If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, you know I haven’t been keeping up with it lately. I’ve worked on my manuscript and also prepared for school. I was in rather a funk about losing my writing time and having to return to the classroom. When I started the new school year today, however, I was reminded many times why I love teaching. Early this morning I ran into one of my students who gently scolded me for not keeping up with my blog over summer. I was pleased she had read it, so partly because of Kaitlin’s prompting and partly because I can now breathe a bit easier since the school year is underway, I am writing again.
One of the things I love about teaching is that I learn something every day. Sometimes it is about myself, sometimes about my students, sometimes about the craft of teaching, sometimes about human nature, but I always learn. Today was no exception. Today I started a new class, an AP Language and Composition class. In the course of preparing for that class, I discovered an article by Mortimer Adler called “How to Mark a Book.” The lines from this article that struck me were these: “…marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love.”; “Full ownership comes only when you have made it [the book] a part of yourself…”; “…books, too, must be absorbed in your bloodstream to do you any good.”
In the course of reading the article, I remembered the first book that entered my bloodstream and became a part of me. It was The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m not sure why Fitzgerald’s words more than any others resonated with me, but each time I read it I am in awe. In fact, when I was discussing the Adler article with Nickey, one of my colleagues, I told her about reading Gatsby and how I felt about the book and my favorite passage. When I read my favorite part to her out loud, I got goosebumps on my neck! Thank goodness she indulged me because I couldn’t help myself. Some words just beg to be shared. Here is the passage from chapter six of Gatsby. Gatsby is about to kiss Daisy, the woman he has pursued his entire life, for whom he built the vast fortune he has acquired, all to win her one day. That one day has arrived, and Gatsby is about to realize his dream.
“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. at his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”
Reading those words, I am overcome with wonder at Fitzgerald’s genius. He speaks to me each time I pick up this dog-eared, second-hand copy of The Great Gatsby I bought at the bookstore in college. Each time what he says and the way he says it takes my breath away and I learn over again why I love reading (and writing) so much. This is art. Fitzgerald speaks to me and to all others who appreciate his words. Mortimer Adler says, “And that is exactly what reading a book should be: a conversation between you and the author.”
I hope my students will understand that as readers we enter into a conversation with an author and learn to read not only the lines but also between the lines as Adler says. We can appreciate the artistry of the words but also come to understand what is left unsaid except in our imaginations, in the way we respond. By reading closely, we learn to read like writers. We learn how language works, how words evoke images and feelings, how they can leave us with goosebumps. That is magical.