Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

I read Ann Brashare’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely.  I also enjoyed that movies that were made afterwards.  Last month, I was surprised to learn that Ann Brashares had written a new Sisterhood novel, but that this one was aimed at the adult market.  I picked up a copy and added it to my vacation pile, knowing there was no way I could miss out on the end of the series.

Sisterhood Everlasting: A Novel (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) takes place ten years after the last book in the series.  Lena, Tibby, Bee, and Carmen have grown apart as their lives begin to move down different paths.  I’ve been invested in the Septembers since the beginning, feeling like I was growing up alongside them.  I think Brashares is a brave woman: many of the women who love Lena, Tibby, Bee, and Carmen are in their late twenties now so it makes sense that they would continue to connect with them as they close in on thirty years old.  But at the same time, there is no way an author will make everyone happy.  I struggle to summarize the plot of  Sisterhood Everlasting because I don’t want to give anything away.  Just know that the girls are adults now, so they are dealing with adult problems.  Life isn’t simple and there are no easy answers.  People grow and change, but the girls are the same at the core.  They still need each other, whether they admit it or not.

The girls are growing up and have grown apart.  While they consider the rest of the group to be their best friends, they aren’t in touch as often and life keeps getting in the way of planned reunions, emails, and phone calls.  All of the girls are relatable and true to the personalities they have had all along.  The stakes are higher in some ways, because they are adults now.  But does that mean they don’t need each other anymore?  This is the question they all struggle with as they grow up and grow older.  Brashares explores this in a real and heart-wrenching way.

If you’re a fan of the Sisterhood book, read Sisterhood Everlasting.  You owe it to yourself and the characters to see them through to the end.  It’s well worth the ride, despite the tears along the way.  I am so happy that Brashares made the decision to revisit the Septembers as adults and didn’t succumb to the inevitable pressure of the perfect “happily ever after”.  If you haven’t read the series yet, don’t pick this one up!  For one, I don’t think people who missed out on the series will be able to follow the Septembers through their adult lives.  Too many nods to their past and important events mean newcomers may be lost.  Plus, reading this book first will destroy the rest of the series for you.  Just trust me on that one!  You won’t be able to get through the first few books, because of the tears that will be falling.

Highly recommended for fans of Brashares’ earlier books.

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive by Brian Christian

In the interest of full-disclosure, I went to high school with Brian.  We’ve kept in touch and I was so excited when I read his book announcement in Publisher’s Weekly.  I pre-ordered the book as soon as I could, and I read it from cover to cover as soon as it arrived. However, I tend not to read a lot of adult NF (other than professional books), so I knew I would be pretty hard on the book- I am tough to impress in the adult NF sector).

Publisher’s Summary: 

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive is a provocative, exuberant, and profound exploration of the ways in which computers are reshaping our ideas of what it means to be human. Its starting point is the annual Turing Test, which pits artificial intelligence programs against people to determine if computers can “think.”

Named for computer pioneer Alan Turing, the Tur­ing Test convenes a panel of judges who pose questions—ranging anywhere from celebrity gossip to moral conundrums—to hidden contestants in an attempt to discern which is human and which is a computer. The machine that most often fools the panel wins the Most Human Computer Award. But there is also a prize, bizarre and intriguing, for the Most Human Human.

In 2008, the top AI program came short of passing the Turing Test by just one astonishing vote. In 2009, Brian Christian was chosen to participate, and he set out to make sure Homo sapiens would prevail.

The author’s quest to be deemed more human than a com­puter opens a window onto our own nature. Interweaving modern phenomena like customer service “chatbots” and men using programmed dialogue to pick up women in bars with insights from fields as diverse as chess, psychiatry, and the law, Brian Christian examines the philosophical, bio­logical, and moral issues raised by the Turing Test.

One central definition of human has been “a being that could reason.” If computers can reason, what does that mean for the special place we reserve for humanity?

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive is a stimulating, fascinating book that is perfect for both the most discerning technophile and the neophyte reader who seeks to start thinking about humanity, language, biology, history, and technology.  It’s the rare nonfiction book that can capture the mind of almost any reader.  Nothing is “over your head” and the tone is conversational while remaining intellectual. (The entire book actually made me think I was reading a TEDxtalk.  It’s that kind of conversational tone). Anyone who knows me know that I read very fast.  However, I found myself reading this slowly, savoring the ideas. I frequently stopped to think about some of the points Brian brings up, saying, “Wow, I never thought of it like that!”

As a teacher, I really appreciated The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive.  Brian does a fantastic job of bringing together many disciplines- math, science, computers, linguistics, sociology, human behavior, and much more.  Brian’s background in science writing and philosophy plus his MFA in Poetry are exactly the type of well-rounded academic life I am promoting to my students.  To be a successful citizen of the 21st century, you can’t just be an engineer, or a salesperson, or a teacher.  You must make your own way and your own ideas.  We are preparing students today for careers that don’t even exist yet!  Being well-rounded academically is so very, very important. And being able to bring all those ideas together is imperative.

