Thursday, June 05, 2014


Friday Fragments

Waubonsee Community College, in Illinois, has one of the more arresting images on its homepage that I’ve seen in a while.  (If you go to the homepage, it’s one of four pictures on a rotation in the featured spot.)  It’s advertising a workshop designed to “teach women how to better communicate with men.”  But the picture shows an angry man pointing and shouting, and a woman looking confused and helpless.


So if a man is shouting and pointing aggressively at a woman, it’s her fault?  She’s the problem?

Waubonsee,colleague to colleague, I’m not sure you’re sending the message you want to send.  Framing the subject as “how to communicate with men” is bad enough; adding misogyny through the imagery doesn’t help matters.  You might want to rethink that one.  


Rebecca Townsend sent me this one.  Apparently, Generation X is America’s forgotten middle child.

That sounds about right.  We’re America’s Jan Brady.  (“Boomers, Boomers, Boomers!”)

As a smaller generation sandwiched between larger ones, Gen X didn’t get much of a cultural moment in the sun.  (If I remember correctly, it lasted about ten minutes in 1993.)  At this point, we’re in our “shut up and raise your kids” years, which doesn’t help.  

To my mind, the defining characteristic of Gen X is that it was the first generation in which middle-class parental divorce was normal.  Divorce now is more class-stratified than it was in the 1970’s and 1980’s; back then, it was ubiquitous.  I suspect that the relative lack of attachment to institutions in this cohort stems partly from that, as does its unapologetic focus on family life now.  

We’re at the age now where we need to step up.  Here’s hoping we get the chance...


This week, I had the chance to talk to a graduate class in community college administration.  (I won’t mention the location, for reasons that will become obvious.)  The students were mostly around my age or older, and many of them already held positions in community colleges; they’re looking to move up.

We discussed my book, and common issues, and differences among various state systems.  The moment that really struck me, though, was the response when I made a point about cultural change on campus, and the need to provide enough internal stability that people can focus on the tasks at hand.  (My Gen X roots may be showing there…)  Several students responded that yes, that would be nice, but they’ve undergone so many reorganizations that a sense of panic has become the sort of background noise on campus.  

It reminded me of my DeVry days.  For a while, the pace of change was so frantic that people actually lost track of which curriculum was running at a given time.  (That’s not an exaggeration.  At one point, three different versions of College Algebra were running simultaneously.)  When approaches, rules, and people change at random but close intervals, it’s hard to focus on the task at hand.  Basic self-preservation comes first.

In that context, talk of “leadership competencies” strikes me as beside the point.  If the leader changes too frequently, or external shocks come fast and furious, then the capabilities of this leader or that one don’t matter much.  Context matters.  To the extent that you can shape context, you enable the underlying capabilities to emerge.  But if you just can’t, I’m not sure what to tell you.


Wise and wordly readers, I need your help.  The Boy just turned 13, and he’s desperately looking for good fiction to read.  I’m thinking something sophisticated enough to hold his interest, but nothing too sexualized or dark.  Any suggestions?

Oh my word, that image...just terrible!

For the Boy, I just saw a list on Rolling Stone of good YA fiction that might interest him:
For TB, Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga, perhaps? It's adult sf, but I started reading adult sff around that age.
Here are just a few; sadly, some are OOP:

Kin Platt's "Sinbad and Me": young teen male protagonist and his English bulldog solve a buried treasure mystery that also involves ciphers, New England architecture, and scuba.

Platt's "The Blue Man": a scary, Twilight-Zone-esque adventure mystery w/ same character slightly older

Platt's "Mystery of the witch Who Wouldn't": straight-up sequel to "Sinbad"

By that age I thought "Pickwick Papers" was hilarious

Steinbeck's (incomplete) "The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights"

C.S. Forrester's Hornblower series

John Dickson Carr's locked-room mysteries

Conan Doyle, of course

Kipling's "Captains Courageous" and "Puck of Pook's Hill" ramp down the White Man's Burden imperialist jingoism. "Kim" has it but is simpatico and a "ripping yarn"

T.H. White's "Sword in the Stone"

Esther Forbes's "Johnny Tremain"

James Ramsey Ullman "Banner in the Sky"

Wodehouse "Jeeves" stories? Thought they were hilarious at that age

Tolkien an obvious choice, I guess

Some of Roger Zelazny, esp "Lord of Light" and maybe "Nine Princes in Amber"

I think my inner 13-year-old history nerd is showing
Direct link to the image, while it lasts:

The name of the picture itself is as priceless as what they (mis)used it for.

BTW, the first word in my captcha text was "men". LOL.
Has The Boy read Starship Troopers yet?

