Archive for the ‘reading’ Category


Reading Is To The Mind What Exercise Is To The Body*

July 14, 2010

A large, still book is a piece of quietness, succulent and nourishing in a noisy world, which I approach and imbibe with “a sort of greedy enjoyment,” as Marcel Proust said of those rooms of his old home whose air was “saturated with the bouquet of silence.” • Holbrook Jackson

The alarm on my phone will soon be melodically reminding me to shower and get ready for work. I’ve been reading my way into the day. Sometimes this is simply a relaxing time of mindlessness and other times, I nibble at several books at once, taking small bites and chewing on them, doing a bit of writing as well.

The time to read is any time: no apparatus, no appointment of time and place, is necessary. It is the only art which can be practised at any hour of the day or night, whenever the time and inclination comes, that is your time for reading; in joy or sorrow, health or illness. • Holbrook Jackson

These nibblebooks are usually related to Collectory topics I’m interested in, and they are the ones I collect, the ones that line the shelves in every room. They’re mostly non-fiction. Cottoncandy quickread books are mostly fiction and are usually only brief guests in my home. The volumes of fiction that settle in on my shelves are those I want to read and reread because of the lyricism of their language or the connections of their content.

Books are delightful society. If you go into a room and find it full of books – even without taking them from the shelves they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome. • William Ewart Gladstone

I’m not sure where the myth comes from that says once you begin a book you should always read it from start to finish. Do schools promote this fiction? I seldom do this with non-fiction. I choose a chapter that interests me and begin there. Or I search the index for a particular topic and read all the references to that area of interest first. Or I look in the index for topics I’m not familiar with. Or I just flip through the book, waiting for something to catch my eye. Almost always I’ve finished the entire book before I realize there’s nothing I haven’t read. I just haven’t read it in the order it was written. Instead, I read it in the order of personal interest.

An ordinary man can… surround himself with two thousand books… and thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy. • Augustine Birrell

I also quit reading books that don’t interest me. This is particularly true for fiction since I’m aware that with non-fiction, especially books related to something I’m exploring, I may bring different eyes to the task later. Still, once you’re not in school and have no academic or professional reasons for reading something, it’s okay to close the covers and say adieu.

What are your reading patterns?

Books support us in our solitude and keep us from being a burden to ourselves. • Jeremy Collier

* The title quotation is provided by Richard Steele from The Tatler in 1710.


Some Books Are To Be Tasted, Others To Be Swallowed, And Some Few To Be Chewed And Digested,* And Some Books Just Slide Right Down The Gullet, Lubricated By Silliness And Seasoned With Absurdity

July 7, 2010

The covers of this book are too far apart. • Ambrose Bierce

I’ve confessed many times to reading middle-of-the-night books that few academics would brag about, but as a teacher who’s concerned with literacy issues, I feel compelled to reveal my bookish secrets. I read lots of stuff just for fun and I read lots of books and articles that most people would have little interest in. I reference the serious ones in other venues, since they represent the kind of reading that only the interested would be interested in. I love this intellectual stuff too, but I don’t feel compelled to impress you with my erudition. If it isn’t enough that I use the word erudition correctly in a sentence, clearly you are people who will never be pleased, so I might as well not worry about it.

There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it. • Bertrand Russell

When I write about books here, I hope to remind people that reading can be fun. That isn’t always the message students get in school where reading can be boring and tedious and can require intense concentration in order to take away requisite knowledge. This is a skill students need—the ability to persist even when the reading is less than entrancing—but they also need to learn how amusing books can be.

Every night, I have to read a book, so that my mind will stop thinking about things that I stress about. • Britney Spears

I wear a quiet hat in class to get students’ attention. It’s a horned plastic helmet and I’ve just discovered that Vikings never wore such headgear. This piece of historical myth-information is debunked by Michael Powell’s (2010, New York: Fall River Press) Lies You Learned at School. Page 18 reveals that “the Viking fighting style actually precluded their [horned helmets’] use.” I unlearned much more—you’ll have to buy the book.

