Tag Archives: reading

Sunday Quote, Cicero (2012, Week 50)

If you have a library and a garden, you have everything you need.   ~ Cicero

Mosses from an Old Manse, Nathaniel Hawthorne, age unknown.  Glasses:  garage sale find.  Came with the book, but do not assist in reading.

Mosses from an Old Manse, Nathaniel Hawthorne, age unknown. Glasses: garage sale find. Came with the book, but do not assist in reading.



A Treasure

Perhaps I was thinking of Thoreau, in keeping with the A – Z Challenge, and today being the letter “T”, though I don’t think that Transcendentalism was in the trajectory of my thoughts this morning.  Although I can’t explain the origin, I had a notion that I would read an essay from a collection I have of Emerson’s writings. Having just done a reorganization of some of my bookshelves, I knew that I had my hands on this book within the last few weeks. Yet, I could not find it.

I started with the non-fiction piles — those books that have yet to make it on to a shelf — scanning the stacks quickly, looking for the thin, tan volume. I couldn’t recall what was written on the spine, although I could clearly picture the stamping of reddish-brown ferns on the covers. When I couldn’t locate it, I went to the fiction shelves, browsing the titles of thin books, skipping over the thick bound books in the case. I knew this book was only about 100 pages. I then wandered to the living room and the bedroom, thinking maybe I had carried this into another room. Not finding it, I went down into the basement where I found this book several weeks ago. Could I have left it down there? I wondered.

When I didn’t locate it, I went back to my office to look again, this time touching each volume in the stacks, carefully reading the titles. Don’t panic! I kept telling myself. Even if you put it in the piles of books to discard, they are still in boxes you have in your possession. They haven’t left the house. It is here somewhere.

While I might get upset if I’ve misplaced something and it bothers me when I can’t remember the location, I don’t get too upset for long over something that is replaceable, such as a book of essays. Each of these essays is likely available in half a dozen formats on the internet — for free. But, this is not an ordinary book.

Back in my mid-20’s, when I was flailing around in the seas of adulthood, trying to figure out how I would swim when I grew up — and slightly embarrassed that all of my college friends who had gone to get their JDs or MBAs seemed to have everything worked out so neatly — I worked for a time as secretary at a local college, administrative assistant to the chairs of the English Department and the University Writing Program. It really was a shit job: demanding prima donnas, pompous asses, and a few pricks. Think of the sexism of Sterling Cooper Draper Price, 20 years later, with less class. A few people would remind me from time to time that I was too smart to be working there, but, at a time of a recession similar to today’s, there were not a lot of options. Although there were some good, kind people who I worked with, most seemed to not notice that they didn’t have to expend much effort to make sure that there was a distinction — a wide gulf —  between the worker bees (which included the non-tenured instructors) and the professors. You could chat for a few minutes at the coffee station over a work of fiction, but then it was back to the boiler room to crank out more mimeos, with all of the professors’ grammatical errors and misspellings corrected, before they met with students that afternoon.

But Ray was different. He was a tenured professor, nearing retirement, who cared about everyone. He would often come into my office (a closet really) when I would go to lunch so that he could type his handouts on his own. He would greet me warmly each morning, sometimes asking if I had difficulties driving into town in the snow. He never complained about the weather, though I sometimes did. It was months before I realized that he did not drive and walked a few miles on either end of the bus line to get to campus. Sometimes he would talk to me about what he was teaching in his grammar and linguistics classes — not to teach me something but to share something that he found interesting. And he listened to what I would say in response to what he was sharing. He assumed that I had a life outside of the office that did not involve operating an IBM Selectric, and although he didn’t ask questions about my life that could be misconstrued as prying, he did acknowledge and ask about my interests.

One day, Ray walked into my office with a poorly wrapped package. This, he said, if for you. With thanks.  He awkwardly handed me the package.  He added: My favorite is the essay on friendship. The book was old, a handwritten name and date on the inside:  6-Aug-44.  I took it gratefully, happy that he would think to give me a book that he had had for a number of years.

