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

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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