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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Best audiobook to date--and free!

Charles Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit, a wonderful kaleidoscope of heroes, villains, and fools:

The magnificent reading is by a gentleman from Nottingham named Peter John Keeble.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Think different(ly) . . .

Watch and listen to this Ted Talk by Kelli Anderson: Design to Challenge Reality.

Keep this in mind while writing . . .

Be wild of tongue in a way we can understand!

–E.B. White, Strunk & White, Elements of Style

Friday, March 30, 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The intellectually honest person

The intellectually honest person changes his opinions but not his principles.
(William Blake, quoted by Northrop Frye in An Introduction to T.S. Eliot)

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Hero: A Gifted Essay/Elegy about a Gifted Man

"Anthony Shadid, a gifted foreign correspondent whose graceful dispatches for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict and turmoil, died, apparently of an asthma attack, on Thursday while on a reporting assignment in Syria. . . . The death of Mr. Shadid, an American of Lebanese descent who had a wife and two children, abruptly ended one of the most storied careers in modern American journalism. Fluent in Arabic, with a gifted eye for detail and contextual writing, Mr. Shadid captured dimensions of life in the Middle East that many others failed to see. Those talents won him a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 2004 for his coverage of the American invasion of Iraq and the occupation that followed, and a second Pulitzer in 2010, also for his Iraq reporting, both of them for The Washington Post. He also was a finalist in 2007 for his coverage of Lebanon, and has been nominated by The Times for his coverage of the Arab Spring uprisings that have transfixed the Middle East for the past year."

Read the entire article in The New York Times here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

College Recommendation and Scholarship Letters

I am often more than willing to write a letter of recommendation for you for college admission or for a scholarship/fellowship, etc.

Here's what I need from you:

  • My agreement to write one. Please ask me either privately at school or in an e-mail. (I will not write one if I cannot strongly recommend you. If you have just sat in class and done the work and no more, I may not agree to write one. But you can always ask; the worst that can happen is that I refuse!)
  • What will not help you get a letter from me: This kind of e-mail: "Hey Gail can you write me a letter. I need it by this Friday."
  • The intended recipient(s) of the letter. Is it a general letter, or do I need to tailor the letter to the college or the award?
  • If it is the former, how many copies do you need? I can print and sign multiple originals on college letterhead so no school gets a lousy photocopy.
  • If the latter, give me or tell me all the information about the award or college that you can. Is it, for example, for future engineers or people who want to attend only UTA or TCC? If it is for admission to one of my alma maters (SMU and UTA), you probably don't need to give me much information about the college, but if it's for one of those two for a special scholarship, yes, I need everything you have.
  • Let me know if I give you the letter or mail it directly somewhere.
  • Give me a deadline. Give me two weeks' advance notice if possible.
If you have any questions, you know whom to ask!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Education Gap: What are we going to do about it?

Today's New York Times has an interesting article: "Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor." Highlights:

  • One "study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s."
  • And this: "Another study, by researchers from the University of Michigan,[found that] the imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion — the single most important predictor of success in the work force — has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s."
Where I teach, I think we are doing something about it. As students, you may not agree; as future parents and teachers, you might. E-mail me what you think. (Yes, credit may be awarded for eloquent responses.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Intelligence is Irrelevant: An MIT Alum’s Advice to a Struggling Student

"I can't do it." "I don't get it." "I don't know WHAT WE'RE DOING."

Here's one way to get around that boulder: Listen to this student's point of view:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

The River Why

If you're reading The River Why (those of you at MHS and LHS will find out about this at the next class), you might want to download a folder of the same name from Shared Files. The most important file is entitled "1 Reading File: The River Why Corollaries," which may give you many ideas for paper topics; other files include relevant photos of trout, Oregon, a 1959 Plymouth, ad infinitum. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Note-taking software

In my classes--and in many other college classes, you are welcome to use an electronic device to type class notes. (Most of us do not allow voice recording!) I have loved Microsoft's OneNote for years; it may already be on your computer if you run Windows and have one of the Microsoft Office suites.

And for Mac users:
Growly Notes Growly Notes is free, and it's just as good if not better.
(Thanks to Lifehacker for the tip.)

And if you have an iPad, OneNote is available for free from the App Store.

Abandon Your Big Idea. But Don’t Give Up Your Big Ambition.

Study Hacks » Blog Archive » Abandon Your Big Idea. But Don’t Give Up Your Big Ambition.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What I'm reading (and trying to understand)

Lisa Randall's Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World. I know I'll like it: the first illustration is from one of my two favorite comic strips, (the other being, of course, the

Friday, December 2, 2011

Better Googling!

Get more out of Google
Created by: HackCollege

Thursday, September 1, 2011

College Admissions Essays: some advice to ponder

I promise this will make your admissions essay better, if you just take Dr. Altschuler's comments to heart: "The ________ That Changed My Life."

Prewriting AND finding old web pages with The Wayback Machine

While looking for a prewriting map I'd particularly liked and cited earlier on this blog (see "Prewriting"), I saw that the web page no longer existed. After thrashing myself for not having PDFd the page, I remembered a wonderful tool that you should know about if you don't already: You can often find an old web page by using "The Wayback Machine," part of the non-profit project called the Internet Archive. The project takes period snapshots of web pages, going back to 1996. It can be useful for many research projects, such as finding out what a politician really said on his/her webpage in 1997, etc., etc. So I used The Wayback Machine, which fortunately had archived the image I wanted, went to the old page therein, and saved a JPEG of the image:

Friday, August 26, 2011

My current reading

Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World. Scarier than any Stephen King novel!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Renaissance man: how to become a scientist over and over again

Check out Erez Lieberman Aiden and his work in Discover here!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Zen Valedictorian

Cal Newport tells you how to become one here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Great headlines and articles about physics

This article is not new, but it's by Simon Singh, one of the most outstanding science authors alive:
"Screw the electricity bill, we've got to find that damned God particle."

You might also enjoy this latest news on developments at the Large Hadron Collider: "Cern scientists suspect glimpse of Higgs boson."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Re-post re Ommwriter

Ommwriter is the most gorgeous, simple way to just write I've ever seen. Go here for free and paid downloads. The default music track enhances, not detracts, from writing, I think; I accidentally left it playing all night recently and had awesome dreams!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Think you have it tough?

I hope that this article, about Rwanda and its cyclists, will both humble and inspire you as it did me: click here.

Breaking the glass ceiling

The New Yorker has an interesting profile of Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and one of the few women at, or near, the top in Silicon Valley. Click here to read it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Another research paper subject: The News Corp. scandal

How far should journalists go? What constitutes "journalism" today? What's illegal and what's just morally wrong? Why is there such moral outrage? This is just a place to start: NY Times, July 15, 2011.

How to write a movie review (re The Deathly Hallows Part 2)

Look no further than the New York Times here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Some of you need this t-shirt

From the best comic on the web, XKCD. You can see similar stuff at

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Compare college costs!

According to the New York Times, the federal Department of Education has published a new website for everyone to easily compare college costs. The full article is here.

(And check out TCC's very affordable costs compared to a gazillion other schools . . .)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why DO We Have College?

A recent issue of The New Yorker contains a thought-provoking article by Louis Menand on the reasons for college education. You should be able to view it here. (If for some reason you can't, let me know and I'll loan you my copy.)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Apropos of current revolutions

"All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."--Thomas Jefferson

- Letter to Roger C. Weightman, declining to attend 50th anniversary of Independence Day because of his health; this was Jefferson's last letter. He died on July 4th, 1826.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Note-taking software

In my classes--and in many other college classes, you are welcome to use an electronic device to type class notes. (Most of us do not allow voice recording!) I have loved Microsoft's OneNote for years; it may already be on your computer if you run Windows and have one of the Microsoft Office suites. Check it out! And for Mac users:
Growly Notes Growly Notes is free, and it's just as good if not better.

