Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler

(Graded Reader)

Another Graded Reader which is not technically a Graded Reader.  This book was not originally meant for the TESOL classroom, but just generally as a children's book.

Nevertheless, it was in my school library for use with the children's TESOL classes, and I thought it worked well.

The repetitiveness of the book makes it ideal not only for young children, but also for those children learning English.  (Repetition is, after all, the key to language learning).
The rhythm and rhyming of the book are another bonus.  Even though the story is rather childish, the hypnotic rhythm of the lines drew me in.  (Although, in the interest of keeping everything fair and balanced, here's a link to someone who thinks The Gruffalo actually has terrible rhythm.)

The language in the book is not as graded as one might wish for the TESOL classroom.  And in fact, in the copy at my school, some teacher went through and crossed out many of the words, and then penciled in suggested alternatives.  "A mouse took a stroll," becomes "A mouse walked".  Etc.
When I used this book, however, I opted to just keep all the original words.  (I don't know--maybe I should have graded it more, but I thought my students would still be able to understand everything, and so I just stuck with the original words.)

The book is available on Amazon.com here.

Addendum:
Here are some supplementary teaching materials I made when teaching this book in my classes.  These materials don't really work too well independently of the actual book, so you'll need to get a copy of the book to use these.
When I taught this book, I divided it into two parts and spread it across two lessons.

PowerPoints: Part 1 (driveslidespub), Part 2 (driveslidespub)

Worksheets: Part 1 (drivedocspub), Part 2 (drivedocspub)

Update, when re-using this for older students, I put PowerPoints 1&2 together into one massive Slideshow (slides, pub)

Link of the Day
Chomsky On Hatred Against Arabs

Friday, January 29, 2016

PowerPoint for Drilling Past Simple

(TESOL Worksheets--Past Simple)
[This is a PowerPoint presentation I used to run oral drills in my classroom with verbs in the past simple.
All of the verbs come from the textbook lesson assigned to the class (English World 3 Unit 1), but perhaps this can stand on in its own, so I'm posting it here.
The choice of verbs, however, was clearly dictated by the textbook.  I would not have chosen verbs like "like" and "live" to introduce students to the past tense, because the contrast between past and present is not so clear with state verbs.  (If you liked ice-cream yesterday, chances are you will still like it today.)  Nevertheless, these were the verbs the textbook was introducing, so these were the pronunciations I needed to drill.  I tried to set the context as best I could, but admittedly the sentences "Yesterday I liked ice-cream" and "Yesterday I lived in a house" are pretty artificial.
These type of artificial, unnatural sentences used purely for drilling a particular grammar point are very much out of favor in current TESOL methodology.  But I like to think I spend enough time in my classes giving the students exposure to comprehensible input that I can afford to do the odd artificial grammar drill from time-to-time.
Anyway, for whatever it may or may not be worth, the PowerPoint presentation is on Google: drive, slides, pub]

Thursday, January 28, 2016

I suppose that since I've left the Christian faith and officially become an agnostic now, I no longer really have a dog in this fight.
But before eventually throwing in the towel completely, I did spend about 10 years or so in a transitional phase where I was some sort of liberal-Christian/religious-pluralist of some stripe.

As a hold over from those days, it still really bugs me when I hear conservative Christians say something like, "Remember the Bible says 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' "
I would hear this rebuttal often when debating the death penalty or just war theory with conservative Christians.  It's astounding how often it comes up, actually, considering it's one of the Old Testament Bible passages that Jesus specifically went out of his way to renounce.

From Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."

So whenever I hear conservative Christians cite the "eye for an eye" rule, I always just answer, "You've not read your Bible, have you?"  (You'd be surprised at how many conservative Christians have never read the Bible....or actually, come to think of it, you probably wouldn't be.)

Anyway, all this comes up again, because Donald Trump is the latest conservative Christian to make this mistake.  
I know, I know, the fact that Trump isn't really a real Christian surprises absolutely no-one.  I'm just taking this rant here because the mis-use of this verse is one of my pet peeves.




...I've mentioned the mis-use of this verse as a pet peeve of mine once before, in this post here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Youtube Videos Authentic Listening: Gap Year



(Using Youtube Videos For Listening)

I originally designed this as a lead-in to a lesson on Gap Years from Life Elementary Textbook p.52.  But I think it can still stand on its own as an independent listening lesson.

