TFW the library card on your key chain is so badly split at the end that you have to staple it back together.
TFW the library card on your key chain is so badly split at the end that you have to staple it back together.
One of the best things I get to be part of as a teacher is introducing young people to great books they love. Granted, 99% of what I do in this department falls on deaf ears, but those glorious moments of success–few and far between though they are–really do make it all worth it.
Here are a few recent ones:
Last semester for a book project, one girl chose to read The Handmaid’s Tale from a list of options I gave. She loved it and, when they all had to do presentations on their books, she was overjoyed to learn that it’s being made into a series on Hulu.
Cormac McCarthy is always a safe bet. I often recommend his books to students, and they tend to love him. So many kids read his various books last semester that some classes had spontaneous compare/contrast discussions where they picked up on stylistic and thematic trends across his works. They did this on their own.
Earlier this month I had classes take notes on a documentary about Moby Dick. At the end of class when they turned their notes in, one girl was so excited about it that she had already put the ebook on her phone and said that she’d start reading it that weekend. This wasn’t assigned–she just wanted to read Moby Dick on her own. For fun.
I finished 37 books in 2016. For variety and quality, it was one of my best years for reading: nine “A plusses” this year, more than ever before!
1. Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, Patrick Kavanaugh (1/12, music, religion)–A+
3. Pity the Beautiful, Dana Gioia (2/9, poetry)–B
4. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo (2/28, self-improvement)–F
5. Buried Alive, Gloria Skurzynski (3/1, young adult)–C
6. Thomas Cole, Earl A. Powell (3/1, art, biography)–B
7. The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius (3/9, classics, Watts trans.)–C
8. Albert Bierstadt, Tom Robotham (3/12, art, biography)–C
9. Redshirts, John Scalzi, (3/19, science fiction, comedy)–B
10. Rendezvous With Rama, Arthur C. Clarke (3/26, science fiction)–A
11. The Fifth Gospel, Ian Caldwell (4/30, mystery)–A
12. Browsings, Michael Dirda (5/10, memoir, reading)–A+
13. The Lord and His Prayer, N.T. Wright (5/12, religion)–A
14. The Last Good Kiss, James Crumley (5/14, mystery)–B
15. The Anchoress, Robyn Cadwallader (5/19, historical fiction)–C
16. The Prisoner of Zenda, Anthony Hope (5/26, adventure)–B
17. The World’s Strongest Librarian, Josh Hanagarne (5/28, memoir, humor, reading)–A+
18. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester (6/13, science fiction)–B
19. We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride (6/17, literature)–A+
20. Fair Isn’t Always Equal, Rick Wormeli (6/28, education)–D
21. Mockingbird, Walter Tevis (6/30, science fiction)–A+
22. The Libation Bearers, Aeschylus (7/1, Greek drama, Lattimore trans.)–C
23. Never Go Back, Lee Child (7/12, mystery)–B
24. Death in Venice, Thomas Mann (7/15, literature, Lowe-Porter trans.)–C
25. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, Monique Morris (7/20, sociology)–F
26. The Taking, Dean Koontz (7/28, horror)–A
27. Fluent in 3 Months, Benny Lewis (8/3, language/self-improvement)–A
28. The Knight of the Swords, Michael Moorcock (8/4, fantasy)–A
29. How to Be Perfect, Daniel Harrell (8/9, scripture study, religion)—B
30. The Eumenides, Aeschylus (8/9, Greek drama, Lattimore trans.)—C
31. Zion: The Long Road to Sanctification, Larry Barkdull (8/17, religion)—B
32. Inferno, Dante (8/26, poetry, classics, Anthony Esolen trans.)—A+
33. Submission, Michel Houellebecq (9/3, fiction, translated from French)—C
34. The Aeneid, Virgil (10/28, classics, Robert Fagles trans.)—A+
35. A Winter Haunting, Dan Simmons (11/1, suspense)—B
36. To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson, Heidi Swinton (11/13, religion, biography)—A+
37. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (12/29, literature, Maude trans.)—A
I’m in book 10 of The Aeneid–a major battle scene–and I just came across this lovely bit:
Ha! “There were these two identical twins…at least, they were identical twins until one got his hand cut off and the other got decapitated. NOW we can tell them apart just fine!”
In President Monson’s brief remarks at this month’s General Conference, perhaps the thing that struck me most was in the priesthood session when he said, “Recently I read the true account of a dramatic manifestation concerning these promises.” Most of the talk, in fact, is a summary of a story from the book. That right there is already pretty high praise for a book, to have a prophet mention it and cite from it as the core of an address to the world.
