Book Review: The Giver – Not so hot

The Giver by Lois Lowry is a dystopia for young people that focuses on a hyper organized community that has gotten rid of choice and deep feelings and *spoiler alert* will happily “release” any member who doesn’t fit in, from infant to elderly.

Honestly–I didn’t love it, and (you’ll know from my other book reviews) I try to pick books I think I will like when I commit to reading a book, so this came as a surprise to me.

I enjoyed learning about the community she invented, seeing how they ran families and age ceremonies and gradually seeing the dark side. After all, dystopia is one of my favorite genres because of how it allows the author to explore the implications of thoughts and philosophies.

But what really broke my heart was the ending–eventually, the main character Jonas, escapes the community with a baby who was scheduled for “release” aka (spoiler alert), death. On the final page, after months of starving and looking for food all alone, Jonas has an estatic scene where he suddenly becomes confident he sees the lights of “elsewhere.” It’s unclear whether this is death and heaven, a final earthly hallucination or if he actually makes it to the outside world.

Lowry, in the early years after the release of the book, refused to clarify it, emphasizing the ambiguity. However, as a reader, this scene struck me rather harshly as death, and gave the book a hopeless, nihilist feel.

I learned later that there are sequels where these two characters are adults, so apparently they must have survived. However, given the darkness of The Giver, I can’t help but think that the author really did intend to kill off Jonas and Gabriel, but then had a change of heart that resulted in the sequel years later.

The end of the book, frankly, left me a bit troubled and sad.

The other problem is that–because of the uniform structure of the community, there aren’t many characters to love. Jonas and Gabriel, the baby, are the only characters I felt I cared about as a reader.

When I read stories (or watch movies), I want to fall in love with the characters and root for them, cheer for them, and celebrate their victories. The Giver did not deliver on this account, especially since I read the ending as death. (I wanted the “elsewhere” peoples to welcome and help Jonas and interact with him).

On counter point, I enjoyed Brave New World despite its tragic end, but it’s different to me because it’s more a book of straight philosophy, of imagining the actual implications of ideas. It’s less character driven and all the characters who encounter tragedy are adults. I have much less trouble with adults getting hurt or dying (in stories) than children and babies, as happened in The Giver.

Overall, The Giver was thoughtful, but not uplifting or inspiring. There’s not many people to root for. I would not read this to children. (Neither would I read Brave New World to children, but it’s not a children’s book).

Have you read this book? Do you think my interpretation of the ending says more about me than about the author’s intent?

Have you ever not liked a book (or movie) that you expected to like? What are you favorite genres to read?

Tough love + inspiration, A Book Review: The Wild Card by Hope and Wade King

A little tough love, a lot of inspiration here.

The Wild Card is a teacher book by two rock star teachers, Hope & Wade King, about bringing the unexpected into the life of a child.

Their main thesis is that being exciting, unexpected, in different ways–along with class culture and relationships, gets students interested, which drives their effort and test scores.

They would go against the idea that students need to bring their own work ethic, and the tough love part of the book is just how much responsibility they place on the teachers themselves. However, they make an analogy of any adult sitting in training, and it’s true that the more interesting and engaging it is, the more we trainees will pay attention. They’ve got a point there; except for the true go-getters who set their own agenda and dive into their own goals, most people need new material to engaging for them.

Despite the weight of responsibility here, I found their stories and ideas truly inspirational. Being authentic in the classroom, to them, means bringing yourself and your own in order to truly bring your own vibrant energy into the room. It’s almost a permission slip to do every crazy-fun idea that you might come up with.

When I was reading it, I felt a –dare I say–almost spiritual sense of purpose–that maybe, the interests, propensities and personality that I have are things that I have for a reason, God-given sources of inspiration to form a well of knowledge for my students and my own children.

The Wild Card also has an upbeat perspective and encourages teachers to support their colleagues and avoid comparison, which is a recipe for exactly the kind of place I wanna work.

Have you read or heard anything about good habits for the work place? Did they make an impact, spiritual or otherwise on you?

Perfect for Building Empathy – Book Review: “Out of My Mind” by Sharon Draper

This story of a girl born with cerebral palsy, who has a photographic memory, but hasn’t spoken her entire life, has been the 5th grade re-aloud for a few years, and as I am teaching English now, I wanted to read it.

