Sunday, June 17, 2018

Summer of Reading: #1 Why Read?

NOTE:  This is an entry I posted on my other blog,, but it also relates to this blog about reading.

The blogs this summer will focus on my favorite subject, reading, starting with independent reading (choosing on your own what to read) and moving through all aspects, ending with reading and learning from textbooks.

 So, why should you read?  What are the benefits?

There are multiple benefits to independent reading, not the least of which are entertainment, escape, learning, enlightenment, and pure joy.  There are so many types of books it is impossible to list them all, but there is something for everyone no matter what your interests, profession, etc.

While reading is mainly a solitary activity, it can be social when talking about a book in a group.  There are an amazing number of book groups – no one really knows how many as most of them are a group of people who decide to get together on their own to discuss books.   When my friends group met at a local restaurant there were two other groups meeting at the same time!

Besides the endless reasons to read listed above, there are two specific benefits:

  • Increasing or maintaining your power of concentration: Many people think that all of the time we spend on our electronic devices is lowering our ability to concentrate for an extended period of time.  See Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain, for further information.  By reading without interruption you are keeping your power of concentration strong.
  • Gaining empathy:  When we read about someone else’s experiences and feelings from their perspective we are better able to understand how they feel and can transfer that awareness to our everyday lives.  (Schwanenflugel & Knapp. (2016). The Psychology of Reading. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.)

Whatever type of books you like, hopefully you will have time this summer to read for the pure pleasure of reading!

The next blog will address the popular program on college campuses, One Book-One College, how the books are used, and some strategies for reading.

Consider voting for your favorite book this summer at The Great American Read, sponsored by PBS.  My vote went to The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusack.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple

Eleanor Flood – artist and animation director for Looper Wash
Joe Wallace – husband, hand surgeon

Matthew Flood – Eleanor’s father, alcoholic, ignored daughters
Tess Tyler – mother, died of cancer
Ivy – sister

Barnaby “Bucky” Fanning – married Ivy
John-Tyler and Delphine – children

Lester Lewis – Bucky’s roommate at Vanderbilt and artist under Eleanor working on Looper Wash

Alonzo Wrenn – poetry coach

Sydney Madsen – annoying “friend”

Spencer Martell – artist

Simon – pastor, Seahawks chaplain

For discussion:

NOTE: Page numbers are from the paperback edition.

  1. Discuss the Introduction.  Was Eleanor’s plan for the day reasonable?  Do you or could you do all of these things.  After reading just the Introduction, what were your expectations for the book?
  2. What questions or misunderstandings did you have about Eleanor and when were they answered or addressed in the novel?
  3. What did you think about Timby’s appointment and Eleanor’s conversation with Dr. Saba?   What did you think of Eleanor’s parenting style?
  1. After the appointment with Dr. Saba, Eleanor was missing Joe because he was the “Competent Traveler” (page 43).   She mused that because Joe was so organized she was able to go through life being the “Helpless Traveler” (page 43).   Eleanor thought we could be either type, it just depended on who you were with.  Do you agree?   Which role do you usually take?
  2. When Eleanor was in Costco she compared the contents of her shopping cart with others (page 110).   Do you do that at the store?
  3. Why did Eleanor and Ivy turn out so differently?   Is missing Ivy the key to all of Eleanor’s problems?
  4. Do you think Eleanor and Ivy will be able to overcome their differences?  How important a part will Bucky or Timby play in this?
  5. On pages 222 and 223 Joe mentally listed everything that he had done right. Did you think of anything else he could have done?  Have you ever had similar thoughts?
  6. What were you predicting would be Joe’s story?  Were you surprised it was religion?
  7. As the story progressed, were you surprised at the turns it took?  Were you able to predict what would happen?
  8. Compare the Introduction and the last page of the novel.  Had Eleanor changed?   Does she have a better chance of success at the end of the novel than at the beginning?
  9. Discuss your reading experience.  Did the story turn out differently than you expected?   Was that a good thing or not?
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and  Click  on the upper right link.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly

Langley West Computers
Other people, places and events
Dorothy Vaughn
1929 – 1931 – waitress
1931 – math teacher
1943 – laundress
1943 – Mathematician Grade P-1
1949 – Head Computer, West Computing
1951 – became head of unit
1958 – became computer programmer

Katherine Coleman Gable Johnson
1953 – to Langley
1958 -  invited to editorial meetings of Guidance Control Bureau of Flight Research Division
1960 – published first report by female
1962 – checked numbers for John Glenn’s flight

Mary Jackson
1951 – to Langley
1956 – started engineering classes
1960 – built soap-box derby car with son, Levi
1962 – tested Apollo capsule

Miriam Mann
Kept taking table sign, “Colored Computers”
1962 – worked on rendezvous research for Apollo
Virginia Senator Harry Byrd
Tied fear of communism to fear of integration
Massive Resistance in 1950s

Asa Philip Randolph

Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. William Clayton – Katherine Johnson’s mentor at West Virginia State College

Hampton Roads, VA

Kazimierz Czarnecki – Mary Jackson’s mentor

1958 – 1964 – Virginia closed public schools to avoid segregation in three cities

Star Trek – set in 2260s - multinational, multiracial, mixed-gender crew
Lieutenant Uhura

 For discussion:

NOTE: Page numbers refer to paperback edition.

  1. According to the author, the racial problems in America provided the Soviet Union with “one of the most effective propaganda weapons in their arsenal” (page 104).  Why didn’t this seem to have any effect on improving the racial tension in our country?
  2. Discuss the contradiction of restaurants who would not serve a black person but would serve Germans from the prisoner-of-was camp in Newport News (page 33).    How did people justify hating the Germans for what they did to the Jewish people while doing the same thing to the colored citizens in America (page 33)?
  3. How do you think Senator Harry Byrd would be regarded today?  Do you think his family is proud of his legacy?
  4. The author wrote that, “The NACA nuts always thought they had a better way to do anything – everything – and didn’t hesitate to tell the locals so” (page 53). The citizens of the town felt that, “the good Lord didn’t always see fit to give book sense and common sense to the same individual” (pages 53 & 54).  Which to you think is more important, book sense or common sense?
  5. The black engineers experienced more prejudice from the blue-collar workers in town than they did from their peers at Langley (page 146).  Why do you think this was so?
  6. In the late 1950s, when the US was lagging behind Russia in missiles, black newspapers linked “America’s inadequacy in space to the dreadful conditions facing many black students in the South” (page 152).  Did you think this was fair?
  7. Mary Jackson thought that “life was a long process of raising one’s expectations” (page 98).  On the other hand, the colored women felt that “they had to get over the high hurdle of low expectations” (page 181).  How did the women juggle these two different perspectives?
  8. Why were the women featured in the book so driven to succeed in their fields?
  9. What did you learn from this book?
First Semester Success: Learning  Strategies and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and   Click on the upper right link.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

Akha Ethnic Minority
Li-yan – “Tina”
Three brothers and sisters-in-law

Haley Davis – Yan-yeh, Li-yan’s daughter, left at orphanage

Paul William Chang – Li-yan’s son with Jin

Ci-tech – best friend

Teacher Zhang

Deh-ja – married Ci-do, had twin “human rejects” and had to kill them, banished from community

San-pa – pancake thief and Li-yan’s first husband

Huang Benyu – tea buyer from Hong Kong
Xian-rong “Sean” – son

Pu’er tea

Tea Master Sun – Pu’er Tea College

Jin Chang
Mrs. Chang – mother

Haley’s parents:
Constance – professor of biology
Dan - arborist

Girls in therapy session with Haley:

For Discussion:

NOTE:  Page numbers refer to the hardback edition of the book.