The video is on Youtube Here.  The young woman in question did not do a traditional gap year (i.e. she didn't spend her time travelling the world), but in a way I think this is almost better.  It opens up to the students the idea that a gap year can be spent doing anything--not only travelling or volunteering, but also just spent pursuing any of your hobbies or personal interests or relationships.

The lead-in questions are all on PowerPoint.  What is a gap year?  Are gap years popular in your country?  Would you like to go on a gap year?

Students are then asked to predict what Tiffany did on her gap year.
Then in pairs they are given a set of cards (which have been cut up and shuffled by the teacher before class) and match the cards to the descriptions.  Feedback of the correct answers is on the PowerPoint.

Then the students watch the video, and identify which of these things Tiffany actually did.  (There are 6 red-herrings in the set of cards that Tiffany did not actually do.)
There is also a word grab, where the students listen to the video a 3rd time, and grab the words as they hear them.  (They compete against a partner to see who can grab the words first.)
Finally, the students are given a transcript, and match the words to the blanks.

The students then talk with a partner about what they thought ofTiffany's gap year.  (Did it sound fun to them, or not?)
Then, they are given a worksheet, and told to imagine that they are taking a gap year from work or school.  They are instructed to come up with the top ten things they would like to do during this time.

Then, they are put in pairs, and with a partner, have to negotiate to pick a top 5.
Then, the pairs are put in groups of 4, and in groups of four, have to re-negotiate a top 5.
And then each group presents their top 5 findings to the class.

Materials.
PowerPoint is embedded below, and on Google: Drive, Slides, Pub.



The matching pictures to descriptions cards are on Google here: Drive, Docs, Pub

The word grab cards and complete transcript are on Google here: Drive, Docs, Pub

The various worksheets for listing what the students want to do on their own gap year are on Google here: Drive, Docs, Pub.

I had one last summer with my best friends
I visited New Orleans twice

I saw Elton John in concert

I spent most of my time baby-sitting

skydiving for the first time

I played dress-up more than a few times
I made some big changes in my health
I also went to Sequoia National Park for the first time



went jet skiing for the first time

I applied to college




Match the phrases to the gaps
A). I also went to Sequoia National Park for the first time
B). I applied to college
C). I had one last summer with my best friends
D). I made some big changes in my health
E). I saw Elton John in concert
F). I played dress-up more than a few times
G). I spent most of my time baby-sitting
H). I visited New Orleans twice
I). skydiving for the first time
J). went jet skiing for the first time


Hey dudes!

I am currently in my college dorm all settled in, and I can’t believe it.  I just wanted to make a video to tell you guys all my experiences of my gap year and just reflect on everything that I did because I seriously think that taking a gap year was the best decision that I could have made.  And I really did do some great things with my time.  Even though initially I wanted to, you know, travel the world and go on volunteer trips, and you know, things like that.  Life gets in the way.  So I had to do more practical things.  But I still did a lot of fun things.  And I’m really glad to be at college now—it’s the right time for me.

Here’s what I did with my gap year:

*Right after high school graduation, (1) ___and I said some really tough good-byes.  It was really strange getting used to not seeing my best friends all the time.

*(2) ___.

* (3) ___ with my best friend, and that was something that we’d wanted to do for forever.

*(4) ___ and hanging out with kids at work, so I pretty much only saw people under the age of ten.  And for most of the year I was working around 40 hours a week, so, full time.

* Plus Youtube.

* I went inverse skydiving for the first time and, (5) ___ which were both amazing.  And I’ve wanted to skydive for a long time, so that was so great to be able to finally do it.

* And (6) ___.  I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of that.

* (7) ___ and life-style when I decided to go gluten free, and then a month later, go vegan.  And honestly, it’s been a little bit of a struggle, but it’s so, so worth it, and I’m glad that I did it.

* I celebrated my first anniversary with Reed, and our next anniversary is in January. 

* Over the course of my gap year I went from 30,000 subscribers to 50,000, and I’m really excited that I just hit 50,000.  It was just perfect timing.   But I’m also excited to hit 100,000 and a million.  Soon, right?

* I got a great opportunity to go to Coachella for free.  Well, technically I was going to Coachella to work, so I was getting paid to go to Coachella.  It was great.

