Tag Archives: reading

For the Love of Reading!

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Yes, I know it looks awkwardly painful to read on the floor in a scroochy position like that, but that was me as a kid.  I was the awkwardest nerd in Wright County, Iowa, when I was a boy.  But Dr. Seuss taught me early on to read and enjoy the imaginary worlds that reading created in my stupid little head.

I don’t remember the first actual book I read, other than to firmly believe it was a Dr. Seuss book like Yertle the Turtle, or Horton Hears a Who!  But I do remember the first chapter book, the first great adventure.  It was The White Stag by Kate Seredy.  It was the Newberry Medal winner published in 1937, and told the mythical journey of Hunor and Magyar, two brothers and leaders of two peoples who are on an epic quest to find the land where they belong by following a magical white stag.

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I was nine when I read and fell in love with that book.  I picked it off Miss Mennenga’s reading shelf because it was a simple red book with a plain red cover (the paper illustrated book cover had long since disintegrated in kids’ hands over time.)  Red was my favorite color.

But I fell in love with the movie version that unfolded in my mind’s eye.  It was when I learned to dive so deeply into a  book that the characters became real to me.

The following year when I was ten the book was Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Jim Hawkins was my best friend that year.  That was followed by Rudyard Kipling’s First Jungle Book.  I walked around the jungle with Mowgli and Bagheera the black panther for quite a while after that.

I think it is important to often look back on the beginnings of things.  This is the story of how I became a reader for life.  And it matters now that I am furiously trying to cram in more books of all sorts before the end.  The journey nears completion, and it helps to focus on what goals and what loves I had at the outset.  Will there be reading in Heaven?  I hope so.  Otherwise, truthfully, I may not go.

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Filed under autobiography, book review, Dr. Seuss, education, humor, reading, self portrait, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Reading Twain for a Lifetime

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I wish to leave no doubt unturned like a stone that might have treasure hidden under it.  I love the works of Samuel L. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.

I have read and studied his writing for a lifetime, starting with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer which I read for myself in the seventh grade, after seeing the musical movie Tom Sawyer starring Johnny Whittaker as Tom.  I caught a severe passion, more serious than a head-cold, for the wit and wisdom with which Twain crafted a story.  It took me a while to acquire and read more… but I most definitely did.  I took an American Literature course in college that featured Twain, and I read and analyzed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  I also bought a copy of Pudd’nhead Wilson which I would later devour in the same thoroughly literate and pretentious manner as I had Huck Finn.  Copies of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The Mysterious Stranger were purchased at the same time, though I didn’t read them cover to cover until later during my years as a middle school English teacher.  I should point out, however, that I read and re-read both of those, Connecticut Yankee winning out by being read three times.  As a teacher, I taught Tom Sawyer as an in-class novel assignment in the time when other teachers thought I was more-or-less crazy for trying to teach a 100-year-old book to mostly Hispanic non-readers.  While the lunatic-inspired experiment was not a total success, it was not a total failure either.  Some kids actually liked having me read parts of it aloud to them, and some borrowed copies of the book to reread it for themselves after we finished as a class.

marktwaindvd2006During my middle-school teaching years I also bought and read copies of The Prince and the Pauper, Roughing It, and Life on the Mississippi.  I would later use a selection from Roughing It as part of a thematic unit on Mark Twain where I used Will Vinton’s glorious clay-mation movie, The Adventures of Mark Twain as a way to painlessly introduce my kids to the notion that Mark Twain was funny and complex and wise.

I have also read and used some of Twain’s most famous short fictions.  “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg” are both masterpieces of Twain’s keen insight into the human psyche and the goofy and comic corruptions he finds there.

And now, retired old me is reading Tom Sawyer Abroad.  And, though it is not one of his finest works, I still love it and am enthralled.  I will review it and share it with you when I am finished.  But I will never be through with Mark Twain.  Not only is there more of him to read, but he has truly been a life-long friend .

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Cheating at Reading

Three years ago I read 100 books during the school year.  I was a reading teacher.  I had piles of classroom books at all reading levels.  I wanted to record the feat on Goodreads, but I hadn’t figured out how to record things properly on the Goodreads website.  I have no record of those books to look back on.

So this year, 2016, I determined that I would read at least thirty books and record that reading on Goodreads.   Unfortunately I reached the beginning of September 17 books behind schedule.

So, I decided to cheat.  I gathered up a bunch of popcorn books… easy reads, books I set aside after reading half or more of the books, and books about drawing.

I also have a few books by comedians that are easy to buzz through because of the unique way that people like George Carlin and Lewis Black think… unfortunately rather close to the demented way I think.

I also read cartoon books and comic books quickly.

So, I have been cheating right along, finishing at least a book a day.  I am now at only 3 books behind schedule.  It probably is not a good thing for a former reading teacher to cheat at reading.  But I am filling up my reading shelf.  I enjoy the books.  And the way Donald Trump manages his businesses and does charity work, I don’t feel the least bit guilty.

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The Truest of Magicks

Okay, life is like this; you are born, a lot of dumb stuff happens that you are mostly not in control of, you suffer a little bit, you are happy a little bit, and then you die.   That is a pretty gloomy prospect, and most of us spend our entire lives obsessing over it, examining it with microscopes, doctoring it with needles and potions and chainsaws, trying to make it last a little longer, wailing and complaining about our sorry allotment, and wasting what little time we have.  So what secret exists that could ever make a difference?  Could ever open up our eyes… even just a tiny bit?

