Saturday, June 29, 2013

Reading: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

A little over a year ago I posted a book review for The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.  While the book had received high praises and virtually everyone loved it, I found myself to be let down and disappointed by it.  To read my original review, click here.  I soon-after met someone else who found the book to be overrated and felt a bit of comfort for the fact that I wasn't alone in my opinions.  I couldn't find many others who felt the same way though.  Everyone seemed to love this darn book and I couldn't figure it out!  Fast forward to February of this year when my novel professor tells the class that one of our assignments will be to present on an author of our choosing.  After thinking things over for a while, I decided that John Green would be a good choice for my presentation.  I chose him for a number of reasons.  One -- I believe he has changed the way youth look at authors.  He reaches out to people through many different forms besides print which include YouTube videos and stage performances.  Two -- He has a lot to say.  He voices his opinions on many topics ranging from gay marriage to publishing to Mr. Rogers.  What he has to say is extremely important to his cult group of fans and therefore I believe it should be studied and should be important to all readers and writers.  And three -- I don't idolize him.  I didn't like the first book I read by him and the second book I read of his, Looking for Alaska, while much better still didn't have me convinced that he is as amazing as his fans led me to believe; therefore my opinion of him would not be altered because I don't love him and I by no means hate him.  Since I decided to do my project on him, I began to think a lot more on The Fault In Our Stars because I still wasn't seeing many negative reviews and I was beginning to wonder if I had possibly misread the book.  Maybe I was in a bad place when I read it and that affected how I interpreted the text.  Maybe I just didn't "get it" the first time around and needed to reread it.  My plans to reread the book became final when the book suddenly became available at my library (it had been on hold for many, many months for dozens of people and I had already sold my copy on Amazon).  I picked it up since I would be needing it for my author presentation and decided that this was my opportunity to figure out what I had missed the first time around.  I reread The Fault In Our Stars.
The book definitely has a special quality to it compared to other books I have read.  It made me feel
like a teenager again...not sure if that is a good or bad thing.  Reading it a second time definitely helped me sympathize with the characters more, at least in the first half.  Green does an excellent job at portraying cancer without it being a "cancer book."  Indeed the book is raw and emotional when it comes to the struggles these characters go through.  That was a plus to this reread.
Another plus is that I seem to now fully understand what Green was trying to say with his title that quotes Julius Caesar.  Cassius says to Brutus that "the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves."  Main character Hazel disagrees.  She believes that there is some fault in our stars because we do not choose to go through certain battles in this world and she certainly did not choose to have cancer.  This observation made the story more powerful for me this time because it adds to Green's raw tone.  Although I do agree with Hazel in the context, I still believe that we can't keep blaming the stars for our problems.  No we do not always choose the cards we are dealt, but we do choose how to react.
While this reread opened my eyes to a few thumbs up moments, I still do not view the book as this amazing work of fiction like everyone seems to believe.  The book reads like another teen movie - full of cheesy pick-up lines, overly sarcastic dialogue, a forced plot at times, and annoying characters.  I didn't shed a tear during the first read and I didn't shed a tear during the second read.  One of the big reasons I was let down the first time, besides what I have already stated in this review, was that I had heard a lot about John Green and had seen so many quotes from him that seemed particularly brilliant.  This book doesn't seem to be playing toward his strengths.  Yes he nailed some real heart wrenching truths and yes he depicted a very realistic view of what cancer actually looks like compared to how Hollywood has depicted the experience, but in the end the book becomes a genre teen love story.  I was all too aware of the fact that during Hazel and Augustus's "love" scenes, I kept thinking about the movie Valentine's Day.  (SPOILER ALERT) I also found the egg throwing scene toward the end, which was meant to be liberating and to make the characters feel better and whole, to be yet another typical thing you would see in a teen romance movie.  (SPOILER END) Green may have written a realistic cancer novel, but the "love" story completely ruins it for me, particularly because all Hazel and Augustus's love seems to consists of is them saying okay to each other.  I didn't buy the fact that they were in love.  It all seemed forced, unrealistic, and quite frankly, it's all been done before.
