Tag Archives: reading

Underground Readers

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In Donalynn Miller’s The Book Whisperer, she describes various types of readers in her own terms.  Instead of struggling or reluctant readers, she uses the terms “developing readers” and “dormant readers.”  She also describes a third type of reader:  the “underground reader.”  While I still plan to dissect The Book Whisperer here, that is not what I am doing today.  No:  I want to talk about my experience growing up as an “underground” reader.

As defined in The Book Whisperer, “underground” readers are students who love to read, but due to circumstances beyond their control, they keep their reading lives separate from school.  They may love to read, but they usually do not have the time or opportunity to read what they would like in school.  Underground readers may even go out of their way to get in as much free reading time as possible during school.  They are the students who do not want free reading time during class to end.

While I do remember having some free time read all throughout my k-12 years, it would have never been enough.  As a child, I remember sneaking time to read and hurried through my work to have more free reading time.  I even remember taking a book out to recess once or twice.  I loved to read as a child.  I still love to read.

Unfortunately, my love of reading didn’t have all that much to do with school.  To be fair, there were times when my reading life was influenced by school.  For example, some of my favorite elementary school and childhood memories involve a teacher or librarian reading to my class.  For this reason, I included Roald Dahl and Laura Ingalls Wilder on a list of childhood favorites.  You can read the original list and explanation here.  I probably would have read Laura Ingalls Wilder on my own as a child – eventually – but nothing compared to Mrs. Butz reading Little House in the Big Woods to my second grade class.  As for Roald Dahl, he happened to be a favorite of several of my teachers, and I can’t imagine elementary school without his books.

As influential as those authors were to my early reading life, I read so much more on my own.  I had the freedom to read widely.  I took full advantage of having a mother and an aunt who were elementary school teachers – and a grandmother who also loved to read and discuss books.  I recognize that I am in the minority, and I probably would have developed a love for reading no matter what.

That just isn’t good enough.  I have to agree with Donalynn Miller.  The conventional way reading is taught today underserves “underground” readers.  Teachers don’t let them explore their love of reading and give them the skills and permission they need to make their own reading choices.  This was true twenty to thirty years ago during my childhood, but it is even more true today.  For example, I can’t imagine being told by a teacher or librarian that I couldn’t check out or read a book because it wasn’t at my “level.”  I also can’t imagine taking AR after AR test just to fulfill a silly requirement – and NOT because I truly wanted to read the book.  Instead, Donalynn Miller provides a great format for serving ALL readers, including those who already love to read.

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Traditional Books Vs. Kindle Books

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I admit I should read more traditional books.  I have several that are begging to be read.  The problem is Kindle books are all too convenient.  As a substitute teacher, I always have my cell phone on me, equipped with my Kindle books app.  Why throw a book in my bag as well when I have perfectly good books to read on my phone?  It is almost a no-brainer.  The ease of use of Kindle books on my Android phone is responsible for an increase in my reading.  I always have a book with me.  I love reading during conference hours and lunch.  As I also use my cell as an alarm clock, I also tend to read Kindle books before falling asleep.  It is all right there.

Despite all that, I understand why some people loathe the rise of e-books.  I get it.  As convenient as e-books are, nothing compares to the smell of traditional books.  Nothing.  Personally, I have a fondness for hardcovers.  There is nothing comparable to searching a bookstore or library for the perfect book to take home.  In my opinion, a home would not be a home without shelves of books of all types.  I particularly value books by local authors, most of which can only be purchased in paperback.  I would severely limit myself and diminish my love of reading if I only read and/or purchased e-books.  In short, I can’t imagine a life without traditional books of all stripes:  hardcovers, paperbacks, and board books.

The issue becomes what do I do if I want to annotate a book.  There are certain books that I plan to read more than once (although rare), or I want to discuss certain topics brought up in the book.  As I adore quotes, there are times I may want to quote from a book, especially if I am writing a book review.  Personally, I dislike writing or highlighting books, even textbooks I own (although I did when necessary).  In Kindle books, it is extremely easy to note and annotate to my heart’s content without defacing a book.  The only drawback is this:  I tend to forget if I happen to have a library Kindle book.  When my library loan is up, I no longer have access to my notes and/or annotations.

By the way, borrowing Kindle books from your local library is usually easy and a lot of fun.  No trip to the library necessary, although I recommend one anyway.  Borrowing e-books via your local library is a great way to stock up on reading material prior to a trip or for any occasion.  Most library systems allow patrons to check out five e-books at one time.  I love spending time browsing my local library’s website to see what e-books are available.  I now have an extensive to-be-read pile on my account.  The best part of borrowing e-books from your local library:  no need to remember due dates.  The titles are simply no longer accessible after two weeks.  They may or may not be able to be able to be renewed, depending on popularity.  It is, once again, all too easy.

Ultimately, I love where readers are right now.  We have the best of both worlds:  e-books and traditional books.  Neither one is going anywhere anytime soon.  I love being able to choose.  If I truly love – and I do mean love – a title, I am free to purchase both.  Choice is a wonderful thing.

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Of Reading and Writing: An Overview

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My ability to lose sight of my love of reading and writing never ceases to amaze me.  At times, the strength of the connection between the two comes back at me two-fold, and I fall in love all over again.  For example, years ago I read Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.  It forever changed the way I read and how I view the time I spend reading.  If I were to make a list of books that profoundly shaped who I am today, it would certainly be at the top of the list.  Currently, I am in the middle of rereading it.  When I read it years ago, I borrowed it from the library and carefully noted its recommended reading list.  Today I purchased the Kindle version for easy annotation (Kindle books versus traditional books is another blog post altogether – one I plan to write soon).  I am picking it apart in hopes of learning why it resonated with me so deeply.  That, in fact, is the entire point of the book.  We learn to write by dissecting what we read.

Recently – as always – I came across the perfect books at the perfect time.  I just finished The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley.  Of course, there is a story behind my love of these books.  Incidentally, I had the opportunity to hear Donalyn Miller speak at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) a few years ago while completing my teaching certificate.  Knowing that she was to speak on encouraging students to read, I eagerly headed to SVSU on a cold, snowy Saturday morning hoping to learn more.  I hoped to learn how to reach students who do not like to read.  The entire concept of not loving – nevermind liking – to read is completely foreign to me.  That day I left inspired to create an extensive classroom library in spite of the fact that I will not be teaching English Language Arts (ELA) classes, along with her latest book, and little else.  She encouraged us all to reach those students who do not see the connection between reading and pleasure.  Her ideas were (and are still) practical; however, I still was not convinced that I could make a difference as a non-ELA secondary teacher.

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Fast-forward several years and my sister happens to mention the book The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.  It immediately rings a bell, we discuss it, and I have to read it as soon as possible, along with the sequel.  There is so much to discuss in both of Donalyn Miller’s books.  The ideas she presents should be the focus of reading education, but that would require a fundamental shift in how reading is taught at all levels which is a shame.  Both books deserve their own blog posts, as well as a post tying the two together.  Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley inspired me to reread Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.  It is an example of what Donalyn Miller coins “wild reading” in action and demonstrates how “wild readers” stay inspired, continue reading, and challenge themselves.  I am now convinced that I do indeed have a role to play.

Stay tuned for a series of posts discussing the many angles of all three books, as well as my own take on the importance of reading and writing in my life.  It is taking center stage now for a variety of reasons.  I am still patiently trying to create a writing and reading routine that works for me.  I will not let this go.  It is too important, and I have too much to say.

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Modern Mrs. Darcy

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It was only a matter of time before I stumbled upon the Modern Mrs. Darcy website.  It contains everything a booklover could want in a website:  reviews, endless reading lists including summaries, podcasts, commentary, and so much more.  My only surprise is that it took me so long to discover this treasure.  Oh, did I mention that there is an online book club as well?  Frankly, I expect the best from a website named after the wife of one of my favorite literary characters of all time:  Fitzwilliam Darcy.  If you are in the mood to dive into all things books, check it out.  Now.  You can thank me later.

By the way, this piece, written about the author’s experience on September 11th was my introduction to the site.  It is insightful and fascinating.  Much more to come from Modern Mrs. Darcy.

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Book Review: Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser

Prairie Fires

As an avid fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s work, I felt I had to read Prairie Fires:  The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser.  While it is marketed as a new biography and even won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for biography, it seems to be so much more.  In her work, Caroline Fraser not only takes the time to ground very personal decisions made by Laura and her husband Almanzo into the larger backdrop of American history, she takes it several steps further.  She analyzes decisions made by Charles Ingalls, Laura’s father, and Rose Wilder Lane, Laura’s daughter, against their political leanings and larger political climate.

Frankly, if a book looks at least reasonably well-written (not fan-fic) and promises new insight on anything related to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and work, I am likely to pick it up.  However, that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything or there aren’t inherent biases in such work.  As much as I enjoyed Prairie Fires, there is one overarching issue I believe is being overlooked.

