Troy Swanson

Guest Post: How You Can Read 200 Books In a Year?

This is a guest column from faculty member Jason King who teaches geography and math. Professor King contributes semi-regular posts to this blog.
It’s hard to make time to read for pleasure and as you age into this mad world, it doesn’t get any easier. And there’s so much to learn out there! If you’re living an ascetic life because of Covid, at least it may be possible to come out of it with a wealth of information only books can give you.

By the end of today I’ll probably have read 200 books this year.* How did I do it? I’m not blessed with excessive time, nor do I have a fortune to spend on books. Here’s what I’ve been doing since 2017 to get 150 books read a year.

  1. Try to find reading synergies in your life. If reading has to be done as a substitute for other things – you either drive to work or you read, for example – it’s always going to be hard to find time. But if you can use these as a complement your potential for reading more can increase drastically. I read when I’m waiting at the doctor’s office, when my kids are playing at the park, when I’m on a treadmill, when insomnia hits. I used to be a snob about e-Readers, but now most of my reading happens on a Kindle Paperwhite – if I had a more advanced model I’d get more distracted than I already am.
  2. Use the library. Buying 200 books would be difficult on a lot of budgets and floorplans – it would cost a ton of money and take up a lot of space, and I don’t reread books very often. I use two library apps, Hoopla and Libby, in a combination of my local library and Moraine’s library, on which I can always find something I want to read. I still buy books when I find ones that are tough to find but it’s more rare now.
  3. Audiobooks are books, too. Some snobs think that listening to audiobooks isn’t the same as reading audiobooks – the research suggests that retention and brain usage are basically the same in either medium, so I do count audiobooks. For me, opening up audiobooks as a reading option opens up a lot of time to read. I listen to audiobooks when I’m doing dishes, doing the laundry, driving to and from places, hiking, and shopping, and sometimes playing video games. If I get cut off in traffic it’s possible I lose some of the material, but I can always rewind – and, to be frank, I sometimes space out when I read paper books as well.

    Sometimes this irritates my family, when they have to ask me something twice because I couldn’t hear them the first time. 🙂
  4. If you’re listening to audiobooks, don’t be afraid to try listening to them at higher speeds. Using Hoopla and Libby allows you to listen to audiobooks at accelerated reading paces – I regularly listen to audiobooks at 2x speed, but sometimes at 2.5x or even 3x. This isn’t as awkward as it sounds – some narrators read glacially.
  5. Book selection is key. For me there’s a bunch of important aspects of picking books:
    –Many of my favorite books are contingent on time and place. Some books are great when you’re exploring an idea in your own life and reading them later on would make them feel redundant and irritating. Other books are great, but need to be read after education and experiences are cultivated. Some books I’ve tried to read when I was preoccupied or angry and my opinion of them was colored by the environment of my life. Some books should be read when an expert opinion guiding you through them.
    –If books are like food, I have found it’s good to make sure you allow yourself cheat days. Reading only classics or higher-level academic stuff gets boring, but reading only pulp fiction and easy-to-read material also feels gross after awhile. No matter what, it’s still better to eat only junk than to starve.
  6. Use a tracker to keep you honest, if you think it would help. I like tracking my books on Goodreads – it lets me log my books read, pages read, helps me set a reading goal, and can even make recommendations if you need some ideas on what to read.

I’ve included some of my favorite library books I’ve read this year. Feel free to send me questions or ideas on good books if you have any!

Deep River by Karl Marlantes (audio book, ebook)

Calypso by David Sedaris (print book)

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (audio book)

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (ebook, print book)

The Counterlife by Philip Roth

  • *By the end of September 5, I read another, so I’m now at 201 for the year.

History, Epidemics, and How Governments Respond (video)

With concern over the Covid-19 Pandemic dominating all aspects of society, join political science and history faculty members Kevin Navratil, Jim McIntyre and Josh Fulton for a discussion of how the United States has grappled with disease outbreaks in the past. From Yellow Fever to Spanish Flu, come understand how Americans coped and how governments sought to combat the threats of disease.

Poetry as the Voice of Experience: A Discussion of Eve Ewing’s 1919 (video)

Literature faculty discuss poems in Eve Ewing’s book 1919. This discussion will explore history through the lens of poetry while connecting Ewing’s works to other historic and contemporary poets and artists.This event is part of our One Book, One College Program.

