Books Feed

Thoughts on the Book Burning Crazies: Censorship in American Life đź“š

A friend of mine recently theorized on the weird book burnings and bannings that are happening around the country, and all I want to say on the subject is that it is only a form of intimidation meant to conjure up images of Nazi boot lickers, and such, so that us open-minded sorts will become fearful. I would like to remind the white nationalist crowd that we live in the modern era where nothing can be erased. Even that embarrassing tweet or fakebook post that you authored several years ago is still out there in the great expansive internet lurking around, waiting to creep up on your dating profile or something. Think about Janurary all of those nifty social media posts made it possible for some of you to do serious jail time. Deleting that from your profile didn't work all that well, did it?

Burning a book or banning it someplace is a tremendous waste of your time and energy. Something so stupid and pointless hurts your image and makes you look like a fool. It really is a sidecar issue because as soon as you make a book a point of controversy, people trample each other to go buy a copy. But out of respect for my friend, I will post her thoughts on the subject. I would like to add that getting any of these fanatics to do any actual work, like writing a book report or something, is not going to happen. If they had literacy skills, they wouldn’t feel any desire to suppress any books:

So, I'm wondering, if it would be helpful to require a book report be submitted along with the complaint on a said book before its being pulled from a library shelf or educational curriculum. Maybe requiring an item be read before being cancelled would cut down on the growing epidemic of book burning that is sparking across this country. At worst, the book burning devotee might actually learn something if required to read the very novel they are striving to stifle.

Just saying that I'm becoming more and more suspicious that some of the authors of these book banning lists can neither read nor write but can only cut and paste.

On the positive side, Gandhi tells us that you cannot destroy an idea. 

What this country needs is another Kirk Douglas, Dalton Trumbo, and a return of the rule of law to come in and save us from the jackbooted crazies.

My dog barks a whole lot, and it is a kind of game for him. I think the same thing is happening with a bunch of these school boards and such, everyone is after power and wants to tell the teacher what to do. They are much like the dog though, just barking and accomplishing absolutely nothing beyond looking foolish. Our children experience things two ways: vicariously and in real-life. Which do you prefer? One way or another, they are going to indulge in these happenings. I prefer to see my students experience the negatives in life vicariously, and that is why we read certain texts. Watching someone make bad decisions in a great book is much better than going out blindly and doing it yourself. Think about it.



Human Caused Climate Change and Human Extinction: Is it Possible?


            The book, “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming,” written by David Wallace-Wells (writer for New York Magazine), dishes up a frightening dose of climate reality including analysis pertaining to why the muted message to the public hampers progress and endangers innocent people living in developing countries. A few chapters into the book, I became deeply disappointed in my local Houston, Texas, news channels and media outlets because of the completely silent response to our own regional climate change reality and the continuous and mindless focus on junk entertainment. Reading the book in its entirety, and then reflecting on its frightening but well-supported material, rearranged my own personal priorities about the natural world. I feel as if we need to start ignoring junk entertainment and news and start focusing on how to solve the climate problem.

            The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meets periodically to measure the effects of climate change on people in developing countries, and, sadly, even though third world peoples clearly impose the tiniest fraction of a fraction of carbon imprint, they will, according to data and recent experience, undoubtedly, suffer the most. Bangladeshi is a prime example of how climate change will create millions of refugees with no place to go and no means to get there. As coastlines disappear, along with vegetation and available farming land, people will die and starve.

            This is happening now, but I am hearing more about Beyonce’s new film and other fluff than the atrocities happening in vulnerable communities (Houston, her hometown, is extremely vulnerable). Media, and this includes stars and personalities, must begin to raise awareness and cultivate an ongoing conversation that informs and educates because big corporations and big oil have been doing their best to suppress the truth about climate change. Besides, selfish media personalities and vainglorious politicians will soon look extremely silly, evil, and ill-informed at this crucial point in history. People will begin to see that they have been scammed by a rich elite that believes they can build and buy their way out of the deleterious and calamitous effects of climate change. Believe me, this is not going to work for them. Life, life as we understand it, is on the edge of extinction. But instead of a dose of reality, all we get is a tremendous amount of butt wiggling and hair tossing, stuff I can do without. If someone wants to butt wiggle and hair toss to raise money for Bangladesh, then I am good with that because at least some people would have food and shelter while raising awareness about this disaster that will undoubtedly wipe out huge swaths of life on our planet. Once you begin to look down the barrel of climate change in a realistic way, then other problems in life like phony people at work and vacay plans seem superficial in a profoundly sad and shocking way.

