FRIDAY FIRSTLINERS

I first saw the idea of First Line Fridays on Hoarding Books, then later on Wandering Words, both excellent blogs. One is to open a book and just copy the first line to see if it appeals to other readers.

Taking down a book from my TBR pile, I offer the first lines of the first story in Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars. The story is titled “1922.”

“My name is Wilfred Leland James, and this is my confession. In June of 1922, I murdered my wife, Arlette Christina Winters James, and hid her body by tupping it down an old well.”

Gotcha!

MILLER’S VALLEY by Anna Quindlen: A Review

I found this book in convenient large print when our local library reopened. It is a 2016 publication and is an example of how/why Quindlen’s novels are so popular–they are page turners.

From the beginning readers know the government has plans to build a dam which will flood the farming community of Miller’s Valley, but as time goes by, and the suspense drags out, we begin to think, to hope, Miller’s Valley, home to Mary Margaret Miller, will be spared. Following Mary Margaret from a child selling ears of sweet corn at a roadside stand to an experienced doctor with a husband and children, we appreciate Quindlen’s “deep understanding of the many stages of a woman’s life.”

As a story teller, Quindlen is unsurpassed. Some of the themes that emerge from her narrative are: family, memory, loss, “and finding a true identity and a new vision of home.” Perhaps the quote after the title page, before chapter one begins says it best, “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” James Baldwin.

TUESDAY TEASER

Have I got a Tuesday Teaser for you! It is from the series of road trips Otto takes with his guru-priest friend, the world-renowned Rinpoche, translated “The Precious One.” In Breakfast with Buddha, we meet Otto and his family, his sister, Cecelia, who has always been a hippie-flower child, and her boyfriend, Rinpoche, who discusses for mile after mile Buddhist teachings as Otto tries to show him the “real America.” In Lunch with Buddha, Rinpoche and Ceilia are married and have a daughter. Finally, Dinner with Buddha , the book I am currently reading

Third book in the series.

brings in Rinpoche and Celia’s six-year-old-daughter, Otto’s niece ,with whom he feels he shares a destiny. My Teaser takes place somewhere in the Dakotas just before Ceciluia and Shelsha leave Otto and Rinpoche, returning home while the men travel towards enlightenment and what their mission in life is. Otto thinks about the America he is about to show Rinpoche:

“I worried that with our demonizing, our knee-jerk anger, we were moving too close to 1920s Germany, too many of us marching under a righteous banner, too much hatred for each other, too much divisiveness, a craziness loosed upon our world. I looked at Shelsa. I remembed what Seese (his nickname for his sister) said about her (that she was a special child with a destiny to save mankind from itself). I wondered what it would take to save us.”

ABOUT READING

This is totally unscientific information about learning to read and the best ways to do so, not from a researcher or early-childhood-education teacher, but from a secondary classroom teacher who has taught individually, and/or corporately, students who are just learning to read from grades two through junior high. I recently read that students who are not reading by third grade stand a small chance of learning to read. This may be true, but I have seen more than one seventh grade young man “get by” from looking at pictures and “guessing” at what the words say. When the only tests they encountered were T/F or multiple choice, students’ chances of passing tests in history, math, and English grammar, were surprisingly higher than one would expect.

A source I have long since forgotten stated that 40% of people who want to learn to read can do so, regardless of how they’ve been taught. When I was six and starting school, I’d often sit on my grandad’s lap and read him the “funny papers.” He told me it was good practice for me to read aloud. After he was gone, and I was an adult, I learned that my grandad couldn’t read or write, that he enjoyed the comics, and our time reading together provided him with basic instruction. As a teen, I remember him spending all Sunday afternoon reading the Sunday paper. It must have taken him the whole afternoon to sound out and guess enough to get the meaning of the “news.”

Beginning readers need to know by sight (think flashcards with pictures for commonly used words), but they also need an understanding of the sounds of letters in the English alphabet. (Some of my favorite tutoring experiences were with Spanish speaking women who were astounded that “v” and “b” sounds in English and Spanish languages were “reversed.” This was also true of the sounds of many letters in the English alphabet–they were different! We had many a laugh at my attempts to pronounce Spanish words with the letter sounds of the English alphabet. They loved to correct la professora.)

Marilyn Adams, a cognitive and developmental psychologist from the 90s said in her book that “sound spelling is necessary” as she pointed out that during that time, kids were not being taught phonics in schools. Teachers at that time believed that the most important thing was for students to understand and enjoy the text. Supposedly, from that, the bright pictures and excitement about the “story” the recognition of individual words would just pop out at them. There was little mentioned about decoding and sounding out words. The methods at this time led to a real lack of reading comprehension, something quite a few parents brought their students to me, to “fix”. They were generally disturbed that their students could not answer questions about what they had read. The students’ scores on comprehension reading tests reflected a “pattern” for many students. They were guessing at words, and it is words that carry the meaning of what is written.

Reading comprehension is the product of two things: sounding out of words and the meaning of those words. When it came to teaching beginning readers to sound out words, the awful truth was that teachers didn’t want to teach phonics. It was no fun for the kids (Phonics can be quite intimidating, where guessing what words are from the first letter, a picture, or the sentence’s context is more fun.) and it was hard work and no fun for the teacher. Phonics instruction is a partial cure for “weak word recognition skills…the most common and debilitating reading problem.”(Hanford “At a Loss for Words”)

Let’s be aware that it takes both phonics and memorization of the “look” of common words to draw out meaning from the words’ relationship to one another (phrasing). Keep in mind, that once we have word recognition through these two basic skills, sounding out and memorizing by sight basic words, comprehension of a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, and essay comes much more easily. Parents and teacher alike want what’s best for the children; district policies are well-intentioned, but sometimes a product of the “bandwagon effect” (X school district uses this method), and we need to be practical about what works and what doesn’t.