There's a pretty new book called Mogworld that he might enjoy.
I think John McPhee would be interesting if TB is willing to try non-fiction. For TB's interests, I'd start with "Uncommon Carriers" or "The Control of Nature". These two may appeal to his inner geek. If he isn't hooked within the first 10 pages, then he isn't the right age yet.

Perhaps 13 is the right age for the CS Lewis series.

I suppose Straight Man is definitely out of the running.
I see the pictures as ...
a women holding a map that she is engaged with and the man not interested in the map, pointing off to where he thinks they should be going and the women looking incredulous and thinking "no, let's use the map or we'll get lost".

I see him as looking "I think it's this way and so we should go this way" - commanding rather than aggressive.

(I am a female.)

My daughter (12) is in to Mistbourne
(which is violent so you may want to read it first)
Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians

I would say they are a step up from Harry Potter and similar to
The Hunger Games/Divergent in darkness/vocab/issues explored.
Ray bradbury
lawrence watt-evans
R.a. salvatore
Robert asprin
Terry brooks
Lloyd alexander

You might also try putting the books he likes into goodreads and see what they recommend.

Wot no Terry Pratchett ?
I have to agree with the comment above mine: Terry Pratchett's Discworld (or if that's a little too much, you can start with his Johhn Maxwell trilogy) is great.

I think I had started to read some Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy around that time, though a lot of that sort of passed over me until I was a bit older and understood the references. Still, it'll be essential for his geek cred.

I'd also suggest some of the more "adult" comics--not anything like R. Crumb, but something like Maus or some of the tamer American Splendor comics.
Argh, typo. Johnny Maxwell.

Also, be ready to toss TB some Kurt Vonnegut in 2-3 years.
Try Gordon Korman. Amazing books.
Anything, pretty much, by Anne McCaffrey or Andre Norton if he likes the science fiction spectrum. David Eddings does some great archetypal fantasy fiction. Sounds like your kid would get what his experiment in writing was about and laugh.

And I think you must have been talking about my institution with the panic becoming background noise and leadership. That's my world EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Seconding the Vorkosigan Saga recommendation - they're one of my top three faves. Since TB is thirteen, you should be aware that the books contain some profanity; also some sex, but certainly nothing explicit. There are also a LOT of heavy stuff; including rape, homophobia, body dysmorphia, suicide ideation, transphobia, misogyny, racism (sorta), classism (sorta), and maybe one or two others I can't think of at the moment. Bujold handles these very well for the most part, I think, but they may (and should!) spark some discussion.
The Percy Jackson books, if he hasn't read them already. Chris Bradford's Young Samurai books. Cinda Williams China - Warrior Heir, Wizard Heir, etc. Joseph Helgerson's Horns and Wrinkles. Brandon Mull. R. A. Salvatore.
Oops - make that Cinda Williams Chima.
I think TB might be ready for Homer. For chronology of stories, _The Iliad_ should come first, but depending on his tolerance for war stories or interest in adventures, _The Odyssey_ might be a better place to start.

I'd recommend the Fagles translations, which are accurate and give some rough approximation of reading Homer but seem quite comfortable to contemporary American readers. I'd suggest reading along with him, since there's a lot to discuss. Consider something like Morrison's _Companion to Homer's _Odyssey as help.

Also: Poe. _Frankenstein_ (the real version). Hawthorne's short stories.

If he has historical interests, slave narratives might capture his interest. Equiano, Douglass.
Does your son like dogs?

Jim Kjelgaard has a long series of short novels about various types of dogs. "Outlaw Red" and "Irish Red" are good places to start.
No one has yet mentioned John Scalzi, particularly Old Man's War. Suitable for young adults, even if that's not his target audience. Minor profanity, but nothing dark or heavy.

I started reading and loving the SF classics at that age--Asimov and Heinlein, but also A. E. Van Vogt, whose stories had a Twilight Zone twistiness. And Zenna Henderson with her stories of The People. Those might be hard to find, however.

My kids at that age started consuming the Dragonlance books, if TB likes fantasy. The nice thing about that series is that even fast readers will never run of titles to read.

I didn't discover Jeeves until I was an adult, but I second the motion on that one.
I'm guessing he's already read A Fault in Our Stars. Is he old enough to start in on some Heinlen like Stranger in a Strange Land? If he's into fantasy adventure there's always Tamora Pierce's Tortall books
I started on the Nero Wolfe stories about that age. Clever, funny, and snarky. It's also a terrific time capsule to see the differences in the way we lived even 60 years ago (rooms full of people who just type!!) (rooms full of people just to answer phones!!!).
Also, he may want to consider books like The Thin Man or The Maltese Falcon.
I love the Vorkosigan books as well, but I agree that you're going to need to talk about them.
I started on the Nero Wolfe stories about that age. Clever, funny, and snarky. It's also a terrific time capsule to see the differences in the way we lived even 60 years ago (rooms full of people who just type!!) (rooms full of people just to answer phones!!!).
Also, he may want to consider books like The Thin Man or The Maltese Falcon.
I love the Vorkosigan books as well, but I agree that you're going to need to talk about them.
"added" misogyny? ;)

Thirded on Pratchett.
*I wonder if the image is from Waubonsee IT folk or the workshop person Sue Mersch (she has a Blog. With thoughts. On Valentines Day. With many gender stereotypes. Not deeply troubling ones, but not sure how productive they are either. *sigh*)

*On books:
+1 to Bujold. You will need to talk about it, and it's better to do so before he starts getting other scifi that deals with some of those issues in less ethical ways.

