Monday Morning Musings

Instead of doing escape reading this past week, I have been watching escape (or “mindless”, as I refer to it) TV.  And, you know, it’s not so bad.  I gave up on The Good Life when the plot became rather outrageous and the jokes a bit offensive, but several other series have caught my fancy, and fortunately, when they first premiered this season, I had the foresight to set them to “record series.”

Timeless, a time travel series, is one I really like.  My Cultural Historian friend would be appalled and spend the whole viewing time picking out inaccuracies, but I find the adventures suspenseful and the subplots that carry over from episode to episode engaging. What WOULD happen if we travelled back in time and changed some tiny detail?

Designated Survivor is also turning out to be a “bring you back next week” experience and has some of the best acting so far. Also, Speechless, a timely show about a family dealing with a severely disabled member, has some fine comedy actors as well.

Series I have followed since their inception include The big Bang Theory, Gray’s Anatomy and Scorpion.  The Big Bang always makes me laugh, and I have followed those lovable geniuses/nerds from high schoolers to responsible (?) adults.   Gray’s Anatomy has seen many changes over the thirteen or so years I have faithfully watched it, but new, interesting characters and new, interesting plots keep arriving.  The medical cases and miracles are not of as much interest to me as the interactions and relationships of the characters.  The writer is a genius and writes herself into corners only to get out of them in ways that have you saying, “I never saw that one coming!”   Scorpion is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat all hour, shouting, “Oh no!” at the TV, and “action packed”? The show invented the term.

Obviously, I have done very little reading this past week, except for the lovely Gentleman in Moscow, which I am drawing out to make it “last longer.” I did get about 2/3 into an insipid romance novel (Why I ever started it is a valid question) that showed up in my LFL which I thought I would like, and I finally put it back in the LFL for someone who will like it more.

Since I will be grading final papers starting Wednesday, I doubt I’ll do much other reading, so maybe I’ll watch more episodes of mindless TV until being ready to make a big stab at my TBR stack of books over Thanksgiving Holiday.

Happy reading (or watching, as the case may be).




Sunday (Evening) Post

What I enjoyed this past week: Visiting with friends as I borrowed a coffee pot and card tables and chairs in preparation for yesterday’s brunch.  Having coffee and forgotten cookies (70’s recipe to go with the 60’s percolator coffee pot) with my class  Wednesday as they let their rough drafts for final papers “percolate” in their subconscious for a week and used the first hour of class to peer critique each other’s rough drafts. A necessities shopping trip Saturday with a big enough investment to call it my birthday present. And, the AAUW November brunch, here, Saturday.

The first people arrived at 9:30 and helped set up.  I provided turkey and dressing casserole, and another friend brought sweet potatoes and cranberry/orange relish.  A third friend brought a lovely veggie tray with dip and a fruit plate.  Cookies from Aldi’s (think Sam’s Club) was the assortment accompanied by four kinds of coffee and made a nice, light dessert.  Afterwards, we packed toiletries overnight kits for the Women’s Shelter and although I do not know what the “count” was, it took three shopping bags and two large plastic bags to carry all the “kits” to the delivery lady’s car. The last two guests who were “catching up” did not leave until nearly three, providing a “cool-down” for me. Sunday School this morning put last week in perspective and gave me hope for the week ahead.

What I am looking forward to this coming week: Finishing A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, and hopefully reviewing it as well. The tree man coming to remove a pear tree that has never produced a single pear and has lovely blossoms that I am sure are a nuisance to both back and side neighbors’ pools, and the same tree man  trimming the broken branches of the Mungo Pines in the front yard.  I spent a good forty minutes this afternoon harvesting the mini-pinecones and some pieces of greenery before the tree men take the broken limbs away. I will be the most popular supplier of pinecones for the coming Thanksgiving table turkeys and for the Christmas brandy snifters filled with mini-pinecones for the upcoming Christmas season.  A birthday coffee for a girlfriend who will be 82 and who deserves a fete in her honor.  It will be a small group–seven counting me–but the house is already clean, so why not kill two birds with one cleaning? Class Wednesday where final papers will be turned in and some time after the students leave, I’ll remain to get a head start on grading them. A friend’s retirement party as head librarian at the local library, and since our Third Tuesday book club has already given her a party, I don’t have to bake or bring anything!

