My Reading Journal

Greetings! This Free-Reading Friday, I have just finished reading My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul. It is a memoir inspired by the reading journal the author has kept since she was in high school. If you like books about reading, you may find this one interesting.

I, too, keep a reading journal.  I am a life-long reader, but I did not begin to keep track of my reading until I was well into my 40s. My journal began as a simple list of titles and authors in the back of my personal journal, and has evolved since then.

Around 1997, I added the number of pages each book held. I had an ulterior motive. The staff at the elementary school where I taught at the time wanted to teach the students what one million looked like. The school began a massive reading campaign. In exchange for so many pages read, students and teachers alike received “Washington Bucks” which were then posted onto the walls of the school. We never reached $1,000,000. The fire department deemed the paper-plastered walls a fire hazard in the 19th century school building. Nevertheless, we all kept reading.

In 2013, I decided I wanted to keep my reading list all in one place, so I began a separate notebook. The format allows me space in which to write responses to my reading as I desire.

Four years later, my notebook is nearly full. From the front of the notebook, I’ve listed books I’ve read. From the back, I’ve listed interesting titles I’d like to read. The two lists are about to meet. It seems there are always more books on the “want to read” list than on the “have read” list.

It’s always exciting to begin a fresh notebook for any reason. As I begin my new reading journal, I am eager to see what worlds I will visit via the written word.

Happy Free-Reading Friday!

reading journal

 

What Did Jesus Say?

Now and then I will see a  Facebook post by a modern-day Pharisee who claims “Jesus said this,” or “Jesus said that”, without including the Scripture reference. I’ve been a student of the Bible for forty years, but my response is often, “Really? I don’t remember Him saying that.”

I’ll search the Gospels for the reference. Sometimes the quotation has been cherry-picked out of context, sometimes misquoted. Other times, the quote is just plain revisionist scripture.

These occasions led me to want to better educate myself about what Jesus actually said. Thinking a red-letter edition of the Bible would be helpful, I looked through the several translations and editions we had at home. I found no suitable Bible to use. The only red-letter edition on hand was a small, King James gift Bible I had received as a child. The print was way too small for my 67-year-old eyes. Besides, King James language, although poetic and beautiful, can no longer be considered the vernacular. I needed something I could read and understand.

I went Bible shopping. I was overwhelmed by the wide range of choices, none of which was within my budget. There were large tomes with large print and space for taking notes, small Bibles with too-small print, myriad translations, even a few with the words of Jesus in red.

I also found something called journaling Bibles. These are intended for those who do art work in their Bibles in response to Scripture. Margins are ample, paper is sturdy; some even include drawings to be colored. (I consulted Pinterest. Apparently Bible journaling is quite a fad. It is telling that I found a greater variety of these in the craft store than in the book store, artfully displayed next to specialty “Bible journaling markers” and lettering templates. Someone is making a green killing on these.)

I threw up my hands in frustration and did not buy a new Bible that day. Instead, I bought a pink Bible highlighter–the kind that is erasable and will not bleed through thin paper. I would make my own red-letter edition.

The plan? Using my favorite study Bible, I would read the Gospels as an Advent discipline. As I read, I would highlight Jesus’ words with pink. I am not the most consistent, disciplined student. I have made progress, but Advent was over months ago. Here it is June, and I’ve reached the 16th chapter of Luke. That speaks to my humanness, I suppose.

Not having a deadline to finish has its advantages. I’ve been able to go at my own pace, thinking about what I read. Reading the Christmas story right after Easter gave me a new perspective. I read it not as a routine ritual, but as something to consider in relation to the Resurrection.

The highlighter has also slowed me down. I have focused on Jesus’ words. Even His shortest utterances have a power I had not before realized.

I’m glad I undertook this red-letter project. It continues to teach me much.

Bible pix

… about Book Club

I just returned home from a book club meeting. It’s an activity I look forward to each month.

Some might say we use the phrase “book club” loosely. We’re more of a ladies’ literary eating society. Once a month, seven or eight of us, all retired school teachers, get together. The hostess regales us with a delicious luncheon, and we visit about this and that before getting down to the business of discussing what we’ve read over the past month.

Our group decided a couple years ago to take a different direction from traditional book clubs. After getting bogged down with a couple of  books no one enjoyed, we dispensed with the idea of all reading and discussing the same book. Now we all read whatever we want during the month. At book club, each of us reports on her favorites; then we share books around so everyone has a chance to read them.

Some (most) of us are addicted to purchasing new books, so there are always plenty to share around. Today, a couple of the ladies brought multiple tote bags full. If someone can’t find a book she wants to read, she isn’t paying attention.

We visit all afternoon. The discussions are lively, the company pleasant. I never fail to return home with a hefty list of books that I’d like to read. It’s a wonderful way to spend a Free-Reading Friday.

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Photo: public domain

Unlocking the World

I ran across the featured picture while I was looking for something else. The quilt in the photo was one of my very first attempts at applique and patchwork years ago. I don’t name all my quilts, but I named this one “Reading Unlocks the World”.

How true that is. I grew up an ordinary kid in an ordinary suburb of Boise, Idaho. When my family traveled, we went one place–to Sacramento to visit relatives. My world was quite small.

Reading indeed unlocked the world for me and allowed me to travel far and wide.

As a youngster I traveled to the Land of Oz, visited a little girl and her grandfather in a small cabin in the Swiss Alps, and trekked along the Oregon Trail.

