was a huge dramatic battle over who and how the USA would become a country with electricity. The lawyer (whose eyes you are peering through as the story unfolds)  is young and dashing and of course there’s a love story too…

It’s certainly a good choice for an audiobook as the drama makes listening to it rather energizing – I got a great deal of cooking done while listening!

I understand there is going to be a movie version soon. It doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’m glad I read it before the movie comes out!

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “The Rights of Desire” by Brink

Unexpected!
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And to think I almost didn’t read this book!

I picked it up at the “readers-give-readers” corner at our library but it remained on the bookshelf while I read other books first. Not only had I  never heard of the South African author,  the title and the cover weren’t particularly appealing. It clearly wasn’t what once was called a “10 cent paperback” but the book didn’t appear particularly appealing either.

As they say, appearances are misleading. I’m now ready to read any book by Brink I can find, and I understand he wrote several.

The style of writing had me hooked by page one. The main character is a former librarian and the book is full of references to other books, in addition to moving paragraphs about the degree in which books can make a difference in a person’s life.

The setting is in post-apartheid Cape Town, South Africa, though the story weaves past, distant past (there’s a ghost!) and present. All turbulent times in different ways.

And yes, there is desire, lust, love or lack of it, from different perspectives. Don’t expect any “saccharine coating” here, but there is tenderness along with reality.

A wholly unpredictable book.

I’m so glad I read it.

Saturday’s Book: “Ravelstein” by Saul Bellow

In the same boat
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To start at the end, I now know that this book is refers to a real person and that the book has raised many controversial issues. But frankly, I don’t think the point of this book is to discuss an attack on liberal arts university education in the USA, the AIDS epidemic in the past and lifestyle choices or just to present a very unusual, larger than life character.

I think is a book about friendship.

It is about having a friend who has become an inseparable part of your life, and then having to deal with the empty space you are left with when that friend is gone.

It remind me of the book by Ann Patchett – “Truth and Beauty”.

In both books the friend in question is not an easy friend to have and actually complicates ones life. Yet not being a close friend of this person is unimaginable. In both books the friend passes away.

Saul Bellow’s book is a much slower read than Patchett’s and it’s constructed in a kind of circular fashion. You encounter some events more than once but with additional information. The style only becomes a direct chronological narrative of events after “the friend” passes away.

It took me time to get into this book (and figure out what it is about)  but there’s something about the writing that made want to continue reading, though I can’t say what it was. It is a somewhat strange book but I’m glad I read it.

 

A Book for Teachers: “My name is Leon” by Kit de Waal

Childhood experiences vary greatly…
Naomi’s Photos

I rarely post about a book before I have finished it, but I’m so very excited about this book that I just want to talk about it and so many things related to it!

Believe me, I would have finished reading it by now even though I just started it a few days ago. I was completely drawn in by the end of the first page. It’s just that life gets in the way… There should be “good book days” like “snow days” so that I can stay home and read!

First of all, the writing itself is amazing. The story is told from the point of view of 9-year-old Leon, yet on occasion lets us adults in on what is really happening to Leon before the child himself understands it. Leon lives in early 1980s Britain and is taken out of his completely dysfunctional home and placed in foster care. His little baby brother, who is white (from a different father) is quickly adopted, leaving Leon, who is mixed race behind. The story is moving and keeps the reader completely involved.

It is not an Oliver Twist kind of story. While I haven’t quite finished reading it, this is not a tale of abuse in the “newspaper headline sense of the word”. No one is being beaten, starved or locked in dark cupboards. Issues of economic status, race and welfare do come up, of course.

Actually, I find this to be a book about how children going through difficult family situations need to be heard, listened to. Noticed.

And that’s why I truly think this a book teachers should read. Every teacher has some students who are not having the kind of childhood we would like children to have.

Finally, I’m also excited by the fact that an advanced 12th grade student of mine lent me this book. My students choose their own books for their book reports, (though they must run it by me for approval) and one student brought in this book which she purchased. This particular student has had experience with social services in her life and she liked the book.

I could see this as a book that students could read – it is certainly thought-provoking!

Check it out!

Note: Actually, “Good Book Days” are not a good idea. There are so many good books out there – when would I teach and meet the kids?!

 

“Frog on His Own” by Mayer & the JOY of Wordless Books

Who will sit here? What will they watch? Story prompt? Naomi’s Photos

This post was going to be a joyous “Sharing -books-with-kids-ROCKS” kind of post, not related to work or the classroom, a suitable post for the weekend. But the teacher in me can’t look at a children’s book without thinking about sharing the joy in class…

Yesterday I stumbled upon a short post praising the use of wordless books in class “Using Wordless Books with English Learners” by Herrmann. It stopped me short, with my finger still on the mouse.

I can’t believe I forgot about this. I haven’t thought about such books for years and haven’t been recommending the use of them.  Wonderful books that tell an entire story in pictures, nary a word in sight.

Total amnesia.

So I went to the bookshelf and found the four books that I own.

“Frog on his Own” by Mercer Mayer was a hit with my own kids and in class. This amusing story of a pet frog having adventures in a local park was very clear to my sons and they enjoyed telling the tale. From a very early age children  know that in “traditional” books their parents are reading the words to them but here it is permissible to tell the tale a bit differently each time, and for the child to “read”  to the parent. This also worked well in class when I taught grades 3-6. Students wrote up the sequence of events, invented the text or the dialogue. Pure educational FUN!

My own sons loved the books “Moonlight” and “Sunshine” by Jan Ormerod much more than the previous one, but I couldn’t take them to class. These books are a gem for parents because of the combination of humor and reality of life at home with a child. Moonlight tells the story of a little girl who doesn’t want to go to bed while Sunshine depicts  the same girl who plays ” the big girl” and looks after herself while her parents sleep in. We loved everything about these books!

