Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Golfing Off (Teacher Buddy Update)

It was a cool July evening. Those two words don't normally go together when we're talking about Arkansas weather, but it had just rained and it was approaching dusk. Of course, the mosquitoes were out in swarms to make up for the lack of muggy weather.

I had picked up my three teachers (Wendy, Haydee, and Brenda) from their dorm. Wendy (whose parents liked the name, so she has a non-Spanish first name) was running late from her shower, so I was chatting with Haydee (pronounced Ay-day, in true Spanish fashion) and Brenda about their weekend trip to Eureka Springs and Talequah. The program they are participating in keeps them busy, shuttling them around Arkansas to various sites, getting them to social events with Americans, not to mention all of their classes, so they are having fun, but feeling a bit tired.

We went to play mini-golf, where my ankles were immediately attacked by mosquitoes--I didn't realize until we played our 18 holes that they had repellent at the club house. Darn. I'm not a very good player, but I did get two hole-in-ones, including the 18th, so I got a free pass! The teachers punctuated playing with taking photos: group photos, pictures of them in front of the animal statues (gorillas, giraffes, elephants). They love taking pictures--just like I did when I went to Mexico. I forget they are also tourists.

I love listening to them talk and talking with them. They are supposed to speak in English--Brenda scolded one person for talking in Spanish because she thought I didn't speak it--but they switch constantly between English and Spanish, often blending the two languages. If I were more fluent in Spanish, I suppose I could do it too. But it is certainly interesting to listen to and try to understand what they're saying.

We had ice cream at our local Shake's (formerly Shakey's), and then I took them home. It has been a fun experience getting to know them--Wendy has made me promise to come visit her sometime, which I plan to do. Vacation in Mexico...of course! She is from Yucatan, so it should be a good trip. They talked to me about becoming a teacher (I'm planning to teach on the college level), and they also talk to me about their culture and language. I think I'll definitely volunteer to be a buddy next year too.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Why Mark Should Read Lord of the Rings

As Secret Knitter (Mark) and I were going back and forth about what I should perhaps post today, this totally fun and random thought popped into my head. I should post reasons he should get Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and read them! He claims to have avoided them because of the fanboy aura and other assorted paltry excuses. Well, I'm going to give him incontrovertible evidence of why he should immediately go and read them.
  • First, he should read The Hobbit, which is short, a fun read, and the best way to become intrigued in the world Tolkien builds further in his longer work. I love The Hobbit because it is a lighthearted tale, and as a reader, I just feel the fun Tolkien had while writing it.
  • After reading The Hobbit, he may or may not be consumed with a desire to read more about hobbits. No matter; I don't expect him to suddenly become obsessed or anything. But he should at least now be intrigued by Tolkien's art.
  • He's someone who makes a living out of writing about films, so I'm almost certain he's seen Peter Jackson's excellent renditions of Tolkien's work. If you've seen the films and liked them, then the books should be enjoyable too.
  • Tolkien writes about all sorts of relevant and important ideas, like friendship and storytelling and love. Not to mention the inspiration notion of small heroic actions leading to the destruction of a great evil.
  • Since he's a fan of Harry Potter, he really should get familiar with the father of fantasy literature.
  • After he finishes the book, he can ask me about what I wrote my undergraduate Honors thesis about and understand what I'm talking about.
  • The Lord of the Rings features some wonderful, memorable characters like Eowyn, Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, and many, many others. And not all of the cool ones are portrayed in the film, like Tom Bombadil.
  • The last part of The Return of the King is my favorite part of the book. (When the hobbits return to the Shire). But he'll never understand why I love it so much unless he reads it...
  • It's a damn good book, that's why!
If you all out there have any other reasons for why Mark should read The Lord of the Rings, please post. If you think I'm wrong for thinking he should read them or miss out on a major work of literature...well, the Eye is watching.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lurking in the Library

I had to run over to the University library today to pick up a book (it has an essay I need to read on genre). Historically, trips to the library to "pick up a book" typically end with me carting home an armload. Today was not much different.

I picked up several books by Kenneth Burke because a professor had raved about him in class, and I was curious. I stopped myself from looking at any other books and still left the library with my bag significantly heavier. As I was leaving, I had to concentrate on just walking--rows and rows of books beckoned to me, tried to call me to them. The University Library has thousands of volumes, books full of all sorts of knowledge and interesting things. The library always reminds me that there is so much in the world I don't know and so many books I long to read.

I'm lucky to be a patron of both the university library and my town's public library (a fantastic place, by the way). And as I have to go pick up a reserved item at the public library, I get to visit them both, so...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fun With English

I'm the sort of nerd who gets a kick out of certain words and phrases, especially when they convey an unintentional joke.