In the end, I did enjoy this book the second time but I still don't understand the hype and this book in particular seems to represent overrated books at their finest.  In my first review I gave this book 2 out of 5 stars but this time I'm giving it 3 out of 5 stars.  At least now I can tell you it isn't a bad book, just mediocre. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wasted Wednesday: Mugglenet Academia Reflection Post

This past Sunday, I had an amazing opportunity to have a Skype call with Keith Hawk, John Granger, and Professor Kate Behr to discuss narrative transformation in the Harry Potter books.  Keith Hawk is a staff member of, one of the most famous Harry Potter fan sites in the world.  He and John Granger host a podcast called Mugglenet Academia and always have two guest speakers on the show - a professor and a student.  From day one I have always loved the podcast because I have always felt that the Harry Potter books needed to be studied academically and taken as serious literature.  I've read the books five times now and feel pretty confident in my knowledge and understanding of the book series.  When the podcast first began, I decided to submit my name to be a student guest on the show.  I wasn't quite sure if I was up to doing it or not since I have such bad stage presence but I love Harry Potter so much and thought that it would be a great opportunity if I did get a chance to be a student guest.
The opportunity to be on the show came very unexpectedly when I was on vacation on Ocean City, Maryland with my family.  I saw an email in my inbox about "Mugglenet Academia Lesson 22" and assumed that since I was a website subscriber, I was getting an update on the upcoming podcast.  Because of this, I didn't actually read the email right away but read it a few hours later.  In the email, Keith Hawk was inviting me to be a student guest on the upcoming podcast because my interests seemed to fit with the topic at hand - narrative transformation in the Harry Potter series with a focus on the books shift from pagan to Christian beliefs and a focus on Ring Composition.  I was so nervous and about to say no but then talked myself out of it.  I knew this was an amazing opportunity for me and I knew that I had no reason to be afraid.  As I said before, I have read the books 5 times.  I feel like I know them like the back of my hand.
The day finally came to record and I prepared and prepared, and had been preparing for the past week, but still came up nervous.  By the end of the podcast, I knew that I wasn't at my best.  This wasn't a shock to me.  Many a time I have been called upon to make a presentation or be put on the spot and I always seem to mess these situations up.  I struggle with speaking my opinions.  Maybe that is why I have chosen to pursue a career in writing.  Despite the disappointment I feel in myself, I am trying to have no regrets and I know that I did my best.  Keith made me aware that student guests don't get much talking room so when opportunities rise, make sure to say what you want.  Unfortunately, me being me, whenever such opportunities did arise I was still trying to get my thoughts in check about what we were discussing and by the time they were fully formed, we were on another subject.  That is just how I am.  I also seemed to trip over my words a lot and forget key names and scenes from the books that I should know.  Although I am being a bit hard on myself for not speaking up more, I am trying to think positive and instead of focusing on what I didn't say I'm trying to focus on what I did say and what I did say mattered.  Everything we say matters.  Keith, John, and Professor Kate Behr were all awesome people and I am so grateful to have been on Skype call with them to talk about the series and be a small part of the discussion though.  It was really humbling to be included in the podcast because each one of them respected what I had to say and I also learned that while I think I know lots, I still have A LOT to learn - not just about Harry Potter and academics. 
The podcast topic mainly was focused on Professor Behr's chapter from Critical Perspectives on Harry Potter titled Philsopher's Stone to Resurrection Stone: Narrative transformations and intersecting cultures across the Harry Potter series.  John Granger sent us this piece before recording the show and I loved reading it!  It was so fascinating and Professor Behr seemed to be forming words out of thoughts I had never known how to express about the Harry Potter books!
