Books I Wish More People Would Read

Continuing with the book lists theme of my most recent posts I would like to offer you my collection of 5 books I wish more people would read. I am not arguing that these are the best works of their kind in any category – I don’t pretend to know that much. What I am offering is just a handful of books that I really enjoyed and that I think deserve more attention. (READER ALERT: the direction that this post took was influenced by watching and listening to a lot of non-book media).

  • A Rap on Race with Margaret Mead and James Baldwin : With all the press and hoopla that has been generated recently with the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates in Cambridge, this book should be required reading for everyone in high school; and not because it provides answers, it doesn’t. In fact, the transcribed conversation between the eminent ethnographer and the prolific writer is muddled, confusing and contradictory at times. It is filled with what some may consider tangents and anecdotes that don’t provide genuine insight, but instead help to draw in other variables or non sequiturs. These two erudite people, however, had seen a bit of life, and had thought long and hard about issues such as identity and race, and were still stumped by how gnarly anything got once “race” was thrown into the equation. There is a parallel here, as I see it, with the current Cambridge incident. Consider for a moment that Professor Gates is an eminent scholar on racial issues and identity, and that (according to some accounts I’ve read) the arresting officer, Sgt. Crowley was hand-selected to train other officers on issues of racial sensitivity and profiling. If these two men couldn’t deal with each other without seeing race, what hope is there for the rest of us?
  •  Common Ground by John Edgar Wideman: Sorry, I’m not done with thinking about the issue and idea of RACE in America, yet. After you’re finished “listening” in on two of the coolest people of the last century wrangle with the problems of seeing the world in terms of black and white, check out this essay by Professor Wideman. This is the first of five essays in a book titled Fatheralong : A Meditation on Fathers and Sons, Race and Society. We do share common ground, explains Wideman. Turn back the hands of time far enough, and we’re all huddled around the same fire. Turn the hands forward, and we go our separate ways. But look closely enough, and you’ll recognize we never really went very far. Race according to Wideman has become like a net that catches nothing and destroys everything in its path. It is a word for Humpty Dumpty … made to mean whatever it is supposed to mean. Anytime we see the race card dealt, warns Wideman, beware, because the fix is in. 
  •  The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin: It appears that this blog post is turning into some list of my Books Everyone Should Read; Special Race Edition. I didn’t start out intending for it to be that way, it’s just that there is STILL talk on the radio and on television about the Professor Gates arrest – (I’ve been working on this post for 3 or 4 days now). Anyway, this book is really a collection of two essays. I especially recommend people read the first essay, “My Dungeon Shook”. It is a powerful and moving letter Baldwin writes to his nephew on the 100th anniversary of Emancipation contemplating America and its “problem”.
  • Mission to Kala by Mongo Beti: It’s been years since I reread this book, but it took just two sittings to whip through it. If you’ve ever read and enjoyed Chinua Achebe’s writing, you’ll enjoy this novel. Both funny and serious, without being overly preachy or nostalgic, Beti’s tale of a failed scholar who must return to live what he thinks is a simpler village life will transport you to a different time and place.
  • Ishmael by Daniel Quinn: I’ve recommended this book to both teachers and students, but I don’t think anyone has ever taken me up on the suggestion. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the main character is a telepathic silverback gorilla who thinks he understands the uppity humans and their destructive modern culture. This book uses the Socratic method and turns to ancient sources to ask, “what are the consequences of humans misunderstanding their place in the world”? Not a bad question from such a hirsute fellow Hominidae.

Note from seaworld.org.: “Historically humans and their extinct ancestors were classified in the Family Hominidae while all great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans) were classified in the Family Pongidae. However, biomolecular and genetic research along with recent fossil evidence have identified new similarities between species, leading to the reclassification of chimpanzees and gorillas into the Family Hominidae.”

 Oh, there are plenty more titles I think people should read, but I’ll save that stuff for the future. I think 5 recommendations at a time is plenty, don’t you? Sorry for getting stuck on race there for a little bit, I couldn’t help reflecting back some of the information I’m currently taking in. I stand by my recommendations, however, as solid pieces of writing that I do wish more people would read.

Let me know what titles you think everyone should have on their MUST READ list. In the meantime, thank you for stopping by and I hope you are having a great summer.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.

Midsummer Night’s Confession

I was only half kidding at the end of my last post when I said that I would be writing a list of Books I Wish I Had Read, But Probably Won’t. I checked the Modern Library list of top 100 novels and found that I’ve only read thirty of the books on their “best of” list, so apparently I am reading a lot of other worthless stuff anyway. This got me to thinking though, that there is a short list of novels that get a lot of talk and that have been recommended to me by my friends and colleagues (and even assigned by teachers), but that I either decided I could live without or just didn’t merit being squeezed into my already overcrowded list. Here then is my 5 Novels I Should Have Read; But Probably Won’t Read (Ever) … along with my rationalizations for NOT reading them.

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: I started pretending I was reading Russian writers when I was in the eighth grade by carrying around a copy of Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. In the ninth grade, I actually started reading Dostoevsky and Chekhov and even my well traveled copy of Turgenev’s book. I toyed with the idea of reading War and Peace, but decided my sophomore year in high school that it would probably never come up in conversation (and it hasn’t) so I tossed it aside and never looked back.
  2. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton: Yes, I made it through high school English and even college literature classes without ever actually reading this little gem of American literature. I know, it’s supposed to be an American classic and one of Wharton’s best, but I just couldn’t get myself to read it any of the many times that it was assigned, and it’s not on my must read list … ever.
  3. Ulysses by James Joyce: I know, I know … how can anyone even pretend to be an intellectual without having read what many sage oracles (including the Modern Library) consider the “best” novel of the last century. Let me tell you, it’s not always easy. It’s not like I don’t like Joyce … I got through Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and “Araby” is one of my favorite short stories. I even share many characteristics with Joyce according to my “Which Writer Are You” widget on Facebook. Like War and Peace, I decided in college when I was assigned to read Ulysses, that it wouldn’t come up again in conversation — and it hasn’t.
  4. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: Listen, I read Great Expectations and Bleak House, and there was just no way that I was going to read a third Dickens novel in a row that year in college. There was no internet back then, so I probably went to the Tower Library at UMass, Amherst and got the cliff notes. I’m not ashamed of having skipped another Dickens assignment, though I wish I had reversed my reading order and switched Bleak House with A Tale of Two Cities. Anyway, there’s no going back now.
  5. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing: This is probably the least famous of the works on this list, but I felt guilty for a long time about not reading this book because I liked the class in women’s lit that I was taking when it was assigned. That semester I read Virginia Woolf, Eva Figes, Willa Cather, Sarah Orne Jewett, Muriel Spark, Sylvia Plath, Margaret Drabble, Ursula K. Le Guin, and others (I swear) … by the time I was assigned The Golden Notebook, I’d had enough, and I don’t plan on giving it a second chance.

So there they are; 5 novels I skipped and never plan on reading … ever. Let me know what you think, and what books you never plan on reading. In the mean time, I’ll start thinking of my list of Books I Wish More People Would Read. I can’t promise that they’ll all be novels because I love so many other kinds of reading, but hopefully you’ll find something interesting on my list.

Thank you for reading and hope you’re having a great summer.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.

Summer Reading Recommendations

Ordering books for the LMC forces me to read a lot of book reviews, and it also makes me think about all the wonderful books I’ve read, and all the books I still have on my “to read” list. I’ve placed two book orders this summer, adding over 150 titles to our collection, so obviously, I’ve got books on the brain. Summer is supposed to be a time for reading (despite what the kids may think) and I would like to share with everyone my list of summer reads of (relatively) new books that look interesting. Granted this is a form of judging a book by its cover, but it goes a little deeper than that. Trust me; I’m a librarian.  (Note: The books’ synopses are lifted straight from the Barnes and Noble site.)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

closeandloudMeet Oskar Schell, an inventor, Francophile, tambourine player, Shakespearean actor, jeweler, pacifist, correspondent with Stephen Hawking and Ringo Starr. He is nine years old. And he is on an urgent, secret search through the five boroughs of New York. His mission is to find the lock that fits a mysterious key belonging to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
An inspired innocent, Oskar is alternately endearing, exasperating, and hilarious as he careens from Central Park to Coney Island to Harlem on his search. Along the way he is always dreaming up inventions to keep those he loves safe from harm. What about a birdseed shirt to let you fly away? What if you could actually hear everyone’s heartbeat? His goal is hopeful, but the past speaks a loud warning in stories of those who’ve lost loved ones before.