It is a grand-slam for 5th graders, and honestly, anyone. Melody’s voice is relatable, and instantly, I felt a connection with her and was thrilled with her as she searches for a medical computer that can help her talk.

Most of all, the first person voice puts the reader on her side. We feel her; fifth graders have the chance to see through someone else’s eyes, how painful it is when other students look at her sideways and get uncomfortable when she rolls into the room.

We see her parents, the strain and guilt in them as well as the love, the changes of a new baby, and with several heart-wrenching turns towards the end that made me unable to put this book down.

In short, I am so excited to read this to fifth grade this year; it is excellent on its own and especially for anyone seeking to build empathy with and among kids.

Have you read this? Would you? Have you read anything similar or shorter that you would recommend for students or your own kids?

The Intrigue of Abandoned Places

IMG_20171231_124508289_HDRThere is a shed collapsing in on itself beside the highway. The roof is caved in and outer walls are leaning in towards each other. Patches of sky show through holes in the roof, and weedy vines creep up the sides, slowing pulling the posts and singles back into the earth.

Abandoned, decaying buildings are all over the place, and I can’t look away.

Every abandoned places begs questions: Why didn’t anyone care about this or maintain it? It was useful and used at one time–why not now? How has our society passed on such that this structure is not longer valuable? Or did something happen to the owner? Who inherited it, but didn’t care?

Or there is another explanation. In short, every abandoned building has a story behind it of people or values that moved on and left it behind, and it makes it me painfully curious.

Nature flexes its muscles in tearing down what we humans no longer put work into. Funny how that goes.

Do you ever notice these structures? Do they stand out at all to you?

Loved this piece: Loss and Found: Retribution, Restoration, and Relationships in Avengers: Endgame

Avenger’s Endgame was a highlight of my year, but I didn’t have much time to write about it.

I like this review and analysis though from Popcultureandtheology.com as it notes the importance of relationships in driving the film, and how the Endgame time-heist is less about getting revenge on Thanos, but about restoring lost relationships.

via Loss and Found: Retribution, Restoration, and Relationships in Avengers: Endgame

What’s going on in the U.S.? That’s what I want to see from the news

The main news networks and publications are very focused these days on the players: Donald Trump, AOC, Pelosi and all those who love/hate them and whatever he said/she said is buzzing about them.

That’s just my observation–it’s not a study. TIME Magazine did devote nearly an entire recent issue just to the new democratic party hopefuls. The news cycle seems stuck in reporting what this crew says, who is offends, who likes it and what it all means.

But I think that’s a problem. Focusing just on the celebrities makes news disconnected from reality and events and experiences actually happening across the US and the world. Those are the things I wanna hear about.

And to boot: “Local news is dying,” reported the Atlantic, declining rapidly in readership and funds, and we don’t even realize it because none of us read it anyway (I am guilty here too).

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/03/local-news-is-dying-and-americans-have-no-idea/585772/

The loss of local news means that the average reader has fewer and fewer avenues to learn about what exactly is going on cities and towns across the country. I feel that lack. I want to hear about storms that cancel hundreds of flights; I want to hear about protests, strikes, fires, education successes and failures, just the general pulse of America.

And those types of stories are less and less available. The only taste we seem to get these days is the occasional best-selling book from an outsider. I’m thinking here of JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.

So–from my perfectly comfortable computer chair–I issue this recommendation to newsrooms:

  1. Send correspondents out–pay for their expenses–have them tell the day to day stories of life in America. Where are doing well? Where are average people hurting? Why?
  2. At least hire some freelancers.
    1. Can’t expense 50 correspondents? Okay fine. Call for freelance articles and submissions on different topics; on daily life.

Please, please, let’s get beyond the gossip of the elite, political in-crowd. Let’s talk to each other, learn about each other, and maybe try to understand the issue instead of conveniently labeling and name-calling them.

*soapbox exited*

Question: Where do you get the news? Do you think it’s balanced and insightful? What are your favorite outlets/sources?

Captain America and Theology

download.jpgAnd here is my fumbling attempt to explain why I think Captain America is so great and a part of what makes the Marvel Universe so very, very worthwhile and engaging.

Captain America: Exemplar of Truth and Love

“In the character of Steve Rogers, it is exactly this type of love–willing the good to another–that brings enemy characters back to the fold, redeeming them. Throughout Age of Ultron, the Avengers, led by Rogers, are kind to the young hostiles–Wanda and Piero Maximov–and by the end of the film, both of them are fighting for the Avengers rather than against them, a notable case of the “bad guys” becoming “good guys.” They learn the truth– that Ultron has nefarious ends–and sense the love that the Avengers treat them with.”

Media Notes- Stub

We live in times where we just aren’t sure whether the news we access is true or not. Sadly, most people assume their own version rather than even looking for what actually happened or might be the case.

That this is true is confirmed by Roger McNamee, a former facebook investor in TIME itself: (http://time.com/5505441/mark-zuckerberg-mentor-facebook-downfall/)

“On Facebook, information and disinformation look the same; the only difference is that disinformation generates more revenue, so it gets better treatment. To Facebook, facts are not an absolute; they are a choice to be left initially to users and their friends but then magnified by algorithms to promote engagement. In the same vein, Facebook’s algorithms promote extreme messages over neutral ones, which can elevate disinformation over information, conspiracy theories over facts. Like-minded people can share their views, but they can also block out any fact or perspective with which they disagree.”

Caitlin Flanagan’s piece in The Atlantic slowly and painstakingly explains the 2 hours over video footage that that exonerate the demonized students of Covington Catholic from the March for Life, and she explains the whole debacle:

“How could the elite media—The New York Times, let’s say—have protected themselves from this event, which has served to reinforce millions of Americans’ belief that traditional journalistic outlets are purveyors of “fake news”? They might have hewed to a concept that once went by the quaint term “journalistic ethics.” Among other things, journalistic ethics held that if you didn’t have the reporting to support a story, and if that story had the potential to hurt its subjects, and if those subjects were private citizens, and if they were moreover minors, you didn’t run the story. You kept reporting it; you let yourself get scooped; and you accepted that speed is not the highest value. Otherwise, you were the trash press.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/01/media-must-learn-covington-catholic-story/581035/

The destroyed credibility of the NY Times, the Washington Post, and CNN as the most-respected news outlets hurts our ability to have real conversations as citizens. And it leaves normal people, like me, feeling hopelessly adrift for the means of even accessing accurate news coverage.

Fr. TJ White on the shifting job of apologetics

From: First Things, “Catholicisim in an Age of Discontent” by Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP

“In judo, the martial artist learns to use the weight of his opponent against him. Skepticism is the weight that secular culture brings to bear upon the Church today. But this is also its weakness. Our own era is haunted by metaphysical despair. Plenary freedom for identity construction is, in the end, an empty freedom. The same goes for liberal despair over the possibility of a common purpose for political life. The negative peace of nonjudgmental inclusion fails to satisfy the natural desire for real political unity. What is at stake is the question of whether being a human person (and not just a thing the cosmos randomly begot) has any ultimate meaning. In the face of this basic question, we must put forward the very mystery of God himself. Today, Catholic theology should focus on Trinitarian monotheism. Why? Because God is the ultimate source of personhood, the principle of explanation that gives human existence its greatest intelligibility, and the source of enduring happiness.”

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/11/catholicism-in-an-age-of-discontent?utm_source=First+Things+New+Master+List&utm_campaign=ccc7c16beb-Two_Essays_Mother_Teresa_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcb60f68e-ccc7c16beb-180818573

Fr. White names the problem expertly and states that despair over metaphysical truth and a grounding for a shared, cultural understanding of the good characterizes our current discourse. I would say he’s exactly right; one despairs that it’s even possible to agree about big questions whether it’s worth pondering at all. He posits Catholicism as an answer. With this account, he/we/the Church could do it, if she can live a life that shows true unity and love for others:

“This inclusive triumphalism came to the fore in the Second Vatican Council. In the opening chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the Church is defined as the “sacrament . . . of the unity of the whole human race,” that is to say, the sign and instrument by which human beings are united in authentic communion with God and with one another. Paragraphs 14–16 are key expressions of inclusive triumphalism. The axiom that there is no salvation outside the Church is stated overtly, but reconfigured positively: All salvation that occurs in human history is in some way always already in the Church, or related to her in an intimate, if hidden, way. The whole world may come to participate more or less imperfectly in the universal mission of Christ and the Church: the Eastern Orthodox churches, Protestant ecclesial communities, the Jewish people, Islamic monotheism, the great world religious traditions that are not always explicitly monotheistic, and even secularists through the workings of the moral conscience by which human beings are led to seek the true and the good.”

