Tuesday, August 10, 2010

summer reading

[not-so cringe worthy] summer reading – the things we carry

Summer reading time
Not the pages-blow-in-the-warm-breezevacation-on-the-beach or loungin-at-the-summerhouse summer reading, I mean the required-by-school, untouched andsummer-days-blow-past-books-must-be-read-school-is-starting-page-one summer reading. And here we stand looking over the edge of summer— balancing on the edge, that time of year when summer reading can't wait— becomes a weight— and you carry the books around with you everywhere whether you read them or not...

Summer reading never did a vacation make. I never knew how to take from the edges and make something of it. It wasn’t until I was overloaded with reading in university as an English and dramatic arts major, and in graduate MBA and MBC studies, that I realized the part of education that is simply, deciding which books to carry— to read— to get to later— and the ones that somehow never—

The edge, in time—
With simply more things to read than can possibly be read, one must find a way of learning that is both realistic and comfortable, in order to survive, enjoy and actually learn. The sooner you can learn to learn, to appreciate and find relevance in words, both reading and writing, in your own way, you can make it work, anywhere. Now I know, and I do it all the time for myself, though I'm not in school anymore, and I encourage this with students that I mentor, because I love to inspire writing and a sort of three-dimensional learning in everyone, I mean, it's right there—

In the midst of the madness and chaos of studies is when I found myself devising strategies that finally carried me somewhere else and helped me live through, very much like when I was trapped in the MRI tube earlier this year, moments before I panicked, when I transformed my perception of the horrible noises that surrounded me inside the tube, until I heard a sort of techno music... eventually finding a strange calmness inside, but that's another story. 

There are many ways to figure out how to live through and experience learning, instead of just flipping past page numbers as fast as possible because it's the night before school starts and you have two books to read, (it's not gonna happen, btw) so really focus on part of the book, really take something away from it that you can use. For instance, I could tell you about writing papers about books you haven’t finished reading (or, for that matter, haven’t started!) the art of thoroughly examining one chapter and writing a five-page paper on it, or scouring one of Shakespeare's soliloquies, or arguing the significance of a single apostrophe in the title of one of his plays (I’m not kidding, I did that) but in doing so, learning as much as you would have— if not more— from scanning the entire text. If you get to a point when you have to be... creative... in your choices, then do it, but learn something from it, make something of it.

Cutting corners? Ok, but challenge your skills of analysis— what can you do with the time you have, and how can you get involved so that you can't stop talking about this project? Figure it out now and you will save all the time later. Critically look in between the words and lines of the text. Bring a new take to well-known works— write a fresh opinion instead of turning in the same copy of the same paper that everyone else has turned in before you and forgotten.

Now of course, you have to know your audience, some teachers just don’t want anything but exactly— specifically— strictly what they have outlined as the reason of existence for the book and subsequently expect to read in your paper, but writing around the edges and inquiring into the depths of the smallest details, or simply playing around with the themes, their relevance, researching the before—during—after— of when the text was written, checking into the life of the author (the real person, the writer, like me, like you), or just writing inspired ideas that arise with the themes and words of the text— these have the potential to become something else along the way... write them down scribble them in the edges somewhere they will benefit you. Write it down, even if it doesn't have anything to do with the book, maybe the book sparked another idea, scribble it down.

(And, hey, if nothing else, you can start a blog and share these outside findings that you’ve scribbled trimmed and collected from around the edges. I'm serious, this stuff will be good.)

The things we carry...
Which is exactly what I recommended to one of the high school students who I started working with recently, start a blog with all the thoughts you have as you're reading this book, so that you don't just carry them around in your mind and forget them, write them down. Then when you have to write a paper or talk about the book, you have so many inspirations to use, and hey you might even come up with some side projects for yourself. Take cool quotes and write them down, write a haiku, a six word story, make commentary about it, something funny or a personal connection with the book, or write something completely unrelated, it might get you started on something that could carry you somewhere else.

If books and words and writing and the lives of authors mingled with their works are experienced instead of just flipped past—scanned read for the number of pages counted and tested they really can be carried long past the time when you lug them along in a bag of obligation. In fact, from a completely different place, now, I too, am carrying around this bunch of summer reading books, like, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and discovering more about him as a writer has inspired me as a writer. Just this weekend I entered the lives of three authors, uncovered three styles of writing that instantly marked my present thinking and future ideas of storytelling and, I got involved in three new books (even if I don’t get around to finishing them.. ha!) all at once.

