The Class
06 Mar, 2019

The Class

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Class The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America by Heather Won Tesoriero
on September 4, 2018
Pages: 448
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Ballantine Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

An unforgettable year in the life of a visionary high school science teacher and his award-winning students, as they try to get into college, land a date for the prom . . . and possibly change the world.

Andy Bramante left his successful career as a corporate scientist to teach public high school--and now helms one of the most remarkable classrooms in America. Bramante's unconventional class at Connecticut's prestigious yet diverse Greenwich High School has no curriculum, tests, textbooks, or lectures, and is equal parts elite research lab, student counseling office, and teenage hangout spot. United by a passion to learn, Mr. B.'s band of whiz kids set out every year to conquer the brutally competitive science fair circuit. They have won the top prize at the Google Science Fair, made discoveries that eluded scientists three times their age, and been invited to the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm.

A former Emmy-winning producer for CBS News, Heather Won Tesoriero embeds in this dynamic class to bring Andy and his gifted, all-too-human kids to life--including William, a prodigy so driven that he's trying to invent diagnostics for artery blockage and Alzheimer's (but can't quite figure out how to order a bagel); Ethan, who essentially outgrows high school in his junior year and founds his own company to commercialize a discovery he made in the class; Sophia, a Lyme disease patient whose ambitious work is dedicated to curing her own debilitating ailment; Romano, a football player who hangs up his helmet to pursue his secret science expertise and develop a "smart" liquid bandage; and Olivia, whose invention of a fast test for Ebola brought her science fair fame and an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

We experience the thrill of discovery, the heartbreak of failed endeavors, and perhaps the ultimate high: a yes from Harvard. Moving, funny, and utterly engrossing, The Class is a superb account of hard work and high spirits, a stirring tribute to how essential science is in our schools and our lives, and a heartfelt testament to the power of a great teacher to help kids realize their unlimited potential.

Goodreads

Descriptions of this class made me a bit twitchy. Basically, anything goes. The kids do self-directed projects, maybe. If they don’t get started working on anything, ok. If they start working on something and then wander off and ignore their project for months on end, ok. If they ignore their project and then have to work nights and weekends to get it done on time, then the teacher has the lab open for them to do that. I would not be a very understanding teacher if these kids were wanting me to give up my personal time because they couldn’t be bothered to do their work in a timely manner in class. Your lack of preparation is not my emergency, etc.

I didn’t realize that science fairs were this big of a business. There are huge amounts of prize money on the line. Add this into pressure over getting into the “right” colleges and these kids are getting pushed hard sometimes by their parents. You know that parents are the biggest source of trouble in a class like this.

Greenwich is known as a super rich area even though there are students at all economic levels. This has added some tension around the program. Other schools think “Of course the rich school can produce fancy projects”. The book goes into a lot of detail about how the class is run on a shoe string budget but they do have a lot of contacts. Kids can go to professional labs and use a scanning electron microscope for free. The teacher gets a lot of used fancy lab equipment that other schools wouldn’t have access to. Some parents can pay for projects that others can’t.

The book follows several students through the year to see how they do with their projects and what life is like for them outside of class.  Who goes to prom?  Who gets into what college?  (Those college acceptances seem incredibly random.)  How do they decide what school to go to?  Should you even worry about finishing high school if you have a company producing what you invented in Science Research class and you’re in the running for a 7 million dollar prize?


23 Feb, 2017

Celebrity Memoir Edition

/ posted in: Reading Celebrity Memoir Edition Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
on November 15th 2016
Pages: 271
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Touchstone
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”
At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.
With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Goodreads

 


I’m not a big fan of celebrity memoirs.  I’m also not a big fan of memoirs written by people in their 20s.  So why would I listen to this audiobook?

I took a chance on it because I figured that Anna Kendrick’s public persona is funny so maybe the book would be too.  I was right.

This isn’t a straight biography.  Her life isn’t told in strict chronological order.  This is more a series of stories that illustrates different points in her life.  I hadn’t realized that she was in a Broadway musical as a kid.  She talks about her life in California before she could get a job.  You find out what changes when you get famous and what doesn’t.  You find out how Twilight films pay for your life while you are doing press for the film that got you an Oscar nomination but didn’t pay much.

I recommend this one on audio to hear her read it.  This book also has the best book group discussion questions ever.

If you want a fun, short book about the ups and downs of show business with a large dose of anxiety thrown in, this is the book for you.


Celebrity Memoir Edition Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham
on November 29th 2016
Pages: 224
Published by Ballantine Books

In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.
In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway.

Goodreads

Despite my protestations that I don’t like celebrity memoirs, I listened to another one.

I never realized that they talked fast on Gilmore Girls until I read a review of the series. I figured that’s just how people talked. (Likewise, I found out that they speak in Chinese on Firefly long after I watched the whole series.  I’m slow on the uptake.)

But when I started this audiobook on my standard 1.5 times the speed setting on my iPod, it was quick.  I learned to listen fast enough for it though after a minute or so.  If you thought the show was quick, you may want to slow this audiobook down.

