Sunday, July 29, 2012

Transcendentalism of New England

The Transcendentalist movement was a reaction against 18th century rationalism and a manifestation of the general humanitarian trend of 19th century thought. The movement was based on a fundamental belief in the unity of the world and God. The soul of each individual was thought to be identical with the world - a microcosm of the world itself. The doctrine of self-reliance and individualism developed through the belief in the identification of the individual soul with God. Transcendentalism was intimately connected with Concord, a small New England village 32 kilometers west of Boston. Concord was the first inland settlement of the original Massachusetts Bay Colony. Surrounded by forest, it was and remains a peaceful town close enough to Boston's lectures, bookstores, and colleges to be intensively cultivated, but far enough away to be serene. Concord was the site of the first battle of the American Revolution, and Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem commemorating the battle, "Concord Hymn", has one of the most famous opening stanzas in American literature:

Monday, July 23, 2012

The new pop up and interactive children's books

Written and illustrated by Ethan Long.
40 pp. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. $15.99.
(Picture book; ages 1 to 6)

Doubling as a baby book and an early reader, this book about the ups and downs of avian rivalry succeeds abundantly on both fronts. Three linked stories feature three birds trying to outdo the others in one way or another. Who is tallest? Who flies highest? Is it better to be up or down? With clever humor, the simple text conveys lessons about adjectives, opposites and early math concepts. Long’s brightly colored exotic birds look like a cross between Mo Willems’s pigeon and Nickelodeon cartoons — animated, expressive and entertaining. A judicious sprinkling of oversize flaps provides an interactive element that expands — literally — on the proceedings.

By Britta Teckentrup.
18 pp. Handprint Books/Chronicle Books. $12.99.
(Picture book; ages 2 to 4)
Each of these beautifully produced interactive picture books contains toddler-friendly die-cut flaps that enable hands-on discovery without the risk of excessive rips or tears. In “Animal 123,” number-shaped flaps on each page open to show an additional animal: one wriggly snake becomes two wriggly snakes; two marching elephants become three marching elephants when a baby elephant is revealed holding his mother’s tail from behind; and so on. Similarly, “Animal Spots and Stripes” teaches  young children pattern-recognition skills as it highlights the differences between striped caterpillars and spotted butterflies, striped zebras and spotted giraffes, and other contrasting pairs. Teckentrup, a German author and illustrator, uses bold visuals and playful arrangements that make uncovering each flap’s hidden contents a worthwhile discovery. Both books include a double-flap final spread to deliver a surprise ending.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Modern fiction: God's Grace by Bernard Malamud

Pulitzer Prize-winner Bernard Malamud is most renowned for his brilliant, lyrical short stories, often set in Jewish ghettoes and written in a pastiche of Yiddish-English. "God's Grace" is a full-length novel, and like all Malamud's work deals with immense issues in microcosm.

Cohn, the lone survivor of a nuclear holocaust, wakes adrift in a boat with only a trained chimpanzee, Buz, for company. Cohn and Buz make their way to a deserted, uninhabited Eden-like island. Buz has been modified by his previous owner, a scientist, and fitted with a voice box. Cohn reconnects the dangling wires and the chimp begins to speak fluently, and fortuitously, in English.
Soon other animals, all primates, begin to come to the island,  and Cohn names them and tries to create morally sustainable, peaceable society, but he is unable to control competition and jealousy. Eventually he mates with the female and she produces a half-ape half-human child. Ultimately Cohn is unable to maintain the moral basis in his private life and since his 'creations\ have free will, they rebel against his authority.

"God's Grace" is a hugely imaginative, scholarly and thought-provoking meditation on a creator's relationship with his creation.

Friday, July 20, 2012

How to learn speed reading?

Speed reading is not just about reading fast (that is "skimming" apparently). You can actually attend courses to train you to read (and understand) not word-by-word but line-by-line and eventually paragraph-by-paragraph at breakneck speeds. Impatient readers should work their way through the following techniques:

The Hand
Place your right hand sideways on the page and, slowly and evenly, move it straight down the page, following smoothly with your eyes. gradually increase the speed of your hand to increase the speed of your read.

The Card
Use a card above the line of print to block the words after you have read them. Be sure to push the card down faster than you think you can go and try to read the passage before the words are covered up.

The Sweep
Use your fingers to draw your eyes across the page by sweeping your hand from left to right in a fast, smooth motion under the line that you are reading.

The Hop
Similar to the sweep, except that with the hop you actually lift your fingers and make two even bounces on the line. This method also ensures a steady pace and rhythm.

The Zig-Zag
You know you have arrived when you master the zig-zag. It is the quickest form of scanning and allows you to cut across the text diagonally, picking up words in the whole paragraph rather then each word on a line.

The Skip
The ultimate in speed reading, this unauthorised technique involves jumping from the first to the last page with an optional stop on the middle page for a little more in the way of suspense.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Memoirs: In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming

George Lamming is a highly respected West Indian novelist, recipient of the Somerset Maugham Award for Literature, and a Fellow of the Institute of Jamaica. He was born and raised in Carrington Village, Barbados, the setting of his first and best-known book, "In the Castle of My Skin". This autobiographical novel is considered a seminal work in post-colonial fiction - the title is taken from a poem by Derek Walcott: "You in the castle of your skin, I among the swineherd".
"In the Castle of My Skin" is the personal story that 'came out of the gut'. It also deals with a broader issues of imperialism, class, racism, economics and education. The novel is set during the riots of the 1930s, and is cleverly told from three perspectives: the young first-person narrator known only as G. (the mouthpiece for Lamming himself); third-person voices of Ma and Pa, and an omniscient third-person narrator.

Lamming has a rhythmic, musical style, and a firm grasp of the local dialect. His writing was influenced by Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Jane Austen and the King James Bible.
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