The Emperor of Maladies

Finally took the plunge and purchased this book after yet another reference.  Gladwell, in David and Goliath, mentioned Mukherjee’s Pulitzer winner.

So glad I did. It’s amazing. I am reminded why I love this style of history–part story telling, part anthropology, part history/science. A page-turner even at 472 pages.


Not it something I’d recommend to just anyone.  Topic, thickness… deterrents to many.  But just fascinating. So many brilliant minds, often discovered in the most unlikely places, working in closets, pariahs in their field, unflappable in their determination and focus. Really inspiring.

And the reality that cancer treatment is poison, just taking patients to the brink of death, to allow their body to then repair itself with only healthy cells doing the healing.  And how uncomfortable to read about medicine in the  age before research consent, clear ethics guideline, etc.  Many times I’ve thought–this could never happen today!!

A third through…back to reading.

Glad to reinvigorate this blog as well.


Wolf Hall–too complex for my summer brain?

My husband, at gift-giving occasions, heads to our local bookstore, Copperfield’s, and gets help from the front desk.  “My wife just read x, y & z.  What should I buy her?”  Luckily Copperfield’s knows their stuff.  He walks out with two or three neatly wrapped books just for me.

This is how I acquired Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, I think, for my birthday back in October.  It’s taken this long to finish.

Not that I was reading and rereading, or picking up and setting down–there are plenty of books like that around here.  No, with Wolf Hall, I tried once, set it down and left it there.  Too many names, vague use of pronouns…

I picked it up again out of pure desperation.  I had ravenously devoured three books in Kauai and arrived home with nothing new to read.  Wolf Hall.  It’s Henry VIII for crying out loud!  I should know all these people!  So I tried it again.  Not bad.

It follows Henry VIII’s reign (mainly the dumping of Katherine and acquiring of Anne) through the rise of Thomas Cromwell.  Thomas is likable–humble beginnings, uses his knowledge, holds his cards close, ruthless without being cruel, loves his family, loyal to his masters.

“Not bad” comes from the lack of ending.  I needed something a bit more wrapped up.  I get the tone that Hilary was going for.  Thomas is a workaholic and the story ends with his busy life serving the king, but it didn’t satisfy me.

So, do I recommend it?  Not sure.  I enjoy this era and the intrigue, but slogging through the families, titles and power struggles is not for everyone.  It can be tedious to look back if you aren’t holding it the information and lineage your mind very well.

It won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 so, for me, that makes it worth reading.  I have loved 99.9% of the books that win or are finalists for that award–good job Booker folks!

Half Broke Horses

Jeannette Walls is amazing.  Or maybe I’m just slow.

When a book is recommended to me, I jump right in and read it.  I try not to read the back of the book, the reviews or anything that might 1) give too much away, or 2) dissuade from reading it.

So I didn’t understand until the very end of this novel, Half Broke Horses,  that it was biographical.  So awesome!  Honestly, it was so cool to read about this amazing woman, Lily, and realize it was the author’s grandmother.  She is an amazing character that seems almost too round and dynamic to be real.

Interesting too (or maybe me being slow again)… I kept thinking I knew where the story was going and it kept taking a left turn on me.  Very unpredictable.  But real life is unpredictable.  It’s only fiction that takes the turns you expect.

And if you haven’t read The Glass Castle yet… what are you thinking?!?!?  Get to the library.  Stat.

Henrietta Lacks. Wow.

I think everyone should read this book.  It’s health care, medical research, racism, privacy, life saving discoveries, class inequalities and a compelling story!

Laboratory animals had rights back in 1910, but humans weren’t considered until Nuremberg.  And even then it wasn’t law, just recommendation.  Wow.  Henrietta’s family couldn’t begin to grasp what it meant that their mother’s cells were immortal.  Was she in pain?  Was the cancer still alive?  What’s a cell?  Wow.  Informed consent wasn’t recognized in the medical research world until after 1971.  Drawing blood was considered a non-risk to the patient.  Wow.

