Monday, November 10, 2014

Another Experience With Changing Lives Through Literature

I've talked before about my work with the Changing Lives Through Literature program.  I connect quite well with the program's purpose and goal. So I've wrote the following post to contribute to their blog.  It's published in part here with a link to the full post.  Enjoy! 

A road with a sign, "Success" at the end.  Image source: http://pixabay.com/p-115890/?no_redirect
"I’m a newbie to Changing Lives Through Literature, so what I say here might seem old-hat to some or naive to others. I’m about two-thirds through my second group and there are two moments in the program that I find most rewarding.

I choose a mixture of challenging and strange texts. There’s a method to my madness in terms of the range and type, as well as the alignment, but I often get raised eyebrows from the participants and even the parole officers. The texts are evocative, usually leading the participants to come in with clear opinions. These opinions are usually a mixture of confusion, frustration, and dislike because the readings don’t always have clear endings and are sometimes outright confusing."

You can read the full post by visiting the Changing Lives Through Literature blog.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

My Most Recent Reads - September & October 2014

As I mentioned in a previous post, September and October were crazy months in terms of how busy I've been and therefore, doing a September update in October proved impossible.  However, I'm getting back on track and thought I would throw out this combined post of my most recent reads of September and October.  Hopefully, I will be back on track with talking about my most recent reads and other fun things now that life is returning to normal!

Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

Book cover: Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.  Image source: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51i4VsKCUCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
I started reading this book in August while visiting a friend in Maine.  I had heard about the book and it's overall impact on other literary authors and found the concept fascinating.  So I picked up the book at my friend's house and started reading.  Well, I ended up having to buy a copy and read it because I was so compelled.  I love the idea and it's overall execution.  The book is a collection of poems that are written by dead people in the town of Spoon River.  Each poem highlights the dead person's life in concrete and abstract ways.  Through these poetic sermons, we learn about how the town worked and didn't work.  It's a lot of fun but I have to wonder if there is some site out there that provides a map of the characters and how they interconnect.  That would be fascinating to look at.  


Book cover: No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald.  Image source: http://www.glenngreenwald.net/

No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glen Greenwald


As the journalist who broke the NSA spying programs by being one of the few voices that Snowden found trustworthy in the newsmedia, Greenwald's account of their encounters, the NSA programs, and the harrassment he has experienced since revealing the traitorous acts of our own country, is a must read.  Beyond providing a much better context for the events that occurred, Greenwald provides a articulate and damning critique of contemporary media and it's inability to deliver real news or challenge authority.  He raises a great many and interesting points about security, identity, and freedom that we should all be asking ourselves.

  1. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey
  2. The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence by Robert Cialdini
  3. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown


These three books are must-reads for anyone who teaches.  I plan on writing a more extensive review of all three of these books that intertwine how they relate.  But let me just say that if you are an educator and want both the macro and micro level on how to improve outcomes and learning in your classes, you need to read these three books.  

For other best picks over the last year, check out previous monthly reviews:

BOOKS


  • Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

AUDIOBOOKS


  • No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glen Greenwald
  • Tinhorn's Daughter: On the Trail of Greed, Gun Smoke, and Fiery Romance in Big Sky Country by L. Ron Hubbard
  • How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey
  • The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence by Robert Cialdini
  • Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being by Brian Little
  • How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise by Taylor Chris
  • Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown

GRAPHIC NOVELS


  • Archer & Armstrong, Volume 5: Mission: Improbable by Fred Van Lente
  • Fables, Vol. 20: Camelot by Bill Willingham
  • All-New X-Men, Vol. 4: All-Different by Brian Michael Bendis
  • The Walking Dead, Vol. 21: All Out War Part 2 by Robert Kirkman
  • How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis
  • The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 4: The Four Disciplines by Jonathan Hickman
  • Secret Volume 1 by Jonathan Hickman
  • Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction
  • Deadly Class, Vol. 1: Reagan Youth by Rick Remender
  • The Movement Vol. 1: Class Warfare by Gail Simone
  • Nightwing, Vol. 4: Second City by Kyle Higgins
  • Wolverine: Three Months to Die Book 1 by Paul Cornell 
  • Velvet, Vol. 1: Before the Living End by Ed Brubaker
  • In the Dark: A Horror Anthology by Geroge Sturt 
  • Archer and Armstrong, Volume 4: Sect Civil War by Fred Van Lente