It’s great to know what the prophet has been reading. He’s still working full time as CEO of a global organization, he’s several years a widower now, and his strength is starting to decline, but he still reads, and this is what he reads: a book about the inspiring experiences of Latter-day Saints during World War II. As far as I know, there isn’t a team of research interns doing any behind-the-scenes lifting in preparing anybody’s conference talks; when the prophet says he’s been reading this book lately, it’s really something he chose to pick up and spend time with.
Maybe we would do well to follow the prophet in his priorities, his habits, and even in his specific choices in reading. The book he mentions, Saints at War: Experiences of Latter-Day Saints in World War II, isn’t on Google Books, but it’s on sale at Amazon for as low as 14 cents a copy.
14 cents, to do what the prophet does.
You know what would be great? A “Prophets Book Club,” where people read books mentioned by prophets and apostles in General Conference.
At the end of the citation for this book in the published version of President Monson’s talk, a note says, “used by permission.” That’s wonderful: the prophet (or maybe his secretary) reached out to the author to ask if it was OK to refer to the book in General Conference. What a sweet conversation I bet that was.
Be ye warned, Constant Reader: here there be spoilers.
5. The Dark Tower VII: “The Thing Under the Castle”
This is the most recent entry on this list; the only one from the 21st century, but it works because it so strongly harkens back to classic King style: that combination of simple, elemental storytelling with detailed, psychological exposition.
Roland and Susanna are, as the chapter title implies, fleeing some unknown thing in the winding, dark passages under a ruined, ancient castle. At first, there’s just a slight noise in the distance, but then, over the course of several pages, the noises get clearer and closer, and that primitive instinct we all have warns of an approaching predator.
The pace increases to one of sheer panic as they first jog, then run, then sprint with terror-fueled energy away from the mysterious thing. Susanna, whose wheelchair has been lost, rides on Roland’s back and can see behind them into the darkness at what’s coming. As it finally comes within biting distance…
I’ve read 100-page books which had 99 wasted pages of meandering bloat, and I’ve also read 1000-page epics that raced by in such a passionate flash that I wished they were ten times longer.
It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing.
What is most beautiful is least acknowledged.
What is worth dying for is barely noticed.
–Laura McBride, We Are Called to Rise
I’ve been reading a great collection of writings by Christian leaders from just after New Testament times. I’ve largely enjoyed it, but as I get into the second half, I’m stalling out–my enthusiasm for this one is just winding down, so I’m putting it back on the shelf for now (sorry, Justin Martyr).
The Ensign had a great article about these writings in the August 1976 issue.
Of the documents I’ve read so far, all were at least good, and some were really great. The four marked with an A+ I highly recommend to everybody. Here are my notes and quotes:
This one comes from a bishop who knew and was mentored by the Apostles, and his letter is amazing. It’s actually from within the first century, making it contemporary with the New Testament, and was even included in some early versions of the New Testament. It isn’t canonized scripture for us, but it isn’t far off…the Spirit is there in this one.
35 How blessed and amazing are God’s gifts, dear friends! 2Life with immortality, splendor with righteousness, truth with confidence, faith with assurance, self-control with holiness! And all these things are within our comprehension. 3What, then, is being prepared for those who wait for him? The Creator and Father of eternity, the all-holy, himself knows how great and wonderful it is. 4We, then, should make every effort to be found in the number of those who are patiently looking for him, so that we may share in the gifts he has promised. 5And how shall this be, dear friends? If our mind is faithfully fixed on God; if we seek out what pleases and delights him; if we do what is in accord with his pure will, and follow in the way of truth. If we rid ourselves of all wickedness, evil, avarice, contentiousness, malice, fraud, gossip, slander, hatred of God, arrogance, pretension, conceit, and inhospitality.
There are seven of these letters–as a whole, I give them an A-, but his letters to the Romans and to the Philadelphians each get a solid A, and my favorite, to the Ephesians, gets an A+. A quote:
9 I have heard that some strangers came your way with a wicked teaching. But you did not let them sow it among you. You stopped up your ears to prevent admitting what they disseminated. Like stones of God’s Temple, ready for a building of God the Father, you are being hoisted up by Jesus Christ, as with a crane (that’s the cross!), while the rope you use is the Holy Spirit. Your faith is what lifts you up, while love is the way you ascend to God.
You are all taking part in a religious procession,185 carrying along with you your God, shrine, Christ, and your holy objects, and decked out from tip to toe in the commandments of Jesus Christ. I too am enjoying it all, because I can talk with you in a letter, and congratulate you on changing your old way of life and setting your love on God alone.
