It’s the last day of February, and I’m not sorry to see it end. It’s been a wretched month filled with bad weather, slippery roads, way too many snow days off school, and an illness that left me coughing and drained of energy for much of the month. It’s also been mostly sun-less, which doubles the dreariness.
But reading has again been the saving grace. No matter how cold it was, how hard the wind was blowing outside, how bad the hacking cough and exhaustion was, books were always there. Contemporary fiction by Anne Tyler, several kids’ books, John Grisham’s newest novel, a book about movies, the history of Faygo pop, and a couple oldies-but-goodies. When I couldn’t sleep at night, I listened to an audiobook on my iPod in the dark. These books carried me away from winter, and transported me to other places and times. In addition to that, I did some reading online about the future of optical drives, and the history of taxation in our country.
Books helped me get through the month of February. Now I am ready to turn the page, and step into the March…
When you read a book of fiction, you generally have to read all of it to have a satisfactory experience. But with many non-fiction books, you can read just a section of the book, choosing the part that interests you. This book (by Readers’ Digest) goes decade by decade, and just gives the highlights from each time period.
I chose the first decade – 1900 to 1909. It was fun to read, not boring like the history books in school. It didn’t get overly detailed, and each page had multiple pictures to make it more real to the reader. I read about 45 pages, and understood the decade much better than I had before. There were so many great things that happened and developed during that decade:
– Electricity, lightbulbs, and telephones started appearing in homes.
– 9 million immigrants moved into the US; most were from southern or eastern Europe.
– Our country had more than half of the railroad tracks in the world (193,000 miles)!
– There was no income tax – imagine that!
– X-ray machines were being used in medical treatment.
– Scientists discovered that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitos, and epidemics
could be curbed by exterminating the insects. The last major U.S. epidemic was in 1906.
– The NAACP was formed in 1909 to advocate for the rights of Negroes/black persons.
– The first nickelodeon (a theatre that showed early attempts at movie-making) started in
1905, expanded to 1,000 of them by the following year, and to ten thousand in 1910.
– In 1900, 1.7 million children were working. Some 284,000 of them were in coal mines or
factories, up to 12 hours a day. Child labor was not yet illegal.
– Thanks to the 1906 Pure Food And Drug Act, medicine containers had to list what it
contained. Snake oil cures were revealed to contain mostly alcohol.
– Psychology was in vogue. It was socially acceptable to have “a case of nerves” or
“brain fatigue”. Freud became popular.
One thing that really stood out to me was this:
Literacy among Americans grew to over 90% by 1910 – fantastic!
So don’t be hesitant about picking up a thick non-fiction book like this one, and reading just a part of it. I’m glad I did, and will do more of this in the future!
I have not been reading much lately. Perhaps I have hit the saturation point, the point at which I have found and read most of the books to fill my lifetime reading well. There should be something that catches my attention, some book that lures me in, shouldn’t there? But aside from a biography that I am slowly working my way through, there is nothing appealing on the reading horizon.
So I have turned to a different endeavor: organizing the family pictures and videos, and putting them into a storyline on DVDs so that we can remember the highlights of our life. It’s tedious work, but it needs to be done. 2014 went well. 2015 went well. But yesterday I worked all day on a Final Cut Pro project for 2016 that seemed to be going well – until I burned it onto DVD. The entire movie was wrong, wrong, wrong – stretched sideways in some clips and shrunk down in size on other segments! What went wrong? I tried reading the help section, but the directions given to correct the problem in the project didn’t work. If yanking out my hair and screaming at the top of my lungs would help, I would do it.
Maybe today I’ll just put aside the video project and go back to the biography…
I have been obsessed with reading ever since before I could actually read. As a preschooler, my parents often observed me holding a book and “reading” the story aloud to my toys. When I learned to read, I took off like a rocket, devouring longer children’s books and quickly moving on to full-length hardcover books. Then came real adulthood, with things like jobs, parenthood, and volunteer opportunities, which rendered me unable to read as much as in childhood. But I still take time nearly every day to read for the sheer pleasure of it. In that sense, I am always reading.
