Monday, October 16, 2017

Beloved by Toni Morrison

(Book Review)

Started: September 20, 2017
Finished: October 9, 2017

Why I Read This Book
If left to my own devices, I would never have read this book.  But this was a book we did for book club, so I went along with it.

Sabrina suggested it. 

There was no denying it was Sabrina's turn to pick a book.  (Down and Out in Paris and LondonA Passage to IndiaLady Chatterley's Lover, The Sun Also Rises, and Palace Walk had all been my choices. The Brothers Karamazov and Pale Fire had been Tom's.)   So Tom and I went along with this choice.

We've generally been trying to stick to the classics in this little bookclub of ours.  Beloved is the most recent book we've done so far, (first published in 1987) but it's become famous enough that it's arguable a modern classic.

The Review
I have mixed feelings about this book.

I'll start with the positives.
Before we started the book, Tom expressed the concern that this would just be another feel-bad novel about slavery.
But this book is so much more than this.  It's a ghost story, and Toni Morrison has succeeded at creating a very haunting atmosphere.

I'm reminded of  the review that the AVclub gave to the movie: 12 Years a Slave:

If there was any doubt that this is a horror movie, Hans Zimmer’s score pounds and roars with dread—the appropriate soundtrack for the madness of history.
The idea as slavery as a horror story is probably a more accurate description of Beloved.
The story of the book is told mostly in flashback.  Right from the beginning of the book, we hear the names of the former slaves that the main characters (Sethe and Paul D) once knew, but their gruesome fates are only hinted at.
The mystery hooks the reader right in, and helps to add to the eerie atmosphere of the ghost story.
Gradually, the novel gives us more and more hints, until we finally have the full awful picture of what happened at Sweet Home.

Now, to the negatives:
I didn't like Toni Morrison's writing style.  It was too poetic for me, and I had to struggle to keep focused.
Granted, this is more reflective of me and my limitations as a reader than it is of the book.  If you're the kind of person who likes a lot of poetic description in your novels, then you'll love this book.

Getting frustrated with one of the more poetic passages, I wrote down "Ugh, typical" in the margins next to this paragraph:
Denver was seeing it now and feeling it--through Beloved.  Feeling how it must have felt to her mother. Seeing how it must have looked. And the more fine points she made, the more detail she provided, the more Beloved liked it.  so she anticipated the questions by giving blood to the scraps her mother and grandmother had told her--and a heartbeat.  The monologue became, in fact, a duet as they lay down together, Denver nursing Beloved's interest like a lover whose pleasure was to overfeed the loved. The dark quilt with two orange patches was there with them because Beloved wanted it near her when she slept. It was smelling like grass and feeling like hands--the unrested hands of busy women; dry, warm, prickly. Denver spoke, Beloved listened, and the two did the best they could to create what really happened, and how it was really was, something only Sethe knew because sh alone had the mind for it and the time afterward to shape it: the quality of Amy's voice, her breath like burning wood.  The quick-change weather up in those hills--cool at night, hot in the day, sudden fog. How recklessly she behaved with this whitegirl--a recklessness born of desperation and encouraged by Amy's fugitive eyes and her tenderhearted mouth.
If you like that, there's plenty more where that came from. But I found this almost unreadable.  (To be perfectly honest, if this hadn't been a book club book, I think I would have given up on it.  But because we were doing it for bookclub, I struggled through out of a sense of obligation.)
In our book club, Tom and I hated the writing style, and Sabrina loved it.  So this obviously differs from person to person.

Other Notes and Random Thoughts
So, with apologies, I'm not really going to be able to do justice to this book.  Someone who actually likes it will have to do a better job at tackling it's themes.  (See, for example, here.)  I've got just a few more scattered thoughts, and then I'm just going to call it a day on this book.

* Parts of this book were harder to read than others.  At times, the story was told in a stream of consciousness type narrative.  Tom and I really hated this, Sabrina liked it.  But then other times the prose would return to something very normal and readable, that all 3 of us agreed we enjoyed.
I'm reminded somewhat of The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner which also kind of did the same thing--alternated conventional easy-to-read story-telling with hard to follow stream of consciousness prose.

