The Giver, by Lois Lowry (Dell Laurel-Leaf, New York, 1993)

I doubt I would have found The Giver had it not been required reading for two of my nephews. One read it as a class assignment in seventh grade; for the other it was read aloud in fifth grade. Intrigued, I borrowed the book from our library.

The Giver makes me wish I belonged to a literary discussion group. Without a doubt there is plenty here to discuss, and I can see why teachers might be eager to share this Newbery Award winner with their classes. I would love to talk about it in a group, to toss about various interpretations and implications. And yet, despite the "young adult" designation, despite the fact that the main character has not yet reached his teens, I question the value of such a book in the elementary or middle school curriculum. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 11:09 am | Edit
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The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 2004)

I heard so many homeschoolers raving about The Well-Trained Mind that I had to read it for myself. Then the question became not why so many people love it, but why do I? One reviewer called this approach “ultra school-at-home”—which should have been enough to send me fleeing as from a thousand devils. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 11, 2005 at 12:40 pm | Edit
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A friend alerted me to a Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal column by Peggy Noonan, in which she reveals her impression that our society is fundamentally broken, a trolley off the tracks and hurtling toward an unknown destination, and her concern that few people are willing to think about the problems, much less take action. My friend added this: "No one wants to talk about the cracks in the bridge when you're walking over it." Naturally, I had to comment. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 3, 2005 at 1:48 pm | Edit
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Whatís Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, by Lise Eliot (Bantam Books, New York, 1999)

I donít have time to do justice to this wonderful book, only to say that every mother, grandmother, mother-to-be, and potential mother should read itóand that goes for fathers, too. When Eliot expresses her opinions on the data she presents, I donít always agree, but as a collection of clear, readable reports on the latest research on brain development, this book is invaluable. Iíd love to post large quantities of this amazing information, but will content myself with a few more or less random samples. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 28, 2005 at 4:45 pm | Edit
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The Real War Against America, by Brett Kingstone (Specialty Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL, 2005)

Our local library has a subscription to Ancestry.com, the genealogical research site. Unfortunately the response time is slow, and one day a couple of months ago I was working near enough the “New Releases” shelf to do some browsing during the otherwise interminable wait between entering my request and the return of the results.

The bright cover of Brett Kingstone’s book caught my eye. I was not impressed by the title, which sounded Limbaugh-esque and evoked images of conspiracy theorists. I brought the book home, thinking Porter might enjoy it, but did not expect to read it myself. It didn’t sound like my kind of book.

Never judge a book by its title. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 26, 2005 at 10:37 pm | Edit
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Nobody's Fool, by Richard Russo (Random House, New York, 1993)

I can't say as I recommend Nobody's Fool, since it's the kind of book that makes me want to wash my brain out with soap afterwards. However, I will admit that his characters are somehow so human (if not humane) that the sleaziness seems essential to their characters and not gratuitous.

The incentive for reading a book that would not otherwise have attracted me was learning that its fictional town of North Bath is based on Ballston Spa, New York, which is not far from where I grew up. It was easy to recognize Schuyler Springs as the real-life Saratoga Springs, and other places that I know (Albany, the Northway, the Adirondacks) are not disguised. Unfortunately, all I know about Ballston Spa itself comprises one family, one home, and one church, none of which is evident in this story, for which they all should be deeply grateful.

My experience reminded me of another time I read a book solely for its setting: Catcher in the Rye is set in Wayne, Pennsylvania, another of my home towns. That book was no better, though probably no worse, than this one. It's been a long time since I read it, and I have no intention of doing so again, setting or no setting, so I can't say for sure.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 15, 2005 at 3:38 pm | Edit
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This cannot be a detailed review, as too many of the people who read this blog have not yet read the book. But I will say that Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince did not disappoint me. The fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I had found tedious, and I was disappointed in that I thought J. K. Rowling had set herself up for a great ending which never came.

Not so with the sixth book. It held my attention from beginning to end, not easy to do when the competition is an adorable 20-month old grandson, a flock of other wonderful family members and friends, and a lovely converted houseboat on the Connecticut shoreline. It did help that I found Harry's behavior less obnoxious this time. There were a few annoying points—I never did care to read about the tribulations of adolescent love—but they were minor.

