cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Reflections”

Yearly Stats: a Good Reads bit of this and a bit of that


I really like this time of year. It’s not because of all the tinsel, lights, and cute kid Christmas programs (you should have seen the cow costumes–I even threatened to be annoying and hold up my iPhone and film the little critters singing away around the manger). I do appreciate and cherish the Reason for the Season. That’s an absolute. But I’m not “gotta go see the newest batch of Hollywood mega-movies” or a “hit the slopes!” warrior. Nope, I like all the pretties the various web sites I subscribe to send me, my stats for this year. At the top is Good Reads.

The tidbit I’m setting down here does not do their full display justice. They make it look like I’ve really contributed something spectacular by reading. Like reading is as special as I think it is.

TOTALS as 12/12/17–I do wish they would do a grand sum picture, but then I guess those little Good Reads elves need time off to go help out the jolly guy up North.

I read 32,438 pages across 112 books

Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk

Good Reads images (for all)

SHORTEST BOOK

40 pages
Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk
by Jane Sutcliffe
One of those wonderful picture books that are just so amazing in illustrations and textual info that I can’t help but boldly go where adults usually don’t–the kiddos need to learn to share, right?
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
LONGEST BOOK
566 pages
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
by David Wroblewski
Another Shakespeare book. This is a contemporary retelling of Hamlet. Quite astute in following the plot, yet it is definitely it’s own story. It deserves the praise it has received.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
MOST POPULAR
3,781,416

people also read

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
LEAST POPULAR
2

people also read

Edward Lear: Selected Letters
by Edward Lear
Poor Edward, he didn’t even rate a cover image. The man who brought us all those pithy limericks and nonsense poems like “The Owl and the Pussycat” actually lived a fascinately dull life. Explore that paradox by reading this collection.
The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan
HIGHEST RATED ON GOODREADS and First Review of the Year
The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ
by Andrew Klavan
4.48 average
An autobiography of sorts of how a secular Jew came to his belief in Jesus. This is not an easy journey for someone to leave their cultural traditions because it causes such strong rifts in the family as well. Told well, as Klavan is an engaging writer.
Overall? It was a fabulous year of reading. I tried out new-to-me books, recommends, reread old favorites, and surpassed my goal of 101 books two years in a row. This shocks most of my students since many struggle to get one book read in a quarter for their book report. And yet, when they see me reading right along with them during our 10 minute SSR, I am hoping they see that I am reading different types of books, a variety of books of length and subject, and that I like reading books. Maybe they can find their way out of social media for a while and get lost in a book.
One someday goal is to be posterized along with all those notable folk, like Sean Connery, who smile down from the library walls holding up theirs book of choice. There I will be, holding up that someday bestseller cow joke book, the caption will read. “Cricket Muse is out standing in the field of reading.”
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Quora: a questionable hobby


I don’t know how I got involved in Quora. I’m not a fan of collecting social media apps. I do like looking up information, as well as answering questions. Must be that librarian/teacher thing I got going on.

This year I tussled with Quora. In the backlash of extra security measures they weren’t accepting that my nom de plume of Cricket Muse was acceptable. Right. Like I’m hiding something? Plotting something? After a terse exchange and proof that Cricket Muse was being used professionally (book reviews, and author signify in a Chicken Soup), they relented and I dusted off my time out and returned to avoiding obvious homework inquires: “What are the literary elements found in chapter 8 of To Kill a Mockingbird?” and trying my best to answer uniquely interesting and entertaining questions: “What books are recommended for starting up a conversation?”

 

Your 2017 Highlights
202 1 27
ANSWERS QUESTION NEW FOLLOWERS

People enjoy your answers.
You ask insightful questions–(aw, thanks)
Your answers were helpful and earned:

138 upvotes
24.1k views
Additionally:
78 of the answers you wrote this year were featured in a Quora Digest

 

I admit I do not maintain my Quora profile, or do not even check my stats (I don’t check my WordPress stats much either. I just like writing). I do occasionally get time loss as I get involved in writing an answer. Sometimes a dialogue ensues and the same person keeps asking questions. Umm, then it seems weird and I retreat from Quora for awhile. So drop in to Quora sometime and ask me something. No, not about quantum physics, but I’m fairly adept at Shakespeare stuff and cows. No one asks about cows though. I don’t understand why.

Reading Round Up: November


One of the good things that came out of breaking my wrist this summer was the extra downtime for reading. I ended reading around 20 books in August as I iced and tried to occupy myself since bowling, ziplining, tennis, biking, playing the cello and other activities were momentarily ignored. Then again, learning the cello is only a wishful retirement idea. I hope I can still attempt some lessons. The Piano Guys suggested it. As a result I easily hit my goal of 101 books (again) for this year, and I am plugging along. Maybe I’ll go for 150 books before the year is out!

Here’s my congratulations:

And here are some of my November highlights:

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goodreads image

Sarah Loudin Thomas has the knack for creating characters that are both memorable and inspirational, while providing a captivating storyline. In The Sound of Rain she explores loss, and the need for direction through mountain man, Judd Markley and the vivacious Larkin Heyward, who has grown up in comfort and privilege. Judd is running away from the mountains of West Virginia after surviving a mining cave in, and Larkin hopes to trade her life of comfort of living in a beach town and serve the people of Appalachia. Judd’s strength is his integrity and work ethic, while Larkin bubbles with vitality and life, bringing joy to anyone who spends time with her. Adding into the story is the contrast of Myrtle Beach and Appalachia, which echoes the differences between Judd and Larkin. Historical fiction with a romance storyline is proving to be consistent with Loudin Thomas.

I was quick to grab this title off the Bethany House review list since I’ve become acquainted with Sarah through our WordPress blogging. Check out her blog, and her books–she’s an inspirational author and an inspiration to me as a writer.

Wanda Gág by Deborah Kogan Ray

goodreads image

As I research more writers who loved cats, I came across Wanda Gag. One of the most enlightening ways to quickly learn about someone is through a picture book biography. This is the case for Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw. Artist/author Deborah Kogan Ray provides a colorful presentation of the woman who wrote Millions of Cats. Gag (rhymes with “jog” not “bag”) is a Cinderella story of poverty to world famous recognition. She never lost her desire and dream to draw, even while supporting her sisters and brother.

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goodreads image

Another cat author is Edward Lear, Known for his comical limericks, and the classic nonsense song “The Owl and the Pussycat,” Edward Lear was actually an accomplished landscape artist whose tragic life shaped him to find solace in the company of friends and entertaining children with lively verses. Noakes provides an in-depth portrait of a man who masked his pain with mirth.

Review Round Up: October


With November nearly done I best get my October book reports turned in. I’m two weeks late in doing so. Do I get half credit? Do good intentions count? Am I sounding like my students?

Uniquely entertaining and informative is how I am defining Robin Sloan’s style and approach to writing. If you read his first novel, Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, you will not be disappointed. He has once again taken his readers into parts of San Francisco most living outside the city are completely unaware exists. Blending technology with food this time, Sloan explores the world of sourdough, robotics, and farmer markets. Along with a side of cultural history. He makes it work. I smiled and outright laughed most of the time. Alas, some of the techno-terms became babbling at certain points and my reading interest waned, so no five, but a firm 4.75 is in order.

There are so many positive aspects to this book: the seemingly impossible chance of a little dog finding a new friend in such an unexpected place as the Gobi desert, the dedication of Dion towards Gobi, Gobi’s absolute adoration of Dion, the support of friends, family, and strangers to reuniting Dion and Gobi. Plus, Gobi is absolutely packed with personality. A person doesn’t have to love dogs to enjoy this story.

This is a retold version of Dion’s longer autobiographical story, adapted for younger readers. The interjection of Gobi’s perspective now and then into the story is especially appealing for young readers. This is a great book for emphasizing how faith and love can often make the impossible happen.

The review copy was provided by the publisher and I am under no obligation.

