Meeting the Challenge

I feared this would happen. The second I ordered the book off Amazon and received the email saying “Out of Stock! Will send as soon as possible,” I knew I was at risk. As per usual, I set up my NSBCBC reading goals, but I knew this shipping snafu would leave me with barely enough time to complete all three books. I feared the missing book would require the most time and energy, and that it would be sent to my house too late, leaving me with a meager week or two to tackle this Goliath. As predicted, this is exactly the situation I found myself in.

“S.” (the interactive concentration-requiring novel experience by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst) became the (enjoyable) bane of my existence. Every day I slowly sifted through the mystery and allowed myself to get completely wrapped up in the experience. But with only a few days left in the month, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated at myself for barely being able to reach my reading goals.

I voiced these concerns to my best friend and she pointed out how (and I paraphrase) these goals were all self inflicted and that

I made these goals,

I created the challenge,

I’m meeting the challenge,

and I’m bettering myself by doing so.

I realized that she was right, and despite my frustrations, these goals have led me to a new positive place in my life. They have led me to a path of self education.

I have enrolled myself in a school where I am both professor and student. I assign the writing assignments (the blog), I give the reading assignments (set daily goals for reading), and I have a strong desire to share the experience with others (others I want to “teach” or “learn with”). I have even found myself reading with a highlighter! And why do I do this? Because I have developed an intrinsic desire to learn.

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This is how I feel on the tiny campus that is my home. In my fantasy world, there is signage and shirts with logos, so I can properly show off my self-ed pride.

Even subjects that I once despised, I now yearn to learn more about. When I was in high school, I absolutely hated the subject of science. Although I learned what I had to in order to pass, I did not feel the desire to have my questions answered. I was apathetic to the subject. But now I find myself reading National Geographic magazine… with a highlighter… and a pen…. for note taking! What has happened to me?!

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This month’s National Geographic magazine is teaching me all about the brain! Note the highlighter and additional notes.
Prior to reading this article, the extent of my knowledge about the brain came from the 90’s classic film, The Babysitters Club. (“The brain! The brain! The center of the chain!”…. Anyone? Anyone?)

I think it all stems from my first months of unemployment. Post wedding, I allowed myself to spend days watching television while feverishly hitting the refresh button on facebook. I’d sleep in, not exercise, and not feel like socializing. (It’s ok. You can judge me for that. I judge me for that too.) I got so wrapped up in mundane, solitary life that when I spoke, I felt like I couldn’t even form intelligent sentences. My brain wasn’t working on all cylinders because it didn’t have to. I wasn’t challenging myself.

Then right before my husband and I went on our honeymoon, I instagrammed a picture of the three books I was taking with me and threw together a paragraph about wanting others to read with me. And so the Not So Book Club Book Club was formed. From that moment on, I felt I had a responsibility. I made a goal and a challenge to myself—to keep up with this project and to help it grow.

Since then, nurturing this project has made me want to nurture my mind. Meeting the goals I set for myself has given me purpose. It has made my days fulfilling, and although at times it can be frustrating (e.g. see paragraph 1), it has given me the desire to learn and better myself. And come the day I am once again gainfully employed, I will try my hardest not to lose sight of this feeling, because to me this is what life is all about.

Creating goals, meeting those goals, and bettering your mind.

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February’s Reads – Why These Books?

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February’s NSBCBC books! Notice a theme? They’re all books that have been turned into movies!

It’s that wonderful time again! Time to introduce the new books for the NSBCBC! Every month, I love narrowing down the choices and then unveiling the books to my Not So Book Clubbers, but as always it was a difficult decision to make.

I’ve been struggling to find ways to reach a wider audience. Sure, there are book people—people who will read just about anything because it’s their passion. And then there are the readers who stick to their preferred genres. We have the sci-fi junkies, the non fiction fanatics, the YA  lovers—the list goes on and on. (It’s like the opening scene of any high school comedy, where the new kid is introduced to the student body by their sassy new friend who refers to each group by their clique-y name.)

But the biggest challenge lies in reaching the people who just don’t like to read at all. So how could I get them to read?

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South Park perfectly captures my feelings sometimes. I feel no shame for this.

After a lot of brainstorming, I thought back to a discussion I had with a friend in which she mentioned that she was reading “The Great Gatsby.” She said the only reason she was reading it was because Baz Luhrman was turning it into a film. She went on to say that majority of the books she chose to read were because they were made into movies, and I knew she is wasn’t alone. Walk into any Barnes and Noble in search of a book that’s being turned into a movie and you’ll see a million copies ready for customers because they know it’s a hot item.

Not long after that brainstorm session, numerous friends sent me a Buzzfeed list of books that were being released as movies this year. And so, with that list being the final straw (no worries. It’s a good straw), it was decided that February would be the month of the movie.

1. “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History” by Robert M. Edsel

Lately I have been feeling like I don’t know enough about world history. It was a subject I thoroughly enjoyed in school, but post high school it didn’t find its way into my life all that much. Now as an adult with an innate desire to learn, I thought this would be a perfect place to start.

The story focuses on “a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men” as they “risked their lives scouring Europe” to save incredible art that Adolf Hitler deemed “despicable.”

The film comes out on February 7, and features an all-star cast including George Clooney, Bill Murray, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchet, and John Goodman.

2. “Divergent” by Veronica Roth

The hit YA novel was recommended to me by my cousin a while back. I’ve had it sitting on my night stand waiting to be read for months. However, it was only when Kate Winslet signed on for the movie that I thought “Hey, if a smart lady like that thinks there’s something to it, I better see what all the fuss is about.” (Note: Dear cousin, I adore you and also think you are a smart lady. It’s just… you know…. Kate Winslet. She has an Oscar for goodness sake! So, my sincere apologies to you for not reading it sooner.)

The book tells the story of a teenage girl living in a futuristic society, in which she finds out she has a special mind and attracts unwanted attention by an authority that wants to have her (and others like her) destroyed.

The movie comes out March 21, and stars Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet.

3. “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett

This is another book that was recommended to me by numerous people for a very long time, however I never wanted to read it until recently. Because the Oscar nominated film was released back in 2011, a lot of people have already read it. However, for those of you who are late to the party like myself, we have even more incentive to read it—it’s readily available!  Don’t believe me? Go to your library. Both book and dvd will be lining the shelves.

“The Help” (told by our aspiring writer protagonist) details the relationships between African-American house workers and their white employers during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.

“The film received four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress for Viola Davis, Best Supporting Actress for Jessica Chastain, and a win for Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer.”- wikipedia

Share your thoughts about the books on our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/nsbcbc?ref=hl), and share your reading pictures on Instagram using the hashtag #nsbcbc.

Happy reading everyone!

– Nina Sclafani

Where My Girls At? Finding Strong and Empowered Women in Media and Literature

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If only “Women” was a one syllable word.

I guess this all started for me in early December. I went on a weekend trip to Boston with my sister and decided after a day of walking miles in the cold, to stay in, relax, and spend the night reading in the hotel. Despite my best efforts not to, with my book in hand, I gave in to temptation and hopped on Facebook one last time for the night. Lo and behold, rising to the top of my newsfeed begging to be watched, was a video titled “How the Media Failed Women in 2013,” and just like that, reading took a back seat. Within the first 5 seconds I was hypnotized by what I was watching. What began as a montage of celebratory moments for women slowly gave way to the crushing onslaught of misogynistic talking heads and gag-worthy marketing campaigns. By the end, I found myself with tears in my eyes, feeling slightly embarrassed that a 3 minute video could make me so clearly see things I had passively accepted all year round. The only thing I could do was repost. So repost I did.

A few days later, Beyonce dropped her surprise self-titled album (which you know I immediately purchased the second I heard it dropped… at 7:20 AM that morning, thank you very much). And there they were again. Messages of female empowerment soulfully being sung over the beats that were making me dance wildly around my house (at what was now 8AM). Come time for the track “Flawless,” in which Beyonce used a sample from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, I was a goner. Standing on my couch waving the flag of female pride to an audience of my dog, I felt a movement was beginning, and I wanted to be a part of it.

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Sisters are doin’ it for themselves….
Disney’s latest princesses, Anna and Elsa from Frozen, continue Disney’s newest trend of allowing females to take charge and be the hero.

It all got me thinking about how females were portrayed on the shows I watch. Strong female characters like Anna Gunn’s incredible Skyler White from Breaking Bad, and Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones came to mind. Sure, both characters were flawed, but they fought against forces that were out of their control, and slowly were able to build lives for themselves (hell, one even built an army). In the movies, there was a lot to celebrate too. Disney’s Frozen is completely driven by two powerful, sarcastic, intelligent, and funny women. And spoiler alert, the prince doesn’t get to save the day in this one. The women come together, and save each other. These are the images that are coming out of the best quality work in television and film right now, and I believe it’s because this is what we are starting to finally crave.

For so long, our stories have been dominated by male heros. Superman, Batman, Thor—all of the women in these stories were mere accessories. And our Disney princess stories? Although I love them all dearly, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty literally sleep through the climaxes of their stories, as a their respective princes come to save the day! I can’t possibly be the only one who thinks it’s time for a change.

