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What are you reading this summer?


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#91 Treefrog

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Posted 20 July 2003 - 04:56 PM

Just finished "The Gatekeepers", about college admissions to select colleges in the US. It follows closely one particular admissions officer at Wesleyan University, and also a handful of students who apply to Wesleyan for admission to the class of 2004. Written by an education writer for the New York Times, it is highly readable, and at times even suspenseful.

With a rising high school sophomore in the family, I'm not sure whether I'm glad I read it now or not. It's an eye-opener, for sure. College admissions really have changed since my day; if this account is to be believed, it really is much more competitive than it was. (Although I do ask myself how that can be, statistically. Although there are many, many more students applying to selective colleges than there used to be, can the pool of really top students have grown that much over the years?)

The book also reveals how capricious the system is. It's never clear what will grab a particular admissions officer about a particular student.

Finally, the book makes clear how we are constantly raising the bar for kids at younger and younger ages. You can't get into Wesleyan without a goodly number of Advanced Placement or honors courses -- and the more of them your school offers, the more you have to have taken. They want to see that the students are challenging themselves academically. I think the lesson here is to be the top student at a not-so-competitive high school.

#92 vagansmom

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Posted 20 July 2003 - 05:43 PM

I've read reviews of that book and have wanted to read it but have been afraid it would make me :angry:

Without going into too much detail, Treefrog, since this IS a literature thread, not a college thread, that last statement of yours, "I think the lesson here is to be the top student at a not-so-competitive high school" is SO true! My daughter and son are 5 years apart, their academic record was nearly identical at the very same high school, yet their college application experiences, as well as those of their friends, were so very different because of the climate change in those interim 5 years.

However, as my son and many of his friends, all graduates of one of those competitive high schools AND graduates of those top-rated universities, says, "My high school education was far better than my college one." Overall, they were disappointed with these highly rated universities. They'd expected it to be like their high school, but at a higher level. They all found that their colleges (Stanford, MIT, Brown, CalTech, Yale) have storied names that may open career doors (or may not, really) but they feel that their education would've been just as good, maybe better, at smaller less-renowned schools.

So my conclusion after putting two kids through that very fine high school (luckily it gives out GREAT scholarships) is that it conferred the finest education they could hope to have and everything else in their academic lives will be a letdown. Both of them frequently remark on how better educated they are than their friends who didn't have the same high school opportunity. I know some people who've decided to skip oversuch quality high schools in favor of lesser ones so their kids could be "big fish in a little pond" to advance their college chances. If education is really what we want for our children, that would truly be a tragic decision.

Treefrog, at the rate changes are being made in the college admissions field nowadays, that book may be a dinosaur by the time your sophomore is ready to apply to college :shrug:

#93 Ari

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Posted 23 July 2003 - 03:09 PM

I just finished I Capture the Castle, which was delightful. The movie just came out -- has anyone seen it? It got mostly good reviews and a friend of mine liked it.

Now I'm reading Elinor Lipman's latest, The Pursuit of Alice Thrift. As I said earlier in this thread, I enjoy all her books, even if many of them are similar.

#94 TutuMaker

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Posted 24 July 2003 - 09:29 AM

I've read the Secret Life of Bees, Bel Canto, Harry Potter #5, and am now in the middle of the book that I can't name. I really enjoyed The Secret Life of Bees and highly recommend it. Bel Canto was OK, a very quick read, but the plot did not hold any surprises for me. I thought that this Harry Potter was not as well written as her others although I may just be jaded. I also read a book by Dave Gunderson (I think), I did not enjoy it as much as the first book of his I read, Snow Falls on Cedars(?).

#95 Funny Face

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 04:16 PM

For Grace's Mom, and everyone else who has not yet discovered this wonderful writer, run -- don't walk -- to your bookstore and get Jan Karon's series about the (sort of) fictitious town of Mitford. This will make your mother's summer!

