“I am part of everything that I have read.” – Theodore Roosevelt

For the Love of Literacy

Book Look

We love to read great books that inspire us! At Literacy Volunteers of Washington County, we are all about building a welcoming community that shares new ideas, especially about books. Each month, we'll partner with members of our community – friends, supporters, students, tutors, and staff of LVWC – who will review some of their favorite reads.  Some of these are new books, some dog-eared favorites, some beach reads and some that may take a lifetime to get through.

Join us as we explore the wonders and joy of a good book, seen through the eyes of our diverse community.

September 2019

Click the book cover to purchase through the Savoy Bookshop & Cafe. In doing so you will be supporting Literacy Volunteers of Washington County. 

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Shop at the Savoy Bookshop & Cafe or Bank Square Books through this link and you'll be supporting  Literacy Volunteers with every purchase Thank you!

The Education of Hyman Kaplan

Leonard Q. Ross

 

If you haven’t come across this classic yet and are interested in literacy, this book is for you.

 

The Education of Hyman Kaplan, by Leo Rosten (aka Leonard Q. Ross), is a timeless, funny book about teaching English to non-English speakers.  The book was published in 1937 as a compilation of stories originally appearing in The New Yorker, and it has that magazine’s droll voice.  Content was later added to the book and it was republished in 1976. It was also made into a musical play in 1968.

 

The setting is the American Night Preparatory School for Adults where Mr. Parkhill, a conscientious, earnest, classically trained English teacher, tries to guide a class of immigrants towards citizenship.  Most outspoken, opinionated, and undaunted of his students is Hyman Kaplan. Mr. Kaplan’s strong character is initially suggested in his unique approach to writing and speaking.  He insists on a signature penned with red crayons and letters separated with gold stars.  He has a similarly individual interpretation of pronunciation.

     

“Vocabulary!” said Mr. Parkhill.  “Above all, we must work on vocabulary.” … Take Mr. Kaplan, for example.  Mr. Kaplan was a willing, an earnest, aye! an enthusiastic pupil.  And yet, despite Mr. Parkhill’s tireless tutelage, Mr. Kaplan referred to the most celebrated of movie lovers as “Clock Gebble,” who, it appeared, showed a fine set of teeth “venever he greens.” Mr. Kaplan, when asked to use “heaven” in a sentence, had replied promptly, “In sommer, ve all heaven a fine time….”

 

And just wait until the class discussion turns to more meaty subjects like American history.

    

Anyone involved in helping adults learn English will identify with the misunderstandings inherent in the English language and the fully formed character of adult students.  You’ll find yourself reading or rereading whole paragraphs out loud to get the full flavor of our illogical language.

 

 

Barbara Heuer is a literacy specialist at Literacy Volunteers of Washington County. She is a long-time educator, and most recently was an associate professor of education at Fordham University.

July 2019

Click the book cover to purchase through the Savoy Bookshop & Cafe. In doing so you will be supporting Literacy Volunteers of Washington County. 

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Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens 

 

Set in an idyllic marsh on the North Carolina coast, Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, is a coming of age story that demonstrates the therapeutic powers of nature and the power of connection to one’s self.

 

Abandoned at the age of six, “Marsh Girl,” Kya, grows up isolated from the rest of the world. With no one to care for her, Kya finds solace in the Marsh, comfort among the animals and natural patterns of the waters, flora, and fauna. Despite never being formally educated, Kya becomes an expert of the Marsh, which is a gift that will only be discovered once she is adult. Through her keen observations of the animals and insects, Kya learns how to navigate the perils of growing up despite her limited human interaction.

 

Her seclusion from society is a point of intrigue for the town, including two young men who capture Kya’s heart as she transforms from a young girl to a woman. Tate, a son of a working-class family who grapples with his own personal tragedy, is intrinsically bound to Kya. Yet the arrogant and privileged Chase is in the pursuit of capturing her heart simply as a trophy to be placed among his high school football championships. When one of these men is discovered dead, all attention turns to the Marsh and to Kya.

 

Despite being a feral recluse, Kya is relatable in so many ways. She’s a survivor, a guardian of nature, wild as the wind yet stable as the roots of a hundred-year-old tree and intelligently resourceful. There’s a sliver of Kya in all of us.

