Thursday, 25 February 2010

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family from their home in Oklahoma to California where they hope to start a new life after the bank took their farm.  Tom is the second son, and he's just gotten out on parole when the book starts.  He makes it home to find the former pastor, Casey, returned to the area and his family gone.  He catches up with them at his uncle's house and finds them leaving for California.  Their hopes are as high as they can be, considering their land just got taken from under their feet and they barely have $150 and a not-so-great car.  Their journey pretty much starts with death.  Grampa has a stroke the first night.  They meet a couple on the road and join with them to make the going a little easier, but they end up having to split up before they reach California.  Grandma dies before they get there, and the oldest boy leaves.  They keep meeting with people who are leaving California, saying things like their entire family's died there and there's no work.  By the time they reach it, the book has a really strong sense of hopelessness, but they keep going.  They look for work, run away from the police and the bands of vigilantes who are burning "Okie" camps, and just try to survive.

I liked the book.  I enjoyed reading it.  I really liked the use of language between the narration and the dialogue, and it really seemed like the characters were very strong in their presence.  Tom and Ma were my favorite.  Sometimes it really seemed like Ma was less a person and  more what the characters needed, but I think that was her purpose in the story, and it's not an unbelievable role at any rate.

It was also very frustrating to read.  It got me thinking a lot about our history and how much, as a culture, we've tried to cover up or just ignore when we teach it.  The industrial revolution and its impact on agricultural lifestyles is just one of those things.  I think every culture has that - I know Japan does, and nobody ever tells the whole truth when it comes to war or hardships.  Humans are a nasty bunch.  When I finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, I remembered a comment on Facebook where someone had been talking about America's superiority to other countries, based on what sounded like cultural "morality," which is a load of horse shit (pardon the language).  Humans are human, and like I said before, humans can be nasty creatures, Christian or not.  Humans backed with an idea of righteousness and moral superiority are even worse.

Anyway, it was a thought provoking book.  I'm glad I finally read it, but like 1984 and A Brave New World, I needed a break once I was done.  I've finished Elric - Stealer of Souls and I found a new book in the Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, so I'm reading that now.  Next in my list of "Literary Classics" will probably be Dickens, I'm debating which one still.  I have more Steinbeck (6 pack of short novels!!!), but I'd like a break from American authors for a bit.  What I'd really like is to find some good fantasy that's well written!  Briggs is great, so maybe I should ammend that to say good epic fantasy that's not first person and is well written.  (Moorcock falls way short of the "well written" part of that.) 

And on that note, I'll write review Elric - Stealer of Souls soon, but not likely before I finish Bone Crossed.   I love reading her stuff! I almost missed my train stop today!!  I'm so happy she wrote another one.  I was content with the ending of Iron Kissed, but I was curious what would happen to all of them after.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Curriculum Experiment

The entire foreign language learning process here seems to be memorize and repeat.  I think this is helpful for the lower levels of the language, particularly with students who are lower level learners.  With students who are actually learning the language and getting a grasp on it, I think that kind of memorizing and repeating just dulls the learning experience and doesn't permit growth in functional usage of the language.  Granted, my experience with language education is pretty much limited to my time as a language student (which is a frighteningly large number of years....), and I have zero knowledge of teaching methods, so I may be wrong about some things.  But it seems to me that if an intelligent student is merely repeating phrases and memorized conversations, they may be expanding their knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, but if you stick them in a real every-day situation, they're still going to have a lot of trouble pulling up those memorized phrases to function on the spot.  I sure did.

So I'm having an experiment day in my classes today.  We're a day ahead of the rest of the classes, so it doesn't interrupt the curriculum at all.  My experiment's purpose is to put them on the spot (in a really controlled way cause they've never done this before) and make them have a conversation.  I started with a theme, Spring Break, and gave them questions to think about.  I had them write a short essay on where they were going, what they wanted to do, how long they would be staying, what the place is like, and any experiences in their chosen vacation spot, as well as anything they wanted to throw in.  I gave them 15 minutes to write it, and then I had some girls read theirs from their desks.  The four who read theirs did very well!  I was impressed.  The next part was making the conversation.  I explained the scenario, talking on the phone about spring break, and demonstrated an example conversation with my co-teacher.  Then I gave them an example outline and gave them 3 minutes to make an outline with their partners in a box on their paper.  I had six parts, starting with a greeting, going through the questions I'd had them answer on the front page, and a farewell.  From that and their paragraph I had them face their partner and talk on the phone.  I told them not to worry about making mistakes, and had them repeat it as many times as they could in the time alloted to improve their conversation.

