Monthly Archives: February 2013

Reading Lives: How Pleasure Works

Yale psychology professor, Paul Bloom, looks at pleasure in How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like (BF515.B56.2010).Bloom looks at biological, evolutionary, and sociological correlates of what we consider pleasurable. He even shows evidence that other animals find celebrity worship and pornography pleasurable.

Our question this week: What is your guilty pleasure and why?

Colette: I take most of my pleasures without guilt, so I only have a few which bring shame, and they’re mostly TV related.  The guilt comes from knowing I shouldn’t like a show,  knowing I am supposed to be too smart and too evolved for the show I’m watching.   It’s easier to put on blinders and pretend that the other viewers aren’t really my people, but secretly I know they are.  They must be if we’re both watching, and worse, enjoying, the same absurdity each week.  With my head hanging low, I admit that I like to watch both Hoarders and Swamp People.  I even press the pause button during Hoarders to fully take in that gross, hot mess.  “Holy pig sty Batman.  Did you see that nasty kitchen?”  It’s like visually gagging, or virtually poking something with a stick.  What does it say about me that I like that show?  I hate to think on it too long.  I’d rather you didn’t think too long on it either.  I’m equally baffled at my attraction to Swamp People, except that, perhaps, in an alternate reality, I have one tooth, a giant boiling pot and I like men who are both simple and smelly.  The heart wants what the heart wants, right?

Emily: My guilty pleasure is reality TV. Namely, The Bachelor/Bachelorette although we dabble in The Amazing Race, any number of Gordon Ramsey’s shows, and Celebrity Apprentice. Eric and I have been watching The Bachelor religiously for the past three years. As the season progresses, things get increasingly boring, drama dies down, “love” blossoms,” and we start spending much of the show surfing the internet — in short, fewer girls equals less drama. (Did you think we were watching it for romance?) Regardless, we watch it right down to the “After the Final Rose” special. So why is this is a guilty pleasure? I’m not ashamed that I watch it, but I suppose it’s a “guilty pleasure” because it claims no redeeming cultural value. And when I do admit to watching, it often elicits a disdainful, “Really?” But when you think about it,  aren’t shows like Downton Abbey and Homeland (fans of both) just as far fetched and crazy? Or am I just trying to rationalize my guilty pleasure?

Pam: I have several guilty pleasures, but perhaps the biggest one lately is watching old Carol Burnett shows – which I purchased for my Christmas present from my mom, in a collection of dvds called “Carol’s Favorites”. I have laughed and cackled (and cried), for I’ve reconnected with a favorite from my past, someone whom I somehow identify with and admire greatly. She has an uncanny, unprecedented ability to connect to the audience in a warm and friendly manner, be quick-witted and sarcastic and always, Always kind. Too, at this age of my life I am seeing different layers of these actors, layers I did not even know existed when I was younger. I’m able to appreciate them in a way- coming from a past of having performed to an audience myself, and the respect I feel for them is overwhelming.

Going hand in hand with this, is reconnecting to bands from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s on Youtube. In viewing country, bluegrass and rock artists, I cannot believe how mesmerized I feel. It is as though, for the very first time since I was a kid, I am feeling the same happiness they brought me as a child, and at the same time, I’m seeing them through a non-judgmental lens–just totally appreciating what and who they were. I’m watching them in a disconnected way and seeing them as very human rather than just as artists. I don’t know what has brought about this tenderness in my observation, but it is touching me very deeply. I feel as though I am seeing what I think everyone else always liked in them, from a wiser, older perspective, rather than just ‘learning’ from them. Perhaps it is that I am looking back at them from eyes older than the ones singing to me from the screen! They are younger than me, the observer, now, and it is fascinating, and somehow very touching. It has brought me new enthusiasm with my own music, and I feel compelled to be more courageous than I’ve been in a very long time. I’m even thinking of starting a new band–all men, of course, and calling us Pam Gadd and Men ‘O Pause 🙂  Whatta you think?