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, November 3, 2014

365 Challenge: More Stories for September and October

October was a bust in terms of keeping up with the project.  I've managed to keep up with the reading a short-story a day but unfortunately, the reflections are about two weeks behind.  October, of course, was an extremely busy month both personally and professionally.  Personally, I got married and since we did a semi-destination wedding, it was a very busy week.  I also ran my third marathon.  I participated and helped run a conference.  All of it came in addition to my regular work of instructional designer, teaching, and writing.  So I did fall behind on the work, but will catch up soon.  


That being said, as I cross into November, month eleven of this twelve month project, I'm impressed with the breadth of stories read thus far.  Over 300 short stories and another 60+ to go.  Like my reading challenge of last year, I feel like there's something to be said of reading and writing about so many great (and not so great) stories.  The time it has afforded me to think about reading and writing has paid dividends in other realms of my life such as my own reading, teaching, and writing.  

As I hone in on the finish line, I am a bit disappointed that the stack of anthologies that I first this project with has not diminished much in the interim.  In fact, it might have slightly grown.  But maybe that just means extending the project to two years.  



The reading list of entries thus far:


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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Short Story #297: Wunderkind by Carson McCullers





Title:  Wunderkind 

Author:  Carson McCullers

Summary

Photo of Carson McCullers.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c1/Carsonmccullers.jpgBienchen arrives early at her piano instruction when her instructor, Bilderbach makes note of her early arrival.  The other instructor Mr. Lafkowitz enters the room and greets Bienchen.  He asks her how she is doing and she admits to doing bad.  Before Lafkowitze can make a suggestion, Bilderbach encourages the start of the session.  Before starting Lafkowitz makes mention of a boy named Heime being featured in a magazine, Musical Corner and is being invited to a play in the Beethoven Concerto.  Bienchen sees this and reflects on how much practice she had put into her playing in just that day.  She remembers how she was considered a wunderkind like Heime at a young age and both of them now--of similar age, though she is slightly old--are in different places with their music.  Her first performance is impressive to the instructors in her ability to play from memory but they insist that if she is to do something, the playing needs both mind and heart.  Determine to live up to the title of wunderkind, she sets hard to practicing as mcuh as she can, including lessons twice a week.  Over the years of training, she would occasionally spend Saturday night at Bilderback's home with him and his wife.  While Bilderbach trained her, Lafkowitz worked with Heime over the same time.  During this time though, it was clear that Heime solely focused on his playing to the exclusion of all else, whereas Bienchen had to focus on her normal routines.  Much of their divergence came from a concert they were a part of and the artificial differences (he appeared younger and thus was perceived differently than she) and the music selection that was chosen.  While Bilderbach recommended another set that would better illustrate her skill, she insisted on another set that was also agreeable to Lafkowitz and Heime.  Well after the concert, Bilderbach has her play the piece he wanted her too and he is pleased with it but Lafkowitz rudely comments on her playing, which angers Bilderbach.  Still later, it is apparent that both Bilderbachs dote on Bienchen as a daughter-they-never had.  This swirl of backstory and context, help to show Bienchen's own realization that while Heime is excelling, she is beginning to slip.  Less and less is she successful and she can tell she no longer has the appeal of a wunderkind, now that she is closer to adulthood.  However, this afternoon, Bilderbach wants her to start anew and forget everything else.  He introduces new music and is attempting a fresh start. The attempt is filled with guidance and directions from Bilderbach.  She no sooner finishes it than she realizes how little she can work the piano in a passionate manner. He insists that she plays another song that she knows quite well in a particular manner and though she tries and struggles through, she finds it impossible.  Finally, she gives up and leaves the house as quickly as possible.

Reflection

It's a tale about coming to terms with one's own limited abilities, especially after years of being told that one s exceptional.  There is a sadness to that realization for many of us as we come to terms with such limitations (and the overall implied mortality).  