Guest Column: Flags, Continents, & Other Filters for Understanding Our World

This is a guest column from faculty member Jason King who teaches geography and math. Professor King contributes semi-regular posts to this blog.

by Jason King

If you know what to look for, you can learn a lot about a country by looking at its flag. Take the flag of the former Soviet Union:

There are some clear motifs going on here: the use of the color red, the hammer, the sickle, and the star. For our purposes, let’s talk about the hammer, sickle, and star – the hammer referred to industrial workers, the sickle to agricultural workers, and the star referred to Communism spreading to the five continents of the world.

Wait … five continents of the world? Aren’t they forgetting some? Not according to the Soviets. (Today, the Russians normally teach there are six.)

So – America teaches there are seven continents, the Soviets taught there were five, but now there are six, There’s a saying I heard from one of my Geography professors, long ago – “all models are lies, but some models are useful.”

Most Americans (and a lot of the world in general) learn there are seven continents and five oceans
*Our seven continental model is mostly used to describe landmasses.

Most of the time our filter for understanding our planet isn’t actually the land – it’s people. Most of the time we care about the location of natural resources because people use them. Most of the time we care about climate patterns because they inform us where human beings live (and you can see a big drawback to that human-centeredness when talking about climate!) So, when talking about seven continents there are some very obvious shortcomings – cross over the Isthmus of Panama and not much changes culturally. (In fact, Panama was once a part of Colombia and was only separated to give the United States a legal ability to build the Panama Canal!) Crossing over the Sinai Delta and most people continue to speak Arabic, practice the same faiths, and have a largely shared history. Crossing over the Ural Mountains – which ain’t all that mountainous – doesn’t change much culturally at all.

Human beings usually don’t feel borders as much as transition zones. You’ll never find a sign that says “You are leaving the Midwest” – you might slowly realize that elements of Midwestern Culture have begun to wane and eventually disappear as you leave the core of the Midwest. We normally speak about human cultural borders as transition zones today. Cross the Sahara, or travel through northern Kazakhstan, or the Appalachian Mountains in Pittsburgh, and you will begin to feel elements of this change.

At first glance this looks like another way geographers justify having jobs – having a meaningless thing to argue about – but there are some very real implications in our modern era. Central Asia is currently, through a rise in Chinese economic and soft power, transitioning from being in a Russian to a Chinese sphere of influence. Turkey, set between Europe and the Middle East, has pivoted strongly towards the Middle East as it was snubbed entrance to the European Union. Before the Global War on Terror, the Afghan Civil War was largely set between factions that sought to include Afghanistan into either a Middle Eastern or an Indian sphere of influence. (Today, it appears as though it will likely fall into a Chinese orbit in the fullness of time.)

When I teach Geography here are the “continents” I teach: North America, Central America, South America, Europe, The Commonwealth of Independent States, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and Oceania. We’ve went from seven to eleven, but even then that’s just because we need some way of breaking up things into units.
So when people ask me, “How many continents are there?” I usually shrug and say, “Beats me!”

*Did you learn there were five? If you’re old like me you probably learned about the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic. Since then, we’re added one – the Southern Ocean – based mostly on currents and water temperature, rather than its relationship to landmasses around it.

So when people ask me, “How many continents are there?” I usually shrug and say, “Beats me!”

For further readings, check out these sources:
Ebook: The Soviet Union : a short history by Mark Edele

Ebook: Russia on the edge : imagined geographies and post-Soviet identity by Edith W. Clowes

How This Pandemic Will Go Down in History

From the Library of Congress: “As part of our “National Book Festival Presents” series, Jill Lepore (bestselling historian and Harvard professor) and John Haskell (director of the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress) discuss how the current pandemic, its effects and our reaction to them say something very real about America in this moment and in the historical record that will emerge from it.”

Our Shared Shelf: Episode 1, Dinner and a Movie

Librarians Sharon and Hannah recommend items from the MVCC Library digital collections! In this episode we talk about:

1) “Dinner for everyone : 100 iconic dishes made 3 ways– easy, vegan, or perfect for company by Mark Bittman (…)
2) “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” directed by Taika Waititi (…)
3) “Dark Waters” directed by Todd Haynes (…)

“I’m several degrees happier that my family is healthy” : Honors Students’ Journal Project

MVCC’s Honors Program and Library are partnering to capture the experiences of Moraine Valley students during this unprecedented time. Honors students have agreed to journal their experiences. They have given us permission to share their thoughts during this time. Read previous entries in this project at this link.