Sally: My guilty pleasure, I guess, is that I love hot dogs.   Since they are not super nutritious I suppose I  should not eat them all the time.  I actually do not eat them for every meal but I would if I could.

Jolly Librarian: I enjoy candy that is clearly supposed to be eaten only from the ages of 5-10. I like Sweetarts, Smarties, and Pixy Stix, the last being the most embarrassing since there is no way that you can hide the fact that you’re pouring colored sugar into your mouth. I have been known to pretend to have children when sales clerk cast a glance at the giant bags of Pixy Stix and Smarties in my basket during Halloween season. Now, I have only done this when the clerk makes a comment, like holding the 2-pound bag of Pixy Stix and saying, “I remember these. We used these to play cocaine when I was a kid.” Strangely enough, not even that encounter has put me off them. Unfortunately, I don’t eat as much as I used to for two reasons: 1. The decades of eating acidic candy have made my teeth so sensitive that my hygienist despairs every time I walk into the dental office. 2. Like all companies, the makers played around with a good thing and added a fruit punch flavor, which I find disgusting.

Critical Readers Needed: Scientific Studies–It Will Kill Us. Or Maybe Not.

Should you eat eggs or will they kill you?

Should menopausal women take hormones or will hormones kill menopausal women?

Will diet soda keep you skinny, make you fat, or kill you?

Will taking aspirin save our hearts or kill us by making our stomach bleed excessively?

There seems to be a lot of contradictory information coming out about what we should do to stay healthy. The confusion can tempt you to give up and just dive into a pile of French fries.

Still, by reading critically, you can still glean the relevant information that will help you make informed decisions:

  • Make sure you know who was being studied. Was it a broad or narrow group? For example, if the aspirin study looked at only those with previous stomach problems, the results could be different than if it included those with cast-iron stomachs. Check also to see if only certain age groups were involved.
  • How long was the study? A study that ends after a few months will not be able to speak to long-term problems, for example.
  • How many people were involved? Sometimes in journals, you read about a study that included only a few people. While the results may be promising, a group of ten or twenty can’t truly be representative of an entire population.
  • What are the actual results? Sometimes news reports can make medical studies appear much more definitive than the actual researchers ever intended. It’s worthwhile to check the actual report itself instead of merely relying on popular media reports, which are limited by space and time constraints.
  • Check to see if similar studies exist. Does this study replicate others? Is it at odds with other studies? Are other studies being conducted?
  • What do the actual researchers claim are the implications of their study? Media reports condense medical reports, but the actual study probably has a discussion section that states the limitations of the study and directions for future research.

You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to critically read scientific studies. You just need some basic research skills and a good dose of curiosity mixed with a dash of skepticism.

Monday Motivator: Interpreting Flukes

This weekend I was listening to Heidi Grant Halvorson, a psychologist who has studied motivation and success. She told of playing pool with a boyfriend and doing quite well. The next time they were at that particular bar, they were about to play again when she was overcome by doubt: “I’m not a pool player. That other time was just a fluke.” Her own nervousness got in her way, and she played down to her expectations.

I can relate. Many years ago, I awoke to snowy and icy roads. Like most people, I am not adept at driving on ice. Unlike most people, I realize that fact. Still, I got in my car and, going a steady five miles per hour, made it down Charlotte. I then decided I would prefer to avoid traffic and made a turn down a side road. Now this was a side road that had not been cleared and had many small hills. It was not a good idea. But I made it up the icy hills and down them and got to NSCC with car and body intact, although it was a good three hours later before I stopped shaking.

So what happened the next time I awoke to icy roads? Did I look out my window and say, “Hey, I’ve conquered this before. I can do it again.”?  No, I decided the successful time had been nothing more than a fluke, and if I went out on the roads that morning, I would surely die. My definition of myself as  a bad driver on snow-covered roads was so entrenched that one experience was not going to change my mind.

As faculty, we are mystified by students who seem to be doing well and then simply give up: They stop trying. They drop out. And it makes no sense to us. But maybe they are experiencing something similar to me and my icy roads. They don’t see themselves as successful students and interpret their accomplishments as flukes. They drop out before ‘reality’ hits and everyone realizes what ‘failures’ they really are.

Part of our jobs as educators is to help students see that their definitions of themselves just might be wrong, really wrong. And one of the best ways to do that is make sure that we examine ourselves for this same error in thought.

Location in Libraries, as in Real Estate, Can Make All the Difference

We’ve had students coming in all week looking for books. That’s a good thing, but this has been more difficult than usual. Developmental reading classes have the assignment that students must choose a book to read (ostensibly for pleasure. But most students in these classes have not historically found reading pleasurable.)

So the week has gone something like this:

Student: I have to check out a book.

Us: Which book?

Student: Any book. It’s for a class.

Us: What kind of books do you like to read?

Student: (Shrugs)

Although this is obviously a great opportunity for us to promote the joys of reading, the process has been more than a little frustrating. Students often can’t choose any subject that might catch their interest. They wander through the stacks, but our library, small by most standards, still seems overwhelming to the poor student who is looking for one book that just might not be an absolute pain to read.

Then it occurred to us. When faced with an overwhelming task, it helps to have a small place to start. So we made one. We converted one bookcase to a special “library” just for this class. We all chose books that we thought would interest ‘reluctant’ readers. Now when students ask about this assignment, we send them to that case. If they find something, great. If not, they often, at least, have a sense of a subject or author that they might like.

We hope that students won’t feel as daunted and that they’ll see their first experience with the library as a positive one. And come back!

Reading Lives: The Dummies

The Mayfield Library collects series of books to help students who are having difficulties in their courses. One of the most popular is the “For Dummies” series. Some students ask for them by name, and most everyone is familiar with the bright yellow covers. Every possible subject is covered. Here is  just a sample of the ones we have in the library:

  • Word 2010
  • PowerPoint 2010
  • Chess
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Wine
  • Spanish and French
  • Art History
  • Physics
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Every level of math

So the question for our group this week was pretty obvious. What was a subject that always made you feel like a dummy?

Colette:I have to say, sheepishly, that I don’t know much about mathematical concepts.  Pretty much anything to do with math, my brain, and getting a correct answer just don’t seem to jive.  I thought I’d like Algebra, being the most literary of the maths – with its use of letters and all, but moments after an Algebra course is over, I promptly and deftly lose it from my memory.  I’d have done better in math if my instructors would have let me write an essay about why the answer should be 4.  Absolutes are just so, well, unpleasantly absolute.  Working equations doesn’t bring me the sense of joy and symmetry it brings some people; it mostly just sends me cross-eyed to the liquor cabinet.  My Dummies book would definitely have to be Math (minus Geometry) for Dummies.  I can balance my checkbook and figure out how much a pair of pants will cost if it’s 20% off, but that’s about as complicated as it can get before I’m left in the dust. 

 For the record, I’d like to say I think the Dummies series has missed its mark.  Circuitry for Dummies is all well and good, but I think society would benefit much more from more ethereal titles like Effective Communication for Dummies, Loving Well for Dummies, Parenting for Dummies, Peace for Dummies, Serving in the Senate for Dummies and the much needed Acceptance for Dummies.  I’m just saying.

Emily: My answer to this is pretty typical: Math.  Looking back, I realize I wasn’t that terrible at math, at least not at first — I made mostly A’s.  It all goes back to 7th grade when I was moved from Pre-Algebra to “Advanced Math.” It was a traumatic experience to say the least. I remember my teacher calling me forward after class. I wasn’t getting it, she said. Perhaps I’d do better if I moved down a level. I knew I wasn’t doing great, but I wanted to stay in class with my friends. In reality, she probably could have moved me away from the window I stared out of the entire class period, but that would have messed up the alphabetical seating chart — or perhaps I should just own up to being lackluster pre-algebra student.

