Title: The Time Machine
Author: HG Wells
Publisher: Trout Lake Media
First Published: 1895
Length: 4 hours, 10 minutes
The Time Machine is a sci-fi novel from 1895. It’s the story of the Time Traveller describing his trip to the future. He travels to the year 802,701AD, where he meets two group of creatures: the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are small creatures who live above ground in crumbling buildings. They are kind of lazy and dumb, but happy. He befriends a particular Eloi female named Weena. However, after learning that his time machine has been stolen, he discovers another group, the Morlocks. These creatures live below ground in tunnels and they are definitely sinister. The Time Traveller must get his machine back so he take Weena back home with him, but they end up getting attacked by Morlocks.
I first read this book in the sixth grade. While I could certainly map the plot and compare/contrast the Eloi and the Morlocks, I don’t think I really “got” the story. For example, I didn’t realize that this story essentially coined the word “time machine” and the idea of time travel using an object as a vehicle. I also had no concept of how the Eloi/Morlock creatures represented class struggle. The delicate, yet useless, class of creatures living above ground and the underground creatures who run the machinery beneath the surface. Now it’s a little more obvious what Wells was trying to say. My sixth grade brain had no context for that information. I just remember the Worlocks being really scary.
And is it just me, or is the “story within a story” conceit big in the these older books? My most recent classic was Frankenstein, which was a story within a story within a story. Here the narrator is just a dude listening to the time traveller recount his time spent in the future. However, at the end it totally makes sense why Wells did this. In fact, I found the ending the most oddly creepy part of the whole novel. I did not remember it at all.
FINAL GRADE: C Maybe it’s because I’d read the book before, but I found it lacking. It was only four hours long as an audiobook, and it took a long time before the Time Traveller even started telling his story. The actual time traveling, Eloi/Morlock part of the novel was relative short. I wanted more adventure, more action. But I recognize that this is a trail-blazing story, and my thirst for those elements comes from all the subsequent works that added them. It’s definitely worth a read as key work of science fiction, if nothing else.
Assigned Reading: Assigned to all fans of science fiction, Doctor Who, and anyone looking for a quick classic.
Library Recommendation: Put it in a middle or high school library. You can probably find a relatively cheap edition. It’s not for every kid, but it’s a classic and it should be there. Also consider buying one of the graphic novel adaptations of the story, as I’m sure that format would appeal to kids.
What was the first time travel book you ever read?
Title: Contagious: Why Things Catch On
Author: Jonah Berger
Publisher/Year: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 3/1/2013
Length: 200 pages/6 hours and 54 minutes
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Source: Review copy from Simon & Schuster
Contagious is about why things go viral. Jonah Berger divides the book into chapters based on his six elements of why things catch on, devoting each chapter to the explanation and examples of each element. The elements are social currency, triggers, emotions, public, practical value, and stories, and Berger calls this the STEPPS model. Nothing here is rocket science, but the examples are entertaining and the material thought-provoking.
As a book blogger, I found this book particularly interesting. Not only am I interested in promoting my own work, but I’m also part of a chain of promotion centered around authors, publishers, and books. Berger is very clear in noting that the first element for a contagious idea is that it must be a good idea. With blogging, this is how we have conversations about posts being original (instead of memes) and interesting. With books, we all know how a truly good book almost sells itself! But it’s more than that. I was particularly smitten with Berger’s coverage of word-of-mouth advertising. I never realized just how hard it is to promote such advertising and just how valuable it is. As book bloggers, thats EXACTLY what we do for publishers.
It’s like I knew that, but I didn’t. I didn’t realize how it important it is. How cool it is that I, by reading one little book and spending thirty minutes writing up a review for my thousands of followers, am really doing something. It’s the reason my email inbox is flooded with requests from self-published authors to read and review their books — word of mouth can’t be bought. Even a negative review is valuable. So, Jonah Berger, thank you for making me feel important!