 

Owen’s imagination has bestowed on us this crime fiction novel rich in the imagery of ecology, growing up, death, and reinvention.

 

 

 

Lauren Di Stefano is the Group Meetings & Special Events Manager for the Ocean House Management Collection, and author of Sense of Place: The History of Ocean House.

June 2019

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The Wartime Sisters

Lynda Cohen Loigman

 

The Wartime Sisters, while an easy read, touches upon many layers of human emotion  -- love, jealousy, anger, resentment, loyalty -- and how these all combine to form the delicate bonds between sisters. It is also an historical novel; the backdrop is a thriving World War II Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts, in which officers, munitions workers, maintenance staff -- both civilian and enlisted citizens -- coexist. 

 

Two Jewish sisters from Brooklyn end up living on the Armory; the circumstances that brought them there are powerful and complicated. As their stories and secrets unfold, we live through their struggles to understand each other while facing challenges from the outside: sexism, religious prejudice, snobbery, harassment, and complicated marriages. Millie, the younger of the sisters, who is both beautiful and of questionable marital status, also has to cope with the ire and threats of a ranking officer’s insecure wife.

 

Although the two were raised by their parents under entirely different expectations I found myself focusing on their similarities. As I read, I hoped that the two sisters would do the same.

 

Loigman brings to light the strength and dedication of the women who contributed to the war effort, many in toilsome, unfulfilling work. As a 30 year old, I found this fascinating, particularly in light of all of the choices women have today.

 

Although it is not sweeping in its span of years, The Wartime Sisters touches upon a wide range of societal touchpoints, highlighting with sensitivity and poignancy the ever-human quest to find our place in society. Under the discipline required for our country to survive WWII, rigidity at the Armory was required. As the sisters discover, that rigidity could serve both as a shelter and as a justification for abuse.

 

Although an easy read, this novel is also fodder for much discussion. A perfect summer book!

 

 

 

Hannah Weinstein is a 30 year old who lives and works in New York City.  She spent her early childhood years in Watch Hill as a part time resident, and she still frequently visits family and friends in town.  She is an avid reader and an even more avid Yankees fan.

May 2019

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Click the book cover to purchase through the Savoy Bookshop & Cafe. In doing so you will be supporting Literacy Volunteers of Washington County. 

East of Eden

John Steinbeck

 

When Bruce Springsteen came spitting fire in the summer of 1978 singing, “Adam Raised a Cain,” it confirmed that events which occurred thousands of years ago still impact human life in a powerful way. Just before the release of Springsteen’s song, as a junior in high school, I read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden

 

A father named Adam has two sons. Steinbeck avoids naming the boys Cain and Abel, yet their naming is influenced by a reading of Genesis 4:1-16. The character who reads those verses is Samuel Hamilton, a wise and trusted friend. True to life, the novel unfolds in ways that are bitter, but it also unfolds in ways that are sweet.

 

At the heart of Steinbeck’s searching tale is the question of whether we are creatures who have a destiny to which we blindly submit, or whether we are truly human, created in the image of God, with the ability to make choices. Steinbeck never shies away from the reality that our choices can lead to death. 

 

By the time I put that novel down some forty years ago, it was not the choices leading to death that stood out for me: it was the possibility that, in living as human beings, we can make choices which lead to life. This was the possibility that stirred my heart as a seventeen-year-old boy, and still inspires me to this day. Steinbeck offers us the opportunity to face an age-old question and respond with a resounding, “Yes! I am my brother’s keeper.”

 

While the final scene in the novel is a soaring affirmation of life, the journey to that touching ending is every bit as meaningful. The old friend Samuel Hamilton, who names the twin boys, brings wit and wisdom to the story, and I return to that often, always with a smile. Lee, the faithful Chinese servant whose pidgin English masks an education at Berkeley, serves as the embodiment of Jesus’ words: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (Mark 10:43).” 

 

The conversation Lee and Samuel have as Lee describes studying Hebrew with his Chinese elders is absolutely delightful. Lee’s account of them carefully examining every word and phrase in the Cain and Abel story holds a pleasant place in my heart, knowing there are still men and women today who carefully search for God’s wisdom, for God’s will, and for God’s way.

 

The last word Steinbeck places on Adam’s lips is Timshel. It is a word of promise and a word of possibility. Indeed, Timshel is a word that calls us to be fully human. Read the novel; I think you will find yourself agreeing that Adam’s whispered word hangs in the air throughout.  

