Great Online Learning

Hello everyone. It’s been four months since my last post, and while some of that was definitely due to my medical emergency*, mostly I haven’t shared anything, because there is so much to share. I know that doesn’t really make sense, except that it is the way that I sometimes feel when I try to catalog the sites I serendipitously stumble upon. There is so much good stuff happening online, that it is impossible to stay focused long enough to write about it. But here goes. Below you will find a handful of links and brief descriptions for the sites. Most sites are “educational” in nature, and make for a great classroom resource. Some sites are better organized than others, and therefore easier to navigate and find what you want. All, however, are worth checking out.

  • TED Ed: An outgrowth of the popular TED Talks videos, TED Ed’s tagline is, “Great educators and animators collaborating to create lessons worth sharing.” Short animated videos cover topics in a range of subjects and allow visitors to view lesson plans others have uploaded to the site. View one of my favorites, “5 Ways Social Media is Changing Your Brain”.
  • Crash Course Who knew that author John Green (“The Fault in our Stars” and “Paper Towns” among others) had a brother, Hank, who appears to be as knowledgeable and as full of boundless energy as he is. Seriously, how do these two have the time to create and record all of the frenetic, fast-paced videos you will find at their ever-growing website. John covers world history, American history and literature, while Hank talks about biology, ecology and general chemistry. Videos are ten to fifteen minutes long, are animated and have a recap of the major ideas at the end. View one of my favorites, “Meet Your Master; Getting to Know Your Brain”.
  • The School of Life: According to the opening line of their About Us webpage, “The School of Life is devoted to developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I love their videos covering topics in philosophy, political theory, pop culture, and the history of ideas. Maybe it’s the simple straightforward illustrations used, maybe it’s the erudite British accent of the narrator. Whatever it is, it works. View one of my favorites, “What’s wrong with the media”?
  • Story Corps I first learned about this website by listening to the radio broadcast on NPR. Story Corps calls itself a national project, collecting oral histories of ordinary people. Since 2003, they have collected more than 60,000 stories that are also archived in the Library of Congress. You can also find thirty-one stories that have been animated wonderfully. View one of my favorites, “Facundo, the great”.
  • VSauce Host Michael Stevens invites you to ponder the imponderable with him as he takes you along a speculative, but fact-filled journey of almost answers to life’s biggest (and weirdest) questions. Sample topics are, “How to count past infinity” and “What color is a mirror”? Many videos are between ten to fifteen minutes long, with some reaching twenty minutes. View one of my favorites, “This is not yellow”


* For those who are not aware, I suffered a Spontaneous Subarachnoid Hemorrhage on Feb. 10th and was hospitalized for two weeks. Fortunately for me, the damage was minimal and did not affect my communication, language or memory functions. I am recovering very well and want to thank everyone for their support, assistance and thoughtfulness during my time of need.

Thank you for stopping by, and as always, I hope you found something interesting and useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2016. All rights reserved.



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Closing Thoughts, 2015

Hello all. I hope you are enjoying the holiday season and are looking forward to the New Year. As usually happens with vacation, I have had some free time and found myself contemplating things. Some of these topics are related to education, others are not, but as I occasionally do on this blog, I’d like to share some of my thoughts for your consideration.

Electronic devices in school

After years of trying to resist the invasion of the personal electronic devices in our schools, the war is finally over. The machines have won and now we are left simply negotiating the terms of the truce. The advent of the smart phone and tablet and the availability of wi-fi has made it basically impossible to monitor all devices, and so we have to come to terms with this new reality.

While I still maintain that the less we see of the electronic buggers the better, I have also witnessed students who use their devices to type papers, do research, review flashcards, and otherwise organize their academic lives. On a couple of occasions, when we did not have enough computers to host two classes, some students were able to work on their smartphones and turn in their assignments via Google Docs or Google Classroom.

I’ve also seen students studying, doing homework or typing on a computer while listening to music from the personal devices, and while this used to bother me, I have come to accept it because it’s the way most students (and adults) probably work at home. Besides, as I said before, the war is over, the invasion is complete, and now we have to learn to work with this new, morphing electronic presence.

