Tag Archives: reading

A Post Post

Washington Post Masthead

Well, I’ve gone over to the dark side.

A few minutes ago I cancelled my subscription to the print edition of the Washington Post.

No, it wasn’t because I disagree with their editorial stands. Quite the contrary. I will always be grateful to the Post for its role in uncovering Richard Nixon’s malfeasance while in office. I shudder to think what would have happened had not a couple of young reporters followed the truth wherever it led. (Ordinarily I stay away from political comments on this blog, and I’m not trying to start an argument. I’m sharing my thoughts on this matter.)

I’m finding that other media keep me as informed as I want to be.

I’m also finding that I am incredibly ambivalent about doing this.

Ever since I can remember, I have read a print newspaper. I learned to read by sitting at the kitchen table with the Washington Daily News and asking my mom, “What does ‘C-o-n-g-r-e-s-s’ spell?”

I was about five years old. We had moved to Fairfax from College Park in January of 1952. Maryland schools enrolled five-year-olds. School age in Virginia was six. I couldn’t continue with first grade until September.

Miss Cook, who would have been my teacher, was beautiful and kind. She gave my mom some basal readers, Fun with Dick and Jane, We Work and Play, We Come and Go, and some other immortal tome.

I trudged home with my mom. I was so disappointed that I could not go to school that I cried.

And I didn’t need no stinkin’ basal readers. I had learned to read at the kitchen table with my mom’s long suffering help.

So, I continued to read the News, the backs of cereal boxes, magazines, anything with print on it.

(When I went back to rejoin the lovely and kind Miss Cook in first grade, she squatted down to my level, gently put her hands on my shoulders, looked up at my mother, and said words that changed my life forever: “Since he’s reading on a fifth grade level, we’ve decided to put him in second grade.”

The second grade teacher was nice and she was extremely competent (with a few exceptions, my teachers were excellent), but she was older and, well, looked like a witch. And she wasn’t Miss Cook. I saw my would have been first grade teacher a few times out in public, but basically she walked out of my life that day, and I never saw her again. I wonder what happened to her.

And so, I became a Reader. Readers are very special people for whom books are not a luxury: they are a necessity. When I meet a friend who is also a Reader, we talk about what we’re reading and what we’d like to read. (Sidebar: I have a list of 350 books I want to read. The problem is, the publishing world won’t stop so I can catch up. And since I have become an author, I tend to write more than read books. Don’t worry, though: I still devour magazines and anything else in print.)

I won’t be reading the Post in print any more.Sixty-one years of relying on print for news has come to an end.

I can re-start my subscription at any time.

I will miss hearing the familiar thump of the Post in its plastic bag hitting the asphalt of the driveway before dawn.

I have done this thing, but I’m not happy about it.

I’ll let you know how life is without a real-world paper is.

In the meantime, I’ll see you in the funny papers.


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The Little Library that Could

The Little Library that Could

Benjamin Naylor Barrett constructed the Little Free Library. Standing with him are Illana’s niece Ava and nephew Nathaniel Larkin (Photograph by Illana Naylor)

Illana Nayor’s children gave her a special Mother’s Day present this year. No, it wasn’t days of pampering at a spa. Nor was it a days-long shopping trip to New York, or candy or flowers or coupons for housework. They didn’t give any of the gifts we associate with the spring holiday.

They gave her a library.

It doesn’t have stone lions out front, and most patrons would have trouble getting in.

This library, part of the Little Free Library project, stands about two feet high and a foot wide with a pitched roof, painted a cheerful yellow and violet. Her son, Benjamin Naylor Barrett, built the library. Illana then stocked it with a variety of books.

Anyone walking or driving by can take a book and leave a book. It’s that simple. There’s no charge or sign out or permission required. “Some people have knocked at my door to ask if they can take a book out,” Naylor said as I talked with her last week. “It’s nice they want to say hello, but they don’t need my permission to borrow one of the books.”

She continued. “Like so many other middle class families, we have accumulated a houseful of stuff. I don’t need more things. I wanted something like the library, and my children met my wish. This little collection of books has become a focal point for the community. Neighbors meet other neighbors .whom they wouldn’t otherwise see. It’s something to watch. I’m so glad we did it.”

