Four Books for Your Teenage Son: A Preview

background made from opened booksIt’s happening.

My oldest son started high school and stopped reading.

Well, not stopped.  But significantly decreased time spent nose-in-book.  And I have to admit, I’m silently panicking. This is my child who was so engrossed in a book that he stayed in his fourth grade class reading when everyone else left to go to P.E.  He didn’t notice until his teacher turned the lights out.

Now, he’s busy with sports and study groups.

He used to read in the van on the way to school.  Now he plays Clash of Clans.

I’ve always subscribed to the notion that if you can find a child a book that interests him, you won’t have to fight about reading.  So, I’ve done some research, and here are four books I plan to lay on his desk in the near future.  (Note, I won’t nag him, just lay the novels in an obvious spot.)  In full disclosure, I haven’t read 75% of these, so consider these “previews”, not reviews.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

I didn’t like this book, which is basically one long complaint from Holden Caulfield, but guys seem to enjoy Holden’s cynicism.  Note: According to the ALA, The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most frequently banned classics because of its profanity, sexual references, and lack of morality.  Goodreads describes Catcher as “the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.”

Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams  

I’ve heard this is a must read for teenage boys. It’s sci-fi with dry British humor and covers issues like materialism and the nature of existence.  Big stuff in a funny package.  Sounds like John Green!  (See below) Common Sense Media says it’s appropriate for 12 year olds.  We’re behind!

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green 

My son and I read Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars, but we haven’t gotten to Katherines yet.  John Green skillfully balances BIG IDEAS with humor; he really gets adolescent angst.  My son didn’t like TFIOS – too depressing I think.  But Katherines tells the story of a misfit math prodigy who develops a theorem for dating success. Shouldn’t be too sad. Common Sense warns it has profanity and sexual references as well, but hopefully not as explicit or concerning as the ones in Looking for Alaska.

Eye of MindsEye of Minds by James Dashner

Dashner wrote The Maze Runner series, which I discovered too late had lots of violence.  Ah, well.  Common Sense Media says that “Eye of Minds is a fast paced cyperpunk thriller set in an online gaming world.”  Um, hello?  Fast paced gaming?  I think my boy will like it.  And according to Common Sense, language, violence, and sex are (thankfully) not an issue here.

Maybe I’ll put this one at the top of the pile.

Can you recommend any other fiction for this “Teenage Boy” list?  I’d love more suggestions!  Can you comment on any of the books I’ve listed here?




Vocab from Artemis Fowl: Bivouac

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday, a great way for word nerds to learn new vocabulary.  To join in, visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion and be sure to share new words you’ve discovered recently.

My word comes from my Merriam-Webster Word of the Day email, but it reminded me of a great scene from Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex.  In the story, Artemis and his friends face attack in arctic conditions.  Artemis’s alter ego suggests that the crew “bivouac”.

First of all, the word is a mouthful.  I’ve included an easy pronunciation guide to help. Second, even though I heard bivouac used in context, I didn’t get the meaning right.  M-W cleared things up.

The Atlantis Complexbivouac \BIV-uh-wak\ verb from the German biwacht, meaning “by guard”; the French word bivouac came from biwacht  and could mean the guard of an army (noun) or the act of guarding (verb).  Today the word has more to do with taking shelter than guarding.  It means to make temporary camp under little or no shelter.

After listening to the story (I enjoyed the Artemis Fowl series via audio book), I thought a bivouac was a tent, or shelter.  I didn’t realize it was a verb!  Thanks, Merriam-Webster.

Word Nerd Workout

Have you ever bivouacked? (Yes, that’s a word.)  Any bivouac experience could be the inspiration for awesome stories!  Please share.

Also, this weekend I heard Jeff O’Neal use one of my Wondrous Words from Where’d You Go, Bernadette on the Book Riot podcast.  The word: insouciant.  Does anyone remember what it means?  I do. ;)

Recommended Reading

Today I have a guest post up at Eli Pacheco’s blog Coach Daddy on how I apply coaching to parenthood.  It involves giant lollipops.  Eli is hilarious, a fellow word nerd with lots of fun insights on fatherhood, soccer, and doughnuts.  Please visit!

Thanks for getting nerdy with me.


Why You Should Read Gone Girl Before Seeing the Movie

Gone Girl MovieGone Girl, the movie, comes out October 3, 2014.  That means you still have about three weeks to read the novel before you see the movie.  (Which you always, always should do.)

Think that’s not enough time?  Trust me, you’ll get it done.

I’m not a huge fan of thrillers, but I liked Gone Girl well enough.  The ending didn’t turn out like I thought – but I guess with this genre it shouldn’t.  Except, I expected…

Well, I don’t want to give anything away.  To see my full review, visit my friend Carol’s blog and tell me what you thought of Gone Girl, or if you plan to read it before the movie hits theaters.



What is Prescriptivism?

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday, a meme for people who like to learn new words.  Visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for links to eclectic additions to your vocabulary.

My word today was inspired by last week’s post on Weird Al Yankovic’s video “Word Crimes.” In my post, I related that Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty said of Yankovic’s video, (which insults people who use poor grammar)  “Prescriptivism sells.”

I had to find out more about prescriptivism.

