Friday, August 29, 2008

Poetry Friday

Today is weird. It's raining--not summer storm rain, but just a steady rain. With school back in session (for the kids-- I don't go back until Tuesday) and the over air-conditioned state of the children's room... I think it's cold out. I mean, like I think it's November or something. I'm sure to get a rather large shock when I leave work today to find it's 75 degrees out (so, I guess it is cold for DC in late August...)

Anyway, today's Poetry Friday selection is rather depressing. Blame it on the (much needed) rain or something... anyway, I'm currently reading The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed by Michael Meyers. I'm only about 70 pages in, but so far it's a fascinating look at the destruction of the hutong neighborhoods. On one hand, you're losing neighborhoods and homes, without recourse. One the other hand, these are homes built hundreds of years ago that aren't retro-fitted for heat or indoor plumbing and haven't had the upkeep been put into them... I'll post much more extensively on this later-- I've been kicking around a post on this topic since I went to Beijing last fall and I think this book will help frame what I want to say.

Anyway, today's poem was found scrawled on the interior wall of a house being torn down.

Poor in the carefree city
there is no quarter
Prosperity is in the remote mountains
Where I know people who care

Four years later, I stayed at the hotel that was built, along with shiny shopping centers and western eateries, in that same spot.

Round-up is at Charlotte's Library.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nonfiction Wednesday--1775-style

Today, we return to our regular book reviewing! These are both adult non-fiction titles that were recieved as part as Mini Book Expo for Bloggers, which if you are a book blogger and don't know about, you should totally check out.

Hurricane of Independence: The Untold Story of the Deadly Storm at the Deciding Moment of the American Revolution Tony Williams

In September of 1775, when the American colonies were preparing for war, a hurricane struck its way up the East Coast, affecting many of the revolutionary players. The hurricane, while taking many lives where it first hit in North Carolina's Outer Banks, did not have much effect on history. Williams uses it as a window in which to view the beginning of the war. Sadly, the window is not big enough to do what he wants to do and, overall, the book lacks cohesion and focus. More than anything, the storm serves as an excuse for an extended metaphor about the brewing political tempest. The book ends with a chapter on a second hurricane that struck Newfoundland shortly after the first struck the East Coast. Where Williams's conclusions that this was a different storm are interesting and new, one must question why they are included on the book of ostensibly about the American Revolution.

Although the premise is weak, and much of the material has been covered before, Williams's writing style is very engaging. For readers who have not yet read their way through the plethora of books on the Revolution, Hurricane of Independence is highly readable and interesting. I'm not just saying that! This book had some organization issues, but really, an excellent writing style and I look forward to reading more by the author.

Williams has a knack for writing about the weather and I wish he would have done a history of eighteenth century North American hurricanes. I firmly believe Williams could write a fascinating account, both due to his writing style and the fact that in this title, that is where he really added to the field.

Published by Sourcebooks.

A Treatise of Mathematical Instruments John Robertson

This is a reprint of the third edition of this title, which came out in 1775. Already I know you're asking, "Jennie, why on EARTH did you ask for this book?" Well... science history is pretty cool.

The parts of this book that I understood were really interesting. It's not an easy book to understand--first off, the font is based on the original, when they used s's that looked like f's. Plus, um... math tools I've never seen. And... math.

It starts off with a publishing history about the Sector Compass, which is what math people used before the slide rule. Now, this might sound dull, but there was much intellectual theft! And Galileo suing people for intellectual theft! Even though maybe he didn't invent the thing after all! Intrigue!

The treatise then discusses basic math tools. After a lengthly explanation of each, and how it might be used, there are several practice problems with long explanations on how to solve the problem using the tool in question. I totally understood the part on how to use a protractor, but when we got to the sector compass? And there were logs and trig functions? I really tried, but my eyes glazed over.

However! There are great discussions on how to make your own carbon paper, eighteenth century style, as well as a ton of information on British naval theory (and a mathematical proof on the most space-efficient way to store ones cannon balls), architecture, and how to draw using perspective. PLUS! When discussing the gunners callipers, Robertson is explaining how to use the conversion tables that are printed on the side. One of the example questions was the following: How long with 33 butts of beer serve a crew of 324 men, allowing to each man 3 wine quarts a day?. Talk about real life examples! This shows how important beer was to the navy (because it's sanitary to drink?) and is just a very practical question because there are a several conversions that need to be done to answer the question.

Also, the lack of standardization! A beer gallon was different than a wine gallon! One of the charts on the callipers was converting English feet to French feet (the measurement, not the body part.)

But, overall, there were many pages of computations I did not understand. The parts of this book I did get were fascinating. The other parts made me feel dumb.

Published by Invisible College Press.

*hee hee* butts of beer *hee hee*

We've already established that I'm 10.


It's Cybils time again! And they need judges! Go volunteer!

Did you know that, this week, Author2Author is giving away a book a day? And that it's super easy to enter. Today's book is Meg Cabot's How to Be Popular

In other news... book reviews will be starting up again soon. I have a bunch written in my head.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


This has nothing to do with anything, but I must share it with the world.

