Bookgroup anyone?

Wow, I’m exhausted. My “lifestyle change” (# 4,127) hasn’t gone too well. I stupidly drank a strong cup of coffee around 10:00 p.m., which meant that I wasn’t ready to go to bed until 4:30 a.m. And, then, even when I was actually in bed, I didn’t fall asleep until around 5:00 a.m. I had to get up at 7:30 a.m. to get ready for volunteering in a middle school, so I’m pretty tired.

Today’s volunteering session went well without any of the 6th-grade students making a racial slur. Phew. I think one of the boys in my group did call me stupid at one point, though, which I couldn’t really do anything about – first of all, I wasn’t really sure and, secondly, the teacher didn’t seem to have a handle on discipline in the classroom herself. This is the crappy thing about being a volunteer or a class tutor. The teachers always say that we can discipline the kids if we want to, but the kids know that, ultimately, we have no authority over them and that they can pretty much say or do what they like with impunity. Sigh.

I actually thought it was pretty awful that the teacher allowed some of the students to get out of their seats while she was trying to talk to the class. They weren’t running around the classroom going crazy or anything, but their movements were still pretty distracting. I could tell it bothered some of the other volunteers, too, probably because they, like me, were never allowed to get off with that kind of shit in school. I have no idea if this is just an American problem, or if discipline has gone to the dogs in schools in Scotland, too, but I was flabbergasted the first time I set foot in an American high school and saw some of the things the kids are allowed to do. The worst thing is the constant fucking bathroom breaks. The wee fuckers are in and out of their seats every two seconds asking for a bloody bathroom pass. Some teachers are really strict about not allowing bathroom breaks during class time, but there are others who are far too lenient. Is there some reason for this? I’m assuming that most kids have day-time bladder control by the age of six, so can someone please tell me why a fifteen-year-old can’t sit in a fifty-minute-long class without going to the bathroom? Grrrrr.

However, I digress. Back to my geting called stupid…

This happened because one of the boys was being a naughtly little pain in the arse, and was talking gibberish about eating a “stick”. I listened to what he said, and nodded, believing him, because I thought he had said “steak” (he was Latino with a pretty strong accent). Between my accent and their accent, God knows what’s going to happen when we actually start discussing literature together.

The “stick eating” episode reminded me of my own days as an eleven-year-old in school. The girls in my group today were quiet, shy and seemed interested in me and what I was doing there whereas the boys acted up as much as they possibly could. There was a noticeable difference in maturity – both physical and emotional. This is exactly how I remember the first few years of secondary school in Scotland. I was there to work and learn, and I hated the way the boys’ behaviour took up valuable instruction time. To be honest, I’m still not wildly enthusiastic about boys between the ages of eleven to fourteen. Their childishness just annoys me, plain and simple. This is not a good feeling to be having, given that I want to be a teacher, so I guess I just need to repeat a mantra to myself again and again: “They can’t help it. It’s just where nature intends them to be developmentally. They can’t help it. It’s just where nature intends them to be developmentally”.

If you’re wondering how the above fits into the title of today’s post, well, it doesn’t at all… I never intended to write quite so much about volunteering. I have been thinking, though, that it might be nice to start my very own blogger bookgroup, the idea being that some (or all!) of my readers and I would pick one book to read a month (preferably one readily available in most English-speaking countries), then write down our thoughts about it in the comment section. To make it fair to all parties concerned, all members of the group would suggest a book they’re interested in reading each month, and I could put up a poll to choose the most popular. How does this sound?

If anyone is interested, I would like to suggest that we should have chosen, and finished reading and commenting on the book by the last day of each month (I would write a post that day, or perhaps a couple of days before that, outlining my own thoughts, and then the members could comment…or, better still, I could even have guest bloggers who write the post, so it’s not all about me). There’s not enough time to acquire and read a book by the end of this month, so our first online discussion could be on or around Monday November 30th.

So, whaddya think? If you’re interested, just leave a comment on this post and please also leave a book suggestion(s) for November.

Here are mine:

(1) First of all, there’s “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich:


(2) And, then, secondly, there’s “The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss:


I shall be awaiting your comments, and suggestions!


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28 thoughts on “Bookgroup anyone?

  1. Fantastic Forrest October 17, 2009 at 12:45 am Reply

    Love the idea of a book group. We began listening to Nickel and Dimed as an audio book with the kids on a long road trip. It certainly provides a lot of fodder for discussion and caused everyone in the family to think differently….oops, I’m saying too much, aren’t I? Anyway, I hope you choose that one, but I’m open to The History of Love too. My local book group is reading White Tiger, and several people were enthused about it.

