05 July 2010


06 June 2010

Book Club - my review

Let The Great World Spin is a collage of stories, or a patchwork maybe, but all the stories and lives intersect, they are linked by the man on the wire who draws the eyes to an epicentre of New York, and also links the stories of then with the stories of now.

What drew me in immediately was the mastery and craft of the writer, the moments of breathtaking lucidity, when the words suddenly mean so much more than they seem to at first:

Rather, it was the manshape that held them there, their necks craned, torn between the promise of doom and the disappointment of the ordinary. (Page 1)

From the beginning, the wire and the man who tower over New York are introduced, and on page 6 a time yet to come is foreseen, when bodies fell from those towers:

“many of the watchers realized with a shiver that no matter what they said, they really wanted to witness a great fall, see someone arc downward all that distance, to disappear from the sight line, flail, smash to the ground…

The book’s structure is clever and works very well: each story is introduced as a chapter (book)  Book one starts in Ireland  with the Corrigan brothers.  Book 2 introduces Claire, who has lost a son in the Vietnam war (echoes of Iraq and Afghanistan. In Claire’s story, the present and the past are weaved throughout the day.

Each time, with each story, the background is set, but when it comes to the characters, the reader is surprised, never more than with Claire’s story; this rich, educated, feminist woman who lives on Park Avenue is expecting a group of friends, and while the reader at first expects a group of intellectuals or ladies who lunch, grief is what happens.

Whereas the book, and the plot are ostensibly about a day in New York, about lives drawn together by chance or fate, and also about a day much later in New York, when lives were also drawn together by fate, I also read many other things in the story.

There was a theme of fitting in, or not fitting in. Corrigan, the pure of heart, tries to fit in with the poor and the lost, cannot fit in with the brothers of his order.  The Irish who do and don’t fit in New York, the two white men who stand out in the projects, Claire who doesn’t fit in to the group of women, she is too rich, too different.  And yet all of them fit in New York, are part of that city on that day.

It’s a story about memory, memories, and memories not yet lived – the end of the book brings us to the present time, and whereas it is no “happy ever after” ending, there is a release and resolution of sorts.  There are memories within the book, from the occasional narrator (Corrigan’s brother):

“I can still after all these years sit in the museum of those afternoons and recall the light spilling over the carpet.”

There are memories from grieving mothers who meet to remember and tell the stories of their dead sons.

The book is about death and memory: there are  echoes of deaths in the twin towers and memories of that day now embedded in a day that came before, it is about death and the power of stories .

“Photographs keep the dead alive, the girl had said. Not true. So much more than photographs. So much more. “

about death and grief:

“The simple things come back to us. They rest for a moment by our ribcages then suddenly reach in and twist our hearts a notch backwards.”

The book is also about family:: Corrigan and his brother, Claire and her son, the mothers and their sons, Gloria and the girls she fosters, who are also the daughters of one of the main characters,  and Jazzlyn and Tillie, the mother-and-daughter prostitutes.

Family is like water – it has a memory of what it once filled, always trying to get back to the original stream.

The book is about God, religion, and moral dilemmas. Corrigan’s  brother remembers a myth he once heard about 36 hidden saints and the hidden saint, the forgotten one:

“Corrigan had lost his line with God: he bore the sorrows on his own, the story of stories.”

It’s a book about life, death, love, grief, family, redemption, and New York.  There is so much there, so much to talk about,  that as a book club read, it would demand a long conversation, about the characters, the story, the writing, the themes, and this is a conversation that I hope we may have if our book club members meet in person

It is one of the best books I read this year, and my friends and family can expect it as a present if they haven’t read it yet…. And if this review is all over the place, it’s because I’m away and wrote it from notes I had taken, and I will end it with a quote which I loved:

“he said something strange about words being good for saying what things are, but sometimes they don’t function for what things aren’t.”

Book Club - Lily's review

Lily was homeless/blogless this week, so this is her temporary abode, and her review is below:

Thanks to Cathy for taking in this temporarily homeless blogger. Middle son is to sort out my blog but problem is I haven't yet reached top spot on his 'to do' list. His moving to San Francisco for the summer and small things like finding an apartment and lots of work are currently higher on the pecking order than sorting his mum's online home. :) He assures me he will soon get me sorted so I will be back in action shortly. I'm looking forward to returning to blogging.

Back to the job in hand - A review of 'Let The Great World Spin' by Colum McCann.

I really enjoyed this book. It's quite a long read, and I don't know if it was just me being busy, thus taking up and putting down a number of times, but I found it took me a little bit to get to the stage where I was really enjoying it. It was very worth persisting though. 

Colum McCann wove the story around an event which occurred in August 1974 where Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the World Trade Centre towers. McCann very cleverly created a great work of fiction around this event. 

