Category Archives: Article of the Day

Article of the Day: “I Was a Teenage Illiterate”

I very much enjoyed (and sympathized with) this essay in the New York Times Book Review about having passed over the classics, only to pick them up in one’s mid-twenties.  This, of course, is my current quest.  I’m on a stop-start ride through Oliver Twist, which I love.  Dickens is incredibly dry and sarcastic, which I find enthralling in ways that would have only confused me as a seventeen-year-old.  I’m sure a lot of it would have flown over my head, especially if I had been in the midst of reading to a certain page for a class assignment.  The descriptions are nuanced and gritty; I’m grateful not to be a street vagabond in Victorian London.

The writer of “I was a Teenage Illiterate”, Cathleen Schine, comes by her “illiteracy” not by means of inability to read but rather a close-mindedness in her adolescence.  As she writes of her high school reading days,

I also wrote a paper on existential despair in “Crime and Punishment,” “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” (assigned to the class) and (my one foray into contemporary American literature) “Portnoy’s Complaint.” Look, I didn’t say I wasn’t pretentious; I said I wasn’t well read.

It’s a fortunate thing indeed to pick up great literature when you’re in the mindset to value it for what it is, not for what you have to pick out in order to do well on a quiz or write a paper.  I’ll be back on Oliver once I’ve finished.  Right now, reader, I’m enchanted.


Article of the Day: Negative Numbers Elucidated

Maybe you don’t think about multiplying negative numbers because you are no longer in high school.  Lamentably, I do.  I teach high schoolers the finer aspects of the ACT and SAT, so negative numbers (along with square roots, the Pythagorean Theorem, and the circumference of a circle) are my purview.

I expect my students to grasp the concepts and not push the logic — why would two negative numbers multiplied by each other equal a positive?  But now I don’t have to avoid these logical discussions (I pass off why 1 isn’t a prime number with “look it up on Wikipedia”) anymore.  Read, and enjoy, as I did, the blog post “The Enemy of My Enemy” in yesterday’s NYT and behold the logic of mathematics, international relations alliances, and unbalanced triangles.  It’s actually fun and helpful.

Article of the Day: The Ruse of the Creative Class

Today I bring you an article from The American Prospect, which is unusual because I mostly read NYT, Slate, and The New Yorker. I found the link, predictably enough, on a NYT blog.  But whatever.  Here we are, with a long but totally worthwhile read about Richard Florida, who is a “creative class” urban studies/sociologist guru.  He is famous for his book The Rise of the Creative Class, which has the premise that cities with tolerant atmospheres and hipster places/spaces will attract creative types and thus become cool and, by the way, huge economic engines.  Turns out, not so much.  But Florida made a killing on selling his premise to cities and states, including Iowa City, where I went to college and where his creative class theory was extremely faddish.

I’d like to share a few choice quotes from the article and then let you enjoy the rest.  First up, from Florida’s former publicist:

“There was a tremendous money-generating aspect to Richard’s work,” Frantz says. “We did it in a grand way. We traveled in style. We stayed in boutique hotels in most of the places we were working.” But it is wrong, he says, to see any conflict in Florida’s dire pronouncements on the places that bankrolled this success, because he hadn’t promised prosperity in the first place. “He wasn’t really making prescriptions,” Frantz says. “This wasn’t Jesus Christ throwing the money men out of the temple; this was an academic. He was a f***ing college professor, and you’re hoping to resurrect Canton, Ohio? Yeah, good luck with that.”

Next, for sheer absurdity, I bring you the mayor of Dayton, Ohio:

Across the country, the battle to attract the creative class carries on. In Dayton, Ohio, billboards and T-shirts carry a new Richard Florida-inspired logo: “Dayton patented. Originals wanted.” The city is building bikeways, passed an anti-discrimination ordinance in 2007 to increase its score on Florida’s “tolerance index,” and has given a local group called DaytonCREATE the use of a vacant bank, now called “c{space,” “where they hang out and do a lot of their creativeness,” Mayor Rhine McLin says.

Oh, to do some creativeness.

So did Florida’s creative class theory catch on where you are?  Do you remain a devotee or skeptic?  I have a hard time imagining that his exhortation to move to already-creative places like, say, the Bay Area wouldn’t eventually overwhelm those places.  Wouldn’t they become ever-more-crowded and force more people out to suburbs, thus diminishing the creative returns?  How many converted lofts can you make and sell?  But I digress.  Read the article and come back to me.

Article of the Day: Obscure Google Logos

Here’s a great little slideshow of random Google logos from the homepage.  I usually search Google in the upper right corner of my Firefox page, so I often miss out on the clever interpretations of the search engine’s name.  Now we all have a chance to catch up!

An homage to Walter Gropius

Article of the Day: Bewildering Google Suggestions

Slate recently asked readers to come up with face-offs between less- and more-intelligent variants of Google searches and Google’s recommendations.  Impressively, Google understands that “deaf leopard” is not referring to an unhearing large cat but rather to a rock band that spells its name “Def Leppard.”  Who is right?  Who is wrong?

Anyway, click here to read the top five finalists and winner.

I hope to have shorter delays between posts in the future; I just started working a lot and haven’t had as much time to read books and blog about them.  Six of one, half dozen…

Article of the Day: Betsy, Tacy, and Tib

Amid my childhood devourment of Nancy Drew and The Babysitters Club series, I also loved the throwback tales of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.  An inseparable threesome from the Midwest, they fell in love with boys who wore pompadours, went on sleigh rides, and eventually traveled the world.  Although I haven’t read these books in some time, I remember them with great fondness, perhaps in part because my mom also read them as a girl.  There’s something enchanting about books that mothers and daughters both enjoy as girls, something that brings their little girl selves together.  I’ve seen photos of my mom as a child, and we could definitely be twins.  I look at my new driver’s license photo, and I see her face staring back at me.  But we also share a love of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, and so does young adult writer Meg Cabot.

Here’s a snippet of the Wall Street Journal article by Cabot:

Though visions of Melissa Gilbert bobbing through a flower-strewn field as Laura Ingalls Wilder might be dancing in your head, these books don’t contain a single scene about soap-making or Ma stitching a homespun dress. Betsy passes her time writing poems and cakewalking and—occasionally—making fudge with boys.

Betsy’s journey, assisted along the way by best friends forever Tacy and Tib, and Betsy’s loving, if occasionally clueless, family, is one with which girls today will easily identify. Lovelace doesn’t weigh down her narrative with the kind of tedious descriptions about rabbit-skinning I always skipped over in the Little House books. Despite her lack of a car, PowerBook, or cell phone, Betsy deals with the exact same insecurities and problems as any modern teen…just circa 1910, instead of 2010. Her mind races with thoughts such as “Everyone got invited to the party but me,” “He hates me,” “Everybody’s talking about me behind my back,” “Oh, why did I do that?” or “He wants to go too far, and I’m just not ready!”

Have you heard of the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib books?  Have you read them and loved them, too?  I don’t know if they would hold much appeal for boys, but anything’s possible, I guess. 🙂

Article of the Day: Grading those standardized test essays

As I teach SAT and ACT prep classes, I read a lot of students’ practice essays.  On the SAT, the questions tend to be quite abstract: “Does human progress rely on respect and appreciation for nature?”  The ACT usually gives a high school-related scenario (should athletics or arts extracurriculars receive more funding?).  Either way, the students are frequently baffled by the task, though some surprise me with their wit and creativity.

It seems the case is similar for grade-level standardized tests, as illuminated in an op-ed column in today’s New York Times.  I especially like the graphic: