Thursday, December 24, 2009

Reading (only) on BART

One of Santa's helpers escaped from the North Pole and got on BART in Berkeley. Clad in green fleece and a Seussical Christmas tree hat, the elf pulled out red-framed, polka-dot readers to peruse Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses.

Does texting count as reading? Two "emo" goth hippie girls (okay, picture black flowing skirts like Stevie Nicks wore in the 70s, worn by eerily pale young women with heavy black eye make up whose hair came close to dread locks) got on in West Oakland and proceeded to text each other for the rest of the trip. I am way behind on what the cultural relevance of that is, but . . .

Dare I admit I was reading Barack the Barbarian, a serial comic produced by Devil's Due Publishing? The loin-cloth wearing Barack battles his scantily clad nemesis, Red Sarah, who resembles Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC except for the sword and schoolmarm glasses. Did Raquel kill anything in that movie?

Where do you catch people reading?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Indiana Jones and the Taliban

The publishers of Three Cups of Tea describe the book as "The astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his remarkable humanitarian campaign in the Taliban's backyard" (back cover).

What Indiana Jones-like qualities and skills enable Greg Mortenson to carry out his promise to build schools in Pakistan? What specific events or scenes in the book highlight some of these traits?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Spreading Literacy

Greg Mortenson ends Three Cups of Tea with a "vision that we all will dedicate the next decade to achieve universal literacy and education for all children, especially for girls. More than 145 million of the world's children are deprived of education due to poverty, exploitation, slavery, gender discrimination, religious extremism, and corrupt governments" (Mortenson and Relin 333).

What is your vision to achieve the goal of universal literacy?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Educating Afghanistan's Girls

Mortenson encounters Zahir Shah (Afghanistan's former king) and tells the Shah about his hope to open girls' schools in Afghanistan. The Shah, in turn, refers Mortenson to Sadhar Khan. Mortenson hires a jeep, and after escaping a mine field and a shoot out between opium smugglers, finally finds Sadhar Khan. The "mujahadeen shouted with joy and wrapped the startled American in an embrace.

"Yes! Yes! You're Dr. Greg! My comandhan Abdul Rashid has told me about you. This is incredible . . . The Khan catalogued a sea of schoolless girls, far more vast than anything Morteson had imagined" (Mortenson and Relin 329-330).

From what you've read in Three Cups of Tea do you think Mortenson will be as successful in Afghanistan as he was in Pakistan? Why or Why not?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Empowering Women in Central Asia

Greg Mortenson's focus for the CAI is empowering girls through education. On a trip to Korphe, the reporter who accompanies Mortenson is amazed by the pluck of Jahan, a young woman educated in Korphe's school. "Here comes this teenage girl, in the center of a conservative Islamic village, waltzing into a circle of men, breaking through about sixteen layers of traditions at once: She had graduated from school and was the first educated woman in a valley of three thousand people. She didn't defer to anyone, sat down right in front of Greg [Mortenson], and handed him the product of the revolutionary skills she'd acquired--a proposal, in English, to better herself, and improve the life of her village" (Mortenson and Relin 300).

One of the themes of Three Cups of Tea is that education can solve the problem of terrorism. "[T]error doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death" (Mortenson and Relin 292).

Do you, like Mortenson, believe the key to stopping terrorism lies in the revolutionary idea of educating Islamic women? Why or why not.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Terrorists in the News

After 9/11 Greg Mortenson received a message from the American embassy ordering U.S. "civilians to immediately evacuate the country the embassy called ' the most dangerous place for American nationals on Earth'" (Mortenson and Relin 273).

As Greg Mortenson noted earlier, the media circus descended on Pakistan, "a solid mass of caffeine and deadline-fueled humanity" (262) where "green reporters who know nothing about the region stand up on the roof in flak jackets and act like their backdrop of the Margala Hills is some kind of war zone instead of a place to take kids on the weekends" (264). When Mortenson met with reporters he "tried to talk about the root causes of the conflict--the lack of education in Pakistan, and the rise of the Wahhabi madrassas, and how that led to problems like terrorism" (266).