* We got some interesting discussion out of our bookclub on the issue of slavery.
Sabrina, being from India, confessed she didn't know much of the history of slavery.
Tom and I were both Americans.
Tom at one point made a comment in the discussion.  "In America, we study the history of slavery SO much." But then as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he caught himself and added, "Well, actually arguably we don't study it enough."
I think this sums up my view as well.  We talked about the slavery issue so much in my American history classes and yet, arguably, we never fully comprehend what really happened.
I think part of the problem is that we learn all of this history when we are so young.  So it gets filed away in our brains with all the other school facts we learn when we are young...the structure of the cell, and the chemical composition of water, and the history of slavery.
We don't often stop and think about the full horror of it.  Unless we are made to think about it, like when reading a novel like Beloved.
"Wow!" I thought to myself when I read this book.  "Doesn't it blow your mind to think about the fact that we actually had slaves in this country?  In America!  In the modern era!"

* When reading Beloved, I was reminded of Cambodia's Curse by Joel Brinkley
In Cambodia's Curse, Joel Brinkley argues that one of the problems facing Cambodia today is that most of the population is suffering from PTSD. 
The people who lived through the Pol Pot years are suffering from PTSD for obvious reasons.
But also, Joel Brinkley says, their children are also suffering from PTSD.  Apparently psychologists are learning more about how PTSD can actually be passed down from parent to child.  Because the children were brought up by emotionally scarred parents, the children suffered an abnormal upbringing, and so picked up a lot of the emotional damage of their parents.
I thought about this in connection with Beloved.  Even though the book takes place among freed blacks after the end of slavery, Sethe and Paul D obviously seem to be still suffering from the trauma of what they experienced on the plantation.  And Sethe's child, Denver, seems to be inheriting some of the emotional trauma of her mother.
I suspect that this is not just me reading too much into the book--I think one of the themes of the book is supposed to be how hard it was for black people to form real communities after the trauma of slavery.

* I'm deliberately avoiding talking too much about the plot, because a lot of the interest in this book is created by the reader gradually figuring out what the plot is.
Unfortunately, I spoiled this somewhat for myself by reading the Foreword of the book.  The Foreword gives too much of the plot away.  (If you plan on reading this book, don't touch The Foreword until the end)

* That being said, one of the interesting things that I did learn from The Forward was that Toni Morrison had edited Angela Davis's autobiography.
I actually read Angela Davis's biography when I was in college.  (That was back in the 1990s, so I wasn't blogging at the time.  So no review on this blog.  But I have occasionally mentioned Angela Davis's biography--see here, here and here.)

Video review
Video review here and embedded below.



Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky  On Trump Climate Policies

Collaborative Story Writing Activity

(TESOL Worksheets--Writing, Time Killers and Time Fillers)
Google: docs, pub
[This is not entirely my own creation.  The idea comes from the Productive Workshop at my center.  But I'm responsible for putting this all into one easy to use hand-out.
The comic book templates can be found online.  One example is here.]

Collaborative Story Writing Activity

The Aim
Students do a guided story-writing activity through prompts from the teacher, and then illustrate it in a comic book form.

Procedure
Group the students into groups of 3-4.  Give each a piece of paper.  The students will write 1 thing (follow the list below) and then they will fold over the top of the paper and pass it to the second person (folding over the paper so that the second person can’t see what the first person has written).

  1. Write the name of a place
  2. Write the name of 2 people
  3. What are the two people doing?
  4. What happens next?
  5. Where do the 2 people go next?
  6. Who do they meet?
  7. How do they feel?
  8. What happens at the end?

Before the student open up their dialogues to look, give the instructions of the next task.  Show them a comic book template. Tell them they are going to look at their story and turn it into a comic.  Remember, they must write first and then draw.  ICQ: Do you write first or draw first?
After students have completed their comic, collect them and post them around the room.  
Students walk around and read the comics, they then tick their favorite one.  After they’ve finished, collect all the comics and congratulate the winner.
Variation
Students present their comic to another group. They have 4 minutes to present their comic.  Then, students present their comic to a second group, and they have 3 minutes to present their comic.  Finally, students present their comic to a third group, and have 2 minutes to present their comic.  (In theory, with practice fluency will increase each time.  As pauses decrease, and rate of speaking increase, students will need less and less time to present with each repetition.)

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Why Is Nihon Called Japan In English?



I used to have ask this question all the time when I lived in Japan, and never got a complete answer.  Which, it turns out (according to the video) is because nobody really knows the complete history.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Life Elementary Review Units 4-6

(Supplemental Materials for Specific Textbooks--Life Elementary)


Review Units 4-6 Quizlet: docs, pub

Life Elementary Units 4-6
https://quizlet.com/_230ta8


Life Elementary Units 4-6
https://quizlet.com/_230ta8


Life Elementary Units 4-6
https://quizlet.com/_230ta8

Life Elementary Units 4-6
https://quizlet.com/_230ta8

Started: The Language Myth by Vyvyan Evans 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Bread and Butter _____ my family's daily food 10 years ago.

(Grammar Questions I Couldn't Answer)

This question comes from one of my Vietnamese colleagues.
His student (also Vietnamese) was working through fill in the blank exercises in his grammar book, and came across this sentence:

Bread and Butter _____ my family's daily food 10 years ago.

He had to select either "was" or "were" to fit in the blank.

My native-speaker intuition was telling me either could really work here, but I was kind of leaning towards "was".  But why?

"Bread" and "Butter" were both uncountable nouns.  Uncountable nouns take the singular verb.  But in this case there were two of them, so together they made a plural subject, right?  So why was I leaning towards "was" ?

Perhaps because the predicate "food" was also uncountable?

Or perhaps my native speaker intuition was off?

Monday, October 09, 2017

Finished--Beloved by Toni Morrison  (Review coming soon...hopefully)

TEFLology Episode 64: ELF Revisited, L.A. Hill, and Interview Voices

(TEFLology Podcasts)

You can listen to episode 64 here

I'm really behind in my reviewing now.  This episode came out close to 2 months ago now.  (I'm behind by 4 episodes now.)

But, better late then never, here's my review.

Even though I'm just getting around to writing the review now, I actually listened to this episode several weeks ago.  (And I linked to it in my review of Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers). 

Part of the reason I procrastinated on writing this review is that they touch on a lot of juicy topics, and there's a lot to say about them. 
There's a temptation, therefore, to gush forth with all my thoughts on each of these topics, and spend 3 hours writing this review.

I'm going to try to resist that temptation, and just limit myself to some very brief sentences.

ELF
* Boy, there's a lot to say on this topic if you really wanted to get into it.  And as the TEFLologists themselves admit, this isn't even the first time that they've broached this topic.  (This was one of their first ever episodes.  And also it relates to the interview they did with Jennifer Jenkins recently). 

L.A. Hill
As coincidence would have it, these two topics are related, since the discussion on L.A. Hill doubled back to more discussion on ELF.

And then the discussion also related to Krashen.

Again, I have lots of thoughts on this, but I'll try to keep my comments brief.

* I've noticed myself through my own personal experience that most people in Asia are using English as a lingua franca to communicate with other people in Asia, rather than with Americans.  For example, when I was in Japan, I was asked to teach extra English classes to prepare some junior high school students to communicate with Koreans.

* In Vietnam, I've also noticed how the current boom in English schools is driven exclusively by the belief that English ability will lead to better jobs.  The focus is almost exclusively on passing IELTS exams, and very little on learning English for cultural enrichment reasons. 
Which I find frustrating.  But this is the way things are. 

* I've used similar information about the differences between older students and younger students in my presentation about comprehensible input for young learners.  Although in my case, I took the information from Lourdes Ortega's book, and not from Krashen. 

* I've double checked the reference section in the Krashen books I have, and I couldn't find any reference to L.A. Hill.  (But who knows, Hill could be referenced in a book I don't have.)

Interview Voices
* The high pitched "telephone voice" that woman in Japan are supposed to use is something I've also observed.  (Everyone who has lived in Japan has observed this.)  It's endlessly fascinating to outsiders.  I've even read articles which analyze all the times women in Japan are supposed to talk in high pitched voices, and all the times they're not.  (Example: Japanese female broadcasters are supposed to talk in high pitches for talk shows, but not for serious news reporting.)