I was reading a book…’the history of glue’ – I couldn’t put it down. • Tim Vine

How could anyone who collects old sex books pass up The Best of Sexology: The Illustrated Magazine of Sex Science? This book, edited by Craig Yoe promises on its cover that readers will be treated to “kinky and kooky excerpts from America’s first sex magazine.” I am hooked before I open it and can only hope that there will be breast stuff within. And there is, a whole article devoted to “Polymastia. . .Multiple Breasts” by Sara R. Riedman, Ph.D. I also find a picture of a spiked blouse designed to protect women from contact with those who might wish to cop a feel. What treats!

A bad book is as much of a labor to write as a good one; it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul. • Aldous Huxley

I’m a sucker for first sentences that grab my attention, so I love this one from Daniel Waters (2008, New York: Hyperion), Generation Dead. “Phoebe and her friends held their breath as the dead girl in the plaid skirt walked past their table in the lunchroom” (p. 1). This tale chronicles the story of “living impaired or “differently biotic” teens who won’t stay dead and who just want to fit in. I’ll use this for reading aloud at the start of class.

There is a great deal of difference between an eager man [or women] who wants to read a book and a tired man [or woman] who wants a book to read. • G.K. Chesterton

Twisted: Tales from the Wacky Side of Life is the kind of you-had-me-at-hello title that always appeals to me. This 2006 (New York: MJF Books) book from Bob Fenster is packed with strange quotations, facts, anecdotes and other odd stuff I hadn’t seen before. For example, I learn on page 178 that First Lady Patricia Nixon “was named Macaroni Woman of the Year by the American Macaroni Institute” and was even “sculpted in pasta.” I drift off into thought for a moment thinking about this. The only pasta art I’m familiar with is macaroni necklaces. Do pasta sculptors use cooked or dry noodles?

I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage. • Charles de Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, Pensées Diverses

“My first conscious recognition of being abducted [by aliens] was in 1988” (p. 106). This is the opening sentence from one of the chapters in How It Feels to Be Attacked by a Shark and Other Amazing Life-or-Death Situations!, a book of real-life stories edited by Michelle Hamer (2007, New York: MJF Books). If you’ve ever wondered how it feels to choke to death on a cheeseburger, to be shot in the heart with a nail gun, to win the lottery, to be caught in a cyclone, or to have quintuplets, this is the book for you.

So there they are, a few of my recent summer purchases, books that will entertain me and my students, books I claim proudly as my own, knowing that my choices will impress no one.

There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs. • Henry Ward Beecher

What kind of summer reading do you secretly—or openly–enjoy?

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. • P.J. O’Rourke

* Thanks to Frances Bacon for the quotation at the beginning of the title.


The Book That Changed My View Of My Education And Got Me Into Trouble When I Asked My U.S. History Teacher Why We Hadn’t Read About This Topic In Our Textbooks

June 10, 2010

For Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach. • Upton Sinclair about his book, The Jungle

When I was in middle school, I accidentally read Upton Sinclair’s (1906) The Jungle. I wasn’t looking for a book about conditions in the meat-packing industry. I was in my rainforest, Amazon, South American, piranha, big-huge-scary-snake, jungle phase of reading, the one that followed my fascination with all things Egyptian.

I’ve always loved non-fiction and my childhood search strategy was to read everything related to a subject that I could find. I used the card catalog as my primary search tool, although I also hunted through the stacks using the Dewey Decimal System. The Jungle is fiction, a fact-based exposé that didn’t have anything to do with the topic I was currently exploring, but I took it home because of its title and because it interested me when I paged through it.

Once I really began reading, I was repelled and fascinated. On my next visit to the library, I looked up more about the topic and found out that the conditions in the United States meat packing industry that Sinclair exposed in his book led to the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. I asked my history teacher why we hadn’t learned about this in class and why it wasn’t in our textbook and he told me to be quiet, that it wasn’t possible to cover everything. And that was the end of it.

There’s a new food safety act before the Senate—The Food Safety Modernization Act—that would overhaul a system that’s over a century old. According to an article in The Oregonian (Portland), May 31, 2010, p. A1, “One-size-fits-all reforms may not fit small farmers,” by Lynne Terry, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention “estimates that every year 76 million people get sick and 5,000 die from food poisoning.”

