What I Read: ‘You Are What You Speak’ by Robert Lane Greene


One of the reviews of this book faults Greene for writing about linguistics without being a linguist. I don’t find the same fault in the pages here. Certainly, this has the density one would expect from an Economist writer, but don’t let that fool you.
As an English major and English teacher who has been thinking about these things for some time, the initial introduction to prescriptivism and descriptivism did much to act as a refresher for the topics and lay the foundation of the different global perspectives of the book.
From a historical understanding of the resurrection of Hebrew to the formation of modern Turkish (an subsequent distance from pre-1930 Turkish texts), I’m walking away from this book with much richer and deeper understanding of language and it’s formation around the world.
Perhaps most helpful for me was Greene’s clear love of language. If there were any impediment created by his lack of training as a linguist, his love of language makes up for it handily.
Reading about language from the perspective of one who is so clearly curious and in love with language shapes the book as a tool for infectious love of language.
If you’re curious about language, read this. If you’re passionate about language, read this. If you are hungry for a appropriately-dense text acting as a primer to understanding linguistics, read this. It’s not a book for everyone, but it’s definitely a book for those who love and are fascinated by language.

cross-posted at http://goodreads.com/mrchase


Things I Know 354 of 365: I’m still a reader

Every “You should read X” sentence over the last few months was met with some off-the-cuff, “Sure, when I get to decide what I’m reading again.”

Graduate school has just as much reading as undergrad and then some. Think of it as all the reading you were pretending to do for your bachelor’s, plus 50%. Add to that the fact I was picking up ancilary reading left and right, and I’m surprised my eyes didn’t start bleeding by the end of the semester as some sort of academic stigmata.

Secretly, each time I added a book to the When I Get to Read What I Choose pile, I also remembered a secret worry – What if I didn’t want to read anymore?

For the first few weeks of break, it seemed true. I caught up on and re-watched favorite trash television before I considered picking up a book. I was worried this would be the default for my trip home. I imagine all addicts feel that way during detox.

Then, a few days ago, I picked up Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. My sister Rachel brought it home for me from school on a friend’s recommendation when the friend learned of my appreciation for Doctor Who.

After I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down.

Yesterday, I started and finished Jeanne Darst’s Fiction Ruined My Family. I’d picked it up on a Barnes & Noble splurge fueled by the gift cards due as patronage for any family of an English major.

Today is a writing day.

Otherwise, I’d be delving deeply into Catching Fire (the second volume of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series) with World War Z fast on its heels.

It turns out, yes, I am still a reader. I am still one who finds comfort in the words of others after they’ve been knitted together from a single narrative strand to wrap myself in, and take comfort in worlds just out of focus from my own.

Things I Know 346 of 365: Gaiman had me at pg. 7

I’m on page 111 now, but it was much earlier, when I read the passage below, that I knew it was literary love.

There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar apart: first, Mr. Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr. Croup; second, Mr. Croup has eyes of faded china blue, while Mr. Vandemar’s eyes are brown; third, while Mr. Vandemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hang out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr. Croup has no obvious jewelry; fourth, Mr. Croup likes words, while Mr. Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing at all alike.

– Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

Things I Know 317 of 365: Tomorrow, I read for me

Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.

– Angela Carter

Just because I’m not in classes at the moment doesn’t mean I’m not reading. It does mean I’m not reading anything that anyone has assigned to me.

It also means I’m sneaking some fiction into my brain. Tomorrow, I’ll pick up Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Some of my favorite students gushed over the book, but I never took the time to read it while I was in the classroom. Somehow, picking it up without the title of “Teacher” attached to my actions makes the reading seem more pure. I’m not reading it to teach in the next few months. No unit or lesson plans will rely on what I get from the experience. I’m reading it to be entertained.

One of the more frequent state standards (and now a Common Core standard) is identifying author’s purpose. (There’s a whole philosophical argument I could make against this, but that’s another post.)

As I anticipate delving into Card’s imagined dystopia tomorrow, I’ve started to think about the importance of asking students to identify reader’s purpose.

If a student is reading a non-fiction text in class, the answer to the question should be, “Because I’m curious,” or “Because it’s interesting.” Some off shoot thereof makes the most sense.

Reader’s purpose in school is most often, “I’m reading this because my teacher said,” or “It was assigned.”

That shifts the experience considerably. I’m looking forward to losing myself in the imagination of tomorrow’s reading, to meeting new characters and trying to figure out how pieces of the narrative puzzle fit together.

Most importantly, I’ll be shifting my purpose from word to word, chapter to chapter. The journey through the book will inform what I want out of it and what I expect.

Were I reading for someone else because the book had been assigned me, the journey would be emptier. I’d be reading to run someone else’s literary errands, hoping to keep the change when all was said and done.

A balanced reading diet is important. Compelling others to read what they are told is forcing them to eat their vegetables. It’s a great way to get people to hate their vegetables.

Things I Know 308 of 365: I’ve got your must-read list right here

The smarter the journalists are, the better off society is. [For] to a degree, people read the press to inform themselves-and the better the teacher, the better the student body.