April 18, 2020
There are rumors that the 2020-2021 school year might be online, which is my worst nightmare because I’m taking organic chemistry in the fall and spring semesters, so it’s very scary right now. I feel like I pushed through these past 4 weeks, they were extremely busy, and adjusting to online turned out to be harder than I expected, however I got through it and these next couple weeks till the end of the semester are pretty chill, there’s less assignments and more exams so it’s a little scary but I’m able to have a more flexible schedule now. The stimulus checks were given out this week, which is very helpful to many of us, especially considering the big household I’m in. I have my classes picked out for fall, however I’m just too scared to press the register button because it’s still a very uncertain time, and I feel like the world is becoming blind to the power of this virus. It’s not going to go away in one day, it’s a virus not a bad snow day. Yet many citizens are protesting for the states to lift the social distancing dates, which confuses me, I understand that some people need to go back to work to make money for their families, but this is only going to make the virus worse, I think the virus is going to strike harder this time, and our country is going to face the consequences. 
-Kairia Hamad

April 20th, 2020
The look my fellow colleagues is a look of exhaustion and defeat. Working 13-14 hours shifts multiple days in a row, never leaving the patient’s room.

Watching the patient’s monitor as their vitals fluctuate but knowing they are maxed out on medications and that all you can do is watch and hope they can get back to a more stable position until more medication can be administered.

Watching families scream at the security guard that will not let them pass- fear and anguish in their voices just trying to get a glimpse of their loved one that is somewhere right out of their reach. Wanting to see them while still alive but all they are able is to glimpse them on their phone as the nurse holds the ipad in their room so the families can talk to them.
The pain the nurses feel knowing that they can’t do anything more for their family when you can clearly see that all they want to do is to be able to smuggle them in. Feeling that very same way yourself.

Walking the empty hallways that were once filled with life, everyone with their eyes downcast only a slight empty smile that doesn’t reach the eyes as we walk past one another in silence.

In the break room watching a colleague facetime with their child she had to send away to minimize carrying something from the hospital back home with her. Seeing her heartbreak after hanging up only to compose herself, suit up to head back into a room to try to save someone else’s loved one.

The feel of everyone’s emotions. The truth of knowing that this will be our everyday normal for quite some time, unknowing when the trend will lessen only for phase two to rise up again.
-Alex Vlahos

April 22, 2020
It’s been a minute. You’d think that things would be less hectic staying home, but that just is not the case in my house. I thought I had this online stuff handled, but this week has been kind of rough in terms of motivation and productivity. Getting assignments done on time is posing some challenges, but we move. It’s also been very frustrating to see people protesting the stay-at-home order. I’ve watched so many people post about hanging out with their friends, and all I have to say to that is it’s not quirky or cute and you’re not finessing the system or whatever. You are posing a real threat to our healthcare system and people actually following the law.

On the bright side, my application at Walgreens finally went through after a month of waiting and I was able to start working this week! It’s nice to know that I’ll be able to pay for my own tuition next year. I was a little worried about going to work because I thought I was being selfish, but it is essential. People need their medicine, and this gives me the chance to take some of the financial burden off my parents.

I do have one teacher who has got a lot more picky with grading. It’s like she’s allergic to perfect scores. The rest of my teachers have been very considerate when it comes to attending class and turning in homework. It’s really nice to know that they’re here to support you and understand that sometimes you can’t prioritize their class as much as you want to. All I have to say is that I’m glad I made the decision to start at Moraine.
-Noor Awaidah

April 23, 2020
…On the birthday that I had last week, I went to get a Starbucks drink (to try and pretend I could have a good day) with my free drink birthday benefit, but all of them near me were closed.

And then, a couple of hours ago, my Father coughed. A nothing cough. Wham-bam-done cough. Except… Courtesy of this whole endeavor, there’s no such thing. You’re not allowed to not be worried about a cough, because when your activities are restricted and your education is restricted by an illness that causes lots of coughing, every cough from a loved one is panic-inducing. So, he coughed. And school doesn’t bother me as much (I’m still unhappy with it), social life doesn’t bother me much (I really didn’t have a very active one before all this), and nothing bothers me because, when your father explains “wrong pipe!” and places his drinking glass down on the table beside him, you’re happy to know that it really was a wrong pipe, since you can’t seem to do anything fun anymore anyways.

I’m still unhappy with all of these changing plans, but I’m several degrees happier that my family is healthy.
-Brien Heuser

April 26, 2020
Hi. People are drinking diluted bleach now. To think that this situation couldn’t get any worse than it already is.

Quick side note. I noticed I was journaling every four days. Not on purpose, but at least that’s some consistency in our lives.

Anyways, people are drinking bleach and a box of 50 masks is $50 so the news airs DIY masks out of old t-shirts on T.V. I wish I could tell you this is some comedic skit, but then I’d be lying. The stay-at-home order has been extended until May 30th, but non-essential businesses are opening back up again so I’m not sure if that’ll do us any good.