For many years, Jan Karon was a big city (New York) advertising executive, who, in her 50s, finally followed her real dream. She moved to the tiny town of Blowing Rock in North Carolina, and sat down to pen what are becoming the most beloved stories in the States. The first of this series is entitled, "At Home in Mitford," which sets the stage for those stories to follow. The central character is Reverend Tim, a bachelor rector, who, although he is approaching retirement age, finds that life in many ways is just beginning, including falling in love and getting married to an artist named Cynthia who moves in next door to him, being adopted by an enormous stray dog who just won't leave, and taking in an unpolished young ruffian who thrives under Reverend Tim's care and guidance. Every salt-of-the-earth character in the town is well developed. There are many laughs and tears and insights. The books have a subtle spirituality. They don't knock you over the head with lessons, but you simply feel better for having read them.

I've read the first five in the series, and at least two more have been added, but I'll probably have to go back and reread the first ones -- which will be a pleasure.

And -- what will be even more fun for your mother is that there is a wonderful website for Jan Karon's fans. The posters seem like wonderful people, similar to those in the books, who enjoy boosting each other's spirits, sharing recipes, and generally behaving like a small town, except on line.

With that said, another series I highly recommend are Dorothy Gilman's books about Emily Pollifax. Gilman's Pollifax is sort of the American counterpart to Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. At least one movie has been made about Emily Pollifax, starring Angela Lansbury. Here's the set-up: Emily Pollifax is a widow in her early 60s who is suffering from a sort of mild malaise and depression. She lives in a New Jersey suburb and has her gardening club, etc., but is starting to feel life has passed her by (her children no longer have time for her, what with their own families). She goes to her doctor for an exam to see if anything is physically wrong with her, and he advises her to do some soul searching about whatever unfulfilled passion she has and to pursue it.

She takes him at face value, and decides that becoming a spy is what she's always dreamed of. She naively takes a trip to Washington, D.C., enters the Pentagon, and due to some confusion about her identity, actually gets sent on a mission immediately. She finds all kinds of latent talents in herself and surprises the agency and herself. She then becomes a regular for the CIA, and in the process, earns a brown belt in karate (she's stll attending Garden Club meetings), and meets, falls in love with, and marries the wonderful, elegant, Cyrus, who becomes her partner in crime. The books are easy reads, fun and uplifting.

As for me, this summer, I'm poring through Margaret Truman's (the late president's daughter) mysteries, particularly those featuring the crime-solving couple, Annabel and MacKensie Smith, both former lawyers, who are trying to stay out of the legal scene (she's an art gallery owner and he's now a professor), but they keep getting pulled into solving murder cases. Another fun couple -- well developed characters. Example: MacKensie, although a normal Joe, is something of a coffee snob, and mixes his own special blend -- can't stand drinking coffee anywhere but in his own house. Also -- he's constantly doing the marketing and meal prep for his wife. Brings her a cocktail at the end of the day and rubs her feet. Whatta guy.

#96 Cristina

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 06:06 PM

:wink:

Funny Face,
Enjoyed your post about Mitford. I did not read these the first time around. This summer I picked up the first book for the first time - At Home in Mitford. I am nearly finished with it - but I don't want to finish. I feel that I will miss the characters when it's over. I enjoy peeking in on them each evening to see what they're up to.

The last time I read a book with such engaging characters was Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove - a long time ago. There was something magical about how he developed the characters.

Unfortunately, I have enrolled in a continuing studies course that lasts 1 year. I will be spending the next year reading way too much for that course. I won't be able to pick up another Mitford book until next summer - maybe the Christmas holidays.

Cristina

#97 Funny Face

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 07:36 PM

I can understand how people can get attached to the Mitford characters, but don't despair, there are quite a few more books ahead for you to read about them, and then -- you can start all over again! I saw on Jan Karon's website that she is planning the final installment for release in 2005 -- so we all have something to look forward to.

I don't know how many "Victoria" magazine readers there are among you -- the magazine recently folded (I don't think it was ever quite the same after it changed editors), but Jan Karon was a featured artist-in-residence for that publication. I have one issue in which she wrote a special independent short story about the Mitford folks (it was a baking contest) just for the magazine.

