Books read in January.

This month was a bit troublesome. I did read six books, but it seemed like I couldn’t settle into a good reading groove. It seems to me that there were a lot more start-and-abandon books than usual. But it also had some highlights, too. It’s early, but I’m guessing Becky will be up for some sort of an award at the end of the year. And Sit, Ubu, sit gave me insight into the workings of one of my favorite growing up shows. So all was not lost. Hopefully next month will be better.

Understanding Skin Problems.
Linda Popadopoulos.
I thought this would be more of a “why you must suffer from the dread psoriasis” kind of book, but really it was a “how you can deal mentally with the dread psoriasis and other skin diseases” sort of book. Which was interesting. I’d not read anything about the psychological effects of skin conditions.

I’m pretty at home with the psoriasis that has been living with me for seven years now. I don’t do a lot of the things the author covered, like skipping social activities. I don’t mind educating people about why my arms are red. Indeed, I work in a school and children are often curious, and sometimes horrified. I’ve learned to live with that. I did note, thanks to the author, that I had fallen into the trap of thinking all the things psoriasis was keeping me from. Just in the past month I caught myself thinking that in my current state I could not be an actress, stripper or prostitute. These also happen to be three jobs that I’ve never wanted.

The discussion about skin conditions being a “visible disease” was interesting also. I’d not thought about it, but people with diabetes, or heart disease don’t have to out themselves, while people’s skin conditions are always on display for comment or suggestion, welcome or not. This is a short book and worth reading.

Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire.
Rafe Esquith.
Reading this book, I kept thinking, “I wonder what it is like to teach fifth grade at the same school as Rafe Esquith. He is clearly a master teacher and I wonder if he overshadows the other teachers, or if his mastery rubs off on others and they too, are fabulous teachers.

This is a great book covering a complete elementary curriculum. Parents would benefit from reading this too, as Esquith includes many different games to play with children that reinforce learning. It also includes thoughts about what is required from a teacher (replace fear with trust, be dependable, use logical discipline and never forget you are a role model) and outlines what level of moral development to strive for with your class. This book is chock full of information.

Rock on.
Dan Kennedy.
I don’t think people realize the extent of the revolutionary times we are living in. True, there are no skirmishes in the streets (at least not where I live in Portland, Oregon) but before our eyes (and ears) the way people have found and obtained music for more than 50 years is crumbling before our eyes. I’m not sorry. While I mostly reject anarchy and embrace institutions that provide services (roads, education, food etc.) the record company has always been “the man” to me. Sure they find and help bring fabulous songs and artists to the rest of the country. But the amount of money they make off of said artists is obscene. The conversion of music from something to be purchased on a record/tape/CD to a digital file has the companies on their knees and I can’t say I’m sorry to see the greedy bastards in desperate shape.

My ideal music world would have the artists who create music I love fairly compensated for their creations. If, in this ideal music world some other people want to help bring along that creation and take a small part of the profit, I’m fine with that too. Small is the operative word. I think this future is not far off and it does not include the institutions I so despise.

Dan Kennedy worked for one such institution for 18 months. He chronicles his time served in humorous prose and sparkling anecdotes. There are several laugh-out-loud moments as well as more evidence that we all should stick it to the man, while still supporting our musician friends. The chapter containing the Iggy Pop concert was electric. Kennedy is a wordy writer in the vein of Dave Eggers and I found my eyes glazing in some portions, but that shouldn’t detract you from his adventures. Bonus “Reading Group” questions are hilarious.

Garlic and Sapphires.
Ruth Reichl.
A breezy enjoyable book about keeping the Restaurant Critic of the New York Times real. How would you react if everyone in the finest restaurants knew who you were? This includes some good life lessons and delicious sounding recipes.

Becky: The life and loves of Becky Thatcher.
Leonre Hart.
Historical Fiction? Check. Characters based on great literature? Check. Plucky heroine? Check. Feminist leanings? Check. Star crossed lovers? Check. The story told by the “real” Becky Thatcher had pretty much everything I could ask for in a novel.

Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the same woman, the same dog and a lot less hair.
Gary David Goldberg
I think the Oregonian recommended this to me. It sounded good at the time so into the to-read Goodreads que it went. It didn’t look quite as interesting when it came up in the Goodreads que, however. But I’m mostly committed to at least sampling the books I put in that que so I ordered it from the Library. I’m glad I did.

The title pretty much says it all. Reading this book, you get vignettes from different periods of the author’s life: wandering hippy, young father, daycare owner, TV writer, TV producer. I grew up hearing “Sit Ubu, sit.” at the very end of Family Ties and other shows in the 80s and 90s. I did wonder who Ubu was, off and on, and now I know. In addition, Goldberg has some good stories too.

The back-and-forth vignette can be a bit confusing at times, and I agree with the statement Goldberg makes at the end of the book. Something to the effect of “memoir writers tend to cast themselves as better than they are” he hopes he hasn’t done so, but guesses he has. An interesting companion to this book would be if his daughters wrote a book about their childhoods. One, the flower child and the other a successful producer’s daughter. The contrasts must be amazing.

Started but did not finish.
The Riders.
Tim Winton.
Good premise, but it took about 100 pages to get to the premise. I got bored and lost interest. Even when the interesting premise kicked in.

Mr. Emerson’s Wife.
Amy Belding Brown.
Slow to start. I read the first 50 pages and put it down.

Meritocracy: a love story.
Jeffrey Lewis
I really wanted to like this, because there are four books in the series. But there were too many characters introduced all at once and the plot wasn’t compelling enough for me to sort out who they were. The writing was a bit dry, too.

Extraordinary Teachers: the essence of excellent teaching.
Frederick J. Stephenson, ed.
A bunch of essays about, you guessed it, extraordinary teachers. I read the introduction and the first essay, but I’m looking for more specific teaching information right now.

Did not even start.

A Soldier of the Great War.
Mark Helprin.
Normally I love nice thick historical fiction. But this is a very large book and I was obsessed with Sports Night. Had I brought it home at the beginning of my vacation, I would have devoured it. Near the end, I was afraid to start. Perhaps for Spring Break.

How to be popular.
Meg Cabot.
I brought this home as a “just in case” novel. As in, “just in case I finish everything else, I will have this to read.” But I didn’t finish everything else and so this went back to the library unopened.

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