English World 2 Unit 10 Listening p.108

 (Supplementary Material for Specific Textbooks--English World 2)




Google drive folder HERE
Listening PowerPoint: drive, slides, pub
Listening Transcript: drive, docs, pub
Production: drive, docs, pub
Listen and Sing: drive, slides, pub




Sunday, October 08, 2017

Life Elementary 6F Bactrian Treasure p.78-79

(Supplemental Materials for Specific Textbooks--Life Elementary)


Google Driver Folder HERE
Vocabulary: drive, docs, pub
Transcript: docs, pub



amazing
culture
famous
jewellery
region
route
statue
steal
terrible
wear
very great
the habits, traditions, and beliefs of a country, society, or group of people
known by many people
objects made from gold, silver, and valuable stones that you wear for decoration
a particular area
the roads you follow to get from one place to another place
a model that looks like a person or animal, usually made from stone or metal
to secretly take something that does not belong to you, without intending to return it
very bad
to have a piece of clothing, jewellery, etc on your body

Match the words to the sentences:
amazing, culture, famous, jewellery, region, route, statues, stolen, terrible, wear

  1. What kind of clothes do you often ____________ ?

  1. How is Vietnamese ____________ different from American ____________?

  1. Have you ever ____________ anything from a friend or family member?  If so, what was it?  

  1. What ____________ person would you like to meet?  Why?

  1. What is the most ____________ place in your country?

  1. Can you think of a ____________ movie that you saw recently?

  1. Do you like wearing ____________?  If so, what kind of ____________ do you wear?

  1. Are there any famous ____________ in your city?  Who are they ____________ of?

  1. What ____________ do you travel to get to work/school every day?

  1. What is your favorite ____________ in your country?  Why?
Answers:

  1. What kind of clothes do you often wear?

  1. How is Vietnamese culture different from American culture?

  1. Have you ever stolen anything from a friend or family member?  If so, what was it?  

  1. What famous person would you like to meet?  Why?

  1. What is the most amazing place in your country?

  1. Can you think of a terrible movie that you saw recently?

  1. Do you like wearing jewellery?  If so, what kind of jewellery do you wear?

  1. Are there any famous statues in your city?  Who are they statues of?

  1. What route do you travel to get to work/school every day?

  1. What is your favorite region in your country?  Why?


Match the words to the transcript:
amazing, culture, famous, jewellery, region, route, statue, stolen, terrible, wore

Over 2,000 years ago, the northern part of Afghanistan was called Bactria.  Bactria was an important place because it was on the main (1)______________ between the Mediterranean, China and India.
It became a rich region and (2)______________ for its kings and queens, their palaces and gold.
In 1978, a group of Russian archeologists were in the (3)______________ and discovered more than 20,000 gold items from the period.  The treasure included this beautiful gold crown.  A Bactrian queen (4)______________ it.
The archaeologists moved the treasure to the national museum in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.  But this was a period of (5)______________ war for the people of Afghanistan and the treasure disappeared.
Was it (6)______________?  Many people thought so.
Then, in 2004, archaeologists discovered six underground vaults in Kabul.  There were no keys, so they had to break open the doors one by one.  Behind the first door, there was the gold and (7)______________.
For example, these gold bracelets have lion heads on them.
And as they opened the next five doors to each vault they found more and more treasure, like this golden belt.
The treasure also tells us a lot about Bactrian history.  These are faces of people from Bactria.  And this (8)______________ of a cat and this animal tells us that animals were important in Bactrian (9)______________.
Now the Bactrian treasure is travelling to museums all around the world so everyone can enjoy this (10)______________ treasure and learn about the history of Bactria.
Answers:

Over 2,000 years ago, the northern part of Afghanistan was called Bactria.  Bactria was an important place because it was on the main (1)route between the Mediterranean, China and India.
It became a rich region and (2)famous for its kings and queens, their palaces and gold.
In 1978, a group of Russian archeologists were in the (3)region and discovered more than 20,000 gold items from the period.  The treasure included this beautiful gold crown.  A Bactrian queen (4)wore it.
The archaeologists moved the treasure to the national museum in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.  But this was a period of (5)terrible war for the people of Afghanistan and the treasure disappeared.
Was it (6)stolen?  Many people thought so.
Then, in 2004, archaeologists discovered six underground vaults in Kabul.  There were no keys, so they had to break open the doors one by one.  Behind the first door, there was the gold and (7)jewellery.
For example, these gold bracelets have lion heads on them.
And as they opened the next five doors to each vault they found more and more treasure, like this golden belt.
The treasure also tells us a lot about Bactrian history.  These are faces of people from Bactria.  And this (8)statue of a cat and this animal tells us that animals were important in Bactrian (9)culture.
Now the Bactrian treasure is travelling to museums all around the world so everyone can enjoy this (10)amazing treasure and learn about the history of Bactria.

