Thursday, November 27, 2008


Well, it's now officially Thanksgiving day, and I hope all of you Americans out there are going to have a great one, all of you Canadians had a great one, and all of the rest of you out there enjoy hearing about our quaint North American celebrations. Alternatively, you could give thanks too, it's not a bad idea to take a moment to think about the positive things you're grateful for in the past year.

I have one thing I'm particularly thankful for every year, and I thought I'd share it with you.

Everyone has their little traditions, mine is listening to Arlo Guthrie every year around this time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Year of Readers

There's a great idea over at The Year of Readers. Reading for charity, specifically you get people to sponsor your reading, and the money goes to a reading related charity. This sounds like a great idea to me, so I've signed up with them. Now I just need to pick my charity. I have some thoughts, but I'll want to write about it in more detail later. This is just a basic statement of intent.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I'm in the middle of some complicated writing, which is taking up some of my blogging time and a lot of my blogging brain. That being said, I encountered this widget and wanted to share.

blog readability test

Movie Reviews

Apparently I write at a high level of difficulty, although it is possible that run on sentences have confused the analyzer. It's not clear how it works.

Still, I should try to avoid that. If I remember correctl, the ideal for readability is supposed to be something like a fourth or fifth grade reading level. I'll try to simplify my language a bit.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Mood Captured

At present, one of the books that I'm reading is The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. There was a passage that I just had to share. He perfectly captures the mood and physical sensation, of lazing in the sun on a bench in the right kind of summer weather, with or without a book.

"The benches were white iron, roomy enough for three or four old gaffers to snooze on in the swamp-tasting sweet warmth that made the redwing blackbirds fierce and quick, and the flowers frill, but other living things slow and lazy-blooded. I soaked in the heavy nourishing air and this befriending atmosphere like rich life-cake, the kind that encourages love and brings on a mild pain of emotions. A state that lets you rest in your own specific gravity, and where you are not subject matter but sit in your own nature, tasting original tastes as good as the first man, and are outside of the busy human tamper, left free even of your own habits. Which only lie on your illusory in the sunshine, in the usual relation of your feet or fingers or the knot of your shoestrings and are without power. No more than the comb or shadow of your hair has power on your brain."

And a side note. Read that passage thinking about your 6th grade English class, and think about how many things he does that your teacher told you you couldn't do. Don't think about being the smart mouthed little kid who points out to them that Bellow did it, and he won a Nobel Prize. All they'd have done is say to you "Well, when you win the Nobel Prize, you can do it too." Unless they were really good, then they might have told you that you have to learn the rules before you can break them.

Read like Ike!

In the course of surfing the web this morning, I came across the following quote from the great folks over at The Big Read.

“Don’t join the book burners. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.”
–Dwight D. Eisenhower

It's a great quote, and it's always nice to see such encouragement coming from a former President of the United States (or POTUS, as the cool kids say).

It got me thinking though, that it addresses a real fear. We, as a society, seem to be afraid of reading books with which we disagree, because they might convince us. This despite the fact that anyone who has gotten involved in a flame war of one kind or another on the internet should well know that the written word isn't very convincing when you're confident in your opinion. Heck, even indisputable facts can be easily ignored by those who have adopted a philosophy that contradicts them. Even when we're not afraid of a books effect on us, we are still often concerned about their effect on others. Often wrongfully. Certainly, there is room for concern about books being age appropriate for children, but beyond that, I think we should encourage ourselves, and others to read books that we don't necessarily agree with. An opinion unchallenged is hardly a strong opinion, however, if you have examined the idea, looking at it from different sides, you can be much more confident in your view. Nothing forces us to think about our ideas, why we hold them, and what they are exactly, than reading something we disagree with. A book you agree with is safe, you don't have to confront yourself, the author is doing all of the hard work. When you read something further from your attitudes, it's more work. Certainly, you can just toss the book away and call it stupid, but if you read it through and try to argue it out with the wall of text in front of you, it tightens your opinions. It can also show you were you may 'know' something, but you don't have the facts to prove it. This can result in sending you off on tangents of excellent research, learning more about the things you already agree with.

The point being, I agree with Ike. Don't be afraid. I would add, be fierce, read aggressively.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Where History Comes From

The NY Times had a really interesting article on the use of Special Collections libraries in teaching. The author followed John Pollack, UPenn Rare Book Specialist, as he taught a class using 500 year old books. He explains that this kind of teaching is a growing trend, and I think fairly effectively explains why it's important.

Still, I wanted to add my two cents. I took a couple of classes like this in college, and it really is a moving experience. It's also more than that, as John Pollack says "these materials also are wonderful teaching tools that pose questions about how we know what we know." When I first had the opportunity to really viscerally interact with a book printed by the Gutenberg Press, the tenuousness of some of our knowledge about the past really hit home. There are great classical authors whose works we have only because of one surviving book, or even less than that. Further the awareness that this information comes from real people, with just as many foibles, mistakes, and biases as people have today, really hits home. We live in a world where we are too likely to give instant credence to the authority of the written (or typed) word, and any lesson that reminds us that the authors were only human, is a good one.

Beyond that, there is also just something beautiful about the immediate connection to the world of generations ago. To hold a book in your hands, and see the notes in the margins made by someone else 400 years before you were born, can be an intimidating experience. Humanity really isn't the neatly organized succession of eras and periods that history often makes it out to be. Instead it's one long continuous stream, constantly reacting to what has come before it, and what it thinks is coming up ahead.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Over

So as you might have noticed, we had an election recently in the United States. I was off volunteering for the past few days, and while I got back yesterday afternoon, I almost immediately went to sleep. I'm not going to go into it too much, because this blog isn't about politics. However, I will say this, if there is a political race that matters to you, volunteering for it is an incredibly fulfilling experience. We have a participatory democracy, and there is nothing like participating in it. I brought books with me to read, but spent all of my time either working or sleeping. I finally got an hours worth of reading done today, it was refreshing.