Day 6 – 600 Words (about a bad book…but more junk came out)

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Poor writing at its best.  I’m still not done with my first cup of coffee, so pardon the wacky stream-of-consciousness…

Today’s prompt might be the toughest for me all month.  I love books.  Like, seriously.  This was not always the case.  As a kid, reading was boring and I think a challenge for which I was not prepared.  My early memories of reading recall images of those old Garfield collections (I distinctly remember being obsessed with having all of them placed in numeric order on my bookshelf) and Judy Blume’s Superfudge.  Unfortunately, I cannot recall absolutely anything about the plot, characters, situation, conflict, resolution, theme, motifs of that latter title.

This was also the case for me when, a few years ago, I reluctantly closed a book and privately announced I would never pick it up again.  The book was Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated.  I picked up this book on reputation alone–one of my typical techniques; I rarely even read the flap/back cover if someone or something I trust talks up a specific book.

Looking back, I may have allowed other factors affect my inability to read/comprehend this book.  In those days, our school had a portion (twenty glorious minutes) of the day devoted to a schoolwide Silent Sustained Reading program.  The program evolved in the spirit of encouraging reading by offering books to our students and modeling for them that reading is a wonderful activity.  It met with resilience from some students (and a handful of adults in the building), but overall I believe the students liked the program.  However, if memory serves, I was trying to read EII while supervising a very reluctant group of high school juniors.

What I do recall are confusing sentence structures, bizarre and forgettable character names, and dialogue that appeared nonsensical.  I was not under any physician’s care nor was I consuming regular hallucinogens, so perhaps my straight-laced approach was the problem.

I vow to try again…someday.  I like funky books.  I might have just been in the wrong frame of mind at that moment.  I read and loved his other huge hit Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, so there’s no way it’s an author-reader issue.  In fact, I think I’ll add it to my to-read Goodreads list.

For the second half of this essay, I’m going to write about why I think young people become so reluctant to read.  In my sixteen years as a teacher, I’ve encountered a number of possibilities.  By the way, much of what I think I’m about to write applies to writing as well.

It absolutely has to start at home.  Kids need to see books as an enjoyable form of entertainment.  Reading to young children before bed, throughout the afternoon, anytime, really, is so essential to develop interested readers.  Taking kids to the library or bookstore and making seeking out books as an adventure would have incredible ramifications.  Our theory as a school applies here.  Kids who see adults they (somewhat) respect reading are going to be at least a little more interested in the craft.

Think about how kids get interested in anything.  They are introduced to it (be it fishing, hunting, car repair, needlepoint) by someone older than they are (typically).  That interest is fostered over time and the adult’s enthusiasm shines through and gets into the younger person’s bloodstream.

What I see, however, are students who have simply not been given the access or students whose view of reading has been pushed down by other adults in their life.

Part of me also thinks it’s a vision problem.  Students actually say things to me such as “It’s hard to read” and they don’t mean the vocabulary.

I began love reading (slowly at first but now at full speed) because the words seemed much easier to absorb once I was wearing glasses.  Can you believe there is still a stigma about wearing glasses at school?  Jesus…it’s insane.

Please encourage and model reading in the home.  I’ll do what I can in the classroom.

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Review of Dave Eggers’ 2014 novel YOUR FATHERS, WHERE ARE THEY? AND THE PROPHETS, DO THEY LIVE FOREVER?

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WOW! this book is absolutely incredible! While Eggers abandons many fiction writing norms, he in turn has cleared away all the muck and has presented readers with a bare bones announcement (manifesto?) of the New Lost Generation. While exploring the perspectives of various characters under differing levels of stress, he successfully jars readers to pay attention and wake up to this seedy world in which we live. We can no longer just pine for simpler times—we must live in our day and deal with our issues. Comparing the complexity of modern life to the easy-going eras of past generations is an abominable waste of time and energy. Brilliantly executed and a definite must-read for all, especially anyone who is exhausted with the horrendous current state of affairs in this world others have sacrificed so much to create and protect!

