Thursday, March 20, 2008

Life at Stuyvesant HS

I had the good fortune to attend a high powered High School, where the majority of the student body took classes like Latin and everyone went to college. But after reading A Class Apart, Alec Klein's look at a year inside New York's Styvesant High School I found myself wishing that I could re-enter the world of SATs, early morning classes and school plays.

Stuyvesant HS is not your normal school. It is a public school with an entrance exam. It is more interested in getting its students into Ivy League colleges than into Big 10 Football programs. It has a place for 10 year old math students and drama competitions.

Klein entered the student body for a year and follows several students from the beginning of the year. You get to see the students and the teachers deal with triumph and tragedy. I found the book a page turner and an interesting look into a life (High School) that is often idolized but here is shown in a gritty glory.

One of the most interesting sections deals with the Stuyvesant School play, an annual competition between the Senior, Junior and Freshman/Sophomore classes to put on the best musical. You get to see the anxiety of the Senior class, who are expected to win but who have an ill lead singer. You get to see the preperation of the Juniors, who know that it is their hear to pull of the upset and rule the school. And the way that the teachers deal with expectations and reality.

I liked the book, but not enough to really want to be a teen again. It is nice, however, to visit.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Be a Fanboy...

I picked up The Amazing Adventures of Fanboy and Gothgirl both because we have sold a number of copies to librarians and because the black lips on the cover just seemed to call to me. I am glad I decided to listen to the librarians on this one.

Fanboy is in high school, obsessed with comic books and Michael Bendis (creator of the Powers comic that I am also fond of), mostly without friends and surrounded by people who either don't understand him or like to make his life miserable.

His only real friend, Cal, is caught between being a geek and trying to fit in with the popular crowd by playing on the school lacross team. The effort of fitting in puts a strain on Cal and Fanboy's friendship, creating part of the dramatic tension in the book.

Fanboy them meets Kyra, AKA Gothgirl, who is also an outcast in the society of high school for her goth clothing and attitude.

Fanboy shares his artistic creation (a graphic novel) with Kyra, and the book goes on a wild ride of comic book conventions, principle's offices and for Fanboy, a great deal of growing up. This is a book for anyone who remembers feeling like an outcast in high school and has, hopefully, realized since then that we are all part of our own "in crowd" in some way.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Coyote Cafe Cookbook

It's spring, when my thoughts normally turn to my garden and what to plant. Instead of looking at gardening books and seed catalogs, I like to find new cookbooks and plan my garden based on what fresh veggies I will need for the recipes that I find.

This year looks like tomatoes, peppers and cilantro as I have just read through the Coyote Cafe cookbook by Mark Miller.

Located in Sante Fe, the Coyote Cafe has been serving up southwestern food since the late '80s. And there are at least 3 salsa recipes in the book that I have to try. I like fruit salsa, so the pinapple salsa and Mango salsa recipes are on my list. I am also going to whip up the mint salsa just to see what it will taste like.

There is a roasted corn soup with smoked chiles and cheese that should go with any southwestern meal. And a red chili rosoto with clams that may not wait for the garden to get ripe for me to make. The list goes on through breads, tamales, breads, seafood, and desserts.

Every page in this cookbook has something that I think will be yummy, so I will be planting my garden this year with this cookbook in mind.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Working for the new Dresden Files Book

There are a number of scince fiction series that I follow, getting the new book when it comes out in hardcover and complaining bitterly about the wait time until the next book. But there has only been one series that I have used as a pick-me-up when the other books I read are bad.

Jim Butcher's Dresden files series is one that I have, until the last week, used as a special treat. Whenever I hit 4-5 bad books in a row, I would allow myself to overcome the experience by reading the next Dresden book on my bookshelf, slowly working through the adventures of the Wizard who protects Chicago from things that go bump in the night.

Well, no more. On Monday after our store Science Fiction club meeting I picked up Dead Beat, and before I went to sleep I had finished it. Yesterday I grabbed Proven Guilty and read late into the night. And tonight I am going to read White Knight. So when the new Dresden book comes out in a few weeks I will be ready.

For anyone who has missed the Dresden books, Harry Dresden is the only official Wizard living in Chicago. He consults with the police on difficult cases, fights against vampires and and ghosts and is the hero of 9 (so far) exciting page turners.

Harry is a throwback to the Arthurian ideal, fighting against the darkness because it is the right thing to do. In each of the books he overcomes almost insurmountable odds and gets for a reward only the respect of his peers.

I like the way that Butcher has magic work in his books. For those with magical power, technology fails to work reliably. So Harry constantly breaks other people's cell phones and cars, and cannot have a hot water heater in his apartment. Harry has to use his wits and allies to win his encounters, he does not just wave a wand and have everything turn out all right.

In the first book, Storm Front, Harry is called in to help investigate a murder that could only have been perfomed using magic. The police and the Mage's council both have Harry as the top suspect. And he is on a 48 hour clock to figure out an answer, or he will be judged guilty and punished by the Mage's council as a black wizard. Try this series, you'll be glad you did.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mary Doria Russell

Dreamers of the Day is the latest offering by author Mary Doria Russell. I had not heard of her before, but after reading this book all of her other books moved onto my bedside table. Dreamers tells the story of the Cario Conference (where the Europeans divided up the Middle East according to their own desires) through the eyes of a retired school teacher from Ohio touring the region. I did not know much of the history of that time, and this book got me started in that area and let me begin to understand how many parallels there are between then and now. This is definately a must read for people who wonder how we got into such a muddle in the Middle East, but who also like personal stories mixed in with their history.

This book is available on March 11, 2008