Review: Frindle by Andrew Clement

Frindle by Andrew Clement (1996)

frindleNick Allen is one of those genius trouble-makers good teachers love and bad teachers don’t know what to do with. He questions just about everything his teachers say, especially stuff taught by teachers he dislikes for all the usual, stupid reasons fifth-graders find to dislike even the best of teachers. Convinced he is smarter than his English teacher Mrs. Granger, he asks an endless series of questions about words and their meanings as one of those delay tactics students think their teachers don’t recognize.

Mrs. Granger uses Nick’s questions to get him to learn even more than his obedient classmates, and when he realizes he’s being played, he comes up with one of his best plans ever: he convinces his classmates to start using made-up words for common objects, such as FRINDLE to mean PEN. Mrs. Granger wages a war on this practice, defending the existing lexicon while Nick challenges the establishment by wielding arguments about usage, context, and meaning.

The war escalates, and soon the whole town is involved. Administrators don’t seem to know what to do; the local media jumps aboard, and everyone takes a side in what becomes an absurd, runaway battle that escapes Nick’s or Mrs. Granger’s control.

Andrew Clements has a great idea for a story here, but in aiming his novel at middle-grade elementary students, he shoots a little too low, probably underestimating his readers’ ability to deal with irony and inference. He has a tendency to over-explain things, and then he resolves his story in very Sesame Street ways, tipping over into over-sentimentality. Young readers probably won’t complain, but they should. They should see themselves in the Nick role, smart enough to understand this story without any hand-holding, and Clements should push them in that direction. Instead, his story assumes his readers are in the middle of the pack, which will make for appealing reading. The result is something popular where it could have been something popular and great.

I was carrying this book in the cafeteria line at the community college where I work, and the college student who took my money said, “Oh, I loved that book when I was a kid!” There’s something to be said for this, so Clements is surely on to something. And it probably means nothing that the student added, “I can’t remember anything about it, but I remember I loved reading it,” but rather than be disappointed in the book’s short-lasting resonance, I just nodded and said, “I get it.”

2 stars out of 5.

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Fiving at Three A.M.

From here.

  1. You are awake at 2:30 in the morning on a work night (or school night). What is the most likely reason?
    Well, thanks to increased work on job 2 (which is now job 1), I’m usually up at that hour because I’m working. I kind of set my own schedule, and I’m finding that I work best in the wee hours. If I’m not awake because of that, I’m probably awake because I’m old now and I have to get up and pee two or three times a night.
  2. Time Magazine says you are a candidate for 2014’s Person of the Year. What is the most likely reason?
    For singlehandedly keeping the local Starbucks in business, for my dominance in Scramble with Friends, for smiling at dogs and strangers, and for always making sure the toilet seat is clean and dry in a cafe restroom for whoever uses it after me.
  3. Your hometown is naming a geographical or civil landmark after you, as in Mary’s Creek or David’s Corner. What is the most likely name of this spot?
    Dwyer’s Hill is steep incline about forty yards in length, right in front of my house. I often walk up and down it for an hour or so, listening to podcasts late at night. I don’t have a treadmill and don’t really want one, so I use this hill the way I would use a treadmill if I had one.
  4. Your best friend from high school calls to ask a favor. What is the most likely nature of the favor?
    He hasn’t spoken to me in a while; I pissed him off somehow and don’t really know what I did, but I don’t doubt that it was highly offensive. I’m hoping the favor would be to help him, perhaps with some editing for something important, like wedding vows or maybe a paper for some class he’s taking. But most likely it would be not to come to one of the class reunion events (my class always plans a whole weekend’s worth of get-togethers to make it worthwhile for those who come home from abroad), so he could come and see everyone without having to deal with me.
  5. Twenty-four hours from now, you’ve got a great smile on your face. What is the most likely reason for this smile?
    That would be three in the morning Saturday night. I’m going to say it’s because I’m dreaming of the Raiders beating the Chiefs in a few hours, or maybe I’m dreaming of Julia Stiles buying me a cup of coffee so she can get to know me better.

I should really do the Friday 5 more often. Writing the questions every week isn’t super super super hard, but it is quite a task to try and keep the material fresh.

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Roll Out the Barrels

Just for fun (inspired by a recent purchase at the local drugstore): my favorite individually wrapped hard candies (lollipops excluded), in order.


  1. Li hing mui drops (pictured)
  2. Hard ginger candy
  3. Root beer barrels
  4. Cinnamon discs / Jolly Rancher Cinnamon Fire
  5. Peppermint starlites
  6. Coffee candy
  7. Butterscotch / butter-rum discs
  8. Strawberry Jolly Rancher
  9. Strawberry hard candy in strawberry-looking wrappers
  10. Tootsie Pop Drops

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and I seldom eat candy, but when I do, this is the candy that turns me on. Did I leave anything out?

