Reading: It’s What You Do

read

I have observed many families where reading is simply what people do. In one, a favorite family story is of a little girl (a toddler) whose parents and older brother were sitting in the living room, reading. No one told anyone else to read; this was simply something people did. The little girl was so young that she was holding her book upside-down, but she was doing her best.

This family does not consent to be identified by name, but I do have permission to describe the scene above. There are thousands of families like this — in the USA alone. May they increase in number.

When reading is simply what you do, it has a huge impact on who you are.

A Scenario I Would Like to See: Friendly Competition, Between Teachers’ Unions and School Administrators, to Help School Libraries Everywhere

school libraries

During the Cold War, the usual way nations compete (direct warfare) was taken off the table by the invention of the hydrogen bomb. With the alternative being mutually-assured destruction, the two sides, led by the USA and the USSR, had to find other ways to compete. Some of those ways were harmful, such as proxy wars, as happened in Vietnam. Others, however, were helpful, such as the space race. The United States put men on the Moon in order to beat the Soviet Union there, as this iconic 1969 photograph makes evident (source: NASA).

planting the flag

We are all still reaping the benefits of the technological and scientific advances made during this period, and for this purpose. The most obvious example of such a benefit is the computer you are using to read this blog-post, for computer technology had to be advanced dramatically, on both sides, in order to escape the tremendously-challenging gravity-well of the Earth.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if other conflicts in society took beneficial forms, as happened in this historical example?

This could happen in many ways, but the one that gave me the idea for this post is the conflict between teachers’ unions and school districts’ administrators, now taking place in school districts all over the place. I think it would be awesome if this previously-harmful competition changed, to take a helpful form: book drives, to help school libraries.

Please do not misunderstand, though: I’m not talking about taxpayer money, nor union dues. My idea need not, and should not, affect the budget of any school district, nor union budget. All that need happen is for individual people — teachers and administrators  — to go home, look at their own bookshelves, and help students directly, by donating some of their already-paid-for books to school libraries.

While I make no claim to represent any organization, I am a teacher, and a member of the NEA (the National Education Association) in the United States, as well as my state and local NEA affiliates. In an effort to start this new, helpful way to compete, I will give books to the school library where I teach, next week, which is the second week of the new school year. That’s a lot easier than, well, putting men on the Moon. 

This is something we can all do. All of us in the education profession, after all, already agree that we want students reading . . . and this is something we can easily do, to work together towards that goal. School libraries need hardcover books which are student-friendly, meaning that they appeal to a young audience, on a wide variety of subjects. Both fiction and non-fiction books are helpful.

Lastly, in the hope that this idea catches on, I will simply point out one fact: helping turn this idea into a reality is as easy as sharing a link to this blog-post. 

A Proven Method for Getting Teenagers to Read

read

Although I am a teacher, I am not an English teacher — but I also believe that, as a teacher of anything, I have an ethical and professional responsibility to promote literacy.

Many such methods for doing so exist. This is the one I use. The authors I have gotten teens reading most often, with this method, are Richard Feynman, Robert Heinlein, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jung Chang, Flannery O’Connor, and Stephen Hawking. If a teenager in a science class, a subject I do teach, completes his work from me, with a high level of accuracy, and in an unusually short time, I keep books by these authors on hand as my set of “emergency back-up teachers.” Turning bored students into engaged and interested students is, I am learning, the key to avoiding teacher-burnout — at least for me.

Next on my list to add to the books I use for this ongoing project: multiple copies of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I haven’t read it since I was in high school myself, and its impact still lingers.

Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009

censorship

The best ways to celebrate Banned Books Week (which is going on now) are to read/buy/give away banned books, and/or donate money to libraries which deliberately put banned books in the circulating collection, as all good libraries do.

I’ve color-coded the list below. Books in red, I have read in their entirety. Books in blue, I have read some of, but have not (yet) finished. Also, now that I know they’re on this list, I’m likely to add some of the books in black, which I have not yet read, to my “books-to-read” list. There are few things I hate as much as censorship.

