October 06, 2012

iRead


Ernest Hemingway said, "There is no friend as loyal as a book" and some of Hemingway's novels have been my closest companions since I studied literature in college. Yet my devotion to books began much earlier. I was blessed to grow up in a house where bedtime always included a story. One evening when I was three years old, my dad, having grown tired of reading the same books over and over, jokingly suggested that I read to him instead. Much to his surprise, I said, "OK, Daddy!" and proceeded to "read" a favorite nightly story word for word, even turning the pages at the right times. Of course, I had memorized the book, the first of many. I went on to devour the Anne of Green Gables and Little House series before reading all fifty-eight Hardy Boys mysteries (By that time I was 10 and in love with Joe Hardy aka Shaun Cassidy). When I was thirteen, I discovered Seventeenth Summer, a lovely story about a young girl coming of age in nearby Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Around the same time, I started reading Little WomenJane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Pride and Prejudice. I can't tell you how many times I've poured over those pages.

After changing my major from engineering to English and French, reading and writing became the focus of my nine years at Marquette University. I read poetry and prose in Old French, Middle English, regional American dialects, and even Anthony Burgess' Nadsat (A Clockwork Orange). I memorized soliloquies, sonnets, odes, and even the prologue to The Canterbury Tales. I poured over every line of The Waste Land, trying to make sense of the footnotes that were even longer than the poem itself. I marveled at Ernest Hemingway's brilliant simplicity, as well as the cryptic creativity of James Joyce and J.R.R. Tolkien, whose original, handwritten manuscripts of The Hobbit are housed in the Marquette archives. I became obsessed with the expatriate writers who lived in Paris in the 1920s, long before Woody Allen's fabulous movie, Midnight in Paris. I, too, traveled to The City of Light to follow in the footsteps of Hemingway, Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, et al. I spent countless hours in the second incarnation of Shakespeare and Company, wishing that it were actually Sylvia Beach's famous book shop frequented by my favorite writers (see previous blog post: Shakespeare and Company). I sat at Les Deux Magots, Le Café de Flore, La Closerie des Lilas, and Le Select writing down thoughts and observations, just as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and countless others did before me. In fact, I have frequented Hemingway's favorite spots in Paris, Biarritz, the French Riviera, Spain, Key West...the list is endless! In graduate school, I traveled to Florence, Italy to research and actually experience the "view" before writing my master's thesis: An Impressionist Interpretation of E.M. Forster's A Room with a View.

After college, I temporarily abandoned the classics for contemporary novels and travel memoires, feeling relieved to be able read for pleasure without the burden of constant analysis and interpretation. Yet who can read Dan Brown's DaVinci Code without falling back into those familiar habits?

As a teacher, I feel compelled to keep up with the books my students enjoy. I read all of the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games series with Divergent and Insurgent waiting in the wings.  I feel privileged to work in an environment where a life-long love of reading is a top priority. In fact, thanks to David Zindler, our wonderful new Literacy Coach, the teachers and students of Pewaukee High School are proving that reading is cool! Last week, I enjoyed participating in PHS's second annual summer reading book club. Last year, we all read The Hunger Games, but this summer, students and staff had a choice of over a dozen books. I was so impressed by the insight and passion expressed by the readers in my book group! The literacy committee at PHS surveyed nearly one hundred students and faculty members about our favorite books and what we are currently reading. Our selections are featured on the iRead Pewaukee website, as well as on posters outside of our classrooms. It was nearly impossible for me to choose my five favorite books, but I thought about Hemingway's idea that books are the most loyal of friends. I finally chose those who have been there for me the most, the friends I visit over and over again, never tiring of their company: Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince, Forster's A Room with a View, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. Who are your "best friends"?

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