City of Readers

My brother reads a lot.

I can still remember the day my mother took us to the Lisbon Falls library to get out first library cards.  If memory serves me correctly, we were playing near a frog pond at the end of Center Street.  My brother and one of his friends were looking for tadpoles and I was tagging along.  I was wearing red Buster Brown oxford shoes; they were wet and muddy by the time we got home.  Our mother was upset because she had a plan for the day which did not include muddy shoes.

We got our library cards and the librarian, Mrs. Huston, didn’t care much about our footwear.

I liked everything about the Lisbon Falls Community Library and I spent a lot of time there until I went to college and starting spending a lot of time in the Fogler Library.  I would like to say I became a prolific reader, but the truth is I’m more of a “competitive skimmer.”  I blame it on the SRA reading laboratory in my fourth grade classroom.  The laboratory was a box full of color-coded story cards and students could sidle up to the box, pull out a card, read the story, and then answer questions to demonstrate reading comprehension to themselves.  The inventor of the system, Donald H. Parker, said he wanted to invent a system where students could work independently and avoid comparisons with other students.


As an observant fourth grader, I could easily identify who was getting up and down frequently and I would note which color reader they were pulling from the box.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but I am competitive and I wanted to be one of the top readers.  So I’d read as fast as I could to get to the comprehension questions, then I’d go back and skim for the key words which would provide me with the answers.  Dr. Parker must have been naïve to think a crafty fourth grader would be motivated purely by a love of reading; it’s not the American way.

Being competitive is not necessarily a bad thing.  It prompted me to read a lot and it helped me to understand that knowledge was freely available to me; I could read about people who lived in different times and places and I could explore ideas that might have been alien in my corner of the world.  Because I was a skimmer, I would look at lots of books and place them in mental categories with other books I had read.  For instance, I read a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books and short stories, but almost none of Ernest Hemingways’s works.  I knew they were of the same historical and literary era; I had read for a comprehension of Hemingway.  Who knows, maybe I read an SRA Reader on him and it had stuck with me all these years.

My brother reads a lot more than I do.

I admire his ability to focus on reading for reading’s sake.  The competitive part of me wants to read thirty books a year too.  There are many good reasons to read more books and less blogs and I don’t have to convince myself of reading’s merit.

But then again, I’m not making any New Year’s Resolutions.

What are you reading right now?

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3 Responses to City of Readers

  1. Loosehead Prop says:

    Um, your blog.

  2. Loosehead Prop says:

    In reading your remembrance, consider that while you were being shortchanged (reading SRA-mush instead of the real writing that every child in that classroom was capable of wrestling with), you were above all conscious of what others thought of you and the need to choose the right colors. You were being trained (as all of schooling does) to measure yourself never by an internal measure developed by your tastes, loves and hard-earned experience, but by what some arbitrary authority outside yourself said you needed to measure yourself by.

    You chose the right colors, therefore you were successful and doomed to achieve (as measured by others, of course–it’s the corporate ladder for you, my lassie!). Other children took the mediocre colors, and so announced to the whole class that they were inferior, that they underperformers. That they were dumb.

    What infinitely cruel acts school consists of, to make a child have to declare before all their peers that they are dumb. That success isn’t for them. That they are necessarily inferior. We know the traumas you took away by choosing the right colors. What traumas did these children take away by choosing the wrong colors?

    That’s not happening to Ben Hewitt’s boys, is it? (

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