Monday, June 11, 2012

Are you digital or tangible?

       Matthew Glover, who maintains a digital library for a living and just happens to be my real-life, down-the-street neighbor, wrote the perfect blog post to juxtapose against my recent post, "I Believe in Real Books".
        You can view it here at his tumblr. It's entitled "Digital Books are Real Books, Too". I love that ten to fifteen years ago Matthew and I, two voracious readers, would not even be having this conversation.
         Though we both love reading in equal amounts, we have different preferences about how we do it. I love spines and pages. He loves eReaders and digital libraries. What about you?

Are you digital or tangible?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I believe in real books.

This post isn't directly about teaching, but it is about something that made me the teacher that I am.

         I believe in real books. 

Do you remember the kind I'm talking about? The ones with the spines and the pages. The ones that smell of ink and basement. The ones that you can dog-ear, even if it feels a little rebellious. Even if you hear the librarian, mother, teacher in your head blurt, "Use a bookmark, missy! That book didn't buy itself!"
        Admittedly, from birth to present, I have held seventeen different residences. My uncle has called me a gypsy, and on each of those moving days, the back-bending labor of lugging cardboard boxes spilling with stories has nearly driven me to a Kindle or Nook. 

        It would certainly make more sense for a semi-nomad to condense, but once I settle into the new apartment, dorm room, or house, the first thing I unpack are my books. It's a sacred ritual. I run my fingers along their spines, flip through dog-eared pages, and am transported back to the first, second, third time that I read that story. Inevitably, a memento or two will fall to the floor as I scan the text - a note from a neighbor in 10th grade English, my sister's posed picture at a Sadie Hawkins dance, a receipt for twenty dollars worth of gas which used to fill up my car, or one of the bookplates that my grandmother gave me. 
When I see oily stains splashed across the recipe for Nutty Apple Loaf in my Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, I think of Sarah. She was my college confidante who once sat beside me on London's Portobello Road as we stuffed our faces with two Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes each - embarrassing our country and validating the "gluttonous Americans!" stereotype.  

       I remember when she called me crying from graduate school, four states away because of the suicide of her close friend. In a rush to comfort her, I grabbed the cookbook off the shelf, and quickly baked Hummingbird apple bread to send in the mail - a reminder of better times. In the hasty process of greasing a loaf pan, I spilled oil on the pages - a reminder now, to me, of our friendship and how long distance has yet to stain it. My collection of "real" books preserves my scattered personal history. Each one of them holds more than the author's original text. It holds my yesteryear. Though to uninformed on-lookers, they're merely marked with smudges and chicken scratch. 
Last week, I moved into house number seventeen after the burglary at house number sixteen. Of all my worldly possessions, the crooks only deemed one worthy of their time - my computer. I laughed to myself as I noticed that, although they had lugged most of our belongings on the floor, they hadn't laid a finger on a bookshelf - where my most treasured effects are housed. Hidden in plain sight. 

        Now, a Nook might have peaked their interest, but the joke's on them.  What I've learned from those books has made me, as my Dad reminded me, "grateful that I'm not the one having to do the robbing."
When I glance at my collection on the green built-ins in the living room of house number seventeen, I see a timeline of my life that no one else can see. Once when stepping back after arranging them in an order that would make Dewey's head spin (summer reads, expatriate authors, cookbooks for carnivores), I was interrupted by my housemate who asked me my favorite question, "Can you recommend a book for me to read?" I turned around, sized her up, then furiously went to work. Me Talk Pretty One Day? Check. She's Come Undone. Perfect. Sandra Cisneros? Amy Hempel? Malcolm Gladwell? Of course. At seven books, she interjected, disrupting my literary fervor, "Okay, okay! I said a book. A book." 

I just know it will happen one day. It might be a birthday or Christmas, but someone I know who did not read this essay is going to give me an eReader. I'll smile, thank them, and I might even use it when I travel. But I will never deny my loyalty to the real books. When I crawl in bed at night, I want to pick a book out of the stack of them that teeters on my nightstand - threatening the lamp in a contest of height. I want to walk through a library and judge them by their covers. I want to shove off one too many novels on my friends. I want to grab my copy of One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty that I bought at her birthplace - two blocks down from house number fourteen - and read the words I've highlighted: 

        "Yet regardless of where they came from, I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them - with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself."

Ms. Welty's home library

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Hiding Place, part 1

       Much to my dismay, teachers don't stop working in the summer. Especially the summer before  they start teaching new subjects. Especially the summer before they work towards National Boards. Especially the summer before they start teaching Common Core. Especially the summer that they participate in a National Writing Project summer institute. 

No, I'm not stressed at all. Just tired after typing all that nonsense out.

       But, there are blessings that come from all this hard work. One being that I'm reading and writing about teaching on a daily basis. What follows is part one of a narrative piece about my middle school experience, and more importantly, one of my most influential teachers. Do enjoy, my dears.  

And think of me while you work on your tan, and my skin turns an unsettling shade of schoolmarm beige.

"The Hiding Place," part 1

       You haven't lived until you've been crammed into a 25-square-foot bathroom with fourteen of your 7th and 8th grade classmates.  

       It was the most ridiculous thing any teacher had ever asked any of us to do. But that's what we had begun to expect from Mrs. Morris. The unexpected. In retrospect, she actually had even more gall to tell us that, while in the sardine can that was the preschool bathroom, we were not to talk, cough, laugh, sneeze, or even whisper. That is, not if we wanted to remain "hidden." If you've ever met a middle schooler, you know that their silence - especially when the situation demands it - is as elusive as a Mississippi snow day. 

      Furthermore, upon leaving our classroom to hole up in the bathroom, we were expected to squirrel away all traces of our previous presence there. No math worksheet or lunch box left behind. Which, yet again, if you've ever met a middle schooler, you know that they normally trail more debris behind them than a fleet of floats at a Mardi Gras parade.

There I found myself with a frizzy bob and I'm guessing, if I had to bet money on it, wearing a sweater vest, in the darkness of the preschool bathroom with fourteen remarkably silent adolescent confederates - long after its three-year-old rugrat residents had gone home to juice boxes and naps. I squeezed my eyelids closed, then open, closed, then open again - willing my pupils to adjust to the darkness. With my back pressed to the cool tiles that lined the wall, I surveyed the scene. Miles took this unchaperoned opportunity to perch in the sink "to make room, of course". Kevin was crossing his eyes - his sole mission to force someone, ANYONE, to break Mrs. Morris's command of "No laughing." Sandy and Claire were dangerously close to fulfilling his wish - their shoulders bouncing up and down in silent, girlish giggles. Jonathan, the too-cool-for-school type, stood nonchalantly against the wall - well, as nonchalantly as one can stand when relegated to two yellow bathroom tiles of personal territory. The rest of the class filled in the rectangle of space that was beginning to smell of the quintessential pre-teen odors - too-sweet perfume, Chap Stick, Teen Spirit deodorant, and the sweat of those who had forgotten to apply it. Which is understandable, as it was a new hygiene habit for the bulk of us.

In an instant, our thoughts and antics were halted by urgent voices. We had been warned that this might happen. When Mrs. Morris reviewed us on the protocol of the activity, she said that sometimes our hiding would pass without disturbance. And then, as if nothing had ever occurred, we would return to the classroom and resume the math, science, or history lesson that it had interrupted.  But on the other hand, she said, we couldn't rest in the fact that the hiding would always be that easy. Sometimes we might actually be found. 

So, in a way, we expected what happened next. But, none of us expected it to affect us like it did.


Stay tuned for "The Hiding Place", Part 2. Truth be told, I haven't even written it yet. So I'll be tuning in as well.