I encourage everyone to read the climate change science and help spread the word while finding ways to limit your own carbon footprint.

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Books Matter if You Want a Real Life

What in the world is a secure life and why does it matter? After sitting around in coffee shops and hotels for half of my life, you'd think I would know how to handle the obvious, the obvious being a well-situated camera in the break room somewhere near the copy machine. But that's not really how the narrative goes because when all is said and done the truth is as real as time itself and not nearly as bendable or mysterious. Back when I was begging others to "get to the root of the animosity" I was still trying to be polite and pretend I didn't know who it was, but that went away with four months of my pay, something you just don't get back by "starting over." So, what is the basic problem? The problem is a set of book ends, both short and round, one light, one dark, one loud, one stupid. That's how it started, an innocent discussion about literature, and an immature, fit-throwing drama queen. 

I watched the hair tossing, and the strutting about with the cellphone in the dark, angry face, and I kept to myself, but the harm was already done--the child came back to school, limping. I held an illustrated children's story in my hand, and the kids were having fun. They were listening and laughing (I'm good at reading aloud) and they were happy at peace, criss cross, applesauce. I sat at my desk with the mission statement taped to the wall over my head and I watched ShortnStupid bobble like a fish on a line, and I could hear the tap-tap-tap of Chronically Sick coming down the hall, and all I wanted to do was crawl under the desk because I felt shame for both of them; the phoniness of it all was just too much for me to bare. The scene went one clip too far: lies too embarrassing for me to hear; my face shriveled in disgust; down my shoulders did sink, and I remember wondering how those people had risen so high; why were the expectations so low?

The expectations are still no higher for all of them, but the standard is different for quite a few others; that's where the question of a secure life is raised, and why does it matter? It matters because the camera sees more than you think it does; the scope is much broader because the audience goes on forever, and ever. And once you expose the pretense for what it is, just empty pretense, the hate blows off of them like hot gas, their image deflated. You can take it on if you want, but a wise person would pass.

Me the Teacher/Writer

No doubt, I have been an audacious teacher/writer. Not only have I burned numerous flimsy bridges with my writing, but I have also managed to make the nebulous appear obvious. Maybe this is why districts, an outdated and secretive, protective and nondemocratic, typically top heavy structure, do nothing to support the teacher/writer. But recently the value of the teacher/writer is recognizable, districts are starting to loosen up, and the right to self-express is beginning to get some support. 

Obviously, the silencing of teachers, as they perform their duties and recognize ethical failures, has been a feature of the education reform movement. The promotion of highly unqualified people into leadership positions has been a frequent topic of the teacher/writer as reformers use excuses and business models to circumvent regulations and place nonprofessional educators into school environments. I wrote extensively about my 28-year old high school principal, my elementary educator instructional coach, and other nonprofessionals that had been placed in positions that should take a minimum of 7 years of teaching experience, and an advanced degree, to even begin training for. 

Many of my comments, my posts, and my opinions have been shared, and this ability to discuss and affect policy has helped me improve my writing and feel as if I am part of the movement to salvage relationships between administrations, teachers, and the public. But most importantly, the teacher/writer can help return the well-trained professional to the administrative role. Instead of trying to devalue the teacher currency and create an intellectual deficit, districts are beginning to recognize the importance of ethical and responsible leadership.

For example, I feel as if I am shortchanged as a teacher if my instructional coach has not earned his/her stripes in the classroom. Someone that has been teaching no longer than myself should not be placed in a leadership role. Teachers, in their writings, complain about unethical behavior stemming from unprofessional discussions--hallway discussions, gossip sessions, and misinformation that creates a hostile work environment. Having been a recipient of drama-queen-fabricated-nonsense myself, I can report about the devastating outcomes from a first-hand perspective. True professionals recognize the legal and ethical consequences of engaging in disparaging, negative behavior. 