Letters to a Young Mathematician by Ian Stewart

During his illustrious career, mathematician Ian Stewart has written 140 advanced research papers and six infinitely more interesting books on his specialty, including the justly popular Flatterland. In Letters to a Young Mathematician, he invites us into his mind and his vocation. He explains what mathematicians do and why it is worth doing; discusses the role of beauty in mathematical thinking; talks about the relationship between logic and proof; and speculates about the future of the science of numbers

The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

bonefarmIt is 1937, and Amabelle, orphaned at the age of eight when her parents drowned, is a faithful maidservant of many years to the young Dominican wife of an army colonel. Amabelle’s lover, Sebastian Onius, is a field hand, an itinerant sugarcane cutter. They are Haitians, useful to the Dominicans but haunted by the knowledge that they are not entirely welcome. Rumors say that in other towns, Haitians are being persecuted, even killed. But there are always rumors.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornsby

Nick Hornby’s predictably unpredictable fourth novel invites us to the roof of Topper’s House, a traditional London suicide haunt. A Long Way Down is delivered through the distinctive voices of four would-be plungers.

How We Got Here: A Slightly Irreverent History of Techology and Markets by Andy Kessler

howwegothereExpanding on themes first raised in his tour de force, Running Money, Andy Kessler unpacks the entire history of Silicone Valley and Wall Street, from the Industrial Revolution to computers, communications, money, gold and stock markets. These stories cut (by an unscrupulous editor) from the original manuscript were intended as a primer on the ways in which new technologies develop from unprofitable curiosities to essential investments. Indeed, How We Got Here is the book Kessler wishes someone had handed him on his first day as a freshman engineering student at Cornell or on the day he started on Wall Street. This book connects the dots through history to how we got to where we are today

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

This brief (112-page) book by philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris directly challenges the religious certainties of the Christian Right. Citing polls and doctrines, the author of The End of Faith vigorously attacks literalist dogmas that he believes are a direct threat to our future. An uncompromising indictment of fundamentalism.

Gidgets and Women Warriors: Perceptions of Women in the 1950s and 1960s by Catherine Gourley

gidgetsThis five-volume series explores questions of how the popular media of the past portrayed women and whether the images were accurate or misleading. The result is a colorful, visually appealing series with a broad but unique approach to women’s history. Although the series addresses common topics like historical events, social issues, and popular culture, it is through the lens of the era’s images-pictures, films, advertisements, and cartoons. The series’ most obvious weakness is the scarcity of racial diversity, but it deserves a place in most libraries that serve teens.

I’ve placed these books on the orders, so if you don’t get around to them this summer, perhaps you can pick up a fresh read in September. Maybe next time I’ll share my list of Books I Wish I’d Read, But Don’t Plan On Reading. It’s a good list, full of surprises some of my English teachers and professors would find interesting. Thank you for reading and stopping by. Have a great rest of the week.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.

First Summer Post 2009

First post since school officially ended and I hope that you are all enjoying your summer. Of course it would be better with some good weather, but that’s what we get for living in New England. We can’t complain about the 4th of July weekend though because those days were absolutely fabulous and, yet here we are, just days after that and we are contending with hail storms and intermittent rain accompanied by dark and foreboding clouds. Well, while I hope the weather improves soon, it has given a reason for staying indoors, and with that time I have been reading reviews as I prepare a book order for next year.

 

As always, I would love to get feedback from everyone (teachers, students and parents). I am ordering from Perma-bound and Follet books, and while both companies make their catalogs available online, you must login to Follet before you can peruse their selection (sorry). The partial list that I have already prepared includes most of the titles from the current reading lists and some books that have been recommended by students and teachers. I can e-mail you a copy of my current list if you leave me your e-mail in the comments section below.

