What I’ve Read: The Hate U Give (13/365)

Cover of the book, The Hate U Give

If we’re connected on Goodreads, you know I’ve set a challenge for myself of 52 books this year. If you follow me in this space, you know I’m all about the importance of educators talking about their reading and lives as literate citizens. As such, I’ll be talking a bit about my completed books as they stack up this year.

The Breakdown

I missed the first wave of The Hate U Give when it first came out because I figured it would be a book that asked for my attention. I wanted to be able to give it. Then, when I was finally able to make that space in my brain, the library’s hold list was full of folks who must have had similar ideas.

Finally, it was my turn last week and I started and finished the book in less than two days. I was worried it would take a lot longer because of the tears that kept coming in the first few chapters. I managed to get myself under control and loved every part of Angie Thomas’s book.

For those coming even later to the party, The Hate U Give is the story of Starr Carter and the aftershocks in her life after she witnesses her friend’s murder by a police officer during a traffic stop.

Thomas creates a world and characters that are consistently fully fleshed out. It’s an important feat for any author, but one all-the-more necessary given the short shrift marginalized characters get across so many popular texts. From Starr to her family to her friends, each character has fullness I wish I didn’t find as surprising in modern fiction, and this helped me feel compassion for nearly everyone in the story. No one is perfect, and everyone is worth knowing.

 

Why

The temptation here is to simply say – #WeNeedDiverseBooks, but I’ll go a bit further than that.

I picked up the book because I felt like I was missing out. I’d tell others to pick it up because of Thomas’s masterful conveyance of Starr’s emotional and intellectual reactions to the shooting, its fallout, and the questions it raises in her world. Even without the shooting, Thomas opens a window into code switching and its possible emotional toll.

Yes, I’d lobby hard to make sure students of all shades have access to this text. It might be just as important to make sure it finds its way into the hands of an equally vivid array of educators.

 

In the End

Sense finishing The Hate U Give I’ve been working to come up with a clear explanation of why I think this book affected me deeply. I think I’ve got it. Thomas’s writing never feels as though she’s writing against a narrative. Instead, from the first page, she says to readers “this is the world.” She does it with honesty as to ever-possible darkness, but also, with hope and belief in the agency of characters she clearly loves.

What Else I’ve Been Reading

  • This post from elementary teacher Jennifer Orr is a wonderful example of why I love reading her and her ability to give us a view into the lives of some of our youngest learners.
  • While Shana White‘s twitter feed is always on point, her blog posts like this one give are consistent gifts, building understanding of experiences much different from my own.
  • Sabrina Stevens’s post about the importance of the #MeTooK12 campaign is something I’d bring to any upcoming faculty meeting, along with the question, “What are we going to do?”

What I’ve Read: All the Pretty Horses (6/365)

Cover of Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses

If we’re connected on Goodreads, you know I’ve set a challenge for myself of 52 books this year. If you follow me in this space, you know I’m all about the importance of educators talking about their reading and lives as literate citizens. As such, I’ll be talking a bit about my completed books as they stack up this year.

The Breakdown

The first book I’ve completed this year was Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. My only other experience with McCarthy was his Blood Meridian, which I “liked” but which also made me weary going into Horses because Meridian has some pretty intense violence throughout.

Horses is a different sort of western. The tale of John Grady Cole and his decision to set out from his Texas town on horseback for Mexico in 1949. McCarthy’s prose has struck me as powerful and sparse in each of his books I’ve read so far. At one point in Horses I said aloud to myself, “I’m glad he’s read Hemingway.”

My initial description of Horses might be that it’s a coming of age story, but it’s not quite that. At the close of the book, Grady remains who he was at the beginning. Instead, McCarthy adeptly shows us and Grady what it means to be himself across situations and circumstances beyond his small-town upbringing.