Wayne Eberly has served as the pastor of the Dunn’s Corners Community Church, Presbyterian since 2015. Previously he served in Houston, Texas. He and his wife Julie have four adult children and recently welcomed their first grandchild.

April 2019

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Click the book cover to purchase through the Savoy Bookshop & Cafe. In doing so you will be supporting Literacy Volunteers of Washington County. 

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

John Carreyrou

It was a grand idea with even grander potential. A tiny blood-testing device that could run numerous tests on just a few drops of blood. It was hoped that this would revolutionize medicine and make blood tests drastically easier and more accessible.

 

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou follows the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, a young Stanford University dropout full of big ideas.

 

One of those big ideas was to create a device that would perform blood tests without the use of needles -- and idea that a handful of medical professors told Holmes was impossible. But she presses on, gaining the backing of Stanford’s Dean of Engineering. Holmes creates a company called Theranos in 2003, hires her first employee, rents lab space and oddly, makes her voice several octaves deeper. Over the next ten years, she raises millions of dollars through venture capitalists and puts together a star-studded board of directors. Meanwhile, her staff is unable to make the device work.

 

In 2013, Theranos announces that it will partner with Walgreens to launch blood collection centers in each store. Yet the company still had not been able to make the devices work consistently. Error messages were frequent and test results were often inconsistent, all of which staff were told to ignore. If anyone asked questions or raised concerns about the fact that patients would likely be making medical decisions based on the test results, they were often fired.

 

It wasn’t until 2015, when Carreyrou starts talking with former employees and publishing explosive articles about Theranos in the WSJ, that the company begins to unravel. Holmes flat out denies all allegations, standing by her life’s work. But when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services visits the Theranos facility in 2016 she is banned from owning or operating a blood-testing company for two years. This is the beginning of the end.

 

From that point on, Holmes is hit with lawsuit after lawsuit. The value of Theranos plummets as Holmes struggles to find new investors. Criminal The book ends here but the story continues....

Brooke Constance White is the Marketing & Development Associate of Literacy Volunteers of Washington County. 

March 2019

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Click the book cover to purchase through the Savoy Bookshop & Cafe. In doing so you will be supporting Literacy Volunteers of Washington County. 

Educated: A Memoir

Tara Westover

 

What does it mean to be educated? For Tara Westover, the beginnings of her education consisted of sorting debris in her father’s junkyard – aluminum, iron, steel, copper; assisting her mother deliver a baby or prepare tinctures and essential oils; listening as her father read aloud, for hours, passages from the Bible or lectured on the coming apocalypse.

 

Westover was homeschooled, along with her brothers and sisters. The Westover family were survivalists, and had little to do with formal schooling, medical practice, social activities, or work outside the home. Their curriculum did not consist of learning English, math, and the sciences through conventional means, but through the practices of a difficult daily life and hard work.

 

Yet the starkness and rigidity in her childhood seemed to build in Westover a will to persist and better her life. When she was a teenager, she took a job, against her father’s wishes, at a grocery store in town. Her brother Tyler encouraged her to study for the ACT and go to college.

 

Through a profound push and pull between doubting her abilities and recognizing her desire to grow, Westover managed to pass the ACT and go to Brigham Young University. Her life there was in some ways more difficult than was her upbringing. She struggled academically to keep up with the other students, and was challenged by the ways the other Mormon women at the school dressed and acted – which was much in contrast to the strict Mormon guidelines of her youth.

 

Westover finds people at BYU who support her, in particular, a local bishop and several professors who help her to get a scholarship to Trinity College at Cambridge. From there on, though there are still many obstacles and setbacks to overcome, there is no turning back.

 

There is much hardship and cruelty in this book, which makes it difficult to read at times. But above all, the steadfast desire and determination that allows Westover to better her life and succeed as an academic makes for a compelling and inspirational book.

Mary Carol Kendzia is the Executive Director of Literacy Volunteers of Washington County.

Is there a great book you want to share with everybody? Email us at development@literacywashingtoncounty.org and we will add you to our list of reviewers.

Literacy Volunteers of Washington County 

Tower Street School Community Center

93 Tower Street, Units 25 & 26, Westerly, RI  02891

(401) 596-9411