Friday, November 26, 2010

School Blues* by Daniel Pennac

Every now and then you come across a book that'll make you do things, read things, and most of all live better. Special Topics in Calamity Topics made us want to read more books simply by putting up a list of reading. (I like lists, probably too much. Lists are inspiring, logical, effective and sexy. But that's for a whole other therapy session.) Pennac's book made me want to cross my t's and dot my i's when it comes to grammar. And not just in French, although it did inspire me to improve my French (thus the pile of books such as Essential French Grammar and The Concise Oxford French Dictionary on my desk now), but also my English and Finnish.

Because Pennac loves words and language and grammar.

School Blues is about school and the bad student in the back of the class, the one who "didn't get it". It's about the state of French education the mistakes that have been made by politicians and education board and whonot who's been in charge for the past ten or twenty years.

And it's about the teachers. Pennac digs into his own experiences as a student and as a teacher, and shares his experiences with us. And it is through these experiences, the discussions with his no-hope students and his inspiring teachers, his letter to his mother asking her to send him off to the military because school is not his thing, and the thoughts and experiences of the youth he comes across both as a teacher and as a visiting author, that we get to see that there is hope for these kids and they do want to get involved.

Getting involved is the big point Pennac is making. We need to be present. In the classroom as students and teachers, and in life. Right here, right now. Stop hiding and start living. And fix your grammar 'cause it is through language we get to experience everything.

It was a weird experience to read School Blues, 'cause it didn't feel like reading non-fiction. And yet, that's essentially what the book was (though sold at fiction section). It wasn't weighed down by too many facts and dates and references, it was a solid opinion from a very educated point of view. That of a bad student who did well.

School Blues is a very inspiring book without being sugary, over-the-top cheerleaderly or even a inspirational book in the first place. Anyone who is, has ever been or will ever be a student, parent or a teacher should read this book.

* Original title, Chagrin d'école.

p.s. Don't trust me? Want to know more? Guardian weighed in on the book, too.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Poaching blogs

I couldn't resist ripping off Hannah' s post about the BBC book list. I've also seen this thing go around in the Facebook and I have no idea if the list was actually released by the BBC, but anyways, the claim is that most people have only read six of these books. That seems a little low. However, I'm rather curious; is there some people in the book blogging world who have read ALL these titles?

The bolded titles are books Mads has completed, and ii's are in italics.

The list:
1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11. Little Women – Louisa M. Alcott
12. Tess of the D'Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34. Emma -Jane Austen
35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
41. Animal Farm – George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50. Atonement – Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52. Dune – Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66. On the Road – Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72. Dracula – Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses – James Joyce
76. The Inferno – Dante
77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal – Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession – AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte's Web – E.B. White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94. Watership Down – Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

M: So my total is 37. The die is cast ii, shall you beat my score?

ii: I actually got the same. (I haven't read the last Harry Potter.) But I refuse to take with even an sliver of seriousness a list that gives you equal credit for "complete works of Shakespeare" and Bridget Jones. I mean, seriously?!? Besides, there's books in there I haven't even heard of! This list is bull.

M: I couldn't agree more. Good thing that we've got our own, way better, list!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Voting Wednesday, Nov 24

Voting Wednesday

We're hosting weekly thing (I hate the word meme) called "Voting Wednesday" where we make a voting ballot for each Wednesday and invite y'all to voice your opinion on whatever book related (or unrelated, we're not making any promises) issue we happen to pick.

So, here's the rules:

You form an opinion taking sides in the issue voted upon.

You voice that opinion on the comments, either as a short reply or by a link to your blog where you can make a stand.

Easy, eh?

So, the question of this week is:

Do you like to eat or drink while reading?

And if so, what?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, Nov 23

Teaser Tuesdays are a weekly book-themed meme, hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. The rules are as follows:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two (2) "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful of spoilers! Don't ruin the book to others by revealing important plot developments. (So the last words of a dying central character are probably not okay...)
  • Share the title and the author of the book as well, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can look up the book and add it to their TBR list.
Here's our teaser for this week:
Whether it's the menace of having such desperately low chances of marriage that it's time to invest in antiterrorist gear, or the promise of Fabulous-Crazy-Blissful that has all reasonably married people wondering what's wrong with them for not feeling Fabulous-Crazy-Blissful, both predicaments raise the bar to such untenable heights that finding a man or staying with one in sustained ecstasy seems as laborious as having sex while skydiving.
What French Women Know by Debra Olliver, p. 102