  1. Traditions played a large part in the Akha people’s day-to-day life at the beginning of the novel.  When Li-yan returned as a grown-up after being away eight years she found things greatly changed.  When asked, her father said that “the world has come to us…we don’t have time for all the cleansing, ceremonies, sacrifices, or worrying about Dog Days and Buffalo Days when we have so much work to do” (pages 184-5).   How important were the traditions if they were so easily abandoned?
  2. Is there a difference between a tradition and a superstition?   What were most of the things the Akha people did?
  3. How did the Akha people justify encouraging the unmarried girls and boys to go to the Flower Room but then deemed it disgraceful if the girl got pregnant?
  4. The word “tu” was used very often in the novel and changed meaning over time.  The original meaning was negative (page 168) but changed to a positive concept meaning, “…untouched by the evils of civilization” (page 169).   What words are in our vocabulary that have changed meaning?
  5. Discuss the character of Jin.  Would you have trusted him?  Was everything he did (secret trips to visit Li-yan’s family, purchases he made such as houses without consulting anyone, etc.)  realistic? 
  6. How do you think Jin and Li-yan were so easily able to go between the two lifestyles in America and China – living in a mansion to a primitive newlywed hut?
  7. What did you learn from the transcript of Haley’s therapy group?   Do you think the author portrayed the adoptee’s experience realistically?   Did you understand the pressures the girls felt to be successful and their conflicted feelings of being both grateful and angry?
  8. The ruma and nima call a village meeting when Ci-teh and Li-Yan return to the village after the tea market collapses so that they will settle their differences in front of the people (page 155 – 262).  The ruma states that, “The Akha Way tells us that a single moment changes destinies” (page 261) and the moment that changed both women was when the “human rejects” were born into Ci-teh’s family.  Where else in the novel does a “single moment” change someone’ destiny?
  9. In Haley’s English class in October 2012 she wrote a story about her immigrant experience.  The instructor’s evaluation noted that she, “would have hated to see you fall back on the Shakespearean trope of coincidence” (page 316).  What part did coincidence play in this novel, for example Haley meeting Xian-rong who knew where her tea cake came from or Li-yan running into Deh-ja on the street?  Was this too much?
  10. Discuss Ci-teh and Li-yan’s relationship throughout the novel.   Were you surprised that Ci-teh wanted to tear down the tea trees and plant coffee?   Could you understand Ci-teh’s motivation given what her family went through when they lost everything due to her brother and Deh-ja having the “human rejects?”
  11. Pu’er tea was as important as a major character in the novel.  What was in the tea that cured Xian-rong?
  12. Tea Master Sun taught Li-yan that there are three disciplines of tea: 1.) Confucius, “…help people understand their inner dispositions” 2.) Buddhists, “…among the four ways to concentrate the mind” and 3.) Daoists, “…a way to regulate internal alchemy, be in harmony with the natural world, and serve as an ingredient in the elixir of immortality” (page 191).  Do you think tea can do all of this?
  13. If you like to drink tea or are a “tea nerd” (page 333) like Xian-rong, what did you learn about tea in this novel?
  14. Discuss your reading experience.  This book was unique in that it used spelling lists, emails, homework assignments and therapy session transcripts in addition to regular narrative to tell the story.   Did you like that?  Do you think it added to the story?
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and  Click on the upper right link.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Tomorrow Will Be Different, by Sarah McBride

REVIEW:  Recognizing that each reader brings their own background and beliefs to a book, I did not read this book as a political statement.  I read it as a personal journey that also informs the reader of the broader picture in our country of the struggles anyone labeled “different” has to endure to have the same basic human rights and respect as anyone else.  I thought the alternating between the author’s story and the nation-wide data was very powerful.  Of course, politics cannot be ignored because that is what determines the current “law of the land,” but even if you do not always agree with the author, she does a compelling job of explaining her experiences and point of view.  I found the novel very insightful and moving and recommend it be read with an open mind and kind heart.  I received a complimentary copy of the book for this review. 

Sarah McBride
Sally – mother, former guidance counselor
Dad – former antiwar protester, corporate attorney
Sean and Dan – brothers

Andrew Cray – husband, deceased

Jack Markell – mentor, governor of Delaware

Joe Biden – Vice President
Beau Biden – son, Delaware Attorney General

Bishop Gene – officiated at both wedding and funeral

Helen – high school friend, first to call author by female name and pronoun

State of Delaware

For Discussion:

NOTE:  Page numbers are from hardback edition.