Like Anna Kendrick, I didn’t know anything about Lauren Graham outside her roles.  This is also not a straight chronological memoir but a series of thoughts on different points in her life.  She talks about being on shows with younger cast members led her to feeling old and giving advice that isn’t always appreciated.  For example, are you sure that’s a body part you want to pierce and/or post a picture of on the internet?

She talks about moving into writing from acting.  This part can sound a little too much like an advertisement to buy her novel.

I wish for the audiobook they had described the photos that she is referring to in the book instead of just saying, “See photo 16 for how I looked that day.”  Not helpful.

Overall, this was a fast (4 hour) listen and fun if you are a fan.  If you haven’t watched Gilmore Girls, skip it because you’ll get confused.  There is a lot of talking about a scene here or there and if you haven’t got a basic familiarity with the show, it would be boring.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
11 Oct, 2016

Troublemaker

/ posted in: Reading Troublemaker Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini, Rebecca Paley
on November 3rd 2015
Pages: 228
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Ballantine Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: California
Goodreads

“Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost.
That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.”


Leah Remini is the perfect person to write this tell all book about the inner workings of The Church of Scientology.  She was brought into the religion as a child when her mother joined.  She was taken out of school and moved to Florida in order to work at retreat center for Scientologists.  She progressed through the religion as she started her acting career.  As she became more famous, she was given more and more opportunities to promote her faith.

She knew that she was working to clear the planet.  She was part of saving the world.  If that meant that she needed to go to the center and do her courses for hours a day, she did it.  If it meant giving millions of dollars for church activities, she went along.  She faced interrogations based on reports that people wrote about her.  She was even thrown off a boat once.  It didn’t faze her.

Through it all she remained a true believer

Then she was invited to be part of the elite group of Scientologists who grouped around Tom Cruise.  That was when she started to see hypocrisy.  She saw people how weren’t behaving like the church demanded and nothing was being done about it.  She noticed that people were disappearing and no one would talk about it.  She decided that she needed to speak up to save her church — and they silenced her.  Eventually she was declared to be a Suppressive Person who no Scientologist is allowed to associate with.  This is a horrific punishment for a person whose entire life revolved around the church for thirty years and whose entire family are members.

That’s when she decided to speak out publicly.

I listened to the audio version of this book and I think that was a good choice.  She reads her own story and you can hear the emotions brought up.  There is sadness for her lost life and anger at the people who deceived her.  There is love for her family who decided to stand by her.

My only issue with the audio is that got slow in the middle.  She spends a lot of time detailing growing up in Scientology.  It was necessary information to have to understand what happened later but it didn’t keep my interest.  I actually put this audio down for several months and didn’t intend to go back to it.  I only listened again because I finished another book and didn’t have anything else with me while in the car.  I’m glad I picked it back up.  The last third of the book was very compelling.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about Scientology or anyone who is in the mood for a different look at a celebrity memoir.

 

07 Jul, 2016

The Mango Season

/ posted in: Reading The Mango Season The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi
on October 26th 2004
Pages: 229
Genres: Fiction
Published by Ballantine Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Set in India
Goodreads

Every young Indian leaving the homeland for the United States is given the following orders by their parents: Don’t eat any cow (It’s still sacred!), don’t go out too much, save (and save, and save) your money, and most important, do not marry a foreigner. Priya Rao left India when she was twenty to study in the U.S., and she’s never been back. Now, seven years later, she’s out of excuses. She has to return and give her family the news: She’s engaged to Nick Collins, a kind, loving American man. It’s going to break their hearts.


Priya is horrified to realize that she considers India differently now than when she left. It is too noisy and chaotic.  She is scared to eat food in the market without washing it first.  She also can’t fit easily back into her family.  Now she sees the racism and misogyny that she grew up with and considered normal.

She knows that her family will probably disown her when she admits to loving a foreigner.  She isn’t going to tell them that she’s been living with him for two years.

Things come to a head during a few days at her grandmother’s house to make mango pickle. Her entire extended family is there. She sees how horribly everyone treats her unmarried aunt and the woman of the wrong caste that her uncle married. Her mother and another aunt spend the whole time in a power struggle. When Priya starts speaking her mind she throws her family into an uproar.

This book made me nervous.  I knew that at some point Priya’s family was going to try to arrange a marriage for her.  So I did the unthinkable.  I read the last chapter to see how it ended.

 

I knew if it was up in the air for me that I would rush through the book to find out. This is a book that should be savored more than rushed.

“I looked at all the women in the room and wondered if behind the facade all of us wore for family occasions we were strangers to each other.

I was trying to be the graceful granddaughter visiting from America but my true colors were slipping past the carefully built mockery of myself I was presenting.  Maybe the masks worn by the others were slipping, too.  Maybe by the end of the day I would know the women behind the masks and they would know me.

I tried once again to talk to Ma but she shunned me and I concluded that she didn’t want to look behind the label:  DAUGHTER, and didn’t want me to look behind the label:  MA.  If she wouldn’t show me hers, how could I show her mine?”

When discussing her grandfather:

“The man was a bigot, a racist, a chauvinist, and generally too arrogant for anyone’s liking, yet I loved him.  Family never came in neat little packages with warranty signs on them.”


I saw this video just after I finished the book and it fit the story perfectly. I laughed at loud at the line about chapati.


4flower

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