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.
Featuring a John Wayne western, teleportation experiments, indigestion in Armenia, and the highways of Los Angeles. The full reviews here.
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.
A delicious read.
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.
The 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.
This week I found a “manic pixie dream girl” in a 1928 French novel, tried to get in the head of Walter Berglund, and learned that William Styron called Dorothy Parker “my little crumpet.” Full reviews here.
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.
Reviews, reviews, reviews! This week’s round-up includes some real masters of fiction — Junot Diaz, Shani Boianjiu and the Basque writer Bernard Atxaga — and some inquisitive, big-hearted non-fiction craftsmen too. The reviews are up on the Newsweek/Daily Beast site.
Get them while they’re hot! I reviewed new books from Paul Auster, Bernhard Schlink, and Jonathan Tropper this week, as well as a wonderful debut novel from Rebecca Harrington and an unconventional memoir about Mormonism by Jane Barnes for Newsweek/The Daily Beast.
This week’s edition of Hot Reads for The Daily Beast/Newsweek included some real gems, like In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner, The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair, Dare Me by Megan Abbott and A Pimp’s Notes by Giorgio Faletti. There’s a sweet new landing page for Hot Reads too.