It promises to be a good week!

NOAH WEBSTER AND HIS WORDS: Instructional and Delightful Children’s Book

This interesting biography of Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, was written by Jeri Chase Ferris and illustrated masterfully by Vincent X. Kirsch. It was published by Houghton Mifflin Books in 2012.

Noah Webster wanted most of all for Americans to speak, write, and spell like Americans, not Englishmen, so the standardizing of American English was his life’s work. At the time he began to work on his “blue back speller,” the first AMERICAN textbook, words had no conformity of spelling from region to region.  For example, “mosquito” was spelled “mosquito”, miscitoe”, “mosquitor”, “musketeer”, or as Webster bemoaned, “…spelled 10 different ways in 10 different parts of the country.” Webster also included such American Indian words as “tomahawk”, native to America.  Finally in 1828 after a trip to the continent to discover etymologies of words, Webster published his “DIC-TION-AR-Y [noun: a book listing words in ABC order, telling what they mean and how to spell them].”

This delightful technique is used for all “big” words a youngster may be unfamiliar with. For example: “U-NITE [verb: make one]” and “The books SOARED [verb: flew off] the shelves.” is instructional, but fun too!

The book briefly notes the influence Noah Webster had on the United States, presented on a child’s level, and includes a wonderfully illustrated timeline in the back, “Noah Webster and the New United States”.

This was a delightful read for me, especially thanks to the illustrations, and I just wish I had a grandchild to share it with!

The Thoughtful Dresser: A Review

This is a 2009 publication by Linda Grant that, like classic clothes, will never go out of style.  It is a history of clothes, as well as “…a thinking woman’s guide on what to wear.” It deals with such concepts as “how we dress defines who we are…” in a sometimes humorous, sometimes serious manner.

The first chapter, “In Which a Woman Buys a Pair of Shoes” immediately draws the reader’s interest (What woman isn’t interested in shoes?), and the fifth chapter which struggles and attempts to define “sexy” when it comes to clothes continues to keep us turning pages.  Ms. Grant, who writes for Vogue, among other things (such as being a prize winning novelist and journalist) deals with “The art of adornment, the pleasures of shopping, and why clothes matter” in a most engaging way.

Catherine Hill appears three times in the book as a holocaust survivor whose hat saves her from the gas chamber, a fashion designer in Canada, and an ageless fashionista who is interviewed several times by the author.  She, according to the author, “IS fashion” and is “great reading” for this reviewer.

Linda Grant views clothes as “the most intimate but public expression of our identity,” a topic I’ve never considered,and in doing so has become an author I want to read more of.


Most of you know I teach at the university level, juniors and seniors.  The course is called Advanced Writing, but it might surprise you (if you are not a teacher yourself) what has to be re-taught in order to receive a decent paper from these students.  Here is a list of things that bother teachers (and educated readers) the most:

  1.  A paper that does not have anything to say, that is just turned in for the sake of turning it in.

2.    When there is overwhelming evidence that the paper has not been proofread.

3.  Failure to avoid words, phrases, and expressions that are overused, lazy ways to explain or describe:

“In today’s society”… Use instead “Today.”

In this paper I will discuss/show … Just state the point; the reader will know it is “you” and “your” paper.

Weak verbs, especially “go, going, gone/ get, got, gotten, getting”…The latter group shows up frequently in 7th grade writing. Take this as an insult; it is MEANT that way!

The reason is/was because… Due to the fact that… This is especially repulsive and annoying, not to mention wordy.

Overusing “you” , “your” or “you’re”. This is careless. It shows one cannot think of a way to address the audience except by using second-person “you”.

Ambiguous pronoun references, especially “it” and “they”. This is simply not acceptable in argumentative writing.