However, the heroine of these books is clearly around five years old (okay, maybe first grade, maybe) and there was no way my fifth graders at the time would accept such a book.

Which reminded me why the books were forgotten.

The first three are too childish for high-school…

There’s that pesky age where children refuse anything that might make them seem childish…
Naomi’s Photos

I do have one wordless book considered suitable for older readers “Anno’s Journey” by Mitsumasa Anno but, sad to say, I don’t get it.

The book is highly praised, it is supposed to include hidden storybook characters, visual puzzles, reference to famous paintings and more among the drawings, but I am truly embarrassed to say that  I myself have identified very few. Except for the pages with the windmills, I can’t even tell which parts of the journey are supposed to depict which European country – it could all be the British countryside as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps I need a teacher’s guide for it..

If I can’t narrate it myself, or write clues for the students to read and go on a treasure hunt , I truly can’t bring it to class.

I guess my “amnesia” had a reasonable basis.

So I will now return all four books to the bookshelf, and wait for grandchildren to share them with…

Lost in a Book: “Fall of Giants” by Ken Follet

Not a giant at all…
Naomi’s Photos

Ken Follet knows how to push all the right buttons.

Here’s the thing.  I usually abhor authors who seem to count the number of pages needed to insert regularly something related to affairs of the heart / flesh, particularly in conjunction with a generous sprinkling of “costume drama” (ranging from clothing, buildings and any other comforts of the aristocracy and the rich).

But Follet so cleverly combines those “buttons” with so much fascinating historical information, behind the scenes diplomacy and egoism that affected the lives (and deaths) of millions of people,  that I was willing to forgive the author for just about anything irksome in the entire book.  All 920 pages of it! I stopped reading my magazines – the book was addictive!

The characters are presented in such a  vivid and engaging way, the Welsh mining family and the local aristocracy, the German diplomats, the Russian peasants along with the American contingent. The book follows these imaginary characters along with very real politicians of the period during the years that lead to WWI, through the war years and immediately afterwards. You feel the tension of the arguments and the decisions even though I knew the outcome of some of them.  I’ve read extensively about WWll but realized I didn’t know nearly as much about how so many countries got involved in this war.

That’s not all. The book follows the battle to give women in Britain the right to vote. I had no idea of the influence the war had on that issue and even of the perception of women’s roles. It also brings you right into the heart of the Russian revolution. Somehow I had never thought about how all these things were happening at the same time and what that meant.

In short – I was HOOKED.

This is the first part of a trilogy. The first two books quite literally fell into my lap, without the third. I’m going to wait a while before starting the next one – not ready yet for another world war!

I’ve now started a completely different kind of book. Updates will follow!

Lost (not) in a Book: “The Sea” by John Banville

Moving in place…
Naomi’s Photos

I feel almost apologetic about it.

Perhaps like the cliché “No, it’s not you, it’s me”. The book won the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and it’s not that I can’t see why.  Banville’s use of language is impressive, his descriptions are rich and I used the dictionary a few times to look up words I had never encountered.

But the skillful use of language was the only thing that kept me reading as far as I did. And that’s not enough.

I found myself not looking forward to my “reading time”.

The combination of the very slow pace of the book,  the fact that very little actually happens ( mostly memories and thoughts) and the fact that the hero is mourning the recent death of his wife was too much for me at this time.

Perhaps if the timing had been different I would have been able to hang in there and see where all these thoughts led the protagonist but there it is.

I have moved on to the next book.

Lost in a Book: “The Color of Water” by James McBride

I was totally mesmerised by this book. TOTALLY.

And that’s putting it mildly.

Yes, you may wonder where I’ve been. The book was published in 1995. I don’t how I missed it.  I must have heard of the book often enough for the title to trigger a reaction when I spotted it, because I reached for the book immediately without being able to recall what it was about. It was waiting for me on the “Book-sharing”  bookcase our school principal kindly set up outside his office.

I found every aspect of the book fascinating. What an amazingly clever way McBride used to tell both his mother’s life story (which he did not know for a great many years) and to tell his own, and to connect them in such a seamless manner.

And what a story it is.

But here’s the thing.  This book isn’t just about a child of Ultra Orthodox immigrant Jewish parents from a totally dysfunctional family who winds up having 12 African-American children in New York. Despite grappling with poverty and  a host of problems, every single one of these children graduated from college and went on to have successful careers.

***Note – that wasn’t a spoiler. You can learn that much from the first page and back cover. Believe me, there’s more to read.

This book is also about people’s need to know where they come from and to figure out their own place in the world.

I feel that it is also about not letting the circumstances you were born in define your destiny.  There are real people out there who “reinvent” themselves.

As someone who is passionately interested in education, I was particularly interested in the details related to that subject – one which was incredibly important to the author’s mother (more so than actual food…).

I’ve donated books to the principal’s special bookcase and will do so in the future. I’m not bringing this book back, though!

 

Lost in a Book: “A Good American” by Alex George

A question of perspective
Naomi’s Photos

The book was surprisingly good!

I say “surprisingly” because I was very suspicious. The title hints at slogans, platitudes, stereotypes or just plain “shmaltz”. It’s a library book (as opposed to one you spend money on) so I took it out despite my reservations.

So glad I did.

The multi-generational tale of the Meisenheimer family who immigrated from Hanover, Germany to a tiny town in Missouri in the late 19th century is actually everything the blurb promises it would be. It gets even better as the book progresses. The book is an easy, flowing read with a story that is both touching and amusing.

Best of all, I really couldn’t predict a thing! The ups and downs of this family, generation after generation,  did not follow the script I imagined after reading / watching other multigenerational tales.

What a pleasure!