Tag Archives: education

Reflections on One Year of Blogging and My Book Addiction

This week was the one-year anniversary of this blog, and it feels appropriate to mark the occasion with a post about it.

First, here is a post from one of my favorite blogs, A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff, about lessons learned from blogging. I particularly agree with numbers 3-5.

Second, this is my third and most successful attempt over the past decade at blogging (here is a link to the previous one). I am happy that I have finally had the willpower to keep posting regularly: at least once a week with only a handful of exceptions, and many weeks two or three times, especially during the summer when I’m not teaching.

Third, around half of my posts have been in the Books Acquired Recently category. I began this category because I thought it would be interesting to document how many books I actually acquire rather than making random estimates. I just went through all of these posts for the past year, and I must say that I was a little surprised at the results. I knew that I was both a book and a book-buying addict, but I did not realize just how addicted I am. Over the past twelve months I have acquired (mostly bought, but some were also gifts or exam/desk copies) 155 books! That is an average of nearly three per week! Perhaps just as impressively, I have read all but twenty-six of them (I’ll catch up this summer!).

Here is the breakdown of my 155 new friends:

76 books of fiction, including two Norton anthologies that encompass multiple genres. Fiction is both my favorite genre to read and to write about, so I am not surprised that nearly half of the books fit here. I am actually a bit surprised that it wasn’t more than half.

30 books of literary criticism/theory. I am such a nerd.

26 books of miscellaneous nonfiction–mostly memoirs, some art history, some cultural studies, some sports.

20 books of poetry. My guess would have been that this would have been the category following fiction. I am kind of sad that I acquired fifty percent more criticism/theory than poetry.

2 collections of comic books/comic strips.

1 play (Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman).

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A Hilarious Photograph of the Harvard Band

Photograph © copyright by George Frey for the Associated Press.

Photograph © copyright by George Frey for the Associated Press.

Jay Caspian Kang has a hilarious column on grantland.com about this photograph of the Harvard band here. My favorite one is “Judith Butler.” I would love to know the bandmembers’ reactions to this.

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Requiem for the Big East

Tonight is the final of the last Big East men’s basketball tournament. Yes, there will be a conference called the “Big East” next year that will include original Big East teams such as St. John’s and Georgetown, but the original Big East, the true Big East, dies tonight as a victim of the crazily shifting college sports landscape. It makes me happy that there is an original conference member, Syracuse, in the title game, and it feels just that there is also one of the newer members involved.

I no longer follow college sports because, as the recent Penn State football scandal showed, they have become “too big to fail” no matter what the consequences of keeping them afloat, and thus are detrimental to the educational mission of colleges and universities. But I will be watching the Syracuse-Louisville game tonight to pay homage to the Big East and the important role it played in my life. Some of my earliest sports memories are of hard-fought games between Syracuse, Georgetown, and St. John’s (Alas! Remember when St. John’s used to be good?) in the mid- to late-1980s on CBS, and I remember watching Big East tournament games on WWOR. As a teenager, I would rush home from school to watch early rounds of the tournament on ESPN with Sean McDonough and, especially, Bill Raftery announcing (“Sean McDonough, Syracuse comes out playing mantoman!” Of course Syracuse always plays a 2-3 zone, but I’ve heard Raftery use his tagline on the Orange anyway, and I would be disappointed if he didn’t.).

I was a Syracuse fan, but I always rooted for the conference, as well. It was a matter of regional pride. Yes, I hate Georgetown, but I’d root for them against an ACC team any day (The same with UConn. It kills me that Syracuse will be in the ACC next year.). It is sad to see an institution that has always felt like home to me go away.

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The Northern Illinois University Shooting Five Years Later

Five years ago today, 14 February 2008, I was a graduate student at Northern Illinois University when a gunman walked into Cole Hall at the center of campus with a machine gun and opened fire. He killed five students and himself. I was fortunate enough to be several blocks away at the time of the shooting teaching a class in one of the dormitories on the edge of campus instead of in Cole, which I walked through every day when I was on campus, or in the English building, Reavis Hall, where my office was. Many of my officemates were in Reavis at the time and could see the victims’ bodies being ferried from Cole to waiting ambulances afterwards.

