Ephemera

I used to read the newspaper every morning.  This started when I first began my career as a teacher in York, Pennsylvania.  The year was 1991, I was certified to be an English teacher, and for some reason, reading exhausted me.  It always had. I faced a crisis in that I had clearly chosen the wrong major in college—reading most, but not all, of what I was assigned—but succeeding thus far could have set me up to be a fraud.  After all, I was about to begin a career teaching literature, and I could not honestly say I enjoyed reading.

For this reason, I decided to read the York Daily Record every day.  I chose this task because of all reading, I hated newspapers most.  I reasoned that enduring that experience each morning would make most other printed matter a joy by comparison.

I suffered most that first week.  Being new to the area, I had little familiarity with the context of local current events, and I was impatient with having to read national news that I could simply learn from television or radio.  The sports section was my favorite. And despite my firm commitment to this personal project of mine, I excused myself from reading the living section, as I considered it thoroughly idle and insipid.  For some reason, however, I always checked celebrity birthdays.

Within a month, this daily experience became less onerous, and I was also reading Newsweek cover to cover.  Not only that, but since my main job was teaching night school, I would go to the local library during the daytime whenever I was not called to be a substitute teacher.  There, I would read the New York Times and the Washington Post.  Around this time, I became friendly with the son of my teacher’s aide from night school.  He was a city councilman and a legislative aide to a state senator. Because of this, much of the news I read took on broader and deeper significance.

At around this time, I noticed I had no time for TV news—or television at all—because I was always reading.  I snobbishly cast aside Newsweek in favor of National Review and the New Yorker, as I wanted deeper reading, and I wanted both sides of the political spectrum.  I also began subscribing to the evening daily in York, the York Dispatch.

All of this happened within about two years, and it changed my entire experience with the printed word.  A medical matter years later led to the discovery by one physician that I have likely suffered from dyslexia all of my life.  When I explained I didn’t think it could be cured, he clarified that I had not necessarily been cured, but that I found my own ways of overcoming it.  No need to get clinical confirmation or to treat it at that stage, he said, as long as I was thriving. I never investigated further.

Another transformation for me took place when a colleague suggested that I emphasized ephemeral reading at the expense of literature.  I took up the challenge of reading and researching far beyond what I would need to do in connection with my work as a teacher. This led to a love for literature that made me long to relive my undergraduate experience.  I had missed out on the full benefit of my education, and I longed to make it up to myself. Soon, my experiences with literature led me into other realms, as I read more about history, art, music, economics, and even science.

And despite the changes in my reading habits, I have always treasured my Sundays with the New York Times and the New York Times Magazine, which, despite the declines over the years in the demand for and quality of print journalism, have remained superior sources of news and synthesis.  And while my subscription to National Review lapsed years ago, I still receive the New Yorker in the mail every week.

Twenty years ago, I moved home to New Jersey.  Sadly, the leading paper in this state, Star Ledger, has struggled to keep its readership, and its format has evolved with the growing dominance of digital media.  I read it when I can, but it arrives at my home after I leave for school each day, and now that I am a principal, the intensity and hours of my work often leave me with only enough energy or time in the evenings to do little more than skim the headlines and read a few articles.

Or, perhaps, I simply prefer to read more from books during the week and spend Sundays with the Times.  In any event, I still hold out hope for long-form journalism, especially when it is well written.  If literature holds timeless human truths, meaningful journalism gives us insight into the events that define humanity.  If we need to read books, we also need to read the news.

And above all, we need to read.

4 thoughts on “Ephemera

  1. What a history of your reading life! I think the last line sums it up best, we need to read. I admit, my reading diet is poor. I tend to read lots of fiction and professional books but my news reading is lacking. My husband reminds me that I need to pay attention – I’m working on a balanced reading diet – easier said than done! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Paul – Who knew?
    This is a remarkable story of transformation. Grit, determination, stamina, tenacity in becoming who you were meant to be. And then the hubris in sharing it with all of us. Wow.

  3. I really liked this progression- yes we need to read, but there is something to long form journalism. I appreciate Gladwell- read all of his books. I have McPhees “Draft no.4” and haven’t gotten to it yet.

  4. We need to read.
    Yes we do. I appreciate your twisty path to being a well rounded reader. It’s really interesting that the reason you pushed reading away was probably due to the (unbeknownst to you) difficulties attributable to dyslexia. But reading can become something for everyone. Thank you for evidence to that point!

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