Jen’s February Book List

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American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

At 555 pages, this lengthy tome is the barely fictionalized story of Laura Bush told in compelling prose. Even though I liked the writing style and premise of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, which I read a few years ago, I wasn’t thrilled about her plot twists. But this story is different: the plot wrote itself in Laura Bush’s life, and Sittenfeld just added the imagination and style. Alita recommended it and then sent it to me, and once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. Although it is fictional, it is an amazingly intimate and seemingly real portrait of our former first lady whose enigmatic quietude throughout her husband’s presidency intrigued the world. Great read!

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On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

This fun fantasy is written by the popular Christian musician Andrew Peterson. He sets up an imaginary world and interesting characters who struggle against dark forces larger than themselves. The main characters are children who are spunky and creative: the best kind of main characters, in my opinion. Peterson plays with words (which I love) and has fun inventing interesting creatures and legends. There are more books to follow in this series, and I highly recommend it to those who have loved Narnia, Tolkien, or other fantastical linguists. Thanks, Seth!

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An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor

I love Ireland, and I love stories of rural villages and the colorful characters that inhabit them. This book is compared by some to the All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot, but it falls short in so many ways. Even though I like the characters, the setting, and the premise, and I read the sequel in March, the bottom line is that the prose in these books is just too forced. The literary and cultural references (and explanations of Irish words) embedded into nearly every chapter are very contrived, and the overall writing style is more like “telling” than “showing,” a fatal flaw for any writer.

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Outliers: the Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell

Amazing. Another really cool book about a really cool subject by Malcolm Gladwell. He wrote Blink, which I read a few years ago and enjoyed greatly. This book tells the stories of particular successful people and what elements combined to bring them success. Even though natural talent and abilities definitely play a role, his thesis is that other elements are the most important contributing factors of the outlying success stories like Bill Gates and professional athletes. Even though it’s too late for a lot of us to become outliers, there are some valuable lessons and principles that he explores. A very interesting read! Thanks, Evan!

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Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham

Light, fluffy, and fun. Madeleine Wickham (aka Sophie Kinsella) writes mostly light, beach-type reading. Jamie lent me this book one day that I wasn’t feeling well, and my brain wanted to just take a little break. Sometimes it’s nice to get caught up in the worries of fictional characters and go on vacation from your own stressful life.

Making Waves in San Francisco

(that’s the title of our convention)

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My adventure to San Francisco began with a conversation on the plane with a man who is presenting at the conference. Can I just say that I think English teachers are among the most friendly, empathetic, and intelligent people out there? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we are constantly reading others’ thoughts and words (essays, stories, poetry, etc.) and striving to respond in constructive, supportive, and valuable ways. I think this translates into our relationships with others. Or, conversely, perhaps English teachers choose this profession because they get to do in writing what they are already enjoying doing in their relationships. In any case, everyone I’ve met here (including on the plane and the shuttle to the hotel) has been very friendly, open, and accepting. I love the combination of the hippie element and the professional. Many English teachers encompass both elements simultaneously.

So, my first day ended up being sight-seeing day because I hadn’t prepaid for the workshops on Wednesday. Here’s what I saw:

Cable Car
Fisherman’s Wharf
Ghirardelli Square
Golden Gate bridge, east side in the morning
Sea Lions
Alcatraz (from a distance)
Chinatown
TransAmerica Tower
Saw the crookedest street from afar
City Lights Bookshop (where Allen Ginsburg first performed his famous Beat poem “Howl” and where I purchased that poem and a book of haiku by Jack Kerouac that are quite stunning)
Golden Gate park, including the Japanese Tea Garden and the Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Pacific Ocean: Jen loves the beach
Land’s End Cliff walk at sunset
Cliff Side: gorgeous homes in prestigious neighborhood right on the cliffside
Golden Gate Bridge from the west at sunset
Greens: famous vegetarian restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf looking out at the sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge

I am still sore from the all-day speed walk-a-thon, but it was worth every minute. Gorgeous weather!

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Jen rides the cable car!

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Gorgeous old houses in cool neighborhoods.

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The city.

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Fisherman’s Wharf

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Ghirardelli Square

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The Golden Gate Bridge, east side, morning view

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Walking on the bridge

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The sea lions at Pier 39

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Chinatown

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The City Lights Bookstore, where Kerouac and Ginsberg were regular attendees of Beat poetry readings

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Kerouac’s haiku do not have the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic structure.

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Cherry Blossoms in the Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

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Bamboo Trees in the Arboretum, Golden Gate Park

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Pacific Ocean!
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Under the bridge

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On Thursday and Friday I attended several different seminars that focused on:
–re-invigorating traditional research assignments
–the potential classroom and writing uses of Myspace and Facebook
–the pros and cons of the 5-paragraph essay structure
–collaborations between college and high school English departments to make the transition easier for students
–what to teach during the senior year so that students will be ready for college writing
–teaching dual credit courses: the challenges and rewards
–listening to Dave Eggers talk about war writing (he is very cool)
–how to use satire and parody like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to teach students critical thinking skills

I have been making lists of ideas from these awesome conferences. Presenters are from colleges around the country, both community colleges and prestigious universities, such as one of my presenters from M.I.T. I always get great ideas from discussions with others, and I always appreciate the moments of validation for things that I’m already doing right.

So far, this convention has been very edifying. I hope to attend it again in the future!