The Best Kind of Gift

My ten-and-a-half year old son received an early Christmas gift last week from a friend of the family.  Well, she’s not just a friend of the family.  Several years ago, she and I taught at the same school.  Now she teaches at Ryan’s elementary school, and two years ago, she was his third-grade teacher.

The gift was a surprise to us both.  

It was wrapped, so as Ryan looked at it and felt it, he first thought it was an iPad.  It would have been an incredibly generous, though unlikely, gift.  But in his mind it was the right size.

It wasn’t an iPad.  It was a book.  A hardcover book.  A hardcover book signed by the author.  A hardcover book signed by the author and inscribed to Ryan.

And Ryan loves it.  

Ryan loves it so much he whooped and hollered around the house.  He proudly showed it off. 

I don’t think it’s a book Ryan would have picked up on his own had we just been browsing at our local Barnes and Noble or public library.  But because his teacher selected this book for him, because his teacher asked the author to sign the book for Ryan, Ryan is reading it. 

It’s a beautiful testament to the power of books and putting a book in a child’s hands.

 

My Reading Homework

I have just completed “Creative Nonfiction III,” a ten-week writing course offered through UCLA Extension.

And, I didn’t complete all my homework.

In addition to workshopping essays every other week, each student was supposed to read a book a week.  There was no prescribed reading list.  We were simply to read one book each week of class.  And I didn’t.

When I’ve taken this course in prior years, I diligently completed all my reading homework.  I calculated the minimum number of pages I needed to read each day to make sure the book would be finished on time.  It was stressful.  I’d power-read, just trying to get the book finished without truly enjoying what I was reading or paying attention to the author’s tone or the book’s structure.

So with this class, I decided I wasn’t going to do that again.  I would try to read a book a week, but if it didn’t happen, so be it.  There is no negative consequence.  I wasn’t taking this class for a grade.  I was taking it for me.  I pushed myself during this class, writing in a couple of new styles, writing on different topics.  And I slowed myself down to enjoy what I was reading.

I may not have finished ten books in ten weeks, but overall, I did pretty well.

Since class started in October, I have read:

  • Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind: Thoughts on Teacherhood by Phillip Done 
  • The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo   
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi  
  • Tell Me More – Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan 
  • Writing Is My Drink by Theo Pauline Nestor
  • Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro

And I’m currently reading. Wherever You Are: A Memoir of Love, Marriage, and Brain Injury by Cynthia Lim (an author I first met through a Writers Retreat and who has also taken classes through UCLA Extension).

Readers, I’d love to hear about any books you’ve read in the last ten weeks.  Feel free to share in the comments section!

Summer Reading

A photo taken a few months ago showing Ryan and I browsing at the library.

We’re coming to the end of summer break.  In our family that means school resumes next week, as does afternoon homework and a note packed into my son’s lunchbox each day.

Our summers usually consist of:  one family trip (we were in Santa Barbara and Cambria this year); numerous museum visits (including LACMA, the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center, the Norton Simon Museum, the Getty Center, and the Skirball Cultural Center); and lots of reading.

My ten-year-old son just completed the reading log required for the public library’s summer reading program.  We never tell Ryan what to read, or insist he sit down and read each day.  He just reads.  Sometimes alone, sometimes together — on our patio, on our couch, at our local Coffee Bean.

And looking over his list of books makes me smile.  Ryan read about LeBron James and King Tut.  He read joke books and books based on Pixar films.  He read about Katherine Johnson and Buzz Aldrin.  He read about Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.  He read about Nintendo’s Mario and Curious George.

It’s been a good summer.