And as a teacher, I appreciate the thought-provoking theme of what makes us human.  Our students are moving into an increasingly digital world- what will that mean for humanity? Where do we draw the line?  When do computers become “human”? As Brian points out, most human inventions came to be when we had a job that needed to be done.  Computers, however, were invented and then we created jobs for them.  They’ve always been different, and they are shaping the world we live in today and the world that will exist in the future.

This is a book I know I will find myself going back to over and over, rereading chapters here and there.  I look forward to discussing it with my students in the fall (The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive is our One Book, One Class for the incoming freshman class).  A few of my current freshman have read it and really enjoyed it. And Brian will be coming to speak to our freshman after spring break.  I am really looking forward to that!

Highly recommended for high school readers and adults.

*purchased copy

Integrated Summer Reading

I realize I haven’t posted much about school and my new job this year, but I promise to remedy that as the school year winds down.  Just as soon as I dig out from under this pile of essays and short stories that need to be graded….

I am very excited about everything this year.  What I really love is that our freshman curriculum is integrated across four subjects- English, History, Biology, and Software Applications.  We have a common planning period each week and work hard to integrate as much as possible.  We do a ton of joint projects, work out schedules together, and share resources.  In addition, I co-teach with my history partner and our curriculum revolve around each other.  It’s fascinating to read The Canterbury Tales while my students are studying the Middle Ages.  It really brings a whole new dimension to class discussions and activities.

Recently, our team sat down to hammer out summer reading.  (nota bene: I am not a fan of prescribed summer reading, but I do believe that students should read during the summer.  I believe in choice. Plus, my students are highly motivated and expect to read!)   I wanted to capitalize on our inter-disciplinary team and I’m so thrilled with what we came up with.  First, we decided to have One Book, One Class. All of the incoming freshman will be reading Brian Christian’s The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive for two reasons.  First, Brian is an alum and we expect the kids to love that.  Second, the book (review coming soon!) is a perfect composite of our cross-curricular team.  It covers science, language, communication, computers, history, and so much more.  All of the freshman will have this touchstone text and the teachers will be reading it, too.

In addition, each student is asked to select one fiction and one non-fiction title from the list we provide.  On the list, we also noted our own favorites, in case students were seeking guidance.  I am thrilled with this list- it provides a wide array of choices in a variety of genres and across many levels (keep in mind my students are all accelerated, so while it is a 9th grade list, it may read more like a 10th-11th grade list).  Come September, the students will be meeting with others who read their book(s) and producing a project related to it.  All of the books are connected to our school theme and inter-disciplinary team.  I am looking forward to seeing how the assignment is received.  I ran the list by a few current freshman and they loved it, and they’re the best judges!

 

*I should note that these aren’t paired in any particular order.  Students are free to choose any F and any NF- they don’t have to choose them both from the same line.  One of the activities I am considering for the first few days/as an icebreaker, is having the kids come up with ways to pair the books, after reading them!

Fiction J Nonfiction J
A Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  

by Douglas Adams

 

Collapse or Guns, Germs and Steel 

by Jared Diamond

 

*
Ender’s Game  

by Orson Scott Card

 

* As The Future Catches You: How Genomics & Other Forces Are Changing Your Life, Work, Health & Wealth 

by Juan Enriquez

 

mtr
Revolution  

by Jennifer Donnelly

How to Read Literature Like a Professor 

by Thomas C. Foster

 

*
House of the Scorpion  

by Nancy Farmer

Outliers  

by Malcolm Gladwell

 

An Abundance of Katherines  

by John Green*

 

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith  

by Deborah Heigelman

 

Nectar in a Sieve  

by Kamala Markandaya

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope  

by William Kamkwamba

 

Life of Pi  

by Yann Martel

 

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements 

by Sam Kean

 

The Road  

by Cormac McCarthy

Measuring America  

by Andro Linklater

 

*
Nation  

by Terry Pratchett

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future  

by Daniel Pink

 

Unwind  

by Neal Shusterman

* Omnivore’s Dilemma  

by Michael Pollan

 

The Monstrumologist  

by Rick Yancey

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks* 

By Rebecca Skloot

 

 

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room: A Novel has been on my must-read list for a few months. I finally got a chance to sit down and read it over Christmas break and all I can say is, “WOW!” Highly, highly recommended for teens and adults.

Published for the adult market, Room: A Novel is a riveting novel. I was unable to put it down and read it straight through in a single sitting. The story is told by five year old Jack. Jack and his mother live in “Room”, and everything in his life is named by its common noun. So the bed is Bed, the chair is Chair, and so on. I feel like the less you know about the plot the more you will enjoy the book, so I am having a tough time deciding how much to say here. Just know that Jack is an extraordinary child in an extraordinary situation. Imagine a precocious, above-average child raised in the most bizarre and horrifying of situations. What is “normal”? Can the abnormal become the norm for those who do not have a choice?

Room: A Novel is an engrossing read and I recommend it highly. It’s not for middle grade readers, but teens and adults are missing out if they have not read it yet.

 

 

*purchased by me

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