  1. How might Sarah’s story have been different if her parents had different backgrounds?
  2. On page 10 the author stated that how people are represented in popular culture is crucial to how people are accepted.  Do you agree?   Can you think of how pop culture has influenced how you view something? 
  3. Sarah asked her friend Helen, who was studying abroad, to try calling her by a female name.  How important was Helen’s acceptance to Sarah?  Would you be able to do this for a friend?
  4. On page 28, Sarah identified one problem as an “empathy gap,” meaning that people could not understand how a transgender person feels because it was so far removed from their experiences.  How important do you think empathy is in our dealings with other people who are different from us?  How can we gain empathy?
  5. Sarah stated that she was, “proud to be transgender” and that “Our identities matter” (page 68).  What is your identity and how important is it to you that other people know this?
  6. The state of Delaware plays an important part in Sarah’s story.  Do you feel the same sense of connection to your state?  What makes Delaware special to its citizens?
  7. After Sarah posted the picture of herself in the woman’s bathroom on Instagram and Facebook she received an overwhelming number of vicious responses (pages 235-6).   Were you surprised at the hatefulness of these responses?  Sarah thought she would not be affected by these but was surprised at the sense of despair she felt.  How can we counter this when it happens to a child for whatever reason?
  8. Following the above incident, Sarah wrote that bullies, “…see our power and they are jealous of it” (page 238).  Do you agree that bullies are insecure and jealous and act like they do in order to make themselves feel better?  What can we do to stop bullies?
  9. When Sarah was working on her convention speech, a friend reminded her of a quote by Maya Angelou, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel” (page 242).   Many people feel that our actions speak the loudest.  What do you think about this quote?
  10. The author never told the reader her birth name or used a masculine pronoun when referring to herself before she transitioned.  How did this affect your understanding?
  11. At the end of the book, Sarah quoted a statistic that, “the percentage of Americans saying they personally know someone who is transgender rose from single digits to roughly a third” (page 225).   (Please note that I could not find a citation for this statistic.)   Do you know anyone who is transgender?   Do you know anyone who is different from you and your family?   Do you think this is generational?
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and   Click on the upper right link.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler

Mr. and Mrs. Brill – first owners of house

Jurvis Roy Whitshank “J. R.” or “Junior”
Linnie May – wife
Merrick and Redcliffe – children

Merrick Barrister
Walter “Trey” Barrister III – husband

Pookie Vanderlin – Merrick’s friend, first engaged to Trey

Redcliffe “Red” Whitshank
Amanda – Hugh (husband), Elise (daughter)
Jeannie – Hugh (husband), Deb and Alexander 9children)
Douglas “Stem” - Nora (wife), three sons

Susan – Denny’s daughter (not biological) with Carla

Lawrence O’Brien and Barbara Jane “BJ” Eames Autry – Stem’s parents

 For Discussion:

NOTE:  Page numbers are from the paperback edition of the novel.

