On The Pleasure of Reading

   

“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”  ~W. Somerset Maugham

Like many of you out there, I have always been a reader; started very young and was encouraged to read and write by my parents. All through school I read lots of books and wrote lots of poems and stories. As a teacher I would tell my students that the more you read, the better you read; and the more you read, the better you write. Reading and writing go hand and hand. I passed the love of reading onto my children, though my son fought it and didn’t become a reader or writer until later on…more so when a graduate student. My daughter took to it right away. Each child is different.  Currently, I just started “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, which has received very good reviews that I usually ignore. I’m not one to choose books by looking at book lists; only what strikes a chord as I’m reading the blurb. So far, so good, but I just started. I so enjoyed the last book I read, “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd, whose “The Secret Life of Bees” I truly loved 12 years ago, even enjoyed the movie, a rarity. Since mom is pretty much homebound, I am always looking for books for her to enjoy. She finds big books too big and too heavy to hold so now I’ve been getting her paperbacks like small mystery series set in England…nothing gory. Also, when I can find a good book set in WWI, like the wonderful, wonderful Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear, I make sure to order those through my library. I refuse to buy books. No room. The latest WWI book that mom loved was “Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War” by Jennifer Robson, which I may read too, after I finish “The Goldfinch.”  Reading brings joy. Reading distracts. Reading takes me places without moving one step! Gotta Love it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As It Snows in NY…

       

“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”-Dr. John Hope Franklin

I’m thinking about my son living in the heat of Southeastern India with his girlfriend, their adopted dog and adopted cat. They decided to teach in India since it would give them the opportunity to learn about people, different cultures and travel; something that would be quite difficult to do if they had children and the responsibility of a mortgage. They are right. Today, the lovely and gentle historian, John Hope Franklin was born in 1915 in Oklahoma. I remember seeing him quite a few times on PBS. Not only was he an historian, writer, educator, I remember listening to him talk about his love for and cultivation of African violets.

Dr. Hope’s love of the flower, his love of learning, his love of traveling all stemmed from his teacher/librarian-mom and lawyer-dad who took the family with him summers when he taught summer schools all over and from those campus bases, the family would continue to travel. Both of his parents cultivated plants in NYC on their window sills, gardenias and African violets.

“As a distinguished scholar, he has used his authority and expertise to foster political and social change. And as a teacher, he has inspired his many students and colleagues to delve deeper into the causes and remedies of inequality, bigotry, and oppression.”jhfc, duke university

Dr. Franklin lived a long life and assisted many of the well-known figures of the 20th Century as they worked hard for equality and Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall, Dr. King, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and many others. His books taught many of us real history.

I know my son would agree with Dr. Hope’s assessment of travel and plans to use the “glories of” his “journey” wherever he goes and whatever he does in life. Safe travels, my son!

 

 

 

One of “The Hollywood Ten”

     

“I have here in my hand a list of two hundred and five [people] that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.”

    –Joseph Raymond McCarthy, speech, Wheeling, West Virginia, Febuary 9, 1950

Novelist, screenwriter and brave individual, Dalton Trumbo was born today in 1905. I remember reading his “Johnny Got His Gun” as a young teen and the profound impact it had on me as I read the thoughts of a soldier whose whole body was blown up and only his mind remained. It was a powerful book.

“Then there was this freedom the little guys were always getting killed for. Was it freedom from another country? Freedom from work or disease or death? Freedom from your mother-in-law? Please mister give us a bill of sale on this freedom before we go out and get killed. Give us a bill of sale drawn up plainly in advance what we’re getting killed for… so we can be sure after we’ve won your war that we’ve got the same kind of freedom we bargained for.”-Dalton Trumbo, “Johnny Got His Gun”

And to think, that the writer of the above text was considered a threat to our country? 

“Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?’

In the 1950s, thousands of Americans who toiled in the government, served in the army, worked in the movie industry, or came from various walks of life had to answer that question before a congressional panel.”ushistory.org

Dalton Trumbo was one of The Hollywood Ten, those individuals who were blacklisted because they wouldn’t name names at Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts, the HUAC hearings in the late 40s and early 50s. Trumbo was the screenwriter behind “Spartacus,”  “Roman Holiday” and other big movies. Lives were forever ruined by McCarthyism.  I am so happy a movie is being made about Dalton Trumbo and what he went through. It will star Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame and will be simply and aptly titled, Trumbo. We can never take our liberties and freedoms for granted.

“No man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.” -Edward R. Murrow, On Senator Joseph McCarthy, See It Now, March 7, 1954

 

 

 

 

 

“The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.”-Joseph Heller

 

“Catch-22,” by Joseph Heller, is not an entirely successful novel. It is not even a good novel. It is not even a good novel by conventional standards. But there can be no doubt that it is the strangest novel yet written about the United States Air Force in World War II. Wildly original, brilliantly comic, brutally gruesome, it is a dazzling performance that will probably outrage nearly as many readers as it delights.”Orville Prescott, Books of the Times, NY Times, Oct. 23rd, 1961

