Thursday, August 22, 2013

My lifelong fear of being in trouble

So I just finished reading The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac, and chapter 24 got me thinking about something that happened to me in 5th grade. The chapter is only two paragraphs, so I'm just going to quote them here:

You'll never make a boy in the middle of a gripping story understand--you'll never get him to understand through a demonstration intended for him alone--why he must stop reading and go to bed.

It was Kafka who said that, little Franz, whose father wanted him to spend every night counting.

As a child, I never understood why I had to stop reading, but one incident is forever branded in my mind. I was in 5th grade, and every morning, students gave a little presentation on any books they had finished reading. One morning, a boy named Matt Bagley, who was gawky and tall (for a 5th grader), and had what seemed like huge hands to me, was discussing the book Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Patterson, which was one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors. He was tapping the book during his presentation, which is probably why I noticed his hands. AND HE WAS GETTING IT WRONG! It was clear to me that he had not read the book, or if he had, that he had so obviously not understood what was going on, or what made it such a GOOD book. It was incredible how inaccurate his description of it was.

I don't remember exactly what he said, but I remember thinking, I've already read that book, and besides, he's getting it wrong, so I'll just go back to reading what I was reading before he started his report.

But despite the fact that Matt was so clearly in the wrong, I got in trouble FOR READING. And I wasn't even expecting it.

On the first day of school, Ms. Rottenberg (yes, that really was her name), told us the classroom rules, and what the penalties were. The first penalty was your name on the board. I don't remember what the second one was, but the third one was being sent to the principal and so on. Somehow, I missed the part where you'd start anew the next day, and so I thought as soon as you got your name on the board once, you were totally screwed (it didn't occur to me how irrational this was, if for no other reason than it can be really difficult for elementary-aged kids to always behave).

Anyway, reading during Matt's atrocious presentation got me my name on the board. I was told I wasn't paying attention. I was so dumbfounded that I didn't even bother to point out that it didn't make sense for me to pay attention to someone who clearly was talking about a book they hadn't read. And besides, I'm not sure my 5th-grade mind could articulate such a sentiment.

At any rate, my name was on the board, and I was convinced that if I stuck a toe out of line the rest of the year, whatever the second thing was would happen, and the world would come to an end. My parents would disown me, I'd be kicked out of school and become a drug addict and get pregnant and never go to college (okay, and while we're on the subject, why is this always the series of events presented to kids? I mean, every time we discussed drugs and/or sex in school, it seemed like we were all doomed if we ever did either of those things. It was like God was hovering over our health classes ready to send in a wrath of locusts or something). I apparently never noticed if my name was removed the next day or not. It was etched on the chalkboard in my mind's eye, and that was all that mattered to me.

So, little 5th-grade Virginia was terrified of getting in trouble, and the worst part was, I really didn't understand what I had done wrong. I mean, I was READING in SCHOOL! So, more accurately, my fear was, I'd get in trouble for something I couldn't predict would get me in trouble. It would have been one thing if I had known what I was doing was wrong, and was doing it anyway, like the kids who got in trouble for writing on their desks (why would they ever think such a thing was appropriate?). But the fact that I didn't even expect to get in trouble was unnerving.

This is actually a fear that has followed me to this day. I'm a grown-up with legitimate, employable skill sets, and every time my boss calls me into his office, I'm afraid that I'm going to be in trouble. Not that I'm going to be fired, but that that unnamed second thing is going to happen. That somehow, I've done something wrong that I didn't even realize was the wrong thing to do. Chapter 24 was an epiphany for me, and realizing my habit has been instrumental in helping me change it. It makes no sense for me to be so nervous at work. I'm not a brain surgeon--no one is going to die if I make a mistake, and furthermore, it's my boss's job to help me if I do make a mistake.

I'm saddened by the amount of time and energy I've wasted being scared of getting in trouble when I don't expect to, but I'm glad I've finally named that fear. It's a fear of the unknown, a fear of not knowing the rules of the game, a fear I'm still not able to articulate to the depths that it has shaped my life. It was an unexpected find in a book about reading.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Rights of the ReaderThe Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is hands down, my new favorite book, which is saying something because I haven't had a new favorite book since 1996 when I first read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

This book is a delightful, whimsical treatise on the love of reading. I read entire chapters aloud to my husband because I could not contain my enthusiasm for this book.

Among the highlights of the book are the following passages:

What we need to understand is that books weren't written so that young people could write essays about them, but so that they could read them if they really wanted to.

The road to knowledge doesn't lead into this classroom: it leads out of it.

If you're wondering how you'll find time, it means you don't really want to read. Because nobody's ever got time. Children certainly haven't, nor teenagers or grown-ups. Life always gets in the way.