  1. Discuss Junior and Linnie.  Could Junior have avoided marrying Linnie?  Did her really love her but didn’t know it?
  2. It seemed the only time Linnie asserted herself was when she poured the blue paint on the sidewalk after Junior repainted the blue porch swing.   Do you think Linnie was happy?
  3. In Part Two, before Abby and Junior were dating, Abby was helping Linnie in the kitchen and discussing Merrick.  Linnie said, “…it seems to me there’s just these certain types of people that come around and around in our lives…Easy types and hard types” (page 240, chapter 9).  Did you agree with this statement?   Are people even aware of being one type or another?  How would  you describe the characters in the novel – easy or hard?
  4. When the Red and Merrick were young, Abby brought “orphans” into the house to help them, which annoyed the children.   At one point they commented that, “Other people showed love by offering compliments.  Abby offered pity.  It was not an attractive quality, in her children’s opinion” (page 67, chapter 4).  How did the different characters in the novel show their love to each other?
  5. What did you think about Nora?  Was she really so perfect and easy going?  On page 195 (beginning chapter 8) Amanda commented to Denny, “I wish Stem and Nora weren’t so …virtuous.  It’s wearing, it what it is.”  
  6. Discuss Denny.   What did you think he was like when he was away from family?    On the one hand the family thought he did not care about them, but on the other hand he helped out Jeannie during her postpartum depression (page 202, chapter 8).
  7. Why didn’t Denny tell the family that he had graduated from college?  Abby thought it was because he wanted her to continue to worry about him (page 156, chapter 6).
  8. Discuss Denny and Stem.  On the last page of chapter 3 Denny felt that Stem was, “More of a Whitshank than Denny was.”   Also, he asked his mother if the parents ever thought about asking the children’s permission before bringing Stem to live with them.   Do you think they should have asked?
  9. When the subject of a retirement community came up, Red told his sister that he and Abby were “too independent for a retirement community” (page 132, chapter 5).   Her reply was that is was just another word for “selfish” and “It’s stiff-backed people like you who end up being the biggest burdens” (same page).  Do you agree?
  10. In the last scene, do you think Denny should have spoken to the boy crying on the train?  Why or why not?
  11. Have you ever heard the quote, “You are only as happy as your least happy child” (page 159, chapter 6)?  Do you think it is true?
  12. This is the author’s 20th novel.  How would it be different if she wrote it when she was much younger?
  13. How do you think readers of different ages would read this book?  
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and  Motivation for Your First Semester (or Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and  Click on the upper right link.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Locations and Staff
Kathy H – carer
Ruth – friend and donor
Tommy – friend and donor


Chrissie and Rodney – took above three characters to Norfolk to find Ruth’s possible

James Morningdale – wanted to clone children with enhanced charateristics

Hailsham – the Guardians
Miss Emily – head Guardian
Miss Geraldine
Miss Lucy
Madame – collected art work for The Gallery

The Cottages
The veterans

The Norfolk trip

 For Discussion

NOTE:  Page numbers are from the paperback edition of the novel.

  1. Why do you think the people who grew up in Hailsham were considered so special?  What made them different from others?
  2. Did you think the children at Hailsham and other locations should have been told their purpose in life?  Why or why not?
  3. What did you think of Kathy?   She seemed to me to have a deeper understanding of other characters’ thoughts, motivations, etc.   Do you agree?   If you do, why was she so insightful?
  4. Discuss Tommy.   What did you think of Tommy’s behavior at Hailsham when he had temper tantrums?   Was Miss Lucy’s advice to not worry about being creative (page 23) helpful or harmful in the end?
  5. What did you think about the changes in Ruth throughout the novel?  For example, when they were moved to the cottages she tried to impress the veterans at The Cottages to the extent of ignoring Tommy and Kathy and she also threw away all of her collection from Hailsham (page 129-131).
  6. In these same passages, Kathy reflected that, “I suppose, in general, I never appreciated in those days the sheer effort Ruth was making to move on, to grow up and leave Hailsham behind” (page 130).  Why did Ruth feel the need to do so?  Can you remember a time when, as a child, you consciously were trying to grow up?
  7. Chrissie and Rodney thought they had seen Ruth’s “possible” in an office in Norfolk.   But on page 166, Ruth said that normal people would not be the models and that, “We all know it.  We’re modelled from trash” (page 166). Do you think that knowledge change their outlook on life?
  8. Was it kind or cruel to raise the students at Hailsham where it was, “…demonstrated to the world that if students were reared in humane, cultivated environments, it was possible for them to grow to be as sensitive and intelligent as any ordinary human being” (page 261).   Why was this not popular with the citizens in the country? 
  9. Did you like the writing style, with the narrator telling the story to the reader?
  10. Did you know the basic premise of the story before beginning the novel?  (In my edition of the book there was no plot summary on the back cover.)  What difference did prior knowledge of the story, or lack of prior knowledge, influence your reading?
  11. Do you often read dystopian novels?  Do you like that genre?   If not, did you like this one? 
First Semester Success: Learning Strategies and Motivation for Your First  Semester (or  Any Semester) of College, by Dr. Arden B. Hamer, is available at, and  Click on the upper right link.