Short Story #297 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/15/2014
Source:  You can read the full story at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Short Story #296: Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl

Title:  Lamb to the Slaughter 

Author:  Roald Dahl

Summary

Photo of Roald Dahl: Source http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/29/Roald_Dahl.jpg
Mary Maloney was a dedicated and loving wife, six months pregnant with her first child.  One evening, she waits for her husband, a police office, to come home and happily greets him.  His tone and body language is removed.  She attempts to help and serve him but he demands that she sits down.  He then shares news with her that indicates he is leaving (possibly with another woman).  Mary is stunned by this and attempts to disengage with it.  She decides to get dinner and goes downstairs to check the freezer where she finds a leg of lamb.  She brings it up and he sees it and begins to scold her because he's going to go out.  In a single motion, Mary bashes his head in with the frozen leg of lamb and he falls flat.  She realizes what she did and her mind quickly clears.  She puts the rack into the oven and then heads down to the market, where she talks to the grocer about making a special meal for her husband.  When she comes back home, she sees her husband's body and feels new pain and sorrow for the lose.  She calls the police to let them know.  The police begin to explore the house and ask her questions.  They send people out to the market to find out about her visit.  They discuss the details of the case and largely seem to disregard her as a suspect.  As the evening goes on and the police are present, Mary insists that they enjoy her leg of lamb that she had cooked since they are all working hard to find her husband's killer.  As the men eat the lamb, they remark that the murder weapon had to be a blunt object that's right under their noses.  


Reflection

This was a fun story that reminded me to some degree of Shirley Jackson's What a Thought, but obviously with more motivation.  Overall, it was a rather dark story that I liked and have found like other tales of Dahl to have that dark and fascinating quality to them, just like his children's stories.  In some ways, I can see a bit of Roald Dahl in Neil Gaiman's work.  I also like the play on the title in contrast ot the use of lamb and the offices blindness. 

Short Story #296 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/1/2014
Source:  You can find the full text of this short story at this site.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Short Story #295: Beware of the Dog by Roald Dahl

Title:  Beware of the Dog

Author:  Roald Dahl

Summary

Photo of Roald Dahl: Source http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/29/Roald_Dahl.jpgPeter Williamson is trying to land his plane.  However, his leg is bleeding profusely and he's losing full control of his cognition.  As he flies through the skies in his plan, he believe everything is fine and normal, that he doesn't feel anything.  He's flying above the clouds and is therefore a bit unsure of whether he has made it to England or not or is over the Channel.  Unsure of his options, he bails out of the plane and next awakens in a hospital room.  It takes some time to orient himself to the situation and eventually, a nurse comes in to check on him, telling him he is a lucky fellow.  Peter notices that the doctor is a military doctor, who is optimistic about Peter's situation.  After they leave, Peter swears he hears a JU-88 German airplane flying about which has a very distinct sound in contrast to the British plans.  When he asks the nurse, she shrugs it off and insists it's British planes.  Later, he hears another aircraft that he cannot seem to match and begins to wonder about his sanity.  The next day while cleaning his wounded leg, she makes a comment about the soap and hard water in Brighton (where they are located).  Peter has been to Brighton before and realizes something is wrong because the area generally has soft water.  The pieces of information swirl in Peter's head throughout the following night.  During the early morning, he decides to make the painful trek from his stationery bed to the window.  He manages through pain and discomfort to crawl and pull himself up to the window.  In examining his surroundings, he sees signs in French that indicate he is not in Brighton.  He manages to get back to his bed without anyone realizing what he had done.  The nurse informs him that people from the air ministry would be coming to see him and Peter reflects on what his Intelligence Officer drilled into his brain if he was captured.  When the man arrives and begins to ask questions, Peter strictly responds with his name, rank, and serial number.   

Reflection

The story took two turns that I didn't expect.  Given how long the landing piece went, I had wondered if the whole story was going to be a dream or raise the question of whether he had lived or died.  However, when he landed and begin to notice different things, I thought this might be further proof, but that he was captured and now a prison did surprise me.  

