News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mike Lunsford

November 15, 2010

The Off Season: Each night before sleep, he keeps his promise — to read

TERRE HAUTE — I have been busy of late. In the short-sleeved afternoons, after I get home from work, I am in the tidy groove of trading a pair of dress slacks for grungy blue jeans and an old T-shirt, and my boots, of course. I have been raking and cleaning and chain sawing and weed eating like a possessed man, hoping that I can get my yard in passable shape, that I can get our mums in the ground, a little firewood stacked, and our now-empty flower pots tucked away in the barn before it turns cold for good. Like that industrious ant I often heard of as a boy, I go about serious business before the snow flies, before I need gloves and overcoats and wool socks.

I am tired in a satisfied way by the time I head to bed, my papers graded and my belly full, and despite the fact that I now sleep the sleep of the slightly worn and middle aged, I usually get it fixed in my head about this time of night that I have a promise to keep, a promise that I made to myself years ago: that on even the latest of evenings, I will read a while before I shut my eyes.

My habit is often a guilty pleasure, one I steal from time with my family and the diversion of dreams. I read as though I juggle, trying to balance a bit of history with a novel or a pinch of poetry with a journal article, and I do so in a curious way, with a reading light clipped to my book or magazine. Of course, we own lamps — we do have electricity here in the sticks — but the tiny light makes me feel like I am once again tucked away under a childhood quilt, reading with a flashlight in a room darkened too early, or in a campsite tent, the flickering of a small candle lantern supplying just enough light to follow a sentence across a page while the crickets do their thing just a few feet away.

Tonight, I plan to get after the last pages of James Swanson’s “Bloody Crimes,” a most-excellent account of the death and burial of Abraham Lincoln and the corresponding search for the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, who went on the lam just after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. It is a great book, not just because I am interested in the times, but because I am interested in people. The author is entertaining me and teaching me, the best kind of reading I can imagine. I have balanced its reading with Hal Borland’s “Homeland,” a wonderful old book that I have read before, while Bill Bryson’s “At Home” sits in my literary on-deck circle.

What has happened to the nation of readers we once were? I have a vested interest in that question. I am an English teacher, and it is a difficult time to be one of those right now. If we believe the latest pablum about school reform, we are living in an age in which most schools are doing poor jobs. They are filled with poor students and even poorer teachers, most of whom sit back in the comfort of the school lounge while Rome burns about them. Surely, another standardized test, another bar of accountability to jump, perhaps even giving schools letter grades, these are our saviors, our answers. 

In my little corner of the educational world, I often see students who are bored, not just with my subject, but with every subject. Although there are exceptions — I was encouraged to see one of my kids reading “Oliver Twist” last week, and another asked about “Robinson Crusoe” — many of those who sit in my classroom don’t read much of anything, but, then again, why should they? Our standardized tests cover little more than excerpts from mostly mundane bunkum. To most of our kids, reading means choosing the best option on a multiple choice test, their only goal, to score a passing grade.

I took it upon myself to read a slice of “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Reading in America.” It was conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2004, and although its data may be a bit ripe, it is telling and frightful.

As of six years ago, the rate of decline among American adults who read literature for pleasure had tripled in just 10 years. All age groups saw a decline in reading, but the three youngest groups in the survey saw the steepest drops. The rate of decline for young adults, ages 18-24, was a staggering 55 percent greater than that of the remaining population.

So what, you might say. Dana Gioia, who chaired the NEA when the survey was undertaken, said it best, I think. As she put it, just after the results were released, “Reading develops a capacity for focused attention and imaginative growth that enriches both private and public life … to lose this human capacity — and all the benefits it fosters — impoverishes both cultural and civic life.”

I’m not suggesting that simply getting books into kids’ hands will solve all of our educational problems; I am not that naïve. It sure couldn’t hurt, though. Despite all the effort, all the dollars, all the hot air we hear about state-mandated testing, national reading scores for 17-year-olds have virtually flat-lined since 1971, and that’s according to the National Report Card’s latest data compiled in 2008. How many books could have gone into classrooms, into school libraries, with a fraction of the money we've spent on testing?

