Thursday, December 22, 2011

    Thursday Thirteen: Read it Again? Yes, Please!

    Thursday Thirteen for 12/22:

    Books I Could Read Over and Over Again, and Often Do

    Despite the fact that the saddest revelation I've had to date is that I will never live long enough to read all the books I want to read, I still find that some books are so delicious, I can't help but reread. Here's a little sample, in no particular order.

    Typical, I know. But for me, the magic never dies.

    I big pink puffy heart this book. It makes me wish I were a Southern gal.

    3. Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

    I love travel, and hate the typical American work ethic. This makes us soulmates.

    4. Walking on Water by Derrick Jensen

    Walking on Water changed the way I teach, and the way I think about teaching.

    5. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

    Need I say more?

    6. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

    I read this book obsessively as a child. I read it now whenever I'm feeling blue, and it always cheers me up.

    This might be my favorite book ever.

    8. Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf

    I recommend this book for any aspiring Reading Specialists out there. If you don't find yourself completely engrossed in its pages, don't become a Reading Specialist. If you love it, you've found your people. Welcome. We embrace you.

    9. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

    Gah. I will cry if I write anything about this one.

    10. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

    Shel Silverstein used to frequent the record store my mother managed in Chicago. She says he always came in with one of those invisible dog leashes. I loved his work before I knew this, but now I just love it even more.

    Judith Martin is a comic genius.

    12. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

    I know she isn't popular amongst the literati, but Ayn Rand made me fall in love with literature all over again.

    13. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

    Did I say another title was my favorite book? Because this one just might be.

    So, what about you? Which books can you read again and again?

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    Book Love: Handwritten Inscriptions

    I have a thing for used books.

    But it's not their condition I'm worried about, or even their content. In fact, I love a tattered cover and dogeared pages, and I really don't even care what the book is about. No, the thing that makes me fall in love with a used book is a good handwritten inscription. I've spent many hours squatting on the floors of used bookstores and flipping open covers in search of the next great inscription.

    It's amazing the things people will write in books.

    Here are my two favorite inscriptions from my own used book collection.

    I love this first one because it is so sweet, and vintage . . . 
    9/20/48 / For my dearest one on his birthday / With all my love / Helene
     . . . yet, it's inscribed in this book:
    That's right, this is a copy of Dante's Divine Comedy
    On its own the inscription seems so sweet, so loving. For my dearest one on his birthday. That line alone is so wonderful. Do people even write like this anymore? And look at that penmanship! My students tell me they can't even read cursive anymore, let alone write it. The fact that her name is Helene is what really sealed the deal for me. Helene. I imagine her dearest one has an equally respectable name, like Harold or Winfield or Arthur.

    I imagine them sitting in an elegant restaurant, the book neatly wrapped in paper, waiting on the fine white table cloth next to Helene's glass of wine. She looks lovingly at Arthur and he makes a toast to his beloved, his dearest one. They clink stemware. She hands him the package, For your birthday, dear, she says. He smiles and unwraps it, a tear rolls down his cheek as he reads the inscription. He leans across the table for a modest, public kiss.

    And then he reads the title again. The Divine Comedy. Sounds nice enough. He flips through to the first page and finds Canto I: Inferno. Inferno? Gustave Doré's first illustration faces the page, the caption: "Canto I: Dante astray in the Dusky Wood." The wood is not only dusky, it's black. Tangled branches lie in wait. Dante hunches over and turns to look behind himself and out at the reader, his brow creased, his arms clutched to his chest in fear. Arthur's hand trembles as he flips through the rest of the book. His eyes scan the illustrations and fixate on words like evil, torture, and hell.

    Arthur sucks in his breath. Does Helene know? Is it possible? Perhaps she found one of those ridiculous notes Midge likes to slip into his briefcase at the end of the day. He knew it was a bad idea, taking on such a tempting young intern. Arthur looks up at Helene. She's rolling the stem of her glass between the fingers of her right hand, her chin propped lightly on the fingers of her left. She watches him with great interest. He's caught, then.  

    To my dearest one, indeed.


    I love this second inscription for its cheek. I found it in this book:
    A School History of England by Harmon B. Niver, published 1904
    It has many inscriptions:
     But these are my favorites:
    Mark Hirsh, 1909 / to Winston L. Churchill - Return in 2 weeks

    Thanks alot [sic] / Yours truly, / Winston L. Churchill / 1909
    I mean, really--is anyone going to believe that Sir Winston Churchill didn't know the difference between a lot and alot by the time he was 34?

    A for effort, though. This inscription makes me laugh every time I look at it. (And not just because Hyperbole and a Half's post about The Alot is my favorite post on the Internet. Which it is, by the way.) Thanks alot. Cheeky little buggers.

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Thursday Thirteen: Great Tweeting Writers

    Thursday Thirteen for 12/15:

    Great Tweeting Writers

    I've only been on Twitter for a few short weeks, and it's already changed my reading life. I'm always reading, and looking for new books to read, and new authors to discover, and new books and authors to recommend to my hundreds of reading students every year.

    Pre-Twitter, I lurked on writing forums and paid special attention to the threads about books people can't wait to read. I spent hours in bookstores going through the aisles. (Always a real hardship, let me tell you.) I read The Book Review, a handful of book reviewer blogs that I'd found, and spent a lot of time on Goodreads. I still do these things, but now, now I feel as if I've found my secret weapon: Twitter.

    If you aren't on Twitter, let me describe it for you: It's a perpetually updating feed of information and resources from people you choose to follow on the site. Sounds simple enough, right? Here is where it gets interesting: If you follow people wisely, their tweets will lead you to new people to follow, and new resources you never knew existed. And then, just a few weeks into your Twitter adventure, you will realize that you've been missing out on a world of Very Interesting People, and you'll ask yourself "What have I been waiting for?" (Or, for the grammarians among us: "For what have I been waiting?")

    And then, you'll be me, right now, at this point in time. Overwhelmed by the awesomeness that is Twitter and all the people who use it to the point of proselytizing on your blog about how it is so amazing and everyone else should join.

    Anyway, I've discovered or rediscovered some incredible writers through Twitter. Their generosity with writing tips, their insight into the world of authorship, their wit and humor, and most of all, their willingness to let readers peer into their world and get a glimpse of who they are as real people--these things have all left me awed and excited about reading their books. And of course, their tweets. And their blogs! Their blogs!!!! You really must check them all out.

    I recently posted about the Winter Break Dreams we make as teachers. Here are thirteen Great Tweeting Writers and their books, which make up one of my favorite Winter Break Dreams of all: The books I shall read while curled up in my favorite reading chair with egg nog-spiked coffee during my time off.

    In no particular order:


    I don't think this book is available yet. The wait! The wait!


    Writers--If you haven't been to Terrible Minds yet, go. Now. This post is so not worth your time. Get thee to Mr. Wendig's site ASAP.


    Going Bovine

    Okay, if you haven't read the Gemma Doyle trilogy yet, please, go read it. You might as well buy all three at once because if you don't, you'll find yourself frantic the instant you finish the first one because you'll need to read the second immediately. Trust me, I've been there.
    I can't believe I haven't read Going Bovine yet. Now is the time.

    This is a very incomplete sample, of course. I'm currently following around 200 authors on Twitter, so I could list a new batch of 13 to follow every Thursday and be busy for quite a while.

    So, what about you? Which books are in your To Read pile for winter break? Who are your favorite tweeting authors? Do share, please! And a big thank you to all of the tweeting authors out there! I can't tell you how much I enjoy following you on Twitter.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Winter Break Dreams

    Ah, winter break. The next few weeks spread out before me like yards of fabric purchased for a brand new quilt: so vibrant, so full of promise and potential. I have so many plans for you, my sweet days of the in-between. Long ignored projects will be completed. Books will be devoured. Real breakfasts will be made and eaten with proper utensils. For one month, I will actually get my money's worth out of that gym membership. 

    I may even go so far as to style my hair. (Stop laughing, thoseofyouwhoknowmeinreallife. It could happen.)

    Everyone else has their New Year's Resolutions, but those of us who engage in the triathlon that is teaching, we have our Winter Break Dreams. All throughout the fall semester we have ferreted away tiny shimmering hopes and sparkly big plans for the snowy interval that is, truthfully, sometimes the only thing that keeps us going through the midterm doldrums. 

    The first day that The Pile* becomes too heavy to lug home, we tuck away another Winter Break Dream. When students lose their initial determination and homework completion suddenly drops from 95% to 50%, it is the promise of that future respite that keeps us from weeping alone at our desks during office hours. Upon receiving the first student email of the term with both "Ima" and "ain't" in the body, do we drop to the ground and throw a tantrum? No. We retreat into ourselves and smile. For winter break is coming, and we are going to do big things during winter break.