I came across the book a few weeks ago, in a bookcase in our basement and placed it in the bookcase where I finally located it this afternoon.  The binding is loose; although still intact, the outer board along the spine has cracked and fallen off. The pages are yellowed and the deckle edge is worn.  Age spots are on some pages.  I have every reason to believe that I read at least parts of it when Ray gave it to me, though in re-reading On Friendship and On Nature this evening, I can’t recall what  I thought about them when I was 24.  I’m sure that much of what Emerson writes is interpreted much differently through the filter of age, so much that I am now doubtful that I enjoyed the essays then, much less saw the wisdom contained in them.

When I opened the book recently, I found a card with the following inscription:

For Anne,
Nchle Secretary
Nice Person
Sec’y & Person
– Ray

I don’t remember reading that before, but I’m sure that I had.  I’ve placed it back in the book, at the start of the essay On Friendship.  I moved on from that job after about 18 months and I lost track of Ray.  I googled his name this evening.   He died in 2002 at the age of 80.  I learned from his obituary that the name in the book was his first wife, who had died years before.  He was widowed a second time and apparently had no children.  But his memory will live on in the lives of the many students he taught, and people he met, the friends he surely had.   And me, especially when I come across this book on my bookshelves.  According to the internet, similar copies to this book sell for around $10, but, to me, it is a priceless treasure.

From On Friendship:

We have a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken.  Maugre all the selfishness that chills like east winds the world, the whole human family is bathed with an element of love like a fine ether.  How many persons we meet in houses, who we scarcely speak to, whom yet we honor, and who honor us!  How many we see in the street, or sit with in church, whom, though silently, we warmly rejoice to be with!  Read the language of these wandering eye-beams.  The heart knoweth.

The effect of the indulgence of this human affection is a certain cordial exhilaration.  In poetry and in common speech the emotions of benevolence and complacency which are felt towards others are likened to the material effects of fire; so swift, or much more swift, more active, more cheering, are these fine inward irradiations.  From the highest degree of passionate love to the lowest degree of good-will, they make the sweetness of life.

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is T. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

J is for Tutoring….???

A few eons ago, I studied education, specifically English Language Education, with a specialization in Reading. My student teaching experience was teaching mainstream (what a stupid, stupid, stereotypical, biased term!) high school sophomores and juniors for 3/4 of the day, plus 1 hour with functionally illiterate students, and 1 hour of working individually or in small groups with foreign students: 2 Japanese, 1 German, 1 Greek — all in the US because of their parents’ work responsibilities — 1 French and 1 Swede, both exchange students. This was in a rather affluent suburban community.

In the regular English classes, I felt like I was a tape recorder, repeating the same two lectures twice each day. When not teaching, I found myself having to deal with parents who didn’t like the test scores that their children received and found the student teacher an appropriate target of blame. I still wonder how that one woman could have read any dictionary definition of the word impale and expect me to mark her perfect child’s paper correct with the defining sentence: “I impaled the pretty picture to the wall“. I had to defend, to my supervising teacher, her accusation of discrimination because I marked it wrong. With the foreign students, the problems were more manageable, and sometimes laughable. One day, the Japanese girls, unaware of the value of the Yen in US dollars, brought in money one day to show the other students what their currency looked like. We had to get the school principal to put the money, worth about $10,000, in a safe for the day. But the last class of the day — my functionally illiterate students — was the most challenging but also very rewarding. These kids knew they couldn’t read. They knew that they were the “burn-outs”, the outcasts that nobody wanted. And they all knew that they couldn’t read well. Most of them knew that they only had a few more months of school and that if they didn’t learn how to read then, they never would. The consequences of that were apparent to all. Everybody knew that they couldn’t read, except perhaps for the vice-principal,  a coach known chiefly for his award-winning sports teams, who insisted that they were just lazy. He insisted that their community didn’t have any problems with literacy. In his book, that was for kids from the “city”.

It was a very long year. I had talked to them about a job early in the Spring, but found out soon afterwards that I was pregnant, with a due date not long after the start of the school year. When I did return to the workforce a few years later, my career took off in a much different and unexpected direction. Teaching was not a consideration again.

