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Archive for the 'Books and Reading' Category

Thursday - February 20, 2014

Become a Book Detective

Boy detectiveReading and listening – as we all know – are the keys (the things that make something possible) to better English. Better English is the result of spending as many hours as possible with interesting, easy-to-understand podcasts, blog posts, and … books.

If you’re like many of my students, finding a good book can be a challenge (something that tests your ability). So today I want to show you how to find a good book using a little online detective work (efforts to discover information).

When you think about books you’ve read, which book was your favorite? Which book stands out (is easy to remember) because it was easy to understand and interesting to read? Let’s start with that book and try to find one that’s similar to it. I’m going to use Holes by Louis Sachar as my example.

Begin by going to the Goodreads web site. When you get there, take a moment to create an account – it only requires your name and email address. Then return to the home page and put the title of your book in the search tool at the top of the page. When you get the search results, click on the cover of your book – it should be at the top of the list – and Goodreads will take you to the book page for your book. This is where your detective work will start.

On the book page, there are three places to find ideas for your next book. Near the top, in the right sidebar (narrow area on the right side of the page), you’ll see Readers Also Enjoyed – about 15 books that other people who read your book have also enjoyed. Often these books will be similar in some way to the book you began with. Click on the arrow to see all 15 of them.

If you scroll (move the page) down a little, you’ll find Lists with This Book. For Holes, one of the lists is Best Young Adult Books, another great place to look. Click on any of the books you see to get the complete list. There may be other helpful lists for your book.

If you scroll down a little more, you’ll find Books by Louis Sachar in the right sidebar. Reading several books by the same author is a good strategy for language development, so I often tell my students to look here first.

When you find a book you think you might enjoy, click on its cover to go to the book page, read its description, and read some of the Community Reviews to see what other readers have said about it. After that, if you’re still interested, you’ll want to read an excerpt (short part) of the book for yourself.

There are two ways to find an excerpt from a book you’re interested in. First, Goodreads provides excerpts from many books. When they do, you’ll find a “Read Excerpt” button below the the book cover. When you click on it, you’ll be taken to the beginning of the book.

If Goodreads doesn’t have an excerpt, look for “Get copy” – it’s near the cover of the book – and click on “Amazon”*. When you go to Amazon’s book page, you’ll usually see “Look Inside” on the cover of the book. If you do, click on the cover, then click on “First Pages” to go to the beginning of the book.

This process may take a little time at first, but my students tell me that it works well for them. Happy hunting! And happy reading!

*Suggestion: If you see “Get copy: Barnes and Noble”, use the circular arrow at the top of your browser to reload the page; “Barnes and Noble” should change to “Amazon”.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.

Clipart courtesy of MyCuteGraphics.





Tuesday - August 6, 2013

Ender’s Game

Ender's_game_cover_ISBN_0312932081Hollywood has a history of taking blockbuster (extremely popular and successful) fiction novels and turning them into (making from them) blockbuster movies. A recent example was The Hunger Games written by Suzanne Collins. The film version grossed (earned, before expenses are subtracted) over $680 million worldwide. Another popular novel is being made into a film and will soon be released as a movie: Ender’s Game.

Ender’s Game has some parallels (similar points or characteristics) with The Hunger Games. The protagonist (main character) is a child/teenager rather than an adult, the story is set (takes place) in the future, and the world is in crisis (in a very difficult situation likely to get worse at any moment).

Ender’s Game is a science fiction novel (book set in the future where technology is important) set in a world where an alien race (culture of people who come from another planet) has already attacked the Earth twice, killing many people and causing great destruction (damage). To get ready for a third world war, the government is looking for children to train as soldiers (people who fight in a war). Ultimately (most importantly), they are looking for a child genius (extremely smart person) who can save the world. Ender may be that child.

This may seem like a strange premise (basis for a story), and I’m normally not a reader of science fiction. However, in addition to this being a very exciting and hard-to-put-down (difficult to stop reading because it is so interesting) novel, it is a look at what it takes to train and produce the ultimate (the most; the greatest) soldier, strategist (person who plans actions and policies), and leader.

When the novel begins, Ender Wiggins is only six years old and an extremely intelligent child, who is then manipulated (controlled in a clever and subtle way) to become a tool to use to fight the enemy. Through years of training, we see from Ender’s point of view what happens to him psychologically (in the mind) as a result. It brings up difficult questions such as: “What are we willing to sacrifice to save others?” and “What are we willing to do to ourselves and others to achieve our the most important goals?”

Ender’s Game is sometimes called a young adult novel (novel for teenagers) because the protagonist is a child. But after reading it, I can say that the themes are very much adult themes that have relevance to our world today, and there is nothing childish about the novel. It’s an intelligently and sympathetically (with understanding of what others are feeling) written novel that had me on the edge of my seat (excited, waiting to see what will happen next).

