True Notebooks by Mark Salzman

True Notebooks is the story of high-risk offenders in LA’s Central Juvenile Hall exposing their vulnerable selves in a writing class. This one opportunity to share their thoughts literally gives the few who attend room to breathe and a window to the sky instead of a tenebrous 10 by 12 cell abutting a brick wall. For their efforts, the prisoners unearth pain and fear and find joy and understanding. Salzman pens the sojourn without pity, emitting the raw energy of these prisoners, showing through his eyes and their voices that they are like so many teenagers we know…they think about girls incessantly, they clown around, they make mistakes, they have yet to discover their true selves. The author moves through scenes with dexterity as he shares his journey­ in a world not his own while contextualizing the stories of his students for whom life is a sentence not an abstraction and endings are rarely happy. Read True Notebooks and remember that life is less black and white but so many shades in between.

Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset

Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset is a fairy-tale-like story told in the context of the complex realities of early to mid 20th century America. Set in Philadelphia and New York City, this novel is crafted with such subtlety that the casual reader may miss the depth of knowledge and life that brims below the daintily espoused language. Although she approaches despotism at some points, the author, in the voice of the omniscient narrator, builds trust with adeptly evinced setting and insight and, at times, just as deftly misleads the reader. Minor roles are made vital when Fauset presents them with all their flaws and ornament. The word “propinquity,” employed several (or one too many) times, serves as a metaphor for the protagonist and for the novel: while close in proximity and forthright in words and deeds, both are obscured as their deeper selves remain veiled to the inattentive eye. This coming of age novel takes the structure of a nursery rhyme and fills it with the stuff of life—hope, disappointment, irony, wisdom—and reminds us that each moment of the journey is a worthwhile one.

To Market, To Market,
To Buy a Plum Bun;

Home again, Home again,

Market is done.

The Social Meaning of Language by JB Pride

The Social Meaning of Language brings together the sibling sciences—psychology, sociology, anthropology, and all their compound and hyphenated forms—to discuss linguistics as a social science or, as it is now commonly known but was still emerging as at the time of its publication in 1971, sociolinguistics. (Yes, I know. Really.) This book collects and argues the ideas of the –ologists, men today’s students might google on their smart phones just before class. It examines how and why our speech functions range from unconscious to deliberate choices as we attempt to communicate with others who interpret our coded messages as intended and sometimes in unexpected ways. This surprisingly mod little book of complex ideas is valuable as a reminder that many textbook “facts” are not so much facts as accepted notions. Ideas like multi-dialectal speakers and second language acquisition theory—current terms in the field—are postulated and countered by the originators of the conceptions and their contemporaries. Such in-depth discussion will be especially appreciated by the student seriously studying the stuff of language and the social science enthusiast (if there is such a thing). Engage your left temporal lobe and peruse The Social Meaning of Language.


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