* Reed and I survived 8 months of long distance, which was really tough, but now we’re going to school together.  And it’s amazing. 

* I went to Vidcon for the …fourth time? … and I got to meet friends from the Internet that I’ve never seen in person. 

* (8) ___.  And it was gorgeous.  I went on an 8 mile hike there.  It was fantastic. 

* Also I went to Laughlin, Nevada, and (9) ___.

* And, of course, I made a ton of videos.

* Most importantly, (10) ___, because I decided that it was the right thing for me to do.  I got rejected, wait-listed, and accepted.  I experienced it all.

          But yeah, I am so, so glad that I followed my heart and really listened to myself senior year and decided that college wasn’t right for me at that point, because it gave me the time to do this gap year, and to get my head straight and work, and earn money for the things that I needed, and then figure out that I wanted to go to college and that this college was right for me, and, I’m really, really, excited.
          If you guys have ever have any questions about gap years, please ask me.  I pretty much recommend them to anyone. 
If you guys have any college related, uh, video requests…I am here now, so just let me know.
OK, thanks, bye!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crQHKGKzmoE

Hey dudes!

I am currently in my college dorm all settled in, and I can’t believe it.  I just wanted to make a video to tell you guys all my experiences of my gap year and just reflect on everything that I did because I seriously think that taking a gap year was the best decision that I could have made.  And I really did do some great things with my time.  Even though initially I wanted to, you know, travel the world and go on volunteer trips, and you know, things like that.  Life gets in the way.  So I had to do more practical things.  But I still did a lot of fun things.  And I’m really glad to be at college now—it’s the right time for me.

Here’s what I did with my gap year:

*Right after high school graduation, I had one last summer with my best friends and I said some really tough good-byes.  It was really strange getting used to not seeing my best friends all the time.

*I visited New Orleans twice.

* I saw Elton John in concert with my best friend, and that was something that we’d wanted to do for forever.

* I spent most of my time baby-sitting and hanging out with kids at work, so I pretty much only saw people under the age of ten.  And for most of the year I was working around 40 hours a week, so, full time.

* Plus Youtube.

* I went inverse skydiving for the first time and skydiving for the first time, which were both amazing.  And I’ve wanted to skydive for a long time, so that was so great to be able to finally do it.

* And I played dress-up more than a few times.  I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of that.

* I made some big changes in my health and life-style when I decided to go gluten free, and then a month later, go vegan.  And honestly, it’s been a little bit of a struggle, but it’s so, so worth it, and I’m glad that I did it.

* I celebrated my first anniversary with Reed, and our next anniversary is in January. 

* Over the course of my gap year I went from 30,000 subscribers to 50,000, and I’m really excited that I just hit 50,000.  It was just perfect timing.   But I’m also excited to hit 100,000 and a million.  Soon, right?

* I got a great opportunity to go to Coachella for free.  Well, technically I was going to Coachella to work, so I was getting paid to go to Coachella.  It was great.

* Reed and I survived 8 months of long distance, which was really tough, but now we’re going to school together.  And it’s amazing. 

* I went to Vidcon for the …fourth time? … and I got to meet friends from the Internet that I’ve never seen in person. 

* I also went to Sequoia National Park for the first time.  And it was gorgeous.  I went on an 8 mile hike there.  It was fantastic. 

* Also I went to Laughlin, Nevada, and went jet skiing for the first time.

* And, of course, I made a ton of videos.

* Most importantly, I applied to college, because I decided that it was the right thing for me to do.  I got rejected, wait-listed, and accepted.  I experienced it all.

          But yeah, I am so, so glad that I followed my heart and really listened to myself senior year and decided that college wasn’t right for me at that point, because it gave me the time to do this gap year, and to get my head straight and work, and earn money for the things that I needed, and then figure out that I wanted to go to college and that this college was right for me, and, I’m really, really, excited.

          If you guys have ever have any questions about gap years, please ask me.  I pretty much recommend them to anyone. 

If you guys have any college related, uh, video requests…I am here now, so just let me know.

OK, thanks, bye!


