It's been a little while since I read this, but I bought all three of them when I started reading and I'm planning to reread them this summer. Based oIt's been a little while since I read this, but I bought all three of them when I started reading and I'm planning to reread them this summer. Based on my first read through, I remember thinking that Collins was neither the best nor the worst writer, but that she excelled at keeping tension in the plot, such that you always wanted to keep turning pages—everything is very fast paced, but in a good way. I also thought the books improved significantly as they went on. The aspect I liked least was the over-wrought love triangle, which features most heavily in book 2 (Mockingjay), but then, being a guy, that would also be the part least geared to me. The social commentary and parallels throughout the series are apt and engaging without seeming hyperbolic or overbearing, which seems to be a difficult line for many authors to draw; Collins does it well. Book 3 has an incredibly brave and realistic ending that I applaud Collins for—I can't wait to see whether the movie stays faithful or tries to sanitize it for the tweens.
The first movie was actually quite well done—one of the best book to film adaptations I've seen, actually—no doubt because Collins took part in the screenplay as well as co-producing. My only complaint, actually, is that it would have been better with an R rating, as the grittiness would have served to draw viewers, making it viscerally and emotionally engaging on a much higher level; whether showing Katniss stripped bare and processed like a show horse as she's prepared for the games, or having more realism in the violence in the games, the audience would have benefited from more brutal engagement, as described in the books—would movies like Amistad or Schindler's List be as good if they were sanitized? For Mockingjay, the sequel, there's a new director and Collins didn't co-write (though I believe she was still involved some in the production), so I guess we'll have to wait and see how it goes....more
Dr. Zull's book on learning is an interesting one. Coming from a biological perspective, Zull focuses on reconciling teaching methodology to the bioloDr. Zull's book on learning is an interesting one. Coming from a biological perspective, Zull focuses on reconciling teaching methodology to the biology of learning. Zull's view espouses a pedagogical approach adapted to what he terms the 'learning cycle,' which consists of four ongoing stages of learning: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract hypotheses, and active testing. Each stage has a biological underpinning, for which Zull relates relevant studies in neuroscience, and is reflective of natural human learning. For true learning to take place learners must progress through each stage successfully and deficits in learning arise by skipping over stages or failing to utilize a stage properly; to demonstrate this, Zull intersperses his dialog with anecdotal evidence from his own teaching experience as well as that of his colleagues.
A criticism of Zull's book might be that it lacks overt direction for particular teaching practices, focusing instead on abstract concepts as a necessary theoretical foundation for effective teaching (and, arguably, learning) to take place. Although there is some merit to this critique, it should become apparent to the reader that this lack of practical direction is, in large part, intentional by the author. Zull stresses that while teachers have an important role in the learning process, it is ultimately up to the student to determine whether learning will take place—the teacher can and should establish an environment that encourages learning to take place, but the path to learning must be taken up by the student. From this perspective, Zull's subtext becomes apparent: if his audience, likely teachers themselves, is to learn to improve their teaching, they must take up the role of student and embrace the path of learning for themselves. We can see, then, that Zull's approach follows the learning cycle he describes. First, the reader takes in information as a concrete experience. Second, he is encouraged to make reflective observations about what he has read. Third, the teacher should form abstract hypotheses about how he might incorporate what he has read and reflected upon into his own teaching. Fourth, the teacher should actively test those hypotheses he has developed in his own teaching; from whence he can make observations and receive feedback, providing the foundation for the cycle to repeat itself. In this, Zull hopes not only to offer a theoretical framework, but also to encourage his readers to use it for themselves.
At casual observation, the framework described in The Art of Changing the Brain is not entirely new or revolutionary; in fact, in reading the example above, it may seem overly simplistic. Zull, however, is aware of this point and stresses just how nuanced each phase of learning is, the biology behind it, and provides suggestions for how a teacher might go about better guiding students through the process. Zull frequently stresses that there is an art to the process of helping a student learn, but provides encouragement all the while. Furthermore, as the author admits in the introduction, the text walks a difficult line in appealing, and being approachable to, a wide range of teachers, thus making the neurological explanations at times overly simplified, and, perhaps, a little advanced at others, depending on the prior knowledge level of the reader.
