Sunday, July 21, 2013

Asking "What are you reading now?"

Many K-12 teachers in the US are required to take additional college credits to stay licensed.  The nature of the credits varies.  Sometimes, their school systems require the credits to be in the area the teacher teaches.  A French teacher might be required to take additional credits in French language, literature, culture or history.  That rule works pretty well much of the time but for a mature teacher, it may be much more refreshing to take credits in something new.

I had the idea that teachers had been reading various subjects since early childhood and it might be worthwhile to pause in further reading and take a look back at what had been read. The result was a course that was fun for me to teach as we reviewed personal reading from The Poky Little Puppy and The Little Engine that Could right up to the latest James Patterson novel.  From doing that several times, I got into the habit of asking those who had taken the course what they were reading when I met them somewhere afterwards.

I have found that asking the question "What are you reading?" can feel like a criticism or an attack.  I may have been reading old love letters and reflecting on them but I am not going to mention that, of course.  Might be better to say I have been brushing up on differential calculus.  On the other hand, that might mark me as a likely fibber or too much of a nerd to be tolerated.  The question asked of the right person at the right time can lead to wonderful new ideas, worlds, opinions and jokes.  So, I don't like to give up on asking it.  It has paid off.  A member of the audience at a recent presentation on good books advised me to try Stuart Kaminsky.  I have now read two of his Inspector Rostnikov novels, one aloud to Lynn.

But the question seems to be a culture-test or a test of my good taste.  Am I reading trash?  Am I reading low quality garbage?  Falsehood?  Cheap literature?  I am interested in people's reaction to the question but I don't want to be offensive.  I am inclined to browse book titles in many sources and places and giving what seems interesting a try.  I am willing to check out a little kid's book, or a book that has been banned, or a best-seller of 10,20 or 30 years ago. So, I might get interested in something on beekeeping, or bookkeeping or ballet or ballistics.  "Getting interested" doesn't necessarily mean I will get deeply immersed in a subject.  If I look over several titles on beekeeping, titles that seem summative, outlines, the basics are what tend to attract me.

Back in the B.K. era (before Kindles), I spent plenty of time in local libraries.  I found that the one that loaned books for only two weeks served me better than the one that offered longer borrowing periods.  The shorter loan required me to take a look at the books and get into them with more concentration that allowing them to sit on a shelf, awaiting some attention.  Being in a library is conducive to nosing around, maybe getting into a subject or a type of book that I don't usually look at.  So, if you ask me what I am reading, I will just hit a couple of the highlights and not list every book I have lugged home or downloaded.

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