Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Connecting texts

To date this summer -- or what qualifies for summer around here -- I have spent an unseemly amount of time reading. Professional books, adult fiction and nonfiction, young-adult and middle-grade texts, the occasional graphic novel. My June reading ladder, arranged in rungs from hardest to easiest, would look like the image at right. This slice is about how two in-process reads I'm juggling collided yesterday.

I'm about 200 pages into The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. That novel's intimidating heft had been shelf squatting for a year or more despite a friend's recommendation that had sparked me to buy a second-hand copy in the first place. I finally dove in last week after seeing a trailer for its movie adaptation due this September.

One of its blurbs calls The Goldfinch "Dickensian," and I do hear echoes of Pip from Great Expectations in the suddenly orphaned Theo's tenuous life just starting to open into strange, new opportunities. I also see fun-house reflections of To Kill a Mockingbird, thanks probably to Theo as grown-up narrator looking back with heightened awareness (and vocabulary) on his childhood. One evident difference: The Goldfinch is so far set in New York's bustling cityscape, little like Maycomb's small-town South.

Meantime, I'm also reading 180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, about how these two educators plan and carry out a year of teaching together at their respective schools on each side of the country. One passage sparked for me. In it, Gallagher and Kittle unpack the focus of a lesson that aims to "show students the questions we ask as we encounter confusion with a book we pick up for the first time." Why does this matter? The co-authors explain:
We model why reading is hard at the start of any book. Students who frequently abandon books are often stuck in this hard place. They struggle with ambiguity. They find reading confusing because they never get past the work required to enter a book. It helps students understand why a reader must focus attention more closely in the beginning. (51-52)
Their words neatly sum up where I've been in The Goldfinch, swimming in ambiguity, just starting to see the characters and how they connect, puzzling over where the tale may turn next, making predictions of shaky accuracy.

Writing this blog helps me realize the many layers of reading experiences, the many readerly moves, that underpin my time with this latest text. That realization reminds me of a third piece of reading in which I'm dabbling -- an online sequence from the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators, in preparation for a formal workshop next month. This introduction's look at dyslexic brains has me wondering about the story of how my own brain has been wired in a way that has me bellied up to this summer's reading banquet.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Another fine mess

The calculus that ran through my head as I rattled up to the creek crossing on my mountain bike:
  1. Keep going; it doesn't look that deep.
  2. Stop! It looks muddy and your tires are going to get stuck.
  3. See those rocks and grass tufts poking up? You could probably hopscotch across those carrying your bike.
I dismounted to try that third path, grabbing the bike frame under the down tube and hosting the seat over my shoulder. My first steps proved sure from one flat rock to a grassy micro-island; my confidence bubbled, not ready for the next unreliable rock -- which sunk under my weight and tilted. The stiff sole of my right bike shoe skidded into the cold flow. Utterly off balance, I let the bicycle go as I tipped forward. I ended up elbow deep in the water, hands braced in sucking muck, saving me from a full-flopped swim.

I picked up myself and my bicycle and slopped to the other side, ruing the wet worst-case outcome of my choice. That data I factored into subsequent crossings where I tromped right through the water, soaking my feet and nothing else.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Heller high water

An emulation of author Peter Heller, based on my reading The River last week and getting caught out

A group of three volunteer coaches gathered around a patio table. The wind sometimes pushed drapes from the shade awning into us. I sat with my back to the mountains in the west. From where the weather often came.

One coach said, "You ride your bike here?"

"I did."

He said, "Looks like a storm."

I twisted in my chair to look where he was. Hulls of dark clouds cruised low off the foothills. I thought of the weather forecast I had read that morning. Zero percent chance of rain. "It's okay," I said.

Talk at the table resumed for another 20 minutes. We then ambled to the door and the driveway. Thunder grumbled.

"You want to stay a few minutes? 'Til this passes?" the host said.

"Or I can give you a ride in my car as far as I go," the third coach said.

I said, "Thanks, it's alright. The storm is north, so I'll take a road to the south. Go around." I put on my rain jacket.

The thunder re-tuned itself when I was half way home. Sharp cracks. A few drops fell, but they weren't bothersome. "Still on the edge of it," I said to myself.

The rain spotted my glasses and made it harder to see. Lightning strobed and percussive thunder chased it. My bike tires sizzled in the water coursing along the shoulder into storm drains.

I pedaled into a parking lot on the right. A building with eaves, probably a church. Sanctuary. I rolled up underneath and bumped my bike across the small tan rocks against the building. I leaned the bike. I pressed my back to the still-warm bricks. I waited.

The rain intensified. It crashed down the gutters. It cascaded off the roof. I was on the windward side of the building. Gusts flicked rain at me. Staying here for the duration of the storm would be foolish.

I noticed a large picnic shelter across the parking lot. I pedaled there into a large dry space.

I watched keenly to the west. I saw the back edge of the clouds low on the horizon. The sun's eye pierced through beneath this nimbus brow. I waited still. The rain continued, slackened; the umber landscape goldened.

I turned east. I might've thought, Could be a show.

A full rainbow arced across the dark sky's canvas. A second fainter one rippled upwards. I reached for my camera.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Word play

As Thursday's last hour winds down, Dr. Jacques Bailly's monotone expounds
that this unprecedented bee must conclude after 20 rounds.

All remaining spellers who survive the bleary-eyed, late-night ambience,
the emcee says, will potentially be named champions.

Rishik thus shuffles to the mic where he faces 'auslaut,'
making quick work of his final word, raising his fists as in a boxing bout.

Erin, next, feels "great to be here," dances, fist pumps when she hears 'erysipelas;'
she easily dispatches what, to mortal spellers, would belittle us.

Saketh weathers all four pronunciations of 'bougainvillea'
and jumps back to his seat, first champion ever from Marylandia.

Shruthika stalks the microphone warily, settles her shoulders to 'aiguillette;'
her smile breaks like sunrise across her face once she spells it, no sweat.

Sohum's next, all hands-in-jacket-pockets ho hum; he gets 'pendeloque,'
licks his lips, and spews the spelling before any time falls off the clock.

Abhijay stands on verge of hyperventilating as what paddles up is 'palama.'
He gives three letters, pauses, asks three more questioningly, wins, with drama.

Christopher's word fits his drooping shoulders: they're notably 'cernuous,'
yet he hardly makes meeting his last challenge even look strenuous.

Rohan goes last, once again more than okay to avoid gutturals with 'odylic.'
It means force of nature, fitting all eight champions perfect as acrylic.