Do some good while you shop!

Hello dear readers!

I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving and didn’t get trampled today at the mall. If you’re like me, you’ll probably do the majority of your Christmas shopping online, whether it be to avoid the crowds or to find the best prices. If that’s the way you’re going, I recommend checking out iGive. It’s a browser extension that tracks your purchases at various websites and donates a percentage to the organization you choose! It’s really as simple as that. I’ve used it before, and it’s pretty awesome.

Organizations you can choose to donate to include local humane societies, the Red Cross, education services, and just about anything else you can think of. And participating websites include some big names, like Amazon, American Eagle, Eddie Bauer, and Bath & Body Works.

I know this post strays just a bit from my blog theme, but I wanted to share this since it’s such an easy way to do something good this holiday season! Besides, AbeBooks, Alibris, and BAM are participators!

Happy Thanksgiving!

pusheen

Next week I’ll be posting my review forĀ Dangerous Women, a collection of short stories written by various high caliber authors such as Jim Butcher and Carrie Vaughn. It also includes a new novella by George R.R. Martin! The book will be released on December 3rd, but look for my review on the 2nd šŸ™‚

Enjoy your holiday!

(Yes, I am obsessed with Pusheen.)

Review: “Reign of Error” by Diane Ravitch

roeReign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools is Ms. Ravitch’s response to critics who claim she is “long on criticism but short on answers.” The book is carefully and logically arranged, with the majority of the book dedicated to outlining how the most highly promoted “solutions” are not producing the promised results.

It is in chapters 2-20 that the reader receives the most valuable information, both about the actual state of public education and the truth about government programs meant to “fix” public schools. The thesis of the book may be summed up in the following quote: “Public education is in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it.” What Ravitch means is this – before we can close achievement gaps and start to compete with the world’s leaders in education, we need to start working on the roots of the problem, such as poverty and inequality. She argues that the “solutions” implemented under George W. Bush (No Child Left Behind) and Obama (Race to the Top) are misled; test scores are not good indicators of learning and what’s more, there is no evidence that charter schools perform any better on their all-important tests than do traditional public schools.

Ravitch also makes good points about international test scores. Asian countries may consistently take the top spots, but do we really want an education system based on rote memorization in which students never learn how to think critically? I saw this first-hand when I was teaching at a public middle school just outside Shanghai. I can certainly believe that these students would test better than American middle-schoolers; it seemed like they were always taking tests. Yet when I introduced an activity that involved critical thinking or creativity, most of the students were completely at a loss.

I found myself infuriated and disheartened throughout much of this book. Because “school choice” (charter schools and voucher systems) have bipartisan support, it seems inevitable that it will become the rule in the United States. However, before I declare myself a staunch supporter of Ravitch’s solutions, I think I need to some more research on the topic.

She offers 11 specific solutions to the major problems. An entire chapter is devoted to each, but she bullet-points them as the following:

1) Provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman

2) Make high-quality early childhood education available to all children

3) Every school should have a full, balanced, and rich curriculum, including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, geography, foreign languages, mathematics, and physical education

4) Reduce class sizes to improve student achievement and behavior

5) Ban for-profit charters and charter chains and ensure that charter schools collaborate with public schools to support better education for all children

6) Provide the medical and social services that poor children need to keep up with their advantaged peers

7) Eliminate high-stakes standardized testing and rely instead on assessments that allow students to demonstrate what they know and can do

8) Insist that teachers, principals, and superintendents be professional educators

9) Public schools should be controlled by elected school boards or by boards in large cities appointed for a set term by more than one elected official

10) Devise actionable strategies and specific goals to reduce racial segregation and poverty

11) Recognize that public education is a public responsibility, not a consumer good

Ravitch was interviewed by Jon Stewart onĀ The Daily Show at the end of October, so you can hear about the book straight from its author.

While I foundĀ Reign of Error to be less eloquent and revelatory than her 2010 bookĀ The Death and Life of the Great American School System, I do think it’s worth reading for anyone concerned about American public education, whether they believe in “school choice” or not. It’s available now from Alfred A. Knopf.

Amazon | Goodreads

Squee!

CIMG0316Tor Books sent me an e-book edition of this about a month and a half ago, but I’m ashamed to say I hardly read any of it. After being in China and only reading e-books for more than a year, I was about done with them. But I’ll be diving right back into it now that I have the actual book, and will hopefully get it done (all 784 pages of it) before it’s released on December 3rd. Make sure to keep an eye out for my review of it! For now, check out what Goodreads has to say.

Lawsuit against Google Books dismissed

The Author’s Guild lawsuit against Google has finally been settled after eight years.Ā Publisher’s Weekly wrote a great article about it, so if you want more details than I’ll Ā give you I recommend checking it out. Otherwise I’ll provide a brief overview:

If you haven’t used Google Books, you probably should. It’s Google’s book-scanning project, which allows full-text keyword searching. Fantastic for high school and college students, and also for me. My job requires me to do quite a bit of research, and so Google Books has been an invaluable research. When the Author’s Guild got wind of it, however, they became worried about their copyright protections and potential losses to the book market because of it. This led to a lawsuit that, as mentioned before, took eight years to sort out.

