Archives for posts with tag: book reviews

When I went to went to go hear Sharon Draper talk about the book she wrote after she wrote Out of My Mind, she said her new one had been hard to write because so many people had called Out of My Mind her “best book ever.” “How,” she asked, “do you write the next book after you’ve written the best book ever?”

I’m afraid Jennifer Haigh has the same problem. In 427 pages, she has created an epic for our times. Populated by the inextricably linked small town characters she has used in her other novels, Heat and Light takes as its central plot the impact of fracking on a small town in Pennsylvania. To Haigh’s enormous credit, she tells the story of many different points of view and uses many different time periods, and what she ends up with is not an anti-fracking diatribe, but a well-balanced examination of the choices people make that they never thought they’d have to confront.

How will the novel stand up in 20 years? I’m not sure. It depends on what’s happening in the fracking world. The point is that it stands up quite well now; it is important, more than say, Hillbilly Elegy. You want to understand the world today, read this. You want to understand people – the people of yesterday, today, and tomorrow – read this. I hated and loved every single one of these characters.

I don’t envy Haigh’s task of following this book. It is, I suspect, a nice problem to have.

I said once that if I could just read one author, I’d choose Baldwin because he wrote plays, non-fiction and fiction. Boy, did I underestimate him. There are letters, reviews, forwords and afterwords, letters, etc. in here, and so I am grateful for and grateful that I found this collection.

I think in this era when so many people are being introduced to Baldwin because of his ideas, it can be easy to forget what an amazing writer he is. His sentences are so packed full and syntactically interesting that I read some more than once just to enjoy the sound of  them. At one point, he even mocks himself by calling one of his sentences “undisciplined.” I think it’s the only one.

So read this, both for the urgency of the ideas it contains and to read a master essayist at work.

Oh, and keep a notepad by your side. When Baldwin recommends that you read something, you’re going to want to read it.

It is hard to know the truth of what led to the end of Esquith’s career. A brief Google search indicates that there are almost as many theories as there are websites. I admit, though, that my bias is that “something is rotten” here, and that it’s not Esquith. The book is good. His arrogance shows through often, and he is unsubtle when he criticizes his own administration. Neither of these things probably earned him many friends.

Still, he clearly sacrificed a great deal of time, money and energy to do the best work he could. Some of his reasoning is circular – ‘I think we should study this and therefore we should because I am the arbiter of such things’ – well, then, he’s far from alone.

There is a great deal here to support – that he has very high expectations, is clear. He mocks the errors of his younger teacher self. He realizes the reality of standardized tests and how, in the end, they are so very unimportant.

If he did what he stands accused of doing, then he deserves to end his career in disgrace and to lose his freedom. But if he didn’t, oh, if he didn’t. . .

an account of Esquith’s firing from Diane Ravitch’s blog

Hobart Shakespeareans

Hobart Shakespeareans – Trailer

“Make no little plans,” Daniel Burnham once said. And Angie Thomas took his advice. Her sprawling, complex first novel is remarkably ambitious. Though its hot button issue is the shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer, Thomas does not limit herself to that. There’s interracial dating, gangs, the ‘hood vs. the suburbs (where a pit bull – another issue – is not allowed), there’s “snitches get stitches,” a fried chicken ‘joke,’ a condom mistake, gunshots, arson, domestic abuse, hybrid families, Huey Newton, a discussion of names that black parents give their children, compromises and a debate about whether macaroni and cheese is a main dish or a side dish.

And aside from some occasional pedantic moments (often during conversations), Thomas pulls it off. This is an amazing novel – young adult? – I don’t care; it’s just an amazing book, one I’ll look forward to using in the classroom. Right now, I have a classroom that is 100% students of color. It would be a very interesting book to choose in a mixed-race classroom or even a largely white one. Much to consider here. I look forward to handing it off to students next week in order to get some reactions.

Angie Thomas’ website

I admit it; I judged this book by its cover. I had never read “an epic novel of the Roma.” The blurb said it was “the first novel in which a Gypsy himself depicts his people. .  . with complete authenticity.” I was sold. After all, we read (sometimes) in order to enter other worlds. I knew nothing of the Roma. Here, the cover said to me, is a chance to learn.

Without wasting much time, Lakatos’ work, translated by Ann Major, made me ask myself whether it was okay not to like this ‘authentic’ presentation of the Roma culture. If the way women are treated in this novel is anywhere close to accurate, then yikes.

The novel, by all indications based on the life of the author himself, also raised another cliche – just because it is true doesn’t make it a good story. The novel meanders. Small things are presented as disproportionately huge, with little justification. There is a great deal of repetition and ponderous dialogue. I neither liked nor was much interested in the protagonist. I certainly never accepted his so-called wisdom.

It can be hard to tell with a translation, but there are numerous examples where Lakatos seems to reach for lofty prose and fail miserably, that I have to believe it’s his doing, not Major’s.

There are poignant moments. The ending. The love for horses. But they are too few to sustain 464 pages.

At times, this book seemed more like an overview of a topic than an argument for any kind of revolution. And Robinson is perhaps a bit too fond of something I’ve noticed in many polished speakers – he reduces things to certain numbers and often uses alliteration (the 5 C’s, for example). Still, there’s much to be learned here, and I was always grateful when Robinson offered the names of other texts to pursue and / or schools / programs to investigate, so I could go into more depth if I wanted to.

It’s hard to imagine at this point who genuinely disagrees with what’s here. I think the two more important questions are how to generate the kind of political will necessary to “scale up” from some of the exemplars Robinson provides and how to manage the transition in the least disruptive way possible.

Ken Robinson’s TED talk

I am kind of a sucker for those newspaper accounts that mark the XX(x)th anniversary of some local event. I’m not sure why – perhaps because there seemed to be so many unanswered questions – I followed up on a story about The Ashtabula Railway-Bridge Accident of 1876 by ordering this collection of articles. And the event, though not charming as the last writer claims, continues to raise questions, not only about why the train crashed, but about decisions made and not made as well as the impact of the tragedy on the community today. The risk, I suppose (I’m not too experienced with local histories), is that not all of the writing will be good. The only essay that is really a bust here is the last one, full of platitudes, an inappropriate tone, and, because of its placement in the collection, little new information. I look forward to a road trip to Ashtabula in order to see things for myself.

image from train crash