The rise of “a-literacy”

One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes is, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read”. Overlooking the fact that he excludes half the reading population, it’s a pretty good quote about reading and one that points to the obvious truth … that reading is like physical exercise, and only benefits those who actually do it. Knowing how to do it isn’t enough.

This observation is related to the above-mentioned electronic invasion, of course, but it runs much deeper than just reading books. I don’t see students reading newspapers or magazines like they did in the past either. And this is not because they are reading it online on their smartphones or tablets. In all the informal surveys that I have conducted over the last several years, students routinely tell me that they do not visit news and magazine sites. They are more likely to get their information through their social networks and places Buzzfeed, Reddit, or the news feed on their browser. According to a 2013 report, the way younger people consume the news is changing and this is reflected by their reading habits.

My concern as a librarian and a lover of reading is not so much that students are not reading at all, but rather that what I observe them reading tends not to be long, in-depth, and challenging texts. The time that used to be spent in the library reading a “good book” (and today there are so many) is now often taken up by the entertaining sparkle of a hand held screen. When I try to convert students back to a reading lifestyle, I often point out that if they read just 20 minutes a day (about 6-7 pages) during their “study” period in the library, at the end of a week they’d have practiced reading for an hour and forty minutes and have read about 35 pages. A couple have taken up the challenge, most have remained faithful to their devices.

The Presidential Candidacy of Donald J. Trump

I find it more than a little bit remarkable that less than a decade after Wall Street and its machinations nearly brought the economy to its proverbial knees, the leading candidate for one of the two major political parties in the United States is the poster boy for wealth, privilege and power. Donald Trump, who called “a million dollars” a small loan he got from his father. But being wealthy and successful doesn’t disqualify you from being Presidential. In fact, nowadays it is an asset considering how expensive it is to run for political office.

Most of the expense of running a campaign is getting your message out to the people, of course. If you’re a newcomer or a relative unknown, you spend your money introducing yourself to the people. Donald Trump was a known commodity, a reality TV star, who also happened to be a billionaire. It didn’t hurt that he was bombastic and impolite, willing to get personal and mean. His oversimplification of complex political and social issues such as terrorism and immigration, fed people what they wanted to hear which was, “trust me, I’ll fix it”.

But his terms were extreme, racist, and even unconstitutional. Building walls that span a continent, halting all immigrants of a certain religious tradition, deporting 10 million “illegals”, revoking the citizenship of children born in the U.S, shutting down sections of the internet and other such propositions demonstrate that Trump’s solutions are impractical and churlish.

Still, even as 2015 comes to a close, Donald J. Trump remains the leading candidate for the Republican Party. His presence has made the Republican debates some of the most watched political events in television history. A fact that Trump certainly attributes to himself, and which we can’t really argue against. In defending him and his sometimes outlandish remarks, his supporters will say things like, “he tells it like it is” or “he’s not afraid to speak his mind”. That may be good for television, but it makes for harsh, inconsiderate politics.

If Donald Trump does become president, here are a few firsts he would bring to the office. He will be the first president to ever have:

  • buildings and golf courses bearing his name before he came into office.
  • his own top-rated reality show.
  • his own vodka, fragrance and board game.
  • to leave a better living situation to move into the modest White House.
  • been roasted on Comedy Central with a panel that included Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, rapper and marijuana enthusiast Snoop Dogg (before he became a Lion), Larry King and Mike “the Situation” from the Jersey Shore.

In the words of FDR, “never underestimate a man who overestimates himself”.

Happy New Year and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

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News and observations from the LMC

……….Hello all, now that the curse of the giants seems to have passed (Pats fans will know what I’m talking about) allow me to share some news/information with you. If you’re a regular user of the library, you might have noticed some changes in the place over the last month or so. We have realigned the computers and therefore, changed the way we assign Computer Labs 1 and 2.

……….This makes a difference in how we book classes for LMC visits, so I feel it’s important for you to know about it. Below you will find a schematic of the LMC to help orient you to our general layout. For new teachers, this will be helpful in knowing how to direct your classes during visits and for research; for veteran teachers, this will hopefully serve as a reminder of all the resources available for both you and your students.