Why

I picked up All the Pretty Horses for two reasons. The first is availability. As part of a 40th birthday present, some friends and I gave my friend him all the National Book Award winners in fiction for each of the years she’s been alive. Horses won in 1992. I’d closed out the year with 2017’s winner Sing, Unburied, Sing and had read 2016’s recipient Underground Railroad. Because Sing and Railroad centered around African American protagonists, I was curious to see what through line, if any, I could detect in the Award’s panelists’ tastes across books. Wonderful writing is the answer.

My second reason was one of my best friend’s esteem for the book. He’s one of the best writers I know, and so I trust his tastes. I’ve also had a lifelong curiosity with the writers read by writers I read.

In the End

Several nights last week saw me awake much later than I’d intended because I was wrapped in the voice of this book. Not only is Grady a character I enjoyed following, but McCarthy creates a narrator at once removed and invested in his protagonist. This mix of care and every-possible demise made Horses difficult to put down and satisfying to finish.

What Else I’ve Been Reading

The One Question I Ask Everyone (4/365)

question marks painted on tree trunks in a forest

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

Just before I started my new job last year, I tried to think about what kind of signature I might want to add to conversations. I was about to meet many more teachers in our district than I’d ever had the chance to interact with before, and I wanted to be conscious of the impression I was making – using it to someone start to shift culture.

The question I settled on, “What are you reading?” As a language arts coordinator, it made sense.

When I would meet with grade-level teams, start a professional development workshop, engage in a coaching conversation it was the same question. From k to 12 I’d ask the room, “What are you reading?”

A few days after a meeting with a team of elementary teachers whom I’d worked with several times across the year, their principal told me one of the teachers had confided he was upset following our time together. I was understandably worried. Not only do I take my job to support teachers seriously, I’m a Midwesterner. “No, no,” the principal said, “He thought the conversation and work were great. He was upset because he made sure he had an answer for when you asked what he was reading and then you didn’t ask.”

I hadn’t.

It was the end of the year, I was working with a team of teachers with whom I’d established a rapport, and I hadn’t felt a need to break the ice. What had initially been meant as a seemingly innocuous question that could start to chip away at culture had been repositioned in my mind as a convenient ice breaker. The thing was, this exchange was evidence the culture was changing. The same teacher who was upset I hadn’t asked was one of the many many many teachers throughout the year who had needed to take a beat on my first asking of the question.

“I’m not really a reader,” many teachers would say before we dove into the work of helping students build identities as lifelong readers. To a person, though, they were able to list several texts when I would push, “So you didn’t read anything yesterday?”

“Well, not a book,” they’d say, and I’d point out that I hadn’t asked what book they were reading. From there, teachers would talk about magazines, news sites, blogs, and any other medium you can think of. By the end of the conversation, I’d usually jotted down a few new places I was interested in reading.

Then, I would point out, “If this is the longest conversation you’ve ever had in this building about yourself as a reader, then we’re missing an amazing opportunity to connect with our students.” If the kids in our care only see us as people who make them read the things you’re “supposed” to read in school, and not actual daily readers ourselves, then we’re missing myriad opportunities to be powerful role models of literacy.

After this conversation at one of our middle schools, the school’s librarian polled the faculty on their favorite books and then took pictures of each person holding the book. She pulled the titles from the library shelves and displayed them alongside the pictures at the top of the stacks. Within days, each of the teacher-preferred titles was checked out.

Another teacher of elementary students took to posting a printed photo of the cover of whatever book she was currently reading outside her door. Alongside it was a paragraph explaining what the text was about and another recounting how she had come to choose the book.

One principal posted photos of what she was reading on her office door – a teacher book and a juvenile title. When students found themselves in the office as a result of a poor choice, situations were diffused when conversations started with questions of whether they’d ever heard of either of the titles.

In my own office, where only adults ever come to visit me, I have two printed pictures hanging, the book I’m reading as part of professional learning and the book I’m staying up too late each night reading (Chris Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood and Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, respectively).

