Tagged: books

Knowledge is Golden

I’m one of those people who would probably be happiest being a full-time student. I wouldn’t want to write the papers and take the exams, but I would be happy sitting in class, taking notes, reading the material, and taking part in classroom discussions.

I think it all started with The Golden Treasury of Knowledge.

I probably learned more from The Golden Treasury of Knowledge than anything I learned in school. The Golden Treasury of Knowledge was something akin to The Encyclopedia Britannica, only on a much smaller scale. I think my mom and dad bought them on sale at the grocery store. To a shy, nerdy, bookish grade school kid, they were knowledge nirvana.

I had the first six volumes. Each volume spent three or four pages on different subjects. I particularly liked the pages on gems because I loved collecting rocks. I was also kind of fascinated with the medieval ages.

I spent many summer afternoons reading through the books. I went back to them all the way through junior high and high school. They taught me a lot.

I always loved school, especially grade school. I loved learning. High school was different. My senior year I felt like all I was doing was biding my time until graduation. I was ready to be done, and didn’t put much effort into my classes. The sad thing was, no one really seemed to notice.

Maybe it’s blasphemous coming from a teacher, but I don’t think formal education is necessarily the only–or best–way to learn something.

As a former grade school teacher, I have to acknowledge that at least a quarter of the school day was spent transitioning from one class or activity to another. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve never understood the unrelenting push for “time on task.” Try sitting all day in a seminar or conference with no breaks and you’ll get what I mean. No one is meant to spend eight full hours engaged in learning, least of all small children. And the push to get rid of gym, music, art, library, etc. in order to spend more time on “academic” endeavors (i.e. test taking prep) =  complete insanity.

I think anyone can teach themselves anything on their own. In my world, the answer to almost anything can usually be found in a book–or the internet. If I have a problem with anything in life, I usually head for my computer first, a book next, and then all my friends.

Michael and I are teaching ourselves how to garden. We’re building a fence. Neither of us expects perfection, which is key to teaching yourself anything.

When I started running six years ago, before I joined a running group and learned from the experiences of others, I read every book about running I could get my hands on. I still go back periodically and consult the books, especially when I decide to start training for a new race and make a new a training plan.

For me, the best teacher is experience. I’ve learned more about running by just running than anything I ever read in a book.

Michael taught himself everything he knows about computers. Despite a degree in something completely unrelated to computers, he now makes his living from data and computers. He’s also recently taught himself photography and videography.

Hel’s also directly responsible for my own exit out of the technological stone age. A few years ago he showed me how to set up Power Point presentations for my fifth grade social studies lessons. Then he talked me into giving up my Blackberry for a smart phone, and I spent a very stressful weekend reading the online manual trying to understand the mini-computer in my hand.

By the time my son gave me an iPad for Christmas, it took me no time at all to learn the ropes.  Learning to blog and upload photos has been huge for me this past year. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

I still love to read and learn new things, especially science. I wish I’d had better science teachers when I was younger.

I recently read a book by Carl Sagan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, which Wikipedia called “a Roots for the human species.” Sagan is one of my idols, and I wish he was still alive. I have to admit, the book was a little dry, but I learned a lot.

I have no idea what happened to my Golden Treasury of Knowledge, volumes 1-6. Like other things from childhood, I suspect it either found a new home or met its end in a trashcan. I can’t imagine not having computers and the internet, but I think we did okay without them when I was growing up.

I don’t know if there’s some type of internet equivalent of The Golden Treasury of Knowledge, but I hope there is. It taught me a lot about the world.

The Bardo Between Good Books

Bardo:  the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth

Some people leave lovers and relationships and find themselves in a waiting game, biding their time until the next man or woman of their dreams comes along to make them happy again. I do this with books, and right now I’m between good books.

You know that place, the in between space of a really good book you just finished and the one you haven’t found yet to replace it. It’s like a pause in your life, and you flounder around, looking for the next great story that will be even better than the one you just read.

Good books take on a life of their own. Reading a really good book has the ability to transport you to a whole new life. You can become so involved with the characters or the story that you actually become that person in the book. At the very least, you can become someone who is there, the spectator watching the action. But when you finish the book, you’re left in a kind of limbo, a Bardo-like place where you’re still halfway involved in the story, but you have to make your way back into the real world. So you search for a new book, one that will be just as good, if not better than, the one you just finished.


I just finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy. After reading some awful reviews of the last book, Mockingjay, I was reluctant to start the series. I didn’t like The Hunger Games at all when I first tried to read it. It was all so bleak and gray and depressing. I started it and put it aside after the first few chapters. Then Michael went to San Francisco on business without me, and my mood was all so bleak and gray and depressing, so I figured it was the perfect time to pick up The Hunger Games and try again.

I enjoyed it much more the second attempt. The book is well written, and that’s half the battle won for me. The story, however, made me squirm. It wasn’t an enjoyable read, and the chapters covering the actual hunger game left me feeling downright shell-shocked. I felt like I was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by the time I finished the book.

But, of course I had to immediately read the second installment, Catching Fire, and I was sufficiently toughened up enough after reading the first book to continue on. Another tough read, but I liked the continuation of the story and the introduction of new characters. By the time I got to the final book,  Mockingjay, I had a lot invested in the characters and wondered how the author would finish everything off. After reading the slew of bad reviews, I was slow to start it, knowing I would be disappointed–but I LOVED it!

Wow, I could go on and on about Mockingjay, I loved it that much. In many ways it was even tougher to read than the first two, but it was a much deeper and introspective book than the others.

I went back and read the reviews of people who hated the third installment and realized that, almost to a person, they all really, really loved the first two books. Since I didn’t, I figured it made sense that I would prefer the last book. Also, many seemed to want a fairy tale, superhero, happy kind of ending. I appreciate instead the way the author ended the story in an intelligent, realistic manner.

I won’t give away any more of the books for those who haven’t read them, but I just saw the trailer for the movie version of the first book, The Hunger Games, and it looks amazing! I can’t wait to see it.

Anyway, after being unexpectedly surprised with such a great book, now I’m left in a kind of book bardo state. I’m one of those people who can’t read just one book at a time. Before I got the Kindle, I was the person who had ten books stacked up on their nightstand. I have books in every room of the house. There’s never enough time to read.

But finding that really great book is not always easy. To help tide me over, I’ve decided to read a chick-lit, fluffy, intellectually undemanding book set during the holidays. Sometimes books like that are just fun to read.

Are you going to be my rebound book, or the real deal?

I’m pretty sure I already know the answer to that . . .

Cry for help! What was the last really great book you read?