Just as there are summer movies, there are also summer books—the kind to read beside the pool, to listen to on a cross-country drive, and to curl up with on a porch alongside the drumbeat of a summer thunderstorm. Or maybe you’re like me: You take an 821-page volume to the beach.
Do you want to be a wild reader? Are you reading wildly already? We’re using Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits to explore what it means to be a wild reader — someone most likely to embrace literacy for life. Read through these five characteristics and see which ones fit your reading style and which you might incorporate this month. Or add your own category.
5 Main Characteristics of Wild Readers
The book I took to the beach this year was a short story collection, Uncommon Type, by Tom Hanks. There is a Tom Hanks-ness to these stories, a measure of kindness even when the plot is dark. As to genre, the stories are all over the map, but each one features a typewriter. One of the best ones, a DIY moon launch titled “Alan Bean Plus Four,” was published in The New Yorker a few years ago. (Sidenote: Alan Bean passed away in June.) Here is a great sentence from that story: “Once we crossed, the moon grabbed hold, wrapping us in her ancient silvery embrace, whispering to us to hurry hurry hurry to wink in wonder at her magnificent desolation.”
I read two books by Louise Erdrich this month and ordered a third. Erdrich can do it all: poetry, adult fiction, children’s fiction, short stories, nonfiction. Future Home of the Living God is a dystopian novel, which made it a good choice for Tweetspeak’s June emphasis on science fiction. When Erdrich, who is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, writes about Chippewa/Ojibwe, she often subverts expectations. For example, the main character’s name, given to her by her adoptive family, is Cedar Hawk Songmaker. Her Ojibwe birth name is Mary Potts. My favorite parts of the story explore what effects an end-of-the-world scenario might have on America’s tribal nations, especially those with strong Catholic traditions.
The other book by Erdrich I read was The Porcupine Year, the third in a series called Birchbark House. Think of the Little House series, but starring an Ojibwe girl. In this story Omakayas and her family travel from their island home, Madeline Island on Lake Superior, to a new one on Lac Du Bois. During this year-in-the-life story, Omakayas decides what kind of person she wants to be. When faced with many examples, she chooses to follow this one: “She had known exactly how long to live. When her life would count the most, she freely gave it. She was proof, in her love, of a love greater than we know.” I’ve already shared my excitement for this series with a friend who loves children’s fiction, especially a series she can sink into over the summer.
I love books that recommend other books, thus giving me a miniature reading plan. A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal by Leonard S. Marcus is a short reference book for kids, written back in 1998 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal. I reread the four winners I was familiar with and read the other two I’d missed. It’s an example of a reference book for children, with a list of the Caldecott winners from 1938-1988 and a glossary of artistic terms. It also has great quotes from the illustrators, including this one by Maurice Sendak: “Where the Wild Things Are was not meant to please everybody—only children.”
5. They show preferences.
Looking for a book rec? Try Tweetspeak Poetry! In February, Glynn Young reviewed Max Porter’s Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, and I put it on my list. Glynn was right when he said, “Physically, the text looks like a poetry collection. Sort of.” There are poems. There are letters. There is prose. There are comprehension questions. The words “Once upon a time” occur nine times. The voices shift between Dad, Crow, and Boys. After Mum/Wife dies, leaving the day and two boys alone, their masculinity moves forward. Dad is a Ted Hughes scholar, writing “Ted Hughes’ Crow on the Couch: A Wild Analysis.” Crow is crude and sometimes cruel, but he helps this motley crew. I think the boys are the best part. We see them both younger and older, in grief and avoiding grief, goading each other and taking care of/taking advantage of their dad. One of the boys, now grown up, says this:
My wife shakes her head. She thinks it’s
weird that I fondly remember family
holidays with an imaginary crow, and
I remind her that it could have been
anything, could have gone any way, but
something more or less healthy happened.
We miss our Mum, we love our Dad, we
wave at crows.
It’s not that weird.”
Future Home of the Living God, Louise Erdrich
Uncommon Type, Tom Hanks
The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker (the most recent Tweetspeak book club selection)
Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, Max Porter
The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright (finished from last month)
Early Readers and Picture Books
Wolfie the Bunny, Ame Dyckman, illus. Zachariah Ohora
Lost and Found, Oliver Jeffers
Make Way for Ducklings, Robert McCloskey
May I Bring a Friend?, Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, illus. Beni Montresor (our Children’s Book Club selection for next week, July 13)
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, William Steig
Jumanji, Chris Van Allsburg
Tuesday, David Wiesner
Sliced (Got what I needed and moved on or plan to finish someday.)
Abandoned (Not my cup of tea, it bogged down quickly, or others beckoned.)
Browse more Reading in the Wild
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro