The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

The Geeks Shall Inherit the EarthWhen I heard that Alexandra Robbins had written a new book I was intrigued. I’d read The Overachievers which I found enlightening and somewhat disturbing (my teens were attending the school featured in the book). The fact that Robbins’ new book was about the “unpopular” kids this time made me excited to read it, mostly because of baggage from my own high school experience where I was, not so much a geek, but definitely not popular.

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth follows a similar format as The Overachievers did. Several high school students were followed during the course of one school year. While Robbins’ focused on one high school in The Overachievers, she chose students from different high schools around the country in The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth. In both books, however, she interviewed many other students as well.

Robbins does a good job pulling you into the lives of the individuals she interviewed. I was compelled to cheer for the loner, the nerd, the new girl, the gamer, the weird girl and the band geek. Not so much the popular bitch, however. While I understand why Robbins chose to include her among the others, I felt little compassion for her. I felt more sympathy for her mother who at one point in the book says, “This is the most pleasant you’ve been basically since you were born”.

If I had to summarize my feelings about The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth in one word it would be “Duh”. What Robbins’ tells us in the book is not news. While reading it, I cannot remember how many times the topic came up in various media (tv shows, movies, songs, news broadcasts, newspaper articles, etc).  This may have been because my mind was on the subject. In fact, in the Showtime series, “Weeds”, one of the (teenage) characters says something about wishing to live in a world where geeks would rule the world someday.

While other people I know who have read this book find that Robbins’ analysis is not as solid as the storylines of the individuals, I don’t agree. While what Robbins terms Quirk Theory (what sets students apart in high school is what helps them stand out later in life) is not a new idea, the way she frames it and supports it with extant research is new, at least to me.

Much of what was in this book was painful for me to read because it reminded me of my own middle and high school experiences.  When my daughter was struggling with friendships and lack of popularity in high school I’d tell her that once she was out of high school none of that was going to matter and that she’d end up being more interesting than the kids that were popular in high school.

Disclaimer: While I bought one copy the author sent me a free copy as well.
Cross-posted to Amazon.

July 29, 2011. 2011, The Year of Reading Leisurely, would recommend. Leave a comment.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Dinner at the Homesick RestaurantI don’t remember when I read Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant the first time, but I do know it was the first Anne Tyler book I read. I also remember loving it and finding it to be a very funny book. A month ago if you’d asked me what the book was about, I would not have been able to tell you anything except that it was about a dysfunctional family. I didn’t remember one detail about the book.

I just finished reading it again. It wasn’t so funny this time around. The characters were quirky and there were some occasional humorous passages, but I wonder what made me think it was a funny book. I’m certain I read it before we had children. I know that after I read the book I thought that if Anne Tyler ever needed any new characters she should visit my husband’s family. This time around, I found the book to be depressing and hopeless. The characters were all so flawed, and blamed each other for their flaws that it was sometimes painful to read.

When I read the book in the 1980’s I thought that Pearl, the mother, was somewhat like my mother-in-law. When I read it this time, I saw pieces of myself in her and it made me very uncomfortable.

I talked to someone who was disappointed in the book because she thought the characters changed too much — that people don’t really change. I looked at the changes in the characters not as their real changes, but the way others looked at them. When each of the children (and grandchildren) thought about their mother, they were looking at it through their own eyes and experiences. When the siblings looked at each other they did the same — through their experiences. I think that that is the genius of the book, Anne Tyler was able to show us the multi-dimensional aspect of family relationships. Kind of like relationships with books — everyone brings their own experiences to a book and no one really sees it the same way as others.

I often worry about why I like or dislike a book when my friends or family have opposite reactions. It’s our life experiences that shape how we see a book.

June 5, 2010. Tags: , . 1980's, book group, fiction, Hoover Street Book Group, would recommend. 1 comment.

What was she Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal]

One of my book groups read Zoë Heller’s The Believers a couple of months ago. I voted for reading it only after I was told that she also wrote Notes on a Scandal as I liked the film enough to see it three times. After the book group to discuss The Believers, which I did not love, I asked the host if he’d lend me Notes on a Scandal.