Small farmers, including many growers who sell at small farmers’ markets, believe the bill needs exceptions for local growers, saying that this bill and one already passed by the House, could put them out of business because of related expenses. I’m torn. I love our local growers’ market. Saturdays are special when you can buy produce directly from its grower. I don’t know enough to take a stand on this issue.

I’m reminded that research is always necessary if you want to make an informed decision about something and that school doesn’t teach you everything you need to know.

Write about significant book from your childhood.

Children don’t read to find their identity, to free themselves from guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion or to get rid of alienation. They have no use for psychology…. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff…. When a book is boring, they yawn openly. They don’t expect their writer to redeem humanity, but leave to adults such childish illusions. • Isaac Bashevis Singer


Don’t Miss This Recipe For Hard Cooked Egg Cobbler That’s Yummy Or Yucky Depending On Your Tastes Since I Realize That While I Find It Repellent, Apparently Others Considered It Quite Tasty

June 10, 2010

For Tuesday, June 8, 2010

As life’s pleasures go, food is second only to sex. Except for salami and eggs. Now that’s better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced. • Alan King

The kinds of books we read sometimes depend on what’s happening in our lives. Sometimes they’re school-related or work-related or project-related. Some reading passions are ongoing, though, and cookbooks are one of mine. Once upon a time, I wrote a twice-weekly cooking column in the newspaper and I’m still a sucker for collections of recipes.

Although I enjoy looking for cooking instructions online when I know what I want to make, when I read cookbooks, I find recipes for things I’d never considered making. Since we like eating at home, both my husband and I look for recipes we think we’ll enjoy trying. We Post-It® or print or bookmark these possibilities. And I find Collectory stuff among them.

I just bought a new cookbook, Kay West’s (2007) Around the Opry Table: A Feast of Recipes and Stories from the Grand Ole Opry®. I couldn’t resist the $2.49 price tag, especially when I found it full of so many things I wanted to remember. This is one of the ways I decide whether or not to buy a book after it passes the cost test. If there is just one thing I want from the book, I copy it down. Two, and I copy them down. Perhaps even with three. But once I pass the three mark and the book’s affordable, I figure I should just buy it. I found multiple things I want in West’s book.

The first I’ll share is a recipe I’ll use in two Collectorys: Food of the Clods and Yuckology. Bless her heart, it’s country singer Kitty Wells’ recipe for “Hard-Cooked Egg Cobbler” and it repels me just to read about it. Perhaps you will not feel the same way and will want to try it, so here it is, direct from p. 79:

Hard-Cooked Egg Cobbler

12 whole eggs

2 cups sugar

½ cup (1 stick) butter

Fresh grated nutmeg

2 pastry shells

Hard cook 12 whole eggs. (I’ll skip the directions for doing this). After draining them and immersing in cold water, immediately remove the shells and slice the eggs directly into a pastry-lined shallow casserole dish (8-by-12-inch is fine.)

Sprinkle two cups sugar over the eggs, [this is where the recipe went south for me—hardboiled eggs sprinkled with two cups of sugar just sounds disgusting] dot this with 1 stick of butter and sprinkle generously with nutmeg. Have ready 2 cups of boiling water and pour this over the egg, butter, and sugar combination. Place a top pastry over all and place in a medium-hot over (400 degrees) and cook until the top crust is nicely browned and the syrup formed has bubbled up around the edges. Serve warm or set aside and serve cold. It’s good either way.

I learn as I read about Miss Wells that “she was known among family, friends, and colleagues for her skills in the kitchen” (p. 77) and that she wrote The Kitty Wells Country Kitchen Cookbook (1964). I also learn something that I’ll add to my music Collectory, the one where I save band names: although Wells’ 1952 recording of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” (written by J.D. Miller) was a number one Billboard hit, it was banned by the NBC radio network and Wells wasn’t allowed to perform it on the Opry. Its raciness seems quaint by today’s much, much looser standards.

But wait there’s more. I have a candy Collectory too, and West’s book reveals how “GooGoo Clusters” got their name. The clusters were created in 1912 by Howell Campbell and were the first candy bar with multiple ingredients. At first unnamed, the candy got its name during a conversation Campbell had with a schoolteacher who said that it was “so good, people would ask for it from birth.” Campbell then named the candy after the sound his newborn son made: GooGoo (p. 20).