Short Story #295 out of 365
Rating:  3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/1/2014
Source:  You can find the full text of this short story at this site.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Short Story #294 The Catbird Seat by James Thurber

Title:  The Catbird Seat

Author:  James Thurber

Summary

Photo of James Thurber.  Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8c/James_Thurber_NYWTS.jpgMr. Martin has decided to plot the death of Mrs. Ulgine Barrows.  She is her boss's new assistant and has set to task for cleaning up and organizing the offices within the company.  She soon sets her eyes on Martin's office and he determines he must do something.  He has plotted out exactly how he will execute this and he moves forward with it, moving through the night, setting up his alibi and his approach.  He sets out at night and makes his way to Barrows' home, doing his best not to encounter anyone or be seen.  He finally arrives at his apartment and she greets him at the door.  Before she can welcome him in, he charges in.  He frantically searches the apartment for something to kill her with and she is unclear about why he is acting so strange.  He eventually finds himself incapable of killing her but proceeds to smoke and drink and be disagreeable towards her--all of which is utterly out of character for Martin as far as everyone knows.  He then divulges a plan to kill their mutual boss because he says he believes their boss is an idiot.  Barrow warns Martin about his language and demanor but he insists that he will do it, in part because of his heroin habit.  He leaves her and returns home.  The next day, he goes to work acting as normal as always when Mrs. Barrows enters and goes right to the president to report him.  The president comes to his office to confront him, disbelieving Barrows' tale.  Martin puts on an act of not having any recollection of the night before.  The president sides with him, having known him for twenty years and that's when Barrow busts into the room yelling at Martin, which only reaffirms the president's view.  SHe is escorted away and Martin is left smiling at saving his office. 

Reflection

A fun tale that is apparently the inspiration for a film called The Battle of the Sexes with Peter Sellers.  It was a fun story with hints of a mystery that become largely amusing in the end.  The endgame seemed to be clear once he decided he couldn't kill her but rather make her look a fool instead.  

Short Story #294 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/15/2014
Source:  You can read the full short story at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Short Story #293: The Jockey by Carson McCullers

Title:  The Jockey

Author:  Carson McCullers

Summary

Photo of Carson McCullers.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c1/Carsonmccullers.jpgAfter a big race, a jockey named Bitsy stands to the side in a dining room watching the room.  He keeps his eyes on one table that includes his trainer, a bookie, and the horse's owner.   He is clearly marked by his experiences.  The trainer spots him and the owner insists on inviting him over, even though the bookie believes the jockey's crazy. They talk about how his friend, another jockey, got seriously hurt on the track. Eventually, Bitsy comes over.  His demeanor is reluctant and angry.  He's purposely manner-less to the others.  The trainer keeps trying to rail him in and keep him behaved. His defiant position takes a turn to talking about his friend whom he explains that he just found out that they removed the case (6 months since the accident) and that one of his legs is two inches shorter than the other.  To this, his trainer delivers a line of faux empathy that enrages the jockey.  He decides to order more drinks though the trainer warns him about what it will do to him.  This doesn't stop him and he drinks a Manhattan.  While he's at the bar, the men continue to discuss Bitsy's actions and condemn them.  He returns to the table to bring up the discussion of his friend again, but the trainer tries to rail him in.  To this, he calls them Libertines and leaves.  They are largely speechless with his departure. 


Reflection

There's a great contrast between the meal and the tension of the conversation and Bitsy's presence.  Additionally, the intersection of the bookie, the owner, and the trainer represent a triumvirate of power that control not only the horses' lives but the jockeys as well. This seems damning in that though Bitsy is an adult, he is infantilized by his names (Bitsy and "kid") and how people talk down to him. 



Short Story #293 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/1/2014
Source:  You can find the full text of this short story at this site.  


