I found the slender little book ( I believe the English version is only 54 pages long!) in Hebrew among my late father’s books. As a rule, I don’t read books in Hebrew that were translated from English (or vice versa) but I am fascinated by literary uses of letters and I did it have it right there in my hand…
This book is interesting in so many ways.
It’s constructed as an exchange of letters between two best friends and business partners, who originally immigrated from Germany to the United States. One of the partners, Martin, decides to return to Berlin with his family, in 1933, while his dear Jewish friend Max remains in San Francisco. They need to correspond because of their shared business and they want to correspond because they miss each other.
Their early letters begin by letting us in on their shared background and strong connection.
But then the letters change. The rise of Nazism and all that goes with it comes into sharper and sharper relief through the letters as Martin adopts the rhetoric of the new movement and regime.
THEN something happens.
THEN the letters become something much more than letters!
I won’t spoil it for you. I read it in an hour and that’s because I read more slowly in Hebrew.
This little book is also very interesting because of its back story.
Kressman Taylor isn’t the real name of the author in the usual sense. The publishers of Story Magazine in 1938 thought that such a powerful tale and such an important message would be far less effective with a woman’s name on the byline. Therefore the name Katherin was scrapped and her maiden name and last name were used.
The story was an incredible sensation, reprinted by the Reader’s Digest and then published as a book.
Sadly, the book is every bit as important to read today as it was all those years ago.
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that there is such a thing as having too many “helpful” apps.
I’m not counting apps like ones that tell you when the next bus arrives, let you make an appointment for your doctor, record the names of students who are absent or pay for parking.
Such apps are only used when they must be used and are otherwise ignored. There is absolutely no need to spend a lot of time configuring them and interacting with them.
I’m talking about the apps that will help you organize your life, provide alternative calendars, remember things, improve your diet, make sure you get enough exercise, teach you mindfulness and bring joy to your life.
I’m not against these apps in any way – some are really good (and I most certainly haven’t tried them all!).
However, to do whatever it is they do, these apps need you to interact with them. That takes time and energy (particularly if you use each one for only one purpose). Those are precious commodities particularly as lack of time and sufficient energy for the ongoing “work-life- balancing act” are what prompted installing the apps in the first place!
Therefore, in recent months I’ve been concentrating on the two free apps I’ve been using that complement each other, along with taking advantage of more of their features. In addition, I’ve found a book that does what an app won’t do for me.
Evernote – This app serves as my memory aid. It’s a sophisticated note-taking app with a search engine. When I get a text message from a teacher (as part of my counseling job) during a 10-minute break between classes that I teach, I can look up the code number of the exam she asked for quickly. When I get to the mall I can show the salesperson the picture of the exact ink cartridge we use for our printer – I added the picture directly to the app. Most of my recipes are stored on Evernote, with the handy web-clipper.
Toodledo – I use the free version of this app as my task manager and to keep checklists for repeated tasks (things related to school that I do several times a year, lists for trips and my exercise “homework” for the week). My absolute favorite feature is adding a location to a task. When I get to school in the morning it reminds me of school-related tasks. Unless I specifically want to, I don’t see tasks I can only do at home. When I’m home, I don’t need to be reminded of tests that must be photocopied! The app can also help you track habits, but I’m not using that feature at this time (see next section!).
I certainly feel a need to develop mindfulness. How can I be truly efficient if I’m doing one thing, thinking of 10 other things and then having to redo something due to the distraction?!!
And how about just being more relaxed? Thankfully, life is good, but having two jobs, being a wife, a mom, and a daughter, trying to exercise more and spend time on my hobbies can get rather overwhelming.
Using an app to learn mindfulness doesn’t seem right. At least not for me.
Being mindful, at least the way I understand it to be, encourages spending some time “unplugged”, away from the stimulating tech. It bothers me to report to a device how mindful I’ve been.
And that’s just it. How do I measure exactly how mindful I’ve been? What if I’ve only don’t part of the suggested activity? Or didn’t really succeed as expected? Will it result in “breaking” the daisy chain or cause my imaginary tree to shrivel instead of thriving?
Like another task to add to my day.
The free downloadable book “30 ways to Mindfulness” by Rachael Roberts doesn’t add stress to my life.
Roberts is an EFL teacher, she understands how to write for teachers. Her tone is gentle, understanding and encouraging. There is an introduction and then a daily thing to try / to think about for 30 days.
Each evening I read only the part that relates to the next day. This is not a book to be read in one sitting!
Best of all, it’s a book.
I don’t report to it and it doesn’t judge me. I don’t have to measure how well I dealt with the tasks.
Some I haven’t done, others I’ve only partially done. A few suggestions I’ve been able to incorporate immediately. But I’ve thought about every single task/suggestion.
I think that’s worthwhile too. It feels that way.
I might start the book all over again when I’ve reached “Day 30”. Almost there!
One of my favorite blog posts by Rachael Roberts is “Managing to be mindful at work”(especially the last bit!). If you are interested in the free e-book, you will find info on that on the blog as well.
Two out of the three books I borrowed from the library are being returned only partially read. These are the books:
“Here I am” by Jonathan Safran Foer
I hated the book. Really.
I have read Foer’s book “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and I was moved by it and found it intriguing. That book took some time to get into and I remembered that when I began the book “Here I am”. Honestly, I was prepared to give the book a chance at least up to page 80 (there are 571 pages). I was prepared for a slow beginning.