Little Free Libraries are springing up all over the country. Their website details the project and includes ordering information for an already built library, kit versions, and plans for those who want to take the do-it-yourself route. In addition, the organization supports various literacy and reading programs. Check it out at http://littlefreelibrary.org/

Illana stood at the curb in front of her house with her hand on her very special Mother’s Day gift. “I hope someone puts up one of these libraries on every block. Just think of the effect it would have on individuals and the community!” And she smiled.

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Random Impulses


Generally, as most of us get older, we have a very good idea of what our likes and dislikes are. Recently, though, I have been thinking about doing some things that I know I do not enjoy or usually want to do. It’s an odd feeling.

As I wrote before, I don’t like to be outdoors. Maybe I spent too much time outside when I was growing up, but the great outdoors has far too many hazards and discomforts for me to want to spend hours there. I know there are people who love the outdoors and spend a lot of time there, and that’s all right. They can have my share.

The odd thing is, I’ve been thinking about aboriginal Americans who lived very close to nature. Whether their shelter was a lodge or teepee or pueblo, they had to have been aware of the elements. With a fire for heating and breezes for cooling they were right in the midst of nature.

I have been camping exactly once in my life. I was ten years old, and I remember not sleeping much and just about starving since each of us was responsible for his own food. Lately, though, I been wondering what it would be like to stay outside in a tent. I could pitch one in my back yard and not be that far away from the comforts of the indoors. Of course, I’d have to buy almost everything I need, including a tent. I do have a sleeping bag from my daughters’ Girl Scout days. It’s a thought, but a strange one for me. Still, I find myself thinking that being outside with nothing but a thin nylon wall between me and the outdoors would be intriguing, although I’d probably wait until spring to try it.

Then there’s traveling. I’ve decided I don’t like to travel. Oh, I like to see different places, particularly places with history and good restaurants and good bookstores, but actually getting there is pain. I don’t care for driving, which is mostly monotonous and occasionally terrifying. My wife is a great driver (and a wizard parallel parker, even left-handed), so she does most of the driving when we go somewhere. I do the navigating, and I’m good at that, except when I’m not. That’s a subject for an entire column, but not just now. Anyhow, if there were a Star Trek-style transporter available, I’d use one, even at the risk of scrambling my molecules. To be able to be some place instantly has a huge appeal for me. And don’t even think about flying. That used to be fun and an adventure, but I don’t have to tell you what a pain it has become. No, I’m comfortable where I am, with everything I need right here. That’s why my travel impulse is a strange one. I’d like to fly around the world. I’m not talking about flying around the world non-stop on one tank of gas. What I’m thinking would be fun would be to fly around the world using scheduled flights. I’ve checked and it’s possible. It would take about three days. I think I would like to go business class since I would plan to be on an airplane most of the time. I wouldn’t even leave the airports or clear customs—I would just go right on to the next flight. This is even crazier when I consider that I am mildly claustrophobic. That’s why business class. I could leave on a Friday and be back Monday if my calculations are correct. It would be cool to say I had done it.

Then, I’ve been having an impulse lately to have another career. That’s not that unusual for an early retiree like me, but I’m talking about an entirely different career. When I was in my early teens I wanted to be a rocket scientist. (I was too tall to be an astronaut then.) What dissuaded me from this career path was the sad reality that I was not very good at math, and math is important to being rocket scientists. My impulse is to take science and math classes and earn a degree in astronautical engineering. I figure with the coursework I’ve done already I can skip the core classes and things like phys ed. and go right on to advanced science classes. It would be a whole lot easier for me to earn an M.F.A. in creative writing, but becoming a rocket scientist in my 60’s sounds much more appealing, even if I am probably worse at math than I was in high school. Grandma Moses started painting when she was in her 80’s, so maybe I do have a future with NASA.

So I have these random impulses, but I’ve found if I lie down for a while, they soon pass. Thank goodness for small favors.


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The Party’s Over…


The World Series is over (how ’bout them Red Sox?!?), and the long drought sets in. Sure, there is what’s called the Hot Stove League where aficionados can sit around and talk about games past and speculate on the future of their teams (the Nats have a new manager! Yay! Hope for the future!), and we can watch replays of Nats games all winter, but it’s not the same as live baseball. This dearth of action on the diamond will last until about the middle of February, when pitchers and catchers report. Still, that’s three and a half months away. It’s going to be a long, cold winter.

