Book-a-Week

I’ve decided to take the ‘book a week’ challenge for 2012.  I am going to finish 52 books by the end of the year.  Why?  1. It will be fun. 2. Reading and investigating new ideas is a missing piece in my life right now. 3. I want to cultivate intellectual curiosity and a love of reading in my students and model these attitudes by making this commitment. 4. Did I mention it will be fun?

I will also be posting a tweet and/or short post about each book; the post won’t necessarily be a summary, but maybe an impression it left in my mind or how it has affected my perspective on things.  If you’re interested in doing the challenge let me know…it’d be fun to do this with others.  Friends, teachers, principals, students…anyone!  If you teach, pose it to your students and tell them about this blog and we can make a group out of it.  I am also going to pose this challenge to my students.  Hopefully I have some takers!  Who’s with me!?

Warm-up (last week of 2011)

The Element by Sir Ken Robinson

First up in 2012…

1. Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott

A square describes life as a member of a society of geometric shapes living on a plane…yes please!  My imagination was running with this one.  It was really fun to think about how things would appear to the shapes, the relationship between universal dimensions and the perception of them, and the societal structures present in Flatland.  This would be a great hook for a collaborative project between a math, philosophy, and history class.  Who knew!?  Really cool, really worth it.

2. Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams

Doug Adams is hilarious.  This third book in the Hitchhiker’s series was a blast.  His unlikely heroes traverse time and space to simultaneously save the universe from destruction and search for the ultimate question to life, the universe, and everything since they already know the answer to it. It’s science fiction with extra amounts of science and fiction, addressing the universe’s serious questions (if they’re ever found) not so seriously.

3. Now We’re Getting Somewhere by David Clewell

From sci-fi movies, to love, to vegetarian physics, to spontaneous human combustion, to do-not-disturb signs, Clewell’s poems remind me that I’m human, and that being human is a simultaneously complex, imperfect, and humorous state – all realities we should greet smiling.

4. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

Needed to catch up on reading.  Love this book.  Take away message: If you try things, you may like them.

5. Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler

Seems like I have a lot of these as a teacher!  This is the second time I’ve read this book and it probably won’t be the last.  This book is no joke.  It isn’t a book about being ‘crafty’ as a conversationalist and doesn’t try to teach empty rhetorical devices.   The book is about how we view and approach dialogue and teaches the reader skills he or she can use to convey their true meaning while inviting others to convey theirs.  By changing how we view and approach dialogue (something I took for granted up until reading this) we can be more effective communicators and make decisions that are better for everyone involved.

6. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

One of the many Pausch-isms that came from his famous last lecture was “Brick walls (obstacles) are there to show us how bad we want something.”  That quote really struck me.  Obstacles aren’t just there to be conquered.  First they must help us see how badly we want to conquer them.  In this sense, they are good.  They can give us perspective, can change us, and can change our path or reinvigorate it.  In this Pausch-ism and others throughout the book, Pausch shows why he was such an inspiring individual.  This book is a legacy to a life well lived.

7. Animal Farm by George Orwell

This classic involves  the take-over of a farm by its animals.  As they aspire to become a self-sustained society, their ambitions are hijacked by the greed, deception, and lust for power of the pigs.  Totalitarianism and servitude become a regular part of their culture and they end up back where they started (or worse) before the ‘revolution’.  This had me thinking about schools – probably because I teach and I carry a seed of dissatisfaction with the current state of it all.  However, with any dissatisfaction there is also a stronger feeling of hope for how things might be. What kind of revolution will occur in education?  Led by whom?  How might this new culture of education evolve? How can it be prevented from ending up right back where it started?

8,9,&10. Oh, the Places You’ll GoOh, the Thinks You Can Think by Seuss, & Sam and the Firefly by Eastman

A short but sweet trip into the past.  These “children’s” books are what sparked my love of reading as a kid and are now keeping me afloat in the book-a-week challenge 🙂  I know, I’m getting behind…but I’d probably have never read them this year had I not started the challenge.  So I’m counting them!  I spotted these at B&N and had to read them.  Seuss’s imagination is contagious.  Eastman must have hooked me as a kid because he named his character, an owl, Sam.

11. The Night Is Dark and I Am Far From Home by Jonathan Kozol

Wow.  Kozol’s words are chilling, eye-opening, and passionate.  A proper dose of outrage and perspective on the outcomes of twelve years of compulsory schooling.  Reading this was like looking into the mirror of my soul.  This book shook me.  Thanks to the person who recommended it to me and to Kozol.

12. 1984 by George Orwell

Complex. Dark. Disturbing. Fascinating. Fiction?

13-16. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

17. The Schools Our Children Deserve by Alfie Kohn

18. Joyful Wisdom by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

19-22. A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

23. A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury

Time traveling hunters travel to the past and accidentally kill an ancient butterfly which sets in motion a chain of events that change the nature of the present from which they came.  A fascinating premise- beautifully articulated, smile-inducing, and question provoking.  A butterfly dies, millions of years, one event relentlessly churning out another event, steady evolution, human beings, technology, me typing at this computer…all connected, all a result of the fate of an insect 65 million years ago?

24. The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins

My great-great-great-great-great…..x185 million greats grandfather was a fish.  I find that fascinating.

25. The Fire Apes by Loren C. Eiseley

Perhaps other species are waiting to make fire.  Perhaps they already did.  Maybe they’re waiting us out.  Maybe we’re on our way out, nearing ‘old age’ as a species or doing ourselves in.  Who will take our place?  Who or WHAT will write of the humans (if that’s what they’ll call us)?

26. Fish is Fish by Leo Lionni

How might a fish visualize cows, you ask?  With fins, of course!  This story beautifully demonstrates how we interpret new descriptions in terms of what we’re already familiar with.  This is the constructivist view of learning.  New ideas are “built upon”, “connected to”, and interpreted through the “lens” of our current ideas.  This is what the shapes in Flatland were dealing with (see Week 1 book).  The book also suggests that there are limits to what we are able to conceptualize.  Our bodies and senses can only take us so far, since “Fish is fish.” and must stay in the water.

27. What is it like to be a bat? by Thomas Nagel

It is inconceivable to understand what it is like to be another organism, no matter how closely related we are.  Imagining life as a bat will never reveal the bat’s true experience to us.  Bat’s can’t see…their brains don’t process information like ours do.  Our own conceptions of life as a bat will be entangled with our own way of experiencing the world.  This does not prohibit us from strongly believing that bats do have very subjective and specific experiences.  We can come up with ways of describing those experiences, but we are limited in our descriptions by our own nature and way of experiencing things.  It would be easier to more accurately describe the experience of someone (a person, for example) that experiences things more similarly to us, but we can never truly know the nature of their experience.  Does coming up with a description or external model for our own experiences bring us nearer to, farther from, or not any closer to understanding the true nature of our personal experiences?

28. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

One of those sci-fi books that doesn’t feel so sci-fi.  This would be a fascinating book to read in science class – could spark discussions and interest in evolution, physics, space travel, ethics, extra terrestrials, intelligence, etc.  With our solar system as the primary setting and Clarke’s descriptions based off of realistic science, all of the details of this story felt authentic and feasible.  Perhaps that’s why this book incited such awe in me.  While contemplating the unknown, the strange, the ‘out there’ can be exciting…contemplating what is real or what might be real has the power to captivate.  Clarke’s quote from the foreword sums it up: “This is only a work of fiction.  The truth, as always, will be far stranger.”

29. The Case Against Standardized Testing by Alfie Kohn

30-31. Hooray for Diffendoofer Day and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

I’ll be resorting to many short books now that it’s coming down to the wire.  Length doesn’t detract from awesomeness though.  D-Day was about a quirky school dealing with a standardized exam.  The Lorax was about a money hungry Once-ler ruining a habitat to make sweaters.  Per usual, both Seuss books were fun and had good messages.  Dr. Seuss makes important topics accessible and entertaining for youngsters and adults alike.  He illuminates big ideas by telling creative stories centered around them, rather than talking directly about the topics.  Rather than merely informing his audience about these ideas, his writing style encourages engagement and curiosity about them.  He’s inviting us to look around instead of telling us exactly what he sees.

Due to time constraints, I’ve decided that short stories will count and will be reading many from Isaac Asimov’s book “Robot Dreams”.  The following short stories are from this collection.

32. Little Lost Robot

A robot programmed differently than the rest (with a modified version of the First Law of Robotics – that robots must not harm humans) is told to ‘lose himself’ by a frustrated physicist, and mixes himself in with a group of 63 regularly programmed robots.  The humans must outsmart him to determine which robot he is.  A fun musing on robotic intelligence by Asimov and an introduction the his three ‘Laws of Robotics’.

33. Robot Dreams

Do robots dream?  Do they have a consciousness that lies behind the level of programming they’ve received?  What if their dreams are of freedom from humans?

34. Breeds there a man…?

This story suggests that humans may be an experiment performed by some ultra intelligent alien life and that impending nuclear war may have been constructed in our psyche by the aliens to destroy us off if we became too intelligent.