For those who have been participating in the Not So Book Club Book Club, I’m sure you’ve begun to notice that quite a few of the books were stories that were driven by powerful females. This was not done by mistake. “Blood, Bones, and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton and “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern were stories of women defying traditional gender stereotypes and not only succeeding, but becoming some of the most celebrated women in their respected fields. Eli Brown’s “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” took that a step further by making his anti-hero Hannah Mabbot the strong leader and captain of a pirate ship in which every person working for her was male! With every page I read, these characters made me feel proud to be a woman, and motivated me to further find my voice in regards to gender equality.

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From left to right: Gabrielle Hamilton, chef owner of NYC’s Prune and writer of “Blood, Bones, and Butter.” Celia Bowen, the fictional heroine and sorceress from Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus.” Hannah Mabbot, Eli Brown’s female pirate and captain extraodinaire from “Cinnamon and Gunpowder.”

I have chosen to make sure that when I have a child one day, my daughter or son will hear stories like these. Their lives will be filled with stories of girls and boys (and men and women!) defying the odds and challenging the world if the world is unjust. But I can’t wait until whenever that will be to start making a difference. So I must start now by celebrating the strong female today and by defying the gender roles that have been keeping us in our little boxes for years.

I encourage you to further educate yourself about these issues, as I myself will be doing the same. Seek books and films that promote powerful women, share stories of women breaking boundaries, and support those who attempt to make positive change.

– Nina Sclafani

To see what inspired me, visit: http://therepresentationproject.org/miss-rep-videos, and http://film.missrepresentation.org/

Just Press Repeat—Teaching the Classics

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I wish I could say this was the only picture I found like this on google, but unfortunately the English classroom has become the least favorite of many meme creating students out there. Womp womp.

A lot of you may not know this about me, but I am a certified English teacher in the state of NY. Growing up, I was always a reader and writer, so when it came time to choose a profession to pursue, teaching English made sense to me. Throughout my college career, I remember taking classes that motivated me to introduce students to compelling books, graphic novels, and hilarious short stories. But when I found myself working in a public school, I realized those ideas would have to be put on the back burner.

I remember on my first day of teaching, I was ushered into a walk-in closet that belonged to the English department. Filling the walls were pastel hardcover copies of “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Lord of the Flies,” “The Diary of a Young Girl,” and whatnot. I was told I was allowed to teach any of the books I found in the room as long as another teacher had not already reserved that book selection (which was done so by sticking a light yellow post-it on the books). I found myself staring at a sea of yellow post-its and at a loss for what I would teach. None of the books particularly inspired me. Although I read a good few of them during my public ed years, I was hard-pressed to remember much about them. They didn’t speak to me as a teenager and I was even more doubtful they would speak to my students.

Throughout my time teaching, I was able to find books I felt could connect to the students and I tried my hardest to make these books appeal to them, but I couldn’t help but wonder—why do we only get to teach these books? In 2011, over 290,000 new titles and new editions were published in the US, and that doesn’t even include books that were self-published. (In 2012, approximately 391,000 new titles were self-published.) So with that in mind, am I to believe that out of the half million books that were published this year, not one of them was worthy enough to be taught in our public schools?

True, every few years a real standout gets added to the curriculum. Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” (published in 2003) made its way onto many high school reading lists. But in the 11 years since, few books have made such strides.

[Please note: I know educators who petitioned their English directors to allow them to teach books they found worthy of the classroom, and with approval were able to teach that story. I also know many teachers that allowed their students to pick out their own novels to read, as long as it involved a specific theme. (Lessons were more about understanding themes rather than plot points.) However, there is no denying that “the classics” still dominate our classrooms.]

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Found another one. Is it ok that I laughed at this one?

I hope I haven’t made you believe I’m a complete hater of “the classics.” I do believe there is a benefit in having our students read the same set of books because among many reasons, it creates a society of people who understand the same cultural references. Clearly I enjoy that (just check out the mission statement of the book club!) I remember years ago when I was watching “The Daily Show,” John Stewart pulled out a conch and started screaming “I have the conch! I’m talking now!” I laughed at the joke because I understood he was referencing the conch from Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” and I loved knowing that there was a world of readers out there who understood the reference and were laughing with me. But even with that in mind, I think it’s important to expose our students to a wider range of literature because we want to make them readers for life.

So many students are completely turned off to reading at such a young age because they don’t connect with the books. Perhaps if teachers had more of a right to choose what they thought would connect with students, we’d have a better shot at motivating our students to becoming avid readers. And then, when those students felt inspired to, they would read “the classics” on their own.

– Nina Sclafani