1.01.2009

Thoughts On Reading Michelle Slatalla's "I Wish I Could Read Like a Girl" in the New York Times dated 1/1/09

For five months now I have been reading books not just as a consumer of literature but with the perspective of someone who plans to share her thoughts with an audience afterwards.  Of course this affects how I read, just as my goal of sharing my knowledge of children's literature with parents interested in providing their children with a wide range of exceptional books as well as people who just love children's literature affects what I read.  In the world of children's literature, my comfort zone is fantasy written at fourth grade reading level or higher. Occasionally I'll branch out to read historical fiction.  Since I started my blog I've been reading everything at all reading levels in an effort to find superlative books for all ages and tastes and I've had to learn to find the merit in a book that isn't written to my tastes.  I've had to remind myself that I probably am not drawn to the same topics a six year old boy is, but that I have to keep him in mind when I am reading and writing about a book with a main character named Stink.  

Yet, most strikingly to me, I've noticed that I rarely find myself swept up by a book these days the way I seem to remember having been carried off in my childhood.  This thought had been rattling around in the back of my mind and I was thrilled when I opened the New York Times today while I drank my tea before heading off to work and found this dilemma explained for me.  There, in a few paragraphs the always entertaining and insightful Michelle Slatalla, who refers to herself as wife/mother/worker/spy, laid out her reasoning in and article titled, "I Wish I Could Read Like a Girl."  I know, based on your comments, that those of you reading this post ARE readers.  I know that you read kid's books and adult books and just plain lots of books.  I hope you will check out this article and let me know what you think of it.  Aside from loving it and wanting to share it with everyone, these thoughts were stirred up by what she wrote...

Once my family and I were reading conversation cards and the question came up, "Where is your favorite place to be?"  I said that my favorite place would in a personal, not public, library that I imagine it looking something like the Beast's library in Robin McKinley's book Beauty, which I also think resembles the Beast's library in the Disney cartoon.  I would be sitting in a squishy chair with a cup of tea (or coffee) and a pile of good books to read and all the time I needed to read them.  Of course I know this is a fantasy, but after I read Michelle Slatalla's article I realized that, in addition to the luxury of time, which I could actually possess some day, I also wanted the impossible gift of innocence and wonder that I had a young reader.  It makes me sad to know that that era of my life as a reader is over.  I'm sure there will be a time again in my life when there aren't so many demands on me that I can sit down and read, read, read. But, I fear it is true that, as Michelle Slatalla says, "I have formed too many opinions of my own to be able to give in wholeheartedly to the prospect of living inside someone else's universe."  I think that is why I stopped reading adult fiction a few years ago.  I used to tell anyone who asked that I just stopped caring about the emotional lives of fictional adults and now prefer the much simpler lives of the children characters in children's literature.  I see now that it is also because I am too opinionated and set in my ways to be free enough to live in some other adult's world for a few hundred pages.  I can never go back to the beginning and have the eyes of a new reader, but I guess I can keep reading children's literature, which gets better every year, and keep myself in a state of suspended animation somewhere between the two worlds...

9 comments:

Michelle said...

I enjoyed reading both articles. I have occasionally mourned the loss of the sensation of time suspension while deep into a novel. I remember being curled in an overstuffed chair, book in lap, for hours - reluctant to leave the world that the book took me into. As an adult, this still happens now and again and I sometimes wonder, when I imagine this complete withdrawal from my own real world, if it is "healthy"! (Escapism doesn't sound like a word with a positive spin!) I've decided "deep reading" is a meditative state that is sometimes easier to achieve than "sitting". So somewhere, guilt must have entered into the equation for me, and I'm actively trying to banish it. Time to go meditate!

Kimberbates said...

I agree and am sad to know that this is so true! I also think this is why as people get older they read more current affairs books and bios! Their brain doesn't have to work as hard to have sympathy for someone in crummy situations!

Tanya said...

I LOVE your term "deep reading!!!!" Brilliant. I agree that somewhere along the way the concept of guilt crept into the act/joy of reading for me as well. I remember the exact moment when both my kids were in school, the house was clean, dinner was on the stove and I plopped down into a chair and read a book without feeling guilty. Of course, I didn't read like Slatalla's daughters read either. But I remember the feeling of contentment. Do you mind if I use your concept "deep reading" in my blog sometime? I am sure the opportunity will come up...

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Tanya said...

I was thinking more about how we, as adults, read after I posted last night. I was pondering the Harry Potter phenomena and I think that reading Rowling's books is the closest I have come as an adult to being carried away to another world, as Slatalla describes it. What Rowling did was create a world that is new, unique and compelling enough to suck in even jaded, tired adults. Nevertheless, I still read the books with my adult perspective, sobbing at the end of book three when Harry was forced to say good bye to the one loving, caring adult want to take care of him in the twelve years since his parents died. I'm sure that the legions of nine year old readers didn't get weepy at that part - or any, for that matter. Do kids cry when the read sad parts? Did anyone's kids cry when Charlotte died at the end of "Charlotte's Web?" Maybe my next research will be into what affects kids emotionally when reading - at what point to sad things make them cry???

Marilyn said...

As a retired teacher/principal who adores reading stories and novels to her classes I just took the time to keep those kids engaged in a good read. Often I would cancel other classes and have those kids gather around me and just read, read, read. I remember reading the book "Holes" to them. I actually locked it in my desk so no one would sneak a peek. The next day was Friday so we just cleared our commitments and we finished that book , discussed it, and revealed in the characters and plot. Low and behold, that month's Scholastic flyer, featured...you guessed it..."Holes" Every kid in the class bought his/her own copy and even some for family and friends. Sometimes you have to just suspend time and model how important it is to escape into the wonderful, world of literature.

Tanya said...

Wow! I love that story, and the fact that you read to your students and prioritized it in that way. I still remember when my daughter was in 5th grade five years ago and her teacher telling me that there would be no literature based teaching that year - all literature would come from a textbook - because of the demands of testing. She said she was sneaking in a book to read with the class. That made me so sad. I wish she had had you as a teacher and/or librarian - another undervalued, underworked part of the education system in our district...

Marilyn said...

Thanks for your comment Tanya. I wish it was such a noble act and not such a selfish one. I remember as a kid having a grade six teacher who read to us right after lunch. We would literally run to school to hear the next chapter. As a principal I would read at assemblies and give books for gifts when a new baby was born into a family....(the next new reader in the school). I bump into my ex-students at malls and events and they still come up and share with me the new book that they are reading. School was a place that I could teach the kids to escape into a wonderful novel and share that magic with me and their classmates. Keep on doing what you do, I so enjoy your blog.

Tanya said...

Thanks for the kind words! I love working with books at the bookstore and writing about them when I get home, but I especially like sharing my favorites with a child and knowing they have found something new to be inspired and excited by, just like you said!

Marilyn said...

Your love of books really shows and is an inspiration to many. Kids cannot be fooled and recognize genuine, heartfelt passion for the written word. I attended a meeting today with our director of education and shared how that "reading from the heart" is missing in our school system. We need to get this back into the classroom and the fire for the written word back into our kids lives. My partner and I told him we are starting a revolution (re-love-tion) for stories at a grassroots level with parents and teachers. Whenever we go into to do workshops with teachers we call ourselves "permissionaries" because we give them permission to take the time and read to their kids...it's o.k...your kids will learn everything else in spite of how it is taught. We feel we are waging war on illiteracy and claiming back that precious part of childhood that seems to have been thrown away. Thank you for being another voice crying in the wilderness with us.