Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reading to Learn

I imagine early childhood educators know this truism well, but I didn't know it and it made me sit up and take notice:

The next pitfall [for children struggling in school] is third grade. 'Because third grade is a magic year,' [Harold] Fitrer says, 'It's the year you switch from learning to read to reading to learn.' The transition is so crucial, he says, that many cities use third-grade reading scores to predict how many jail beds they'll need in the future.

From an article in Style (June 6, 2012) about the city's last-resort programs.

Monday, June 18, 2012


For the first time in about a month, I had a whole weekend with nothing planned. Cool weather called us outside: Saturday Phil and I biked to the park, and Sunday I read an dozed in the hammock. With two reading days, I finished The New Yorker's science fiction issue (June 4 & 11, 2012). I enjoyed the reflections of contemporary authors on s/f; my favorite story was Jennifer Egan's "Black Box." Having encountered the "problem" of fictional aliens being described as human-like in the introduction to some collection of short stories I gobbled down one teenaged summer (in my memory, Ursula K. LeGuin made the observation - or maybe it was a collection of her stories?; either way, I associate having my eyes opened to that point by her), I enjoyed revisiting the topic in "The Cosmic Menagerie," by Laura Miller.

Many of the personal reflections touched on the ghettoizing of s/f. William Gibson, shows how important it was for him; an implicit cry not to discount any reading. He recalls science fiction authors he read seeming to flow naturally to Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs: "... my own Golden Age of Science Fiction came, in some sense, to an end, the otherness of my adolescence joining up with the wider tributary of all literature, the mother of all otherness. Had science fiction not found me when it did ... I suspect I might not have found that river. Or else, finding it, I might not have recognized it, and turned away."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bryson's "At Home"

(I started on Shelfari, but got long winded.) Why can't I have 2.5 stars? Why isn't there a "meh" choice? More importantly: Why did I finish it, when I know I don't like Bryson?? I missed the book club meeting -- and I think it was sort of an optional title? Speaking of titles, "a short history of private life"?! It's full of notables and industrial revolution - not private life. First, I wondered why this book exists, given terrific actual histories like Clark's The American Family Home; I soon found it was because Bryson wasn't trying to do architectural or social history, he just wanted to snarkily ramble about things of interest to him. And it is a nice compendium of that sort of thing: charming tidbits strung together.

Some tidbits I enjoyed enough to flag:

Gas lights, a boon in so many ways, mildly poisoned the air, stained and corroded things, and under its light, "most plants turned yellow unless isolated in a terrarium." Aha! That's why the Victorians loved them so. Bryson followed that up with, "Only the aspidistra [a plant I had to look up] seemed immune to its ill effects, which accounts for its presence in nearly every Victorian parlor photograph." (p. 123) Neat!

"Almost certainly the most memorable finding of recent years with respect to microbes was when an enterprising middle school student in Florida compared the quality of water in the toilets at her local fast-food restaurants with the quality of the ices in the soft drinks, and found that in 70 percent of the outlets she surveyed the toilet water was cleaner than the ice." (p. 248)

A comment towards the end stuck me as Bryson's personal mission statement: "Although it is unlikely that Mr. Marsham was acquainted with either Moby-Dick or Fossil Lepadidae, both reflected a fundamental change that had lately overtaken the thinking world: an almost obsessive urge to pin down every stray morsel of discernible fact and give it permanent recognition in print." (p. 433; emphasis mine)