I could go on and on, but I'm pretty sure I'm preaching to the choir, and besides this book is far better written than my review.

I do have two things to note: this book is written by a teacher, and so the slant is towards why students don't seem to enjoy reading, and what can be done about it. It actually reads very easily, and the logic is straightforward, but it's helpful to know that this is the basic argument behind the book.

The second thing to note is that the chapter on the right to mistake a book for real life isn't about what I thought it'd be about. It's more about how adolescents relate to characters, seeing themselves in them, seeing their lives mirrored in the characters' dramas.

I don't know if I saw myself in any of my favorite characters as a teenager, but I do lose myself in books, which is what I think of when I think of mistaking a book for real life. I feel the heartaches and joys of the characters I'm reading about. I get frustrated when characters make bad decisions. (I also get frustrated with authors for bad writing.) And I love, love, love, when I find a character I want to know in real life. Even though I know they're a product of someone's imagination.

It seems that a book about the love of reading is a little redundant. Clearly people who love reading are already reading, but I think this book is well worth the few short hours it will take you to read it.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

In the event of a zombie apocalypse...

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, you're going to have to kill some people, or at least former people, in order to survive. This is what every zombie movie ever made tells us. And this was my first thought when Captain America told me that a box had been stolen off our front stoop.

My second thought was that the fucker who stole it probably wasn't even going to use the DVDs, and that's just really wasteful. (But then I realized that all theft is wasteful.)

So here's what happened:

A while ago, upon the advice of some friends, I purchased the Insanity set of DVDs. I did the first month of workouts faithfully and noticed NO CHANGE WHATSOEVER. So I decided to stop. I didn't loose weight. I didn't loose inches. I didn't even gain stamina. And according to my heart rate monitor, I burnt only about 50% more calories in an hour of Insanity than I did in an hour of yoga, and about a third of the calories I burnt in an hour of running. I decided that it was simply not the workout for me. It took up too much time, and was producing no results.

But I kept the DVD set because I paid for them, and I figured I could take them on trips or something and watch them on my laptop if a gym wasn't an option. Or maybe I'd try them again later and have better success.

So fast forward to a few days ago when a girlfriend asked me if she could borrow them. Of course I said yes. I told her I'd leave the box on the stoop for her and she could stop by whenever and pick it up. (I realize there is always an inherent risk that something will be taken off your stoop by local delinquents.)

All day long the box sits on the stoop. Captain America comes home from work. I come home from work. I leave to go to yoga. A few minutes after I leave, Captain America comes around a corner in our house and sees the back of a woman walking away from our house carrying the box.

The back of the woman doesn't look like our friend, but it does look like our friend's best friend. So Captain America assumes that our friend was busy or tied up at work or something and sends her friend to come get the DVD set for her. (In hindsight, of course, this is a little silly, but the mind can invent fantastical scenarios when needed.)

I come home from yoga and notice the box is gone, and figure our friend stopped by, like she said she would.

Captain America says, "I don't want you to be mad at me. I'm mad and you have every right to be mad, but I don't want you to be mad."

Captain America frequently gives such prologues before delivering news of any sort, but especially bad news. He is also a bit of an overexplainer. There are worse people to be married to.

Anyway, he proceeds to tell me that the Insanity DVDs were stolen, and how he's mad at himself because he saw the person who took them, but because he had assumed it was our friend's friend (now a seemingly odd mental concoction), he didn't stop her. He's mad at himself for being so trusting (again, there are worse people to be married to). He says our friend showed up about an hour after the theft, rang the doorbell and asked for the DVDs. Which of course, we no longer had.

But I didn't get mad that the DVDs were stolen (apparently it's been that kind of week where thefts from my front stoop just go along with everything else). My first thought, evidently spurred by Captain America's comment on being trusting, was that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, he'd have to shoot some people. You CAN NOT trust zombies. They WILL eat your brains. My second thought was that the person who stole the DVDs probably wouldn't even use them. Of course, when the zombies come for her, she's going to regret that bad choice, as she won't be able to outrun the zombies.

Oh, karma will get even with her...eventually.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really, really enjoyed this book, despite some flaws. Namely, the verb tenses changed all of the time. I think the idea was that the characters would be reflecting on the past, and then continue the story in the present, but it was distracting. Also, the POV changed mid chapter. I thought this was done fairly organically, actually. For instance Tom would be thinking something about Isabelle, would turn and look at her, and then the POV would be Isabelle's, much like movement in a movie.

I thought this was a well written book with an interesting plot (with 40 pages to go, I couldn't guess how it would end!), and good characterization.

This was a very good first novel.

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