I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it offered phenomenal ideas for teaching English, and a very persuasive reminder of the power of r...moreI have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it offered phenomenal ideas for teaching English, and a very persuasive reminder of the power of reading, which all English teachers occasionally need, especially as we get bogged down in the daily rigors of the classroom.
My problem lies with some pretty huge assumptions Gallagher has made. Basically, his goal is thoughful, intelligent human beings who value reading. He is obviously one of these, as is everyone who reads this book. So, much of his philosophy is essentially, "Do what good readers do, and you will become a good reader." I think that's flawed logic. It's easy for English teachers to forget that non-English teachers may not share our interest in or aptitude for reading. At one point, he uses a swimming metaphor to discuss access to books - we would never expect kids to learn to swim without giving them access to a pool, so how can we expect kids to learn to read without giving them access to books and time to read? I agree, but there are still plenty of people that, with unlimited pool access, will not find a value or enjoyment of swimming. The same is true with reading. I felt Readicide failed to address how to cultivate that value other than surrounding a kid with books (and appropriate teaching of books) and hoping it happens. For some it does. For many it does not.
The other issue I had stems from the same English-centricity idea - I have a real problem when people argue for the necessity of the "classics." I completely and totally agree that students need practice with difficult reading, and for that reason I populate my classroom with plenty of canonical classics. However, his theory that every classic can be valuable to every student if only they are taught right is ridiculous. Again, that's easy for an English teacher say, as they have generally found that value. People have different tastes, values, and ideals, and defending books that kids can't connect with like Gallagher only widens the gap between English teachers and the creation of readers.
Of the people on this website, who loves reading because of a book assigned in school? Don't readers need to find the value of reading on their own, to have any ownership of it?
Again, there was a lot of great points in Readicide, but, obviously, a few things that really irked me as well. Definitely worth a read by any English teacher.(less)
I have a lot of respect for this book, but after reading it (and rereading large portions of it), I was unable to retain anything from it. First, it i...moreI have a lot of respect for this book, but after reading it (and rereading large portions of it), I was unable to retain anything from it. First, it is primarily the story of the scientists behind the recent advances in cosmology and the search for dark matter and energy, and without the benefit of any character development, I was unable to keep anyone straight. I could not recount any of the story of discovery, the teams involved, or the people that won the awards, as there is not much establishment of these characters as people; instead, they are simply names. Second, there is actually very little focus on the explanation of the science behind cosmology and dark matter; instead, this book is clearly geared towards those with a much stronger background in physics and astronomy than I have.
Although this certainly earns me the derision of the "real" scientists out there, I need a pop-science, science for dummies, Bill Bryson style approach to topics like this, especially ones as incomprehensible as cosmology. Give me some metaphors. Walk me through the math. After finishing the book, I cannot recount the story of the people involved, nor can really discuss what dark matter is. So why did I read it?
As a pretty smart dude, I hate to admit that this book went right over my head. But, then again, it wasn't meant for me.(less)
First, I must qualify this review. In reading this book I was hoping for something entertaining and engaging, or something that offered interesting an...moreFirst, I must qualify this review. In reading this book I was hoping for something entertaining and engaging, or something that offered interesting anecdotes, historical facts, people, or situations. That is definitely NOT what this book is. It is actually more of a history of the depictions of breasts in poetry, art, and propaganda, and even then, the book is focused at least as much on a feminist analysis of these texts as it is on the presentation of historical facts/stories. It is told largely without any sort of narrative thread in a very academic manner, making this a very dry read.
No doubt, some of the insights were interesting, including the different social functions that breasts have served throughout history, but even that, for me, was overshadowed by one other element of this book - the author. I am certainly no feminist scholar, and I am aware that however I present the following thoughts, I could be accused of the patriarchal oppression that this author refers to so frequently. But, the author seemed so negative about every topic she discussed that I was very put off. When societies exalted breast feeding, that was oppressive because women were tied to home and kids. When societies shunned breast feeding, that took away from a woman's motherly experience. When women (or just breasts) were praised in art and music for their beauty, that was condescending. When women were exalted based on maternal and home roles, that was belittling.
Don't get me wrong, I understand her point - whatever standard women are held too is undesirable, because it is limiting, even if the standard is something desirable. But I guess I have a hard time believing there was nothing entertaining, humorous, or positive related to the breasts in entirety of human history.
The author also strays quite far from her stated purpose of history when she discusses breast cancer and modern art. Also, despite my best efforts to understand feminism, there were some things that made me double-take. Nipple rings are a form of societal bondage? Today's women's struggles are remarkably similar to those of the women in biblical times? I don't think so.