In this reflection post I wanted to quickly post a few more thoughts on the topic discussed in the podcast that I didn't say in the podcast.  First, Professor Behr's point about the Sorcerer's Stone being a pagan representation of death and the Resurrection Stone being a Christian representation of death is spot on.  I never ever thought of the stones in those terms.  I believe this is a viewpoint of Harry and shows that these books definitely carry a theme of the coming of age narrative.  However, the book series as a whole seems to hold onto a Christian message throughout - specifically since Dumbledore constantly reminds us that love conquers all.  I also loved Professor Behr's point that Harry was the author of his own story the moment he told the sorting hat he wanted to be in Gryffindor.  When I first read her article, I actually wrote my own thoughts on that point and said that Harry became the author of his story when he found out about the prophecy between him and Voldemort.  After hearing Professor Behr's opinion, I can't agree with her more!  What a great observation! 
Growing up with Harry Potter has been a blast to say the least.  What I failed to say on the podcast is that Harry Potter has exposed me to more literature and complex themes than I could have ever imagined.  I seriously think that if I hadn't read the Harry Potter books I would be a Nicholas Sparks fan girl and a Gossip Girl collector.  Harry Potter is what got me into buying nonfiction for the first time - specifically Greg Garrett's One Fine Potion.  What I learned in English class I have applied to the books and because of this, I have fun applying this knowledge to all other books I come to read.  I also have learned a great deal about my faith from Harry Potter.  I grew up constantly seeing Christians speak out about the books - book burnings, a documentary titled Jesus Camp where they claim Harry Potter is an evil warlock - and I wish that they would actually read the books before condemning them because they have taught me so much. 
Overall, this was a great experience.  Although I didn't perform as best as I had hoped, I know this is only practice because I still want to work on podcasts and speak my opinion on literature and writing!  To listen to the podcast, check out the links below!  Thanks!
Direct Link to Podcast:
iTunes direct feed:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reading: Drops Like Stars by Rob Bell

Drops Like Stars is the first Rob Bell book I have ever read and surely won't be the last.  While it is my first Rob Bell book, it also gets the prize for being the shortest book I have ever read!  It took me literally two hours to read this book from front cover to back cover.  Did I enjoy it?  For the most part yes.
Drops Like Stars is a small book that ponders the idea that art and creativity bloom out of suffering.  This idea seems pretty obvious to me since most artistry depicts some sort of suffering - whether it be in paintings, novels, films, or television.  Bell has some great ideas.  Going into this book I was a bit skeptical since I have been hearing only trash about Bell from the general public, calling him a heretic.  I didn't believe these claims but found my own concerns with Bell before ever picking up one of his books, the reason being that I watched a video trailer for his newest book and found the trailer to be all over the place, not making sense, and forced.

"Like me, you’ve probably never been owned by someone else as a slave.  And yet we hear a song like 'Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child' and we connect with it at some primal level of the soul – even if we’ve known our mothers our whole lives.  We’re drawn to it because so much of the time we’re surrounded by buzz and gloss and hype – we slide down the surface of things." (pg.57)
This book wasn't forced though - at least it wasn't forced with its ideas.  It's format is another story.
Bell has a very interesting outlook on how suffering connects to art and how art connects to spirituality.  At first glance this book seems to be all over the place with its ideas.  I often wondered as I was reading, "what the heck does this have to do with anything?" and then was pleasantly surprised a few pages later.  I often connected with what Bell was saying as well.  He essentially explained multiple concepts that people debate about and laid them out in an easy to understand format that was different compared to anything else I have seen on the same subject.  It was pretty cool.

"I assume none of us want to starve or be shot at or lose someone we love, but it’s possible to die a sort of death at the other end of the spectrum, isn’t it?  If we aren’t careful, our success and security and abundance can lead to a certain sort of boredom, a numbing predictability, a paralyzing indifference that comes from being too comfortable.  Death by wallpaper and flooring." (pg. 44)
That being said, I hate Bell's writing style.  Absolutely hate it.  It is very forced.  This book in
particular was filled with large spaces, short sentences, and many one liners to end it all for dramatic effect.  I wasn't buying it.  Another drawback to this book was it's length.  While I think the book was very interesting, I have to ask why this was actually published.  The book is full of tons of blank space and pictures and more blank pages.  Of course this format was different and made for an extremely easy read but it didn't push me whatsoever.  I got through the book so fast that I forgot it by the morning.  Luckily I took notes while I was reading or otherwise I wouldn't know where to start with this review.  I know Bell's easy format appeals to most of his readers but I wish he would put a bit more effort into credibility and less into the book's likeability. 
