Thursday, December 24, 2015

Reading in 2015

Last year, as I tallied up the number of books read during that year, I came up with sixteen or seventeen. I surpassed that number this year by reading at least twenty-one books and possibly as many as twenty-four. I still need to work on keeping a more accurate account of the books read during a year.

All of the books I read during this year can be described as nonfiction, primarily history, such as Erik Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, and Len Ackland’s Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West, with some titles closer to social issues, such as Edward Humes’ Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, Elizabeth Royte’s Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash, Paul Bogard’s The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, Gordon Hempton’s One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest to Preserve Quiet, and James J. Farrell’s One Nation Under Goods: Malls and the Seductions of American Shopping

Occasionally, I read nonfiction for fun. As someone interested in weather, I can easily devour books like Holly Bailey’s The Mercy of the Sky: The Story of a Tornado, Douglas A. Campell’s The Sea’s Bitter Harvest: Thirteen Deadly Days on the North Atlantic, R.A. Scotti’s Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938, and Daniel Brown’s Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894.

Most recently, I read Murray Carpenter’s Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us. I am trying to expand the number of articles addressing sleep that my students can select for their essays. Unlike some writing teachers, I provide the sources that I want my students to use.  Essentially, I have created my own anthology of readings, with these readings linked to one of the library databases.  Having read these articles, I can easily detect plagiarism without relying on computer software.

Younger students in my classes tend to struggle with topics like plastics, artificial food dyes, and student loan debt because of their indifference, not being fully aware of how a certain issue affects their lives, or because they possess little previous exposure to the topic through the experience of friends and family. I expanded the topic of artificial food dyes by widening the umbrella to one of food additives and including not only artificial food dyes but also sugar, primarily high fructose corn syrup. At least a dozen students this recent semester, as a result, chose sugar as a topic. I am now going to widen another umbrella to include not only how sleep deprivation affects academic performance but also how caffeine contributes to sleep deprivation.  At some point, I hope to incorporate articles about garbage and zero waste into my classes, possibly linking these topics with plastics.  

Some readers may accuse me of having a liberal agenda.  My primary aim is to have my students address one or more sources in their writing as they gain more experience in integrating quotes and documenting these sources.  This emphasis requires that the students read closely and critically and create well-organized and well-supported arguments. Indirectly, I want my students to be conscious of what they are exposed to and to make informed decisions in their lives regarding their physical health, their financial health, and in their interactions with the environment.

At the end of every semester, I encourage my students to read for pleasure, both fiction and nonfiction, and to follow their interests in their reading. Some scholars report that many Americans have read all of the books that they will ever read by the age of twenty-five. Anything that I can do to encourage reading throughout one’s life is a plus.