There’s a popular trope among students (and many teachers) that the things people read should be “relatable,” meaning that stories should reflect the ideas, cultures, and even ethnicities of the readers. That, we are told, is what gets people interested, and helps them to enjoy and benefit from reading.
Hogwash. Balderdash. Baloney.
If the point of reading–of education in general–is only to wallow in a celebration of ourselves as we are, then what’s the point?
Some of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had–and certainly the ones that have mattered the most and stuck with me the most–are those that challenged me by presenting things that were not relatable. (I still remember sitting in some waiting room about a dozen years ago and passing the time by perusing a copy of Latina Businesswoman Magazine; it was a joyous glimpse into another world.)
There might even be an almost inverse relationship between the power of a text and the degree to which it resembles the life of the reader.
The pandering instinct behind the push to present more relatable texts to students is only going to stunt their minds further. After all, even for the selfie generation, staring at themselves eventually becomes boring.
That’s what TBT stands for, right?
My post a couple of weeks ago about the Just For Boys book club reminded me of something else I loved in Boys’ Life as a kid–the Pool of Fire comic.
I wasn’t old enough to have read the serial adaptations of the first two books in the trilogy, which ran earlier, but I came into the story during the run of this third book in the mid 80s. It was one of the first comics I ever read, and I loved it: action, adventure, Big Ideas!
Today I’m most impressed that a science fiction series was broken down and doled out in such small parts over the course of several years. Where does anything like that happen anymore? And do any kids still get introduced to great stuff like this in comic form? I know I only ended up reading the original books in this series because of the comics.
Some swell fella has collected all of the original comics here.
Apparently, all the old issues of the magazine itself are on Google. Perhaps it’s not too late to build the robot from the February 1987 issue?
My favorite scene from the 2002 documentary Stone Reader. The combination here of the elemental score, the slow and colorful visuals, and the simultaneously awakening and valedictory narration make this a truly beautiful bit of the filmmaking art.
I copied and posted this clip online because nobody has much from this great movie anywhere, and I want to spread awareness of it. I encourage anyone seeing this to appreciate this celebration of literacy and to purchase the complete documentary–it’s really a wonderful film.
I did have to order it. Here are the passages I marked:
I don’t know what it is, but there is something about steady manual labor like this, alone in the fields, that gives one a curious deep satisfaction. I like the sense of doing hard work that is also useful work. One’s mind at first drops asleep, except for the narrow margin relating to this or that repetitive process. One lets go, calms down. For hours, sometimes, while at such work, I came near the point of complete mental vacuity. The mind sets itself the minute task it has to do and goes off somewhere to its own high pastures, serene uplands, to rest and play. The hours pass magically: the sun that was low when the work began rides high in the heavens—and suddenly the mind comes home again. It comes home refreshed stimulated, happy. I always know the exact moment of its arrival. Yesterday it did not return until I had nearly finished my work in the field. It seemed to cry out: “What, asleep! Listen to the bobolinks.”
I straightened up quickly and realized that I had been working for several hours without hearing or seeing much of anything—this literally. The whole world now became flooded with delightful sounds, not only the bobolinks, but a hundred other voices both of nature and human nature, so that I had a deep and indescribably friendly feeling towards all things. I thought it good and beautiful to be there and to be alive. Even the grass clinging wetly to my legs as I walked seemed consciously holding me close to the earth; and the shovel held warmly, even painfully in my blistered hands, was proof that I had at last become part of a universal process. These sensations, even as I set them down, seem difficult to express, but they were there, and they were true and sound. (11-12)
Steve had been working all day, harrowing and fertilizing his tobacco land, and should, I suppose, be properly tired. But the weeds in the onions are growing! Down on his knees he went and began weeding. A moment later his wife was at his side. The children cried a little, for they were tired and hungry and wanted to go home, but soon whimpered down. I wondered what an American family I know of, which keeps a nurse for each of their weakling children and a second girl to help the nurses, would say to this way of “raising” children! These two little Poles are magnificent physical specimens, and the boy, when clean, is really beautiful. At eight-thirty when it was too dark to see, the family trailed homeward, Steve carrying the little boy in his arms. Can these people be beaten? (86-87)
I just read these two great posts about rereading favorite books. I very rarely do that–I’m one of those who have so many new things I want to read that it’s hard to justify making time to go back to books I’ve already finished.
Still, this made me review the notes I’ve kept on my reading–a list of every book I’ve read since 2001. From that record, I see that I’ve given exactly 57 books a perfect 10, not suggesting that they’re all masterpieces, but that reading them was pure, supreme joy for me. If I were stranded on a desert island, this would be my library.