Overall, the book made some solid connections between art, suffering, and spirituality but it's format was annoying and I believe Bell can do more with his words instead of putting a space between every single sentence!
I will give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thirsty Thursday: Shameless

In 2011, premium channel Showtime released a new showed called Shameless.  Based off of the show with the same name in the U.K., it revolves around a big family named the Gallagher's who do a lot of unapologetic-ally shameless things, hence the title.  The family consists of six kids living in a small house.  Kinda like Full House, right?  Well not exactly.  While both shows center around big families living in small places, Shameless doesn't hold the family friendly aspect that Full House is known for.  And in a way, I like that better.  I will get back to that subject in a few moments but let's first look at the show's plot-line.  In the show, Fiona, the oldest of the six kids, holds the house and the family together after dropping out of high school when her bi-polar mother left and her drunk father refused to take responsibility of his life.  
The show is extremely raunchy...a bit too raunchy at times.  The first episode alone contains multiple nude scenes, a graphic sex scene (borderline porn in some regards), horrific use of language, and shameless choices that make you cringe at how immoral these people are and it can be angering at times.
So why is it this week's drink on Thirsty Thursday?  Why did I pick a show that is seemingly really bad to watch?  Well, in is a great show to watch.

When I first began watching the show, I hated it.  I hated the characters and the choices they made and how the show seemed to consist of a bunch of losers.  But I kept watching and after episode three, I was hooked.  Why episode three?  Episode three was the first episode that I began to see depth to these characters.  I saw a young girl desperate for a mother, an older sister struggling to keep her unreliable father in check, a teen in danger for a crime he didn't commit, and another teen coping with the reality that his father will never love him as much as he loves boos and people who will take care of him.  These are things I can not relate to.  I was raised in a family with both parents who both had well paying jobs and who spent many many hours with me each day.  I was surrounded by loving people and a safe environment.  I never yearned for a mother or a baby doll because I had those things.  I never worried that my father didn't love me because he was always there.  I never had to carry the burden of raising a family before I graduated high school.  Suddenly, the show was humanizing these characters for me and I genuinely cared about what was going to happen to them.
The show takes no shortcuts and doesn't try to live up to typical television standards.  It doesn't try to have a cookie-cutter lesson by the end of the episode (Full House anyone?---not that Full House isn't a good show of course but that is an entirely different issue).  There is no stereotypical family feel
good moment at the end.  It is the story of struggle, love, bad choices, forgiveness, and family.  The plot is very open because the show is character driven which not only makes it more realistic but more "novel" as one of the cast members, William H. Macy, puts it.  Speaking of the cast, they are incredible.  Each one of them encompasses their characters perfectly. 
Now to answer the question, why did I choose Shameless for this week's Thirsty Thursday?  The show literally encompasses the human condition (terminology I feel I may use a lot in these TT have been warned).  It is a look at how messy we humans are!  And yet out of the chaos and heartache is beauty.  Underneath this tragedy of a family sits grace.  Each one of them is caught up in their own battle and doing everything in their power to figure things out.
As a Christian, I see the show as a representation of what life is like when you aren't living for something bigger than yourself - an ideology most people conform to these days.  It represents all the lost kids in the world who didn't have role models growing up.  It is a show about good people who do some pretty bad things.  I encourage everyone to watch it.  You won't be disappointed.
