Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gender Bias in Reading

There was a bit of a stir in the literary world recently. Esquire published a list of 75 books every guy should read. Esquire is a men's magazine, so it stands to reason that such a list would be dominated by male authors. A lot of people have taken umbrage with the list because it includes just one female author, Flannery O'Connor. Even for a men's magazine the list seems out of whack.

This got me wondering about gender bias in our reading habits. Are we more likely to connect with books written by someone of the same gender? My guess is that we are, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It doesn't mean guys should only read books written by guys, and women should only read books written by women. Not at all. I guess that's my problem with Esquire's list. By including only one book written by a woman, the message seems to be that guys shouldn't waste their time reading books written by women. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hell, I checked out three books on my last trip to the library with the girls, all written by women.

Esquire's list got me thinking. If I were to create a list of 75 books that I think everyone should read, how many of those books would be by women? I know the top spot would go to a woman, Harper Lee. I know books by Katherine Dunn, Kate Atkinson, Geraldine Brooks, and Toni Morrison would make the list. I'm sure there would be other books written by women, but I have a feeling a considerable majority would be books written by men.

My list would certainly be more inclusive than Esquire's, but there would still be some gender bias. Some degree of gender bias is probably unavoidable when it comes to our reading choices. I may be putting this too simply, but guys can relate to a male point of view more easily, and women can relate to a female point of view more easily. I don't have a problem with that. There are plenty of exceptions to this rule of course. I hate to break it to the people over at Esquire, but Flannery O'Connor isn't the only female author their readers should be checking out.

All this begs the question: do you think it's easier to connect with books written by someone of the same gender? And if so, is that a bad thing?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fast Five Friday

This week's Fast Five was inspired by my mother-in-law. She sent me a clip of dance scenes from various movies set to "Footloose." My MIL knows my love of all things Footloose, so I had to include the video. It's kind of fun, check it out. You'll have to click on the link because embedding was disabled. The video got me thinking, so today I present my top five movie dance scenes.

5) (500) Days of Summer: I really enjoyed this movie about the rise and fall of a young couple. You don't expect to see a dance scene in this kind of movie, but somehow it fits perfectly. It's set to a Hall and Oates song, and well, in my world, that's brilliant.

4) Napoleon Dynamite: Another great dance scene you don't expect. It's hard not to smile while Napoleon busts a move to help out his buddy, Pedro.

3) West Side Story: I have a real soft spot for West Side Story. I watch it with my students just about every year, and it's always a hit. There are classic dance scenes all over the place, but this one is my favorite.

2) Pulp Fiction: Another movie that doesn't feature dancing, but has one of the all-time great dance scenes. Travolta had been off the cultural radar for quite a while, and Pulp Fiction was one heck of a comeback. It was fun to see Travolta strut his stuff again.

1) Footloose: What can I say. Footloose came out when I was teenager, and it's just one of those movies from my childhood that made a huge impression. I think I like the scene where Ren teaches Willard to dance because I am not the most graceful dancer myself. I sure could have used a Kevin Baconesque mentor to teach me some smooth moves.

Lots of great dance scenes in movies over the years. Let me know what you think of my top five, and as always, I'd love to know which five would make your list?

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Million Bucks

Two more days of school, and they should be a lot of fun. Tomorrow we practice for our 8th grade promotion ceremony in the morning, and in the afternoon the 8th grade gets together to watch the end of year slide show. Each kid makes a slide in technology class. The slide is meant to be a representation of who they are as they leave middle school and a chance to say goodbye to their friends and teachers. The technology teacher includes pictures taken throughout the year, and this year he asked the teachers to bring in baby pictures for a then and now kind of thing. The slide show is a very cool event.

We started a new incentive program with the kids this year. They earned points for positive behaviors, and then every so often we had auctions where they could bid for prizes. It was quite successful, and after the slide show, we're going to have our final auction.  One of the prizes will be the chance to throw a pie in my face, and oddly, I'm pretty excited about it. 

Wednesday is promotion, and that's always a bittersweet time. While there are certainly kids I'll be happy to see go, there are plenty of kids I'll miss. I'll probably write about these next couple days in more detail later.

Last Wednesday we had our annual 8th grade barbecue. This is a night where we honor our top students. The kids with the top 10 GPAs are invited, along with a number of Student of the Year recipients. The kids bring their families, and it really is a beautiful night. We honored 38 kids this year, all of them quite amazing people. Each teacher prepares a little speech about their Student of the Year, and things can get very emotional. Teachers tear up, parents tear up, kids tear up, it's very cool. It's the kind of night where a Dad jumps out of his seat and rushes to hug his son in front of a cheering crowd. It's hard not to be moved.

My Student of the Year was a kid I wrote about back in January. Let's call him the Quickwrite Kid. I think I knew even then that he would wind up being my choice. I started my speech with a funny story about my man, and then I told the story of the Quickwrites, just one of many ways my man made our school a better place this year. After my speech, I turned to give my man a congratulatory handshake. He wasn't having it and moved in for a hug. I'm not gonna lie, I got a little choked up.