LMC layout

……….As you can see, the HHS Library Media Center (LMC) includes not just a vast collection of printed resources (19,327 books) but also 2+ computer labs (49 computers), 3 small classrooms, the MCAS Tutoring Room, the Internship Office and the library offices. We are a large, welcoming space for multiple classes at any one time, and we encourage you to visit us and use our many resources.

……….Teachers who wish to sign up to use the computers need to book with us at our circulation desk. We work on a first come, first serve basis, which means that if you have a class with 30 students, we will reserve Lab 1 (with 20 stations) and 10 computers from Lab 2 for your class. That means that the next teacher will only have 14 – 19 computers available (if the VHS computers are not being used). I am hoping to get more computers into the library, so that we can accommodate two classes of 30 students, but for now, we will work with what we’ve got.

……….Also, note that we have two (2) printers in the LMC and they are labeled as LIB-CIRC (color copier by the circulation desk) and LIB-LAB (black and white copier at the corner of LAB 2). These two machines get a lot of work in the mornings before first period, as students rush to print out papers and projects, so it’s best to avoid making multiple copies there just before school.

……….Please feel free to call us at extension 1143 with any questions or feedback you might have.

Next, a few quick observations:

  • We have free newspapers, but no one is taking them. We get 10 FREE copies of the E and the Wall Street Journal (a $3 newspaper) and we have leftovers all the time. (In fact, I’ve saved so many copies, that I’m hoping someone will start a paper mache project or a fish business). I understand that most people get their “news” online nowadays, but as an avid newspaper reader since my youth, I can’t help but lament the death of such an important industry. Some people will point out that going digital is just a transformation of the delivery of the Eagle-Tribune news, and not its death, but I still feel like we’re losing something important.
  • We seem to be busier than ever, but no one is reading. This observation is connected with the first, of course, but it also stands on its own. We see a great number of students throughout the day, and too few spend their time reading anything of significance. Their digital connections have really invaded what used to be free time spent reading. Instead of spending a half hour quietly engaged in a mental exercise that would expose them to vocabulary they need to grow mentally, I see too many students playing games, texting or even streaming television shows during their “study” period. We allowed personal electronic devices into our schools under the naive assumption that they would be used for “educational” purposes only … but we were cutting a deal with teenagers, remember?
  • The people that we see daily in the LMC have got to be the happiest, zaniest, most driven, best people in the building. Just about everyone that’s a regular – from the students who wander in during lunch and ask if they can do their homework, to the building crew who rearranges the furniture for meetings and presentations, to the teachers who also make their home in the LMC, to the many classes that visit daily, to the security guards who wander in for a quick breather, to the seemingly endless kids who hang around the circulation desk and are willing to talk to a fifty-something librarian, and his sixtyish assistant (You see that Babs?) – they all seem to share my belief that the library is a special place. That sometimes makes Mondays a little bit more bearable.

……….Thank you for stopping by and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

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New to our shelves, October 2015

……….I love getting new books for our collection. With an ever-decreasing book budget, I have to decide between replacing stolen or worn out copies of popular books (Go Ask Alice, Of Mice and Men, Thirteen Reasons Why, Speak) or ordering new/ popular titles (The Fault in our Stars, The Maze Runner, Just Listen, If I Stay). I also have to consider the research needs of our students, and, therefore, search for books that address current controversial issues such as online security, marijuana legalization, gay marriage, climate change and ongoing issues like immigration, abortion, and poverty.

……….Furthermore, today there are also many good writers who cover science, history, political theory, economics, social studies and just about every other intellectual niche. There are great books about past presidents, revolutionaries, inventors, trailblazers and ordinary people who did amazing things. Who could have imagined that someone could write an interesting book about Cod or Salt? Mark Kurlansky, that’s who.