Over the phone before our initial meeting, I asked a high school students about her summer reading books. She named The Princess Bride, and I’m glad she couldn’t see my face when she said that title... So when we first met in the café, I sat down at the table and said (with as straight a face as I could make) ‘Uh, do you, uh... like The Princess Bride the movie?’ And to my great relief she said no she’d never liked it and she was always the only girl who never wanted to watch it when she was at a sleepover with a bunch of adoring Princess Bride fans. ‘Oh me too, it makes me sick to my stomach to think about it’ I told her, not trying to be biased or anything but really it does. I just can’t stand the movie. I just... can’t. 

‘So, then how’s the book?’ I asked. Because, you know, sometimes books are better than cheesy romantic movies. She said she really wasn’t that far into it... 'Ok,well, I do like a challenge,' so I told her I would pick up a copy and see for myself before I, well, judged a book by its cover (though the cover is... uh..ugh, so...) or by its sappymovie.. or.... Anyway. We both realized we’d never even seen the end of the movie, or we couldn’t remember the end of it, probably having fallen asleep to stop from the utter nausea of watching it, we agreed. 

And then I challenged her, 'let’s write a poem about this movie that makes us sick. Let’s try to do side projects while reading it, be it poems, haiku, side notes, thoughts, great quotes, etc... Hey, you could even start a blog... let’s find a reason to enjoy this book, from our own perspective, see it through your eyes.' And so, from what we remembered and with an effort to keep our stomachs from turning right there at that table in the café, we took paper and pen and wrote the following:

(I laughed when I read her poem, and almost didn’t need to read the book it was such a great summary...)

Farmerboy. Poor, Dirty. Slave.
The Countess stares, he stares back.
Jealousy kicks in.
Westley. Tan. White Teeth. Buff. I love you.

(Then inspired by her poem, along with brief cringes and unpleasant thoughts of what I think I remembered from the movie, I wrote....)

sword fights ugly 

         thoughts of 
shallow glances at 


never grows
       in quicksand

and live through it
And so, we’ll see about the blog, it could be really fun, funny, and I’m very serious (serious, as in, I mean it let’s do it) and I reminded her that no one reads blogs unless you tell them to, and even then, hardly anyone reads them, so there’s really nothing to be shy about, it’s simply a way to play with words, with thoughts, to craft your reading of a book, of books  perhaps of not only bringing this book to life, but bringing your own thoughts, reading, words and writing to life. But a blog is just one of many ways to do this, in any case, try in some way, to live through it. You’ve got a lot of books left to carry, so you might as well let us share the weight with you, and let them carry you somewhere else as well.

x c

To all my friends, people reading etc... somewhere else who didn’t grow up as a young girl practically forced to adooooorrre The Princess Bride movie, I guess I never asked (or cared to ask) if you knew or participated in the (extremely tedious unpleasant) 'tradition' of watching it (over and over and over until some of us were sick.) Don’t ask me why, for some reason girls and many women (I think) just believe this is the best movie, they even say words like classic, and ooooohh ahhhhhhhhhhh sooo cuuuuuuuuuttteee just the sweeeeeeeeeeeetest, and soooooo romantic, and....ok I can’t talk about it or like that anymore, but... when young girls all get together before they sleep they all scream and oooooh and ahhhh and have to waaaaaaatch this. You get the point. I hope some of you were able to avoid this. And for everyone else who looooooooooves it, sorry if I hurt your feelings :)

I did some research on the author and the book and the writing of the book, even before I read it (hint: this can make the book far more interesting and add another layer to the reading of the text) there are some hidden layers, details and, I have to admit it, funny aspects of this book and the way it was written that are completely lacking in the film. Perhaps I will explain later.

I have read some of the beginning of the book aka The Princess Bride, and there is humor, it is rather clever, at times perhaps trying a bit too hard, but all in all much better than I ever could have thought, yes— already. I don’t think I’ve even cringed, and if I did at all, it was only a slight cringe, or maybe I just cringed in my mind (especially if I was alone in public...) the extra research I did before reading it has really added another dimension to the reading of the book (highly suggested, found out some cool stuff.) Also check outStealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen.

So maybe sometimes I’ve been known to cut corners— 
but I always work alongside... 
—and scribble all over the edges [six final words]

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