Friday, July 31, 2009

Rediscover Your Favorite YA Book with Lizzie Skurnick

Yesterday, a very nice woman who works down the hall told me she'd burned her ear with a curling iron. My first reaction: "Ouch. That's horrible." Next, I told her how Meg singed off her bangs with a hot iron while getting ready for a big night out. Thankfully, her enterprising sisters came up with a solution: They added a ribbon to Meg's hair to hide the damage—and Meg got compliments all night long. I told this story to my co-worker as if I knew Meg—but she doesn't exist. She's one of the March sisters from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women—a book I read many, many times throughout my childhood. And, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy felt—and still feel—real to me.

I thought I might be a bit off center until I remembered Lizzie Skurnick's "Fine Lines" column on In her column, Lizzie looks back—with an adult eye—on the books of her adolescence—from award-winning classics to cult classics--and she discovers that her YA favorites still have a place in her heart, head, and soul. After all, we are what we read (and have read), and our favorite books shape the way we see the world and our place in it.

In Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, Lizzie expands her "Fine Lines" column, and she invites many of her (and my) favorite authors to come along for the ride. Shelf Discovery is a girls' night out—a mix of everything from poignant and nostalgic to hysterically funny. Best of all—you get to spend time with Lizzie, Meg Cabot, Laura Lippman, Cecily von Ziegesar, and Jennifer Weiner—AND their teen favorites: Are You There God?, It's Me, Margaret; Blubber; Go Ask Alice; Jane-Emily; The Wolves of Willoughby Chase; The Secret Garden; Flowers in the Attic--and so many more.

After reading Shelf Discovery, I'm determined to find my copy of Little Women. I know that dog-eared book—complete with chocolate smudges circa 1970—is still on one of my shelves—and I'm going to rediscover it.

For a bit more fun, check out Lizzie's collection of classic YA jackets.

What was your favorite book when you were a young adult?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Does Hollywood Beckon?

Sara Kendall, our college intern, chimes in on her future job prospects. Here, she considers a job in the movie business.

I am graduating from college in one semester, and the economy is still ready for burial, the job market has tanked, I am in student loans up to my ears, and I have about six months before I have to figure out what to do about all that while somehow also figuring out the general direction I’d like my life to take.

This is as nice and comfortable a place as you imagine it to be. I’m sure everyone is jealous.

I’ve had some stellar ideas for how to solve these problems:

  1. Get a job in hospitality. Free housing, probably some free meals, and I’m sure the glamour of living at a resort will last for days.
  2. Marry rich.
  3. Move back to my hometown in Southern California, and get a job in the movie industry. (If you live within a couple hours of Hollywood, you are required to do this at some point in your life. Alternatively, you may write a screenplay).

With so many appealing options in my grasp, I didn’t know how to narrow down the list.

Then I read Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless, and discovered I could cross Hollywood off of it; as his reflections on the making of Fitzcarraldo prove, I am not crazy enough to work in the movie industry.

Herzog’s book does such a magnificent job of capturing his own brand of crazy that, for a while, you’ll think you are. The vision that seizes him captures you, too. The journal entries read like poetry in some places, like prose in others, and either way, you are so caught up in the impossible magnitude of the film Herzog wants to create that you too are willing to put up with the feet of mud he trudges through and the omnipresent insects.

It is only on putting the book down that you realize one of the sentences was about Herzog trying to find a place to drink his coffee where he wouldn’t accidentally eat a mosquito while taking a swig. That he didn’t sleep for several nights because the rats made too much noise. That he gets injured, feverish, and his foot swelled with pus--yet he keeps going because his vision tells him he must find a way to get a large steamship up a hill.

And then you are more than a little disillusioned about Hollywood as a whole. It is not a glamorous place filled with directors sitting in expensive restaurants, discussing whether a new film should be shot on the beach in Hawaii, or if the beach in California will do. It is a place filled with maniacs. Maniacs who are also geniuses of unbelievable skill, talent, and dedication, but maniacs nonetheless.

Maybe I should be a bartender.

Teaching Minutes from Kenneth C. Davis

Ken Davis, author of Don't Know Much About History, knows how to grab students' attention with little-known and often irreverent historical facts. His new series of free videos--Don't Know Much About Minutes--will be an on-going feature at dontknowmuch.

They are a great way to start off a lesson. Here's the first video in which Ken tells students what George Washington really said when he crossed the Delaware.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Capitalist’s Bible: A Student's View

Our college intern, Sara Kendall, is an English major--but she's taken Intro to Economics AND Macroeconomics--making her the perfect choice to give us a student's perspective on The Capitalist's Bible edited by Gretchen Morgenson.

I happily drifted through high school without a clear understanding of how the economy actually worked. My basic understanding was that it was an economy, which was a word that meant “money,” and that it worked, which meant, “someday you will have the money.”

Try not to roll your eyes so much that they roll right out of your head. I have always been an English major at heart. I’m not great with numbers. Eventually I learned how to do my taxes and what a 401(k) was. Beyond that, things like learning how the economy functioned were not necessary for my life goals (and were probably best left in someone else’s hands anyway). Obviously I was going to
be fine.

Then the economy died. And obviously I was doomed.

Enter The Capitalist’s Bible. This book has saved my sanity.

It seems like common sense, but in easier times, we tend to overlook the idea that we all need to be informed of how the economy, and capitalism, works. Where do we each fit into the system? And why does it matter to me?

The Capitalist’s Bible answers these questions. It explains the basic concepts of the system that underwrites the American economy.

Personally, I wish I’d had to read this in school. I was, in fact, required to take an Economics class there, it just happened to be one where we did no reading and a lot of math. This book is an invaluable tool in learning and teaching the most fundamental concepts you need to understand if you have any hope of understanding capitalism and the economy as a whole.

I didn’t have an interest in the economy until it up and died, but I do now. Gretchen Morgenson’s The Capitalist’s Bible is essential reading that has (shockingly) made me curious to learn more.

The Capitalist's Bible will publish in September. However, I have a galley to giveaway to the first three people who email me!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Will Your Facebook Profile Hurt Your Job Search?

Richard Frias, our college intern, weighs in on employers using Facebook profiles as a hiring tool. Let us know your opinion by commenting below!

Recently, I came across an article entitled “Facebook and The Adolescent Brain - The Emerging Employers' Dilemma” by Tom Krieglstein. As a college intern, it got me thinking about my place in the whole employee vs. employer social networking sites debate.

Facebook is an amazing tool. Where else can you learn about internships, post pictures of drunken parties, create a group to rally behind a serious cause, and flirt with a college sweetheart all in one place while listening to music and doing homework? Facebook’s capabilities as a business tool seem to match, if not outweigh, its social uses. However, those pictures and wall posts take on an entirely different meaning when interpreted through the eyes of a potential employer.

Even before I got an internship, I began to understand the dangers of taking Facebook at face value. There have been a number of times when an acquaintance has “friended” me, and I discovered that there was another surprising side to that person. For example, a girl who I had come to know in a classroom setting through group work and projects for my Medieval Literature class became a Facebook friend of mine. Before we became online friends I knew her as a very intelligent and soft-spoken person. She was so conservative that she was one of the few students who dressed in business attire just to attend class! Once we became friends on Facebook, I did what most people do: I browsed through her photo albums and read her profile. Suddenly, my quiet conservatively dressed classmate had turned into a scantily clad clubbing machine. She had chosen to represent herself through photos of nights out and partying.

So, did I judge my classmate and never again listen to her profound interpretations of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales? No. In actuality, her profile was no different than the average college student’s profile or even my own. It just amused and kind of surprised me to see her in this different context. If it weren’t for the group works and projects, I would have wrongfully judged her based solely on her Facebook account. I would have thought that she was a completely different person. Fortunately, I knew that she's more than just her Facebook.

Not understanding that a person is more than just their online profile is the trap that I believe most employers will fall into if they use social networking sites when considering potential employees. Looking at someone’s Facebook profile doesn’t reveal the hidden truth of who he or she really is or how he or she really behaves. It only reveals who a person is outside of a professional setting and inside whatever setting they choose to document. It should be obvious that young employees with raunchy pictures or comments on Facebook will not act rowdy or disrespectful while they work, have meetings, or represent the company. The division between social life and business is nothing new and has always been made clear. Before social networking sites college students were still college students—partying and adventuring. Before social networking sites most of the employers of today were in college and had their own experiences. The only difference is that today there always seems to be someone with a camera at the worst possible times.