In other news, it’s the month of Ramadan! We say that Ramadan usually comes around when faith in people is at its lowest so it could not have come at a better time. I’m sad that I won’t be able to go to the mosque after iftar (which refers to the meal we eat to break our fast) and host family dinners, but I’m excited for the chance to sort of cleanse my spirit.
-Noor Awaidah

April 27th, 2020
I have had a few days off from work, and it is weird being stuck in a spacious house but not allowed to leave my room. With working in a hospital in order to keep my grandparents safe (I live with them) I have to quarantine myself in my room. While I have a computer and television and all my books and homework to focus on- even after working all week with people for 13hrs a day– after the first few days it gets a little bit lonely and boring. There is only so much TV and homework available to do.  
-Alex Vlahos

May 1, 2020
We’re heading towards finals week, and I’m actually not stressed out! I’m ready to finish this crazy semester off, and I’m excited to start my online summer semester. Some states are reopening but Illinois, as of today, is still on lockdown, which makes me scared because once the whole country opens again, will the virus strike back stronger? Will that cause us to be in quarantine till the end of the year, meaning the Fall 2020 semester is cancelled?! It’s definitely a scary time and I completely think it is too early to open up anything. Even if the states open up again, my family will not go out because we all believe that the virus is going to strike back even harder and people are choosing to be blind by that possibility. There is news going around that college students are protesting and asking for a part of their tuition back, the ones who go to universities, because not only has their housing been banned on campus, but labs are closed, and everything is online, I strongly believe that universities and colleges need to stop running a business and instead put their students first. 
-Kairia Hamad

This will be my last post. I am beyond disappointed with how this whole thing is going so why am I going to put in more work when I can’t even receive the help I need myself???

My friends at Moraine are more lost than I am and I’m spending the time to online video chat and help them and my own family with their math homework and what not. So sorry, because our teachers and education system has failed us, I will be dedicating the time I could be spending on this to teaching myself my classes and helping out my friends and family with their work to at least pass. School is no longer worth my stress and my mental health…My GPA is ruined, my mental health is declining, and frankly I’m done trying. At this point, why keep stressing myself out when no one gives a shit. C’s get degrees so I guess that’s where I’m at, but I will not be giving any extra time to a facility that can’t give me the basics of what I need.
-Koralyn Aggen

May 1st, 2020
It’s been a while since I sat down and really wrote down my thoughts, and that’s because of my life being a complete stress inducing circus show. As silent and peaceful our parks, restaurants, and school are; there isn’t a single soul to be found. There is chaos underneath every roof because of lockdown. So let me fill the readers in, my dad was tested positive for COVID-19 the last weeks of April and well, I’ve been taking care of him with the help of my siblings. Imagine quarantining in a quarantine, we all were assigned rooms in my house and no more than one person was allowed to walk in on my dad to give him the necessities for a speedy recovery (in which he did recover). He’s doing well now but the roller coaster I was on trying to process and work under pressure while juggling studying and working was like climbing a mountain with this imagined and fictitious endurance. My mom (a cancer patient w/ a non-existent immune system) needed to get out of there as soon as possible; she stayed at my older sister Hiba’s house. This was around the 9-20th of April, she was safe and away from the virus. We over supplied the house with disinfectant wipes and spray, there was a mandatory wiped down every so hours. 
-Dunya Yasin

May st, 2020
A lot has happened within the last few days. 3 days ago on Tuesday, Illinois reported 144 new deaths in the state, the highest number of the deaths since the virus outbreak began. Today there were 3,137 new cases of the virus in the state, also the highest number since the outbreak began. A part of the reason why there’s so many cases is because testing is being expanded. The USA has also reached a milestone of more than 1 million cases of the virus. 

Yesterday, my mom came home from work early because she felt dizzy and had a headache. She’s also been dealing with a dry cough lately and so she made the important decision to get tested today. My dad and her went to a drive through location and my mom told me that she was asked to swab her nose for 15 seconds. I was a little shocked that the testers didn’t swab her nose for her; videos online of people being tested show the tester conducting the swabbing instead. The testing facility said that the results should come in after 3-5 days. As of now, my mom has been “quarantining” downstairs and away from us (she makes visits up here more often than she should). My dad also found out today that a patient he treated yesterday tested positive for the coronavirus. This means that my dad is also looking to get tested for the virus soon. He doesn’t have any symptoms and as of now, he feels well. This might be because he’s always washing his hands and has a mask on every second he’s at work. 
-Parth Pandya

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