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Archive for September, 2009

I’ve been down and out for the past ten days with the seasonal flu. In consideration of the upcoming Talk Like a Pirate Day, I was able to do a credible imitation of the dying Captain Flint (Treasure Island):

“Darby McGill! Darby McGill! Bring aft the rum, Darby!”

Or at least I was until I lost my voice for about two days.

After visiting the doctor swab, the pharmacist swab recommended something called Host Immune. If you’ve never seen this, it’s a liquid nutritional supplement made from Mycelium that is supposed to boost your immune system. Mycelium, at least what I was able to ascertain from the box in my virus-afflicted condition, is a kind of fungus. So, yes, I was officially drinking fungus juice.

What can I say? When you have chills, sore throat, a nasty cough, and infected sinuses, you’re willing to clutch at any possible remedy. But, for the record, killing the taste of fungus juice is the reason the rum is always gone.

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Re: Improving My Mind

The New York Times has an interesting article on a new approach to teaching English literature entitled “The Future of Reading: Pick the Books You Like”. As the title suggests, this approach, called “reading workshop”, encourages middle school students to read more by doing away with an assigned list of classic texts. Instead, kids pick out books they want to read and keep journals listing their reactions to the books.  Teachers point students toward more challenging texts and monitor page counts (each student must read 20 pages a night). Students also give book talks to their class.

The “reading workshop” approach has attracted its critics and the crux of the problem seems to be a disagreement on what the goal of English literature instruction should be. Is the goal to develop lifelong readers or is the goal to give students a shared canon of knowledge?

My question after reading the article is where is the school librarian? It’s the librarian, after all, who usually performs the functions taken on by the teacher in this article. Admittedly, this particular middle school may be one where the school library/librarian has been cut as “non-essential”, but it’s disappointing not to see the library at least acknowledged as a partner. In practice, school libraries in general and public libraries in particular play a large role in literacy instruction for kids.

This article caught my eye because I’m considering embarking on my own “Great Books of Western Literature” reading program. I’ve decided that this fall is the year when I will improve my mind by reading the books that I’ve heard about, thought were interesting, but just hadn’t gotten around to yet.

My rules of thumb are as follows:

  • The books can be either fiction or non-fiction.
  • I can’t have read them before. They must be completely new to me.
  • I reserve the right to toss aside anything I find unbearably dull or hard to get into.
  • The books need to be able to interest a modern reader. They can’t be period pieces that are read for the antique value and nothing else. In other words, the classics must be classic.
  • The works need not be limited to the Western canon.
  • Children’s classics as well as adult books will be considered.

Here is my list of Great Books to date:

  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (I found “Finn” hard to get into as a kid, preferred “Tom Sawyer”)
  • Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
  • Shahnameh (I hope to find a good translation of this Persian epic poem)
  • Analects of Confucius (another non-Western classic I’m hoping to find a good translation of)
  • The Wizard of Oz (I’ve seen the movie, but I’ve never read the actual book)

Any recommendations for me?

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