In retrospect, considering the recent massacres in Newtown, Connecticut, and Aurora, Colorado, the NIU community was “lucky” to only suffer a loss of life in the single digits. But the fact that civilians still have access to the weapons of mass destruction used in these killings is abhorrent. There is no rational argument for keeping these military-grade guns legal. It sickens me to think of all the lives that continue to be lost in the United States because Congress chooses to use the issue of gun violence as a political football instead of taking action to protect its constituents. I am happy that President Obama called for action on this issue in his State of the Union address (you can watch the relevant part of the speech here), and I hope that Congress finally realizes that it is time for action, though I remain skeptical about their willingness to do anything.

To those of you reading this who are against any form of gun control, I ask you to simply think about how you would feel if it were one of your children who had been a victim of these shootings. Doesn’t keeping your children safe warrant an end to the thoughtless political partisanship on this issue?

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Writing About Black Sexuality

A friend passed along this article by Stacey Patton from The Chronicle on Higher Education. It provides a helpful summary of the ever-growing history of the intersection between Black Studies and queer theory. This dialogue is a crucial one for my work on Samuel R. Delany, thus it is pleasing that others outside of the (very small) field are beginning to notice it.

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Harvard Kink

An article on CNN.com reports that Harvard has just approved a student club for students who are interested in “kinky sex.” Kudos to both the students behind the club for organizing publicly and to the school for recognizing that non-vanilla sex (which does not just encompass BDSM, but also includes various fetishes such as watersports, podophilia [an attraction to feet], and so on) is not somehow “sick” or dangerous, and that it has no effect on those who choose not to participate. This kind of openness toward forms of uncommon sexual practices by consenting adults is necessary in order to eradicate systemic violences such as sexism and homophobia because any type of Othering of those who are not white male vanilla heterosexuals plays a part in these (and other) interrelated oppressions. American culture has a long way to go to become sexually healthy, but events such as this one show that there is hope for the future.

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Being Grateful for Education

I always assign an essay early on in my first-year composition classes that asks students to reflect on their educational experiences and how those experiences have led them to enroll in college. This afternoon I read one of these essays by a woman who grew up in Afghanistan. Her family moved to Pakistan when the Taliban made education for females illegal, and then moved back to Afghanistan once the Taliban were overthrown before finally moving to the United States.

Her essay was one of the most powerful student papers I have ever read because of how passionate and grateful she was for the opportunity to get an education. Although I value education and am a scholar because I love acquiring knowledge, I realize that I am unable to appreciate how much of a privilege it is to be able to be a student (and now a teacher) and to also be able to read any book that I would like because these things have always been readily available to me, and so I take them for granted to a certain extent even when I think actively about appreciating them. I am grateful for stories like hers because they remind me to appreciate what I have.

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The Beginning of the Semester

I love all of the pageantry associated with the beginning of the college school year. Aside from all the fun stuff in class–the awkward get-to-know-you games, the endearlingly horrified look on students’ faces when I tell them how many books we will be reading, their nervous laughter at my wry jokes–there are the gatherings of colleagues which always remind me why I enjoy being an academic. This afternoon is our first department meeting of the year, and tonight there is the annual Welcome Back Party at the president’s house with lots of food and drink. The knowledge that all of one’s colleagues are along on the journey as well is a warm, comforting feeling.

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Thoughts on Yogurt

Yogurt fascinates me. I don’t like eating it because it is just too weird, a bizarre amalgamation of other dairy products: part liquid like milk, part flowing solid like ice cream, part fermentation like cheese. But I really enjoy watching other people eat it because I get to observe someone interacting with the above odd qualities, which are visually fascinating. There is something comforting about the way a metal spoon clicks on a plastic yogurt container as one is scraping up the last few bites. It entrances me.

