Archive for the ‘ Books and Authors ’ Category

On Pandora, ‘The Giver of Gifts”

Nothing shifts my mood like music–my favorite music.  This morning  I settled in to my seat to finish off some grading in a less-than enthusiastic state. Sigh… another day, another round of student writers to coach.

I sign on to Pandora, an automated Internet music site, then toggle back to the student-essay file. Named after the Greek goddess who “sends up gifts,” it lifts my mood by launching into Led Zeppelin’s Traveling Riverside Blues, followed by the live version of Whole Lotta Love.

With this soundtrack lifting my spirit, not only do I breeze through the day’s workload, but I also start some writing that I hadn’t quite been able to push myself to do.

I discovered Pandora Radio about a year ago, while shackled in the silence of grading student essays.  Unlike those students, my entire music catalogue is not housed in mp3 files, but on CDs and vinyl shelved in alphabetical order in my home office/family room.

Just as I need music to step up the pace and keep me moving toward my goals when working out, I need rhythm to move me from paper to paper, some harmony to inspire my feedback. But pushing that desk chair away from the screen, and poring over the possibilities in my music canon,  can and does distract me enough to throw me off from the grading task.  So, Pandora is a great alternative—she pulls the tracks that keep me moving.

The goddess Pandora has a bad rep in our mythology–she is, after all, credited with opening a box from which escapes all the evils and misery that plague us. In fact, there is much controversy over the interpretation of the Pandora myth that is wrapped up in semantics. Some say releasing evil was a bad thing, yet others claim the story has been  misunderstood and that she really released blessings onto the world, rather than ills.

  I take the more optimistic reading of the myth and see her as Hesiod does in Works and Days, as an innocent and curious woman who holds one last thing in her box—hope for humanity. I guess it all depends on how you look at it. Is your Pandora’s  box half full, or half empty? 

I feel blessed today. I’ve got another round of student writers to coach while listening to my favorite music.

Lament for the Lost Library

Teens make good use of the library. (From the TLCPL webpage)

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my neighborhood branch of the Toledo Lucas-County Public Library. Sometimes I’d wander there alone and read for a few hours. Other times I’d go with friends, or meet them to do homework at one of the community tables.

The librarians–the Silence Police–would make their rounds, shushing anyone who talked above the allowed  decibel limit,  admonishing giggling kids, and bouncing those  who made the library their playground. I recall once seeing someone ousted for  throwing a paper airplane.

The library has changed quite a bit over the years, no thanks to technology and the desire for more funding. I’ve long lamented the draw of the computers at my local branch. Whenever I go in, the seats in front of the screens are filled with zombie children and adults  feeding on their Facebook pages, online games, and instant messaging.  While computers were added to libraries everywhere as a means of providing unlimited access to unlimited information, I don’t see much research and learning at those terminals…for a lot of the users, computers are for play.

When the Main branch added the televisions, I, too, mourned for the days when the library was a repository of learning material, not a repository of media, which isn’t always enriching nor educational. The counter arguments posit that libraries are community gathering places, and that the definition of text is so flexible that as technologies advance, so must our recognition and acceptance of alternative texts.

Yesterday, I learned that the TLCPL has added video gaming to its offerings. As part of their new hip teen areas, The Main Library and Reynolds Corner branch have installed the  Wii, X-Box360, and Playstation 3 in areas where, according to its press release, 13-18 year-old-teens can, “…test their skills, learn and play games solo or in groups of 3 individuals.” 

The press release also includes this notation, in bold, “According to the American Library Association, some 75 percent of public libraries support gaming, by offering computer or board gaming, circulating games, or offering gaming events, areas and programs.”

WHY? Because it brings patrons in? Because those patrons have to use their card to circulate the items, thus signifying  the “need” for even more public  funding? And why the use of bold text as a rhetorical tool? Was spokesperson Rhonda Sewell expecting to be questione about the necessity of video-gaming?