Do you think the media helped draw attention to the root cause of terrorism, or the lack of education, as Mortenson describes it, or do you think the media had another agenda? Why?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cherry Trees

When fighting breaks out between Pakistan and India the villagers of northern Pakistan are forced to flee to a refugee camp located in an unpleasant and inhospitable location. Before building the school in Korphe, Greg Mortenson had to build a bridge, and in this instance, Mortenson has to build "the first uplift water scheme in the history of northern Pakistan" (Mortenson and Relin 221).

What do the cherry trees symbolize for the people of Gultori?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Red Velvet Box

Why does Mortenson feel that "CAI schools should educate students only up through the fifth grade and focus on increasing the enrollment of girls" (Mortenson and Relin 209)? And, what does this say about Pakistani society?

Why do you think the U.S. requires student education to the 12th grade? And, what does this say about our society?

Saturday, October 10, 2009


In Three Cups of Tea, what does the "planet's relentless march towards equilibrium" teach Dr. Hoerni and Greg Mortenson?

How does your life reflect equilibrium?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Windows Home

After six days of captivity, Greg Mortenson tears up when he studies a water pik ad in a 17-year-old copy of Time magazine. Three generations of an American family are standing under the tag line, "A smile should be more than a memory" (Mortenson and Relin 169).

How are a culture's advertisements the "windows home" (Mortenson and Relin 168)?

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mt. Everest, says, "I was just an enthusiastic mountaineer of modest abilities who was willing to work quite hard and had the necessary imagination and determination . . . I have enjoyed great satisfaction from my climb of Everest. But my most worthwhile things have been the building of schools and medical clinics. That has given me more satisfaction than a footprint on a mountain" (Mortenson and Relin 129, 130). This sentiment sounds a lot like Greg Mortenson and his reasons for wanting to build schools in Pakistan.

Why do you think people like Sir Edmund Hillary and Greg Mortenson find more satisfaction giving rather then taking?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The People Have Spoken

In Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson hits many bumps in the road--he's broke, his girlfriend dumps him, and he is forced to build a bridge before he can build the school at Korphe. What does Mortenson finally realize about these bumps? Do they signify failure or something else?

What bumps have you experienced in your life?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Hectic American

Explain how Greg Mortenson's American-style pragmatism (practical consequences and real effects) is at odds with Korphe's patient way of dealing with obstacles as illustrated in Three Cups of Tea.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Shopping in Rawalpindi is a colorful affair filled with long sessions of tea-soaked bargaining prefacing each purchase of materials needed to build the school at Korphe--and for Greg Mortenson those purchases come with a price. For what cause would you sell all the memorabilia from your parents, your favorite car, and the gear from your favorite hobby?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Self Storage

In chapter four of Three Cups of Tea, the reader learns a lot about Greg Mortenson's background from the contents of his storage unit. What features from Mortenson's background helps him fulfill his promise to the people of Korphe--his promise to build a school for the village children.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Wrong Side of the River

In Chapter 2 of Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson loses his way and is rescued by his Balti guide who revives him with paiyu cha. After regaining some strength, Mortenson takes the path on the wrong side of the river, losing his guide again, and finds himself in Korphe where the headman offers him more tea and a place to stay.

Describe an incident you have experienced with hospitality or the kindness of strangers when visiting a foreign place -- or a new place closer to home.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


In Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson goes to Pakistan intending to climb K2, "The Savage Peak", but as the title of chapter one suggests, he fails, or does he? How was Mortenson among the real heroes of the expedition to K2? Why would you make (or not make) the same kind of sacrifice, a sacrifice of a life goal?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Favorite Peep Movies

No. 1 - Peeps Attack!

The world is invaded by Peeptians with irresistible weapons and a squishy sense of humor. It seems nothing can stop the evil Peeps. But a teenager from Kansas discovers the frequency of Slim Whitman's yodeling in Peep Love Call explodes the green marshmallow chicks.

No. 2 - Peepbusters

The evil Gozer transforms into the Stay Puft Bunny Man to terrorize Peep City. What can the Peepbusters do to stop his gooey rampage? Cross their proton pack streams to explode the giant bunny, causing molten marshmallow to rain down on the surrounding skyscrapers.