As a teacher, I'll never make a lot of money. Driving home last Wednesday night, that didn't matter, I felt like a million bucks.                

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fast Five Friday

This is the last full week of school here in Arizona. The kids have three days next week, and then it's Alice Cooper time. Teachers have a grading day on Thursday and that puts a wrap on another year in public education.

It feels like I say this every year, but man, this school year went fast. The older I get, the faster time seems to slip away.

There was a lot going on this last week, so I haven't had a chance to post since last week's FFF. When I have some time this weekend, I want to write a post about our annual 8th Grade Barbecue. It's a great event, and the kind of night that makes me proud to be a teacher.

This week's Fast Five Friday was inspired by Roger Ebert. I follow Ebert on Twitter, and he posted a link to an article he wrote about movie sequels. It's an interesting article about the record number of movie sequels coming out this summer, and what that says about the current state of Hollywood. I'm not a huge fan of sequels, and generally speaking, they're never as good as the original. With that said, I have enjoyed a number of sequels over the years. This week I present my top five movie sequels.

5) The Empire Strikes Back: This came out on my birthday, and the memories are still vivid in my mind. My dad gave me money in the morning, and I waited in line all day with some friends. I immediately fell in love with Yoda, and I nearly lost my mind when Vader told Luke he was his father. Like a lot of people, the Star Wars movies were a big part of my childhood, and TESB was my favorite of the original trilogy.

4) The Dark Knight: I'm a big Christopher Nolan fan. I enjoyed Batman Returns, but The Dark Knight blows that movie out of the water. Heath Ledger was brilliant, and Nolan managed to make a summer blockbuster that had a lot to say about the world we live in.

3) Toy Story 2: This is another sequel I enjoyed more than the original. Just another day at the office for the folks at Pixar.

2) The Color of Money: This sequel was 25 years in the making. Paul Newman first played Fast Eddie Felson in 1961. Martin Scorcese brought him back in 1986, this time managing a young Tom Cruise. Big Paul Newman fan, and I loved the music, especially "Werewolves of London."

1) Aliens: This one holds a special place in my heart. My dad loved the original Alien, and he was really excited to see the sequel. Opening night was a family event. I think this was the first movie where I truly felt the sensation of being on the edge of my seat. My buddies and I saw this one so many times, we still quote it to this day. Not to mention I had a crush on Siguorney Weaver. I had her Time cover on my wall.

Now it's your turn. What are your top five movie sequels? Of course, feel free to belittle me for not including The Godfather II.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fast Five Friday

I rolled out the Fast Five Friday idea last week, and by my standards, 23 comments, I'd say it was a success. Thanks to everyone who left a comment, the feedback was great.

If you read my last post, you know I was in Florida earlier this week for work, an educational conference on the shores of St. Petersburg, Florida, no less. If you read the post, you might also have seen the comment left by Munk Davis linking my absence to the filming of The Hangover 3. Is it bad when a comment is the best thing about a post? Thanks for that one Munk, it made my day. By the way, if you're not following Munk's blog, you really should. It's not like most blogs, and I mean that in the best way possible. If you follow him, he might follow you back and drop some comments your way. You'll enjoy them.

On to business. Since I was on the road this week, I thought travel would be a good choice for the second installment of Fast Five Friday. I'm not the most traveled person in the world, but I've gotten around a bit. Excluding places I return to annually for family reasons, these are the top five places I've visited:

5) New Orleans: Met a guy from NO in college, and a bunch of us went down there for Spring Break one year. I'm not going to lie, there was drunken debauchery involved. I'll never forget when my buddy's parents covered the kitchen table with newspaper and dumped out a grocery bag full of crayfish. Washed 'em down with cold beer-brilliant. My second visit to The Big Easy was for a Packers game. Again, there was drunken debauchery involved. Let's just say, that weekend still lives in infamy among the participants. Oh, and the Packers lost.

4) NYC: I've been to NYC a number of times over the years, but my favorite trip was when we took the girls out. We stayed with my brother and his wife, and the girls loved everything. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and I enjoyed the city in a whole new way.

3) Prague: I went to Prague with my brother and sister-in-law. They were living in Moscow at the time, and Meg and I had gone to visit them. Meg went home early and the three of us took a short trip to Prague. Everything was so old and beautiful. I look forward to crossing the Charles Bridge again some day.

2) San Francisco: I've been to San Fran a few times, and I hope to go many more. San Fran is probably my favorite place in the US. If I had the money, I'd love to live there.

1) Golden Bay, New Zealand: I wrote about my connection to New Zealand during the A-Z Challenge. Meg and I went down over our Christmas break in 1999, and that trip is easily the best trip I've ever taken. New Zealand is a place of stunning beauty. People want to know if it's as beautiful as it looks in The Lord of the Rings movies. Absolutely, and then some. My favorite spot is Golden Bay, which is on the northern shore of the south island. Our friends have a batch there, and the time we spent there is seared into my memory. Even after all these years, my mind retains details that should have faded with time.