 Anyhow, in my head, this downgrade meant I was a failure at math and, as a result, I quit learning it. Between seventh grade (when I took the ACT the first time) and senior year, my ACT math score went up one point (maybe two) — I’d managed to learn next to nothing more than what I knew at age 12 (or maybe I was a really good guesser at age 12). I was now certifiably bad at math; whereas, one might have said I’d previously been good at math. Perhaps, I’m just too open to the power of suggestion (the suggestion being that I suck at math). After meeting the minimum requirements for college, I quit taking math my junior year of high school. I continued my downward spiral into math dumminess in college getting my first ‘D’ in a course called “A Liberal Arts Approach to Calculus.”  I knew it was supposed to be the “easy” calculus class, but without any foundation in the subject — and little motivation to seek help outside class — I floundered. Today, I’m still a math dummy. I count on my fingers. I don’t remember the quadratic equation. I don’t know what time Train A will reach Denver. 

Pam: GEOMETRY Scenario: School bus #105:Hometown: Independence, Ky.

Where EVERY single school morning my friend Scott would board bus #105 and then sit next to me and tediously help me with my geometry homework from Mrs. Reed’s class. Clack, clack, clack would go her silver chalk-holder, as she blathered on and on about this theorem and that correlation, and I’m telling you what, it would always be MY hand that went up (do you THINK any ONE of my classmates would actually admit they didn’t catch a word of what she was saying? No, ..”Let’s wait, Pam will ask,” I can just hear them. Years later I found out Mrs. Reed square-danced! Well, who would have thought? Grin…if only she’d have called those theorems out as we all did the Virginia Reel, perhaps I would not have felt like such the dummy……. 

Sally: Algebra.  I liked it, but it was a challenge.  An interesting fact: a neighbor of mine growing up, Mark Ryan, wrote one of the Dummy books about Algebra.  He has a tutoring center in the Chicago area.  He has a gift for explaining math in understandable language.

Jolly Librarian: American Sign Language. A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, a  group of instructors took an afternoon seminar in Sign Language. I was horrible. I did  manage to master the alphabet and the sign for ‘cookie.’ Other than that, I was a complete disaster, and, unfortunately, I was the only one. I never got the hang of the word order, and the in-class practices were torture. It was the first time I had to admit that I was just a failure at learning something. It was a humbling experience.  (I try to rationalize the experience by saying that it made me a more sympathetic teacher.)


Critical Readers Needed: Ask Some Questions

Yesterday, a cat I follow on Facebook (it probably says something about our society that you could legitimately ask which cat) wanted me to share a film of people dancing with their cat to protest a certain anti-cat man in New Zealand. Being a huge fan of cats, I was about to do so when I asked myself some questions: What do I know about this man? What do I know about his argument? Why is he such a cat hater?

So I did a little research and found an interview with the man who turned out to be a very thoughtful soul who did not want native species to be wiped out by non-native predators including cats. His argument was that house cats should be kept inside and, if owners couldn’t do that, perhaps they shouldn’t replace those cats when they died. 

There were other points as well, but the main thing was that the argument was much more nuanced and logical than presented on the Facebook post. 

Probably one of the easiest ways to become a critical reader is to get into the habit of asking questions about everything you read.Here are some examples:

  • What does this writer want me to think or feel?
  • What point is he making?
  • Do I know the other side of the issue? How can I find out?
  • Is there another way to look at the issue?
  • What facts is the writer using? Or is this mostly opinion?
  • Are there facts that would support another point of view? 

Depending on the issue, you may or may not want to investigate further. For a while, I fact-checked the information in all the chain emails I’d get about various politicians and sent out less-biased alternatives until I realized that the people sending out these emails were not the least bit interested in the facts. So I let it be. 

Still, asking those sorts of questions makes you less gullible. And that’s a very good thing.

Monday Motivator: Let People Be Who They Are

I had my teeth cleaned today, and as I sat in the chair, I wondered if hygienists have a course in school titled “Chatting with the Patient.” Every dentist I know has a chatty staff. By the time my session ended today, I knew the following: Her favorite author is Nicholas Sparks. She made her son’s 8th-grade civics project which won a blue ribbon. She is buying that son a camera for his physical therapy program graduation present. And she had a sinus headache last week. Towards the end of the session, she also informed me that I was no longer flossing effectively. This last point, I was about to argue, but then I saw my mouth in the mirror. And since I resembled a vampire right after feeding, I decided to keep quiet.