……….So, with all these considerations in mind, and a very limited budget, I must choose books I hope will find some readers. Here then, is a handful of titles I hope catch your attention and find a temporary home in your hands. The summaries are lifted from Amazon or Barnes and Nobles (and sometimes edited for space); links will take you to a review from a site I consider reliable, that could help you decide if the book is for you. Stop by the LMC and take one home:

new books

Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, by Michael S. Roth.

“Wesleyan University president, Roth, adds his voice to the current debate about college education. Is it vocational instruction meant to lead to immediate employment after graduation or a time for expansive ideas and self-exploration? He argues that liberal education, with its emphasis on critical thinking, is an important part of American ideals of democracy. He traces the historical roots of liberal education from the ancient Greeks through the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment. But he focuses on American thinkers, including Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, William James, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jane Addams, John Dewey, and others.”

Read the Washington Post Review.

Looking like the enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese American Internment Camps, by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald.

“The author at 16 years old was evacuated with her family to an internment camp for Japanese Americans, along with 110,000 other people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast. She faced an indefinite sentence behind barbed wire in crowded, primitive camps. She struggled for survival and dignity, and endured psychological scarring that has lasted a lifetime. … Like “The Diary of Anne Frank,” this memoir superbly captures the emotional and psychological essence of what it was like to grow up in the midst of this profound dislocation and injustice in the U.S.”

Read the review by Sherry Wachter at Story Circle Book Reviews

Fabricated: World of 3D Printing, by Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman.

“Fabricated tells the story of 3D printers, humble manufacturing machines that are bursting out of the factory and into schools, kitchens, hospitals, even onto the fashion catwalk. Fabricated describes our emerging world of printable products, where people design and 3D print their own creations as easily as they edit an online document. … Fabricated takes the reader onto a rich and fulfilling journey that explores how 3D printing is poised to impact nearly every part of our lives … Aimed at people who enjoy books on business strategy, popular science and novel technology, Fabricated will provide readers with practical and imaginative insights to the question ‘how will this technology change my life? …” from the Wiley publishing (publisher’s site).

Read the review by Justin Slick at

Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science, by Marc Aronson & Marina Budhos

“This meticulously researched, brutally honest, compelling book offers readers a different way to look at many events over the past 200 years or so. The title says it all. From the slave trade through abolition; from revolutions (American, French, and Haitian) to the Louisiana Purchase; from the decline of honey to the rise of saccharine, these events and many more are directly traced to the cultivation and production of sugar cane around the world. With a focus on slavery, Aronson and Budhos demonstrate how this one crop, with its unique harvesting needs, helped to bring about a particularly brutal incarnation of slavery.” … from School Library Journal, by Jody Kopple.

Read a short review from the Washington Post.

What the numbers say, A Field Guide to Mastering Our Numerical World, by Derrick Niederman & David Boyum.

“The bad news is that, in an age of science, complex financial planning, and competing deficit forecasts to support competing stimulus packages, the average citizen needs math more than ever. The good news, according to this delightful and eye-opening numeracy primer, is that it’s all sixth-grade math. Niederman, a mathematics Ph.D, and author of The Inner Game of Investing, and Boyum, a public policy consultant, assert that quantitative competence is mostly a matter of simple habits of mind, including: trust numerical data over anecdotal observations, but always question what the data are really saying; think in terms of probabilities rather than certainties; and make rough-and-ready estimates so your calculations don’t go off track. … This engaging book is a great challenge to fuzzy math of all stripes.” … from the publisher

Read a review by ATD here.

What I eat cover

What I Eat: The World in 80 Diets, by photojournalist Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio.

“A stunning photographic collection featuring portraits of 80 people from 30 countries and the food they eat in one day. In this fascinating study of people and their diets, 80 profiles are organized by the total number of calories each person puts away in a day. Featuring a Japanese sumo wrestler, a Massai herdswoman, world-renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adria, an American competitive eater, and more, these compulsively readable personal stories also include demographic particulars, including age, activity level, height, and weight.” … from the publisher

Read a review by Aaron Spiegel, featured at the Huffington post.

……….We have also received a bunch of other fabulous books, but I just wanted to preview a few that I find interesting. I will let you all know about other new titles in future posts, but any teacher who wants to know what we’ve added can e-mail me and I will send them a complete list of our books orders.

