Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting Boys to Read

Kevin Coolidge

Getting Boys to Read

The more that you read,
the more things you will know.
The more that you learn,
the more places you'll go.
~ Dr. Seuss ~

Sunshine streams through my window. I’m enjoying a mug of strong, black coffee and reading the results of the latest scientific study: Experts researching on how gender affects learning have found that boys and girls are different by nature and they learn in different ways. Yes, that’s right. Boys are different than girls, and if you are going to get boys to read, you must recognize the things that make boys different.

Boys' brains are wired differently from girls. They learn differently. Classrooms and libraries are quiet and orderly, the way women and girls like them. Boys need more stimuli to get their brains going — noise and color and motion. As a boy, I had trouble sitting still in class, and I never even had a male teacher until fifth grade.

As a boy, I loved to read, and I still do, but I didn’t always read what you’d call classics. Often I was steered to books my female teachers thought I should like. I loved to read, not because of the choices put before me by the school system, but in spite of those choices. Boys need to be allowed a lot of options. Boys tend to choose stories full of action, gross stuff and silly humor, because that’s what boys like. What do most boys think of many of the books that win awards? Boring.

The first way to get a boy to read is to not force him to read. Offer a well-edited selection of books after you ask his interests. The worst mistake is to assume that all boys will take to the same book. There is no one book, and that’s the challenge. Every boy is different. Let him feel like it’s his decision.

Boys tend to find nonfiction much more interesting than fiction. Growing up, I loved books on nature and animals, especially dinosaurs, as well as science fiction. I also enjoyed comic books, the predecessor to graphic novels. Boys love collecting facts on subjects that fascinate them. It may be cars, or sports, or disgusting factoids from Oh, Yikes!: History's Grossest Moments written by Joy Massoff. Using this passion is a great way to fuel the love of reading.

Boys like stories, but if your boy acts like a book is a strange object, you could try slipping in an audio book during your next car trip. Your boy may just want to stay in the car until the story is finished. Boys also like funny stories. You can get them joke books, or humorous stories. You can try the Diary of a Wimpy kid series by Jeff Kinney, a laugh-out-loud novel done in cartoons.

It’s important not to criticize the boy’s choice. Reading almost anything is better than reading nothing. It may feel that he’s choosing books that are too easy, but reading at any level is valuable practice, and success helps build confidence as well as reading skills. Don’t set unrealistic goals, but rather look for small signs of progress. Don’t expect a reluctant reader to finish a book overnight, but maybe over the next week with some gentle encouragement.

Boys will read. We just need to give them the books they want to read. If you let a boy read what he likes, he’ll be so hooked on reading that he just may read a classic, or even better, grows up to be a man who loves to read…

Fiction? Or Nonfiction? If you love to read, check out our blog for an archive of past columns, comments and more at Looking for a great children’s book? Check out Hobo the cat’s book, “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book about a cat who wanted more out of life. Hey, if a cat can write a book, you can read one.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Inspector Maigret as a Communist Coroner

Kasey Cox

Every few months, the BookSense/IndieBound program of the ABA (a national association of independent booksellers) compiles a great newsletter of recommendations specifically for book club reading. These suggestions come from real people who read books, buy books, and talk with other people who love books – not just from spin doctors at publishing houses or corporate offices who get paid to tell you how great a book is. Long before the bookstore here in Wellsboro was even a glimmer in my eye, I loved picking up these BookSense newsletters at “indie” stores wherever my travels took me. Even now, at our monthly book club at the store, we spend almost as much time discussing the current month’s book as we do pouring over these newsletters, tasting various titles, reading recommendations out loud, taking our delicious time deciding what we might read in future months together.

Surprisingly, the book for June was a mystery (there actually aren’t a lot of those that make the recommendation list) and I didn’t choose it (I have, as regular Gazette readers may have seen of late, reacquired my taste for mysteries, especially the “cozy” mysteries which I blather on about quite often). Truth be told, upon reading the description of The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill, I was less than excited to read it. Though I do often enjoy historical fiction, I have to admit that I’m a reluctant reader of things set in Southeast Asia. This is one area where my WASP-y bias shows, but for me, even Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham are steeped in a language, culture and political climate that is too murky to understand, let alone the voices of the native writers from that part of the world. Nevertheless, I’m in a book club to push myself to try books I might not have chosen on my own, so I plunged ahead.

Opening in Vietiane, Laos in 1976, not long after we Americans took our last helicopters out of Saigon, 72-year-old Dr. Siri Paiboun has just been appointed the national coroner for the new People’s Democratic Republic of Laos. Having joined the Communist Party many years before, mostly to please his more politically-focused wife, Dr. Siri had been looking forward to retirement, and has never performed an autopsy in his entire career as a physician. Working under an inexperienced, Party-line, power-drunk magistrate, with next to nothing in the way of facilities or materials, Dr. Siri feels only a listless interest in his life. Luckily, he gets on well with his small staff, the nurse Dtui who secretly reads fashion magazines and longs to study abroad, and the former coroner’s assistant, Mr. Geung, a man with Down’s Syndrome who nonetheless has a penchant for remembering rote procedures which Dr. Siri never had a chance to learn.

Indeed, the real strength of this novel is the wonderfully alive, quirky characters with all their eccentricities, struggling to adjust to life under a new regime. Our book club really enjoyed Siri’s observation that, although he himself was “a heathen of a Communist”, most didn’t complain about life under a government which was still corrupt, and still abusive of many of the common people, since at least now the Laotians were doing it to their own people, instead of the decades of abuse at the hand of outsiders. Moments of comic relief are provided in regular conversations near the Mekhong River between Siri and his friend “Older Brother Civilai” (born just two days before Siri), who is a “big nob” in the Party yet has somehow retained his sense of irony. There’s a little romance with Auntie Lah, the breadmaker who always makes special sandwiches for Siri; intrigue with the possible murder of an important Party member’s wife; and the mystery of three Vietnamese men found weighted on the bottom of the Nam Ngum Reservoir, apparently tortured.

Inspired by the Inspector Maigret novels Siri enjoyed in Paris as a young medical student, and nudged by his lifelong experience of seeing the dead in his dreams, Siri begins to take pleasure in his job. He allows his intelligence, his curiosity, and his disdain for the bureaucratic red tape pull him deeper into investigations which many people preferred to leave open-and-shut cases. This adventure leads him to consult with Hmong shaman, a Vietnamese detective, a Laotian professor with an Australian husband and child, roughly translated French textbooks, and dead people.

What began for me as a reluctant read ended in with a thriller I couldn’t put down as I followed the nail-biting saga of the “thrice not dead” and clever Dr. Siri. In sure-handed writing, Colin Cotterill has given us a warm, wonderful cast of characters, a subtle and rich setting, and a new series to watch. In the end, I am pleased to report that I am just as excited as the rest of the book club, and the folks who wrote the newsletter reviews, to move right ahead with the following books, Thirty-Three Teeth, Disco for the Departed, and Anarchy and Old Dogs. If you’re looking for “something completely different” in the fiction genre, this is your summer read!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Baby's First Mythos

Kevin Coolidge

If you are familar with H.P. Lovecraft, you are familar with his Cthulu mythos. There's a great board book by C.J. Henderson and his wife called "Baby's First Mythos". It's a delightful spin on classic horror lore. A great gift for the Lovecraft fan, and a great baby shower gift. You know there's not anyone else that's going to show up with this. I just got 30 of these into the bookstore. This book is only printed once a year and they go fast! You can check out my store at or you can stop into From My Shelf Books at 87 Main st in Wellsboro. Hurry these books won't be here long!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bad Astronomy

by Kevin Coolidge

“The Eagle has landed.” Neil Armstrong

“Houston, we have a problem.”

“Stop goofing around, Charlie, and get that rock spiked center stage, and let’s break for the day. I’m as dry as a nun’s gusset.”

