4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Pouring over my shelves and piles of books, I found this little tale hidden between two big monster size books I haven’t read yet.  Actually I had totally forgotten about it.  I bought it a while back at a book sale in Paris for 1€.  I love a good book deal.  I enjoyed reading F. Scott Fitzgerald in high school and at university.  It’s funny this book was never proposed on any of my reading lists at university.  As a matter of fact, The Great Gatsby found its way on my book club list last year.  Everyone questioned what was so special about Fitzgerald’s style of writing.  I love the way he puts words together,especially in The Great Gatsby.  I didn’t think I would enjoy reading it a third time but I did immensely.  He gives images and ideas in his own way, but a clear way.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is only 52 pages – a really quick read!  As I was reading I had the impression that this tiny book should have been much longer.  It seemed to be an idea he didn’t know how to develop because of its fantasy theme.  I thought the idea of a baby born old who progressively gets younger an interesting idea for a novel.  Unfortunately, I felt it was too short.  However, the basic plot is exclusively the story of Benjamin Button’s lifetime linked together with carefully chosen anecdotes.  This is not a typical plot line. So, don’t read it expecting something to happen or a climax.  Each anecdote deals with a specific idea about age and reflecting society’s current attitude toward age and aging.

Age is such an ongoing subject even today in the 21st century where we live to ripe old ages of 90 and above and where fifty and sixty somethings don’t necessarily look their ages. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Fitzgerald builds a fantastical and dreamlike world through the style and tone of his writing.  Each section seems to begin as if it’s a new story but in fact marks Benjamin becoming younger, a new experience each time.  In essence Benjamin’s life is not any easier in reverse.  He has the same difficulties as when you age – when you’re older people think you’re wise, admire you, and are even repulsed by you and when you’re younger you’re not taken seriously enough and people are often jealous if you’re middle-aged and  look younger.  Not to mention, all the while he’s becoming younger than all of his family members as the story unfolds.

I’m not so sure about recommending this book because it left me with gaps – I wanted more but it was too short to deliver.  I’m not sure how they made a two-hour movie out of this tale without adding some things that weren’t actually in the book.  I’m assuming that because I didn’t see the movie.  I guess reading it won’t take up too much of your time so why not give it a go.  You might enjoy it more than me.

1. EFL Series: What a dollar can do!

I have learners of all ages but this lesson came to me after surfing the net looking for things to put on one of my Pinterest boards.  I ran across a picture of a ring made from a dollar bill.  I then set out to find a clear and precise video explaining how to make this ring dollar bill ring.  I just knew that this would be an interesting successful lesson to motivate three students that I teach in a group.  Finally after a thorough search on You Tube I found someone explaining how to fold a dollar bill into a ring.  I’ll link the video below.

Firstly, I made a list of important words needed to follow the instructions to fold the dollar bill.  Keeping in mind these key words can be used to fold origami as well as be used to express other everyday ideas.  Since these students are 12 and 13 I tried to make the list of words short and sweet.  Here’s the list I used:  crease, fold, edge, tuck, lift up, corner, faint, layer, pop outward.  The last word pop outward is a little complicated but it was better to show them what it meant to avoid any comprehension problems.  I made a definition worksheet which contained these words and their meanings in English that they could keep for future use. You can also illicit other ways we use these words and maybe your learners will ask what they mean like mine.  One asked “What does you’re living on the edge mean?” You can explain what it means to be tucked in at night.  you can ask your learners if they have ever felt faint, etc.

