Category Archives: non-fiction

“Education, when rightly understood, will be found to lie in the art of asking apt and fit questions…”

Bronson Alcott continues, “…and in thus leading the mind by its own light to the perception of truth.”  Using discussion questions to develop ideas instead of using the rote learning method to reinforce “the” right ideas was considered outrageous in … Continue reading

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“More often than we think, our limits are self-imposed.”

I once asked the director of our program for non-traditional college students what the biggest challenge was for these students.  Was it ability?  “No,” she said. “It’s their perception of their abilities.  They don’t think they’re smart enough. Then they … Continue reading

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“When I was younger, anxiety sometimes flat-out crippled my ability to work.”

In every class I teach, there is at least one student who will talk with me at some point about how high levels of anxiety are preventing him or her from completing assignments. This memoir by Andrea Petersen provides a … Continue reading

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So what about Dylan’s song “Blowin’ in the Wind”?

Tony Beck, who wrote his dissertation for Cambridge University on Bob Dylan, notes that Dylan “borrowed extensively” from the English poets Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley and Bryon, who also used the “wind” as a central image in their poems. For them, … Continue reading

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“It tells the stories of two revolutions.”

Revolutions, indeed. This book is about Revolutionary War era hero Alexander Hamilton, whose picture is on our ten-dollar bill.  It’s also about the revolutionary way his story is told by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who uses hip-hop, harpsichords, and a largely non-Caucasian … Continue reading

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“Until recently, we simply didn’t know how immense this problem was, or how serious the consequences, unless we had suffered them ourselves.”

When Matthew Desmond was growing up, money was tight.  Sometimes the gas got shut off, and his parents eventually lost their home to foreclosure. This week, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his nonfiction book Evicted, which is about eight … Continue reading

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“Always do what you are afraid to do.”

This famous assertion from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Heroism,” published in 1841, floated to the top of my mind while – of all things! – attending a technology conference. The keynote speaker, author of the upcoming book Strive: How Doing … Continue reading

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“By and large, art both instructs and entertains us.”

George Anastaplo continues “It instructs us partly by entertaining us; it entertains us partly by instructing us.  We are likely to learn from that which amuses us; we are likely to enjoy that which seems to teach us something” (1).  … Continue reading

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“Many modern books on ‘style’ have suggested that there are only two styles: good and bad.”

This book, Clear and Simple as the Truth, takes a much different view.  The authors argue that there are many styles for writers to choose from – including contemplative, classic, romantic, plain, oratorical, practical, and diplomatic.  This book focuses primarily … Continue reading

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“Every work of literature has both a situation and a story.”

The situation, Vivian Gornick explains in this book about the art of personal narrative, is the context or circumstances, while the story is “the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say” (13). Gornick argues that the most … Continue reading

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Five Intriguing Ideas from 2016 Books

This blog focuses on one idea from one book each week, and so selecting just five from the 50 or so that I’ve published in 2016 is a challenge. But after looking through them all, I have to say that … Continue reading

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“Bernard Shaw said you should try everything once except folk dancing and incest.”

This is how Michael Billington, “the” British theater critic, who has reviewed more than 9000 plays over the last 50 years, begins his piece on “Oedipus the King” by Sophocles. Charming, gossipy, insightful, authoritative, knowledgeable, and passionate, Billington is a … Continue reading

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“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

Much like Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, this collection of elegant essays by the poet Mary Oliver is for those who “are not trying to help the world go around, but … Continue reading

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“All was artifice.”

Can a 20-year-old character study still be relevant?  In the case of this essay by New Yorker writer Mark Singer, which one British newspaper said offered “clearer insight into the mind” of Donald Trump than the longer biographies, my answer … Continue reading

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“And yet they, who passed away long ago, still exist in us, as predisposition, as burden upon our fate, as murmuring blood, and as gesture that rise up from the depths of time.”

Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, perhaps the most dog-eared book on my shelves, doesn’t give advice on writing poetry.  Instead, it’s what Einstein –his contemporary — might have written if he had been a poet.  Compare the … Continue reading

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