In providing a theoretical framework for teaching and learning, Zull's book is effective; however, the strength of Zull's book is, in a way, also its weakness. Teachers who ascribe to Zull's theories of learning are likely to benefit greatly; having gained a greater understanding of the biological bases for learning in the body and brain, as well as what Zull suggests is required for making use of each, individual teachers should find success by integrating Zull's framework into their own practices. Teachers opposed to Zull's views, or, worse yet, teachers unwilling or unmotivated to change or adapt their practices, are unlikely to benefit at all—though the former, those opposed to the framework Zull describes, may still benefit learning by way of thoughtful refutation of Zull's claims. (Which, would, in a sense, prove Zull's point: that sensing, reflecting, forming abstract hypotheses, and actively testing are inherent to the learning process).
If one is disposed to think that teaching and learning is, in large part, deficient in American institutions, as I am, a theoretical paradigm shift geared toward individual, motivated teachers, is likely not enough to remedy the situation. Zull's framework is important, instructional, and useful; however, it is limited in its scope of application and, therefore, in its usefulness in addressing the greater problem. That said, for the books stated purpose, it works quite well and I highly recommend it....more
Academically Adrift highlights an important problem with higher education: extremely low levels of learning, as measured in terms of critical thinkingAcademically Adrift highlights an important problem with higher education: extremely low levels of learning, as measured in terms of critical thinking, complex problem solving, and communication. The authors are careful to point out that this does not mean that all forms of learning are in decline—specifically, the tests used did not in any way measure subject-/domain-specific knowledge. However, the authors rightly assert that the particular forms of learning they concern themselves with (critical thinking, complex problem solving and communication skills) are considered essential by employers and faculty alike, are widely viewed as being in decline, and that it is the responsibility of higher education to foster quantifiable growth in those areas.
Based on observational studies, the book is very limited in terms of offering practical advice for reform; however, the authors do seem to do a good job of articulating the complexity of the problem and its many levels, particularly as it relates to the culture on American campuses at colleges and universities.
Though the advice they offer is scant, and, often, generic, the authors do point out several activities and characteristics that appear to have either a positive or a negative relationship with learning, including:
• working on or off campus • living on or off campus • studying individually or alone • involvement in fraternities or sororities • involvement in clubs or student organizations • interaction with faculty • course requirements • race • academic preparation (number of AP courses taken in high school, and/or SAT/ACT scores) • parents' education levels
Some of the relationships observed do seem to point to areas where specific changes could lead to improved learning (e.g., increased interaction with faculty); however, I find many needing further examination to clarify the observed relationship. Obviously, their research being observational, one cannot infer causal influences, however, they offer many theories which I find suspect (e.g., the effects of group study). Appropriately, the authors do stress the need for future research to develop a better understanding of what they have observed.
While reading chapter 5, A Mandate for Reform, a few things came to mind. One, yes, the basic mandates the authors espouse are good, but they are more philosophical than practical—focusing on undergraduate student learning, finding and keeping good faculty, exhibiting higher expectations on students, etc. And where their suggestions are most concrete (e.g., requiring more intensive coursework, defined as reading 40 or more pages per week, and writing 20 pages or more per semester) I see problems regarding implementation as well as effectiveness.
For one, there is the problem of time. Using my own personal experience as a reference (which, may or may not be considered average, of course), I know that I struggle a great deal with finding time for studying—or with maintaining attention and focus as I study. Although I am a good student—I achieve relatively high marks, I am regularly on the Dean's list, and generally receive praise from my professors—nevertheless, I still struggle quite a bit with the idea of trying to simply study more or produce more work. That's not to say that I don't think I'm capable of doing more work than I do now—rather, I tend to feel like I don't perform up to my full capacity—I just don't think that simply adding "more" is the solution. I think it is a case of needing to work smarter, not necessarily longer.