On Becoming a Hero: Roles, Rituals and the True Self

Yesterday at the grocery store, a man handed me a wad of cash, saying “Here ya go, ma’am. Merry Christmas.” And the fifty-year-old, tall white man wearing a black baseball hat and backpack, walked away. To be honest, I was rather troubled–I looped around odd places before driving home to make sure no one was following me.

It prompted me to consider “Why me?” I attract a good deal of attention when I’m out with my two kids pushing mini-carts in the store and a baby wrapped to my chest. My guess is that me as “mom with three kids” met some kind of ideal in his head someone working hard and “doing it right,” so to speak.

The irony of me matching someone’s ideal is such an odd thought to me, because, despite how stereotypical we are, I (and my husband) never set out to be a certain way. In fact, we’ve just sort of stumbled and fumbled our way since we fell head over heels in 2006. In truth, I have watched people my age go off, continue their education, travel and do other things that we really couldn’t and I’ve felt so massively and heavily at times that I’m doing everything wrong. Yet through no intention of my own, I align to someone else’s view of “the good life,” a “hero” in a certain sense, someone to-be-admired. Strange.

Roles and Rituals

It got me thinking about our roles in life, the roles we play with each other and the rituals we use to enact these roles and their ontological status–are they real? And quite honestly, the answer is yes. Many a faddish magazine dismisses rituals (religious, family or otherwise) as “play-acting.”  But the jobs we do for each other in our roles actually enact our values: as a mom, I take my kids to the grocery store, I pack their lunch, I help them decorate a Christmas tree and I snap their photo all-the-darn-time. I’m not play-acting. Yes, these jobs come with the territory of the relationship — a mom helps kids do certain things — but they are also rituals. In the words of _________, a ritual is “The story we tell ourselves about out ourselves.” I would paraphrase that to say rituals are the culturally sanctioned actions through which we enact our values.

When I pack a lunch, I am playing a role in the cultural set-up that has designated school as the socializing setting for young children; I am playing a support role to meet the kids’ basic bodily needs of eating within the cultural context of school and what that does for them and me in ordering our lives and relationships. And yes, it is a role. But it is critical, and when I participate, I enact or bring into reality my own approval and buy-in to our value system. These rituals hold our cultural, relational fabric together. To dispense with them is not to be more “real,” but to cut individuals off from relational, cultural unities and isolate them.

The roles we play then are more than empty motions, and I think people become heroes when they learn to play the roles for the good of others, to recognize and transmit the goods of community and culture. Indeed, as Aristotle said, man is a political animal. We exist in and of communities; a person alone is not fully realized. Roles and rituals function to preserve and transmit community, an essential good to human life.

To give an example, a young man to aspires to be a firefighter in order to be thought of as strong and attractive, does it for the wrong reasons. A man who serves in the job (or role) of firefighter and forgets himself as he works to save others, becomes a hero. Without his intention, he draws the admiration of others. And a person who dismisses the role of firefighter as empty, prestige-seeking has lost a sense of the fundamental value of putting one’s abilities to the service of others in a particular way.

Vocation

Whether we pursue it or not, people become heroes or attain to holiness without seeking this directly–to seek it directly would be impossible. But by intending to serve, to play roles and do jobs for the aid of others in the service of goodness, we attain to what the roles and the rituals signify–goodness, unity, love–the holy, spiritual realities immanent to the physical.

Super heroes

This same phenomenon appears in super hero movies. The hero typically doesn’t intend to go out and “be a hero.” Rather, he or she becomes a hero when she starts to use her abilities for the good of others simply because those powers are hers. Captain America, for instance, doesn’t become a hero when he gets super strength. He becomes a hero when he breaks orders to rescue the captured POWs. Peter Parker doesn’t become a hero when he uses his abilities to win wrestling matches; he becomes a hero when he recognizes that “with great power, comes great responsibility,” and he takes up that responsibility.

Heroes and Saints

So I don’t think that any of us can set out to become heroes or saints, in Christian-speak. But I think that people become heroes when we use our abilities to service of others, for the transmitting and caring for the good of others, the unity of our societies and authentic values. And this comes out most often through our roles and rituals: brother, daughter, sister, mother, firefighter, nurse, priest, teacher, planning committee co-chair, mom’s group leader, artist, ball player etc, etc, etc.