Books by my bedside 2017/06/09

I’ve noticed that I often bring up in conversation one or more of the fascinating books I’ve been reading lately, only to fail utterly at recalling titles or authors’ names. I’ll take this opportunity to at least have a handy reference available for anyone who cares to follow up on something I’ve said.

Just check my blog!

Non-Fiction

Pimsleur

Language

Pimsleur German I (audio CD)

Pimsleur German II (audio CD)

Fiction

Echoes in Death (In Death Series, Book 44) by Robb, J. D.

The Great Passage written by Miura, Shion, translated by Carpenter, Juliet Winters (note: this was a freebie from Amazon for being a Prime member)

Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher

Reading Notes:

Great Passage coverI finished The Great Passage last night. It was a novel I read at a slower pace; not urgently, but in a concerted and thoughtful way. That fits neatly with the book’s narrative about the team of employees at a publishing house working—for years!—on the publication of a new dictionary of the Japanese language.

It wasn’t what I’d consider a quotable book until the very end. I highlighted these two passages that I liked very much, which might help you decide whether this is a novel you’d enjoy reading.

“A dictionary is a repository of human wisdom not because it contains an accumulation of words but because it embodies true hope, wrought over time by indomitable spirits.”

(page 193)

and

Human beings had created words to communicate with the dead, and with those yet unborn.

(page 200)

The book does a beautiful job of shining a light on a subject that could easily be overlooked: the creation of a dictionary.

What kind of person commits to such an endeavor? What is the work like? Why does it matter, to them and to you?

For me, it also presents a lovely view into a very different culture. I could see evidence of differences I’d read about. I also learned many new things about the Japanese language and office culture in Japan.

The Great Passage is a well-translated foreign book that made for peaceful, but contemplative, bedtime reading. I would gladly delve into works by this author—and this translator—again.

Books by my bedside 2017/05/10

I’ve noticed that I often bring up in conversation one or more of the fascinating books I’ve been reading lately, only to fail utterly at recalling titles or authors’ names. I’ll take this opportunity to at least have a handy reference available for anyone who cares to follow up on something I’ve said.

Just check my blog!

Non-Fiction

Economics, history & politics

Poor economics : a radical rethinking of the way to fight global poverty by Banerjee, Abhijit V.

The white man’s burden : why the West’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good by Easterly, William

Why nations fail : the origins of power, prosperity, and poverty by Acemoglu, Daron

Language

First German Reader for Cooking: bilingual for speakers of English (Graded German Readers) (Volume 9) by Brant, Adelina

Starting out in German by Living Language (audio CD)

Math & technology

Gödel, Escher, Bach : an eternal golden braid by Hofstadter, Douglas R.

Biography & memoir

The Egg & I by MacDonald, Betty

The Prize winner of Defiance, Ohio [sound recording] by Ryan, Terry

Fiction

Apprentice in Death (In Death Series, Book 43) by Robb, J. D.

The Great Passage written by Miura, Shion, translated by Carpenter, Juliet Winters (note: this was a freebie from Amazon for being a Prime member)

Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher

books - 1Reading Notes:

Eye doctor visit derails the reading process

Today, I had my eyes dilated at the ophthalmologist’s office, meaning I couldn’t read a word for about four hours and that I’m still hiding from the spring sun behind heavy curtains seven hours later. Ugh.

Please forgive me for any typos. My near vision is still blurry. I wasn’t sure that I would have a chance to post today at all.

Fortunately, I had requested an audiobook from the library this week, so I enjoyed the author’s reading of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio while covering my tender eyes on the couch.

Also fortunately, the discomfort I’d been experiencing in my eyes, prompting the visit to the doctor, has been diagnosed as simple dry eyes, and not an inflammatory complication of my autoimmune disease. Now that’s a blessing!

Book vs. video of 13 Reasons Why

I was able to read about a quarter of Thirteen Reasons Why as I waited for my appointment. So far, it strikes me that the video production faithfully captured the tone of the novel. It’s entirely readable, but, at this early stage, I’d say the protagonist (the male, Clay) reads somewhat less compelling than did the actor portraying him.

Rampant racism mars The Egg & I for otherwise appreciative modern reader

As for The Egg & I, I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, and it’s got me completely torn. On the one hand, it is a really marvelous, fun read written by an obviously clever author who was clearly born before her time, suffering as a farm housewife when she was constitutionally better suited for a more intellectually stimulating life. I really feel for her. I enjoyed so much of her witty, sarcastic writing.

But the blatant, roaring racism! Oh my word. I read a lot of old books, and am used to making certain allowances for the different standards of earlier eras, but whole segments of this book were grossly, unapologetically offensive. Most of my grandparents were of the same region during the same era, and never did I see or hear any of them express attitudes like MacDonald’s.