FINAL GRADE: A I give this my top grade for being a pleasant listening experience. Not too dense, not too dry, not too long. It’s a perfect audiobook for the car or for working out. Accessible for the non-business majors among us. And for bloggers — definitely an interesting read! I also wrote a similar review for this book over at Bookkaholic, so hop on over to that if you want to know more.
Required Reading: Required for all my book blogging friends. Especially if you don’t normally like audiobooks, as this is a good gateway audiobook.
Library Recommendation: You could put this in a high school library, but it would probably be unnecessary. It’s perfect for a public library or e-book collection, though.
Title: The Unit
Author: Ninni Holmqvist
Publisher/Year: Other Press, 2006/2009
Genre: Adult dystopia
Source: Purchased (Barnes and Noble)
Date Read: Fall 2009
Rated four stars on Goodreads/LibraryThing.
Dorrit Weger has just turned fifty, and she’s single and childless. In her society, this means she no longer has value and she must check into the Second Reserve Bank for Biological Material. There, she will live out her final days in comfort and luxury while slowly being used for more and more biological and psychiatric testing. After participating in multiple experiments over many months, or even years, she will be asked to make her final donation. And then she will be no more. Dorrit has accepted this fate — in her society, there is no choice — but then she meets a man in The Unit and falls in love. Falling in love gives her a new reason to reject her fate, but it’s too late for such choices. Or is it?
The Unit is very similar to Unwind by Neal Schusterman, which probably plays a huge factor in why I found it so good (well, the other way around — I read The Unit first). It’s a translation from Swedish, so it’s quite different from typical American literature. There’s something quiet and utilitarian about the tone. The hardest thing about the novel is suspending belief that such a society would actually exist. I don’t believe for a hot second that we would ever deem unmarried, childless people “useless” and force them to donate their bodies to science for the greater good. I had to accept that crazy notion and focus on the story within that world, just like I had to in Unwind. The remainder of the story is an interesting concept: a utopian world inside of a dystopian society. Everything is free, aesthetically pleasing, entertaining. Dorrit falls in love. Things are going well, but it’s all fake. It’s the government and scientists trying to make themselves feel less guilty about what they are doing to these people and why.
And then there’s Dorrit. She’s not the most likable protagonist. She’s kind of strange. I mean, she has very few relationships in the real world and remains disconnected from everything. She could have married to avoid her fate (marriage or death? I’ll pick marriage!), but she didn’t. But then she suddenly falls in love? It’s very strange, though thought provoking — did facing death change her? But it’s never really clear. The ending to the story is ultimately the surprise, and reveals more about Dorrit that makes her make sense. But until that point I had a hard time connecting with her. The ending in general was weird, yet satisfying.
“Life and existence have no value in themselves. We mean nothing; not even those who are needed mean anything. The only thing of real value is what we produce.”
FINAL GRADE: B At the time, I rated it a B. Then I listed it as one of my favorite reads that year, considering bumping it to an A. Now it’s a B, mostly due to the feasibility of the story and my general dislike of Dorrit as a character. However, I had both a sympathy for the position she was in and a fascination with the world of The Unit. Mostly I was fascinated with the emotions of it. It’s quite clinical and fake, but with the impending experiments and death there’s a shadow hanging over everyone all the time. This isn’t action-adventure dystopia like Unwind, but more literary fiction dystopia. That’s why I recommend it adults who like dystopia. It’s not a kid book and it may not have a wide audience, but I liked it.
Do you think there is a difference between adult dystopia and YA dystopia? Which do you prefer? Can you recommend any other adult dystopian titles (besides 1984, which I have already read and loved)?
Title: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Author: Susan Cain
Publisher/Year: Crown, 2012
Length: 333 pages, 10 hours 39 mins
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Format: Audio book
Source: Purchased from Audible
Introverts, this book is for you. In a world that values the qualities of the extroverted and labels introverts as shy, anti-social, and sensitive, Susan Cain highlights the positive qualities of this undervalued portion of the population. She utilizes both personal stories from real introverts and significant research to prove her points along the way.
I have a feeling I’m preaching to the choir when talking about introverted-ness to the book blogger world, since I’m fairly certain we represent an above-average number of introverts, but this book was like a big hug. The world we live in sometimes makes me feel guilty for wanting to spend my Saturday night alone with a good book. We are living in a world that values extroverted qualities more than introverted ones, but Cain successfully shows why we need to celebrated the introverts’ contributions and viewpoints. We offer something unique.
I did have two nit-picks with the book, which kind of represent nit-picks others may have with various parts. First, when Cain talked about teaching she attacked teacher’s viewpoints of group work. She almost made it sound like the new teacher allegiance to group work is a conspiracy by extroverted teachers. I disagree, since there is a lot of research about cooperative learning and there are evidence based reasons why these new teachers are using this as one of many instructional techniques. Critique the lack of anti-coorperative learning research, not the newbie teachers. Second, she encourages introverts to consider careers in library science. This represents society’s gross misunderstanding of what librarians do. I was told in library school that it is common to get applications that read, “I want to go to library school because I like to read books,” and those often got rejected over applications that read, “I want to be a librarian because I like helping people.” Don’t be a librarian if you want to avoid contact with people! I often left work socially drained, longing for introvert time (which is okay!).
FINAL GRADE: B It definitely stands out as one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in recent memory. Cain does jump to some conclusions and make a few points that I might argue against, but I’m going to forgive her due to the overall readability and awesomeness of the book. I read this as an audiobook, since I do enjoy reading adult non-fiction in this format, and I would definitely recommend the audio. It’s the kind of book that you can listen to while working out or driving to work — the starting and stopping to listen for an hour or so each day won’t ruin your experience. The narration is clear and non-distracting.
Required Reading: Required for all introverts. Also required for all extroverts, for the purpose of understanding your favorite introvert just a little better. Extroverts may feel a little offended or defensive throughout the book, but I’ll ask the extroverted among you to set aside your egos and give it a try.
Library recommendations: You could put this in your high school library, but it would be okay to skip it.
Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do you think introverts are misunderstood?
Spring break starts in just 42 hours (not like I’m counting), and I could really use a break to chill for a minute. Maybe read some books for funzies. However, I’ll also be writing papers like whoa. Hopefully I’ll be productive and churn out some draft-y goodness for all three of my final papers. I got a head start by heading to the library and grabbing a fabulous stack of books. I know y’all bookish folks love a good book haul, so here’s my contribution…though I don’t know if anyone will find this as exciting as I do.
Without further ado, this is what I’ll be up to over spring break and for the rest of the semester:
Oh, and stay tuned, because I think I’ll have some exciting news to share after spring break. Good things are happening in grad school land lately!
What nerdy books have excited you this month?
This week I’ll be reviewing a professional book I read because it sounded interesting and relevant to my future work teaching college students:
Title: On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching
Author: James M. Lang
Publisher/Year: Harvard University Press/Caravan, 2008
Length: 7 hrs and 14 mins, 319 pages
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Format: Audio book
Source: Purchased from Audible
No book about teaching is perfect, since everyone teaches a little differently. On Course is a great book for beginning teachers on the ins and outs of college teaching for both graduate students and first-year professors. Using the fifteen week flow of the average semester, Lang guides readers through what to expect in planning, teaching, and evaluating students in college-level work without going crazy. Lang also gives specific advice for strategies to try and reasoning behind different choices to be made (papers or exams?), while also suggesting excellent books and campus resources to consult for more in-depth information.
Though the book is organized by weeks in the semester, it is not intended to be read that way. Lang even explains this in the intro. His intention is for the book to be read 1-3 months before teaching the class, and then consulted as a reference throughout the first semester. I really liked how the week-by-week format keeps each topic focused so new teachers can tackle one task at a time without feeling overwhelmed. I also liked how Lang addresses multiple ways of tackling certain tasks, yet often takes time to explain which option he uses and why.
