For the “Mere Brute Pleasure of Reading”

100_8664Somehow, I escaped reading To Kill a Mockingbird in high school and read it for the first time on my own in college. Picking it up proved to be fortuitous; not only did I love the novel, but I’ve also taught To Kill a Mockingbird maybe ten times since that first read.

Truthfully, it is a joy to teach, but depending on the group of students, it can also be a bit frustrating. Students who live a fast-paced life and who embrace the “Reading is boring” mantra sometimes equate reading To Kill a Mockingbird with watching paint dry. Simply put, they don’t see much of anything extraordinary in the novel. Some of you are aghast, I know. (And some of you perhaps agree, I know. It’s okay, I still love you.)

This year, one student came into class declaring, “I hate this book, and my parents said they hate this book.” Then she asked, “If so many people hate it, why do we still read it?” Never mind that it won the Pulitzer, or more to her point, that it reportedly sells about a million copies a year despite being first published over fifty years ago.

This is the sort of attitude I have to wrestle with while teaching many works like To Kill a Mockingbird, all while reading through the lens of an educator who’s been commissioned to “teach literature.” While the challenge of this task can be fascinating, in my mind, the story itself often begins to get crowded out.

So, I’d been toying with an idea ever since we finished To Kill a Mockingbird two or three weeks ago. What if I read it again, I kept thinking, this time just for the sake of reading it? What if I read for myself, for the sake of the story, just to engross myself in Lee’s voice, just to hear the story again apart from any literary dissection? The idea seemed almost audacious; as much as I love reading, to spend that many hours reading a book that wasn’t for any of my classes, that wasn’t for any of my kids, that wasn’t for any sort of professional development, but that was a book I’d already read countless times? After all, I’m one of those people who could read 24/7 until I’m a hundred and hardly scratch the surface of what I’d like to read in this lifetime.

As a case in point, I submit to you my nightstand. At any given time, it is stacked with books that fill one of the above-mentioned reading requirements. Current titles include Marilynne Robinson’s Lila (one of my favorite authors), Brett Lott’s Before We Get Started (a writing memoir swiped from my dad), Douglas Fisher’s Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading (for reading professionals), Brando Skyhorse’s The Madonnas of Echo Park (snagged for a buck and a quarter at my last bookstore visit), L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (trying to figure out when Baby-Girl will be ready for it), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (seventh grade’s next read), Katy Simpson Smith’s The Story of Land and Sea (grabbed off a library shelf when I saw the setting involves the coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina), J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (my oldest son and I are reading it together), and Louis Sachar’s Holes (looking at starting it with my younger two children).

And so the list goes on.

And then there are the to-be-read books on my Kindle. :)

Yet there I was, wanting to read To Kill a Mockingbird, a book I’ve read and taught over and again. It seemed so extravagant, so self-indulgent, so myopic given my other interests and choices.

Then, during a recent social gathering, I overheard a conversation between two friends about the book. One had recently read it for the first time, and was fresh with his discovery and his admiration. I listened to them talk, their conversation laden with little of what often dictates mine.

I walked away from that conversation and knew it was time. It was time to do it now, I knew, when I was ten months away from teaching it again, at the time I’d be most able to turn off my teacher’s mind to the gazillion things students should be looking for, contemplating on, and writing about with To Kill a Mockingbird. It was time to read something I’ve loved and taught for all these years, this time just for the sake of the story. G.K. Chesterton describes what I was craving as “the mere brute pleasure of reading—the sort of pleasure a cow must have in grazing.” That was the pleasure I sought.

IMG_9101And so yesterday afternoon, I sat down in my hammock by the edge of the salt marsh, opened my copy now worn from years of instruction, and began to graze, for “the mere brute pleasure of reading.”

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October on the Coast

Here on the islands, this time of year is a favorite for many of the locals, in large part because it still feels much like summer, but the crowds are gone.

We have the islands mostly to ourselves, y’all.

(Not that we don’t love you: we do. But we prefer not to wait in line for ninety minutes before we eat dinner or purchase toiletries.)

(And y’all don’t know where you are going sometimes. Just saying.)

(Not that I know where I’m going either in…oh, say Toledo, for instance. Well, actually I kind of do, since I’ve been there several times. But take Kansas City. I’m pretty sure I don’t know my way around…well, either of them now that I think about it, so I’d be a bad tourist driver in both Kansas City and Kansas City.)

IMG_9029We celebrated Homecoming this month, which included a week of themed dressing. I now feel like a costume coordinator who’s just realized she just doesn’t have the right skill set for her profession.

But on the upside, I was able to get both my boys to wear bowties for Southern Preppy day. Honestly, for the first five years of living in the Carolinas, I thought bowties were kind of weird. One of our pediatricians came in wearing one the first time we met, and it was highly distracting. I’d never seen a bowtie-clad medical professional in real life before. But I’ve grown fond of them over the years, so I’m glad my boys wore them. They both claim they have no desire to wear them again, but I attribute this to their opposition to neckwear in general.

IMG_9090Here’s some Spanish moss. It really has nothing to do with fall in general or October in particular, but I did take the picture in October, so there you go. 

IMG_9009This is dune grass that, you guessed it, was photographed in October. Something about the color just makes me think of autumn.

IMG_9056IMG_9053Sunsets on the nearby waterways are often glorious. These were taken during a recent October shindig, the kind you walk away from with full stomachs, full hearts, and really dirty feet if you happen to wear sandals.

(Truth in blogging here: They were so bad I actually took a picture because I’ve never seen my feet look like that before. Don’t worry; I won’t show you. I just want evidence in case I ever need it for…something.)

We are getting the beginnings of the color changes that are spread large over so many of your hometowns right now. But it’s also coastal Carolina, so while October is hayrides and pumpkins and cider here, it’s also still

100_8597girls seeking shells and

100_8612boys wielding boards and

100_8641men in search of the last warm waves.

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Things I Love About Island Living: #13

100_8595I love that I am everywhere reminded

IMG_5814100_8582of the beauty

100_6955100_6344of light on water.

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