Friday, October 19, 2012

Poetry Friday: The List

I read the poem in this post earlier this week with my eighth graders, and later in the same day saw this blog post linked on Facebook (it's a list of the "Ten books you absolutely must read" and includes such items as "every single book by your favourite author" and "the one that a friend recommends").  Both express my view that people should read what they enjoy.  I have read books before because they were good for me, or because I wanted to be able to say I had read them, and there's nothing inherently wrong with those things, but reading is also a great pleasure, and I want to enjoy it.  I don't believe that there is some list of books everyone should read.  Everyone should read the Bible (because there's so much in it that is so amazing), but other than that, people's lists are, and should be, idiosyncratic.

Here's Naomi Shihab Nye's take on that:

The List
By Naomi Shihab Nye

A man told me he had calculated
the exact number of books
he would be able to read before he died
by figuring the average number
of books he read per month
and his probable earth span,
(averaging how long
his dad and grandpa had lived,
adding on a few years since he
exercised more than they did).
Then he made a list of necessary books,
nonfiction mostly, history, philosophy,
fiction, and poetry from different time periods
so there wouldn’t be large gaps in his mind.
He had given up frivolous reading entirely.
There are only so many days.

Oh, I felt sad to hear such an organized plan.
What about the books that aren’t written yet,
the books his friends might recommend
that aren’t on the list,
the yummy magazine that might fall
into his hand at a silly moment after all?
What about the mystery search
through the delectable library shelves?
I felt the heartbeat of forgotten precious books
calling for his hand.

Here's today's roundup, hosted by the lovely Irene Latham, who is celebrating her new book. Congratulations, Irene! And I'm so sorry I never sent you a couplet for the zoo poem. When you're too busy to write a couplet, you are too busy.


Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

What an idea, to have a list of necessary book, organized for good measure?! I love Nye's response - her compassion for what is lost in this calculation.

Marjorie said...

I love this poem - thank you for reminding me of it. I have been reaign a number of have-to-read books recently (nothing to do with paperTigers, I hasten to add) and am so looking forward to having some space to read for the pure pleasure of it... it'll be a few months yet!

Jessica Stock said...

I love this. Ruth you always find such amazing poems. I have been thinking of my reading lately as picking apples from a tree- I don't know why I choose some and not others, but yes, giving myself permission to read for pleasure makes all the difference.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

We were chatting today in the library about how in some jobs you just get so used to the things you work with/on that they don't mean anything any more. Donuts, for example, if you work in a donut shop. Cars, if you are the guys who unload the transport trucks. But books! I said. For librarians, we never get tired or used to them. What a wonder!

Author Amok said...

I love the last four lines of this poem. Big believer in that mystery search through the library shelves -- finding a good book there is like meeting someone for the first time and discovering a friend you didn't know you had.

jama said...

Love the poem. I'm an emotional reader, so a list like that wouldn't work for me at all. Seems most of us value pleasure reading -- finding the time to do as much as we'd like an ongoing challenge.

Linda B said...

I've been helping in our library since we are searching for a new librarian, & browsing there, sometimes with students, is just a delicious activity, & I've discovered some books I never knew about this week! I love the idea of this list, Ruth, especially the one "what about the books that aren't written it?"

Tabatha said...

Loved Andi's comment :-) Although I am a spontaneous reader, I have sympathy for the fella who wants a list. There are a lot of books out there, and it comforts him to have a plan. (I also have sympathy for you, who has to time for a couplet!!)

Mary Lee said...

Gasp! I read this to my 5th graders this week, too!

I have it poster-sized, hanging in my classroom. For although I want them all to take seriously our goal to read 50 books in 5th grade, and I do want them to take seriously the challenge to read from a wide variety of genres, I don't ever want them to lose spontaneity in their reading choices!

Liz Steinglass said...

Thanks for sharing this. Better to be only a little organized and disciplined, right?