31.5.05

I never thought I'd read this

From A List Of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago:
"STILL UNANSWERED: WHO DID DALLAS? In an upcoming article in Vanity Fair, former FBI agent W. Mark Felt -- who Carl Bernstein's 11-year old son already dimed, so nice job keeping the secret, dude -- says that he was 'Deep Throat.' This confirms Nixon's own suspicions."
Ok, first of all: Vanity Fair gets the exclusive? Vanity Fair?????

Second, I have to admit that I don't mind my pet theory being blown (I thought it was Ford, in an incredibly ironic twist of fate). I don't mind that it wasn't the former President Bush or Henry K. or any of the other "usual suspects". It's just so... I don't know... a letdown or something to hear that it was an FBI agent. Anyone else with me on that one?

Third, despite Mr. Felt's admission, there hasn't been a corresponding "yeah, it was him" from Bradlee or Woodstein, so until there is, I'm not accepting this as truth.

Still... wow. Now, if only we could find Lord Lucan...

30.5.05

ENOUGH Already

I'm taking advantage of the West Wing marathon to import books from my old catalog into my new one. It's bad enough when Rex Stout writes Death Times Three and Three Doors to Death, but when John Dickinson Carr and Dorothy Simpson both write "Wake the Dead"...

Notable Quotes

What is the sound of half a shout?
My uncle, after hearing that a friend was going to
a Zen Conflict Resolution seminar

29.5.05

Another rant

Bert Webb writes that Technology Can Hurt Writing Skills, something I've been saying for a long time now. Here are a few salient comments from Mr. Webb:
I received an email from a very influential person in the education profession. Her email was a profession update and was addressed to hundreds of educational administrators... This person has earned a doctorate. She has been considered an expert in her field for decades. However, she wrote like a teenager talking to her friends on her instant messenger on Saturday night.

Knowing that most of my readers are professional men and women in various professions, we should not allow our writing styles sabotage our credibility when communicating with clients, peers, subordinates, and superiors. Yet, many of us do, thinking that, because we are using an electronic medium, we can circumvent the rules of grammar and best practices in written communication. I have also spent hours reading blogs where the standard of communication has been less than acceptable, in my opinion. Sometimes, this is due to the author trying to attract a more youthful demographic audience. Shame on us as professionals.
There is a blog I read for professional reasons that irritates me as much as this e-mail irritated Mr. Webb. The author of the blog (one that is sponsored, I might add, by one of the leading publications in the school library world) was, in a previous career-life, a reporter. To me, that suggests a certain standard for communication. Yet this blog is rife with typos and grammatical errors, making it difficult to read. The lack of consistency and transitional phrases just compounds the problem.

I'm not claiming that this blog doesn't have it's share of mistakes, but it's a personal blog, not a professional one. Granted, that's a rationalisation, and a bad one. I do try to edit out the most egregious "oopses" (and welcome editorial commentary that blue pencils my work).

I keep thinking about my students, and the errors they make. One of our English teachers aggressively drills the students on grammar and sentence structure, ensuring that they get some instruction in this increasingly arcane field. Sadly, even after a year of this, many still cannot write a five paragraph essay that hangs together. When they come to me for help, I find I often have to write "Explain" or "How?" or "Where is the evidence?" or "You didn't answer the question" in the margins. Unlike the writer of the blog mentioned above, they are young and still learning.

Reliance on spell check is another problem. I've noticed that many words I use now (blog, for example) are not in the dictionary and must be learned. I tell my students (and myself) to read and reread so as to catch the mistakes that are not caught by the computer program. I mention one student, now a sophomore in college, who handed in a paper extolling the life and work of Martian Luther King, Jr. (the well-known alien rights activist).

Raising the bar shouldn't be necessary: we should all know how to present ourselves as competent, educated adults (Has anyone read the blog of a so-called celebrity who writes in verse? I tried and gave up because it sounds like the babblings of someone in need of remedial 6th grade English.). Those of us representing an organization or writing as professional experts should be held to an even higher standard.

27.5.05

K.I.S.S.

If you don't know what K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) means, you're probably happy about the explosion of "features" in electronics. Me? Not so happy. Here's one perfect example of what I mean: Internet Tablet.

As part of my move, I've had to set up phone service. I don't want digital service, because it won't work if there's a blackout. Just a landline, thank you very much. And not one with Caller ID (that's why I have an answering machine), three-way calling, call forwarding, differentiated rings or a timer for my coffee maker. All I want is regular, old-fashioned phone service. Why is that so hard to get?

I don't want a cell phone that surfs the web. I don't want a coffee maker that shines my shoes. My computer doesn't need to also play DVDs or CDs. Yes, I end up with more machines, but I end up with ones that do what they need to do and do that thing well, without bloatware.