Before I get into the issue, which, as with all things controversial relating to Laura Ingalls Wilder and her work, involves her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, some background is needed.  First, I read this book this past spring.  I enjoyed it, and it just fermented for a while.  I couldn’t quite figure out what bothered me about the presentation of politics throughout the book, until I happened to witness another conversation about the book.

A month or two after I read the book, I happened to be having lunch with some friends from Mid-Michigan Writers when two other women came to have a conversation with my friends.  One woman began gushing over Prairie Fires and stated that she would love to have a political conversation around the book. While I do not know this woman well, her politics proceeded her due to several mutual acquaintances.  I didn’t join in the conversation other than to say that I loved the book; however, it finally came to me why I felt something was off.

For those who don’t know, Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane is one of the founding members of the modern Libertarian party and all that that entails.  In fact, Rose deserves her own blog post or even series of blog posts.  There is that much material.  Early in the 20th century, Rose was the famous Wilder.  The political legacy she left is messy and quite complex.  While my own personal politics lean more towards that of Laura and Almanzo (center-right), particularly when considering fiscal matters, than Rose, I don’t feel that the Caroline Fraser understood any of the politics completely.  Caroline Fraser seemed to analyze the political tendencies of the Ingalls and Wilder families through a modern liberal lens.

The most glaring example of this bias for me comes when Fraser implies that Laura is perhaps a hypocrite for serving on a local farm loan board near her home in Mansfield, Missouri while not supporting the sweeping federal farm loan programs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Actually, I completely get it.  Laura and Almanzo favored local control of government.  I do as well.  The implication and omission of this distinction stood out to me.

If Fraser didn’t understand the politics of Laura and Almanzo, she didn’t know what to make of Rose Wilder Lane.  In all fairness, I don’t if anyone will ever completely understand her life.  In her life, Lane goes from supporting elements of communism and fascism to standing up for the founding principles of the United States of America.  She did all of this, of course, while helping her mother complete her famous series of children’s books.

Perhaps we will never know where Rose’s influence began and ended when it comes to the Little House books.  It is an enduring debate surrounding the series.  Fraser comes right out and describes the mother and daughter writing relationship as “incestuous.”  I came to a stop for a minute at that description, silently accusing Fraser of sensationalism.  Then I thought about it.  As I stated earlier, there is no way to know precisely what role Rose played in the series.  While I do not believe that Rose largely wrote the books, I do believe that the books would not exist in their current form without her influence.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book.  Political bias aside, Caroline Fraser extensively researched her material.  Prior to reading Prairie Fires, I found Rose Wilder Lane to be a fascinating character.  After reading the book, I left even more intrigued.  As a fiscal conservative with libertarian tendencies, I can relate to some of Lane’s political ideas.  I love the fact that she promoted individualism, personal liberty, and self-determination.  Those ideas still hold value and are needed today more than ever in the face of increasing collectivism.  Can individualism and self-determination be taken too far?  Absolutely, and so can collectivism.  We need a balance.

By the way, I find talk surrounding the book to be politically divisive.  You can read a Slate review here (the reviewer really doesn’t get the politics).  In the book, Lane’s political activism is compared with the other two “mothers” of the libertarian movement:  Ayn Rand and Isabel Paterson.  You can read more about them here.  If you are interested in Laura Ingalls Wilder, American history, or politics at all, Prairie Fires is a must-read.

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Book Review: Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

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I recently read Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis per my sister’s recommendation.  Actually, it all started with the meme above.  I then found out that my sister loved the book.  Of course, it immediately moved to the top of my to be read pile.  I love the fact that I belong to a family that shares and recommends books!

Here are a few gems from the book and my thoughts. There are many more I could share here, but I will leave you to discover them yourself.  I highly recommend the Kindle version of the book as it allows the reader to highlight important passages without defacing a physical book.

Sometimes choosing to walk away, even if it means breaking your own heart, can be the greatest act of self-love you have access to. – Page 53.

This just seems to sum up the process I put myself through this summer.  The sad part is that I should have definitively learned this lesson years ago.  I wish everyone, women and men, knew this before heading off to college – or shortly thereafter.  It ultimately would have saved me so much time and heartache.

I knew I was letting my fear control me, that the worry about giving my heart away again only to have it stomped on kept me from taking a next step.  In the midst of such heartache, it’s hard not to worry.  I cried so many tears, thinking, Lord, why would you put this desire on my heart if it wasn’t ever going to come true?  And, God, if we try again, you’re not actually sending my heart out to be slaughtered, right? – Page 108.

Oh, have I been there!  More than once.  There are times when I still wonder how I will ever be able to trust again.  It is not easy to pick ourselves up and try again.  Yet, we must.

