Monthly Archives: December 2010

And another post, over at. . .

Fiction Writer’s Review.

My review of Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers, second edition, including a mini-interview with the illustrious author/agent.

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2010 Wordamour’s Year in Books

Wordamour made it to 30 books this year, better than some years (pitiful 21 in 2009) and worse than others (in 2007 Wordamour somehow read 44). In 2007 Wordamour was still reading aloud to younger son, which might explain it. Now the nightly ritual is to read side by side until younger son falls asleep.

Top 5 (in no particular order)
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate Di Camilo
Di Camilo’s luminous style never fails to captivate me.
You Don’t Look Like Anyone I know by Heather Sellers
I couldn’t put down this memoir weaving Seller’s family struggles with her late in life diagnosis of prospagnosia, or face blindness. She’s also one of my favorite writers.
A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg
A food memoir by the author of the Orangette blog this one was pure word candy, by turns moving, by turns delightful. I bought several copies for friends this year.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead*
Wonderfully wrought middle grade novel that perfectly captures NYC in the 70’s and pays homage to A Wrinkle in Time.
Just Kids by Patti Smith**
Smith’s writing draws you in from the first sentence in her depiction of her otherworldly relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and of New York City in the late 60’s and early 70’s. There’s an almost childlike wonder in her perspective, even at its most sorrowful moments. This is a book like no other.

(*,** the last two won the Newberry and the National Book Award respectively, prizes that were richly, richly deserved)

And the rest, warts and all (in the name of transparency, right?) and in reading order

1. The Magician’s Elephant by Kate Di Camilo
2. Tiger Rising by Kate Di Camilo
3. Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins
4. The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing by Mark McGurl
5. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson
6. Morning is a Long Time Coming by Bette Green
7. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
8. Talking Out of School by Kass Fleisher
9. Does the Writing Workshop Still Work? Ed. by Dianne Donnelly
10. Writing A Book that Matters by Philip Gerard
11. Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt
12. A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
13. Flea Market America by Cree McCree
14. Unaccompanied Women by Jane Juska
15. The Art of the Turnaround by Michael Kaiser
16. The Comet and the Tornado:Reflections on the Legacy of Randy Pausch and the Creation of our Carnegie Mellon Dream Fulfillment Factory by Don Marinelli My techie 14 year old and I read this together
17. Dewey: the Small Town Library Cat that Touched the World by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter (yes, the irony that this book is on the same list as Just Kids is not lost on me; I have nothing to say for myself.)
18. Brazil by Jesse Lee Kercheval
19. The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski An interesting history of the book
20. The Adventures of Johnny Bunko by Daniel Pink
21. Old Men at Midnight by Chaim Potok
22. You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers
23. The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
24. Just Kids by Patti Smith
25. The Forest for the Trees 2nd Ed. by Betsey Lerner
26. I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson
27. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
28. Essential Tremor: The Facts by Mark Plumb and Peter Bain
29. The Lost City of Z by David Grann
30. Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas

I also enjoyed two novel drafts, my husband’s and a friend’s. All in all a good reading year.

On Deck: The Architect of Flowers by William Lychack (out in March but Wordamour is fortunate to have an advance copy), Erika Dreifus’ The Quiet Americans (coming out January 19), Nicole Krauss’ Great House, Mary Karr’s Lit, Robin Becker’s Brains, The Help and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (latter two are book club picks). Lots to look forward to.

Bye y’all,
SV

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Need some last minute gifts? Go buy books!

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It’s back! The Wardrobe Incident of the Day!

Younger son came downstairs yesterday dressed for school but looking somewhat dejected, in a new-to-him cream with blue stripes Gap pullover he’d just inherited from his brother.

YS: “Mom, tell Dad I really can’t wear this shirt.”

Mom: “Why? That’s a very nice shirt.”

YS: “Because I look like a MIME!!”

I guess saying he doesn’t share his mother’s love of stripes would be an understatement.

Bye y’all,
SV

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The Book Whisperer

click here the listen to The Book Whisperer’s keynote address at NWP

I teach college writing students who are presumably already formed as readers. My own kids are already voracious book devourers; it’s a family thing. So why did I feel compelled to read The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child?

Because I was fortunate to hear the book’s author Donalyn Miller, give the keynote address at the National Writing Project annual meeting and even though she was speaking about writing, Miller’s voice was so entertaining, so gripping that I wanted more. . .

And more I got. Miller is a sixth grade teacher whose classroom, which requires students to read forty books a year, births a startling number of avid, lifelong readers each year and even though The Book Whisperer is a positive chronicle of how she leads children, pied piper like, to drink at the well of words, it could also be read as something else.
As an utter indictment of the way reading is taught today in American schools, as if the overall goal was to discourage reading in America. I am not cynical or suspicious by nature but when one considers the effects of No Child Left Behind and other mandated educational policies of the last ten years, especially the previous administration, one wonders if a less literate, less educated society of nonreaders actually is the desired outcome.

Just sayin.

Anyway, a few choice quotes:
“Students need to make at least some of their own choices when pursuing learning goals. Learners who lost the ability to make choices become disempowered.”

“Teachers lead the way. If teachers don’t love to read (and many don’t) students won’t love to read either. There is a link between the reading habits of teachers and the reading achievements of their students. It’s an enthusiasm that can’t be faked.” (hmm, works the same way with writing)

Whole class novel reading may be an educational practice that has overstayed its welcome: “Students are not reading more or better as a result of the whole-class novel. Instead, students are reading less and are less motivated, less engaged and less likely to read in the future. . .Reading becomes an exervise in what the teacher expects you to get out of the book they chose for you, a surefire way to kill internal motivation to read.”

“Programs like Accelerated Reader, in which books are assigned a point value and students must complete a multiple-choice test after reading them, are the worst distortion of reading I can think of.”

Amen, sister!

“Endless test prep is the number one reason that students come to my class hating to read. They don’t think test prep is one kind of reading: they think it IS reading.”

And, finally,
“What are we preparing students for? Allowing students to choose their own books and control most of their own decisions about their reading, writing and thinking does a better job of preparing them for literate lives than the traditional—and ubiquitous—novel units, test practices and pointless projects. What are we waiting for?”

The Book Whisperer is an enormously entertaining book, but it should also be required reading for anyone who cares about the education of this nation’s children, especially the policy makers.

Speaking of books, the book fair this year was, as usual, an absolute delight, a splendor of books; I came away with a delicious rolling bag ‘o swag that will keep me and mine reading happily for the foreseeable future:

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National Writing Project takes Orlando

Overheard at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting Orlando, Florida:

“What a magnificent sight: 1400 of the best teachers in the United States of America.”
NWP Board Member and Berkeley Professor Donald McQuade

“The alternative to education is catastrophe.”

“Language is the fiber that binds us to our cultural identity.”

“I am humbled to work on your behalf.” Sharon Washington, our fearless leader.

And my personal favorite:

“I would not be a published writer without the writing project. I might not be in the classroom today without the writing project.” Donalyn Miller, Writing Project Teacher Consultant and author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, a terrific book which will be profiled in the next post.

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Does the Writing Workshop Still Work?

Check out Kate Kostelnik’s thought provoking review of this book on the Fiction Writer’s Review Blog. A writer to watch on a must-read blog!

PS-Changed the template to a photo of a statue I love outside a library in Nebraska City, NE. What do you think?

PPS- Update on the Coburn Amendment to ban earmarks, threatening the National Writing Project and other important federal programs. It failed to pass the Senate this morning, 39-56. Thanks for all who supported us.

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