Guilty Pleasures and Book (Reading) Snobbery

It’s like comparing apples to oranges! ~ indignant reading snob

I’m trying to decide why this particular topic drives me crazy whenever it comes up. It just seems to me that reading, no matter what the genre or format, is…well…reading. There are some genres or formats that I tend to prefer, but I don’t think less of others whose preferences are different from my own. I guess I feel those who think of reading a romance novel, graphic novel, or even YA novel versus a piece of classic literature as a “guilty pleasure” hold a rather elitist view. I find it irksome that anyone would be condescending towards another over their choice of reading material. In my stream of conscience mind it looks more like this:

Oh, person X is reading! That’s awesome! Yay for reading! I wonder what X is reading? It looks like it might be interesting; I’ll have to remember to ask X if he/she enjoyed reading that…

I think I prefer to keep an open mind because there are times when I’ve picked up something and been surprised that I’ve enjoyed it, not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because it didn’t seem like something I’d get into reading. If I weren’t adventurous enough to try something new, I’d never have discovered the treasure within. It has opened up new realms of reading for me and given me an opportunity to explore new ideas and topics.

I have often heard teachers, English/Reading teachers, in particular, criticize the reading preferences of their students. Criticisms like this make me sad because I know so many students who start out in school enjoying the act of reading and end up no longer enjoying it. They say things like:

“I don’t read. If I have an assignment that requires reading I do the bare minimum to get by.”

“I hate reading.”

“I used to read all the time, but I don’t like being forced to read things I’m not interested in.”

I currently teach 9th-grade students. I cringe when I hear them say things like this because in my mind these comments are indicative of something wrong in the education system. My philosophy is one that values reading for the sake of reading, for the sake of learning, for the sake of self-enrichment and broadening one’s horizons. To me, it doesn’t matter what young people read, as long as they do. I’m not saying that students should never be assigned to read a specific novel or text, but I don’t think we should belittle their own personal choices in reading materials either. If a child enjoys reading a book below their reading level for personal enjoyment, then so be it. If a child wishes to read a book well above their reading level, all the more power to that child. Sure, they may not understand everything they read, but just maybe they’ll get something out of that book despite not “getting” it all. I know I read several books before I was likely old enough/a strong enough reader to fully comprehend when I was young. In fact, my favorite example of this is The Color Purple. Go ahead, guess how old I was when I first read that novel. I was 10! I hid it under my pillow so no one would know I was reading it. Did I understand everything I was reading at the time? No, definitely not. Have I revisited that novel since then? Absolutely – several times.

When you see a child, or anyone, for that matter reading, be happy. Be encouraging. Be glad they’re reading because no matter what it is they’re reading, they’re opening themselves to new worlds, new experiences, new ideas and that is always a worthwhile pursuit.

Book Recommendation – Graphic Novel

20150425_192225  For anyone who struggles with mental illness, of any kind really, or anyone caring for someone dealing with mental illness this graphic novel is amazing. The graphic novel is specifically about the author’s struggle with bipolar disorder, but honestly, I think the struggle she goes through is applicable to anyone dealing with mental illness. Learning to accept and cope with a diagnosed mental illness is a long and difficult journey, but it isn’t “the end.” There is help out there and there are people who care.

Title: Marbles: Mania, depression, Michelangelo, & Me

Author: Ellen Forney

Authors I Have Loved (and still do!)

There are just some authors that stick with you. You’ve read so many of their works that you feel like you’ve become a part of the world they’ve created; or perhaps you’ve read one of their books so many times it has become a part of you…perhaps that is what happens? Either way, just the thought of reading something they’ve written makes you almost giddy inside.

The more I think about this topic the more authors come to mind. I feel like I’ll be editing this post until the end of time. So without more ado, here’s my list: (in no particular order)

