Friday, October 12, 2012

Who Wants to "Smash" Virginia Woolf?

Books are not lame.  Books are not for “losers.”  This is what I have been desperately trying to convince my study hall students the whole year.  Many of them often waste their time in study hall, and tell me that they have “nothing” to do.  The school I’m currently employed at does this truly wonderful thing; every Wednesday they spend the last half hour of the day doing recreational reading.  Even the staff is expected to just sit and read a book of choice during this time.  It’s part of the district’s effort to promote literacy in youth.  So, when the students claim they have absolutely nothing to do during study hall, I suggest that they bring their “Wednesday Books” with them.  I typically get the same response: “Books are lame.  Only losers read books.” 

When I hear this, I die a little bit inside.  But, while doing that, I also try fervently to convince the students otherwise – that books are incredible, amazing, compelling – and, furthermore, being well-read makes you really sexy.  So far, they are not buying into my beliefs.  I try to convert them by spouting out multiple quotes about the wonders of reading, which I have committed to memory.  One of my most repeated quotations is as follows: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies; the man who never reads lives only one.”
I shared this quote with two male freshmen students today.  One returned, “What the hell? That doesn’t even make sense.”  The other just looked at me, confusion clearly written all over his face.  I explained that a well-written book possesses the ability to make you feel transported to the same time and place of the characters – from Puritan Salem with Arthur Miller to St. Petersburg, Missouri in the 1840s with Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Mr. Mark Twain, and then all the way to the magical, mystical Middle-earth of Tolkien. 

“Yeah, I’m not buying that,” repeated the same male who initially spoke, while the other remained dumbfounded.  “They’re just stupid pieces of paper.” 

“No, no,” I continued with unqualified determination.  “Why, last week I was able to travel to Mumbai, India with the author Shilpi Somaya Gowda.  Earlier this week, I felt like I was right there with the young character Rennie when her small Colorado town became the home of a Japanese internment camp in Sandra Dallas’ novel Tallgrass.  And currently, I’m getting to travel to the past and spend a little bit of time hanging out with the author Virginia Woolf and her artist sister Vanessa Bell in a book by Susan Sellers.”
I  was hoping I had them with this.  Instead, the boy who had previously been mute, offered this: “Hey. I know a chick named Vanessa.”  Then he nudged his buddy in the side and said, “Dude, you know her too.”

“Oh, that Vanessa,” the friend offered, “She’s hot.  I’d smash that.” 

With that, I simply turned and walked away.  I would have to save my raving recommendation of reading for another day.  But you should all know this: Books kick ass!  Winners read.


  1. Try again. Your most convincing line was your last: Winners read. Kids are impressed by famous and powerful people and the task is to point out that winners and successful people read. I applaud your effort.

  2. My English teacher self weeps with you, and I have had parallel conversations with my students. What is even worse though, is I once taught 5th grade and SSR/ silent/ independant reading was forbidden. Seriously.

  3. I weep at how with the lack of reading Spelling has Disintegrated because no one reads anymore. Also I've noticed people's vocabulary's shrinking more and more. Maybe I'm just a pessimist.