• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

A Family Tree of Reading

A great assignment.

October 25, 2017
 
 

 

The Girl’s English teacher assigned her students to do “family trees of reading,” which involve quizzing family members on their reading habits and history. I think it’s a pretty nifty assignment, so I’ve used my answers as today’s post.

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1. Why did you get into reading?

I don’t recall it being a choice. It was what we did. I was read to from a very early age, and at some point decided that I wanted to be able to do it myself. There also weren’t that many options for quiet indoors spare time back then; the tv had all of four channels, and the web hadn’t been invented yet. I could read before bed, or when it rained, or when I didn’t have anything else to do. Sometimes a book would grab me and not let go until it was finished.

2. What were your favorite books as a child and what are your favorite books now?

As a child, I loved Dr. Seuss. (Honestly, I still do.) Fox in Socks had some great tongue-twisters, and The Sleep Book remains a favorite. I can still recite most of the “moose juice/goose juice” sequence from memory.  

Later, I found Encyclopedia Brown and Mad Magazine. You can probably explain a lot about me by mashing up those two. My Mom is a very smart woman; she figured out that if I thought something was funny, I’d keep reading it. Mad Magazine was a sort of literary bribery. From there, it was a short leap to the Hitchhiker’s Guide, which is mostly harmless.

Now, I mostly read nonfiction about current events or higher education. I like books that get me to look at things I thought I knew, in new ways. Recent favorites include The Nordic Theory of Everything, by Anu Partanen, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehesi Coates, and Quiet, by Susan Cain.  Each of them made me look at things I’ve seen with new eyes.  

3. Why do you think that they changed?

There’s an age limit for Encyclopedia Brown. Also, at some point, I started to value depth of understanding over breadth of knowledge. I’d rather do sustained, deep dives into a few things than skim the surface of many.  Over time, it gets easier to see where a particular argument is going.  

That’s probably why I never really got into fantasy novels, or what I call hobbitry.  I’m too busy trying to understand this world to get that wrapped up in another one.

4.  Did seeing your parents read influence your reading?

Absolutely!  My mom has always been a voracious reader, and she set an expectation in the house that reading for pleasure is utterly normal.  We made regular trips to the library, where I sometimes made choices that are hard to explain in retrospect. (I think I was the only kid in the fifth grade who read Art Buchwald.)  My dad was more of a newspaper reader; I inherited that from him.  

By high school, I didn’t watch tv much, and that’s still true. I’m told that we’re in a golden age of television right now, but I pretty much have to take other people’s word for it. To the extent that I watch tv at all, I want it to be either purely silly or silly-but-deep. (Someday, when you’re older, I recommend the series Bojack Horseman.  But no rush…) I’d much rather watch the Adam West Batman than any of the Christian Bale or Michael Keaton ones.

5. What was writing your own book like?

Slow and difficult, but satisfying. Working with an editor meant learning to let go of some pet phrases, and to sand off some of the rougher edges of my writing to make it more readable. It also meant finally having to come to terms with outlining, my old nemesis.  

A couple of years ago, I was at the kitchen table, struggling with a blog post. The Boy saw the look on my face, rolled his eyes, and said “Dad, you’re not working on another book, are you?” Writing a book while doing a full-time day job, blogging five days a week, and being an involved parent of two amazing kids is satisfying, but tiring.  

One of my proudest moments as a parent was after you saw my book for the first time, and immediately declared what your first book would be about.  I can’t wait to read it.

 

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