Monday, April 17, 2017

Summer Reading

One of the best things you can do for your career as a college student is to become a reader. It doesn't really matter what you read—though quality helps—just reading something will keep your brain working.

When I taught at the University of Akron, they required all the freshmen to read the same book together over the summer. We don't do that at Ashland, but the Akron book selections are good ones. You can get these at any commercial bookstore and most public libraries.
  • The Soloist, by Steve Lopez
  • The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore (That wasn't much of a surprise, was it?)
  • The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Summer reading should be fun, and both the Harry Potter series and the Tolkien "Lord of the Rings" series fall into that category. My own recent reading list includes (in no particular order):
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
  • How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else, by Michael Gates Gill
  • Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris
  • Maus: A Survivor's Tale. I. My Father Bleeds History. II. And Here My Troubles Began, by Art Spiegelman
This last group is all available from both Barnes & Noble and Amazon. They're not expensive books either.

By the way, one of the best gadgets for the real reader is either the Barnes & Noble nook or the Amazon Kindle e-reader. (I prefer the nook.) The books are cheaper and you can carry a whole library in your pocket. Unfortunately, textbooks have been very slow to come to the e-reader world, but for general reading, they are great.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


Everyone writes everything on a computer now, right? Wrong.

In high school, perhaps you got along without having any handwriting skills (and, sadly, nobody teaches people how to handle a pen any more), but in college, you should expect to do a lot of handwriting.
  • Classroom notes. You came to college to learn from teachers, and some of the things they say show up on tests. Computers are awkward for taking class notes, and phones are totally useless. Several studies show that people who hand-write class notes learn more about the content than people who take notes on computers.
  • Notes on reading. You should be marking your textbooks and keeping a reading journal of your assignments. This just won't work with a computer.
  • In-class tests and quizzes. There is often no way to print out a typed copy of a quiz, so you will be writing it. If your writing is slow and difficult, you are at a disadvantage. If your writing is incomprehensible, the teacher might not have the patience to decipher you.
  • Rough drafts of essays. Yes, I know that some people draft very well on a computer, but many people do not. They get tangled up in Facebook. They have trouble finding the letter "q." They have trouble making a bullet list. And when the draft is done, they almost never print the whole thing out and lay it on a table to look at it. Handwritten rough drafts are just more natural. (C.S. Lewis, the Christian writer, said that the typewriter's noise interrupted his chain of thought. He really liked the scratching noise of the pen on the paper.)

Some videos to watch

This set of instructional videos really gets to the heart of the matter in a series of 5-minute chunks. I like where she begins: If you have poor handwriting, it is probably because you were poorly taught. (Many reasons for this, but the main reason is probably that your teachers did not know how to write well either!)
  1. Introduction to the series
  2. Setting Up Your Handwriting Practice Area
  3. Handwriting Practices
  4. Essential Elements of Handwriting
  5. Fine Motor Movement of Handwriting
  6. How to Make Your Handwriting Personal

A summer assignment

Go out and buy a somewhat decent pen (doesn't have to be expensive, but it needs to write easily), some writing paper, some envelopes, and a personal journal or diary.

Several times a week, write in that journal about how your summer is going. Nobody else will read this unless you give it to them; it's just an exercise in getting your thoughts on paper and exercising those hand muscles. Use the writing paper and envelopes to write a few letters to distant relatives (grandmother? uncle?) about how your preparation for college is going.

A last little story

I got to sit in on a job interview a while back. The prospective employee sat down and the boss looked at his application form. The first question from the boss was "Did you write this with your left foot?" That's a bad beginning for an interview. You want to do better.