So, if you need a resource for a paper, grab this book. I would not recommend this for any type of enjoyment reading.(less)
I was in the mood for some math (it had been so long since I read some pop-math literature), and Zero seemed like the perfect tome. Unfortunately, Zer...moreI was in the mood for some math (it had been so long since I read some pop-math literature), and Zero seemed like the perfect tome. Unfortunately, Zero is a little TOO pop-math - it hits on the same "interesting" math and physics tidbits that so many other pop-math and science books do. And while it relates all of its ideas to zero, it's not really about zero.
The first half does talk about the historical context of the concept of zero, but it is mostly about philosophy - how the concepts of zero and infinity affected science and religion of the time. Just when I was hoping for some math, the book switches to a by-discipline survery of, again, math and phyiscs all-star fun factoids, including Fibonacci sequences, the golden ratio, set theory, numbers larger than infinity, wormholes, etc., etc. There were some ideas in there I had not read about before, like projective geometry, but for the most part, Hawking, Bryson, and popular math authors have covered this.
So, for me, it was rehash. If you have not read much pop-math, this book is very interesting, although it definitely requires a late-high school understanding of algebra and physics to make sense. If you are familiar with the genre, you've seen most of it before.(less)
This book had a VERY rough start - the beginning gave my a very different expectation of what this book would be than what it turned out to be. The fi...moreThis book had a VERY rough start - the beginning gave my a very different expectation of what this book would be than what it turned out to be. The first chapter used illustrations of his points about classifying smells that were not well-explained or well connected. What I expected was a pretentious, fashion-oriented book that discussed smell in the narrow context of perfumery. Relatively quickly, though, the book turned into what I had hoped for - a dynamic discussion of the sense of smell, incorporating science, culture, literature, psychology, numerous other interesting angles. Compared to other books of this type, it all felt a little shallow. The author claims overall that smell is a largely ignored sense, and I have a hard time believing that our understanding of evolution and prehistory wouldn't give those learned in the subject a little better context for understanding the importance of this sense. Overall, though, I learned a lot, and was quite entertained - this is a strong sample of this type of broad, nonfiction, subject-area approach to a topic.(less)
Reading in the Brain is a very challenging book, but the effort, head-scratching, and re-reading was more than worth it - as an educator, neuro-psycho...moreReading in the Brain is a very challenging book, but the effort, head-scratching, and re-reading was more than worth it - as an educator, neuro-psychology enthusiast, and appreciator of new and and interesting insights into the ways the people work, this book was one of the more significant texts I've read, ever.
From a content perspective, this book wove well-explained data into profound insight into the ways something specific like reading works, which continually built toward much grander and more profound insights into what it means to be human. Dehaene did so very delicately, humbly, yet expertly and convincingly. His ideas of neuronal recycling and what that means to the scope of everything humans have ever invented and are capable of inventing are truly some worldview-altering insights.
As for the more technical aspects of the text, this was very challenging, no doubt, but handled in a way that a reader does not need a deep background in neurology or biology to benefit. That, I think, is another hallmark of a gifted author - accessibility on numerous levels, from highly technical and scientific, to pedagogical, to philosophical, and on. If you are not a neurologist, this book will take some work. But there is definitely something here for you, whether your entry point is basic brain physiology, education, or general interest.
This is the kind of book that should be required reading in college for teachers, perhaps for everyone. Three thumbs up.(less)
I really thought I would like this book. It all sounded so perfect - magical realism, fantasy elements, strange connections to WWII, dudes talking to...moreI really thought I would like this book. It all sounded so perfect - magical realism, fantasy elements, strange connections to WWII, dudes talking to cats, gateways to other worlds. When I want to like something, I normally do, but this book fell incredibly short of my expectations.
First, it is two stories. Mr. Nakata's story was good, and the home of most of the fantasy elements. I enjoyed this half of the book quite a bit. He was an interesting character, I liked his eventual sidekick, and his story was fantastical and interesting. The other half is mostly boring, and when it's not boring, it's awkward. I have difficulty caring about this kid's exercise routine and the details of his every meal. Then, the whole oedipal aspect of the story is not something I enjoyed reading.
Even the fantasy elements failed to connect with me. It was so ill-defined - I don't need complete histories and lengthy explanations of the ethereal characters and their pasts, but some clues might be nice.
