Sunday, September 19, 2010

Reading, Books, Reflection

Perhaps a not too uncommon moment in a New York apartment: sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the paper, looking out the window over modest backyards, into dozens of windows and up at a crystal blue sky that can only come from a constant wind. In that moment, when you set the magazine down, the cup half way up to your lips, you look out the window – that narrowed perspective of where you are and who you are – and wonder what you need to happen to have it all make sense, what do you need to accomplish to become content with your life and your window.

I saw the event quite clearly: I held up a piece of paper, I’m not sure from where it came and where it belonged, but I know that I did not print it. On this piece of paper, which was printed by someone else for the potential viewing by someone other than me or the printer, were words which I had written. In an era were everyone screams of the death of the printed word, for an author, or an aspiring one, there is still nothing more validating or satisfying than seeing their words published – not on a website or e-zine or blog – but in a book or journal or newspaper. There is nothing irrelevant about a medium which still functions as the true sign of legitimacy. Tears came to my eyes at the mere thought of seeing my words printed; a sense of longing pride to be able to show my students, my family and friends something quite tangible, something with which you could sit at the table with a cup of coffee.

These thoughts came not only because I happen to be reading Time and drinking a cup of coffee while looking out my kitchen window – the night before I spent reading surveys I took of my students on various topics, including whether and what they like to read. There were too many who said that they did not like to read, and even more who indicated that they like spending time on the computer (playing games and such). My heart sank every time I read those words. I began imagining a world where no books were held in hand, where information was digested for what sake I could not define. In this world literature ceased to function as an enricher of lives, an expander of thoughts, as an addition to our own meager experience, as the fuel for our imagination. In this world people read what they needed, and subsequently human interaction dissolved to only what was needed – the bonds that bind us as a species slowly dissolved to a cold co-existence.

Books cannot exist only for the literary of heart and mind – because if they live only for us they will lose the heart of their function – as edifiers of humanity. And we cannot fear teaching “classics”! if students read only what is easily engaging and all about “their lives” then from where will come the growth of experience of great worldly characters? If my Dominican students only read books about Dominican teens, how will they ever become more than just Dominican teens (and adults)? How will they become human beings, Men and Women of and for this world?

Fear that we will create a culture-less bog of indifference! As our lives become less and less our own, fear with whom, of what quality person, we will be forced to share our existence. And if you so do, then serve to abate this disintegration – read. Not something that can be edited by a hacker or imbecile at any moment, but something that has been created and cannot be undone. Even if it’s wrong, let us learn from how wrong it is, but let us see that this wrong too deserves our study and concentration.


  1. Tis a shame because some of my best friends have been books. I can still remember getting excited when my teacher sent home the book order form. Some of those books are still favorites.

    If anyone can share the excitement of a good story, it's you Alex. You might even tell them about the "someone" you know who loved a library book so much, it was never returned. Good luck this year.

  2. ha! I still have that book! Oh, Josiah Snelling... who you'll remember, did not begin the construction of the fort, but completed it!
    It's amazing how much we learn by teaching - still remember so much of that presentation!

    I try to instill the love and excitement, but I am often caught by the administration and reminded tore-focus on skills and other things I don't even recall. But if they don;t care to read, then they won't care to learn the skills, no? I'm like the author from The Little Prince whose parents told him to leave off drawing boa constrictors, inside and out, and focus on geometry and grammar...
    Thanks though!!

  3. "If my Dominican students only read books about Dominican teens, how will they ever become more than just Dominican teens (and adults)? How will they become human beings, Men and Women of and for this world?"

    Very true. Insightful piece.