……….Thank you for stopping by and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

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Little known (and therefore under-used) collections

The Haverhill High School Library Media Center (LMC) has a wonderful catalog of books, video tapes (yes, like those used in VCRs), DVDs and other materials that we would love to get into people’s hands. Today, I’d like to share with you a brief description of four collections we have available for students, faculty and staff.

Professional Development: We have a small, but interesting collection of books aimed specifically at people who like thinking, reading and learning about all things education. Perhaps you’d like to read a classic, like John Holt’s 1973 book, How Children Learn or Lev Vygotsky’s 1993 book, Thought and Language. Maybe you’re in the mood for something more current like Harold Foster’s 2008 book, America’s unseen kids: teaching English/language arts in today’s forgotten high schools or Terry Zawacki’s 2012 book, Writing Across the Curriculum : a critical sourcebook. Other titles deal with classroom management, critical thinking, standards & testing, second language acquisition, and other jargon only people in education ever say out loud.

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Graphic Novels: I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that I was a child of the comic book and have continued being a fan of the story told in pictures. I still read the “funnies” in the newspaper (yes, the news printed on paper) and I’m a huge advocate of illustrated stories. Some of my first real books were those Illustrated Classics titles that you can find nowadays at Walmart and Costco for $1.99. I’m not sure I could have understood some of those stories (The Three Musketeers or Orwell’s The Time Machine, for example) without the pictures helping me figure out what was happening. We have one hundred illustrated books including Fahrenheit 451, The Metamorphosis, The Odyssey, Beowulf, and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Many of our graphic novels are adaptations of classic books or in some other way connected to education.

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Literary Criticism: Helping students find online resources for most academic research projects isn’t usually that difficult. There are plenty of free .gov sites, pretty reliable news sources, and Wikipedia (when used in a certain way described in an earlier post) for students to begin their research. One topic that is usually difficult to find online sources for is literary criticism because, let’s face it, who’s thinking about what the green light in Gatsby symbolizes except English geeks? Fortunately, the LMC has a decent collection of “Lit Crit” books, especially for classic works and writers of the traditional literary canon. Best of all, our collection stretches across many generations of writers and critical theory. Among the series that we have are Norton Critical Editions (1960s & 70s), Twentieth century views (1980s), The Greenhaven Press literary companion to American & British authors (1990s), Bloom’s notes (1990s), and Social Issues in Literature (2000s).

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College Ready & Test Prep: Long before the MCAS and PARCC tests showed up, there was the PSAT, the SAT, the ACTs, the ASVAB and a bunch of other tests, known mostly by their acronyms, to strike fear into our teenagers’ hearts. Of course, nowadays there are great online resources such as Khan Academy to help students review complex or confusing topics in any subject, but the books in this collection familiarize students with the test formats and give them practice with actual past exams. We also have titles that cover topics such as preparing a resume, writing a college entry essay, and making the most of your college years. This section is highly recommended for the college minded student who wants to take a serious look at the tests that stand between them and their scholarships. Nothing improves your luck like preparation.


So there you have it. Four valuable print based resources that we have in the LMC ready for our students, faculty and staff to use. As a BONUS, I’d like to mention that we also have a number of maps and posters in the LMC that we offer for teachers to use in their classrooms. Most of these are old National Geographic maps and/or illustrations, but they are also in good condition and laminated to protect them from further wear.


Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

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Welcome Back 2015 – 2016

Hello all,

I can’t believe we’ve already been back for three weeks … summer is starting to feel like a distant memory already, isn’t it? So, I really hope you had a fantastic vacation, full of great times that you will be able to use throughout the next 180 days (and counting) to refuel yourself.

To all of our returning faculty and staff, it’s great to see your familiar faces and I hope that you remember to call on me for anything you need. To our new (and newish) members, I say, “Welcome. I am your librarian and media specialist and I am here to help you in any way I can”.

Below you’ll find some information to remind you who we are and how we might be able to help.