Webster’s got me this far:

prescriptive \pri-‘skrip-tiv\ adj from Latin praescribere to write at the beginning, dictate, order; acquired by, founded on, or determined by a long-standing custom explains that prescriptivism is the ardent belief that one variety of language is superior to all others and should be promoted as such.  It’s concerned with proper and correct usage.

In contrast, descriptivism is a nonjudgmental approach to language concerned with how it is actually spoken and written.

A graphic on the About Grammar site says:

I believe sensible prescriptivism ought to be part of any education.

~Noam Chomsky

I can relate to this quote.  Sometimes I worry that our casual approach to language, all the texting and slang, will erode its power over time.  Ask my kids.  I like rules.  But, I don’t want to be obnoxious or pretentious about grammar.

Yes, I think students should still diagram sentences (I loved it!)  No, I don’t think that one should insult people who use inappropriate possessive apostrophes.  (We word nerds should just correct the error mentally and make sure our writing doesn’t have that or some other mistake.)

The emphasis on sensible from Chomsky’s quote comes from the original graphic, and it deserves the  attention.

Word Nerd Workout

Would you describe yourself as a fan of prescriptivism or descriptivism?  Why?

Thanks for adding to the discussion!



Why We Shouldn’t Use Grammar to Condemn

This week, Grammar Girl taught me an important lesson .  It had nothing to do with grammar and everything to do with humility.

I’m behind in my podcasts, just like I’m behind on the laundry.  That explains why I only recently listened to a podcast from July 2014 in which Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, reviewed Weird Al Yankovic’s video “Word Crimes”, a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”.

Here’s the video:

In “Word Crimes”, Weird Al harps on classic grammar mistakes like saying “I’m good” instead of “I’m well” and the difference between “it’s” and “its”.  You would think that a “Grammar Girl” would love a video that pokes fun at grammar ignorance.

But guess what?  She didn’t like it.  For good reasons. Weird Al calls people who don’t use good grammar “droolers” and “mouth breathers.”  At one point, he says “Your prose is dopey,” and “Get outta the gene pool.”

It’s obnoxious, just like that arrogant kid in middle school who crosses the line between funny and mean.  But the video went viral.  As Fogarty points out, prescriptivism sells.    We live in a judgmental culture that promotes ridiculing the mistakes of others.  We like feeling superior.

Ouch.  That’s when she gets me.  With shame, I admit that I, a self-proclaimed “Grammar Nazi”, have indulged this feeling of superiority.  Weird Al’s video, and Grammar Girl’s review, have shown me how ugly it is.

The Book ThiefBy a strange coincidence, right now I’m finishing The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, set in WWII Germany.  Zusak powerfully demonstrates how the Nazi Party used words to intimidate and control. Millions died because of Hitler’s rhetoric. As I read the closing chapters of The Book Thief, I brush away tears and wonder, “How could words cause so much death?”

Because we humans like feeling powerful.

And now, I reevaluate the title “Grammar Nazi”.  Do I really want to take on the name of a group of people who brutally terrorized their fellow human beings?  Do I  want to use my knowledge and interest in words to make others feel small?


I want to be like Liesel, not Hitler.  In The Book Thief, Liesel uses words to sustain her during the horrors of war.  She and her Jewish friend Max rip up Hitler’s memoir Mein Kampf and literally cover his propaganda with a story of hope. In the end, all she has are words to give comfort to her Jewish friend.  And they work.

Some of you might be thinking, “It’s just a video; don’t take it so seriously.”  But, for better or worse, I often take things seriously. I carefully consider the words I absorb and the words I dispense.  I want to help people communicate their ideas in the best way possible.

humilityThank you Grammar Girl for confirming my belief that I need to spend less time judging and more time empowering.  Humility feels so much better than superiority.  No more Grammar Nazi for me.

What do you think of Weird Al’s video? How do you feel about the power of words to build up or tear down?








What Does Mythopoeia Mean?

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday, a meme where readers share new words they’ve encountered during the week.  Visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion and find links to more fantastic new vocabulary.

First, thanks to everyone who expressed concern about my daughter and her concussion.  She is doing great.  Her biggest problem last week was “cognitive rest.”  No reading, computer, or T.V. most of the week.  She didn’t know what to do with herself and finally resorted to Legos.

Can you imagine being told to rest but NOT read?  Torture!

On to learning a new word…

My entry this week comes from the profile of one of my new followers on Twitter.  John Sowers  includes writing, knife making, and “mythopoeia” in his interests.  I hope I’m not the only one who doesn’t know what “mythopoeia” means

mythopoeia \mith-ə-‘pē-yə\ noun from the Greek mythos, mythology,+ poiein,  to make; a creating of myths; giving rise to myths

Note that the word has four syllables, not five.  “Poe” sounds like “pea”.

Well, of course an author would enjoy creating myths!  Thanks for teaching me a new word, John Sowers.

Fellowship of the RingWord Nerd Workout

Can you use mythopoeia in a sentence?  Here’s my example:

September 2 marked the anniversary of the death of a man with a great gift for mythopoeia, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Your turn!


Spread the word on Twitter: Wondrous Word for Wednesday: mythopoeia = the creation of myth via @juliatomiak