Since I’m sure my students sometimes feel very alone in my English classes, as if they are solitary travelers in some wilderness of writing and reading, I remind them occasionally that being alone in the study and use of words is actually impossible. Words themselves, after all, are never alone, but live, you might say, in a universe of endless numbers of brother and sister words, all influencing and transforming each other. The meanings and pronunciations of words are constantly shifting as they circulate and stir with each other around the world. Linguists even speak of “families” of words, suggesting the vast interlacings and alliances, so to speak, of words. I occasionally remind my students of this, and suggest that they are also members of a family – the family of readers and users of the countless families of words. When my students are reading Shakespeare’s words, they are joining with the endless numbers of readers who have had that pleasure over the centuries. When they share their interpretations of sentences from A Tale of Two Cities, they are figuratively establishing a friendship with his countless commentators of the past and present. In a very significant sense, my students’ thoughts about the books we study are the offspring of all the thoughts of past readers – the children, so to speak, of earlier students of these authors. We are all in partnership as a family of serious readers, even when we sit silently in our classroom, studying a passage by ourselves, or when we are at home hoping for some sudden inspiration. It will come, I say to my students. It will come because we readers are connected to all readers, even when we sit by ourselves with a thoroughly puzzling page before us.
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