However, the real question that Tom Krieglstein asks is should college students and those looking for employment post differently knowing that 60% of employers search the web when considering potential employees? In essence, should we change our online behavior? Although I believe that what I do in my personal life does not reflect my skills as an employee and although I believe that my private life does not represent the company I work for, I would still have to say yes. Knowing that 60% of employers search the web when considering possible employees would change what I post online. Before other students and Facebook advocates start calling me a sellout as they get their electronic pitchforks ready, let me explain. I know that social networking sites say little to nothing about a person’s qualifications. But I also know that the outcries and complaints of students will still not change the fact that a considerable number of companies rely on social networking sites for recruitment.

It is an ugly and unfair reality but first impressions are truly the most important. A long time ago a first impression merely meant a wrinkle-free suit and a firm handshake but today, in this technologically-driven world, first impressions now entail what a person has decided to put on the Internet. No matter what the law says about age, race, and gender, the sometimes unfair and involuntary act of sizing up a stranger during the first encounter cannot be stopped. As a person who is looking for employment I want to make myself as viable and marketable as I possibly can. From the perspective of a potential employee, posting unconscientiously in a social networking site takes away my competitive edge from other prospective employees and closes many opportunities that I would otherwise have had if it wasn’t for a dumb photo. If it means “untagging” myself from incriminating pictures or thinking twice before I post something then so be it. It’s no different than having a more conservative voicemail greeting or email address. You don't have to change your behavior—just your online behavior.

There are many different faces that a person chooses to wear depending on the context or setting. The accessibility of the Internet and social networking sites have seemed to have taken the choice of when and where to show a face out of the hands of many college students. Until employers learn that my social life does not represent my work behavior, I will always make sure to show my best face.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Guidebook for Writers: THE ELEMENTS OF STORY

Writing is undoubtedly hard, but to glean knowledge from a reference book on how to write and to keep your reader captivated with your words can sometimes be even harder. The bulk of writing books address grammar, style, and other line-by-line topics. Francis Flaherty believes that complex, story-level concerns—how to make a story move and how to use description to buttress your theme—pose equally common and far more formidable problems for writers.

In the spirit of The Elements of Style, and drawn from Flaherty’s long experience as an editor at the New York Times, the highly entertaining The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing shows how Times articles read the way they do, presenting 50 secrets of successful narratives. “Sometimes, say things sideways,” Flaherty writes, “the reader will be grateful.” “White is whitest on black,” he observes, “let contrast work for you.” Through these and other hard-won story-level insights, sprinkled with examples from real stories and leavened with a good dose of newsroom memoir, The Elements of Story fills a large gap in the long shelf of writing books.

"This is a splendid book for journalists (new or old), fiction writers, essayists, and critics. But it could also be of great use to the intelligent common reader, the man or woman who wonders why it's impossible to finish reading certain stories and why others carry the reader in a vivid rush to the end. I learned something about the difficult craft of writing on almost every page."--Pete Hamill

Monday, July 13, 2009


The new edition of Obedience to Authority: The Experiment that Challenged Human Nature by Stanley Milgram just landed on my desk. It probes aspects of human nature that are deeply troubling. Disturbed by the ease with which the German people obeyed Nazi authority, Milgram asked: What is the impact of one powerful individual's commands to another person? Will that person behave in ways that challenge his or her morality?

Milgram's subjects--or "teachers"--were instructed to administer electroshocks to a human "learner," with the shocks becoming progressively more powerful and painful. Controversial but now strongly vindicated by the scientific community, these experiments attempted to determine to what extent people will obey orders from authority figures regardless of consequences.

Obedience to Authority is Milgram's chronicle of his classic study--and a persuasive explanation of his conclusions. The new edition has an enlightening introduction by Philip Zimbardo, Director of the Stanford Prison Experiment and author of The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil).

If you'd like to consider Obedience to Authority for one of your classes, please order an examination copy. If you've already decided to adopt the book, please request a desk copy.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stop Treating Boyhood as an Illness

You're always getting the point of view of the middle-aged women who work in our department. Well, here's a treat: Richard Frias, our college intern, has added his voice to the mix.

The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World really got me thinking about my childhood and how different it was from the childhood of boys growing up today. Back in my day, not listening in class, running around too much, or not paying attention to parents and teachers was just something that boys did occasionally—and—within limits—it was expected. Although disorders like ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, and bipolar disorder are serious issues that many adolescents and adults must struggle to overcome, today's parents, educators, pediatricians, and psychologists are too quick to diagnose an energetic boy with a disorder that requires medication.