One of my friends calls cookbooks pornography for dieters. I suppose they are. But they’re also pieces of history that show social and cultural changes over time. The exploration of food histories is a species of autoethnographic research that can reveal many aspects of familial and personal history.

What’s your favorite recipe or favorite food?

I’ve decided life is too fragile to finish a book I dislike just because it cost $16.95 and everyone else loved it. Or eat a fried egg with a broken yolk (which I hate) when the dog would leap over the St. Louis Arch for it. • Erma Bombeck (And I am delighted to include a quotation that I already loved that includes books and eggs, not easy to find!)


Medicine For The Soul* And A Prescription For Happiness

June 10, 2010

For Monday, June 7, 2010 (I have been unable to access my blog for posting for several days, so I’ve been writing, but not posting and hoping for better luck.)

People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading. • Logan Pearsall Smith, Trivia, 1917

I’m shopping with my grandsons and they want books. I do too, although I hesitate because I know I’ll have to schlep them across the country. I’ve done this before, seeding the volumes among my clothes, weighing my suitcases down until I can scarcely lift them. I always promise myself I won’t do it again, but I break this promise every time I leave home. Books are the addiction I cannot resist. They delight, comfort, inspire, and inform me daily.

I pass up many enticing volumes, making lists in the notebook I carry everywhere (remember my hunt for cargo pants with pockets?). I see them in bookstores and in the Smithsonian’s gift shops. I read about them in the newspaper: John Horgan’s Bookshelf column (p. A17) in the June 4, 2010, Wall Street Journal is devoted to a discussion of Nicholas Carr’s (2010) The Shallows. This book will be one of my first purchases when I return home. I won’t be able to wait for the paperback and I know I’ll want my own copy to write in as I continue to collect inspiration for The techNObots, an artmaking project that focuses on the human costs of technology.

Digression: I know it’s not advisable to write in books that belong to schools or libraries or other people, but I love to converse with books. I date my comments and can see the progression and origins of my thoughts over time as I reread and continue to reference my favorites. This form of journaling is relatively painless since it doesn’t require thinking up something to write about nor does it require finding something in which to capture your thoughts. Inspiration and margins are right there.

Horgan reports that Carr’s book explores what the internet is doing to our brains, quoting from the book: “When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” I’m in a motel with unreliable internet connectivity, so slow that many of the systems I’m working with time out before I can complete my work and I am unable to whiz around cyberspace in ways I’ve become used to.

This is frustrating since I feel beset by expectations that I’ll be able to work anywhere, anytime. It’s also freeing now that I’ve gotten my grades in and I’ve read students’ final essays posted online. I’m not going to worry about connecting while I’m out of town. If I’m able, I’ll post. If I’m able, I’ll check my email. But I won’t be spending hours trying to do what should theoretically take minutes. If I do, I’ll be spending all my time off in the frustrating quest for connection instead of exploring the historic city I’m in, thinking about what I’m presenting, and processing what I’ve heard from other presentations.

I’ll also have more time to look for books.

What kinds of books do you find it hard to resist?

Good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one. • Augustine Birrell, Obiter Dicta, “Book Buying”

* Inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes


I Never Go Anywhere Without A Book Or Two Or Three Or Four Or More

May 31, 2010

A book is like a garden carried in a pocket. • Chinese proverb

Many persons read and like fiction.  It does not tax the intelligence and the intelligence of most of us can so ill afford taxation that we rightly welcome any reading matter which avoids this. • Rose Macaulay 
(Or perhaps, Rose, some of us are taxing our intelligence so much that we need to levy some amusement.)

Warning: Touching story of self-sacrifice opens this post. Our son, who just recently bought an iPad, loaned my husband and I this delight for our train trip. What can you say about a son like that? Of course, we already knew he was wonderful, but this confirmed that he’s thoughtful too. I’ve already played with it enough to know that I want one. Unfortunately, only one of us at a time can use it to read the books available on it. We’re schlepping paperbooks aboard too.

