Monday, September 20, 2010

Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons In Life, Love, And Language

I feel rather privileged to get an advanced copy of Deborah Fallows' Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons In Life, Love, And Languagevia my friend Sally's relative who works at NPR. (Talk about a dream job.) Fallows describes her various efforts to learn Mandarin interspersed with her experiences in China over the years. She includes both linguistic loves and characteristic Chinese moments. It's a fun and quick read for a Sinophile. There weren't any lessons in Love as in romantic love. That's a tease in the subtitle.

Yet others might not enjoy it that much. They might not care about some of the facets of Mandarin and wish there were more stories about life in China. A reader who has studied Mandarin could find this too basic.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Danica McKellar: Are her math books bad for girls?

Danica McKellar: Are her math books bad for girls? is an article about former Wonder Years star's books on math. I'd say they seem worthwhile. I just read about them on

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Knowing Christ Today

Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge by philosopher Dallas Willard logically refutes the idea that it's impossible to know God or that all this faith-stuff is just a matter of belief. He respectfully and intelligently tackles that notion before moving on to reason why we can know there is a God and why Christ is God. It's a really bold move in this era and Willard uses his reasoning, rather than nonsense or feelings to address these issues. It's a powerful book using strong evidence.

Of course, not all will be swayed, but Willard writes well and anyone who cares about such matters should give this book a read. It will challenge believer and non-believer alike, though in different ways. It's very much a modern book for our time, but Willard doesn't simply modify the gospels or logic to present a Christianity every one will like. He explains Christianity in modern terms that will challenge people today.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Barn

I just finished Award winner Avi's The Barn. it was a quick, enjoyable read about three siblings growing up in the Oregon Territory in 1855. Their mother died years ago and when their father suffers a stroke, the youngest boy, Ben, must return home from boarding school. With his older brother Harrison and older sister Nettie, they must work the fields and care for the father who can't feed himself or sit up.

Ben takes on the full time responsibility of caring for the father, who can't talk. Ben soon decides that the way to get the father to recover is to build the barn the father spoke of. Against obstacles including common sense, the kids decide to build the barn the father wanted.

In many ways the plot offers little new, but the ending is real and non-Disney-ish. The book reads fast and I got caught up in the language, but when you think about it few 10 year olds are as wise as Ben -- actually, none I've met are. It was hard to believe a boy would make all the observations he made, even if he was bright. I taught the highly gifted class which required an IQ of over 140 and few if any of those fourth and fifth graders had Ben's level of maturity. I think it's a good book for 4th and 5th graders, but doesn't stand up to much analysis.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Dante's Divine Comedy as a Graphic Novel

Seymour Chwast's Dante's Divine Comedy: A Graphic Adaptation is an engaging "read" that made me want to read the the original
again. I liked the black and white drawings that showed Dante's journey through Hell to Paradise. Hell seemed hellish and paradise was quite nice. The drawings make the poetry clearer and so one can visualize Dante's understanding of these supernatural realms. Dante and Virgil are dressed in outfits that evoke film noir and that worked for me. This poem a perfect choice for a graphic novel, which simplifies without really dumbing down the original. I do think it will spur many to read the original. What more do you want?