What was she Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] I got into the book right away, being so familiar with the story. Normally I use clues from the book about what the characters look like and create images in my head, but was unable to do that this time — seeing only Cate Blanchett as Sheba, Judy Dench as Barbara and Bill Nighy as Sheba’s husband. Not that any of those images was a bad thing, I did feel a little cheated that my brain couldn’t conjure up my own images.

About a third of the way through the book I felt as if I were slowly slogging through a warm swamp and I wonder if I would have  put the book down had I not seen the film. Or perhaps the fact that I did know what was coming made it seem to move slowly, but comfortably.

In case you’ve not seen the film or read the book, here’s a brief synopsis: Sheba, a 30-something art teacher at a school in London, married to her former professor and mother of two children, including a boy with Down Syndrome, becomes sexually involved with a 16 year-old student. The story is told through the diary of a 60-something spinster fellow teacher who positions herself in the right places at the right times so as to be Sheba’s confidant.

As in The Believers, there are no real likable characters and they do unfortunate things for incomprehensible reasons.

I’m not sure I’ll ever slog through another of Zoë Heller’s books. Reading them is like looking at photos of Diane Arbus. Neither pretties up their subjects. They both show you the plain, and often ugly, truth. I’d rather have my truth sugar coated, or at least clothed.

May 18, 2010. Tags: , , . 2010, 3 star, fiction. Leave a comment.

11. My Book House — Volume 2: Story Time

StorytimeVolume 2 of My Book House by Olive Beaupré Miller contains stories and poems from all over the world written by some of the world’s best authors and poets. For instance there are works by Sir Walter Scott, Edward Lear, Eugine Field, William Blake and Hans Christian Anderson.

One of the stories I remember most from this volume is How the Finch got Her Colors which, according to the table of contents, is a Flemish legend. I always think of the painted bunting when I think of this story — but I guess finches are colorful too.

Another story I vividly remember was The Village of Cream Puffs by(!) Carl Sandburg, which I think, now, after reading it again, was very weird.

This book also contains a version of Little Black Sambo which I remember my mother reading to me. I heard they changed the title or maybe removed the story completely from the set in later versions of My Book House. The story — which is about a boy in India who outwits a tiger, itself, is innocuous — it is the title that is offensive.

One thing I forgot to mention in the first post about My Book House is the end papers. As I told my mom on the phone the other day, anyone seeing these end papers would want to become a reader. I remember sitting and staring at the endpapers, wishing I could transport myself into the scene. Except I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the clown. He looks evil.

Left end paper for My Book House

Left end paper for My Book House

Right end paper for My Book House

Right end paper for My Book House

April 26, 2010. Tags: , , . childhood, fiction, life-changing, literature, picture book, poetry, would recommend. Leave a comment.

10. My Book House — Volume 1: In the Nursery

In the Nursery What I remember most about this volume was the very first entry — a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson that I memorized and recited it as a prayer in leiu of God-is-good-God-is-great-let-us-thank-him-for-our-food. My parents believed me that it was a prayer for years. I think someone ratted on me and told my parents it was not a prayer, but a poem instead.

I suppose the fact that God is not mentioned in the poem at all should have alerted my parents that it was not a real prayer. They were not exactly church-going people, so what did they know?

The World is so full
Of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all
Be as happy as kings.

I also remember a story that is in this book called First Adventures — I actually remember my mom reading it to me and I remember reading it to myself after I learned how to read. It is about a little girl named Janie whose mother takes her for a walk in a stroller. It uses nonsense phrases like, “walkety walkety walk” for the sound of the stroller, and “snip snip” for the sound of scissors at the barber. When my kids were babies and I’d take them for a walk, I always thought, “walkety walkety walk”.

Hey Diddle DiddleIn addition to the poems, rhymes and stories in this book, and all the books, for that matter, are the lovely illustrations. The illustration of Hey Diddle Diddle has a lot going on, including an annoyed moon. I always thought the dog looked a little mad as well, even though he is supposed to be laughing.

Mother GooseAnd the illustration of Mother Goose is what I’ve always thought Mother Goose to look like (probably because this was my first introduction to Mother Goose — duh).