Until last summer when a flyer was mailed to our house looking for volunteer reading tutors at the neighborhood elementary school. Why not?, I thought. I had the time, I knew that I had the skill, and I knew that one-on-one tutoring would be more to my liking than trying to manage an entire classroom. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would be so much fun and that I would benefit greatly.

I attended two days of a boring training. It could have easily been done in a few hours, but there was lots of “interactive sharing” as the facilitator called it. Perhaps others found some value in role-playing with a peer, but I did not find it helpful to pretend that I was reading a book to a six-year-old when I was facing a septuagenarian. Furthermore, I was appalled by the narrow view of the world many of the volunteers had. I left the first day feeling rather judgmental of my fellow volunteers. Hey, they were offering to help, so I needed to give them credit for stepping up. The monthly meetings, though, have not done much to prove me wrong. It isn’t that anyone is mean or stubbornly holding fast to their view of their world. Perhaps it is generational. I’m amazed, though, at the comments I hear at how surprised they are at the lives of their students. I’ve wondered, at times, if some of the volunteers actually listen to their students. But, even so, sometimes one additional hour a week is all that it might take to help turn a reluctant reader into a better, more eager, reader, or at least one with necessary reading comprehension skills . Every little bit can help.

I was assigned to work with a fourth-grade boy, named J. I started two weeks after the start of the program due to some pre-existing conflicts, but even with the late start, I did not get any information from the classroom teacher. On the first day, I started with a ‘get to know you’ session.

Do you like books? I asked.

No. I don’t like school.

Sometimes books don’t have anything to do with school. I like books, but I didn’t like school very much.

I like Pluto, J said.

I quickly got my brain cells firing trying to recall some details about the Disney character.  What do you like about Pluto? I asked.

Do you know that there is an enormous controversy with the International Astronomical Union about whether it is a planet? Some say it is a dwarf planet, he said excitedly.

Score: J: 1, My Assumptions: 0

I quickly wondered why J had been assigned to additional tutoring. I found out later that he had scored at a reading level equivalent to the first month of first grade. I was astounded. J is a very smart boy, but he is only interested in certain things. School isn’t one of them. When I come to the classroom to pick him up for our weekly sessions, frequently he appears to be daydreaming. The classroom is a rather noisy, boisterous place, with students frequently doing many different tasks. I commend the teacher for her ability to be the ring-leader in such a circus. But it isn’t a good atmosphere for someone like J who dislikes noise and is easily distracted. Having him write with pen and paper isn’t much fun for him either. He dislikes his penmanship and at the beginning of the year he would do whatever he could to avoid writing exercises with me.

By our third or fourth session, I decided that I would write if he would dictate to me. Together we started to write a paragraph. He didn’t want to do this, but I told him that he had to give me instructions on anything that he wanted. Do you know how to make an omelet? he asked. Together, we wrote the recipe. I looked over it in amazement when we finished: it was an omelet — not a scramble — and he knew exactly how to make one like the finest Sunday morning brunch buffet line cook.

This was not my only surprise. I’ve learned to stop making assumptions. J has something interesting and surprising to discuss each week. Sure, he would rather play a video game, but what 10-year-old boy wouldn’t want to? One week we were talking about John Glenn and his historic first orbit around Earth. J, when I told him how old Glenn was, said something that I didn’t understand, something about someone being as old as Glenn. Who’s that? I asked.

Oh come on! You don’t know the President of Cuba? You should! How on earth, I thought, does this boy who seems to pay little attention to the outside world, who can’t tell me that 6 + 5 = 11 unless he uses his fingers, know about Fidel Castro, much less how old he is. Had he been of Cuban ancestry, it would have made sense, but he is not. Kids can be such a surprise, and J is full of lots of them.

Our discussion this week centered on economics and politics. He asked good questions about what was meant by “economics”. When I mentioned that Economics is sometimes called the “dismal science”, he asked me to define ‘dismal’. “Ah“, he said, “just like school!“.