I want you to see someone who kept showing up again and again, even when it was tearing her apart.  I want you to see someone who kept walking in faith because she understood that God’s plan for her life was magnificent – even if it was never easy.  And even if it wasn’t easy, she was bold and courageous and honest even when the truth was hard to share. – Page 173

I admit, lately I have struggled to have faith that God does indeed have a plan for my life.  I am currently slogging through it all to figure out exactly what that plan is.  If I am meant to have a family of my own, why haven’t I been able to make it work yet?  Why is that the big unnegotiable of my life if, indeed, it is impossible?  I ask myself questions similar to this all the time.  Ultimately, it is not my timing, but God’s.  It will eventually work out.  Until then, I just need to be patient and keep working.  It will never be easy.

As you can see, I loved the book.  It is a great example of a book that came into my life at the exact time I needed to read it.  I happened to read it just as I was struggling with these questions.  While I would recommend the book to every young woman I know, it doesn’t mean I think the book is perfect.

If fact, in one sense, the book left me feeling unsettled.  It is a feeling I get whenever I get too involved in anything related to religion.  What no one seems to address in organized religion – and Rachel seems to unintentionally fall into this – is that not all women will end up married and become mothers.  Singles in the church, particularly those no longer in their twenties, seem to get left behind.  Whether explicit or implicit, the focus always seems to be on marriage and family.

While I think Rachel was right to spend much of her book focused on marriage and motherhood – after all, this book shares her life experiences – she doesn’t address what happens if you do end up alone.  She doesn’t even seem to acknowledge the possibility even though she goes out of the way to address situations not her own.  This may not be true, but it appears she assumes everyone will end up married and a mother.  A simple acknowledgement would have served the book well.  Then again, maybe I am reading way too much into this and too sensitive.  It doesn’t matter.  The book itself is great, and I highly recommend it.

By the way, I love how she addresses adoption in this book.  I am so glad I read this book before I started the adoption process.  Her family’s story related to foster care and adoption is not an easy one, but it does have a wonderful outcome.  In the end, that is all that matters.

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JoJo Moyes: “Me Before You” Trilogy

I’ve read so many wonderful books over the last few months.  They helped me get through this endless Michigan winter.  Recently, over spring break, I finally read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, as well as the other books in the trilogy, After You and Still Me.  I don’t normally read romance, but there is something about these books I truly love.  They will stay with me for quite some time.

It is not my intention to review the books individually here (which I may do later), but simply discuss the series itself, and specifically, its protagonist Louisa.  I will try not to give anything away.  I would recommend all three books to anyone who enjoys an entertaining story.

First, a little background is needed.  I heard the title Me Before You thrown around for years before I actually read the book.  I had no idea up until a week or so before diving in that it was the first book in a trilogy.  Shortly before spring break, I read a review of Still Me.  The reviewer enjoyed the books enough to convince me I needed to read all three books.  More on that review later.

Where do I begin with Louisa?  First, throughout the entire series, she reminded me of Bridget Jones, one of my favorite fictional characters of all time.  Indeed, I view Louisa as a more mature, more capable Bridget.  This comparison led me to view Louisa as older than she is intended to be in the series.  Somehow, I began to view Louisa as in her early thirties and Bridget in her late twenties.  Really, it is the other way around.  There is a difference.

In general, Louisa seems to have a deeper relationship with her family than Bridget has with hers.  I could relate to Louisa’s relationships with her parents and sister, not to mention her grandfather, more easily than Bridget’s.  I am not quite sure why.  It may simply be that those familial relationships of Louisa’s were more fully developed.

Another reviewer (the one mentioned above) felt that while he enjoyed the series, Louisa kept dealing with the same issues and didn’t appear to learn anything.  I take exception to this.  I don’t agree.  While I don’t believe Louisa grew or changed as much throughout the novel as others (the end of the trilogy not withstanding), she eventually gets it right.  In short, there is a learning curve.  Considering the fact Louisa experiences several deeply emotional and dramatic changes in her life, both personal and professional, she needs time to process all that has happened in her life.  Most of those changes are outside of her control, even as she tries so hard to exert it.

That fact and Louisa’s history throughout the trilogy endears her to me.  In fact, on a certain level, I can relate.  Hopefully my life will one day come together as well.  Unfortunately, I am not quite there yet.

While I didn’t enjoy the sequels to Bridget Jones’ Diary, I did enjoy the entire Me Before You trilogy.  I like to think that Bridget and Louisa would become fast friends in London, even if they travel in different circles.  I would recommend the Me Before You trilogy to anyone who loves to read, even readers who normally shy away from romance.  It is one series that rewards readers for staying to the very end.