Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Book Review: Girl With the Pearl Earring

October 30, 2007

I have had this book by Tracy Chavelier on my reading list for a long, long time. I've even owned a copy of it, courtesty of Paperback Swap, for months, and I've loaned it out to a few friends. I have no idea why I took so long to get to this, but I'm glad I finally did. I love this kind of novel. Take an artist. Take a painting. Take the subject of the painting, and write their story. This is the story of the Dutch painter Vermeer and how "Girl With the Pearl Earring" came to be painted.

The story is told by Griet, the sixteen-year-old Dutch maid who becomes Vermeer's assistant and eventually the subject of one of his most famous paintings. Griet must hire out as a maid due to her family's reduced circumstances, and, because her father was an artist, she is given a position in an artist's family. Vermeer's wife, who is constantly pregnant, instantly despises Griet. Vermeer himself recognizes a kindred spirit in the girl, and he secretly makes her his assistant. Griet goes between being terrified of being caught by Vermeer's jealous wife and inexpressibly honored at being essential to Vermeer. The chaos of this large household is palpable, and Griet's quiet wisdom and view of life adds a perfect frame. I am absolutely adding Chevalier's other novels to my list.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Book Review: The Widow of the South

October 25, 2007

"All this death and dying. How is it possible to tell the story of one's life entirely with reference to death? It must surely be impossible to describe life in death, and yet I felt then--and fell now--that there is no possible way to tell the story of my life without recounting those morbid years. There is no possible way to tell the story of my farm, my town, my state, this whole ****able Southern Confederacy we were so sure of, without recounting the deaths."

This book by Robert Hicks was our Book Club's pick this month, and I absolutely loved it. The novel is based on the true story of Carrie McGavock, a woman who recovers from her own terrible losses in order to give dignity and a home to soldiers, living and dead. Most of the novel takes place during and after the Battle of Franklin toward the end of the Civil War, in which 9,200 men died in a span of 5 hours. The McGavock home, Carnton Plantation, was taken over by the Confederate Army and turned into a makeshift hospital. Carrie must cast aside her own cloud of mourning to deal with thousands of wounded and dying men, and, in doing so, she recaptures her own life.

"The violence would not end, but I still had my role to play. Someone had to do it, to be that person. I was the woman they wrote the letters to; this house was the last address of the war. Now it was the final resting place of the dead, or at least almost 1,500 of them, and they could not be left alone. I had resolved to be the designated mourner, to be the woman who would remember so others could forget."

The Carnton Plantation is a historic site in Franklin, and I am absolutely adding that to my places to see list. This was an extraordinarily well-written novel--Hicks' first. I hope there will be more.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Book Review: The Way They Learn

October 18, 2007

I picked this book by Cynthia Tobias up on a whim at the library a couple of weeks ago, thinking that it was one of those often recommended in homeschooling circles that I'd not yet read. Subtitled "How to Discover and Teach to Your Child's Strength," the book begins with several chapters on the Gregorc Model of Mind Styles which put me right back in Abnormal Psych class twenty years ago. I have a switch that automatically shuts off part of my brain when I start reading/hearing abbreviations: AR--abstract random; CR--concrete random; ARC--abstract random concrete; BB-blahblahblahblah. When I have to keep flipping back to see what the abbreviations stand for, I know I am in trouble. I couldn't help but wonder frequently, if this is a book about learning styles, why doesn't Tobias realize that this kind of mass of abbreviations is impossible for some of us to decipher?

She then goes on to talk about kinesthetic, visual, and auditory learners. If you aren't already familiar with learning styles, this section of the book is useful; however, this information is readily found on dozens of websites in a more readable format with more practical applications. I did actually enjoy the section on analytic vs. global perspectives, but I got more from it as an adult dealing with adults than I did as a parent educating my children.

Perhaps I am too concrete random to appreciate this book. Or too abstract random. Or too sequential. Or just too random. (I never could figure out who I am!)

Post A Comment!.....


Thursday, October 18, 2007 - SO GLAD

Posted by onfire (

you have no idea how long I have waited for someone reliable to critique this book that has consistently made me feel less educated and more confused.
I know I am big time global, but I thought this book was supposed to be a TOOL, not another coaster.
wait until someone reviews MY curriculum ...

Saturday, October 20, 2007 - THANK YOU!!

Posted by ComfyDenim (

I could not get my brain around the first half of the book. I felt like I needed to be sitting in a library or something where I couldn't see distractions - -like Dishes. Because there was just too much. I'm sure that's because my brain fits into a category that I didn't understand. *LOL* (Mainly it means I"m sanguine and highly distractible.) So THANK YOU for letting me feel much better that I don't like this book....

Friday, October 12, 2007

Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

October 12, 2007

I find classics difficult to review because they've all been reviewed a thousand times, and because, well, they are classics. Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was the second book we've read in the American Lit class I'm teaching at our support group's co-op. The students have enjoyed Huck Finn much more than The Scarlet Letter. Huck Finn is, of course, more accessible, and the vocabulary itself, while rich in dialect, is not difficult. But truthfully, class discussion surrounding The Scarlet Letter was more interesting than it has been for Huck Finn. The students probably don't realize that The Scarlet Letter, as archaic as it seems, struck a more familiar chord with them.

