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 the ideas that I enjoyed the most from the books I read in 2016 describe the nature of artists, heroes, teachers, writers, and learners.

What artists do: The great poet Mary Oliver describes the nature of creative work in Upstream. She writes, “creative work requires a loyalty as complete as the loyalty of water to the force of gravity. A person trudging through the wilderness of creation who does not know this – who does not swallow this – is lost.  He who does not crave the roofless place eternity should stay at home” (28).

What heroes do: The word “hero” is not what would come to mind when you meet the protagonist in Richard Russo’s novel Everybody’s Fool. In fact, Chief of Police Douglas Raymer is a fellow who has more than his share of remorse, grief, aggravations, self-doubt, and regret.  However, Russo shows us how heroes can evolve and develop, despite the odds.

What teachers do: Sometimes we need to examine our goals. Many teachers believe that “covering” content is most important.  But is it?  Habits of the Creative Mind by Richard E. Miller and Ann Jurecic is based on the belief that “education, properly understood, is the process of cultivating creative and curious minds.” Our job is not to focus on content, but to help students create new habits of thinking.

What writers do: When great writers retell each other’s stories, you get to compare their style, sense of humor, and all the individual traits that distinguish them.  That’s what makes the new series of novels that are based on Shakespeare’s plays so much fun. Margaret Atwood and Anne Tyler both show us what writers do to stories when they re-envision and rewrite them.

What learners do: As Sarah Rose Cavanagh describes in The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion, learning involves emotions far more than many of us ever realized. While we’d like to think that we rely on reason, researchers now tell us that learning is both fueled and guided by emotions. Those who are interested in how learning works should know that emotions can support or suppress learning.

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