Books I read in September

October 3, 2019

As October begins, I am more than halfway through my final book for the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge, having finished three more this month. Now I can work on my to-be-read list, which I add to as I learn of books I’d like to read (often from what my friends on Goodreads have commented favorably on, and occasionally a book I hear or read about elsewhere). For months my TBR list has been growing, as I add to it faster than I can read books from the list. But now that I won’t have books to read for the PopSugar Challenge for a few months (until January when the new challenge begins!), I may cut it down a bit.

I puzzled a while over what book fit “a book you meant to read in 2018,” since I don’t generally plan on reading books at any particular time except for the PopSugar Challenge and for the local library book club. But then I remembered having done a project in Toastmasters last year, presenting Ursula Le Guin’s speech “A Left-Handed Commencement Address” (for an advanced manual on interpretive reading, specifically to interpret and present a famous speech), and deciding I should read her book The Left Hand of Darkness. This novel is considered one of the first (and in the eyes of many one of the best) examples of feminist sci-fi literature. It didn’t strike me as particularly feminist, but then, it was published fifty years ago, when I was a young girl, and social attitudes have changed a great deal since then, in part due to its influence. The novel examines the role of sex and gender in society, through the depictions of a world where everyone is androgynous. I found it interesting, but was surprised that it didn’t seem to explore these themes as thoroughly as I had expected. At its time, of course, it was very radical, and a deeper exploration of those themes perhaps required more changes in societal attitudes first. Read the rest of this entry »


Books: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

March 7, 2019

Lately I’ve been writing just a paragraph about each book I read, in a monthly summary. But as I wrote a draft of the paragraph for the book I just finished today, it got way too long for a paragraph, and I decided it might as well have a blog post of its own.

I was initially thinking of reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for “a book that makes you nostalgic” (for the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge), since I remember how asd a child I enjoyed reading the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, not only this first one but several of the others he wrote (my favorite has always been The Marvelous Land of Oz.) But then I saw this book as a suggestion for “a book that has inspired a common phrase or idiom (e.g. Big Brother from 1984),” which is a more challenging category. I wasn’t interesting in re-reading 1984 or Catch-22 or some of the other suggestions, but as I was going to read this one anyway, I decided it would be a good choice for this category.

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Books I read in February

March 2, 2019

This was another busy month for reading – again in part due to snowy, icy days when the best place to spend time was curled up with a book. According to my book-tracking spreadsheet (my year doing this – someone else doing the PopSugar Reading Challenge had one and I decided to make my own), I finished books totaling over 2600 pages in February, 500 pages more than in all of January, and that’s only the books the count for the challenge, not others I’ve read just because they interest me. But of course, that’s books I finished in February. (Two of them I had started in January, and one back in December.)

The librarian at the college has helped me select some books for the PopSugar Reading Challenge. For a book set in space, she suggested A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White. I’ve always enjoyed science fiction, so I happily dove into this novel. It’s an interesting mix of science and magic, which seems odd but works well enough since, after all, a lot of the “science” in science fiction is little more than magic labeled as science on the assumption that someday we’ll figure out a natural way to do what seems supernatural now. I’m not as enthusiastic about the book as some readers, but it was pretty good, once I finally figured out what was going on (the beginning is a bit confusing).

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Behind the trigger

July 25, 2015

I fired a handgun for the first time today, at the local shooting range. Actually, I fired four handguns, as my husband and I want to get a feel for different sizes and types of guns before purchasing one.

I can’t say I’m excited about the idea. I support gun ownership in principle, but I have never desired to own a handgun. My husband thinks this is odd, since I am the one who had someone kick in the door to my apartment one night (back when I was single) and then proceed to rape me.

It’s true that I’ve thought many times, over the years since then, about what I would do if I again faced someone who was about to assault me, and I had a weapon available to defend myself. Or if I witnessed such an attack about to happen to someone else. Would I aim to wound? Or to kill? Or would I be too terrified to do anything?

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I won’t walk a mile in these shoes

May 9, 2014

In four years of having our son Zach attending college in Holland, Michigan, we had never done any of the sightseeing I had looked forward to when we first visited the campus. Since he graduated this past weekend, I figured I’d better take advantage of the chance to see at least a few of the sights.

We arrived just at the beginning of Tulip Time, so I set out with Al Saturday morning to see some tulips. Due to the cold spring weather, however, mostly we saw a lot of leaves (see Holland’s Tulip Tracker, 5/2 – 5/5). We also saw a few people in traditional Dutch costume, complete with wooden shoes. I couldn’t help wondering how anyone could walk any distance in those things.

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How smart is a smart key?

March 2, 2014

I had been thinking about getting a car with better gas mileage, ever since I started working 42 miles from home. But with the challenge of trying to balance fuel economy, safety, comfort (especially for my husband), and budget, I hadn’t gotten beyond figuring out that I probably couldn’t afford the sort of car we would have liked.

