My Daily Read: Tony Russell

February 16, 2012

Tony is an Assistant Professor of English.  He has a Ph.D. in English from Purdue University and has been teaching at COCC since 2010.

ConXn: What is the first thing you read in the morning?

Tony: When I wake up in the morning or just settle down for the evening, I read the BBC Mobile. (This, of course, is aside from whatever is on the side of the cereal box, which is usually something to remind me that I am still fat and that I don’t get enough fiber in my diet.) On average, I will read 18-20 BBC articles a day—from global headlines to sports. I prefer the BBC because the stories are well researched. They provide a lot of background information that I don’t find elsewhere, and this has contributed much to the ways in which I understand global affairs.

ConXn: What newspaper and magazines do you subscribe to or read regularly? What do you read in print versus online versus mobile?

Tony: My wife and I are crazy coupon people (oh yes, we have the baseball card sleeves, binders, and everything), so we subscribe to the Bulletin. I confess, however, that I don’t read much of it—perhaps a front page item or two. I will on occasion pull articles from the Outdoors sections for ideas on new outings and what not, but for local news, I usually read my app on my iPhone—if there’s nothing good on the BBC, LeMonde, CNN, MSNBC, or The Onion.

For magazines, I often subscribe to The New Yorker, and I’m an on-again off-again Scientific American subscriber. Secretly, I am enthralled by astrophysics, biology, and clinical psychology. Oh, and I really like stories about orangutans that use iPads, which in the long run only makes me angry because Santa neglected to fill my stocking with an iPad this year. I even bought an extra-wide stocking to accommodate for the width of the iPad. What’s more, I felt that my desire was benevolent. I only want an iPad so that I can transfer my paper-based subscriptions to digital, thus preserving the delicate balance of our planet and preserving said orangutan habitats. Sometimes Santa makes it hard to believe.

ConXn: What books have you recently read? Do any stand out?

Tony: If I rattled off a list of the books I have read in the past month or so, it would sound terribly eclectic, and I suppose it is. But I can’t be the only person that reads in categories, if you will. For instance, there are things I read purely for pleasure, those I read to better my teaching, those I read to better my courses, and those I read to remind me why physics is best read when dumbed down (see Scientific American above).

For pleasure, I am on an Alan Furst kick. If you like spy fiction or historical fiction, Furst is at the top of the list. Furst writes about Europe during the 1935-1945 period and claims to write as though he were writing the books during that period. That’s nice and all, but you’ll find plenty of twenty-“Furst” century Western liberalism that casts doubt on his claim. But don’t let that deter you. I zoomed through Dark Voyage (2005) last month and am halfway through The World at Night (1996) now.  Dark Voyage was a great yarn about smuggling Allied equipment on a merchant ship through Nazi-infested waters, but if you’re trying out Furst, read The Polish Officer first. (I’m not giving anything away.)

For reading to improve my teaching, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Carol Dweck’s Mindsets based on Julie Keener’s excellent retreat talk. Both are wonderful, and I feel like my teaching has improved because of my reading. I had a lot of deep-seated beliefs about my role in the classroom and about ways to motivate students, and I found that many of those things just weren’t as effective as I thought.

ConXn: Has your reading of professional journals changed in the past 10 years? If so, how?

Tony: I would say, yes, definitely. I think I was much less discriminate about what I would read before. I sort of soaked everything in I could. I had some favorites, but the more I’ve become interested in certain topics, the more I find that I can only really read about them in a limited number of publications. For instance, I used to find the Journal of Popular Culture fluffy and unpredictable, but now I find many things that inform my teaching. I’ve also sort of embraced its quirkiness. After all, popular culture is varied, sporadic, and impulsive; it’s also quite ever-changing. Further, I would echo a previous post from Carol Higginbotham in that I also find more and more that I am looking in professional journals for better ways to teach things or to reach my students more than I have in the past.

ConXn: Do you use Twitter? If so, whom do you follow?

Tony: When Pear Analytics stated in their 2009 analysis of Twitter that 40% of tweets were “pointless babble,” I knew I needed to get onboard. This term I have a Twitter feed running in my WR 122 Blackboard courses where I suggest possible articles for my students’ research papers (#COCCWR122).  I tweet under the furtive name of WrProf, which I was surprised was still available. In light of my recent experiences, I have composed the following haiku:

My students don’t use
Twitter. Seems like writing profs
Don’t like to either.

ConXn: Do you blog? If so, why?

Tony: Blogging’s a tough one for me. I like the idea. In fact, I really want to do it, but like so many other online time-takers/wasters, I feel like it would consume me. Then again, I felt that way about Facebook, and I seem to control that addiction just fine. I’m a “social Facebooker.”

ConXn: What are the guilty pleasures in your media diet?

Tony: I teach pop culture classes, so it’s hard for me to feel guilty about anything really. I get to read cool books either way—spy novels, detective novels, graphic novels. I suppose I might say that I love Jane Austen novels or that I think Charlotte Brontë is four times the writer than Emily Brontë—or better, that Villette is everything that Jane Eyre wishes it were—but I’m far too proud to admit or divulge anything like that.

So I suppose the only thing I feel guilty about is the fact that I don’t let myself get away from books. Even when I exercise, I’m at the very least listening to a book. Yes, as I make my rounds about the COCC track, rather than raging against the machine, I’m “reading” The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, or John Buchan’s Greenmantle; and I’ve listened to all of them for free from the LibriVox project. This project only records titles are in the public domain (pre-1923), but I have enjoyed these books so much, that I began volunteering as a reader this year.

(For reference, I don’t listen to my own recordings—but only because I haven’t recorded Villette—yet.)