(Thanks to Lifehacker for the tip.) And if you have an iPad, OneNote is available for free from the App Store.

Why mechanics matter

A New York Times author bio reads: [her] "most recent article was about the young-adult novelist Suzanne Collins."

And if the Times hadn't cared, Collins (who is 47--young to me, but not to you) could have been described erroneously as the "young adult novelist."
Told ya this stuff was important!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New Study Hacks article!

Check out the latest from Cal Newport here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

When less is more: Ommwriter

I've been telling you to concentrate when writing; now I'm giving you something to help you do it: Ommwriter. Go get it. Now. Write. Now.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Freedom of Speech: Sometimes it hurts

What do you think of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in this case? See this New York Times article. Also check out "Westboro Baptist Church" in a Google Image Search and on YouTube to get an idea of how this group demonstrates.

Read the entire Supreme Court slip opinion if you're really interesting in the reasoning of the majority and the lone dissenter.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What I just finished: China Mieville's Kraken

If you like science fiction, weird fiction, and/or geek fiction, here's the one to read. Check out the New York Times article on the author.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What I'm reading is wonderful

I'm reading your Essay 2s and having a marvelous time. I'm learning how to whittle, how to kick a soccer ball, how to make pound cake, how to change a tire . . .

Have I told you lately just what great students you are?

What's wrong with my karma?

My lawyer friend Sharon came over, and we had Chinese food. I received a stupid message in my fortune cookie: "Listen attentively. You will come out ahead in the next few days." But Sharon gets:

Why didn't I get this cookie? Is it because an alien already did appear to me this week? (Remind me to tell you about my cyperpunk-author friend Lew Shiner and his theory about Zirconians.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Justice Lee Ann Dauphinot of the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth is one of my favorite writers. One never has a problem understanding her writing, e.g., this from a dissent by her published today:
"Rather than play semantic games, we should look to the plain meaning of the statute. But it makes no sense . . ." [emphasis added]

If you'd like to read great legal writing that always strives for justice, logical reasoning, and clarity, e-mail me.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Something I just read . . .

More Deliberate Practice: New Research

Jonah Lehrer's excellent Wired blog,"The Frontal Cortex," reviews a recent study of deliberate practice and "how much deliberate practice can be replaced with periods of 'additional sensory stimulation,' or passive listening." Five extra points on the next regular quiz for posting (or emailing) a thoughtful response!

Rethinking the Scientific Method

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, has a chance of developing Parkinson's Disease. This Wired article examines his goal of finding a cure, what he's proposing to develop with all that data Google gets from us, and how it's a radical departure from the usual scientific method. Recommended.

What do the best classrooms in the world look like?

A very interesting article entitled the same as above in Slate here.

What do I think the best classrooms in the world look like? Well, remember those pictures I took? Those comprise [look it and its proper usage up!] my answer!

(My twist on the Buddhist proverb: When the teacher is ready, the students will appear.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Geek Chic"

Those of you who found "geek chic" ["A great graphic definition of 'geek'"] interesting would probably love this trilogy by William Gibson: Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History. I heard a fantastic conversation with Gibson on a podcast--probably This Week in Tech--and he said he based Pattern Recognition's heroine on his daughter. The protagonist is super-sensitive to brands;it's wonderful to see what she's doing years later in the last book in the series. Fashionistas, read! Everybody else, please read it too! You can't read any fiction much better written than Gibson's lapidary [look up this awesome word!] prose.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A great graphic definition of "geek"

Extremely cool definition!

The Reader's Alphabet: brilliant poster

Story-lovers (real and potential) among you must check this out: The Reader's Alphabet.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Something beautiful for you

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.
So you mustn’t be frightened if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Friday, October 8, 2010

Editor's Marks revised

A revised version is in Shared Files for your section. If you can access Campus Cruiser, please print yourself a copy so that I can limit the number of copies I make to those who can't so access. (We should all be grateful that I eliminated "HCE," but you're still on the hook for vague wording and cliches!)