Today, I saw a license plate that said BRNIN8TR with a license plate holder that said TROGDOR!

So, dear guy with the red Toyota Corolla and the VA plates that say BRNIN8TR? YOU ARE AWESOME and made my day.

If such a thing doesn't make YOUR day, I think you need to watch this:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Back to School.

Wahoo! Schools out for a week and I have SO MANY books to review! SO MANY! Because all this time when I haven't been blogging? Yeah... I've been READING.

And dealing with 2 ear infections. And pink eye. The pink eye's all gone now but the ear infections remain... blargh.

School starts for the kids at work on Monday. And even though I just finished class and am experiencing a wee bit of vacation, I still have that back to school excitement. I'm looking forward to fall and sweaters. I love school supply shopping, even though I don't have to do it right now, I still find myself wandering the aisles of staples and smelling the erasers. I love the smell of a freshly sharpened pencil. I love the feel of a clean notebook, the roll of a good pen. The earnest eagerness of reinventing yourself every fall...

So, even though it's still summer, school is starting, which means it will soon be fall, so here's a fall poem by Emily Dickinson, always a favorite:

THE MORNS are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf, 5
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I ’ll put a trinket on.

Round up is at Read. Imagine. Talk.!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Apparently, I am 10 years old

Remember that Futurama episode where we first see the Professor's Smell-o-scope?

FRY: This is a great, as long as you don't make me smell Uranus. Heh heh.
LEELA: I don't get it.
PROFESSOR FARNSWORTH: I'm sorry, Fry, but astronomers renamed Uranus in 2620 to end that stupid joke once and for all.
FRY: Oh. What's it called now?

Anyway, Uranus is one of my nightmares as someone who works with children. I mean, witness the REAL conversation I had last year:

Little Boy: Do have a book called Exploring Uranus?
Me: Did your older brother put you up to this?!

Turns out, he had just read Exploring Jupiter and wanted the next book.

ANYWAY! Today, we got a book in called A Look at Uranus.

I keep giggling to myself. tee hee hee!

Yes, I am 10. Shut up.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Forever Princess

Are you, like me, eagerly awaiting the release of Forever Princess the very LAST Princess Diaries book?

Well, Meg Cabot has a lovely sneak peak for us here. Just a little something to tide us over until the January!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Saturday Ramblings...

My head is full of Twilight. Of course, yesterday I spent the afternoon in the hammock reading Breaking Dawn.

A few things happened while I was engrossed (and dude, for part of that book, GROSS is the right word.)

1. I sunburned half of my body. Seriously-- 1 arm, 1/2 my nose and 1 cheek. I LOOK AWESOME.

2. I failed to go to the bank or post office.

3. John Edwards admitted to having an affair (I'm sorry John, were the cameras off you for too long?)


Then I watched the Opening Ceremonies. I wouldn't mind seeing that again, but without the NBC commentary. Zhang Yimou is awesome that that was intense. I wish I knew more China Geeks-- we could pick out all the symbolism in that show and go wild.

Anyway, via Nymeth, I've decided to join another challenge. Why? Because apparently I AM INSANE. But, I finished Becky's Stephenie Meyer mini-challenge, so WHY NOT?

Anyway... for this one you have to read 6 of Entertainment Weekly's New Classics. And to start, we need to post all 100, bolding the titles we've read.

I've already read 21 of them. I need to read 6 more... but which 6? Who knows. I'll decide as I go along. Here's the list:

1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)
3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
4. The Liars' Club, Mary Karr (1995)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)
18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
20. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)
21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)
22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)
23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)
24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)
26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)
30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)
33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)
35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)
40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)
44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)
45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)
47. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)
54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)
55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)
56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)
62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)
63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)
64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)
74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)
76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)
85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)
86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)
87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)
90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)
91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)
95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)
96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)
97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
98. The Predators' Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)
99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)
100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)

Thursday, August 07, 2008


I am so sleepy. And then I had a too much super-greasy super-yummy food for lunch. Now I am super-sleepy.

I stayed up too late last night, reading Eclipse. So, now I've started Breaking Dawn. Next week will be Twilight review week. I have some things planned that have me excited, but might actually be really lame. I hope they're not lame.

Anyway, before then, I have a review of an amazing book, which was an Alex Award winner this year that I am highly recommending:

Mister Pip Lloyd Jones

Set during the rebellion of the early 1990s in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Mister Pip tells the story of the one white ma who stayed on the island after every one else fled and the island was blockaded. Mr. Watts was not a teacher, but he started school again and read Great Expectations to the students. Pip’s story grabs the attention of the small village as they make do with fewer and fewer supplies. However, both sides of the rebellion have heard of this Pip and wonder why the villagers are hiding a man among them, a man who is probably fighting for the other side. Pip, who allowed the children to escape to another world, may well be the undoing of the entire community.

