Saturday’s (late) Book: “My Brilliant Friend” by Ferrante

Connected! Naomi’s Photos

This is the second book in a row with a poor choice of cover. The picture of the bride and groom striding purposefully on a beach towards a white city, with little bridesmaids in tow is misleading. It reinforced my suspicion that the book was probably “chick lit” or at least followed the familiar stereotyped patterns of books (and movies!) depicting friendship between women.

Whatever adjectives one may decide to use in regards to this book, stereotypical cannot possibly be one of them.

The writing style is unusual. It’s raw, uneven, different and (most of the time!) made the book hard to put down.

In addition, the book is not only about a powerful bond between two girls that begins in childhood and lasts as they mature into adulthood.  It is also a bare-bones, often brutal look at the cruel cycle of poverty and lack of education. The book makes it very clear how difficult it is to break out of this cycle which seems bent on repeating itself. It may be about Naples in the 1950s but the social picture depicted could fit many other times and locations.

As a teacher, I was very interested in the detailed descriptions of the girls’ education or lack of education, as the case may be. However, when the same level of detail was devoted to the wedding of one of the two girls, I found it rather tedious.

This book is the first one of a series. At first, I thought I would move straight on to book two as I was so intrigued by the book. Yet by the time I got to the end I decided that a change would be welcome and moved on to reading other things.

I DO recommend reading this book but I don’t think I will watch the series if it comes our way. The descriptions in the book are vivid enough for me!

Revisiting the Post: “What do Teachers Talk about in the Staff Room”?

The following post was first posted in 2011, but the dilemma is still very relevant. In fact, the topic is particularly relevant at the beginning of every school year, when teachers and their new students are still “sizing each other up”.

A rare quiet moment in the staff room…
Naomi’s photos


It’s funny how things tie in with each other.

I hadn’t thought much about our staff room since the school finally purchased more chairs. Due to the fact that I’m not one of those teachers who manage to be in the staff room the moment the bell rings, I often could not find a free chair. But that issue has been taken care of.

Tyson Seburnt’s interesting post “What’s a Staff Room to You?” made me realize that there are other kinds of staff rooms, reflecting a whole different approach to a staff room, one used for collaborating on school issues, for instance. Our HUGE room staff room is mainly used for eating /drinking coffee and talking. Although the room is enormous, most teachers sit around specific tables, in sub groups. During the so-called lunch break (25 minutes at 10:40 in the morning!) the noise of conversation is loud. But what are teachers talking about?


If you had asked me that a week ago I would have said: Teachers’ offspring, fashion and television. Maybe some politics.

Right after reading the post, the head of our Deaf and hard of hearing staff department implored us not to talk about students during our breaks around the table.

Hmm, that’s right. I didn’t really pay much attention to it but we do talk about students, or rather “vent” our feelings about them.

She’s worried that sensitive information we know might be overheard by people who shouldn’t be privy to that information (not that you can hear much with the noise level during the break…)

“Would you believe that?!”
Naomi’s Photos

The very same day I read an article in EL (ASCD) magazine called “Respect – Where Do We Start” by Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin. The author talks about the negative influence of teachers sitting and complaining about their problematic students during lunch breaks. She says that these kind of conversations do not lead to the creation of constructive suggestions on dealing with students. The reverse may be true – hearing other colleagues also complain about a pupil makes the teacher feel more entitled to her negative feelings about that pupil. In addition, the author also claims that when teachers spend their free time talking about what brings them down and not what they feel good about it encourages our brains to think in more negative ways.

In short,  Beaudoin calls for a “no-talk-about-students” rule for lunch hour.

I see the author’s point but I’m not sure I agree. In fact, I’m not sure it is a rule we could live by. With all the support systems such as my AWESOME P.L.N and my patient husband who listens to me in the evenings, there is nothing like the support of your fellow teachers, who actually teach the same pupils, especially when  you exit a lesson ready to tear your hair out.

Do YOU agree?

Saturday’s Book: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

The 35th cat?
Naomi’s Photos

This book truly took me by surprise.

I was concerned that the book would be lurid and make me feel like I was reading the tabloids. The picture on the front cover of a woman with a knife in her hand and the quote on the back cover (“Dishes the dirt on what it’s really like being one of many wives”) did not seem encouraging.

In fact, the only reason I began the book was that it sort of fell into my lap.

I’m so glad I read it! The beginning part kept me a bit “wobbly” at first but that didn’t last long and I happily read all 606 pages!

Ebershoff not only cleverly weaves two main storylines together, but he also moves the plot forward by presenting many points of view, expressed in a wide variety of formats – personal diaries, letters, newspaper articles, court documents, research materials and more. I felt I was getting a much richer picture of the unfolding events.

One narrative is from the present day, involving a secret polygamous Latter-Day Saints sect called “The Firsts”, and a murder mystery. The other narrative follows the life of Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young’s multitude of wives who left the fold and waged a crusade against polygamy. Her life story is told along with the origin story of the Mormon religion.

This is a work of fiction though not quite a historical novel. It’s important to read the end notes to understand more about which information is based on research and which parts are total fiction.  Ann Eliza was most certainly a real person!

Besides the issue of polygamy,  the depiction of a leader demanding blind commitment to every word, defining every doubt or disagreement as treason, of demanding one thing from his followers while setting himself above the rules is, unfortunately, an issue that is very much alive today. There is a powerful scene in the book in which Brigham Young uses his clever rhetorical skills to turn the tables on those who voice concerns over his unethical behavior, making them feel guilty for even having such impure thoughts. Such behavior did not die with Brigham Young…

As they say, don’t judge a book by its cover (or it’s back cover)!