I have witnessed a long parade of teachers come and go from the English classroom, many of them with degrees that have nothing to do with the teaching of literacy skills. I have been privileged to know the business communications major, the journalism major, the accountant, the foreign language guy, the business major, and a whole slew of other types of people that did not write themselves, and rarely cracked a book. Clearly, the teacher/writer is needed in public school. Clearly, the State of Texas at least, needs to find a way to better vet teachers and match them to appropriate positions. 

Just yesterday, I received a very disturbing email from my child's high school. He attends one of the state's most highly rated schools, and his principal is a true professional. But the district superintendent retired, and now a new one is in charge. The new superintendent appears as if he is trying to fix something that is not broken. He is asking students to spend valuable class time to fill out a survey about certain aspects of their school experience.

Some of the questions that have been revealed to parents concern school safety and other matters. But the full list of questions has not been released, and the email was posted after hours yesterday. You can opt your student out of the survey, and I am sure some parents will. Student surveys, even parent surveys, are often fraught with faulty data. The best way to enact change in a district is to attend the school board meeting, listen to concerns, and have your voice heard.

As a teacher, and a parent, I totally disagree with allowing students to answer these types of surveys. This is a useless waste of valuable instructional time. I can just imagine some of the answers...we are asking students (teenagers) to give adult like answers in an open forum. Think about that. Anyone that has a teenager, anyone that teaches teenagers, and anyone with any child development background can already speculate about the quality of this data.

And so, with that in mind, I am writing today about the teacher/writer experience. I am also trying to decide between two books: The Teacher-Writer by Christine M. Dawson, and Coaching Teacher-Writers by Troy Hicks et al. Until teacher/writers are nurtured and supported, institutions of higher education will continue to complain about the quality of student writers, the skills of literacy will continue to diminish, and English departments will continue to welcome nonprofessionals into their classrooms.



Thoreau on Intellectual Pursuit: Journal Entry Interpretation

    This piece serves as an allegory where the fruit metaphorically conveys a hermetical tenor. At first reading I really believed Thoreau was simply suggesting that we harvest only the fruits found in our area, simplifying life and minimizing our reliance on capitalism. On the surface the entry is seemingly very simple. The fruits are important, “not on account of their flavor merely, but the part they play in our education” (444). That lead me to believe that a student of nature should go out into the wild and pick berries off the bushes she/he finds in a forest close to the house. And on the surface that is the meaning, and I think most people would be satisfied with that reading.

    But if you simply analyze the three paragraph topic sentences then you can imagine an alternate and more meaningful metaphorical expression. His first topic sentence makes a declarative statement, “The value of these wild fruits is not in the mere possession or eating of them, but in the sight or enjoyment of them” (443). In his supporting sentences he further explains that it is “the spirit in which you do a thing which makes it interesting”, suggesting that the actual picking of the fruit, the way you do it, is the actual reward. This places the emphasis on some action, not the fruit itself.

    In his second topic sentence he illustrates some sense of fragility for the working class, “A man fits out a ship at a great expense and sends it to the West Indies with a crew of men and boys, and after six months or a year it comes back with a load of pineapples” (443). The tone of this sentence is rather rudimentary, almost boring. The beginning of this paragraph alludes to the stark life built upon a schedule of the investment of capital and the commercial products arriving at port. No intellectual enjoyment is suggested by this paragraph. Finally, in his third paragraph, he writes an imperative topic sentence, “Do not think that the fruits of New England are mean and insignificant, while those of some foreign land are noble and memorable”, adding value to the symbolic place, or stance one chooses to pose (444).

      This journal entry is about more than just picking fruit; it is a contrast between the boredom of life without intellectual enjoyment, as to the freedom and inspiration found in literary pursuit. The fruits are books, and the picker is a reader, and the disenfranchised are the souls without time to build an insightful and self-actualized, educated soul. I suggest reading this journal entry, and more, from Thoreau's annotated edition, I to Myself, to expand your understanding about literature, and help other people (such as your students or friends) grab more meaning from life.