The folks I meet with know me pretty well now or know what I do in the district before we sit down. As a result, I’ve shirked asking the question. I plan to bring it back. I miss the expectation of it. I miss the positive assumption that the people with whom I work, people charged with fostering learning daily, are readers. I also missed the sometimes overwhelming lists of recommendations the question elicited like when I asked the question in a meeting of librarians and we ran dangerously close of scrapping the whole meeting agenda while we shared our newest favorites. You know what, though, we captured every title and everyone in the room asked if we would share the list in the meeting notes. Building an expectation of reading means building a culture of reading. And that means giving people space to talk about their reading.

What are you reading?

What If Students Read More Books? (3/365)

Photo by Eli Francis on UnsplashI struggle mightily every day not to scream, “Stop making everyone read the same damned book!”

Yes, there is a beauty in a shared reading and examining of a text, but there is a perverse ugliness in the shared pretending to read and examine a text.

Yes, strive to have democratic classrooms honoring all voices, but do not pretend texts assigned by edict or the false choice of 4 titles equals democracy.

Yes, helping students gain the keys they’ll need to unlock cultural doors through understanding the ideas of canonical literature gives a leg up, but the leg up means little if that canon leads to a belief those are the only stories worth reading and telling.

Yes, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, To Kill a Mockingbird, and their ilk are masterfully written, but we were having conversations about humanity’s darkness, political inequality, and race in America long before each was written (and perhaps we’ve gotten better at it since).

There is an oppression in forcing someone to read a book long after they’ve realized they hate it. What might the effects of that oppression be on how students think about reading after they’ve left our care?

There is a disrespect in only asking students to read a single novel in a quarter or semester when conservative estimates put the number of new books each year at 600,000. What stories will they never see or see themselves in?

There is a shutting of our minds when we say, “These are the books I teach. What might we learn if realize we teach students and help them learn from as many texts as possible?

There is an hypocrisy in decrying the effects of text-impoverished homes on students’ literacy and then pretending we support and frame our school libraries as spaces students own. What if we allowed student access to these spaces in the same way we access bookstores, coffee shops, and the kindle store?

If literacy is key to democracy, if one in four American adults hadn’t read a book in whole or part in 2016, and if more than 90% of those adults were products of American public schools; then maybe we should stop making everyone ready the same damned book.

As a literate adult, how did you come to read the last book you read?

How Do We Begin to Create a Culture of Reading and Writing?

Boy reading book on the floor of a book store.“Do me a favor,” I say, “and close your eyes. I’m going to ask you to visualize something. If I told you you’re visiting a school with a healthy culture of reading and writing, I want to you visit it in your imagination. Start with the lobby or entryway. Notice everything you see and hear as you walk through.”

The exercise goes on for about thirty seconds. I ask the assembled room of teachers to walk the halls, look in on classrooms, listen in on the conversations in common spaces and between the folks they pass in hallways.

I ask them to pay attention to the adults and to the students equally. “Everyone is responsible for creating and sustaining culture, so make sure to observe and listen in on everyone.”

When each teacher has finished their tour, it’s tie to write. “Take five minutes and put it all out in writing. Capture as much of the detail as possible. If you draw a blank, keep writing, ‘and, and, and, and,’ until your brain fills in the holes. Trust that it will.” And, the room takes five minutes to write.

Next, I ask them to share with someone else in the room, not reading the writing verbatim, but distilling to key ideas. I limit the time to talk because conversations at this point are fully-fed and reproducing like tribbles.

The final step, jumping into a shared and open google doc where they answer one question as many times as they can, “What would it take to create the kind of culture you envisioned in your school?”

Again, the activity is timed. Most of the time, I’m having this conversation as a drop-in to a larger meeting. There are other atomized conversations about literacy on the agenda.

I’ve run this conversation several times in the last few months. As the language arts coordinator, it’s one of my favorites. The creativity and joy it elicits each time can be unfamiliar for your average professional meeting.