I agree with their concerns regarding the consumer-based mindset of higher-education institutions in culture: "What conservative policy makers have missed, however, is that market-based educational reforms that elevate the role of students as 'consumers' do not necessarily yield improved outcomes in terms of student learning" (pg. 137). They present the issue fairly, though, outlining the positive effects such a mentality has had; however, they are quick to remind us of its possible consequences, as well.
Academically Adrift was a good book to read, even if as another reviewer pointed out, it is really a research paper disguised as a book. It is limited, in that it is strictly observational in nature; although it could identify the problem and highlight areas of concern, it could do little for making practical suggestions for reform—though the authors do provide some advice based on their findings.
They do a good job of establishing the problem. I agree with their finding that learning (as defined for their study) is in strong decline, and I agree that something (or, rather, a great many things) needs done to try to correct the problem. Their critique of the culture of higher education was enlightening, too. Although I have reservations about some of their findings, I agree with their mandate for further research and with their overarching goals. However, while I believe the general cultural reforms the authors indicated are important pieces of the puzzle, I think some of the items the book did not emphasize are, perhaps, more important to explore.
For one, I think academic preparation before entering college has become ineffective and needs substantial reform. In addition, I think society has changed so much that new methods of teaching, learning, and organization need to be developed in order to better reach the needs of today's students....more
John Green describes Miss Peregrin's Home for Peculiar Children as "A tense, moving, and wondrously strange first novel," and on the whole, I agree. RJohn Green describes Miss Peregrin's Home for Peculiar Children as "A tense, moving, and wondrously strange first novel," and on the whole, I agree. Riggs' concept is fresh and enticing, occasionally dark, and mysterious enough to keep the pages turning. Although Jacob Portman's tale is in many ways your bog standard hero's journey, that Jacob is likable and relatable, and his adventures admittedly quite peculiar, makes the story stand out, though there are a few pitfalls.
The incorporation of found photographs (with only minimal post processing on a few, Riggs claims) was an interesting plot device that generally worked, though it occasionally hampered my imagination rather than sparking it. Though Riggs says that the writing and the photographs informed each other, more than once they felt at odds. Given that the images come from the pieced-together archives of ten different collectors, perhaps it's unsurprising that they might occasionally feel discordant, either with each other or with the reader's imagination. Worst is when characters change vastly in age and appearance from one photo to the next. The best way I can describe the effect is by comparing it to the feeling you might get from watching a film adaptation of a book you've read, except there are continuity errors in the film—as though the actor used for a character was changed partway through and they hoped no one would notice. The photos were fascinating and added an interesting dimension, but sometimes they took me out of the story as much as they put me into it.
As for Riggs' style, there is a lot to like. He clearly has a vivid imaginiation and a good way with words, painting pictures and building suspense rather deftly for a first-time novelist. Sometimes a lack of experience and editing shows through, however. It seemed at times that Riggs thought he was narrating omnisciently, instead of through the first-person lens of his 16-year-old protagonist. Early on we're given that Jacob is a gifted student, but often he describes his world in terms that a kid of his age and experience wouldn't possibly use, making the writing feel stilted and pretentious, though usually not for very long. In general, Jacob's character is believable, though he and some of the other characters feel quite thin at parts, doing and acting without any compelling motivation for doing so. I look forward to seeing if and how Riggs' style grows and changes as the series progresses. I think he and his characters have promise....more
Although I still feel that this series is not as good as the Percy Jackson series and its treatment of Greek mythology, I think overall The Throne ofAlthough I still feel that this series is not as good as the Percy Jackson series and its treatment of Greek mythology, I think overall The Throne of Fire was a good addition to the Kane Chronicles series. Many of the characters were endearing and compelling, and the writing possessed Riordan's lovable wit with fun bits of history coming to life all the while. That said, several points kept me from enjoying this book as much as I would have liked.