The novel was published in 1985 and has won several prestigious (well-respected) awards for best science fiction, including the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award. If you like Ender’s Game, the author Orson Scott Card has written a number of sequels (continuing books that follow the same story).

The film is set to (scheduled to) be released in November here in the U.S. If you get a chance, I highly recommend reading the novel. I’m glad I did.

~ Lucy

Image Credit: Ender’s game cover  from Wikipedia

Tuesday - June 18, 2013

The Company You Keep (And Where You Keep It)

letterImagine that you are walking down the street and suddenly you see a letter on the ground. It is addressed and stamped, but clearly (obviously) has not been mailed. It appears that the person who was planning on sending the letter dropped it.

Would you mail the letter?

In one survey of American college students, 95% of those asked said yes, they would mail the letter.

Now consider what actually happened when some researchers did an experiment to test this. They took 100 letters, addressed and stamped, and put them on the ground around some college dorms (small apartments for university students, usually owned by the college). Some of the dorms had very few students in them, while others were very crowded (had lots of students living there).

The letters around the near-empty dorms were almost all picked up and mailed by the students living there. But only 60% of the letters around the crowded dorms were posted (mailed) by the students.

What’s going on here?

As Adam Alter explains, it appears that people in crowded dorms felt “less connected” or linked to their fellow (sharing the same condition or situation) students. Students in the less crowded dorms felt more connected to the students around them, probably due to the smaller number of students living there.

Alter says that where we are shapes (influences; affects) who we are. Changing your environment can change your behavior, even for things we may think are inherent in (deeply or permanently part of) us and our personalities, such as whether we are kind or generous or thoughtful (think about helping others).

Just as the physical surroundings (environment) changes us, so does the “personal” environment we are in. Our behavior and actions change based on (due to; because of) the people we are with.

Smart parents know, for example, that the kinds of friends their child has will influence their child’s behavior. They try to make sure their children’s friends are not the “wrong crowd,” the kind of children who would negatively influence their own child.

Writer and researcher Frank Smith once said that “we learn from the company we keep.” The word company, you probably know, can mean a business organization, but here it means the people who are with us – our friends, co-workers, and neighbors. The “company we keep” are the people who are around you, the people you spend your time with.

We’d all like to think that as we get older, we become less influenced by where we are and those around us, that we develop our own set of principles (ideas that guide us). But is this really true? Perhaps we need to do the “lost letter” experiment around some retirement homes (places for people who no longer work due to their age) and see what happens.


Photo credit: Letter from The Noun Project, PD



Thursday - April 18, 2013

Kiddie Wisdom

WinniethepoohThought-provoking” (making you think deeply about something) is not an adjective that many people use to describe children’s literature, sometimes called “kiddie lit.” But, in fact, it often is. Children’s literature is often filled with wisdom, lessons that have been learned over a long period of time, especially from experience.

Here are samples (a small number from a larger group) of the wisdom that you’ll find in some of my favorite children’s books. Read them, and then take a few minutes to think about them.

Thank you, Mr. Falker (Patricia Polacco) Trisha wants to read, but she can’t. When she tries, all she sees are strange shapes. Because she can’t read, her classmates call her “Dummy,” and she begins to believe them. When Mr. Falker becomes her 5th-grade teacher, everything changes. Instead of a sad girl, he sees a young artist. And when he discovers that she can’t read, he helps her believe that she can … and will!

Honey is sweet, and so is knowledge, but knowledge is like the bee that made that sweet honey, you have to chase it (run quickly to catch it) through the pages of a book.”

As they walked, Trisha said, “Gramma, do you think I’m … different?”
“Of course,” her grandmother answered, “to be different is the miracle (something good that you can’t explain) of life.”

Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll) When Alice tumbles (falls) down a rabbit hole, she enters a crazy world filled with improbable (surprising and strange) characters such as the White Rabbit, March Hare and Mad Hatter, the sleepy Dormouse, grinning (with a wide smile) Cheshire Cat, Mock Turtle, and the dreadful (very unpleasant) Queen of Hearts.

Tut, tut (a sound with no meaning), child!” said the Duchess. “Everything’s got a moral (a practical lesson about what to do or how to act), if only you can find it.”

“But it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

“I don’t see how he can ever finish, if he doesn’t begin.”

Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne) Winnie the Pooh describes the adventures of young Christopher Robin and his stuffed (filled with soft material) bear, Winnie the Pooh. Their friends Tigger (a tiger), Eeyore (a donkey), Piglet (a pig), and Owl all have unique (very different) personalities that contribute to (help make happen) their adventures.

“You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present*.”

*Note: Present means “now”; it also means “gift.”

The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) When an airplane pilot crashes in the Sahara desert, he meets a young prince (son of a king or queen) who came to Earth from a planet he calls Asteroid 325. The young prince tells the pilot about his adventures exploring other planets.

“All grown-ups (adults) were once children… but only few of them remember it.”

“A rock pile (several rocks sitting one on top of the other) ceases (stops) to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates (thoughtfully looks at) it, bearing within him (having in mind; considering) the image (idea or possibility) of a cathedral.”

“Well, I must endure (put up with) the presence of a few caterpillars (small creatures that become a butterflies) if I wish to become acquainted (familiar) with the butterflies.”

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (Dr. Seuss) This wonderfully wise speech is perfect for graduates (someone who finishes school) of any age – and the rest of us, too.

“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer (turn) yourself any direction you choose.”

“Kid, you’ll move mountains (do something impressive)!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea*,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way (get started)!”

*Note: All the names = It doesn’t make any difference who you are.

I’m curious: which of these do you want to be sure to remember?

~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

 Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday - January 29, 2013

A Drinking Song

423px-WeinWeibUGesangWilliam Butler Yeats was one of Ireland’s most famous poets in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I came across (discovered without trying to find it) a short poem of his that made me smile, and I hope will do the same for you.

It’s called “A Drinking Song,” but unlike most drinking songs, it is not meant to be sung while you are drinking beer with your buddies (friends) at the bar or pub. Instead, the “drinking” refers to the first image of the poem.

A Drinking Song
By W.B. Yeats

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

The poem begins noting (remarking; observing) that wine comes in at the mouth. To come in here simply means to enter. Wine enters your body through your mouth.

Yeats then compares this to how love “comes in” to you: “And love comes in at the eye.” We typically fall in love (at least many do) because we like the way someone looks – his or her beauty. And since we see with our eyes, love “enters” us through the eyes the same way wine “comes in” at the mouth.

And, of course, both a good glass of wine and the sight of a beautiful woman were, for Yeats, pleasurable things.

Then Yeats tells us that this simple truth, this simple fact, is “all we shall (will) know for truth (for sure; with certainty)” before we “grow old (get older) and die.”

Yeats ends by lifting (raising; bring up) his glass of wine to his mouth, and looking at “you,” the person to whom he has written this poem. “I look at you,” Yeats says, and “I sigh.” To sigh means to breathe out without saying anything, but making a small noise when you do. We usually sigh when we are sad or disappointed about something.

But it is also possible that Yeats’s sigh is one of relief, of being happy that something he feared or hoped might not be true really is true, and so now he is content (satisfied; at peace).

Which is Yeats – sad or happy at the sight of his love? If the woman in the poem loves him back, surely (of course) he will be happy.


P.S. The 19th century illustration (drawing) seen above has the expression, “[He] who does not love wine, woman, and song/Will be a fool (idiot; stupid) for his lifelong (for his entire life).”

Photo credit: Kimmel and Voigt, 1873, PD



Tuesday - December 11, 2012

If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking

Emily Dickinson was something of a recluse, a person who doesn’t leave her home very often or talk face-to-face (in person) with other people. Yet she is known now as one of the great American poets of the 19th century.

Dickinson wrote often of death and immortality (usually related to one’s soul living forever, never dying), but her poetry wasn’t always about such deep (serious) topics. Here’s one of her more inspiring (causing positive thoughts and enthusiasm) poems:

If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Dickinson begins by saying that “If I can stop (prevent) one heart from breaking.To break one’s heart is to become very sad, often because someone has died or left you.  (Okay, okay, so this poem talks about death, too, but it gets happier in a minute (soon).)

Dickinson says that if she can stop someone’s heart from breaking, “I shall not live in vain.” Something done in vain is done without any good coming out of it, without being successful. But if she can prevent someone from becoming sad, then her life will not be in vain – her life will have meaning.

She continues with this theme: “If I can ease one life the aching.” To ease is to make something that is painful less painful, to help someone feel less pain. Aching here means basically pain, usually related to losing or being without someone. So if the person speaking in this poem can help ease someone’s pain, then (again) we learn that she “shall not (will not) live in vain.”

Dickinson adds two more images here: “Or cool one pain” and “Or help one fainting robin/Unto his nest again.” To cool one’s pain would be similar to ease it, to make it less painful. A robin is a small bird (see photo). To faint usually means to fall down due to some temporary illness (sickness) or, more specifically, lack of (not having enough) oxygen.

We would not normally think of robins as “fainting,” but apparently it can happen. Anyway, this robin can faint, and Dickinson says that if she can help the poor bird “Unto his nest again,” she will not have lived in vain. A nest is a bird’s home (see photo), so to help one “unto” his nest would be to help the bird back into his nest, so he is safe.

Dickinson is telling us, I think, that in helping other people who need help, we can give our own lives meaning. As we approach (get nearer to) the holiday season, that’s a good thought for all of us to keep in mind (remember).


