August 2012

The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit

Compares poorly to 'The Bell Jar' in almost every respect

I was familiar with the phrase "man in the gray flannel suit," of course. But it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I learned that it began life as the title of a 1955 novel that was wildly popular at the time. It was described as "the book every Mad Men fan should read," which intrigued me. A recent re-issue had a foreword written by Jonathan Franzen, which was more intriguing still.

Spoiler alert: the book itself? Is not intriguing.
Conceptually, it is rock solid. Wikipedia describes it as being "about the American struggle for purpose in a world dominated by business," and I suppose it is that. But it is also sluggish, and downright inept in several respects. Reading it I couldn't help but compare it to Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar" which touches on several similar themes, but which is about a million times better in every regard.

Best way to get started in homeschooling

Things to consider for home education

The decision to homeschool is only the first of several steps needed to get started in homeschooling. I know when I was sure that I wanted to homeschool my oldest, I took several months to prepare to actually do it. Below is what I consider to be the best way to get started:

1. Research the laws within your state and comply. I am fortunate to live in New Jersey where there are one two laws-homeschool for 180 days out of the year and teach the history of New Jersey at some point. Other states, however, have far more requirements. You may also need to send out letters of intent to homeschool.

2. Visit your local library and read up on homeschooling. Our library saw the growing population of homeschoolers in our area and has added many valuable resources for us. Don't forget that if you need a book that isn't in the library, they can often get it for you.

Top reasons for homeschooling

Popular reasons to homeschool

Homeschooling in America is a choice that more and more parents are making. Some of the reasons homeschooling is becoming more common may surprise you. Below is a list of the most popular purposes for homeschooling.

1. Religion: Probably the number one reason parents homeschool is to educate their children in a certain faith. Although public school seems to be neutral, there can be conflicting information taught. For example, Christians believe the world is somewhere around 6,000 years old, while most science textbooks teach that the world has been around for billions of years.

2.  Doesn't fit the definition of an average student: Teachers within a school must teach to the average student. Unfortunately, not all students are average. Those who advance quickly become bored and disinterested in school. Kids who need to work at a slower pace get so behind that they can't catch up. Homeschooling allows parents to work at the child's pace.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

This is not a hopeful book, but it is a realistic book.

In mood and tone, Perrotta's book, The Leftovers reminds me a lot of the scene in Donnie Darko where the camera pans through everyone's despairing lives at night, to the tune of "Mad World." This is not a hopeful book, but it is a realistic book. And not everything turns out badly. (Not everything.)

The Leftovers begins right after a huge percentage of the world's population suddenly disappears. Good people and bad, of all religions as well as atheists. No one knows why they disappeared or what it means, although many people assume it is the Rapture.
But it doesn't really matter.

The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling

A book by Quinn Cummings

The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling is a new book written by Quinn Cummings, author of Notes from the Underwire. I pre-ordered the book, which came out officially on August 7. I knew I'd enjoy this book before I even got it because Quinn has a sense of humor that makes even the most boring subject interesting and funny.

The book focuses on Quinn's decision to homeschool, how she came to that decision, and the adventures she had along the way. Quinn was determined to make sure that she was homeschooling using the best methods available for her daughter. As you can imagine, there are plenty of different homeschooling groups in America with a wide variety of beliefs. Prepare to laugh yourself to death as Quinn visits many of these groups. Most of these groups I would call extremists, as the homeschoolers I know in my area aren't quite like that. Still, it was highly entertaining.

Homeschool project completed and published

Several months ago my daughter and I decided to work on a project together. After creating a list, my daughter chose to create a cookbook. We spent a lot of time coming up with a concept, creating titles and dishes, cooking the recipes, photographing the recipes and then typing it all up on the computer. This week we finally saw that all of our hard work paid off.

As a homeschooling parent, I am always looking for ways to teach my daughter with hands-on activities. This project is an excellent example of how a homeschooling family can do just that. Not only did my daughter learn how to cook all kinds of meals, but she also learned how to become a self-publisher.

The success of Laura Numeroff

Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie has become a hit with children since it was first published in 1985. It has also spawned multiple other versions, such as If You Take a Mouse to the Movies. The sequence of giving the mouse something simple and having it lead to outlandish requests teaches kids about cause and effect, helping them understand that one action can lead to another.

Review: Career Comeback by Lisa Johnson Mandell

A Book for Women in Career Transition

Lisa Johnson Mandell’s “Career Comeback” is a disorganized mixture of solid, dependable career advice and fluff disguised as career advice for female professionals either re-entering the workforce or changing careers. If I had to grade Lisa Johnson Mandell’s “Career Comeback” in terms of usefulness for career seekers, I would probably give “Career Comeback” a C+.


Here are the reasons for giving “Career Comeback” such a mediocre grade:


  1. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, “Career Comeback” is disorganized. It’s hard to find the useful information when you are reading through chapters devoted to beauty makeovers.
  2. Lisa Johnson Mandell spends WAY too much time weighing in on how to blog and how to social network. It’s not that Lisa Johnson Mandell’s advice about blogging is bad; it’s more that it’s irrelevant and unnecessary to a majority of her readers.
  3. Some of the chapter titles in “Career Comeback” fail to give the reader an idea of what the chapter is about. For example, the chapter “Reality Check” doesn’t give the reader enough information about what the book will be about, so it’s difficult to quickly peruse the book.
  4. Many of the examples in the book are poor. For example, the examples of women going through career changes in the book that Lisa Johnson Mandell mentions in “Career Comebcack” probably won’t resonate with most women. The most striking example is that of a twice-divorced single mom who eventually found her bliss by marrying a man in prison. It’s an interesting story, but the woman’s story is definitely more a cautionary tale than a model to live by.

Stewart O'Nan's "Last Night at the Lobster"

Gorgeous and sad

I recently finished listening to the audio book version of Stewart O'Nan's amazing book "Last Night at the Lobster." It was gorgeous and sad, and true in the way that only fiction can be true. If you have ever been downsized, or worked in customer service, or lived and breathed, you will be able to appreciate this book.

"Last Night" details the final night of a Red Lobster franchise store. It follows Manny DeLeon, the store's manager, on his mournful and futile duty of trying to hold the restaurant together on its final night. It is about the endings of things, and how we react to them, and how our reactions betray who we really are as human beings. In reading it, I was sometimes sheepish about some of my own past behavior. I trust I am not alone in that reaction.