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Category Archive: Education

Mar 03

Reading about a Reader’s Reader: Joe Queenan

Credit: Photo published by The Book Reporter www.bookreporter.com

Credit: Photo published by The Book Reporter www.bookreporter.com

The cover of the Rotarian monthly magazine caught my eye. The magazine, a year old now, was stuck in a rack at a car dealership that I know well and frequent a lot. I glimpsed a corner, saw the title “The Joys of Reading”, and that was all I needed to know.

I rescued it.

Inside was a fascinating story titled “Living by the Book” by Joe Queenan. Subtitle: “Books may be the best way to engage the world. Even if you intend to have an argument”.

I admit I did not know about Joe or his writing, and for that matter his voracious reading.  I do now.

Fascinated by the article, I read it, and then began searching for more information on Joe Queenan. Of course I did.

I am betting you might be interested, as well.

An excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article, “My 6,128 Favorite Books” explained in Queenan’s own view ‘how a harmless juvenile pastime turned into a lifelong personality disorder’.

Here is an excerpt:

“I started borrowing books from a roving Quaker City bookmobile when I was 7 years old. Things quickly got out of hand. Before I knew it I was borrowing every book about the Romans, every book about the Apaches, every book about the spindly third-string quarterback who comes off the bench in the fourth quarter to bail out his team. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but what started out as a harmless juvenile pastime soon turned into a lifelong personality disorder.

Fifty-five years later, with at least 6,128 books under my belt, I still organize my daily life—such as it is—around reading. As a result, decades go by without my windows getting washed.

My reading habits sometimes get a bit loopy. I often read dozens of books simultaneously. I start a book in 1978 and finish it 34 years later, without enjoying a single minute of the enterprise. I absolutely refuse to read books that critics describe as “luminous” or “incandescent.” I never read books in which the hero went to private school or roots for the New York Yankees. I once spent a year reading nothing but short books. I spent another year vowing to read nothing but books I picked off the library shelves with my eyes closed. The results were not pretty.

I even tried to spend an entire year reading books I had always suspected I would hate: “Middlemarch,” “Look Homeward, Angel,” “Babbitt.” Luckily, that project ran out of gas quickly, if only because I already had a 14-year-old daughter when I took a crack at “Lolita.”

Just the other day, my friend Bill and I had an email discussion about “Middlemarch” (see reference above in quote from Queenan).

Bill explained our reservations this way: “I just picked up the book ‘My Life in Middlemarch’ by Rebecca Mead. Whereby she creates her own memoir and literary criticism by showing her life and trial as they mirror the main characters lives. The protagonist Dorothea Brooke marries badly and endures and makes peace. Like I say, I am intrigued, but to take on a 800 p. Jane Austin-ish/ Bronte-ish novel is a heavy lift”.

Incidentally, neither Bill nor I are brave enough to tackle it, to date, that is.

Since it’s Joe Queenan we are discussing, one would expect a plethora of stories about him. If you like to read, it’s worth taking a minute to discover this reader’s reader. Personally, I have no idea how he does it and manages a life at the same time. There are moments, I confess, I could succumb.

After all, it is as Thomas Allen once quipped: “If you have read 6,000 books in your lifetime, or even 600, it’s probably because at some level you find ‘reality’ a bit of a disappointment.”

And therefore, we read don’t we.

Here is Queenan in the news as promised:

From NPR: Reading 125 Titles a Year? That’s ‘One for the Books’ http://www.npr.org/2012/11/01/163949969/reading-125-titles-a-year-thats-one-for-the-books

From The Book Report Network: A Biography and Partial List of Queenan’s Books:


Full Article From WSJ: “My 6,128 Favorite Books” by Joe Queenan


And most recently, this entertaining read from The Weekly Standard’s The Magazine: “How Do You Feel? The interrogative mysteries of Deep Space” - MAR 10, 2014


Some of you ‘get it’, this reading ‘personality disorder’. For the rest, well, we are moving on. Happy Reading.


Sep 23

Typing is like riding a bike, we never forget how

“It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you are willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” –Brian Tracy, author and inspirational speaker

It was the 1960’s and that is when I learned to type, by rote.

My teacher, the late Miss Jenny Ellen Cardinell would have it no other way. (She was actually married, but back then nearly all female teachers were addressed as “Miss”).

