First, What Are You Reading? Volume 18, February 2012

Here are my answers to the four questions I ask on the first of each month:

first, what are you reading?

what do you like best about it?

what do you like least?

what’s next on your list to read? 

As always, I hope you’ll consider your current reads on your blog and/or sharing here in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter.  Happy reading!

First, what are you reading?  

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley.  We saw a like-minded family at the library, and their voracious reader was reading (and enjoying) this series, so I put several of them on hold at the library.  We do NOT recommend this series (as you’ll read in “what do you like least.”).  This happened to me before with other series and books, so you think I would learn, but in the end I think it helped us.  Every family, and every reader, is different.

Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  In my very first “First, What Are You Reading?” post, I was reading the Heath brothers’ more recent book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.
What do you like best about them?

I love anything by the Heath brothers, so I knew I had to add it to my list when back in the fall, when I attended a retreat for the volunteer directors of the Behold Conference.  (by the way, if you have not yet registered, what are you waiting for? It’s going to be so great!  So take 2 minutes right now to go and register here).  At the retreat, the excellent Susan Grebner, who is doing media for the conference, gave a fantastic talk on the themes of Made To Stick related to what we want to accomplish, or “stick,” with the Behold Conference.  That talk really helped me, and I know others involved with the conference, to shape goals.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Thrive and Others Die has been a topic of discussion at our house and beyond as I share various themes from the book. Briefly, a “sticky” idea must have as many of the acronym SUCCESs elements as possible: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and told as a story.

The book is full of great examples of sticky stories and why they work and “stick.” Here’s just one “sticky” story regarding, “why bother with math?” from a high school math teacher: 
“My grade 9 students have difficulty appreciating the usefuleness of the Standard Form of the equation of a line, prompting them to ask, “When are we ever going to need this?”

This question used to really bother me, and I would look, as a result, for justification for everything I taught.  Now I say, “Never.  You will never use this.”

I then go on to remind them that people don’t lift weights so that they will be prepared should, one day, (someone) knock them over on the street and lay a barbell across their chests.  You lift weights so that you can knock over a defensive lineman, or carry your groceries or lift your grandchildren without being sore the next day.  You do math exercises so that you can improve your ability to think logically, so that you can be a better lawyer, doctor, architect, prison warden or parent.

MATH IS MENTAL WEIGHT TRAINING.  It is a means to an end (for most people), not an end in itself.”

So there, all you math-hating people!

What do you like least about them?

The Sisters Grimm series is not compelling to me, nor will be a “favorite” series, not the least of which is the fairly intense violence.  I skimmed the first two, but didn’t have time or inclination for the rest. As my 11-year-old daughter put it, “It’s like pretzels when you’re hungry—it’s something to read.”  She also commented, “The sisters are always being chased by monsters.”  So this series is a bit of a “meh” in our house, and from what she told me about some of the later books she did read (the violence gets darker and weirder), I’m glad the others didn’t pick them up.

Simcha Fisher had a great post at The Catholic Register way back in November talking about “dangerous books for teenage girls” .   http://www.ncregister.com/blog/simcha-fisher/dangerous-books-for-teenage-girls/.

What I love best about Simcha’s analysis is not so much the list of what not to read, but the conflict for parents who don’t want to censor everything, but still think kids can’t read “just anything.”  She recommends, “variety, variety, variety,” and also this beautiful phrasing:  “dedicate them repeatedly to Mary. Ask her to make them a sponge for good ideas and Teflon against the bad; and abandon the idea that you can follow a formula that turns out perfectly virtuous kids.”

I have a refrigerator magnet from the Daughters of St. Paul that reads, “Control is for the moment…. communication lasts a lifetime.”   (I actually had the chance to quote that in my January column—I’ve been looking for an opportunity to do that, and finally did!)  Helping our kids develop a good media literacy sense is a major goal at our house.  The fact that The Sisters Grimm did not gain traction here I hope is a fruit of that work.  Another fruit is that all my children have put down books that they find a “waste of time” to finish.  I love that.  I don’t think I learned that until I was about 30—I don’t have to finish a book that isn’t any good, or that I don’t like.

What’s next on your list to read?

My husband was interested in talking about the integrative medicine of Dr. Andrew Weil, so I’ve got a few of his books, including his new one, Spontaneous Happiness, from the library.

I’m also starting to re-read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; I haven’t read it since college, and I must admit it’s slow going.

So, what are you reading these days?  Any books you would like to share?