Choosing one book to read at a time is a challenge for me. The round, former dining-room-table-picked-up-at-a-garage-sale-now-front-table-in-my-classroom is full of books. No, actually, it is full of stacks of books and I’m running out of space to open my daily attendance record. If the percentage of occupied space is any indication of what matters, then I’m happy with this. The table is circular, in a place of prominence in the room and students witness my daily selections of different books, my enthusiastic punctuation of the silence with the pulling of sticky notes, my gasping as I highlight and feverishly add marginalia to the pages of beauty and brilliance.
We sit silently for 20 minutes at the beginning of each class to read and I’ve told them that they should fall in love with a book. I talk about abandoning books, breaking up with books, and realizing it’s just not the right time for a certain book. So when I saw a young Arabic student walk into my classroom carrying a copy of Lord of the Flies, I knew that I needed to intervene; this might be an unbalanced relationship. I asked him why he chose it and if he was liking the book. I was hoping for a conscious choice and not just one that was defined by others. Then a week or so later we talked again and I shared my concerns with the colonial perspective on Indigenous peoples illustrating this with a flashback to my disposal of the books and the subsequent locking of my Twitter account (I think I’ve written about this before). Public breakups with celebrity books is messy and the tabloid Twitter accounts found me. They thought I was the problem in the relationship.
But, I’m aiming for love and helping my students find it. It’s not always rational when we fall in love and people will try to tell us what is worthy of our time and attention. So when I spoke to this young man a week or so later, he relaxed in his response and told me that he didn’t really enjoy it. He finished it, but. We connected over this breakup with the canon and agreed the book has problematic ideas that need to be addressed in the teaching. I’d read his personal memoir, so I knew his cultural origins and started a search of texts by Arabic authors, Aria by Nazanine Hozar and Darius the Great is Not Okay by Abib Khorram.
Pulling from my shelves, I dropped them on his desk and moved to the front to set the timer for reading time reminding them, “find some beautiful words and ideas”. The books stayed on his desk for most the class, and just as he was about to leave, I asked which he had chosen. Eyes averted, he slid one of the books aside nodding, This one – a secret love scuttled away like a guilty pleasure ready to be discovered.