Now comes the fun part for me. What are the top five places you've visited?          

Monday, May 9, 2011

I Should Probably Be Enjoying This

I'm writing this post from my hotel room at the swanky Tradewinds Resort in beautiful St. Petersburg, Florida. Since the resort is right on the ocean, I'll probably go hang out on the perfect white sand beach when I'm done, take a dip in the ocean, that kind of thing. Later tonight, I'm sure I'll use my two free drink tickets at the Social Hour, followed by a middling dinner that will easily be covered by my allocated per diem.

Ah, the life of a business traveler. As a teacher, not something I experience very often. I've been teaching for 15 years, and this is only the second time I've been to a conference out of town. A few years back, I went to a conference at Disneyland. I had a good time, but I had a good friend to hang out with on that one. This time I'm with a couple women from work, and while they're very nice, socializing is awkward at best. I do have my own room, which seems like it would be great, but I actually feel strangely isolated.

I think I would be having a really great time if Meg and the girls were here. Meg and I have often talked about doing a resort vacation, where all you do is hang out at the beach all day. This would be a perfect place for that type of vacation. There's a fridge in the room, so we wouldn't have to eat out all the time. They have these huge inflatable slides and trampolines in the water. It's expensive, but it really is a great place for a family vacation.

This is my first time in Florida, and I feel like a whiner. I just can't get into it. My family isn't here, and that sucks all the fun out of a place like this for me. The truth is, I can't wait to get home.   

Friday, May 6, 2011

Trying Something New

I've noticed that some people have weekly themes on their blogs: Ten Word Tuesday, Wordless Wednesday, that kind of thing. One of my favorite weekly themes is Friday Night Frolic at Suburban Soliloquy. I look forward to reading it every Friday. There are other cool weekly themes out there. I caught the debut of Sippable Stories at allison writes last Sunday. It's a great idea and I hope it becomes a running segment. I've always liked the idea of a weekly theme, and I've been mulling different ideas over for a while now.

I've decided to try Fast Five Friday. The plan is to post a top five list every Friday. I enjoyed the random thing with the A-Z Challenge, so I'll go random for FFF as well. My brain works a lot like those guys in High Fidelity who make top ten lists all the time. Except I'm doing top five lists. You get the point. Hopefully people will share their top fives in the comments, and it'll be all kinds of blogging fun. Of course, this idea could be a complete bust. If so, well, it was worth a shot. Don't worry, I'm used to ideas flopping.

So here we go, the first FAST FIVE FRIDAY.

FAST FIVE FRIDAY: Top five all-time sitcoms

5) Diff'rent Strokes: They had me at the apostrophe. What am I talkin' bout? I know, this show wasn't remotely funny, but come on, I was a kid. I loved that show.

4) Family Ties: Again, in hindsight, not particularly funny. Hard not to love Michael J. Fox though.

3) Curb Your Enthusiasm: Larry David kills me. I love the whole awkward silence kind of humor.

2) The Office: Very sad to see Steve Carrell go. I'm not sure how long the show can last without him, but I do love the ensemble cast.  

1) Seinfeld: It's amazing how many times Seinfeld episodes still pop into my head. Just the other day, a student was driving me nuts, and in my mind I heard George Castanza screaming, "Serenity Now!"

OK, let's hear it. What are your top five all-time sitcoms?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reflections on A-Z

The A-Z Blogging Challenge was a lot of fun. I posted more in a month than I normally do in three. While I can't imagine continuing such a torrid pace long-term, I can certainly see myself participating again next year. In fact, I have a feeling I'll be thinking of topics for letters all the time now. I should probably start a file or something. I was posting about twice a week before the Challenge started, and that feels even more right now. I'm always curious about blog frequency. How many times do you try to post a week?

Blogging is about writing first and foremost, but it's also about reading. I tried to check out as many blogs as possible. There were over 1200 participants in this year's challenge, so there was no way I was going to get to them all. I'm comfortable with the number of blogs I was able to visit, and I found a number of excellent writers to follow. I'm looking forward to reading what they come up with now that the Challenge is over.

Right before the Challenge started, I had a string of three or four posts in a row with double digit comments. That was new for me. I'm happy to say, the streak of double digit comments is still alive as I head into May. I don't know how long the streak will last, but I'm riding it out like Kramer testing how far he could drive on a tank of gas. The point is, more people were reading and felt compelled to leave comments. I don't know about anyone else, but getting feedback on something I've written is the best part of this whole blogging deal. 

There were a few surprises in the data. The post I put the least effort into got the most page views and comments. Some of the posts I worked on the longest had the fewest page views and comments. Just goes to show. You never know. That's what I liked most about A-Z. It challenged my preconceived notions of my writing on a daily basis, something that can only make me better.