Imagine you could quit work or school for one year and take a gap year.  You can do anything you like.  What would you like to do?  Think of ten goals for your gap year:
1



2



3



4



5



6



7



8



9



10


Share your ideas with a partner.  You and your partner both have to agree on a top 5
1



2



3



4



5






Share your ideas with another pair.  All 4 of you now have to agree on a top 5
1



2



3



4



5









Monday, January 25, 2016

10 Best Books: Non-Fiction

After hitting 10 years of book reviewing, I've been listing my 10 worst fiction books, my ten worst non-fiction books, and my ten best fiction books.  Here's the final list: 10 best non-fiction books from the past 10 years.

1. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (original review here)

A first hand authentic narrative of the Spanish Civil War would have been invaluable just in and of itself.  But the literary skill that George Orwell brings in re-telling his account make this book not just informative, but a pleasure to read.  Right from the opening page, you know you're in the hands of an author who can suck you in completely with his prose.


2. The Scramble for Africa by Thomas Pakenham (original review here)

Who would have ever thought that you could make an engaging narrative history about the Scramble for Africa?  It covers 30 years, involves a cast of thousands, and two whole continents, several wars, and changing allegiances.
And yet, Thomas Pakenham pulls it off brilliantly.  I was sucked into all his stories: the search for Doctor Livingstone, Gordon defending Khartoum, the mysterious Emin Pasha (long rumored to be holding out somewhere in the Sudan with one of Gordon's lost regiments), Cecil Rhodes and his made ambitions, Catholic missionaries facing off against brutal tribal chiefs, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,
The best narrative history book I've ever read.

3. The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (original review here)

I don't agree with absolutely everything Paine says.  (And in my original review, I wrote at length on exactly where I disagreed with Paine.)
But there are large sections of this book which just make such clear sense to me--the section on the nature of revelation, and hearsay, and why it's ridiculous that God would choose to reveal himself only to a few people and then rest of history would just be stuck with this book recording those supposed revelations--those sections were just such clear common sense.  You feel like you've finally woken up to the absurdity of religious claims after reading this book.

4. Revolutions of 1848 by Priscilla Robertson (original review here)

Like The Scramble for Africa, this is another subject that you wouldn't think would lend itself to a narrative history.  Over 50 revolutions in several different countries--each separate revolution with it's own cast of characters, it's own version of moderate reformers, radicals, and conservatives.  And yet Priscilla Robertson pulls it off.  She tells great stories in which you feel the romanticism and the idealism of the early days, and also bitterly feel the disappointment and disillusionment of the end.

5. Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia by William Shawcross (original review here)

This book has 3 things to recommend it.
1). Every one should read it so that every one knows exactly what war crimes Nixon and Kissinger committed.  (It is an obscenity to justice that Kissinger is still walking about as a free man enjoying his retirement as a respected statesman instead of in jail for war crimes).
2. Every one should read this book so they know how the government works.  (The secret bombing of Cambodia, and the government surveillance of US citizens has all too many parallels to the drone strikes and NSA surveillance of today.)
3. Every one should read this book just because it is so well-written.  Shawcross is a journalist, and he knows how to make his history flow like a story.  It's a fascinating read.

6. Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman (original review here)


When I went to college at a conservative Christian school, I discovered a strange thing there--the professors in the religion department knew all sorts of things about the Bible that were completely different than what I had been told every week in Sunday School for the first 18 years of my life.
That huge disconnect--the disconnect between what scholars actually know about the Bible, and what is taught every week in Sunday School--is what inspired Bart Ehrman to try and write a book to bring modern biblical scholarship to a mass audience.  He also examines the problem of why all this stuff never makes it into Sunday School, even though the pastors all learn about it in seminary.  A fascinating read.

7. At War With Asia by Noam Chomsky (original review here)

The Pentagon will gladly supply, on request, such information as the quantity of ordnance expended in Indochina. From 1965 through 1969 this amounts to about 4.5 million tons by aerial bombardment. This is nine times the tonnage of bombing in the entire Pacific theater in World War II, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki—“over 70 tons of bombs for every square mile of Vietnam, North and South…about 500 pounds of bombs for every man, woman and child in Vietnam.” The total of “ordnance expended” is more than doubled when ground and naval attacks are taken into account. With no further information than this, a person who has not lost his senses must realize that the war is an overwhelming atrocity.” (p. 225)

Oh wow, just....wow...

