Archive for March, 2009


I (Almost) Read That Book

March 20, 2009

Have you ever lied about reading a book? Or implied that you had when you hadn’t? A BBC poll revealed that two out of three Britons have lied about reading a book, primarily in order to impress someone.

The most frequently lied-about books were listed in the survey. I suspected that some of these books have not been read because of a common flaw — their length. So I checked Tolstoy’s War and Peace on The first version listed was 1296 pages, the second was 1424 pages. Interestingly, these editions were only $13.57 and $12.24 respectively (wow, less than 1 cent per page).

Needless to say, no one has read Remembrance of Things Past (A la recherce du temps perdu) by Marcel Proust. In actuality a series of 7 novels, it comes in at a total of 3,424 pages (Vintage). That said, I counted up the total number of pages in Harry Potter, also a series of 7 novels, and it came to 4,100 pages, yet everyone has read it. Maybe length isn’t the problem.

Personally, I’ve only read 3 of the 10 books on the “Liar’s Top Ten List”:  1984 (the most lied about book of all time, probably because it’s often assigned in junior high school), James Joyce’s Ulysses, and the Bible. Then there are 5 books I’ve thought about reading: War and Peace (see above, however), Madame BovaryRemembrance of Things Past (I studied German, not French, and yes, I read Magic Mountain), A Brief History of Time, and Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama. I just bought a copy of Dreams from My Father, in fact, but I haven’t read it yet. Sounds fascinating, though.

The remaining two on the list are Midnight’s Children and The Selfish Gene. I am not going to add them to the list of books I’ve thought about reading, but I will add them to the list of books I’ve looked up on Amazon.

Perhaps next we should ask: What is your favorite opera? I bet we could rack up quite a few little fibs with that question. Mine is La Boheme, of course, although I also enjoy The Ring and the ending to Faust. Here, let me hum a few bars . . . .


The Embattled Humanities

March 6, 2009

The New York Times recently ran an article by Patricia Cohen suggesting that “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” In a fight for diminished resources and students who are worried about job prospects, can colleges and universities still afford departments that offer degrees in languages, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion? The humanities’ share of the education market has been shrinking for decades, and the current downturn is not helping.

Responses to the article, under the heading of “Humanities and the Examined Life,” quickly followed. They speak to both the intrinsic worth of training in the humanities and the current dilemma of finding a job in a chaotic economy. Carol Geary Schneider, the president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, whose report was cited by Cohen, pointed out that a college education needs to prepare graduates for “real-world problems, examined choices, and responsible action.”

Humanities councils take a broader view of the enterprise in which we share. As one of our state council colleagues remarked, “But the humanities are not merely academic matters; they’re all around us, and they matter deeply to individuals and communities.”

How much, then, are the humanities worth — to students, to the economy, to a perplexed nation? What is the best argument for the humanities?


Meandering Indiana – 11.2

March 3, 2009

I tend to get a little lost driving around Elkhart. Like many towns on a river, it has streets that sometimes twist and end and lie along a diagonal. Just days after my virtual meander there, President Obama made Elkhart the most talked-about county in Indiana. The Elkhart Truth (or “eTruth” online) told the whole story, but I think we all know what happened: Elkhart, Indiana, became the epicenter of national politics because of its economic woes.

What else is special about Elkhart?

In the 1990s, Elkhart was a host community for the Indiana Humanities Council’s ASIA IN US exhibit, highlighting the ties between Indiana and Asia. This time last year, the council was again taking a closer look at Elkhart County because of our focus on immigration. Eye2theWorld, an educational organization in Goshen (the county seat and home of Goshen College) received a grant to examine Elkhart County’s new and surprising diversity due to the growth of its Hispanic population.  Two projects, an oral history of six Latino citizens and a conference on immigration, were sponsored under their leadership.

The council, in partnership with the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University, will be back with a regional workshop on sustainability and economic development for Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties.

I could not leave Elkhart County without a nod to our friends at the Middlebury Community Public Library. The county has many good libraries, actually, but director Terry Rheinheimer continues to amaze us with the well-thought-out programs her library provides. Libraries all over the country have been a center for resources in the current economic climate, with public computer stations, computer training, GED preparation, and database access. Middlebury does all that and also offers excellent book discussion programs, as it has for years, often donating sets of books to the Indiana Humanities Council for reuse and recirculation. Their latest, typically challenging series is called Love and Forgiveness in the Presence of the Enemy, yet another dilemma for our times.