Tag Archives: Reading

The World Book

One of the questions directed to the 2018 nErDcamp Kansas author panel was to name our favorite book. This is a tough question for me. To some, though, it’s an easy question and many of the authors listed book titles without hesitation. I’ve always been a little envious of the people who express such resolution and love for a book or books, especially when it comes time to name the books from one’s childhood.

href=”https://coachhays.com/2018/07/04/the-world-book/img_1587/” rel=”attachment wp-att-4377″> The nErDcamp KS 2018 Crew[/

I had a tough time learning to read. It was a struggle. I’d look at the page of text and see an overwhelming mishmash of words and letters. I’m sure that now I would have been diagnosed early and prescribed a program for my reading disorder, but those things were rare in early 1970’s education. Especially in a lower middle class Catholic school and even more so for an early elementary school kid who seemed to keep his head above water in class. I was lucky, though. I had parents and a few teachers who noticed my problem and put me on the road to reading. My most vivid, non-recess, non-field trip, non-playday memories of first and second grade are when my teacher or a volunteer aide would pull me aside to another room and work with me on the Controlled Reader projector.

In the dark, quiet classroom, I learned to focus on the left word of a sentence and move slowly to the right. I practiced and practice from one filmstrip to the next on moving my eyes from right to left. I practiced this without moving my head. Things got better!

Reading was possible.

(There’s a really cool Wired story by writer Lisa Wood Shapiro on how she works to overcome her dyslexia and how technology is helping people become readers.) 

We didn’t have a boatload of books around the house when I was growing up but we had some. I learned to be a better reader through the assistance of my teachers and parent but I still struggled through the middle grades to actually BE a reader. I loved the JUNGLE BOOK. The Disney movie captivated me from a very early age. We had a series of illustrated classics with about twenty pages of text per illustration. TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS, TREASURE ISLAND, a few other titles I can’t remember, and the JUNGLE BOOK.

I loved that book.

But I never read that book.

I picked the book off the shelf a thousand times. I looked at the pictures a thousand times. Each time I tried to read that book but I reverted back to seeing each page as an intimidating blob of letters and words. Frustration would set in and I’d snap the book shut and return it to the shelf.

I know I should have said something to my parents or teachers. I should have sought out help. But I was a big, shy kid and didn’t want to trouble anyone with this embarrassing problem.

Then something wonderful happened. A salesman came around the house and convinced my parents to buy a set of the World Book encyclopedia. My parents made a difficult decision to spend money we really didn’t have on this set of books. They even splurged for the annual yearbook!

I found my reading life in those encyclopedias. School work forced me to open them but the magic of information given in short bursts of text and pictures contained within was pure magic. Something clicked in my reader-brain. I figured it out.

I slowly became a better reader and a smarter kid. The set of World Book encyclopedias led to the Guinness Book of World Records which led to comics which led to the Hardy Boys which led to…my eventually reading the JUNGLE BOOK as an adult. And you know what? It was as fantastic as the story I held in my head all those years.  

So next time I’m asked at an author event what my favorite book was, I have an answer.

The World Book.

Hands down.

After my Dad died in 2015 and my Mom was preparing to move out of their house, she called and asked me what I wanted of their stuff. I know her “stuff” meant furniture, dishes, etc. but I, without hesitation said I would like to have the World Book encyclopedias and yearbooks they used for the past twenty years as a decoration on top of the cabinets in their kitchen.

My Mom laughed and thought I was joking. She still thinks that. She’ll probably never know how important those books were to me and how huge of a role they played in making me who I am today. I probably never really knew how much of a sacrifice it was for my parents to make the investment to buy this set of encyclopedias and the annual yearbook every year. These books are history. Part of our history.

Reading is reading is reading is reading.

Let kids read what works for them.

Reading is indeed a superpower.

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Civil Disobedience

The power of Google tells me today is the anniversary of Louisa May Alcott’s birth 184 years ago on November 29, 1832.

Fantastic.

Really?

No, not really.

I can’t say I’m a fan of Louisa May’s work. I know her work is beloved by generation upon generation of readers and is a staple of the American educational literature canon.

Not for me.

In the 8th-grade, I ventured a few pages into the assigned LITTLE WOMEN and dove headfirst off the LMA train traveling on a steep, narrow mountain pass inhabited by rabid grizzly bears.

LITTLE WOMEN was directly responsible for my first, but not my only, academic career emergency. Well, let me back up. LITTLE WOMEN + Ms. Teacher-Who-Did-Not-Care-For-Me-For-Some-Reason almost resulted in this stubborn, young man flunking 8th-grade English class.

