Monday, January 30, 2012

Shared Reading

Kristen and I have been trying to create a new tradition: shared reading. We pick an article, essay, or even book, load it onto the iPad--thanks David and Kathy!-- and read it aloud to each other while commenting upon it. Being the pseudo-researcher that I am, I've been attempting to find information on others who do this same process -- how they do it, tips, best types of reading material, etc. All I've been able to find is reading aloud for adults reading to children.

Which leds me to a question: why is reading such an individual activity now? As this New York Times article mentions, at one time reading was about as social an activity as one could have. (An interesting sub-note: the article also hints at the rapid consumerization -- privatization -- of media interaction.)

I can think of few other ways of interacting with a partner that promotes as much growth and thought. Even with our few short sessions sharing our readings, it's been obvious that we are better understanding the text, filling in each other's gaps in understanding. With more complicated texts, such as journal articles and other conceptually complex material, the participants have to reconcile their own understanding with that of the author's words while also being challenged or questioned by the other participant. The shared quest to find meaning in dense texts, in our experience, leads both participants closer together in their thinking. It's also been a lot of fun.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Making Light (lite?) of Rick Ross

From The New York Times:
Give Mr. Ross credit: he hears the best in other rappers, and sometimes pilfers it for himself. He’s become an omnivore, his own repertory growing with his success, which isn’t always how things work. With clusters of meaty verses and throbbing, moody production, “Rich Forever” is almost on par with his last two solo albums, “Deeper Than Rap” and “Teflon Don” (Maybach Music/Slip-N-Slide/Def Jam), both great. In just a few years he’s become a real bear of a rapper. Powerful, indignant, protective: that’s how a bear feels, and that’s how Mr. Ross sounds, as if nothing could possibly derail him, and everyone who walks with him will be safe.
What a great example of of diction control. Look back at the picture, then re-read the paragraph for food, eating, and animal references. This is why I read the Times.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

White Noise

Jack Gladney, the protagonist of White Noise by Don Delillo, is an educator who apparently does not educate. Wearing dark robes and thickly tinted sunglasses even for inside lectures, Gladney mocks himself and the profession he serves throughout the narrative. The preeminent scholar of Hitler studies, a field he admits to conjuring up on a whim, Gladney professes at "The-College-on-the-Hill," a small liberal-arts college somewhere in the midwest. Despite his job title, from his first person viewpoint in the novel , the reader never encounters him interacting with any of his students. In fact, the closest the novel comes to providing an interaction is when Gladney visits and lends his professional authority to another "professor" at the college, Murry. Gladney and Murry spend this solitary didactic scene waxing philosophical; Murry lectures on Elvis -- his connection to his mother, his connection with death, his belief in the occult -- while Gladney interjects with comments that seem to relate Elvis to Hitler. Gladney and Murray's dance serves to elevate Elvis by the sheer weight of the comparison with Hitler.

The entire edifice of education is mocked throughout the novel. Mrs. Gladney -- Jack's fourth or fifth wife -- teaches a class on correct posture and the other professors at The-College-on-the-Hill teach courses in crass pop culture. No learning seems to take place at all in the novel, and in fact, the type of knowledge Gladney's children and step-children reflect is simply memorized factoid piled on top of de-contextualized information. Whole pages are spent explicating the ever more fracturing lies of conversation that take the family from questions of animal types to the population sizes of marginally important countries.

One example: Gladney's son offers five dollars to anyone in the car who can name the population of Bolivia, give or take 50,000. His sister's response: Bolivians.

As I am writing these thoughts without benefit of the book (I turned it in to the library earlier) I will conclude with I thought was the most profound insight Gladney receives in the novel. Bleeding from a gun shot wound, Gladney visits a Catholic-run hospital expecting to find some reaffirming message from the nuns and priest. Referring to Jesus, he is surprised to hear the nun explain with contempt that none of the Lord's workers at the hospital believe in God, they only act that way to help those who do not believe to have something to fall back upon. That someone believes in God, the supernatural, transcendence, Gladney discovers, is what allows those devoid of faith in anything to continue on. Gladney's education at the close of the book forces him to lose even that last shred of faith -- not in a super-human goodness, but in members of humanity who believe. He is untethered form all belief at this point. The apocalypse the novel keeps referring to, of chemical spills, toxic airborne events, and digital disintegration, becomes realized for him as a total loss of faith in faith itself.

He can go back to being a sham teacher with his thick sunglasses and black robes because it is all a sham, it's all white noise, sound and fury signifying nothing.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Advice from your elders

"As Dr. Pillemer summarized the elders’ view, 'Travel is so rewarding that it should take precedence over other things younger people spend money on.' Create a bucket list now and start whittling it down. "

From The New York Times

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On the process of learning...

"Much learning is like a poor man counting another's treasures without a penny of his own."

--Introducing Buddha, p. 61

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Prospective Booklist

Following John and my agreement to read 15 books this year, I've compiled a possible/probable list:

White Noise -- Delillo (finished yesterday)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance -- Pirsig
Catch 22 -- Heller
The Crying of Lot 49 -- Pynchon
Being and Time -- Heidegger
The Sound and the Fury -- Falkner
Bhagavad Gita
Discipline and Punish -- Foucault
Building A Bridge To the 18th Century -- Postman
Time Quake -- Vonnegut
The Passion of the Western Mind -- Tarnas

Obviously this is not 15 books. John and I agreed to read a few of the same books so I'm leaving room. Of course, there is always time to change a few books; any suggestions?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Inspired by a new year, peer-pressured by my good friend John, I've reopened this blog space. Sadly, my perfectionism kept me from writing often in this blog. Will it be a concept blog? A media blog? A personal blog? What if my students stumbled upon this thing?

But then the words of Dr. Sara Kajder rang in my ears: she wants to see English teachers and graduate students with an online presence, even at the risk of offending someone, somewhere, somehow. (Her exact phrase was, "I'm much more concerned with finding nothing about you online than find photos of an overly ambitious Friday night.") Besides, how can I teach writing if I am not willing to put myself out there and explore ideas?

Thus Live a Question take two (three? or four, maybe?).

The goal is 500 words per week. My personal goal is to cover concepts--distilling what I believe to be important ideas into digestible bits--and provide media reviews and analysis. This latter goal will be supported by John and my second goal of reading 15 books this year.