 

Besides reading reviews and ordering books, I have had some time to spare and of course, that means surfing on the web. One of the sites I keep returning to is TED Talks because I love listening to smart people talk, even when I don’t agree with (or sometimes understand) what they are saying. Here is a list of talks that I really enjoyed from their ever-expanding treasure trove. This is the third time that I have mentioned TED Talks on this site, but I don’t think I have repeated any recommendations. The descriptions are lifted from the TED Talks site, with my occasional commentary in red italics.

 

  • How cellphones, Twitter, Facebook can make history: While news from Iran streams to the world, Clay Shirky shows how Facebook, Twitter and TXTs help citizens in repressive regimes to report on real news, bypassing censors (however briefly). The end of top-down control of news is changing the nature of politics. An ongoing story that actually makes me think positively about the impact of real time, instant communication. Most times at HHS we are telling kids to put away their phones, when half a world away, they are using them to empower themselves.
  •  The world’s English mania: Jay Walker explains why two billion people around the world are trying to learn English. He shares photos and spine-tingling audio of Chinese students rehearsing English — “the world’s second language” — by the thousands. Another fascinating, and somewhat creepy, video that also made me think about the speech above. When news and video of the protests in Iran broke on television after the elections, I remember thinking that it was really interesting how many of the signs were written in English. The protesters knew that their audience would be world wide and they chose to express their message not in their native Farsi, nor in the most widely spoken language, Mandarin, but in English.
  •  Cultures at the far edge of the world: With stunning photos and stories, National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the world’s indigenous cultures, which are disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate. I recommend this video just because this guy would be great to travel with. Quite against the trend of the former video, this is the story of disappearing languages and “ways of being”. One of my favorite lines is, “Every language is an old growth forest of the mind.” I also found the notion of an ethno-sphere pretty interesting. Ethnosphere (n.) the sum total of all the thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions, brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. Davis argues that the ethno-sphere is being degraded by the success of Western culture.
  • The fragile Earth in wide-angle: In this image-filled talk, Yann Arthus-Bertrand displays his three most recent projects on humanity and our habitat — stunning aerial photographs in his series “The Earth From Above,” personal interviews from around the globe featured in his web project “6 billion Others,” and his soon-to-be-released movie, “Home,” which documents human impact on the environment through breathtaking video. Beautiful pictures with a simple and devastating message, “We do not want to believe what we know.”
  • Are we in control of our decisions?: Behavioral economist Dan Ariely, the author of Predictably Irrational, uses classic visual illusions and his own counterintuitive (and sometimes shocking) research findings to show how we’re not as rational as we think when we make decisions.
  • Why we think it’s OK to cheat and steal (sometimes): Behavioral economist Dan Ariely studies the bugs in our moral code: the hidden reasons we think it’s OK to cheat or steal (sometimes). Clever studies help make his point that we’re predictably irrational — and can be influenced in ways we can’t grasp.
  • Formula for changing math education: Someone always asks the math teacher, “Am I going to use calculus in real life?” And for most of us, says Arthur Benjamin, the answer is no. He offers a bold proposal on how to make math education relevant in the digital age. This is a short talk that I think our statistics teachers will certainly appreciate.
  • Mathemagic: In a lively show, mathemagician Arthur Benjamin races a team of calculators to figure out 3-digit squares, solves another massive mental equation and guesses a few birthdays. How does he do it? He’ll tell you. I thought I liked the first Arthur Benjamin video and his message for reforming math education, and then I saw this video which convinced me that this guy is an absolute freak. He is obviously a savant of some kind …. ridiculously amazing. What does he know about how the rest of us think?
  • Becoming Buddha — on the Web: In our hyperlinked world, we can know anything, anytime. And this mass enlightenment, says Buddhist scholar Bob Thurman, is our first step toward Buddha nature. Interesting conversation that has more to do with philosophy than with technology. A conversion of modern living and ancient enlightenment.

 Hope you find something interesting and thank you for stopping by.

 Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.