Math Anxiety and a Visit to MoMath

In fifth grade, four of my classmates and I tested out of elementary school math.  Instead of one more year of long division, every day during recess we marched ourselves across the muddy field separating the elementary and middle school and entered a strange land of lockers, period bells, puberty, and pre-algebra.

One day, while sitting in the back of Mrs. Lambiotte’s classroom (the back of the room, I discovered, was the best place for witnessing the novel hormonal mayhem of a seventh grade classroom — and also for finding the kinds of students who didn’t mind talking to a 10-year-old), I chewed a little too hard on my red pen.  A bitter taste erupted in my mouth; within moments, my jaw was covered in red ink. I fled to the bathroom.

This is a story that could’ve easily ended in tears and a lifelong loathing of math.  Instead, after some quality time with the faucet, I skulked back to Mrs. Lambiotte’s class, where after a mild ribbing, my spectacle was forgotten as my classmates got back to business of being twelve and thirteen-year-olds — trading moony glances, tightly folded notes, spitballs, and the like.

I lucked out that day.  But when I think about how scary school — and math in particular — has a potential to be, I think about the flash of terror that descended when I realized that I’d eaten open my pen, underscoring my presence as the classroom freak for once and for all in a burst of bright red ink across my face.

Everything that’s awkward about school is multiplied in the math classroom.  That’s why I was particularly excited to explore the topic of “math anxiety” last week — through an interview with Dr. Rose Vukovic, professor of teaching and learning at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and in a visit to MoMath, the National Museum of Mathematics in Manhattan.  Listen to the piece that resulted here.

Hot Reads: Middle Men, A Week in Winter, An Armenian Sketchbook, The Teleportation Accident, The Searchers

Picture 1Featuring a John Wayne western, teleportation experiments, indigestion in Armenia, and the highways of Los Angeles.  The full reviews here.

Hot Reads: The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, The Last Girlfriend of Earth, See Now Then, City of Devi

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This week’s Hot Reads are all about looking for love — on stage, through a collapsed marriage, under the threat of nuclear destruction and even in the Gowanus Canal.  The full reviews are here.

Hot Reads: She Matters, Searching for Zion, The Great Agnostic, Rage is Back, Truth in Advertising

Picture 2The book that really got to me from this week’s Daily Beast/Newsweek Hot Reads was She Matters.  It’s a memoir of an unusual variety.  It’s also a real heart-breaker. Every woman has befriended (or been) a Susanna somewhere along the way.

The Girl in the Photograph

A delicious read.  14433706

Despite its title, Lygia Fagundes Telles’s The Girl in The Photograph is really about three young women. They are Lia, Ana Clara, and Lorena—college girls who live in a Catholic boarding house somewhere in Brazil. The trio is bound by an intense friendship. Although Lia, Ana Clara, and Lorena can’t help thinking uncharitable things about one another from time to time, when they’re together, their connection is electric. They borrow each other’s handkerchiefs, cars, and money. They share jokes, verbal tics (“money,” is always “yenom”—Lorena thinks saying it backwards brings luck), clothes, and intimacies. They even tuck in each other’s shirttails.

Head over to Words Without Borders for the full review.

Love and Death in Miami

Picture 2The big think author panels The Takeaway did at the Miami Book Fair on death and love finally aired on Thursday and Friday and are now all online. At http://www.thetakeaway.org/loveanddeath/ there’s a neat little interactive with short bios with mini audio clips for everyone.

From top left to right: Benjamin Busch (Dust to Dust), Carol Blue (the afterward to Mortality), Deni Bechard (Cures for Hunger), Judy Goldman (Losing My Sister) and Susannah Cahalan (Brain on Fire) talked about death.

In the bottom row, left to right: Chris Beha (What Happened to Sophie Wilder), Jami Attenberg (The Middlesteins), Nina Revoyr (Wingshooter), Robert Goolrick (Heading Out to Wonderful) and Scott Hutchins (A Working Theory of Love) came together for a conversation about love.

Miami Book Fair International

Three days, fourteen authors.  That’s the rough itinerary for this weekend in Miami, where it’s 70 degrees and sunny and I have a suitcase full of books.  Takeaway host John Hockenberry and I flew into town for the Miami Book Fair International yesterday; we leave tomorrow. Yesterday, John spoke with New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik about what makes a family dinner table come alive; tomorrow, he’ll be talking to graphic novelist Derf Backderf on what it was like to be high school classmates with serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.  All of those conversations — as well as two “big-think” author discussions on love and death — will be airing the week after next (about the time when it dawns on me once again just how cold New York winters really are).

Hot Reads: Several Ways to Die in Mexico City, Try the Morgue, the Middlesteins, A Free Man, The Greatcoat

Let me tell you about this week’s Daily Beast/Newsweek Hot ReadsThe Greatcoat was a fine way to spend a rainy afternoon. Several Ways to Die in Mexico City stumbled into my lap and changed the way I think about what I eat and drink. The Middlesteins is the book I happily read in one sitting.  Try the Morgue is the book I haven’t been able to stop talking about. A Free Man is the book I wish I’d written that I think everyone should read.

Hot Reads: The News from Spain, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Familiar, Do the Movies Have a Future?, All Gone

The weather is crisp and the reads are hot.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore put a smile on my face, All Gone made me thank my lucky stars, Familiar tripped me out, The News From Spain tugged at my heart and Do the Movies Have a Future? got me thinking about just how strange and tenuous cultural criticism can be in the first place.  Check out this week’s reviews for The Daily Beast.  Bonus feature: I recommended A Free Man for Newsweek’s round-up of essential new books on India.