It’s the summer of 2009, and the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 NOT going to the moon, or at least according to Bill Kaysing, author of We Never Went to the Moon, which details the findings of a purported NASA hoax. That’s right: the Apollo moon landings were staged in a top-secret sound stage in the Nevada desert, conveniently located near Las Vegas with easy access to air-conditioned casinos, cold beer, and exotic dancers.

I believe there’s a little conspiracy theorist living in all of us, or maybe that’s just my alien implant talking, but save your money for the slots. Let’s take a small sanity check here. It’s now well known that the Soviets were well on the way to sending men to the moon in the 1960’s. While the missions never got off the ground, the Soviets worked very hard on them, and were watching carefully when NASA broadcast the historic footage. Both governments spent billions of dollars and countless man hours on their lunar projects; national prestige was at stake for two superpowers. Do you really think Pravda would have acknowledged the truth of the moon missions if there was any doubt?

No one is more appalled that millions of people actually agree with Bill Kaysing than Philip Plait, author of Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing “Hoax”. Philip Plat debunks the “moon hoax” as well other astronomy-related urban legends—such as you can make an egg stand on end only during the vernal equinox.

What manner of data could possibly convince someone that the moon still lies beyond our grasp? The answer is in the photographs themselves. If you look carefully at the images, the hoax believers say, you’ll see the lie. What lie? Thousands of photos were taken, and many of them are quite famous. Most consist of the astronauts performing their duties, and are unremarkable, except for the fact that they show space-suited humans on an alien landscape; unremarkable, unless you are looking for a dark conspiracy.

There are five basic concerns raised by the conspiracy theorists. These are: 1. There are no stars in the astronaut photos 2. The astronauts could not have survived the radiation during the trip 3. There is dust under the lunar landing. 4. The high temperature of the moon should have killed the astronauts, and 5. the play of light and shadows in the surface proves that the photos are faked.

Plait systematically dismantles every point made by the hoax believers with clear, understandable explanations. The hoax believers in many cases use simple physics and common sense to prove their point. Initially, their accusations make sense; however, common sense may not apply on the airless surface of the Moon, and the theorists tend to misunderstand basic physics. Upon closer logical inspection, their arguments fall apart. After all, do you really think that after building elaborate sets, and hiring hundreds of technicians and cameramen and spending millions on the hoax and hookers that NASA would forgot to put stars in the pictures? It is indeed 40 years of inspiration and innovation we celebrate when we acknowledge mankind’s epic journey to the Moon, a triumph of human engineering and the human spirit...

Too soon from the cave? Or too far from the stars? Email me at Miss a past column? Blast off to and collect past samples. Have you had your own adventure with the supernatural? I’m starting a book on what’s weird in Wellsboro and the Twin Tiers. Ghosts, moon men, haints, and creepy tales, drop me an email and share your weird story.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Royal Roachman and THE FLY

I've helped local author Joe Parry put together a book of his short stories called "Of A Predatory Heart". These stories on hunting, fishing, and the outdoor lifestyle run from snort-milk-through-your nose funny, to bringing a tear to a seasoned woodsman’s eye. It’s a memoir of a lifelong outdoorsman, starting from his return from the Vietnam War, with tales ranging from archery hunting, flyfishing, introducing children to woodcraft, and the bond that forms between generations through appreciation of the woodlands.

One of my favorite stories in this collection is "The Royal Roachman". In this story, Joe teaches his hunting and fishing buddy to tie flys. This is not an easy skill for a man to acquire, when his fingers are the size of sausauges. His buddy ends up with a creation dubbed THE FLY.

One of the students here in Wellsboro PA has recently started tying his own flies and selling some of them at From My Shelf Books. He has recreated THE FLY with hilarious results. You can buy THE FLY here at From My Shelf Books for just $2.50. It's a great gag gift for your favorite fishermen, or you can get it free with the purchase of "Of A Predatory Heart" by Joe Parry. You can got to to order Joe's book, stop by, or call us...