Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkin Yoda

Yoda features prominently in my classroom. A huge posterized Yoda faces the class, and I have four sweet Yoda dolls strategically placed around the room. My students know Yoda is always watching. What can I say, Yoda brings out my inner dork.

Last week one of my students surprised me with a Yoda pumpkin kit. It really caught me off guard, and I'm not gonna lie, I was a little verklempt.

It's a small thing, but as teaching constantly reminds me, it's these little moments of grace that make a big life.

Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Books to Movies

Cloud Atlas is an amazing book. Despite mixed reviews of the movie, I needed to see it, out of respect for the source material if nothing else. Meg hadn't read the book, so she wasn't as enthusiastic, but she was a trooper and came along.

We both liked the movie. Didn't love it, liked it. Now having said that, I have a feeling this movie will grow on me, much the way the book did, and in time, I may very well consider Cloud Atlas a cinematic masterpiece. This happens with a lot of great books and movies, they hang around in my brain, prodding me to continue thinking about them until I realize their true brilliance.

I would say more about Cloud Atlas, but here's a link to a really great review of the movie that puts anything I have to say about it to shame.

Got to see the Life of Pi trailer again, and I am deliriously excited about that one. Life of Pi and Cloud Atlas are two outstanding novels made into movies, and I've been thinking about my favorite book/movie combos all day. Thus, a top five list is in order: the five best book/movie combos.

5) Up in the Air: Being a sucker for marketing, I picked this book up in the Denver airport. Walter Kirn's protagonist, Ryan Bingham, is certainly a man for the times. Always on the move, but never getting anywhere. I love the book, and George Clooney delivers an understated performance in a great adaptation of the film.

4) The Color Purple: I actually saw the movie first. As a child of the 80s, anything Spielberg did was required viewing. Whoopi Goldberg was brilliant, and the last scene of this movie is remarkably powerful.

3) No Country for Old Men: I'm a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers. This may be the ultimate combination of literary and cinematic genius to date.

2) Wonder Boys: I love Michael Chabon. I started reading his new one, Telegraph Avenue, this weekend. This is one of those times when the movie might just be better than the book. Michael Douglas is perfect as Grady Tripp, a best-selling author who breaks out of a funk over the course of a crazy weekend with one of his students.

1) To Kill a Mockingbird: I've written about TKAM numerous times here on the ol' blog, so let me just say this. Classic book and classic movie. Not sure you can say that too many times.

Let me know what you think of my choices, and by all means, share some of your favorite book/movie combos.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Am I Undecided?

A lot was made of the first presidential debate; the TV talking heads lost their collective minds. Conservatives were giddy that Romney performed well, and liberals were dismayed that Obama performed poorly. I actually had something better to do, coaching soccer, and while I normally record things I want to watch later, I purposely skipped the debate. My plan was to let the media coverage do my thinking for me. I mean, that is what CNN, FOX, and MSNBC are for, right?

So Romney won and Obama lost. But does it really matter? I don't think anyone bases their vote on debates anymore. All the information is out there already, and most of us picked our guy a long time ago.

But apparently undecided voters are still out there, and they may very well decide the election.

As this recent Saturday Night Live skit points out, that's kind of scary.

My apologies if you are an undecided voter. But seriously?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Banned Book Week

I did a banned books post a couple years ago, and since there weren't many people reading this blog back then, I thought I'd do a repost. I have added to the old post, and that will be in red.

This is banned books week. The American Library Association has a list of the most challenged books of the decade, and I highly recommend checking it out. If you're like me, the list will boggle your mind. It's important to remember that there are still people out there who would censor some of the best books ever written. A number of the bloggers I follow have written about their favorite banned books, and reading these posts has inspired me to write about the banned book that means the most to me.

To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book of all time-hands down-banned or otherwise. I didn't read the book in school, which is surely an indictment of my education. I read it on my own after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. I read it over the course of a Western road trip with a good friend of mine, and it had an immediate, profound effect on me. For my money, Atticus Finch is the best character in American literature. His integrity and perseverance in the face of evil still inspire me to this day.

Then there's Scout. Let's just say Jean Louise Finch made quite an impression on me. When the doctor told Meg and I that our first born was going to be a girl, I knew her name had to be Scout. Luckily for me, Meg was amenable, and I have to say, our Scout embodies the spirit of her namesake.

We did get a little push back from Scout this summer about her name. Like any good millenial (I think that's what they're calling her generation), she googled her name. There's not a ton out there (I did some googling myself), but there are some negative comments: Scout is a dog's name, no one will ever take anyone named Scout seriously, that kind of thing.

Ah, the internet, home of anonymous ignorance and cowardice.

I think Scout was mostly concerned about the transition to middle school and fitting in. As much as it bugs me, middle schoolers, for the most part, don't like to stand out. I was sympathetic to Scout's feelings and we had some long talks about the things that truly make a person unique. Now that Scout has made it through her first quarter of middle school, I think she's feeling better about her name. We were talking about names in the car the other day, and Scout commented that there are a lot of unique names nowadays, much more so than in the past. I told her that sounded about right, sensing that she had made her peace with her unusual name. I've always known Scout would need to be older to truly appreciate her name. I can respect that she's still working it out, and I have faith that she'll get there.

I think the main reason people have tried to ban Mockingbird is because of racist language, particularly, use of the n word. The language makes people uncomfortable, but that's the point. Harper Lee was shining a light on hatred and racism. Yes, the n word is abhorrent, but to exclude it from a book set in Jim Crow Alabama would have been dishonest. And that's the thing about To Kill a Mockingbird. It is the most unflinchingly honest book I have ever read.

I make it a point to reread The Bird every year. If you haven't read it in a while, maybe now is the time.