1. Mitch Albom

2. E.B. White

3. S.E. Hinton

4. Christopher Moore

5. Chuck Palahniuk

6. Harper Lee

7. Herman Wouk

8. Robert Cormier

9. Lois Lowery

10. J.D. Salinger

11. Hunter S. Thompson

12. David Sedaris

13. Garrison Keillor

14. Augusten Burroughs

15. Jeannette Walls

16. Laurie Halse Anderson

17. John Green

18. Judy Blume

19. Markus Zusak

20. Ray Bradbury

21. Douglas Adams

22. Edgar Allan Poe

23. Charles Brockden Brown

24. H.P. Lovecraft

25. Garth Ennis

26. Art Spiegelman

27. John Layman (ill. Rob Guillory)

28. Mildred D. Taylor

Memory Lane with a Poem in Hand

This week my students and I have been exploring poetry. Since the beginning of the unit I’ve looked forward to handing them “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke; I just knew it would engage them in debate and get them to think critically and use textual support for their claims. Yesterday I excitedly handed them copies of the poem. I had them partner up and directed them to work through the reading process (set a purpose, preview, plan, read with a purpose, connect, pause and reflect, summarize) and analyze the poem. As they read and discussed with their partners, I traveled around the room and eavesdropped on their conversations. After three class periods of this I got the overwhelming sense that most, if not all of my students, felt the poem was about an abusive father. As I sat reflecting over my lunch break I found myself disappointed. I’d hoped for more diverse views. I wondered what this said about the lives of my students and their own personal experiences. I was proud that they’d come to their conclusions through logical means and could provide textual support to back them up, but felt sad that they’d completely missed the ambiguity of the poem and could only see one possible interpretation. However, I would not allow my enthusiasm for the poem to be diminished. I decided Papa wasn’t going down without a fight.

Today I walked into class armed with…a story. A personal story. I’d decided that to counteract what was shaping up to be a one-sided debate, I’d spin my own personal narrative.

My story:

       When I was a little girl, my father had a huge collection of records. Yes, actual 45s that you put the needle on and they’d spin round and round and play music. (I know, a foreign concept to many of my students.) Two of my favorite records were The Monkees and Don McLean’s album American Pie of which my favorite song was “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night).” At this time in my life, I was my dad’s shadow. We’d go hunting, fishing, and camping together; I’d help him change the oil in his truck and follow him around as he did yard work and chopped wood. I was daddy’s little girl. 

      My father worked in a carpet mill as maintenance personnel. He worked with his hands. When he came home from work he was often dirty. He wore big heavy work boots. My dad was rough around the edges, but he sure loved me and always made time for me in the evenings. He often spent time reading to me in the evenings before bed and every now and then we’d dance. 

      My dad would put on one of his records, often my favorite, and he’d stand me up barefooted on top of his work boots and dance me around our dining room. Sometimes my mom would join us and I’d be sandwiched in between the two of them clinging to my father’s waist for dear life. Sometimes he’d pick me up and carry me around dancing to the music. I loved this time with my dad and still cherish those memories today.  

 After telling this story, I asked my students to get out their copies of the poem from the previous class period and spend a few minutes reading through it one more time. I gave them time and then posed the question. So, what is this poem about?

It worked! I got two different answers. I may have changed some minds, I may have misjudged the previous day, but I got two distinct answers. I had the class divide up into two corners depending on their interpretation and discuss the evidence that supported their claim. Both sides then presented their evidence and I was able to show them that, yes, it was possible to have two very different interpretations of the same poem and neither interpretation was “better” than the other as long as they could provide the textual support for their interpretation.

Nerdy Book Thing: “neverenoughbooksitis”

About a week ago, I decided that I wanted to start a classroom library. I haven’t seen a many high school classroom libraries, but I definitely want to encourage my students to read for pleasure and not just because they have an assignment. I realized that I already own a pretty extensive collection of YA books, but I thought it might be nice to get a few more (and by “a few” I mean at least 100 more); however, I have no idea what I already have and what I don’t at this point. I came to the conclusion I’d need an inventory. That’s how it all started.

Being my pseudo-tech savvy self, I began looking for book inventory apps. I figured there had to be some sort of library application out there that would make my life easier. I was right. In fact, there is a bunch of apps to choose from. I settled on Book Catalogue (which I’m exceedingly pleased with). This is where the fun began.

What I didn’t realize in downloading this app was that I would become an obsessive bibliophilic zombie hell bent on creating my own personal inventory of not just what I wanted in my classroom library, but my OWN personal book collection as well. Oh, who the hell am I kidding? My subconscious knew exactly what kind of pandora’s box I was opening, but failed to sufficiently warn me of my impending insanity.

So far, I’m only a tiny way into the scanning of my entire personal collection, and already I’ve got 143 books listed. And yet, guess where I went today. As if that weren’t enough, I went to a used bookstore and bought five more books to add to the collection!

I think it might be time to admit I have a problem. I believe the correct medical terminology is “neverenoughbooksitis.” Anyone else suffer from this wonderous malady?