Two years ago, Tech and I found ourselves parked in a part of Rochester that we don’t usually frequent. A voracious reader, there was a particular title he wanted to read and only one library actually had it in all of Rochester. And that library was downtown. He was hell-bent on getting it, and he knew that I would not rush to pay for a copy at the local bookstore.
So we went on a wee road-trip.
After he checked out the book with his library card, I suggested he check out their YA section.
After two minutes, Tech returned with a frown.
“This is the worst library ever,” he declared. “There are no books.”
He dragged me over to the YA area, and it was true; the selection was dismal.
“Where are all the kids’ books?” he asked the librarian sitting nearby.
She looked at Tech and told him honestly that sometimes people checked out books from the library and didn’t return them.
“You mean people steal them?” Tech was outraged.
“Some kids don’t have books at home, so they take them from here.” The librarian explained. “Once our books are gone, we don’t have the resources to replace them. And of course, some books just get lost.”
Tech Support tilted his head, trying to wrap his brain around the concept that not all children have shelves filled with books in their homes, the way he does.
In the car, Tech Support made an announcement.
“I want to collect books and give them to kids so they can have books at home,” he said. “Can I do that for my bar mitzvah?”
“Sure,” I said as I screwed around with the CD player.
“Will you help me?” he demanded. “Seriously?”
I looked at my son’s eyes in the rear view mirror.
Tech has always been a collector. When he was younger, it was coins and LEGOs and Webkinz frogs. Later, he fell in love with mechanical pencils and magnets and rubber bands. He has a green bowl filled with origami stars and shelves filled with all kinds of weird stuff.
When my son gets an idea in his head, there is no stopping him.
I called the contact person. We did a little back and forth, and then it happened: a miracle disguised as an email.
I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the RocRead program taking place in the Rochester City School District. Children read a book, write an essay on it, and once they hand it in, they get an incentive/prize.
So far, students have read 14,000 books through this program.
The details are being worked out right now – but the preliminary plan for Monday, April 30th is to have an event in the library of one of the schools to announce that every child present will receive a book as part of RocRead – with your son present to distribute books.
How does this sound?
How did it sound?
It sounded like someone took a cup of totally cool and mixed it with three pounds of awesome.
The following Monday, Tech sat in the front seat of my Honda and I drove to school #41 in a car stuffed from floor to ceiling with books which we had sorted by grade level. When we found school #41, Tech borrowed a cart, loaded it up with boxes, and zigzagged his way back into the school.
The principal appeared. She greeted my son with a hug, and we all headed downstairs to the library. The custodian materialized with the cart and told us she would bring everything to the library on the service elevator. While Tech chatted it up with the librarian, the custodian appeared and I scattered books across two long tables until both surfaces were covered.
And then they came. Wearing uniform red shirts and khaki pants, the children sat crisscross-applesauce. The school librarian introduced Tech and asked him to speak to the students. I was certain he was going to freeze up. We had not prepared for that kind of thing. He did not know how to speak in front of…
…but there he was.
Explaining why he had started the book collection.
And when the librarian announced that each student was going to get to take home two books from Tech’s collection, the kids bounced up and down and cheered.
As the kindergarteners walked around the tables, Tech encouraged them to shift the books around and not to only look at the top layer. Once the children made their selections, they returned to their designated areas on the floor and another group came up.
I have to tell you, it was a beautiful sight.
They were all reading!
Or trying to.
Some silently. Some aloud. Some to each other.
The local television crews were there. Tech was interviewed three times, and even though he really wanted to downplay his role, he went along with whatever the people asked him to do.
I always knew that there would come a day that I would look at my son — the person who carries 50% of my DNA — and see him as the person he might become.
On that day, I saw my son as a person who doesn’t just have the potential to do good things, but as a person who is already doing them.
And I was amazed.
Because up until then, I just thought he was the boy who forgot his coat in his locker.
The kid who left his water bottle at fencing practice.
The dude who still needed to be reminded to brush his teeth.
But on that day, I saw my son as other people see him.
I realized that he likes to help other people.
And not because I told him to help people.
But because he really likes to.