Why Do I Have to Learn Punctuation?

After all, look at these rule-breakers in William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!:
Tell about the South. What's it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all

and, later on, the protagonist's response:
"You cant understand it. You would have to be born there."

If Faulkner can break the rules, why can't I? Answer: He won the Nobel Prize for Literature; you didn't. (Just kidding.) Real answer: He knew the rules in order to know when to break them.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Essay 2: An Outstanding Example of a Definition Essay

Whether you agree with this op-ed or not, notice how the author creates an interesting, not dictionary-style, definition.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Baseball: Two of My Favorite Sayings

I love baseball movies, and I love Bull Durham more than all the rest combined. Here are two sayings by the female protagonist that should explain how I feel about both baseball and the film:

"Walt Whitman once said, 'I see great things in baseball. It's our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.' You could look it up."

"Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it's also a job."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Style, Voice, Tone, and All That

The writer I most admire is David James Duncan, author of The River Why, which I think is the perfect book about fly fishing. He's worth listening to; the following is from his My Story as told by Water: confessions, druidic rants, reflections, bird-watchings, fish-stalkings, visions, songs and prayers refracting light, from living rivers, in the age of the industrial dark:
"Language has vertical limits. Not just any speaker can pack up his speech and tote it at will to a higher elevation. Where there is a will, there is as often a major embarrassment as there is a way. Like a gymnast on parallel bars, the speaker or writer who successfully conveys exaltation must possess sufficient mental muscle to hoist himself above the level of everyday verbiage without appearing to strain. Again like the gymnast, he must be able to lift all of himself, all by himself."
What Duncan has done here--and why I quoted him at length--is to eloquently articulate how to elevate your style and tone in the eloquent, articulate style and tone that best serves essayists like you!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Autism's First Child"

is the title of an extraordinary article in the current issue of The Atlantic. The authors are both eloquent and sensitive; Donald, the subject, was generous to allow interviews that must have been somewhat stressful. The remarkable community in which he lives is a paradigm of acceptance of what and who's "different." You'll also find it interesting for what it says about current thinking on autism, which may lead you to think about how your own mind works.

An essay/blog post worth reading

My friend and guru Stephanie writes a wonderful blog called "Spiritual Evolution of the Bean." Go here for a wonderful essay about reading, books, and the Kindle.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

We're No. 12!

A very recent study by the College Board reports that the United States in no longer number one in the percentage of young people with college degrees. Instead, out of 36 developed nations, the U.S. ranks 12th.

An op-ed by New York Times staff columnist Bob Herbert analyzes why here.

Mr. Herbert asserts that students need to take some of the blame. He quotes the president of the College Board, who says that students need to work harder.

Read the column. Think about possibly responding to it in your Essay 3. Or just read it and post a comment here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

If you have a scanner, learn to use it!

Many of you have all-in-one machines with a scan function. Every time, however, I ask someone to e-mail me a scanned item as an attachment, I hear, "Yeah, but I don't know how to use it."

You need to learn how, so practice.

Tip: When scanning a multi-page document, save it as a PDF, not as a JPEG. Why? Because a JPEG contains only one page per file; a 10-page paper in 10 different files is inconvenient for both you and me. Learn to make a multi-page PDF, please!

Another reason for learning to create a PDF: A PDF version, unlike a word-processing (DOC) version, cannot be easily changed by the recipient, whereas a DOC version can be.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Neil Gaiman on Writing

"'For his seventh birthday, Gaiman received C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia series. He later recalled that "I admired his use of parenthetical statements to the reader, where he would just talk to you...I'd think, "Oh, my gosh, that is so cool! I want to do that! When I become an author, I want to be able to do things in parentheses." I liked the power of putting things in brackets.'"