Take this phrase:
It was an unexpected surprise when a pair of baby twins was born at 12 midnight.
Do you see the joke?

Today's browsing was particularly fruitful in the usage department. Did I ever tell you that one of my favorite books ever is the Strunk and White's The Elements of Style (Thanks Noel for talking about that in class once.) I was particularly distressed when I moved to my current city, and I discovered it was missing from my library. I am excited because it is required reading for one of my classes in the fall. Well, in my browsing today I stumbled on this essay by George Orwell, which is both on the same lines as Strunk and White and applicable to today's politics. Here are his rules for writing:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I'm a big fan of clear, concise writing, so I like these rules. And the essay is pretty good too.

Another site I discovered with the Fun with Words site. I'll be checking that one out in a bit more detail later.

And finally, courtesy of my pal Secret Knitter, comes a link to an NPR story about a grammar vandal. A grammar vandal? I want to be a grammar vandal! I'll be listening to that here shortly, so hopefully it's good.

Well, enjoy the Fun With English Day!

Monday, July 23, 2007

How I Learned to Read

Thanks, Donna, for giving me the prompt for today's post. How did I learn to read? What's my reading story? Obviously if I can gulp down an 700+ page book, then I must love to read.

My love of reading began at a early age. One of my first memories is sitting with my mom and reading a book I was given. I don't ever remember not reading, and unfortunately my parents don't really remember when I first started reading. But I do recall being able to read before I finished kindergarten.

I was well on my way to chapter books like Charlotte's Web in first and second grade. We read Charlotte's Web as a class when I was in third grade, and since I already knew the story and also was a pretty quick reader, I was ahead of my classmates. They, of course not believing that I was actually reading, accused me of faking.

I've always loved reading. I would check books out from the library constantly; I loved library time in school. There has always been a pleasure and intensity to reading that I found inescapable. And I was hooked on it.

I volunteered for librarians starting in seventh grade. Working in a library was not just a way to get out of boring study hall; when you walk around a library (smelling the books, touching the spines, reading the titles), you pick up books that look interesting and read them. Once, while working in the elementary school library, I attempted to make it through the entire Newberry Medal winner list. I got pretty far, too.

Books have been a huge part of my life. I wish I could remember more details about my first book, or how I started reading, but all I remember is just loving it and reading more. And perhaps that's just enough.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Finished: HARRY POTTER and the DEATHLY HALLOWS

Yes, indeed. In one marathon reading session that had me rocking back and forth, laughing, gasping in shock, and finally crying through the last six chapters of the book (partly out of heightened emotions and sheer mental weariness), I closed the book with a satisfying snap. I knew it would be good; I was promised for two years it would be good. And the fact that I was so emotionally vested in these characters, that I was reacting to them as I would real people, told me that Rowling cast her charms well.

The book is that good. Now I wait until other finish, so I can gab about it to them. As promised, I reveal nothing here.

I'll chat a little instead about my path to Harry Potter. The first book in the series, The Sorcerer's Stone, was published while I was in high school. As part of an ultra-conservative household, I was forbidden to read them, and I complied. After some of my conservative luster fell away, I still balked at reading them until my sophomore year of college, when The Goblet of Fire was released. I then read all four books, and I liked them. I ended up doing my Honors sophomore lecture on the debate over Harry Potter--good books or evil? I concluded they were good books, but perhaps younger children should be guided while reading them. (Mostly because the conservative side of the argument was so blatantly ludicrous.)

I didn't attend a midnight release for the fifth or sixth. I eventually bought the fifth after reading a borrowed copy along with the others I didn't already have. I was hooked. The sixth I pre-ordered on Amazon and was pleased when it arrived that Saturday.

But the seventh, oh the seventh. As you can tell from the week's posts, I had been looking forward to the final installment. And it was worth the wait, let me tell you.

I wonder if Rowling will write anything else, at least something not connected to Harry Potter. She's a brilliant storyteller, but it might be hard to top her own magnificent feat. Of course, Tolkien was asked to write another Hobbit, and look what he turned out...

Friday, July 20, 2007

At Last: The Deathly Hallows Will Be Mine!

I apologize, dear reader, for not carrying through with my "Harry Potter Week". However, a nasty summer bug laid me out for two days, so I was not in the mind to amuse or occupy you with my wit. Or the borrowed wit of others, as I shall today.

I must say I am looking forward to reading Harry Potter. Do you think I can finish it off tomorrow, to avoid being pestered by the hyped up media, my roommate, and my boyfriend (who wants to borrow the book)?

The following is an amusing song that expresses the feeling of many Potter fans: http://www.brotherhood2.com/?p=158

Pretty amusing.