Library Media Center Hours:     Monday – Friday, 7 am – 3 pm

Students that would like to use the LMC computers or space after-school, do not need to make an appointment. Many clubs, groups and other people book the library for meetings or other events, and students may be asked to leave.

Class Visits

The LMC has two PC computer labs. Lab one is around the “pit” and has around 25 working computers on any given day. Lab two is in the back of the LMC and currently only has 15 working computers, but we hope to add more in the coming weeks.

If you wish to bring your class to the library to use the computers, search for books or work in the “pit”, you must check the LMC log kept at the circulation desk. There is no online version of this to book the library.

Please call us (xt. 1143) to check if we have room to accommodate you and/or your group if you have NOT already booked an appointment with us in the LMC log. We love to see our space full of students, teachers, aides, counselors and everyone else who makes HHS a great place to work. But we don’t like to be surprised and we don’t like having to turn you away at the door if we don’t have room.

Study Students

Students who would like to use the library during their study period need to first report to their study class so that their teacher may mark them present for that period. Study teachers can then send up to four (4) students to the library for that period, with a signed pass of course.

Copiers, projectors, overheads, etc.

As the media specialist, I am here to get you through some of your frustrating technology encounters. I know how much our faculty and staff rely on copies, printouts and scans to get their work done, so please make sure you call me whenever you’re having trouble with one of our many Toshiba machines. Contact me if your local machine needs its toner or staples replaced, if you’re experiencing chronic paper jams, or if you get an error message of any kind.

I’m also able to assist you if you still use a television, VCR (what?), DVD player (huh?), overhead projector (why?), CD player/radio (how?), or other antiquated machine that helps you do your thing in the classroom.

Contact Information

School Extension:    1143

Henry Toromoreno, Head Librarian 

Barbara Sicard, Library Aide             

Thank you for reading, and I hope you found something useful.


Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.


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My Summer Reading List

Hello all,

I hope your summer has been full of wonderful times worthy of scrapbook material (for those of you who know what those are) and overflowing with happy pictures you’ve already posted to facebook, tumblr, instagram, snapchat or wherever else is the latest hot online destination.

For me, summer is a great time to catch up on my long form reading; novels, histories, anthologies and such. I love being able to sit somewhere comfortable with a cold drink and a great book, spending hours racing through words, creating a long and in-depth conversation with the author, losing myself in a world spawned in someone else’s mind, but brought to life in my own.

So far this summer, I have gotten through a number of books and I’d love to share a handful of them with you. I’ll give you a brief review of each and for easy scoring, I’ll be using my own scale shown below.

*                   Why is this even in print? (I probably wouldn’t finish this book.)

