Ah, Emily Said It Best


There is no frigate like a book
To take us Lands away.
Emily Dickinson

Emily knew the truth. During this last weekend as I made a quick road trip, I listened to several books while I traveled miles along a familiar highway. My selections were an odd assortment with little connection to each other except I liked the titles. I am so glad I let this bit of whimsy guide me.nofrigate

I started my trip with The Bear in the Attic by Patrick F. McManus. I am sad to say I was unfamiliar with his curmudgeonly essays, but I quickly became a fan as I listened and laughed. Pat had many encounters with the great outdoors as he hunted, fished, and generally just got into trouble, both as a young lad and as an adult. I constantly thought of my friend Steve who is an avid outdoorsman, and I could imagine him on the many adventures I was listening to as I rolled down the highway. Patrick rode with me all the way to my destination and for about 30 minutes of my return trip.

Then I went on a ghostly adventure with Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward. In the play, a séance conjures up the dead wife of the host. The current wife is not real happy with sharing her husband and house with a former wife, dead or not. The play is funny and energetic and quickly paced. Once again, I found myself laughing as I rolled through some beautiful spring filled countryside.

1 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyHowever, I really hit the jackpot with my third choice. I chose The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie: A Novel (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows) without even reading about its contents. I just love the name. I fell in love with the folks in Guernsey just like Juliet Ashton did as she corresponded with the residents through a series of letters. The novel is set in the years just after World War II, and the letters provide a description of the way of life for the people in Guernsey during the German occupation. As a matter of fact, the entire Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie organization is formed as an alibi for being out after hours. Since a Literary society was then a matter of record, some of the residents who had really never read much before began to read and share their thoughts on their books. New lands and new people and new events could fill their time as they tried to survive the food shortages and evils of a World War. Juliet feels their story is so important she begins to toy with the idea of forming them into a book. I am just now to the part where Juliet has decided she must go to Guernsey to meet the people she only knows through letters. I am excited to see how it all works out.

So in a very short weekend road trip, I also managed to travel to lands away and adventures away and people away. I am better for the journey.



How Do You Say?????

ReadingthuRsday-R2“Never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.” (Anonymous, posted by McKay Books – Nashville)

The quote reminds me of the various vocabularies we carry in our heads. We have a speaking vocabulary, a listening vocabulary, a reading vocabulary, and a writing vocabulary. In other words, we have words we can say and read and understand that we might not use in our writing (sometimes because we do not know how to spell a particular word). We have a listening vocabulary of words we understand but might not use a lot. Evidence of a listening vocabulary is really demonstrated in young children who can listen and understand words’ meanings without the ability to use the word in reading and writing or for that matter be able to say the word yet. We have a reading vocabulary which encompasses the words we know from sight and the words we can determine from context. Rarely are all these vocabularies at exactly the same place for most of us. minionwords

The interesting part about words is that once one encounters a new word while reading and is able to determine its meaning, then it seems the word is used a lot more than we thought in other contexts. For example, the first time I encountered the word verdant, I could figure out what it meant in the context of the story, but I was unsure how to pronounce it. A little while later, I heard someone use the word verdant and then I could put a meaning and a pronunciation together. My internal pronunciation was incorrect, so if I said the word aloud, my pronunciation would be incorrect.

Hello-My-Name-Is-Hard-to-Pronounce-400Readers spend a lot of time figuring out the meanings of words, and often just worry about the pronunciation when they need to go public with their reading. When a reader reads silently, there may be less concern about how to pronounce all the characters’ names correctly as well as all the other words. As long as the text is making sense, a few mispronunciations here or there does not impede progress very much. However as soon as a reader’s words become audible, then difficulties arise as one tries to comprehend and sound right all at the same time. For example, a student reading aloud in a class has an extra burden of proper pronunciation while trying to keep the meaning of words in his or her head. Anyone who has spent much time in a classroom with younger children remembers how some school children feel the need to pounce on classmates’ mispronunciations when classmates reads aloud. Unfortunately, all this “help” often leads to the reader making more mispronunciations which impedes comprehension and causes a lot of angst.Louisville_pronunciationguide

Students in college classes may also need some help with pronunciation while they grapple with unfamiliar words. As we teach our classes, spending a little extra time on pronunciation of key terms is helpful. In a few cases, students may ask “How do you say _____?” but usually most adult learners think everyone knows how to pronounce terms, so they do not ask. Timely help on instructors’ parts can put the proper pronunciation into a reader’s head; thus, adding another support for understanding.