Cliches and the first phrase that you have heard so often, it immediately comes to mind. One example is ending your paper with “In conclusion…”

Alot (aka a lot of) This is not even a real word but should be two words. “A lot” (or even more horrendous) “A lota” means so many different things to different people that it has no meaning.  Twenty-five pennies is a lot of money to a two-year-old, a fist full.  Give a young adult twenty-five pennies, and he/she will say,  “This isn’t even a quarter… besides they won’t even fit in a vending machine!”

Using “where” incorrectly.  Do not use it to mean “that” (I read in the paper where they’re going to build a new office building downtown. This use sounds like you have  discovered the location of the building. )

The following are often seen in print, but are not standard English usage and are not acceptable for formal writing aimed at an academic audience:

Writers who use “that” referring to people, animals and things. My rule of thumb is to use “who” for people and “that” only for animals and things. “The student that wants to get ahead…” simply is WRONG!  The limb that broke my fall from the tree”… or the puppy that captured my heart”… both are correct.

People who use the term “very unique” are not choosing their words well.  Conventionally, “unique” means “one of a kind”. something cannot be” very one of a kind”.  Choose a different phrase such as  “very original” or  “very special”.  Save “unique” for something that IS one of a kind, the only one in existence.

Believe it or not (If you are a teacher you see it every day.) these errors turn up in every paper in every class.  I usually hand a list of these out the first day, titled PET PEEVES, and inform the students that if they want to please me, their target audience for their papers,  to avoid these pitfalls at all costs.  Even though I circle these errors over and over again each time I collect a set of papers,  I know I will still be circling them when grading final papers.  Sigh…


Sunday (Evening) Post

Finished:  The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant.  What a delicious, thought-provoking read!  Will probably review it here tomorrow. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, a wonderful graphic novel/memoir (reviewed here yesterday) and the Sunday Edition of The Houston Chronicle my Sunday afternoon “guilty pleasure.” A children’s book, Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris , illustrated by Vincent X Kirsch.  I will review this soon; it is special.

Started: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (author of Rules of Civility).  I am only on page 109, the beginning of Book Two and am already asking, “What else has this author written? I want to read more of his stuff soon.”

Looking at next: 25 reviews of chapters of Zinsser’s On Writing Well, which have to be graded by Wednesday.  Since the students had their pick of one of eight chapters, all eight chapters had to be read first (which was a delight). I have been wanting to “get this in” for several semesters now and finally was able to.  I am not complaining but looking forward to grading for a change!

This was a busy week for us all.  Some “good” busy, some not so good.  The cat, Lena, is upset because she seldom has so many people in and out of her house.  A man’s home may be his castle, but so is a cat’s home, especially when the cat is fifteen years old (that’s 79 in human years–it is figured based on chronological  age and the weight of the cat.)

Before I wax philosophical, I’m going to go start those papers.


THE BEST WE COULD DO: A graphic novel/memoir

This unique piece of family history, a debut graphic novel/memoir written and illustrated by Thi Bui was an advance copy I borrowed from a friend’s LFL (Little Free Library).  She often receives books ahead of publication at book conventions and fairs. This book will be published in 2017, and I predict it will educate and inspire many readers.

It tells one family’s story  of its journey from war torn Vietnam to a new home in America.  Bui describes herself in the book’s Preface as “…a product of war.” The writing of the memoir itself is the author’s “…journey of understanding” as she nears the birth of her first child and seeks to understand her mother’s same journey so many times in Vietnam.  In the Preface, she states, “I realized the book was all about parents and children, and it [the title] became The Best We Could Do.”

The illustrative sketches themselves must be commented upon.  When the author is dealing with facts and/or history, the panels are crisp, detailed and strongly drawn.  When she is dealing with memories or perceived, personal history, the drawings are mere sketches, fuzzy-lined, hazy backgrounds.

As the author begins to take on the roles as parent and child simultaneously, her emotions about her new born son intermingle with feelings about the new grandmother, her mother, as well.

It is a touching, fascinating look at a period in history, both ours and Vietnam’s, that is enlightening and moving at the same time, and we agree that Thi Bui’s family did indeed do the best they could do.