Bronx Masquerade

Grimes, Nikki. Bronx Masquerade. New York: Dial Books, 2002.

Reason read: August is the time of year when parents start thinking about sending their kids back to school. Bronx Masquerade takes place in high school.

Eighteen teenagers from all walks of life use poetry to tell it like it is. In the form of a poetry slam each student in Mr. Ward’s class gets an opportunity to share a piece of him or herself. Not all are eager for the spotlight, but the more students stand up and share, the more the others get to thinking this poetry thing isn’t such a bad idea.

  • Lupa Algann – her big sister had a baby so she wants one.
  • Janelle Battle – has a crush on Devon; has a weight problem she is self- conscious about.
  • Judianne Alexander – she sells herself short; has a crush on Tyrone.
  • Leslie Lucas – lost her mom at a young age.
  • Gloria Martinez – she had a baby while still a sophomore in high school; baby daddy wants nothing to do with the child.
  • Diondra Jordan – a shy artist.
  • Sheila Gamberoni – wants to be more “ethnic”so she asks to change her name in class. Even though she is Italian heritage she has white skin.
  • Raul Ramirez – An artist with ambition.
  • Amy Moscowitz – an atheist who comes from a Jewish family
  • Tyrone Bittings – closest character to a protagonist the story has. He responds to every poem and his perceptions of his classmates. He is convinced he is going to die young if the color of his skin has anything to say about it.
  • Devon Hope – a basketball player.
  • Wesley “Bad Boy” Boone – tough guy who loves music.
  • Raynard Patterson – cousin to Sterling.
  • Darien Lopez – Puerto Rican boy trying to break out of the stereotypical mold.
  • Chankara Troupe – comes from an abusive home.
  • Others: Tanisha, Steve, Sterling, and Porscha

All of these students pull courage from their classmates and try it on for themselves. One by one they are pulled to the front of the classroom to stand up strong. By doing so they reveal glimpses of lives their classmates knew nothing about.
Mr. Ward’s Open Mike class gains momentum when a reporter gets wind of the class and makes a visit.
Best surprise: Grimes features real life poet Pedro Pietri.

Quotes I had to quote, “Knees knocking like a skeleton on Halloween, embarrassment bleaching my black cheeks red, eyes stupid to the page in front of me” (p 4). If that doesn’t describe nerves, I don’t know what!
Here’s another – “I try on my life like a dress and it doesn’t fit” (p 110). Last one, “The truth of his words pinned me to the wall” (p 135).

Author fact: Grimes also wrote Jazmin’s Notebook which won a Coretta Scott King Honor award.

Book trivia: the copy I read was the ten year re-release with a new introduction by the author.

Nancy said: Pearl indicated Bronx Masquerade was good for boys and girls.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 24).


“Ado”

Willis, Connie. “Ado.” The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories. Burton, MI: Subterranean Press, 2007.

Reason read: June is short story month.

Imagine a world where everything you could possibly say or do offends someone on some level. We are approaching that world fast and furious but Willis suspected its arrival thirty-one years ago. “Ado” is a tongue in cheek look at political correctness gone way too far. She uses the example of teaching Shakespeare to a group of students as an example. To teach the Bard the main protagonist must run it by the principal, take the particular play out of a vault, allow for students to refuse to attend the class, and then wait for the special interest groups to protest loudly. There is a computer that reads the Shakespearean text line by line to look for offensive material so that for example, a play like ‘As You Like It’ can be subject to a restraining order by the group Mothers Against Transvestites. The only safe subject is the weather. It’s such a ridiculous society you cannot help but laugh out loud while secretly shuddering over Willis’s apropos vision.

Author fact: I have more than a dozen Willis books on my Challenge list but she has written so much more.

Book trivia: The Winds of Marble Arch was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.

Nancy said: Pearl called “Ado” a “sly appraisal of where political correctness is taking us” (Book Lust p 247).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Connie Willis: Too Good To Miss” (p 246).


Thanks for the Books

November was a stressful month. The injury that sidelined me for the last half marathon of the season continued to plague me & myself but I pushed through it – ran 70 miles for the month. I don’t think I have ever mentioned this here but…back on January I was a dumbass and agreed to a 1000k challenge. By November 1st I had 267k left to go. I’m now down to 151k. Almost 100 miles. But enough of that. It stresses me out to even think about it.

