Posts Tagged ‘reading’

So, I’ve been thinking about reading and rereading books. How is it that the book is totally different than the last time I read it?

I don’t often reread books, at least books that I am not teaching over and over. There are so many I haven’t read once yet, that I tend to move on rather than review. When I do reread with significant time in between readings, it is surprising how the books change when I am not looking. Why is this not making the news?

A number of years ago this happened with To Kill A Mockingbird. I read it when I was in middle school, saw the movie with Gregory Peck, loved the name Scout, and had vivid memories of the trial and the neighbor saying she would die “beholden to nothin’ and nobody.” And that’s how it stayed in my mind. Then, I reread the book in anticipation of using it in a sample teaching lesson for an interview many years ago. I was shocked to find that the trial parts had shrunk so much over the years. And, why did so much other stuff got added? Where did that come from?

Now the same thing has happened again. The stealthy editing gods have struck while I was busy doing something else. This time the victim was The Odyssey. Again, I read it in high school. I taught Ancient Greece to 5th graders, and read Bernard Evslin’s The Adventures of Ulysses with my 5th graders every year. Now, I am rereading the non-junior version of The Odyssey (Fagels’ translation) and again shocked to find that someone has been messing with the story. The “adventures” have been shrunk and Telemachus has taken over the beginning. Evslin’s retelling highlighted the wily Odysseus’ heroic qualities, making it clear why he was the leader at every turn, while not sugarcoating his responsibility for the loss of his men. The monsters and immortals were a diverse team of challengers who tried every trick in the book to keep him from Ithaca. When he finally got home, the suitors were in trouble. No changes there, although Evslin certainly got to the point more quickly.

Although these particular examples occurred years apart, they highlight just how unreliable memory, or at least my memory, is. I’ve been reading up on the brain and learning and memory recently. So, I know, in my brain, that the more times we recall a memory the stronger it gets, AND every time we recall a memory we also may change it. It’s such a double whammy. If you don’t keep recalling the memory you lose it, but by recalling it becomes less and less like the original memory.

I have some questions for myself:

  • What about the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird made me come back to it again and again in a way that other parts of the book did not?
  • Why did the line “I want to die beholden to nothin’ and nobody” make such an impression, if, in fact, that is even the correct line?
  • Do other people enjoy all that Telemachus bit at the beginning or are they waiting for the adventures too?
  • Did Odysseus always do so much weeping? Why didn’t I remember that?

Anyone else have a book that has changed on them?



So, I’ve been thinking about too many things. It’s all swirling around in my head and sometimes it gets overwhelming. I’m trying to find some books to hold me up, balance the yelling, and remind me that there is sense to be made.

fullsizerenderI turned to Maira Kalman. When my personal kids were younger, we used to read Last Stop Grand Central a lot. It was the basis of our first family trip to New York. We went to lots of the places we had read about over and over in the book. And, since my kids got me for a mom, we also spent more time that they might have liked in The Met.* Anyway, I have read and enjoyed a number of Ms. Kalman’s works and illustrations. I appreciate that she is an observer and a connector of disparate ideas. I would like to think that I connect ideas in a somewhat similar way. Although we have never met, when I read her books, I feel like we should be friends and take collecting walks together while wearing hats and stopping for snacks. Even though I know Ms. Kalman is not a Quaker, this is the phrase that comes mind when I read her books “that Friend speaks my mind.”

I need to read something that felt familiar, but that also seemed to make sense and that combined facts in ways to help me think about complex ideas rather than something that creates alternate facts to try to get me to simplify complex ideas. Ms. Kalman wrote And the Pursuit of Happiness after President Obama was first elected and she was feeling positive about the country. I would like to be able to feel that way about my country now. I remembered the optimism of the book; however, upon rereading it, I also appreciated the acknowledgment of conflict and imperfection in our origins and ourselves.

This set me on a Maira Kalman rereading adventure. Like my taxonomy projects, I thought 5 was a good number of her books to reread.

I reread The Principles of Uncertainty, which, not surprisingly given the title, is more disquieting. For example, she writes “my brain is exploding. Trying to make sense out of nonsense, trying to tell you everything (everything?) and all the while time is fleeing.” (p.11) Again, this Friend speaks my mind.

I reread Girls Standing on Lawn.

I reread My Favorite Things.

I reread Ah-ha to Zig-Zag.

