“So, do you like English?”
I know that the question, directed at the future eleventh grader beside me, is a long shot. All questions related to school seem distant and unreal in this first week of summer. Like half a dozen others, we’re working at the new middle school in Sitzenkirch, prepping it for painting tomorrow. I’ve spent the morning wielding a roll of masking tape and a putty knife, generally enjoying the company of my colleagues and some of my future students.
“Um…” He considers the question, perhaps searching for an unoffensive answer for his until-recently history and future English teacher. “I mean, sometimes I like it.”
“Fair enough. What was your favorite book you read for school?”
“Hm. I think Ender’s Game.”
“Nice. I’m reading that right now,” I exclaim, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. “It’s good, right?”
He grins and nods, then continues taping with a smile.
It’s mid-afternoon by the time I pull off the path home from Sitzenkirch. After the pressure and busyness of the last few weeks of school, the work projects this week have been a nice change of pace.
Kandern is quiet these days. Though I’ve experienced the silence of Seattle Pacific University without students, or the idyllic peacefulness of evening church services at Bethany in the summer, I’ve never lived in a “college town,” where a great percentage of the population and activity comes from its students. A week after graduation, life seems still and spacious and a bit empty.
Riding my newly-purchased bicycle–a rickety, champagne-colored affair with curved handles and a capacious basket–I steer off the path when I spy the perfect bench. It is nestled in a hillside, overlooking fields of blue-green wheat, where red poppies mingle in messy cordiality. Sitting down on the bench, under calm grey clouds and overlooking the magnificent spread of the Kandertal (river valley south of Kandern), I retrieve my sandwich and book.
I’m drawn instantly back into the world of little Ender and his Battle School, of his siblings and their plan to rule the world with ideas. I shiver at the prescience of the politics and technology, the grander questions of empathy and ethics in warfare. This is a genuinely good book, and I feel fortunate to be reading it on the most beautiful bench anywhere.
I’m also thankful because this particular book has been recommended to me dozens of times, by a wide variety of people, most recently my future student with the masking tape. I love reading books that people recommend to me, especially students. Book suggestions are personal and usually well thought out, and I like them more than the similar conversations surrounding movies, music or restaurants. For while those activities take up a bit of time, perhaps leave a bit of an impression, if you really stick with a book until the end you’ll have spent hours on something you know another person enjoyed. More than a taste in common, recommended books become a shared experience, an imaginary place you’ve both explored.
It’s why I love reading books in a classroom setting, why sometimes, when the class chemistry is right, student trust me enough to read odd and difficult books. Going on the recommendation, they believe that because someone they know has been here before, it merits some attention. (Of course, I’m aware that sometimes they’re just “getting it done,” and fully willing to admit the value of that discipline, also.)
The next morning, I ride to school for the next round of painting, and my student finds me reading on the front steps.
“Still Ender’s Game?” he asks. I nod. “What’s happening now?”
I think some of us remember good books like we remember a lovely bench overlooking a valley, its details as vivid as a real place. “What’s happening?” we ask people reading books we love for the first time. Or sometimes, “Where are you?” Because we’ve been there, seen what they see, and are delighted to revisit it through new eyes.
“I just read about his brother and sister, writing on the Internet. This book is seriously gripping.”
He nods and grins slyly. “I won’t give it away.”
This is should be a brilliant summer.