What's your favorite peeps movie?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Writer's Schizophrenia

I have had my share of rejection letters--and yes, each one is a little dart to the heart--but I usually respond by sending out a new smattering of agent queries. As an instructor, it reminds me to look for that interesting paragraph, sentence, or turn of phrase in student writing, and compliment it. Having been in sales for years and years, I try to keep in mind that each "no" is just some percentage of a yes, although in my case, I haven't quite figured out the ratio, but . . .

Today was a bit different. I received two emails at the same time about the exact same piece.

Email number one partially read, "While I like the idea of following an Elizabethan playwright, your writing itself seems both too forced and overly calm for the action it describes"--Ouch!

Email number two: "This is quite interesting so far! May I see the full manuscript, as a .doc attachment?"

I think I'll take Door Number Two.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

And the 2009 Winner Is . . .

Well, maybe not the winner, but the biggest loser in the Bulwer-Lytton Worst First Lines Contest is David McKenzie of Federal Way, Washington.

"Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the "Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests."

Bulwer-Lytton penned the famous line, "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents" causing sugary goo to run in the streets. It was a massacre at the Peeps factory (for that is where our story is set), bunny blue and peep yellow mixed in a cacophony of green slime that ran into gutters marked, 'Don't pour oil or hazardous waste--outlet to ocean.' . . . Sorry, I just couldn't help myself.

A couple of my favorites are:

"The appearance of a thin red beam of light under my office door and the sound of one, then two pair of feet meant my demise was near, that my journey from gum-shoe detective to international agent had gone horribly wrong, until I realized it was my secretary teasing her cat with a laser pointer," by Steve Lynch, San Marcos, CA.

AND . . .

"The wind dry-shaved the cracked earth like a dull razor--the double edge kind from the plastic bag that you shouldn't use more than twice, but you do; but Trevor Earp had to face it as he started the second morning of his hopeless search for Drover, the Irish Wolfhound he had found as a pup near death from a fight with a prairie dog and nursed back to health, stolen by a traveling circus so that the monkey would have something to ride," by Warren Blair, Ashburn, VA.

Go to the Bulwer-Lytton contest website for all the "winners".

Sunday, June 28, 2009

HNS Follow Up

After two weeks, I finally got through my stack of notes, business cards, book marks, web addresses, and handouts from the Historical Novel Society Conference held in Schaumburg, Illinois from June 12 to 14.

Wow! What an education.

From the excellent and diverse panels, such as "Place as Character" and "Is Sex Necessary" and then bouncing between "We're Not in Kansas Anymore" and "Historical Boys" or "Talking the Talk" and "Historical Accuracy vs. Plot," just to mention a few, the problem became trying to choose which events to attend during the allotted time slots. As a writer, I felt energized by the quality and quantity of new ideas, and as a teacher, the pedagogical format was something I strive for. As Horace puts it, the purpose of poetry and literature is to "teach and delight," and this was seamlessly accomplished at the panels I attended.

BTW, the dinners (and cocktail parties) were just as educational. From the interesting and funny conversations--Barbarian Hotness with Dawna Rand, Exotic Erotica with Jade Lee, and submission tips by Pam Strickler-- to great insights offered by not just published authors, but successful published authors. Recommendations by Christopher Gortner (The Last Queen) on website development and promotions plus blog recommendations and writing tips left me with hours of fun research (do sign yourself up for Google Alert, it will certainly make you feel important the first time you get "alerted"). I'm looking forward to Karen Essex's (Leonardo's Swans) next project on Dracula and I believe I now have something to watch on TV after talking to Kamran Pasha, who not only wrote Mother of Believers, but scripts for Sleeper Cell and Kings. OMG! And Diana Gabaldon and Margaret George were both charming and put up with my babbling for at least a couple minutes.

I can't forget to mention the "Late-Night Sex Scene Reading"(Yikes!) and Eileen Charbonneau's revised edition of "Old Time Religion." I can't that line about Aphrodite's nightie out of my head.

I was mesmerized, but next time I must take better notes.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Reading on BART - SF to Walnut Creek

A half-dozen riders on a super packed train at 11:30 p.m. and I were perusing the program from Tosca. BTW a great production. Lado Ataneli as the evil, Scarpia, and Adrianne Pieczonka as the pious, Tosca, were fab. The weirdest scene-yup, that's the one.

