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ISSUE 116 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/20/2002

Written talent beyond classroom discussion

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 20, 2002

Maggie has six toes on her left foot, a curiosity for the boys and girls at her school. This extra toe, she warns her teasing peers, can cause a toothache or an earache, give you cross-eyed vision, or even a bad case of diarrhea. Perhaps many young people would not be proud of such a unique feature. But St. Olaf Writer in Residence Jim Heynen revives this character who enjoys her "magical" physical oddity in his most recent collection of new and selected stories, "The Boys House," one of several new releases by faculty this year. "Not being normal can have dangerous consequences," he said. "For the girl with six toes it is a gift." Though some critics have described Heynens work as a snapshot of rural life, he prefers to view his work as a satiric and ironic commentary on aspects of modern life that perhaps most people fail to recognize. "We have trouble looking at ourselves," he said. "Even people of conscience are unaware of how numb we are to [such things as] poverty." This collection of stories, Heynen said, happened purely by accident. Ted Genoways, editor at the Minnesota Historical Society Press, approached Heynen with the idea of publishing many of his older stories that are no longer in print. Heynen agreed, adding some new stories as well. Though Heynen said authors favorites usually differ from their readers top pick, he particularly enjoys the less serious tale, "Garden Rabbits," which is about zucchinis, and the somewhat controversial "Fewer Cats Now." "I like ["Fewer Cats Now"] because it gets people to laugh about things that they shouldnt laugh at and makes them angry," he said. "Most importantly, though, it makes them think." A common trait in Heynens work is asking questions and provoking thought rather than providing answers. "The book seems to swerve around easy assumptions," he said. "Its a book about farm life, but it is not what is expected. You get dimensions that go beyond memoir and layers and twists of the imagination of fiction, not a recollection of events." Tempting math teasers A new book that may change students conceptions of math is "The Inquisitive Problem Solver," co-authored by retired mathematics Professor Loren Larson, with Paul Vaderlind, a mathematician at Stockholm University, and Richard Guy, a prolific mathematics writer. Utilizing unique story problems and visually intriguing shapes to teach mathematical ideas, Larson said he and his colleagues have created a book accessible to the novice as well as the more-experienced mathematician. Larson said his fourth grade grandson was able to play with one of the problems while others he spent months trying to figure out. Perhaps many people would not describe any math problem as "beautiful," but Larson said the math puzzles in this book are aesthetically pleasing because they force people to think and ask further questions, as well as form what may seem to be a messy problem into one of clarity. "[A beautiful problem] is intriguing," Larson said. "Its got to have an appeal and be of interest and have something thats surprising in it that compels you to want to solve it." The book has hundreds of math teasers, he said, each that require thought much like a crossword puzzle might. "[The beauty or value] is not the problem itself so much as the method of solution and the technique of solving  and it starts by asking questions," Larson said. He said that the book is good for a lifetime  for children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters  and also makes a good book for the coffee table or moments of relaxation or recreation. Ultimately, though, theres only one reason, Larson said, to dip into a book with so many open questions of varying degrees of difficulty. "Just for the fun of it," he said.

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