I don’t know that I can take too much credit for J’s progress this year. He could read at the beginning of the year; he just wouldn’t do it on demand like some sort of dog performing tricks. He knows more about the planets — their geological makeup, their orbits, the history of their discovery, and, in some cases, the mythological origins of their names. He is not very good at knowing his multiplication tables, but he understands how to use a formula. He knows how to read for content, and when to question information. In working on a ‘research’ paper recently, he had no problems at all understanding how to sequence his facts. These are all skills that you would expect a fourth-grader to have. He just can’t write a legible sentence and doesn’t want to play along if he has to. Can you blame him? Why would he want to fail?

I understand that he needs to know how to do basic arithmetic. I understand that he needs to be able to write, although paper and pencil is less important when one can use a computer. If I were the queen of the school universe, I would put him in a small classroom with other kids just like him. I would give them all computers and let them type. I would allow kids like J to use a pen, if they pressed so heavily with a pencil that they broke the point every other letter. And I would help him to focus on tasks for short periods of time without a lot of interference or background noise. I would take the type of games he likes to play — his favorite on a computer is Minecraft; for board games it is RISK — and use them to help illustrate his lessons. Both of these rely on strategy and understanding of how systems — political, economic, manufacturing, military — work.

I don’t have a clue, though, how you do this for every kid out there. When there are 30-35 kids in a room, one teacher just doesn’t have time.

I hope that I’ve made a little difference for J this year. Even if it is only that he has 1 hour a week where he is out of the classroom and it seems like fun and a little bit of knowledge seeps in. Maybe he’ll pick up a book this summer and read. He has started to read chapter books and talks about them, but he’d still prefer a game or tv. My goal, and the goal of the program, is not to turn him into a lover of books, but to get him to read at an appropriate level. I think he is doing that now.

I know that I’ve learned from this experience. I wish that businesses would have more involvement in helping our schools. Wouldn’t it be great if employers would give their employees release time to participate in tutoring programs? Wouldn’t it be good for kids to understand that even if you are doing something that seems unrelated to reading, you still need to know how to do it?  J and I a few weeks ago listed all of the things that would be needed to come up with a game like Minecraft. It didn’t take him long to realize that you couldn’t make a computer game unless you possessed math and reading skills. Will this get him to learn his multiplication tables? Maybe not directly, but maybe eventually it will sink in.

Here’s my picture of the day. Not from any far flung planet, but it does remind me of a lesson that J & I did on prisms and light and using mnemonics.

River Rock Rainbow

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is J. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

Current Reading

In a sense, poems are not even fair. For instance, they do not always assert what they mean. And the same for pictures. A reader must get meaning through an action, through an act of response. And there are endless combinations of irony possible, and reversals, and second thoughts, and adjustments. Images and words put near each other begin to interact. What a poem says, it keeps on saying, with variations, to any being who keeps on saying and judging too, in his own way.

“Introduction to ‘Since Feeling is First'”, reprinted in Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation by William Stafford

This, of course, reminds me of Emily Dickenson’s “Tell the truth, but tell is slant”:

All truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind

Once I thought of that, my mind went wandering, tossing this idea about. It isn’t coincidence that I used the word tossing, as Stafford wrote about bouncing ideas — and poems — off of backboards! I look forward to reading more essays in this collection; when I start up again, I’ll be on page 9!

Welcome to the Sunshine State

What to read: Road Trip Edition

I have several hours in the car ahead of me on Monday. The best way that I know of to make a long trip when you are driving by yourself go quickly is to listen to an audio book. So, I decided to see what audio books the library might have.

I had a brief hope that the library branch I went to would have a copy of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Unfortunately, it was not available. So, I spent 30 minutes I didn’t have to spare today searching for something else to take with me.

There were plenty of “Great Courses”, but I thought that all of those were likely candidates to either put me to sleep (not good, Driver!) or would be better suited for something with video (understanding geometry without any visuals?). There were several discs that would retell most of Shakespeare’s plays. Perhaps a good option, but again, unless it was originally decided for audio-only, I can’t imagine “listening” to a play. The sci-fi audio books had their own 2 shelves worth; the mystery audio books was the largest section, stretching on for several shelves and bookcases.

