Isabelle Allende’s TED talk

I realize that I really haven’t been too dedicated to blog updates for quite some time. This will change soon… believe me! I am slightly behind my reading schedule too. Not too far behind, but far enough.

That aside, I came across a TED talk today titled “Tales of Passion” by Isabelle Allende, author of many novels including “Daughter of Fortune” and “Portrait in Sepia” (both of which I need to re-read at some point). Anywa… I just had to share this with you! She talks about her pure belief in the power of passion and its ability to truly change the world in which we live in; if we only knew how to channel that energy for good, especially towards women and children.

I will now step aside and let her do the talking. I only ask that you really listen to her message.

So… what did you think?

All humour aside, I walked away with a strong and powerful, yet simple, message. In a nutshell: BELIEVE in the POWER of PASSION in the CREATION of  a better world!

In Memory of author Maurice Sendak

As always, before the movie, there was an inspiringly creative story. A story that may be quite short or long, illustrated or not, meant for children or adults, could reflect any genre, but above all else: it speaks to its readers. It challenges or changes their thoughts; it creates conversation; it puts a smile on their face or a tear in their eye; it questions right and wrong; it reveals unspoken truths; it is noticed!

I began by introducing the notion of book-to-film only because Maurice Sendak’s work has been most recently celebrated in the more public eye in the film “Where the Wild Things Are” titled after one of his many literary works.

Maurice Sendak, a beloved children’s author and illustrator had the creative ability to weave stories which, although geared towards children, created much controversy in their content, yet was devoured by many. He had published many a tale and poem dating back to the 1960’s. Sadly, with his passing, on May 8th 2012 at the age of 83, he takes with him his imaginative gift that has opened up different worlds of fictitious scenes and characters to so many.

His risky style had taken themes and stories far away from the stereotypic ideals of what a children’s story should entail, creating in their place ones that explored themes set in dark  eery lands where children could delve into several of life’s questions with ease and pleasure.

In celebration of his many achievements and gifts that he has offered to his readers here is a recording of Maurice himself reading “Where the Wild Things Are”:

The literary world has not only lost one of its most celebrated authors but one who takes with him a creative style that is unmatched.

Maurice, although you will be missed, your stories will continue to be read by many young and old for years to come.

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal ~ by Conor Grennan

All avid readers are oh so familiar with the ever-growing to-read list. But despite that, there is always a time where one hits a roadblock and is unsure what to read next. And we ask ourselves: “What book should I pick up next?” “What am I really in the mood for?” or “Is that book really going to be worth my while?” It’s either that, or you pick up about 3 books at a time and end up not completing any! Each story is just left hanging as you loose interest in one or mix up one story with another… now that can’t be good! So, remind me again, why was this character from a mystery novel riding on the back of a unicorn from another?

To solve this dilemma, I thought I’d ask some friends with a general facebook post and got several answers back. One friend recommended picking up “Little Princes” by Conor Grennan, which I mistook for “A Little Princess” (a very different read indeed). Anyway… I thought I would pick it up as it has been sitting on my to-read list for quite some time; such a long time that I had forgotten about it.

“Little Princes” is a non-fiction travel novel set in several locations in Nepal. Conor (the author) begins his journey around the world with a plan to stop by Nepal for 3 months to volunteer at an orphanage by the name: Little Princes. The thing is, he does not do this out of the kindness of his heart or his selfless nature. He does this as a way to justify his yearlong trip around the world to his friends and family. It is basically a way to bring attention to himself as a humanitarian (which he clearly is not at that point) and plans to use this experience as a line to bring attention to himself at a later date, be it his family’s attention or that of a girl at a bar. He basically volunteers for all the wrong reasons.

This already sounds as though the journey is not off to a great start. However, being allowed to read about the extreme change in attitude to the better as this journey unfolds is one of the many beautiful events within the story. A three month voluntour trip ends up becoming a mission that begins with a 3 year long commitment to the children of a foreign land based on a very simple promise that Conor had made: to take the children home. It turns out that the orphanage is not a safe house for orphans but a shelter for formerly trafficked children of extremely remote regions of Nepal. This promise and the resilience of the children leads to the founding of yet another organization called Next Generation Nepal founded by Conor Grennan to fulfill this promise to as many Nepalese children as he possibly can.

As difficult as the subject matter of this story is I was surprised to find it jam packed with humour! That was probably why it was quite an easy read as the tellings of tragic circumstances of helpless children were juxtaposed with sarcasm and self-mocking comedy on the authors part. Interlaced with this journey is a story of self-reflection and spiritual growth… and of course, love. It is a story that is told the way it is. I truly feel the story gushing with honesty. Intertwined with this honesty is raw description of the sights, smells and sounds of Nepal giving the novel a flavour of the setting itself.

In the author’s own words:

It is always hard to read of the reality of what people (especially children) are forced to endure and is easier to push this reality aside thanking of it while remaining disconnected from the goings on of other places as though it were happening in some other time on some other planet. Connor chose to wake up and do otherwise. He chose to dive into the uncomfortable and unjust and make things right. I have so much respect for those who are able to fight for others who are not given a voice. This book was truly a great read and one I would highly recommend.

Links:

To learn more about Next Generation Nepal and/or donate to the cause please visit: Next Generation Nepal

Hunger Games ~ the movie

Last week, after hearing and reading rave reviews from various sources, I finally got the chance to go see the Hunger Games on the big screen. I did enjoy the movie experience (it’s been almost a year since I’ve been to the theatre) but I must say, I didn’t seem to enjoy the movie as much as I thought I would.

I did think the movie was a good visual to the book as far as the characters, sets and costumes go.

The way Panem was interpreted was spot on. However, the highlight of the entire film, to me, was the cinematography. That was not interpreted from a written page but was rather a stylistic and creative choice. The camera was used to tell the story along with the tributes. We saw much of the action from their perspectives or from their proximity. It really felt as thought the movie was shot as a documentary rather than a fictional story. And I think that was a very smart move. The approach really helps the viewer be more a part of the action as opposed to an outsider looking in.

Another creative interpretation of the story was the actual ‘game board’, if you will, that the gamers used to manipulate the playing field. As I recall, there weren’t too many details about how the game master called the shots and made things come to reality. The idea of the players being at the fingertips of those who control them became quite literal at the electronic game board where the illusion of night and day, the announcements of children’s deaths, the fires and unnatural creatures all came to be through the imagination and the simple electronic manipulations of those who controlled the ‘playing’ field.

Granted, movies are never quite as detailed as the book, that’s a given. Although the film lasted about 2.5 hours it still did not carry all the details of the text (obviously). Although I think some details could have been catered for despite the time limit; such as: Butterball (Prim’s cat) is actually long haired ginger, not black and white. Yes, I know it’s a small detail but why change it? Also, the birth of the mockingjay pin which is to become the symbol of the revolution and almost synonymous with Katniss herself is completely altered. Not a bad alteration considering the ‘new story’ but still, it’s quite important. I do understand the need to shave off excess information due to time limits though. If there were to be all the details then 6 movies rather than 3 would be in order to complete the visual trilogy.

As far as characters go, I must say, I was very impressed. The acting out of each of the personalities were extremely accurate and Katniss herself was really great. She really was the heroine that was created in the books. Jennifer Lawrence did an incredible job at bringing out the characteristics of a heroine who has become loved by girls and boys alike. Her attitude, temper, rashness, bravery and her refusal to succumb to the atrocities of the capitol were evident. It was very nice to see such a character come to life as opposed to the stereotypical girly girl of Hollywood whom we have all become accustomed to seeing whether or not we agree with the stereotype.

The added scene at the end of the film where the game master was left in a locked room with the berries was also, I thought, I good call. We are never told how he had been killed in the books; only that he had ‘mysteriously’ disappeared in the second book of the trilogy. His death is left to our interpretation. And I thought the movie’s version was a good one.

One thing that did get on my nerves after a while was the number of times the phrase “May the odds be ever in your favour” was repeated. I just think that was slightly over done to the point where I almost expressed the notion of ‘moving on already’ out loud! Thankfully I wasn’t sitting next to any strangers.

I am however, shocked, at the idea that the movie ended up with a PG rating! Now, as much as I think the story is great I have some serious problems with the idea that it has been categorized as Teen Fiction. Granted, it may be alright for more mature teens. By this I mean 16 and up. But I’ve noticed many 9 yr olds devouring the series. Language wise, it really is an easy read even for a 9 year old who reads well. Its appropriateness, however, certainly isn’t. I just have a very hard time legitimizing why it is ok for such young malleable minds to be exposed to such a sadistically violent story. Yes, some children are extremely mature but I am addressing this more generally. I’m just wondering how much of the bigger picture or message of the story is being absorbed as opposed to the blood and gore. If a young person is to read the book there has got to be several follow up discussions that carry the story beyond the violence. Otherwise, it’s almost another way to desensitize children to extremely aggressive behaviour. Back to my point of the PG rating… I really think some of the more visually disturbing details had been left out in order to gain this rating and reach out to a wider audience. i.e more cash! I worry when I find 8 and 9 year olds in the theatre while this is playing. So, from a concerned teacher’s point of view, I stand by this opinion quite strongly despite my being a fan.

Anyways… back to the movie: I think I may have been expecting more from this visual interpretation. Although there were quite a few creative decisions that were made in terms of character development, settings and cinematography, I still did not feel the ‘Wow!’ factor and the extreme emotion (to the point of very many tears and temper tantrums) as I did while reading. In my opinion, the depth of the story itself cannot be appreciated in its entirety without reading the series first.

Is this to say that I will not be seeing the full series as it is released? Certainly not! But my advice to those who still have not read the books is: READ them! It is the only way you will be able to understand the several messages and depth of what the author is trying to convey.

~Previous post: A few thoughts about the first book of the series… click here~

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

I picked up this book after reading a brief review of it on a fellow blogger’s page.

I have to say, although this is non-fiction, based on observations and facts, it was a fast paced read, witty and informative. Peggy Orenstein, describes herself as first and foremost: a journalist. And the style in which she writes this book certainly reflects a journalist’s knack for sharing information in such a way that a reader is pulled in and wants to keep reading.

“Cinderella Ate My Daughter” is essentially, a critical observation of ‘girly girl’ pop culture that is being pushed onto girls at an extremely young age. Orenstein deconstructs how pop culture has been successful at infiltrating what ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be ok for girls to play with, to look like, to like and dis-like; in other words: What a girl should be. She goes through the recent explosion of the Disney Princess line, which although based on classic Disney characters, has only come to be, very recent years. She also tells her readers about children’s pageants (which I personally think should be ban), the rise of the Bratz, child-to-teen stars such as Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, as well as other tid-bits of culture that have been successfully marketed to the malleable minds of the very young to the point where it really could be all consuming.

Although she attacks the issue head on, I feel as though Orenstein has tried to balance her argument by opening a window to show a glimpse of the other side of the argument. In other words: the positive side of the pink culture. She asks the question: “Why has girlhood become so monochromatic?” then ponders the question: Does the “pink factor” open of limit girl play? For example: Would girls be actively involved in sports if sports equipment did not come in ‘girl colours’ such as pink baseball bats and pastel soccer balls? Some pageant girls seem to really want to be there.

Other sides of the issue are also explored and explained such as: the socially constructed meaning of colours regarding either gender; the history of the Disney Princesses and the early sexualization of girls.

Strawberry Shortcake, then and now

As I read on I kept reflecting back to my own childhood. My toys, my colour choices my exposure to girl culture in the 80’s and 90’s and the choices I’ve made based on this exposure. I remember being completely in love with the colours pink and purple but I know this was not pushed on me (at least not by my parents). My toys were of every colour under the sun and were mostly gender neutral in terms of interest. I’ve always rejected the Barbie doll despite having so many of them given to me as gifts and loved the Ninja Turtles. I was never told I couldn’t do or achieve anything because of my gender and have become livid on several occasions when a family friend had implied just that.

We all know that times are changing and they always will be. But are they changing for he better? And which elements of this change are not proving to be fruitful in the long run? Do we want an entire generation of girls to be so overly worried about their looks and weight that they completely forget about nurturing what’s on the inside, be it knowledge or spirit?

As much as I enjoyed this read the only disappointment was that Orenstein had left out any commentary and very little substance in terms of the best ways to address these issues. A good balance is a good way to go but how does a parent achieve this balance in today’s world and how would a teacher take this information and create a positive environment for his/her students that would address these matters?

Having said that, I still highly recommend this book for it’s eye-opening content, the many “ah ha!” moments and the amount of information that has been packed into its pages.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, is an emotional ride and a tribute to the magic of books and the world of literature.

The animation opens with a scene of Mr. Lessmore sitting on his balcony surrounded by books only to be violently carried away by a twister that oddly resembles one from “The Wizard of Oz” – especially when a neighbour flies by on his bicycle. The animation morphs from colour to monochromatic grey-scale. Even the words to Mr. Lessmore’s book have been blown away, but his story is still alive within himself.

He follows a trail of lost stories until he comes across a flying character being carried away by books. He chases one of those books to a stand-alone building that has become a shelter for stories both old and new. The responsibility of caring for, spreading and creating new stories has fallen upon Mr. Lessmore, and he takes this on willingly. The short continues to visually portray Mr. Lessmore’s ‘literary’ life till it’s time to pass on the torch to the coming generation; to one who truly understands and appreciates the importance of story telling.

There are very many aspects of the animation that I found very creative in their simplicity. The animation itself is silent yet the books are given voice and emotion through body language as well as flipbook capabilities to animate their illustrations and convey their messages. The simple idea of a book creating hope, joy and colour in people’s lives is effectively conveyed as Mr. Lessmore distributes stories to others and watches the colour return to their very being. A perceived reality that so many book lovers continuously try to put across about their love of the written word is wonderfully created in this short.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, is a beautifully constructed visual journey of the magic of books. A must see!

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!!

Today readers young and old celebrate the 108th birthday of the beloved author and illustrator Dr. Seuss. His timeless stories packed wit humor and beautiful life lessons have made their way into the hearts of so many and are celebrated by all.

As a tribute, I’d like to share my favourite Dr. Seuss quotes (which were difficult to pick out) to celebrate this special day:

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 “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” ~ Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~ Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

Other quotes:

“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.” ~ Dr. Seuss

And of course…

“Today is your birthday! Today you are you! There is no one alive that is you-er than you!” ~ Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You!

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Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!! :@D 

B-day Dr. Seuss

The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn

The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn, was given to me by the principal of a school I worked for about 2 years ago. The entire staff was given a copy and asked to read it before our next meeting. It was meant to be a giant book club meet-up where we were to discuss the concepts outlined and ways in which we could apply them to our own teaching and learning dynamic within our classrooms as well as our daily interactions with one another. It was a great idea but between curriculum writing, lesson planning, marking and parent meetings I never quite got through the entire book. I remember my students asking me about it because they found almost every staff member walking around the campus with a copy! It was pretty funny.

Anyway… I finally picked it up again to revisit the core concepts and actually read it cover to cover!

In a nutshell, Mark (the author) had recently moved into a new neighbourhood. The morning after, Fred, his post carrier, knocks on his door and takes the time to introduce himself, have a little chat and cares enough to let Mark know that he would be able to hold his mail when he is traveling so as not to raise suspicion of an empty house and possible temptation for others to break in. And so the ‘Fred Factor’ is born. The idea is to bring passion and meaning to whatever it is you do, to go above and beyond without expecting anything in return. I know this sounds absurd in this day and age, but really when you do something with passion and show genuine care the good will come to you especially when you don’t expect it. Does that make sense at all?!

I wouldn’t want to spoil the read by re-wording the concepts outlined because it is done so well and explained in such a straightforward way I wouldn’t want to ruin it. But it would give you an idea as to what this self-help book is trying to achieve if I simply outline the titles of each part: Part 1: What’s a Fred?; Part 2: Becoming a Fred; Part 3: Developing Other Freds; Part 4: For the Love of Fred

I started reading this with the saying: “You reap what we sow” in mind. I thought that this was essentially what the book was all about. But this all changed when, as Oprah would say, the “Ah ha! Moment” hit me. This, for me, was when the author describes the concept of making a difference. We all want to “make a difference” right? Well he points out that regardless of what we do we are making a difference! What we really want to emphasize is what kind of a difference we want to make. A simple example: Whether or not we smile at the waiter who serves us our coffee will make a difference either way. If we choose to smile and be polite we may have a positive effect on his/her day. If we chose to ignore him/her… we’re still making a difference, it’s just not a positive one. So the next time I say “I want to make a difference” (which is a line I think about a lot) I’d rather be more specific and say that “I’d like to make a positive difference.” I’ve never really thought of this distinction… but it’s there, and the more aware we are aware of it the better.

After this “Ah ha! Moment”, another quote came to mind which I think describes the book better than the previous one, and that is: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi.

The best way to understand The Fred Factor is to read it! And I do recommend it quite highly.

Happy reading! :@)

The Eight by Katherine Neville

This review doesn’t contain any spoilers… just a brief summary.

“The Eight”, a thriller novel, was written in 1988. Essentially, it is a story that intertwines two adventures and female protagonists who are on a quest centuries apart. Central to this quest is an exquisitely hand crafted chess set: The Monglane Service. When all the pieces are combined, this chess set holds a formula, which gives its bearer the strength to do good or extreme evil. In the wrong hands, the formula can easily wreck havoc. The number “8” holds a significant part of the key.

Mirelle, a French nun, living in the 1700’s is instructed to scatter the pieces around the globe while Catherine, a tech consultant in NY living in the 1970’s is on a quest to find them. The goal: To destroy the chess set before more blood is shed due to the fight over its possession.

In this novel, Katherine Neville intertwines the adventure to the chess set itself, where each character becomes a chess piece in the larger ‘Game’. She also creates a plot in which many historical figures, from scientists to artists to politicians and philosophers are all knowledgeable and very much involved in the quest to locate and decipher the secret behind the Monglane Service. Only, I think this becomes a bit too much, since it seems quite random. Mirelle keeps bumping in to these historical figures only to discover that they know about the possible existence of the chess pieces… and the story continues. There doesn’t really seem to be a need for all these arbitrary characters.

In all honesty, it was a bit difficult to get through this book… but I did. The action scenes were far too short and far between up until I got toward the last quarter of the book where it was quite packed with action.

I’ve read from various sources that this book has been compared to novels like “The Da Vinci Code” and I think that is a bit of a stretch. I’ve read “The Da Vinci Code” twice and wouldn’t mind reading it again, while I would not think about picking this read up a second time. Not only because of my rant (see below) but it was also quite slow moving when the action died down.

I may be a bit bias when it comes to this read too, due to all the demeaning, negative cultural references which were very unnecessary when it came to the progress of the story itself and (in my opinion) not very relevant to character development either. It was very unnerving to continuously read lines such as:

“run by  a bunch of people who don’t know how to dig a whole in the ground?” (referring to Arabs)

Or

“Taking a glance at the Ku Klux Klan around me…’ (referring to the traditional white clothing that are worn by some Arab men that really have no resemblance to the garments worn by such a hateful group other than the colour) – This particular remark is SO wrong on FAR too many levels it makes my blood boil!

Or

While asking for directions the protagonist decides that the Arabs she asked were “drug-induced no doubt” when there really was no reason to insinuate drug use in the text – seriously?!

And other quotes I can’t seem to find right now.

Sure everyone is entitled to their own opinions. And this book was written in the 80’s… that’s fine. I may even understand if these remarks were to create a base of what was to come in terms of the character’s involvement in the story. But really, the character who did most of the trash talk was bad news whether or not he decided to run the Arab race through the dirt.

I’ll be very honest… being an Arab and having been raised in an Arabic country for most of my youth, it’s only human to resent such random comments. I am very welcoming of everyone around me and have been raised to celebrate our differences. Therefore, I am very unappreciative of random comments that emphasize ethnic gaps rather than human commonality regardless of who is being attacked. Yes, we are all different, but that doesn’t mean we need to ridicule in order to feel ‘safe’ and ‘superior’… how about understanding for a change?

I would usually just stop reading a book once I’ve come across one too many remarks. However, I think I kept reading this time because I hadn’t actually purchased the book. I had borrowed it from the library. If I had actually bought it, then the idea of spending money on such a read would have bothered me and the chances of finishing it cover to cover would have been slim to none.

Please excuse my rant. I realize this has become a bit personal after touching upon the above issue, but it couldn’t be helped.

Needless to say… I wouldn’t rank this read too highly.

On to my next book!

Game of Thrones ~ a quick comment and quote

I began reading this series in December. Admittedly, by the middle of the 2nd book I’m finding it a bit hard to keep going. It’s an interesting read but I feel as though I need a break from all the intertwining characters who are continuously being introduced throughout the books. So, I’ve put the series down for now hoping to get back to it later on.

I just wanted to share a quick quote from a character by the name of Tyrion Lanister, a little person of high ranked birth who is not very highly respected but makes a name for himself with the use of his quick wit. He has quite a few words of wisdom scattered across the text. This is one I particularly like:

“You can’t hammer tin into iron, no matter how hard you beat it, but that doesn’t mean tin is useless.”

In other words, we need to celebrate our individual traits and differences. We need to embrace them for their beauty and all they have to offer. And that includes your own differences which sometimes are the hardest to accept as the gifts they really are. Besides, wouldn’t life be boring in a cookie cutter world?!

It also, reminds me of a keychain I had on my backpack in high school that read: “I’m not weird, I’m gifted!” I wonder where that keychain is!

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill

Top GirlsWhen it comes to reading, I haven’t really given much thought to plays other than some of Shakespeare’s work I’ve read in school. I’m not really sure why it hasn’t occurred to me to read more plays but it’s never too late to explore the notion.

I have just finished reading Top Girls by Caryl Churchill first published in 1982. It comprises of three acts with Marlene at its centre; a career oriented, overambitious woman, a firm believer in female strength and intelligence and a representative of gender equality. She rejects the idea of the passive woman or what is perceived to be the ‘good girl’. An idea that has become very reflective of what a man expects of the ‘gentler sex’. The submissive role is represented by her sister Joyce.

The play is very multilayered and is, in essence, a commentary about what success really means to a woman. Churchill doesn’t make a point of giving a definitive answer but leaves her reader/audience member to question what it is.

The first act serves as a prologue to Marlene’s ideals and way of life. Churchill introduces us to five women of history from different periods of time from various corners of the world all of whom represent the female gender in a way that is not accepted by their society. These women have all gathered to celebrate Marlene’s recent promotion to the top position at an employment agency. These female characters are: Pope Joan from the 19th Century; An emperor’s concubine turned Buddhist nun named Lady Ninjo; Isabella Bird an explorer from Victorian times; Dull Gret a subject in Bruegel’s 16th Century painting; and lastly, patient Griselda, the only house-wife amongst the characters, the stereotypical product of male thought. Not only do their conversations detail their life experiences, but also question the structures of the male oriented patriarchal societies in which they lived in. the question remains: Has the female image really changed over time?

Act II moves us into Marlene’s work space where conversations are taking place as she is settling into her first day working her top job’. The most significant conversation in this act is between Marlene herself and a co-worker’s wife who storms into the office asking her to step down so that her husband can take over. He is sick at home having difficulty dealing with the idea of 1) Having lost the position to a woman and 2) Having to go back to work under her direction and observation. His wife comments: “What’s it going to do him working for a woman? I think if it was a man he’d get over with it as something normal.”

In Act III, we are given more insight into Marlene’s personal life by visiting her submissive sister’s place, observing her interactions with her ‘daughter’ who we later learn to be Marlene’s biological child and listening in on their conversations detailing Marlene’s sacrifices that have lead her to achieving success, or to be taken seriously, in a male dominant environment which turn out to be quite costly especially when it comes to personal/emotional sacrifice. There didn’t really seem to be a definitive beginning, middle and end to this play… at least I didn’t think so. It seemed to be more of a glimpse into the life of Marlene rather than her entire life story. The focus was set on the commentary of what she stood for as a woman and less so of the details of her failure as a mother or the specifics of how she got her ‘top job’. The point is she did and what did others and herself think about the achievement and her ideas that got her there.

The play itself would be played entirely by women very much representing and reflecting the female voice. The style of writing or “chitter-chatter”, if you will, of the lines were a challenge to keep up with at the start… very much like listening to several conversations at once and not quite knowing which to join. I can imagine it would be quite a challenge for stage actors and directors to orchestrate showing a natural flow to the simultaneous conversation.

However, the questions remain: Is breaking away from rigid social tradition worth it at the end of the day? Is society being more accepting to those who do liberate themselves from what is deemed ‘normal’? And at the same time, hasn’t Marlene herself used her sister unfairly in order to get to where she is now? Has she assumed the role of a dominant male? What of that?

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Atwood’s “The Penelopiad” is the retelling of the infamous epic tale “The Odyssey”, told through a different lens. Not only was it a great read (I read it twice!), it gives the reader a lot the think about.

“The Odyssey” tells the story of Odysseus’s decade long journey home after fighting the Trojan War, where his eternally faithful, loving and ever patient wife, Penelope, awaits his return while taking care of his kingdom and fending off several suitors who would do more than kill for the chance to gain Odysseus’s riches. Upon Odysseus’s return, he slaughters the suitors, hangs Penelope’s 12 maids and reclaims his kingdom. And that’s the end of that!

Winston Churchill was quoted to have said: “History is written by the victors”. By now, we are quite aware that history has shown to give priority and power to the male figure (and in many cases, it still does). Considering the two statements, one can deduce that in history the male is the dominant victor. So, one can also assume that “The Odyssey” was written by the victor leaving out the other side of the story. Atwood tells us Penelope’s side of the story.

With Penelope as the narrator and her 12 slaughtered maids her ‘chorus’, Atwood gives voice to the faithful wife and her support group, who’s own journey in “The Odyssey” is far from considered. Her feminist approach to the age-old tale challenges the reader to contemplate other key characters in the tale. By doing so, Penelope and her entourage are humanized and the nature of their characters that is better known as being frail and passive is completely restructured to reflect strength and intelligence.

Penelope begins her narration from the fields of Asphodel in the underworld stretching into the 21st century where Odysseus is made to stand in front of a jury to answer to his crimes; actions which in his time were within his rights as a slave owner. However, the process is interjected by divine intervention and the reader is left to determine his/her own ‘truth’.

Atwood’s dry humour and feminist approach is tangible throughout the piece. Penelope’s frank comments bring wit to a tragic story moving it along in such a way that the reader follows the journey with ease. One can say that it’s a comedic tragedy with a very heavy undertone.

The telling of the maids’ life encounters are extremely melancholy. However, the way in which Atwood brings their recounts to life through song and child’s play creates certain contrasts between voice and tale where the reader is put in a place of unease. Singing a light-hearted rope-jumping rhyme about their murders, or being accompanied by a fiddle while singing about their unfair circumstances would make anyone question the unjustness of their realities (whether or not they want to). I think this is done for that very reason. The vast difference between the two allows the reader to think twice of the situation at hand. The eeriness of the concept of singing about rape makes it all the more potent.

It is clear that the idea of male supremacy is being questioned because of the nature of this book. However, I think that it can also be seen as a commentary about how hierarchy also plays a part in supremacy. Penelope uses her maids to help fend off the suitors by making them her eyes and ears among the enemy. To fulfill that role her maids are abused, raped and forced to spread rumors among the men that eventually lead to their being hung. So how is Penelope treating other women under her own care? Even though she sees her maids as her own children they are looked down upon. There is no mention of her attempting to stop the rapes. As stated, the maids are a source of information throughout the tale. To this Penelope comments that “telling tales is a low art” and that the maids are “the idol minds of gossip”. So, she loves them dearly, but in her eyes they are still below her.

Moving on to a general observation, I do see the tale as being a comment on all wars where the men leave the safety of their homes and it is up to the women to fend for themselves and keep everything running. Women are the silent heroes and survivors of any war.

A few quotes to ponder:

  • After describing the kinds of bad men to be found in the fields of asphodel Penelope says: “Like a lot of goody-goody girls, I was always secretly attracted to men of that kind.” – Are there good girls at all?
  • Commenting on the spreading of rumors with regards to a woman: “If she defends herself she sounds guilty.”
  • After running into Helen: “Why is it that really beautiful people think everyone else in the world exist merely for their amusement?”
  • Referring to ‘artifacts’ in museums after calling them “trash”: “Some of it made its way to enormous palaces that have – strangely – no kings or queens in them.” – it’s all a matter of perspective.
  • “All of this was play-acting: “the fiction was that the bride had been stolen, and the consummation of a marriage was supposed to be a sanctioned rape.” – Talk about male dominance and female humiliation!

The Joy of Reading!

I wanted to share this stop-motion animation that has gone viral.

Before seeing this I thought only toys came to life after dark! It turns out that books are in on the fun too! And why shouldn’t they be?! :@)

This was created at the Type Bookstore in Toronto (883 Queen Street West, (416) 366-8973

January is Shakespeare Reading Month

Hello fellow book worms!

Shakespeare's work

It’s just come to my attention that January is Shakespeare Reading Month! I had no idea!

As it turns out I’m already re-reading Romeo and Juliet and planning to read a few other titles that I haven’t read yet, such as: The Tempest, Othello, Merchant of Venice and Much ado About Nothing. I doubt I’ll be able to get to all these works by the end of January because I do have a short list of books I need complete before the 21st if not sooner! (You’ll find out why later on)

Although, reading Shakespeare’s work will certainly count towards completing 40 books by the end of 2012, I never thought of writing a blog post about each piece. I’m not sure I feel prepared to take on such a post. As much as I enjoy reading Shakespeare, I’m not sure I’d be able to write about his work; unless I find the time to go through some Cole’s Notes or the like to help me through it… we’ll see to that when the time comes.

For the time being I’d like to share a link to a blogger’s post that deals with what to look out for and how to read Shakespeare at all. I thought the post to be very informative and straight forward and agree with the blogger’s suggestions. Again, I want to stress that I do not know this blogger personally and I am in no means taking any of her blogging work to be my own. that is why I’ve provided a link to her post here so that you could read her thoughts in her domain.

Here is her link: Tips for Reading Shakespeare (Shakespeare Reading Month)

So, what tales are you planning to read in honor of celebrating the Shakespearian tongue?

Happy 2012!! :@D

Happy New Year!

Another year another to-read list and hopefully a whole lot of reviews to go with it! :@) It’s been some time since I’ve written anything about my literary adventures. Although, I must say I haven’t stopped reading. Let’s just say that life got in the way. So, I’m attempting to get back on this wagon and stick to it… at least for longer than the last time around.

To make this more exciting, at least for me, I joined a reading challenge on goodreads.com to read 40 books by the end of 2012. So I’m hoping to have about 40 reviews written by the end of the year as well. So, provided I stick to my own goals, expect to read quite a few posts in the coming months.

My list of books to read is ever growing longer. A few of the ones I’ll be reading (or re-reading) soon are: “The Penelopiad”, “The Help”, “1984”,  “Animal Farm”, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, a few series, biographies and all sorts of other titles that are too many to mention here.

If you care to join me on good reads you can find me here.

Here is to a New Year of good books.

Happy reading :@D

The Hunger Games – Who’s the bully now?

The Hunger GamesFor those of you who are not aware of the content of this book, I thought I would write a very brief summary before putting my thoughts out there. Before I go on though, I must say that I will go into a few details of the book that may give away some of the content. So, if you are the kind of reader who does not appreciate knowing a few details before reading them yourself (as I am)… be warned! If this applies to you, go read the book, then report back and share your thoughts.

So – In summary, “The Hunger Games” is the first of 3 books in a series. The story revolves around several characters with Katniss and Peeta as the protagonists. Basically, the book is set in the future at which point North America does not exist, due to an unsuccessful uprising/revolution. It is replaced by a nation called Panem, comprised of one Capitol overseeing 12 Districts. Each district serves the Capitol and specializes in one industry or another. The people of these districts are ruled under the Capitol’s dictatorship and have no means of contact between one other. The people of each district live in isolation of the realities of every other District around them. Panem has been divided and conquered.

The Hunger Games is a completely televised “show”/”competition” where one boy and one girl, aged 12 through 18, of each of the Districts are randomly chosen to participate. The “tributes” are made “celebrities” and are placed in a man-made arena that replicates any given natural habitat. Tributes are expected to survive and fight one another. The winner is the sole survivor. This takes place on a yearly basis as a reminder of the atrocities of the uprising to all the people of Panem, to stop any ideas of people uprising again.

“The Hunger Games” is one of those books that had my thinking process in constant flux. Not only was the story unfolding like a rollercoaster ride but so were the implications of each of the twists and turns throughout the story.

That aside though, the reoccurring message that is presented to the reader in so many different approaches on so many different levels is the idea of obsessive control and the incessant need to be at the very top of the hierarchy. Of course, I am referring to the Capitol.

The Games are a weapon of mass control used to keep the people sucked into the frame of mind of being forced into helpless submission. It’s a way of brainwashing the people into their way of life. They are not convinced that it is right but they are convinced that they are unable to do anything about it. Katniss refers to District 12 as a place “where you can starve to death in safety.” A bit of an oxymoron but one that is reality.

It gets more interesting. Katniss, with her hate of the system, and knowing the power of media, learns to manipulate the system through the media. She adds drama to her “performance” in the arena to win the hearts of her viewers. She is very aware of the power of media and sees how the people of the Capitol are taken by it. This other, even more powerful, weapon of mass control, has seriously desensitized the masses especially in the Capitol (as their children are not in danger of becoming tributes). The fact that children are turned into killing machines and are being murdered through those “games” is completely irrelevant, “everything is about them, not the dying boys and girls in the arena.”

After winning the hearts of many by watching her every move in the arena to send the right messages to the outside world, Katniss goes ahead and has the “audacity” to insult the Capitol on two very pivotal occasions: 1) Showing all of Panem the love and care she had for Rue by draping her in flowers and singing to her after she had been killed knowing that the cameras were on her through the entire process; in turn insulting the games and what the Capitol stands for; and 2) Instigating the threat of a double suicide with Peeta during the very last moments of the games. She knew full well that the Capitol could not end the game with no winner. The one thing that was now in her control was her choice of living or dying. She took the chance of ending her life! She shocked the entire nation by playing the Capitol’s game by her own rules succeeding in bending the system. She mastered the weapon of mass control and controlled it herself.

I truly admire Katniss’s strength to standing up to such a power greater than her own. The only problem is that, to the outside, she stands alone. She managed to reverse the roles of bully and victim. So… who’s the bully and who is being bullied?

Alone, anyone is vulnerable, especially when fighting a battle. Her rebellion is extremely threatening. She needs to build an army of followers for her to be safer. The first step has been taken and there is no turning back.

This book ends with the reader being aware that Katniss’s efforts are supported by the few that know her. However, they are not ready to make this public. As far as the Capitol is concerned, she still stands alone. I wonder what the second book of the series will reveal.

For the time being though, my questions to you are: Do the Capitol’s ways ring any bells at all? Do you think our media is just as controlling of us? Are we aware of the control or not? Do we choose to ignore the implications and bend to the rules of the media?

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room was certainly a gripping read. It was one of those books that I could not put down. One that I wanted to read right through but at the same time did not want to finish. There were several issues that were addressed throughout the telling of this story. Although I can go on forever about the love, loyalty and bravery that Emma Donoghue portrays in both Ma and Jack throughout the book I’d prefer to focus on 3 other points that are constantly being addressed and/or challenged as the narrative unfolds. These are: the child’s perspective, the issue of stunted growth, and the questioning of reality.

1)   As the entire book is written in Jack’s voice (who is 5) it is very hard not to address the idea of seeing the story through Jack’s mind. As Jack tells us the way he turned 5 overnight and introduces us to Ma, “Room”, “Table”, “Chair” and “Bed” he continuously refers to objects with proper names as though each of these objects were indeed his friends. Jack does this because they simply are! Living in complete isolation with his mother as the only other person he’s ever interacted with it’s probably the most logical thing in the world to humanize the objects around him. It’s almost as though it is a survival strategy. But at the same time, he is completely unaware of the existence of a world outside “Room”. The idea that Emma Donoghue has given her readers a door inside a child’s mind and the simple logicality of Jack’s thoughts is what makes this story SO unique and SO intriguing! Only, these thoughts are interpreted by an adult and as much as we (as adults) would like to think that we know exactly what a child is thinking or feeling… we don’t. So, as incredibly logical the interpretation is of Jack’s thoughts in any of the situations he finds himself in who really knows what a child could be thinking?! We’ll never know. This is not to say I don’t think this book is incredibly written … it is! And it’s one that I’d read time and time again. But I just thought it would be interesting to think about who really does know the perspective of a child unless you are one of those people who remembers a ridiculous amount of detail from childhood (as I do… to the point where it’s a bit scary). With time, I’ve found that not too many people I know have the ability to remember what they were thinking at the age of 3 or 4 in a particular situation. Anyway… I just thought that the idea of a true child’s perspective was one to think about.

2)   When Jack and Ma do escape their captor, Jack goes through a series of tests to assess his growth and compare it to a regular 5-year-old boy who has not been living in a room all his life. As a teacher I found two particular findings quite interesting because of their larger implications.

The doctors assigned to Jack, as well as Ma, had noticed that he seems to have become quite clumsy while at the clinic. He continuously bumped into things giving himself multiple bruises. It turned out that his visual development was stunted in the sense that he is unable to judge distance accurately because he has been confined in such a small space; and so the need for him to judge distance was not apparent in his environment. Hence, it did not develop! There was another situation in the book where he encouters a stair-case for the first time and is very perplexed about how to tackle them. His knees have never flexed in the way that is needed to go down a stair-case! Left to his own problem solving skills he decided to sit on a step and work his way down from there. Simple, but logical. What does this mean coming from a teaching background? Take this into a classroom where a six year old in the first grade has not developed basic colouring skills or is unable to take hold of a pencil in the right way would probably have something to do with not being exposed to such objects in his/her familiar environment. So there was no need and/or no opportunity or even desire to learn such skills. So, they don’t! I’m sure I will encounter such children at many points of my career and I only hope that I will be able to provide them with an environment where they can explore different skills without fear and develop an understanding of them.

3) Jack’s questioning of reality is a constant theme that also plays a large role in making the book “un-put-down-able”. For the sake of shortening this post ever so slightly. I’ll ask: What is reality to you? How would you react if everything around you which you took for granted as being real was taken away from you? What then? Remember “The Truman Show”? Same predicament! But what if it was you?

The Little Prince – Priorities and Being Happy

I’ve read this book a few times. It’s one of those books that make more and more sense after every read. To a child it is full of absurd characters with bizarre ideas and obsessions. As an adult, I see myself reading between the lines and taking away many life lessons from the story of a wandering prince from a planet holding 3 volcanoes and a rose.

I really believe that we create our own experiences and tailor them to our own liking. Whether we are aware of it or not, we make life what it is and I think that Antoine de Saint Exupéry is conveying this message through his story.

The “quirky” characters in this story shed a lot of light about how we choose to live our lives. Be it the accountant counting the starts or the tippler drinking his way through his guilt of being a drunk, the way in which either of these characters choose to live their lives is of vital importance and meaning to them. The Little Prince is unable to see the logic behind the behaviour of any of the adults that he meets on his way to the planet Earth. These adults live in such a way that keeps their stress levels high and their whole existence revolves around one particular obsession. The way the Little Prince sees it, they are unable to appreciate what life has to offer them because they are so one sided in their judgment and have a stubborn refusal to change, that they miss out on so much and/or misjudge what is staring at them in the face. At the same time though, the Little Prince emphasizes so much on the importance of his rose that he himself cannot think of anything but his rose. His rose is his obsession, but the reasons behind his obsession are all selfless as opposed to the adults whose reasons are quite selfish. The Little Prince does see the beauty and simplicity of life while the adults around him are too wrapped up in their own selfish agendas.

Now, I could say that the Little Prince has got all his priorities wrong and that the obsession of his rose and its beauty is what is clouding his judgment on what life has to offer. It’s all a matter of perspective.

All the adults who the Little Prince met had obsessions but none of them were happy, the Little Prince was more than happy to tame his rose and make her his priority. So, he was content.

I quote again: “It is the time you have wasted on your rose that makes your rose so important.”

If you were to think about what really mattered in your own life what would it be and why? Do you think you are “wasting” your life on the things you spend most of your time on? Is it your choice to stop and smell the roses or not? Either way, own those choices.

It’s much easier said than done but I think if you keep asking yourself these questions as a reminder and answer them honestly, then it would be easier to focus on what really matters to you whatever that may be.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

This is a book that has been on my ‘to read list’ for quite some time. I’m glad I finally picked it up. It’s a pretty easy read as far as langauge goes but the content is very heavy! It was one of these books that made me be extremely thankful to have been born away from a place where a child would need to face horrific events and live with the memmory of them. Things that adults are unable to deal with. It also brought tears of sadness, pitty and hope into my eyes at several sections of the story.
This is a very honest, raw account of what life was like for Ishmael when forced to become a child soldier in Siera Leon. He fought against the rebel soldiers who also ‘recruited’ children. The account takes the reader on his journey as he transformes from a regular child who has learned to love Shakespeare and loves to rap and perform in talent shows, to a child suffering from insomnia who is most comfortable with his gun and ammunition and can not function without his daily dose of war, blood, cocaine and marijuana.
I remember writing a research paper back in grade 13 about child soldiers. I chose the subject because it was so new to me and I knew I had a lot to find out. What I dug up was shocking! I know I still have my research paper somewhere in the basement. I’d really like to take it out and go over what I had written 8 years ago.
Although I am now familiar with what child soldiers are and what they are forced to go through. This book gave a very different perspective to the issue because of it’s being a first hand account of true events with the use of a child’s voice. It has presented the issue from a different prespective. It’s not an outsider looking in. It’s not about an observer or journalist telling us a story of a boy. It’s not about statistics and numbers. It’s about the innocence of a child robbed; and it’s written by the boy himself.
The book also brings a tremendous amount of hope. I don’t know too much about Ishmael now. However, I do know that he is a part of the Free the Children Organization as well as the Me to We effort, based in Toronto, that bring together youth to carry out global projects building schools and providing basic facilities such as clean water in remote areas in underdeveloped regions. I believe he is also a motivational speaker. Now here is a person I’d really like to meet!
This is a story of one of the lucky ones though. One of the very few who have made it out alive.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who can appreciate what it is to be human.
p.s there are quite a few links in this post but I think they’re well worth checking out :@)

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (Duh! :@P)

An abridged edition by Penguin Readers
Reading this with my 8th graders
Will be watching the film (I’m trying to get a copy of the musical version). Will also watch the Disney cartoon Oliver and Company to study similarities and differences between the films and the text. Lots of activities will follow.
A chance to show students one of the ways in which classic stories work their way into pop culture with examples of other classics and films.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I read this partly out of curiousity and partly because my students were about to begin working with it in their regular English class (but that all changed and I read it anyway).
As much as I enjoy children’s books (and I am certianly a Harry Potter fan) this book just didn’t really grab my attention too much.
It was about a girl named Lyra (a very adventuroud tom-boy) who was adopted by her ‘uncle’ and lived in Oxford University in London (in a different world parallel to ours). She lived among scholars and researchers. In her world every human has a ‘daemon’ which changes forms into all sorts of animals during childhood and eventually settles into one form in adulthood. These ‘daemons’ are essentially one’s essence or soul and are inseperable from their humans. The scholars who she lives with are in the middle of conducting important research which involves the kidnapping of children for experiments which essentially involve separation from their ‘daemons’ (in other words torture which may lead to death of the child). So, Lyra, horrified by the kidnapping of her best friend, eventually gets involved in the search and rescue of these children. This involves a journey to the North Pole. A journey of self-discovery in an adult world. She is guided by a rare instrument called the Golden Compass.

I wasn’t very fond of the way it was written which was not very captivating. The story is quite interesting but the way in which it was written just didn’t work for me which is very unfortuante because the concept is quite different and interesting and a lot can be read into the story as a whole or in parts. Kids can learn a lot from such a story but I’m not sure it was presented all that well even for pre-teens. I haven’t seen the movie yet but I’ll let you know how that goes if and when I do.

Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

This was a very interesting read as well. The author writes through the eyes of many different characters (similar to the style she uses in My Sister’s Keeper) which keeps things fast paced and interesting.
Basically, Faith is an only child to non-religious parents in a marriage that seems perfect. She is 7 years old and catches her father cheating on her mother in their own house. Her mother obviously leaves (since this wasn’t even the first time) and takes Faith with her. Concerned for her daughter, she takes her to a child psychiatrist to make sure she is coping with her parent’s devorce. Faith begins to “see” an imagianry friend who she calls her guard. She also developes the idea that her friend/guard is actually ‘God’ (although she is seeing her a female). Of course, this brings about a lot of media attention as she keeps developing inexplicable reactions and abilities both physical and phsychological. Media gets out of hand and a custody battle begins.
I wouldn’t want to say any more lest I give the story away.
A good read with quite a lot to say.
Makes you wonder, what it really means to have faith and keep it? (the title plays on words too which is pretty effective since an underlaying theme throughout the book is faith itself as well as the child).
Anyways… I’ll leave it at that.
Ready for another book!

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult


A gripping story from beginning to end. This is my first Jodi Picoult book and I loved it. This was written from the perspective of each of the characters that played a major role in the story (including the protagonist of course). The story is about a little girl who is concieved after her parents find out that their older daughter is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Basically, this ‘tailor made’ child’s existence and purpose is to keep her sister alive since the two are genetically alike.

And the controversy begins! Is this right?

Deffinately recommended

btw… I do not recommend watching the movie (before, during or after reading the book!) It changes the story in so many ways to the point where it’s ruined😦

Who moved my Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson

A very easy read with many words of wisdom. Needs to be read far more than once to remember to apply these words of wisdom to one’s own way of life. Identify the character you are most like, step back and be honest with pointing out your own strengths and weaknesses. Then, act accordingly.