After the explaining the key words, the learners watched the short You Tube video and then I gave them a dollar bill so that they could follow along the second time they watched the video.  Before starting the video, I explained to the students that thy were to watch the video and that they couldn’t ask me any questions until the task was completed.  They could help each other in English and ask me to backtrack the video as needed.  I paused the video at times to give the learners a chance to do the folding.  During this process I didn’t speak.  I didn’t want the learners to be distracted from the video.  Once finished they had a ring and a dollar bill as a souvenir of the class; really cool for them.  Evidently, you’re not going to give all your learners dollar bills to do this lesson.  What I suggest is to get some nice decorative paper ie. gift wrapping paper or just plain white paper.  Cut it to the size of a dollar bill, which is approximately 15,5cm x 6,5cm.  If you decide to do it with white paper you can get your learners to decorate the rings themselves.  In the end you get…

Lots of fun this lesson.  You can then carry on by dictating how to fold an origami bird, the crane.  Give out some white paper cut into squares or use origami paper which can be bought in a local craft shop.  Don’t worry it’s affordable. The crane is one of the easiest animals to fold and then you can see how much your learners have understood of the different commands.  You can even make it into a competition of who folded the neatest bird.  At the end of the lesson you give the learners the definition worksheet and a copy of explanations on how to fold the

crane, which you can see below.  Voilà, you have an easy, fun, original, and certainly entertaining English  lesson.  For a longer lesson you can replay the video and go over what was said and explain any vocabulary or expressions not understood.  Give it a try and have fun teaching while your learners are having fun learning!

How to make an origami dollar bill ring

3. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

As I was reading this novel I realized how little I had learned about Japanese Americans being confined in “internment” camps.  I do remember that it was mentioned but certainly not dwelled upon.

This is a love story between Henry Lee, Chinese American and Keiko Okabe, Japanese American set in 1942, with a shift between the past and the present 80s.  The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and anti-Japanese sentiment was on the rise.  So much so that Henry was told to wear a button on his jacket “I am Chinese”.  The back drop of the story is Seattle with its Japanese (Nihonmachi) and Chinese neighborhoods.  All of this with a sprinkling of jazz music to tie it all together.

Reading along you will discover the hatred of Americans towards Asians in general, but specifically towards Japanese no matter how integrated they were in the community because of the Japanese’s participation in World War II.  The wounds of the war trickled down to the depths of the average American – refusing to serve them in shops, confining them to their neighborhood with strict curfews, firing them from their jobs,etc.  All this until they were finally rounded up and bused off to “relocation centers”.  Beyond these hostilities an unlikely friendship was made between young Henry and Sheldon, a black man who is twice Henry’s age and who plays the saxophone on street corners for pocket change.  This life long friendship was a constant for Henry and was a sort of second family for Henry. Sheldon was full of wise and helpful advice for Henry.

I won’t go into anymore details because it’s tempting and I feel as if I’ve told you too much already.  It’s just a beautifully written story that you must experience for yourself.  It encompasses many various themes of literature like immigrating, loyalty, honor, the roles of mothers and wives, but particularly the father-son relationship. Moreover, Jamie Ford’s remarkable debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, has had much recognition since it was published in 2009. It’s been on many selections:  IndieBound NEXT List,  Borders Original Voices, Barnes & Noble Book Club, Pennie’s Pick at Costco, a Target Bookmarked Club Pick, and a National Bestseller, and named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association.

“Sentimental, heartfelt….the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages…A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices.”

— Kirkus Reviews

“Jamie Ford’s first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”

Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

I didn’t see the fab critics when I decided to read this book, but hope the ones above and mine will win you over..  This was one of my book club’s picks for 2011-2012.  I’m very delighted that I had a chance to read this book.  It left me feeling like the title “bitter and sweet” and taught me some more about my American history.  My book club met up yesterday to discuss the book and for once we were a full house and all in agreement with a lot about the book.  That was an amazing first too. I can tell you with all the different ages, backgrounds, jobs, and likes in general in the room a big thumbs up from everyone tells you that you will love it too!  Look out for Jamie Ford’s second novel in 2013.

Check out the link below for some pictures about World War II on the internment of Japanese Americans.