For all her chattiness, my hygienist somehow manages to scrape my very sensitive teeth without causing  pain. So I’ve decided to let her be who she is. Twice a year, I simple nod or make a noise that I hope sounds like a laugh when she tells one story after another while poking my gums with various sharp instruments.

However, I wonder (because that’s how I like to spend my time in the dentist chair, thinking deep thoughts to take my mind off the implements getting closer and closer to exposed roots) if I grant my friends the same courtesy. Sometimes I assume that the opinions of those I like and respect are automatically going to coincide with mine on various political, ethical, or even workplace issues. It can be quite a jolt when they don’t. My first response is often that something has happened to them, and they need to change back to the perfect way they were: you know, when they were like me. It is one of the hardest lessons to learn (and I certainly haven’t learned it yet) that rational people can examine a situation and come to a conclusion that’s totally different to mine. 

So my post-dentist resolution today is to give my friends the same break I give my hygienist. You are allowed to be who you are, and I promise not to attack you or try to guilt you into changing. However, I can’t promise to read any Nicholas Sparks’s books you give me. 




The Jolly Librarian Ponders Heroes

Like most folks, I watched in wonder as Oscar Pistorius competed in the Summer Olympics. I was in awe of his life story and his perseverance. And like most people, I am now in shock that he has been charged with murder. 

Of course, as Bruce Arthur points out, I shouldn’t be. Or I shouldn’t be any more shocked than when I read about a murder committed by a total stranger. Because Oscar Pistorius is a stranger to me. I don’t know him. In fact, as Arthur notes, I know only one thing about Pistorius: he was good at his job (running). The swelling music of the “in-depth” stories that punctuated the various Olympics events might have given me a different impression. But it was a false impression. 

This is not to take away from his achievements. But those achievements alone do not make him a hero or even a good person. Those labels can’t be given from fast times or points scored. As Buzz Bissinger has argued eloquently in the past weeks, we must stop conflating the two.

An excellent athlete, even one who has overcome adversity, is not necessarily a hero. 



A Valentine for Your Sweetie: Don’t Emulate Your Favorite Writer’s Lifestyle

I am reading Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives by John Sutherland. This is an entertaining and enlightening book. I am hooked. It’s kind of like a “Behind the Music” for the literary set. I am now about 120 lives in, and one thing is clear: Literature may be enlightening and even life-changing for the reader, but, in general, it doesn’t seem to do much to make the writer a better person.

I have lost count of the number of adulterers, philanderers, pederasts, and just plain old sexual scoundrels. Add in a good mixture of alcoholism and drug abuse. Then we have the bad and indifferent parenting skills. Oh wait, I forgot to mention the incessant gambling away of inheritances and rent money.

Sutherland looks at both the great and the popular, but the pattern is discouragingly the same. The only discernible break is with a group of mainly Victorian women writers, many bound by strict social mores to stay ‘decent.’ Many of those were also writing to support families where fathers or brothers had succumbed to one of the problems listed above.

Luckily, I have been fortunate to know some writers who defy the stereotypes. They have not left their spouses. They have not drunk or gambled away the family’s money. So I have hope for writers as a group.

Still, perhaps there is something to the old saying, “Don’t ask how the sausage is made.”

Reading Lives: Quiet

Our featured book this week is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (BF698.35.I59.C35.2012). Susan Cain shows how the education and business worlds often discriminate against the introverts among us. But these quiet folks have contributions that make society run as well. 