Anyway, on with some small chatter. I'm hoping that the media doesn't spoil anything for me. That's the problem with a book gaining such wild popularity is that everyone wants to read it as soon/fast as possible, then they want to gab about it. And for those who simply cannot stay up all night to polish off the 800-page book have their surprise spoiled. I read a NY Times book review about the novel, against my better discretion, but they had the good taste to not give anything away.

So I'll turn the question to you: the hype. Is the book worth all the attention? I give a grudging yes, because it is rare to find a work of literature that can so wholly capture the hearts and minds of such a wide audience. We're not talking one demographic--I'm a 24 year old English MA student, and I'm sure I'll be rubbing shoulders with a range of readers tonight at the midnight release party. There will be a lot of kids, sure. But all of my friends are also eagerly awaiting their copies.

Rarely do writers become such superstars. Even Salman Rushdie, who is a fantastic writer and deals with death threats on a regular basis, is still not as well known as Rowling. Even those who haven't read the Harry Potter books know who she is.

Well, talk. What's your opinion?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Postulating (and Harry Potter week)

I resisted until now. I refused to get caught up in the hype of the seventh Harry Potter (and the Deathly Hallows). I rolled my eyes every time I saw the "Snape: Friend or Foe?" signs. I refused to speculate on the ending of the series--I was patient to read the book.

But then I finished rereading the series. And now I'm running through the possibilities in my head. And strongly desiring the release date to be here. I know I can't stay up all night when it comes out and read it--but I'll want to. (Luckily I have a race the next morning to get up for). I'm sure my entire weekend will be eaten up trying to finish the book so that I squelch the strong desire of wanting to know before the end of the weekend, when I have to return to work.

I used to get this strong desire when reading books in junior high. I read Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword, and discovered there were more stories about that world (The Hero and the Crown). I was just filled with the urge to gobble the book down. I would get it about all sorts of books, but recently Harry Potter has triggered it.

I don't get that irresistible thirsty feeling much anymore--perhaps my education has made me less enthusiastic in the regard about books--but it's nice to still feel.

And now I wait. And I already swear to not reveal any information about the book except the safe "You should read it; it's good."

I think I've decided to make this week's posts all about Harry Potter in some way. Hope you enjoy.

**Edit**
Here's a fun little animation page--they parody Harry Potter, and I laughed, so I thought I would share.

Monday, July 16, 2007

BONUS: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

One sentence summary:

J.K. Rowling must have cried her eyes out writing the end of this book.

Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos

In the spirit of wanting to make new friends and help people out from another country, I signed up to be a "Teacher Buddy". The role of the Teacher Buddy is to provide some social opportunities for a teacher from Mexico and/or Ecuador who are in Fayetteville for a intensive summer language and teacher training course.

I went last week to the welcome banquet and met my three buddies. All three are women in their late twenties/early thirties from eastern Mexico, and I think they are going to be a lot of fun to hang out with. We talked and talked until it was time to go home. They are supposed to speak English the whole time, but they promised to teach me a little Spanish to prepare me for my Spain trip.

I'm happy for the opportunity to meet people from other countries and share across cultures. Sometimes Americans get caught up in the idea that we have the best of everything--including culture--that we forget that other cultures have something wonderful to offer as well. It's often my opinion that many of the clashes between Christian and Muslim, for example, stem from an unwillingness to learn and share, and perhaps a fear of discovering that we're not so different after all.

Friday, July 06, 2007

War, Oppression, and Friendship: Hosseini's A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS

One eye on my soup, the other on the pages of Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns, I managed to finish this excellent novel just a short time ago. And so I decided to tell you all about it.

Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, brings the world of Afghanistan to life for his American audience, enchanting us with his descriptions of its beauty and richness, and wrenching our hearts as we watch it slowly destroyed through thirty years of conflict. In many ways it is a book to make us not forget about Afghanistan, a fear voiced by a character at the close of the novel, keep in our minds the effects of war and cultural strife that tore Afghanistan apart.

But it also a compelling narrative about two women, Mariam and Laila who are caught in the aftermath of war and violence, victims of the power shift from the Soviets to the Mujahideen, who then fell into civil unrest and sectarian violence, followed by the rise of the Taliban and the restrictions they enforced. Mariam is married off at fifteen to Rasheed, a violent, ill-tempered man who forces Mariam to dress in burka and punishes her because she cannot carry a child to term. Her silent, long-suffering character is juxtaposed with Laila, the young, beautiful girl who is love with Tariq, her childhood friend who lost a leg to a land mine.