On that day, I thought about the way he used to put together his elaborate LEGO sets, and I realized his tenaciousness was all about creating a person who would sets his sights on a goal and then surpass that goal.
My son is not finished.
Just today he asked, “What should I do next?”
I shrugged, confident he will figure it out.
Because that’s what he does.
This year, my son reminded me that individuals can repair the world.
I almost forgot.
How do your children inspire you? Have you ever done a community service project with your family? If so, what kinds of things have you found the most rewarding?
The books that I have been using for the last four years.
Only two of the three of them were there.
My reader – the collection of essays upon which I have come to rely – is now out of print, so I will have to reinvent the wheel.
Women will understand this: this is akin to how we feel when we go into the store and find out that our favorite lipstick – the one that looks perfect on us, the one we have used for years, the one that helps to create our signature look – has been discontinued. Guys, I don’t know. This must be what it is like when your sports event has been preempted for A Sex in the City marathon and both your DVR and your computer are broken. So you can never see the game. Actually, I don’t know what this is like for guys. Maybe it’s like when they stop making your favorite hot sauce.
You get my point, though, right?
Immediately after I learned that my book was out of print, I received a lovely, gentle reminder that book orders are due as soon as humanly possible.
Right now, I’m in desperation mode.
I might chew off someone’s arm.
Part of me is considering not using a reader at all and just book-marking all the amazing blogs here in the blogosphere and having my students read them and respond to them. Perhaps use them as writing prompts.
It would definitely save my students a boatload of money.
And it would eliminate those annoying beginning of the year conversations:
Me: Where is your book?
Student: My financial aid hasn’t come in so I haven’t been able to buy some of my books.
Me: How about a pen? Where is your pen?
Student: Yeah. I didn’t have the money.
This conversation generally transpires while the bookless student is gripping the newest and most uber-expensive cell phone, leaving me to think: You manage to shell out $80 a month for that, right? The smartphone you can afford? But not my book? Yeah, you are goin’ places.
But this is just my desperation talking.
Because, you know, I have to revise my entire syllabus.
Which, in truth, isn’t the worst thing.
It’s good to freshen things up and shake things around once in a while.
Because no matter what materials I end up using, there are things that always remain the same.
I may be delusional, but (I think) most of my former students will tell you that I give off the vibe that I find them endlessly fascinating. Which, by the way, is true. They will probably tell you that I give them solid feedback and that I am willing to help them. Day or night. The reality is, I am good to them as long as they do not heckle me.
Because I am the show.
Yeah, yeah, I can run a writing workshop. I can create interactive activities for them. But if students want to excel in my class, they need, first and foremost, to have a good sense of humor. After all, I’m working my butt off to provide them with culturally relevant, fresh material. But my show only runs three days a week, so they’d better not miss my routine. Once they are invested, I expect them to work their tails off to try to impress me with their thinking and writing. I want to see those synapses a-firin’. Because nobody sees my show for free.
I was not a cheerleader in high school for nothing. I was in training. I was a gymnast and a dancer and I even danced (briefly) for money on a hydraulic lift. (Don’t ask.) I performed in plays throughout my life and, in graduate school, I got up on stage to sing. Why? Because secretly I wanted to be Stevie Nicks. Because I was honing my craft – learning how to deliver my lines, to speak with authority, with presence, with passion, with humor, with humility. I was learning to be fearless, – so my students would, one day, dare I say it, actually want to do things for me.
That sounds dirty.
I don’t mean like that, you pervs.
I mean students can tell when a teacher has prepared; they can tell which teachers genuinely care about what their students have to say, which teachers value their words, which teachers are working to give their students the skills they need to succeed in the future. And when students feel this, they generally want to please.
So my beloved book of essays is out of print.
It’ll be okay.
Things are looking good right now.
I’ve checked things out and my room for the fall does not have a pole in the middle of it, like the classroom I had last year.
Don’t get me wrong, the pole was fun. For a while.
But “obstructed view” is never the seat you would want at a kick-ass concert.
In this room, every seat’s a good seat.
Can’t wait to shake my groove thing.
So for now, I don’t rightly know exactly what I’m doing in the Fall of 2011.
I can only say with confidence, that the show will go on.