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey was being read by a post modern Peter Pan in the tightest dark-green Levis ever, and pointy-toed suede Hush Puppies, topped by a rat pack style fedora.

A tattered copy of Dreams from My Father by the Pres was being passed back and forth by a couple who got off in Berkeley.

BART Transit Connection was being interpreted by a group of teenage Asian tourists who practiced saying, "Excuse me" every 30 seconds or so. BTW, Pleasant Hill and Pleasanton are two different places.

And then, of course, the ever present business man with a manila folder propped on his knees reading memos containing columns of numbers. Geez it's midnight on Friday, as Jimmy Cliff would say, "Stop that train, I wanna get off."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Best Sellers on the Peeps Reading List

No. 1: Sir Peepsalot or King Arthur and the Peeps of the Round Table

A rousing tale of knightly peeps on a quest for the sword, Excalipeep. Only the true heir of Peepselot can remove the sword from the stone and prove himself worthy to rule Mallowland.

Of course it's no.1 - What did you expect from a Renaissance lit enthusiast?

No 2: The Wizard of Peeps

Can Doropeep make it to the Emerald City?

Will the Cowardly Peep find his courage?

Will the Tin Peep find a heart?

Will the Scarepeep get the brains he always wanted? Although how much good marshmallow brains will do him is questionable.

No. 3: Snow White and the Seven Peeps

There's no accounting for taste and Peeps do have a penchant for fairy tales with sugary sweet endings where the charming Prince Peep awakes his beloved with a saccharin kiss.

Other best sellers on the Peep Times list:

3 Cups of Marshmallow Tea - One peep's mission to promote peace . . . one confection at a time.

American Born Peep - a first rate graphic novel that could be especially cathartic for teens and adults of Peep descent, but peeps of any color would find themselves reflected in the universal themes of self-acceptance, peep pressure, and gooey tension.

Harry Peeper and the Chamber of Mallow - When the Chamber of Mallow is opened again at the Chickwarts School of Peepcraft and Wizardry, second-year student Harry Peeper finds himself in danger from a dark power. Cult classic.

Interred with Their Goo
- "The evil that peeps do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their goo."

Pride and Prejudice and Peeps - These days, America is menaced by Peep shows and goo infected computers. What’s next, a Peep Jane Austen? Why, yes. First line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a peep in possession of brains must be in want of more gooey mallow.”

It's summer, have some fun. What would you add to the Peep's reading list?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Reading at Gate C20 - Denver Int'l Airport

. . . or what I could see from my seat without looking like a stalker freak! I love to observe what people read at airports, unemployment lines, Bart trains, the laundromat, wherever you have to wait around.

I finished CW Gortner's The Last Queen - excellent read (see a short review on my links page) and started Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex. For those Hunter/Jumper folk out there, Essex paints a great scene of Beatrice jumping a gap in the city walls. The adrenaline will feel familiar. So far, so good.

A woman in a charcoal gray suit sitting across from me was reading A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits by Carol and Dinah Mack.

Food and Wine Magazine - I thought this was the most popular magazine in flying heaven, until I went to an airport souvenir shop and noticed it there, and then saw it at every shop in the concourse. Now that's a contract I'd like to have.

The Milford Journal - a long way from home.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand was being read by a young woman who made a lot of heavy sighs.

And, of course, a John Grisham book who's title was smaller than the author's name and I didn't have on my long range glasses.

What do you see people reading?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Last Blog . . .

. . . for the quarter.
Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture (, realized he didn't give his last lecture because he wanted to. He gave it because he "had to."
Like Spiderman, Paush believes "with great power, comes great responsibility." As you read the final chapters of The Last Lecture, how would you describe the legacy or message left by Randy Pausch?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Socially Mobile Grinders

David Brooks in "A Nation of Grinders" (RC,WW 543-547) asks readers, "[H]ow about Abraham Lincoln as the defining capitalist figure of our age?" (543). His answer, "That middle-aged Lincoln represents all the sometimes homely but invariably dreamy pushers who are what American striving is really all about" (543).
The typical American success story does not consist of the billion dollar deal signed behind the doors of mega-corporate board rooms, but comes from "the need to actually execute and finish your strategies" at companies where the culture "encourages the Lincolnian virtues of simplicity and humility." In other words, work hard and do a good job, no matter what your job title. Further, when practiced, this "social mobility reduces class conflict because each person can build his own fortune, rather than taking from the fortunes of others" (547).