    As for the American schools vs. elsewhere, my experience is limited, but what I observed of schools in Ireland suggests that the butt in the chair model has been replaced by the wander aimlessly around the room model. Urgh. I HATE THAT. And you’re right…we never would have gotten away with that shite when I was growing up in the midwest (Chicago suburbs).

    Also? Calling a volunteer stupid? WTH? You did say you weren’t sure. So let’s assume your student was really saying was the #6 definition of stupid at

    6. Slang. excellent; terrific.

    It’s important to keep up with young people speak. For example, when they say “Man, that’s bad!” the translation is “gosh, friend, that is really great!”

    So if this kid calls you stupid again (and you’re actually certain he does so) you can reply with a bright smile, “You’re pretty stupid yourself!”


    • petrichoric October 17, 2009 at 9:53 am Reply

      Yes, I thought you might like the idea of a book group! Yay!

      So when you said you wanted to read “Nickle and Dimed”, does this mean that you don’t want to put forward a different book as your specific choice for November? You’re welcome to, you know.

      As regards this whole “walking round the classroom” thing, teaching these days is all about being ‘student centred”. I agree with this for the most part, as I don’t think that a teacher should be some big bad authority figure there to assert his or her will on a student. However – and it’s a big however – the bad thing about this is that some of these kids get away with doing all kinds of shit just in case we hurt their “poor little feelings”. Ugh!

      • Fantastic Forrest October 17, 2009 at 11:39 am Reply

        I’m happy with either of the two you suggested for November. I’ll be teaching a course on “The American Dream” and N&D fits nicely into that theme, so I’m eager to read other’s thoughts on the subject.

        I’d be interested in hearing your suggestions for someone who wants to read Scottish writers. I’m writing a piece set around the turn of last century (1880-1890) with a Scottish immigrant, so I’d like to read some of that voice.

        I’ll share ideas for future months when I’ve recovered from the Lightbody revelations. For now, I’m quietly sobbing in a corner.

        • petrichoric October 17, 2009 at 12:32 pm Reply

          Ooh, I wish that I could take your course. It sounds right up my street. So, are you a professor in a university, then? I knew you were a teacher of some sort, but I just wasn’t sure in what capacity.

          When you said you were interested in the voice of the Scottish immigrant, did you mean that (a) you wanted to read the writing of Scottish immigrants from around the period you mentioned?, or (b) more modern-day authors who write about Scottish immigrants from that period. If the former, I just skimmed my copy of “A History of Scottish Women’s Writing” and there is some stuff about female Scottish immigrant writers in Chapter 8, “Some Early Travellers”. Unfortunately, nearly all of them wrote a bit earlier than the period you are interested in. Frances Wright (1795-1852) wrote “View of Society and Manners in America” (1821). There’s more stuff in Chapter 20, but that deals mainly with Canadian writers, “Scottish Women Writers Abroad: The Canadian Experience”.

          Apart from these writers, I can’t think of anybody else. We barely get taught any Scottish Literature or Scottish History in our schools let alone the work of Scottish-American writers. In fact, I learned more about Scottish Literature in the US than I did back home. That was partly my fault, though. Scotland is so damn small and provincial sometimes that the last thing I wanted to do when I was there was read Scottish Literature.

          • petrichoric October 17, 2009 at 12:38 pm Reply

            PS/ Gary Lightbody ain’t all that. You should get over him! I could be wrong, but he did strike me as being very arrogant. “Snow Patrol” were, as far as I know, in and around the Glasgow music scene for aaaaages, and were just some little shitty indie band. Then they somehow got their act together, and were massive. I met him shortly after their newfound stardom, so perhaps it had just gone to their head.

            Unfortunately, I can’t really think of any other good-looking Scottish or Irish/Northern-Irish musicians. Scottish men are not exactly known for being stunners. What about the lead singer from Ash, another Northern-Irish band, Tim Wheeler. Perhaps you could switch your cougar allegiance to him instead? 😉

            • Fantastic Forrest October 17, 2009 at 1:25 pm Reply

              PS I’m now officially over Lightbody. I’m sure Wheeler is very nice lad, but I have decided to go back to loving older men instead. Liam Neeson gets the Northern Ireland secret boyfriend nod. My new Scottish boyfriend is Ewan McGregor, who is nominally younger than me, but is still older than Wheeler. I guess I’m just not much of a cougar, huh?