SUNDAY STATS

Literacy and Me

All of the statistics and specifics included in this post are from an enlightening article, “At A Loss for Words,” published in 2019 by Emily Hanford in APM (American Public Media) Reports. The article reveals how a problematic idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers. Alarmingly, the article opens with this Sunday statistic: “ONE THIRD OF ALL 4TH GRADERS CAN’T READ AT A BASIC LEVEL, AND MOST STUDENTS ARE STILL NOT PROFICIENT READERS BY THE TIME THEY FINISH HIGH SCHOOL.” WHY?

The article blames this stat partially on a bad theory which gained prominence in 1967 (the year I graduated from college and began teaching junior high), “three cueing.” In this theory, readers use three kinds of information to identify words they are reading: graphic cues (pictures) where a student is asked, “What do you think the word is, judging from the picture at the top of…

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BUT IS IT ART? by Cynthia Freeland: A Review

This cover shows the “Art Cow” phenomenon popular in Houston a few years ago. Many of the cows are located in Houston and the surrounding counties still.

I admit it was the cover and the memories of encountering the cows in various places that made me take this small art theory book out of the Little Free Library in my home town. Having audited a course in the history of Art and Graphic design at my university until the pandemic closed the university last semester, I was very interested to see what the author considered was art, and what was not. The book deals with contemporary art and art criticism, and is a very good introduction to art theory. Freeland, who has attachments to Houston, discusses the relationships of art with beauty, culture, money, sex, and new technology. She posits the question of what art is and what it means, a broad topic for a tiny book. She covers basic art theories and discusses why current exhibits and articles are considered art. She discusses definitions of art according to various art movements, including everything from Hume and Kant’s opinion to the opinion of the artist who created The Piss Christ.

There are photographs and musings from the author as she discusses the philosophy of art. Does she answer the question posed in her title? No, instead, she makes a fine argument that what is art is in the eye of the beholder.

WEDNESDAY TO-DO’S

One of my goals for the New Year (2020) was to whittle my TBR shelves (at the time there were two of them in my book closet) to a reasonable size. I managed to get them down to about twenty-three books, and at the end of January, I pronounced that goal “accomplished.”

Since then, during the pandemic, people in my neighborhood have gone crazy cleaning closets, de-cluttering, and donating books to my Little Free Library…

…which leaves me with a tipsy pile of TBR books. (see photo above)

At first I tried my own “read the first fifty pages and decide” plan for discarding books. I applied this strenuously and arrived with this stack (see top photo) to read. Not only have I not accomplished my 2020 goal, but I have ruined what efforts I had made toward accomplishing it!

Some of the books are ones I kept when friends gave me hand-me-downs (Thanks, Deb Nance of Readerbuzz and Susan Wilson, downsizing friend) that I didn’t have time to read when I was scrambling to convert my Face-to-Face Advanced Writing class to an on-line format, but I promised to “take a look at later.” WARNING: Do not put off until tomorrow too many books or you will have a “Leaning Tower” similar to mine!

FRIIDAY FIRSTLINERS

Several blogging friends participate in First Line Fridays, a meme which asks the blogger to copy the first line of a current read to see if it “grabs” any other readers. My first liner today is from the inside cover of a collection of poetry I have barely begun, When You Ask Me Where I’m Going by Jasmin Kaur, which was recommended and reviewed by a blogger friend.41hOQ67jpsL    Instead of the first line, let

me use the poem on the inside front cover:

“SCREAM

so that one day

a hundred yers from now

another sister will not have to

dry her tears wondering

where in history

she lost her voice.”

ALTERNATE SIDE by Anna Quindlen: A Review

Literacy and Me

Anna Quindlen is not only an author I enjoy reading, but also one I highly respect. I can honestly say there are no books I have read by her so far that I didn’t like. Perhaps my favorite of all her writings is her memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake; this collections of essays on life at fifty hit me “just right.” Maybe it was because I was around fifty when I read it.

My favorite of her novels also involved a middle aged woman, one who had “hit her peak,” had her “fifteen minutes of fame”, an artist who “retired” to a cabin in the woods and found a new life, a new passion for photography, and a new love. To me, this was the best of her novels (so far).

A novel I am currently reading, Miller’s Creek ,may be a contender for a tie for…

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LISETTE’S LIST by Susan Vreeland: A Review

Literacy and Me

One of seven novels written by Susan Vreeland

A lifetime reading goal I have set for myself is to read all seven of Susan Vreeland’s art-themed novels. Unlike the other three I have read, Lisette’s List is not about a single painting or an individual artist, but about a fictional woman who aspires to be a “gallery apprentice” in Paris someday and who has a curator’s heart.

Moving from the exciting Paris art scene to the countryside of Province, Lisette and her husband arrive to care for his aging grandfather, Pascal. In Pascal’s possession are two Pissaros and two Cezannes he received in return for his framing skills when he was a pigment salesman in his Paris days. Later, in the German-occupied Province, while Andre is off fighting, Lisette meets Chagall and his wife who are hiding from the Nazis. Chagall does a painting of Lisette, her goat, and her…

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