I was a struggling reader growing up. I still read pretty slow. If fact, I probably would have completely taken the life path of non-reader if not been fortunate to have adults who helped me trudge along the reading path or have found Jack London’s short story, To Build A Fire, in 6th-grade. I would have given up.

In 8th-grade, said Teacher assigned the entire class LITTLE WOMEN. I read a little bit. I decided it was stupid. I refused to read any more of it. Too many girls, not enough struggle against the elements on the Yukon.

Our school split a grade into the classic 1970’s leveled system. I was the dumbest kid in the smart group. I ain’t lying. Every day, I was scratching and clawing while the others floated casually down the academic river of knowledge sipping fruity drinks and eating exotic cheeses. Frustrating. Character building. I’m sure this contributed to my stubborn streak.

Said Teacher told me to read. I replied in the negative.

Said Teacher called my parents. Said Teacher met with my parents and said I would flunk. I did not care.

Said Teacher compromised with my parents. She would LET me read LITTLE MEN. Mom was happy. Dad was happy. I took one look at the cover illustration, flipped quickly through the pages and gave it back to Said Teacher. I wasn’t falling for that one. The old bait and switch. Listen, I had two ornery older brothers, I knew a con game when I saw one. LITTLE MEN was just LITTLE WOMEN in different clothes. Nice try, LMA. But, nope.

So I didn’t read either of the books. I failed the section. I scrambled the rest of the year to keep my head afloat. And I survived.

Civil disobedience. An important skill to have.

I often wonder if Said Teacher ever looked at me and dreamed I would be both an avid reader and writer of books.

I highly doubt it. She saw a shy, stocky, sports-crazed boy and that is all she allowed herself to see.

But I am a writer and a reader.

And I am damn proud of it.

Sorry, Louisa May and Louisa May fans. Have a great birthday anniversary celebration. Eat, drink, and be merry.

Just don’t expect me to read LITTLE WOMEN.

800px-louisa_may_alcott

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Every Five Years…

When you have kids in high school and they’re involved in activities, mid to late spring is a crazy time. There is always something going on. Every year, it seems like it gets past spring break, everyone realizes the school year is winding down and schedules some sort of activity, meeting, meet, etc. to squeeze in before school year’s end. Last March, our local high school held it’s annual Academic Awards/National Honor Society Initiation/Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony event. It was a weeknight during one of the busiest weeks of the year. Since there were no sports heroes I knew personally being inducted into the Hall of Fame, I usually would have stayed home and skipped the event. But, as my kids were part of the academic festivities, I went with the plan of sliding out the back door after they were announced .
I don’t know why, but for some reason, I decided to stay for the the Hall of Fame  induction ceremony to listen to the inductee’s speeches. In the end, what a great decision that was! One of the inductees, Dr. Rachel Schmidt-Brown, Class of 1981, gave an acceptance speech which was pure gold. Dr. Schmidt is a professor of Spanish at the University of Calgary and a world renowned DON QUIXOTE scholar. Basically, she has spent an entire career studying and researching one great work of classic literature. Dr. Schmidt spoke about finding and following your passion in life. Good stuff. But, what really stuck to my ribs was when she spoke about how she sits down every five years and reads DON QUIXOTE.
I just about jumped out of my seat. You mean a person who spends every day of her long and illustrious career studying one book, written in Spanish 400 years ago, reads it for FUN every five years? Huh. Then came the take home message; Dr. Schmidt explained she reads DON QUIXOTE every five years to get a fresh perspective of the manuscript from where she currently is in her life.  She knows she has changed over the five years; changes in family, kids and career. She explained how the story takes a new life; a new meaning with every successive read. What a beautiful concept!

So that got me thinking? What books or stories do I read over and over again? And now that is has been pointed out, how does an older, wiser perspective affect me. Below is my list of stories I read over and again.
Young-At-Heart Novel
THE HOBBIT by J.R.R Tolikien (Always pick up something new with this one, the first story I really fell in love with)
Short Story
PLATTE RIVER by Rick Bass (Great story about ex-football players adjusting to the life after. Plus, I finished reading this the first time at about 2 AM the night before the twins were born, which helps with the emotional bond)
Novel
JURRASIC PARK by Michael Crichton (Science, cloning, thriller, greed, chaos theory and dinosaurs…how can you go wrong here?)
Inspirational
Lenten Gospel Rotation (Every Lent, I read Matthew, Mark, Luke or John in a four year cycle. Always surprised how my life perspective affects the way I read the Gospels.)

Do you have books you read over and over again? How does time and life influence your reads? Please leave a comment, I would like to know.

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