Tag Archives: Reading

Elementary Logic

One of the first people to influence my love of books was my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Oliver.

(I’m not sure if that’s her real name, it was certainly something that sounded like “Oliver.”)

Tall, straw-haired, soft-spoken Mrs. Oliver. Quick to help you find the books you’re looking for and to suggest other books you might enjoy, sometimes very much and often for different reasons. Knowledgable and stalwart, friendly yet adamant, Mrs. Oliver.

She was very good at her job. She was, in every way that counted, perfection.

Our library was small but serviceable, the books arranged according to grade level as well as alphabetically. Lower grades (kindergarten to grade 3) on the lower shelves. Higher grades (4 to 6) on the higher shelves. Easy peasy. A very workable, easy-to-understand system.

I read widely and largely ignored this system. The “fact books” (i.e. “Facts on Dogs,” “Facts on Trucks,” “Facts on Trees,” “Facts on The Breeze”… your basic all-purpose non-fiction for beginners) located on the fourth shelf from the bottom – the shelf meant for the older students and not second-graders like me – were a particular favourite. I read them often, even checked a few out using our self-check-out system (back then, a sign-out sheet with matching card placed in an envelope glued to the inside jacket of the books).

I did this for weeks. I did it for months and months.

***

This is a true story:

One day, as I reached for the fourth level self, Mrs. Oliver appeared and, gently but firmly, stopped me.

“You can’t take those books out, I’m afraid. They’re for the older students only.” She pulled the book from my hands and put it back in its place on its shelf. From then on, she watched me whenever I was in the library, making sure I would not access books above my grade. Making sure the system, the whole system, in its entirely, worked, and was therefore perfect.

She was always still and in every other respect, the one and only Mrs. Oliver.

By the time I reached the fifth grade, and was therefore able to take out almost any book I wished, Mrs. Oliver was gone, replaced by someone whose name and face I definitely do not remember.

But I do remember thinking, the day she took the book away from my small hands: “Oh, Mrs. Oliver. You just did it, didn’t you?

You made an enemy for life.”

Let me repeat.

For life, Mrs. Oliver.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Education, People, School, THE PAST, Words

Things I Learned Last Week

  1. Dried out grapefruit is still grapefruit, but not great grapefruit.
  2. Semi-identical twins!
  3. Sometimes the weather really is all there is to talk about.
  4. If you put a dinosaur on it, I will buy it.
  5. More lemon water please!
  6. Take care of your cast iron and it will take care of you.
  7. Beware the jerks (but no need to fret over them).
  8. I like asking nicely until I don’t.
  9. My dog is DRAMATIC.
  10. Nothing like bad advice to put the rest of the day into perspective.
  11. Spicy beef patties or nothing at all.
  12. It’s good to be present, if not always available.
  13. Talents come in all shapes and sizes and, occasionally, smells.
  14. How to read the imperfect novel (still learning that one).
  15. Less brains doesn’t mean more heart.
  16. I hate “Actually.”
  17. Odd numbers please me.

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Books, Change, Communications, Dogs, Food, Hobbies

Stranger Readings

When and wherever I see a stranger reading (the subway, the park, the doctor’s office), I always try to figure out what is it they’re reading. What, then why.

How being obvious.

(Or is it? There are times the pages are obscured, and I just have to imagine they’re there and also being read. Also, there are so many assumptions in “How,” isn’t there?)

So, why? Why that book? Is it the content? The author? Is this a project, or a pastime (or both)?

Is this good?

More: good in all sense or semblance of that word, “good.”

Tell me stranger: Do you know something I don’t know? Maybe you know something I do.

Also: Maybe I could tell you a thing or two. I have books too.

Then: “Books are dead.” Did you know that?

Finally: Yes, dead. Read for work. Reading is work. Work to get paid, or don’t work at all. Getting paid is everything, or it is nothing. Anyway, no one likes their job, which is the same as work. Don’t be a sucker! A show-off! A conceit!

Never concede.

Books are dead.

***

Now, of course, I wouldn’t take things so far down that particular logic hole; the rabbits there are deranged.

This is nothing that should be done. Stranger readings ought to stay that way.

This is just an exercise.

The premise being ridiculous.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Communications, Death, Interruptions, Language, People, Routines, Words

The Quick and the Dead

“Books are dead!” proclaimed my guest, who wasn’t really a guest as a surprise visitor who came in with one of my actual guests. He was just that type, just the sort of person to do just that, just to give you an idea.

It is my fault for letting him in, I know. Though I do not take responsibility for his behaviour. That would be asking too much, I think. It would be expecting the whole world.

Books are dead!” he cried out again, after I faltered in my response, not knowing exactly what he was getting at (but also noting all the books we have weighing down the shelves and invading the little free spaces of our tiny apartment).

I read for work,” he continued. Incredible. There was an aura of self-induced triumph about him.

And that’s what made me think of the boy.

It was a Saturday morning and the subway car was, as usual, overcrowded – Stephen and I and quite a few others were jammed up close, near a young boy and his mother, who were seated but nonetheless closed in with the rest of us.

The mother sat by the window, the boy sat towards the aisle.

“Eee-er-rect? Ee-rect-a?” said the boy.

His mother ruefully shook her head, but did not discourage him. She smiled to herself and then at us as her son struggled with the ad hanging tantalizingly above our heads, its message as yet a mystery to his young mind.

“Dis-disfunct. Dis-func-sia-in,” he enunciated, carefully, loudly, heedlessly.

We waited. Stephen and I, the boy’s mother and the boy, and the half dozen people to our immediate left and right in that moment became a coterie, a clique, an inner circle facing out. The world be damned.