Friday, October 06, 2017

English World 5 Unit 4 Vocabulary

(Supplementary Material for Specific Textbooks--English World 5)




Slideshow: slides, pub
Quizlet: docs, pub



English World 5 Unit 4 Vocabulary
https://quizlet.com/_3sgg9i



English World 5 Unit 4 Vocabulary
https://quizlet.com/_3sgg9i



English World 5 Unit 4 Vocabulary
https://quizlet.com/_3sgg9i

Thursday, October 05, 2017

English World 5 Review Vocabulary Units 1-3

(Supplementary Material for Specific Textbooks--English World 5)


Quizlet: docs, pub

English World 5 Units 1-3 Vocabulary
https://quizlet.com/_3qzhin

English World 5 Units 1-3 Vocabulary
https://quizlet.com/_3qzhin

English World 5 Units 1-3 Vocabulary
https://quizlet.com/_3qzhin

English World 5 Units 1-3 Vocabulary
https://quizlet.com/_3qzhin

Star Trek Discovery: Episode 1. Brief Thoughts

Star Trek: Discovery hasn't been released in Vietnam, but through the magic of the Internet, I've managed to watch the first episode.

This isn't a full review, but I do have some brief thoughts.

I think I liked it.  It was intense.  Interesting.
I really liked the characters.  And I liked the actors.
Although final judgement will have to wait until I see more episodes.

I do, however, have some continuity nitpicks.

First...
Thoughts on Continuity
As someone who used to be a Star Trek fan since the 1980s, I remember when people used to complain about Star Trek's continuity problem.
In interviews, writers and producers used to complain about how hard it was to tell new stories in the Star Trek world since there was so much continuity to keep track of, and it was suffocating new stories.

Amazing how times have changed.  Television shows have gotten so sophisticated that, by comparison, Star Trek's continuity looks like nothing.
In most Star Trek episodes, the Enterprise would go to a completely new planet, and the basic story would reset with each new planet.
You had to keep track of the technology available on the Enterprise (what the ship could do, and what the ship couldn't do).  And you had a handful of facts to keep straight about the Vulcans, Klingons, and Romulans.  And that was pretty much it
Compare that to the complex convoluted story going on in Game of Thrones now.
OK, Game of Thrones is an extreme example.  But pretty much most shows on TV now have a ongoing story and continuity to keep track of.
Even Star Wars, which was always supposed to be the fun, brainless science fiction franchise, is rapidly developing a more convoluted continuity than Star Trek.  (Kirk and Spock can always go off and investigate a completely new planet, but every episode of Star Wars has to fit into the saga of the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire.)

That being said, I do have some thoughts:

1) Why make this a prequel? Why?  Prequels are boring.  We already know what's going to happen to the Federation in 20 years, you can't surprise us.  (Or you could, but then you'd create continuity problems).  Why not just set this series after the established continuity?  What advantage do you gain by making this a prequel?
(I know Star Trek: Enterprise was a prequel, but isn't that widely cited as one of the main reason Star Trek: Enterprise flopped?)

2) Making the main character into Spock's adopted sister also creates problems.
We already did the "Spock has a long lost sibling you never heard about" thing in Star Trek V.  And Spock already had to explain away once why Kirk had never heard of his brother.  So why do it again?
(That being said... now that we've already opened up this Pandora's box, I'm going to expect to hear about the young Sybok at some point on Star Trek: Discovery.)

3) Some fans are complaining that the technology in Star Trek: Discovery doesn't look like the set of the original series.  But to me, this is water under the bridge at this point.  Star Trek: Enterprise and J.J. Abrams Star Trek already showed us technology that doesn't look like the original series.
My own personal philosophy is that you have to cut the show some slack on visual representations, because visual styles have changed since 1966.

4). I would have been content to also excuse away the Klingon make-up as evolving visual representation.  Except that the show wasn't.  Star Trek: Enterprise went through the trouble of doing a 3-episode story arc to explain why the Klingons during Kirk and Spock's era look different than the Klingons in the TNG era.  So it's canon now.  So I'm counting this as a continuity nitpick.

5).  Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but during the original Star Trek series, only the Romulans had cloaking technology.  It wasn't until later that the Klingons developed it.
So, if this show is set 10 years before Kirk and Spock, the Klingons shouldn't be able to cloak their ships, right?  (See, this is exactly the reason why they shouldn't have made this a prequel.  Look at all the problems prequels cause!)

Bonus Link:
Star Trek Discovery (Pilot Episodes) - re:View