27.10.04

What's your WPM?

Yesterday Terry Teachout and Sarah Weinman blogged about how quickly they read. This ties into a discussion I've been having on TRP about how many books I have read (and cataloged) as well as how many are on Mt. Bookpile.

When I was younger I was tested at something like 1000wpm, but I think that's gotten considerably slower as the years have progressed. I usually manage to read about 100-150 books/year. Now, that total has gone down as I've become more professionally involved, and as my intake of magazines (professional and otherwise) and newspapers has gone up. The total for the summer, for example, was about 35 books in three months, but the number I'll be able to read during the school year will be less.

Some of the books are really short, YA/Child Lit books while others are longer (like Jonathan Strange...). The rate of speed really depends on the type of book, though. I mean, if I'm reading something "deep", something I really want to learn from, I'll slow down so that I can take in more of the ideas and think about them as I read. However, something "fun", like a mystery or the latest Cirque du Freak, I'll whip through in no time.

Does this mean I don't enjoy the reading? No. Nor does it mean that I read so quickly that all the plots and characters blend into each other. I may not be able to tell you in which Chalet School book Jo pulled what prank, but I can tell you what the books are about, why I like them and why they're worth reading (or not - there are books I really found a waste of time, effort and dead tree).

Reading for speed does raise the question of quality vs. quantity, though. I think that for many of us, the reality is that we read. Period. The fact that we read faster than some doesn't mean that we're going for quantity; in fact, it may mean that we also read a lot of dross. I do know that I enjoy the majority of what I read, whether or not it is considered "quality" by other readers. And ultimately, isn't that what matters most? The enjoyment of the book should be paramount, not how quickly you can plow through it and get on to the next one.

UPDATE: "Thomas H. Benton" writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the correlation between owning books and being an academic. He also reminds us of a New Yorker cartoon ("A couple years ago a cartoon from The New Yorker depicted a man in a book-lined study sipping a martini and talking to a woman in a black party dress. The caption: "These books represent the person I once aspired to be."). For me it's almost the reverse: my books represent the person I aspire to become.

25.10.04

Notable Quotes

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.

William Arthur Ward

18.10.04

Notable Quotes

Bunny, for all his appearance of amiable, callous stability, was actually a wildly erratic character. There were any number of reasons for this, but primary among them was his complete inability to think about anything before he did it. He sailed through the world guided only by the dim lights of impulse and habit, confident that his course would throw up no obstacles so large that they could not be plowed over with sheer force of momentum.

The Secret History
Donna Tartt

15.10.04

Getting to know all about me!

Some time ago a person reading this blog commented "You seem to formulate opinions about everything going on around you very well, but you hardly write anything strictly about you. Other blog-browsers, such as myself, might be able to understand more where you are coming from if they knew more about you.... just a suggestion."

Well, I've thought about that and, unlike some bloggers, I'm not comfortable sharing with strangers intimate details about my life. However, to satisfy some reader's curiosity (รพ: The Little Professor)...

#1: Name three of your...

1. Pet Peeves: incompetence, ignorance, not having enough time to read
2. Favorite Sounds: purring, pages turning, purring
3. Favorite Flavors of Candy: chocolate, peppermint
4. Biggest Fears: heights, dying alone, not having cats in my life
5. Biggest Challenges: eating properly, making small talk with strangers (or mere acquaintances), getting time to read
6. Favorite Department Stores: Saks, Almys (now defunct), Kaufmans
7. Most Used Words: clearly, problematic, "not so much"
8. Favorite Pizza Toppings: cheese, mushrooms, garlic
9. Favorite Cartoon Characters: Fisher, the dog in Drabble, Violet from Peanuts
10. Movies Recently Watched: Paycheck, Secret Window, Collateral
11. Favorite Fruits: apples, peaches, pomegranate
12. Favorite Vegetables: green peppers, cucumbers, carrots

#2:

1. What is your favorite word? Book
2. What is your least favorite word? Anything to do with bad weather (eg, sleet, snow, blizzard, nor'easter)
3. What turns you on? Intelligence and wit
4. What turns you off? Incompetence
5. What sound or noise do you love? Purring
6. What sound or noise do you hate? Doors slamming
7. What is your favorite curse word? The "O" word (O'F*ck) ties with F*cksh*td*mnh*ll
8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Fiction writer
9. What profession other than yours would absolutely not like to attempt? Athelete
10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear god say when you arrive at the gates? The bookstore is that way, everything's there and it's all free to take.

13.10.04

Notable Quotes

...if art does not reflect the times in which it is created, if it does not inspire us in some way, the artist is not worthy of our patronage.

12.10.04

My Sister Bernadette

Kitty Burns Florey writes about her youth: "Diagramming sentences is one of those lost skills, like darning socks or playing the sackbut, that no one seems to miss." She goes on to talk about Sister Bernadette, who taught her this "skill".

I had a Sister Bernadette - Miss Webster. She was half-Maori, all-Kiwi and very strict. One of the first things we learned was that New Zealand was not on the other side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, nor was it to be confused with Tasmania. If you answered a question without properly reflecting, she'd say, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." Since I was attending school in Geneva, Switzerland at that time and we were required to use fountain pens, my fine motor skills got quite a workout. If there was an ink splotch on the paper, we'd be asked what happened. Now, I was 10/11 at the time and my response was usually a variation on "My pen splattered." Miss Webster's raised eyebrows and her disapproving, "A poor workman always blames his tools" soon broke me of that!