The story is told through eleven characters in New York City; Corrigan, an Irish monk working in the Bronx with a group of prostitutes including Tillie and her daughter Jazzlyn, herself a mother of two small girls; Claire, wife of Solomen, a judge, who lives on Park Avenue; Lara an artist with drug and husband problems; Gloria mother of three sons lost in the Vietnam war. And more. In McCann's story, the tightrope walker remains anonymous and unrelated to the characters in the story.

Each subsequent focus on a character brings the whole story along with the thread of the tightrope walker (or should that be the rope of the ...!) weaving it together.

I liked McCann's writing style. His revealing of plot line is very clever. Very quietly he adds in the outcome of the court case brought against the tightrope walker through Adelita wondering about Corrigan's reaction to the outcome of Tillie's versus the latter's case, both cases being heard on the same day.

McCann could create very credible female characters. He showed great empathy with the female form. One could really sense Claire's loss and loneliness in her pent-house apartment. Yet life as a hooker down in the Bronx was equally credible. He could describe Claire not wanting to let Gloria go on the day of the meet-up and Gloria's need to get away.

The tightrope walker almost acted as a metaphor throughout the book, people's trying to achieve balance in their lives, dealing with death in Vietnam, dealing with guilt from causing a car accident, dealing with the loss of a loved one in that car accident ...

All except the final chapter of the book are set around the few days in August 1974. The final chapter jumps thirty two years to 2006. McCann in my estimation ended the book well.

In conclusion, the construction of this story is very different and very refreshing. I'd definitely recommend this book. 


21 May 2010

Edtech10 Keynote speech liveblogged

(crossposted from DCU_ILP blog

This is a live blogging post, as I am taking note while listening to the keynote speech at the EdTech conference in Athlone.  Jane Hart is talking about new ways of learning.

5 categories for learning
- formal structured learning (being taught or trained in a formal situation)
- personal directed learning (finding things out for yourself/by yourself)
- group directed learning (working with a team to solve pbs)
- introorganisational learning (everybody working and learning together)
- serendipitous learning (acquiring knowledge without realising ) - social media as a means of erendipitous learning.

Social learning successful when peopel change the way they approach learning. New toolset + new skillset + new mindset

1. Formal learning with Twitter

  tool for conference - see Jane's blog post

tool for synchronous learning  - see Thursday afternoons on Twitter, #lrnchat .

jane created the 140 university, where she tweets texts and supporting resource every week on interesting subjects - showing what can be taught in 140 characters.

live streams over Twitter (see a school in Devon with a small holding with a #pigcam.) on Twitcam, paired with a live chat.(now archived)

Formal contexts: several models:
- added on
- embedded
- collaborative - content cocreated by learners.

New tools happening, involving students.

Moving from creating content to co-creating - User generated content is acceptable and valuable (student generated content)
Needed: design skills and facilitation skills. Move from passive to active and participative learning.

Personal directed learning: finding out things for yourself is a very important part of learning.
 Everything I do (online)  is learning and working
Teaching is not the only way to learn. We must create learner autonomy. See Dan Pink, Drive
Individuals can solve their own learning needs, must help them moving towards autonomy, and some skills may need to be learnt (learning skills)

- Grou p directed learning
people together solving their own problems (learning pbs, business)
Group tweet - private way of using tweets
brainstorming and mindmapping tools. Helping groups address their learning needs.  People need to learn collaborative skills

- Intraorganisation learning.
How the whole organisation can learn from one another.  Use of private tools. (Yama)

You can't manage informal learning. - emergence of collaboration platforms ( see elgg - free opensource collaboration platform) Needs to be downloaded and put on a server. Private secure wall. Often being used alongside Moodle, for social or collaborative activities.

Disruptive innovation needs new mindsets. See Jane's website

11 April 2010

Social networks, South Park style

09 April 2010

How to live your life

On his blog, Neil Gaiman has posted a trailer for his book Instructions , with wonderful illustrations by Charles Vess.

 It is the essence of fairytales.

 There is great advice:

Remember that giants sleep too soundly
That witches are often betrayed by their appetite
Dragons have one soft spot somewhere always
 And also, this:

Trust dreams, trust your heart and trust your story

04 April 2010

The Big Blogging Book Club - first review

 A few weeks ago, Lily launched the idea of a blogging book club, and I jumped in, delighted to have a reason for reading. Not that I don’t read. I read lots and lots and lots of books, and articles, and blogs, but all this reading doesn’t leave much time for current fiction, and I tend to go straight for my favourites, the crime novels, or young adults fiction.  I had however been aware of the book chosen for this month, A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. The cover itself is striking, all in shades of yellow and orange, with the outline of a woman walking on high heels on uneven terrain.