One problem that started at the beginning and continued throughout was a series of leaps, bounds, and unwarranted stretches in plot development. From the start I found myself confused that Carter and Sadie, who we'd last known as amateur magicians at the end of the last book, The Red Pyramid, were now instructors teaching their own little school of initiates. Riordan was never all that clear on what wealth of knowledge the siblings had to impart and the idea of them being teachers never really seemed believable.
Additionally, there were many points where the storytelling would either speed up to a frenetic pace or jump around so abruptly that I found myself wanting to go back to see if I'd missed something--and somewhat disappointed when I realized I hadn't. The plot would have benefited from simplification. Less would have been more.
Though I know Riordan has children of his own, he seems to generally overestimate the maturity level of his characters for their given ages. While this isn't an unforgivable sin, it does make the story a little less believable for anyone familiar with kids of the ages he describes. Granted, I found Carter and Sadie to be generally more representative of their given ages (12/13, and 14, respectively) than characters in the Percy Jackson series, who always seemed to act older and more mature than they should (especially in the earlier books in that series), occasionally things still felt out of place, age-wise.
As a final note, although I found much of Sadie's development enjoyable to watch, despite the two-chapters-on/two-chapters-off strategy, this book felt overly centered on Sadie. Generally, most of the plot points major or minor seemed to most closely involve her and Carter typically came across as a dry, uninteresting (if occasionally heroic), sidekick. The first book in the series felt much more balanced and I hope for an increased focus on Carter's character in the next installment.
Riordan's conversational manner, endearing wit and obvious love of history has made him an enjoyable author to read. While not quite on par with Rowling, Riordan is still highly entertaining. Hopefully he'll work out the kinks in the Kane Chronicles as the series progresses....more
Before I begin, I should confess that I only read halfway through the book, then found myself skimming the rest. That said, it should also tell you soBefore I begin, I should confess that I only read halfway through the book, then found myself skimming the rest. That said, it should also tell you something about my opinion of the book.
I had never read Nnedi Okorafor before, but the book was sitting on the "What's Hot" shelf at my local library, and the description intrigued me. I've been a longtime fan of the fantasy genre, and found myself curious to step out of the mainstream and see what an African-based story would be like. The book was heralded as the author's debut into the realm of adult fiction and I'm always interested in discovering new authors.
Let me start by identifying what I did like about this book. For those unfamiliar with the tragedies that have befallen much of Africa, Okorafor's tale makes for a sort of allegory to events in Africa's history. Themes of racial and ethnic discrimination, apartheid, female circumcision, war, genocide and mass rape are brought to bear upon the reader with no holds barred. While Okorafor's story is meant to be post-apocalyptic (more on that later), many of the happenings she describes could just as easily occur in the Africa of today. Africa is rich, beautiful, complex, and troubled; the world should be aware of its past and present, in hopes that awareness might lead toward a better future for the continent.
Beyond the social commentary, though, I found little else to enjoy in Okorafor's Who Fears Death? Though the book was targeted at an adult audience, as others have described, there is little 'adult' about the book beyond the gruesome events it contains, of which, granted there is quite a bit--as I mentioned previously, rape, torture, female circumcision, sex and bloodshed are frequently portrayed--this is certainly not a book appropriate for young readers. Beyond the explicit material, however, characters are predominately juvenile and generally proceed to act that way even as they grow. There is little-to-no maturity, and this is felt in the actions and dialog of the characters. Although the setting and characters were depicted in Africa, the dialog (and, often, the writing in general) often felt very Western and out of place.
As for the plot, I found it at times interesting (particularly nearer the beginning) and bland and tiresome at others. As other readers have pointed out, although Okorafor's take on magic/sorcery is somewhat original, the general outline of the plot is standard and adult readers will likely tire of it. The post-apocalyptic setting was, for the most part, odd and unnecessary. The few times technology was depicted, it seemed anachronistic and little more than a MacGuffin. In my opinion, present day Africa or an allegorical alternate universe might have been a better choice of setting.
Additionally, I found the editing and proofing to have been very poor--errors riddled the text. Early on, a character's name is transposed with another's in the middle of a conversation, and other typos (typically in terms of punctuation) occur throughout; excepting the former, however, they usually were not so bad as to cause much distraction.