World War II: internment of Japanese Americans

2. The Science of Black Hair

Two years today I did a leap and big chopped* after transitioning* for four months to become natural.  I hadn’t seen my natural hair for more than 30 years.  I didn’t even know what my natural hair texture would be like.  The only thing I had to go on were many pictures of me with my long plaits hanging down on both sides, with hair ribbons and bows.  I’d completely forgotten everything about its texture and its length, but I did remember the discomfort of having my hair done, tender headed.  At the end of the summer in August 2009,  I was desperate for my scalp to stop itching after the last relaxer* that I had gotten on holiday in the States.  So I decided to only shampoo, condition, moisturize and air dry my hair during the transition period since my hair was very short anyway.  That went well until January 7, 2010 when I got fed up with scraggly ends which I was afraid would break, not to mention I was starting to look like a wet cat, and cut off all the relaxed ends.  I was left with 3cm of hair all over my head.  Somehow, I felt liberated and a lot of cold air on my scalp when I went out in the cold Normandy winter.  I regretted nothing.

Recently, natural hair has become more popular as an alternative to relaxing, weaves, and wigs. Although, black women who decide to big chop without having done research find their hair journey to be a trying and daunting task.  So, if there are any wannabee naturals, natural newbies, transitioners, loc wearers, or even relaxed hair wearers reading this post, I suggest you save yourselves the grief, the product junkie-ism, and wondering how to care for your hair.  Go out and get The Science of Black Hair!

This book is what we’ve all been waiting for.  It details everything from explanations on how hair grows, the structure of black hair, product analysis, regimens, children’s hair care, caring for relaxed hair, etc.  Everything is touched on in this book.  I read it in one week but my copy is full of highlights and dog-eared pages.  It’s the book you will refer to throughout your hair journey, whether you’re at the beginning or reached your hair goal.  There has been no other book like this written.

Basically, the book is about 250 pages and is separated into five major units:  1. The Science of Black Hair, 2.Healthy Hair Management, 3.  Working with Chemicals in a Healthy Hair Care Regiment, 4 Children’s Hair Care, and 5. The Hair-Total Body Connection.”  Under each of these units, there are various chapters that deal with the specificities of the unit, containing micrographic pictures (really cool!), graphs and information boxes.  There is a full in-depth index, a glossary, and product ingredient glossary in the back.  If you’re interested in doing more research on hair you can refer to Davis-Sivasthy’s references.  There you will find the references she used to write this informative book.  I also recommend buying the hardcover because it’s the kind of book you will refer to throughout your hair journey.

Today is my 2 year “nappy” anniversary and I’m proud to have made it from 3cm of hair length to the 21cm I have today.  I didn’t read this book until last week but it has confirmed the things I had to find out the long, hard way and enlightened me with new information, like the importance of a good balance between moisture and protein.  This is essential to healthy afro hair growth.  It’s also the most difficult to pinpoint because all afro hair is very different.  I feel as though after reading The Science of Black Hair that I’m getting even closer to perfecting this important combination.  Davis-Sivasothy has also added some Q and A street interviews, which add a certain authenticity to the book.  All in all an excellent, easy read and all for only $32.95 in hardback and $24,95 in paperback on Amazon.com

Look how far I’ve come.  After reading The Science of Black Hair I know I can go even further…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those of you looking for supplementary information about natural hair there  are many hair care forums and You Tube channels that can help you along your hair journey.  My favorite hair care forum is NaturalSunshine.com.  Some of my favorite You Tube hair channels are MsRosieVelt, tastiredbone, africanexport, louloumatou, Naptural85, ahsiek1118, TheNaprika, 160Days2Lose2, tonidaley80, whoissugar, beuniquehaircare, FusionofCultures, and BlackIzBeautyful to name a few, but there are so many more……Once you start watching you won’t want to stop!

*Big Chop – BC: to cut off all relaxed ends of the hair leaving a very short afro known as TWA(teeny weeny afro)

*transition – growing out a relaxer and just trimming the ends regularly until all the relaxer is gone.

*relaxer – chemical processing the hair using a lye product, sodium hydroxide, which is put on the roots of the hair about every 6-8 weeks to keep the appearance of straight hair.