              • petrichoric October 17, 2009 at 2:13 pm Reply

                Liam Neeson gets my seal of approval, but I’m not so sure about Ewan. He strikes me as being a bit of an arrogant dickhead, too, and I can’t forgive him for having appeared in “Moulin Rouge”, surely one of the worst films ever made. If you’re interested in seeing Ewan’s penis for a few seconds, I suggest watching “Young Adam” because there is a full-frontal shot! Can’t say I was very impressed by the size. Decidedly average, I think, but it was hard to tell, as it was only on screen for a few seconds. 🙂

          • Fantastic Forrest October 17, 2009 at 1:07 pm Reply

            I’m a part time instructor in a community college, teaching classes on what strikes my fancy. My undergrad degree is in political science, and I have a masters in elementary education. But really, I want to be a writer…of brilliant novels. Or at least, reasonably good novels.

            I shouldn’t have specified immigrants. It’s just that the person I’m novelizing is one – John Muir. I’ve read some of his personal correspondence to get the voice, but want other sources to expand my “Scottish vocabulary”. I’m really intrigued by the book you cite. I’ll be ordering that today. Thanks!

            • petrichoric October 17, 2009 at 2:09 pm Reply

              God, it sounds like you have the most perfect life…teaching whatever strikes your fancy on a part-time basis. My ideal life would be to write part-time and teach part-time. I wouldn’t want to stay at home all the time and write because I’d disappear up my own arse with self-absorption if I did that.

              Your book sounds fascinating, by the way. I’d love to know more about John Muir. Amazing man, and it’s sad that most Americans don’t even know he’s Scottish – or Scottish people, too, for that matter. Scottish-Americans have a *rich* tradition but the sad thing is that it’s kind of a hidden history. You can study “Irish Studies” at university here in the US, but Scottish literature/history always gets swallowed up by “Britishness”.

  2. Reluctant Blogger October 17, 2009 at 1:06 pm Reply

    I have never taught children but my own experience of young boys is very different but maybe that is because I do not deal with them in a classroom situation. I find them more interesting than girls of the same age – as they are free thinkers and more adventurous. But my experience is limited to my own sons within the home and their friends down at the ski club. There are some girls of that age I occasionally sit with and chat with but generally I find the boys more pleasant and less worried about how they are viewed by their peer group. Girls of that age have a very irritating habit of sitting around giggling – I know it sounds like a stereotype – but there are always gaggles of girls lurking and talking about others and giggling. But probably in the classroom, where their attention is focused, and because they have less desire to be physically active, doing their own thing, they are obedient and obliging and eager to please. Boys can’t be bothered!!

    My ex (the boys’ father) was caned at school because he stood up in class and called the teacher “big tits” so i guess you got off lightly.

    • petrichoric October 17, 2009 at 2:03 pm Reply

      You know, maybe you’re right about boys. If I have kids, I always thought I wanted to have a girl first until I was hanging out with my husband’s nieces and nephews last summer. The girls were quite boring whereas I really enjoyed the boys’ physicality. And, yes, it’s true that girls can be giggly and bitchy. I forgot how much that annoyed me when I was in school because I wasn’t like that at all! Hmmm. Maybe I need to review my attitude towards young males, and look for the positives in their behaviour.

      Not much chance of any kids calling me “big tits”. More like “bee stings”!!

    • petrichoric October 17, 2009 at 2:04 pm Reply

      PS/ No interest in a bookgroup, Ms Reluctant Blogger?

  3. pandabox33 October 17, 2009 at 1:50 pm Reply

    Book Club by blog. What a great idea !
    I’m not sure I read the same books you do so I’m going to suggest these titles for November, que sera sera.
    In no order of preference :
    The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, a teen novel that my friend says is really great.
    206 Bones by Kathy Reichs, can’t help it, I have to read all her books.
    Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters. Just because I love Austen and I love ridiculous stuff and the two combined, well, ya know.
    From the same authors, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. YE!

    • petrichoric October 17, 2009 at 2:24 pm Reply

      Checked out your books and “The Luxe” by Godbersen appeals the most to me because it would be good for me to read some teen novels so that when I become a teacher, I know what to introduce to my kids. Generally speaking, I don’t read much fantasy stuff , as your other choices seem to be, but that doesn’t matter because people should just suggest titles, and then I’ll stick a poll up so people can vote for the winner. It will be all very democratic! And, besides, it’s good to read stuff you wouldn’t normally, as it broadens one’s horizons.

      Do you happen to know of any Québecois writers we could read? I don’t know much about Canadian Literature (except, of course, the mega-famous Margaret Atwood) and I know even less about French-Canadian writers, except for Nicole Brossard.

      • pandabox33 October 19, 2009 at 9:04 am Reply

        Unfortunately Québécois writers are not translated very much but I could give you a list of Canadian authors. And just so you know, I said The Luxe was a teeno novel but i’ts more of a young adult novel which means 15-18. I could also give you some titles depending on the ages of the kids you would be teaching.