All of that said, we need to be having this conversation or some variant thereof as much as possible in schools of every level. From pK to 12, we need a picture of the kind of culture of reading and writing we’re hoping to inspire and establish if we want the people in our care to see themselves as readers and writers who aspire to ask and answer better questions.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed in each iteration of this conversation:

  • No one – no matter their subject area – has ever said, “I don’t know” at any point of the process.
  • No one has argued with the assumption what they’re being asked to envision is not important, worth their time, helpful to students, or a better version of what learning and teaching can be.
  • Once they get started with the writing and the talking and the coming up with ideas of how to make it work, the conversations are difficult to curtail or contain.
  • Almost every single idea these teachers generate for how to shift the culture of their schools is free to implement. When it’s not free, it’s low-cost or an idea any PTO would be thrilled to help realize these ideas.

So, let’s do it. Let us build a context around the atomized skills we’re all-too-clear our students need help building and then make it the norm that every person in our care instinctually knows our schools are places where our implied shared identity is one of curious readers and writers.

No, You’re On Grade Level!

level

Are you doing particle physics at grade level? How about your saxophone playing? Is it on par with your age group? Your ballet? Chemistry? Calculus?

My best guess is your answer to most, if not all, of these question was somewhere between “huh?” and “nope.” That’s to be expected.

Let me take one from my own learning – particle physics. First, look at your thumbnail. Turn it so you’re looking along its ridge. If all of space is what is known about particle physics, then one percent of the width of your thumbnail represents what I know about the subject.

That isn’t to say I know nothing about particle physics. I have certain facts and concepts catalogued in my brain and connected to the rest of the knowledge and experiences I’ve got up there. A secret? I’ve never taken a class on particle physics. Heck, I’ve never even taken a class on physics.

Yet, there’s the knowledge – one thumbnail deep. I learned it because I was curious. Something I’d run up against in the world inspired a question, and I was motivated to learn.

Given all of this, would you say my knowledge of particle physics is on grade level?

My answer would be yes. My ability to speak to the topic is aligned with any intrinsic needs I have to understand it better to accomplish any external goals I might feel. It has nothing to do with my age or how many years I have or have not been in school.

Somehow, though, we let the phrase “on grade level” determine not only the value we place on a child’s learning in a given subject, but the approach we take to helping that child advance his learning in that subject.

Reading is the most frustrating example in this conversation (with math not lagging too far behind). When a measure of a student’s ability to read is not commensurate with his “born on date” (to borrow from Sir Ken), we react as though all brains develop at exactly the same speed and that reading is intrinsically-driven by a person’s genetics. I say this as an English teacher and one who decided to spend four years of college reading and talking about it, there is nothing about reading that is biologically inherent to the human experience.

I learned to read because I was curious, and thank goodness I did. It meant I was dubbed on-level from the beginning and thus allowed free choice in the books I selected inside and outside of school. I knew how to read, and according to my teachers, this meant I was allowed to read.

My classmates who weren’t grade-level curious or weren’t interested in reading early enough were not so lucky. Because they were destined to wonder too late, they were also destined to be forced into (s)lower reading groups. We all knew it. Whether coded by bird species or color, my classmates and I knew that some of us were welcome to pick up whatever book we wanted and others were relegated to only specific shelves.

Walk into most reading classes today and things have gone further south. Students can tell you their reading level by reciting a number to you attached to nothing other than their knowledge that the bigger the number, the more worth they have as a reader. Reading capitalism.

I’ve taught these students when they’ve arrived at middle and high school. “I don’t read,” the tell me early in the school year. When I ask why, they tell me they aren’t good at it. That makes me sad. Delving more deeply into their histories of being schooled into reading, they explain they never liked the books their teachers made them read in earlier grades. Many of them simply didn’t read and figured out how to passably appear as though they had.

This realization is what convinced me of the need to open my classroom to student choice. I didn’t care what students were reading so long as they always were and could show consistent growth in their ability to talk and write about it. Sure, we read some shared texts so I could understand students’ progress at grasping key concepts of the discipline. When it came to grade-level reading, though, all I was working toward was disabusing my students of the idea that reading was something people did so they could reach a certain level for a certain grade.