The dragon books by McCaffrey. Not Restoree (her first novel- well written, but the sexual morality is problematic).

+1 to Lloyd Alexander, although I think I actually read "The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen" too young. It's got some complex socio-cultural-ethical stuff. The series of five he has that is very celebrated might be a better start (Prydain chronicles).

Neil Gaimen, though he plays with "dark", he usually does so in a fun way (and though TB is probably past the age for Coraline, it's great).

Neal Stephenson, Snowcrash and The Diamond Age especially.

Asimov's Robots, of course. I read Podkayne of Mars at a young age and it helped get me hooked on scifi. But I wouldn't especially recommend Stranger in a Strange land or some of the other Heinlein, because of gender politics.

But DEFINITELY run Ursula Le Guin by him. Many options, from those aimed at a younger audience to those that are great for his age. Complex sexuality in some, but essentially decent moral basis for it and worthwhile to grapple with (much like Bujold).

I read Orson Scott Card at that age (Ender's Game, et al), and some of those are very worth reading.

Outside of scifi/fantasy, I read all of Alcott around that age. Not sure if it'd hold his interest but worth a shot.
Definitely Bujold. There's some sex and violence, but exceptionally well handled. I loved McCaffrey's Pern books at that age, but the first two have some non-explicit sex scenes that I now find pretty problematic. Worth reading, but need discussion.

If he likes Dragons, try the Temeraire books by Naomi Novik (they're a bit like Patrick O'Brien crossed with Anne McCaffrey). Anything by Robin McKinley (except Deerskin, which is dark-dark-dark). Sharon Shinn has some great light fantasy and some not-quite-so-light science fiction. At his age, I was also very attached to David Weber's Honor Harrington books. C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series are incredibly dense and might be a bit much, but they are brilliant and I loved them at that age. (Also some sex there, but not explicit)

Seanan McGuire and her alter ego Mira Grant might also be good. They're aimed more at adults, but there's very little sex, great writing, and I didn't think they were too dark (the Zombies in the Grant books put me off reading them for a while, but they turned out to be less disturbing than I feared they would).
I like all the book recommendations that have been posted so far, especially Pratchett and Bujold (might add a few that I haven't read yet to my own to-read list.)

But the first thing I thought of was the "Gregor the Overlander" series, by "Hunger Games" author Suzanne Collins. They're about a 13-year-old boy, who has a younger sister, and finds himself responsible for her and at the same time caught up in the politics of a hidden underground world - literally under ground. Like "The Hunger Games," they're a little emotionally heavy for YA fiction, but the characters are good and the writing is tense and exciting, and also nuanced.

If you want to talk about geek street cred, how about some William Gibson?

"Neuromancer" is a good start.
Here's a thought from a slightly different direction.

When my kids were small I bought the entire "Little House" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder to read to them. I had never read them myself, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed them, and by their range. They really make the pioneer experience vivid.

These books don't speak to TB's geeky interests, but they are quite engaging.

Three versions of college algebra? Piker. At one point, my school's business program had at least three different undergrad curricula going; we were changing required courses on what seemed to be an annual basis. Students already in the program could continue as they started or shift to the new curriculum. New students had to go into the (then-current) new curriculum. Advising was a nightmare.

Aon reading. Some of the "Golden Age" sci-fi--Asimov, Heinlein, Arthur Clarke, Fritz Leiber, and so on--might work. I'm not all that familiar with contemporary SF. Also "golden Age" mysteries--Erle Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout, and others (Chandler and Hammett in 3-4 years, I'd say). Some of John R. Tunis's work--especially the Kid From Tomkinsville trilogy. Oldies, but all goodies.
For the Boy, definitely Bujold's VorKosgan series, and any of the Heinlein juveniles: Space Cadet, Rocketship Galileo, Citizen of the Galaxy, Tunnel in the Sky. Then Heinlein's Future History short story collections. Starship Troopers is ok, but save Stranger in a Strange Land and Heinlein's later novels for later. Then again, I read Stranger when I was 10 and I turned out relatively ok.
I started reading John Grisham novels when I was 12 or 13. Very gripping, but too dark or gruesome.
The science fiction works of the later Arthur C. Clark would be a great choice. The novels *Childhood's End*, *The City and the Stars*, *Rendevous with Rama* all make for a great read. Of course also include *2001--A Space Odyssey*.