A few groups got it, and from what I heard they did it really well and had fun.  That made me happy.  I need to figure out a better way to introduce the outline though.  They seemed to not know what to do with it.  I asked my co-teacher, and she said that Japanese schools don't tend to use outlines, so they've probably never made one before.

I have two more classes today, one the same level as my first class, and one the next level higher.  I'm pleased that it worked as well as it did the first time.  I was worried that it would flop completely.  I want to figure something out and propose it to the other ALT to add into the curriculum for next year, maybe two or three times in the year, just to get them introduced to the idea.  Especially for the second and third year students, I think it would be really beneficial.  So what if they've memorized dozens of pre-written dialogues.  That means nothing if they can't use them when called to.

As a random off-topic note, I remembered to bring my headphones, but I forgot my mp3 player and apparently the music on my flash drive got deleted, so I'm being a jerk and pretty much just wearing the headphones as ear plugs.... and I'm still twitching.  Gah!  It really doesn't help that the desks are on top of each other and, like I said in my last post, it's dead quiet in here.  That's a really bad complex to have in this country.  I thought it was bad enough back in the states!

Tired to an epic degree

I actually got a lot of sleep this weekend, but last night was really late and this morning was really early.  The police were bored last night.  Police in Tokyo ride around on bicycles, and they tend to stop people on bicycles and check registration.  I've heard of expats getting stopped and asked for ID, but last night was the first night it happened.  Right before I got stop, 4 cops rode by on one of the bigger roads.  Apparently the boss sent two of them to follow me down the side road.  Half of me is happy to know that my town is dull enough that the police aren't overly busy fighting crime, so they have time to patrol and talk to people.  The other half of me was very annoyed with the twenty questions whilst I stood in the cold holding bags of groceries.  Glad I had my ID on me though.  I've forgotten my wallet a few times before... that would have been not good.

So, in my exhausted state today, it's going to be a challenge not to freak out in the office.  It's too quiet, which means whenever someone picks up a coffee cup, I want to scream.  Not only do they do the slurping that people do when a liquid is too hot (if it's too hot, blow on it! or wait!!!), they make extra noises that make me want to puke.  I know I'm too sensative to it, and mostly I just stick in my headphones and do my best to ignore it.  Right now it's too close to class start time, but I kinda want to knock the mug out of the guy's hand in front of me.  We need a fan or some sort of white noise in here.  It's way too quiet, and I know that the sounds annoying me is a bit rediculous.  (Then again, they are extremely loud, even going by people who eat disgustingly loud back home... and mostly because they eat things that are way too hot and don't blow on their food... instead they slurp...everything.)  Of course, I feel like a jerk with my headphones in all the time, but if I don't I get cranky and I start glaring at people.

Three classes today.  I'm going to try to do some studying.  I finished Grapes of Wrath as well, so maybe I'll write a review of that.  Also, the guy downstairs who was giving me all that trouble is gone!! I'm so happy about that.  I thought I was going to have to move, but now I don't have to, and my fan easily drowns out the guy's laughing next to me. ^_^ And he doesn't pound when I walk on the floor.  Yay!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Productive lazy day

The only thing I did really was walk this morning.  It was a day off, and I crashed at my friend's place, so I had a 40 minute walk home this morning.  It was nice, a little chilly but not bad.  Other than that, I've pretty much spent the whole day watching Bones.  After dinner I worked on some bead projects while watching Bones... I now have mom's birthday gift completely done, and a Minnie Mouse Christmas ball mostly done, I'm just missing a flower part for the chain.  So... I'm out of bead projects for now, unless I want to make another Tigger or Snow White.  I have to take some pictures of the recent stuff.  I made a little devil bear last week.  She's cute, and sparkly... and the wand really didn't work out quite right, but *shrug.*