Thoreau, Henry David, and Jeffrey S. Cramer. I to Myself: An Annotated Selection from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau. New Haven: Yale UP. 2012. pp. 443, 44


Thoreau’s Slavery in Massachusetts: Today’s Journalism and Politics


            Any true Thoreauvian would already have made note of some of the interesting parallels between today’s social problems, and the contemptuous tone of Slavery. Not only that, any bona fide scholar would probably not even find these parallels noteworthy. But me ensconced in my Thoreauvian passions, busily kissing the cover of Walden and wondering why I never noticed the strange Transcendental past creeping up on the horrifying present, simply can’t repress my excitement and shared anger.

            I just love what he says about the torrid state of journalism and the witless readership, and I couldn’t agree more, especially when I think about a certain, local, education reporter, “And as they live and rule only by their servility, and appealing to the worst, and not the better nature of man, the people who read them are in the condition of the dog that returns to his vomit” (188). He is spot-on with this description and its garish imagery, its humorous undertones.

            This is why I abstain from the local rag, but sometimes buy a sweat-covered copy from the homeless man on the corner. My son and I hand over our 4 bucks, throw the mess on the floorboard, and stow it quickly in the recycle bin without ever taking it from the garage to the house. But just like Thoreau, “When I have taken up this paper with my cuffs turned up, I have heard the gurgling of the sewer through every column” (188).

            Finally, just a little bit of shared fear about the upcoming election. Today I saw a cute online post that read “Out of 318million people this is all we could come up with?” Underneath the caption it had a couple of very unflattering pictures of Clinton and Trump. If you read the first full paragraph of page 190 without getting chills, then you are simply not paying attention:

“The amount of it is, if the majority vote the devil to be God, the minority will live and behave accordingly, and obey the successful candidate, trusting that some time or other, by some Speaker’s casting vote, perhaps, they may reinstate God. This is the highest principle I can get out of or invent for my neighbors. These men act as if they believed that they could safely slide down hill a little way—or a good way—and would surely come to a place, by and by, where they could begin to slide up again” (190).

I think it’s safe to say that we are almost at the bottom of the hill, and it is pretty hard to slide back up. This isn’t the right forum for a complete breakdown on how we managed to slide down this far, but every voter is aware of what is happening, at least in some sense.

            This brings me to a slightly mystical, but relevant, and slowly developing, belief about the Transcendentals. We know of the soul/mind connection to the past via language, specifically ancient texts, and how Thoreau believed this was somehow supernatural i.e. God. Now we are doing a close reading of Thoreau, and we are finding ourselves on every page. I think if we possessed the intellect to truly understand this gracious and all-consuming connection between the actual words of the past and the scary present, then we too would be Transcendental. All of these many years later, Thoreau continues to make his point, truly Transcendent.

Thoreau, Henry David, and Lewis Hyde. The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau. New York: North Point, 2002. Print.

Walden, Economic Injustice, and the Commercialization of American Society

The Ponds is my favorite Walden chapter because Thoreau is writing from his heart. He isn’t trying to impress anyone with his extensive vocabulary, his high GRE score, or his third-person-passive-voice-boring-sentence structure. He isn’t some disengaged Ivy League scholar speaking from the pages of a journal article, a journal article that nobody really cares about. He sounds a bit like me, totally sick of social injustice. The following is one of my favorites: 

“Some skin-flint, who loved better the reflecting surface of a dollar, or a bright cent, in which he could see his own brazen face: who regarded even the wild ducks which settled in it as trespassers; his fingers grown into crooked and horny talons from the long habit of grasping harpy-like; --so it is not named for me. I go not there to see him not to hear of him; who never saw it, who never bathed in it, who never loved it, who never protected it, who never spoke a good word for it, nor thanked God that he had made it” (189). 

I enjoy analyzing literature from a Marxist perspective. This piece embodies everything I despise about human nature, greed in particular. It encompasses a wide range of unethical behaviors, the type of behaviors that I am privy to, those happening behind the scenes, those pathetic political maneuvers. This little excerpt is heavily contemptuous of arrogance, and while I read it, I am cheering Thoreau on. 