What I’d like to see, and what holding tightly to the idea of “on grade level” prevents, is not students who see their worth as readers, scientists, mathematicians, or musicians, but who see worth in those activities and are members of communities that foster their curiosity to know and do more.

A History of a Thing I Lost

Light Reading

Are there books you can read more than once? I’m talking outside of the fervor with which you approached Harold and the Purple Crayon or Dr. Seuss as a child. Are there books that keep bringing you back to their pages for more?

For me, the list is incredibly few. At its top sits The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. I won’t pretend that an 18th Century book by Samuel Johnson first published in serial form fits my go-to profile for favorite books. This one, though, is an example of the right book at the right time.

Rasselas and I first became acquainted during Fall semester of freshman year in college. The prof who taught my required Foundations of Inquiry course was also an 18th Century Brit Lit scholar, and he used a quotation from Rasselas at the top of his syllabus.

Our discussion of that quotation on the first day of class influenced a line of thinking for me that was something like, “College. Okay, yeah. I see how I could like it here.” And, I did.

I found Rasselas on the shelves of the local used book store and devoured it over winter break (a tradition I kept for many years after). The book became my gift of choice when friends faced major life choices and changes. I have no knowledge of whether or not any of them read the book, but handing it to them was an act of saying, “This was a flashlight when I needed it. I hope it can be the same for you.”

While I compulsively searched every used bookstore I encountered for more copies to add to my stock, one version, a small, light green edition stayed on my shelves with my notes in the margins. While not the, this was my first edition. We’d been on the journey together. We’d conversed about the importance of making your choice and being content.

Then, I gave it away. At a moment of realizing someone else needed it more than I did, I handed that edition off, hoping the combination of Johnson’s words and my margin notes might offer more than a clean copy could.

I miss that book. Since handing it over, I’ve not found another edition of Rasselas. We haven’t spent this much time apart since we met in college. Until we meet again, I’m trying my best to remember the lessons we learned together.


This post is part of a daily conversation between Ben Wilkoff and me. Each day Ben and I post a question to each other and then respond to one another. You can follow the questions and respond via Twitter at #LifeWideLearning16.

How Hyperlinks Have Changed Me as a Reader and Writer

An Image of 20 open tabs on my web browser

When I was in college, learning as an English Studies major, we were just beginning to have conversations about “hypertextuality” and what it’s implications might be for reading and writing. If everything could be connected to everything else to which it was referring, how might that change the load for readers?

Decades into the transformation, I’ve got my initial findings ready to report. It means a ton.

First, the reader’s perspective. Reading hyperlinked texts has created a continuous cavalcade of texts populating my browser windows across devices, apps, and windows. It hasn’t made reading more difficult, but it has made the act of learning from my reading more complex. I recently finished reading Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It was a rare work of fiction to make it into my reading diet these days. Then, yesterday, I dove into Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as SoulcraftI should say that I’m reading both of these books through the Kindle app on my tablet. When I’m traveling, this lightens the load of my carry-on.

It took me a while to realize the experiential difference between the two texts. For Station Eleven, I got to read all the way through without any need of clicking. Mandel didn’t embed a single hyperlink in the book. I read it linearly as I do most works of fiction or when I’m reading a printed book. The cognitive demand was focusing on the story, the characters and how things were progressing as I moved through the book. If you haven’t read the book, it’s important to know Mandel packs the structure of the story with a great deal of complexity. Readers need to track multiple storylines across diverse geographies while also keeping track of a non-linear chronology. From a teacherly perspective, it’s advanced stuff.

Still, moving to Soulcraft was jarring. Crawford’s book is rife with endnotes and references to studies and other works that support the thesis he proposes. Because I was reading digitally, those endnotes were lit in blue on my screen, asking (daring me?) to click through and read those endnotes.