(I didn’t reread Next Stop Grand Central)

I google her and wandered around her website. I read an interview with her on The Great Discontent.

For me, Ms. Kalman provides one model of how to think about the world in a personal way; she shares her favorite artworks and admires hats in one sentence and in the next takes on the contradictions in our nation’s founding documents.


*It is never too early to take a kid to an art museum, says me who strapped my daughter into the baby-bjorn carrier and headed to the Terra Museum in Chicago (sigh, so sad that it is gone) when she was 3 weeks old. It will not surprise anyone to know that she does not remember this trip.

OCO Public Domain image. I don't know where this is, but I want to go.

OCO Public Domain image. I don’t know where this is, but I want to go.

So, I’ve been thinking about reading, my reading. Since I am an English teacher, among other things, this is not that surprising. However, after some thought, I am wondering if I read like a grown up, or like a serious, English teacher grown up (use deep, serious voice when reading that).

I mean I can read like a grown up. I can read big words; I can read long, serious books (use a deep, serious voice when reading that too); I can read books that have been critically reviewed. Also, I am not good at reading a little bit each night before I go to bed, which seems like another grown up thing to do. Again, I do sometimes do this, and I appreciate books with good resting/pausing places so that I do stop.

Of course, during the school year, I read and reread books in chunks and in parts. I read carefully and underline. I think a lot about what I read, what it might mean, and how best to talk about that with my students.

When I read just for myself, I am good at is reading for hours at a time and ignoring other things when I am enjoying a book. I like to find a book (critical acclaim is fine, but not required) and then inhale it. This means that there are times that I read a lot, and there are times that I don’t read as much (or not as many books anyway). Since my office is pretty much in the library at my school (yay!), I take out a lot of books. Sometimes I take out books with attractive covers. Sometimes, I just check out a stack of books I’ve been meaning to read. I return plenty of them unread, but I can always try again.

Does this make me not a grown up reader?

Do I care?

Kids and Reading

Posted: April 12, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

My personal kids reading in my school’s new Learning and Research Center. They found the graphic novel section and were all set.

So, I’ve been thinking about reading and kids, my school kids and my personal kids.

I have to say I love seeing kids read. LOVE IT. A LOT. Watching my son or daughter read, seeing them engrossed, it just melts my heart, every time. My kids are not new to reading. Even before they could read to themselves, they loved to have books read to them. (Learning to read was not easy for everyone at my house.) We still read out loud as a family, although not that often anymore. Each kid has favorite picture books and chapter books which stay in special piles. And yet there are times when reading just doesn’t happen for a while, and sometimes I get nervous about it. But, I try to keep some perspective about the bigger picture of their reading life. I know that books are part of our family and our house.

I love seeing my school kids read too. Unfortunately I don’t really get to watch them read much. Plus, it can get a little creepy, me just staring at kids who are not mine, really. They mostly do, or don’t do, the reading at home and we talk about it at school. I would like to make more time for reading in class and know more about my students’ reading selves and lives. The other day we had a chance to read quietly in class. One student said we’d been reading for a long time (it had been 15 minutes), but most of the students settled in just fine. There’s something about reading in community (a silent, individual and communal activity) that feels different than reading alone; it’s nice to have the group there sometimes.

I think a person’s reading life is a tidal, and that’s ok. If the tide is out at the moment, it’s not permanent. For me, the tide was out for a lot my high school and college years. I did not really read much that wasn’t assigned. Who had the time? I had school work, sports, activities, and some friends, and that was nothing compared to how busy some students are today. The tide came back in once I was out of school. I found big categories of books that I had never read before, but were hugely interesting to me (women pioneer memoirs–can’t get enough of them). I found authors I enjoyed and read through their works back to back to back.

And then the tide went out again. I had a kid and then another. Between the reading I needed to do to teach and the time I spent with my kids, my reading time was limited. A long New Yorker article was more my speed. But, I also read a lot of great picture books and found that there was an entire universe of books I had not thought about in years. There are the silly ones, but there are scores of beautiful, powerful, poignant, picture books out there, many of which now live in our house. These are books to read again and again.