I'm kinda realizing how attached I am to the idea of getting into that online program, and it kinda scares me.  Realistically, I'm under qualified for the program, and I honestly have no way to pay for it.  If I'm lucky and get even half of my fees covered, I'll still barely be able to afford a class a semester, which will put me at 6 years to graduate.  I need to finish the FAFSA tomorrow.  I've been putting it off because it freaks me out.  I know I don't make a lot of money once you take out taxes and student loan payments... but I get the feeling the big number up there's gonna bar me from getting aid.  I know there are people who need it more than I do.  It's just frustrating.

Realistically, I should fill out the FAFSA just in case, but I know I shouldn't get my hopes up on even getting in.  I was a Japanese major.  I took 2 lit classes in undergrad.  If I do get in, they're probably going to make me makeup a few undergrad classes, which I'm not opposed to, but we come back to this giant anvil called "Student Loans" that likes to drop down between me and what I want to do when it comes to anything school related.  The only good thing is that I'm slowly seeing progress in paying it down.

Anyway, I'm going to go whole up with a book until I'm tired enough to sleep.  I think I give up on Moorcock for tonight though.  His writing is too crappy for me to put up with in my current state of pissiness.

Monday, 8 February 2010

I wanna know! (x3)

I'm impatient.  It's pointless since neither of the people I asked for recommendations has sent them yet, but I want to know, now!

I'm reading The Stealer of Souls at the moment.  I'm about half way through.  The writing... is mediocre at best, but I have to give him credit.  He had a story to tell, and he told it.  There's nothing fancy in the working of the stories (bunch of shorts), but I'm interested enough to keep reading them.  Each one's gotten a little bit better.  The biggest thing that's driving me nuts, though, is his lack of punctuation.  If he uses it, and he likes to use dashes, he does it wrong.  Most of the time, he just ignores it.  Commas, please!  I had to re-read a sentence three times for lack of a comma.  That was how nonsensical it was!  Editing is a good thing.

I'm so scatter-brained today.  Ate way too much soy too.  I think I could probably go to sleep now and be fine until morning.  Waaaaaah!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus - Mary Shelly

That's one book down that I should have read ages ago. Hm.. My thoughts.... I liked it, and I didn't like it... mostly I liked it.  First, a short summary, in case you haven't read it.

It's sometime in the 1700s, and our narrator is R. Walton.  Walton's ambition is to find passage through the arctic by boat.  During this journey, he finds Victor Frankenstein adrift and half dead on a chunk of broken ice.  Victor tells him the story of how he got there with the hope of curbing Walton's ambition.  He was a happy child, obsessed with natural philosophy (science), and when he left home to study, he learned of a way to create life in an inanimate, organic, something.  So he did.  He created his monster, as it is referred to throughout the book.  While he was creating it, he was in love with the idea.  He didn't think it was horrible or disgusting to assemble a body from, basically, parts, and only once he'd put life into the monster did he find it ugly.  This is the first time Victor goes stark raving mad, and the monster is set loose.  His friend Clerval comes to the same university to study and helps Victor recover his sanity.  Victor heads home in time to find his youngest brother has been murdered and one of the servants whom the family loved was blamed and executed for it.

Not too long after, Victor finds the monster, and the monster tells his side of the story.  He was alone and lived in the forest for a long time until cold and hunger drove him to seek shelter among people.  There he was feared and beaten, so he hid.  During his time in hiding, he observed a family and helped them anonymously by bringing them wood so the brother could find work at another farm.  He learned to speak and read from watching them, and eventually, lonely for companionship, made contact with the blind father.  When the son returned and saw him, he beat him away, and the family left in fear.  At this point, the monster went crazy with rage and burned the hovel down.  He set out to find Victor and instead found his brother, killed him, and planted evidence on the first person he saw.  He tells this to Victor hoping to gain some sympathy as well as a companion.  He convinces him, by way of this story as well as threats to Victor's remaining family, to make him a mate.