This exemplifies the biggest change I’ve experienced as a reader in a hypertextual world. I have to be active in my choices of how I navigate through what I’m reading while also actively engaging with the content of what I’m reading. My brain must do more if I’m to take advantage of the full experience.

Admittedly, the most clicking through I do when reading in the Kindle app or any of its brethren is using the dictionary function or highlighting a passage to keep or share. In online reading, though, it’s a different story. The image above is a screenshot of the window in which I’ve been writing this post. That’s twenty tabs. Some of them have been waiting for my attention for more than a month.

Hypertextuality hasn’t meant I’m reading more. I’ve always been hungry for words. It’s meant that I’ve more reading anxiously waiting for my attention. The ease of “Open Link in New Tab” driven by the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) on important thinking means I’m never at a loss for material and often overcome by choices when it’s time to read. This is why those tabs have been left open so long.

The hyperlink has given me immediate access to more information and diversions, required me to think about what I want to read while I’m thinking about what I am reading. Basically, the Internet is a choose your own adventure book.

Now, as a writer. Hyperlinks have simplified the words I feel like I need to put on a page or a screen. I just did it in the previous paragraph. I wanted to make a choose your own adventure reference and realized not everyone would know what I was talking about. Rather than using the space to explain it, I got link to the Wikipedia entry and move on. Fewer words.

Plus, using tools like citebite and the highly extension, I’m able to pull in text I want to reference or share it out to posts I want to make on social media. I start to write alongside an author. I’m changing a text as I read it. I’m co-authoring. Sure, I write here on the blog. And I am a writer on other people’s blogs. I’m commenting in-line on Medium posts (which I just realized I could do here on my WordPress install). Basically, the hyperlink has made everything I type a web.

From a design perspective, it’s also allowed me to hide that web by embedding links within text. Whenever possible in email, because I want them to look clean and reduce the amount of text on a page, I embed my links. More often than I’d expect, this results in people responding with something like, “Looks like you forgot to include the link you mentioned. Could you send it?” Then, I do. I paste the ugly, naked URL in a reply email and mention nothing about the fact they missed it in my initial missive, because of all the cognitive demands I know they are experiencing just keeping up with reading in a hypertextual society.

So, where does that leave me? As a writer, I’m clearly seeing more of a benefit from living in a hypertextual society. There’s less of a demand on what I need to explain as I’m writing, and I’m able to make references to lesser known cultural touchstones or academic works while suggesting my readers do the work of building background knowledge. As a reader, I’m learning to manage my experience and make active choices about which rabbit holes I choose to jump into. I’m raising my awareness of the fact that being exhausted with something I’m reading doesn’t necessarily mean I’m exhausted with the content, but perhaps with the process. Luckily, I can always choose to walk away from a text. Even better, my writer self can empathize with my reader self and try to create an experience that’s respectful to you.

(Final open tab count at posting, 25 26.)


This post is part of a daily conversation between Ben Wilkoff and me. Each day Ben and I post a question to each other and then respond to one another. You can follow the questions and respond via Twitter at #LifeWideLearning16.

#WorthReading: What I saw in ‘The Bluest Eye’

I don’t take as much time as I’d like to read. When I do, it is helpful for me to know someone I know thinks the book I’m about to open was worth their time. This summer, I’ll be posting each Tuesday about a book I’ve read recently that is #WorthReading over your summer. 

I’m midway through my first reading of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. This revelation usually garners a response of “Really?” or “What?” or some derivation thereof. I’ll give you a moment to shame me for my cultural incompetence before moving on to one of the effects this book is having on me.

For anyone who’s read the book, you know there’s a scene where the character Pecola enters the house of a boy she meets for the first time on a playground. Morrison alerts her reader to the fact that whatever is about to happen in this scene will be unpleasant.

If you, like me, have never read Bluest Eye, I won’t go into detail about what happens. That’s not what prompts this writing. Instead, this post is inspired by what didn’t happen and what I was sure I was about to read.

Pecola is not raped in this scene.

