Preaching the Gospel of Reading

Evan Agostini / Getty Images file
Evan Agostini / Getty Images file

I just finished doing a run through of my presentation on Oprah’s Book Club that I’ve titled “Preaching the Gospel of Reading” (not exactly an original title considering all the essays on OBC that use variations on that title), practicing for the Wednesday morning presentation.  I finally found a clear, and I hope, engaging focus, connecting my interest in Oprah’s Book Club with the question of Why Literature STILL Matters.  And while my significant other, who patiently listened to me practice, praised my delivery and gave me only a few excellent suggestions at tightening up some sections, I’m sure he is a little biased.  I’m nervous as hell: why is it that the thought of speaking to my colleagues (and remember it’s early in the morning, so my very under-caffeinated colleagues) makes me sweat tears?

Anyway, I need another day to focus on my presentation (and, at the same time, somehow grade final research papers) but I’m looking forward to distilling some of those ideas here for feedback. 
In the meantime, I’ve gotten several requests from students in my literature class (Books That Cook!) this term for reading lists so that they can continue reading fiction over winter break. First, let me say how much that pleases me, but second, I just love such requests. I’ve been mulling over what sort of list to create for this particular class: one that continues with the theme of food fiction and women writers, but also takes them further.   Don’t worry: I’ll be posting that list here, too, someday soon.
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A Typical Academic Weekend: Frank, Oprah, Omar Sharif, Mrs. Frankweiler, and Me

It’s Sunday night and time to reflect on a weekend of reading, writing, and prepping for classes for the (thankfully abbreviated) week ahead.

It was one of those multitasking weekends that make me love my chosen career so please allow the almost cheery tone of this posting (knowing that next weekend I have many research paper drafts to review). 

I started this particular weekend on Thursday, cancelling classes and sleeping in after finally giving in to the night sweats and coughing that had been plaguing me for days.  After sending mass e-mails to the 50+ students I was standing up,  and the administrative assistant who would put notes on my classroom and office doors,  I fell back into a pre-menopausal sweat-filled sleep (with the dreams to match), more than making up for a night of no sleep. So I woke up semi refreshed and ready to work (in my sweats and with Yogi tea at my side).

The way I work is this: I lay out all of the projects I need to start or finish within a few days (in this case by Sunday night) and I work on one for a few hours until, needing a change of pace, I move on to another. This has both benefits and drawbacks. The benefits: I get everything I want to accomplish completed to the degree I need to, and I often make interesting connections between the various projects that may not occur if I were to attack them one at a time.  The drawbacks:  nothing feels quite done for days so I must be willing to suspend the need to feel that sense of satisfaction of a job well done for days at a time. 

For example, this weekend I needed to start and/or complete the following projects:

  • Prepare a short presentation on Diana Abu-Jaber’s novel Crescent, including a showing of scenes from Lawrence of Arabia, a film that is referred to in the novel-with a special appearance by Omar Sharif. Having missed class on Thursday, my hope is that students will finish the novel by Tuesday, and thus be ready to discuss it in its entirety. It’s my first time assigning the novel, which meant a lot of prep work but also the wonderful pleasures of hearing for the first time student reactions to and questions about it with each class. In fact, I received several “get well” e-mails from students in this class who also noted that they are “almost done” with the novel and can’t wait to see what happens with Sirine and Han. I scanned through the in class writing they had done on the first half of the novel, and was thrilled to see them engaging with the text in ways they didn’t do in September, and making connections with the other novels we have been reading. The result: a 6-slide Power Point presentation with links to Lawrence of Arabia, specifically the scenes with Omar Sharif and a list of discussion prompts that I don’t think I’ll need to get the discussion rolling on Tuesday.
  • Start reading either Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part time Indian or Loving Frank by Nancy Horan in preparation for a meeting I have in 2 weeks to discuss books that we are considering for our county’s community read project. The result: I couldn’t find Alexie’s book in the library or at any of the local bookstores, so I ordered it, and started reading Loving Frank. So far, at page 120, it’s a literary romance based on the true affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney that I struggle to put down: it’s quite addicting. Not sure about it as a community read book, however.
  • Type up notes on research I have been doing on Oprah’s Book Club and begin to organize it so it at least starts to look like a presentation I will be giving in 16 days. The result: I now have a 28 page outline-for a 30 minute talk. Lots of editing and shaping still to do…
  • Reflect upon blogging and the appeal of reading blogs by people we don’t know. This particular project is one of those personal interests that may, someday, morph into something more scholarly-not unlike the Oprah’s Book Club topic. The result: I started a blog and I’ve given it a title that echoes one of my favorite childhood books: From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.

So what connections did I make between all of these projects? Hmmm: the obvious topical connections would be contemporary fiction, popular culture, teaching literature and thinking and writing about it all.  The less obvious connections are still brewing in my head: in trying to formulate a clear analysis of how Oprah approaches contemporary fiction in her Book Club I, of course, thought about how I approach contemporary fiction in the classroom……

Alas, the rest of that idea is buried in my 28 page outline.