And now that I think about it, if I’m shaking things up, it’s probably time to get a new lipstick.
I am thrilled to announce that the fabulous Julie C. Gardner author of the blog By Any Other Name was the person who posted closest to my one year blogoversary! And because of this she has been deemed thelucky winner. Because I know Julie prefers real books to electronic ones, I offered to buy her any book she wants – (under $20. What? You think I’m made of money?). And while I offered to send her the book of her choice, the fabulous and always considerate Julie Gardner opted to do the shopping herself! All I had to do was send her a check for twenty smackers. (It’s in the mail, baby!) How much to I love Julie? Let me count the ways.
1. I love Julie for allowing me to avoid the devil’s happy place mall. I’d only end up in J.Crew or Anthropolgie and nothing good could come of that.
2. As a result of her no-nonsense approach, I don’t have to stand in the always-long line at my local US Postal Office to ship a book.
3. I love her because she has not only agreed but sounds enthusiastic about sharing her mad skills on my blog.
I could go on. But instead, I will interrupt this unadulterated love fest to remind you that – as I have learned from my mother – sometimes when one receives a gift, there definitely are area few strings attached. (This time it’s more like spider webs.) But now that Julie’s agreed, she’s stuck. Here is the way it works.
1) Julie will receive my check and be really pissed when it bounces go to her local bookstore.
2) She will spend the money on cupcakes for her kids buy a fabulous book and read it.
3) Then, because she feels so quilty happy and inspired, she is going to write a mind-blowingly awesome short post for my blog that is in some way connected to the book she selected. In essence, Julie will be using the book as a writing prompt.
All I can say is I’m thrilled and honored that Julie Gardner reads my blog. At all. Ever. But I’m extra excited that she has agreed to play nice and write a little something in honor of my blogoversary. So get psyched to read Julie’s fabulous post here later in June. I know I can’t wait to sleep in.
A while ago, I decided that I would reward the person who made the 3,000th comment on my blog with a gift.
No, there is nothing significant about the number 3,000. I was obsessing over my stats just happened to notice that the number was fast approaching, and the time felt right.
I just wasn’t sure what I was going to offer up.
I figured as an English teacher, it would be most appropriate to offer up a book. But what to send?
And then the day came, and I saw who made that 3,000th comment, and everything became clear.
When I arrived in the bloggersphere last May, the very first person to welcome me was Carl D’Agostino. Carl helped me to network with some of his blogging buddies and he has been a steadfast follower ever since my very first post. In fact, no matter what time of day I post, I can pretty much count on Carl to be the first responder. If he lived closer to me, I would totally have him on my person to contact in an emergency list. He is that reliable and that fast.
I was thrilled when I saw that Carl made the 3,000th comment back in March. And because he is a former teacher, I offered him two book titles: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby (which he once confessed he’d not ever read) or Lynne Truss’ irreverent Eats, Shoot and Leaves: A Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.
Carl chose Truss’ hilarious book for grammar sticklers.
Then I told Carl there were strings attached to the gift.
I asked him if he would write a short response to the book in which he explained one thing that he enjoyed or learned which I could use in my blog.
Here is his response:
A Book Report by Carl D’Agostino on Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
If you see how the two pieces of punctuation in the above title affect understanding a great deal, you will enjoy this book and even learn some history. If you don’t see alternative meanings, you need to read this book. Truss says, “Punctuation gives sentences manners.” She explains how punctuation allows sentences to speak to us rather than merely appear before us.
I am glad Mrs. Schuls-Jacobson gave me this reading assignment (over spring break – sheesh).
Carl emailed me a great cartoon to accompany his response. Extra credit bonus points duly noted and awarded. Even if this illustration was created six years ago, it’s still funny. 😉
So thank you and congratulations to Carl! If you like his illustrations, you can find lots more of them here on his blog I Know I Made You Smile.
And to the rest of you, keep those comments coming. My blog will be a year old in May. I’ll probably have some other special surprise up my sleeve.
Unless it is really hot outside, and I’m not wearing sleeves. 😉
A couple of weeks ago, Clay at EduClaytion put together an “Interview with You” Post. Then Leanne at Ironic Mom borrowed his idea and applied it to music from the ’80s. I’m flat out borrowing (read: stealing) their idea and applying the interview concept to books.