    And now, here it is. I could fill an entire roll of Quilted Northern with an itemized list of all my Big Plans for this year's respite. Twelve weeks ago I was certain that this would be the year that I cook a Real Dinner every single night of my vacation. And start taking all those fitness classes at the gym. And read the entire pile of books I've set aside just for this sweet time. Was it only two weeks ago that I bought all of those knee socks, convinced that I will whip them into handmade sock monkeys in time to give them out as Chanukah gifts?

    Now, as I sit on the precipice of this long-anticipated interlude, all I can think is:

    What the hell was I thinking?

    What am I, some kind of superhero? Will I never learn? At this point, I'll be lucky to get out of bed before ten, let alone muster up the energy it takes to purchase all the items I'd need to make myself a proper breakfast. I've been running on Clif bars nibbled at stoplights on the drive in to work for so long that I'm not sure I can even stomach a real meal before eleven. And sock monkeys? Am I some sort of masochist? We all know the kids are going to get the usual stack of (delicious) books, purchased en route to the Chanukah party, and wrapped by those volunteers who sit at a table in the front of the store and wrap gifts for donations to the local animal shelter. 

    This is my eighth winter break as a teacher, and not one to break a perfect record, my eighth year of setting ridiculously unreasonable expectations for my Winter Break Dreams. Every year it is the same sad story. All semester long I buy crafty things and store them in the spare bedroom with a whisper, a promise: "I'll turn you into something adorable during winter break." I look at my husband over yet another Chipotle burrito and say "It's going to be so nice when I can cook for us every night." (To his credit, he just smiles and nods.) I choke down a Clif bar and tell myself "Soon enough. You'll be eating eggs Benedict with a side of breakfast potatoes in ten short weeks." And the books! About four weeks out from the blessed break I begin stacking them high on my nightstand until it looks like I'm playing a strange game of Jenga. 

    And time marches on, December sweeps in, the finals frenzy hits, and it happens. I find myself basking in the light at the end of the tunnel that seemed so far away for so long. My Winter Break Dreams, once the lifelines that pulled me through the depths of mid-semester perils, now press in on me with a threatening weight. Their sparkle fades, replaced by thorns and foul odor. Because I know the truth. It's always the same. I am too damn tired to get to any of them, and in these next few weeks I will engage in a game of catch-up and preparation for the spring that leaves little time for my precious dreams. 

    I will spend my winter break making up for lost sleep, lost nutrients, and lost time with friends that I have neglected all semester long. I will likely pull out the knee socks, make half an effort to turn them into something that resembles a monkey, and then stuff them back into their bag with a huff of frustration. I will cook a meal or two the first week, and then an incident with either the stove or another customer at the grocery store will rattle my resolve, and it will be back to take-out for the Osters. I will pull the tags off of my new workout clothes, wear them to a class or two, and then they'll wait out the rest of the winter break untouched, folded neatly in a drawer next to last year's shiny new workout clothes.

    But all is not lost! Because summer is coming. And summer is longer than winter. Summer is better than winter, for we teachers don't merely dream about summer, we fantasize. Summer is for Summer Fantasies. Summer is when I will get everything done. All of it. I will tie my Winter Break Dreams up in a bow and pack them in with all of the Summer Fantasies I will make throughout the spring semester. And then, then I will get to them all. This summer will be The Most Productive and Fulfilling Summer in the History of All Summers. This summer will be the best yet. I just know it. 

    * Teacher Jargon Explained 
    The Pile - The ever existent stack of grading that takes residence on every teacher desk around the second week of the term and doesn't disappear until after final grades are in. Teachers often drag the pile back and forth between home and work under the guise that they will actually read through the stack at night. This, of course, is only an illusion perpetuated to keep ourselves sane. More often than not, the pile remains untouched for days, and sometimes weeks at a time, like that pair of all-weather pants you always pack but never actually wear on vacation.

    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    If You Must Lecture . . . *

    Image found here

    Lecturers seem to get a bad rap these days. Now that registration for the spring semester has begun, it's not uncommon to hear students discussing the relative merits of taking one professor's course over another. One of the most common questions I hear is "Does she lecture?" If the answer is yes, it's usually followed by a groan, and I can only imagine, the student's decision to register for someone else's class. 

