Books Read Since Mid-November

Here is the last pile of books I read in 2008. Since it's now 2009 I can be reasonably sure I won't add anything to this list.

Non-Fiction

Restoration Home by Mark Bailey, Sally Bailey, and Debi Treloar is an interesting decor porn book with a salvage bent. These people take shabby chic way beyond rumpled slipcovers and distressed coffee tables. They like chipped paint and missing patches of plaster. I liked the ideas about using industrial light fixtures and other fittings, and about reusing found objects. I also like the aesthetic of not having everything perfect and flawless. Some of the examples in this book go a little too far for my taste, though, into that crack-house look. To each their own.

(parts of) Character is Destiny by John McCain and Mark Selter This is a collection, written for a young adult audience, of short biographies of various historical figures chosen by the authors to exemplify various character traits and support their theory that "character is everything". I picked it up partly because I had (previously) quite liked and respected John McCain, and because there's a chapter on Roméo Dallaire, who I love. I also ended up reading the chapters on Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill, Sojourner Truth, and a couple others I forget now. I learned a lot about the people, which was the main point.

This book made me wonder what happened to John McCain that made him stray so far, during the 2008 campaign, from the decent person he used to be. I'm sure he's still decent, but something made him act all crazy. This probably ties into the fact that character is indeed not everything and that how people behave is actually very strongly affected by the situation they are in (see The Lucifer Effect.)

Non-fiction books that are pretty good but that I don't have a lot to say about

  • Why Women Should Rule the World by DeeDee Myers
  • David Suzuki's Green Guide
  • Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
  • Mindfulness by Ellen Langer

Fiction

The Road by Cormac McCarthy was one of the best fiction books I read this year, but in the same gruelling "I just want this to end" way as A Thousand Splendid Suns. I don't know what the connection is between gruelling and really good, but if I ever come up with a happy and uplifting book which is really good I will be sure to post about it. This book hit a few of my hot buttons: post-apocalyptic, small child, Viggo Mortenson (okay, he's not in the book but I knew they cast him for the movie version so that's what the protagonist looked like in my head).

Children of Men by P.D. James was really good. I didn't know P.D. James did speculative fiction. This is another book I read instead of seeing the movie.

What I Was by Meg Rosoff was a pretty decent young adult book about a boy who is sent to a miserable boarding school in Norwich (can there be any other kind?) and meets a wild boy who lives on the beach. They fall for each other and hang out, there is some tragedy and a surprise ending. Nice book.

The Landing by John Ibbitson is yet another young adult book, about a boy living in Muskoka in the twenties. He plays violin but when you're poor in rural Canada you're not going to get very far with that kind of artsy nonsense. Then he meets a woman who introduces him to classical music and encourages him to pursue his playing. Tragedy, rebirth, blah blah blah. Actually a really good book.

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett; I mentioned this earlier — I read it as a companion to Ender's Game and like I said earlier, while I don't have as much meaty substance as the other book it is funnier and equally well-written.

Home for Christmas and other stories by Scott Young is a collection of short stories, the old-fashioned kind with a beginning, middle and end which don't involve lots of weird allusions or great revelations or moments of truth. The kind of short stories that I and Michael Chabon like. They're all about Christmas, too.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory is our next book club book, and while it's not great literature it was a good read, quite educational (assuming the historical detail is accurate; I always wonder about that with historical fiction) and will provide lots of things for us to talk about.

Memoir

Schuyler's Monster by Rob Rummel-Hudson. Well, the cover of the book says "Robert Rummel-Hudson" but I've been reading Rob's journal since Schuyler was just a baby, and he's always been Rob. It was cool to read Schuyler's story in book form, and I liked that Rob kept his smart-assy voice in the book. I've always enjoyed Rob's writing and I find it very hard to be impartial about the book because I already liked it before I even read it. I'm looking forward to reading something of Rob's that I haven't read before.

The Alchemy of Loss by Abigail Carter is a memoir by a woman who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks. It's about her grieving process and how she dealt with taking care of her two little kids, her family and husband's family, and with her loss being part of a much bigger loss. I picked this book up because I have a fear of losing Blake, sparked in fact by 9/11, and I wanted to read about how someone else had grieved and then gone on with her life. This book is beautifully written, very honest, and hopeful.

Parenting and Child Development

The Unschooled Mind by Howard Gardner is about how kids learn about the world, and how educators really need to take into account children's existing models of the world when teaching them new things. Apparently often what happens is that kids learn two models of the world, the "real" one and the "school" one. The "real" model is the model they kluged together through their observations back when they were little kids, and the "school" model is techncially correct but because they were never shown (not told) the errors of their real-world model they only learn the school model by rote and never understand it well enough to take it out into the real world. So teachers have to know how to delicately dismantle children's models — or rather help the children do it — in order to make room for the new, subtler models. Very interesting, although Gardner is pretty dry. More anecdotes please!

The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn. I love Alfie Kohn. He's just so convincing. In this book he convinced me that most homework is a useless waste of time, which I'm sure will go over really well with my kids' teachers. Whatever, I'm not going to squander my kids' precious free time doing busywork. If the teachers can come up with valuable interesting homework we'll do it.

Of course Delphine will do her homework anyway because she will be too scared of getting in trouble not to do it. Maybe Cordelia will come onboard with my homework rebellion, though.

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen And Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich. Everyone has said everything there is to be said about this book. If you deal with kids and you haven't read it yet you'd better get on it.

What to Look For In A Classroom and other essays by Alfie Kohn. More Kohn cleverness. He's an interesting and intelligent man. This book covers diverse topics in education, from standardized testing to the subtle racism of middle-class mothers. (Don't get me started on that one.) Great book.


Oh my, I think I'm done book blogging for 2008. Better start book blogging for 2009!

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