Here’s how A Literary Memoir works. In the comments section below, please cut and paste these 9 questions, then fill in your answers. Feel free to elaborate as much or as little as you like.
But first, here is my literary memoir:
First book I remember being read:Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt. How I loved those soft and shiny and sandpaper pages.
First book I remember reading all by myself:The Cat & The Hat by Dr. Seuss
Favorite Young Adult Book:Are You There God, It’s Me Margaretby Judy Blume. In fact, everything by Judy Blume. I read them one after the other. Ate them up like caramels. They. Were. Delicious.
Favorite book of all time:Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I think I refer to this book on a daily basis. Every student I have ever taught can vouch; I talk about it. A lot.
Book I hated so much I could not finish: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulker. This is the only book that kicked my ass. I simply could not get through it. Don’t get me wrong: I loved As I Lay Dying and plenty of other Faulkner, too. But this one just stunk. Like a skunk. In a trunk.
Book I will always keep:A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Poor, poor Holden. Plus, I have taught from this particular copy so many times that it is all marked up inside. It has sticky notes and stars all over it; all the important stuff is underlined. Despite the fact that some of the pages keep falling out, this one will go with me wherever I go. It will be loved to death.
Last Book I Read: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Holy crap. This book scared the bejesus out of me. I simply cannot say anything about it. It will ruin everything. I will, however, take a moment to thank my friend Gina for recommending it to me. She recommends the best books. Her last three recommendations have been hits. This one, however, freaked me out.
I read The Great Gatsby for the first time in 11th grade and promptly fell in love with Gatsby: His decadent parties. His fancy cars. The flowers and champagne he showered on his friends. The opulence of the time. I understood Gatsby’s romantic notions and tortured love for the wilting Daisy Buchanan. I loved how Gatsby stared across the water at the flashing green light, clinging to a dream because, for Jay Gatsby, for a time the world was green with possibility. The narrator, Nick Carraway, realizes Gatsby’s dream is seriously flawed – and Nick walks away one night leaving Gatsby alone in the moonlight “watching over nothing” (153).
Anyone who has read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel knows that Gatsby was all about illusions. He was stunningly good-looking, which can get you pretty far in America. He was born James Gatz, the son of unsuccessful farmers, but he reinvented himself. An officer; a gentleman; a businessman.
Gatsby was the lover of ideas. Fancy ones. He had the audacity to believe in the American Dream, where anything was possible. But his thinking was terribly flawed. He believed in things that could never be.
For all his faults, Gatsby was beautiful because he was so very vulnerable.
Oh, how I wept.
(I don’t mean to sound dramatic. Any student who has ever sat beside me as I watch the film version knows I weep like a baby at the end of Gatsby.)
A few days ago, a former student told me The Sands Point, Long Island mansion – that is said to be author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inspiration for his legendary novel – is about to be demolished.
The 24,000-square-foot, 25-room home, which in the 1930s used to be the scene of lavish parties by celebrities, is now a deteriorating shell of its former glory.
After sitting on the market at $30 million, the home — called Lands End — is set to be knocked down, and plans are in the works to split the 13 acres of land into five lots worth an estimated $10 million each.
“The cost to renovate these things is just so overwhelming that people aren’t interested in it,” Lands End project construction manager Clifford Fetner told Newsday. “The value of the property is the land.”Source
It’s all just so damn symbolic.
I know we are struggling right now – as a country, as individuals – but like Gatsby, we have to have hope. There were many tragedies here, to be sure – but to take this magnificent house and demolish it? Call me sentimental, but it seems a little short-sighted.
Ain’t that America?
I wonder if anyone will show up for the funeral.
What do you remember about reading/seeing The Great Gatsby?
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Macmillian Publishing Company: New York. 1991. Print.