Grace, sacrificial love, and persistent hope for the salvation even of one's enemies show more clearly here than in previous books. As always, Rowling's great contribution to children's literature is that she does not sugarcoat evil, nor minimize the cost of the battle, yet still manages to produce a book full of goodness, hope, and fun.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 25, 2005 at 7:05 pm | Edit
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I've never read Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them:† A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, and frankly I doubt it will ever rise far enough up on my "must read" list to see the light of day.† For all I know, it's a great book full of interesting and useful information that would do me good to read.† But if so, why does it have a title that sounds like a pre-adolescent playground taunt?† That alone makes it hard to take the content seriously.† Someone needs a ghost title-writer.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 3, 2005 at 6:58 pm | Edit
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Back in the old days, when corportate headquarters was on One Mustard Street in Rochester, New York, Porter worked for the R. T. French Company. That was when we discovered their Cattlemen's Barbecue Sauce. When we moved to Florida, this delicious condiment became difficult, and later impossible, to find. Soon we couldn't find it even on our periodic trips north for essential supplies, such as the famous Sassy Sauce from Sal's Birdland (Buffalo Wings are nothing compared to what they do with chicken in Rochester); Blenheim Old #3 Ginger Ale (an essential ingredient in a Lime Daley, this fabulous drink was once lost to the world but now can be found at the otherwise obnoxious South of the Border tourist trap), and white birch beer (good old Undina White Birch Beer from Higganum, Connecticut is no longer available, but now and then you can find source that understands the best birch beer isn't red). (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 27, 2005 at 9:48 am | Edit
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Just off the Georgetown Pike (Route 193) in McLean, Virginia, right across from the CIA, you can step back in time to 1771 at the Claude Moore Colonial Farm. This living history museum is small enough, and inexpensive enough, to make a great "rest stop" for travellers along the frenetic I-95 corridor. Our most recent visit coincided with one of their Market Fairs, and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the exhibits, eating the "18th century" food, and chatting with a remarkable wandering Gypsy fortune teller. I had always associated Gypsies with Europe, but learned that many came to Virginia, particularly after being told that being Gypsy and being Scottish had become mutually exclusive.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 23, 2005 at 10:13 am | Edit
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Sometimes I like the Frazz comic because of its references to things that have meaning to me but are relatively obscure (like the trebuchet), and sometimes I like Frazz because it mentions things I know nothing about myself. The reference to David Mamet in today's strip inspired a Google search that led me to this Salon interview. Movies, television, and modern culture being an alien landscape to me, I have not seen any of Mamet's films, but the interview revealsóand concealsóa character so interesting I'm inclined to change that.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 17, 2005 at 8:59 am | Edit
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Let the Baby Drive, by Lu Hanessian (St. Martin's Press, New York, 2004)

Recently we opened a bottle of wine of far higher class (and expense) than I could hope to appreciate. (I can occasionally enjoy half of a small glass of wine, but my discernment rarely goes beyond "I like this" or "I don't like this"; I can distinguish red from white with my eyes closed, but "redolent of old oak with faint hints of chocolate, raspberry, and mushroom" is beyond me.) After my first sip or two, I said, "This isn't my kind of wine." By the third sip I had changed my mind, and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the bottle over the next few days.

That's how I feel about Let the Baby Drive. I saw it advertised in The Compleat Mother magazine, and borrowed it from our local library. For the first several chapters I was thinking, 'Yeah, this is mildly interesting, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Why does this lady make such a big deal out of life with a newborn, something women have been handling for millennia? She is 'way too focussed on herself, her angst, the minutiae of her feelings." (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 27, 2005 at 9:18 pm | Edit
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On Saturday we went to the Central Florida Fair, old-fashioned fun with rides, a midway, cotton candy, and hundreds of exhibits. I particularly enjoy the 4H and Future Farmers of America presentations. What I like best, perhaps, is that it is SO NOT DISNEY.

alt This year I again visited my favorite fair vendor, Our Vital Earth. I like them because they sell worm condominiums. That's Porter's term for the product, which I like better than the official name, Can-O-Worms. Whatever the appellation, it's a nifty system for dealing with home garbage. The tiered container (shown here expanded) takes up about as much room as a large kitchen garbage can. You put your organic garbage—scraps (except meat and bones), grass clippings, leaves, newspapers, dryer lint, old cotton socks—into one of the three trays (the bottom tier holds liquid) along with the garbage-eating worms. When that tray is full, put another on top; the worms migrate upward as they run out of food. After a while the worms are out of the bottom tray, leaving fine fertilizer behind. Water and worm urine collects in the bottom; the resulting liquid makes a good, natural insecticide as well as fertilizer. (They also say it's good for sunburn, but I don't think I'd try that one.) It's supposed to be a rapid, odorless process, big in Australia, where I'm told the device is often kept in the kitchen. I'd probably opt for the back porch, but the one I saw at the fair would not be out of place in a kitchen. It smelled better than most garbage cans.

We have no affiliation with Our Vital Earth, nor any other Can-O-Worms seller. We don't even own a worm condo; I just think it's a cool idea. And we may get one yet, once I figure out how to keep a straight face when arranging for a worm babysitter when we go on vacation. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 14, 2005 at 5:58 pm | Edit
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In the Presence of My Enemies, by Gracia Burnham with Dean Merrill (Tyndale House, Wheaton, Illinois, 2003)

In May of 2001, Martin and Gracia Burnham took a one-day holiday from their busy work in the Philippines for the New Tribes Mission, celebrating their 28th anniversary at the Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan, a Philippine island province in the South China Sea. Their 29th anniversary would mark a yearís captivity among the Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino Muslim terrorist organization with ties to Osama bin Laden. They would not reach their 30th anniversary. Kidnapped from their beds along with several other people at Dos Palmas, the Burnhams were held for ransom under horrific conditions until a less-than-successful rescue attempt by the Filipino army on June 7, 2002. Gracia, wounded, was the only hostage to survive the rescue. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 24, 2005 at 12:52 pm | Edit
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The Virus and the Vaccine: The True Story of a Cancer-Causing Monkey Virus, Contaminated Polio Vaccine, and the Millions of Americans Exposed, by Debbie Bookchin & Jim Schumacher (St. Martinís Press, New York, 2004)

Let me state at the outset that I am in favor of vaccinations. Iím very grateful to all those folks whose work has given us some measure of victory over so many horrible diseases. (And to the animals involved, whose sacrifices are usually even greater.) That said, it needs to be more clear that those little jabs to which we subject ourselves, our babies, and our soldiers, are neither miracle nor magic. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 22, 2005 at 7:30 am | Edit
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