Friday, August 26, 2011

Book News: Finnish Schools Could Teach U.S. Lessons, Pandora for Books, and Natural Disaster Reads

In not-really-book-related news, but in education-related news, Smithsonian Magazine published an article in its September issue that explores the Finnish education system. With all of the problems inherent in the current American system -- not the teachers, mind you, but the system -- we could all stand to take a few pointers from a culture and an education system that does whatever it can to "prepare kids for life."

Finland's is a public school system that rates at the top of international standardized tests, yet it refuses to place importance on standardized tests. When asked what Finnish educators thought about the U.S.'s ongoing efforts to increase student learning by raising test standards and forcing teacher evaluations to be measured in large part on those test scores, "Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience, said, 'I think, in fact, teachers [in Finland] would tear off their shirts. If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.'"

If only American lawmakers and government officials would take the time to read articles like this one, and to explore education systems that work, perhaps things would turn around. Until then, well, we American educators do our best.

Salon posted an article this week about new bibliophile website, which professes to be the "Pandora for books." The basic idea is that you type in a book you enjoyed; it pops out a list of books with similar "DNA" (their term). The difference between Booklamp and other sites that offer suggestions (Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc.) is that the suggestions are computer-generated rather than user-generated.

I was impressed with their recommendations, but had two issues. First, they didn't have a lot of the books I attempted to enter. Even recent bestsellers like Ann Patchett's State of Wonder failed to be in their library. (Actually, they had no titles by Patchett listed.) Second, the site often recommended other books by the same author. Um... yes. If I like one book by an author, chances are good I'll like another; and I don't even need a website to tell me that! However, if you are a reader, it's a fun site to play around with. And in the future, it may add more titles and become "smarter" in its recommendations.

Nigella Lawson's library
All over Twitter and the vast interweb this week were links to this blog post highlighting celebrities' home libraries. Of special interest to me were Diane Keaton's warm and inviting library complete with wall quote and television chef Nigella Lawson's piled-to-the-ceiling, stuffed-to-the-gills library. I need a home with a library. Need.

Image of D.C. earthquake damage, via
The Los Angeles Times book blog Jacket Copy posted a list of earthquake books this week after the East Coast suffered an earthquake that was felt from Georgia to New York City. I suppose they were trying to lend some support for a natural disaster they know all too well. West Coast reddit users, on the other hand, sympathized by posting and reposting images of the "devastation."

 Speaking of literary connections to natural disasters, book bloggers, publishers, and readers up and down the East Coast posted books related to hurricanes on Twitter, as Hurricane Irene threatened to come ashore in the Carolinas. Check out the Twitter hashtag #stormreads for suggestions.

Edgartown Books on Martha's Vineyard
Last week President Obama went on vacation to Martha's Vineyard, with an annual stop at the local bookstore there. The New Yorker's Book Bench posted a list of his picks for summer reading. Among the titles were Daniel Woodrell's The Bayou Trilogy and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

With many booksellers closing, who's making money off books? Forbes says several authors are doing quite well, even (or maybe especially) in this new age of ebooks. Topping the list are Stephenie Meyer, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, and James Patterson.

It's going to be a fun weekend around here, folks! I am headed to a Titans' football game Saturday night, and then to more fun on Sunday. A trip to Trader Joe's will probably be thrown in there somewhere. As for reading, I'm currently getting wrapped up in Dorothea Benton Frank's Folly Beach, still listening to Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, and will be soon starting several titles for review: Jeffrey Archer's latest Only Time Will Tell, a newly-hyped novel by Ernest Cline called Ready Player One, and Dancing With Mrs. Dalloway by Celia Blue Johnson.

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