One last thing that is in each of the books — something I didn’t realize as a kid — many of the pages have footnotes that tell something extra about the writing. For instance the footnote for Hickory Dickory Dock says:

So old are many English nursery rhymes that some, like Hickory Dickory Dock, keep the memory of the Celtic language spoken long before English in England. Old shepherds still count their sheep hovera, covera, dik, instead of eight, nine, ten.

These books keep on giving. I think, if I’m ever stranded on a desert island, these books would keep me busy for a long, long time — even at my advanced age.

April 25, 2010. Tags: , , . childhood, life-changing, literature, picture book, poetry, would recommend. Leave a comment.

9. My Book House

My Book HouseMy mother had the foresight to surround me with a lot of books and for that I am grateful. She signed me up for the Weekly Reader Book Club and once a month I received a book in the mail — many of which I remember to this day. She also bought me an inexpensive set of encyclopedias (I think they were from the grocery store or something) and made sure I had and used a library card.

The very best books she bought me was actually a set of books. It was an anthology of literature in 12 volumes called My Book House compiled by Olive Beaupré Miller. The books are arranged in ascending order from easy to difficult. From nursery rhymes and simple children’s poetry and stories in the first volume through longer stories and poetry up through some classics in the final volume (which also holds an extensive index). The stories and poems come from all over the world.

I’m going to write about all 12 volumes (is that cheating?) in this blog (different posts of course) — and pick out a story or poem that I mostly remember from each one, but for the record, here are the titles of each volume:

Volume 1 — In the Nursery
Volume 2 — Story Time
Volume 3 — Up One Pair of Stairs
Volume 4 — Through the Gate
Volume 5 — Over The Hills
Volume 6 — Through Fairy Halls
Volume 7 — In the Garden
Volume 8 — Flying Sails
Volume 9 — The Treasure Chest
Volume 10 — Through the Tower Window
Volume 11 — In Shining Armor
Volume 13 — Halls of Fame

There were times in school where we were learning about this or that and I remembered having read about it in one of the volumes of My Book House. Now I know how important that was — to have a base of knowledge on which to build more knowledge. I’m not sure my mom knows how important this set of books was to me.

April 24, 2010. Tags: , . childhood, fiction, life-changing, literature, picture book, poetry, would recommend. 2 comments.

8. Piper, Pipe that Song Again

Piper Pipe that Song AgainI’ve never really been into poetry. I guess I was always too impatient lazy and wanted to be able to understand the meaning without having to work too hard. One exception was a book of poems that I received in the mail through the Weekly Reader Book Club called Piper, Pipe that Song Again: Poems for Boys and Girls selected by Nancy Larrick. This book was packed full of poems that I understood. And liked!

I’m pretty sure I’ve written elsewhere on the Internet how I used to go out to the garage (which rarely had cars in it), and sing the poems from this book at the top of my lungs. I’m sure that was a sight and sound to behold.

One of the poems I remember reading aloud [loudly] in the empty garage was The Secret Song by Margaret Wise Brown. I sang it in my best approximation of baritone:

Who saw the petals
Drop from the rose?
I, said the spider,
But nobody knows.

Who saw the sunset
Flash on the bird?
I, said the fish,
But nobody heard.

Who saw the fog
Come over the sea?
I, said the pigeon,
Only me.

Who saw the first
Green light of the sun?
I, said the night owl,
The only one.

Who saw the moss
Creep over the stone?
I said the grey fox,
All alone.

To prove that my reciting poetry, alone in the garage, paid off, I’m still a little chuffed that one of my teachers complimented me on my reading of The Pasture by Robert Frost. She was impressed that I knew to stop at the punctuation, and not at the end of each line.

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may);
I shan’t be gone long. — You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I shan’t be gone long. — You come too.

While this book didn’t make me a lover of poetry, it did help me appreciate poetry more than if I hadn’t read it. I’m not saying all, or ever most of the poems in this book are great works of art — some are downright corny — , but they certainly meant something to me.

April 23, 2010. Tags: , , . 1965, poetry, weekly reader book club. Leave a comment.