I eliminated anything that was more than 10 hours. I figure that I wouldn’t find be likely to listen to anything more than that. I should only finish about 8 hours worth, unless there is some colossal traffic jam on 80/94. Another hour or two I would be able to find time for. But there were some audio books that were 24 – 30 hours long. I rarely am in my car for trips longer than 10 minutes, and I don’t think that I’d have the patience to sit on my sofa while someone read to me for any length of time.

What did I settle upon? I checked out three audio books:

1. Washington Square, Henry James. Why? Because it’s James! And I’ve never read it before.

2. The Dubliners, James Joyce. Selection criteria: contains two of the best short stories ever: “Araby” and “The Dead”. Actually, “Araby”, though a great story, doesn’t come close to “The Dead”. Few short stories do.

3. Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom. How did this make its way from shelf to bar code scanner to my car? I’ve been thinking a lot about how people reinvent themselves. I’ve heard and read a lot on the Internets recently about the current recession causing people to find new careers paths. While my current reasons for not working are not related to the recession, I find myself at a crossroads wondering where I will head next. A book about retirees who have forged second or third careers seemed timely.

Who knows what kind of mood I will be in as I drive? Whatever it is, the mood will determine which of these I will listen to. One thing I do know: if I don’t get to bed soon, I will not be keeping to my timetable.

Booking Through Thursday: E-volution

Booking Through Thursday: E-readers vs. Physical books.

I bought an iPad in June, 2010. It is my constant companion; email, search, facebook, photos, reading The New Yorker, the New York Times and other news media, watching movies, listening to music, taking notes, navigation, calculator, shopping lists, procrastination tools (e.g., games): there are apps for all those and I have and use all of them.

But, I was reluctant, at first, to download the Kindle app. I just wasn’t convinced that reading — although I had been reading other things online for years — would be the same experience.

I took a Journalism class in the future of media when I was in college, way back in 1979. I recall reading the book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, by Jerry Mander and having lengthy discussions on whether we would eventually be reading newspapers on computers. Few of us in the class could foresee such a future. To us, computers were the large mainframe computers in the labs, or large typesetting machines with blurry, amber glowing text displayed on monitors the size of a desktop. Even envisioning a computer as being something akin to a television that you would use to read was preposterous. Even those who didn’t agree with Mather’s thesis that television would be the end of civilization as we know it, agreed that reading “on computers” was an evil that we didn’t think we catch on.

“I like the feel of a newspaper, being able to fold it over and read an article. To take it with me anywhere”. That was the sentiment of the majority of the class, and I agreed with it.

About eight years ago, I stopped subscribing to our local paper when it was sold to a national outfit that produced thin papers and thinner copy. Not fit to wrap day-old fish in? It wasn’t even worth my while to walk to the end of the driveway each morning if I had had day-old fish. Besides, even with a clunky interface, the online edition was much more up-to-date.

But, I couldn’t imagine that the online news experience could carry over to my pleasure reading. How could I enjoy reading if I didn’t have that smell of paper, the tactile feel of a book, the ability to hear the spine give just slightly as I opened it for the first time? What would I do if there were graphs or photographs, even if only a headshot of the author in a pretentious author pose? How would I find books if everything was electronic and there were no bookstore shelves to peruse?

Eventually, however, at a point where I needed a book immediately and didn’t want to pay for the expedited shipping, I caved, downloaded the Kindle app and began reading.

You know what? The world didn’t stop turning on its axis. Printing presses didn’t stop churning out books immediately. My reading experience wasn’t hampered in any way. In fact, it was enhanced: I could now look up words without having a heavy dictionary nearby; I could mark passages and write notes that I could easily find for later reference; I didn’t find it annoying that I had to swipe my finger across the screen at the end of every page. I found that I finished a few books — ones I had not realized were greater than 500 pages in print — in a record time for me, a notoriously slow reader often discouraged by lengthy tomes. I no longer had to worry that my book weight would put my luggage over the limits at the airport, nor did I need to worry that I wouldn’t have a book that I wanted to read but had left at home. In short, ebooks did not have a negative impact on my reading. And you know what? Sometimes the old books are musty smelling, and, after too much wear, the spines fall apart and you need rubber bands to hold the book together before you reach the final pages.