We can blame the Internet, and we can blame television and video games, lazy parents and lazy teachers, but it is more than that, I think. So many of our children no longer seem to understand what good books do for us — to us. Michael Dirda, who has written several great books about books, says that a good book, no matter what genre or age level, is one that “makes us see the world or ourselves in a new way.”

I don’t think that what we are asking our kids to read these days does that. If we must test, then let’s test them after we’ve given them the opportunity to read Robert Louis Stevenson or Emily Dickinson, Willa Cather or Jack London. Test them, but let them use their imagination — give them something that enriches their lives.

Well, it is too nice of an evening to stay as mad at the world as I am. Tonight, after supper, I will be riding a mournful train to Springfield; I will be in the Carolinas on horseback, searching for Confederate gold. I will flick on that tiny reading light, and I’ll keep a promise.

Mike Lunsford can be reached by e-mail at hickory913@aol.com or by writing to him c/o The Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Read more of Mike’s stories at tribstar.com/mike_lunsford, and visit his website at www.mikelunsford.com to learn more about his writing, speaking engagements and book signings.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Mike Lunsford
  • Turtle Hello.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Wet in Wyoming, wandering turtles and other tales of the road

    It is an odd thing, after all the miles I drove a few weeks ago — to the mountains of Wyoming and back again — that today I remember most of all stopping along the road in two places nearly 600 miles apart.

    July 6, 2014 2 Photos

  • Top of the World, Ma.jpg THE OFF SEASON: Go West, old man … there’s a world to see

    I am writing this story in the shadows of the Black Hills, nearly spitting distance from the rocky-pink Badlands through which I’ll drive today. My wife and I came here to see things only the American West could show us, and we have not been disappointed in the effort and the miles it took.

    June 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET060314 dandelionsblossom.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: It’s the true ‘face of spring’

    I’d be a liar if I said that I miss the yellow carpet of dandelions that dotted my front yard just a few weeks ago.

    June 8, 2014 2 Photos

  • Possum 3.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: A face only a mother could love

    It is fitting that Mother’s Day comes when it does, for spring is a maternal season, one for new beginnings, for birth and rebirth, for flowering and nurturing and caring.

    May 11, 2014 3 Photos

  • Kinsey 3.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Lasting beauty: Miss Kinsey’s forsythia

    It always seems like it’s Sunday when we notice Miss Kinsey’s forsythia. Joanie and I will be driving home from church, most often with our windows down so we can enjoy springtime breezes and smells.

    April 27, 2014 3 Photos

  • IMG_9352.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: One man’s trash is, well, another man’s trash

    Many people are growing weary of ecological doomsdayers, and if so, they are the folks most likely to tell us that Planet Earth isn’t in that bad of a shape, that it can repair itself, that new technologies just around the corner will solve our carbon emissions and greenhouse gases and oil consumption and the ever-growing pile of plastic in which we are drowning.

    April 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • Inscription 3.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: A book inscribed is surely a book treasured

    I don’t think it’s a secret that I value books as one of life’s great joys; “I am, therefore I read,” could be a T-shirt-worthy motto of mine.

    March 30, 2014 6 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: Something to crow about, as our neighbors return

    It is in the spring, I think, that I notice crows the most. They are noisy neighbors year-round, but they come calling (I resisted saying “cawing”) in early March in earnest, and they do so before the frogs on our pond and the buds on our trees make the new season official.

    March 16, 2014

  • Sworn In.jpg Author visits birthplace of Calvin Coolidge

    Editor’s Note: Today, in this seventh and final installment of Mike Lunsford’s “New England Journal,” the writer visits a small town in south central Vermont, birthplace of the nation’s 30th President, Calvin Coolidge. Be sure to look for Mike’s regular column in Monday’s edition of the Tribune-Star.