Last month, however, we were faced with the need to replace the car our older son had been driving. And I learned that I could afford a newer car than I had thought, because the interest rates are lower for newer cars. So, somewhat to my surprise, I am now driving a 2012 Nissan Altima.

And trying to get used to a car key that isn’t a key. Well, technically it is, because it gets me into the car and it enables me to drive it. But this “key” has no teeth and doesn’t go into a keyhole. It’s just a fob – a “smart key.”

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November 30, 2013

Working at a college doesn’t always mean getting an education myself (though I am seriously considered taking a class in German next year, since my 8th grade son says that’s the language he wants to study in high school). But now and then I do learn something new in the course of my work – quite aside from the constant process of learning how the software works that is the focus of my job.

With Thanksgiving approaching, a colleague forwarded an article about turkeys and Big Bird. I really had never thought either about what happens to a turkey’s feathers when it is slaughtered to become Thanksgiving dinner (or any other time of the year), or about where in the world those bright yellow feathers come from that make up Big Bird’s costume. But apparently the two are connected.

While Big Bird is not a turkey (according to Muppet Wiki, Oscar has claimed Big Bird is a turkey, Big Bird has claimed to be lark), his costume is made from turkey feathers. Approximately 4,000 of them – unless you want to take the Count’s word for it that there are over 5,961.

This article, written during the 2012 presidential campaign, when Mitt Romney said he wanted to cut funding for PBS, describes how feathers are prepared for Big Bird’s costumes. This introduces a whole new subject to learn about, which gets into the challenging topics of economics and politics. (I’m inclined to agree with this article.)

I doubt that any feathers from the turkey we ate on Thursday (and yesterday, and today, and probably tomorrow) will ever find their way to Sesame Street. Most poultry feathers are either used in low-grade animal feedstock or thrown out (incinerated or consigned to landfill). But scientists have been working on ways to recycle the feathers into useful products.


Thinking without the box

June 16, 2013

An article in the Wall Street Journal recommends that we “Think Inside the Box,” as the much touted technique of brainstorming “has become a byword for tedium and frustration.” I thought back to some training sessions where I have had to try to get people to engage in brainstorming, and wondered whether I had been engaged in something pointless.

The most recent was in a Junior Achievement program on entrepreneurship that I taught at a middle school this spring. One key characteristic of the entrepreneur is to be creative and innovative, and brainstorming would seem to be a way to generate new ideas, resisting the usual impulse to reject an off-the-wall idea without considering whether it might really work.

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The need to know

May 2, 2013

With my current job and longer commute, I have less time to spend looking for interesting articles on the web. But I have a supervisor who makes a habit of emailing us links to articles and websites related to education and the learning process. This one, from The New Yorker, is about the need to achieve “cognitive closure” – to replace uncertainty with answers.

It’s no surprise to learn that people naturally want firm answers to questions and dislike ambiguity. Or that people vary in their need for closure, and that for any given person it depends a great deal on their current circumstances.

Like anyone, I prefer answers to uncertainty where answers are available. But I also tend to be skeptical when the answers provided seem too full of certainty.

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Alone with words

March 7, 2013

Q: A genie has granted your wish to build your perfect space for reading and writing. What's it like?

A: My perfect space for reading and writing would be a one-room library, a small building (but not a small room) set between a beach on one side and a forest on the other. There would be a small kitchenette and a bathroom in the back of the building so I could spend the whole day there if I so chose.

The books in this library would be from all the usual categories that libraries keep, just not a lot of each kind. I could browse the shelves for a good novel to read, or a volume of poetry. The non-fiction section would have lots about science, history, religion and philosophy, not so much about sports, entertainment, or hobbies. Of course, the books would be all the best of their kind – no need to take up shelf space with poorly written books.

I'd be able to go outside when I got tired of reading or writing, or when I needed to walk and think (walking is a great way to get thoughts going), or just wanted to enjoy some time outdoors enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. But if it were bad weather outside, I could stay inside, sitting by the fireplace or looking out the window (there would need to be some on each side so I would have my choice of views).

There would be heating and air conditioning so I could be comfortable in the summer or winter, plus a fireplace just because that makes the place feel cozy, and windows that could be opened in nice weather to enjoy the fresh air.

I'd have a computer with a fast connection, so I could stay in touch (if I wanted to), so I could look up information on all sorts of subjects, and of course so I could write. (I find that ideas flow much better through a keyboard than a pencil or pen.)

While I think of this as mostly a place to read or write by myself, I would want there to be comfortable seating for at least two, so I could invite someone to join me. It would need to be far enough from towns and major roads that one would be left undisturbed, but not so far that it would be hard to get to.

One question remains, however. Would this genie who would grant my wish to build this place also be able to give me all the time I wanted to use it?

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