An engaging story that provides a cast of memorable characters along with settings and situations rich with imagery and hints of realism. I say hints because there are times when characters aren’t realistic. Could a woman become so jaded she would not invite her beloved brother’s daughter into her house upon first meeting her? Would a young woman truly remain so unscathed, retain so much innocence after knocking around by herself during the vulnerable years between 16-20?

While the story is engaging, it’s also fragmentary in its leaps in time sequencing. All of a sudden it’s three weeks later or they are suddenly back home from a monumental road trip. Transitions are not gentle–they are jarring. Yet, I liked my first visit with the author and will look up her other books as I favor character-driven plots that provide a balance of faith with everyday living.

Rarely do I suggest watching the film before reading the book. The Queen of Katwe is an exception. To fully grasp the level of poverty Phiona contends with, it must visually be explored. And being a Disney film it will be a modified version. It’s still shocking.

Tim Carothers expands upon the magazine article about Phiona and provides a fairly full account of how a girl from the slums of an Ugandan slum could learn chess well enough to compete, and win, on a national level and compete internationally.

At times the book seems to stray from its focus on Phiona, but in retrospect the backstories provide a complete portrait of who Phiona is and how the people surrounding her have contributed to her success.

It will be interesting to follow up on Phiona as she continues her dream of becoming a Grand Master. As an update, she is now attending a university in Washington State.

Katherine Reay has found her niche in writing intersections of Austen and contemporary times and the proof of this is her latest novel, The Austen Escape.

There are layers of plot lines roaming through this story: besties becoming stale, a start up creative factory in transition, complicated family histories needing mending, PTSD manifested, a misunderstood hero trying to woo the heroine. And an Austen escape vacation to satisfy most Janeites.

There are a couple of considerations. One is the focus of the Austen escape. It seemed a contrived way for Isabel to get lost in Austen, and all the Austen name-dropping got a bit confusing, even for this reader who is familiar with the stories.

Speaking of confusing—the label of Christian fiction needs to be addressed. While most of the characters espouse admirable moral standards, there are only a few off hand mentions of guiding spiritual beliefs, which is difficult to process when the crew spends their Friday nights are at the local watering hole ending their weekend with a beer or cocktail and consider possible date picks from the bar.

No swearing, light kissing, so a bit of drinking and innuendo is okay for a Christian romance? There is a mixed message. However, I appreciate Reay’s books for their intriguing, well-written plots and look forward to the next one.

I received this book from the publisher, via BookLook Bloggers. All opinions and thoughts are my own.

October was packed with enjoyable reads which helped me navigate the stress load of grading assignments in time for the first quarter report card. Nothing like escaping into the pages of a good read. Almost beats out dark chocolate.

All images from Amazon or Goodreads.

A Ponderance of Quarterly End


This post is devoted to teachers who are nearing first quarter completion:

As we madly try to stuff in more knowledge into the unwilling minds of students, it’s important to pause and reflect on what education is all about. If only I could get my students to realize these astute observations:

  • Poetry is not useless–do they not realize all that music cascading into their brain is poetry?
  • Spulling mahters–just ask the person hiring from what job applications reveal
  • The classroom is not an extension of the cafeteria–socializing and eating in class may seem like a good idea–but really? Nope.
  • Bringing a charged laptop, the right folder, pen, paper, textbook actually does help in the learning process.
  • I do see everything. Texting, writing notes, whispering, sleeping.
  • Turning in something is better than nothing. Half points on a late assignment beats out a zero.
  • I believe they can do better. And I will keep after them until they believe the same.

UPDATE: I did survive quarter one grading rush and I’m gearing up for the second night of parent teacher conferences. Onward to second quarter, which means first semester closing to open up second semester which means countdown to summer.

Have I mentioned how difficult it’s been teaching while recovering  from a broken wrist?

PADding About with Poetry


Teaching poetry to a class of teens is almost intimidating as being the student learning the language of metaphors and similes and alliteration and such.

For one thing there is the DWA

factor–Dead White Authors.

Occasionally I detect a certain resentment of having to study the antiquated language and suspect ideas of people who lived in times current adolescents have a difficult time relating to, especially when many of these authors were among the 1% of their day. Understanding that religion revolved around one belief and not a myriad seems wrong to some of many students.