I still like physical books, and, although I’ve bought fewer this year, I’m waiting for some bookcases to go on sale. (Gotta love that law of supply & demand!) My son recently told me that under no circumstances was I ever to buy him a Kindle. “I’m not reading a book on a little screen. I want to go to bookstores, like the Strand*, and I won’t contribute to their demise, won’t do in my favorite past-time.” He does have a point, but I’m hoping that bookstores, both new and used, chain and independents, find a way to adapt. I want lots of choices, but I don’t think that bookstores have to be bricks and mortar any more than books need to be paper and ink.

So, what do I see as a major drawback to an ebook rather than an physical book? When I’ve been reading while lying on the sofa or in bed and I fall asleep, with a physical book I’m less likely to have a slight bruise or bump on my forehead when I wake up. Dropping an iPad on your head can hurt! But when reading an ebook, I am more likely to know exactly where I stopped reading.

*Both B & I agree, Strand Books is the most awesome bookstore. So awesome that the word ‘awesome’ doesn’t really describe it!

Book Dilemma

For more than a few years, I have had a running feud with my local library. Really, it was a one-sided feud, but it did keep me from checking out any books for a long, long time. I bought a lot of books during that time, but not enough to keep Borders in business.

Recently, I decided that my feud was a bit silly, and that I really should start using the public library more often. So, a few months ago, despite my reluctance to show my face at the library, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and went to talk to the stern librarian.

I need a new card, I told her politely, handing her my driver’s license and another proof of residency.

She looked up my name. We have a problem. You’ll have to talk to… and she muttered some unintelligible name.

What do I have to do to talk to her? I said, guessing that Muttered Name was feminine.

I got an odd look from her. Just stay here. You have several fines. She turned and walked into the small office behind the circulation desk.

I looked toward the door. I wondered if there were librarian apprentices ready to pour hot oil on me if I tried to escape. Not that the modern automatic doors looked anything like a portcullis, but I’m sure that there were at least a few books in that library that taught me about hot oil, portcullises, and stern librarians, though I doubt all at once.

A second librarian came out. She looked at me and my driver’s license and scanned the computer.

You can’t have another card until you pay your fine. That will be $36.10.

Maybe that feud wasn’t so one-sided.

I tried to keep my cool. Could you please tell me what those fines are for? I thought I had cleared all my fines before I decided to not darken the door of the library again.

There was a book that you never returned.

Yes, it was a book about glassblowers in New Bedford, Massachusetts in the 1890s. Lost.

She looked at me. Yes, it was. You have a good memory. $36.10 is the total.

So does the library, I thought.

I paid for the book — twice. I thought that after five years perhaps you had finally updated your books. I looked towards the stacks quickly and then added: Your receivables books, I mean.

I paid the library, and then they referred it to a collection agency. I wasn’t very happy with the runaround I got trying to work that out. Eventually I just gave up. That was about five years ago.

Seven years ago, she corrected me.

I paid the credit agency. Really, $25 gets you referred to a credit agency? And I had paid! I didn’t want that on my report, but I really don’t like it that I already paid $50 for that book. Guess I’ll have to wait another seven years?

She looked at me. Then, she looked at the computer.

The book wasn’t even suppose to be on the stacks. It had a discard notice in it when I checked it out. It hadn’t been out of the library for years.

I thought about adding “Maybe even centuries” but I didn’t think that this woman had much of a sense of humor.

I don’t know why it would have been on the shelves then.

Hmmm…because someone made a mistake, I thought. Don’t you think they happen here?

I kept my mouth shut and took a deep breath, which came out more like an exasperated sigh.

(Okay. Okay. It was an exasperated sigh!)

What’s the extra charge?

A charge for referring you to the credit agency.

She stood looking at the computer screen for another minute.

Well, what can we do to resolve this? Please give me the number of someone who can help me at the main branch. I’d like to use this library that I pay lots of taxes for. My voice was starting to quiver and I knew I was standing on the corner of Mean and Smart-Ass.