And as always, I will quote the Most Interesting Man in the World - "Stay thirsty my friends."  See you guys next Thursday!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wasted Wednesday: Why Titanic Doesn't Have to be Viewed as a Love Story

I know, this is such a weird blog topic...but I feel like it is one that needs to be discussed.  A few months ago, my neighbor and I went out for ice-cream and discussed multiple things such as politics, and religion.  Just kidding.  Actually, we mostly talked about video games, books, TV shows, and films and came up with a lot of great discussions.  One of the films that got brought up was the one, the only, TITANIC.
Titanic is said to be one of the greatest films of all time by certain standards.  Tween and teen girls alike love the romance aspect to the film and tears always seem to be shed by the end.  Even guys enjoy the film for it's action packed plot.  Film buffs love it for it's cinematography and direction, music buffs love the score, romance buffs (okay, okay - teen girls) love it for the tear-jerker ending and historical buffs love seeing this mind-blowing event being brought to the big screen.  Perhaps this is why Titanic is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time - because it appeals to a large audience.  Not only that but just the idea of a film being centered around such a tragic event will get any ordinary movie goer on the bandwagon.  No other film about the sinking ship was ever made quite so well.
However, while there is a large chunk of people who adore the film, there are also those who despiseTitanic claim that the film is overrated: a cliche love story, and quite frankly, there are film makers putting out much more authentic work than this Hollywood blockbuster.  In some regards, the haters are right.  My neighbor was one of them, claiming to me that he not only didn't like the film but wasn't into cheesy love stories.
it.  The haters of
I can't quite explain why I reacted the way I did to this comment.  Perhaps it is because for a good amounts of years Titanic has been considered a favorite movie of mine and I always feel an urge to defend it.  I also never really thought the love story was like other loves stories in Hollywood.  Lately I have noticed the films drawbacks and can't say it is so high on my favorites list anymore (though it is still on there).  For starters, I have come to realize that the story of Jack and Rose is one seen in many stories we encounter not just in films but in all other arts.  While the score once appealed to me, I now find it to be repetitive and boring compared to other film scores I have grown to love.  Regardless, I knew when my neighbor said he didn't like cheesy love stories that I had to defend this favorite movie of mine because I knew Titanic was more than just a cheesy love story.  Before I knew it, an idea popped into my head and I was speaking the words but had no idea where they were coming from.  Suddenly, I began to question if Jack and Rose's story could even be considered a love story at all.
Let's look at the basics.  The Titanic set sail on April 10th and sunk on April 14th.  Jack and Rose had not known each other for a week.  Does this sound familiar to anyone?  The first thing I thought of was Romeo and Juliet - although Romeo and Juliet can be excused since Shakespeare shortened the story for time restraints of the stage.  In actuality, Romeo and Juliet's love story takes place over a matter of months.  Jack and Rose, however, do not have that luxury.  With Titanic being a true historical event, it is fact that they would have known each other for the period of time stated above.  That brings about the question - can two people fall in love so quickly?  Well, the answer to that question may be opinion based. 
In my opinion, I don't believe you can fall in love with someone in four days.  (Keep in mind, Jack and Rose did not meet the very first hour they were on the ship so in actuality it was 3 days and so and so hours).  However, I do believe you can fall in love with an idea in four days.  You can fall in love with an idea in a matter of seconds.  Therefore, I don't believe Titanic is an actual love story. I think it is a story about two people who believe themselves to be in love but are actually in love with the boy/girl they created in their heads.  Of course, I've never been in love but this is my observation after so many years of living on this earth and learning what love is and what it is not.
Now I know what you are going to say - what about the sex scene??  For starters, you don't have to be in love to have sex.  In our sex obsessed culture, one night stands are the norm and they certainly
don't mean love.  Secondly, what we love the most is often the worst for us.  When two people continually have sex but aren't in a "relationship", it has been proven that they may feel in love but it is only a disguise because of what they are doing.  I also believe the sex scene was a choice made by the creative team to possibly foreshadow the ending of the film - that Jack would get one last chance to have that experience of feeling like he was in love with a wonderful girl before he died.  (I'm not saying the film makers weren't trying to make a love story, because obviously they were and most love stories in Hollywood consist of sex scenes so I could be possibly looking too deep into the story but it helps my argument a bit).  Not only that but a huge portion of their love story takes place during a huge tragedy!  It is typical of two people to turn to each other so fiercely in a time of crisis.