Enriching EFL Teaching in 2012

It’s 2012 and we’re all back to teaching full-time.  This is the chance for us all to do our teaching in an even more efficient way.  Some expert teachers with many years behind them would say try teaching differently.  For example, if you teach with a book teach without one.  If you always make lesson plans try not making them or vice versa. I’m going to suggest one particular thing which has helped me tremendously in the past 4 years.  I heard someone suggest this in a conference a while back but I never could seem to make the time.  What is it you ask?  It’s simply learning to do something that you don’t know how to do.  It could be learning a foreign language, learning to play an instrument, taking drawing or painting lessons, learning to cook or to make pottery.

Concert Emile Jolie

It’s amazing how much more you learn about this new activity but as well about yourself and your students. The learning process becomes even more clear.  Four years ago, I picked up the violin.  I like to say it like that because it makes it sound so easy.  Actually, it’s the instrument I desired to play the most when I was a child but wasn’t allowed to.  We had a piano.  So, at the age of 41, I decided to enroll in the local Conservatoire here in   my city where I study music side by side with young children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17.  This has been the most enriching experience for my personal development and especially for my teaching.  It’s made me see things from the learners point of view.  I can equate better with the moments of low enthusiasm, confusion, and the ups and downs that learners experience quite often in EFL or any other learning experience as the level becomes more challenging.  Self motivation, consistency, and desire are needed by both students and teachers to carry out this endeavor.  One is not dominant over the other because it’s a joint effort for the common goal of acquisition.  It can only work out well if both put forth an honest effort.  Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun in the process.

At times, the learner may need a big push up the hill or a bit of a carrot to get from one level to another. Notice I said a push not pulling.  Pulling would show an all out refusal to go any further.  This is just an idea for those teachers out there who feel as if they are always doing the same thing and feel as if they are not reaching their students the way they would like to.  Taking risks in teaching and trying new things can always teach you something new. Try to get out of your comfort zone.  This is what teachers usually say to their learners.  Are you ready to?  So get out there and learn to do something new.  Doesn’t matter what it is!  You might be surprised by the amount of new lessons you’ll come up with and how innovative they’ll be. Good luck with it!

Concert Emilie Jolie

1. Annie John

Yesterday I spent a pleasurable day reading Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid.  Wonderful quick read, only about 148 pages and beautifully written!  This book was recommended to me by a friend who told me to start with Annie John but that she prefered other titles by Kincaid instead.  I also have Lucy on the TBR shelf so it will most likely be one of my 50 books of 2012.

Annie John is a coming of age story which takes place in Antigua.  Annie is young when the story begins and it continues on through her adolescence.  Annie and her mother have a close loving relationship that  slowly but surely develops into hate and despise.  What I loved about this novel were all the little stories that are recounted by Annie that illustrate what life is like on an island at this time.  Colonialism and strict education are the background of this story.  You practically feel the breeze and sun on your face. I can’t say any more than that because I’ll give everything away.

Elaine Potter Richardson is the real name of Jamaica Kincaid.  She was born in 1949 and grew up on the island of Antigua. In 1973, her family’s disapproval of her writing led to her name change. Kincaid writes on recurring themes in her books such as Caribbean tradition, mother-daughter relationships, shaping female identity in a male dominant society, and the lack of Antiguans to fully achieve  independence because of colonialism to note a few.  If you’re interested here is a list of some other interesting novels by Kincaid At the Bottom of the River, My Brother, The Autobiography of My Mother, A Small Place….

A New Year…

Well here we are again shutting the door on the old and opening up to the new today the first day of  2012.  Announcements of how bad the economy will be, rising taxes, price hikes, it’s all gloom and doom.  I’m sure this year will surely offer plenty of occasions for growth, discovery, friendship, prosperity and much more.  There will certainly be many opportunities to read some interesting books and to share them with others.  There are sooo many, but sooo little time.  That’s why I’m going to challenge myself and anybody who reads this post to read 50 books in 2012.  No specific genre just read, read, read whatever you want for sheer pleasure; and of course as much as you can.