35. Hostess

Alien intelligence, biology, culture, physics, and chemistry are all woven into this mystery of an alien who visits earth in hopes of finding out more about the ‘inhibition death’ which is believed to be caused by a parasitic 6th ‘intelligence’.  Stories like this could be used in ANY science class to spark imagination and interest. The integrated nature of the different school ‘subjects’ is glaringly obvious when they are drawn out of a story or context like this.

36. Sally

Cars with positronic engines are coming to get you!

37. Strikebreaker

A colony of humans living on the interior of an asteroid have a caste system which threatens the future of their civilization b/c a man of the lowest caste goes on strike and nobody will take his place.  Is social status more important than living?!  Is being a member of the lowest caste worse than death!?

38. The Machine That Won the War

A highly advanced machine – with uncertain inputs, uncertain outputs, and uncertain interpretations of those outputs – “won” the war.  Or so the people thought.  Little did they know, the simplest decision machine ever designed (a coin) actually decided the course of the war.

39. Eyes Do More Than See

Advanced ‘beings’, shed of their bodies, remember their eyes – which do more than see.

40. The Martian Way

Mars colony.  Needs water.  Cut off from Earth. Ship ice from rings of Saturn.

41. Franchise

Multivac, the supercomputer, can predict the winner of elections based on one person’s vote.  Reminds me of current news organizations ‘calling the election’ before all votes are in.

42. Jokester

Hey did you hear that one about the guy and the elephant? …yeah so.. *insert joke you once heard about guy and elephant*  Who first created this joke or any joke for that matter? According to Asimov, aliens of course…and the aliens use our responses to the jokes to study our psychology.

43. The Last Question

How can we turn the stars back on, once they die? A trip into the FAR-future traces the lives of beings who are asking this same question over and over.  Multivac makes an appearance again, but this time can’t figure out the answer!

44. Does a Bee Care?

Does a bee care about what happens to a flower after it gathers pollen from it?  Does an alien intelligence care about what happens to a species (humans) once it uses it as a means for growing its children?  Quick summary: Our evolution as a species from primitive men to flying to the stars was a means of incubating and sending an alien home.

45. Light Verse

About a widow whose robot creates ‘light sculptures’.

46. The Feeling of Power

A future in which people (not computers!) can do math. On paper! Would be fun to read in a math class.

47. Spell My Name With an S

A man changes the first letter of his last name in order to advance his success in life.  Turns out that it was all a scheme of stopping nuclear war by super intelligent beings who were influencing life on earth.  How, you ask?  You’ll have to read it to find out.

48. The Ugly Little Boy

Stasis, Inc. has developed a way to pull pieces of history to the present.  Their main ‘artifact’ was a Neanderthal boy who was cared for by a nurse.  At the end, he ventures back to his time in history with the nurse.  My lingering question was; How will a knowledgable nurse and boy, injected into the past, affect the future?  Reminded me of Bradbury’s ‘A Sound of Thunder’.  In that story, Bradbury suggested that small changes in history could multiply exponentially and have drastic affects on the future.  In ‘The Ugly Little Boy’, Asimov suggested that small changes usually ‘repaired themselves’ if the affected objects were not ‘history changers’.  An intelligent neanderthal and woman from the future could hardly be ‘repaired’!

49. The Billiard Ball

Two geniuses, one a theoretician and the other a practician, bicker over the possibility of anti-gravity.  One ends up dead…was it murder?

50. True Love

A love triangle between a man, his computer, and his perfectly calculated girl.

51. The Last Answer

A man dies, encounters the maker of the universe, confronts his new eternal life, and decides on his purpose…to bring it all to an end.

52. Lest We Remember

This story involves a pill that ‘de-inhibits’ the inhibiting chemicals that prevent us from recalling everything we’ve ever stored in our brains.  This raises questions about the capabilities and functioning of the human brain and would be fun to read in a psychology or neuroscience class. Will I remember everything I’ve read over the past year!? Is it stored somewhere in my brain?

5 responses to “Book-a-Week

  1. Do you want everyone reading the same book or just reading a book?

    • Sam

      Just reading a book. Preferably something interesting to the reader 🙂 Length of the book doesn’t matter either. The books I usually read end up somewhere between 200-300 pages…so I’ll probably average 30-40 pages a day to make it manageable. I’ll read some short ones too though in order to keep up.

  2. Edwin Ulmer

    On the nonfiction side, I recommend “Visible Learning” by John Hattie. It’s a synthesis of 800+ meta-analysis on various educational/pedagogical topics. There’s an edition for targeted more so to teachers too.

    On the fiction end, try “Life of Pi” or “Brave New World”.

    Happy reading! I hope you make your goal.

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