Becoming the People I Hate

I am leaving for Seattle tomorrow.  And I am packing the laptop.

First, because I might get some real work done on the road.  My employer does not require this, but I feel compelled.  I hate that.

Second, because I just started that new class on Academic Earth and I want to keep going.  And I can’t wait a week?  I hate that.

Third, you can never trust a hotel to have the TV channels that you want, not to mention being in a different time zone.  So I am bringing Season 1 of True Blood on DVD (that I did finally buy at Target for $17).

Really?  I need to bring a whole laptop to watch some DVD’s?  I hate that.

Finally, I just don’t think I can survive offline that long.  I really hate that.

It seems I am one of those people.

Score One for Kindle

I finally decided that my next course on Academic Earth will be The Poetry of John Milton, by a Yale professor named John Rogers.  I have had Paradise Lost on my shelf since I graduated college, but when I would wander over to pick my next read, it never seemed like reading it myself would be any fun.  Each time I looked at it, I wanted Dave Mullaly, AP English Teacher Extraordinaire, to teach it to me.

The textbook is a simple “complete works” that retails for $50.  I figured I would take the nice Borders gift card my Dad gave me and buy it off the website.  Borders.com doesn’t even list it in inventory.

Spending $50 of my own money on this book is not acceptable.  The online used book stores only drop the price down to $40 or so before shipping.  So I started asking myself if I really need it.  I only really wanted to read Paradise Lost.  I hadn’t planned on reading every assigned piece of material.  I just thought that being able to follow the lectures with the text in front of me would be cool.  Then I thought of the Kindle.

Kindle has tons of out-of-copyright material priced around a dollar, and sure enough, there was a Complete Works of Poetry from John Milton.  Done and downloaded. 

It is obviously not the same thing.  In fact, from the Table of Contents, I am having a great deal of trouble matching up titles of poems to those listed in the Syllabus.  And the poems do not have line numbers listed, so it was a bit hard following the professor exactly through the first one.  But for $.99 I can certainly deal.

God Bless the Internet.

The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara

Book 44

My mother loved Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels so much that she has read every book his kid wrote. I might have gone my whole life rolling my eyes at the idea of reading a novel about Gettysburg, except that Professor Blight mentioned that it was the fiction piece that he had assigned to his Civil War students for years – until Doctorow’s The March.

I think I understand why Blight made the change. The March focused less on the soldiers’ experience and a bit more on the civilian experience. And it particularly focused on the experience of the freed slaves. The Killer Angels covers the Battle of Gettysburg by moving the narrative from one leader to another on both sides of the field.

I cannot even describe how beautifully written this book was, except to say that I put it down after almost every chapter. Both to let the language sink in, and because I didn’t want to hurry through it. Until Pickett’s charge. Then I might have hurried a bit. Because, you know, it doesn’t end well.

I loved them all. John Buford, the Union General that got the high ground and held it until he was reinforced. Colonel Chamberlain, the professor from Maine who had his little brother in his regiment. But mostly, for me, this book was about Generals Lee and Longstreet.

I don’t need to tell you that Lee was next to God in this time and place, but Shaara did a brilliant job of making me believe it without being frothy. I think this was mostly because we see him through Longstreet’s eyes. Longstreet loved him, but believed he was wrong and told him so. There is a moment when Longstreet is ranting – which almost never happened – to a friendly British observer – that the battles won by the Confederates were not won because of superior strategy or tactics. Or better weapons or even better soldiers. They were won because the men were just that devoted to Lee. Chivalry and devotion to Lee.

I was going to find some small part of the text here to help make my point, but there are too many and they run rather long. This one is a keeper.

The Civil War and Reconstruction Era – 1845-1877, Lectures by David W. Blight

I just finished watching the final lecture in Professor Blight’s course on Academic Earth. I’ve been talking about it rather haphazardly because I have been watching them rather haphazardly this semester, so to pull it all together:

Academic Earth is a website that offers “full video courses and lectures from the world’s leading scholars” free of charge to anyone with a decent Internet connection. When I first got onboard, back in June, I noted there were five courses that I wanted to take. By “take” I actually meant following along with the reading, if not actually working the written assignments. I meant to follow the syllabus in something close to real semester time. Of course, I didn’t have the time to do that while in school “for real” and I didn’t really feel like waiting until I had the time to do all of the reading. So I just played the lectures and watched them like you would watch TV.  Which is good because they have added material like crazy in the last six months and I don’t even know what to start next.

When Professor Blight is speaking, he reminds me of Indiana Jones in the classroom.  If Dr. Jones were older, nerdier and a straight-up academic historian.  (OK, so not, but Harrison Ford could totally play this guy.)  He tells great stories and points to plenty of sources – assigned and otherwise – in his lectures.  He regularly referenced books that are in my house. A few that I have even read already. In fact in the last one, he quoted from Confederates in the Attic, by Tony Horowitz. My mother read that last year and thought it was great. He once had me running to the other room in the middle of the night to see if I had the same edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass because it had an appendix with a really great speech in it.  I was very disappointed to find it wasn’t the same.  He assigned The March, by E.L. Doctorow, the book that arguably started me on this Civil War kick in the first place. When he said that he used to assign The Killer Angels as the fiction piece for the course…well, I am a hundred pages into that one right now.

Note to Mom:  Besides being a big Bruce Catton fan, Dude’s from Michigan.  He compared a little-known Catton essay that had stabbed him in the heart with seeing his childhood hero – some Detroit Tiger that played right field – smoking a cigarette in the airport.  I thought that would amuse you.

So. The classes are the big lecture hall type things where the guy is talking and there are no questions or other student interactions. Apparently, in the actual course, there are two lectures per week and section discussions on some regular basis. This is fine with me, because the students would likely have ticked me off. The technical stuff is fine in that there aren’t a whole lot of issues with microphones or problems with the camera or anything. My only complaint, and Academic Earth warns you ahead of time, is that we can’t see the material on the classroom overhead projector. Copyright issues. I can live with it.

I love this guy. I loved his course. I love the very concept of Academic Earth. I’m going to go read that book now.