Tag Archives: pop culture

ron

Ron’s #30: I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza

I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza is my winner for the most surprisingly good book that I’ve read this year. I had no intention of reading this when I found it on the rack in the on-base thrift store. I remember hearing something about Tony Danza from Taxi and Who’s the Boss? making a reality show about teaching. It sounded pandering and hokey, so I didn’t think more about it until I saw this book. I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had is the account of the year he spent in Northeast High School in Philadelphia. I read a few pages, and then a chapter, and then I couldn’t seem to stop.

There are two main points that I learned from reading this book. The first is that Danza is a sincere and humble man who tried so hard to do a good job teaching this class of 10th grade English. There was no sense of doing it only for the cameras, or to show off his acting chops (the kids hardly knew who he really was). This is a man who took the job of teaching seriously, and worked tirelessly to provide an education for his class of teenagers. Some of his co-workers were so unfriendly and, at times, cruel to him, but he is the eternal optimist. That speaks highly of him.

The second point I learned from this book is the more important one. While Tony has a lot to learn about delivering English instruction, he has a deep concern for the instruction of the whole child. He really cares about these students. Whether it is checking in with a student about a difficult time, going to sporting games, or even teaching a kid to box, Danza wants to be a positive influence in the lives of these kids. It’s not that I don’t do this, but sometimes I need those reminders that I don’t teach English, I teach kids. I know this is a tired old saying in the education world, but reading this book helped to remind me of this. Often times, I’m overwrought with essays to grade, lessons to prepare, administration work to complete, meetings to attend, parents to email, and cross-country to coach that I forget that that boy or girl may need a bit of grace today. This book reminded me that it’s good to think about these things to be a more effective teacher.

The book is a quick read and quite engaging even for the non-teaching types. It’s amusing to see how little street cred Tony receives as a teacher. If you aren’t a good teacher, kids don’t care who you are. I especially enjoyed reading how Danza taught Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. He was creative and engaging.

After the book, I bought the Teach television series, and we are watching through the episodes. The co-workers are meaner on-screen, and Tony’s humility and sincerity show even clearer. Tony Danza is a good man, and his work on the book and the series reminded me why I love teaching English to teenagers.

(I wanted to say that the book I bought has Danza’s signature on the front page. I don’t have many signed books, and I never thought Tony Danza’s would ever be one in my collection!)

Here’s a brief interview Tony recorded addressed to teachers.

mark

Mark’s #37 – Eating The Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman (2009)

Analayzing a wide-range of topics, Pop-culture philosopher Chuck Klosterman’s prose displays a rare ability to ask interesting and revealing questions about who we are and why we do what we do in today’s culture.  Whether he’s writing about the evolving nature of football, the ‘fight the system’ attitude of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, the debacle that was the U.S. governments handling of David Koresh and his Waco compound, the feasibility of time travel, or the astute technological observations by the Unabomber, Klosterman helps the reader to pause and think in an age of shallow thinking.

Some of the articles (which best describes the chapters since there is no overarching theme or connection between chapters), I found a bit boring, particularly the ones relating to musicians and bands.  I realize that pop music, its stars, and its lyrics have a wide-reaching effect on culture, but it’s just not my thing.

For a better review of this book, read Ron’s - I’m glad Ron will be able to talk with me about the West Coast Offense (if he remembers), and I’ll be able to relate to him through his love for ABBA (confession: I skimmed over this chapter, since I have no interest in ABBA).

 

ron

Ron’s #24: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Before you judge the inclusion of a graphic novel here, know that this is over 400 pages of powerful, unique storytelling that happens to be in the graphic novel format. When it came out in 1985, it was one of the first stories that took a different look at superheroes and comic books. Without Watchmen, there would be no Dark Knight.

The story takes place in an alternate 1985 America, where we won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon is still president. There are no humans with super powers, only masked crime fighters—adventurers—who help clean up the streets. After the Keene Act, vigilantism is declared illegal, and the heroes retire or go to work with the government. One of these is Edward Blake (the Comedian), whose less-than-honorable ways have made him a successful soldier-for-hire. Another is Dr. Manhattan, the only person with real super powers. Dr. Manhattan works for the U.S. government, and keeps a check on the approaching Soviets by tipping the balance of power in America’s favor.

The story opens with Rorschach, an illegal crime fighter with an heightened sense of justice, searching for answers in the murder of Edward Blake. He uncovers a plot to kill the former adventurers in an attempt to remove Dr. Manhattan, and perhaps to have world-conquering implications.

There are many layers to this excellent story: the comparison to this America to the actual 1985’s America; the story-within-a-story about the Black Freighter; the question on what heroes do when they are done saving the world; and, the most interesting to me, Rorschach’s moral justice versus the other characters. The character is perhaps one of the most compelling characters, both good and depraved in the same man. His mask is Rorschach inkblots, black and white with no place for gray.

If you are interested in the graphic novel format, I’d suggest giving this a go. It is a real page-turner.

Here’s a trailer for the movie version that came out in 2009. It’s a pretty good movie, albeit quite violent.

ron

Ron’s #44: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Mark’s excellent review is here.