8. The Fall of Paris by Alistair Horne (original review here)

Every time I mention this book, I have to distance myself from the politics of the author.  (He's a conservative historian writing about the most influential event in leftist mythology).
But oh, what great story-telling abilities Alistair Horne has.  Whether you're a conservative or a liberal, you can't help but get sucked into this story.  The whole drama of the Franco-Prussian War, and then the whole drama of the Paris Commune.

9. The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker (original review here)

When judging favorite books, sometimes a book is valuable not only for the reading experience itself, but what you take away from it afterwards.
This book is like that.  I struggled through parts of it, but I've found the knowledge I gained from it invaluable.  It's like a quick little crash course in the past 50 years of modern linguistics.  (Admittedly not everyone agrees with Pinker, but reading this book will still give you a sense of where the debate begins.)

10. George Orwell: Essays (original review here)

Agree with him or disagree with him, Orwell is always a pleasure to read.  There were several essays in this collection in which I disagreed with Orwell (or didn't have a dog in the fight either way--his criticisms of boy's weekly magazines in England in the 1940s, for example) but I still enjoyed following his arguing style.
That, plus Politics and the English Language, The Sporting Spirit, and Notes on Nationalism should all be required reading for everyone.

Honorable mentions
A couple years ago, I posted a list of all my favorite narrative history books.  Which arguably makes this list somewhat redundant.
This list is slightly different--it attempts to rank the books, and it's not limited simply to narrative histories, but also includes essays, political polemics, books on religion, and books on linguistics.
But, okay, it's largely the same list.
Anyway, not all the books from my favorite narrative history book list made it on my top ten, but they all get honorable mentions:

Conspirator: Lenin in Exile by Helen Rappaport (original review here)

For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette and Their Revolutions by James R. Gaines (original review here)

Karl Marx: A Life by Francis Wheen (original review here)

The Great Upheaval by Jay Winik (original review here)

The Judgment of Paris by Ross King (original review here)

Three Empires on the Nile by Dominic Green (original review here)

Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore (original review here)

The Insurrectionist by Jules Valles (original review here)

Monarchy by David Starkey (original review here)

The World that Never Was by Alex Butterworth (original review here)

Rubicon by Tom Holland (original review here)

A World on Fire by Amanda Foreman (original review here)

Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman (original review here)

Moving away from history books to political polemics, I also really loved The Truth With Jokes by Al Franken (original review here).  As with all political polemics, however, it hasn't kept it's topicality well--everything in it is now 10 years  out of date.  But it was a great book for it's time.

Also, I've already mentioned one Bart Ehrman book in the list above, but if you have time for two Bart Ehrman books, than Misquoting Jesus is also pretty good (original review here).

I have a love-hate relationship with The Age of Revolution by Eric Hobsbawm (original review here).  I really hate the academic style it's written in, but I have to admit I learned a ton of interesting stuff from it.  

Alright, and that finishes off all my best-of and worst-of lists.  From tomorrow, this blog will return to its regularly scheduled programming.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky with David Barsimian, Conversation, 18 March 2015

Sunday, January 24, 2016

10 Best Books: Fiction

So, after hitting ten years of book reviewing on this blog, I posted a list of the ten worst fiction books I'd read, followed by the ten worst non-fiction books I'd read.  Now, here comes my list of the ten best fiction books over the past ten years--starting with the best first, and working outwards from there.

1. The Masters of Rome Series by Colleen McCullough (review of Caesar here, review of The October Horse here).


Okay, first off, I acknowledge I'm cheating slightly on this one.  It's a whole series of books instead of one book.  But since it all tells one continuous story, to my mind it's all one big long book.
Secondly, of the 7 books in the series, I only reviewed two of them on this blog.  (The first 4 books I read back in my youth in the 90s, long before I started this blog).
Thirdly, there's no denying these books have their faults.  McCullough has been criticized for writing Roman history as if it were a soap opera.  (The sex lives of Roman aristocrats get more attention than the intense class-warfare which characterized the last 100 years of the Republic).
Related to the above point, McCulllough misses of the most interesting parts of the period.  Some key events happen in the years between books (and just get summarized briefly in the author's introduction) and even within the text, McCullough drops the ball and gives short-shrift to some key events (for example the Catiline conspiracy or the gang warfare between Milo and Clodius).
Also I've never really been a big fan of McCullough's dialogue, and when it comes to prose style, and she's not my favorite narrator in the world.
The early books have an obvious bias in favor of the Populare faction (W) in Roman politics.  As the books progress into the age of Julius Caesar, the author develops an almost embarrassing infatuation with Caesar.
But of course these books are going to have their flaws.  They're some 7,000 pages long covering an epic sweep of 80 years of history.  Of course they're going to have all sorts of flaws.  Of course it's going to be super easy for someone like me to sit back and nit pick, and say "Hmmm, well, she didn't get this part exactly right."
But what an epic ambition these books have.  And, despite all her flaws, McCullough tells the story skillfully.  (Bad dialogue aside, she writes characters you really remember.)  Most of my historical knowledge of the Roman republic comes from these books.

2. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain (original review here)

Satire usually loses its relevance as it ages, so you wouldn't expect a book this old to still be funny.  But it's hilarious.  Laugh out loud funny in parts.

3. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (original review here)

So delightfully creepy, and the central mystery of the story is teased out so expertly.

4. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (original review here)

Historical Fiction at its finest.  All the twists and turns of the Dreyfus Affair expertly laid out in the form of a novel.

5. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (original review here)

A co-worker of mine is currently struggling through this book, and talks to me occasionally about his frustrations--the plot isn't going anywhere, it's all people sitting around and talking in ballrooms, and for a book entitled War and Peace, there's very little battle scenes.
I counsel him as best I can--just accept that the plot isn't going to go anywhere anytime soon, and that the whole point of the book is to just hang out with the characters and get to know all about them, and all about their lives in every detail.
If you can do that, it's a wonderful book.  (How often do you get to just "hang out" with the characters, with no expectations of a plot getting in the way?)  If you can't do that...well, maybe this book isn't for everyone I guess.
The characters are some of the most well developed characters in all of literature--they feel like real people, they rationalize their actions to themselves like real people.  (Even when a character does something foolish or bad, you understand exactly why they are doing it.)
And then, when the Napoleonic Wars finally do come crashing into this novel, you experience so much more keenly all the disruption it caused because you're so invested in the lives of all of these characters.

6. The Once and Future King by T.H. White (original review here)

I had a number of problems with this book (all of which I detailed in my review), but on the whole a fascinating story that T.H. White is able to bring to life for modern audiences.  I might never get around to reading the original Le Morte D'Arthur, but I at least know the story now thanks to this book.

7.  Burmese Days by George Orwell (original review here)

This isn't Orwell's best fiction, but this list is strictly limited to recounting only the books I've reviewed in the last ten years.  (1984 and Animal Farm I read before starting this book review project.)
Like War and Peace, this is another novel in which the plot  moves very slowly, but the main purpose is to hang out with the characters.  And I think Orwell created some great characters.  Maybe I'm just biased because I identified so strongly with the main character.
Also, a great literary picture of the nature of colonialism, that in some ways makes this book more valuable than any history textbook.

8.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (original review here)

Considered the greatest American novel for a reason.

9. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (original review here)

I'm not generally a huge Hemingway fan, but I loved this book.  Hemingway expertly milks all the tension, isolation and claustrophobia of a group of guerrilla fighters all alone up in the mountains who all start out on the same mission, but end up increasingly spending all of their energy arguing more and more with each other

10. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (original review here)

As I mentioned in my original review, the anything-for-a-gag format of the book can be a bit exhausting at times.  And sure, about half the jokes are real groaners.  But so many jokes fly at you so fast that you just can't help but smile at some of them.
The real strength of the book, though, is how it draws you more and more into its bizarre logic, until by the end of the book, you're not quite sure what is rational and what is absurd anymore.  Is Yossarian insane, or is it the world?

Honorable Mentions

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (review here)
Admittedly, I lost my patience with this series as it went on and got more - and - more - tedious - with each sequel.  But the first book in the series is absolutely perfect--tightly plotted, quickly executed, and non-stop action and adventure from beginning to end.  The historical details are also interesting for us history nerds.  Just try to ignore all the repulsive pro-monarchist politics of the book, and you should be alright.

Funeral Games by Mary Renault (review here)
A really epic Game of Thrones style story about several different characters struggling for power.  Mary Renault allows you to follow the rise and fall of several interesting characters in this book.  If this had been a stand alone novel, it probably would have made my top ten.  But in order to fully appreciate all of these characters, you need to read the first two books in the trilogy first.  And I was underwhelmed by the first two - books.