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Talking About a Revolution

I was twenty-three when the Rodney King verdict came down, and unlike many twenty-three-year-olds, I was still in college. It was spring, and I was living in a Christian off-campus dorm. Like everyone else, I’d seen the video a million times, and I was certain (certain!) that there would be convictions.

I was twenty-three, and so sure I was right. I have often lamented and I continue to lament the way I will likely never be as sure of anything as I was sure of everything at twenty-three, and when someone in the dorm lounge told me there was a verdict, I looked at the TV and saw the footage again, and then saw the officers walking free. I’m older now and realize that I was not privy to whatever the jurors knew, that I was completely sure of something in which I had no grounds for certainty. That video was just a few seconds long, and as horrible as it was, it wasn’t the whole story.

But I was twenty-three, and there was live video of people running mad in the streets, people chanting the refrain to a little-known Intelligent Hoodlum rap called “No Justice, No Peace,” and I was filled with a rage I don’t think I’d felt before, and have only felt a few times since. It was an irresistable desire to express myself, to join the anger in the streets and add my voice to the others: No justice, no peace; no peace, no justice. I remember running out of the lounge onto the beautiful front porch of the dorm, the kind of front porch you see in movies, with an actual porch swing and one of the nicest views of Honolulu you can get from within Honolulu. I looked out there and wondered if it would be long before our own streets would be filled with teeming throngs of angry citizens, and I yearned to be part of it.

When you’re twenty-three, you’re not only right: you are also invincible. I felt a little tinge of hesitation for my safety, but then I remembered the video of that man being held down and beaten, and I reminded myself that too many such men had been held down and beaten, their attackers free to go to their nice jobs and homes while those black men, individually and collectively, struggled to get back up and on their feet. I remember pacing restlessly on that porch, looking with longing at the city and thinking there must be something I could do to let the world know that I’d had enough, too.

I went back into the lounge to see what was up, and it wasn’t long before it got ugly. Fires. Looting. Overturned police vehicles. That wasn’t what I’d envisioned at all. And that pent-up feeling of rage, still there and still desiring release, was put down for a moment. The images on the screen were scary now, and I worried for my friends who were living in Los Angeles, and I wondered if this would spread to other large cities.

I thank God that I live in a town that’s generally mellow, one where taking things in stride is the norm. It can be frustrating sometimes, but this state has the longest life expectancy in the nation, and I attribute that to the mellowness. There was some protesting at the capitol for a couple of days, and then most of the furor died down everywhere but in California. I admit that at first, I felt slightly ripped off that I was never able to be part of the real protest. I got over it quickly, as did most of the country.

I write all of this to say that I get it. I get what’s going on in some cities where people’s lifetimes of feeling like they have had to fight for every uphill step have been strained to breaking; I get it because I remember feeling that way too, not on my own behalf but on the behalf of fellow citizens.

I’m not twenty-three anymore, and I am cursed with perspective and other maddening things that come with age. Compromise, selling out, and acceptance of a slower path to life’s getting better among them. And this: a complete and utter lack of certainty. I know how I feel about police forces having the armament and ordnance of military units, but I also know that I can’t possibly know what happened on the night in question and that most of the stuff attached to this very huge and very important issue have little to do with the issue immediately at hand: whether or not enough evidence exists to put one police officer on trial for one incident.

So my response to all of this, besides just being sad and confused, is to ignore just about everyone in my Twitter and FB streams who feels qualified to render verdicts of his or her own, to turn off the television and resist the shared videos, and just pray for peace and cooler heads.

Don’t you know? Talking about a revolution sounds like a whisper.

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Review: To Catch a Thief

To Catch a Thief (1955)
Cary Grant, Grace Kelly. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by John Michael Hayes.

to_catchJohn Robie (Cary Grant) is a retired jewel thief, nicknamed The Cat. He has apparently paid his debt to society and is living in a country house where he tends his vineyards. When a recent series of thefts (mostly at high-end hotels) mimic The Cat’s style, the Parisian police come after him for questioning. Robie is sure he won’t be treated justly, so he avoids the police and attempts to catch the thief himself, seeing this as the only way to keep himself out of prison.

He becomes acquainted with a wealthy American widow (Jessie Royce Landis) and her impossibly beautiful daughter (Grace Kelly). Robie thinks they may be the thief’s next target, so he keeps an eye on them while pretending to be a wealthy something-or-other from America.