I finished the last few pages of this biography in the following environment: My Apple TV played Cars streamed from my Mac that I controlled with my iPhone. All that was missing was an afternoon trip to an Apple Store somewhere. This illustrates not my dependence on technology (a topic that was addressed several other times in my reviews), but on the influence Steve Jobs has in my life. In many ways, Apple’s history is my history. Since I’m only a little older than Apple, I can connect aspects of my life with its.

I bought my first Mac in 1998 and lived in an Apple-exclusive home every since. The history of Apple and the computer industry has been a favorite topic of study over the years, and I’ve read and watched many books and movies. I have been an Apple enthusiast/evangelist for over a decade. I, like many, fell into Steve’s charismatic spell. Because of this, reading the new biography about Steve Jobs was not an option; it was an edict from within. The author, Walter Isaacson, chronicled the lives of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and now, Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs was a many of contradictions.

He was a billionaire, and he was a Zen Buddhist.
He created beautiful products, but he lived as a minimalist.
He was a charismatic man, but he was a complete jerk everyone around him.
He talked about passion in life, but he largely ignored his family.
He believed in design and beauty, but he ignored a Creator or Architect.
He believed in eschewing the trappings of the world, but he created the prettiest ones.

Isaacson gives a multi-faceted picture of the man who popularized geek, both the good and the ugly. And there is lots of ugly. The book is fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable, even if you were not interested in computer history. Steve Jobs is as tormented of a man as any character is a Dostoevsky novel. He wants to build great things, but he gets in his own way. He died with few close friends, but changed the technology world for the good. On one side he inspired engineers and designers under his leadership to create products that couldn’t be done, but he did this with berating, insulting, and, at times, crying. Most leaders use encouraging phrases like “Good job!” and “Impressive!” to help build up employees. Steve Jobs’s favorite line when he is shown a new design or feature is, “This is shit!” To Steve, this isn’t an insult; rather, it is a motivational tool.

What makes this book rich and deep is not just the computer history narrative, but it is also the subplots that run through the story: adoption, Steve’s estranged daughter that he denied for years, his romantic life, Bob Dylan, and Steve’s cancer. These secondary stories make Jobs more human and relatable to use non-billionaire geniuses.

While I learned much more about Apple, the one aspect that I was more surprised to discover is how much Steve Jobs really did at Apple, even in the final days. He micromanaged design, usability, packaging, commercials, color of walls, construction of new buildings and campuses, tile in Apple stores, the “floating” staircase in the stores, and even the dinner menu at events. Before I read the book, I thought that Apple would continue just fine without him. Now, after reading how he made all the decisions, I’m not so sure.

There’s so much more I want to say in praise of this book and for Steve Jobs and Apple, but I’ll save those for conversations with my geeky friends. I wish I could have it with Steve himself. Steve Jobs was one man I wanted to have dinner with someday. (Sidenote: I did have coffee with Apple’s other co-founder, Steve Wozniak. It was a great conversation with a slightly odd fellow. Read about it here). I’d love to talk about how his quest for design, order, and beauty springs from something within us, something built by an ultimate Designer. There was an interesting spiritual comment from Jobs as Yo-Yo Ma was playing his cello for an event. “You playing is the best argument I’ve ever heard for the existence of God, because I don’t really believe a human alone can do this.” After this, Jobs made Yo-Yo Ma commit to playing the cello at his funeral. Fittingly, I am listening to Ma’s Bach Cello Suites as I type this.

I know what Steve Jobs would say about this review for his biography if he were to read it:

“This is shit.”

ron

Ron’s #28: Of Thee I Zing by Laura Ingraham

I like Laura Ingraham’s radio show with her blend of intelligence, wit, and sarcasm about politics and culture. I don’t listen regularly, but I pop in the podcast whenever I can. When this new book was released, I was interested in reading it. I was a little disappointed.

This is not a political book, and that may attract some readers. It is her take on pop culture: parenting, technology, education, television, etc. While this is usually interesting to me, it was not really discussed, and the book is a collection of short quips ala Jerry Seinfeld’s “Did you ever notice that….” I love Jerry Seinfeld, and I am not complimenting Ingram here. Her observations are rehashed stand-up jokes and unfunny commentary about society. Do we need to read again about how people update Facebook statuses with banal activities or how teenagers can’t speak properly? I was waiting to read about how small the bags of airline peanuts are.

Her observations sounded petty, complaining, and, at times, mean. I am not overly sensitive to harsh words in books, but Ingram came across as a real curmudgeon here, shouting, “You kids stay off my lawn” to her readers. From her radio show, I know that she is not like that, so I was disappointed that she decided to write a book like this.

After getting through the entire book with ho-hum zingers, it was the last line that bothered me the most.

“Inter-religious dialogue: Meaningless. You believe one thing and we believe another.”

This was how she ended her book. As if she didn’t alienate the readers enough with her groanings throughout the book, this last line was another way of stop the conversation altogether, especially about such an important topic. It is because you believe one thing and I believe another that we ought to have such dialogues. Isn’t this what the Great Commission is all about?

 

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