Anthony Rao, Ph.D., and Michelle Seaton ask us to stop treating young boyhood as an illness and to understand that random bouts of disobedience and bursts of high energy are normal boyhood behavior. Throughout literature, art, and music, childhood is depicted as the most free time of one’s life—a time of play, learning, and experimentation. The Way of Boys makes a convincing argument to keep it that way. I cannot blame parents for fearing for their sons’ safety and well being but it’s hard to imagine going through life and becoming a respectable and decent man without any type of bumps and bruises along the way.
The Way of Boys will be published at the end of August. Meanwhile, you can get a preview in this video.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Adoption of the Month: Hell's Angel

Each month, I sort through our desk copy requests from professors. It's always eye-opening--and it helps me figure out how our books are being used in classrooms.

This month, I noted two adoptions for Sonny Barger's Hell's Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club. I doubt that Sonny ever imagined that his memoir would be required reading in a college course. I don't know if he'd be amused, dismayed or slightly proud that the courses are Sociology 325 (Social Deviance) at Park University and Criminal Justice 496 (Statistics: Outlaw Bikers, Gang) at Boise State University--but I'm not going to ask him.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Up All Night with Kaylie Jones

This scenario happens more often than I care to admit: I pick up a book or galley to read on my 40-minute subway ride home. I get engrossed. I eat dinner--book in hand. I take a few minutes to tidy up the kitchen--and I'm back at it. At around 2 am, I read the last page and turn off the light--but I can't sleep: My head is still in that book. At 7 am, I wake to the alarm--and puffy eyes.

I spent last night with Kaylie Jones, author of the upcoming memoir Lies My Mother Never Told Me and the novels A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, Speak Now, and Celeste Ascending. Kaylie told me about growing up as the daughter of James Jones who wrote--among other classics--From Here to Eternity. I met the famous writers (Bill Styron, Irwin Shaw, Willie Morris, and many more) who orbited around her father in Paris and the Hamptons. Kaylie showed me how her father helped to shape her as a writer and how keenly she felt his loss. I witnessed her difficult relationship with her glamorous and alcoholic mother. She told me about her own struggle to overcome an addiction to alcohol, to be a supportive wife and mother, and to flourish as a writer beneath the looming shadow of her famous father and her emotionally abusive mother.

No wonder I couldn't stop reading.

You and your students can spend a few minutes with Kaylie Jones by watching this video.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Teaching Labor History

Kenneth C. Davis, author of America's Hidden History, reminds us that on July 6, 1892, the Homestead Strike reached its zenith when striking steelworkers fought with strikebreakers in a daylong battle that left ten men dead. As our economy slides and workers face bleak prospects, a look back at organized labor seems appropriate.

Many of your students will relate to Cheri Register's Packinghouse Daughter: A Memoir. Cheri was the first in her family to go to college--and she jokes that her Ph.D. really stands for packinghouse daughter. The daughter of a Wilson & Company millwright, she recalls the 1959 meatpackers' strike that divided her hometown of Albert Lea, Minnesota. The violence that erupted when the company "replaced" its union workers with strikebreakers tested family loyalty and community stability.

Cheri skillfully interweaves her own memories, historical research, and oral interviews into a narrative that is thoughtful and impassioned about the value of blue-collar work and the dignity of those who do it. And, she recounts the pride and dismay of her parents as she went off to college and to a life in what often seemed like another world.

There's a wonderful teaching guide for Packinghouse Daughter--written by the author--who now teaches writing at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The History of Ellis Island

None of my ancestors came through Ellis Island. Some were here before Columbus landed. Others got here well before Ellis Island opened in 1892. Family lore says another branch of the family snuck in through Canada. More recently, my sister-in-law and her family flew into JFK from El Salvador. Still, on a recent trip to Ellis Island with my niece, I was deeply moved by the thought that we were standing in the place where 12 million immigrants first touched American soil.

In American Passage: The History of Ellis Island, Vincent J. Cannato, a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, captures a time and a place unparalleled in American history. The book is filled with dramatic and bittersweet accounts of the immigrants, officials, interpreters, and social reformers who all played an important role in Elllis Island's chronicle. Professor Cannato traces the politics, prejudices, and ideologies that surrounded the great immigration debates--debates that are still relevant today.

Sweeping, often heart-wrenching, American Passage reveals that the history of this small island is ultimately the story of what it means to be an American.