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Archive for December, 2009

In praise of books

As a college professor, I am certainly no stranger to books. Like a flintlock rifle to a pioneer, my books are my major tools of survival.

But these are textbooks. While I love them all, reading books of my choosing for fun is a wonderful holiday treat. During fall and spring semesters, I do not have time to read for fun. In addition to four classes/80-plus students, serving as faculty advisor for two organizations, counseling 50 advisees, hundreds of online correspondence weekly, and my two blogs, I take at least one doctoral class a semester. I can’t manage more than that with my existing workload. My doctoral classes usually add from two to five books that must be read, plus a weekly barrage of scholarly journal articles.

All that leaves little time for escapism reading. But now that I am out on winter break, I am catching up. I love good old-fashioned hardbound books whose pages I can turn, write in the margins, and mark memorable passages for easy retrieval later.

Yes, I read my fun books just like I read my textbooks — with pencil and marker handy.

My first read of the winter break was the incredible People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks. Much of this wonderful book takes place in a special city to me, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. I went there a few years back to speak at a conference, and it was a life-changing event. I studied Bosnia’s proud and at times troubled history before I left, but being there made it all come alive for me. I made some very dear and lasting friends on that trip, and after reading the book, I contacted each one. I also asked their help in contacting others with whom I have lost touch.

Many scenes from People of the Book take place in familiar areas to me — Sarajevo’s old town, the hotel in which I stayed, and streets whose architecture and war damage are all ingrained in my memory. The book also has a scene in Australia’s Noosa Beach, another interesting place I have visited.

But it is Sarajevo that still captures my heart. I got to see much of the city of Sarajevo. Years before, I had watched the winter olympics held there before the war. One of my most compelling memories from my visit was sitting mid-rink in the actual ice rink where Katarina Witt and others had performed in those olympics. Damaged heavily in the war, it was still a moving experience to be there, sitting alone in the dark, quiet of the olympic ice rink, once a scene of so much wonder.

I left Sarajevo and drove north through Bosnia-Herzegovina to Zagreb, Croatia. That trip was deeply moving because I saw much of the war-damaged countryside that was still trying to recover.

My second read was Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. I liked it because the story and its intricacy is remarkable. I am familiar with much of the “mysteries” that permeate the book. You see, after my accident in 1977, in which I broke my back and became paralyzed and a wheelchair user, I went looking for answers. I read everything I could get my hands on about the world’s great religions, spirituality, the mind, conscientiousness, healing, miracles, metaphysics, Noetic science, philosophy, physics, the Knights Templar, Masonic history, and on and on. One book led me to another, then another. None of the secrets or symbols in The Lost Symbol were really new to me, but Dan Brown can put together an action-packed adventure like no one else. He is a gifted storyteller.

I am currently reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. I’ll write about it later. It’s too early to tell about it, but so far, so good.

Like me, I know there are many other, excuse this, people of the book out there. It is a wonderful thing to be able to lose yourself in a compelling read. If you are one (and I know you are) please share your favorites with me via the comment block below. I’d love to hear from you.

Happy New Year. I wish you many wonderful books in the coming year.

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My 5-year-old granddaughter Ava never ceases to amaze me. For example, during our Thanksgiving visit, I watched her put together a puzzle, and what I learned about problem-solving rivals any MBA curriculum.

She sat in front of me on the floor to begin work on a Disney three princesses puzzle. First, she separated all the border pieces, the pieces with a tell-tale straight side.

Next, she gathered pieces with similar colors or patterns. Similar-colored pieces were placed in a group and set aside. Similar-patterned pieces were gathered and stored in another spot on the floor.

She then carefully began to assemble the border, roughing in the entire puzzle. Once completed, she studied the inside of the puzzle and began to match pieces either by color or pattern.

At times, she would simply sit quietly and study the puzzle, then turn her attention to the available pieces she had segregated by color or pattern. Often, she would pick up one piece and put it into its correct place for a perfect fit.

In no time at all, the puzzle was complete, and Ava beamed a grin of satisfaction that equaled the radiant smiles of the three Disney princesses.

Amazing. Her approach to solving the puzzle was highly instructive.

  • First, study the problem. Plan an approach that will govern the problem-solving. Do the border first, or, determine the entire scope of the problem to be solved. Once you have it framed, then you can deal with the details in a logical order.
  • Second, look for commonalities, for groupings, that can be treated together rather than separately. That helps to make the problem-solving more efficient. By grouping the pieces according to color or pattern, Ava could easily find how and where those pieces of the puzzle fit.
  • Third, stop and think. Look at the problem. Think about it. It’s like the rule in carpentry — measure twice, cut once. Rather than charge full speed ahead, think. Plan. Then, methodically attack the problem in logical order.

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