Posts tagged " books "

First Do No Harm

July 26th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

As a young adult, I spent some time in Israel. One bonus of being there was meeting people who came from so many different places and backgrounds. When a rare snowstorm hit Jerusalem it was the very first time that a number of my friends had ever seen snow fall. While there is always something beautiful in watching falling flakes, it was especially exciting experiencing that event alongside those for whom it was new.

As adults, parents and teachers have the awesome opportunity of introducing so much of life to innocent children. We may take snow or stories or physical laws like gravity for granted, but one of our gravest responsibilities is making sure not to diminish the wonder of these things for the next generation.

Ann Patchett is a successful novelist and the co-owner of a bookstore in Tennessee. In that capacity she said, “I find myself flipping through the giant green binder of summer-reading lists from all the area schools and being struck by how many seem committed to wringing every ounce of joy from a young person’s relationship to a book.” She then proceeds to describe the often boring and cumbersome instructions that accompany the list of required reading.

What a condemnation! I can think of few skills more important than knowing how to read, but it is a wasted skill if a passion for reading doesn’t accompany it. A talented parent or teacher can peel open a book revealing depths not necessarily evident on a first reading and guide a young reader to get more from a story. A mentor can point a child towards books that will help the youth become a greater person. Those same educators can crush a love of reading, impoverishing and harming a child.

There are a few more weeks of summer. What books have you been reading aloud to your children during these longer days? If you aren’t confident in your reading, there are wonderful audio books to listen to alongside your children. One can hope that their teachers are not among the Grinches stealing the pleasure from reading. If they are, your role is even more important. Just as I enjoyed my Jerusalem snowfall more because of the friends sharing it, little will make your children enjoy reading more than sharing it with you.

Watery Reminders

July 26th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

Our basement, like so many others in the Atlantic region, flooded during this week’s torrential rains. We are fortunate. Our damage was largely luggage, clothing, tools and other replaceable items. We stored very few pictures downstairs and after running the washing machine non-stop for a few days, clothing has been retrieved. Since—surprise, surprise—the flooding is not covered by our insurance, the flooding is going to be expensive in terms of replacement cost and the time it will take to clean up, but we are grateful it was not worse. The biggest loss has been books.

We are enormous fans of used bookstore. We don’t seek the latest best-seller at a discount. Instead, we search out old books, those that you can’t find anymore. Books that beam out wholesomeness and innocence. Books about healthy families and friendships with a noticeable absence of perversion and profanity. One sad victim of our flooding was a box labelled, “Teenage girl books,” that was waiting for our granddaughters to get a bit older.

After a tiring day of clean-up, I curled up in bed needing even more distraction than reading provided. A few weeks ago in a Musing I mentioned the 1960s TV show Family Affair and a search of Amazon Prime showed that it was available for viewing with a click of the mouse. I clicked. (more…)

Am I reading too much?

June 20th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 17 comments

Hello Rabbi and Mrs. Lapin,

I am wondering if it is possible to gain “too much” knowledge. We know that Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden because of their disobedience, eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil when instructed not to. However, as I have grown to understand it, their transgression was more in trying to “…be like God” and have His knowledge.

I love learning. I learn any way I can. I have a book in my hand (electronic or printed) almost all the time when I’m not occupied at work or with family. Am I potentially being sinful in my pursuit of knowledge?

Thank you.

Dennis J.

Dear Dennis,

What an interesting question! Before we move on to our answer we just want to say that ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes (as you correctly wrote) that Adam and Eve ate, not from the Tree of Knowledge which might have suggested that knowledge itself was part of the problem, but from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. 

Till that fateful bite, we humans had the ability to instantly and reliably know whether a particular action was good or evil.  That ancient surrender to tasty temptation forever confused us.  Now, in virtually every wrong and prohibited action, it is tragically possible to identify good, and in every good action it is sadly possible to see bad.

(more…)

Comfort Reading

December 14th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 54 comments

I went to the library yesterday to get some comfort reading. You probably know about comfort food. After 9/11, even fancy restaurants began serving  mashed potatoes, chocolate pudding and other common staples of childhood. As people were reeling from the ominous events that shook the world, eating simple old-fashioned favorites emotionally connected them with a safer time and place. Don’t most of us have a food or drink that we associate with feelings of security and protection?

Comfort reading is similar to comfort eating though it has the advantage of being calorie-free. I went searching for, and found, books that I had previously read, ensuring that there would be no unpleasant surprises. They weren’t necessarily my favorite books, simply decently written and rather undramatic ones; books with only happy events. Or at least the problems that do occur are minor, reparable and not stress-inducing to me as a reader. Books like Mrs. Mike or Little Women, as wonderful as they are, don’t fall into this category. Quite frankly, (spoiler alert) one or more beloved character dies in each one. Since getting older seems to correspond with my becoming more of a blubbery mess as I read those scenes, those books clearly won’t serve my purpose.

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Should my children go to prom?

April 27th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

“Will you go to Prom with me?” Countless teens ask every year about this undoubtedly scantily clad showcase for the (male) eyes, which I eschew as anti-holy behavior. I have a question, with two aspects.

  1. If my children are courting during the spring, should they be encouraged to attend, or taught to avoid it?
  2. If my children are NOT courting during this time, should they be allowed to accept or make an invitation for the date?

∼ Michael

Answer:

Dear Michael,

A young couple came with their newborn to ask their rabbi, “When should we start thinking about her education?” He replied, “You’re already about nine months behind schedule.” (more…)

I May Not Agree with What You Say…

July 12th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 3 comments

My soon to be eight year old grandson has taken to peppering his conversation with phrases like, “Golly” and “That’s swell”. This is not surprising for those of us who know of his fascination with the Hardy Boys series. He is an avid reader and books expand his vocabulary (sometimes amusingly) as well as his knowledge of geography, history and so much more.