Penmanship was important to Miss Webster. I still have copybooks filled with pages of properly (and improperly) slanted l's, m's, w's and other letters. Thanks to her I have two different styles of handwriting, the very upright looped version I was taught in my American public school and her version.

We were also taught "New Math" by Miss Webster. To this day I can do bases. In later years I was able to do quadratic equations and I was taught geometry, trig and even how to find f(x). Do I remember any of that? No. But her lessons have stayed with me:
  • how to write an interesting essay (remember not to repeat the opening word of any sentence more than twice)
  • how to write neatly
  • how to use a fountain pen (which I now use when solving the NYTimes Crossword Puzzle)
  • how to take responsibility for your thoughts and express them appropriately
  • how to play Maori stick games
  • how to diagram a sentence
  • how to be (and not be) a teacher.
She's also the only teacher I had in my early years that I remember with any clarity. The American teachers are all a blur, but she remains fixed in my mind. Back then we called her "Webby" and couldn't wait to get out of her class. I wish I had the opportunity to tell her how much she influenced my life, and how I now appreciate her.

11.10.04

R.I.P.

Christopher Reeve.

I met him once, back in 1985. He was visiting Circle Repertory Theatre, where I was working. At the time I met him, I was doing concessions in the theatre in Seventh Avenue South. The space for a lobby was a bit cramped, and the brick walls were lined with framed posters of the famous Circle Rep productions from past years.

Christopher Reeve was not a small person and it was hard for him go be unnoticed. Despite this, he tried to blend in by sort of huddling along this wall. One of the other patrons noticed him and asked me, "Is that Superman?". Hearing this, Chris started, knocking several of the posters off the wall, and his attempts to fix things just made it worse. In a flash of inspiration, I said, "No, that's Clark Kent," causing Chris to bolt into the theatre and hide in the lighting booth.

Several seconds later the stage manager came over to me laughing, saying that whatever I'd said had really rattled Chris. That's how I remember will him, a normal guy caught in an abnormal situation and horribly embarrassed by it. Not as the man in the wheelchair, and not as the movie star.

7.10.04

I think he gets this wrong

Tom Watson blogs today about Howard Stern's announcement that he's leaving "free" radio for satellite. He compares the growth of satellite to cable, and mentions the cost/necessity of having multiple fees and receivers (as opposed to having many, relatively cheap radios that you can take anywhere).

I think the real story is the growth of the fragmentation of society. Way back when, you had a melange of musical genres and tastes on each station. Yes, some played "Free Bird" and "Stairway to Heaven" until you wanted to kill, but a quick flick down (or up) the dial brought you another song. Exposure was the serendipitous result - finding something or someone new to listen to and learn about. That's a lot harder to find today.

Why is this a problem? While the majority of us still use the radio, the homogenization of music means that the "aha" moment is removed. Those that opt for XM or Sirius remove that almost entirely, as they narrowly program their tastes and excise what they don't know.

One of my professors in graduate school thought this was an exciting development, that soon we could drive across country and only hear the music we wanted. That thought scares me. Diversity breeds knowledge and potential acceptance of the "other." Narrowing our choices (on the radio, tv, in life) ultimately hurts everyone.

6.10.04

So where's Kevin Bacon in all this?

Homicide: Life on the Street Crossovers & A Multiverse Explored. I found this on A List Of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago:
"SIX DEGREES OF FRANK PEMBLETON: I refer you to this lengthy file. It comprehensively chronicles how 166 different TV shows are apparently taking place in the same universe (that is, inside Timmy Westphal's head, as revealed at the end of 'St. Elsewhere'). Try this one series of connections:

Sports Night on CSC is playing on a TV at the end of an episode of Spin City. Spin City made mention (in Michael J. Fox's final episode) of the existence of Alex P. Keaton, from Family Ties. Andrew Keaton, from Family Ties, showed up on an episode of Parker Lewis Can't Lose. Eddie Haskell (from Leave it To Beaver) showed up on Parker Lewis. Beaver's June Cleaver showed up on an episode of Hi, Honey, I'm Home! Hi Honey, also featured a cameo from Gomer Pyle from Andy Griffith, which was a spinoff of The Danny Thomas Show. Buddy from Dick Van Dyke appeared on Danny Thomas. Alan Brady from Dick Van Dyke narrated a film made by Paul Buchman on Mad About You. Mad About You ties into Friends through Phoebe and her twin Ursula (among other ways). Caroline In The City and Friends crossed over in an episode where Caroline's Annie was hit on by Chandler. Niles and Daphne from Frasier read the Caroline in the City comic strip. Frasier is, of course, tied to Cheers. Westphall, Craig, and Auschlander from St. Elsewhere all visited the Cheers bar.

Thus, every single one of those 15 shows takes place in the same universe, and there are still more connections. Everything from The Geena Davis Show to Becker to The White Shadow can be tied in somehow. The sound you just heard? That's my mind...blowing."
Not only does someone have waaaaay too much time on their hands, but I'm starting to worry that I've seen too many of these episodes!