Catch-22 was published today in 1961 when I was 9 years old; of course I didn’t read it then, but I must’ve read it at around 13 or 14 and I do remember loving it. I’m sure I was introduced to it by dear old Mom, who will be 90 soon. Throughout the years I would see Joseph Heller from time to time on TV (probably on Dick Cavett), especially with his cronies, other writers whose names I just can’t remember as of this moment, except for Kurt Vonnegut. Heller was an interesting fellow to say the least. When his daughter, Erica Heller, wrote her memoir about growing up with Joseph Heller in 2011, I read that…oh read it, it’s great, “Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller Was Dad, the Apthorp Was Home and Life Was a Catch-22.” For the 50th Anniversary of Catch-22, I saw Christopher Buckley (Yes, Bill’s son), Bob Gottlieb (Heller’s editor and friend) and Mike Nichols who directed the

film, Catch-22) a few times in various panel discussions on the relevance of Heller’s only book for quite a while. It took Heller over 10 years to write his 2nd book, Something Happened, which Kurt Vonnegut, a close friend of Heller’s, reviewed, “Is this book any good? Yes. It is splendidly put together and hypnotic to read. It is as clear and hard-edged as a cut diamond. Mr. Heller’s concentration and patience are so evident on every page that one can only say that “Something Happened” is at all points precisely what he hoped it would be.”NY Times Book Review, Oct. 6th, 1974

Six years after the publication of Catch-22, The Moody Blues released “Nights in White Satin.” It’s still beautiful after all these years. I do remember seeing them a few times in concert…probably at The Fillmore East in NYC.

What unites Joseph Heller and The Moody Blues?  


” If You Tried to Give Rock and Roll Another Name, You Might Call It ‘Chuck Berry’.-John Lennon

Happy 87th birthday to Mr. Chuck Berry!!!!  I remember seeing Chuck Berry many times in my youth…he was sooooo great on stage!!!   Stevie Wonder stated, “There’s only one king of rock and roll. His name is Chuck Berry.” Yesterday I watched Tavis Smiley’s wonderful interview with Robbie Robertson (The Band) who just wrote a book with his son Sebastian, titled: Legends, Icons and Rebels: Music That Changed the World,” which features Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Little Richard and others. The book evolved from Sebastian telling his dad that while he grew up surrounded by great music, many of his friends didn’t know of these important and groundbreaking artists…voila…a book to teach young people about 27 musical artists.  I just ordered the book and I’m going to mail it to my son’s girlfriend in India to use with her 5th grade class (after I read it, of course!). If I was still teaching, I’d be using this book as well. The illustrations are beautiful. It’s hot off the presses, folks…if you’re a teacher, parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent and you know a child in upper elementary and middle school, or you’d like to donate to a school library, this is a great selection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Coles: Humanist, Educator, Child Psychiatrist, Harvard Professor Emeritus, Civil Rights Activist…Oh So Much More!

“Where you read a book and when and with whom can make a big difference.” –Robert Coles, “The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination

Happy 84th Birthday to Robert Coles. Have you ever heard him speak? Have you read any of his books?  Oh What a Man!  I probably was introduced to him by mom, who you’ve read several times already, returned to college when I was about 6 years old and attended night school 10 years to obtain her undergraduate degree. Robert Coles remained with me throughout my career as an educator and my unending career as a parent. The above quote is quite personal; my son didn’t enjoy reading as a student, so I would read to him or we would take turns reading to each other and to this day he remembers some very wonderful books that touched his heart, i.e.: The Island On Bird Street by Uri Orlev. In fact, when he was teaching a summer school group in Brooklyn before he got an actual teaching job in NYC, he shared that book with his Chinese students; this was a Chinese student summer learning program in the Bensonhurst neighborhood in Brooklyn that prepared its students for middle school grades 6-8. That young boy who didn’t enjoy reading now loves it, went onto teach in NYC for 4 years and is currently living and teaching in India for 2 years along with his wonderful lady who is also teaching there.

Back to Robert Coles…I learned this morning that his mom was a big influence on his outlook and that she introduced young Robert to the teachings of the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day. I think I read that his mom used to get Day’s newsletter in the mail.

“Coles suggests that one’s worth is ultimately measured not by knowledge or intellect but by how one acts when no one is looking. He encourages his students to look to poetry and literature for a different and valuable perspective on the universal experiences of pain and suffering, and seems to imply that a patient’s subjective health status may be at least as important as the “objective reality” provided by sophisticated forms of medical technology…Coles urges his students to find meaning in the stories their patients tell them, even if they do not share similar cultural or literary backgrounds. Stories give us glimpses into realities we cannot articulate, choose to ignore, or have simply been too busy to notice. Although literature is not a panacea, it can offer the understanding doctors and patients yearn for through the use of image, metaphor, beauty, and epiphany. Medical students and seasoned physicians would do well to read this book. In it, Coles reminds us of the mimetic power of stories and the lessons they teach, again and again.”The New England Journal of Medicine, 11-22-90

Seems to me, that anyone going into the field of medicine or currently there should read read the book reviewed by The New England Journal of Medicine in 1990: The Call of Stories: Teaching and the moral imagination. It should be required reading.

Here is a great article to read when you have time: An Enlivening Heritage: Reintroducing Robert Coles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You Got to Dig It to Dig…You Dig???”-Thelonious Monk

If you’ve read about Thelonious Monk or even listened to his music, you know right away he continues to be one of a kind. A comprehensive book to read would be Robin Kelley’s: Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. I enjoyed this book very much even with the knowledge I already had about Monk.

“Thelonious Sphere Monk (Oct. 10th, 1917-1982) is recognized as one of the most influential figures in the history of jazz. He was one of the architects of bebop and his impact as a composer and pianist has had a profound influence on every genre of music.”Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz site

 “Among his works were ”Round Midnight,” ”Straight No Chaser” and ”Well, You Needn’t.” The strange contours of Mr. Monk’s tunes led the jazz critic Whitney Balliett to describe them as rippling ”with dissonances and rhythms that often give one the sensation of missing the bottom step in the dark.”-John S. Wilson, NY Times