I love Huck Finn. On a purely surface level, it's a coming-of-age story--the kind of story that makes every kid want to float down the river in a raft. I was particularly interested, though, in comparing memories of my first reading of Huck Finn over 20 years ago with my most recent reading. What sticks the most in my memory is a wide river, Huck and Jim on a raft, and the never-ending floating. But my reading this time was completely different. For one, the river scenes really aren't the bulk of the book. I didn't even remember the scenes with Jim in captivity or Huck escaping from his father. In my high school lit class, we must have talked primarily about the river--why else would I remember it as such a grand part of the book? Or, perhaps, I just really wanted to float down a river on a raft.

This time around I was terribly appalled at the use of the "N" word. I understand that it was a common term at the time; still, I am uncomfortable with that word appearing a dozen times on each page. I don't remember this from high school, however. Was I less sensitive, or did I just accept an author's literary dialogue as such? When we started reading Huck Finn a few weeks ago, it was Banned Books Week. We had some lively discussion about why books are banned. We all ran up against a brick wall as to why Huck Finn is often banned, although I did cite reasons according to various websites. Still, the only reason we could come up with for ourselves was the use of that word. Would Mark Twain be appalled now? I think probably so.

Mark Twain is a marvelous author. His humor comes out of nowhere. He's the kind of author that makes me say, "Ha! What a genius!" as I'm reading. I feel unworthy, in fact, to teach and review his writing. I wish he were here to explain it all himself.

Book Review: The Lighthouse

October 12, 2007

I thought I would never get through this book by P.D. James! It's not that the book was terrible. But as I was about a third of the way through this crime/mystery, I remembered I don't really enjoy this genre. A review at Amazon.com says: "Vivid character studies and intricate settings reveal James’s eye for detail—from descriptions of Oliver’s insidious personality and Dalgliesh’s insecurities to an intelligent game of Scrabble." But that's exactly what was missing for me: the "vivd character studies." The characters all seemed flat and stereotypical to me: the silly teenager, the loveless detective, the really bad guy, the housekeeper who knows everything. This is a described as a "page turner": for me, it was a page turner only because I wanted to get to the end so I could start my next book.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Live and In-Person

October 11, 2007

btt button

This week's Booking Through Thursday asks:
Have you ever met one of your favorite authors? Gotten their autograph? How about an author you felt only so-so about, but got their autograph anyway? Like, say, at a book-signing a friend dragged you to? How about stumbling across a book signing or reading and being so captivated, you bought the book?

Strangely, I have not made it part of my life to seek out book signings or even readings. I suspect much of that has to do with this season of life (and the last season): being a parent of young children (and before that, being mostly concerned with where the next band was playing).

The first author I remember hearing was Charles Wright, who came to read at our college. Randy bought his book of poetry The Other Side of the River and had it signed. When I was in graduate school in Iowa, we had several visiting authors do readings. I guess most of them were unmemorable, except for the poet Li-Young Lee. He was absolutely mesmerizing. I could have listened to him read for hours and hours. I bought all of his books of poetry. Of course lots of fellow grad students and professors also did readings and I did buy some of their books, but it's kind of weird to have a fellow student/professor sign a book. Some of these included: Joe Geha, Debra Marquart , Gary Whitehead , Neal Bowers, and many others.

Several years ago we heard Abraham Verghese read at the now defunct Davis-Kidd Bookstore in Knoxville. I had already read his amazing My Own Country, but I didn't think to bring it to be signed. Soon after his reading I read The Tennis Partner, and I enjoyed hearing his voice as I read it. Next month our Book Club is going to hear Kaye Gibbons read at Maryville College. But I don't suppose I'll ask her to sign my library copy of Ellen Foster, which is, of course, our next month's book.

I guess I'm not much of an autograph person. I never had an autograph book or one of those autograph stuffed animals. I never thought to have the kids get autographs as Disney. And all those yearbooks with their myriad signatures are stowed away in boxes somewhere.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Curriculum Review: Usborne's I Can Draw Series

October 5, 2007

I was reminded again yesterday of how much I love this series by Usborne Books at Home. The series includes I Can Draw Animals, I Can Cut and Stick, I Can Crayon, I Can Fingerpaint, and I Can Draw People. Yesterday Duncan and I spent a good hour with I Can Draw Animals (above). The projects are simple enough that he, age 6, feels a tremendous sense of accomplishment and absolutely no frustration. The drawings go step by simple step, and coloring outside the lines only enhances the final product. Yesterday we did sea creatures; today we are going to draw jungle animals. Being the youngest child, Duncan has not had the benefit of all the hours I poured into his older siblings with art projects. This series if perfect for both of us because of it's simplicity and "around-the-house" usability.

(If you don't have your own Usborne consultant, leave a comment for my friend Donna at her blog and she'll help you out!)