‘Weeksy Reviews’, reviewed…

A change of look*, a change of thinking – and COVID-19.

As COVID-19 has shut many things down, people have been seeking ways to maintain contact and connection. With local and school libraries closed to public access, the need for reading options increases (we have more time in shut-down, don’t we?).

If you haven’t already checked out piles of books from your school and library shelves for your period of shutdown, now is the time to search for places to access the many books you now have time to read – uninterrupted.

How to buy the physical

Many local and online bookstores are offering free delivery services – too many to list here. Just give them a call, or access online stores if you don’t have a local.

How to gain free access

Local libraries, of course, offer free access to ebooks and audiobooks to members. (Hopefully, you have heeded previous advice to join a local library.)

How to buy ebooks, audiobooks

If you didn’t meet the closedown deadline to join local libraries (for which need you to physically verify your ID and address), then other options for you are:

  • Purchase ebooks online (e.g. via Amazon.com.au, Booktopia and other online bookstores)
  • Trial/join Audible.com.au (or similar) for audiobooks

Some of these may require apps to be downloaded, but in the case of public and school libraries, all the details are usually given.

Kindle, BorrowBox and RBDigital are among the common apps required and easily set up on your computer, iPad or other digital devices.

Don’t let COVID-19 prevent your access to great books! 

Reading suggestions from here…

By the way, if you search ‘ebook‘ or ‘audiobook‘ on this blog or click on these as tags, you will find lots of reading suggestions – which you will be able to access – free or at a small cost from the abovementioned locations, if you don’t have access to the physical book.

Happy reading!

* Changing the look of this blog – perhaps still a work in progress. I welcome any comments!! Do you like it? The change was made to be more mobile-friendly. Click on the post to make a comment.

Collaborative writing: Take Three Girls

How great is it to get a book which is written by, not one, but three renowned authors!

‘Take Three Girls’ deals with the complexities of teen life, set mainly in a boarding school situation, but dealing with many of the day-to-day issues for young adults, wherever they are.

Focussing on three girls – Clem, Kate and Ady, it weaves their lives together – in spite of some strong differences among them.

Clem, a previously competitive swimmer, is struggling to come back to her part in the elite school swimming team after injury. Quiet Kate is trying to determine where her future lies – is it in an academic or musical direction? And Ady, who is not a boarder, is dealing with where she stands, as her family begins to struggle both financially and personally, for the final years at St Hilda’s private school. What choices will they each make?

The weft of the book begins with the school’s wellness program, which ties them together as partners. As it aims to have students consider things (like identity, self-image, friendship and bullying), the story reflects issues which may well arise for many teenagers.

The warp happens when online sledging appears via vicious social media posts, aimed at girls at St Hilda’s – and ultimately, including the names of Clem, Kate and Ady. (Who is behind it, and how can they deal with it?)

There are parts of the book which will be confronting for some readers – particularly the PSST posts. Some of the situations in which the girl find themselves are not wonderful either, and their choices are not always ideal. But this is not Pollyanna, nor is it set in Pollyanna days. Today, teenagers are susceptible to anonymous cyber-bullying. Schools are not perfect places. And so, this book is both gritty and challenging, as it explores these issues and:

friendship, feminism, identity and belonging. (from the blurb on the back cover).

As already noted, it is also a collaboration between three talented Australian authors – Cath Cowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood – and is soooo well done.

You might expect it was a hard thing to do. However, each of the authors has stated how much they enjoyed their part in writing the book. That the book is so complete reflects this, and it sounds like a fabulous thing to create together.

# For more discussion on the collaboration, and how they worked together, see this post from Writing NSW which followed ‘Take Three Girls’ winning Book of the Year in the CBCA Awards 2018.

## Recommended 15+

### Available as an ebook.

Google It! A history of Google

Can you remember a time without Google? Older readers will remember when research could only be done using books and/or accessing a library. Times before you could easily find out the answer to a puzzling trivia question or idea, by tapping it into your smartphone or tablet… Times when information wasn’t so instantaneously* available (though now I can check the spelling of that word*). It really wasn’t that long ago – but it did involve quite an extensive process to get where we are now in the Information Age.

Thanks to the determination and efforts of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Stanford University students, we now have a multinational technology company which has changed the way many of us now research – for both facts and fun.

Google It has the subtitles ‘A history of Google’ and ‘How two students’ mission to organize the internet changed the world’. And in its 230 pages, you will find details of:

How Larry and Sergey first met (and how didn’t really get on at first)

What they ultimately had in common

The initial project which started it all

The primitive beginnings of Google

What it took to get things going

And the transformations of the Google juggernaut over the years.

The book is written in an easy-going language, with inserts here and there to explain ideas and details (like footnotes and callout illustrations). Some of these inserts are interesting, but can also be a little distracting. However, the Google story is easily absorbed.

There are reminders of how we used to do things, and how we do things now:

Imagine this: you get into a car for a road trip . You’ve got your playlist, your bestie, some snacks and a book on how to get there. Yes, a book of maps. Printed. Paper. Maps. (From Google It, p. 148)

Now- Google Maps

Regardless of what you think of the Google machine, a great theme flowing through this book is how ideas and sacrifice overcame the necessary failures for its gradual development and success. The importance of these elements show that, for Larry Page and Servey Brin, academic qualifications were less critical than their own intellectual drive and determination. An interesting concept. A story worth reading.