Victor sets out for England to get a hold of some research he needs to complete a female version of the monster.  He travels with his best friend, Clerval, and in Scotland they separate so he can work alone.  When he's half way finished, he has second thoughts, not wanting to construct it in the first place.  He believes that, despite what the monster has promised (that he will depart the company of men forever), things are more likely to happen that will lead to two of the monsters, stronger and sturdier than men, bringing evil on mankind.  He refuses to complete the project and tears it apart while the monster watches.  The monster promises that he will be with Victor on his wedding night, and that night murders Clerval.  Victor is blamed for this murder, and after his ensuing insanity and illness, is found innocent and returned to Geneva.

He marries Elizabeth, and on their wedding night he believes the monster meant to kill him.  Instead the monster kills Elizabeth, and as a result, his already old and tired father dies as well.  Victor is locked away for a while, completely nuts, and when he comes out of it, he swears vengeance.  No one will believe his story, so he hunts down the monster on his own.  He's almost caught up with him when he is stranded on the ice block where Walton finds him.  After telling his story, he dies of a fever, and the monster, always near by, visits his remains aboard the ship before it leaves.  There he confesses his torment and the rest of his story that Victor didn't know.

The whole story is related by Walton in his journal.  Victor tells him the story, and helps correct his notes.  He has some letters as evidence, and tells what he recalls the monster telling of his side of the story.  This is very definitely the style of the period in which the book was written.  A lot of stories used to be written by means of a journal or letters or verbal retellings.  Intellectually, I know this, but I've always had trouble believing those stories--mostly because you don't remember things word for word, and when you're going into twice removed quotations, well, it just looses credibility.  It also irked me that the monster was so eloquent when, by all rights, he shouldn't have been.  I understand why she did this, one of two reasons anyway.  For one, there's rarely any difference in voice in this type of novel.  It's a first person narrative the whole way through, but the different narrators rarely sound any different, unlike modern novels in which the author deliberately works on giving different characters different voices.  She has a very soft way of writing, and so all of her characters speak that way.  It's either a result of this writing style, or it was deliberate to give the monster sympathy.

I really felt that she did a good job making the monster sympathetic.  He is gentle, but hideous and unloved.  I've never read theories about this book, but I really get the feeling that that's the purpose behind it; nature vs. nurture.  He loves the townspeople, he's drawn to help them and protect them, but he's so hideous and inhuman looking that they fear him and beat him.  In isolation and anger, he turns to vengeance and takes it out on his creator who's abandoned him.  Even in the end he speaks of how it pained him, a being who is inherently good driven to evil deeds, to perform those deeds on men who, to him, are beautiful.  At the same time, you never know.  Is he honest?  The human characters doubt him.  Is he just saying that so they won't kill him?  Will he hunt men again, or will he, like he promised, go as far north as he can and burn himself?  You never find out, neither do they.   I'm going to go with the assertion that it was deliberately written that way.

It was definitely weird going into this book with all the preconceived images of Frankenstein's monster that I grew up with.  The way he was described in the book really clashed with those images, and his gentleness and eloquence really threw me at first.  He just wanted to be loved and to love back.  He loved the world around him.  He found everything to be beautiful but himself.

I'm glad she didn't go into the science of it.  It's outdated to begin with, but I think it makes it more believable this way.  The language wasn't too difficult, though some of the usage is incredibly archaic and sounds funny and downright wrong.  It's still followable.  There was none of the reading of an entire page and having to go back because I didn't have a clue what was being said, ala Dickens.  If you like older literature, I'd say it's a good book to put on your list.  If you're prone to falling asleep with long, overly detailed narratives, don't bother.  Caffeine kept me awake through about half of it, standing on the train the other half.  It's one of those drawn out books that you have to sift through to get the story.  It's definitely not one that I would say to read for the language, go for Tolkien or Jane Austin for those.  Speaking of Jane Austin, I have to get my hands on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I love Pride and Prejudice, and zombies are just the thing to spice that sucker up. Hehe.  I don't think I did a review of it, but Northenger Abbey was another good one by her, especially if you've read a lot of the Gothic romances.  I had a lot of good giggles in that one.