I want to live in Mitford (just for a little while)

ReadingthuRsday-R2Anyone who knows just a little about me knows I love to read and mysteries are my favorite genre. However, now and then I like to read a “feel good” story. On my last trip to the library, Jan Karon’s novel about Mitford was available. In past years, I have found the Mitford novels to offer a certain amount of calming influence on some hectic days, so I gladly checked it out. The latest books is called Come Rain, Come Shine. I will admit these books are not considered classics, and many will find the plots simplistic, but for me it was the right book at the right time.mitfordbooks

There are 12 Mitford novels, and they feature Father Timothy Kavanagh and the fictional village of Mitford. The latest book is about a wedding between two young people, Lace and Dooley. In the midst of all the wedding preparations, small side stories emerge. While the plot is interesting, it is really the small passages throughout the book that describe love, human failings, longings, redemption, and faith. What saves the book from being sappy is that not everyone is perfect and not everything works out neatly. However, a happy ending that leaves the reader uplifted is a joyous occasion, and this book provides joy.

Peace (interior)Lately, we are plagued with less than civil political rhetoric and violence as we work through our democratic process to elect a president. This week evil was committed against innocent citizens in Brussels. I am not hiding my head in the sand, nor am I making these events seem unimportant. However, I needed just a few moments to “live” in a peaceful place where neighbors look after each other and lift each other up. So for me, the right book this week is about a small make-believe village with make-believe people who do make-believe things. Let us all strive to have a little “Mitford kindness.”

I am thankful to be American, and I stand with the people of Brussels.

A Fine Southern Lady

ReadingthuRsday-R2In 1974 – 1978 I had a part-time job at Clarksville’s Leaf-Chronicle. At that time, the Leaf-Chronicle made it a point to hire college students. It was a brilliant move on their part. The Leaf-Chronicle got some inexpensive people to work for them who were energetic even with full course loads. Working at The Leaf-Chronicle was a great job while attending college. The hours were flexible, there were opportunities to work at night and on weekends, plus a lot of fun and wonderful people worked at the Chronicle. vintagead

At that time, most of the advertising lay-out was done manually. I worked in the ad department, and I slowly learned how to follow an ad layout and create an ad. What is now done with publishing programs, we did by hand using strips of print we waxed, cut to the appropriate size, and placed carefully and evenly on blue lined paper. I was trained by Sonya Turner, who was fast and accurate in her work, clever with comment, and one of the most patient and fun-filled people I have ever met. To help Sonya with my training, various folks in the ad department helped me along. I have always felt I learned as much working at the Leaf Chronicle as I learned from my college classes. One of the persons that helped me learn about work ethic, kindness, and pride in my work was Mrs. Velma Crowell.

Crowell-Photo-360x480Mrs. Velma was a “fine Southern lady.” She took extra time to ask me about school, and she listened to my small worries about classes, balancing work and school, boyfriends, and life. She encouraged, and she chided a little if I let small things become big things. When I graduated from Austin Peay State University, she gave me two small books of poems. Those books have traveled with me through many moves, and they ultimately made their way pack to Clarksville in 2013 when I moved home after more than thirty years. Most of the poems can easily be found in other books, but when Mrs. Velma gave them to me I felt special. She knew I loved to read, and one day in passing, I told her about a poem I had read. I cannot remember the poem, but I remember the kindness of her patiently listening when I am sure she was tired.