**                 Not great, but still better than just watching TV or YouTube.

***               Good book. It’s worth your time and energy, but still has flaws.

****             Highly recommended, but not part of the upper echelon of books.

*****           Excellent book. Part of my “must reads” list.

  • Dave Eggers, The Circle. (*** ½) This was the first book that I read this summer and it was only because it was a relatively new read and was gifted to me by my friend and retired Haverhill High School English teacher, Ms. Barberio. She wasn’t a fan of the book and let me know that I could leave it behind wherever I went on vacation. After reading it, I think I understand why she didn’t like it. Eggers’ narrative is at times slow and repetitive in this book, but I feel that this is done on purpose to force the reader to stop and reflect on how redundant our lives online have become. The protagonist, Mona, is a recent college graduate who has landed a primo job at the hottest computer company on the planet, called the Circle (imagine if Google and Facebook and Amazon had a child, and that child also had gene splices from Apple). Her job and life revolve around being online, being “present” online and making sure others always know she’s “there” by liking, sharing, re-posting, commenting and otherwise “contributing” to the online world. It can become a bit of a chore reading that Mona visited 203 sites, has 51 likes, 23 re-posts, 31 original comments, and has moved up the rankings at her job … but it’s also the kind of precursor world I imagine taking shape before two classic novels, 1984 and Brave New World. There’s also some kind of a love story with a mysterious stranger that defies the other logic of the book, and a corny symbolic translucent shark from the depths of the ocean that eats everything, but other than that a fun first summer read. It gets an extra half book on my rating, just because it really does speak loudly about the ubiquity of technology and our insatiable desire to record and quantify what is happening.
  • Fransisco X. Stork, Marcelo in the Real World. (***) Not too many books have a protagonist who is a person with special needs, but YA authors have been more open than other writers to take on the challenge (think Stoner and Spaz, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Freak the Mighty, Stuck in Neutral, Fat Chance, and so on …). In this novel, the reader gets to see the world through Marcelo Sandoval’s eyes (and mind) and he is somewhere on the high end of the Autism-Asperger spectrum. He’s spent most of his schooling life at special schools and will be working the summer before his senior year at his dad’s law firm … in the mailroom. Learning to navigate his way around in “the Real World” is more than just about leaving his protected spaces, for Marcelo it’s also about discovering the ugly truths that all young adults must learn about the larger world. This book is a quick and easy read with an interesting twist and very likeable characters.
  • Ronald Kidd, Monkey Town. (***) Historical fiction is one of those genres that can either really take you to another time period or fall flat on its face. This book does a little bit of both as Ronald Kidd invites us to visit Dayton, Tennessee (not Ohio … thanks for catching my error Mr. Jordan) in the summer of 1925. That date and place should ring a bell, for it is the time and the place where a young teacher by the name of John Scopes is brought to trial for having the nerve to teach evolution in science class. Our guide, and protagonist, is a fifteen-year old girl named Frances Robinson whose father owns the local pharmacy and soda fountain bar where the plan to put Dayton on the map was hatched. For Frances, the world is turned upside down and inside out as she is forced to question everything she’s known. Along the way, we get to meet such historical figures as Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan and the curmudgeon, H.L. Menken who befriends young Miss Robinson. For Frances, the twenty something Scopes is dreamy crush who represents the larger world outside of little, provincial Dayton. But she also has pride in where she’s from and she hates that everyone else is calling them Monkey Town. A good read about coming of age set in an interesting period of our own history.
  • Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men. (***) I’ve been meaning to read this book for a few years now, but somehow never get around to doing it. Part of the reason is that I violated my own rule about books that have movies made from them and saw the movie before I read the book. This of course meant that every time that Anton Chigurgh (one of the main characters in this book) appears in the action, I couldn’t help but think of Javier Barden. No matter. What really bugged me at first was the irregular spelling and McCarthy’s use of the dreaded “could of” instead of “could’ve”. Needless to say, I had to forgive him since after the first ten or so pages, I recognized that McCarthy knows what he’s doing when he does that (unlike my first year college writing students and the numerous Facebookers and Twitterers who do this). This novel is ultra violent and full of gruesome details that even today can shock a reader, especially set against the otherwise quiet and quaint world of the Texas-Mexico desert land.
  • Paul Davies, The Eerie Silence. (****) If the universe is as habitable as we think it is, if it is replete with all the necessary ingredients for life as we know it, if it is teeming with billions of stars and trillions of planets capable of hosting life, then where are all the aliens? That, in a nutshell, is the question posed by mathematician Enrico Fermi back in 1950 and it is the subject of this fascinating book. Physicist, cosmologist, and astro-biologist , Paul Davies, leads the reader through a succinct, yet deep and thought-provoking review of not just what we know about life in general and intelligent life more specifically, but also why we may not have yet detected any signals from extraterrestrial aliens. I love books like this that lead me through complex ideas using easy to grasp language and analogies. Less than three hundred pages, and yet so full of historical background and groundbreaking ideas that have contributed to defining what SETI is and why it is worth expanding. Along the way, the reader will learn about the Drake Equation, von Neumann probes, the Arecibo Observatory, the WOW signal, the Cinderella zone, worm holes, string theory, evolutionary theory, tardigrades and many other fascinating science and math topics that should pique just about anyone’s interest. This book is for anyone who’s ever looked up at the stars and wondered, “are we alone?”

I’ve read other books that I’ll try to mention in my next post, but until next time, thank you for stopping by and I hope you’ve still got a couple of weeks of great summer memories left in you.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

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