Who Fears Death? is not a terrible book, but it is not as good as I hoped it would be. Those interested in books dealing with social and political issues in Africa, as well as those looking for a new perspective on the fantasy genre, would be better served looking elsewhere....more
After seeing the movie that came out earlier this year, I decided to finally cross Swift's satire off of my ever-expanding list of books to read and gAfter seeing the movie that came out earlier this year, I decided to finally cross Swift's satire off of my ever-expanding list of books to read and get on with reading it--or, in this case, listening to it. Listing to audiobooks has become a new favourite pastime--especially once I discovered that many libraries now have programs allowing patrons to check out these books online or, in my case, directly onto my iPod through the OverDrive app. Since I've started listening to audiobooks, I've probably doubled or tripled the number of books I'm able to digest on a regular basis, since audiobooks allow you to 'read' while driving in your car, biking, jogging, cleaning house, etc.
Gulliver's Travels is an...interesting read. I love satire as a genre, but on the whole I thought Swift's tale was rather tame in terms of political commentary, at least until the last quarter of the book or so. It's likely that the audience back when the book was published would have been more sensitive to the nuances of satire that I might have glossed over, but I think there is much less relevance for the modern reader. Also, in my opinion, the satirical elements were rarely funny or engaging; this may, again, reflect differences between reader's of Swift's day and the present, but generally the book felt fairly tame, if occasionally vulgar or crass--which I know Swift indulged in purposefully. Gulliver's Travels would probably find most relevance today if it were used in a classroom context as a catalyst for insight on the politics of Swift's day. Otherwise, I found it's message somewhat out of touch with the present.
Also, I don't think that Swift really intended for readers to enjoy Gulliver's Travels. I think he meant it to be incendiary, eye-opening and irreverent, but not necessarily fun. Gulliver is something of an antihero, in the sense that he lacks many of the qualities we would typically ascribe to a hero character: he's dry, pedantic, and generally purposeless. This was done by Swift for effect, no doubt, but it doesn't make Gulliver a very likable protagonist, either.
The book was by no mean's intolerable, or boring to the point that it was tiresome to go through, but it wasn't exceptionally engaging, either. The fantasy elements of Swift's tale are often intriguing, and are in fact what modern audiences seem drawn to the most--giants, little people, talking horses, etc.
All in all, the tale is worth reading for a purpose but less so if you're only looking to read for personal enjoyment.
*As a side note, it's become a popular misconception to think of Gulliver's Travels as a children's book--it definitely isn't. Though some of the material is tame, there's a great deal that isn't: for example, excrement features as a regular motif, and at one point near the end of the tale Gulliver experiences an attempted rape. It's not a bad book, but not a kid's book, either....more
I wanted to read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein because it has been lauded as a classic, both in terms of the development of Gothic horror as a genre asI wanted to read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein because it has been lauded as a classic, both in terms of the development of Gothic horror as a genre as well as for the endless progeny it has birthed in popular culture. What I found when I read, or rather, listened to, Frankenstein, was a prolix text driven by a spineless and child-like protagonist. Shelley may have, perhaps, made Victor Frankenstein cowardly and immature for effect, but I found his endless wallowing tiresome and tedious.
Frankenstein's monster held some promise for being an interesting character--and, in fact, he held the most complexity of any of the books' characters in the end--but the majority of his exposition was drawn out to the point of excess. Ensemble characters were no relief either--rather, each was the definition of a one-dimensional character.
The ideas contained in Shelley's work have proved an effective catalyst for examining philosophical ideas about science and the role and responsibility of man in creation. Likewise, Frankenstein's monster (whose popularity has so eclipsed his creator that pop culture generally mistakenly transpose the name "Frankenstein" to the originally nameless monster, generally referred to as a "wretch") has become a cultural icon to the extent that he's made appearances in candy bar commercials. While I find the philosophical questions evoked by the principles of Shelley's work intriguing and worthy of exploration, I found her original exploration thereof in Frankenstein an exercise in tedium....more