I'd love to see Blowing Rock, NC -- I did get to Ashville and the surrounding area a few summers ago, but didn't have time to squeeze in the trek to Karon's community.

I love incorporating those kinds of outings into trips -- seeing the places where writers found their voice. As examples, I once made a point, while in Zurich, of having coffee and cake at the same table that James Joyce was said to dine in a little restaurant there; and I roamed a bit around Oxford, Mississippi not long ago, to see Faulkner's house and imagine the children of the town coming every Halloween to gather round and hear "Pappy" tell ghost stories. Also from there is legal thriller writer, John Grisham, who built his own "Field of Dreams" baseball diamond in the area.

#98 perky

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 05:41 AM

The summer is almost over but I thought I would add one anyway. I'm reading "An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England".

For some reason I'm facinated by that era. The Napoleonic Wars, The Congress of Vienna, The Prince of Wales and all of his faults, the Bucks,the Dandies and the Rakes. I love all of it. The book gives you an insight into all of the high society scandals of the day, including Lord Byron having an affair with his half-sister. They eventually fled to the continent.

One chapter gives an inventory of all the expenses the Duke of Devonshire had to maintain his lifestyle for one year. It's unbelievable! Horses, carriages and livery for your coachman and groomsman cost the most! The livery for his servants was beautifully made and expensive looking, the better to dazzle the other members of the Ton.

This was the time of Jane Austen and other literary greats, yet the pursuit of pleasure(in all it's forms) was the order of the day. Rakes would go the opera, not to admire the music but to ogle and drool over the opera dancers and make bets on who would bed the nubile new dancers first. Oh I love all of it!

The books author is Venetia Murray. If you get a chance read this book.

#99 fille'smom

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 09:47 AM

I just finished reading I, Maya Plisetskaya. How interesting to read her biography. I loved this book and just ordered a video documentary about her life.

#100 Funny Face

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 02:19 PM

I think our silly school system has got everyone confused about summer's boundaries, what with starting kids back these days earlier in August, when, in fact, summer doesn't come to a close until the last week of September.

I just saw a therapist on a talk show the other day who said that this is the worst year in history for people seeing summer come to an end -- that people like never before felt they did not really have a summer and are dreading the end of it, feeling like they still need a vacation. She talked about the many reasons for this-- the vestiges of 9/11, with people still afraid to fly, people being conservative about spending because of the economy, fear of SARS, etc.

She also said that a "getaway" is a state of mind. And I'm going to cling to that notion. With that in mind, my summer reading continues, with Fanny Flagg's "Standing in the Rainbow." What a great throw back to earlier, sweeter times in America. If you liked "Welcome to the World, Baby Girl" (which my mom sent me a few years ago), you'll love this.

I've still got Jan Karon's latest that I'm waiting to sink my teeth into after this. Sometimes when I walk into one of those huge chain bookstores, I just think, "how do all of these people choose what they're going to read" and "how do all of these authors sell?" I mean, the choices seem almost infinite these days. We could spend our entire days and nights reading and only scratch the surface.

I've also get a few by Anne Rivers Siddons I'm waiting to read -- I've only read "Downtown." Anyone familiar with her work?

The other book I've been reading a good deal of lately is "Home Comforts -- The Art and Science of Keeping House," by Cheryl Mendelson. You would be AMAZED at what you can learn from this. This is the Bible of how to maintain a house. An indispensable and highly interesting reference book.

#101 Treefrog

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 03:12 PM

Funny face, I adore "Home Comforts"! (But then, I also liked to read Emily Post's etiquette books as a child.) I agree, LOTS of good ideas on how to keep house -- not fussy, just good common sense.

I read "Devil in the White City", which I think BW wrote about earlier (many pages back -- I'm too lazy to check). It tells parallel stories, in alternating chapters, about the building of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1892-93 and the gruesome tale of a serial killer who set up shop a few miles from the fair and preyed on women who migrated to the city. All true. As the fair took place in my neighborhood -- my classroom window looks out on the fair's Midway -- I found it all particularly fascinating. Thanks, BW, for sharing this book with me!