(Biography Today. Detroit, Michigan: Omnigraphics. 2010. pp. 90–91. ISBN 978-0-7808-1058-7. Cited by Wikipedia, Neil Gaiman entry).

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Power Point, anyone?

Here's a great blog post about how to make a presentation like Steve Jobs. Very, very useful.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Focus, focus, FOCUS!

The ability to bring back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will. An education that includes this ability would be education par excellence (adapted from William James).

Remember, it takes both you and me to make this education happen!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More great contemporary authors!

I just finished several brainy, funny sci-fi works by Charles Stross, available at the TCC Southeast library. And if you like cyberfiction, I recommend Daemon by Daniel Suarez. (Update: And if you read Daemon, you won't be able to live without reading its sequel, Freedom.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cheaper Textbooks

This New York Times article has many suggestions. Please comment if you have other suggestions or responses!

Friday, August 13, 2010

What I just finished reading--and highly recommend

Cory Doctorow's Makers, which you will love if you enjoy tinkering with computers and/or any other machine.

I also recommend his Little Brother.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sleep Deprivation

xkcd is one of my favorite comics; I think he drew this just for all my students, especially the 7:30 a.m. class.

What I'm reading now

In addition to some essays on poetry that are downright eloquent, moving, enlightening, and just beautiful (thank you, dual-credit students!), I'm reading Douglas Hoftstader's I Am a Strange Loop. It's supposed to help me understand his prior Godel, Escher, Bach, and I'm sure it would, if I could only get past page 1. You may see me in your math and/or physics classes this fall . . .

Maya Angelou's "On the Pulse of the Morning"

Many of you have been writing on the extraordinary poetry of Maya Angelou. One of her best is here: it's the poem she read at the 1993 inauguration of President Clinton. The audio is available on this webpage as well. And the video is on YouTube here.

Admire, enjoy, get all teared up, and be proud.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Who says there aren't any heroes?

This reads like a novel!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Treat Your Mind as You Would a Private Garden

Possibly the best post ever from Study Hacks, this article tells you how to get in the zone in the first place.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Easy-to-Fix Common Errors

I keep coming across these (I know they have not all been assigned yet, but they are BASIC), so here are some quick answers; look up the reasons in the Rules for Writers (RW)!

--The man WHO, not the man THAT.
--Quotation mark placement, e.g., "dogs," not "dogs",
--, and in a series, e.g., "dogs, cats, and mice."
--Spell out most numbers; spell out "percent."
--Use parallel structure!
--No run-ons!
--No comma splices!
--The mysterious "They." Highlight every use of this in your paper. Is it clear who "they" are? If not, edit!
--Dangerous passive voice, e.g., "Human trafficking IS CONSIDERED the fastest growing crime." Use active voice, e.g., "Many authoritative researchers deem human trafficking to be the fastest growing crime."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More Online Writing Help, Including MLA Style

Go to the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) for tons of resources!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

For 1301 students: Human Trafficking: Places to Start

The State Department's 2009 publication, "Trafficking in Persons Report 2009," is a great place to start.

And see this Star-Telegram story that really brings it home.

And yes, you may look at the Wikipedia article for links to sources, but you may not cite the Wikipedia article; it is not authoritative.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thoreau's "Essay 1"

While you're writing Essay 1, you might derive inspiration from Thoreau's Walden. It's available free here: Google Books. If you can't read the whole chapter entitled "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For," at least start at "I went to the woods because . . ." on page 87 and read through to just before "Why should . . ." on page 89.

Monday, June 7, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird Turns 50!

If you haven't read it or seen the movie, which is one of the finest movies ever made, do so now. I think that if any book comes close to The Great American Novel, this is it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

FAQ #2: "Why can't we cite Wikipedia?"

Because I said so.

(Just kidding.)