My neighborhood book club has been going strong for nearly three years. A bunch of women who range in age, profession, religious background, and plenty of other things, we agree that we enjoy the following items (not necessarily in the order they are listed):
1. Periodically getting together at someone’s house (preferably not our own);
2. Eating chocolates;
3. Drinking wine;
4. Chatting it up a bit;
5. Discussing books we might not have otherwise ever picked up.
The last meeting was at my house. This time eleven people showed up for an hour of “eat, booze and schmooze” in the kitchen, and eight stayed to gather on the family room couches to “talk book.” Since the host selects the book, my selection was Jen Lancaster’s Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass (Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office).
Quick summary: Before September 11th, Lancaster worked as an associate vice president for a technology company prior to being laid off. In this capacity she made loads of many and acquired many pairs of shoes. After 9/11, the author whines – incessantly – about being unemployed, her boyfriend/fiancé/husband, Fletch, their neighbors, their pets, and how she can no longer afford the shoes she once used to buy so readily. I liked Lancaster’s wit and rampant narcissism.
And while Lancaster was not for everyone, we agreed the book was snarky and fast-paced: a good choice for February, when knee-deep snow and the winter white skies of Western New York provide enough gloom to make everyone question just how severe our vitamin D deficiencies might be. It’s hard to stay connected to neighbors in the winter; it’s just so friggin’ cold. People walk around with their shoulders up and their heads down. We rush from warm house to warming car. There is little time to casually chat at the mailbox when the wind is stinging your ears and making your eyes tear up. Our little club keeps us connected year round so that we remain in touch with our neighbors, something equally rare these days.
It is up to the host to facilitate discussion, and – big surprise – I have long wanted to infuse a writing exercise into a meeting, so I figured – since this book was devoid of any real literary depth – this was my chance.
“Okay,” I said brightly ,”Remember when Lancaster lists her ‘Jen Commandments’? The little quirks she possesses that people who know her and love her just have to accept?”
A few people nodded. (I had my suspicions that most people didn’t get that far.)
I referred to the text. I didn’t have to; almost no one brings the book to book club. I could have said anything, but I quoted Lancaster:
I hate holding anything heavier than my purse. If I have something in my hands, I will attempt to trick you into carrying it for me?
A few people snickered then looked semi-spooked as I handed everyone one salmon-colored index card and plopped a pen onto each lap. As I stuck a small, non-threatening bowl in the middle of my tufted ottoman, I said, “I thought it would be kind of fun if each of us wrote one of our own ‘Commandments’ and put it into the bowl. Anonymously, of course. It could be fun to see if we can figure out who goes with what.”
Initially, some people looked panicky and began to protest, but thank goodness the majority was with me. A few women asked for extra index cards. At first, I thought it was because they goofed up, but for some people once the creative juices started flowing, the flood gates could not hold all our estrogen and soon the orange-bowl, index card confessional runneth over. I read the first one aloud:
I always sleep with 3 pillows. This is a need not a want. And, I will always travel with a pillow, even if it necessitates bringing another suitcase.
We laughed, especially because we were so dead wrong with regard to whom was attached to this statement. Surely our quiet, unassuming neighbor could never be so demanding. But there she was, shamelessly nodding her head.
I passed the bowl to my right so someone else could read another book clubber’s words:
If you say you’re going to do something, then just do it. If you talk about something but never get to it, then I start wondering about you.
Hilarious. And so true.
One woman wrote on the front of her card:
I’m in charge of almost everything… (and then on the back) … and I like it that way!
Another neighbor penned:
I obsess about making decisions and my good friends have to listen to me!
Everyone easily guessed mine.
I absolutely hate repetitive noises. If you tap something more than five times, I might have to kill you.
One that stood out was short and direct.
Do not screw up my coffee order.
This, of course, led to a hilarious story about how this neighbor had recently visited a local Starbucks where the barista dared to give her three squirts of vanilla in her mocha latte instead of one. There was hell to pay that morning. 😉 There were other “isms” that were equally excellent. And it was a hoot to hear each woman’s words read aloud. Everyone was honest and enjoyed poking fun at herself, sharing her quirks, her personal truths. As usual, book club was less about the book than it was about people gathering together to get to know each other a little better.
What my book club mates don’t realize is that they are totally screwed. Now that I have seen that they can write (even under pressure), the next time it is my turn to select a book and host, we are sooooooo writing.
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