Titanic the film doesn't seem to be about the ship sinking or a love story but about the self discovery of a young woman.  Titanic, in my opinion, is not a love story but a story about Rose Dawson.  The main heroin of Titanic, Rose, starts off in the film as a girl who feels trapped in her insanely rich world full of selfish, horrid people and she wants to escape so she makes a hasty decision to jump into the cold ocean waters and end her life.  Then enters Jack, someone who convinces her not to jump.  Rose comes to know Jack better and gets a peek into his world - late night dancing, beautiful artwork, lackadaisical humor and charm.  Jack is the person Rose has always wished to be around but never knew how to.  Because of this, I believe Rose falls in love with Jack's choices and lifestyles but not Jack himself.  Thereafter the sinking of the Titanic and Jack's death, Rose is finally shaken out of apathy and is a changed woman.  Jack was a huge changing point in her life and his ideas and personality shaped who she ended up being. 
Too often we fall for something being a love story because of the magical sunsets and the romantic events that most often don't happen in reality.
Now, of course, while I obviously believe in this theory, I still also believe that Titanic will always remain a love story.  There is a lot I haven't mentioned in this blog which actually does point to Jack and Rose being in love.  These points were avoided mostly because it has been a while since I have watched the film and I forget quite a bit of the important facts and scenes.  However, I don't think this film is the cheesy love story people claim it is to be which is why I wrote this blog in the first place.
What point am I trying to make then if I believe both sides?  My point is that we shouldn't have movies define standards.  All too often the stories were watch or read are telling us what they are instead of letting us making our own decisions about what we believe they are.  Creator and audience need to both have a say.  While yes, if the creators of Titanic say it is a love story, then we can either accept that theory or see things another way.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Reading: Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller

Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller is a book that carries the slogan, "nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality."  This slogan is what stood out to me when I found this book on Amazon.  I took a wrong turn shortly after, having just noticed that the book had been adapted into a film, and so, as usual with me, I went to iTunes to watch the film's trailer.  I was highly disappointed.  The plot line seemed cheesy and unoriginal while the acting was mediocre from what I observed.  I decided I didn't want to put money on the line in hopes I would love this book if I bought it because the movie didn't look all that great.  Luckily for me, my library had one copy of this book and I quickly checked it out.  I guess I should have just bought it.
Don Miller is a highly renowned "Christian" author.  I put the word Christian in quotations because it is my belief that there is no bridge between the spiritual and the secular.  Belief is apart of everyday life.  However, labels can't always be avoided and it wouldn't be honest of me to not label Miller because...well, he writes about his Christian faith!
It seems that Miller feels the same way about the idea of the spiritual and secular not being so different.  The book's slogan implies just as much...and does exactly what it says.  Miller takes the mundane everyday world with it's confusion and hatred, conflict and triumphs and molds it into a novel that meets the reader where he/she is.  It doesn't provide boring, straight commands but dives into the nitty gritty and asks the reader to make their own conclusions about their faith.
Miller contemplates many things including politics (left or right?), sin, desires, romance, atheism, and more, and contemplates these issues in terms of the Christian faith.  Sounds dull right?  Not at all.  Miller's modern ideas really hit home for the new generation of Christians.  His voice is radical and challenging which is essentially what Christians are called to do.  He dares to ask, and answer, the complex questions that many Christians seem to avoid and he does so with flying colors.  Miller seemed to be speaking the words that I had felt like I had wanted to say for such a long time but never knew how. 