Photo credit: Two robins in a nest, Wikipedia CC

Tuesday - August 14, 2012

The Original Copycat

There’s an old saying (expression) in English, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” To imitate means to do what someone else does, to copy them. Flattery is when you compliment someone, when you say something nice about them. The expression means that doing something the same way as someone else has done it is like paying a compliment (saying something nice) to the other person — you thought what they did was so good, you decided to do it yourself.

Not everyone agrees with this positive view of imitation, however – that copying another person is a good thing. The term copycat refers to a person who copies another, but is almost always used in a negative way, to emphasize the fact that the person has stolen someone else’s idea. Record companies and movie studios, for example, certainly do not consider the pirating (illegal stealing or copying) of their copyrighted (legally protected) songs and movies to be a compliment.

According to a recently published book, The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks (Starts) Innovation (Creativity), sometimes being a copycat can be good for creativity and the economy. For example, in the world of fashion design, it is not possible to copyright the look of a dress or a piece of clothing. So when a designer like Gucci creates a beautiful dress, almost immediately there are people who are creating knockoffs of that dress. (A knockoff is an imitation product that looks just like the original.) This causes the designers to come up with new designs frequently, since their old designs can easily be imitated and sold by other people. Knockoffs also create a certain kind of free advertising for a product: More people see what the product looks like and have positive opinions of it (because if it weren’t any good, why would you imitate it?). In fact, a 2009 Harvard Business School study found that women who buy knockoff purses often decide later to buy the real thing.

The same is true in the world of cooking. It is not possible to copyright a recipe (instructions for making food). When one restaurant creates a fabulous- (wonderful) tasting new dish (type of food), other restaurants may copy it. In order to be considered original, chefs (professional cooks) are constantly coming up with (inventing) new recipes. Often these new recipes are based on or have their beginnings in older recipes, so that the creativity comes from adding or changing some element in the original.

Of course, we are not talking about simply stealing someone’s property or taking things without paying for them. But under certain circumstances, imitating or copying what someone else has done can be a good way of spreading new ideas and making them better.

Have you ever copied someone else’s idea in a way that made it better?


Photo credit: Gucci Knockoff Dress, L’Hedonista, CC

UPDATE: I want to be very clear that I am NOT condoning (giving my approval) to any kind of stealing of people’s ideas or goods (things they sell or own), either physical or digital (e.g. audio files, ebooks, PDFs, photos, designs, etc.). I’m not even saying I completely agree with the authors of the mentioned book about whether certain things that aren’t currently (at this time) protected by copyright (such as fashion and cooking) should not be. I’m only summarizing the author’s position. I’m against any sort of taking of things that you don’t own just because you can, legal or illegal, in the name of “imitation.”  Just wanted to make that clear…

Thursday - December 8, 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy

In recent years, several young adult or teen novels have made the crossover (crossed the boundary; become popular in more than one category) from popularity with just teens to popularity with adults. Perhaps the most notable (worthy of attention) example is the Harry Potter books. Although written primarily (mainly) for children and teens, the books have become bestsellers among adults as well.  The same can be said (the same thing is true) of Twilight, a series written for adolescents or young adults.

Another adolescent series is about to join these popular teen favorites:  The Hunger Games trilogy (a set of three books telling a continuing story).  The Hunger Games books are written in the genre (category of books) of science fiction and is set (takes place) in the future, where present-day life on Earth has been destroyed, but a new population has emerged (come to life), ruled by a repressive (very controlling and strict) government.  The three books in the series feature (have as its main character) a teenage girl, who reluctantly (does not want to) participates in the annual (done each year) Hunger Games, a tournament where teenagers from every district or area fight to the death, with only one teenager left alive, who is crowned (officially given the title of) the champion or winner.  These Hunger Games  become much more than a just a competition; it is the catalyst (something that starts an important event) that begins a revolution (an attempt to remove the government).

The Hunger Games books have consistently (without change) been on the bestseller list in the U.S. for many weeks, and the series is about to do what the Harry Potter and Twilight series have done:  Make the leap (large jump) to the big screen (into the movies). The first Hunger Games movie is set (scheduled) to be released in March of 2012 in the U.S.  If you want to get a jump on (be ahead of) the movie, there’s still time to read the first book in the series before the movie release.  I just finished the trilogy and highly recommend it.  It is well-written and has the complexity (with many elements; complications) that would appeal to an adult.  They’re the type of books that are hard to put down once you’ve started reading them because the plot (storyline) and the characters (people in stories) are so compelling (interesting and easily keeps your attention).

So if you like good adventure stories, you might like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. (The second book is called Catching Fire and the third book is called Mockingjay.)  If you like adventure movies, look for the movie in theaters early next year.  Hopefully, the movie will do the book justice (reflect the high quality of the books).

~ Lucy

Art Credit: “Hunger games” from Wikipedia