Reading isn’t good for a ballplayer. Not good for his eyes. If my eyes went bad even a little bit I couldn’t hit home runs. So I gave up reading. • Babe Ruth
Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. • Joseph Addison
My students who will soon be fully-licensed teachers have been asked to write their literacy histories, indulging in a bit of shelf analysis that they’ll be able to share with their students. So often our students seem to think their teachers exist outside of time and space, perhaps imagining us hidden away at night in cupboards, pressed flat and shelved with the copier paper and markers and pencils, or hung on hooks in some basement lair, slumbering until the morning bells awaken us to teach again. I have seen the look of surprise on their faces when they see me buying butter and eggs and enchilada sauce at the grocery store or standing in line to buy movie tickets or shopping for new underwear at Target. You? Here? Their eyes telegraph astonishment even as politeness overtakes them and pleasantries reign.
I know too that at least some of them imagine that their teachers spend their time thinking important thoughts and reading important books and delighting only in the erudite, seldom deigning to indulge in ordinary joys. Alas, this is not true for me. I wallow in the unimportant, tromp shamelessly through the trivial, immerse myself in puerile seas of silliness. You have only to read what I’ve written to see me revealed as a hopeless eclectic when it comes to reading. I am quite good at rationalizing all of this, but I feel no need to do so here. Instead I’ll share someone else’s literary past:
Four Prongs of Literacy
A Literacy History by Carrie Anne Ebner
Around the circle of kinder classmates
I danced, ferocious and mighty.
Little herbivore personified by a big me in the middle
We sang: My name is Stegosaurus
I’m a funny looking dinosaur,
And on my back there’s many bony plates
And on my tail there’s four.
Now I know there are four,
Grammatically, and as a scientific fact.
But what are four bony plates for?
Judy Blume was my mother, inside her voice and eyes
Deciphering mysterious symbols, she was
Fudge and Ramona, and characters with high-pitched voices
Unlimited personality range while
My brother and I were ivy
Lacing up and around my mother’s body
Begging for one more chapter before bed time.
By fourth grade I was eating my own books
Incentivized by stars, rival-eyed, on the contest chart
I was winning in more ways than one
And producing my own poetry from vocabulary
Metabolized that year
And years prior.
To prepare us for the adult world
My friend and I memorized Silverstein’s “Sick Day”
Just to show off.
Fifth graders can be like that sometimes.
I cannot go to school today said little Peggy Ann McKay
We had: the measles and the mumps
A gash , a rash and purple bumps.
Along with the rapt attention of our peers.
From nickels and dimes in couch cushions, to
Wheelbarrows filled with pine cones and weeds, to
Five-consecutive clean room days, to
A coastal town where my grandparents lived, to
The entire Black Stallion series, all twenty
From the nice, old proprietress
Watching me leave in full possession of worlds:
A stationary rider galloping with Alec and the Black
Curling up against that big climbing tree,
Which was not “time” and “place”
But a reconnaissance trail
Toimagined others, else-wheres
And emotions of my own.
Music was the thing to teach the song a writer sings
Whitmanesque inspired sophomore, I found
Lyrics could be altered to make my own alternate identity
Pearl Jam, the Cranberries, Nirvana, the Cure
Facilitating the muse, friends to us all
Winning, I wrote my own flannel and concert T-shirt philosophy
Onto my journal’s impressionable slate.
A refuge, my island, an excuse against homework.
Clever coyote confidante yipping at me,
Your homework can wait,
It, and the books I would read instead of algebra.
Beware all: Don’t read! Don’t write!
Or that is all you will ever want to do!
Stillacademically rebelling against homework
But justly wasting a whole day
Reading an entire novel with:
Words words words
Matter matter matter!
But I know I’m just escaping.
It’s what I did Saturday, and Saturday last,
Spending plastic dollars on collections of language.
I went to Europe on frequent flier miles.
On authors’ invitations.
Wizards leaving me wizened.
Those textbooks for college,
And novels bought on an anti-philosophical whim.
The new journals started and stopped, until I discovered Moleskin®,
Pasting in receipts and movie tickets and love notes
To remember places I’d been.
And every word sent to my Dear Letter-Reader Friend,
2000 pages at least!
We could drown the Nile, wallpaper the Wild West,
With those yellow pages
Marked with Argumentum ad hominems
And all manner of phonemic representation.
Ahs and Ums and marathon run-ons
Sometimes another dinosaur
Comes around and wants to fight!
I don’t use fists,
I use my tail-
It has four sharp, sharp spikes…
I don’t know what old Steggy would want with a pen.
What’s your literacy history?
A one sentence literacy history from William Shatner aka Captain Kirk: “I enjoyed reading all the classic authors like Isaac Asimov and Bradbury.”