So, friends, stock up on some good reads, build a fire in the fireplace, and settle in. Baseball is about hope and expectation. True, it will break your heart, but there’s always next year. And, in the words of the poet Shelley, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?



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As Seen on TV

They were actually more butter colored. I remembered them as gray. Maybe these are made of butter.

They were actually more butter colored. I remembered them as gray. Maybe these are made of butter.

Post 486

One of my favorite reading materials when I was about five was the back of cereal boxes, many of which contained offers for amazing prizes. Sometimes the prizes came in the cereal boxes, like the small plastic Navy frogmen which, with baking soda added to a little pod on their feet, would rise and fall in a glass of water for several minutes.  This entertained me for hours.

Sometimes we had to send in box tops with a quarter or two taped to a card for a prize.  When I was in first grade, one of my cereals (Cheerios, I think, which is still my favorite) offered a Roy Rogers play set for only 25 cents and two box tops.  Well, acquiring the box tops was no problem since I sucked up Cheerios like an Electrolux. The bigger obstacle was procuring the quarter. My parents would not simply give it to me.  Products of the Depression, they were frugal savers before it became fashionable or necessary for many people.  I had to earn my quarter.  I forget what I did, exactly, since I had few marketable skills as a first grader. Several years later they offered me a penny for every dandelion I dug out of our yard. I think I made about $1 before I have it up as a difficult job that I could do without.  I would rather sit around and read.  I was not what anyone would call an industrious child, but the family work ethic kicked in during high school and hasn’t let up since. As Monk says about his detecting abilities, it’s a blessing and a curse.

 Anyhow, once I had the quarter, I had to have an envelope and my mom’s help to write the address and advance me a stamp (about 3 cents then).  Oddly enough, I could read but not write.  I think I figured it took too much effort. I eventually caught up.  Obviously.

 My mother quizzed me about why I wanted an envelope and stamp.  I showed her the picture of the Roy Rogers play set in which the figures looked like they could walk off the page. She snorted. “That’s just a bunch of little blobs of plastic.” Certain that I understood all things Roy Rogers better than she,  I persisted until she gave in, saying, “Well if you want to throw your money away, go ahead.”

I taped my quarter to the card and put the envelope in the mail.  For some reason I remember sending away to Battle Creek, Michigan, which is where the Kellogg’s company is located, not General Mills. I probably read that off other cereal boxes. I imagined Battle Creek as a wondrous sort of year-round Santa’s workshop where elves took quarters out of envelopes from children all over the world and sent them wonderful prizes. It made me feel warm inside to think that so much effort went into making children happy.

I waited out the five-to-six week “fulfillment period,” meeting the mailman each day, looking for my prize.  When the box did come, it was tiny.  I took it inside and tore it open and dumped the contents out. The figures of Roy and Dale, Trigger, Bullet and Buttermilk all looked alike. I couldn’t distinguish one from the other.  They were little blobs of gray plastic.

 I played with my plastic blobs for a while, pretending I could tell the differences among them. I was a little sad, but realized I had learned important lessons at an early age.  Pictures can lie,  things are not always what they seem, and you have to watch how you spend your quarters. Even where Roy Rogers is involved.

Lies, all lies. Who can you trust? Wait, I know--the government!  Oh, wait...

Lies, all lies. Who can you trust? Wait, I know–the government! Oh, wait…

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Poem of the Week: A Boy’s Wish


A Boy’s Wish

I want to live on a tidy sailing ship
Painted blue with sails of white
Not too big but just the right size
I’d call it the Mighty Mite.

I’d not go sailing on my boat
But live in it like a house
And I’d have some pets, maybe a cat
In case I had a mouse.

My boat would be so neat and trim
With everything in its place
A little kitchen and stove and all
Tucked in to save some space.

And in the night when it was dark
I’d read by lantern light
And go to sleep in my little boat’s bed
And snore all through the night.

I’d go to school like a regular kid
And they’d all envy me
And ask if they could visit
And I’d say, “Yes—just two or three.”

A sailor’s life is not for me
But I like to be afloat
With calm waters rocking gently
My pretty little boat.

So come on down and join me there
You can live on one as well!
There’ll be two of us then, you know,
And we’ll have lots to do and tell.

We’ll play pirates or pilots or adventurers
And pretend we’re not afloat
And then settle down and read some books
In my happy little boat.

–Dan Verner April 29, 2013

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