By page 43 I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like screaming “Let me out”!
I see absolutely no reason to continue reading a book that makes me feel that way. There are so many books waiting to be read!
You’ll have to read a review of the book somewhere else.
“Family Matters” by Rohinton Mistry
This is an entirely different case from the previous book.
I read “A Fine Balance” by Mistry and enjoyed it. This book is well written with rich descriptions and is moving.
In fact, the way the book tugs at your emotions is at the heart of the problem.
The book focuses on a man in his late 80s, whose world closes in on him as he becomes able to do less and less. It’s a sad book.
At this point, I find myself unable to read about such a situation. It’s been half a year since my own father passed away, at the age of 86. While I can find very few similarities between my father’s life and the experiences of the character in the book, I found myself dreading reading.
But it’s hardly the author’s fault and does not reflect on the book in any way.
Yet once again, you will have to read a review of this book somewhere else.
I rarely (or ever?) begin a book review post this way, but here goes:
The more I read this book the less enthusiastic I became.
Just to be clear, I was extremely enthusiastic about the book when I began. The writing is beautiful, the perspective of the young boy growing up in New England with a mentally ill sister is riveting. The word “refreshing” comes to mind. The descriptions of nature and the town are lovely too.
However, as the book progresses (it’s 405 pages long) it becomes more and more predictable. Once again there is that classic American pattern of running away from all your problems, embarking on a road trip (preferably cross-country), without money and at the mercy of strangers, and emerging as a new person.
If it only it were just that. I have enjoyed all kinds of “road trip” books/movies (the one about the old man who made the trip on a lawnmower would be my first example). But the main character becomes less believable as the book wears on. Not to mention some other things.
The tale simply becomes repetitive. It’s an awfully long journey when you are crossing the United States on a bicycle…
And the ending was so predictable.
I’m not sorry I read it.
But the disparity between the first part and the rest of the book disappointed me.
Once upon a time, there were telephones that had letters of the alphabet by each number.
Letters of the alphabet have numerical values too.
I even read about a method in which one turns telephone numbers into letters as a method for committing them to memory.
However, when I searched online for a connection between activities using words and numbers (as opposed to words and pictures) and vocabulary retention, the only result I encountered had to do with Rebuses and rebus puzzles, which are good for activating both sides of the brain. Good to know! Rebuses are fun but hard to make…
Frankly, I was looking for justification for adapting my “Magic E Telephone”SPEAKING activity (which was based on Teresa Bestwick’s “Minimal Pairs Telephone”) to a LET’S ENGAGE WITH VOCABULARY ACTIVITY. There are several profoundly Deaf students who rarely use voice or speak at all, and rely completely on sign language for communication, in my 10th-grade class. They would feel excluded in a group activity involving speaking.
I wanted to find out if the students would still pay attention to the “Magic E” and if the adapted activity along with additional activities would help them remember the vocabulary items.
Here’s what I did:
I used the original 10 index cards and attached them to an existing activity board (little pockets for flashcards).
Above each word, there was a number, zero to nine.
I asked the students what the difference was between the words that look mostly similar (hat /hate). They all noticed the letter “e ”. I explained about the Magic E and its effect on pronunciation but emphasized the fact that the addition of the “E” changes the meaning of the word.
I then divided the students into groups of three. Each group had three tasks:
One student had to sign the word for each digit of his cell phone number. Student number two had to write down the numbers being signed so everyone could see if it matched. Student number three timed them and recorded the time. Then they switched roles.
You may be surprised, but it isn’t so simple to think of a number and then say a word or sign it without pointing! I found myself wanting to point to each word! It all goes slower than rattling off numbers. Try it!
2. Student number one presented student number two with a series of index cards. On each card, there was a “math problem” written in words, such as: “hat + hate = ?” “hate X cape = ?” on one side. The numerical solution was written on the other side.
Student number two had to solve the math equation by answering with a number.
Student number three recorded the time. Then they switched roles.
3. The same activity as before but the students answered with the word that the number denotes.
Initial Conclusions – Pros & Cons
We all had fun!
The students liked all the activities but they found the one with phone number more challenging and amusing and spent more time on that.
Students at different levels could play together.
One advanced student encountered the word “hope” in his text the next day. He asked if that was also a “magic E”!
The cards were fixed in place – the location of the words served as a memory aid. Next time cards should be shuffled.
It seems a great deal of energy spent with very few vocabulary items learned, and not particularly important ones. It was more effective as a speaking exercise when the students repeatedly had to say the word.
At least everyone activated both sides of their brains and their bodies!
Sometimes it’s feels good to read a book that is what it says it is (at least according to the blurb!) : “A feel good book with a bite”.
The book is easy to read and humorous. I have a soft spot for books written in the format of letters, with different characters moving the plot forward. I must admit I smiled while reading and finished it quite quickly.
There is a “bite” – some commentary on politics and government. In addition, despite the fact that I remembered that this book had been made into a romantic comedy film ( which I haven’t seen) the love story did not end up in the usual, expected way. I appreciated that.
Nonetheless, the “teacher in me” had to be hushed a few times while reading. Why couldn’t the vision they were trying to realize be to bring running water to every village? Improve access to Education and Health Care?
I know, I know. The book wouldn’t be as attractive or amusing. I get that.
But I do wish the author had omitted the “THE” before the name of the country “Yemen”! I have found explanations for the origins of such a form but it rankles…
Teaching English as a FOREIGN language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students