I have to charge you the $10 agency fee. I don’t have the authority to dismiss that. I’ll mark the book as ‘Lost’. So, $11.10.

What’s the $1.10?

Another late charge. Book returned.

I vaguely remembered the book. It was something read for Book Club. I paid the reduced fine, got my new card, updated my library web access and email, and looked moronic as I tried to figure out how to use the barcode scanner. Apparently the library now has clerks stand there and watch you check the books out, one at each self-serve scanner.

I’ve been back a few times since, feeding my book hunger. Today I received a notice that three books that I’ve had on hold had arrived. When I looked on the hold shelf (because the librarians and clerks don’t keep those behind the desk now either) I discovered that 11 of my hold requests had arrived. I should have brought a bag. One had not been checked out of the central library in decades and sported a check out card that looked like the kind used when I was a child.

Now my dilemma: Which of these do I read first? I’ve narrowed it down to four:

Just Kids, Patti Smith. I’ve been wanting to read this for months!
The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls. My November Book Club book. I think the person who selected this is going to hate it.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz. I heard Diaz speak at a panel discussion at the New Yorker Festival a few weeks ago. Later that same weekend I was having dinner with friends. The book got one thumbs up, one thumbs down, and one person gave a mixed review, but added that I would love it.
Wench, Dolen Perkins-Valdez. The lovely Anne Fernald posted something from the Kindle version of this book to FB recently. I think it sounds intriguing.

Two novels, two memoirs. I hope it will be a busy reading weekend.

Suggestions needed

I have started tutoring a 4th grade student in reading. I’ve only met with the student once, and I haven’t received any information yet from his teacher. All of the students in this tutoring program are suppose to be at least one grade level behind. In our initial meeting, from talking to him, it didn’t seem like he was. No matter, I think he could benefit from some one-on-one time.

During our session he said that he hated school, didn’t like to ‘write’, but liked telling stories. He also likes space. He also said that his favorite book was about the controversy over whether Pluto was a planet or not.

I’ve looked through all of the leveled books available to the tutors that have anything to do with space. Really? No wonder kids don’t like to read if these are the choices available to them. I thought they were really boring. So…..

What I’d like to do is to read a sci-fi book with him. I need something that isn’t too difficult, but will capture his attention. And it needs to have a space theme. The first thing that came to mind was something by Jules Verne. Although I haven’t read much by him — and not for several decades — I’m wondering if this might be a good choice.

Come on all of you librarians and teachers out there. What could I read with this bright boy who is neither a good student or reader. At least, by how the school system measures those things.

I’m not knocking testing and measurement — those things are important and this boy needs to catch up with his peers if he wants to be a success. We’ll meet weekly for one hour throughout the school year. I refuse to believe that we can’t find something that will help this young man.

Book group reading

Book groups are an odd thing. It takes a long time to get a group together that has the right synergy, where all members of the group can use the same language to discuss, yet also bring their own perspectives.

I’ve been in the same book group for about 9 years now. There have been lots of changes over the years and only three of the original members are still in the group. We started with four women in their forties, and four women in their eighties. Sadly, none of the four older women are still able to participate. Two have died, one moved across country where her family could care for her, and the fourth decided that it was too much for her to do because of limited eyesight and limited mobility. So, we’ve had a lot of attrition. We’ve had some people who only show up for one or two months and then move on. Others who say that they will join us, but never do. Sometimes I think it is because of the books that we read. Or don’t read.

Now here is where I’m going to sound very complaining. I do not want to read “uplifting” spiritual autobiographies, especially when they espouse a theological perspective that I don’t agree with and one that states — flat out — that I am not only wrong, but doomed. I find nothing to discuss, although plenty to argue about. Yet, I won’t argue because I don’t much see the point. Now, should we have decided to read a theologian and then discussed his arguments, I would be okay with that. But don’t ask me again to read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and then fawn over it without looking critically at Lewis’ allegory.