I Read a Story….So Here Ya Go

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I recently shared Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried with a majority of the high school juniors I have in class.  The class is designed to cover a variety of American literature pieces, and this was the first year I’d used that book, which is also quite special to me in that it is one of my wife’s favorites.  For those of you unfamiliar with the collection, it is a book of short stories that can be read as an entire novel; however, it is styled much differently that probably any war novel you’ve read before.  First of all, it’s anachronistic; and second of all it stars the author.  I estimated with my students that 90-95 percent of the book’s content was non-fiction, but even a shred of invented material demanded that it be listed as fiction.  It was enough for them to understand.

The book is a particularly moving series of scenes and insight to the lives of men who served.  I’m not a professional critic, but I determined as I read it that O’Brien set out to expose a much darker and honest side of military life than the most serious of war novelists who preceded him.  Hemingway and Salinger, two of my personal writing muses, were masters of the craft, but both served in wars that were both enormously planned and completely not on television.  O’Brien and the other men of Alpha Company found themselves in drastically different circumstances.

While I’d like to write about O’Brien’s book, I think I’d rather wait to read it again a few more times before any real review can be shared.  The book did, however, lead me to re-read one of my favorite Salinger short stories, “For Esme—With Love and Squalor.” 

I’ve written about that particular piece before, but it has been many years ago—part of a graduate course where I immaturely compared many of Salinger’s lesser-known pieces and attempted to exhibit some poise and discerning maturity in reading Literature.  I’ll save you from any of those excerpts.  Now, after reading the story today—a magnificent Memorial Day afternoon nonetheless—I have a few thoughts swimming around that, for reasons I have yet to truly decipher, I felt the need to share with you loyal readers.

Dear God, Life is Hell.

That’s a line from the story, and perhaps five of the most poignant words anyone who has any affiliation with war can possibly produce.  While this brief writing today is not meant to go political or even attempt to change anyone’s perspective, I’d just like to write a little about those words—and perhaps encourage anyone reading this to do the same.

We question our existence and we consume each other’s answers for that existence.  Our lives have the potential to be anything from quiet to dynamic.  We tend to spend a lot of time examining the lives of one another and the deceased.  Some people, upon becoming parents or guardians, tend to shift priorities.  We have the capacity to believe in a supreme God or deny His existence at all.  We have the power to love and to hate.  We hold within ourselves so much more influence than we realize—often when it’s too late.  Those last two sentences were not intended to rhyme, but that’s always a happy accident too. 

If anything is to be deciphered from this prattling on, it’s probably this:  Perhaps we should not worry so much about life’s big Questions and Answers.  Perhaps, instead, we should simply Live and cherish our own Existence.  

10 of My Favorite Books (All-Time, as of Dec. 2013)

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*When one of my favorite books comes up in conversation with a student or class, I will often say that the book is in my Top Five.  Over the years, I have probably named twenty different books that are in my Top Five.  Here ya go…no particular order, really.

1.  Native Son – Richard Wright

2.  The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger

3.  Zeitoun – Dave Eggers

4.  Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

5.  The Jungle – Upton Sinclair

6.  What is the What – Dave Eggers

7.  In the Time of the Butterflies – Julia Alvarez

8.  The Tragedy of Othello – William Shakespeare

9.  Harry Potter (whole series) – J. K. Rowling

10.  Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman

Review of Dave Eggers’ THE CIRCLE (2013)

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Eggers triumphs again with this near-futuristic glance into a world obsessed with sharing digital information. This novel plainly exposes the trajectory that many believe may be the ultimate irony that we are experiencing in this heavy technological age: that the advances made to bring us together will lead to what separates us more than ever. With a cast of symbolic characters, Eggers once again succeeds in reminding readers how our core values are rapidly becoming secondary–this time by the new and widespread personal desire individuals have to be recognized through social media. This novel serves as a bold message of our potential downfall as a society to a generation who has only known an Internet-ruled world. With a modern Orwellian theme, Eggers emphasizes our fragility in a world that equates privacy with treason and shame.