Friday, September 18, 2009

2002-2003: Bookworm Misery

Why don't you dance with me?!! I'm not no Limburger!!!
"Dance This Mess Around" -The B-52s -

I've been living a bookworm's dream for the past few years. The Reading Fairy obviously loves me. Not only do I have book blogging buddies, I have real-life friends who enjoy cracking a book then discussing it. THREE book groups. A library that goes all the way through the 900s! This week, I started tutoring one of the Korean professors. She's the chair of the Korean Language and Literature Department. Thrilled that I've read a few Korean novels, she has promised to be on the lookout for additional translations. Jackpot!

It's raining books, hallelujah...

I'm feeling so good that I can flash back to the 2002-2003 school year. I was teaching ESL at my latest schools, Ad Astra Middle School and Ad Astra High School. The job was all right, but as far as finding bookworm friends and compatriots, it was a low point.

Part of the problem was me. I'd always had a fantasy that once I became an English teacher, the other English teachers, the library staff and I would gather in the library or the teacher's lounge on a daily basis and chat about literature. Things got out of hand -- in my dream, we were wearing tweeds and sipping tea. My simple strand of pearls looked fabulous with my chignon. At one point in my reverie, we were even sporting vaguely English accents...

I was so eager to find a bookworm buddy that I engaged in slightly cringeworthy behavior -- I began photocopying reviews I'd written of books I had read the previous month and placing them strategically around the teacher's lounge. I was sure someone would approach me and shyly say, "I noticed you read [name of book]. Have you read [something else the author wrote]?" And: "I've been thinking of forming a reading group. Would you be interested?" For the most part, my reviews remained untouched. I think one of the counselors used one as a place mat to catch his chocolate cake crumbs.

The middle school librarian and I got off to a wretched start. During 4th hour, I had one student, a 6th grader named Yesenia who was fresh from Mexico. Since it was just the two of us, I had the idea of taking her to the library one day, showing her the picture books and letting her select one. Then I would read and she would repeat. Things went well, so we returned a couple of days later. When the bell rang, the librarian came over, sent Yesenia to lunch and asked to have a word with me. With a gaze as steely as Clint Eastwood's, she informed me that my studentS (!) and I had "an instructional area" and that it was "appropriate" for us to stay there. I spent my lunch break locked in a bathroom stall, crying mostly because the universe seemed especially unfair; that vicious harridan was a librarian and I wasn't.

After a few months, I struck back (rather weakly). I noticed Lonesome Dove on the shelves. I handed it to her and asked her if she thought it was "appropriate" that 6-8 graders were reading about prostitutes and murderers. (I'm sorry, Larry McMurtry!) Then I said that I was returning to my instructional area and walked out. I'd like to say forever, but the principal always held staff meetings in her lair, where I sat at a table as far from her as possible.

The high school, where I spent the second part of the day, had a much more welcoming librarian. I brought a class of 8 in once (for research about jobs) and she never turned a hair. During prep time and after school, I took the opportunity to check out what was available for the 9-12 graders. According to my reading journal, I checked out and read the following books during that time:
  • Red Sky At Morning - Richard Bradford
  • The Yearling - Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
  • Go Tell It On The Mountain - James Baldwin
  • A Separate Peace - John Knowles
  • Worms Eat My Garbage - Mary Appelhof
  • The Worm Book - Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor
  • Essential Zen - author???
Except for massive state budget cuts and layoffs for 20% of the staff looming around the corner, the job was going great. Still no bookish buddy, though. Sigh. Then one day in April of 2003, it looked as if my chance had come. I was at the high school, and for some reason I can't remember, every English teacher and the librarian was in the teacher's lounge.

Behind the Anne Tyler novel I was reading, (Back When We Were Grownups) my heart was pounding with anticipation. No more beating around the bush! We were going to have a literary discussion right here and now!

I cleared my throat. "Ummm...I was wondering? Since we're all English teachers? What do you enjoy reading?" My voice was going higher and higher from nervousness.

Long silence. Then finally, the 12th grade English teacher said "Well, I read some John Grisham from time to time."

No one else said anything. I held up my book. "I'm reading Anne Tyler. She's really good, and..."

Another teacher interrupted. "She's a little too weird for me."

The 9th grade English teacher took care of the rest of my illusions. "We have to read all day at work," she told me. "I don't know about everyone else, but when I get home, the last thing I want to see is a book." A few nods of agreement.

"Oh." I pretended to read again. The subject was immediately changed.