I am tired. Our cross-country voyage begins today and ends on Thursday. Of course, I’ll be reading. I’ll be reading my summer syllabi and making sure I have the schedules planned for my classes. I’ll be reading my conference presentation materials and making sure I know what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it. I’ll be reading some of the things I haven’t had a chance to work on yet and writing reports to finish up the quarter. I’ll be reading for inspiration so I can write along the way.

I won’t be reading papers. I finished that yesterday. All I have left is final essays and they’re not due until later this week.

The author Gilbert Keith (usually known as G.K., even by those who weren’t his pals) said that there is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read.  Ditto for women.

I’ll also be reading junk. Stuff that’s the mental equivalent of cotton candy. It will taste good going in, but if I take the 300 pages or so and compress the wisdom, there won’t be much left. And that’s okay. So much of your life if you’re a teacher or student is consumed by reading the haftas. For me, many of the haftas are pleasurable, but sometimes, my brain needs a break. I’m looking forward to reading something that won’t stimulate a thousand thoughts. Two or three are all I want to deal with.

When my husband and I travel with books, we choose ones that we both want to read and when we finish with them, we leave them along the way for others to find and enjoy. A Post-It® gift message keeps our leavings out of the lost and found. This sprinkling the country with books is also one of the reasons I don’t travel with my favorites or with the non-fiction that is my particular addiction. I don’t want to have to carry it across the country and back.

I hope that required reading hasn’t dampened your enthusiasm for the joys of relaxing with an entertaining book. If you don’t usually read for fun, give it a try. Visit a bookstore and look in places you wouldn’t usually check for reading. Look for titles that are enticing. Summer is coming. Read.

If you’re going to read purely for fun, what kind(s) of reading do you choose? (Note: In an extremely informal survey of English teachers, many of them like books featuring serial killers, real and imaginary. It’s up to you to decide what this might mean.)

I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage. • Charles de Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, Pensées Diverses


I’d Rather Read Than Get Stuck In The Eye With A Pin. I’d Rather Read Than Sit On Top Of A Volcano Bubbling With Lava. I’d Rather Read Than Babysit My Little Brother. I’d Rather Read Than Eat Fried Liver. I’d Rather Read Than Smear Myself With Blackberry Jam And Sit On An Anthill.

May 15, 2010

People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.
• Logan Pearsall Smith

It always surprises me that so many people don’t like to read. Reading has been an escape and an ongoing comfort to me just about my entire life. Yet as many of my students have told me, reading is less than pleasurable for them. They struggle with making meaning from letters on the page, and their struggle saps the joy from the process. The “I’d Rather Read Than” question I used to ask was a twist on another question that helped me get to know them better: “I would rather _________ than read.” I’ve saved many of their creative answers to both.

Part of the problem for older students is that most of the reading they’ve been asked to do in school is dull. When you’re small, it’s repetitive too, designed to help you learn to read, but still dull and often boring. Hooking students on reading requires that they encounter words that are fun, playful, interesting, and meaningful, yet as students get older, the books often get even duller to the as-yet-undeveloped literary palate of adolescents.

I had a colleague in the English department when I was teaching high school who had a bulletin board that said “Read the Good Books First.” It was filled with covers of Great Books. If you were in her class, you could not choose your freetime reading. You had to choose from an approved list designed to improve cultural literacy and uplift the mind. There’s nothing wrong with these goals, but they don’t necessarily encourage a love of reading.

Junk food for the brain is what she called most of the books in my classroom where I had a huge library of paperback romances, mysteries, westerns, science fiction, and other books she called useless and pointless and a waste of time. (I had sets of discarded encyclopedias too—you’d be surprised how many students liked to sit and browse through them.)

The poet Walt Whitman probably would have agreed with her. He decried the burgeoning of mass-produced reading in an article in the Brooklyn Daily Times in 1857, writing, “Who will underrate the influence of loose popular literature in debauching the popular mind?” Mea culpa. I have corrupted many readers, leading them astray into the fields of interesting reading, hoping that something they encounter there will inspire a habit that will become a lifelong joy.

What do you like to read? What do you wish you liked to read? If you were answering the question, “ I would rather read than_____________,” what would you say?

You should only read what is truly good or what is frankly bad.
• Gertrude Stein