So this was my first book club read, and it turns out you don’t read in the same way when it is just for pleasure and when you feel you have to talk about the book. My technique this time, totally unplanned and unprepared, was to read, think about it as I was reading, close the book and note down my thoughts and feelings about the book. Then, let it rest for a week or two, and write a blog post. Not necessarily the best way to approach the task, as it turns out, because all that remained was a resounding “bof”, which is the French for “I can’t say I like this, I am a bit underwhelmed, it’s not that I hated it, it was just very disappointing”. This is generally used in relation to a new dish you have prepared and which does not meet your family’s unreasonably high standards, or a film that everyone has seen and loved and that does not get a seal of approval from your film-buff brother, much to your annoyance.

A Thousand Splendid Suns. It is the story of two women and a country, and therein I think lies the problem; this is a very ambitious project, spanning decades of history, from war lords to Russian invasion to mujahedeens to Talibans to Americans, and the history part is very interesting. The stories, however, do not match this ambitious task, and I felt that they could not carry the historical aspect.

The stories are told in several parts, each concentrating on one of the women. Mariam is born the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man in a country town, and her mother lives alone with her, in a clearing near a village, bitter and lonely, slowly sinking into deep depression. The first part of the book is dedicated to her early story, and to be honest, I felt that was the best part of the book, nearly a stand-alone novella, until the time when her father’s wives give her away to an older man from Kabul.  The other story belongs to Laila, a much younger woman  whom we first meet as a young girl in the neighbourhood where Mariam lives with the mean and violent Rasheed. The child has a sweetheart, Tariq, who has lost a leg on a landmine. Her family is torn by the war, her brothers go to fight with Massoud, which plunges her mother into a deep depression (yes, I know, this seems to be what happens to mothers here). Having lost everything, pregnant with Tariq’s child, Laila accepts to become the second wife of the mean and violent Rasheed. I won’t give away the end, but it seems to me to condone and validate the arrival of the American army and in a way, the western way of life.

 But, to be honest, this is not what bothered me about the book. Nor did the plot, although I sometimes felt that a less heavy-handed approach would have better highlighted the plight of women in Afghanistan. My problem was with the characters. I did not empathize with any of them, not for one minute; the voice of the narrator put a distance between the reader and the character of the women, I felt I was watching them from afar, and that they were one-dimensional, they lacked depth, as if they were silhouettes of women on a background of a world in turmoil.

Their plight seemed caused by that turmoil, but also by the very bad mothers they had. And in a book about the plight of women, there was a distinct lack of strong female character. When I closed the book, I felt that, like the country where it was set, the book did not think much of women.

If I hadn’t read it for a bookclub, this is a book I would have finished, mostly because it is set in Afghanistan. At the end, I probably would have wished I had read a very good documentary piece on the life of women in Kabul, with the voices of real women coming through, talking about their daily life, anxieties and fears, but also aspirations and daily struggles.

Over to LilyIrish MammyJBBC,  MagnumLadyEdieSmurfetteJenCatherineLorna, and Marian. They may have very different views!

17 March 2010

Happy St Patrick's Day....

26 February 2010

spam jam

A look into my spam box has revealed a higher than usual number of messages; this had happened before, and the trickle of emails had become a flood, in a long-deleted email account. This time, most are extremely boring emails, alerting me to PHARMACY DISCOUNT! or kindly informing me that I have received a present. Some of them are intriguing, and the juxtaposition of improbable names and badly worded first sentences makes for something nearly poetic, like Alease Aenerud -  be in vanguard of loving mastery.
I am not the only one to find some strange charm to those:  Lizzie Hunter doesn't just delete the messages; she reclaims them, and makes art with spam one-liners. I like it...

02 February 2010

Eggs, flour and milk

What do eggs, flour and milk have to do with religion? Quite a lot, it seems. Today, February 2nd is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Few people know that. In France, very few people know that, and yet, everyone from Paris to Marseille and from Lyon to Bordeaux will be celebrating by making crepes for la Chandeleur.

February 16th  will then be Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, and pancakes will be eaten in Ireland and the UK.  The cultures are different, the religions not necessarily exactly the same, but the recipes are very very close. The French crepe recipe calls for  sugar  to be added to the batter, as well as a flavouring, either orange water or some type of brandy. It is also thinner than its Irish cousin, and is served with sugar. Irish and UK pancakes are rolled, but crepes are often folded in four, in the shape of a triangle.

We will eat crepes for the Chandeleur, pancakes for pancake Tuesday, and maybe also the smaller and thicker American pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast.

04 January 2010

This year, I will...

It's a cold cold start to the year, with ice and snow and snowy ice and icy snow. We played the game of the new year resolutions on the first day of the year, but I have given up resolutions this year.

I looked to the internets for some good ideas, and I found this site, which makes new year resolutions for you, but I haven't yet found any site which will keep them.  I chose a few of those generated resolutions.. an easy one:

an apposite one...

And one I doctored a little...