Category archives: Nonfiction

How to Read Literature Like a Professor

by Feb. 24, 2010 in Books, Nonfiction, Recommended

How to Read Literature Like a Professor

I have been enjoying my time over the past year of writing down what I think about books as I finish them.  It has added a depth to my understanding of books that wasn't there in the past.  Yes, I always enjoyed reading, but I never spent much time meditating on what I read, or digesting it.  Instead, I would read a book, finish it, and immediately move on to the next work.  Now that I don't let myself do that, I'm enjoying reading more than ever.

I've come to realize, though, that I don't have that many things to say about books.  Most of my discussions consist of enjoying a particular plot element, character, structure, tone, or style of the book.  Even when I identify these elements, however, I have a hard time expressing exactly what I like so much about them.  Don't get me wrong - it's good to enjoy these aspects of books.  At the same time, though, I know there is more going on that I'm missing.  But where do I start?  Do I just make things up?

All of these questions lead me to How to Read Literature Like a Professor, and the book has absolutely met my high hopes for it.  Each chapter provides different elements to seek out when reading a book in order to get a deeper understanding of the text.  For example, it encourages you to ask questions such as "why is this character sick?  and why this particular illness?"  Or, "why is it raining/snowing/sunny/cloudy?  What is the author trying to tell me with the weather or the seasons?"  Fortunately Foster doesn't just tell us to ask the questions, but gives us numerous possible answers through examples of a wide range of literature.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but more than that, I hope that it improves my ability to read literature.  I want to know what is going on behind the text - I want my reading experiences to have depth and to (as Foster puts it) resonate more deeply.  Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to be very good at it.  I'm sure practice will help, but I'm afraid my mind simply doesn't work this way.  At the end of the day I may always be more of a surface level reader.  That isn't such a terrible thing, as long as I continue to enjoy reading, but I love to hear about the symbolism and metaphors present in a book, so not being able to see those connections myself will be frustrating.

Still, I'm going to try and, over time, I hope to have more posts that ask these type of questions and try to answer them, and hopefully my insights won't be too elementary for anyone with a true literary background.  Oh, and remember when I said that I wish every subject matter got the same treatment that data graphics received in Visual Display of Quantitative Information?  Well, this has been my Visual Display for literature.

"We – as readers or writers, tellers or listeners – understand each other, we share knowledge of the structures of our myths, we comprehend the logic of symbols, largely because we have access to the same swirl of story. We have only to reach out into the air and pluck a piece of it" (192).

Feel free to read for more of my thoughts on the book in the review on the right, since there aren't really any spoilers to be had.

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What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

by Dec. 21, 2009 in Books, Nonfiction, Recommended

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

When I first received this book as a gift, I looked at the cover and thought "Cool, a book that will show how good and noble video games are!"  However, if I had read even the title a little more closely I would have realized that this isn't an apologist's book on video games.  It isn't meant to show how video games are good for us, and therefore should be played by everyone all the time (though they should).

So what is it?  Just as the title says, it's a book that looks at what video games can teach educators about learning.  After all, Gee argues, good video games are complicated, difficult, long, frustrating endeavors that children and adults will spend hours mastering.  Obviously they are doing something right to produce this type of effort.  The question then becomes, what we can we take from video games and apply to the current education process?  How can we apply the principles of learning so obviously evident in video games to schools?

Throughout the book, Gee goes into detail on 36 different principles of learning, how they are exemplified in video games, and why they are so important to learning.  I may …

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The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

by Dec. 4, 2009 in Books, Nonfiction, Recommended

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

I had a dream about The Visual Display of Quantitative Information last night.  This isn't a normal occurrence.  What was most surprising, however, was that in addition to telling a coworker the title and author of the book, I also proceeded to accurately explain the book's main premise.  I even had some visual aids to help sell the argument.

I took all of this as a sign that I should add it as a featured book, even though I read it back in September.  Visual Display provides the reader with a clear, concise understanding of what it means to create high quality data graphics, and the best way to go about doing so.  I understand you might want to fall asleep even reading this brief description but trust me, it's fascinating.  Not only does it provide you with an actual set of tools to use if you are creating your own data graphics but it also gives examples that range from fascinating and beautiful to, literally, life saving.

Every subject deserves a treatment as loving and engaging as data graphics receive in Visual Display, and you should read them.  Since I don't know of any other subjects that do …

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The River of Doubt

by Dec. 1, 2009 in Books, Nonfiction, Recommended

The River of Doubt

I actually received this book as a gift over a year ago. At the time, the subject appeared interesting, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read it – there was always something else in my book queue that distracted me, or kept me from picking it up.

A few weeks ago, however, I was talking with a couple librarians (who are, by the way, always some of my favorite people to talk with) and they mentioned that I would be a good resource for recommending books, except for my lack of knowledge about nonfiction. I read widely on every other genre, but when it comes to nonfiction my experience is almost non-existent. With this motivation, coupled with actually owning this book already, I decided to finally give it a read. And am I glad that I did.

The River of Doubt tells the story of Theodore’s Roosevelt journey down an, up to this point, unexplored river in the Amazon shortly after losing his bid for a third term as president. The journey itself is fascinating, and exciting to read about, but what makes this book great is Candice Millard’s ability to bring each of the major players to life. …

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