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling

2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell

5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz

8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman

9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle

10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers

12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris

13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey

14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

16. Forever, by Judy Blume

17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous

19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

20. King and King, by Linda de Haan

21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar

23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry

24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak

25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan

26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison

27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier

28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson

29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney

30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier

31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones

32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya

33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson

34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler

35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison

36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris

38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles

39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane

40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank

41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher

42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi

43. Blubber, by Judy Blume

44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher

45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly

46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby: The First Graphic Novel by George Beard and Harold Hutchins, the creators of Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey

48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez

49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey

50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan

52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson

53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco

54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole

55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green

56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester

57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause

58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going

59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes

60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle

62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard

63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney

64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park

65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien

66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor

67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham

68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez

69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen

71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park

72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison

73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras

74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry

76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving

77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert

78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein

79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss

80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck

81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright

82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill

83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds

84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins

85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher

86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick

87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume

88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger

90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle

91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George

92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar

93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard

94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine

95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix

96. Grendel, by John Gardner

97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende

98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte

99. Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume

100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

Source:  http://www.ala.org/bbooks/top-100-bannedchallenged-books-2000-2009

Finally, what I am reading, myself, during Banned Books Week is Sam Harris’s latest, Waking Up. It’s a safe bet that all books by Sam Harris are banned in quite a few places.

My Four Favorite Authors

favorite authors

Whenever people ask me to name my favorite author, I always have to ask them to be more specific, for I cannot bring myself to choose just one. If gender is specified, and either fiction or non-fiction is, as well, then I am able to choose a favorite author in each of the resulting four categories.

My two favorite writers of fiction, Flannery O’Connor and Robert A. Heinlein, are shown at the top. Flannery O’Conner was often described as a Southern gothic writer with an excellent ability to describe the grotesque, mostly with short stories, while Robert Heinlein was often called the greatest of all writers in the genre of science fiction. I wish it were possible for them to write even more, but, unlike the two authors described next, they are no longer living.

Shown below O’Connor and Heinlein are my two favorite authors of non-fiction, Jung Chang and Sam Harris. Jung Chang writes about Chinese history, eloquently, from the perspective of someone who actually was a Red Guard during the utterly insane period known as the Chinese Cultural Revolution, as a teenager, but later managed to get out of the People’s Republic — and, crucially, she was also able to mentally escape the powerful cult of personality which surrounded that nation’s leader for over two decades, Chairman Mao Zedong. She has gone on to become one of Mao’s harshest critics.

Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, began his career as an author by writing books criticizing religion, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. He has since moved on to other topics (and writing better books than his earlier work, in my opinion), such as the corrosive effects of lying, the question of the existence or non-existence of free will, and a scientific approach to dealing with issues involving good and evil. He also has a new book coming out in September.

Other than their amazing skill at the difficult craft of writing, these four have little in common . . . but who wants to read the same sort of books all the time? If you aren’t familiar with their work already, I recommend giving each of them a read, and seeing what you think of their books. For one of them, Sam Harris, you can even give some of his writing a try for free, for he maintains a blog you can check out for yourself, at http://www.samharris.org.

For the other three, it isn’t quite that easy to get started, but their books may still be found in any decent public library, or, of course, websites such as Amazon. For O’Connor, the best place to start is with her collected short stories (Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Complete-Stories-Flannery-OConnor/dp/0374515360/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1405366654&sr=8-2&keywords=collected+short+stories+of+flannery+o%27connor). For Jung Chang, I recommend starting with the story of what happened, against the tumultuous backdrop of Chinese history, to her grandmother, mother, and finally herself, in Wild Swans:  Three Daughters of China (see http://www.amazon.com/Wild-Swans-Three-Daughters-China/dp/0743246985/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405366792&sr=1-1&keywords=wild+swans). Heinlein’s works are numerous, and there are many good starting places to be found. Among the best books with which to start reading Heinlein are Stranger in a Strange Land (his most famous work), Friday, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Job:  A Comedy of Justice. Amazon’s Robert Heinlein page may be found at http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Heinlein/e/B005GDIOHM/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1405367065&sr=1-2-ent.

Enjoy, and, if you have book recommendations of your own, I invite you to leave them in a comment to this post.