The audio book format works well for this book, even though it is not read by the author (which disappointed me!). I was able to listen on my commutes to work and while walking through campus. It’s a very easy listen, as Lang never throws too much information out at a time and his tone is almost conversational, like that of an experienced mentor. As a former middle school teacher, this was a great read for me to starting thinking about bridging the gap between K-12 teaching and college teaching.
FINAL GRADE: B+ You’re not going to find everything about college teaching here, but it’s a good start. Lang is likable. The resource lists alone make this a good pick or gift for anyone who ever wants to teach at the college level. You may not find anything mind-blowing or world changing here, but that’s not the point — it’s intended to help and comfort teachers without stressing them out!
Assigned Reading: Assigned to all graduate students (Lang tried to keep things interdisciplinary). Check it out from the library if you want, borrow it, skim it, and feel free to say, “Eh, this isn’t for me, I already know this stuff.” But at least give it a try.
Which resources helped you in your first teaching position? If you’ve never taught, which resources helped you as a student?
Title: You Got to Be Kidding: The Cultural Arsonist’s Literal Reading of The Bible
Author: Joe Wenke
Publisher/Year: Trans Uber, 2012
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Source: ARC from NetGalley
The premise of this book is simple: Joe Wenke reads the entire Bible and write snarky summaries/commentary about each book as he goes. He offers up witticisms about everything from the story of Noah’s Ark to God’s apparent obsession with fruit. I can’t sum it up for you very well without sharing a few quotes:
“They say the Bible is perfect, but it appears that God needs an editor.”
“Fruit—it’s one of the weirdest motifs in the Old Testament.”
“God is crazy. If he thinks you’re messing around with other gods or doing anything he doesn’t like, he’ll kill you as soon as look at you—and not just you but your whole family and all of your livestock, too.”
Now, I’ve never read the entire Bible. I want to, but that’s going to have to wait until after grad school (seriously — it’s on my shortlist of life goals). This book definitely makes me want to read the whole thing, since I’m fairly certain I’ll agree with a lot of what Wenke’s trying to say here: that the Bible is a weird, inconsistent book that represents different people’s voices in different time periods, but that it probably isn’t the literal word of God. I don’t like to get into my religious beliefs too much, but I will say that I agree and believe that humanity would be better off reading the Bible as a general guide and historical text rather than an infallible reference book. I came to this conclusion after reading all of the Gospels during Lent one season, realizing there is no possible way all four stories of Jesus’s life could all be true. But I digress.
If you are interested in the Bible, there are probably better sources for reading on this topic. Bart Erhman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story of Who Changed the Bible and Why and Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible and Why We Don’t Know About Them both provide good info on these topics, and AJ Jacob’s A Year of Living Biblically is a great source of humor on the topic. I think having already read those going into this book, I just wasn’t impressed. I know Wenke is not trying to be an academic, he’s writing comedy. And there were some GREAT one-liners! Overall, though, I wanted more. More info, more comedy, more depth, more…something.
FINAL GRADE: D I hate giving books a D. I really do. But in this case, I feel it is deserved. This book had the potential to be really good, but it felt like there was not enough time, editing, and creativity put into it to get it there. The idea of looking at the inconsistencies and weirdness in a satirical way is clever and cool. It just wasn’t followed through. As a reader, I was let down. I’m glad I didn’t pay money for this book. It did have its funny and interesting moments, so I would say borrow the book or get it on sale.
Assigned reading: If you are interested in weird Bible trivia, humor, or inconsistencies you might want to skim this book.
Library recommendations: I wouldn’t put it in a school library, but I think there would be a definite market for this book in a public library e-book collection — I think it might actually see high circulation, as opposed to sitting on the shelf unread.
Without getting too controversial, do you have a favorite piece of Bible trivia/weirdness that you find interesting and want to share?
Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publisher/Year: Blackstone Audio, 2007 (Original: 1925)
Length: 4 hrs and 53 mins
Format: Audio Book
Source: Purchased from Audible
[#72 in my 2012 75 book challenge]
In case you haven’t heard, this classic novel about the Jazz Age is being made into a movie staring Leonard DiCaprio. The movie comes out in May, so I got a head start and re-read the novel in anticipation of seeing it later this year.