        • petrichoric October 20, 2009 at 8:52 am Reply

          Yes, it’s true that Québecois writers are not translated very much. I wrote a paper on Québecois writers a couple of years ago and it was hard to find English translations. Even though I speak French, I was reading a lot of experimental 80’s stuff, and so I wanted to get hold of the translations, too, just to make sure I understood everything.

          You don’t need to give me a whole list of Canadian authors. Just give me a couple of authors/titles that *you* love, or would like to read.

          Ooh, you might be a very handy resource when I start teaching, as I know very, very little about young adult literature. In fact, I barely even read any of that when I was a young adult. Could you recommend a novel about soccer for a seventeen-year-old male student who’s not a native English speaker? It would need to be high-interest but not have too complicated English (the reason I ask is because I’m tutoring this kid).

  4. Fantastic Forrest October 17, 2009 at 2:51 pm Reply

    I was struggling to come up with a Scotsman… And I’m more interested in candidates for secret boyfriendhood for their non-penile attributes since it’s all make believe anyway. You know, I’m looking for an interesting face, entertaining personality, and good sense of humour. Like here:
    Maybe I should just go for the older Scotsman in the clip. 😉

    • petrichoric October 17, 2009 at 3:21 pm Reply

      Ach, don’t give me that “non-penile attributes” nonsense. Even thought it’s all make-believe, don’t tell me you haven’t wondered about their penis! Yes, I would take Craig Ferguson over Ewan McGregor any day. I think he’s better looking and he comes off as a nicer person. There really is just something about Ewan McGregor which I’ve never liked.

  5. Andrew October 18, 2009 at 6:05 am Reply

    As you mentioned to me in your email, I’d be happy to read and discuss with you and your readers. Thanks for asking. I’d vote more in favor of “Nickel and Dimed,” but because I AM nickel and dimed, I’m not sure I can afford a book until payday later in the week. 😉 Groceries and gas come first, I suppose. 🙂

    • petrichoric October 20, 2009 at 8:55 am Reply

      That’s great that you’ll be in the book group! I’ll put you down for a “Nickel and Dimed” vote, then, but feel free to suggest another book, too. I’m looking for a list of around 10 books that people can choose from.

      And, don’t worry about being too broke to afford a book. We won’t be discussing the book until the end of November/start of December, so you have plenty time!

  6. justme October 19, 2009 at 5:11 am Reply

    Yeah, I will join the book club! Not sure I habve any suggestions though….I will have a think! Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel maybe? Or The Little Stranger, Sarah Walters? But I will read anything really!

    • petrichoric October 20, 2009 at 8:57 am Reply

      Ooh, Sarah Walters was the one who wrote “Tipping the Velvet”, wasn’t she? I’ve always wanted to read that. Have you already read it? If not, I’d love to have that as one of our choices for next month. If you have, then “The Little Stranger” sounds great, too.

  7. justme October 21, 2009 at 10:15 am Reply

    I read Tipping the Velvet years ago, so I don’t mind reading it again! I seem to recall it was very good. There is DVD of it too. Not so good I think…

    • petrichoric October 21, 2009 at 10:51 pm Reply

      Well, that’s great! I’ve always wanted to read “Tipping the Velvet” so I’ll put that down as your choice.

  8. chris October 22, 2009 at 1:02 pm Reply

    I started reading History of Love a few months ago and never finished… I guess I should finish it, huh.

  9. Cat October 22, 2009 at 1:34 pm Reply

    Hello! I didn’t get your invitation on my blog – no idea what happens there as the comments go up automatically. I’m in. I’ve read both Nickel and Dimed and Tipping the Velvet, but gave up on the Little Stranger halfway through as I just hated it. Sorry. If that type of book appeals, it was likened to The Thirteenth Tale which is a fantastic gothic ghost type story.

  10. Judith October 23, 2009 at 8:55 am Reply

    Nickeled & Dimed is a fabulous book. I just read it earlier this year. I have a frightening backlist of to-be-read books, so i’ll give a look around fo future suggestions from my pile.

    I love this idea.

    Sorry I’ve been such a lousy blogger. I love your posts — it’s not a reflection of you, just so ya know.

  11. Judith October 23, 2009 at 9:11 am Reply

    Ok, here’s a handful of books I’ve bought but have yet to read:

    20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth – Xiaolu Guo (I read her Chinese/English Dictionary for Lovers and it’s one of my favorite books)

    Disquiet – Julia Leigh (short book, great writing)

    Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn (an edgy thriller)

    Down River – John Hart (another thriller)

    Home – Marilynne Robinson (acclaimed author)

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