Sunday, November 3, 2013

Book Reviews in Three Lines or Less

I've not written a book review in a while, although I've read several books. So, here's a quick review, in three lines or less, of the books I've read since June.

All book cover images courtesy of

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Review: A magical fairy tale set in the English countryside. Gaiman interweaves this fantastical story with humor, thrills, and mystery. American Gods, but without the unnecessary prose.
Good for my library: Nope. An adult fairy tale.

Title: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Author: Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Review: Three stories set at varying points in our future. Science fiction, fantasy, philosophy, and humor mingle together to tell the story of the human race. Asks the question, are we doomed to repeat ourselves?
Good for my library: Older students should be capable of reading it, but it has a lot of existential humor and the storyline veers around without context on several occasions.

I'm going to review all these books at once, because they're basically the same thing.
Title: Killing Floor, Die Trying, Tripwire, The Visitor, Echo Burning
Author: Lee Child
Review: The male version of a romance novel: easy to read, interesting plot line, he always gets the girl, the bad guys always get what they deserve. Reacher is a likable main character and is always ending up in somewhat insane situations. They're not anything challenging, but perfect for reading at breakneck speed while you're riding on the metro.
Good for my library: Probably not, mostly for violence and adult situations. Although, some of my students have read The Godfather, and they've all played Grand Theft Auto, so it's not really something they aren't familiar with.

Title: The Yiddish Policemen's Union
Author: Michael Chabon
Review: Imagine if Israel never existed, and the Jewish people were instead forced to live in Sitka, Alaska, now their lease on the land is coming due, but first there's a crime to solve. I didn't like this as much as I hoped I would. It had great noir elements, but got bogged down in Yiddish lore and tangents.
Good for my library: Nope, not even remotely.

Title: Tell Them I Built This: Transforming Schools, Communities, and Lives With Design-Based Education (TED Books) [Kindle Edition]
Author: Emily Pilloton
Review: This TED book delves into the story of Studio H, a revolutionary design-based carpentry program started in North Carolina. How and why we should be implementing design-based education in our schools. A perfect, short, fascinating, and inspiring read.
Good for my library: Definitely for teachers, although we don't have Kindles.

Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Review: The story of a near-future America where radical Christians have overtaken the government. Woman are second-class citizens (if even that high) and we follow the story of a hand-maid, tasked with bearing children for barren couples. A terrifying and all to possible story (have you heard about the new abortion laws in Texas, they're so close), female empowerment, but without overt feminism.
Good for my library: Probably not, although some of these kids could use a lesson in feminism, they definitely wouldn't understand the Christian undertones.

Title: Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (Kindle Single)
Author: Will Richardson
Review: In this ever-changing world, with instant access to information, how is an education system based on wrote-learning and regurgitating the right answers going to survive? The thing is they're not going to, but we're at a precipice now where we can help mold the educational future for everyone. Is public education, such as the US system, going to survive; more importantly, should it?
Good for my library: Definitely for teachers. If we want to see schools make a difference, we need to change the way we learn. New technology tools can help us change them for the better, if we use them right, we can hook an entire generation on learning collaboratively and cooperatively.

Title: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and
Other Things That Happened
Author: Allie Brosh
Review: The award-winning Hyperbole and a Half blog features homemade (using the Paintbrush program on a Mac) cartoons about the hilariously heartbreaking life of Allie Brosh. The novel is equal parts humor and memoir, incorporating previously published comics with brand-new ones. Brosh's battle with depression is the most moving and relatable stories of depression I've ever come across.
Good for my library: Hmmmm...yes, with caveats. I feel that Brosh's writing about depression in particular would appeal to students who are struggling with similar problems.

Right now I'm trying to finish up Allegiant, the third novel in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. Unfortunately, it's also time for end of quarter comments and grades, so I haven't had as much time to read as I would like. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Sundabarans

Waiting for the train.
Mid October we had a break for Eid Ul-Azha and Durga Puja. An Eid is just a festival, this one in particular is when Muslims honor Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac by sacrificing a cow. For the second year in a row I wanted to miss out on the streets running red with blood (because where do you slaughter cows, but in the street, right?) and took a chance with some awesome strangers to go on a tour of the Sundabaran mangrove forest in southern Bangladesh.

We started out by riding a train from Dhaka to Khulna. Since it was Eid and everyone was headed home, we were lucky to get 7 tickets together in Shovan class. There are several classes on Bangladesh trains, as follows:

First Class-Closed, air-conditioned car with reclining seats (seats are somewhat comparable to airplane seats)
Second Class-similar to first, except that there are fans instead of air conditioning
Shovan-fans and bench seating with cushions (assigned seats)
Third Class -fans and hardwood bench seating (unassigned seats)
Roof-illegal roof sitting (I so wanted to join them, but, being white, blonde, overweight, and female is not really conducive to participating with such activities.