I think that stands out so sharply because, otherwise, I feel like I could be friends with this author. She’s someone I’d like to sit down and chat with over a cup of coffee… but heaven forbid she learn that my grandmother claimed her father was a Blackfoot Indian.*

And would my sloppy home meet her standards, or would I be lumped in with poor, aspirational Mrs. Weatherly and her delusions of grandeur? But, rather than classism, it could be the fact that Mr. Weatherly was a [MacDonald’s words!] “dirty Indian” that really made Mrs. Weatherly so disgusting to the author. After all, MacDonald shows obvious affection for Maw and Paw Kettle, who were at least equally slovenly.

*Grandma’s brother claimed their father was a Turk, so don’t take her word for it. I don’t think anyone in the family has factual information about this particular great-grandfather.

13 reasons aren’t necessary to get to why

Make no mistake: the Netflix video production of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is reckless. I hate to see adults enriching themselves by exploiting adolescent pain, and Hollywood’s record in this regard is abysmal.

Can anyone make a video people want to watch that accurately depicts the degeneracy of suicide? Drawing a sympathetic character fundamentally romanticizes the abhorrent actions to come.

Parents are up in arms, and schools are sending frantic emails to prove they’re on top of the crisis.

Suicide, as currently being glorified in 13 Reasons Why, is known to be contagious, especially amongst young people aged 15-24. Parents fear for their children. Schools fear taking the blame.

“It is only when we see ourselves as actors in a staged (and therefore unreal) performance that death loses its frightfulness and finality and becomes an act of make-believe and a theatrical gesture.”

–Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the nature of mass movements (§47)

Kids are shaking their heads at the sudden storm of attention; nothing in their world has actually changed. They made this book a bestseller in 2011.

I’m shaking my head, too. Nothing in the world of being a teenager has changed since I gratefully outgrew that burden over twenty years ago.

Adults don’t listen to children. Schools are bureaucratic temples to the arbitrary that demand conformity while telling blatant lies about the value placed on individuals confined therein.

Nothing has changed.

Except, in a more crowded world, contagion spreads faster. It took the growth of cities to create immense pools of victims for epidemics of plague and flu. Similarly, the growth of social media fuels the twin scourges of mass hysteria and shared delusions.

Our children are vulnerable to the foolish, romantic notion that they can solve their problems with suicide because they are adolescents. It is the nature of the undeveloped prefrontal cortex of a teenager to fail to observe his own errors in judgement, and to experience heightened pleasure from the reward center of the brain when taking risks. Teens literally can’t yet grasp the enormity of the long term consequences of their actions.

But what about this show, this crisis, the teens at risk today?

Here’s a radical thought: why don’t we listen to them? Why not participate in a conversation about this show and its appeal to the kids who’ve made it so popular? Don’t let them watch it alone, even if that means viewing it by yourself to share the experience afterwards in conversation.

Do not let it drop until you’ve seen the conversation through.

I watched the entire series. I find the depiction of reckless teens making foolish, selfish, sometimes deadly choices just as aggravating as I think I would have when I was their age; now, as mother, I also find it terrifying.

I’m not watching this show because it’s great, or because I’m fascinated. (I’d judge it an interesting story with good production values.) I’m watching because I have a teenaged son.

Having viewed the show, I’m also reading the novel, because my son has, and because he thinks the book is important.

Most of the teen-oriented viewing that I do (e.g., The Fosters) seems to carry a similar message, though always padded with plenty of foolish, risk-taking behavior that makes for dramatic, cliff-hanger moments:

Here I am, with my complex feelings and powerful emotions, and the adults around me don’t see what I’m going through and misunderstand when I try to explain. I wish someone would help me, but I have no faith that they can.

Some of this goes back to the as-yet-undeveloped prefrontal cortex. Kids can’t always hear you through their own internal noise. At least, they don’t hear you the first time. That’s when you have to try again, and keep trying with different words, or mime, or finger puppets… whatever it takes until you get through.

To fail at this is not a good option.

That seems to be the message Hannah Baker tried to send by filling thirteen audio cassettes with desperation in Jay Asher’s story.

So I’m sitting down to watch 13 Reasons Why, and I’m inviting my son to join me, if he wants to. I’m talking about the show. I’m talking about my reactions to the show. I’m asking his opinions of the story, the show, the novel, the dynamics between the characters, and how it all relates to real life.

I’m talking to my kid about this.

This isn’t a subject I’m going to let go, and, after some initial reluctance to delve into the darkest corners of the conversation, I am hearing back from my son.

I’m listening to what he has to say.