I don’t want to read self-help books. I can use help, but I doubt that I’ll find it in a book unless it is the The Guide to Plumbing for the Inept. We read “The Happiness Project” last year. I couldn’t find much to say about it other than once the author began a blog along about Month Four of her project, the book seemed to rely heavily on excerpts from the blog. I could have just read it online. I would have been happier — and with a few more dollars in my pocket.

I won’t stand for romance novels. I cannot convince some of my fellow members that Debbie Macomber and Judy Piccoult fit into this category, even if some of their books are not romance per se. I don’t buy this type of book and I’ve given up the ruse of acting like I’m going to read it by checking it out from the library.

I made to pretense to reading Glen Beck’s Christmas story, either. It was not an option, though I showed up for that month’s meeting, as we always go out to dinner in December.

I am willing to read suggested works from the library’s “classic books” list, but the problem is frequently that I’ve read most of what the others have not. I didn’t like Pilgrim’s Progress or The Scarlet Letter three decades ago when I was an English Lit major and while I might be more appreciative of them now, I don’t really care to re-read them. The librarians also seem to not have noticed that there has been good literature written in the last 70 years. Listing an outdated list of great literature by dead white guys seems pretty lame to me. Reading many of those works does to.

When I’ve had an opportunity to choose a book, I’ve been known to spook the others with my choices. I don’t know if some in the group have forgiven me yet for choosing Anna Karenina. One of the group said about that book: “I knew it was going to be sad as it came to the end, but I didn’t see that train coming”. I didn’t score points by thinking that this was one of the funniest things I had ever heard. She has probably forgotten that, but I don’t think that I will.

Why then, you might ask, do I stay in this group? Because every month I met with five other extraordinary women, ranging in age from 29 to 72, who come from very different backgrounds and we all love to read, despite having differences of opinion as to what is worthwhile to read. I may be a literary snob in my reading choices, but I have been surprised sometime, and I like that possibility.

This month, we are reading Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. I had never read the book before, and although I was familiar with the title and knew that it had been made into a movie years ago, I knew little about it. I have only read about 30 pages so far and I’m not sure that I’ve been ‘caught’ by the book yet, which is to say that I could put it down. Or so I was thinking until I reached the end of chapter two. Francie, the heroine of the book, loves to read.

Francie held the books close and hurried home, resisting the temptation to sit on the first stoop she came to, to start reading….The story of Francois Villon was more wonderful each time she read it. Sometimes she worried for fear the book would be lost in the library and she’d never be able to read it again. She had once started copying the book in a two-cent notebook. She wanted to own a book so badly and she had thought the copying would do it. But the penciled sheets did not seem like nor smell like the library book so she had given it up, consoling herself with the vow that when she grew up, she would work hard, save money and buy every single book that she liked.

I think I just fell in love with 11-year old Francie and will keep reading.

>Current reading….

>Although I haven’t been doing much blogging for the last week or so, I have been reading. I’m making steady progress through Willa Cather’s My Antonia. It was my reading group’s pick this month. Although we already met to discuss it, I still intend on finishing it.

At the same time, I’m reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead for another book discussion group. I have about 80 pages left before tomorrow’s discussion, so I hope I get it finished.

Although it is coincidental that I’m reading these two books at the same time, I’m enjoying that the locale for both is the Great Plains. It’s interesting to see how each writer describes the land.

Gilead captured my attention in the first few sentences. Here is an excerpt from the first paragraph, as the aging and dying narrator begins drafting a letter to his young son to be read when he reaches adulthood:

You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother’s. It’s a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern. I’m always a little surprised to find my eyebrows unsinged after I’ve suffered one of those looks. I will miss them.

What gorgeous writing! I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about this after I’ve finished reading. Now, a little more than 1/2 through the book I’m perplexed as to why Robinson set it in 1956. Other than the easy ability for the narrator to write about his grandfather and the Civil War, setting the book in the mid-50’s doesn’t seem necessary. However, maybe there is something in the plot yet to be revealed that would only work in the 1950’s. Another thing that I like about the book is that while the letter is often prosaic, there is a quality that indicates that it was written by an old person, especially when the narrator seemingly repeats things.