Monday, November 22, 2010

Special Topics in Calamity Physics Challenge

It has been a little quiet over here lately, but that is only because we have been making plans and cooking up something fun for y'all. Since we had so much fun with the T4MC, we decided that it was time for us to host a challenge of our own! We both adored Special Topics in Calamity Physics that we read and reviewed in September so our challenge is very much inspired by this very book. The chapters of the book or the "required reading" are in the form of other books, and this is the list we'll be reading from and invite y'all to read with us too. The list with the points you'll gain from each title is as follows:

50 points:

Othello - William Shakespeare
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce
Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
The House of the Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

40 points:
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
Les Liaisons Dangereuses - Pierre Chordelos de Laclos
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Pygmalion - George Bernard Shaw
The Mysterious Affair at Styles - Agatha Christie

30 points:
Moby-Dick - Herman Melville
A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway
Women in Love - D. H. Lawrence
"The Housebreaker of Shady Hill" - John Cheever
Sweet Bird of Youth - Tennessee Williams

20 points:
Laughter in the Dark - Vladimir Nabokov
The Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairy Tales - Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
A Room With a View - E. M. Forster
Howl and Other Poems - Allen Ginsberg
The Taming of The Shrew - William Shakespeare

15 points:
Deliverance - James Dickey
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
One Flew Over the Cockoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez
Bleak House - Charles Dickens

10 points:
The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler
Justine - Marquis de Sade
Quer Pasticciaccio Brutto de Via Merulana - Carlo Emilio Gadda
Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
The Nocturnal Conspiracy - Smoke Wyannoch Harvey

5 points:
Che Guevara Talks To Young People - Ernesto Guevara de la Serna
"Good Country People" - Flannery O'Connor
The Trial - Franz Kafka
The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Metamorphoses - Ovid

100 points:
Paradise Lost - John Milton

And since getting somewhere is always a great way to motivate, we came up with these different levels you can aim for, keeping with the school-ish theme of the original book, of course.

Freshman 0-200 points
Sophomore 201-400 points
Senior 401-600 points
Undergraduate 601-800 points
Graduate 801-900 points
PhD 901-950 points

The challenge begins right after New Year's celebrations when everyone will be good and ready to reform their ways and give up the party life in favor of reading. So from 1.1.2010 until 31.3.2010 we'll be reading from Blue's list and hopefully earn some kind of degree in the process ;)

You're welcome to sign up by commenting to this post, but no sweat, this is just the first warning, frequent reminders of the challenge (read: constant nagging) shall follow and you can sign up also after the challenge has been kicked off!

ii's parting note: While I'm all for acronyms, I have to say, the one we gave this challenge (STCPC) is rather impossible to say. At least in any lady-like manner that doesn't involve cookie crumbs flying all over... Just saying...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Voting Wednesday, Nov 17

Voting Wednesday

We're hosting weekly thing (I hate the word meme) called "Voting Wednesday" where we make a voting ballot for each Wednesday and invite y'all to voice your opinion on whatever book related (or unrelated, we're not making any promises) issue we happen to pick.

So, here's the rules:

You form an opinion taking sides in the issue voted upon.

You voice that opinion on the comments, either as a short reply or by a link to your blog where you can make a stand.

Easy, eh?

So, the question of this week is:
Online or in-store shopping?

When you buy books, do you prefer to shop online or go to a actual book store?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, Nov 16

Teaser Tuesdays are a weekly book-themed meme, hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. The rules are as follows:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two (2) "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful of spoilers! Don't ruin the book to others by revealing important plot developments. (So the last words of a dying central character are probably not okay...)
  • Share the title and the author of the book as well, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can look up the book and add it to their TBR list.
Here's our teaser for this week:
"One day, I asked you what you were meant to be doing with a fraction you were staring at. 'I've got to find the common denominator,' was your knee-jerk reply. There was only one fraction, so only one denominator, but you stuck to your guns: 'I've got to find the common denominator.' I pressed you further: 'Think about it, Daniel, there's only one fraction, so there's only one denominator.' You lost your temper: 'But that's what the teacher said: Always reduce fractions to their common denominator!'"
School Blues by Daniel Pennac, p. 9-10

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Should I Read Next?

I was whining and complaining to ii that I've got nothing to read, since all the books I own that I haven't read yet are books from our list. And since I'm already ahead of ii on the list I have to pace myself in order to not finish the whole list two years before her. So, what I need is more books. Perfectly logical, no?

So to help a gal out, ii informed me about this book finding thingy she'd read about in InStyle, "What Should I Read Next?". You're supposed to type in an author or a book title and the finder will then suggest books for you (apparently based on what you typed in the search engine). I'm sure this will be helpful to someone looking for new reads but, I wouldn't be me without giving you my unsencored opinion on it.