One of the things I miss is my car. On bad days, I used to have terrific cursing and venting sessions in the 7 miles between Ad Astra and La Monte. That day's session began even before I got the key in the ignition and lasted 10 minutes after I pulled into the driveway at home. I'm sure I paused for breath, but I don't remember. Raging? King Lear out in the storm looked like Grandpa in that old Werther's Originals commercial compared with me.

With The Cranberries blaring at top volume, I throttled the steering wheel and raged at the whole town of Knob Noster for being such an armpit. I raged at the English teachers for not loving books. I raged at myself for having such an unrealistic fantasy life. I raged at myself for wanting to surround myself with people who probably didn't even exist. I raged at myself for being a bookworm and being so obvious about it and feeling that change was unthinkable. Tears and snot flew. I raged and raged and raged. This blog's birth was almost one year away. I'd be living on another continent within 18 months. BOOKLEAVES was four years in the future. So many wonderful things were in front of me, but that afternoon, how could I have known?


Petty Witter said...

I hope you told that 9th grade teacher that 'having' to read is so different from 'wanting to read. Good luck in your search for other book lovers.

Zee said...

Shame I wasn't at your school in 2003. I would have been your book buddy. I'm studying to be an ESL teacher and I want to read all day and my students will be reading plenty of books. So say I.

Care said...

Golly. and you had to leave not only Missouri (pronounced Misery?!) but the US to find a book club. sigh. Don't get me wrong - I love MO! but still. yeeks. (think you're gonna get some chuckles by UK bloggers for the town name? hee hee) and thanks for my word-of-the-day: harridan. loveit

Eva said...

Wow-I'm glad you've got so many bookworm friends now. :D I always love your writing Susan, and I loved this post because it's so true that we can't imagine what our futures hold (I tried to think of a less corny way to say that and failed).

Jeane said...

I am surprised that so many english teachers did not like to read! How sad if their work made them feel that way. I too, never had any bookish friends- until I started blogging...

Amanda said...

I hurt for you. I have often had periods of similar frustration and am still the outsider in my family-of-origin because of my bookish ways. I love visiting your blog. Thank you.

Bybee said...

Petty Witter,
At that point, I figured that the 9th grade teacher and I didn't share a common language.

Oh...great! See, you really do exist! That's great that you're going into ESL.

I worried briefly about using Knob Noster's real name, but since they don't like to read, they'll never come here. Yeah, that town name is hootworthy, isn't it? "Harridan" was something much stronger and more offensive in the first draft.

It's not corny. It's true.

Looking back, maybe that was just a bad lot.

No one in my family is a big reader, either, so I was out of luck in all directions.

Anonymous said...

I love that you are willing to share "cringe-worthy" moments on your blog.

Your search for book friends sounds like my search for a boyfriend. Oh where, Oh where are the men who like to cuddle *and* discuss the latest John Irving at the same time. It's a tall order, I know.

Lesley said...

Oh my goodness, what awful experiences you had! I am lucky in that the people I work with now all enjoy reading and talking about books, but I have had times in my life when I wasn't so lucky. I find it sad when I hear someone who works in a field involving books/reading say that they don't have time to read - that's just a way of saying they don't want to, since we are all busy, and just make time for those things we enjoy doing.

Thankfully we have our book blogging buddies to help fill in the bookish holes in our lives. :)

Book Dragon said...

How can a teach instill the love of reading what you want if they don't read themselves?

I'm venting with you. I know I'm late but it boggles the mind. No wonder kids don't read for fun.

Bybee said...

The thing about bookish guys is that they're all home reading, and they're more difficult to get out than the dirt that lodges in the grout in the bathroom.

We are lucky to have each other!

Book Dragon,
Yeah, things like that are so disheartening. But that just means that because of them, it's up to me to show my unrestrained love for books to students.

Bybee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Your post made me so sad for you! I'm glad you found some Kindred Spirits even though you had to leave the country to do it.

Anonymous said...

what a horrible story!!! you put yourself out there and people didn't respond in kind--that is so dejecting! i'm glad you eventually found your way here and can take refuge in the company of a zillion other book nerds!!!

The Literary Gift Company said...

wow, I am so depressed by those English teachers :-(
The Literary Gift Company

Bookfool said...

That's so depressing. I used to sell books via book fairs at schools. It was shocking how few librarians were there by choice. They were teachers who ended up shoved into the library because there were too many kindergarten teachers or they'd canned art or there wasn't anyone who wanted to be a librarian so they just grabbed someone.

We had an evil librarian in elementary school -- my youngest son's elementary -- who wouldn't let them check out books, never read to the children, and spent almost all day plugging in video tapes. And, she still wasn't happy. Don't go looking for librarian buddies in my town, in other words.