Category Archives: books

How to survive a grown-up writer’s workshop, volume 1.

If the teacher asks you to write down the name of your favorite author and three adjectives describing his/her writing, for God’s sake, choose carefully! Maybe you freeze up, unable to think of anyone even though you have so many books listed on GoodReads that you were, briefly, in the list of most active users. If the name “Joan Didion” turns up like a deus ex machina, be careful: the next assignment might be to write an on-line dating profile in the voice of your favorite author. Not, mind you, that Jose Saramago would be any easier.

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If one wanted to do a “genre study”

of “chick-lit” – what are the best books to read? The Devil Wears Prada comes to mind… what else? I’m thinking of reading 5-6 books that sold well, are on the smarter end of the spectrum writing-wise, and that are set in different worlds (ie, I don’t want to read only about women who work in fashion). I already picked up a new book that is sort of chick-lit murder-mystery, called A Little Trouble with the Facts. The author’s hard-boiled, noir-esque voice is hilarious, but she relies on a lot of explication to fill in chapters that set up the background for the main story. Still, I’m enjoying it. Help me out here!

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Lost City Radio

This should have been a book that everyone was talking about last year – and maybe it was, but I never heard of it until I found it on a list of best new novels by Latino writers. It’s also been on lists of best new novels, period.

She clutched his hand and pressed close to him as they made their way down the crowded sidewalk. “What’s the forest like?” she asked.

He considered her question, which she had asked more than once simply because she loved to hear him speak of it. “It goes on forever. It’s endless invention, it’s gaudy, it’s gnarled trunks and rotting husks, sunlight peeking through the canopy, and bursts of rain hitting the roof of the forest like tapping on metal. And color, color, color.”

“You don’t sound like a scientist, you sound like a poet.”

Rey smiled, “Can I be both?”

“But you’d rather be a poet.”

“Who wouldn’t?” he said.

From Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon.

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My brain is full,

stuffed to the meninges with science expo scheduling, student project troubleshooting, consideration of what it means to eat well, and assorted personal scheming.  Somehow I’ve still been reading – on weekend mornings I realize my bed is full of books discarded as I drifted into third-time-over-this-paragraph slumber – so I give you this, apropos of nothing but lovely, perhaps?

I used myself, let nothing use me.
Like being on a private dole,

sometimes more like cutting bricks in Egypt.
What life there was, was mine,

now and again to lay
one hand on a warm brick

and touch the sun’s ghost
with economical joy.

-from “Thirty-three,” by Adrienne Rich

Anthologized in The Paris Review Book of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, Travels, the Art of Writing, and Everything Else in the World since 1953.

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What do you eat for breakfast?

I’ve decided to move away from breakfast cereal, inspired by a growing sense that I don’t actually know what it is, most of the time.  I mean, sometimes I buy fancy cereals where you can actually see the oats and raisins and whatnot, but all too often I run out and end up dashing across the street to the cornerstore and grabbing something like Oatmeal Crisp with Almonds, and honestly, delicious as it may be, it’s somewhat unclear what it is, although it’s probably at least partly oats and almonds.  But it’s processed, and sweet, and reading the first section of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma finally pushed me to examine my food habits more closely.  Cereal is one of the processed foods I eat most often and in greatest quantity, and I’ve done so since I was young, but it makes me wonder…. what else is there?

I suspect I will go towards Turkish breakfast – hardboiled eggs, fruit/veggies, yoghurt, olives, bread, honey – since it’s the other breakfast plan that I’ve actually lived on for any period of time.  Some friends eat steel-cut oatmeal that they cook overnight in a slow-cooker.  Another eats bread with (organic, natural) peanut butter and fruit.  What do you eat?

Changing one’s 6:30 am first meal of the day lifelong habit isn’t going to be easy.  Await further reports from the breakfast front….

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Five is a Handful

Sometimes, you need a little Moxie. One of my colleagues brought some back for each of us from a trip to Maine. A little research reveals that we’ve had Moxie since 1884 with nary a pause: it’s “the oldest continuously produced soft drink in the US.” Oddly, Moxie came up in my comments today, too, but this one’s a parenting blog. Go figure.

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After reading a review in this week’s New Yorker, I’m totally psyched to pick up Peter Carey’s new novel, His Illegal Self. You may know Carey from the True History of the Kelly Gang or possibly Oscar & Lucinda). It’s a little weird to quote from a book I haven’t yet read, but I cannot resist a book with lines like this: “Plans have changed, she said, getting all busy with a cigarette.”

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And speaking of reading, it’s all about the brain, senses, learning right now: This is Your Brain on Music, The Emperor of Scent, and this article about how the brain perceives number, and how we learn to do things with numbers (more New Yorker for ya):

Dehaene’s work centered on an apparently simple question: How do we know whether numbers are bigger or smaller than one another? If you are asked to choose which of a pair of Arabic numerals—4 and 7, say—stands for the bigger number, you respond “seven” in a split second, and one might think that any two digits could be compared in the same very brief period of time. Yet in Dehaene’s experiments, while subjects answered quickly and accurately when the digits were far apart, like 2 and 9, they slowed down when the digits were closer together, like 5 and 6. Performance also got worse as the digits grew larger: 2 and 3 were much easier to compare than 7 and 8. When Dehaene tested some of the best mathematics students at the École Normale, the students were amazed to find themselves slowing down and making errors when asked whether 8 or 9 was the larger number.

Plus, Oliver Sacks has a new one out about sound and the brain, and Donald Plaff is investigating how the golden rule may be (somewhat) hardwired into our brains (this would have been a neat lecture but who can make it from the Bronx to Battery Park by 6:00 pm? Not me). But there’s a larger post in all this, because “Scent” was one of those life-changing books.

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I’m taking my enrichment cluster kids to a violin-maker’s studio in March. We’re also going to Sony WonderLab.

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My LEGO kids unbuilt the mission models which took us so long to build. It wasn’t destructive, just the outcome of days and days of play, of stealing pieces for other projects. Which would be fine except we’re entering an exhibition/tournament in early April, and suddenly we need to build what we unbuilt. And the pieces are all mixed together with pieces from previous years. Live & learn?

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Nevermind that last bit, the REAL #5 is this:

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Paris in (not quite) spring?

What are your favorite films set in Paris?  What about books?

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