Monday, July 5, 2010

On the Media & On Math

Day 147 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and I'm glad to report that National Public Radio is rebroadcasting its "Book It" Series on On the Media. You can hear stories on the publishing industry, the future of reading, comparative reading, and innovations in reading. For all you aural learners and audioreaders, NPR is a wonderful thing.

When I was teaching, we'd do essays on early reading experiences to make that connection between reading and writing, and, in some cases, try to figure out where it all went hooey, when they stopped loving reading. Main answer: when they had to read for school and write papers. So many students told me about their joyful library "Book It" programs--a different "book it"--with prizes including personal pizzas.

I was always a happy youngster at the library, with no incentives but the reading itself. I would sometimes agonize over the choices, though, not wanting to be disappointed. Sometimes I yearned for something magical, fantastic, or scary. I was in second grade when I read a book of Alfred Hitchcock (was he the editor? did he write the intro?) stories when my parents went out and we had a babysitter. My mom warned me not to, but I did it anyway, and scared myself silly--then had to wait for them to get home to be comforted. Meanwhile, I was scared and, as the oldest, embarrassed.

Today, continuing in the Anthony Arthur book Literary Feuds, I read about C. P. Snow and F. R. Leavis and the "two cultures" (science and literature) debate. Snow was a scientist and a novelist, and mainly a generalist. Leavis was an academic and literary critic, and a specialist. Snow was wildly popular and successful. Leavis was not, comparatively speaking, and was known for his sharp, witty, and pretty mean reviews.

I had been pondering the "two cultures" thing--from the early 1960s--pretty recently--that is, in the 2000s--because a buddy in the Great Books biz had brought it up again, noticing that indeed many scientists he knows are rather well read in literature while the literary bunch is not very well read in the sciences. The science journalists and generalists and literary science types have done a lot to change that in recent decades, making many scientific concepts clear to lay people. Why can't we all get along? (Boy, would Leavis make fun of me!)

It is so nice to be unimportant. No one will feud with me!

Anyhoo, the science vs. humanities debate brings me to Taye, who is reading math. A big 3-volume set of mathematics essays, covering the history of mathematical thought and also special kinds of math. He told me that books 6 and 7 were intentionally left out of this fantastic set of writings when it was translated from Russian to English, and these are the books that make sense of everything. Why?! Why were these books left out?!

Fortunately, they were later published in English in a journal, harder to find than the books. Taye says that you open most math books and see lots of numbers. Not these. These have words. He hated math as a kid in school. He says you have to force yourself to think in math ways, and once he did, he understood things better, everything. He saw connections. He teaches political science and thinking with math logic has changed his life and his teaching.

Sigh.... But I do possess and have read around in Poetry of the Universe: A Mathematical Exploration of the Cosmos, by Robert Osserman. At Taye's urging, I will read around in it some more.


Kim said...

My dad has read Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos twice and is working through it again. He says it's the math that is the key and he doesn't quite have it yet...maybe he would like Osserman's book!

And on the topic of scary books, my kids think we should read Dracula outloud next. I keep trying to tell them it is too scary (not to mention too darned long) but they are undaunted. Thankfully I know better and no babysitters are scheduled soon...

nene said...

Interesting: In the old country 'Mexico', I remember my grandfather, a gunsmith by trade, would take time out from his busy day and sit me in a three legged stool in his shop that smelled of oil and gun powder and tell me stories of when he was young, growing up near an indian (Aztec) community. Stories that would illume my imagination and capture my interest into story telling. This came before my interest to read. Now, I continually debate, internally, whether to write freely of my imagination with a minimum of inculcated influence from 'writ'. 'I'm just say'n'

Kathleen said...

Thanks to Kim and nene, but blogger is not taking your comments at the moment...I will try again to publish them, later in the day!

Kathleen said...

It worked! Later...