What Novels Moved You?

Novels that moveI didn’t always love books. But I do now.

There are two people who I credit this to.

My mother loved to read. When she reads a book, she becomes completely engrossed. As a child, I remember hearing her laugh and seeing her cry with a book in her hands.

My oldest brother, HL, always asked me what I was reading. One year, he got me a book, The Essential Steinbeck, for Chanukah.  It included four of Steinbeck’s novels. I read them all and have not stopped reading since.

The other day my nephew, AL, asked me to participate in a school project. He is going to interview me about a book I’ve read that made an impact upon me. AL will then read the book, write a paper on it, and then recommend a book to me.

With the interview coming up Sunday, I have to decide what book I’ll focus on. It’s difficult to think of just one book that had an impact.

Below are a few books I’m considering talking to AL about.

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Bringing Harry Potter to Life

Harry Potter book“A book is waiting to be read. When you open that book, you give it life. Let it live. It wants to live,” I often advised my students. Yes, I know books are inanimate, lifeless.  They are simply words on pages (or Kindles or Nooks or other e-readers, but that’s not the point) bound together. Lifeless.

But books don’t have to be lifeless.  They can lead you anywhere and to anything. Books can take us on journeys, teach us lessons, foster our imaginations, help us to appreciate others, and so much more.

Yes, books serve as our travel agents to anywhere and can leave us laughing, crying or both along the way.

But for a book to live, it needs to be opened.

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The Love of Books: My Children are Readers

Children reading books

BR & SJ reading together circa 2008.

“I’m the luckiest kid in the world,” said SJ. What precipitated this declaration?

It wasn’t a walk through Disney World. It wasn’t a gigantic box of Lego. It wasn’t an extra piece of chocolate cake.

SJ was holding four books outside of the library. The books included two from the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey and two from the Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce.

So, he was thrilled to have gotten four library books. He even did a dance – right outside the library (I wish I had the video).

Then, there’s BR.

BR has a favorite author: Dan Gutman. He has read many of Gutman’s books including the entire My Weird School series.

These days BR’s obsession is Dan Gutman’s baseball card adventure series. The titles include Ted & Me, Babe & Me, Jackie and Me, etc.

BR gets these books and disappears into his room. He goes through two of these books a week.

Why do my boys love reading when so many boys are not into reading?

My wife started reading to BR when he was just weeks old. He would be awake for hours (shocking, I know); she didn’t know what else to do with him after a while, so she just started reading to him.

Regarding SJ, I remember seeing him in his room by himself when he was two-years old. He was on the floor with a book in front of him. He was flipping through the pages but not before staring intently at each one. He was copying what he saw his big brother doing. This is one case where emulating his big brother truly helped him.

Anyway, some way wonder why we still read to our children even though they are proficient readers themselves. Well, studies show that reading to such children has many benefits.  Jim Trelease author of the respected, Read-Aloud Handbook, notes two reasons why it’s good to read to older kids.

1. A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade.
2. Reading aloud to your kids is also are good way to grapple with difficult issues.*

I’ll be honest. I also love reading with BR because of the time we spend together, and the thoughts we share. I always comment on the books we read, and encourage him to do the same.

The book we completed most recently was The Big One-Oh by Dean Pitchford. I think I liked it even more than BR. The Big One-Oh told the story of a socially awkward boy who was about to turn 10. BR could relate. The protagonist learns many lessons about friendship and about himself.

I love reading with SJ because he is engaged in the text. His facial expressions and reactions are priceless. He also surprises with his comments and questions. Interesting perspective SJ has.

My wife and I are thrilled to be raising readers.

This English teacher dad is proud!



Read and Write

I look at my watch and crunch the numbers, and decide to keep going. One more. I have time. Besides, it’s a short chapter. Kind of. Everything else can wait.

Actually, the decision was made for me. I had to read more. Besides, I wasn’t really reading but consuming the book page by page. And I was ravenous.

I wanted more. More of the words which formed a running movie in my head. So, somehow in my crammed schedule, I stole time to read some more.

All you readers know just what I mean. I’m sure you could name a book or 30 that grabbed you like this. You rush to the end but are sad when it comes. Or maybe you slow down as you approach the conclusion savoring each scene, page, and word. When the end comes, you are both sad and exhilarated. For those of us who are also writers, maybe — like me — you feel a pang of jealousy and awe. You hope that you move people as you have been moved and are blown away by the writer’s skill.

I recently read Johnathan Tropper’s One Last Thing Before I Go. I became aware of Mr. Tropper while reading a review of one of his books at http://alenaslife.wordpress.com. One Last Thing Before I Go focuses on a man in his 40s. His life is screwed up both personally (divorced, very distant relationship with his daughter) and professionally (after being the drummer of a band that had one hit song, he periodically plays weddings and bar mitzvahs). He gets the news that he must have surgery, or he will die. He decides his life is not worth saving. However, before he goes, he sets three goals: be a better man, be a better father, and fall in love. The book is about his uneven pursuit to fill these goals. There were moments of humor, sadness, and downright lunacy which encompassed both. I lost track of how many times I read a line or scene that forced me to ponder and think, “I wish I would have said that.”

Ultimately, this book made me feel writerish (I know that’s not a word, but I am using it anyway. For anyone who used to listen to Richie Ashburn announce Phillies games, this is a tip of the cap to him; he used to periodically announce that a particular batter looks hitterish.) I added a few chapters to the novel that I have been writing in my head. I have a short story idea that I will be pursuing. I already stole an idea for a recent blog. I am in a writing state of mind.

So, grab a copy of One Last Thing Before I Go byJonathan Tropper. But be prepared to change your schedule.