Bookshelves. How one organizes and relates to the books that live in them is an evolving process. Books move.
The books I am currently reading and the stack of books that are on my to be considered next live on top of my bedside bookshelf. After reading a book, it lingers. We had a relationship. It takes a while to let it go too far away. When I’m ready, the book will migrate to a more permanent home.
Moving to another shelf is not a simple task. Perhaps that is why I avoid it.
It may cause the moving of other books. A memoir put amongst novels; a book of essays muddled up with poetry; the short story collection placed with essays; the book that needs to be placed in the to be considered next shelf; books that have done their job taking up valuable bookshelf property.
Moving a book off of my bedside table is no simple matter.
My book bag is another story.
Below is one gorgeous poem. It lives among others in the book Many-Storied House. If you don’t own it, get a copy to live on your shelves.
On Those Shelves
by George Ella Lyon
From the landing you step
down into a room
out over the garage:
This is the room that made us who we were:
book lovers, scholars, people of the word,
who found a safe place between hard covers.
Deckle- or gilt-edged, the wide world opened:
story, knowledge, emotion we’d been taught
to hold in.
On those shelves Papaw built
into the wall below the windows
stood the many mansions of our house.
Last year, I cultivated my own reading life by reading books for myself. I spent precious hours entertaining myself with books. I purposely did not pick up professional texts to better my teaching or new middle-grade books to introduce to my students. I did this with a mixture of joy and sadness.
This summer, I let go of the sadness, because I am noticing the reader I am and growing toward. That thing we ask our children to do today and every day.
I’ve noticed that I drop or miss read beginnings and endings of words. Sometimes missing words completely. I catch myself because it doesn’t make sense. Is this a new thing? Something I do when I’m distracted or tired. Probably I have always done it. Perhaps it’s a reading disability I work around. How has it impacted my understanding?
I’ve noticed conversation with skilled readers adds joy and understanding. Talking with my son about Anna Karenina made me realize Tolstoy’s craft. How he seamlessly shifts the character voice. Reading alone, I didn’t notice the craft. The conversation not only added to my understanding of the work but my reading skill set.
Reading mindfully takes the push of a skilled teacher. By looking through the lens of 180 Days by Kittle and Gallagher, I have had a teacher by my side. Attempting to do what they ask of their students, I have noticed the scattered nature of my thoughts as I read and the need to write about the text to be able to pull it together more coherently. Tracking my thinking as I read or write about a core idea, how a character’s decision has shown their values or supported a big idea is not second nature. It takes specific expectations and dedicated time.
Reading with others is a pleasure, an art, and an act of trust. Bringing something to a group is like bringing food to share. You hope it will be appreciated and you hope other contributions will make the experience complete. By welcoming wonderings and ideas, a group can create an interesting whole. But, this is a complex and vulnerable act. Something I have not acknowledged when I put readers together in class.
Reading should be simultaneously joyful and mindful. Readers need to notice what the book is offering and what the reader is doing. This balance is one we as teachers of readers need to explicitly teach. The joy and mindfulness need to be taught and accountable. Taught because we are always growing reader skills; accountable because everyone needs to be reminded and supported. This work is not second nature. If we’re honest, many readers, even the most competent, read for plot. To reach beyond that takes a push.
It has been so long.
I forgot how to open this page.
Typing a “j” in the URL bar did not produce what I remembered.
I have been reluctant to come here. Afraid is a better word.
What can I say that I haven’t already said; that matters?
I am realizing, now that the dust of the year has settled, that my focus and purpose has been obscured. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been out of sorts, and unwilling to open this page.
But I am working on it.
A book, 180 Days by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, has helped. While their population is secondary, their mission aligns with my core and their approach to teaching into students’ reading and writing lives inspires me.
Conversation with old colleagues has helped. Being reminded of the fact that my best teaching and my best self comes from where my passions exist. The importance of reading and putting words together is always where I’ve found purpose and joy. Being sidetracked by other content areas has made it hard to put words together. Not to say that math isn’t fascinating, but for me, a great read is far more fulfilling. (Apologies to all the beautiful mathematical minds and friends I have made in the pursuit of understanding concepts and conjectures.) Realigning with what makes my heart sing won’t diminish my understanding, or the wonders of how students decompose a number. But it will make me much happier and a better teacher.
And finally, an email from a much-loved mentor and friend has helped me open up this page and write.
I’d begun to think this space was uninhabitable. I was afraid. But it’s like a loved book. After a few lines, it feels like home.