Libraries in the state of Ohio suffered significant blows in the governor’s last two budget adjustments. Our local library system was quick to respond with an advocacy plot,  petitioning library users to call or write the state reps and the governor to demand more money for the library. Along with this came the dire news that the libraries would not be able to offer the programming they always have. Hours would be limited. They would not be able to purchase the volume of  books, CDS, DVDS, that we had grown accustomed to…

But they have funding for video games and the systems that run them? It’s all good for the kids, they’ll tell you–fostering community, engaging them in problem-solving, improving their hand-eye corrodination, 

I argue that had the library stuck to its traditional mission–a public source of information–rather than an entertainment venue and/or computer lab, it would not be so strapped today. I admit that I have benefitted from borrowing vdeos/DVDs and CDs without charge for years and years, but is that really the library’s mission? To provide community access to feature-length films? Don’t get me wrong: Funds used for expanding the film section could have beeen relegated to media, educational  media that is more difficult for the average citizen to access, like independent documentaries, for example. These would be more in keeping with a library’s mission than circulating  The Star Wars Trilogy.

I was shushed plenty of times by those Draconian librarians at the Point Place branch. It directed me back to my task and reinforced the idea that we need quiet to read and to absorb ideas. The library doesn’t seem to be the place for that anymore. But if not there, where?

The Power of the Pen

I stopped in Borders today with no intention of grabbing anything in particular. When my son wandered over to the Young Adult table, I decided to  look for a couple of texts that were on my Christmas list, but didn’t show up under my tree…and none were available in store.

So, I ended up picking up a copy of The Federalist, which is available online. This Modern Library edition is edited by Robert Scigliano, a Boston College political-science professor. His substantial introduction to the papers provides background that I wouldn’t get from the online versions, and an interesting perspective on some of the controversies surrounding authorship of the 85 commentaries.

From  this intro, I gleaned something of significance to my teaching this semester that I hadn’t before considered. My students rarely understand the power  writing can have. Most consider it something that they do in exchange for a grade. It is quite a struggle to convince them that to write is to create knowledge, to express, and to participate in civic discourse.

I plan to use The Federalist Papers to demonstrate the significance of argumentative writing to their lives. I won’t assign them as reading, but I plan to provide them as an example–Alexander Hamilton had a problem. He had to convince the state delegates to ratify the Constitution forming a national government. If they did not, each state would be completely self-governed.

Hamilton and other Federalists had had no luck convincing the hold-out states, so he brainstormed and came up with a plan to write a series of newspaper pieces  that would, “…present a full discussion of the merits of the proposaed constitution in all its relations.”

He enlisted John Jay and James Madison to co-author in their areas of expertise…and the plan worked. By the power of the pen, the citizens and state delegates were persuaded by the written word.  Without  persuasive writing, the United States of America would not exist.

Will my students be awed? Doubtful. But perhaps it will give them something to think about as they pen their own arguments.

Helen and Katie: Facebook Friends?

Today, Facebook recommended that I befriend  CBS anchor Katie Couric. Intrigued at what connection she and I might share, I traveled to her page, where I read a wall-page of posts and comments, most of which promoted her television and her advertiser-supported online interviews at

This led me to her online interview yesterday with Al Gore, whom she introduces as The Godfather of Green, the King of Conservation…” In the interview, Gore speaks with Ms. Couric to promote his new book in which he shares his expertise in environmental science.

Yes, Gore, according to Couric, is the regal leader of all environmental causes, though according to an article in the Washington Post refered to in a Boston Globe column, Gore took only  two general education science courses in college as an undergraduate. He earned a “C+” in one and a “D” in the other. I wonder how those with doctorates in the environmental studies feel about him selling books, videos, and winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to their field, while they scrape and struggle for the grant money and support necessary to further their research.

Sorry, Katie; I hope you won’t be too hurt if I decline your friendship. I’m selective about who I befriend in social networking sites, and about who I glorify.

Holiday Fun

I’m afraid I’ve not much time for blogging today…celebrating Mother’s Day and grading portfolios and figuring final grades keeps me from this calling. (Funny how the two cancel each other out, no? How can I celebrate AND grade!?!?)

Know that once all this grading is done and the semester winds to its fateful end, my readers can expect me to write more regularly.

For now, in a return to the roots of blogging–when bloggers almost exclusively wrote about other bloggers–I point you to a post at Journal: Worst Mothers in Literature. A fun read and a nice respite from my work…. 

I’d make two additions to the list:

  • Medea, for brutally slaying her sons in an act of revenge against her husband
  • Edna Pontellier, of The Awakening. OK, she doesn’t murder, torture, mistreat her kids, but she completely abandons them and thinks only of herself and her identity. She always struck me as a bad mother, maybe because I do know people who act a bit like her at times.  Maybe not worthy of this list, but she’s definitely on mine!