So off I went. First I tried Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, since that's a book I'll never get tired off. First suggestion was Stephenie Meyer: The host. Do I need to say that I thought this thing is full of crap already at this point?? So no, I'm not a big fan of vampire stories, unless it involves shirtless Alexander Skarsgård or Ian Somerhalder. (And after googling this I now know that The Host doesn't involve vampires but aliens that call themselves the Souls. Oh well, tomato tomahto, doesn't sound any better than the Twilight crap...) Other hits included titles that made sense but unfortunately I'd already read or are on the list; other titles by Austen, titles by Gaskell, Alcott, L.M. Montgomery, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, Bronte...

And then there was the weird and weirder titles. Here's few of the gems offered to me. Ellen Schreiber: Vampire Kisses 2 - Kissing Coffins, because I just love vampire stories and of course it makes absolutely sense to begin with the second book of the series. Dr. Seuss, Theodore Geisel: Fox in Socks (Beginner Books), of course, beginner books is the next step after Austen. Carrie Vaughn: Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand (Kitty Norville, Book 5), again, what's with the sequels, why would anyone begin with book 5? (I'm not even gonna start with the title, it sounds too disturbing.) Kerrelyn Sparks: Vamps and the City (Love at Stake Series, Book 2), please don't tell me this is some vampire fiction inspired by the Sex and the City??? And of course, Sharon Osbourne: Sharon Osbourne Extreme: My Autobiography, goes right in there as well, she's British too you know, so makes sense!

I'm not discouraged this easily, so I tried again with Life of Pi by Yann Martel. And what were the results? Dr. Seuss, Theodore Geisel: Fox in Socks (Beginner Books), Sharon Osbourne: Sharon Osbourne Extreme: My Autobiography, Stephenie Meyer: The host and Austen AGAIN. There were some new gems in the bunch too, such as Meg Cabot: The Princess Diaries: Give Me Five (The Princess Diaries S.) and Gordon Neufeld, Gabor Md Mate: Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.

I was feeling a little discouraged after my second attempt but third time's the charm so with my third attempt I typed in Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, a book I absolutely adored. The first two suggestions were Stephenie Meyer: The host and Sharon Osbourne: Sharon Osbourne Extreme: My Autobiography.

I'm thinking I'm done now with this experiment so please, pretty please, all you humans out there, suggest good books to me that involve no vampires or aliens. Thankyoueverso.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

ii:*

Spooky. Not. Okay, the story as such wasn't really that spooky (and you're getting this from a girl who gets nightmares from Agatha Christie!) but the "afterword", which I'm not sure was an actual part of the story made it spooky.

It's a folks tale, for heavens sake! It's 65 pages of meadows and trees and pies and three pages of "ooh! Scary headless guy on a horse!" Really, not that impressive, and I'm glad it was so short.

Or maybe I'm just numbed by the modern culture and all the violence I see on the TV, especially during the news. And Generation Kill. I like Generation Kill.

*Disclaimer: It's mere 20 minutes since I got up and I'm still in the middle of my first cup of coffee. Expecting me to make sense and be all intellectual would be, well, stupid.

M:

Pretty much right there with you ii! I didn't find anything spooky in the book. Not even in the afterword. That part might've made the story spooky if it was told around the campfire in the middle of the night in the woods. But, reading it in my livingroom, meh.

And I might add that the main character, Ichabod Crane, was very far from the character in the movie Sleepy Hollow, played by the devine Johnny Depp. The book in general didn't have anything to do with the movie. I guess it was rather that the movie was inspired by the book. Oh, and to those who commented on our teaser about the movie being scary; yep, it is but there really is nothing scary in the book.

Yes, it is a folk tale and I guess we shouldn't expect anything more out of it. As I said in the beginning: a nice story to tell around campfire but that's about it.

ii:

Well, I did finish it around midnight with the forest opening up behind my bedroom window, so it did get a little spooky. Haha But some old articles from Elle on French fashion style and such took care of that.

All in all, I don't see the point of this book. I mean, why the hype? There's nothing amazingly brilliant about this. All rather blah, if you ask me. I'd much rather had spent the time watching Alexander Skarsgård being politically incorrect in marine gear. But maybe that's just me?

M:

Hmm...It's old? I don't know, I thought that the story was rather boring, I tried getting into it but it was no use. Or rather, there wasn't much of a story. I guess I'm a little disappointed. At least the movie had Johnny Depp in it. Can you think of anything redeeming about the book, ii?

ii:

It was mere 70 pages?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Voting Wednesday, Nov 10

Voting Wednesday

We're hosting weekly thing (I hate the word meme) called "Voting Wednesday" where we make a voting ballot for each Wednesday and invite y'all to voice your opinion on whatever book related (or unrelated, we're not making any promises) issue we happen to pick.