I do love riding a train.

Our seat neighbor. She spoke a little bit of English, but never
once asked where I was from.

We finally arrived in Khulna 11 hours later. Exhausted, dirty, hungry. A full stomach, a nice nap, and a short boat ride later, we collapsed into bed on our rescue boat.

The next morning we cruised down the river towards the bay of Bengal. It was a lovely day of relaxation, morning naps, afternoon naps, learning how to play Euchre, and delicious Bengali food (which, up until now, I thought was an oxymoron).

We stopped in Mongla, which is the second largest port of Bangladesh, after Chittagong. There is a small museum which features poorly cared for examples of Sundabaran wildlife.

That evening we went to a local village and were treated to four hours of Durga Puja celebrations. It was somewhat awkward being shepherded around like royalty, but the locals were friendly.
Photo taken by fellow traveller, Ian.
The next morning we cruised along for most of the morning. We stopped at the main forest station to pick up our armed guard. To help protect the forest, they charge outrageous rates to foreigners and they require them to have a security guard at all times.
Photo taken by fellow traveler, Ian
The gun wasn't loaded. He had a belt with bullets in it. They carefully counted out 10, because that would definitely stop an attacking tiger.

We even bought a crab from a local kid
We wandered through the town and were followed by a mass of small children, as usual.

After cruising through the afternoon, we landed at a forest station. We wandered through buildings that were ruined by a cyclone in 2007. Because the Sundabarans are essentially below sea level (they will be entirely eaten by the sea with the next 50 years), they are extremely susceptible to any large storms that sweep through the Bay of Bengal.

While at the forest station we swam in a rainwater pond. It was lovely and refreshing. We only got out because we were menaced by a Monitor lizard.
Photo taken by fellow traveler, Dana
That's our tour guide in the center.

That night, after dinner, we were cruising towards our nighttime resting place, playing a rousing game of Scum (which most people know as A-hole, but I grew up in Utah, so, you know) when we beached our boat.

Because the tide goes in and out so quickly and the difference in low and high is so vast, we were quickly left with an unusable boat. They tied some lines down to stabilize us and shored up the tilting boat with some poles. After a terrible night of not sleeping (I'm weird like that), the tide came in and we were able to get a boat to help us get un-stuck.
Photo taken by Ian

Photo taken by Ian
Unfortunately, during the melee, I lost my Chacos overboard. A sad farewell to a great pair of shoes. I bought them in the summer of 2009 and they've been with me ever since, even traveling all through southeast Asia. I also lost  a ring, we're guessing it rolled out of my purse, which was on my bed at the time of the beaching. This was a bigger loss, since it was more

While they prepared breakfast, we went on a trip up the canal.

I took a good 20 minute nap during the canal trip. It was peaceful, warm, and quiet. Afterwards, we walked through the forest station, which is where we were supposed to be docked the evening before (it was literally 5 minutes from where we were stuck). 
A pig!

Bees nest. They are rather large bees as well.
We then cruised to Tiger's Point, where we hiked about 20 minutes to swim in the Bay of Bengal. It was absolutely deserted. We ran around in the very low surf and threw mud at each other (like you do).
The mud was black and glistened like glitter, but it left our skin and hair beautiful.
Photo by Natalia
Photo by Dana
Photo by Ian
(actually, one of the local escorts took it on Ian's camera)
After hiking back to the boat, we showered off, and headed towards our final stop for the day.
There were little holes all over the beach,
with little balls of sand from the crabs.

The final morning, we visited a forest station. Swam in their drinking water pond (only because it was Eid and the guard was already in there). And cruised back to Mongla.

Did I mention I walked barefoot most of the time. Remember,
I lost my shoes. My one pair of shoes. It was awesome.

We stopped briefly in Mongla to drop off our small boat. They bought me a new pair of sandals (which were too small, so I didn't wear them all day anyway). Then, we booked it towards Khulna. Our bus home left at 9:30. A small boat transferred us (while still moving) from our boat to the dock, we sprinted to some baby taxis (tuk tuks), showing up at the bus station at exactly 9:30. The bus ride home, I slept for maybe 20 minutes. We arrived in Dhaka at 4 am, hazy from lack of sleep, needing to use the toilet, and overall, pretty dang happy.

An amazing time. A beautiful country. So glad I could visit it before it's too late.