Here are the books finished for November:
Fiction:

  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton. I thought of this as a short story because it’s less than 100 pages long.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • The City and the City by China Mieville (AB)
  • Advise and Consent by Allen Drury – confessional: I knew that a fictional political book might bore the crap out of me but what I didn’t expect was outright disgust after the election. I couldn’t stomach the contents of Advise and Consent.

Series:

  • Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright. (AB)
  • Love Songs From a Shallow Grave by Colin Cotterill
  • Toast to Tomorrow by Manning Coles

Nonfiction:

  • Living Poor by Moritz Thomsen
  • Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn (audio and print)
  • Baby Doctor by Perri Klass
  • The Fifties by David Halberstam

Postscript: it came in too late for me to mention here, but I DID get that Early Review book that I was pining for. I’ll review it next month.


Know Your November

I am trying to move into this month without cracking up or breaking down. I’ve lost the run temporarily and even a small interruption sets me back. You know it is with a mental stability that isn’t quite that solid. I don’t want to say anything more than that.

Here are the books. Nonfiction first:

  • Living Poor:  a Peace Corps Chronicle by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of the month Ecuador’s civil war for independence ended.
  • Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn – (AB) in honor of the holidays and how much they can stress you out. I’m reading this and listening to it on audio.
  • The Fifties by David Halberstam – in honor of finishing what I said I would.
  • Baby Doctor by Perri Klass – in honor of National Health Month.

Fiction:

  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton –  in honor of National Education Week. This should take me a lunch break to read.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – in honor of Gaiman’s birth month.
  • Advise and Consent by Allen Drury – in honor of November being an election month (and is it ever!).

Series Books:

  • Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright – (EAB = electronic audio book) to continue the series started in September in honor of Enright’s birth month.
  • A Toast To Tomorrow by Manning Coles – to continue the series started in October in honor of Octoberfest.
  • Love Songs from a Shallow Grave by Colin Cotterill – to END the series started in May in honor of Rocket Day.

Alma Mater

Kluge, P.F. Alma Mater: a College Homecoming.Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993.

This is an interesting Kluge book. It’s basically a memoir about how Kluge went back to his alma mater for an academic year to teach a writing/literature course. Each chapter is subsequent month in the semester, starting with (obviously) orientation in September and ending with graduation in May. What makes this book so interesting is the honest look Kluge takes of academia in general. As someone who has experienced both sides of the desk (student and faculty), he is free to examine the day to day as well as the behind-closed-doors politics of campus life. Every topic is fair game: tenure, scholarship, Greek life, dormitory living, the hiring process, alumni relations, the formation of committees to name a few. But it was the admissions process; specifically the process of accepting prospective students I found really interesting. Others in academia have said Kluge could have been writing about their institution. Admittedly, Kluge takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to Alma Mater but what was really surprising was how negative a picture Kluge paints of Kenyon. The disparaging comments were so frequent I was tempted to reread the book just to take note of every dissatisfaction. As an aside, most of the negativity didn’t come from Kluge directly. It came from faculty, the occasional student, alumni, and even the president of the college, just to name a few.

Other observations: It almost felt contractual for Kluge to mention past famous faculty and students (Ransom, Jarrell, Doctorow & Wright) several different times throughout Alma Mater. Also, I made the mistake of reading Kluge reviews on a “Rate My Professor” site. I’m sorry I did because it altered how I now feel about Alma Mater. I find this troubling because I had finished Alma before reading the reviews yet I was still influenced.

Lines I liked, “As sure as shit and feathers on a chicken coop floor, there’s always something” (p 14), “Was it the fullness of their lives or the emptiness that propelled them?” (p 144), “You need to learn the rules before you break them, master the traditions that you add to, or subvert” (p 145) and last one – “It’s like taking out my eyeballs and rolling them in a plate of breadcrumbs” (p 198). Funny!

Reason read: January is Kluge’s birth month. Read in honor of that birth.

Author fact: Because I have read another Kluge book I had to refer back to that review to see what I said for an “author fact” – simply because I didn’t want to say the same thing twice. Truth be told, I wasn’t writing author facts back than. So, this will be my first “fact” about Kluge and it’s an obvious one: Kluge wrote a book everyone has heard about, at least in major motion picture form – Eddie and the Cruisers.

Book trivia: Even though Alma Mater is a memoir of sorts, Kluge does not include any photographs. Bummer. At the very least I would have liked a picture of his dog especially since he meant so much to Kluge. ūüôā

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “P.F. Kluge: Too Good To Miss” (p 140).


