DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Going to college in my robe and slippers

I am not a pretty picture at 4:30 a.m. (Why is it that the depravities of youth -- beer, floors for beds, and cold pizza breakfasts -- never made my face as puffy and gravity prone as mere age?)
Yet, 4:30 a.m. has found me awake a lot of late. Fortunately for me, Barnes & amp; Noble's innovative university online keeps me company when even my dog is snoring. I stumble downstairs in my bathrobe and slippers, type www.bn.com, and attend "college."
Knowledge and bargains: Two things you should know about me. I love to learn, and I love a bargain. Barnes & amp; Noble University caters to both. Recently, the mega-bookstore initiated free Internet courses in everything from career selection to the American Indians' plight at Wounded Knee. You don't get credit, but you do get a wealth of knowledge.
I found out about the classes at the Boardman B & amp;N, picking up a brochure, all the while wondering what the catch was. Fortunately, there isn't any -- unless you consider the temptation to buy the book or books that inspired each class a catch (I dropped 36 bucks for my two class texts and consider the money well spent.) You don't have to buy the books, though.
I signed up for "Christmas Literary Classics," offered through B & amp;N's hypothetical Literature and Languages campus, and for "How to find Your Perfect Career" (which should be news to my current employers -- just checking, mind you) through the Business and Education campus link. My books were delivered in three days, whereupon I began my lessons. Two are available a week. At present, I'm a week behind.
About 160 students have signed up for the Christmas class. We have an opportunity to converse via a message board, and I'm delighted that the students frequently digress from Dickens and Truman Capote to discuss homemade gift ideas and memories of Christmases past. (Not exactly Harvard.)
Impressive lessons: On the other hand, the lessons are really impressive. The instructors are either the text authors, professors or experts in their field.
There is something delightful about learning at age 45 -- an appreciable difference in perspective from 16 exists, one that greatly benefits the understanding of literature. Oh sure, I read Dickens in eighth grade: "A Tale of Two Cities," and "Oliver Twist." But I really didn't give a hoot about Victorian England then, or the way they viewed childhood, or Dickens' symbolism in Tiny Tim. Now, I do.
I am eager to try other classes. Classes on the History and Society Campus link include "Founding Brothers, the Revolutionary Generation," "Jazz: A History of America's Music," and "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," among others.
The Health and Family campus offers a surprising variety from "Yoga for Novices," "Undiet Your Way to a Healthy Body," and "Stress, Sanity and Survival" to "Being Jewish in Today's World" and "Writing for Children." Home and Leisure's campus will teach you to choose a home computer, use Feng Shui, or introduce you to chess or wine.
Even Harry: "Teaching Children Literature Using Harry Potter" is one class. Think it's just fluff? I doubt it. The description is "Learn about science, mythology and legends, history and magic as well as literary themes, symbols and character development as you and your child explore the magical world of Harry Potter together."
I'm not sure too many child Harry Potter fans will find the site as interesting as I do, but we do hope my teens take an ACT/SAT instructional if B & amp;N offers it again. Arts and Entertainment, Life Improvement and Science and Technology also are campuses.
As for me, I'd like to take a couple of classes each four- to seven-week session. A new one begins Dec. 3. If I'm lucky, they'll have one called "How to Fall Back Asleep Once You Wake Up." If not, at least I'm getting educated.

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