Cain gives some advice for teachers who have quiet students in their classes, but it probably works well for all relationships:

  • Don’t think of introversion as something to be cured.
  • Studies show that 1/3-1/2 of the population considers themselves introverted. Therefore, you are probably working with more introverts than you realize and should take that into consideration when planning.
  • Introverts often have 1 or 2 deep interests that are not shared by their peers, and are often belittled for them. Encourage those interests.
  • Some collaborative work is good for introverts, but keep groups small and well-structured.
  • According to research, it’s impossible to gain mastery without working on your own. (Areas that insist on teams should keep that in mind!)
  • Let quiet folks have quiet spaces to work and concentrate. Encourage interaction but don’t force it.
  • Don’t judge introverts by forced group settings.  (255-56)

As you can imagine, library workers have a reputation for being introverted. So our question this week was whether we had ever suffered from being introverted (or in one specific case, extroverted).

Colette: I can’t remember feeling inferior, for any reason, since leaving middle school.  I’m either too cocky and there are people reading this thinking, “Well you should,” or I just don’t let feelings of insecurity morph into feelings of inferiority.  I’m also having difficulty pinpointing a specific time when being an introvert or extrovert worked to my advantage.  I know that humor works to my advantage all the time, and perhaps having a sense of humor is the end result of being introverted while growing up.  After 25 years of teaching, I have to have some extroverted tendencies too.  Is it possible to be both introverted and extroverted?  Being a little of both seems healthy to me

Emily: Note to Jolly Librarian: As a true introvert, I find this topic overly personal. I offer you generalizations about introverts as a group:

According to the Myers-Brigg type indicator, I’m 100% introverted, so I’m keenly aware of the advantages and disadvantages of this predisposition (or affliction, depending on who you ask). The most glaring disadvantage of being an introvert is rather obvious — we may come across as unfriendly, even disinterested. This disadvantage is amplified for introverted women, as women tend to be expected to be more naturally gregarious than men. More often than not, introversion is seen as something that needs to be overcome.

As for advantages, I guess we’re better at being alone and, typically, not terribly needy (oh, and lots of geniuses are introverts). For those of you who fear you may have an introverted friend/family member/co-worker, I urge you not to panic and offer you this article on “Caring for your Introvert”

Pam: Oh, the blessing and the curse of having never known a stranger, as they say! Often, being an extrovert, I have been picked on, it’s so true, but there are certainly two sides to this ole coin. On the upswing, being extroverted has often come in handy; on stage for instance, how fun it is to be able to interact so easily with a crowd full of strangers – with the hope, of course, that they are all put to ease and we are all having a good time. And, too, there have been those times when I have been called on by my dear panicked friend, Nancy, to please join her and her dad and stepmother for some dreaded dinner, insisting, that I can ALWAYS think of something to talk about! It’s true, I have often felt I was born to be, as Florence Littauer lovingly refers to her own sanguine self as being, “the gap filler of life” in her book Personality Plus.  The downside, though, is not so happy-go-lucky great. You are not taken seriously in the long run. Period. That hurts. I have discovered that putting yourself out there, exposing your heart in honesty with others, because you feel comfortable enough, or confident enough, or whatever it is that makes one be able to carry their heart vulnerably on their sleeve, comes back to slap you in the face, invariably. And so I’m finding at this age of my life that I’m beginning to back off, close up a bit, not trust as much, and to discover, in utter horror that, as Littauer again reminds us, oh my gosh, my big lack of verbal contribution isn’t even missed, after all!

Sally: I have always been more of an introvert than an extrovert.  I like quiet.  I think most librarians do like quiet.  Maybe that is why TEL is one of Tennessee’s best kept secrets.  I’m trying to help change that. and the AccessMyLibrary app.

I think being an introvert may have helped me become involved with MERLOT and the TBR mobilization initiative, since I was quietly reviewing a lot of materials and adding things to MERLOT when Dr. Robbie Melton met me at the conference in Minneapolis.  I guess she liked my attitude about emerging technologies.

Jolly Librarian: I think one story tells it all. I went with a friend to a church singles event in Birmingham, Alabama. Afterwards, I told my friend that I thought it was one of the most awful experiences of my life. She laughed and said, “Oh, I wouldn’t have noticed. You sat there and stared at your food the entire time. Anyone who wanted to talk to you would have been scared off by your obsession with your plate!”