The epitome of the satisfying nature of this yogurt voyeurism is present in a scene from Stranger Than Fiction, where Dustin Hoffman’s character (who is always eating—one of my favorite running gags ever) is finishing his yogurt and gets a drop on his lip, which he quickly scoops off with his finger and sucks into his mouth. It is so viscerally physical and uninhibited as to be sublime.

(Incidentally, the portrayal of Hoffman’s character, an English professor, drives me nuts! He claims he is swamped that semester because he is teaching four classes as well as directing several dissertations [three, I think]. It is clear from this statement that the movie’s writer has no clue how academia works. First off, no legitimate Ph.D.-granting institution [i.e., real universities, not counting online for-profit “universities” such as the University of Phoenix] would have professors teaching four courses per semester. Secondly, someone with as large of an office as Hoffman has [completely lined with bookshelves!] who has taught the highly-specialized courses that he mentions teaching would be a full professor teaching two courses maximum, with at least one if not both being graduate seminars. This misrepresentation of academia is a problem in television and film in general, with Ross Geller on Friends being perhaps the most egregious example. Good Will Hunting is one of the rare examples which gets it mostly right.)

Avocado is another food which I love to watch people eat because of its texture. I used to hate it, but then I watched a housemate make a batch of guacamole, and it looked so good that I was compelled to try it. Avocado is now one of my favorite foods; I’m having some for lunch today.

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Thoughts on the Weekly Reader

The news that Scholastic is shutting down its Weekly Reader elementary school newspaper (read more about it here: http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/25/the-last-weekly-reader/?hpt=hp_bn13) signifies the loss of another piece of my childhood. We would read through it each week in class for several years of my elementary school career (I want to say third grade and fourth grade, and perhaps also second grade, but I’m not sure), and it was always an enjoyable diversion from regular class activities even though I remember being bored by most of its articles. It felt like a big deal that there was a newspaper being published for kids because it symbolized adults recognizing that our intellects were important and acknowledging that we cared about what was going on in the world, too. The physical nature of it, the fact that you could hold the Weekly Reader in your hands as proof of this recognition, meant something (and similar experiences still mean something–I loved print culture then and I still love it much more than digital culture).

My clearest memory of the Weekly Reader is an article before the 1988 election which explained who the two big-party candidates were and included a ballot that you could cut out in order to have a mini-election in class. Being able to vote was so exciting! I voted for Dukakis, but as was the case in the actual election, Bush won in a landslide, something like 22-9. In hindsight, this landslide seems especially surprising because it was a class of third-graders in the Bronx! The fact that many of us had heard of Bush because he was vice president (I remember arguing that this was an unfair advantage for him), but had not heard of Dukakis swayed the vote. I voted for Dukakis because I knew my parents were voting for him.

It is sad that the Weekly Reader will be no more. What were cooler than the Weekly Reader, though, and are really only associated with it in my mind because they were printed on the same flimsy, full-color newsprint, were the Scholastic book order forms that would come four or five times a year. It was so much fun to look through the four-page catalogues for new titles and figure out whether I had enough money saved from my allowance to buy a book or two (the times when I had spent my money on other things [usually baseball cards] and couldn’t afford anything were sad, indeed). During my first few years of elementary school, the books (virtually all paperbacks) were usually $2.00 or less, then they became slightly more expensive in the upper grades when we had graduated to chapter books. I remember buying novelizations of films such as Superman 4: The Quest for Peace and Back to the Future 2, and a volume that included both Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story which I still have. You would cut out the order form, fill it out, and give it to the teacher in an envelope along with your money (often a smorgasbord of coins), and the books would arrive in about a month, which was long enough to have almost forgot about them, thus making the day when they arrived super-exciting, like a surprise Christmas. The teacher would always wait until the end of the day to hand them out, and the  anticipation would be excruciating. I don’t really know any elementary school children these days, but I hope that they still have this wonderful experience.

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