Death at an Early Age

Kozol, Jonathan. Death at an Early Age: the Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1967.

I think the subtitle says it all;¬†a¬†nonfiction account of a first-time fourth grade¬†teacher in a less than stellar school system in Roxbury, Massachusetts. “They had desks and a teacher, but they really did not have a class” (p 29). While Kozol is talking about a physical space (he had to share a large auditorium with three, sometimes four other activities (including drama and band practices), I really think he was also referring to the lack of togetherness as a group. There wasn’t a sense of community. There wasn’t a unified eagerness to learn. Nothing bound them to the reason they were there. This is to say nothing of the lack of support Kozol received as an educator from his peers and administration. He was constantly criticized for the amount of time, resources and energy he gave to “the Negro student.” Death at an Early Age is a continuous report of the different instances of abuse and neglect the students endured, culminating with Kozol’s unjustified dismissal after the inclusion of a Langston Hughes poem, “The Landlord.”

The line I could relate to the most: “One of the most grim things about teaching in such a school and such a system is that you do not like to be an incessant barb and irritation to everyone else, so you come under a rather strong compulsion to keep quiet” (p 31).

Another great line, “It is the sense that you cannot do a great many things right but that you can do almost anything wrong” (p 49).

Author Fact: Kozol has a really cool website here.

Book Trivia: Death at an Early Age was awarded a National Book Award in 1968.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Teachers and Teaching Tales” (p 230).

I find it really bizarre that I’ve read such a title so soon after the death of my 41 year old cousin.


May 2011 was…

May was a month of deja vu. The Just Cause walk. Wanting to go home. Same old, same old. Nearly everything I read this month reminded me of something else I have already read. Out of Control by Suzanne Brockmann reminded me of The Defiant Hero by the same author was the most obvious because the plot and characters were very similar. Almost too similar. To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite reminded me of Educating Esme by Esme Raji Codell. They had similar plot lines: taking on a difficult classroom of students as a new teacher. Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham reminded me of Where the Pavement Ends by Erika Warmbrunn. Two stories about traveling through difficult, foreign terrain by bicycle.

So, here’s the list:

  • To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite ~ in honor of National Education Month. This was a really quick (but good) read. Read in one day.
  • Catfish and Mandala: a Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew X. Pham ~ in honor of May’s Memorial Day. This was probably my favorite book on the list.
  • Out of Control by Suzanne Brockmann ~ in honor of Brockmann’s birth month. I have mixed feelings about this book (as my review pointed out). Read in one day.
  • A Child’s Life and Other Stories by Phoebe Gloeckner ~ in honor of May being Graphic Novel month. This was super hard to “read.” Read in one day.
  • Antigone the play by Sophocles ~ in honor of May being the best time to visit Greece. I keep forgetting this plot so it was good to read it again. Read in one day.
  • Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong ~ in honor of Asian-American Heritage month. Read over a weekend. This was one of my favorites.
  • Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery ~ in honor of Eeyore’s birth month. This was an audio book and very different than everything else I have listened to so far.
  • Seabiscuit: an American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand ~ in honor of the Kentucky Derby.
  • The Dean’s List by Jon Hassler ~ in honor of Minnesota becoming a state in May. This reminded me a little too much of my own work place!
  • A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters From the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward edited by Isaac Metzker. Read in two days.
  • City of Light by Lauren Belfer ~ in honor of history month. Interesting story about Niagara Falls and the advancement of electricity at the turn of the century.
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi ~ in honor of¬†May being the¬†best time¬†to visit Iran. This was amazing. Can’t wait for part II.¬†
  • Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman ~ in honor of Prayer Day being the first Thursday in May. This was a fun murder mystery. Read in one car ride home.

I didn’t get to three books on my orginal list: China, To Me, House on the Lagoon, and, Art and Madness. I forgot to pack them and ended up finding Persepolis and Friday the Rabbi Slept Late at home.

May was also the month for crazy travel. I slept no more than two nights at a time in Bolton, Concord, Boston, Chicopee, Peaks Island, Rockland and Monhegan all in eleven days time. I took two boats, one bus and three different cars. Walked over 75 miles. Saw family. Saw friends. Breathed in the woods. Inhaled the ocean. I enjoyed every second of it.