For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Short Story #292: The Geranium by Flannery O'Connor

Title:  The Geranium

Author:  Flannery O'Connor

Summary

Photo of Flannery O'Connor.  Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7e/Flannery-O'Connor_1947.jpgOld Dudley watches out the window of the apartment to the apartment across the alley where the occupants put a geranium out on the windowsill for much of the day  He disproves of this but it does give him something to look at and think about.  He is a bit resentful about living in an apartment with his daughter's family but in a moment of weakness, the decision was made for him to live with them and not by himself out in the country.  Old Dudley continues flashes back and forth between life in the apartment in New York and the more open life he lived Coa County, where he lived in a boarding house with women and did various things around the area with an African American man, Rabie, who often was subservient to Old Dudley.  Dudley looks fondly upon the experience and longs to return as he experiences within the city are largely overwhelming.  The movement of the city coupled with the mixture of people can at times scare him.  When an African American moves an apartment on the same floor, Dudley believes that he is a servant and says as much.  His daughter is annoyed with the resentment Dudley shows when she explains that the man lives next door and no one should have a problem with that.  Later, she asks him to go down to the third floor to get something for her.  He reluctantly agrees and makes his way there.  Along the way, he passes the apartment in question.  The door is open and he can see an African American woman in there, whom he chides in his mind for wearing glasses.  After he fetches the item, he slowly makes his way back up the stairs but as he does, he encounters the African American man that he was talking about.  Dudley has a flashback of his time with Rabie when they were hunting so when the man approaches, Dudley is aiming a pretend gun.  The man offers to help the largely silent Dudley up the stairs slowly.  The man is friendly and helpful, asking questions that the man barely answers.  He goes back into the apartment, still startled by the experience.  He returns to his chair and finds that he cannot contain the crying that he has been holding back at different times throughout his stay here.  The man from across the alley sees him at this point and asks him why he is crying.  Dudley asks where the geranium is and the man says it fell.  Dudley and the man bicker about being in the window, caring for the geranium and such until the man tells him to go get the plant if he cares so much about it.  Dudley doesn't have the strength to get the plant or respond to the man in the end.  


Reflection

There are some interesting contrasts in this story between the old ways and the new and the pace of life and mindsets.  Old Dudley (Old Dud) seems appropriately named in terms of how he reacts to his world.  At times, the reader feels bad for but also condemns his actions and thoughts. 



Short Story #292 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/1/2014
Source:  You can find the full text of this short story at this site.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Short Story #291: The Raid by John Steinbeck

Title:  The Raid

Author:  John Steinbeck

Summary

John Steinbeck Sketch - Image source: https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5054/5509984031_1e3d7293a2_z.jpgDick and Root arrive to town at night.  Dick is older and more experience, while Root is a bit nervous.  They make their way throw town, discussing the plans for the evening.  Root is nervous for the evening's even while Dick tries to reassure him that it will be fine.  They decide that Root will start off talking and Dick will follow up.  The discussion makes clear that they are there to help establish a union or organized labor for the town and that they have put flyers to invite people.  Root is also worried that police and anti-union people will arrive and do violence.  Dick affirms that they are not to run away when it gets violent but to hold their ground.  By staying, they will make their point.  As they arrive at the meeting place, it is utterly abandoned which makes Root increasingly nervous and wondering when they should give up. They begin to set up the space and feud a bit over how to do things such as get both lamps up and running.  While setting up, a man comes in and warns them that a raiding party is coming and they must get out of there.  Dick thanks the man and tells him he can go but that he and Root are staying. Root is scared by this and continues to talk to Dick about it.  He asks Dick to hold him back if Root runs.  Root doesn't believe he will run but he doesn't know because he is scared.  Some time later, the men show up and circle around the two.  Root begins to speak, saying that they are doing it for them.  This instigates the men and they begin to beat them.  Later, he awakes with Dick with injuries and broken bones.  Dick provides positive words to Root's sacrifice.  Root then goes to explain that when he was being beaten, it reminded him of the Biblical verse, "Forgive them, because they don't know what they're doing."  Dick tells him to lay off the religious content but Root wants to insist it is something different than religion that he is referring to. 

Reflection

The back and forth between Root and Dick was interesting, especially at the end.  Dick seems accepting of the role he has to play and does little to think about it whereas Root is constantly questioning it and in the end, seems to find something more in it than Dick does.  Root seems more deeply struck by their work (pun intended) and that seems to go clearly with his initial fear and anxiety.  

Short Story #291 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/1/2014
Source:  You can find the full text of this short story at this site.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.