This is the setup for To Catch a Thief, and it takes up about a third of the movie. The middle third involves Grant and Kelly getting to know one another, in a series of witty exchanges and flirty activity. There is one sexually-laden scene in the water where the entendres fly about like a slightly (but only slightly) less crude episode of Wayne’s World, kind of a shocking thing to hear out of the ultra-civilized mouths of Grant and Kelly. It is the movie’s best scene.

a_thiefPursuing the thief while avoiding being blamed for it makes up the remainder of the film, but it only really exists so that Grant and Kelly can continue to do their thing: something, after all, must present itself as an obstacle to their eventually getting together. But it is all really a distraction; who the the thief is and how the thief is either caught or not caught is only mildly interesting, and if you’re into the film for its plot, you’re likely not going to think a whole lot of this film. If you’re in it to see two Hollywood icons set the cellulose on fire, however, here is a rather rewarding hour and forty-six minutes. Each actor is at the peak of gorgeousness, cool and sexy each in his or her own way, and it is a lovely thing to witness. I have said on occasion that Lauren Bacall is my favorite actress only because she got to me first. If I had seen Grace Kelly first, it almost surely would have been her. See this movie and you’ll see why.


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Review: Divergent

Divergent (2014)
Shailene Woodley, Maggie Q, Ashley Judd, Theo James, Kate Winslett. Directed by Neil Berger.

diverIn Divergent‘s post-apocalyptic Chicago, society is divided into five factions named Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, and Abnegation. Amity values happiness and peace; Candor values honesty and fairness, Dauntless values courage, Erudite values science and knowledge, and Abnegation values selflessness and service. Each faction operates a distinct part of life within the fenced-in city (the Amity, for example, growing the food for the whole city, but the Abnegation governing the food’s distribution), raising its children until they are old enough to be tested for competency and inclination.

The test results are recorded but kept secret, and when the young adults are faced with the Choosing ceremony, they may choose to stay with the faction they were raised by (the most common outcome), or they may choose any other faction, either in line with their test results or not, since the test results are known only to the chooser.

Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) has always felt out of place in Abnegation, something that fills her with guilt. Her parents are leaders in the Abnegation community, models of selfless thought in service to others. Her brother, too, seems effortlessly to place the needs of others above his own desires. Beatrice thinks she’s too selfish for her community, although she certainly values what it stands for, and longs to be more like her family. But something strange happens at her testing, and she learns something about herself that she cannot tell anyone without risking death.

gentThis truth about herself affects everything Beatrice does, and this first film in an anticipated four-movie series (based upon Veronica Roth’s trilogy) traces her experience as she carries her secret through her post-Choosing life. She forms precious new friendships, changes her name to Triss, gains a few enemies, and comes under fire for accusations aimed at her parents. Somehow, what really emerges is something of a survival tale with elements (too many for my tastes) of romance.

It’s pretty good. The cinematography is thoughtful and at times creative, the editing comfortable yet excellent at building tension. My lone complaint is that the supporting characters aren’t developed well, something that might have been sacrificed for better pacing (an understandable choice, if this is the case). Triss’s friendships are a critical element in the trilogy’s developing story, the kind of thing that makes us care as much about her as we should, and while it may have been impossible to flesh out all of the important relationships, some care should have been taken to define at least a few of them. This lack of connectedness serves to flatten the overall film, leaving the plot to do the driving.

The novels are wildly popular, and they’re at least interesting enough to keep me coming back for the next few films, but I suspect that if you don’t have that to motivate you, Divergent the film will only kind of make you want to see what happens next.


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Stuff I Love Doing

I’ve been spending some time lately thinking about stuff I love doing that I don’t do. My daily life lately has been pretty decent. I go for walks. I read a little. I dine out more than I should. I enjoy television. I play games on my tablet once in a while. I meet friends sometimes.

But I am having some difficulty thinking of the last time I did something I love doing. I thought of two things, actually: I do love swimming at the beach, and I love driving around in my car. Both of these things I love have been curtailed (is that the word I mean?) because I wrecked my car and am at the moment wheel-less. So, minus those two things (and I’m not counting reading, which is the thing I love doing the most, and which I haven’t been doing enough of but I’m still not counting it).

So tonight, just for a few minutes, I’m going to brainstorm a little list of things I love doing but haven’t done in a really long time. I need to get more of this stuff in my life. I’m going to try to list without commenting, saving comments for later. Ha. That never happens.

Visiting new places.
Teaching high-schoolers.
Going to the movies on a regular basis.
Ice skating.
Taking photos.
Watching baseball.
Listening to live music.
Shooting pool.
Teaching high-schoolers.
Visiting the Big Island.
Having game night with the friends.
Playing video games.
Learning computer stuff.
Eating sushi.
Logic puzzles.
Hanging out with my high-school classmates.

…to be continued.

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