Sunday, April 30, 2017

Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve by Ben Blatt

  • THE BOOK
    • Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing by Ben Blatt
    • Published March 14, 2017
    • One other book by author: I Don't Care If We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author introduces us to an example from the early 1960s when two statisticians used data to determine which Founding Father wrote which essays in The Federalist Papers. 
      • The essays were originally published under the same pen name. 
        • Before the famous duel with Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton made a list taking credit for those he wrote. 
        • Years later James Madison made a list of the ones he wrote.
          • The lists differed. Years of scholarly debate ensued.
      • In 1963 Frederick Mosteller and David Wallace, statisticians but not historians, used word frequency as a way to solve the puzzle. 
        • In those pre-digital days they had to cut out the words and count them manually.
        • Using known works by the purported authors they could compare statistically the words used --- or not used --- and make a strongly creditable decision on the actual authors of each essay.
        • As a single example of the evidence: Madison used the word whilst but never used while; Hamilton used while but never used whilst.
    • Today all it takes is a digital copy of a given work to quantify word usage in mere seconds.
    • Some of the questions tackled in the book:
      • Do better writers use -ly adverbs less frequently than lesser writers?
      • Do female and male writers use words differently?
      • Do writers have a similar style in word choices if they write in different genres?
        • Example: J.K. Rowling and her pseudonym Robert Galbriath
      • Can you tell which co-author wrote what in a given book?
        • Examples include Tom Clancy and his various co-authors and James Patterson and his.
      • Which group of writers uses more exclamation points: NY Times bestsellers, literary fiction or fan fiction?
      • Using the Fleisch-Kinkaid Grade Level test, are books getting dumber over time?
        • Spoiler: Duh.
      • Can you tell whether the writer is American or British?
      • Which writers use the most cliches?
      • What does the size of the author's name on a book cover tell us?

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • A book which combines literature with math? Filled with graphs and charts?
      • I loved this book! It was so much fun to read and I thoroughly enjoyed all the visual aids.
      • This book combined the two things I loved best about school: math classes and English classes.
        • I was occasionally made to feel like a weirdo sometimes (not by my parents though) because I was good at math and sciences AND English and history. Apparently I was supposed to be good at one category or the other, not both. 
        • I literally remember one woman telling me I wasn't supposed to be "good at both" during high school. Like I should --- or could ---  turn that part of my brain off?
          • In college I started out majoring in writing and then ultimately switched to accounting, via mathematics and economics. I was never a big fan of statistic class but I definitely understand the subject.
    • The author explained why he picked the books he does, using various "best of" lists in classic literature and modern literary fiction along with fan fiction for various topics.
      • I had read a bunch of the examples so it made reading that much more interesting to me.
    • Recommended for readers who enjoy a trove of fun facts about writers and their writing styles. It's a quick read too.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Great Movies IV by Roger Ebert

  • THE BOOK
    • The Great Movies IV by Roger Ebert
    • Published September 28, 2016
    • Other works by author include many, many books on film.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Roger Ebert died in 2013. This is the final collection of essays in his Great Movies series, comprised of 62 movies.
      • He said in the first volume that these are not necessarily the BEST movies but rather great films for one reason or another.
    • There's a foreward by critic Matt Zoller Seitz and an introduction by Roger Ebert's widow, Chaz Ebert. 
    • Here is the list:
      • 25th Hour
      • A.I. Artificial Intelligence
      • An Autumn Afternoon
      • Badlands
      • The Ballad of Narayama
      • Barry Lyndon
      • The Big Lebowski
      • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
      • Cache'
      • La Ceremonie
      • The Circus
      • La Collectionneuse
      • Come and See
      • Contact
      • Day for Night
      • Departures
      • Diary of a Country Priest
      • Diary of a Lost Girl
      • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
      • French Cancan
      • The Grey Zone
      • The Hairdresser's Husband
      • Harakiri
      • Heart of Glass
      • In a Lonely Place
      • Ivan the Terrible, Parts I and II
      • The Killing
      • Leon Morin, Priest
      • Lost in Translation
      • Make Way for Tomorrow
      • A Man Escaped
      • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
      • Man with a Movie Camera
      • The Match Factory Girl
      • Mon Oncle d'Amerique
      • Monsieur Hire
      • Mulholland Drive
      • Mystery Train
      • Night Moves
      • Nosferatu the Vampyre
      • The Only Son
      • Pale Flower
      • Pink Floyd: The Wall
      • The Pledge
      • Red Beard
      • Richard III
      • Rio Bravo
      • Senso
      • Seven
      • Shadow of a Doubt
      • Shoah
      • Smiles of a Summer Night
      • Souls for Sale
      • The Spirit of the Beehive
      • Spirited Away
      • Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring
      • Stagecoach
      • Superman
      • Tender Mercies 
      • Veronika Voss
      • Viridiana
      • Yellow Submarine
        • The ones in blue --- 32! --- are foreign language films and the ones in red --- a mere 4 --- are silent films.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I have only seen 7 of these!
    • There were far too many foreign language films for me to love this volume although I read most of those essays anyway. Roger Ebert has many interesting things to say about film.
    • The one movie I want to see now is Make Way for Tomorrow, a 1937 Leo McCarey film starring Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore.
      • An elderly couple lose their home to foreclosure and none of their five adult children want to take them in. They split up the parents, one each to a different home. But the dad needs a mild climate so they decide he should move to California to live with one of his daughters. The daughter doesn't have room for both so they decide to put their mom into a retirement home. Thus the parents will be split apart forever. 
        • Sounds like the kind of film to watch when you need a good cry.
    • Recommended for movie buffs, especially those who enjoy foreign language films.
    • ★ ★ ★
      • Roger Ebert's writing is great as always, definitely a 4 or 5 star review there, but my personal enjoyment of the book merits only 3 stars.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Spare the Kids by Stacey Patton