You can't cite Wikipedia as a source in a research paper because too many Wikipedia pages are untrustworthy. For example, I have recently come across pages that contain information that is plagiarized. For another example, how about a page containing information that's just plain wrong?

That being said, if you are totally ignorant on a topic, it's OK to look at a Wikipedia page, especially its links to more reliable resources (if you google, you're going to get Wikipedia as a top result anyway).

Thursday, May 27, 2010


An important aspect of your essay writing in this class will be prewriting, done both in groups and individually. Prewriting is brainstorming--and inspiring and fun.

You can use any prewriting method that works for you. Last semester, one student's maps looked just like diagrammed sentences, which was very cool. Another, who was brilliant and who had a mind like a file cabinet (very admirable!) preferred to create old-fashioned outlines, complete with roman numerals, etc. As for me, my mind works differently, so I typically use what's called "mind mapping."

You can--and will--do lots of prewriting/mapping with pencil and paper, but you might want to experiment with software too. A great open-source program is FreeMind. Or you can just draw text boxes in word processing programs. For Mac users, try MindNode, available in both free and pro versions.

(Top image source courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; bottom image from old web page of Govt. of S. Australia)

What I'm reading now

Hafiz, as rendered by Daniel Ladinsky. I Heard God Laughing. Finally my Hafiz/Ladinsky collection is complete! Hafiz was a wonderful Sufi poet who lived in the 14th century and wrote in Persian. I read Hafiz daily; he always comforts me about the universe–and makes me at least smile, if not laugh outright.

Heidegger, Martin. The Essence Of Truth: On Plato's Cave Allegory and Theaetetus. Trans. Ted Sadler. I have spent 40 years (!) thinking about the Allegory of the Cave and never understood it until I began this book. I serendipitously came across it at the TCC Southeast library. Previously all I knew about Heidegger was some vague and troubling memory of a connection to Nazism; nonetheless, I gave it a try, and–mirabile dictu!–the best explanation of the allegory I've ever read.

My recent–and recommended–reading

Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Excellent novel about 17-year-old who fights back against the state after a terrorist attack. Great cryptography and hacking details. The TCCD Southeast Library has it.

McCall Smith, Alexander. 44 Scotland Street novels. These were and are serialized (just as Dickens was!) in The Scotsman.

Jerome, Jerome K. Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).Originally published in 1889, but I just now read it.
Also see Willis below for her tribute to it.


Airth, Rennie. Anything.
Cleverly, Barbara.
Finch, Charles. Anything.
King, Laurie R. The Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell series, which just keeps getting better.
Winspear, Jacqueline. Anything.

Hafiz, as rendered by Daniel Ladinsky. These are not literal, but marvelously modern, idiomatic re-creations of Hafiz that will lift your spirits.

Science Fiction:
Willis, Connie. Anything, but especially To Say Nothing of the Dog, Bellwether, and, if you can find it, All Seated on the Ground (Christmas novella about aliens that will crack you up.)


de Blij, Harm. The Power of Place: Geography, Destiny, and Globalization's Rough Landscape.

Marino, Gordon. "Kierkegaard on the Couch." A boxing coach and philosophy professor, Dr. Marino can make even the impenetrable absolutely clear–and entertain you while doing so.

McDonald, Sarah. Holy Cow. An Australian woman’s memoir of living in India. Funny and enlightening.

Mehta, Gita. Snakes and Ladders. Wonderfully funny essays about her native India.

Mortenson, Greg. Three Cups of Tea. Building schools in Afghanistan.

Trapani, Gina. Upgrade Your Life (previously published as Lifehacker; by the founder of the blog of the same name).

Weller, Anthony. Days and Nights on the Grand Trunk Road. A modern adventure through India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

FAQ #1: "So, how do I make an A in this class?"

Here are some surprising examples from my classes last semester. Look at how far these students came!