Matilda, the narrator, is thirteen when the book begins. Caught up in Pip’s adventures, she struggles with her mother over the role he plays in her life. Teens will identify with Matilda’s desire for independence as she searches for her own voice. Jones’s description of the tropical island, and the villagers’ loss of a sense of time, lulls readers into the story, even if their memories of reading Great Expectations are less than fond. The message on the power and importance of imagination will reverberate with teens and adults. Although it details a great many horrors, especially in the end, Jones’s novel is quiet, but guaranteed to stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

Highly, highly recommend for adults and older teens. (Mom, I mean YOU)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Extremism from a different point of view

I have my fingers stuck in my ears and am singing LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA rather loudly. My work email is full of unread messages.

You see, for class today, I had to read a "genre" book. I was feeling like a bad YA lit person for not having read Twilight. So, that's what I read. And then I ran out and bought all the rest of the books, and now I have to shield myself from all the Breaking Dawn discussion until I finish it. However, I *do* have some fun things planned for the reviews, once I finish reading...

Anyway, here's a review of a different book I read for class...

In The Name of God Paula Jolin

As a teenager in Damascus, Nadia tries to be a good Muslim, and studies hard so she can become a doctor. She is frustrated by her cousins who have Western ideas and do not yet wear the hajib. She is concerned for her fellow Muslims caught in war-torn Iraq or Israel. She is saddened by her brother’s inability to find a job. When her favorite cousin is arrested for expressing anger over the oppression of Muslims, Nadia grows even more conservative, to the worry of her family. Eventually, she is drawn into fanatical fundamentalism, seeing no other option but to serve God through the ultimate sacrifice.

Short chapters start with Qur’anic names for God and paint an uncomfortably realistic portrait of how one devout girl can go from general anger at world politics to thinking that becoming a suicide bomber is a good choice. Jolin sets up the cultural and political landscape of Damascus, letting readers see Palestinian refugee settlements, the fear of the Secret Police, and many conversations on US foreign policy. (The fear of the secret police that leads to so much self censorship in the name of combating terrorism was especially striking.) Characters are viewed through Nadia’s eyes, trapping them in her pre-conceived notions, although based on their words and actions readers will have a different opinion. While readers may struggle with such a different world-view, they will recognize the standard tensions between mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers. Adults will recognize the hubris of teenagers in Nadia’s stubborn convictions that she knows better than everyone surrounding her.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Non-Fiction Monday

School is eating my brain. BUT! I did run into Susan today before class, which was great! I haven't seen her since... this fall? (Have we seen each other since Kids are Customers?) Also, because I blog everything I read, you might want to check this out.

I added a few new tracks to the MP3 widget on my sidebar.

Anyway, it's nonfiction Monday! So, today we're talking about...

Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution Moying Li

Li’s autobiography of her Beijing childhood starts with China’s disastrous Great Leap Forward and quickly moves through the Great Famine to the Cultural Revolution. In middle school at the time the Cultural Revolution began, she sees many of the confusing actions of high school and college students. After her headmaster commits suicide, she returns home, only to find no safe place as her family and their associates are targeted and imprisoned, several dying. As Li ages and the events hit closer and closer to home, her understanding of what is happening grows.

The narrative focuses more on Li’s personal story and, with the exception of the death of Zhou Enlai, the history and politics are only brought into play when explanation is needed. However, some things could use more explanation, such as why Li’s parents, both Communist veterans of the Revolution, are targets for the Red Guard.

Li’s English is straight-forward and she tells her story simply and matter-of-factly. In text explanations, as well as a chronology and a glossary of the Chinese terms add to the accessibility of this title. The pages are scattered with Li’s family photographs, which show a young girl growing up while the text outlines the drama, fear, and chaos that surrounded her.

Overall, I'm going to say it's a good introduction to the Cultural Revolution, even though some other books go into greater detail.

Back when we did the Weekly Geeks #12, Dewey asked:

What did you learn about China's culture that surprised you in Snow Falling in Spring?

Um, nothing. This isn't because there wasn't a lot in there, but I was a Chinese minor and college and spent a semester in Nanjing and have read a lot on the Cultural Revolution, so aside from Li's personal story, there wasn't a lot new for me in the book. For people who don't have a huge background in Chinese history, I think there is a lot to learn. I especially enjoyed her memories of the Great Leap Forward--it's not something you see a lot.

Round up is at Picture Book of the Day!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Poetry Friday

This week I give you an original. It's brand new, so it might not be done yet. Round up is at The Well-Read Child.

A Phone Call with my Father

I called to thank them for my birthday present.
I fill him in on life here,
The latest micro-dramas,
The antics of the dog.

He tells me of life there and how
My mother is working too hard
(as usual).
We worry.

He tells me of mill closings and
Changes in the football roster.

He also fills me in on the latest family gossip
Telling tales of my sister,
Once again proving she's a
And even though she's younger
When I grow up, I want to be

Three things before you go.
Two are standard father/daughter things.
The third--
You hadn't read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee?
Erm, no.

And then before we hang up,
Before he tells me he loves me,
Before he sends his regards to Dan
(and the dog),
He wishes me good luck,
Knowing full well the world we live in,
The obstacles I face,
But still fully believing
That his little girl can do