Clarke also wrote some great short stories, which are included in collections named *Expedition to Earth*, *Reach for Tomorrow*, and "Tales from the White Hart*. My favorite Clarke short story is *The Star*.
I forgot - Charles Delint (magical realism)

Non-scifi / fantasy
Mark Twain
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Conrad (lord jim?)
Robert Louis Stevenson
Jeeves and Wooster
Clarence Day (if you can find Life with Father and Life with Mother they are well worth the search)
Kipling (the jungle book amongst others)

Must we ignore non-fiction? Because there's quite a bit of good science writing (including sociology and anthro) out there, not the least of which is represented by classics like "A brief history of time" but also "analyze this" about how algorithms control everything, "Natural acts" by David Quammen, "Guns, Germs and Steel", anything by Sue Hubbell, Steven j. gould, laurie garrett, malcom gladwell, ronald takaki and/or Tracy Kidder.

You might also consider subscribing to some magazines like Asimov's Science Fiction and Fantasy or Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. But these will trend darker and more adult.
Dick Francis. I devoured them at that age.

Harry Turtledove wrote a short series (4 books) set in the Aegean just after Alexander's death. A couple of sex scenes, but less than in Bujold or Scalzi.

Cory Doctorow's YA novels are CC licensed and very good: Little Brother, Homeland, and For the Win. We use Little Brother as a novel for grade 10 English. And I confess these are the first fiction books I've stayed awake to finish in years.
Little Brother has sexuality in it, but it's a kind of sexuality that is extremely good. I'd be leery of Neuromancer, which for all its magnificence has suicidal ideation, drug addiction, and relationships which are bad for adult reasons in it. 3 years, and he'll appreciate it more.

I will give one more piece of advice -- I read a lot of stuff I didn't really understand when I was 13. I skipped the parts that didn't make much sense. Rereading Dune, for example, as an adult gave me an enormous shock. There was a LOT going on there that I missed. Which is fine, of course.

Arthur C. Clarke, _Expedition to Earth_. Yes. Has the germ of 2001: A Space Odyssey in it.
Not sure how advanced a reader your kid is, but at 13 I was enjoying the young adult series anamorphs. Can probably still find them at Barnes and nobles, etc.

I'd also recommend Clancy if he can handle spy novels.
So many good recommendations already!

If he hasn't read them already, I'd recommend Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising series. I recently re-read them and (again) found them enthralling.

Also, I was about his age when introduced to William Sleator. Interstellar Pig was good (especially for someone into games), but House of Stairs is the great psychological piece. A quick read but one that's stuck with me for decades now.
The Artemis Fowl series sounds like it'd be perfect for your son. It's amazing.
Matt, it looks as if you've received a pretty sizable response. Without knowing TB's taste I'll offer up what captured my interest when I was around that age. I seem to recall really diving into the following books in Jr. High to early HS:

Brian Jaques' Redwall Series. Fantasy set in animal worlds.

On the more obscure side:
Philip Jose Farmer's riverworld books. A bit harder to find as some may be out of print, but slightly more obscure sci-fi about an alien world where historical personalities have been resurrected.

Clifford D. Simak's "city" and subsequent books. A dark future in which dogs inherit the earth.

Generally speaking, I feel like there's a large body of dystopian fiction out there that is thought provoking.

+1 to Bradbury. His collections of short stories are particularly engrossing. I think there's a master anthology that is excellent. There's also of course, Dandelion Wine and the Martian Chronicles.
My kids loved Terry Pratchett & Hitchhikers' Guide, though we started by reading them aloud at bedtime. They are now a few years older than The Boy but still re-read the Artemis Fowl series (they tell me it got a little darker as it went along) & John Feinstein and Mike Lupica's YA books (sports focus). I liked the City of Ember series, dystopian fiction but to my mind better done and more interesting than Divergent. And for non-fiction - somewhat to my surprise my older son devoured the Herriott books about a vet in rural England (All Creatures Great and Small etc.). Good luck!
If he is a baseball fan, Harbach's "The Art of Fielding," Malamud's "The Natural," Harris's "The Southpaw," and Coover's "The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Proprietor."
One more I meant to suggest earlier:

"The Girl Who Owned a City" by O. T. Nelson. Read and loved it in 7th grade. Really got me thinking about architecture, life skills, social organization, and fundamental values in new and exciting ways. All of my brothers had a similar reaction when they were that age.
Adding to these excellent suggestions: John Barnes' A Million Open Doors and its sequels, and Eric Flint's 1632 and *its* sequels. Both about culture clashes, and both very interesting.
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