Sunday, August 19, 2007

A meme

From Dewey:

What are you reading right now? Lord Jim and The Three Roosevelts, for the most part. Just a small part for Tristram Shandy, which I like a lot more in concept than in reality. I'll probably start Death of a Salesman before the day's over.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that? Tessa Hadley's The Master Bedroom (just ordered, should be here tomorrow) or Andromeda Romano-Lax's The Spanish Bow (review copy).

What magazines do you have in your bathroom right now? A stack of Believer magazines, long ignored because I don't also keep reading glasses in the bathroom.

What’s the worst thing you were ever forced to read? My first job back in the workforce after staying home with the kids was scoring writing profiency tests. One midwestern state that I shall not name had evidently "taught" their third graders to write five paragraph essays in this manner: four sentences, A, B, C, D, in first paragraph; four sentences, B, C, D, A, in second paragraph; C, D, A, B and D, A, B, C in third and fourth; and back to A, B, C, D for a rehash in paragraph five. Four sentences copied over five times. The end.

The writing prompt called for a narrative on the funniest thing the kids had ever seen. The third graders wrote their, uh, stories in the essay format above. Oh, and one of the four sentences was usually a list of all the people who witnessed So-and-So slip in the mud or on the ice (the two funniest events that ever occurred in this nameless midwestern state) and a statement that this indeed was the funniest thing they had ever seen.

Let me tell you, I wanted everyone who'd mandated third graders write in such a robotic manner to slip in the mud and die.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone? I don't recommend one thing to just about everyone, because just about everyone I know isn't much of a reader or they read the types of things I don't, but I recommend Robin Hemley's memoir Nola to everyone I can. It's got spirituality for those who are into religion, and mental illness for those who are into crazy family stories, and plenty of writers writing for those who are into craft.

Admit it, the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don’t they? They kinda sorta have to since I work there.

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all? Gosh, just about anything I ever recommended for local book clubs--Lorrie Moore, Anne Tyler, E.M. Forster--turned out to be disliked by those in attendance. That's why I don't do book clubs anymore.

Do you read books while you eat? While you bathe? While you watch movies or TV? While you listen to music? While you’re on the computer? While you’re having sex? While you’re driving? While I'm eating. I'm not much of a multi-tasker.

When you were little, did other children tease you about your reading habits? The summer after third grade when my cousin came over from Ireland, she hid all my books. My mother and I found Misty of Chincoteague back behind the canning jars in the cabinet and Stormy, Misty's Foal in the laundry pile down in the basement weeks after she'd gone back to Dublin.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down? These days I'm more apt to stop reading a book in its final pages if the hour gets too late (say 9 or 10 pm) and resume reading it first thing in the morning because I know I'll miss a lot of the details. It's frustrating to have a brain that shuts off early, but there's not much I can do to change it. The last book I stayed up reading was Special Topics in Calamity Physics last October, but that was because I was jetlagged after the trip to Utah and couldn't sleep anyway.


  1. I have recommended The Seven Ages by Eva Figes to several people, who could not get past the first chapter, or the first few pages, so I hoard her to myself and feel superior.

  2. Never heard of her before, but the library has 11 of her books down in compact shelving. I'll be checking her out, zhoen. Thanks!

  3. Ha! Those proficiency tests sound like the papers from hell. The trouble is that I hear similar tales from TAs marking undergrad papers. (I am not looking forward to being a TA.)

    Yay for the Miller play. I've been thinking of rereading The Crucible after reading his Paris Review interview. It may as well be a first time read since I barely remember anything about it.

  4. What the heck???? I can sort of see if maybe ONE third grade teacher lost her mind and taught the kids that bizarre essay format. But all over the state?

    Someone, somewhere in my school district teaches the kids to RESTATE THE QUESTION for essay questions. I teach AP and the AP tests penalize you for restating the question. So I have quite a struggle to undo the mindset they have that it's essential. And it's not really anyone's fault, because I know they're teaching this because the state tests DO want the students to restate the question. So frustrating.

  5. Misty! After a family holiday on the Virginia shore and seeing the wild ponies or horses or whatever they were, my sister bought that book and read it incessantly for months. I would sneak reads whenever she wasn't at it.

    Re the Arthur Miller, I just saw an interview with him last night (an extra on a DVD of a John Huston film). A writer who could combine the political and the personal. I'll be interested to read anything you care to post on the Salesman..... wait, how odd, I'm literally just listening to NPR and there's a story on Arthur Miller and a son he had with his wife Inge Morath, who was institutionalized, having mental retardation. I guess it's news because Miller never spoke of him and yet was a writer who made the ills of society public. To be honest, I'm finding the report a little disgusting.

  6. I haven't read it yet (and I think I'll wait until after I reread Death of a Salesman), but here's a link to a Vanity Fair story about Miller and his son:¤tPage=all

    Re the proficiency tests: It was interesting how I'd come across a few (way too few) batches of papers where the schools obviously had not "taught" robot writing and the papers told stories of people falling in a much more natural style.

    In 6th grade my daughter had a teacher who was convinced mention of any sensory detail other than sight would automatically lower a student's score. I even went in and read the sample paper that had put that bee in her bonnet and tried to explain why that particular paper had received a low score, but her mind was already made up and I, with plenty of experience by then in instructing readers on how to score the tests, couldn't change it.

    I could usually predict what my kids' score would be on a proficiency test just by what they'd tell me on the drive home from school after they'd taken it. In 9th grade (an off-year, tests scored locally by the school system) R. wrote an essay on The Brothers Karamazov. We'd recently attended a series of lectures given by a Davidson College professor on the book, so I knew her essay would be top-notch. Well . . . she received a Non Scorable on it. Non Scorables usually go to kids who are totally off topic. Her teacher couldn't understand it--she'd have given her the top score on the paper--but she made a photocopy of the essay for me and I took to calling the Board of Education offices until I could finally find someone who was supposed to know how the papers were scored but of course this person didn't have a clue. She said she'd get back to me. . .

    Best I could figure, when the scorers flipped my daughter's paper over, and saw that she'd written two lines for every one line provided, they declared it a Non-Scorable for writing too much. Except the instructions didn't prohibit that (they just weren't supposed to write beyond the STOP command at the bottom of the page) so it wasn't proper for the scorers to do that to an on-topic paper.

  7. Thanks for the link! The interview on NPR was with the author so that will be interesting, in a gawky kind of way.

  8. I've also got a copy of The Spanish Bow. I'll be starting it today. I will be interested to see what you have to say. I'm not sure about it as I still don't have a good grasp on what it's about, but it can be fun to read a book when you don't know the plot.

  9. Matt, my copy had defective pages on 401 and 404. Are all your pages clear?

  10. I was also offered a copy of the Spanish Bow, but I declined as I was going a little crazy with readers copies--yet another distraction from the piles of books I already have going. What a naughty cousin by the way--She must have thought she was pretty cute.

  11. Oh dear, I hope those third graders from the unnamed Midwestern state weren't from Minnesota. Iowa, perhaps? We always like to make Iowa jokes here :)

  12. Not from Minnesota or Iowa and no one else had better ask me to narrow it down any more than that!

    Danielle, I thought The Spanish Bow sounded like the perfect fit for you! I'm surprised you turned it down.

  13. I hadn't noticed before but yes, both of those pages are very much screwed up. Some sort of printing problem...


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