Hi, my lovely readers,
Okay, here’s the deal. I just finished my first draft of the “my memoir about books I read as a kid” but now I need at least two people to look over what I wrote and comment on what needs tweaking.
Considering that my sleep-deprived eyeballs can’t catch anything right now — I’m gonna take a break and work on PowerPoint slides, woo-hoo! — I thought, “Hey, my blog allows comments — maybe I can ask my smart and insightful blog readers!”
So here I am — asking. If you can, read as much as you want and leave a comment or two. My draft has eleven chapters, so putting them up here as eleven blog posts sounds logical to me. You don’t have to read or comment on all eleven. 🙂
Thank you, everyone. My next post will be the first chapter. But below is the introduction to the draft.
INTRODUCTION: A Memoir of Sorts
First off, my memory sucks.
I don’t have any real memories before the age of four. Even now, after four decades of life, my memories are often spotty unless there’s written or photographic evidence to back them up. As a community college professor in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, I often claim to my students that I can remember their faces and names while in the classroom, but once outside that setting, their names disconnect from their faces. They would see me in the campus hallways or – God help me, in a big-box store – and call out, “Hi, Dr. Ramos!” Like a startled baby, I would blink, smile, and say, “Oh, hi!” all the while scrambling to remember them: “Is this a current student? Past student? Comp I? Comp II? World Lit? Brit Lit? Oh, boy.”
My students think I’m joking when I say that I forget who is who if they sit somewhere else different from where they usually sit, but it’s true. My memory is oddly geographic that way.
So why, on all that is sane and lovely, am I writing a memoir, of all things?
Well, fortunately for me and you, this isn’t that kind of memoir — for three reasons.
The first reason: many of the community college students that I have taught over the years don’t read books unless forced to. For a fair number of them, they were able to get around reading assigned books (through summary guides like Cliff Notes or movie/ TV versions), or they only had to read excerpted passages here or there in school textbooks.
This lack of personal book reading became clear when I became a member of Eastfield College’s Common Book committee in 2010. The Common book is a campus-wide academic project, in which professors voluntarily assign that year’s chosen Common Book to their students to read. When I assigned the Common Book to my students – many of them in their 20s to early 40s – I often heard them exclaim, “This is the first book I’ve ever read all the way through!” This exclamation always stunned me, even though (fifteen years of teaching and counting) I suppose I shouldn’t be by now.
As a result of this lack of book reading, many of my students are often unaware of the diversity of human experience, past and present, a diversity which not only informs them about others but can also give insight about themselves. It’s not coincidental that St. Augustine’s conversion began with the command “Tolle lege” – “Take up and read” and the Prophet Mohammed’s first revelation began with the command “Iqra” – “Read aloud.” Both examples demonstrate the power of reading in shaping one’s life, one’s destiny. This becomes even more important in our complex, contemporary age, in which it seems that everything BUT books dictates who to be and how to live. Not surprisingly, for the students of both Augustine and Mohammed, reading about these two experiences gives a guiding light to their own dark paths in their lives.
As I saw in Eastfield’s four Common Books so far (as of this writing), my students responded to the life stories in those books. Chris Rose’s 1 Dead in Attic, while a book-length testimonial piece from a renowned journalist, quickly became a memoir of Rose’s descent into depression and despair in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In contrast, George Dawson’s memoir, Life Is So Good, was a lesson in positive thinking in the face of socioeconomic hardships and external misery.
While Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation was a more traditional exposé about the horrors of the American fast food industrial machine, the individual case studies of people affected were what engaged my students – not the gigantic dossier of facts and stats. This past academic year (fall 2013 to spring 2014), my students read Chitra Divakaruni’s One Amazing Thing. While a novel, it is structured as a series of life stories, told by nine seemingly diverse people. Reading those stories, my students realized that most people don’t really know themselves unless they reveal themselves to other people, in storytelling and in conversation.
This last experience gave me that “aha!” moment: what better way to show my students the connection between reading books and living one’s life than to write one’s memoir about reading books? I teach by role-modeling, so writing my own memoir about meaningful books I’ve read throughout my childhood (up through the teen years) promotes the adage “I walk the talk” to my students: I not only teach it, but I do it.
However, I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t passionate about it beyond my workplace. Being a forty-something single mom to a little boy learning to read has given me a greater incentive to follow this passion than being a college professor alone – which is the second reason for this memoir. As a Gen-Xer, I grew up as a latch-key kid, coming home from the local public school and taking care of myself and my siblings, well before our parents came home from work. Videogames and television vied for my household’s attention while eating ramen, microwave pizza, and canned meat and pasta. In spite of this (or perhaps because of this?) I became not only a bookworm at an early age but eventually majored in English and Literature post-high school and made reading and writing my career.
Obviously, something about my home and school environment encouraged me to become a life-long reader. Both areas I’d like to explore, considering that I’m raising my son to be a reader in our brave new world of broadband WiFi, online video streaming, social media, and cheap or free gaming apps – which kids these days as young as one year old consume on smart phones and tablets provided by their well-meaning parents (myself included).
This reminds me of a recent observation that I had at my son’s martial arts class. While sitting in the waiting room/audience area, I saw a young, twenty-something year old mom reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire while her younger son (age five) was in class and her older son (age seven) was playing a game on her iPhone. What I noted was the age difference between son and mother – a young grade-school boy consuming an expensive piece of electronics while an adult woman reading a book purportedly written for kids aged eight to twelve. My work being what it is, I often read lots of articles that bemoan the rise of kids playing on electronics and the fall of those kids reading books for fun. At the same time, I often see articles that decry the rise of adults (usually grown women) who read Young Adult novels like The Hunger Games and Twilight and watch the movie versions of the aforementioned YA books, often with their teenage children.
Knowing these articles, I saw the young mother and thought, “You go, girl. Read what you like.”
She was modeling reading to her kid. Even though her kid was engrossed in a game app at the time, her kid knows his mom is a reader, and I have heard the same woman help her son read various e-books and the online instructions to kid-appropriate game apps. Since the first Harry Potter book was published in 1998 in the United States, I can easily imagine this young mom discovering Harry Potter as a ten-year old girl and growing up with Harry, Hermione, and Ron all through her tumultuous teen years. I can see this now-grown girl sharing her love of Harry Potter with her kids today.
The key to creating a life-long reader is found in childhood and, once found, it unlocks everything. So if the first reason for this memoir of books is non-readers like my students, and the second is new readers like my kid, then the third is the kids who grew up and never lost their childlike love for good books and good stories.
Kids like that young mom.
And, perhaps, kids like you.
A couple of points before we get this show on the road:
First, I wrote this sort-of memoir in mostly chronological order, from my earliest books to the most recent ones when I was in high school. However, since I explore not only how these books affected me then but also how they affect me now, like a time traveler we will jump from the past into the present a few times here and there. (Sorry – make that “many times here and there.”)
Second, I will explain what “scaffolds” are in terms of reading at some point. If you’re impatient, however, feel free to skip to Chapter 9. But it’s better if you wait until then.
Finally, I wish to acknowledge the Eastfield College Sabbatical Program and everyone involved who allowed me to have the time off to work on this book and the supplementary materials that will come from this book. This is a project that I’ve wanted to do for the past three years but never had the time – with all of my responsibilities – to do it. The older I get, the more I realize just how precious the gift of time is; my Eastfield College and Dallas County Community College District community, thank you for this gift.
As we wild and crazy Filipinos say, salamat po.