4.17.2009

Adventures in Reading

I keep a reading journal, and I try to sample widely from the genres I work in. And through my experiences in teaching academic writing, I occasionally encounter some interesting essay prompts. Florida State University keeps a list of previous CLAST examination questions. The CLAST is a standardized test to illustrate writing proficiency for our eleven state universities.

Last week, I pulled one of the prompts from the list and we wrote on it in class. It was simple: which is a more educational activity--reading or writing? It's a simple comparison and contrast piece, and it gives students a little room to include some personal reflection on their favorite books, films and shows.


I was shocked that, almost to a writer, no one specified any favorite childhood books. There weren't any references to classics like Hatchet, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Chronicles of Narnia, James and the Giant Peach, etc.

There weren't even any specific references to books they've enjoyed as adults. I was shocked. It seemed like such a tailor-made prompt for anyone who remotely enjoys reading.

A Farewell to Arms blew me away. I remember waiting for Jeanne outside of her dorm, pacing back and forth as that sorrowful conclusion unwound in front of me.

American Gods gripped me in a way few books have in recent years.

I wept a little at the end of The Road.

But, if pressed, I usually refer to The Dark Tower as my greatest adventure in reading. After literally waiting decades to finish the series, I found myself on a cross-country flight to Portland with only thirty pages left in the book. Alas, Roland's saga would come to an end.

I hated it. I hated the idea of reading it on that stuffy airplane, breathing recycled air while crammed in between a couple of strangers. I'd come to know and love Roland and his Ka' Tet, and it simply felt wrong somehow to finish his story in that place.

I stowed the book, went to my back-up and waited about a month until I could book a proper vacation back in Florida. Jeanne and I took a room at The Beachfront Hotel in Cedar Key and I read those final pages on the beach, as the sun traced out over the Gulf of Mexico. It was a great ending to a fine series, and I was very happy I waited.

I'll read the series again--maybe even this summer. That said, I believe those seminal reading experiences are special. Anyone out there care to share a title or an experience on a cherished tome?

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