Friday, November 06, 2009


As I was driving hurriedly to meet some friends for a quick lunch today, I began thinking that this is probably the way most of my students read – by hurrying. When they’re reading the popular vampire books, they most likely speed through the pages, restless to get to the next exhilarating point in the story. There’s probably very little lingering or savoring when they’re reading for pure pleasure. Like me rushing to lunch today, my students no doubt rush from chapter to chapter as they’re swept along by the captivating plot. When they come to my English class, however, they have to travel through books in a very different manner. In my classes, we walk through books, sometimes very slowly. I ask the students to think of To Kill a Mockingbird as a beautiful forest that needs to be slowly and carefully explored. Just as we probably wouldn’t drive speedily through a national park and then wave goodbye, I ask the students to walk the trails of Harper Lee’s book the way they might walk the pathways of a scenic woodland -- with watchfulness and inquisitiveness. As I was speeding my way to lunch, I surely missed countless treasures along the way – the flaring autumn trees, the old-world homes, the meadows with their seed-filled bounty – and I wonder how many treasures my students (and all of us) miss when they race through books like they’re simply streets to take them somewhere. Great books are not streets. The pages don’t take us to some destination. Each page – each sentence and word – is the destination, and only by reading with a special kind of love and attention can we enjoy the destination that arises before us in each and every sentence. In my class, we often linger over one sentence, exploring it the way we might explore a small cluster of flowers along a trail. We often stop to examine the usefulness of a single word, and to marvel at the total suitability of that word in that particular place on the page. As we unhurriedly walk through books in my classroom, it’s often a long and exhausting journey, and as a result, we don’t read as many books in a year as other English classes do. However, what’s important to me is not how many books we read, but how well, how deeply, how lovingly – and I’d give my students and me ‘A’s for that.

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