Next on my reading list are the two Elric books I bought, and possibly Faust.  I forgot I had that one.  I want to try to read A Tale of Two Cities again, but I'm not sure I want to take on Dickens just yet.  I'm having trouble writing normally now, since the only modern author I've read lately is Stephen King.  I tend to start writing with strange sentence order and weird word selections when I read too much old stuff. :P Nobody wants to read a book that sounds like a bad version of Dickens.  I think I'll wait till I'm done writing my current story before I tackle that.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Dark Tower - Stephen King

So, I finished it.  I liked the ending.  Well, clarify, I liked Roland's ending.  The other characters' was too soft--fitting, in a way, but still too discordant with the rest of the story.  I liked the story, for the most part.  It kinda felt forced in some places, and I really didn't like him pulling reality into it like he did.  It made it feel less real to me, but I can see why he did it, and I can respect how he did it.  I don't like the use of three massive deus ex machina(s?) in one series like that.  First, it was ka.   I can accept that.  Fate, destiny, what-have-you.  I actually kinda liked it, because not only did it help the characters, it also screwed them over royally some times.  So, first we have ka.  Then we get the author as a character sending hints and messages to our heros (..... no, just, gah!), and in the end, on top of this, talismans, relics, etc., we have telepathy.  That's not to say I didn't enjoy how some of it played out, and I'm not opposed to the use of deus ex machina (God-hand, if you will, for those of you who might not know that term), that was just too much.

So, we come to the conclusion.  There was no better way it could have ended.  What's in the top room of the Dark Tower?  Haha, suckers, like you'll ever be able to find out.  King, however, doesn't exactly appreciate the intelligence of his reader.   See, Roland there, he has the horn now.  He bent down to pick it up (in a time paradox that wouldn't work the way it was set up...), so I hope you get what I meant.  Uh... yeah Steve, we got it without your explaining it in the afterword.

I have zero problems with character deaths, but it needs to be believable.  Nobody gets shot in the head, then ten minutes later has the strength and wherewithal to pick up a gun and shoot someone else in the head.  I'm sorry, nobody, not if they're human.  His foreshadowing is mediocre, and by the time something happens, I kinda felt like he'd been beating me in the head with it for so long that I was just glad it was over.  Honestly, the two things that kept me reading were 1) I wanted to know how Roland was going to make it to the Tower and how the end would play out, and 2) I read 6 out of 7, I'd better finish the series.

I still hold that it's a good series.  On the whole, my favorites are The Gunslinger, The Waste Lands, and Wizard and Glass.  Those are three I will definitely read again.  I recommend it, at any rate.

That was a bit of a lame review, but I don't want to give away the particulars of what happens.  There is very little focus on character growth and development at this point, so the entire book was pretty plot driven.  I think the biggest thing I was pleased with was the ending.  I was worried about it, not gonna lie there, but once it came, I was very pleased (until I read the "Did you get it????" bit in the afterword).

On to my next set of books!  I'm currently reading Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, finally, and I grabbed a copy of The Grapes of Wrath, because Steibeck is finally in ebook!!!  I also got two books by Michael Moorcock, Elric: The Stealer of Souls, and Elric: To Rescue Tanelorn.  I read Elric of Melnibone last year, and I really liked the premise.  I've been told his writing has improved, which means wonderful things, because as much as the writing style was less than fantastic, I still loved the story.  I can't seem to find any of the Earthsea books in ebook, which is a bit of a bummer.  I might have to cave and buy a hard copy instead, because I really want to read them.

And I'm on my last stages of editing my statement of purpose. *cringe*  I'm aiming to submit that tonight.  I had to send my transcript requests by registered mail, finally, because nowhere faxes overseas.  Ah well, hopefully that doesn't take too long.  I was going to be productive for the rest of tonight, but I'm thinking it's going to be a sit down and read night... after I cook my chicken.

OH! And it snowed last night!  I have pictures.  I have to upload them and show.  Yes, this is a big deal.  We have palm trees and bugs the size of small dogs here.