It’s such a tragic story of Henrietta’s kids and her widower husband, but you can’t help but get excited over the huge advances made in medicine all because Henrietta’s cancer cells reproduced in culture at a prolific rate.  One woman, one hard-working black woman, one mother of four who died young of cervical cancer.  Yet her cells live on.

You must read this book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

A Trip to the Bookstore

I’ve been underwhelmed by my reading lately.  So much so that I have stuck to New Yorker articles and ed leadership blogs.  My attention span is short; I’m restless.  A good book would chase all that away but I’m too restless to dig into one… ironic.

So after much mention of Daniel Pink‘s Drive, I went to the bookstore to find it.  Speaking of motivation… this book is just what I need.  So far, so good.  I’ve often been puzzled by the carrot or stick mentality in school.  I don’t do either with my students.  It’s about mutual respect.  It’s about wanting to do well, wanting to know more, wanting to master the skill.  Not to mention, carrots and sticks are hard to maintain and demoralizing to me, the teacher.  I can’t keep up with the rewards and punishments… I’m too busy trying to get kids to learn.

Also picked up The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  She’s the until-now-unknown woman behind the HeLa cells that some many researchers and scientists have used in their petri dishes for years.  I first heard of Ms. Lacks on RadioLab.  It was a fantastic show–a small segment of a medley.  I was enthralled with the story and hunt for the identity of this woman.  I wasn’t willing to shell out for the hardback so now I’m ready!

Finally, I grabbed Mindset by Carol Dweck.  I attended a talk on Educational Rounds at UCDavis by Dr. Richard Elmore.  He mentioned this book.  Then I read an article that quoted her.  It’s a sign!  Get the book.  She uses the phrases ‘fixed mindset’ and ‘growth mindset’… I like it.  You can never rest in the now, the accomplishment, the good.  You can enjoy the moment, but forever we should be growing, changing, evolving.  I enjoy the push forward; it motivates me.  So we’ve come full circle in my book purchases, back to Drive.  Interesting.

I think I might get reading again.

I’m a Louise Erdrich Fan

Currently reading Four Souls and completely enjoying it.  My only issue with Louise Erdrich’s style is the brevity of her books.  I need a longer read.  It’s beautiful, smart, mysterious and short.  I need more than 210 pages.

So I linger over each page, even reread a passage now and then in an attempt to stretch it out.

“I am the sound that the wind used to make in a thousand needles of pine.  I am the quiet at the root.  When I walk through your hallway I walk through myself.  When I touch the walls of your house I touch my own face.  You know me.”  This is Fleur talking to the man who stole her forest as she holds a knife to throat.

Unfortunately he knows more than she suspects yet doesn’t know the things she assumes he does.

“Gradually, he felt the woman’s curiosity gain the upper hand.”


The Back of the Napkin

Reading, or more like, sifting through, Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin.  It’s too business-y for me, but I find nuggets of usefulness here and there for application in the classroom.

Doodling sounds inherently distracting, but I know when I doodle mindlessly, it actually allows me to focus my mind on what I’m hearing.  On the other hand, when I doodle purposefully, my mind is focused on the doodle.  Nothing else.

So let’s use that to some good ends.  We read about Maniac Magee’s neighborhood, then we doodle what the neighborhood might look like from a bird’s view.  Not a full blown art project, nor a quick stick figure.  Something in between… useful, quick, detailed but not elaborate.  Goals: to communicate, to understand, to clarify.

“No Longer Say, I Can’t Draw.”  This is Dan’s 2nd commandment.  I like it.  Drawing shouldn’t scare people.  It goes hand-in-hand with commandment 4: “To Start, Draw a Circle and Give it a Name.”  In other words, just jump in and get started sorting out your ideas.

So with more sifting through Dan Roam’s book, I’m planning to incorporate more doodling.