I appreciated the chance to read a book from a culture with which I am not all that familiar, and I have very much enjoyed many Japanese animated films, and perhaps that is what I was hoping this would be. Unfortunately, it wasn't.(less)
The Pesthouse to me was The Road-lite. Same journey towards the coast, same conflict with roving bands of marauders. However, the landscape is quite a...moreThe Pesthouse to me was The Road-lite. Same journey towards the coast, same conflict with roving bands of marauders. However, the landscape is quite a bit more pleasant, there's a love story, and no cannibalism. This does not mean it has less of an impact, or is a weaker story, but the parallels are certainly there.
My issue with this book was with its dystopian elements. I am a big fan of the genre, and in the best examples of these books the setting is just as important as the characters. Why the world of the book is the way it is, what went wrong with our world which resulted in the world of the book, those are what separate a good dystopian story from straight fantasy. The Pesthouse is very light on dystopian setting. We never get a sense of why America has eroded into a middle-age style agrarian society. Despite a few landscape links and some cryptic discussions of how long it has been since the world collapsed, this was a decent emigration story that could have been set in potato-famine Ireland or Venus without much alteration.(less)
I was terribly conflicted on how to rate this book. Because the more negative feelings won out in the two star rating, I will start with the negatives...moreI was terribly conflicted on how to rate this book. Because the more negative feelings won out in the two star rating, I will start with the negatives.
First, the author claims at the beginning that he will be using "science" to prove his case that biologically-based gender differences create many of the stereotypes and gender-based issues that our society and educational systems are struggling with. That claim is misleading, as the author's true purpose is to deliver his advice on child-rearing and education, which inevitably leads to the scientific cherry-picking and pigeon-holing that many others have found fault with. That makes this a self-help book, not a science book, which makes the book subjective, and clouds the data that readers could otherwise be using to come to their own conclusions about the foundations and influences of gender.
Second, I am hugely distrustful of anyone who adopts the "good old days" mentality, that if we could just go back to "the way things were," everything would be fine. That in general is a huge, misguided fallacy. Sax would like to see a return to traditional gender roles in many different ways, and he recommends some pretty unsettling traditional methods of helping kids deal with gender struggles (send your "anomalous male" who loves playing the piano to Boy Scout camp to “break him” of his gender inappropriate interests? Yikes.) He also recommends an antiquated authoritarian parenting style, reinforcing that parents are entirely at fault for the way their kids turn out, adding to extreme pressure faced by modern parents, which I believe is the true cause of our era’s parenting difficulties. He purports to be part of the solution; I would argue that his approach (and all of contradictions therein) is clearly part of the problem.
On the other hand, the science contained in the book, before it is tarnished with Sax’s agenda, is mind-boggling, life-changing, and wonderful. The gender-based differences in neural processing, the senses, and all of the field’s other science-based findings caused me to rethink some pretty fundamental assumptions I have about the way people are, gender stereotypes and assumptions, the implications in society, and other very large and important ideas. If that’s what this book had been about, and I had been allowed to put those ideas in a larger societal and educational context, this would have been a five star book. Unfortunately, Why Gender Matters does not rise much above an easily refutable, debatable, and out-dateable parenting advice book. (less)
This was a fun little book, especially after all of the 500-plus page monsters I've been reading lately. I picked it up because the idea of a science-...moreThis was a fun little book, especially after all of the 500-plus page monsters I've been reading lately. I picked it up because the idea of a science-based novel appealed to me, but that's not really what this is - it's more of a parody of university life, played out through the main character's love of a colleague, and of all the other university-types that populate the book. It's quite funny, interspersed with some pretty thought-provoking philosophy and discussion of love and possession. And whatever "magic" I like in my books was largely missing from the beginning, which disappointed, but then I reached the end. Great ending. I'll add Lethem to my list of authors to further explore.(less)
Most of this book was fascinating - the science and history especially, along with the science. I could have done without all of the philosophical wax...moreMost of this book was fascinating - the science and history especially, along with the science. I could have done without all of the philosophical waxing on, not because it wasn't interesting, but because it really seemed like Pollan repeated himself... a lot. His Apollonian versus Dionysian ideas were very interesting, but it started to feel condescending after the fifteenth repetition. Of the four sections of the book (Apple, Tulip, Marijuana, Potato) I only felt that the tulip section was lacking in concrete substance - very little history (only a few pages on the Dutch tulip bubble) and too much of the philosophy. The other three sections were very engaging.(less)
First, a few positives. This book definitely contains wonderful lesson and activity ideas, regardless of what texts a teacher chooses to use them for....moreFirst, a few positives. This book definitely contains wonderful lesson and activity ideas, regardless of what texts a teacher chooses to use them for. Also, I greatly respect the author's value of challenging her students - while I find myself in profound disagreement with most of what this book contains, I agree that students needs to be challenged in their reading and their thinking. That is the only way learning can occur.
