Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, July 21, 2012

When I Ain't the Audience

We've probably all done it--read a book not written for us, gone to a movie not made for us, entered a room populated with people not like us ...  It can be awkward, frightening, liberating.  Depends.

When I was a middle school teacher, I often read books written for my students, books I probably never would have read otherwise.  And so I read Judy Blume and Paul Zindel and R. L Stine and S. E. Hinton and many of the others.  I read YA fantasy novels by Lloyd Alexander and Ursula K. Le Guin.  (I didn't read the Harry Potter books until later--the first one came out the year I retired from middle school teaching.  Otherwise, no way I would not have read them.)  Sometimes the books were virtually worthless, useful only because they gave me a way to connect with some kids who were reading them.  (Confession: I drew the line at Sweet Valley High books.)  At other times, though, I learned.

Paul Zindel's The Pigman, for example, employs two narrators--a high school boy and girl--who alternate telling the story, chapter by chapter.  This gave me ideas for writing assignments--and for connecting students, later, with Faulkner and others who used multiple voices.

And my connection with Ursula K. Le Guin (The Earthsea Trilogy) led to one of my great experiences in teaching.  One year (2001-02?) the WRA seniors were all reading Le Guin's The Dispossessed for their Senior Seminar class.  (It's a novel about double planets, one used as a place to put, well, the dispossessed.)  I wrote to Le Guin to see if she would come to WRA.  She wrote back, nicely, to say she didn't do much traveling anymore (she was living in Oregon at the time).  I wrote back and asked about a teleconference--a phone hook-up (pre-Skype).  And she readily agreed.

So we got some kids together in a seminar room, called her at the appointed time, and ... one of the most wonderful hours of my career.  She was terrific with the kids, laughing with them, taking their questions seriously (even though she'd surely answered them hundreds of times before), letting them score points ... Later, I asked what would be an appropriate fee, and she refused even to consider charging us.  She said she'd enjoyed herself.

Later, teaching at WRA, I  sort of had to read the first Twilight book--just to see.  I knew that many (most?) of the kids had read them (even those who refused to admit it), so I downloaded one to my Kindle--and, yes, one reason for Kindle-izing was that I was a little concerned about being seen reading it--not because I'm ashamed of what I read but mostly to avoid the looks--those What's-that-old-perv-reading-a-girls'-book-for? looks.

I immediately recognized the appeal of the book (a girl with laid-back parents, not much homework, her own wheels, a BF who doesn't grope and can  kick major butt, a girl whom vampires, werewolves, and humans think is hot--what's not to like?), but I also realized on page one that I was not the audience.

Later, of course, I had to go see the movies (I'm serious--as a teacher, I often went to films mainly because I knew my students would see them, and I wanted that connection).  And at the first Twilight, I was the only male in the entire packed auditorium--until right before the lights went down, at which point a couple of guilty-looking teenage boys shuffled down the aisle next to me with their girlfriends.  I stopped them, thanked them; they laughed.  Only moments later I was in trouble, though: When I saw the vampire family enter the school cafeteria, I thought they looked so ridiculous that I laughed out loud.  Ten thousand offended girls sssshhhh-ed me.  And I stayed sssshhhh-ed.

I kept going to the subsequent Twilight films--I was still teaching.  But since I've retired, I've not gone to see Breaking Dawn--haven't seen it on cable (where it seems to have a permanent home).  Maybe I will.

Recently, I read the first Hunger Games, just to see.  Went to the movie, same reason.  (I've blogged about it earlier.)

And last night ... Magic Mike,  Steven Soederbergh's dark film about male strippers.  (By the way--all of those dancers were ripped--nary an ounce of  visible adipose; so I ask: How do you live a lifestyle of alcohol? drugs? no sleep? bad food? and stay cut?  Hollywood knows!)  I'd been warned by a former student (now a FB friend) that the audience might be, uh, "involved" with the story--and that I'd be the only man in the place.  Well, the film is nearing the end of its run, I think, because there were only about thirty people or so there--and a few men-with-their-wives (like me).  I did hear some cheers and more than a few gasps (some coming from me, others from my wife), but, mostly, it was another Friday night at the movies, another time where I was where I wasn't "supposed to be"--but where I learned.

Watch YouTube: I'll be there soon demonstrating my own eye-popping, gasp-inducing writhing erotic dances.

Or maybe not.

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