"'If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus." (pg 185)
The writing style of this novel was very reflective and borderline stream of consciousness.  Someone
suggested to me that it seems like the book was written as if it were a blog.  Perhaps people see honesty when they come to a blog - that a person is taking their time to bare their soul to the public and hope it doesn't get smashed in the process.  That is what Miller does in this book.  He puts all of his thoughts on the line and does it un-apologetically which is refreshing to see from a "Christian" writer.  It shows that even though he is a Christian, he doesn't have it all together.  Instead of putting on a fake look, Miller is honest.  Is the novel appealing to the other side though?  Well that is a tough call.  I think non-believers would enjoy this book because Miller puts his thoughts out there in an intellectual way that is rare in "Christian" writing. 
"The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music.  It is a music birthed out of freedom.  And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality.  A music birthed out of freedom."
I should probably mention the film again.  I have not watched it yet and when I do, I don't think I will like it. After listening to an interview with Miller about the film, it seems like he wasn't too pleased with it either.  Regardless, the book was a wonderfully refreshing read.  Miller met me where I was and really challenged my thoughts and helped put them into words and then put them into a "Christian" perspective.  While it isn't a literary novel, it still breaks the mold of what you typically see in the "Christian" section of the bookstore.
I can genuinely say that this book is a favorite of mine.  It really hit home for me with a lot of the ideas and it was refreshing and moving and also, at times, a bit poetic.  5 out of 5 stars!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thirsty Thursday: Sell Out/Reel Big Fish

Hello all and welcome to the first ever Thirsty Thursday blog - a blog where I introduce some exciting and fresh, creative content that you may not have heard about before!  The purpose of this blog is to talk about authentic creations that will give you your fill of awesome for the week!  Since it is the very first week I am tackling Thirsty Thursday I decided to choose something that is kinda the reason I came up with Thirsty Thursday in the first place.  This week's drink is a song called Sell Out by Reel Big Fish!
This song is featured in a skateboarding video-game called Disney's Extreme Skate.  I have the game for GameCube and so I frequently listened to the track while playing as a teenager.  Once you listen to a song as many times as I listened to this one, you either become to numb to it or you pay close attention to it.  I was the type of the person who paid close attention.
At first glance the song seems like a typical pop/punk tune that doesn't mean much outside of it's context.  The music video almost presents it as a joke...which it is in it's own right.  However the lyrics go a lot deeper than what is led to believe.
Music today has become pointless tunes which, for some reason, the American public buy into.  Why Ke$ha and Justin Bieber make big bucks is a concept I won't ever truly understand.  This song, although released in 1990, is extremely relatable to how and why music is made today.  Sell Out is featured on the band's record titled Turn the Radio Off.  Right away you know the band is trying to make a statement - what is on the radio isn't worth listening to.
Sell Out tells the story of a fast food employee who can make it big time working with a record company and while he may gain money and fame, he will be selling out on something much more.  The lyrics go along with the album title that critique's the radio.
"Radio plays what they want you to hear. They tell me it's cool but I just don't believe it"
"Cause the man said 'that's the way it is', and the man said "it don't get better than this" no no no" 
The lyrics, while speaking mostly about the radio, also present another theory to the listener - that it is important to make our own decisions and not let other people think for us.  Our culture is notorious for this.  Everyone thinks they all are individuals yet they are just another culture clone.  As if dressing like a hipster, reading on a kindle, listening to Lady Gaga, and watching Grey's Anatomy makes someone different than the other millions of people who do the exact same thing.  It is easy to watch TV and accept what is playing during the assigned time slots but why not question what is on the television?  Why not challenge the award's shows for once again honoring Taylor Swift for her ability to write dozens of songs about the same exact thing over and over again?  Why not not watch the new ABC show that is said to be a hit?  Why not not listen to what the radio wants you to hear?
Sell Out by Reel Big Fish is a lyrically enriching song while also appealing to the ears (loving the trumpet part!).  The song has a pop sound and while the sound is similar to many artists on the radio, what makes it different is that the lyrics actually have a message to send to their listeners.