Getting students to remove their 21st century hats in order to not be hindered by Frost using “queer” when describing how the speaker’s horse thinks it’s strange to stop in the middle of the woods is a little challenging but not insurmountable.

Another challenge is getting students to embrace poetry as a necessity. Actually, for that concern I have a ready reply:

If you can figure the meaning of a poem and explain it in such a way it is comprehensible to others, you will no doubt succeed in other endeavors in life, such as presenting a new scientific concept to your co-workers or even putting together that bike in a box for your kid some day.

I do sympathize with my students about the saturation of 18th and 19th century poems we tend to study, especially in AP Literature. This is why I subscribe to services that provide a poem everyday. It’s like those word a day subscriptions except more words and they sometimes rhyme.

Over the past few years I have amassed quite a collection. Now what? Aha! I pulled together a monthly menu and created a PPT what I call the PAD–Poem A Day. While I take attendance, students read the poem on the projector screen and then discuss some aspect. Most of these poems are contemporary and the topics, as well as formats, tend to be more relatable for my students.

The other day we covered Robert Bly’s moon poem. I then had students find three objects in the room and describe them in a new way. The best one involved calling our box fan a meditation counselor since it had the ability to provide a cooling off whenever we were heated up. Nice.

I remember Robert Frost and his puzzled horse in fifth grade and I have taught it to my tenth graders and seniors. I’m hoping once we have chatted about meaning and metaphor they will think poetry is lovely as they move through life. My hope is they’ll carry a verse in their pocket or be able to pop out a ready line to fit any occasion.

The Bliss of SSR


Teen Read Week is coming up. It got me thinking about the need for teens to read.

Back in the day before screens ruled the scene, books were on student desks and in their hands. Accelerated Reader got kids reading — even if it was just for points. That ingrained habit stuck and most high schoolers kept up the practice of reading. Okay, Harry Potter helped as well.

Since we did not prescribe to point system reading at the high school level I initiated ten minutes of sustained silent reading or SSR. Before I get too many Book Booster kudos, I freely admit I did it mainly for classroom management purposes. My ninth graders were volumes heavy in energy and it would usually take ten minutes to call them down. With the routine of SSR they sat down, silently read, and class resumed in a calm manner. Why did I stop?

I have often asked myself that.

Something about increased curriculum needs, not enough time, correcting badly written, mostly plagiarized book reports.

After a five plus years hiatus SSR is back in style in my classroom. Frustrated with students who brag about never reading, getting them away from thumb swiping into page flipping, and needing to boost their SAT scores I decided to return to SSR. That class management aspect too.

Our district has gone to the one to one system where every student receives a laptop. That’s a whole different blog post. What this does allow is changing the format of the dreaded book report. They are now PowerPoints. Google Docs even provides a template.

I’m actually looking forward to them.

As the end of first quarter approaches, I notice that students are actually engaged and interested in reading. And even if they aren’t they are at least quiet for ten minutes.

I read along with them, and share my thoughts about the book I’m currently reading. Sometimes they share too.

The funniest aspect of SSR is the one book that gets grabbed off my shelf. Because if they forget their book they need to be reading, and I’ve got quite a few to choose from on my bookshelf. So which book is the go to book? Moby Dick. I kid you not. Is it to prove they are a mighty reader to take on this whale of a story?

I watched one student grab it, smirk to his friends his choice, and surreptitiously snuck glances at what he did with it: looked at the front and back covers, flipped the pages, gazed at the maps, flip more pages, and then he began to read it. From the front.

Yeah. SSR is a three letter word for bliss.

August Reading Round Up


As you know I broke my wrist the end of July which severely cramped the rest of my summer vacation. It’s also difficult to travel when sitting for more than 15 minutes–a side factor of the accident that is not as noticeable as a cast.

So I turned to donuts and books for the month of August. This kind of donut:

No sprinkles or glaze. But soft and comfy.

And here is the list of books:

by Veronica Roth

1. Four

2. Divergent

3. Insurgent

4. Allegiant

5. I’ll Push You by Patrick Gray*

by D.E. Stevenson

6. The Four Graces

7. The Young Clementia

8. Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas

by Fredrick Backman

9. A Man Called Ove*

10. Britt-Marie Was Here

11. And Every Morning the Road Home Gets Longer and Longer

12. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald*

13. Portrait of Vengeance by Carrie Park Stuart

14. Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

15. I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza*

by Julianna Bagott*

16. Pure

17. Fuse

18. Burn

19. Amethyst Dreams by Phyllis Whitney

20. Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Veramontes

I’ve starred the books I especially enjoyed instead of my usual reviews. As much as I missed traveling to the coast and catching up on family visits, I have to say reading in my hammock for a month was fairly nice.

I won’t have any worries meeting my Goodreads Challenge this year.

Hold it, Hold it


When I get down to one book in hand and one waiting to be read, a rising sense of dismay bordering on idgety panic ensues.

I could live without chocolate before I could live with nothing to read.

–C.Muse

So I did what any ink-blooded Book Booster does–I began scouring my resources and filling up my books- to-read shelf. First stop: the library.

I rarely buy books. If I do, they are gifts. This means I have achieved Frequent Flyer status at my local library. Can’t beat the convenience or the price: five minutes down the street and a twenty item limit. Did I mention they have an amazing free books shelf? Plus, they have the nicest inter-library loan dept. The library often buys my requests–I am spoiled, I know.

I also review for two separate publishers, and I can review two books at a time per site.

My panic mode at having nothing to read over the long weekend before school starts (my leisure reading diminishes considerably after Labor Day) became one of stress when EVERYTHING came in at once. I went from bare shelf to overwhelmed in a matter of moments.

Three holds appeared within two days of each other, with two being ILLs needing to be read almost immediately (honestly–why loan it out if a person barely has time to read the book?) and one book bearing that annoying little bookmark “Read Me First!” I can practically feel the anticipatory drumming of fingers of the next patron. Three books I have to read now, as in right now, presents an oxymoronic perspective to the idea of leisurely reading over the holiday.

Oh, two review books arrived and they need to be read and reviews duly noted before the month is out.

I also have three books which I had picked up at the library a couple of weeks ago, which means their due date is approaching. Renew or return? Oh, how I dislike that question.

Well, I have plenty to read at the moment. I will have to hold off on my longings for the new titles promos that keep popping up in my email.

Does anyone else go through this famine/feast cycle? I’m hoping I’m not alone in this…

Drug Free Teaching


Today was the first day back to school. I went home just before lunch after confessing to the principal I couldn’t handle it any longer. The look on my  face made him step back and say: “Go home.” Good thing it was only staff day and not class day. 

It’s been a month since I ditched my  mountain bike on the bike path embankment to avoid crashing into anothet cyclist. It’s been a long month of adjusting to using my left hand instead of my right, learning to love ice packs, and enduring physical therapy. Tolerating pain meds is it’s own post.

Being a lightweight (wave a cork at me and I’m tipsy), I take half doses of my pills in order to maintain some state of functionality. This means I’m always at about a three on the pain scale–I think ten is an elephant standing on your head (like when I first figured my wrist must be broken after I crashed).

Apparently, I cannot teach or drive, if I take my pain meds. Driving a car or teaching teens under the influence is frowned  upon .  Something about impaired judgement. So, to prepare going back to driving and teaching I have been cutting back on my dosage. Way back. How about no meds for a day? Yeah–that didn’t work so well. 

Thankfully, my understanding principal let me go home and nap so I could return for open house. Yes, it was a long day first day back.

At this moment I have ice on my wrist and I’m hoping to go back to sleep and go for another day of  staff meetings and prepping my classroom. During staff introductions I held up my black air-cast wrist and joked I had on my Wonder Woman titanium bracelet. The joke was on me when I said, “And it’s my first day without drugs.” And the quip? “In your teaching career?”

Yeah. 

I went home and napped for three hours. Ice is nice. 

  

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