Wednesday, September 7, 2011

We ate them. Words.

I was always a good reader. In fact, perhaps a better word would be excellent, voracious, or perhaps -- a lapper?

I lapped up written text. I desired it. I wanted it. I wallowed in it.

By the time I went to kindergarten in 1959, I was a sight recognition reader.

In first and second grades, the teachers placed us in reading groups, a placement I recognized as dealing with skill, but perhaps not in a competitive or even a point and laugh way. Reading groups were part of the curriculum of the time, and the philosophy was that good readers were with good readers and poor readers were with poor readers.


Teachers also encouraged students to read aloud [a practice that has some how gone by the wayside], and if a fellow student struggled with the pronunciation of words, I tended to lean forward or backwards or side ways to whisper the word for him to help him, move him along, or just out of sheer impatience. I’m not suggesting that I was altruistic, but perhaps, over skilled?

The whole family loved to read. At breakfast, we read the back of the cereal boxes -- and we read them over and over and over, the same text; it just didn’t matter.

On Saturdays and Sundays, we fought for the newspaper comics -- Pogo, Andy Capp, Brenda Starr, Dick Tracy, Beetle Bailey, Blondie, the pipe smokin' guy? ; we read series The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and any magazine that my daddy subscribed to -- Life, Newsweek, Look, Harpers’s, Atlantic Monthly …..and when visiting our aunts in Virginia, we devoured their Reader’s Digest.

Words. We ate them.

I don’t know what grade I was in when I received my first literature text...



But when I did --


I’d take that book home, flip through the pages of short stories, poems, plays, myths, fables, or whatever was there, and happily and nerdily read them. Yep. I’d read as many as I could.

I’d be on a rampage to uncover the good stuff before the teacher assigned it,or before someone whom I thought was cool told me the work was awful and despised it. I read it before someone, who didn't "get it, love it, want it," ruined it.

Former Students: Do you mean the teacher, Mrs. Gillham?
Me: No, I mean before YOU ruined it. *tee hee*

Never did an English teacher make an assignment out of a literature text that I hadn’t already looked at, read, or skimmed.

BTW: This habit totally ended when I became an English major and was handed my first Norton Anthology. I never got to all of that. Never.

Somewhere out there are English majors nodding their hoary heads as they squint their myopic eyes at this blog.



When I became a high school English teacher, especially when I was teaching ninth graders, I always fell a little in love with the student, who after he or she got to know me, would come in before class or hang around after class and confess his habit: Uh, Mrs. Gillham? You know that story or that poem or that play …? And then he would want to discuss it, you know, before the other students ruined it.

Did any of you guys do this? I mean, lap up the literature -- I already know that a few of you ruined it.


  1. We are kindred spirits. I have fond memories of summers spent sitting on the front "stoop" reading Nancy Drew. I'll still read just about anything I get my hands on. Love, love, love to read!

    Hoary? No way...Just got my hair done. Blond w/ a nice magenta streak on the side. Yeah baby!

  2. As long as I can remember!! :) -Stephanie Madson (formerly Allen, Class of 2000 at HHS)

  3. This was so fun to read, having had you as a teacher, and now as a teacher myself. Connecting with a student over anything--a book, an idea, a social theory--is the best.

  4. I would have loved to have you as a teacher. I've always loved to read.

    I remember reading Alfred Hitchcock in grade 4 and having to troop to the front to ask the teachers what the words were. Those were some huge books too so I got a little weight lifting in with my exercise.

    Funnily enough I saw my brother this weekend and we were talking about reading. He used to give me books to read. I read The Lord of the Rings in Grade 5 and when he enjoyed the required reading in his grade (he's 3 years older), he'd give me the book. I remember reading Lord of the Flies when he gave it to me, loved in and was stunned when we had to read it in class and everyone else hated it. lol

  5. I inhaled them. It drove my parents crazy, and they'd have to chase me outside. It started early, perhaps with my mother reading me Grimm's Fairy Tales. I know I was reading Trixie Belden books at 6 and Hardy Boys at 8.

  6. Oh, yes....but I always read Nancy Drew, never Hardy Boys...I loved reading group and loved reading out loud! That was my favorite time of the school day. I am happiest when I am swimming in books! Juggling 3 now :-)

  7. I feel like I could have written this, Harriet (well, not the teacher part...I tried to be an English teacher...I lasted until the end of my student teaching and then promptly quit). Anyway, I love this post. Oh the Norton Anthology...that brings back memories. I'm sure mine is still collecting dust on a basement shelf.

  8. If I didn't ruin it then, I've certainly ruined it now.