For those who are trying to save a little money there is always the local library or local garden sales or set up a book exchange with friends. Don’t sacrifice the pleasure of a good book because of the cost. There’s even bookcrossing.com.  Who knows maybe you could find some interesting free titles lurking in a place near you.  I know it won’t be easy for me with my very hectic schedule teaching to uphold this challenge but I’m going to give it my best shot.  Write in and suggest some titles if you have any goodies in mind.  I’m also going to go through my many shelves and try to read some of those To Be Read books.  I’ve got loads of them. Present reading in progress is The Science of Black Hair and Annie John.  I’ll be back soon with reviews on these two.   I also have a few more lined up – Memoirs of a Porcupine and Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou, and Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid…..These were suggested to me by a friend who is an avid reader of black literature. I’ve heard of Jamaica Kincaid, but never read any of her books before.  I’m kind of excited to discover a little about West Indian literature.  Well that’s all just wanted to wish you all a Happy New Year and lots of happy reading in 2012.  Hope you enjoy my future posts and enjoy the big challenge of 2012, I know I will!

Gift goodies!

Today was music day!!!  Whew! It’s 9:50pm and I’m exhausted, but not too exhausted to check the huge bag of books I was given yesterday.  I love getting books and I don’t care if they are old, new,  water-logged or torn.  Bring it on!  It’s all good.  Boy were there some goodies!  Check them out:

The Awkward Age – Henry James

This is the story of Nanda Brookenham.  She is a young woman whose attempt to marry is foiled by members of her mother’s social circle. It’s set in 1899.

The Counterlife –  Philip Roth

He writes about  the paths a life can take and the motivation behind the decisions we make. He also talks about the reality of being a Jewish American.

Letters and Journals – Katherine Mansfield

Mansfield from New Zealand writes about her country.  Here’s a quote from her which is on the back of the book. “Here then is a little summary of what I need – power, wealth and freedom.  It is the hopelessly insipid doctrine that love is the only thing in the world…which hampers us so cruelly.  We must get rid of that boggery – and then, then comes the opportunity of happiness and freedom.”

Galileo’s Daughter – Dava Sobel

This is the story of Sister Maria Celeste the illegitimate daughter of Galileo Galilei. The story is based on the information found in 124 letters written between Galileo and a nun.

High Fidelity – Nick Hornby

The central theme in this novel is music.  The main character sells vinyl records and is an early  thirty-something having some trouble in love and growing up.

The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene

Greene explores the themes of good and evil and of course corruption.  The authorities are trying to eradicate the Catholic church in a Mexican state and there is a priest on the run.

A Severed Head – Iris Murdoch

This book is apparently about love, adultery, deception, jealousy.  It seems to have all the components of an exciting story.

The Bell – Iris Murdoch

This is a story about English society in the 1940s through the eyes of  Dora Greenfield.  This novel should be full of social commentary, which was  a common theme for Murdoch.

On the Road – Jack Kerouac

This is of course considered a modem classic and Kerouac was an American novelist who was part of the Beat Generation.  I would say this is one of those books that should be on your Must Read List.

The New York Trilogy – Paul Auster

This trilogy made Auster famous in France.  This trilogy is composed of 3 short novel called City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room.  He invented a new detective and mystery genre, while his main theme in this trilogy is  searching for who you are.

Really nice –  a little bit of classic and modern!  I think the only one I won’t read is Nick Hornby, unless for some reason I don’t have anything else to read.  I just don’t enjoy reading him, but the others are all interesting, especially Iris Murdoch.  I’ve always wanted to read her. When I’m finished with these I’ll probably sell them unless I don’t fall in love with the stories and wind up keeping them.  It’s hard for me to sell English books.  I just want to keep them all.  Not a good idea.  I’ve had to resort to storing a good portion of them in our garage.  Do I need to say anymore?