• The student who made only Fs for her first quizzes and essays and who wrote the most ungrammatical, convoluted sentences I’d seen in years. She went to The Writing Center; she used the online exercises for the grammar textbook; she e-mailed me if she still didn’t get it. She learned to write clear, grammatical sentences; she excelled at organization and development of her essay.
• The student who read anything she could get her hands on. She began as a solid B, mainly because her grammar and usage weren’t perfect. She did the assigned exercises carefully and learned from them. She became the Peer Editor everyone in the class wanted for his/her peer editor. Her writing was outstanding in terms of content and clarity; she wrote with a distinct voice.
• The student who arrived in the United States for the first time only six weeks before class started. His early work earned Fs and Ds mainly because he was still thinking in his native language and translating; he had overwhelming English-as-a-Second-Language issues–his native language used a different alphabet from English, for one thing. He did as much work as Student #1. I would also see him, on quiz days, before class, reviewing and reviewing the assignment. When he was unsure of an assignment, he was too shy to ask in class, so he usually e-mailed me or asked for an appointment. He always prepared for the appointment with specific questions; he never wasted my time or his. (By the way, he worked 40+ hours weekly, often having to travel 50 miles each way to do so.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

What's Your Gift?

One topic on which you'll be writing might be best named "What's Your Gift?" Other titles might be: Being a Hero in My Own Life, What Matters to Me, and the like. So here are two content go-bys for you: one from Study Hacks about MIT economics professor Esther Duflo and a fantastic free online book in pdf form: What Matters Now.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Want better grades? Check this out.

A great blog that won't put you to sleep is Study Hacks by Cal Newport. Be sure to check out The Straight-A Method: How to Ace College Courses.

Think like Descartes. (It'll hurt just a little, I promise.)

Are you stumped/bamboozled/overwhelmed by the assignment?

Give the Cartesian method a try . . .

* The first was never to accept anything as true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgment than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.

* The second, to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for its adequate solution.

* The third, to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend by little and little, and, as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex; assigning in thought a certain order even to those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and sequence.

* And the last, in every case to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so general, that I might be assured that nothing was omitted.

Now, that's a persuasive essay!

From the always articulate Molly Wood, a CNET journalist who's not afraid to argue her point of view:

"Hey, phone makers: Where's 'driving mode'?" As laws regulating cell-phone use while driving increase, there is an alternative solution.

(image courtesy of Molly Wood,

Great Grammar Guides

The takes on grammar with its typically twisted humor:

How to use apostrophes

How to use the semicolon

10 words you need to stop misspelling

Fallacies: Shoddy Arguments and How to Avoid Them

The Writing Center of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill generously shares its most useful list of fallacies here.

Deliberate Practice: How it can help you

How often do you watch a great athlete or musician you admire and think, "Of course he's great. He's a natural. Probably played that well at the age of three." You're right, but only partially so. Even the greatest in their fields share one habit in common: deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is practicing with total concentration with a goal in mind. When Wayne Gretzky was a boy, his dad asked him what he was going to do that day. Gretzky said something like, "Go out on the ice and fool around." His dad said, "No, you're not. You're going to practice. Pick one shot and work on it."

That's when Gretzky started deliberately practicing–and never stopped. And that's what it can do for you. –And one more way to be like Gretzky: have fun doing something well.

An entertaining article on deliberate practice comes from Cal Newport at Study Hacks: "The Grandmaster in the Corner Office: What the Study of Chess Experts Teaches Us about Building a Remarkable Life."

This post will illuminate how deliberate practice relates to your writing: "Demystifying the Dissertation: What the Research Says." (Ignore the reference to "dissertations"; this is tremendously relevant to any studying, reading, writing, and editing.) Also, her "A Regular Writing Routine" offers suggestions to acquire regular writing habits.

My favorite is "Fake Rocks, Salamander Commanders, and Just Enough to Start," by the extraordinary and highly entertaining Merlin Mann. If you can't get yourself organized, see Mann's 43 Folders system, also on the site.
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Read, Think, Write, Edit by Gail Young is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.