Put my personal, Marxist, and petty political concerns aside, and expand this paragraph into a community scandal, such as the naming of an 18million dollar high school football field. Of course, just like the prostitutes they are, a commercial entity will pay to put their signage on the field. Us parents were asked whether or not we thought the naming rights should be sold, but, of course, that decision had already been made long before the survey hit the inbox. I can remember a time when nothing was named after a corporation, simply nothing. We didn’t have a Minute Maid Park, or an NRG Stadium, and somehow places were named in some meaningful way.

We are reminded of the destructive and deformative nature of greed when Thoreau writes “his fingers grown into crooked and horny talons from the long habit of grasping harpy-like” suddenly produces an uncomfortable, but familiar, mental image. His depiction emphasizes the unattractive nature of greed, while punctuating the importance of how something is named in conjunction with how the naming process affects the overall enjoyment of that space.

The naming of a public space should never be associated with some corporate entity—it reduces everything in its shadows to some cheap marketing strategy. I'm not against small business advertising at a game, or having the odd Coca Cola sign around. I am talking about the insidious way that corporations control us, and how Thoreau innocently raises this modern ethical question.

 Thoreau, Henry David, and Jeffrey S. Cramer. Walden. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2006. Print.


"Summer Vacation?" Whatever!!!

            Saying good-bye to “summer vacation” hurts, and it’s ever more painful when your precious time and money has been stolen by a greedy and selfish landlord, who is by nature a sniveling coward. The expense and time spent moving wiped out an entire month of our “summer” life, and now we are in a better house, under the dominion of a normal landlord, but the inconvenience and the pain continues.

            Saturday morning was spent on the phone negotiating with ATT, because they have such an ineffective and unprofessional customer service department that the left hand is literally in the dark about what the right hand is doing. If you move service, then God help you! Expect double charges, charges for service you didn’t receive, and expect to sit on hold with your telephone—pack a sandwich, because you will spend hours explaining when you moved, how you moved, when your service began, and the details of your original deal. You will be expected to know dates, times, when your installation crew arrived, what issues they faced, and how much time they spent at the “box” untangling wires. Get ready, because even though the customer service person will make promises, your problem is not solved. When your bill comes, with its accompanying overcharges, you’re back on hold, waiting for another round of frustrating nonsense, screaming into the phone at the stupidest electronic secretary in all of the digital kingdom.

            Rather than feeling rested after this summer experience, I am just plain, old exhausted. Last week I completed 30 hours of training for my district, and tomorrow I head back to work. I’m not hosting any students for two more weeks, but I’m still required to attend meeting after meeting. On top of that, my grad studies continue in a rapid rotation of payments, books, papers, and lectures. Today I finish working with Walden, and last month it was 18th century thinkers, and before that it was composition and twentieth century novelists, but, sadly, my electronic bibliography manager still occupies an unused computer tab because I haven’t had the time to complete the 50-page tutorial. Meanwhile, the lonely hours spent doing research are wasted in a sea of expensive, printed journal articles that are almost impossible to organize; a growing stack of obscure books are now occupying precious shelf space, spaces that require constant dusting. And while moving to please the greedy money muncher, much of the best stuff accidentally marched off into the recycling bin.

            This is my summer, a summer that should be toasted with a bitter brew, after a long period of mourning.


Thoreau on Writing

    In this second part of my journal analysis, I would like to examine how Thoreau might have been trying to inspire future writers. Because he was a prolific writer, and because his art was so well-developed, I believe that in certain journal entries he was writing metacognitively in order to instruct others. He almost sounds like a writing teacher in his entry of 4 September 1851:

“Be greedy of occasions to express your thought. Improve the opportunity to draw analogies. There are innumerable avenues to a perception of the truth. Improve the suggestion of each object however humble, however slight and transient the provocation” (95).

When we take each sentence to itself, and then we apply the advice to our own time and place, we realize he is talking about the importance of not just figurative language, but raw detail…even details that pertain to what we assume is a triviality. It’s excellent advice for writers of all levels, and it makes me wonder what kind of positive comments and suggestions he would take the time to put on a student paper.