– Warren Buffett

I’ve mentioned longform.org, a site my friend Max and his friend Aaron started April 2010. From an education standpoint, though they didn’t start the site for education, longform is perfect for schools wondering how they can find and incorporate extended, high-interest quality non-fiction reading into their curricula.

But this post isn’t about the classroom.

Longform has curated it’s Top 10 (or 20) best pieces of long-form journalism of 2011. With the list’s publication, my reading list for the next few weeks has been set. I also subscribe to the site’s spin-off, sendmeastory.com, which does what the name implies each weekend. Two weeks ago, I got this story from Esquire about Michael May a man who had been blind his entire life and his struggle over whether to undergo surgery that could give him sight.

I cried.

That’s not an infrequent occurrence as I read stories from longform. The site does the work of collecting the most interesting and impactful stories being told and putting them in one place. What’s more, they’ve fully integrated Readability, Instapaper, Read It Later and Kindle queueing so I’m not tied to the computer screen when I want to read.

While I still think longform is the unintentional answer to the wants of many a curriculum designer, I know it’s the intentional answer to the wants of anyone in search of a well-crafted piece of journalism.

Things I Know 294 of 365: Students are rich in Funds of Knowledge

…children in the households are not passive bystanders, as they seem in the classrooms…

– Luis Moll et al.

One of my favorite texts this semester is a reading from Luis Moll, Cathy Amanti, Deborah Neff, and Norma Gonzalez entitled “Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms.” It’s better than it sounds. Let me distill:

“Our claim is that by capitalizing on household and other community resources, we can organize classroom instruction that far exceeds in quality the rote-like instructions these children [from working-class Mexican communities in Tucson, AZ] commonly encounter in schools.”

“We use the term ‘funds of knowledge’ to refer to these historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being.”

“[Home] networks are flexible adaptive, and active, and may involve multiple persons from outside the homes; in our terms, they are ‘thick’ and ‘multi-stranded,’ meaning that one may have multiple relationships with the same person or with various persons.”

“When funds of knowledge are not readily available within households, relationships with individuals outside the households are activated to meet either household or individual needs. In classrooms, however, teachers rarely draw on the resources of the ‘funds of knowledge’ of the child’s world outside the context of the classroom.”

“[Fund of knowledge] is more precise for our purposes because of its emphasis on strategic knowledge and related activities essential in households’ functioning, development, and well-being. It is specific funds of knowledge pertaining to the social, economic, and productive activities of people in a local region, not ‘culture’ in its broader, anthropological sense, that we seek to incorporate strategically into classrooms.”

I’ve been in many a conversation that came close to these ideas, but Moll, Amanti, Neff, and Gonzalez put it in simply relatable terms and their full work is worth your time. Here’s the citation:

Moll, Luis et al. (Spring 1992). “Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms,” in Theory Into Practice, XXXI(2), 132-141.

Things I Know: 173 of 365: What books I would make me read

Laura asked last night at dinner, “What’s is a book that has impacted you?” She was looking for a book that shaped who we are. She was looking for a book that we needed to read for us to have continued on the course to who we are.

I loved the question.

I loved it even more when Christian re-imagined it.

“If you met you, what book would you make sure you read?”

The discussion deck was stacked as three of those around the table were English teachers.

The list, as much of it as I was able to copy down, is below. It’s given me much to add to the Kindle for the summer. And I will be adding as many of these books as I can.

I’m not adding them because the plots sounded interesting (though they did). I’m certainly not at a loss for additions to my reading list. I’m adding these books to the to-read list because they were the answer to a question of what thoughts and ideas people I find interesting and thoughtful consider to be formative and critical to their foundations of self.

I like understanding (or at least working toward understanding) how people come to their ideas and beliefs.

Packing to move, I’ve been sorting through the books on my shelves, the books others bought for me because they thought they were the right fit. Many of them have been a good fit. Many of them have brought me good stories. Still, I am mindful as I read these books that I want to like them because I want those who know me to be right.

The question of what you would make sure you read works better for me. Another person’s assumption of what I’ll like is not nearly as interesting to me as learning what they’ve liked. I read those books with a different eye. I read those books to get to know the person and to get to know the book.

So, here’s the list. Maybe some of these titles will make their way onto your summer reading list. If you’ve got the time, share the book that you would make sure you read.

(I’ve been expanding the list as I collect titles from those I run into at ISTE. I should probably stop before the list becomes too unwieldy. Then again, I’m still curious.)

The Gangster We’re All Looking For by Thi Diem Thuy Le (from John Spencer)

The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler (from Chris Alfano)

Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson (from Chris Alfano

Final Rounds: A Father, A Son, The Golf Journey of a Lifetime by James Dodson (from Dean Shareski)

A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss (from Bud Hunt)

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (read all four books) (from Bud Hunt)

A New Culture of Learning – by Douglas Thomas (from Vinnie Vrotny)

Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century – by G. Pascal Zachary (from Vinnie Vrotny)

Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman (from Christian Long)

Griffith and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock (from Christian Long)

Trinity by Leon Uris (from Laura Deisley)

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (from Laura Deisley)

The History of Rasselas Prince of Abissinia by Samuel Johnson (from me)

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (from me)

Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins (from me)

I’ll say it again. What book would you make sure you read?