Story Time

A guest post by Linda Ferguson

Linda Ferguson is a poet and fiction writer.  Her work has been published in Fiction at Work, Pure Francis, Saranac Review, and other journals. She also teaches dance and creative writing to school children.

I’ll confess:  I love being read to as much as I love reading.  Yes, I have a degree in English, and no, I’m not four years old.  Still, I love hearing written words roll off another person’s tongue and the inflections that he or she uses to bring all of the nuances of a story to life.

I discovered this when my son, Ben, was attending a middle school across town, and I was driving him home every afternoon.  I’ve always felt that time alone in the car is time wasted.  I’d rather be outside hanging laundry to dry or in the kitchen cooking a new soup.  To entertain myself on the way to pick up Ben, I started borrowing books on tape from the library.  The first one—The Bondwoman’s Narrative—became one of my favorites, with its spine-tingling story (complete with candles and creaking branches), as well as an enthralling introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explaining the detective work that went into proving this may be the only novel by a female African American slave.  What’s more, actress Anna Deveare Smith’s oddly understated reading (an almost deadpan delivery) juxtaposed with the exciting narrative of an escaped slave and made it even more absorbing.

Since this wasn’t the type of novel I ordinarily read, in the traditional way, with my eyes, I began to realize that recorded books could introduce me to other authors and topics I might not otherwise approach.  Soon to follow was Neal Bascomb’s A Perfect Mile, which had me cheering for Roger Bannister like a seasoned sports fan, despite the fact that my own days as an athlete ended after I squeaked through tenth grade P.E.   Another surprise was the beauty and suspense of Ursula K. LeGuin’s story “The Finder,” although I’d previously had as much interest in sci-fi/fantasy as I did in packing my bags and moving to Mars.  Darker tales, too, have become more accessible to me.  I might not have finished Michael Ondaatje’s tale of Sri Lankan terror if it weren’t for the sly, sensitive voice of Alan Cumming, and I’m sure I never would have survived Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart without the help of Peter Francis James.  Like a hand holding a needle, his patient baritone pulled me through the fabric of a harsh, foreign culture where the main characters earned their status by storing yams before the British imperialists imposed a devastatingly different order on the clan.

Listening to books has made me a more ambitious visual reader as well.  Sailing beyond the safe harbor of old favorites such as Barbara Kingsolver and Anne Tyler, lately I’ve been taking on the page-long paragraphs of Henry James.  Although he seems to have written The Ambassadors in code, I’ve discovered that the painstaking effort I’ve put into deciphering his long, complex sentences provides as much pleasure as the clear and simple syntax of more modern authors.

Even if they weren’t so broadening, recorded books have the advantage of making a host of tedious tasks more enjoyable.  Every time I walk through my yellow hallway, I remember painting it while listening to Diane Johnson’s French farce Le Marriage.  I’ve also mopped the kitchen floor while Tom Jones romped with his lady friends in the background, and I actually volunteered to wash the after-dinner dishes so that I’d have an excuse to hear A.S. Byatt’s literary love story Possession.

For many adult readers, listening to books is best left to preschoolers sitting cross-legged on colorful carpet squares.  It’s something that intelligent, dignified people just don’t do—like throwing tantrums in the grocery store or licking the bottom of an ice cream bowl.  But recorded books have introduced me to characters who are separated from me by geography, time, and experience, and I’ve fallen under their spell because they feed—and stimulate—my desire to stretch and learn and feel connected to someone different from myself.  Or maybe I simply love listening to these recordings because I’ve never outgrown the need to sit down and hear a good story.



Filed under autobibliography, guest post, recorded books

8 responses to “Story Time

  1. Jill Croucher

    While I enjoy reading a good book and getting lost in the fantasy that the book portrays, I have never truly loved reading. Once I begin reading a book I usually enjoy reading it and enjoy getting engrossed in the story, but I rarely pick up a book to read on my own. Throughout my education I have read many books either because they were required for a specific class or I was required to pick a book for silent reading in language arts. While in elementary school I remember reading with my parents every night because it was required of us, but I don’t remember ever truly finding books that I couldn’t put down or live without. As I got older and moved into middle school, I remember being required to read but always putting it off to the last minute because I had so many other things to do.

    Most of the books I was assigned to read in middle school were outdated and difficult to relate to. Due to my slow reading skills I would procrastinate on the reading assignments which would make it even more difficult for me to catch up. While I wasn’t a poor reader, I was a lot slower than all of my friends who for the most part enjoyed reading more than math or science which was the opposite for me. In middle school I was also forced to read out loud in language arts which terrified me because I knew I wasn’t as fast of a reader as some of the other students and was always scared that I would read a word wrong in front of the whole class. As time progressed in middle school I tried to become invisible in my language arts class as much as possible. While I was still a good student and got good grades in English I strongly disliked reading.

    Once in high school I signed up for the advanced freshmen humanities class which was English and social studies combined into one class. During my freshmen year I enjoyed the humanities class because the class reading was put into context and was easier for me to understand. Once I started to enjoy reading and English, we started poetry and Greek mythology. Although I found the Greek mythology interesting I had a difficult time comprehending the material. I also struggled to understand the poetry and couldn’t understand the words written on the page very quickly or at times not at all. At the end of my freshmen year I decided to once again sign up for the advanced humanities block for my sophomore year. My sophomore year I started to enjoy reading and English because our teacher would explain the books we were reading which helped me understand the reading. While most of the students in class would use Cliff Notes or Spark Notes instead of reading the books, I found myself actually reading the books and enjoying them. Even though I still wasn’t picking up books outside of the required reading, I was at least enjoying the books that I was required to read. I came to fully enjoy reading my senior year of high school in my AP English class. Although I questioned my own reading and writing ability when signing up for the class, it was one of the best classes I ever decided to take.