Zoric

The secret, as far as I can tell (and I am certainly one of the dumber and more random among you because I am cursed with insight and wisdom won through suffering and making huge mistakes), is reading the right books.

Eli Tragedy

I am not alone in this sort of thinking.  There are those who believe that if you gather the best books together into a personal library and read them, they add experiences and knowledge to your life that you would not otherwise have.  (Of course, one must acknowledge, especially if you read fiction, that most books are filled with lies and misinformation, and some, Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus leaps to mind, might leave you stupider than you were when you started.)  It deepens, broadens, and intensely colors the experience of life.

Skorpio

People who read books a lot… really read them, and re-read them, and collect them, and study them, and think about and write about them… are called wizards.  Wizards are wise men.  It is what the word means.  Being one does not make you better than anyone else.  In fact, wizards are generally weaker than normal men.  It comes from all that ruining of eyes and fuddling up brains with too much thinking.  You don’t want a wizard to back you up in a fist fight.  You will certainly lose.  And you don’t want a wizard to tell you how live your life.  They are not good role models.  But if a wizard tells a story, you should listen.  Because if you really listen, and the wizard is really wise, you can expand the borders of your life, and push on nearer to immortality.

Ice Alchemist

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Why am I a teacher?

Idiots say, “If you can’t do something useful, teach.”   In Texas, the local wisdom is that teachers are over-paid and don’t work hard enough.  They have three months off every year.  They have more job security than small-business owners.  And all they have to do is talk to kids.  Why do we put up with such parasites?  Of course you realize I am not talking from my own heart.  I am speaking as a despicable straw man that I am intending to knock down, if only I don’t go anthropomorphizing to the point where I associate him with the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz and then find myself unable to knock down the poor misguided man with no brain.

So why would anyone in their right mind want to be a teacher?  Oh, yeah… they wouldn’t.  What does that say about me?  You know, I never wanted to be a teacher when I was growing up.  I wanted to be a cartoonist and make people laugh and like my adventure stories.  I wanted to be a clown.  I wanted to tell stories.  I didn’t realize that a teacher, especially an English teacher, must be all of these things.  God, with his infinite sense of humor, gave me arthritis in my hands and shoulders when I was only eighteen.  And so, what was I gonna do?  I had a BA in English.  How do you feed yourself with that?  I guess you get a Master of the Art of Teaching degree and teach.  …Can’t do something useful… right? 

When I was looking for a job in 1981, I had a choice between two States, Texas and Florida.  Iowa was laying off its lazy teachers who had less than two years experience, reducing their teaching staffs, not hiring.  Most other States were doing the same.  Only Texas and Florida with some of the biggest education problems and worst educational inequalities needed teachers.  And since my parents moved to Texas in 1980, the choice was really made for me.  I came to the land of yee-hah cowboys and hey-gringo caballeros by Trailways bus.  My first job was in Cotulla Texas, 85 per cent Hispanic and 80 per cent below the poverty line.  I didn’t speak Spanish… or Mexican, or Texican, or Spanglish, or anything.  I didn’t know the culture.  I didn’t know the kids.  I’m lucky they weren’t literally cannibals because they ate me alive my first two years.  I learned all the bad words in Spanish the hard way, including the idioms.  I was nick-named La Choosa (the barn owl), Batman, and Mr. Gilligan’s Island.  I was plastered with spit-wads, defied, and demonized (and that was just the parents).  I sent crazy little monsters to see the principal, and the principal would call me in and chew me out for having no classroom control.  How do you control the behavior of hormone crazed early teens in a junior high school monkey house?  The answer is… you don’t.  No human being can actually control the actions of another human being.  You can only control your own actions.

So I learned how to give them what they needed (as opposed to what they wanted).    I started teaching things that weren’t in the textbooks.  I taught a few of them how to read.   I presented the many, many books I love and showed them how much I loved the books.   Some of them loved the books too.  I showed them how to reason and put ideas together.  I showed them how to infer things.  I showed them how to treat others with respect, and I even demonstrated how I respected them (sometimes by being polite and supportive as I told on them for selling pot in the boys’ restroom or busted them for calling the principal bad names in Spanish).    I broke up fights.  I faced down one kid who came to school with real ninja throwing stars.  I kept kids near the interior concrete wall when the tornado visited… at two different schools.  I did what Wall Street Bankers would never be able to do.  I figured out how to do things that lawyers like Johnnie Cochran would never be able to figure out how to do.  And I did it all for the BIG BUCKS ($11,000 for the first year, less than $50,000 last year).

Why did I do such an incredibly stupid thing with my life?  Why did I waste my entire working life like that?  I can’t write this without making myself cry.  I did it because Ruben and Pablo both said I was their favorite teacher.  I did it because Rita and Sofie and Shannon had a deep and painful crush on me.  I did it because Jose told me that after he graduated he still remembered reading The Outsiders out loud when he didn’t really remember anything else he had learned in middle school.  And I did it because David needed me to do it… and I still love all of them.

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