Yes, there's a certain appeal to TiVo, but I have a VCR and I can use that fastforward button. It's not like there's so much on tv that I want to save permanently, any way. Besides, relying on TiVo means I'm tied to a machine, and I'd prefer to be living life.

Too many machines, too much technology leads to too many complications and a too cluttered, too bustled life. Being "plugged in" all day, every day, isn't healthy. And, of course, now we're seeing a backlash. As Steve Johnson reports from MIT's Media Lab,
By the way, another irony from the event: A couple of the new devices discussed that seemed to draw the most interest from the audience weren't new technology so much as ways to put the lid on existing stuff.

One device let you kill all cell phone signals in any room you entered. The other was a pair of glasses that, as I understood it, make any TV screen you look at appear to you to be off, or dark.

Will there come a point when we're too busy correcting current technologies to actually develop new ones?
Might just be easier to turn them off. Heretical, but effective.

25.5.05

My biggest fear

As Eric Zorn says, "But it'’s hard to think of anything more poignant than a human being dying alone and unknown." Katherine's death in The English Patient brought me to tears - she wasn't unknown, but she was alone. My time in the hospital a few years ago brought those fears rushing back... I can't imagine a worse fate for anyone.

24.5.05

This is what's wrong with our country!

Tom Watson's posting that Frist Fades to Black. I'm not as sanguine about the recent events, but I am hopeful. What do I hope for?

A return to civility in politics. I mean, is it that too much to ask for? Here's how it used to be:
STROTHER: Incredible. What that is, is an example of what was compared to what is. The Senate at one time was a completely different institution. I learned about the Senate from these two guys, Monaghan and Dole, of course, but from John Stennis and Lloyd Benson.

They were a group of people who admired and respected each other, and Dole found out that I was filming Monaghan, walked by the room, said hey would you like to film me saying something about Russell Long, that`s an easy thing to do, and came in the room and sat down next to Monaghan, and I saw that as a great opportunity. But it just shows the difference in the violent partisanship that exists now and the comradery that existed in the late `70s and early `80s.
Only 20 years ago. Sigh.

Collection dilemma

Luckily, this isn't about The Collection - it's about the collection at school. This is the time of year when all good school librarians start to think about what they'll put into their summer book order: which books do we want students to "oooh" and "aaah" over when they arrive in September?

As I've mentioned previously, I get a lot of Readers Advance copies from publishers. It's a great way to figure out of the hype is really just that, or deserved. One of my big gripes has been the increase in the coming-of-age book that's clearly written to take advantage of the current technology and trends but is so poorly written that I can't imagine kids reading it.

Right now, I'm reading two books that are in that genre. One is set in 7th grade, the other in 8th (yes, it's a series). From what I remember of my time in those two grades, and from what I've seen my students going through, these are pretty good at getting the emotional side of things down right. Despite not growing up in NYC or attending a fancy NYC private school, I identified with the characters and situations. So, clearly, I should buy them for the school, right?

Not so fast! Something about the books jarred me and then, about 90 pages into the first, I realised what it was. They're written about a past youth (probably the author's). The newsletter is dated 1981, there are no cell phones, no computers, not even a Walkman; a group studying Jane Eyre names itself Eyre Supply in hommage to Air Supply; Elvis Costello is considered new. I double checked the copyright date, and it's 2004.

There's a part of me that wonders if the kids I work with now will read these and enjoy them because of the truthful emotions and situations, or will they get hung up on the latent nostalgia for a more innocent era (no rainbow club here!) and view this as historical fiction?

15.5.05

It's not always spam

Because I know someone that's a computer security nut, I started running my e-mail through Mailwasher. That way, I can kill the spam before it even gets near my hard drive. Usually you can tell when it's That Kind of e-mail: the subject line looks a bit off, the return address is completely unknown, etc..

Today I got an e-mail from an unknown, with the subject header "Old Friendships". That's the giveaway for Lonely Susie, just looking for a few people to meet/check out her webcam, right? So, it gets the big Delete. Except... this time I peaked at the message. Don't know why I did, but I did. And - big surprise - it wasn't spam! It was from someone I'd been friends with decades ago, in 4-7 grade.

How do I know it's real? She remembered the street on which I lived, the small town we lived in, and (not easily available on the web) my Dreaded Middle Name.

I'd love to say it's taught me a lesson about being more trusting about e-mail, or the amount of information out there on the web. I can't, but I can say that sometimes - just sometimes - it's a good thing all this exists!

