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The Reading Life of an Accidental English Teacher  {and embedded book titles to add to your reading list!}

Posted by Tina Sneed on Jun 11, 2019 7:00:00 AM

“I've come to realize that however blue my circumstances, if after finishing a chapter of a Dickens novel I feel a miss-my-stop-on-the-train sort of compulsion to read on, then everything is probably going to be just fine.”  {Towles, Rules of Civility}

I walked across a large university campus with the life-changing piece of paper in hand. Time was up, and I had to declare my major. This moment was simultaneously monumental and anti-climactic. Truly, not feeling qualified to make such a life decision at the mere age of 20, I elected to defer to logic. What was I good at?  In other words, in which classes {while requiring the least amount of effort} did I have the highest averages? I certainly would not recommend my decision-making process to my students, but it clearly pointed to one subject area – English. I could toss in a teaching license for good measure, and I would certainly be guaranteed to land a job even in a bad market. 

Crafting the perfect booklist.

Thankfully, it was a fitting decision. Two of my favorite pastimes are reading and crafting the perfect “to-read list.” I love stories, words, meanings, and layers. I love hidden connections and clandestine allusions which are often unseen unless you are well-read {and know Latin!}. For me, reading is something I love doing, and I have made it my mission to birth that love in others. 

old library books classicsBut, honestly, why? There are short synopses of all the old, classic books on the internet as well as short, entertaining videos on YouTube that will deliver the gist of these dusty tomes without wasting so much time . . . and you can still impart the illusion that you are a well-read, literate individual. Is that so wrong? In the same vein, current events, news, and scientific information {both pseudo and real} are readily available on the same platforms; and Alexa or Siri will readily spew forth any information needed. I submit, however, that our brains and our sense of pietas require quiet and reading.

I’ve noticed that
“I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle” {The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to Our Brains}.

Creatures of habit.

We are creatures of habit, and if it is our habit to shuffle through social media, websites, blog posts, and emails clicking on interesting links all with one eye on the television while keeping an ear out for the children, making sure that dinner is not burning, and adding to the shopping list then our brains will resemble this run-on sentence. Can you focus on one thing? Peacefully? Are you guilty of shallow work – “non-cognitively demanding logistical-styled tasks often performed while distracted?” Or is distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit a norm for you? {Deep Work and Digital Minimalism}. If the former description sounds familiar, may I suggest a re-training of your brain?

 cell phone habitsA cheap solution.

The solution is cheap, but not easy. Read a book. You may need to begin with the old-fashioned paper type, so you won’t be tempted to click to another screen. Eventually, a transition to e-books may be possible, but only after you have broken the addiction of checking social media, messages, and emails. Keep a pencil and paper handy {or use the margins} to jot down any words or concepts you want to explore further when your reading time is over. As Fitzgerald reminds us: “There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind” {The Great Gatsby}.  Clearly, none of us wants to be the bearer of a simple mind. We want to be “the one who is willing to taste of every kind of learning with gusto, and who approaches learning with delight, and is insatiable” {The Republic of Plato}. But first we must start with quiet . . . and a book.

books spark imagination ideas
Stories allow us to grow.

The poet Dante shows us how stories and images prepare our imaginations for moral instruction by engaging our emotions {How Dante Can Save Your Life}. Stories allow us to grow in many ways. Truly, “you can never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” {To Kill a Mockingbird}, but stories allow us to empathize with those different from ourselves or those undergoing experiences which we have never encountered. As we see with Ulysses {The Iliad}, his fault was not in pursuing knowledge; his fault was doing so without being guided by morality or divine decree {How Dante Can Save Your Life}. Choose wisely. Choose books that strengthen your pietas – your sense of loyalty, devotion, and duty – to your God, your family, your friends, and your fellow-man {The Aeneid}. All that we read filters into our lives {Becoming Mrs. Lewis}. That being said, I will whole-heartedly argue that along with cerebral volumes, our reading lists should include what I refer to as “fluff.” There are times in life that call for a relaxed, easy, care-free read.

 library books girls relaxed carefree

Finally, I leave you with a few last-minute thoughts as you begin to transform your reading life!

1. Mix-up genres: Fluff, fiction, non-fiction – history, science, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, how-to, travelogues, biography, dystopian, opinions of those with whom you do not agree, memoir, etc.

2. Travel + season = read about where you are {or where you want to go}

3. Make use of the public library – you can even download e-books and audiobooks. You will reduce the clutter and cost of buying books – and that makes Marie Kondo & Dave Ramsey happy {The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up; The Complete Guide to Money}.

4. Audiobooks count, too. Use your time efficiently while in the car or completing mundane tasks.

5. Keep a list of what you’ve read and what you want to read. Goodreads is a great online platform as well as the options available on the public library website.

6. You don’t have to finish every book {unless it’s for a class!}; however, don’t give up too soon!

7. Share! Tell others {especially me!} about all the books you love. I want to read them, too!

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Topics: Education, Reading, Leisure, college