Mariam is reclusive and shy, while Laila is able to go to school and have a public life. But it all changes the day that her parents are killed when a rocket blows up their house; fourteen year old Laila survives and is nursed back to health by Mariam and Rasheed. Rasheed decides that Laila either needs to marry him or leave; he refuses to pay for her upkeep any longer. Laila agrees--but only because she discovers she is pregnant with Tariq's child, who she has been told is dead, and cannot make it to the Pakistan border.

As the narrative continues, Mariam move from enemies to friends who both suffer at the hands of their violent husband who insults, beats, and abuses both women. It is their friendship that sustains them both, giving love and purpose to Mariam's life and offering Laila love and support in turn.

The novel is not without its faults, but I found it compelling and captivating. It was hard to put down, and I feel offered a window into life in Afghanistan in the turbulent years leading up to 9/11 and the events following. It's a great read, and I recommend it if you need something good to fill up your summer evenings.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Currently Reading

  • I'm currently re-reading the entire Harry Potter series. I just finished up The Goblet of Fire, and am about to jump into The Order of the Phoenix. I'm constantly amazed at Rowling's skill at writing and her ability to compose a compelling story. I love that she plants little clues to things that become important later in the narrative (either within the same book, or in a later one). And I'm really looking forward to learning what is between Snape and Dumbledore in about two weeks.
  • I'm also currently reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. It's his second novel, following the hit The Kite Runner (which I've also enjoyed). Thus far it's pretty interesting, and I've certainly been reading it quickly. (It's my "work" book, so I don't have to lug Harry Potter around. Those later books are heavy).
  • I'm enrolled in a genre theory independent readings course, and we're reading something called The Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre. I'm supposed to find ways to apply it to my thesis--which won't be hard, considering I'm dealing with basically transitioning between genres, and I want to use an informed concept of genre to formulate the class.
  • I've also picked up several knitting books from the library, trying to devise ways to use up my stash of mediocre yarn so I can buy pretty, nice yarn. Mmm, knitting.

Anyone else got lots on the summer reading list? Tell, tell!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Thesis--Approved!

I had a meeting with my independent readings course yesterday, and with my professor that hoped would be my thesis adviser. He likes my topic! So I'm going to start moving forward with it. One question I hope to answer is why do we need freshman composition? I challenged a fellow MA student yesterday when she gave the trite, pat answer of "to make well-rounded individuals". I think that answer is too easy, I declared. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I'm guessing it involves both giving students skills they need to be writers in their profession, and the desire to create an educated, reading public. I want students to realize that they have to read the world around them in the way they read a book. Student empowerment through literature, perhaps?

And I hope I did not offend anyone with my post yesterday. I certainly did not wish to imply that all Muslims were like the narrow-minded people quoted in the article I linked to. I realize that Muslims and Christians come in all varieties of tolerance and acceptance--and I'm sure that being Muslim is difficult in the world we currently live in and is enough to make anyone sensitive to perceived attacks on her beliefs. I was just saddened by the way that an author of great talent is treated for receiving an honor he deserves.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Writing Martyrs

Salman Rushdie was knighted recently in Great Britain, setting off reactions from the Muslim community. In retaliation, the fatwa was renewed. Rushdie's life is now in danger because he dared to write a novel about the nature of religion and happened to use Islam as his target.

In this article, the Muslims come off as big whiners--after all, religions are often the target of authors. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy attacks Christianity in a very pointed way, as does Towing Jehovah. I'm sure there have been lots of angry people who condemned those books. But nobody wants to kill them.

The death threat is similar to the fundamentalists who want to bomb abortion clinics and the like--they feel that if they can remove the source of that which is to their beliefs (Salman Rushdie, doctors who preform abortions), then their belief systems will be in some way validated as the one true belief system.

In his talk on the role of the writer (which I attended), Rushdie described writers as people who push the establishment, which always pushes back. Depending on the skill of the writer and what they are pushing, it can be a big push with a big reaction, or merely a small push. I wondered at the time if this was merely a romantic notion of authorship--my jaded, postmodern self didn't think that a writer could make that big of a difference. But then I was struck by what Rushdie has endured for writing The Satanic Verses--persecution, death threats, forced hiding, and when honored with knighthood for his contribution to art the leaders of Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc call for its revocation--I realized that he is living this idea. Because he dared to push the establishment, many Muslims around the world hate him, and many want him dead.

Art isn't tame. It's a dangerous creature, capable of sparking debate, controversy, and anger to those who are willing to use their art to push politically, socially, or culturally. I use this site to keep track of literary censorship in schools, and it's amazing how much art can anger and upset parents and school administrators.

So perhaps artists (and maybe comedians too: see John Stewart and Steven Colbert) can keep pushing the establishment toward change. Rushdie is willing to risk his life to push, and even if he is honored in the attempt, he still has a violent and upset group of people after him.