But danger as well as treasure can lurk in books.  While the Hardy brothers with their sense of responsibility, honesty and respect for law are welcomed into his home, his mother, the doorkeeper, keeps some other books out. Recently, supervision of reading material was a hot topic on a homeschool web discussion group to which she and I both belong. The fascinating and provocative exchange of ideas that shot across cyberspace is one of the reasons I stay on this group even though my own homeschooling days are over. 

To an outsider, the group would seem to be homogeneous; Jewish mothers and fathers who approach homeschooling from a Torah perspective. However, even within those parameters, differences emerged. Members passionately (homeschoolers tend to be passionate about anything having to do with their children) explained why they do – or don’t – allow their children to read various genres of literature; what types of books they prefer; and how strictly – or leniently – they impose their views on their children.

Despite the variety of opinions, respect for each other’s ideas permeated the conversation. Just the opposite took place when the Wall Street Journal’s children’s book reviewer, Meghan Cox Gurdon, wrote an article criticizing how dark young adult literature has become. While her point seemed a no-brainer to me since I long ago learned to steer clear of much of current young adult literature, it provoked a firestorm of controversy. As she wrote in her follow-up article, “If the American Library Association were inclined to burn people in effigy, I might well have gone up in smoke these past few days.” Many who disagreed with her engaged in personal attacks on her intelligence and character rather than her ideas. 

The contrast between the conversation on my homeschool group and the one sparked by the Journal article was stark. The fact that so many of the belligerent participants were young adult authors, librarians and teachers, seemed to me to be one more reason not to entrust one’s children to their influence. While, to their credit, some later offered apologies for their ad-hominem assaults, the vehemence and nastiness of the offensive suggested that Ms. Cox Gurdon was quite accurate when she said in opposition to crude and violent literature, “Entertainment does not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it.”

 

A Little Less Library

August 31st, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 4 comments

Sandy is a generous tipper. After a restaurant meal, you can count on her to leave not only money for the waiter but also a smile and a word of appreciation. Her sensitivity was developed the summer that she waited tables earning money for college.

When my own children attend a lecture or class at their synagogue they usually make a point of thanking the speaker. Their awareness was honed through years of watching their father prepare his Torah classes and realizing the amount of work that goes into a well delivered presentation.

There is nothing like first-hand experience to make one aware of the considerable work that leads to a successful activity. Even a smoothly moving line in a supermarket expresses thought and planning, but it takes shopping in a badly run store to recognize that fact.

In my case, first-hand experience led to a personal culture clash.  By nature and upbringing I am a library and used book aficionado. While there is a certain thrill in opening crisp pages, I rarely am willing to pay the premium price rather than wait until a book is more readily available. However, since my husband started writing books and especially since working with him has become my full time job, I am acutely sensitive to the difference when someone mentions to an author that he got his book from the library versus having bought it directly. It is not only the author’s livelihood which is impacted, though it certainly is.  More so, spending money on an item which has consumed hours of labor and sweat validates that effort.

So, despite the fact that both my purse and bookshelves audibly groan on a regular basis, in the last few years, when a book impacts my life, I find myself more willing to purchase it, even if as a gift for someone else. Like Sandy’s gesture to the waiter, it’s my way of acknowledging how much I benefitted from someone’s willingness to work.

(If you would like to find out more about my husband’s books and our audio CD programs, you can find them here.

Frigates, Coursers and Librarians

May 17th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

 

I didn’t recognize any of the people working at my community’s library today. I still get surprised when that happens. Despite being aware of the policy changes that were instituted a while back, I just cannot get accustomed to not knowing the staff.

 

Over the years, our library system has announced a number of “new and improved” policies. Sometimes, the change is a good one, as when card catalogues became computerized. Other times, I have to wonder why anyone wanted to tinker with a successfully functioning system.

 

When our county declared that librarians were going to rotate through the branches, rather than be assigned permanent positions, there was an attempt to explain how beneficial this would be. Both librarians and patrons would be better served. I didn’t get it.

 

To my shame and regret, I didn’t plan a protest rally. I didn’t even express my dismay to the local newspaper’s editor or to the “Friends of the Library” fundraising group. That reflected a busy life, not a lack of concern.

 

For years, my children and I spent hours each week at the library. We attended programs and special classes, but most of all we roamed the shelves and checked out books. Over time, the librarians learned of each of my children’s unique interests and abilities. Frequently, they recommended books, assisted them in research projects and in general, became part of their educational support network. The library was our greatest resource for homeschooling material and it was also friendly to our budget.

 

Had there been no easy access to a library my children would have still been surrounded by books. They would have still had adults in their lives encouraging them to read and pointing them in the direction of worthwhile material. Not all children are so fortunate.

 

The public library system offers the gift of books to all. Through the generations librarians have been the interface to those books for scores of immigrants or neglected children.

 

Today, I can reserve books online, check myself out using a computer, and never interact with a human being. If I do have a question, anyone working behind the desk can answer it. I can even type it in my computer and never exchange a word with a person. That’s fine for me, though I certainly prefer to see familiar faces and share greetings. But for a child for whom the library serves as a haven and a doorway into a better future, the computer cannot replace a living person expressing interest in his life. A strange face each time she visits means there is no one to notice that she has read a particularly challenging book or prefers non-fiction to fiction. Libraries should exude welcome and comfort, not impersonal bureaucracy.

 

As Emily Dickinson said:

 

There is no frigate like a book

To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

 

Not only books, but librarians as well, are capable of being chariots. I have no idea what the government officials who instituted the rotating librarian policy were thinking. It would be lovely if they would think again.

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