Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Sound of Summer Running

One of my favorite instrumental recordings, the first track of an Allison Brown CD, is called, "The Sound of Summer Running," a title taken from or at least shared by a Ray Bradbury short story. What struck me when I heard it first was how that melody sounded just like what the title implied.

As a teacher working on a nine-month contrast, I enjoy the luxury afforded few other professions, the chance to live my life on a permanent schoolchild's schedule, a year that begins not in January but in August. I know better than to take those three months for granted either. Although I may not be teaching during that time, I am renewing, refreshing, and preparing for the classes that will greet me each fall when I return. Fortunately for me, as an English teacher much of that preparation includes reading, one of the things I like to do best. By mid-July then I begin to hear what the poet called "time's winged chariot" right over my shoulder--or at least the sound of summer running.

I easily read twice as many books in the summer months as I read in the other months of the year, but I don't begin to check off all the ones I intended. I start with my "to read" list, but I encounter other readers or reviews and the list changes. Or I finish one book and the one I intended to read next doesn't feel right. I am a tedious list maker, though, so I record each book I finish on my wall calendar in the laundry room, transferring the list to a book in January.

Over the last week, I've realized that my reading list doesn't necessarily look like what I expected. I did finish the audiobook The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black (read by Timothy Dalton, with whom I fell in love in the ninth grade when he played Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights). The second in my swan reading phase (see previous post), this one was an interesting tale set in Ireland, something of a murder mystery.

Meanwhile, though, I've also read a book passed along by my youngest sister and recommended by her daughter, a rising sixth grader, Irene Latham's Leaving Gee's Bend, a story set in Alabama of a young sharecropper's daughter who takes risk to try to bring a doctor to help her mother. The girl loves quilting, and the story was inspired by the Gee's Bend quilts that hand in the Whitney Museum. Although I'm not sure when or where, I believe I have seen some of the quilts. I started reading the book about 2 a.m. this past week, during a phase of sleeplessness, and I read it straight through.

I've also picked up Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows: This Is Your Brain Online. Carr's article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" appeared no long ago in the Atlantic Monthly, and this book follows the brain study he began there. This was another recommendation by NCTE president Carol Jago, and it motivated me to take a week off from Facebook. Carr shows that internet has not just changed what we know, but how we know it--and indeed how we think and act.

I have long realized that my tendency to multitask may be as much a vice as a virtue. Carr is reinforcing the idea and explaining how and why. I'm actually pleased that I am as engrossed in the book as I am, not usually a big reader of nonfiction, but I find that especially with the computer turned off and in a different room from the television, I want to keep reading. One most interesting part for me has been his discussion of how print text had such a tremendous impact on human beings. This is a book I want to pass along, but perhaps to a different set from those to whom I sometimes recommend titles.

I'm also listening to Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I have another of his books, Blue Like Jazz, which I haven't actually read, though it was highly recommended by one reader I trust--my daughter. This book, nonfiction, his usual genre, looks at his life--everyone's life--as a story being written. The book has implications for how to live or how to write. The book would be shelved in the Christian reading section, but it's subtle with no attempt to proselytize.

The other nonfiction book I've finished this month, which I mentioned earlier, was Mary McDonagh Murphy's Scout, Atticus, and Boo, her reflection on To Kill a Mockingbird as it reaches its fiftieth anniversary, along with those of many different people she interviewed--Mary Badley, who played Scout in the movie, Anna Quindlen, Tom Brokaw, James McBride, Rosanne Cash, Wally Lamb, Rick Bragg, and many others.

To say I have a minor obsession with the book is hardly an overstatement. I am ready to read it again, this time as a "family book club." I've been reading Scout, Atticus and Boo by Mary McDonagh Murphy. She not only writes about her own response to the book but also interviews a variety of people--authors Wally Lamb and Anna Quindlen, singer Rosanne Cash, journalist Tom Brokaw, and even Mary Baddley, who played Scout in the film. She said she wondered whether the many different people she interviewed would have something new to say. They did. Most discuss why Nelle Harper Lee never wrote another boo and mention with which character they most identify. The issue of racism in the book is also almost always discussed. Other than that, everyone has a different take, a different memory of reading the book, a different attachment to the novel.

Tonight I'll meet with my book club to discuss Anna Quindlen's Every Last One, a book that affected me so that I can't wait to talk about it but which I am reluctant to discuss in depth here because I don't want to be a spoiler. As always, we'll decide what to read together next. Almost always, we come away deciding to read something I hadn't anticipated. That's what happens to my summer reading list too. Meanwhile, over my shoulder I hear it--the sound of summer running.


Amber O said...

I just finished Every Last One also. I almost always love Anna Quindlen (no exception this time) but boy was that not what I was expecting. Anyway, think of me when you finally get around to Blue Like Jazz. The chapter entitled Romance is the one that made me fall in love with DM many years ago. Up until recently, I was still planning on marrying him, but he used "you're" instead of "your" in two recent blogs, and that's a deal breaker for me.

Nancy said...

Amber, he also has trouble with pronoun case. Maybe he's figured out how to edit his life but needs you to proofread it.

Jessie Carty said...

love reading your summer reading recaps. What readings are you assigning to your expository writing students? Just want to compare notes. I'm going with a chapbook for the literary analysis part and the rest I'm assigning are the essays in the book and then a few online. I'm sure I'll build better material as I go along :)