Saturday, May 14, 2005

Book reviews, social phobias and a cigarette blessing

Check out my first book review in Devas T. Reads Kiddie Books. There, I give my observations on Kathi Appelt’s My Father's Summers: a daughter’s memoir.

How cigarettes and social phobias turned me into a reader.

I'm not going to get all Holy-Ghost up in here, but let me just say that God works in mysterious ways.

As a child I was not much of a reader. I loved pictures, but words didn't register well in my brain. When I read, it had to be something of high interest to me. I loved reading the medical encyclopedia, you've seen those illustrated with oozing stomach ulcers and bloody anal fissures. It's a wonder I didn't become a medical illustrator. I loved these books, and would read with great diligence. I loved art books, how-to-draw books, and the children's encyclopedia. Not for the information, but for the pictures. I wasn't reading any Greek and Roman Mythology. No Steinbeck or Poe. No Twain, no Thoreau. Biology was out, science I failed, and math -- just forget math. I was an excellent reader, in terms of using phonics to sound out my words. I attended grade school at a time when schools actually taught kids how to read and not remember word list. I just didn't retain the words in my head, and my mind wandered, my focus diverted.

In retrospect, I think I was dyslexic although there's never been a formal diagnosis. But to this day my brain still flops words and numbers causing me dial wrong numbers and drive my accountant out of his mind. Reading was frustrating for me, so for that reason, I didn't do well academically. Art was my thing and it rescued my self esteem at a time when I just barely graduated high school.

I chose a community college where I could excel using my art skills. Reading was a requirement, of course, but my professors were more interested in my drawing ability than my reading retention ability and I continued living my life with no regard to reading books of any kind.

I was a heavy smoker. I smoked two, occasionally three packs of cigarettes a day when I started working as a publication designer at an educational publishing company back home in Des Moines, Iowa. I was about 23 years old. Smokers were allowed to indulge their habit in the building, but upstairs in an unfinished area where books were stored. I probably spent a good twenty-five-percent of my day up there smoking cigarettes. And since I wasn't much a socialite, I finally picked up a book to avoid getting into discussions about politics, music or anything with the other smokers.

The first book I picked up was Native Son by Richard Wright. I buzzed through the first three pages not remembering a thing I had read, my mind wandering to everything else that was not going right in my life at the time. I decided to start over, reading each paragraph by paragraph, having discussions in my head about what I had just read. That didn't work either. So I ended up reading sentence by sentence, word by word, again having discussions in my head about what I had just read. That worked! Took me almost six months to get through that book, and many discussions with myself, but I loved it. And I haven't been a TV watcher since. I followed that book with Richard Wright's Black Boy, Gordon Parks The Learning Tree, and Alex Haley's best-selling novel, Roots. I've been an avid reader every since, having retaught myself to read and comprehend. I'm still a relatively slow reader, only getting in about six books per year, but had I not ended up smoking in the cellar of The Perfection Learning Corporation, I might be on a completely different track today.

I don't mean to infer that smoking is good, that should your teen have problems with reading, you might sit them down with a pack of Kool cigarettes. I don't really have a conclusion to this story except to hark back to where I began: I'm not going to get all Holy-Ghost up in here, but let me say that God works in mysterious ways.

And no, I don't smoke any more. Not in 15 years.

Unrelated thought for the day: Like a brotha doesn't have enough to do, the wife wants me to read The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. I already know my love language. English. Now, shut up and get me a beer.

Word of the day: hark back


Brea said...

Wow - that's great that you stuck with it and learned a method that works for you.

'Thought & Humor' said...

You have a riveting web log
and undoubtedly must have
atypical & quiescent potential
for your intended readership.
May I suggest that you do
everything in your power to
honor your Designer/Architect
as well as your audience.

Please remember to never
restrict anyone's opportunities
for ascertaining uninterrupted
existence for their quintessence.

There is a time for everything,
a season for every activity
under heaven. A time to be
born and a time to die. A
time to plant and a time to
harvest. A time to kill and
a time to heal. A time to
tear down and a time to
rebuild. A time to cry and
a time to laugh. A time to
grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones
and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a
time to turn away. A time to
search and a time to lose. A
time to keep and a time to
throw away. A time to tear
and a time to mend. A time
to be quiet and a time to
speak up. A time to love
and a time to hate. A time
for war and a time for peace.

Best wishes for continued ascendancy,

'Thought & Humor'
Cyber-Humor & Cyber-Thought
Harvard Humor Club

The Gig said...

Sounds like you're a chip off the old block when it comes to reading. I still have trouble comprehending unless it's something I am really interested in.

As far as smoking and the beer goes, you are a chip off the other old block. I guess it pays off to read your blog to find out things you never knew before.

As far as the wife goes, you need to take her advice -- also throw the beer in the trash can.

Positively Cheryl said...

Congrats on your illustrative works Don! Obviously you are 'da man' since the kids are sending you letters. How rewarding and what an honor!

'Helter Skelter' was my first novel because my Mom had a copy laying around and I read it. I was totally disturbed by it of course since I was only twelve. My second book was 'Native Son'. I hardly remember it so perhaps I need to read it again. Roots i've read twice along with Malcolm X.

I'm glad you learned how to overcome your reading problems. What an accomplished life!

I got my hubby to quit smoking AFTER his heart attack, and now he's been free of cancer sticks for about two years now. I couldn't be happier!

Enjoy your day.

WIP said...

Guessing "Kool" was your fancy? Your post could, I'm sure, help lots of struggling young readers; not to mention you took on some "heavy hitters" in the literary world and stuck with it. I commend you. I was the exact opposite and found escape in novels (back then fiction), then on to non-fiction in high school, college, and at present (although I loves me some E. Lynn). I read the review before coming here and it too was useful (wrote a comment of course).

As for the book your wife wants you to read by Chapman & Campbell, I've read it and encouraged my DH to as well. He did check it out, on AUDIO, and happily listened to it. I know because he began to "speak" my love language to me and not just the one that was most comfortable to him (his). Love is about giving and stretching. If you'd like to suggest one for her:

Personality Plus; How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself, by Florence Littauer.

A good point to make for those who may struggle with reading is to definitely give audio books a go. I for one HAVE to have a copy of the book. I mark up my books and actually loves me some books and my library shows. Books can break your bank...THe library is MY friend and books are my loves. If I find a one that speaks to me while I have it on lone, you can believe I've already checked B&N and Borders for the copy.

Friar Tuck said...

This was a fun read.

My mother has a passion for teaching reading, and getting kids to love to read as an elementary school teacher.

Have a great day, and keep up the good work.

The Archivist said...

Well, I reckon it's good that you're a reader and that you've quit smoking.

Now, if we can convince Laura Prepon to quit...