The Great Gatsy is the Jazz-Age tale of a bunch of crazy people living in an Egg.
Or at least that’s my one sentence summary.
Seriously, though, our protagonist, Nick Carraway, moves next door to this dude named Gatsby in West Egg (Long Island-ish). Gatsby lives in this fancy-pants new money house, totally playing up his mysteriosity while still having parties every weekend. Nick also hangs around with Daisy and Tom Buchanan, and everyone knows that ole Tom is cheating on Daisy with this lady named Muriel. These folks all live in the East Egg with the old money. Gatsby, the eternal social climber, wants nothing more than to be old money…and to get in Daisy’s pants. Infidelity ensues. Then a lot of people drive their cars around, a tragedy occurs, and the shit hits the fan. Cue curtain.
AND IT’S ALL A METAPHOR.
I get it, you guys, I do. In high school I read this book and I was fascinated by the Jazz Age, the social climbing, the affairs, and the dead people. I could relate to the story more than anything else we were reading that year (except 1984, my favorite book ever), so I decidedly enjoyed it. Round two? Not so much, even though I understand the layers a little bit better. I see the commentary on the American Dream and wealth, the metaphor with the damn green light and the colors. I don’t get it all, which is where I miss having a class to discuss it all with, but I get it enough.
FINAL GRADE: C I didn’t love it, but I’m glad I read it. Reading books as an adult that I read in my childhood is always a fascinating experience, and I don’t think I’m the only person who looks upon this novel differently now that I’m out in the real world. However, I also know some folks who adore this book and will praise it until the cows come home. I guess you have to decide that for yourself — at only 180 pages, you can read it pretty quickly and get back to me on what you think.
Assigned Reading: Read it if you love the Jazz Age, literary fiction, classics, or metaphors. Or if you want to see the movie. It’s really one of those novels that everyone should read, since it’s always being talked about. Maybe that’s what leads to the disappointment?
Recommendations: Librarians, you can buy it for the middle school library, but it’s definitely a must-have for the high school library (do I even have to tell you that?).
Did you have to read The Great Gatsby in high school? Have you read it since? Does it hold up to your test of time?
The ABC Murders
by Agatha Christie
Purchased from the Nook Store
[#68 in my 75 book challenge]
Finishing Gretchen McNeil’s Ten inspired me to read another Agatha Christie novel, since I was in the mood for murder and mystery. The ABC Murders is a Hercule Poirot mystery about a serial killer who is murdering people in alphabetical order across England. The first murder, though preceded by a warning note sent to M. Poirot himself, appears to be domestic violence. The second, a coincidence. By the third murder, the police finally understand with Poirot has seen all along — the murders are the work of calculating sociopath with some serious inferiority issues. The race is on to pin-point the killer and prevent future attacks.
The ABC Murders was different from the other Christie novels I’ve read (Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Three Blind Mice and Other Stories, and And Then There Were None) because they didn’t follow the classic Closed Circle of Suspects mystery trope. It wasn’t all, “One of us in this room…IS A MURDERER!” but more like, “Someone is killing people randomly. Let’s catch him!” Hercule Poirot does do interviews of everyone connected to the victims, in traditional Agatha Christie style, but the story just wasn’t what I was expecting.
FINAL GRADE: C This was not my favorite Christie novel, even though it came highly recommended from various “Best of Christie” lists. However, Christie is ALWAYS worth reading. She’s the mystery queen for a reason. Her reveals are always steller, and I’m never able to guess “whodunnit” before I’m told (though I pretty much suspect every single character in the story at some point). If you love mysteries, you’ll enjoy this novel. It would also be appropriate for middle and high school students if they can tackle Christie’s prose — which they should be able to do, though Christie writes like a 1930′s British lady.
Which Christie novel should I read next? Is there another mystery author whose novels I should try?