I also just finished "A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest Gaines. It's told from the perspective of a black schoolteacher in 1940's Louisiana, who has been asked to "make a man" of his aunt's friend's godson in the weeks between his trial and execution (for a murder at which he was present but probably had no part in). The teacher has his own demons to confront, and by the end, we're not sure which lesson the title refers to, nor who learned it. This book was our school's summer reading selection. All 200 faculty members and all the high school students (my school is pre-K - 12) are expected to read this book and come to school on day 1 prepared to discuss it.

#102 vagansmom

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Posted 02 September 2003 - 10:33 PM

Treefrog, I'm intrigued. How, logistically, will you all discuss this book?

At daughter's former high school, all students and teachers read the same one book during the summer. In the first week or two of school in the fall, the author would visit the school, speak at "morning meeting" and then meet in individual English classes for discussions with students.

#103 Treefrog

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Posted 03 September 2003 - 06:50 AM

Oh, all 700 of us gather in a room ....

I jest. One lunch is set aside during teachers' planning week for faculty discussions. Faculty are randomly assigned to a discussion group, so it's a good chance to meet and interact with colleagues from other areas of the school.

Similarly, the HS students hold discussions sometime during the first week of school, in randomly assigned groups that cross all four classes. I'm pretty sure there is a faculty facilitator in each group as well.

In the past, there has also been some associated "function". Two years ago, the book we read was "Mitchell and Ruff", which is about the lives of a jazz duo. It's a fascinating and good read, full of interesting observations and life lessons about passion and perseverence and the nature of learning. Mitchell and Ruff, now in their 70's or so, came to the school and gave two performances -- an interactive master-class kind of thing with the students, and an afterschool concert for the faculty. Last year's choice was "Einstein's Dreams" -- musings about the nature of time, which left pretty much everyone yawning. There was no faculty function for that one, and I think the students got a lecture from the HS physics teacher (which, apparently, left many of them yawning as well, although he's an engaging guy.) I don't know what the plans are for this year.

#104 Guest_Angel2Be_*

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Posted 14 September 2003 - 07:47 PM

Oh, what a great summer reading list!  I'm jealous -- I'd love to read those books again for the first time!  Please report in as you finish them -- we'd like to know what you think of them

Thank you for your interest! These books were a treat, as summer assignments go, and I love my lit class this year.

The Great Gatsby: I read this book once before back in ninth grade, but had to pick it up again because it had been three years. Let's just say I am really glad I did; there was so much I missed the first time around.
Wuthering Heights: The whole atmosphere was so beautiful, yet scary... I can't help but love a sinister romance!
Catch-22: Definitely deserves to be the classic humorous anti-war novel (much better than Hemmingway, I think.) The absurdity made it really fun to read. I would have flown through it, had there not been so many characters.

It turns out that I only had to read three books, so I put A Portrait of the Artist aside for later. But I mean to read it eventually this year.

Right now, we're working on Hamlet. :sweating:

#105 Funny Face

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Posted 15 September 2003 - 05:42 AM

Well, it's still summer, and even though today starts the 4th week of school (!!!!!) I'm still working on my summer reading, as it's the perfect counterpart to all the studying. Just finished "Where the Heart Is," by Billie Letts. Never did see the movie, even though both book and movie have been out for several years. Another good Southern novel, but grittier than some.

Just started "What A Woman Must Do," by Faith Sullivan, a Minnesota writer (lots of wonderful women writers in that state). I loved her "The Cape Ann" and "The Empress of One."

A friend just gave me "Me Talk Pretty One Day," by David Sedaris, real life vignettes that can be read in a few minutes.

I'm still saving the two most recent Jan Karon books.

Anyone ever read the Griffin and Sabine series? I never did get the last of the series, which I'll have to do, and then I'll have to go back and read from book one to the present to refresh myself. For those who aren't familiar, these are books that contain postcards and letters -- you literally are reading someone else's mail. Very clever.

Happy reading.


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