I’m struggling with the fact I was mentally prepared for that to be the outcome. As Morrison described the boy with whom Pecola is interacting and their brief conversations, I was sure she was giving me the literary equivalent of a trigger warning.

What transpires between the two is nowhere near kindness. The events elicited deep sadness.

Having some time to digest it, though, the thing that hurts my heart the most is my ready assumption that I should be steeling myself against sexual violence. I have turned this thought over since the reading, trying to understand why I assumed that the bad thing that was about to happen to this character would be the worst thing I could imagine.

It’s likely the intersection of several factors.

The last book I finished was Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. If you’ve seen or read any Flynn, you know she writes for the jugular. Any character, sympathetic or not, is going to be put through hell. It’s possible that Dark Places primed my brain for this “kill and torture your darlings” philosophy as the default for whatever Morrison or any other fiction writer had in store.

This is possible, and I worry that Flynn doesn’t actually bear the weight of my expectations.

I worry that it’s a million threads weaving together that led me to expect that this young, female, African American, impoverished character who is described as “ugly” several times leading up to the exchange will be raped.

And I worry I thought this as I yelled at her to “Turn around!” when she and this boy started talking in the book. And I worry that I thought this when he closed the door as they entered his house and my eyes started to well with tears.

Mostly, though, I worry what it implies that the actual events that transpired in this scene still led me to think, “I’m so glad he did not rape her.”

Do you get this? Because it’s been heavy on me since the reading.

The absence of rape with the presence of other embarrassments I wouldn’t wish on any other person was a relief.

Race, class, gender, power, prescribed concepts of beauty – this is how some part of my brain has come to expect them to intersect when presented as Morrison presents them here.

I cannot explain how deeply it hurts to realize this is what I was assuming would happen.
It is the same feeling I have when I assume a queer character in a mainstream fiction will either be coming out or be emotionally and/or physically abused for being different.

It’s also where I find hope in the world outside literature. In the same way I know the LGBTQ experience is fuller, richer than the coming out process or the events of Boys Don’t Cry, I know that all of the cultural identifiers Pecola carries with her do not mean the hurt and torment visited upon her are certain in the real world as they are each time someone discovers The Bluest Eye.

Perhaps thats why I turn to literature. In it I can see what is possible if I work to make the world a more perfect reflection of what I hope to be possible and a portent of things I must work against in case our demons overpower the angels of our better natures.

#WorthReading: Claudia Rankine’s _Citizen_

I don’t take as much time as I’d like to read. When I do, it is helpful for me to know someone I know thinks the book I’m about to open was worth their time. This summer, I’ll be posting each Tuesday about a book I’ve read recently that is #WorthReading over your summer.

Cover of Claudia Rankine's

I do not remember where I first read about Claudia Rankine’s prose/poetry, National Book Award finalist Citizen. What I remember is that the online article said, “Read this book now. That is all you need to know. It is worth your reading. I don’t need to tell you about the book because it is that good.”

Dutifully, I ordered my copy and dropped it on the pile of to-read books. In January, as I was on my way out the door for the train ride to Philly for EduCon, I picked up the book, figuring, “It’s not that big. Perfect for a train.”

I was wrong in two ways.

1. Rankine’s book is big. The blend of poetry and prose packs more subtext about racial identity, race, perspective and resilience in the face of the marginalization of institutional racism. I read as I always do, with a pen in my hand. By the end of the train ride, I’d made only two marks in the margins. There was too much I wanted to capture. Rankine, in the stories she tells, has done the underlining for her reader by deciding those stories were worth including in the book.

2. It is perfect/imperfect for a train. Riding alone, I was constantly looking up, toward strangers and evaluating whether I could break the divide between us with, “I need you to read this because it is my responsibility now to pass it on.”

And that’s a large piece of why Citizen is #WorthReading. It is an American Lyric as advertised, and it is a lyric worth repeating, worth spreading, worth returning to as a reminder of stories too often muted and voices too often left out.