Why do I read a book a day?
I didn’t become a teacher because I played school as a kid though there were enough kids in our home growing up to do so (eleven of us). I didn’t want to be in charge of anything, preferring to observe the chaos of our big family from a corner and drift away into my imagination for comfort and safety when I needed.
I wasn’t a particularly good student, especially not in English. I never actually read a whole book in my junior high and high school years, and it didn’t seem to matter to anyone — teachers or parents. I got by looking over at a friend’s multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank quiz (i.e., cheating) or summarizing a book based on the book jacket. I did not know or even consider that there might be something for me in the pages beyond that book jacket; I did not imagine that a story could help me connect to my teacher, other students, or make sense of my own life. I just did enough to pass, stay under the radar.
So it may seem rather surprising that I became a teacher and read a book a day.
I had been a social worker in the county jail for seven years after college. While it was very challenging, I found great healing in asking for and listening to stories. I thought I could do more of that (but in a more positive setting) as a teacher. I became a teacher in 2004. It turns out my social work training actually compliments teacher training quite well. In my Masters of Education program at the University of Illinois, Chicago, I actually had to read books, and I finished books — a lot of them — because we actually talked about the books. I found my teenage self (and my siblings) living in many of those pages and met local and global teens I’d never meet in person because of gifted authors.
When I became a teacher, however, many of those books never made it into my students’ hands. Why? Because in my reading and writing workshops, I neglected a very key feature — choice reading. I got caught up in skills and unit planning; I used the stories in the textbook and class sets from our school book room. Sure, I bought books for multicultural and genocide units, but over a decade later, I was still teaching the same stories, pushing a curriculum that failed to nurture or sustain a healthy reading life. (Afterall, I had already read everything I was teaching, over and over.) My contribution, my side of the conversation was stagnant and so was my reading life. I stopped reading beyond the curriculum. I stopped nurturing my reading life. The students’ lives had changed. Our world had changed, and yet, we weren’t really talking about that. The stories that brought me to teach were pushed to the margins.
I took an inventory of my books, short stories, poems, and discovered that I was missing many voices and perspectives. I was not the diverse or inclusive teacher I thought I was. I realized that if I was going to make my classroom about the stories within and beyond our classroom that I needed help, and I decided my co-teachers would be authors. I had to get to know them and their books so that we (teachers, authors, students) could collaborate and develop a truly inclusive curriculum.
Enter #bookaday. I read a post by Donalyn Miller around May of 2016 inviting teachers to commit to reading a book a day over the summer, so I did it. I wrote about my first summer here. I also wrote about how reading again changed how I teach: Letting Literature do the Work: How I Started an Inclusive Literature Workshop, 9 Whole Weeks of Free Choice Reading, and One 9-Week Plan on Choice Reading in the Classroom (a Follow-Up).
#bookaday was about me claiming my reading life, but it became more existential than that. Yes, I enjoy reading now, and yes, I feel good knowing a lot about books and authors to help other readers claim their own reading lives. Beyond that, however, I feel compelled somehow to share what I am discovering. Essentially, I read a book a day because it gives me purpose, a purpose I have assigned myself. I read for other people who don’t have the luxury of time or the access to resources in the author-academic-school worlds that I navigate. Indeed, there are other brilliant people doing this work, but reading is my contribution to the small circle of people, real and virtual, in my world who will accept it: teachers, professors, parents, authors, students, friends, family. It is a privilege to read so widely, to appreciate an author’s art, to bear witness to so many ways of being in the world, and it is an utter joy to do it with and for my circle (even if they didn’t ask me to.
How do I read a book a day?
My life situation affords me time.
- First of all, I don’t have any children. I understand they take up a lot of time.
- Second of all, in 2015, I earned a PhD in English. My husband told me when I started it that I better do something with that degree. I decided not to go into academia, deciding to write about teaching and literacy until I knew what I wanted to be when I grow up, so there is a sense of responsibility I am trying to honor.
- Finally, I am the type of person who always needs a project or mission (even if it is in my imagination). I have a tendency to fall into a state of melancholy if I am idle too long.