13.5.05

Stuck in a book

I just started a new book and am about 30-40 pages in. It's one of the Readers Advance copies I picked up in Boston in January, patiently waiting on Mt. Bookpile to be chosen. It's a YA Fantasy book. It's the dreaded "d" word - derivative.

CS Lewis once wrote that if you're going to write about a sci-fi world, make the place and the story totally different. Don't create a love story and put it on a planet somewhere "out there": make the planet memorable. Make the story memorable. L. Frank Baum did this with Oz - the Gnome King, the Quadling country, Bunbury and Bunnybury could not be transported back to "real" Earth.

My current read might have been different years ago, but today it's another Tolkein-alike, another Eragon-wannabe. Will I read it? Yes, because it's my job. And it's quite possible that I won't find it so onerous I'll resent the hours spent on the read. But I do resent the lack of imagination that allowed it to be published.

10.5.05

You can't always get what you want

But sometimes you do get what you need!

I've been in complete panic mode about the Big Life Change, which seems to get ever more complicated and problematic every time I turn around. Since Saturday I've been taking Xanax to get through the day and night without hyperventilating and, to be honest, I'm not sure it's working.

This morning was one of those mornings when it just seemed like the world was caving in on top of me. Then, it happened. Our music teacher came in and told me that there would be an 8th grade field trip and did I want to help chaperone? The last time she did this, I got to see an opera, so of course I said yes. Where were we going? Just up the street to Lincoln Center Plaza, to see the Rolling Stones.

Oh.

We left the school and headed to the Plaza, along with NYU's graduates and a bunch of others. The stage was set up right in front of Julliard's entrance, with cameras and scaffolding obscuring much of the view. After a 50 minute wait, and several false starts, we heard lots of cheers, a roll of the drum and then... Start me up! blasted through the speaker towers. This was followed by some new song (the adults in the group agreed that after "Some Girls" the Stones could have stopped recording) and they ended with "Brown Sugar". Mick strutted, preened and made faces... Keith looked cool and very Johnny Depp-ish (who was parodying whom?)... Charlie's beat just steadied the music.

On our way back, some of the Asian students were still puzzled as to why we would skip class to see some old people play what they felt was derivative, repetitive music with unintelligible words. They've heard Mahler and Puccini, but not Jagger and Richards.

Lest you think we were neglecting our charge to educate today's youth, we came up with the following list of ways we met the NCLB standards:
  • demonstrating the cross-cultural/cross-gender appeal of music
  • listening to the meaning of the lyrics and how some could be perceived as poetry
  • showing the influence of African and black American rhythms on modern music
  • discussing the role of the Stones in the culture of the 1960s and the afteraffect of the Altamont concert
  • modeling the proper distance to be from noise (to avoid hearing problems) , how to lose weight by aerobic dance and how to shield one's self from the sun in an outdoor space
I have to say, though, that fun as this was (and I will miss this part of working/living in New York), I enjoyed seeing them at Shea in '89 more.

9.5.05

May? Now?????

Briar touches upon something I go through every year - the suddenness of May. The year passes by so quickly and then - wham! - May hits and all those project that you mean to get around to suddenly happen. Unlike Briar, I'm not finding the days going slowly. Possibly that's because my to do list just keeps getting longer, what with the Huge Life Change and all.

Sometimes I wish I could turn back the clock and return to the halcyon days of December or November, when things were "normal". I keep asking if I've made the right choice, if my life will ever feel "normal" again. One of my friends said that for the next six months I'll have buyer's remorse. I'm sure she meant to be comforting but it really wasn't.

Still, clock's a-ticking and that to do list isn't shrinking so... TTFN, readers.

6.5.05

What kind of reader am I?

This post over at THE LITBLOG CO-OP got me thinking about what kind of reader I am.

I'd like to think that everything in The Collection is a "good" book, but if I were to be completely honest I'd admit that there are some that are duds. I can recommend most of The Collection to others with reasonable confidence. Some of the books that I think are duds are those that others highly recommended and that left me either cold or feeling that there were a few hours in my life I'd never get back.

What makes a book "good"? If my real surroundings vanish and I'm in the book (fiction) and I'm so engrossed in what I'm reading that any interruption is a problem, even falling asleep as I'm reading (non-fiction and fiction). "Bad" books are the easily interruptable, could-care-less about the plot and characters books.

Which brings me to my real problem. I'm a clean-your-plate reader. You know, the kind that has to finish a book, no matter how horrible it is. It's hard to wean yourself off that, particularly when the book has been recommended/given to you by someone you know and trust. Even worse is if they expect you to love it and want to talk about it!

For those of you that are thinking I could weed The Collection when I move well, don't worry. I'm thinking about it.

So, what kind of reader are you?