Community: It’s What You Make of It by Teri Lesesne
A former principal of mine began each year with the same story, a story about some boys who approached a wise man with a question. “We have caught a bird in our hands, old man. The question is, is it alive or is it dead?” The wise man replied, “My sons, it is what you make it.” After the tenth time I heard this story, there was an eye roll sort of reaction. But the more I think if this story, the more I realize just how wise those word were and continue to be for me. It is, indeed, what we make it especially when it comes to community.
There have been countless posts about community here on the Nerdy Book Blog. But we can never talk too much about the role community plays in our reading lives. Belonging to a community of readers transforms the rather solitary act of reading. We read and then we can share that reading with someone else. We can talk about our responses, share passages, cry together at the memory of a vivid scene or laugh ruefully from the recognition that we are so like one of the main characters. Why is community on my mind right now?
Just yesterday, I was at the Michigan Reading Association conference in Grand Rapids. I was there along with Colby Sharp, Katherine Sokolowski, and Donalyn Miller. After the opening session, we gathered in Donalyn’s room with some fellow Nerdy Book Club members; Kristin McIlhagga, Beth Shaum, and Tobey Antao. As it always does, the conversation centered on books and reading. We shared books we had recently and loved. We handed off books we read on the flight to Michigan to someone else. We ordered books on our cell phones. Or that 90 minutes, we were a community, one different from our online community, we were FTF and did not have to write in texts and tweets and Facebook blurbs. We could hear the emotion in voices as different individuals recalled particularly moving scenes from a book most of us had already read.
Here is just one small snippet from the conversation (well, to call it a conversation is not quite accurate, since we were in some cases talking at once and in other cases, there were three separate conversations happening across the room). Beth mentioned the book BONE GAP by Laura Ruby. Suddenly, three of us were talking at once about the book and the scenes we loved. I mentioned it would make a great pairing with CIRCUS MIRANDUS by Cassie Beasley since magic plays a crucial role in both stories. The talk of magic shifted a bit to that of magical realism and A.S.King’s GLORY O’BRIEN’S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE became the focal point as we segued easily from one book to another and another.
For 90 minutes, this was a community of readers. We might never all be in the same room at the same time again (except an online community). And even if we could meet up again, the talk would be different, the books would be different. Heraclitus said, “You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are continually flowing in.” The same is true for communities. Each time we form one, it is different. Each time it is reassuring to hear that others share your interests. Each time it is challenging because others prefer different genres, formats, reading experiences. Each time it is comforting to be in a community of readers, readers who are committed to reading more and more and more, readers who are dedicated to bringing those books to other readers.
And so on this Sunday, I am grateful for communities. I am grateful that Beth and Colby and Katherine and Tobey and Kristin and Donalyn and I were all in the same place at the same time. I am grateful that our community lives on in other spaces. And finally I am grateful that the Nerdy Book Club continues to bring us all together in community with one another.
Teri Lesesne is a professor in the Department of Library Science at Sam Houston State University. She teaches courses in literature for children and young adults. You can follow her on Twitter (@professornana) and join Teri and Donalyn Miller for a monthly chat called #bproots where the two discuss the roots of our best literacy practices. She blogs about books (ls5385blog.blogspot.com) and about education (professornana.livejournal.com) when she does not have her nose buried in a book.