He talks about developing theme in his journal entry of 18 October 1856:

“My work is writing, and I do not hesitate, though I know that no subject is too trivial for me, tried by ordinary standards; for, ye fools, the theme is nothing, the life is everything. All that interests the reader is the depth and intensity of the life excited. We touch our subject but by experience, or our interest in it, rests on us by a broader or narrower base. That is, man is all in all, Nature nothing, but as she draws him out and reflects him. Give me simple, cheap, and homely themes” (288).

I believe he is trying to advise the writer about character development when he says, “All that interests the reader is the depth and intensity of the life excited.” He could be referring to his own sense of self, and how he wants his own characterization understood, he could be referring to any writer, on any characterization…it is the “depth” and the “intensity” of a character that makes us fall in love with it for whatever its faults or virtues. “Give me simple, cheap, and homely themes” could refer to anything we experience in contemporary entertainment, from reality shows, to metal music. The themes are in essence, cheap, simple, and in some cases shockingly homely.

Finally, as an educator, I value the power of reflection, and the lack of false drama and overdone hyperbole. In his entry of 28 March 1857, Thoreau discusses reflection in his own stylish way:

“Often I can give the truest and most interesting account of any adventure I have had after years have elapsed, for then I am not confused, only the most significant facts surviving in my memory. Indeed, all that continues to interest me after such a lapse of time is sure to be pertinent, and I may safely record all that I remember” (311).

The best stories are told over and over again, orally. I am sure Thoreau was able to flesh out much of his thematic genius by visiting and recounting details with his various friends and family members. His thoughts and stories grew in value over time, and he wants future writers to have an awareness of how much of writing takes place away from the desk.

If we aren’t sharing these insights with our students, then we should be. Thoreau’s thoughts on his art are certainly worth learning.

Thoreau, Henry D. I to Myself. Ed. Jeffrey S. Cramer. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 207.



What My Life is Like Now that I'm in Grad School

Thank you God, I was accepted into grad school at a nice, big, Texas college last fall. I started my classes in January, and now my life has totally changed. I am no longer bored at night, and I love my classes (I'm taking two). I took composition theory as an undergrad, but now I am taking it at the graduate level, and it is my favorite class of all time. I am learning so much about teaching writing, and I am truly enjoying my research. 

I have written so many papers since the beginning of the year, I can't even remember them all. When I wrote to the university, I told them that my goal was to improve my own composition and to help my students. I feel like my "academic' writing has already improved dramatically. I have some really good samples that I can show my advanced students, and I am no longer queasy when teaching format, style, and research methods. It is shocking how much I am now remembering about my undergrad education, and I am so thankful for the great professors that I had at my old school. Not only that, I feel like my new school is an awesome match for my old school. I was well prepared!

If I have any complaints at all about my school, it's that they use an older version of MLA than what I am used to; and sometimes I still get confused about how to turn in my papers electronically; but other than that, I am just grateful for this wonderful opportunity.

My literature class is just awesome. I am a little disappointed with some of my fellow students because they rarely want to discuss what we are reading, but I can hardly shut up. For example, we read Nella Larsen's short novel, Passing. I would never have read that on my own. It is fabulous. Set in Harlem during the renaissance, it is deeply moving and even surprising. Then I read Faulkner's Light in August. Well, now that is a book worth reading. Instead of the typical heroic figures you expect from Faulkner, you get something quite's almost an insulting statement on southern life. Then, I read Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding, a story about a twelve-year old girl, so realistic it just captures all of the angst tweens experience, undoubtedly a work of art.

This has been an exciting and fulfilling new year for me. I love pursuing my Master of Arts in English, and I know this was the right choice for me. So now you know one of the reasons why I have neglected my blogging. But I think I can start again, and keep my Tweet Critique going. It's hard to believe that I haven't created a post since August. Watch for your Tweet Critique....or just watch for another happy post!

The Drama Queen (poetic elegy)

Another insipid day inspired by abusive lips

that never stop moving

Flapping and flapping like gull wings

jetting across a blank scarlet sky 

of hot southern doom.

Humiliated and forlorn, limping to the car,

another skipped duty across a schedule 

of moronic mediocrity and endless talk

coupled with lips smirking and snarling over

cheap take out food that giggles and jiggles

down to the gullet to

eventually settle on hips that are big

Big like the eyes rolling.