I met movie stars, Presidents, sports heroes, and Helen Keller. I also met ordinary kids like myself, who taught me how to navigate my growing world.

The adventures have continued throughout my reading life. I cannot imagine a life without reading.

This snowy spring day, I have begun a new journey into the life of Albert Schweitzer via his autobiography, Out of My Life and Thought. I have read many biographies over the years. Somehow I missed this one  until now.

Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday!

Gaining New Perspective

Happy Free-Reading Friday! I hope you are enjoying new worlds through your reading. Today I’ve been visiting 1939 Warsaw via The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman.

This morning as I looked at my wall of books, wondering what to share with you, I thought about books that have changed my perspective on parts of the world I had not previously considered. There are many such titles, but these three stood out. They share a common theme: oppression. Each book opened my eyes to a bigger world than my own.

A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova gave a human perspective to life in the former Soviet Union. Growing up during the Cold War, I thought of the USSR only as a dark, military force to fear, which it was. The author grew up in the Soviet  Union during that time. Through her memoir I met real people who lived under a government so oppressive that people had to pretend everything was O.K. and normal. They did not dare to speak the truth.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi tells of the underground book club the author, a teacher in Tehran, hosted with several of her students, all women. They  met secretly in her home, and read and discussed forbidden Western classics. It was a dangerous time to do so, as Islamic fundamentalists ruled Iran at the time. I gained new perspective on life in Iran for women, as well as for intellectuals.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See is a novel about two girls who grow up as laotangs, or “old sames” in nineteenth-century China.  (The practice in China at the time was to match girls via a sort of matchmaker; they would be friends for life.) Because the girls live some distance apart, they communicate via letters written on a silk fan in a secret language women created to keep their writings secret from men. The novel enlightened me to the cruel, excruciating practice of foot binding. The author’s description of the practice was vivid and detailed. The narrator/protagonist saw it as something she must endure. “But we learned the most important lesson for all women: that we must obey for our own good.”

I hope you enjoy one or more of these books!

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Conflicted

Today is Read Across American Day in honor of the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Children in schools across America celebrate the day. Lunch rooms serve green eggs and ham, teachers wear crazy hats, and libraries hold special reading events.

This would have been Dr. Seuss’ 113th birthday. Children love his zany, colorful, rhyming stories. Not only are his books fun, they also contain many words of wisdom. There is no denying Dr. Seuss did much to promote reading among young children.

But during the 1940s, Theodore Geisel, a political cartoonist, drew and published some very offensive cartoons depicting the Japanese in a derogatory light. He also spoke of his support of Japanese-American Internment camps.

Learning that was like learning the Atticus Finch of Go Set a Watchman was not the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird. I was crushed.

I was also angry. The internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans, including my husband’s family, during World War II was one of the darkest episodes in the history of the United States. Theodore Geisel fanned the flames of racism.

So today, when we honor the man who gave children so much joy and did so much to promote reading, I am conflicted about honoring him.

The Dr. Seuss who helped children love reading does not seem to be the Theodore Geisel who drew racist cartoons. In fact, Horton Hears a Who was apparently written as an apology of sorts for his past views after he visited Japan and witnessed the devastating aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima.*

Over time, many of us evolve in our view of the world. I know I have evolved in many ways. Perhaps that is what happened with Theodore Geisel. I will work on forgiving him for his earlier views.

Although I remain conflicted, I honor the literary legacy of Dr. Seuss. To balance the message, I also pay tribute to the Japanese-Americans who were held prisoner by their government.

*http://www.openculture.com/2014/08/dr-seuss-draws-racist-anti-japanese-cartoons-during-ww-ii.html

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A few good children’s and young adult books.

…about Executive Order 9066

February 19 marked the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. The order forced the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans–citizens and their immigrant parents–for the duration of World War II.

Many Americans do not know about this horrendous chapter of U.S. history. Because the best way to educate oneself is to read, and because today is Free-Reading Friday, I thought I would share a few books on the topic that might be of interest to you.

1. Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II by Richard Reeves is a good place to start if you want information. Infamy is the most comprehensive, thorough history I have read on the topic. Reeves explains what happened and why. The book is well-written. It is non-fiction, but I often felt as though I were reading a novel.

2.  Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald is the author’s own story of her family’s evacuation from Vashon Island, Washington shortly after Pearl Harbor. The author provides one of the better descriptions I’ve read of  camp life. Her telling of the yes-yes/no-no crisis is especially effective. Because the author was seventeen at the time of evacuation, this is also a coming of age story.

3.  Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston is another excellent memoir of someone who experienced imprisonment at the hand of her own country. Jeanne Wakatsuki was only seven years old when her family was evacuated from the West Coast and “relocated” to Manzanar.

4.  When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka is a short novel which tells about the internment experience from the points of view of the various members of one family. It is a quick but powerful read.

5.  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a novel by Jamie Ford, offers a slightly different perspective. Set in Seattle during World War II, the story follows a young Chinese-American boy who befriends a Japanese-American classmate. This is one of my favorite books of all times. The hotel featured in the novel, the Panama Hotel, still stands. If you’re ever in Seattle, it would be well worth your time to arrange a tour.

These are just a few of the many books on the subject of Japanese-American internment. I welcome you to comment with your favorite titles.

Happy Reading!

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My daughter, husband and I were fortunate to have the current owner of the Panama Hotel in Seattle take us on a guided tour. I highly recommend the experience.