    When I was an undergraduate student myself, I often lamented the fact that so many of my professors required hundreds of students to sit in uncomfortable splintered wooden seats at what seemed like an uncivilized hour at the time, only to watch them read dense information off of their lecture notes. Why not just send out the written lecture itself and allow us to read it, to mark it, and to reread as necessary?

    I've always preferred reading to listening, and it seemed a cruel punishment, this forced activity in furious note-taking while the expert read off of a sheet from the podium up front. In fact, some savvy individual made a business out of this practice by selling lecture notes to students. The fact was that no one student could be expected to get every little bit of information out of the lecture, and so we flocked to the note-sellers and paid our $4.50 for the information we were certain we missed.

    This anti-lecture sentiment isn't limited to students, by the way. One of the first phrases I learned when I started teaching at my current college was "Death by PowerPoint." It is a great phrase, and I'm not above admitting that I suffered many small deaths by PowerPoint when I was a college student, myself.

    Now, it would be easy for me to wholeheartedly agree with these anti-lecture sentiments and to raise a flag calling for the end of the lecture as we know it, save for one niggling fact: despite my own negative experiences with many lecturers, I've been lucky to sit in on some amazing lectures in my time. I've heard lectures that changed my entire perspective on a body of literature in under an hour; transformed my approach to personal finance two hours' time; and once, I was moved to tears by a lecture on a particular piece of literature that, up until that day, I thought I loathed.

    So herein lies the question: What makes the difference between a great lecture, and a tedious one? It can't just be listener interest in the subject, as evidence by my own positive experiences with lectures on subjects in which I had no particular interest. It has to be something else, and it is. I had my own ideas about what makes a great lecture, but I sought out some reassurance from my favorite linguist, David Crystal, and sure enough I found his answer to this question:

    Great lecturers understand that a lecture is more than the oral presentation of a written piece. A great lecture is spontaneous speech that brings an expert together with her audience for a session of shared revelation on a topic. 

    When a lecturer engages her audience in a spontaneous speech about a subject, she has to construct her ideas as she goes along. This element of spontaneity ensures that she will not move too fast for the listener, and she is more likely to repeat key concepts throughout her speech. The lecturer is now thinking along with her audience, and therein lies the key: With spontaneous speech, the lecturer is free to connect emotionally with her audience, to look for recognition and response in their faces, and to keep a pace that her audience can follow.

    This results, of course, in the transfer of ideas from lecturer to listener--a far cry from the mere transcription to which so many undergrads resort when they suffer at the hands of a professor who merely reads from her prepared speech. The written word is so different from the spoken word that it seems silly for anyone to expect students to get anything of value out of a pre-transcribed lecture on a topic. On this subject, David Crystal writes:

    "If someone says, 'I dare not talk. I must write it out.' I am tempted to ask, 
    'Then why lecture? Why not send a written account to your friends 
    and let them read it comfortably at home; instead of dragging them all out 
    to a lecture hall to listen to your reading the very same thing?'" (293)

    I propose we throw out the prepared lecture notes. I propose that we trust ourselves to deliver relevant, meaningful content through spontaneous speech on the subject at hand. I propose we give our students a reason to come to class by engaging in a transfer of ideas from expert to student, the experience of which cannot be replicated through shared notes, pre-prepared speeches, or PowerPoint slides.

    We teach in an age plagued by a constant doubt of the value of higher education. I propose we show up and we answer the question "What is the value of a college degree?" by engaging our students in the critical discourse that ought to exist in any college classroom. I propose we give them something they can never get out of books, or notes, or PowerPoint slides: the human element, the process of discovery that is at the heart of what we do as academics. It's time we let our students in on the greatest secret of all: That a real classroom is filled with magic, spun by words, spoken by people, heard, understood, considered, and shared.

    Saturday, December 10, 2011

    Schticky Saturday: English Teacher Humor

    English teachers. We're hilarious, we are. Go on, laugh, it's allowed.
    I made this image based on this example my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Woods used.
    I made this one up all by myself.
    Here's another gem from Mrs. Woods.
    Truth. From
    I love this one. From
    This one had my laughing out loud. From

    He he. From
    WILL POWER! From
    Yes. Yes I am. From
    :) From
    HA! From
    Oh, so true. From



    What we're really thinking. From
    Librarians are funny, too! From

    We've all been there. From

    It's funny because it's true. From
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