7. The Little Stranger

The Little StrangerWhen my son asked me what I wanted for Christmas last year, I was at a loss to come up with something so I turned to my Amazon wish list and sent him a couple of ideas. One suggestion, I remembered adding to my wish list: Muriel’s Wedding DVD. I love the movie and wanted to watch it whenever I felt like it. I was a little confused as to the second suggestion, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. I had no idea how this book ended up on my wish list. I finally figured out it must have appeared on my recommendations page because I liked The Thirteenth Tale. I figured, what the heck, it will probably be an okay read.

Andrew, sweetheart that he is, got me both of my suggestions and it didn’t take me long to begin reading The Little Stranger. I loved it immediately. At first glance the book seemed like a Gothic ghost story (yum!), but as I got into the book I saw that it was also a commentary on social issues in Great Britain in the years directly after WWII.

The story is about a middle-aged, bachelor doctor in a small town after WWII. He’s called to attend to an occupant of a crumbling manor house and then becomes drawn into the lives of the people who live there. One of my favorite things about this book is the fact that the house is a major character in the story.

It’s always fun to find a book that I really enjoy, and this was one of them. I highly recommend this book which just came out in paperback.

April 22, 2010. Tags: , . 2010, fiction, unnamed book group, would recommend. 1 comment.

6. Karen

KarenI’m not sure how old I was when I read Karen by (her mother) Marie Killiea, but I think I was in my teens. I don’t know how I learned about the book, but I suspect it was either from my mother or from my English teacher.

Karen was a book about a young girl with Cerebral Palsy.  Before I read this book I had no idea what Cerebral Palsy was nor had I ever encountered anyone with it — or if I had, would not have known it was Cerebral Palsy.

When I think about this book, I see myself in the home of the Killieas. I think the book was written a way that the reader found herself there, right with the family, observing what went on daily.

One of the most memorable parts of the book was when someone, perhaps Karen’s mom, wanted to paint Karen’s nails red. Karen said no because she knew that if her nails were painted red that the people who talked to her would be drawn to her nails, and she didn’t need people looking at her hands.

What I took away from the book, was probably more important than any scenes I may recall. I learned that to have Cerebral Palsy didn’t mean that the person with it was less smart than anyone else.

Now that I think about it, I might have known one person with Cerebral Palsy. The daughter of a relative of a friend of my mom had it and was even featured in the National Enquirer in a story about how she could suddenly communicate when she was provided a “Talking Board”. However I may have met her after reading Karen.

Karen might have been one reason I went into Special Education. In the end I didn’t work with kids with Cerebral Palsy, but have met a number of people who were born with it, one of whom was a vice president of Wells Fargo but now owns his own company. and another is his wife, an author. A third is Jesse, who, I’m positive, is destined for wonderful things.

I think Karen was another one of those turning-point books. You were one way one day. Then you read the book. After reading the book you were forever changed.

According to Wikipedia, Karen works not far from where my daughter is going to school, but values her privacy and doesn’t grant interviews. I would not want to interview her, just have a cup of coffee with her someday.

April 21, 2010. Tags: , . 1974, life-changing, non-fiction. 1 comment.

5. Dracula

Dracula While not the first novel I ever read, I consider Bram Stoker’s Dracula to be the first “grown-up” novel I ever read. Most, if not all, of the novels I’d read before Dracula were from the children’s or young adults sections of the library.

Dracula was from the adult section of the library. It was also a thick book with a more involved storyline than I’d encountered before.

I do remember quite a bit about the novel — things that were not in the movies. Like when Jonathan Harker shaves and cuts himself at Count Dracula’s castle. I also vividly remember the scene where the captain of the ship on which Count Dracula sails to England is found lashed to the ship’s wheel. I can picture Van Helsing and Mina and Lucy and Renfield as I imagined them.

The reason for my interest in this book, no doubt, is my love of Dark Shadows — which was probably my generation’s Twilight, even though it was a soap opera instead of a book series. That I read classic literature, willingly and without prompt at age 13 kinda amazes me today, though, no matter what the reason.

I wonder how many, if any, fans of the Twilight series have checked out the original vampire  story — Dracula. It would be interesting to find out.

April 20, 2010. Tags: , . 1969, would recommend. Leave a comment.

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