    March 16, 2014 12 Photos

  • Waiting for Spring.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The long goodbye to winter

    I have no idea what the weather is to bring to us on the morning this story runs, but on the day I write most of it, the sun is shining, and we have just come off a weekend of pleasant warmth and cloudless skies.

    March 2, 2014 16 Photos

  • The Inlet at Thunder Hole.JPG Heaven on Earth: Writer gets lost — both figuratively and literally — at Acadia National Park

    Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day hiking the Atlantic shoreline and the trails of Maine’s Acadia National Park.

    February 16, 2014 9 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’

    I’ve been thankful this winter for a full propane tank and ample cold cranking amps and school snow-delay days that have kept me off the roads until the sun is up on the most frigid of these mornings.

    February 3, 2014

  • MET010714 lunsford art.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The night the snow fell

    You would think that the cold winds and deep snows that we endured two weeks ago would be old news by now, but as I stood in the checkout line at a grocery store just a few days back, a gallon of milk in one hand and a quart of orange juice in the other, a customer just ahead of me appeared to be stocking up to make a run for the Donner Pass, and all she could talk about was the storm.

    January 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET010414 lunsford 2.jpg THE OFF SEASON: Seeing the miraculousness of the ordinary

    It was just a few nights ago that I announced to my wife that I was headed outside to watch the International Space Station pass overhead.

    January 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Millay at Steepletop.jpg ‘Afternoon on a Hill’: The formal poet who led an informal life — Edna St. Vincent Millay

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of an afternoon exploring the rural gardens and home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay near Austerlitz, N.Y. Join Lunsford in February for the sixth installment of this series as he wanders along the wooded shorelines of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.

    January 5, 2014 6 Photos

  • MET121713 lunsford radio.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Lying by the warm radioside

    I am writing this piece well before Christmas Eve, although you wouldn’t think that it can be far away by the look of things out my windows tonight.

    December 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • MET120713lunsford.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’

    If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.

    December 8, 2013 1 Photo

  • Beach Roses.JPG Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio

    Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.

    December 1, 2013 8 Photos

  • MET100913 woolybear.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?

    I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.

    November 24, 2013 1 Photo

  • B Plot at Epinal France.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘I’m going simply because I’ve got to … ’

    Late in the year 1944, the great Hoosier war correspondent Ernie Pyle, mentally and physically exhausted from his months reporting from the battlefields of Europe, came home for the last time. He was scrawny and gray.

    November 11, 2013 4 Photos

  • Black Cat.JPG MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife

    My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.

    October 28, 2013 3 Photos

  • Stephen Kim 1.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Déjà vu, courtesy of violinist prodigy

    It’s been said that the longer married couples stay together, the more they begin to think alike. I can’t refute that, although, for my wife’s sake, I hope a similar theory — that they begin to look alike, too — is far from true.

    October 14, 2013 2 Photos

  • Harry Evans Bridge II.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The beauty, spirit of a ‘lonely’ bridge

    It was the best kind of day a few Saturdays ago: not quite 70 degrees, a slight breeze from the northwest barely pushed flat-bottomed white clouds around in an otherwise blue sky.

    September 30, 2013 6 Photos

  • MET0909113goldenrod.jpg Mike Lunsford: The golden rods of September

    The sunflowers that are framed in my cabin’s eastside window are soon to become things of the past, for no matter how much I water and weed, the time has come for them to go.

    September 16, 2013 2 Photos

  • MET083013lunsford squirrel2.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: It isn’t the end but it is the beginning of the end …

    I had every intention of writing about Labor Day today; it has become a tradition of sorts for me because it seems as though my column and the holiday have an annual convergence. But as I thumbed through a number of other stories I’d written on the subject, I felt I had nothing new to say.