What's your response to the notion that "each person's destiny is somehow related to the amount of talent and effort he or she pours into life" and this defines "the very essence of justice" (547)?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Biofuel Salvation

Vinod Khosla in "My Big Biofuels Bet" (RC,WW 520-527) has "been searching for a renewable fuel that could realistically replace the 140 billion gallons of gasoline consumed in the U.S. each year" (521). He further believes that "corn ethanol is a crucial fist step toward kicking our [USA] oil addiction" (521) by using "cow manure--because this waste powers a facility that turns corn into ethanol" (521). He answers the objection that "there's not enough land to grow crops for ethanol" (527) by saying that "taking land now used to grow export crops and instead planting energy crops, it's feasible to eliminate our need to import oil for gasoline" (527).

Do you believe "that Americans are addicted to oil and alternative fuels are our only salvation" (529)? What do you think about replacing food crops with fuel crops?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Not Just For Nerds?

"The inherent danger of dealing with strangers is one of the major reasons that online dating has been looked down on" (RC,WW 423), but according to Joshua Slick, the author of "Not Just For Nerds Anymore," this has been largely overcome due to "online ratings and review systems" and "'reputation-management systems'" available at online cites like TrueDater and Opinity. He cites a USA Today article asserting that "technology has made anonymity a thing of the past" (RC,WW 424) meaning online daters "can find out virtually anything about anyone without ever leaving . . . home" (RC,WW 424).

Do you feel that Slick overcomes his readers' objection to online dating and agree that cyber dating is safe and "just as viable for meeting people as going to church or bars" (RC,WW 424)? If so, why? If not, why not? Have you ever gone on a date with someone you met online?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Literacy and Voting Decisions

Jonathan Kozol in "The Cost of an Illiterate Society," believes that people who can't read or write "are forced to cast a vote of questionable worth. They cannot make informed decisions based on serious print information." He prefaces this comment by quoting James Madison, one of the Founding Fathers, who said, "A people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives" (RC,WW 403).

Do you read your voter's handbook? Do you understand your voter's handbook? How do you think your literacy contributes to your voting decisions?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Why We Crave Detail

Stephen King, in a recent interview published in Writer's Digest (May/June 2009), claims that details are what make people "believe the unbelievable . . . that belief and reader absorption come in the details: an overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything. Or a broken billboard. Or weeds growing in the cracks of a library's steps" (50).

In "Why We Crave Horror Movies," originally published in Playboy in 1981, King details good and bad behavior, saying, "When, as children, we hug our rotten little puke of a sister and give her a kiss, all the aunts and uncles smile and twit and cry, 'Isn't he the sweetest little thing?' Such coveted treats as chocolate covered graham crackers often follow. But if we deliberately slam the rotten little puke of a sister's fingers in the door, sanctions follow--angry remonstrance from parents, aunts, and uncles; instead of a chocolate covered graham cracker, a spanking" (RC,WW 381).

Like King's description of the effects of good and bad behavior, write a detailed example of your subject with enough texture, imagination, and particulars for readers to believe and fully understand.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Tattoos, skin color, or ethnicity, age, and preferred activities can all lead to stereotyping.

But is all stereotyping bad? The authors of They Say/I Say assert, "Some people dislike such labels and may even resent having them applied to themselves. Some feel that such labels put individuals in boxes, stereotyping them and glossing over what makes each individual unique . . . [But] if you categorically reject all labels, you give up an important resource and mislead readers by presenting yourself and others as having no connection to anyone else. You also miss the opportunity to generalize the importance and relevance of your work to some larger conversation . . . The way to minimize the problem of stereotyping, then is not to categorically reject labels but to refine and qualify their use" (Graff 79-80).

How would you improve or refine stereotypes in order to justify using them in your own writing?