Babbitt (review here) and It Can't Happen Here (review here) by Sinclair Lewis
Sinclair Lewis was ahead of his time as a humor writer.  (His bizarre take on the oddities of suburban life would be right at home in episodes of The Simpons or Family Guy).
I like It Can't Happen Here generally as an entertaining book, but as political satire I think it misses its mark slightly.  (The over-night conversion to fascism shown in this book is unrealistic in American society.)  And for that reason, Sinclair Lewis doesn't quite make my top ten.  But still an entertaining author.

The Long Good-Bye by Raymond Chandler (review here)
I'm not sure why I never went back and read more Raymond Chandler.  (I guess I have nobody but myself to blame for missing out on more great books.)  But if you want to see an author take the pulpy exploitative genre of the hard-drinking private-detective story, and turn it into an art form, read this book.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (review here)
Perhaps judged simply as a story, this isn't the best book in the world.  But as a creator of a sort of modern mythology, Robert Louis Stevenson is brilliant.  He fully creates this whole world of pirate lore and pirate mythology.

The Golden Compass Trilogy by Philip Pullman (reviews here, here and here)
I started these books fairly cynical--typical YA fiction, I thought, typical child-hero protagonist.  Typical fantasy world.
But then the second book introduces the concept of multiple universes, and all of a sudden the possibilities and imagination in these books kicks into overdrive, and I was hooked.

The Flashman Series by George MacDonald Fraser (list of reviews here)
I hesitate to recommend these books for all of the reasons listed in my reviews.  (They can be misogynistic, imperialist, racist, and they have a lot of dark humor).  But, I  have to admit they are entertaining.  They certainly kept me coming back for more and more.
The obscure historical notes make these books a delight for any history nerd.  Anyone who's not a history nerd can give them a pass.

The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett
A friend of mine recently discovered these books, and read through all of them from beginning to end.
"Didn't it get boring reading so many books from the same series at once?" I asked him.
"Not at all," he said.  "I loved the way Pratchett just kept spinning this world out further and further with each book."
I've been somewhat intrigued by this, and someday have ambitions to read the whole series like he did.
At the moment, however, I've only read a handful of the Discworld books.  Nevertheless, I can recommend all the books that I did read.   Guards! Guards! , Soul Music , The Amazing Maurice and his Educated RodentsThe Truth , The Color of Magic , Thief of Time , Night Watch , Interesting Times , Monstrous Regiment , and Going Postal.

Other Notes, Disclaimers, and Addendums

* Just to be clear, this is not a list of my top 10 favorite books of all time, but rather just the top ten since I started regularly reviewing books on my blog in 2006.  I was already 27 by that point, and past my most formative years. All of the books which really made a big impression on me were books I read before the age of 25.

* Nor is this a list of my best book reviews.
In fact, since I have a rather limited vocabulary, I tend to resort to the same few adjectives every time I like a book (fascinating, interesting, brilliant).  And so the books I like the best are also usually the ones I describe with the least skill.  (I think I'm better at articulating why I don't like a book than I am at putting my finger on exactly why I like particular book.  So I tend to be happier with my negative reviews than with my positive reviews.)

* I've mentioned before the flaws inherent in a list like this, but perhaps it bears repeating.  First of all this is just my own subjective tastes--which is why so many books about history and historical fiction tend to rank so high.
Secondly, even within my own subjective tastes it's flawed in the sense that I have difficulty quantifying my feelings, and that my feelings change from day to day.  Ask me how I feel tomorrow, and you may well find a completely different list.
And then over the passage of ten years, the memory fades somewhat as well.  There are a few books that I think I enjoyed reading well enough at the time, but just don't remember enough to put on this list.
Consider this as just kind of a fun attempt to sort out my favorite fiction books from the past ten years, rather than a definitive list.

* I'll admit, this list is double-dipping a bit, because I have already done two favorite lists of fiction in the past: my list of all the classic books which are fun to read, and my list of my favorite historical fiction.  (I cheated in my list of historical fiction, because I decided that I liked them all.)  If you read those lists, you'll find a lot of the same books repeated here.

Tomorrow, the top ten non-fiction books.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky - "The machine, the ghost, and the limits of understanding"