This book, however, is founded on some terribly erroneous ideas. The first is a misunderstanding of the zone of proximal development. Jago describes it basically as content or skills that are outside the students' current abilities, or those with which the students require help. That would indicate that every text above a student's ability is then in that zone, and that is false. The zone has an upper limit, meaning books can be TOO hard for students, and reading them accomplishes as little as reading something in her "Zone of Minimal Effort." I would argue that if a text is completely inaccessible to a student without a teacher's help, which is precisely what Jago recommends, it would be well past the theoretical area which students can benefit from.
My second problem with this book is related to the first - Jago recommends an extremely teacher-centered approach to the classroom. If a teacher assigns a book that is extremely difficult, even unreadable, without a teacher's help, what are the students gaining? No doubt, walking students through a text will yield the thematic, philosophical, and human experience lessons she holds in such high regard. But I firmly believe that, in order for student growth to take place, teachers need to stop seeing themselves as the center of the classroom. When I assign difficult texts in my classroom, and do not take weeks to parse every lesson and insight for the kids, there is no doubt that students are missing out on the full depth of meaning that others have found in the text. But the meaning they do find is theirs, the process of that discovery is theirs, and I believe they leave my class much better equipped for future reading. Ms. Jago cannot accompany her students into college, and I'm curious how successful they are at squeezing all the juice out of a text without her.
Finally, my first two points have nothing to do with "the classics," only with text complexity, because Jago's entire argument is built on the near-ridiculous equation "classics equal challenging and complex, while contemporary texts equal simple and shallow." I guess I am confused as to what types of titles are available at Ms. Jago's library, as my classroom is populated with a wealth of titles that contain meaning, are challenging, AND that the students find enjoyable and engaging. Jago uses a metaphor that literature needs to be a window (into other cultures, times and experiences) and not a mirror (reflecting the students own experiences). Amen. That's a wonderful way to look at the texts you add to a classroom. But to then imply that all contemporary literature is a mirror is baffling. I have my students read Foer's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," a challenging text, rich with meaning, literary features, and human experience. This, according to Jago, is apparently not good enough.
With her equation debunked and challenging contemporary material out there, Jago offers no other defense of the "classics." What this book is, then, is what Stuart Hall descibes in his Cultural Studies theory - hegemony in the education world reinforcing itself, which I believe is one of the most profound mistakes teachers can make. Jago clearly believes that because certain classic titles worked for her or provided her with meaning, then they will do the same for her students, whether they like it or not. She is woefully out of touch with the skill requirements of millenial students. She even attempts to address this argument, belittling new teachers for lack of familiarity with the classics, but she comes across as a myopic, ethnocentristic traditionalist who is defending a mode of education that is increasingly ancient in a world where texts abound, and a canon of literature is no longer the only source of meaning and significance. (less)
**spoiler alert** I did not expect a lot from this book, but I did expect the pace and action of the first two. Unfortunately, that is the first front...more**spoiler alert** I did not expect a lot from this book, but I did expect the pace and action of the first two. Unfortunately, that is the first front on which this book disappoints. The first three hundred pages were almost boring and completely unfocused. At page three hundred, what I loved about the first two books kicked in, but only for forty pages.
Second, when it comes to series, if the author creates parallelism with the first entries, then abandons that formula, I find myself bothered, and Mockingjay does just that. With no "games" (or only a very truncated "games"), I missed what I had come to expect from the series.
Finally, the ending, the part everyone I have spoken to is so lukewarm about. I am not lukewarm. I did not like the ending. It is a convention of American fiction that main characters change and grow. Katniss ends up a completely flat character. Authors are certainly welcome to mess with conventions, but Hunger Games is not quite the dynamo of genre busting literature that can pull it off. I spend three books waiting to like Katniss, waiting for her to grow up and become less selfish. It never happens. Oh well. (less)
I found this book very interesting, even if much of it, only 12 years old, seemed a little dated. Of the seven case studies, the first four affected m...moreI found this book very interesting, even if much of it, only 12 years old, seemed a little dated. Of the seven case studies, the first four affected me the most. The author's style of mixing the extremely technical discussions of these people's mental issues with the interpersonal interactions with them added a lot of personality to these stories, even if the book seemed a little light on universal or more broadly applicable insight into the workings of the brain. The final three chapters, concerned mainly with autism, seemed curiously out of date for their age. Since then autism has really exploded, and the rates of its occurence dwarf what Sacks mentions in his book. I am very curious to read an updated afterword, perhaps, from Sacks on this subject.(less)