  • THE BOOK
    • Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won't Save Black America by Stacey Patton
    • Published March 21, 2017
    • Other work by author: That Mean Old Yesterday: An Abused Girl's Fight for Survival, a memoir

  • THE PREMISE
    •  From the book's back cover:
      • "Why do so many African Americans have such a special attachment to whupping children? Studies show that nearly 80 percent of black parents see spanking, popping, pinching, and beating as reasonable, effective ways to teach respect and to protect black children from the streets, incarceration, encounters with racism, or worse. Dr. Stacey Patton's extensive research suggests that corporal punishment is a crucial factor in explaining why black folks are subject to disproportionately higher rates of school suspensions and expulsions, criminal prosecutions, improper mental health diagnoses, child abuse cases, and foster care placements, which too often funnel abused and traumatized children into the prison system."
    • This book is about the African American culture behind whupping. "Whupping" is generally worse than "spanking" and would generally be labeled "beating" by many people. The author's premise is that whupping, generally believed to keep African American kids from getting in trouble later in life, really doesn't work at all. And yet disciplining one's child is not illegal in many states and is still used in many schools.
    • Children live in a constant state of fear and their brain development suffers for it. They are also hurt, physically and emotionally, by the very people who are supposed to love them the most in the world.
    • The author delves into the history of why spanking is so pervasive. It goes back to the days of slavery whereby parents trained their children to behave in ways to keep the owner/overseer from doling out the beatings.
    • When Jim Crow came along the parents still needed to train their children to avoid the eye of the white folks just looking for an excuse to lynch or rape black kids.
    • Today parents are just trying to keep their kids out of jail or keeping the girls from getting pregnant as teens. 
    • The book also covers the role of spanking in popular culture, specifically in the work of African American comedians.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I received this book free from Beacon Press for an honest review through the Library Thing Early Readers program.
    • I am not African American so it may seem odd to have an opinion on this book but it's the one I won so there we are. Not to mention, I was personally spanked as a child growing up in the Deep South so I do have experience with that.
    • Spanking is legal in the United States but the rule is that punishment must be "reasonable and does not cause injury".
      • Thirty-one states ban corporal punishment in schools but 19 allow it:
        • Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.
        • All of the Deep South and a few outliers. Interesting. I think a lot of white kids got beatings too over the last century but overall they do not face the difficulties that black kids have so while the whites have started to back off spanking the black families haven't.
    • The author contends that most children grow up to believe they DESERVED the whuppings they got and that their mothers were right to do it. Their parents are made into saints after the fact.
      • Think about the African American athletes who give thanks to their mothers. Now I wonder if they were whupped too.
    • Children need to do this because the other option is hating one's parent instead and this is unthinkable. How can you hate your mother? (There are exceptions, of course.)
      • My own mother did the EXACT SAME THING! She would tell me the story about how her mother beat her until the "blood ran down my legs. And I deserved every whipping I got." And her parents were saints of course. My grandmother was an abusive alcoholic, sadly, and by no means a saint.
      • One day about 15 years ago, I had finally had enough of this rose-colored view and finally asked her: "Is there ANYTHING my son [her beloved 8- or 9-year-old grandson] could do that would make it okay for me to hit him until blood ran?"
        • Of course her answer was no. But I think I did an unkind thing by making her question her own belief that her parents were saints. In any case she never told me that story again.
      • My mother believed in discipline and this was always something she cited for sending us to Catholic schools. "They have discipline." (That and we WERE Catholic.)
        • My brother and I were spanked once in a while but my mom had arthritis so she couldn't hit us very hard and it never really hurt. 
          • Spankings used to make me cry but once I figured out it didn't hurt I never cried and I don't think I was spanked again after that, probably around 10- or 11-years-old.
          • Her favorite punishment was having us "kneel in the corner". We laugh about this now. It seemed as if we kneeled for hours but I think it must have been about 15 minutes! The linoleum left impressions on our knees which was always fascinating to us.
    • Back to the book: If I took a switch, an extension cord, a shoe, a hairbrush or whatever was handy and started beating on anybody else, I would arrested for assault and battery. But if I did it to my minor child it would probably be acceptable. WHO decides what is "reasonable"?
      • I remember being in the backseat of my mom's best friend's car. There were four of us kids in the back: me, my younger brother and the friend's two kids. This was the 1960s; no one was concerned with seat belts in those days. The best friend was irritated by her own child so she took off her shoe --- she was DRIVING! --- and starting whaling on her kid. I remember trying to stay out of the way! Times have indeed changed.
    • Perhaps this is something that will change as time goes by in the African American community. No parent wants to be told how to discipline their own child, black or white, so it might be an uphill battle.
      • If anyone told my mother how to handle her children those people were on her shit list forever!
    • The book was well-written, well researched and fascinating to read.
    • Recommended for those interested in the African American community and child-rearing.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★