Last night I chose to read one of the little 25-cent science fiction magazines I bought at the last library book sale – “Asimov’s Science Fiction” from September of 1982. In it, Isaac Asimov recalls how he used to read the small amount of science fiction that was available in those days. Then he began writing his own science fiction, with little time left for casual reading. When the science-fiction field exploded with new authors, it became impossible to keep up with all the new books being written. Mr. Asimov said:
“The result is that, since 1960 or so, I have been able to read only a small portion of the science fiction that has been published, and I have been falling steadily farther and farther behind. So it has come about that I am no longer an expert in the field of SF. This, however, is not a situation unique to myself. No one, these days, can keep up with the field, or would even think of trying to do so, unless it were his job – unless he were a full-time science-fiction critic, collector, or anthologist. Could you do it if you have a job, or other interests?”
No one can keep up with the books which have been published in the past 50 or 60 years. We are living in extraordinary times. In the history of the world, there has never been so much reading material from which to choose. It can be frustrating to realize that you will never have the time to read every book that grabs your attention. But each day has at least a little sliver of time to read something, and that is one of life’s most enjoyable gifts.
This is a masterful book in which the author describes his life as a young boy growing up in Oceanside, California with his parents. His father was a man with a fiery temper and a reputation of being a gangster, but also with an undying loyalty to his family and his heritage. His mother was beautiful and loving, and always teaching her children about Jesus and the saints. His father bought a ranch when Victor was very young, and that is where the book takes place.
Victor thought going to school would be fun when he started kindergarten. Instead, the first thing he learned in school was that he was considered inferior and stupid because of his Mexican ancestry. Both the teacher and the other students made life miserable for him. He was teased, bullied, slapped around and beaten up, and no one seemed to care. To make matters worse, he was having a terrible time learning the alphabet and simple words.
Things were just as bad when he got to first grade, second grade, and third grade. He was forced to endure the humiliation of repeating third grade because he still was unable to read. His parents tried several different schools, but it was the same wherever he went. No reading, but a lot of bullying. It was not until Victor was an adult with children of his own that he was diagnosed with the most severe form of dyslexia.
It was hard to read of such blatant racism and prejudice. I wanted to ask what on earth was wrong with those teachers and principals, that they tolerated the abuse Victor was suffering. No child should ever have to go through what Victor went through. There was a fair amount of anger and swearing in this book, but it would have been difficult to give an accurate portrayal of Victor’s family life without the language. There were also tender moments, when Victor’s father shared some very profound thoughts about forgiveness. Although it was a rough story with raw emotion, it was a camera into the soul of a person who has battled the devil of prejudice and racism, and won.
It’s the perfect Saturday morning. Having had a full night of sleep, I awoke to bright sunshine streaming into the kitchen. What better way to start off the day than with a steaming mug of coffee, sunshine bouncing off orange walls, and a book in the hand! As my husband and son wandered past and saw what I was reading, it set off a discussion about the story. It was a biography, but some of it seemed exaggerated, I said. Did these things really happen? Was the father a mobster, or did he just embellish certain things? As my husband and my son told me what they remembered from reading the book (as well as one of the author’s other books), the thought struck me: we are an unusual family.
Yes, we are unusual – maybe even what some people would call a little weird. The three of us have actually all read the same book. In fact, one other son has read the book too. So that makes four people in our family who have picked up “Burro Genius” and read it. What are the chances of that?
It occurred to me that part of the joy of reading is being able to talk about what you’ve read with other readers of the same book – sharing what you liked or disliked, what struck you as odd, and what part of the book mirrored your own life or someone else’s. No wonder I love reading aloud to my grandson about Ralph the mouse and his motorcycle, or co-reading “Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer” with my granddaughter. Some things are just better when shared with someone else.
It’s that time of the year – the Christmas season – when many people totally abandon reading. Not enough time, they say. Too much to do. Can’t concentrate when I have so many things on the mind. My suggestion: listen to audio-books while you work!
I’ve been listening to the latest Mitford novel in the kitchen while I work on hand-sewing projects. It feels like visiting with an old friend. Most of the characters from Jan Karon’s earlier novels are in the book (some have died over the years). There’s Father Tim, who is fully retired now, his artistic wife, and their grown son Dooley, who has married and is now a licensed veterinarian. The small town of Mitford has the same favorite places – the diner, local grocery store, the Cavanaugh house, etc. The book makes you feel like you’re back home after being away for a while.
I also listen while making supper and folding laundry. There’s just nothing like having a good book read to you while you do your hands-on work. You can listen on an old-fashioned CD player (yes, they are still sold) with library CDs, listen on your computer, or download books to your phone through apps like Overdrive or Hoopla. The advantage to listening on your phone is that you can just tuck it in your pocket and the story follows you wherever you go.
Give audio-books a try, and see if they keep your love of books going until things slow down enough to sit down with a physical book to read.