Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for June, 2008

Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West

Posted by nliakos on June 27, 2008

by T. R. Reid.  Random House, 1999.

I might have rephrased the subtitle of this fascinating book as “What Living in the East Teaches Us in the West About Living.”  Reid’s thesis is that the teachings of Kung Fu-Tzu (Confucius, or “the Master Kung”) still permeate the societies of Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, and to some extent other nations in the area; that Confucius’ theories about how to create and maintain a civil society are actively taught to the citizens of these countries; that they explain the “social miracle” of low crime rates, stellar schools and stable families; and that Confucian values are in essence not different from Western values.  We are taught the same thing, but we don’t seem to learn the lessons very well, or apply them in our daily lives.

T. R. Reid, the Washington Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo for five years, is said to be fluent in Japanese and is a keen observer of Japanese society and culture (as well as the cultures of many of the other Asian countries he writes about–but since his expertise is in Japan, most of his examples are Japanese).  The book is a good read, well-organized (but slightly repetitious) and easy to understand.  It would be an excellent choice for Asian EFL/ESL students and would give anyone much food for thought.

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Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at School

Posted by nliakos on June 27, 2008

Educating Students with NLD, Asperger Syndrome, and Related Conditions, by Pamela Tanguay. London and new York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2002.

How I wish I had read this book years ago, when my daughter was struggling in elementary and middle school and I couldn’t figure out how to help her! How I wish her teachers had read this book! I would like to give a copy to each of the schools she has attended (seven now), to help them to recognize NLD in other children before it is too late.

Pamela Tanguay, of NLD on the Web, has written a very practical book for educators (but good for parents also). Included in the eleven chapters are an entire chapter on “Arithmetic and Math”, one on “Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary,” one on “Penmanship, Writing, and Composition” and one on “Organization, Study Skills, and Homework.” These give very specific advice on how to teach, and how not to teach, children with NLD of different ages. There are also more general chapters on the school environment, teaching strategies, social and emotional functioning of the child with NLD, and spatial and psychomotor challenges.

The book is probably way too idealistic. The kinds of accommodations Tanguay recommends are so far-reaching that I doubt they could ever all be put into place. It would require teachers to teach whole classes as if all the children had NLD! It would also take far more time than teachers have. Tanguay warns that every accommodation and strategy that is not used places a road block in front of the NLD student, setting her up to fail. (I wonder how actual NLD students who manage to graduate from high school and college and even go to graduate school succeed, because they surely did not have all of Tanguay’s recommended accommodations!)

Still, some of her advice would not be too difficult to implement, and certainly every teacher who has a child with NLD should read this book. If it does nothing else, it may convince the teacher that the child is not being lazy or noncompliant when she cannot do what she is told. Tanguay reminds us that since these children are fluent talkers with large, often precocious vocabularies, people often assume that they are smart in other ways as well, or could be if they just tried hard enough or paid attention. Tanguay explains, for example, that people with NLD cannot attend to two modalities at once, so if the teacher demonstrates something as she explains it, the whole lesson is wasted on the NLD child. The teacher must first explain verbally, and only then demonstrate. You can see how this would be awkward and time-consuming to implement in a real classroom–especially if only one child requires it. Yet it explains much about the struggles of these children.

Posted in Education, Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Seabiscuit: An American Legend

Posted by nliakos on June 8, 2008

by Laura Hillenbrand (performed by Richard M. Davidson; Recorded Books 2001)

When I was a horsy kid growing up in New Jersey, I knew all about Seabiscuit, Man o’ War, War Admiral and other famous racehorses, but the details had faded by the time I reached adulthood.  I first read Seabiscuit a few years ago when it was first published, and I read articles about Laura Hillenbrand’s struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome.  I saw the movie, and recently listened to the audio book. It seems I can’t get enough of it!

I was kind of amazed at first how this story of a horse appealed to so many people, but when I read it, I understood: this is not just the story of a horse.  It is a story of an era (the 1930s), and it is the story of three amazing human beings: owner Charles S. Howard, who started out as a bicycle mechanic and became a car mogul; trainer Tom Smith, who disliked people but loved and understood horses; and jockey Red Pollard, who did not understand the word “quit”.  How Howard, Smith and Pollard worked together to turn around the career of this most unusual little horse to make him the 1930s equivalent of a rock star makes a fascinating read.  As good as the movie was, there is no substitute for reading (or listening to) this wonderful book.

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Smiling at Shadows: A Mother’s Journey Raising an Autistic Child

Posted by nliakos on June 8, 2008

by Junee Waites & Helen Swinbourne (Ulysses Press 2003)

This is a very moving account of the life of a severely autistic child and his loving parents, who like many parents of children with disabilities, discovered strengths in themselves they probably never knew they had.  Australians Junee and Rod Waites tried to understand their son Dane’s world as much as possible, finding that his autism brought unusual gifts along with its well-known deficits.  Their struggle to educate Dane and make him as independent as possible is inspiring.  Dane functions amazingly well in a world that must have been as strange to him as another planet.

Posted in Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Sunday Philosophy Club

Posted by nliakos on June 8, 2008

by Alexander McCall Smith (narrated by Davina Porter; Recorded Books)

I am an enthusiastic fan of Mma Ramotswe and the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but it has taken me years to get around to reading Alexander McCall Smith’s other series, The Sunday Philosophy Club and its sequels: Friends, Lovers, Chocolate; The Right Attitude to Rain; and The Careful Use of Compliments. Although not quite up to the standard of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, this is a delightful series. The novels are billed as mysteries and the protagonist, Isabel Dalhousie, as a sleuth; but they aren’t really mysteries (any more than the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency stories are) and Isabel is a 42-year-old independently wealthy philosopher and editor of The Review of Applied Ethics. She is incorrigibly interested in the affairs of others and constantly getting herself embroiled in their business, much to the dismay of her friends. I think Isabel is McCall Smith’s way of pondering the common ethical questions we all meet in daily life (When is it okay to lie? What is our obligations to our fellow humans? etc.). Isabel’s niece Kat, Kat’s rejected suitor Jamie, Isabel’s no-nonsense housekeeper Grace, and the various characters who people the novels are portrayed in that marvelously succinct way he has. There is a love story entwined in the series which unfolds at a leisurely pace. I like Isabel very much, despite her tendency to meddle, and I enjoy the sense of place with which these novels are embued. They renew my wish to visit Scotland.

Posted in Fiction, Recommended for ESL or EFL Learners | Leave a Comment »

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

Posted by nliakos on June 7, 2008

by Oliver Sacks (narrated by John Lee)

When does Oliver Sacks actually do neurology? He is so prolific, and each book is so interesting and so well-written. He has been one of my favorite writers for many years now, and Musicophilia did not disappoint. It concerns the role of music in people’s lives: how it defines our humanness, how it takes up more space in the human brain than even language, how it can bring an amnesic patient temporary relief from the abyss of timelessness and lack of explicit memory, how brain injury can rob people of their delight in music…. He writes of people with Williams Syndrome, whose intellectual deficits are balanced by an extraordinary pleasure derived from music and from association with other people. He describes the sad case of Clive, who lives in a world without any memory of anything more than a few seconds or minutes past, yet who can play and conduct as well as he ever did (and then immediately forgets having done it). He writes about how music therapy can help Alzheimer’s patients and others who have lost their memories due to various reasons. He also describes more prosaic musical experiences, like having a tune get stuck in one’s mind.

Posted in Non-fiction | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »