Tagged: reading

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?

A Computer-Free Sunday and Thoughts on Being So Busy

The other day I did something very old fashioned.  I stayed away from my computer, the internet, TV, Facebook, and even my phone for an entire day.  Instead, I took advantage of sore muscles from the previous day’s long run and read a book.

Oh, okay, I read a book on my Kindle, but other than that small, insignificant detail, I was technology-free.

My Kindle-hating friend swears that I alone am the sole reason for the demise of Borders and the end of books as we know them.  I loved Borders back in the day.  I loved nothing more than spending an hour or so browsing the aisles, seeing where my interests would lead me, wanting to read everything in the place.  If one could get paid to read books, I would be a millionaire.  Many solutions to problems large and small have been found between the pages of a book, and the best dates with myself have been in a Borders or Half Price Bookstore on a Friday or Saturday night.

I smugly tell my friend, I’m saving trees.

Spending an entire Sunday doing nothing but reading was lovely.  I became so engrossed in my book that I literally didn’t move from the couch for hours.  I thought about checking my email and catching up on Facebook, but it didn’t seem important.  Michael was playing touch rugby with his friends, it was stiflingly hot outside (again), and I had nothing to stop me.  If the dogs can sleep all day, why can’t I read all day?

This got me to thinking:  why do we feel guilty when we take a day for ourselves to “just” read a book?  Do other people feel this same way?  I almost always feel guilty when I take time during the day to read, even on a Sunday.  I feel like there’s something else I should be doing, and that reading a book is a frivolous, self-indulgent pleasure that should be put off until everything else gets done first.  This is, of course, ironic since I’ve spent the past 20 years trying to teach children, including my own son, the joys of reading.  Maybe it’s because of the fact that I do see reading as such a joyous activity that it therefore becomes such a guilty pleasure (and no, I’m not Catholic).

The larger issue is, when did we all get so busy?  Being so busy has suddenly turned into our national religion.  I’m opting out.  My friends who work full-time seem worried that I still haven’t found a job (I’m not even looking) and ask what I do with myself all day (as if whatever it is I do all day is without value since there’s no money attached to it).  Sometimes I get annoyed and tell them I don’t do anything, I just sit around all day and eat chocolate, and that shuts them up.  Sometimes I get defensive and talk about my blogs, or the running website we’re developing, or the next marathon I’m training for, or the fact that I rarely turn on the TV during the day.  The fact is, I stay plenty busy and have nothing to explain.

This summer I had all kinds of plans for simplifying my life and slowing things down.  I was going to walk the dogs more, do yoga on a daily basis, cook more, read more, and even start a daily meditation practice.  I have made some significant changes, but not nearly as many as I had hoped to make.  Our record heat has kept me and the dogs mostly indoors all summer (like vampires, we only venture out for walks or runs before/after the sun is up/down), yoga was making me too sore to run, I still hate to cook, and meditation . . .  well, it’s always last on the list.   The only thing I do more of is read books, but almost only in the evenings when Michael’s also off work and is watching TV.  Again, must be the guilt factor.

So, I don’t work at a paying job but I’m still too busy.  Maybe it’s merely a continuation of life as we know it.  It’s the only way I’ve ever been and know how to be.  Maybe it’s just a part of who I am.  One thing I can say, though, is that my everyday pace of life has slowed down dramatically.  I may still be too busy, but I’m not going 100 mph to get everything done.  Now I have the luxury of slowing down, getting the most important things done each day, and not stressing over what remains to be done on the To Do list.  Everything I do now is because I want to do it, it’s directly related to something important to me, as opposed to hours in the classroom mired in senseless paperwork meant to justify someone not in the classroom’s job–which is the most senseless, time-wasting kind of busyness there is.

I know that not everyone can quit their job like I did and lead a less frenetic life, but I’m wondering what price we pay for being so busy.  There have always been and always will be rude people, but I can’t help but notice lately how angry everyone seems, from the people on the roads to the politicians in Washington.  Could it be that we’re all so incredibly stressed out and busy that we view others as enemies to be angrily shoved out of the way as quickly as possible?  Have we all become so impatient that rather than make an effort to look at someone and smile, we instead avoid their eyes altogether?  We seem to have lost our ability to find a middle ground, everything’s either my way or the wrong way–and get out of my way, I’m in a hurry!

It’s not a good way to live.  If we’re always so busy, when do we ever have time to just sit and think about things, to gather our thoughts and figure out the world and ourselves?  Even our days off, when we’re busy running errands and shuttling our kids to soccer games, or on vacation, when we’re busy traveling or sightseeing, seem less relaxing and more driven.  Maybe what we need is a little introspection, a little more time spent off our feet and on the couch, with a good book or good music or a good meal–or all of the above.  Maybe if we took more time for ourselves, to just be, to enjoy life, all the other days of the week wouldn’t seem so bad.