Keep calm, stay quiet and carry on

Stillness. Silence. For many people, stillness and silence are as unfamiliar — and terrifying — as zombies or Martians. 

When I used to teach composition classes to homeschoolers in Asheville, we met in a Presbyterian church near the Asheville Mall. Once a year, in good weather, I would have the students carry their folding chairs to the large parking lot behind the church. Here I would place them in a circle facing away from one another, 20 feet or more between students, and have them sit for half an hour. They were forbidden to speak, to read, to write, to use a cell phone. 

Rich rewards: a review of The Enchanted Hour

Though I read aloud with my children and do so now with my grandchildren, I have rarely done so with adults. Two recent experiences made me realize what I was missing.

Beating back the January Blues

Ugh.

The skies are gray, the wind’s a knife, the dank cold crawls into your very bones, and spring seems a thousand years away. You’re bored with watching television, you never want to hear the word “Impeachment” again in your life, your New Year’s Resolutions — to exercise more, lose weight, do some volunteer work — were given graveside services a few days after January started, you get depressed arriving home from work in darkness by 5 p.m., and you find yourself wanting to do nothing but sleep.

Memoir of illness full of gallantry and wit

“It was crazy. The surgeon told me the tumor was the size of a pear, which is scary but also confusing. I was like, ‘Did he go to med school or farmer’s market?’”

That’s part of comedian Jim Gaffigan’s bit on YouTube about his wife Jeannie’s brain tumor. 

Last-minute holiday ideas for the literary

You’re down to the wire. It’s only a few days until Christmas, and you have yet to get that book lover in your life a gift. Maybe it’s your husband who nightly reads military history. Maybe your 9-year-old can’t get enough of the Hardy Boys. Maybe your teenage niece is reading anything she can get her hands on.

Learning to listen: A review of Chris Arnade’s Dignity

Back in the mid-1970s, I was working as a receiving clerk at the Old Corner Bookstore in Boston. I was making $90 a week, maybe a little less, $40 of which went to the room I rented on Joy Street on the backside of Beacon Hill. Though I had a degree and two years of graduate school under my belt, I also had no car, no insurance, and no savings. I was living that way because I wanted to become a writer, and the job afforded me that time, and because I wanted to live in Boston for a year, which I did.

Rethinking school: book offers sage suggestions

If you have school-age children, by now they are two months or more into their routine of classes, books, extracurricular activities, and homework. Perhaps they love their teachers, excel in their academic studies, are popular among their peers, and look forward every morning to whatever new challenges may come their way.

A look at The Best Loved Poems of the American People

Two years ago in December, I vowed to read the 11-volume set of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization in 12 months. Unlike resolutions made for New Years and Lent, some of which I break before the sun has set, I read those fat books one after the other and finished the final page with time to spare.

Another casualty: A review of A Boy Who Mattered

In January 2019, the National Institute on Drug Abuse issued an updated report on the use of opioids in the United States, including this observation:

In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. That same year, an estimated 1.7 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 652,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder (not mutually exclusive).

‘Lost Words and Obstacles:’ a review

“When the most recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary — widely used in schools around the world — was published, a sharp-eyed reader soon noticed that around 40 common words concerning nature had been dropped. The words were no longer being used enough by children to merit their place in the dictionary. The list of these “lost words” includes acorn, adder, bluebell, dandelion, fern, heron kingfisher, newt, otter, and willow. Among the words taking their place were attachment, blog, broadband, bullet-point, cut-and-paste, and voice-mail. The news of these substitutions — the outdoor and natural being displaced by the indoor and virtual — became seen by many as a powerful sign of the growing gulf between childhood and the natural world.”

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