    September 2, 2013 1 Photo

  • tslunsford MIKE LUNSFORD: A long day’s journey into night

    We arrived at the sprawling hulk of a motel well after dark, the parking lot pitch black except for a few spots illuminated by flickering blue lights that hummed a monotonous tune.

    August 19, 2013 1 Photo

  • Beulah Gravestone.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Searching for Beulah Jane

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s Mike Lunsford column is the second in a two-part story on his search to solve a family mystery. Part 1 was published in Monday’s Tribune-Star. Both are available at www.tribstar.com.

    August 6, 2013 2 Photos 1 Story

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: The girl who wasn’t my grandmother

    EDITOR’S NOTE: We travel this week with Mike Lunsford on a journey across miles and memories, as he seeks answers to a long-ago family mystery. Today’s column is the first of a two-part story. Part II will run Tuesday.

    August 5, 2013 1 Story

  • A Sailboat on the Lake.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Once more to the lake…’

    We are heading home today after spending a few days on Lake Michigan, and I am a bit sad for the leaving. We have made it a habit to come here every year, dragging weary bones and beach towels and enough breakfast food to last us a week. And, as expected, when I turn my back on the cool blueness of the lake for the last time this afternoon, I’ll know that another year has gone by, and there’s no getting it back.

    July 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • Frost Writing C…Near Ripton.jpg Poets at heart, writer, wife walk paths that Frost walked

    A few summers ago, my family traveled to New England to see what we could see. Along the way, we dipped our toes into Walden Pond, holy waters to those who have read Henry David Thoreau. My wife and I returned to the region last month to seek shrines that poets at heart revere: the Vermont homes where Robert Frost wrote magical words.

    July 21, 2013 7 Photos

Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Police: Prostitute Linked to 2nd Death Chimp-attack Victim Lobbies Congress Obama Responds to Hecklers on Immigration FIFA Rejects Suarez Appeal Against Biting Ban Israeli-Palestinian Tensions, Attacks Escalate More Immigrants Detained Along Rio Grande Thousands Attend NYC Firefighter's Funeral Art of Haitian Machete Fighting Revived Soft Robot Fish Lead New Wave of Robotics Neighbors Mourn Killing of Texas Family World Cup Final Pits Argentina Against Germany Raw: Australia Hosts Annual Beer Can Regatta Kim Kardashian Hits Up Valentino Show in Paris Robots Gearing Up for Their Own 'World Cup' 'Game of Thrones' Leads Emmy Nominees Raw: Funeral in Gaza for Family of 8 Rockets Fired From Lebanon Hit Israel Raw: Rescuers Push Beached Whale Back to Ocean 'Seeing-Eye' Ring Helps Blind Read With Finger Diaz and Segel Strip Off for 'Sex Tape'
NDN Video
Houston Killer Collapses in Court When Read Capital Murder Charges for Allegedly Killing Family of Six LeBron James returning to Cleveland - @TheBuzzeronFOX Glee Star Becca Tobin's Boyfriend Matt Bendik Found Dead in Hotel Obama Responds to Hecklers on Immigration ScarJo Channels Marilyn Monroe Aerial fish restocking in Utah Tiny Hamsters Who Ate Burritos are Back for a Tiny Hedgehog's Party Watch Kelly Ripa Get Soaked! 'Referee' Hands Out Yellow Cards for Social Faux Pas in NYC 2014 Emmy Nominees: 8 Snub Shockers Emma Watson Is Va-Va-Voom in Valentino 7 Infamous Sports Blowouts Argentina tops Holland in World Cup semifinals News flush: Japanese toilet exhibition making a splash Emmy Nominations: What to Watch For 'Game of Thrones' Leads 66th Emmy Awards Nominations Photographic 'Proof' That LeBron Is Leaving Miami - @TheBuzzeronFOX Elephant Pool Party at The Oregon Zoo Must-See! Berry and Fallon Form Human Hamster Wheel Pilot buys pizzas for travelers delayed by storm
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity