Literature, Miscellany, Pop Culture

This Is What Happens When Bookstores Leave Your City

Here in Grand Rapids, where you can’t find a bookstore north of 28th Street, a lack of literary outlets leads to this kind of thing:

Police blocked off an area of downtown Grand Rapids for a time Monday evening after a suspicious package was found in a parking garage. A GRPD bomb squad was called to the scene and X-rayed the package to find that it was a Dick Tracy book.

An entire city block roped off for nearly three hours because of a book. Or, perhaps, a lack of a decent bookstore. 

Literature, Pop Culture

A Few of My Favorite Books, 2013 Edition

Not that you asked (or care), but here are some of my favorite books of the past year.

The absolute best is Diane Ravitch’s superb Reign of Error. Anyone who cares about public education (and, to a larger extent, our future as a democracy) must read this book. It’s that important. When any public servant tells you he or she is “for education reform,” find out if he or she has read Ravitch. If they have, good. If not, put a copy of Reign of Error in their hands now.

Rounding out my top ten, in no particular order:

The Circle, Dave Eggers – What if a company took over Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, and Amazon, and had the capability of knowing everything about everyone? In the age of NSA and Edward Snowden, The Circle has come around at the right time.

The Dog Stars, Peter Heller – After a flu epidemic wipes out most of North America, two men and one dog struggle to survive in the flatlands of Colorado. Dystopian, heartbreaking, and hopeful, with shades of Cormac McCarthy.

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemmingway – Yes, I know it’s been around for awhile. I finally took the plunge this summer. I knew what was coming, but Hemmingway still managed to break my heart.

Continue reading

Education, Literature

What’s more complex, Steinbeck or Mr. Popper’s Penguins?

If your child’s fifth-grade teacher tells you she’s reading at a lexile of over 1000, you should be impressed. After all, that means you daughter is reading at an eighth-grade level, right?

Not quite. Lexile scores analyze sentence length and vocabulary to determine the complexity of a text. Lexile scores are a key factor in determining which book are appropriate for each grade level in the Common Core State Standards. Lexile scores, however, cannot measure the complexity of the ideas within a text, or for that matter, whether a book is age-appropriate in terms of content.

CCSS will measure your child’s ability to read based on lexile scores. Why should you be concerned? Because according to this type of analysis, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is less complicated than The Hunger Games series or Mr. Popper’s Penguins. The Sun Also Rises is less complex than Charlotte’s Web (see chart below). The New Republic published a great piece on this, and it’s lexile level is one you’ll be able to comprehend.

Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 11.33.45 PM

Education, Life, Literature, Pop Culture

World Book Night 2014: The Titles!

Just watched a live webcast of the announcement of the 2014 World Book Night titles. (Yes, this is what I do during my free time. Wanna make something of it?) Here they are:

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

Presumed Innocent – Scott Turow

The Dog Stars – Peter Heller

After the Funeral – Agatha Christie

Same Difference and Other Stories (graphic novel) – Derek Kirk Kim

Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain

Sunrise Over Fallujah – Walter Dean Myers

100 Best Loved Poems

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

Hoot – Carl Hiassen

Pontoon – Garrison Keillor

Wait Till Next Year – Doris Kearns Goodwin

Miss Darcy Falls In Love – Sharon Lathan

Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice, Book 1) – John Flanagan

Young Men and Fire – Norman Maclean

Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson

Bobcat & Other Stories – Rebecca Lee

The Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

The Lighthouse Road – Peter Geye

Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein

Enchanted – Alethea Kontis

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Waiting to Exhale – Terry McMillan

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet – Jamie Ford

Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

Tales of the City – Armistad Maupin

When I Was Puerto Rican – Esmeralda Santiago

The Zookeeper’s Wife – Diane Ackerman

The Weird Sisters – Eleanor Brown

This Boy’s Life – Tobias Wolfe

Interested book givers can apply beginning Friday, October 24. Share the love of reading by giving away books!

Education, Literature, Politics

North Carolina Celebrates Banned Books Week!

ImagePerhaps folks in the Tar Heel State didn’t get the memo. Banned Books Week celebrates our right to read whatever we darn well please because, well, FREEEEEEDOM!

And that whole First Amendment thing.

But the Randolph County school board decided last week to pull all copies of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from its library shelves, deeming it to be without “any literary value.”

Somehow, it managed to win the National Book Award in 1953, and the Modern Library and TIME magazine placed it on their lists of Best Novels of the 20th Century. The College Board has referenced it on the AP Literature exam more than any other novel. Image

But because one parent objected to it, Ellison’s Invisible Man is no longer available to the students of Randolph County, North Carolina.

Free people read freely. Except in Randolph County, North Carolina.

Education, Literature

Saying Goodbye to An Inspirational Teacher

“How will your students have changed?”

That question, once posed to Professor William Vande Kopple, is now one I will ask myself every day for the rest of my teaching career. Not “What did I teach?” or “What did they learn?” but “How will your students have changed?”

Professor Vande Kopple, co-chair of the English Department at Calvin College, passed away suddenly last week, shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A loving tribute to him was published in Calvin’s student newspaper, The Chimes, yesterday.

Today, his family, friends, colleagues, and former students gathered for his memorial. As with any event that includes an English department, it ran longer than the usual memorial.

Then again, Professor Vande Kopple wasn’t your usual professor.

My words cannot do the man justice. I never even took a class of his. Instead, I got to know Professor Vande Kopple from hosting many of his student teachers in my classroom. What fun it was to see his towering presence coming down the hall during passing time, watching dozens of high schoolers turn and stare at this man. What fun it was to hear his bellowing laugh while observing a student teacher. What an honor it was to listen to him talk with those student teachers about their work.

What an honor it was to know him in some small way.

During today’s memorial, I learned that Professor Vande Kopple was like so many of us in the teaching profession. In the classroom, he was full of energy and enthusiasm, he radiated excitement for what he taught (English grammar!), and his students soaked it up. But at home, he was a quiet, unassuming man, content with the blessings given to him, especially his loving wife and sons.

After I said farewell to my most recent Calvin student teacher, I thought I’d take a break from hosting another. But after today’s memorial, I talked with another Calvin professor, James Vanden Bosch, who spoke so eloquently about their working relationship. I told him I’d look forward to working with another Calvin student teacher next year.

I suppose, like Professor Vande Kopple, I consider teaching, and teaching future teachers, a calling.