Monday, December 29, 2008

A tribute to Mrs. Layton

I remember the day I first read a book on my own and understood that I was reading. I was three. Sitting on the brown 1970s carpet between the dark wood-panelled wall and my mom's bright orange recliner with the wooden arms, I picked up a Little Golden book (title forgotten) about Mickey Mouse's nephews. There was a picture of them against a fence and shrubs, but the story itself is now lost to me. The first chapter book I ever read was called "The Horse that Came to Breakfast," about a girl who lived in a mobile home with her mother, and was poor. She wanted a horse for her birthday, and adopted the one that poked his face in the kitchen window one morning to eat the houseplants. (The book didn't analyze the fact that a horse's rather large head can't fit through a mobile home window.) I finished all nine chapters laying on my back, propped up against the short end of the coffee table, feet on the hearth, with mom's orange recliner to my right and the lamp next to it on. My first "grown-up" book was "Jane Eyre", read the summer before 6th grade, followed up by Corrie Ten Boom's "The Hiding Place". Between "Horse" and "Jane", I read the Anne of Green Gables books and the Little House books, Louisa May Alcott's books, and other traditional reading for girls. In 5th grade, I tried checking out the illustrated "Pride & Prejudice" from my K-6 elementary school library. The librarian paused in the check-out line, held the book over her head, and announced to the entire three classes gathered there that "you should really stick to books on your age level." Humph. Ashamed of my desire to read a book "too old" for me, I checked out every book about the Revolutionary War, and the 2 world wars instead.

By the beginning of high school senior year, I had determined to be a nurse. Healing broken bodies, easing pain, and developing a deep understanding of life and what it requires attracted me to the medical field. Not a doctor--not the diagnostician, not the surgeon--but a nurse, a day-to-day caregiver. It says a lot about me at the time: having a sort of romantic view of easing suffering all wrapped up in a spiritual obligation to care for fellow humans. I read "Anne of Green Gables" a lot, I confess.

Enter Sarah Layton. Even though I had decided to be a nurse, I didn't do well at all in math, and never advanced beyond chemistry in the sciences. I loved my English classes. More than that, I loved reading, and would have read novels no matter what I was interested in for a career. AP senior English came, and Mrs. Layton was our fearless captain. She required us to keep "Think Journals"--a guide to our observations about the books we were reading and how they connected to the broader range of literature. I miss this exercise. Even though I majored in English in college and continue to keep 4 or 5 books on my nighttable, I miss the exercise of using words to capture what was important about...words.

So this blog is an attempt to try this exercise again. To sharpen my mental claws on whatever I am reading at the moment. Unlike Mrs. Layton's assignment, I will not be trying to explore one theme through several books, although that may happen from time to time. I miss the acuity that comes with reflective writing--a skill that too often leaves us after we leave school. Feedback and discussion is welcome. Stay tuned for book one, "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson.


  1. Cool. Wish I read enough to interact intelligently with this blog. I will be reading it, though.

  2. Erin--Hope you don't mind if I read your blog! I found it on your facebook info. I try to write reviews of books I read on my librarything page
    but they aren't very good. Pretty much just to remind me what the book was about and how I liked it. I've gone back and read some of the papers I wrote in college and thought "Wow! I wrote that?!"