So, here's the rules:

You form an opinion taking sides in the issue voted upon.

You voice that opinion on the comments, either as a short reply or by a link to your blog where you can make a stand.

Easy, eh?

So, the question of this week is:

Do you plan your reading?

Do you have a list you work through or do you just go with whatever strikes your fancy?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, Nov 9

Teaser Tuesdays are a weekly book-themed meme, hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. The rules are as follows:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two (2) "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful of spoilers! Don't ruin the book to others by revealing important plot developments. (So the last words of a dying central character are probably not okay...)
  • Share the title and the author of the book as well, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can look up the book and add it to their TBR list.
Here's our teaser for this week:

All these, however, were mere terrors of the night, phantoms of the mind that walk in darkness, and though he had seen many specters in his time, and been more than once beset by Satan in diverse shapes, in his lonely perambulations, yet daylight put an end to all these evils; and he would have passed a pleasant life of it, in despite of the devil and all his works, if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was - a woman.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, p. 17-18

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Voting Wednesday, Nov 3

Voting Wednesday

We're hosting weekly thing (I hate the word meme) called "Voting Wednesday" where we make a voting ballot for each Wednesday and invite y'all to voice your opinion on whatever book related (or unrelated, we're not making any promises) issue we happen to pick.

So, here's the rules:

You form an opinion taking sides in the issue voted upon.

You voice that opinion on the comments, either as a short reply or by a link to your blog where you can make a stand.

Easy, eh?

So, the question of this week is:

Do you give up on a book and abandon it without finishing or do you struggle through no matter how bad?

Is it okay to toss the book without finishing? Do you read it to the very end in the hopes that it'll improve? When do you put down a book and say "well, I tried..."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Four Month Challenge: Recap

Four (or just abouts there) months ago we announced that we'll be taking part in a challenge called The Four Month Challenge (those of you who are surprised by the name, leave now. Yes, right now. You're too stupid to read this blog.) hosted by Martina at She Read a Book. The challenge had a time frame of four months (really!! Quelle surprise, non?!?) and consisted of reading as much as you could, according to certain preset criteria. The different criteria awarded you points and in the end you tallied them all up.

Mads and I decided that we'll be doing this together. So that we'd only get the points if we both read the book. Same book. Fitting the same criteria. And here's what we read:

For "Read a book that's been made into a movie" we read Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.
Starting off with a solid, albeit hardly impressive 5 points.

Second up was Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare for the criteria "read any book but read it outdoors". Loved the book, hated the outdoors, got a whooping 15 points so it was worth the bugs.

Ol' Bill was followed by reading "a book by an author you've never read before", which in our case was Barack Obama and his The Audacity of Hope. This set us in good speed by giving us another 15 points.

We both adored The Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, the book we read for "Read a book by an author born in July, August, September or October". We also loved the 20 points it got us!

While we're all for France, our book for "Read a book set in France" did divide our opinions. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Chordelos de Laclos did not receive any exclamations of love and eternal adoration especially from yours truly. But we received 10 points. That's better than perishing over a broken heart in any century!

Slightly more likely, and definitely more liked, was The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, for "Read a book from The Modern Library Top 100". Gaining 20 points hasn't been this easy since elementary math exams!

The next 15 points were fairly accidental, as I fell in love with The Elegance of Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and arm-twisted Madeline to read it too. Good thing we still had "Read any book and then post a review" left...

Back when we started this, we wrote
250 is the maximum available, surely we can get to 100, right?
Well, mes petites, we did. According to my ever-accurate and wine-drenched math, we have 100 points!
A 100 frigging points!!
Not bad for first-timers, right? Especially as we do have a life and all...

What's the next challenge? And should we come up with our own? What do you say, sounds definitely crazy and potentially dangerous?

Teaser Tuesday, Nov 2

Teaser Tuesdays are a weekly book-themed meme, hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. The rules are as follows:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two (2) "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful of spoilers! Don't ruin the book to others by revealing important plot developments. (So the last words of a dying central character are probably not okay...)
  • Share the title and the author of the book as well, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can look up the book and add it to their TBR list.
Here's our teaser for this week:
The media eagerly glommed on to this story, portraying crack dealing as one of the most profitable jobs in America. But if you were to have spent a little time around the housing projects where crack was so often sold, you might have noticed something strange: not only did most of the crack dealers still live in the projects, but most of them still lived at home with their moms.
Freakonomics by Steven D Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, p. 83