Books have always held sway over my life. To be frank, I tend to neglect other tasks in my life (house cleaning, cooking, grading papers) when I have a book calling my name. I would rather spend money on books than jewelry. My monthly book budget is usually larger than my monthly clothes budget (and I love clothes). Books are my Muse and my Siren.
Before I go any further, I should introduce myself. My name is Jennifer Williams. I currently reside in Oklahoma. I teach 8th, 9th, 10th grade pre-AP English and 12th grade AP English for a small, rural school. In fact, I started the pre-AP program at the school. The enrollment has exploded since I began the program two years ago. Yes, I’m so proud! During my career, I have taught 8th-12th grades; I have taught at-risk students, traditional students, advanced students, and special needs students. I have been married for fifteen years to my high school sweetheart and have an amazing thirteen-year-old daughter.
Now that you know me a little better, let us return to my obsession. I began reading when I was four and have been passionate in the thirty-one years since (go ahead, do the math: I’m thirty-five). I do not remember the first book I read, but I vividly remember many since. I have always been an introspective person, rather a loner. I have always been fascinated with people and their idiosyncrasies (or idiocies). I come from a family with many anger issues.
Books helped me escape, travel, learn about myself, and learn about others. Books were always my best friends–the ones who never failed me. I will never forget scaring myself silly in the second grade with scary stories. I’ll never forget crying when “Old Dan” and “Little Anne” died in Where the Red Fern Grows. I learned survival skills and about pioneering life with Laura Ingalls Wilder (who can forget when Ma hit the bear or when Pa had to eat the Christmas candy to survive the blizzard?). I loved the cadence and magic of Dr. Seuss’ words. I loved Jim Kjelgaard‘s books, where he told the story partly from an animal’s perspective. I fell in love with Edgar Allan Poe (truly, I was in love) in middle school. He improved my vocabulary and scared the you-know-what out of me. I also fell in love with William Shakespeare (I wonder if he and Poe were jealous of each other?), and worked my way through his comedies–I saved the tragedies for high school.
In my advanced English class in 9th grade, we were given a list of classics: these were the only books we could read for book reports over the next four years. The Hound of the Baskervilles thrilled me that year. Sherlock Holmes is amazing…and so superior! However, that December, I chose to read Margartet Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. I devoured that book in about a week. I loved Scarlett, but I wanted to smack her. And Rhett Butler…sigh…I still swoon over him.
As I grew older, I kept the list and continue to work through it. I have also added young adult novels and newer children’s books to my repertoire so I can recommend them to my students. Over the years, my passion has changed many reluctant readers into excited readers. No, they don’t have my obsession, but it thrills me when a student who claimed to “hate” books admits reading can actually be fun! In my classes, we’ve discovered the joys and pains of Jonas in The Giver; we laughed at the hormonal melodrama of Romeo and Juliet; we discussed how Brutus truly was a hero in Julius Caesar; we enjoyed Chaucer’s satire and Beowulf’s unabashed braggadocio. We cried over Boy in the Striped Pajamas and were irate when Bob Ewell attacked Scout and Jem. We’ve discussed history’s impact on literature and literature’s impact on history. We’ve become more aware and, hopefully, more tolerant of others. Books have transformed our lives.
As an English teacher, I don’t just read a book: we always discuss the themes and the life applications. I am so blessed to work with books and to share my passion with future generations. Even in this technological age, books have a place. Books, if read deeply, have the power to truly change our society.