- Oh, and really finally, I don’t like watching too much TV and am not really social, so reading seems to me like an acceptable reason/excuse to hide away in a quiet place for a few hours each day (or to go for a long walk).
I listen to a lot of books.
I have two apps on my phone: Libby and Audible. Libby is an app connected to my library account. I download MP3 books for FREE. I find new titles this way because I can’t always find the latest but take what’s available. Audible is a subscription that costs about $15 a month. You get a free book each month and discounts on others. They run specials, too. I tend to reserve books on apps for my long walks, runs, or workouts. Sometimes, I clean the house while listening. I listen to the first few chapters at a regular speed and then listen to them at a faster speed. If I listen for one to two hours a day, I can finish a book in a couple days.
I order CD audiobooks from my library. Their book search engine is connected to local libraries, so I just created an account using my library card, select the audiobooks I want, and when they come in, my library puts them on a shelf for me and sends me an email. These are books that I can only listen to in the car. I drive about 45 minutes to and from school every day, and I drive to the city on the weekends to play volleyball. I am in the car a lot, so I can usually finish a CD audio book in two weeks (because I can’t adjust the reading pace as far as I know).
Whenever I see a list of middle grade or young adult books on my Facebook or Twitter feed, I go to my library website and search for the books. I place a hold, and my library adds them to my shelf when they arrive. Sometimes, like yesterday, I discovered that I had 20 books and 3 audiobooks waiting for me. I couldn’t carry them even with my library bag, so here is the real reason I can finish so many books: I return the long ones. While many of my students love the modern version of the triple-decker and they can devour that book in a reasonable amount of time, I want students to read deeply and widely, and so I just don’t have a lot of the 400-1000 page books in my classroom library or in my hands ready to book-talk. I opt for the shorter 200-300 page books.
I read in different modes.
This week, I read The Sky Between You and Me. It is close to 400 pages, but it is written in verse. A student bought it for our class — I required everyone to donate a 2016/2017 book to our class. I had not read it, so I took it home. I read the first 200 pages slowly, swimming in the verse and getting my footing in the unfamiliar rodeo setting. Once I got into the eating disorder aspect of the book, I had a sense of the student who might like this book and how I’d book talk it, support the reader, questions I’d pose in our conference. I have read quite a bit of eating disorder stories, so I am familiar with the progression into and out of it, so I read the last 150 pretty quickly to get a sense of how this might be different. I was reading for craft, for plot, for students’ interests/needs, and for parents who expect me to know what their child is reading/experiencing. I also read through the last part because I have some eating/body image issues, and I didn’t want to be in that world too long. I keep this mind as I read for students, too.
Sometimes I don’t finish a book.
If I am struggling to get into a book or if I think it feels too young or too old or too something for my junior high students or my university students who might teach high school or if I have a stack waiting for me that seems more interesting, I will abandon the book. This doesn’t happen very often; typically, I read some reviews to motivate me to finish, but sometimes I am just not feeling it.
I track my reading with Goodreads and shelfies.
I started using Goodreads to track my reading a few years ago. I don’t share much or write many reviews there. I just needed a central location to keep track of the books. I often have the image of a cover in my mind and know that I want to recommend it but forget the title or author. Goodreads gives me quick access to my list. I used to put my to-reads there, but now I just put a hold on the book through my library right away. This way, it ends up my shelf without me having to go to Goodreads, look at my to-read list, and then order the book from my library.
The shelfie is something new. I kept my image off Facebook for a long time thinking that nobody wanted to see pictures of me and that I didn’t want to seem vain or braggadocious, i.e., look at me reading. However, I realized through my blog that people were following what I read and how I taught, and I realized that where and when I read might matter, e.g., walking, driving, resting, traveling. The different images of me with my books show me where and when I was reading/listening to what, and the pics serve as a record. I am also proud to be a teacher reading, so I want to show people who are not teachers that we do, in fact, read, that we are, in fact, working a lot when we are not with students. And, I am just happy to be reading and want to share that joy.
To answer the question, then, no, I don’t really read a book a day. Some days I don’t finish a book. Some days, I read two books. Most weeks, I read between three and seven books — several going at the same time. I guess you could say that I have revived my reading life.
Anne Sutton, how did I do? What else are you wondering?