Warning, Google It does present the positive glossy side of Google and its evolution. While I was pleased to see its beginnings were actually rooted in making “the credibility of a web page just as citiation validated research” (p.19), we still need to evaluate Google results, and also have to consider some of the negative impacts of Google.

What do you think? Read it and see.

(My copy was available from BMCC library A Kindle version is also available from Amazon.)

Reading: shared in a digital space

How do you share what you love (or hate) about a book you have read? What if your family and friends don’t have the same love for the particular genre or author you like to read? How do you get your recommendations?

Of course, you may be lucky to rely on your school librarian, local public librarian or your local bookshop owner, since these people are usually avid readers with lots to share! However, the digital age also presents book-sharing communities that are readily available when these people are not.

These communities include GoodReads and LibraryThing. Both offer the ability to not only track what you read and enjoy, but also the opportunity to connect with other readers who may have the same interests or reading tastes.

You can simply browse for titles (based on authors, titles, genres and more*) or participate by logging what you read, rating books and writing simple (or extended reviews). You can link up with people you know, or follow those who seem to like the same books or have a similar purpose to your own. Once you have logged a few titles, GoodReads and LibraryThing will provide recommendations for your next book.

Checking these recommendations, or reading the varied reviews of others, can also help you decide whether you want to pick up the latest book by Jack Heath or Margaret Atwood, or help you discover someone new. Remember, not everyone likes the same book, so there are sometimes interesting and contrasting discussions to dissect.

Why not give it a try, and maybe encourage a few friends also, to be able to share what you are reading in a safe known group? Then look for other friends or acquaintances with similar tastes to your own. You may even get the chance to ‘Ask the Author’ questions, or participate in a special discussion event – all related to your own specific likes and dislikes. Do it on your laptop, tablet or phone as apps easily available. What have you got to lose?

What other avenues do you use to share and find reading recommendations?

* Other things include reading lists, giveaways, new releases, interviews and GoodReads choice awards.

** You can always browse this LibraryThing, JustNew, which shows how you can list your own bookshelves/reading, and the app offers. (You can change it to look at cover images to browse over 900 titles…) Then, why not setup up your own!

Thinking in the digital age

resized_9781857885491_224_297_FitSquare‘We are getting both smarter AND more stupid at the same time. We are getting better at thinking quickly but worse at thinking things through properly. We are good at the fast and thin but bad at the slow and deep.’ A quote from a review for ‘Future Minds’ by Richard Watson from publishers Allen and Unwin

Google-eyed, multitasking mayhem, digital immortality, sampling generation, mentally agile but culturally ignorant, jumping around like caffeinated rabbits – these are some of the concepts and concerns raised in this book, as the author considers what life is like for the generation which has never experienced life without computers.

Watson questions the value of multi-tasking, pointing to a need for balance in our lives. He states that ‘We can do more than one thing at once, but we rarely do them well.’ (p. 6) We can find lots of information, are often incapable of ignoring irrelevant information, and the flood of information forces our thinking to become shallow. Thus, he argues that multi-tasking may harm thinking ability.

Also, the consequent demise of the attention span of the ‘net generation’ (or screenagers) means that students now demand shortened versions of texts, with interactivity and may find it hard to deal with difficult texts. Is this a result of practised shallow thinking? Will the students of the future even be able to ‘get’ the hard texts like Shakespeare, if  ‘we (they) have become too soft and our brains and bodies are accepting mush’? (p.38) Will the harder concepts be beyond the level of thinking our students are now practising? Should hard books be compulsory?

The book also spends a fair bit of time discussing the hurriedness of the digital life and its impact on our thinking. When surveying when and where people do their deepest thinking, a range of different places were suggested, though digital technology was hardly mentioned at all. Locations included:

  • alone
  • in bed
  • in the shower
  • in the car
  • when I’m reading a book/magazine/newspaper
  • outside
  • when I’m jogging/running

In a similar conversation with our Writers’ Group recently, students talked of inspiration 1). after a dream, 2). while doodling (in another language) and 3). taking themselves outside of the real world. While recognising the benefits of using technology to then share and communicate ideas, much of ‘the inital spark (always) came when people were disconnected’. (p. 96) 

Taking the time to ponder, either from a room with a view, or even outdoors, and joining the movement for slow thinking and single tasking, is going to become even more valuable in the future. Watson even suggests a need for all of us to reap the benefits of boredom and spend a whole day doing nothing!’ No conversation, no telephone calls, no email, no instant messaging….(p149) Imagine that! (Even Bill Gates escapes for weeks of solitude each year…)

Leading on from this, consider the value of a physical book in contrast with online reading which lies very much in its tactile nature. It is often a more relaxed process – not one where we jump around foraging for facts, but one where we are more likely to take the time to reflect and imagine.

There is much to consider in the book, ‘Future Minds’. Watson concludes:

‘Deep thinking is important because it changes things. It makes the world  better place. But there is another reason why it matters. Deep thinking is personally fulfilling.’ (p. 160)

Don’t we owe that to (our students and) ourselves?