    My senior English teachers made the reading enjoyable because we would do some of the reading in class, some of it on our own, we would listen to some of it, and watch some of the books through movies. Since there was a variety of ways we read books I came to like the reading and actually looked forward to going home after school and reading before completing other homework which had never happened before. Unfortunately, after my senior year of high school and into college I found myself reading less and less because all of my time was spent on either required reading from a textbook or on my math homework as I was a math major. Now in my final year of college and working to earn my Master’s degree in education, I have found myself looking forward to finally being done with school so I can start reading some of the books I have collected that are on my bookcase. While I am still not an avid reader, I have found as I have grown up that I enjoy reading more even though it takes me awhile to get into a book after I finally pick it up to read it.

  2. As much as I love to read, Jill, there are many books I pick up and can never get into. I am patient. I read page after page, hoping to be captured by the words and yet the elusive magic never happens. I am wary of recommending books because of this. The books I love may be loathed by other eyes. I must assign some texts to create a shared knowledge base, but I have yet to find the alchemy of literacy that creates a book we’d all delight in. W-OZ

  3. Lucy Whitridge

    A book that brings a story to life and engages my imagination with vivid images and emotions will captivate me. There is nothing I love to do more than to lay outside and read a book that I have selected. Some of my recent favorites include: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, Tom Larson’s series beginning with The Girl that Plays with Fire, the incredible autobiography Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, the astonishing account of a Sudanese refugee in What is the What by Dave Eggers, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Greg Mortenson’s autobiography about promoting education in remote regions in Three Cups of Tea, Tracy Kidder’s true account of a medical student escaping genocide in Burundi in Strength in What Remains, and the list goes on and on. I love fiction and autobiographies because they lead me into a world of inspiring characters, unique landscapes and communities so different from my own. My love for books may be related to those days when my parents read to me during early childhood. I loved The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Corduroy by Don Freeman, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, and A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein.

    Last year during my position as Preschool Network Coordinator at a local science museum, I found myself re-reading these stories that I once loved to a carpet full of adorable preschoolers. I never thought of myself as a great storyteller; in fact I had never even read stories to young kids. Suddenly, I found myself as the weekly “Story Time Lady” and it all happened so fast as if I had been doing it for years. This was slightly terrifying for me because I had no idea if I would be a natural storyteller, if I would bore the kids to death, or be laughed at with my complete over-exaggeration of the text. The best story I read was the Rainbow Goblins by Ul De Rico about goblins that eat rainbows. These creatures are on a journey to eat the last of the rainbows from a secret valley, when the flowers flood the goblins with their colors creating a beautiful new world. The art in this book truly comes alive on the pages. As I read this story aloud, I looked around at a carpet full of loyal kids, and I could see the anticipation on each of their faces, eyes open wide. Sharing this captivation in a story with kids was special and will always be my fondest memory as the “Story Time Lady.”

  4. I love imagining you as “Story Time Lady.” What a lovely story and what a joy it always is to share our favorites with new minds!! I had to look up Ul De Rico because the name was familiar, but I haven’t read Rainbow Goblins (I’ll be looking for it). The Never Ending Story is where I’d heard the name. Can’t wait to see the goblin art. W-OZ

  5. Jeremy Hamasu

    I believe that book on tapes can be a very valuable habit to pick up. Like Linda said, so many adults feel that audio books are not for the professionals, but I believe it is a very efficient use of time and should be a trait that is admired rather than frowned upon. Why drive and listen to music when you could be adding knowledge and literary expertise to your educational tool belt. In fact, I believe that listening to audio books should be done more often as it is the mark of someone who is serious about literature and being a life long learner. As a teacher, it is also an effective way of connecting with your students and their literature without spending your entire Saturday reading a book. It is also an effective way of roping in the reluctant learners. As long as it is not coming at the cost of your own personal reading time, I do not see a negative to listening to audio books, and I believe should be further incorporated into our everyday practices.

  6. I love them when I’m traveling, but I must admit that I am too distracted by ideas to want to use them at other times. I hear something and I’m off on a mindtrail–if it’s in front of me in a book I can stick a marker in and take off. On tape, I sometimes lose huge chunks of the book before I realize I’m not paying any attention! Students do enjoy the novelty of audio books, especially if they’re auditory learners. Reading along with the audio can also help comprehension. W-OZ

  7. Cara Hall

    By: Cara Hall
    This was a very fast paced year for me, but yet it seemed like one of the longest years of my life. In the nut shell, I cried at least once a week, because I thought I could never complete all the necessary work assignments that were required for this program. But, I am here now and I made it!
    I realized that middle school students take lots of energy to teach and I needed to constantly encourage them to grow as individuals. Therefore; this drove me to eat more than I normally do. I soon had to correct this.
    Some of my high school students were not much younger than me. I was able to find a connection with most of them. I believe this was because of being young too. Several students wanted to be like me, to know about myself and my college years. This was very rewarding for me to be able to encourage them for future years.
    I reassured myself that I need to know my students and not just their names. I wanted to know how they learnt, so I would be able to teach them and to help them grow individually. I reinforced my desire to become a health and physical education teacher.
    This program was extremely stressful and time consuming. However; it is extremely rewarding in knowing I am making a difference in the lives of young students.
    Would I do this stressful year over again? Absolutely yes! I learnt a lot, grew as a person and made lifelong friends throughout my journey here.

  8. This year is also good preparation for the kinds of stresses and joys that all teachers face in pretty much equal measure. There are times when you think you’ll never get it all done–and you do. There are times when you wonder if you’re making a difference–and you realize that you are. For me, the joys far outweigh the challenges! W-OZ

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