The boy continued: “E-rect-tile. Erectile! Dis…dysfunct-dysfunction!”

There was so much laughter threatening in that moment to break through. The boy’s mother congratulated him – sincerely, proudly – on his having mastered two very difficult words. Who would dare laugh then, and spoil everything?

And then the boy asked, pointing to the ad: “What is it?”

His mother looked at him. She looked at us. She looked out the window. “Ask your father,” she deadpanned.

So much laughter then, the boy’s merging with ours and I think, not because he understood his mother’s exquisite joke or deft delivery, but because, together, they had elicited a moment of joy out of the drudgery of the everyday. His mother laughed as she pulled him to her, beaming.

“Books are dead.” “I read for work.”

I guess what I’m saying is this:

I wish the boy and his mother had shown up at my house instead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Children, City Life, People

Book Club

I like taking the subway to get to Other Places because I can do Other Things while I’m at it.  It’s like a kind of wondrous, effortless multitasking.

I love to battle it out in the underground.

Game on, game on.

Sometimes I listen to music.  I mean, how often can you just listen to music?

(Finally!  A chance to enjoy MMMBop, on repeat, without distraction).

(And in plain sight of a Society at Large that is none the wiser.  HA!).

(Mmm bop, ba duba dop/Ba du bop, ba duba dop/Ba du bop, ba duba dop/Ba du...)

Seeing double plus one.

I know you're in here...somewhere...

(I never stopped loving you, Taylor Hanson).

Sometimes, I people watch.

(That woman looks drained and downtrodden; she needs a break.  That man is robust, yet unfocussed, and just a little bit glib; he has had too many breaks).

(Everywhere I look pants are getting both tighter and bagger.  It’s like one is compensating for the other but I’m not sure which is doing which).

(Did I just indadvertedly make eye contact with that old lady?  Shit.  Look away!  No, wait.  Don’t look away!  PRETEND YOU’RE ASLEEP AND DON’T KNOW ENGLISH).

Hell is...

Happy 7:00AM, People! Watch me as I'm watching you.

Sometimes, I just, kind of, you know…space out and go from there.

Just…

…kind of…

…you know…

ZzZzzzzzzzzZZZzzZZzzZZZzzzzZZZzzzzZZZZZzzzZzzz.....

Amen, sister friends.

Mostly, though, I read.

I love to read on the subway because I win at reading on the subway.  I absolutely DOMINATE.

But it is not without its perils.

After all, nobody wants to LOSE at reading.  It’s all a matter of knowing when to pick your battles.

At a Tim Horton’s?  Go ahead, pull out that brand new copy of Jean M. Auel’s The Land of the Painted Caves.  Read it over timbits and half-eaten crullers and lowered expectations.  “Ooo” and “ahhh” whenever the mood strikes your fancy.  Laugh your head off.  Or not.  Who cares?  WHO CARES??

At a Starbucks?  Best then to go with that worn copy of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra that you picked up at Goodwill for just the occasion.  Be sure to smile indulgently at the page every now and then, and to nod your loving approval to a brilliance not unlike your own.  Chuckle, a little, to show your engagement with the DISCOURSE.

But the subway…

…On the subway, reading is an art.  Of war.  You have to know the terrain you’re on that particular day and adjust to the conditions and – this is critical – to know to withdraw when you have to.  It’s not like listening to Rock N’ Roll Razorblade, or reading from a Kinkle or Kooboo or whatever the hell, which you can do with the immunity of anonymity.

My other iPad is a Millennium Falcon.

iPad Dude! Damn you and your impunity from my scrutiny!

NO.

Because maybe today is a Dan Brown kind of day.  Sheep!  I shall raise the stakes with my rare edition of hitherto unpublished Mark Twain manuscripts!

But what if The Autobiography of Mark Twain is the Name of the Game?  Why, then, I shall counter with the Collected Works of the Emmanuel de Mure Volstein!  It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t exist; even if he did, you still wouldn’t have heard of him!

The Help.  The HELL?  HA! Allow me to retort with The Hunt for Red October, because it’s the better movie.

Twilight?  You’re better off with the movies in the way that people are better off trapped inside burning houses than under churning seas.

No surprises in the end, but least you’re not wet.

Shakespeare?  SHAKESPEARE! Shit…Oh shit.  How am I supposed to know if you’re reading in earnest or with ironic detachment?  Is there a book report due or a play in production?  Is Kenneth Branagh up to something??  Too many variables here.  Best to rock myself gently to the soothing melodies of Middle of Nowhere and live to fight another day.

(Plant a seed, plant a flower, plant a rose/You can plant any one of those/Keep planting to find out which one grows/It’s a secret no one knows…)

You may ask: must I live this way, constantly on edge?

YES.

Because sometimes you have to lose to win.

Because sometimes the content of the book isn’t as interesting as who’s holding it by the covers.

Because sometimes Tenuous Something is better than Ample Nothing.

But sometimes…

…Sometimes I think that Things would be easier if I just read whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

"She was there to sell makeup, but the father saw more..."

"Put it away! Put it away!!!"

But the world doesn’t work that way, and it is in moments like these that I realize that I just can’t betray the standards I have set for others to impose on me.

It’s just easier to accomplish Things without really having to accomplish anything and that’s what we call SUCCESS in the end.

It is a hard Thing, living for others; entering the combat zone weary, battle scarred, knowing that in my heart of hearts, my love resides elsewhere.

No word of a lie: I LOVE Fran Drescher.  She is great to me.

This book has everything.

But I shall persevere.

(In an mmm bop they’re gone/In an mmm bop they’re not there/In an mmm bop they’re gone /In an mmm bop they’re not there/Until you lose your hair. But you don’t care).

(Repeat Chorus).

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