Thursday, December 18, 2014

Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual

 By the Editors of The Family Handyman
Readers Digest      2014
528 pages     Non-fiction
The Shortlist

This is just a shout out about a great Christmas gift!  

Have you seen the recent ad for Angie's List. A father is trying to put up a swing set in the back yard. He starts in the morning and 12 hours later, it's up but it's a disaster. The implication, of course, is that it is best to find a handyman on Angie's list to do the job. At the same time, we know that a homeowner can save hundreds of dollars if he/she can learn to do their own repairs. 

The Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual is a great holiday gift for the new homeowner—or the old homeowner, for that matter. With very clear pictures, drawings, and text, all of the common household repairs are explained. I particularly liked the part about how to use common household tools. Each tool is explained, and then when you see the tool at work in the later chapters, you can refer back to see how to use the tool.

Thanks to the publicity rep, this book is going to our son and his wife--new homeowners.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


by Neal Shusterman
Simon and Schuster     2007
335 pages     YA

My 14-year-old granddaughters read this book for a class at school and insisted that I read it and write about it for my blog. I love it when that happens!

I then told my son about the book and remarked that the twins had read it in class. He suggested that dystopian novels are a great way to teach civics and social issues without the students knowing there is an ulterior motive to the reading. I hadn't looked at it that way, but he is definitely right. Unwind teaches a civics lesson about one of the great political divide the country finds itself in—abortion and abortion rights.

"Unwinding" is the political solution to the cause of a great civil war over abortion—fought not with words but with an actual war. At the end of the war, the solution was two-fold. First, no abortion. Second, unwanted babies could be left on doorsteps, and unwanted teenagers could be sent to a camp where their organs would be harvested. In unwinding, the teenagers are divided and their parts used to prolong life in the general population. Children are told that they will live on in a "divided state." While there is not much empathy in the book, Schusterman decries the ultimate sacrifice that can come from a political compromise. 

Three young teenagers are sent to an unwinding camp to be divided: Conner is unruly and his parents don't want to cope with him anymore. Risa has been raised in an orphanage, and she is sent to be unwound to reduce orphanage costs. Lev, on the other hand, was conceived to be unwound; he is the family's "tribute." After Conner stages a dramatic escape on the way to the unwinding camp, he drags along Risa and Lev, and they embark on a journey to keep themselves alive until they turn 18 and can't be unwound. They find themselves in a vast underground movement to keep unwinds alive, very similar to the Underground in the US Civil War era. 

Unwind is one of many dystopian series of novels that are capturing the interest of young adult readers. Although I have read only a few, Unwind seems to me to be the most overtly political. I suppose that is why it is being taught in the Oak Park Illinois schools. And, from the number of student projects on the Internet, it is used in middle schools and high schools across the country. Not surprisingly, it has caused a lot of negative book reviews from conservative groups that object to the books on several levels. Foremost among these objections is the scene in which an unwind is actually dismembered.

Unwind is philosophical by nature and political by intent. There is nothing subtle about the message. "You can't change the laws without first changing human nature. You can't change human nature without first changing the law." It made me want to look back at other dystopian novels that I have read and look closer at the political messages that are being taught through them. Although I agree with the message of Unwind, and I appreciate my granddaughter's enthusiasm for it, I wonder what philosophical and political messages students are being taught that are more subtle and less liberal in tone.  

Unwind is the first book in a four part series that is in development as a movie. I came across a trailer created by high school students as a class project. You can find it here

A good review in the Guardian.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Hey Folks! I'm Back

The hiatus is over and I'm back. It was the longest three months of my life. The books kept piling up—so exciting—so intriguing. And here I was--reading and writing essays in Education Leadership, English language classes, and even Civil Engineering for Saudi Arabian graduate students at the university.

 So, I am going to read as fast as I can so that I can get caught up on both the reviews and some of the wonderful books that have been coming my way.

 Thanks for your patience. I am back in business.

By the way, I am beginning my fifth year in blogging books. I think it's time for some format changes. I will be working on that in the next couple of weeks so I am ready to go with the new format for the new year.

Meanwhile . . . 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Frustrated Reader

Here is how I am feeling these days. .

or maybe it's more like this. .

When I want to be feeling like this. . .
 . .

So dear readers, please bear with me a few more weeks. I am totally overwhelmed with work and have not had a moment to read anything I want to be reading. I had to steal time away from students to watch Olive Kitteridge on HBO--which by the way was incredible. That's the only literary thing I have done in a month.

To add to the frustration my ereader broke about a month ago and the new one has not yet arrived. I have a backlog of about a hundred books that are waiting for me to view.

Three Weeks Friends
and then I will be doing what I love.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Your Life Isn't for You: A Selfish Person's Guide to Being Selfless

by Seth Adam Smith
Berret-Koehler Publishers     2014
83 pages      Nonfiction
The Shortlist

Smith is a blogger whose blog posting called Marriage Isn't For You engendered a lot of comments and repostings in the blogosphere. From that notoriety, he has published more of his postings on marriage, on selfishness, on selflessness, and on depression and suicide in the slim volume, Your Life Isn't For You. 

In this group of meditations, Smith uses the Oscar Wilde story, The Selfish Giant, as the metaphor for his life, how he suffered from extreme selfishness, and how he has been practicing to be more selfless. It is a short but sweet look at life, written for the young adult who is moving from living in his or her own head into a life filled with other people. Most young adults will be able to relate to Smith's story and find value in his advice. Smith also has published his wedding meditation, Marriage Isn't For You in book form. I think that it would be an appropriate gift for the newly married couple.

What I have found interesting is that the blogosphere has become such a source of books. For a while in 2011, I followed the postings of Nina Sankovitch who read a book a day for a year. She turned that experience into a book and has since written another. I often follow the recipes of the Pioneer Woman, who of course, now cooks on the Food Channel and has published a couple of books. And finally, today's Wall Street Journal had an article about how book publishers are going to YouTube to find video blogs and creating books from those postings. So apparently, if you want to be a writer, one good way to get noticed is to blog. 

Seth Adam Smith's blog.
A brief review in Seattle PI.