And now I quote the Most Interesting Man in the World..."Stay thirsty my friends."  See you guys next Thursday!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Reading: The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch

The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch is a book I bought after I realized I wanted to further investigate why American education is so terrible today.  I have blogged a bit on the subject, trying to piece together ideas to make sense of the entirety of this issue but the truth is, I don't think there will ever be one way to solve it...or at least I don't have the background, experience, or enough knowledge to come up with a solid solution.  Although this book did put a lot of issues in perspective for me.  The book sat on my shelf for months until I signed up to take a course in college titled Democracy and Education.  This book was on the list of required books and I couldn't wait to read it and study it in class.
Diane Ravitch, who was once a firm supporter (and a creative engineer) behind the notorious "No Child Left Behind", wrote this book because of her own enlightening experience with American education.  After No Child Left Behind was passed, Ravitch watched as it took form and American education slackened.  She realized that what NCLB was a flop and had to write a book stating why it was a flop and what it meant to American education.
Essentially, NCLB means exactly what it's title states - that no child should be left behind.  President George W. Bush set a goal - that by 2014 all American students would be 100% proficient in subjects such as math, science, and reading.  The reason NCLB was put into motion is because American students were not competing with students in other countries such as Finland and China.  NCLB posed to test students in grades 5, 8, and 11 to test their understanding of reading, math, and science.  These tests were multiple choice and held on special days during the school year.  The results not only affected the students who took them but also the American teachers, also known as accountablity.  Ravitch argues that this type of testing can not possibly measure the strength, or weakness, of a student's mind, nor can it measure a teacher's teaching ability.  With NCLB in progress, children became fluent in good test taking methods instead of the actual subject matter the test was on.  Teachers were judged by how well their students' test taking scores were instead of their students' actual performance in the class room.
"NCLB introduced a new definition of school reform that was applauded by Democrats and Republicans alike.  In this new era, school reform was characterized as accountability, high-stakes testing, data-driven decision making, choice, charter schools, privatization, deregulation, merit pay, and competition among schools.  Whatever could not be measured did not count." (pg. 21)
Of course there is a lot more to the issue than that minuscule paragraph I just typed up.  Other things needs this much detail.  Without it, Ravitch would not have such great credibility.  Her ability to write on all sides of the educational spectrum and formally contain her ideas in a concise manner is what made the book so interesting and engaging.  I trusted Ravitch as I read.
are jumbled in the melting pot such as money, tenure, politics, etc.  It is a lot to take in but Ravitch handles the subject matter with grace like a butterfly.  Her attention to detail and facts soars on every page.  She essentially covers ever nook and cranny on the topic of American education.  Some may say it is a bit much, and I must admit - it is, but every detail counts and this subject particularly
"There are just so many hours and minutes in the school day, and if more time is devoted to testing  and test preparation, then less time will be available to teach subjects that will not be on the state tests.  Lack of attention to history, science, and the arts detracts from the quality of education, the quality of children's lives, the quality of daily life in school, and even performance on the tests.  Ironically, test prep is not always the best preparation for taking tests.  Children expand their vocabulary and improve their reading skills when they learn history, science, and literature, just as they may sharpen their mathematics skills while learning science and geography.  And the arts may motivate students to love learning." (pg. 108).
While the book's detail oriented style was excellent, it was also draining.  Since I had to read the book for my class, I spent much of my time trying to read as many chapters a day as I could.  Each chapter is a big chunk of the book and after reading two chapters in one day and starting a third, I had a hard time comprehending what the book was saying.  It is a lot to take in and while I can't fault the book for facts, I have to admit it was a bit dry.  There is a lot of repetition which is good but not for a light read.  As a reader, you had better be aware of the time you are investing when reading this book.  It is time well spent but make sure you are in the right mindset to spend it...otherwise you may come out of the experience extremely bitter. 
Overall, the book was an excellent look at education but it was a lot of information being thrown at me which made the book an extremely difficult read but one I will not forget.  I will give this book 4 out of 5 stars.