Archive for October, 2009

National Book Award Finalists

Posted: October 29, 2009 in Uncategorized


Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage (Wayne State University Press)
Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin (Random House)
Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Jayne Anne Phillips, Lark and Termite (Alfred A. Knopf)
Marcel Theroux, Far North (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Comments: The only book I’ve heard of is Colum McCann’s. And, I thought Jayne Anne Phillips was a writer of cheesy romances! Gulp. I think it’s the fact she uses three names. Then again, so does Joyce Carol Oates.


David M. Carroll, Following the Water: A Hydromancer’s Notebook
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Sean B. Carroll, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt)
Adrienne Mayor, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy (Princeton University Press)
T. J. Stiles, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
(Alfred A. Knopf)

Comments: Again, who?


Rae Armantrout, Versed (Wesleyan University Press)
Ann Lauterbach, Or to Begin Again (Viking Penguin)
Carl Phillips, Speak Low (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Open Interval (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Keith Waldrop, Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy
(University of California Press)

Comments: See above…

Young People’s Literature

Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
(Henry Holt)
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

Comments: Not a clue.


Gore Vidal


Dave Eggers

Hey, I’ve heard of these guys!  I don’t have to feel like a complete idiot now.


All hail sloth!

Posted: October 13, 2009 in Uncategorized









The World’s Best Thin Books: What to Read When Your Book Report is Due Tomorrow by Joni Richards Bodart

Reviews say this book’s great because it touts good, riveting short books, implying once a student finishes one of these little gems s/he may then go on to read more books – I presume of varying lengths. It’s all in the service of lighting a fire under reluctant readers, theoretically, convincing those who’ve resisted to become converts.

In that case, yes. I like that idea.

But there’s another side. This sort of thing all but encourages students to  put off work as long as possible, knowing they’ll have time to polish off a very short – but hopefully impressive – book, then cram in the report during the wee hours of the day it’s due. I’m not sure about others, but I doubt I do my best writing while exhausted, having been up all night reading, regardless of how good the book is.

Some proficient writers could produce a decent report written in a rush, a looming deadline forcing them into serious critic mode double-quick.  But most can’t, since this requires a degree of expertise beyond the sort of person who crams reports into the last few hours. So, yes, you may get the reluctant reader to read (as s/he has no real choice, anyway), but the resulting quality of the report is iffy at best. Plus, you’ve just encouraged a student to take a literature course less seriously, relegating it to the status of an unimportant class you can skim through, squeaking out a passing grade.

That’s the English literature major in me talking, of course. The librarian part retorts, “But s/he is reading a BOOK!” Yes, maybe. S/he is likely skimming a book, then scribbling off something good enough to pass the assignment.

I know I did this sometimes, in pursuit of my undergraduate degree. I wouldn’t study quite enough for a test because I had a paper due at the same time. That sort of thing. And, being a literature major, I resisted skimping on that.  That may be six of one, half dozen of another, though, depending on your major discipline. I may be a little prejudiced.

Just a  little.

As far as academic sins go, it may not be such a terrible thing to read a thin book – giving yourself more time to work on the actual report – rather than painting yourself into a corner after having dedicated yourself to War and Peace when The Stranger may have sufficed. I guess the big question is, what books has this author chosen as gripping short works guaranteed to appeal to a student? If these are truly worthy books, like Wharton’s Ethan Frome, that’s one thing. But if they’re short and of no literary quality that’s another thing.

According to our library, we have this book at the reference desk. I’ll have a look, then see what I think. I shouldn’t judge it by its title, no  matter how tempting that is.  But some things about the concept irk me.

So, I promise not to drone on and on until I’ve had a chance to see the actual list of recommended books. But I reserve the right to drone on and on then. Consider that early warning.