Sidetracked by three authors in August

Call me a peruser of books.

Typically, I survey a book for at least fifteen or twenty minutes before deciding I wish to read it. Then it goes into a pile or on a list where it might languish for weeks or months before I engage it again. My Kindle Reader app contains five or six times as many “free samples” as it has purchases.

August surprised me this year because three books I encountered kept me reading after a first perusal to the point that I knew I wanted to engage fully what these authors address. Here I merely introduce them to your consciousness.

Sidetrack One: Reinvestigating Children’s Literature:

Serendipity led me to Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult, (New York: Simon & Schuster. 2017) a reminiscence by Bruce Handy, an editor at Vanity Fair (and, more importantly, a father who recalls reading to his children). His book appears packed with surprising wisdom and anecdotes.

Go back, as Handy does, and read the growing-older Christopher Robin’s sad announcement to his Pooh in the final chapter of The House at Pooh Corner. Young Robin knows he is soon to leave for a faraway school:

“I’m not going to do Nothing anymore.”

“Never again?” Pooh responds.

“Well, not as much. They don’t let you.”

When it comes to Children’s Literature, I have been a sampler: a little Pooh, a little Spock, a little Silverstein, a little C.S. Lewis, a little E.B. White. In perusing Handy’s engaging handbook, I wanted to drop everything and dive into the genre like an enthusiastic graduate student. I’ve already put on reserve at my public library Handy’s recommended In The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, by Bette Lord.

I remember from my studies as a graduate student of psychology the lesson I learned reading Gail Sheehy’s comments after her book Passages became a runaway best-seller. She confessed that her first task before starting to write was to go to the children’s section of a library and read everything she could find on her subject.

To quote the greatest book, I urge all researchers, “Go Thou and do likewise.”

Sidetrack Two: Truths Leaked from the Classroom:

Each month, despite my lapsed subscription to the Chicago Manual of Style, I am offered a free online book from the University of Chicago Press. In September, that book is The Secret Lives of Teachers (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press. 2015), written by an anonymous New York teacher. He calls himself Horace Dewey, and he works and writes at the fictitious East Hudson High School (which probably means he teaches somewhere in Manhattan or Yonkers or farther upstate on the same side of the river that still houses the notorious Sing Sing Correctional Facility in the village of Ossining).

By remaining anonymous, the author gives himself room to seriously critique schools, students, colleagues, parents, curriculum, administrators, school boards, and politicians.

Anyone who has taught school, be it public or private, surely harbors a suppressed voice of criticism of our nation’s educational systems. Thus, our anonymous New York educator, a “leaker” in one sense of the word, can speak the truth outside of the institution and thus unveil the secret lives and dreams of teachers.

As one who harbors deep criticism of the personnel- and economics-centered policies that rule most schools at the shameful expense of student-centered and humanitarian efforts, I am reading Anonymous closely. I hope to report my conclusions around the time school lets out for Christmas holidays. And remember Christopher Robin’s words about doing nothing: “They don’t let you.”

Sidetrack Three: The Holy Eucharist as an Ambush.

Perhaps I should list my third sidetracking as more of an ambushing. The book, which is about a decade old, has been lying around our house for years. My wife swears she once raved about its importance and significance, but it was just last month I discovered it (in my wife’s bedroom bookcase). Thus, I consider myself ambushed by this story published more than a decade ago.

In a way, the book, Take This Bread: The Spiritual Memoir of a Twenty-first Century Christian (New York: Ballantine Books. 2007), itself relates a kind of ambushing.

Its author, Sara Miles, is a product of an atheistic, socialistic family that encouraged her to read The Sunday Edition of the New York Times rather than bother with any thoughts of going to church. About Jesus, she learned from her father that some believe he was a god, but many believe he was a really, really good man.

Miles attended a radical Quaker college and learned the life of a restaurateur in a New York City kitchen and then went to work as a researcher with a human rights advocacy group. She wound up in Mexico, Nicaragua, and several other international trouble spots, where she became embroiled in revolutionary politics and warfare, learned to eat where there was little food, was shot at, fell in love, got pregnant, and returned for safety to San Francisco, where her daughter was born.

That’s all introductory.

Miles, at the age of 46, one day, while her daughter slept, strolled unintentionally and curiously into the sanctuary of St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco and took a seat with about twenty other people there for a service.

At the appropriate time, Miles went to the altar with the others after hearing a woman at the altar table say, “Jesus invites everyone to his table.”

Soon, Miles reports, “someone was putting a piece of fresh crumbly bread in my hands, saying ‘the body of Christ,’ and handing me the goblet of sweet wine, saying ‘the blood of Christ,’ and then something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me.”

Talk about being ambushed!


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