Learning to type in Miss Cardinell’s class was a mechanical course of procedure, fixed and without thought of the meaning. One must practice and learn by repetition, she would say.

She was right. Once one knows how, one never forgets.

We may get rusty, but we always know how to type. Just like riding a bike.

For instance, if someone asked you to type a practice phrase on a computer these days, what would you type?

If you are of a certain age, I am betting that you would type this sentence without thinking about it: “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”

In my high school typing classes, and no doubt many of yours, students practiced typing by producing pages and pages of such phrases and completing exercises that emphasized mastery of punctuation and numbers. And most importantly, where the letters and numbers were located on the keyboard.

We became highly proficient at the typing method known as QWERTY.

QWERTY is the universal nomenclature for a typewriter keyboard and comes from the first six letters in the top alphabet row, the one just below the numbers and the configuration spells ‘QWERTY’.

We probably learned that definition at the time, but if you were like me, it really didn’t sink in much.

We also learned the history of the typewriter, which we promptly forgot.

Such as, that C.L. Sholes was the inventor who first built a model keyboard in his machine shop in Milwaukee in the 1860’s. And later, a certain pattern of keys was introduced on the “Type Writer” in 1872, a clumsy device by today’s standards.

That original keyboard was designed to improve speed by determining frequency of letter pairing.

Decades later in 1978, Remington Company, an arms manufacturer, made the only major modification to QWERTY–adding a shift key.

Few changes have been made since to keyboards.

Amazingly, they got it right from the outset.

And so did our typing teachers who taught us much about life when all we thought we were learning was how to type.

We learned to be accurate, work quickly, correct our mistakes at once and to never do sloppy or shoddy work.

We learned to commit to mind, soul and heart the first words we ever learned to type: “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”

It occurred to me how relevant that simple typing exercise is today. Perhaps in this crazy world of ours if we practiced what we learned in typing classes so many years ago, the world might be better for it.

So, I have resolved to type that phrase more often and to remember its advice in the days ahead.

The easy part is I already “know” it by heart.

Aug 20

Still wanting to buy school supplies at any age

Do you still love to buy school supplies for yourself? I do and apparently can’t help myself.

Remember the excitement of back-to-school rituals when we were younger, most important of which was buying school supplies.

Markers, colored pencils, rulers, Elmer’s glue, highlighters, staplers, scissors, paper clips, hole punchers, gum erasers, a 64-box of Crayolas, a protractor and a compass?

I don’t need any of these things at my age you understand, but I want them because it is almost fall and because buying school supplies used to be an exciting time, a magical autumn ritual.

Maybe I want that enchantment back, who knows? I do know, however, that I want wide-ruled notebook paper and some No. 2 pencils.

Certainly, I understand that some of you, perhaps for good reason, do not get as excited about the first day of school and school supplies as I do, especially my friend Rob. Here is what happened to him on the first day of school last year.

Early that morning, Rob’s mother went in to wake him up saying, “Wake up Robby. It’s time to go to school. It’s the first day; you have your new school supplies. Aren’t you excited?”

“But why,” Robby whined, “I don’t want to go.”

His Mom replied softly, “Give me two reasons Robby why you don’t want to go.”

Robby answered, “Well, the kids hate me for one, and the teachers hate me, too!”

Mom said, “That’s no reason not to go to school; come on and get ready. You have your new school supplies. Aren’t you excited?”

Robby retorted, “Well, you give me two reasons why I should go to school then.”

Mom, getting the last word in as she had for years said, “Well, for one, you are 52 years old, and for another, you are the head teacher!”

Ok, dear readers, there is your laugh for the day, but back to my point about wanting to buy school supplies at any age.

Recently, I had to explain sacks of school-supply purchases to the spousal unit who walked in at lunchtime and noticed them on the kitchen counter. He asked, somewhat perplexed, “Why are you buying school supplies at your age? Are they for the grandkids and don’t they already have theirs?”

I really didn’t have a good answer except to admit I succumbed, as I do every year, to a strong biological impulse to rush to a discount or office supply store as soon as the school-supply ads arrive in the mailbox.

This year, in addition to the basics I bought a hot pink Miley Cyrus notebook and bright folders with wolves and horses on the covers. We didn’t have those in my day. And that is my final answer.

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