The Help

   This past summer I spent a blissful, hot and humid  5 weeks in my hometown New Orleans.  I usually spend the first week marveling over the changes and things that I’ve missed while living in France.  This time there was one thing I couldn’t miss and that was all the media attention that was being given to Katheryn Stockett’s The Help.  I couldn’t go anywhere without hearing, “What you haven’t read it, you better read it.  It’s great!”  All bookstores had The Help placed in the front of the store and in some right next to the cash register.  Being that I read quite a bit I started to feel left out, but then while watching television I was bombarded with critics on daytime talk shows.   The  trailer was shown constantly on television with its catchy upbeat music.  To me,  it seemed like a comedy.  I refused to go to the movie before reading the book.  It was the first book we would be discussing this school year with the NRs.  Needless to say, I spent most of the time with my eyes blindfolded and my ears plugged.  I felt as if I was on jury duty.

Finally when I got back to France I sat down exhausted from my long trip back and did nothing more for 3 days but read, sleep and eat.  When I finished the book I could see why some people were annoyed with it, especially those that lived through this period.  I could also see what people loved about it.  I think this book could get people talking about this period but not for the right reason nor the right discussion.  It seems to make light of some serious issues that black people were going through at the time.

What I liked about this book is the idea of learning about black maids during Jim Crow years, although this book doesn’t get into too much detail about that, since the issue of sexual harassment was not mentioned.   The character analysis was clear, lively.  They were described in detail. You could imagine what they looked like.   I must admit I fell in love with Aibeleen and Minny immediately.  The usage of dialect was a good idea although it didn’t look much like the dialect I had read in other novels.  it seemed to be extremely baby like.  It just looked like English sentences with words missing.  I’m still not sure why she kept writing Lord as Law.  Nobody says that in the south.

Anyway, this book will definitely be labeled the mini controversy of 20111.  I haven’t seen the movie but people have told me that it’s a tear jerker.  They also said that certain things were different.  Who knows maybe I’ll go see the movie when I have time. Check out the trailer below.  What do you think?

The Help Trailer

Been away…..

Well anyone who’s reading this is probably wondering, where the hell have I been; basically lost in the depths of teaching hell along with a bit of holiday.  I’m back now and you will be hearing from me more regularly.  Promises! Promises!

I’ve read as much as I can and primarily with my book club.  I’m going to call us the Normandy Readingales or NRs for short.  Everything started with a bang, but it seems as if we’ve chosen quite a few sad books this 2011/2012.  We’ve already read The Help, The Incredible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, and Sarah’s Key.  So far, the list doesn’t look very stellar but the best book we’ve read has to be The Incredible Privacy of Maxwell Sim.   I’ll post something on these books so you can get my take on things.

At the moment I’m only reading the Courrier International  (French magazine which compiles newspaper articles from all over the world. FAB! and informative!).  I can’t decide what novel I want to read next.  I’m torn between I’m Down by Mishna WOLF or In the Kitchen by Monica ALI.  They are two very different books, but interesting… I found I’m Down when I was on holiday this summer in New Orleans.  I was browsing in Barnes & Noble for something different to take back with me to France and the saleslady suggested it.  As for In the Kitchen that’s just a book I ordered from Amazon.fr a year ago that I haven’t gotten around to reading.  I think I went off the idea of reading this book when I started to read all the bad reviews.  I could only find one or two good reviews.  Unfortunately, I read the reviews after I had bought the book.  Although, I really enjoyed reading Brick Lane and thought it had some literary merit so I wanted to give this book a chance.  I knows it’s a little different from what she usually writes about. I like a good thriller!  I don’t often read this genre, and nor do I prefer it,  but now and then I like the change.

Concerning my teaching, things are developing….  I have to become a self-employed teacher if I want to live properly from this profession, teaching.  That means self-employment must take place November 2012.  Until then I have quite a lot of paperwork to deal with and things to organize.  I’m on the track so I’m sure I’ll be fine.  I’m still selling my books but mostly on the internet.  I don’t seem to have time to organize book parties with the clients.  I’m teaching all the time, but I will be going to sell at a private Christmas sale.  Maybe I’ll get some new customers/clients there.  Next time I’ll be back with some reviews of the books I spoke about in this post. Happy reading…..