When the tide came in again, I kept some of my previous interests for sure, but added others. I started reading a lot of food related titles, more essay collections, and added titles that my students were reading (which meant middle grade books for a long time). When I moved to the Upper School, I got to walk through the library all the time. I could check out all sorts of new fiction that came in and was prominently displayed. As I began teaching 9th grade English, I went on a Nigerian female author bender as I looked for a book to compliment Things Fall Apart. And, in an attempt to broaden my reading palette, I have added graphic novels to my reading diet, which I wrote about recently.

There are huge gaps in my reading history. Oh well. There are also huge gaps in my exercising history. These things happen. I guess my hope is that I can find a way to support my kids’, both school and personal, in their reading so that they do not necessarily have a big span of years when the tide is out on reading. But if they do, and I suspect know many of them will, I hope they remember that this break is not permanent. The books they used to like will still be there and new titles will be waiting to be discovered.

So, I’ve been thinking about the graphic novel Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimistriou with art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Dona and graphic novels in general.

I read the book last year when my school library got it and put it in a prominent position on the graphic novel shelf. The title alone was intriguing and knowing I was going to be teaching a course called Truth and Fiction meant I was double intrigued.

I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels in the past few years for a few reasons. First, my personal kids like them and I like to read what they read so that we can talk about what the same book. Seriously, there are very few more satisfying dinner table conversations than when we are all talking about a book we love or don’t love. Next, the graphic novel genre is not one I know well, and I am trying to fix that. I’ve been reading some that are aimed at the middle school crowd, some aimed at the older kids, some commentary, and some that just have good cover art. I will admit, I am more influenced than I probably should be by a good cover. One group I have not read a lot is the classic superhero graphic novels. I have Watchmen on my desk, staring at me, watching me, while I read other books. (I recently watched the ThugNotes video on it, and I’m ready to give it a solid attempt. Soon.)

In addition, I am a fan of books that integrate drawing and graphics into a story even if you might not look at them and say graphic novel. For example, I LOVED Maira Kalman’s And the Pursuit of Happiness. Another book I noticed on the library shelf at school. This is totally the way my brain works when it’s spinning. Some information, some story, a great image, some art, some potentially random connections and leaps of logic. Finding an author who speaks your language is exhilarating. On the other hand, The Collected Works of T. S. Spivet, although highly recommended by NPR librarian/reviewer Nancy Pearl had a lot of potential with side notes and maps of all manner of things and events, but somehow it didn’t work for me.

Back to Logicomix. Reading it has made me unwilling to read mediocre graphic novels. By that I mean graphic novels where I can’t tell the characters apart because one angry young man looks just like every other angry young man, and they are all in a band together playing angry music. Sigh. I am not the target audience for that book. I have also discovered that I do not appreciate marching through row upon row of same sized rectangles. I may have set my standards too high, but I blame Logicomix again. The interesting and thoughtful paneling layouts added to the story.

Before the winter holidays, I read a pair of graphic novels about the development of the atomic bomb. Having seen a review of the newer Trinity by Jonathan Fetter Vorm, I was interested in checking it out. One not very flattering review mentioned the older Fallout by Jim Ottaviani so my school’s librarian got them both for me through interlibrary loan. I love having a library at my place of work. Have I mentioned that before? It is seriously fantastic. Both books are about the Manhattan Project and therefore have many of the same people in them. In addition, both are in black and white. Even with these similarities the books differ in style, story, and concept. Fallout has a lot more surrounding events and a longer timeline. Trinity is a more straightforward narrative with some helpful science explanations to help the reader. I enjoyed them both and did not feel that Trinity was a poorly done remake of Fallout.

Then over winter break I read the charming Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, author of the Lumberjanes series. Nimona is a wannabe supervillain sidekick. She is pudgy, has some anger issues, doesn’t run around in the equivalent of a swim suit, and ends of sidekicking for a super villain who may or may not be more good guy than bad guy. Totally lovely. My personal kids had already read it and had somehow neglected to tell me that I should do the same.

I am slowly working my way to some comics and have recently read a collection of issues of Chew, a series from Image Comics where the main characters have food related superpowers. Weird and not for the squeamish, but I’ll be reading more.

Anyway, I think the point here, if there is one, is that this relatively new-to-me genre is one that I am actually starting to understand and appreciate. I have put in some time to get here, and it has been worth it. Do students get to have this experience? Do they get to decide to take on something of their choosing, about which they know very little, and just keep going on their own, changing direction, altering their course, ultimately reaching some level of understanding they can articulate for themselves?