Mrs. Velma Crowell passed away on March 12, 2016. I had assumed she had passed long ago, so I was very upset with myself for not looking her up when I returned to Clarksville. I always thought of her as a senior citizen, but she had to be in her late 40’s (much younger than I am now) when I began working at the Chronicle. Mrs. Velma lived 90 years, and she worked 24 of those years at the Leaf- Chronicle when newspapers were a little more locally driven and less syndicated, and the work was a little more labor intensive. When I learned of her death and posted on the Facebook page dedicated to Leaf-Chronicle past and present employees, the outpouring of gratitude for having the opportunity to know her and work with her was heartwarming. My friend Denny said she gave him a Cross pen when he graduated. I think she saw something in both of us because each of us has made a life’s work based on words.mentor

I regret not telling her in person how special she was to me. In her honor I am taking this time to remind all of how important small encouragements are to a college student who is trying to find that balance between work and school and life. RIP and thank you, Mrs. Velma.

When Text Becomes Difficult, Read Aloud (Just a Little)

ReadingthuRsday-R2We begin our early reading by reading aloud. The process of making sounds from a series of letters into words that are understood is a great accomplishment. By reading aloud, young children can be coached into proper pronunciation. Children are often placed in reading groups by perceived abilities, and reading aloud in a group, rather large or small, is not always a pleasant experience. Miscues in reading are audible, and often struggling readers are helped so much, they just give up.

Alas, at some point, most children read less aloud in schools and they move to reading silently. Some children have difficulty making this transition, so they begin to subvocalize as they read. For people who work with students’ reading skills, it is acceptable practice to discourage readers from subvocalizing because it may slow a reader down. If a reader goes too slowly, in many cases, comprehension is lost because it takes the reader so long to get through a passage.readaloud1

So, we encourage students to read aloud when they are learning to read, then we discourage them from subvocalizing, and then often we ask them to read aloud again in their content classes. So reading aloud does not completely go away from students’ daily school days because in order to cover as content, many teachers use reading aloud as a tool to move through material. Many of us can remember reading aloud in school. The technique called Round Robin reading is a staple in many content classrooms. Everyone takes a turn reading a paragraph or two aloud. Good readers briskly move through their paragraphs; challenged readers stumble through theirs. Few listen because they are either counting to see what will be their paragraph, or they just zone out at the monotony of classmates’ words. Teachers hope when students at least hear the information, some will sink into brains.

Talking_lipsSo reading aloud in academic settings is not always a great thing in many students’ minds. So when I recommend reading aloud when the text becomes difficult, it seems counterintuitive. However, there is something about slowing down just a little to read a sentence aloud that seems to help readers grasp the information they are reading. I quickly tell students they will not read everything aloud, but reading about a very important concept here and there is useful.

The great thing about being an adult reader is one may read aloud, one may read silently, one may subvocalize, or one may do whatever it takes to read and understand. Adults have control over their reading. In other words, adult learners can figure out what works for them. The great thing about an adult reader is he or she has choice.cute-reading Adult readers can choose to listen to my advice about reading aloud when the text gets difficult, or they may just nod their heads politely and do whatever works for them. Reading is a personal thing, and while a reader might ask for advice about how to read something or may ask for a recommendation for a good book to read, the reader ultimately decides how to proceed.
Note: Next week is Spring Break….yeah. I am making a decision to read something wonderful!

Such a Small Tribute

ReadingthuRsday-R2Last week Harper Lee died. Stories and speculations abound about Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. Greater literary critics and pundits have discussed Lee’s life and her writings, so I do not assume to have the capability to add anything. However, I would like to share my own small tribute to Harper Lee.

I remember so vividly when I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. I was half sitting/half lying in a small fishing boat. I was on my obligatory fishing trip with my Dad. I am not sure he really wanted to take me fishing each year, and I really did not want to go, but we found ourselves in a boat together. I believe my mother was behind this forced excursion. I usually spent most of my time reading, eating, and urging my dad to race his little fishing boat across the lake. I was less than thrilled with the time we sat still actually fishing.Lake_Burton_with_boat So while Scout was talking about her dad, I was drifting along with mine. Since I was quiet and obviously engrossed in my book, my dad actually asked me about what I was reading. I tried to capture the story for him, but I felt I had not captured the emotion. However, I guess I did a fairly good job of explaining because although my dad was not a reader, he seemed to take my recital at heart and urged me to continue reading. I came home that day with a fierce sunburn, a deeper appreciation for dads who listen, and a memory. I can still feel the rocking boat and the sun beating down; I can see my father sitting back with the engine getting ready to get that small engine to open up as wide as it possibly could. My memories of that day are entwined with Scout and Atticus and Boo and all the folks in the book who were so real to me.

tohajiileeOne of my subsequent readings of To Kill a Mockingbird took place a long way from Kentucky Lake. I was teaching at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school at Canoncito, New Mexico (now called Tohajiilee). I was the only high school English teacher, plus I was responsible for a very small library. One day one of my students asked me about my favorite book, and I instantly said To Kill a Mockingbird. My students had not heard of the book, and I tried to explain it. Once again, I just could not get across the story as well as I wanted to, so I decided to read the book aloud to one of classes. To Kill a Mockingbird is a long book, but every day I read a small part aloud. I had always taken the setting of the story for granted, but my students had no understanding of the rural South. So I found myself stopping and explaining a setting I knew so well. I found myself reading with the cadence of a Southern storyteller which is exactly what I was except I was telling Scout’s story. I hold one particular day close in my heart. The weather was cold, dreary and windy. We were all sitting in a classroom that was converted from a store, and I was reading aloud the part where the trial is over and Atticus is walking out of the courtroom. Reverend Sykes speaks, “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin.” Not a sound was heard in our room as we quietly shared that moment and listened to the wind. 3160D31500000578-3454823-image-a-14_1455917952403

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a part of my life. Sharing Lee’s classic story enriched my life, and it gave me a platform to have conversations that matter. ` So, my tribute to Harper Lee is one of a humble “Thank you”.

The Huntington: Cultivating Curiosity

ReadingthuRsday-R2The Huntington is home to a library, art collections, and botanical gardens in San Marino, California. So far, I have not been lucky enough to go to The Huntington, but I did receive a beautiful “coffee table book” as a gift. The pages are filled with beautiful pictures of art, documents, flowers and an assortment of many wonderful things that fill The Huntington. My gift lead me to thinking about the concept of coffee table books. huntington

Coffee table books are usually meant for display in homes in a public place such as coffee table. The books are good for starting conversations, and they give a really good glimpse into a topic. For example, I feel I have a wonderful feeling for the gardens and galleries at The Huntington. Of course, I would rather be at The Huntington in person, but this book has allowed me many hours of pleasure.

coffee-table-book2When I went to Amazon, there is a whole lot of coffee table books available. I took just a few minutes to pick out some I might like to read: Destinations of a Lifetime: 225 of the World’s Most Amazing Places, What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (I actually already have this one), Underwater Dogs, and The Southerner’s Handbook: A Guide to Living the Good Life. The list of coffee table books was long and diverse. In addition, there were many “Best of Lists” for coffee table books. I believe coffee table books’ appeal is the beauty of the photographs as well as readily accessible amount of information on topics. Coffee table books are often the inspiration for conversations, so they serve as a social function as well as a decorative function.

When I went to Wikipedia to get a quick overview of Coffee Table Books, I was amazed to see a rather long description. However, what really caught my attention, was a Seinfeld segment on Coffee Table Books I had forgotten about watching many years ago.coffee-table-book1 Kramer publishes a book on celebrities’ coffee tables (Kramer’s version of a coffee table book), and the book has foldable wooden legs that allow the book to turn into…..a coffee table. Kramer has another kooky and very funny idea. So my mind went from the very prestigious Huntington to coffee table books to Seinfeld to Kramer, so now you have just a small idea of how my brain whirls every day. Settle in and enjoy a great book!