Finally, Judge Denny Chin gave his final decision on the matter. He announced that he considers Google Books to be of huge benefit to the public, and that it does not violate copyright law. He added that, rather than negatively impacting the book market, Google Books may actually be beneficial, as it encourages the purchasing of books that are most helpful to the researcher’s purpose.

Google may be happy with the decision, but the Guild is most certainly not, and plans to appeal the decision.

My thoughts on the matter are thus – Ā I obviously love Google Books. It has helped me immensely by cutting down on research time and trips to the library. It was even more helpful while I was in Shanghai and didn’t even haveĀ access to an English-language library. Long gone are the days of pain-stakingly slogging through books, looking for relevant information. I would have no sympathy at all for the Author’s Guild if not for the fact that I know there are complete books on Google that are still under copyright. Maybe there are intricacies to it that I don’t know of that make even that fully legal, but as far as I know Google should not be able to make public the full texts of books that were published before 1923. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

In any case, I can’t say I’ll be disappointed if (read: when) the Author’s Guild is forced to give up its crusade against Google Books, even if I think the defendant is not quite ethical. It’s kind of like the public smoking ban – maybe it’s unfair to restaurant and bar owners, but I’m sure as hell not going to complain.

 

Review: “Boy in the Twilight” by Yu Hua

yu huaBoy in the Twilight: Stories of the Hidden ChinaĀ is different from the other books I’ve read by Chinese authors, probably because it’s a collection of short stories rather than a chronicle of one person or family. The stories are blunt and speak of universal problems and real people. Nothing is sugar-coated or overly sentimental. Wives cheat on husbands and husbands on wives, and a lack of basic communication can lead to the disintegration of a seemingly strong marriage. The subtitle Stories of the Hidden China isn’t implying dark secrets of a Communist regime but the truth that the “hidden China” is just the same as any other country.

One of my favorite stories describes a man trying to get to a destination by bus, and how he strategizes to make sure he’s at the front of the crowd at the bus stop and estimates where he needs to be standing in order to be first to get through one of the bus doors. I experienced just this same thing while I was living in Shanghai – anxious people standing in the street to wait for the bus, the frantic surge when it finally arrives, the general lack of any etiquette at all.

The translator, Allan H. Barr, does a fantastic job. The writing is beautiful and fluid, a great complement to the richness of the stories written by Yu Hua. And although the stories have some depth to them, the book is not difficult to read. My galley comes in at a slim 197 pages; I read it in just a few hours.

An excellent book for those who enjoy short stories and are interested in trying out one of China’s most acclaimed authors. It will be released by Pantheon Books on January 21st, 2014.

Amazon | Goodreads

Review: “Salinger” by David Shields and Shane Salerno

salinger2This truly is not like any biography that has been written before. Dozens of voices coalesce to tell the narrative of Salinger’s life. Sometimes the voices contradict one another on this or that point, but it only adds to the richness of the story. I can’t imagine how much effort it took to comb through the letters, interviews, etc. in order to piece together this narrative.

It’s not only a story about the life of a reclusive writer; it’s a reflection of much that happened in America during Salinger’s life. The first third of the book focuses on World War IIĀ and the devastation inflicted upon the American (and German) army. Voices from the war portray its horrors as vividly as I’ve read in some of the best WWII novels. Regarding the infamous Battle of the Bulge, the authors quoted none other than Ernest Hemingway when he said of the German attack, “There’s been a complete breakthrough, kid. This thing could cost us the works. Their armor is pouring in. They’re taking no prisoners.” After the war, Salinger writes of the war in a letter, “What a tricky, dreary farce, and how many men are dead.”

Salinger

Salinger with his ever-present cigarette.

 

From WWII, we see how Salinger completes and publishes The Catcher in the Rye, and subsequently begins to withdraw from public life.Ā I enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye when I first read it in middle school, but loved it when I had to read it for English class in high school. I had a particularly good teacher, one whose words have stuck with me through and beyond college, and he turned the book inside out for me to really understand and think critically about. What I love about this biography is that at particular points in the narrative of Salinger’s life the authors insert quotes from Catcher that connect that story to what happened his life, so that the reader can see the direct influence of Salinger’s experiences on his writing.

From the various anecdotes in the book I got the impression that Salinger was an overall unpleasant man and I feel relieved to have never met him. He seems to have enjoyed lecturing others and blaming them for any misfortune that had ever befallen him. I do sympathize with him, as he suffered from severe PTSD and was shafted early on by the only woman he ever really loved (while he was at war, no less). Still, I can’t help but see him as terrible grouch, neglectful of his friends and family and self-absorbed beyond understanding.

Great props to David Shields and Shane Salerno, and even greater thanks to those who contributed to this astoundingly rich biography.

Salinger is available now, so add it to your to-read list on Goodreads, and then find it on Amazon!