Misleading Book Titles: A Literacy Narrative

April 6th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

*This literacy narrative was originally written for a reading I gave at UMN for a FYW program event highlighting writing teachers as readers and writers.*

I quickly grew tired of teen fiction. Usually the thought that would run through my head at the next teen novel was “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Another teen crybaby whiny story! Ah!” So, one month, I decided I would pick up a novel that wasn’t teen fiction. I had my parents take me to Barnes and Noble, one of my favorite places, and I looked around for a novel that looked cool. To be honest, I was looking for a cover that looked interesting. In retrospect, I probably should have thought of a different way to pick a book, but I was young (13!) and couldn’t think of another way. When I picked up the book I finally settled on, I thought it must have something to do with sex because the word mistress was in the title, and I had overheard adults—not my parents—talking about their mistresses and the sexual acts they engaged in with said mistresses (none of which I will go into here!). Anyway, I, like most freshly minted teenage boys, was interested in sex, so I thought I could slip the book past my parents keen eyes and hide it under my bed. To my joy, my parents let me buy the book, and I was so happy because I had fooled them…or so I’d thought.

When I got home, I quickly ran off with my book to my room to examine it for, ahem, literary purposes, but to my chagrin, the book wasn’t about sex at all. It was then that I cursed book titles for being misleading. I mean, if I bought a book with the word Rasputin in the title, I wouldn’t expect it to be about muffins; therefore, when I see a book title with the word mistress in it, I don’t necessarily think it will be about revolution. The book title, which had carelessly misled me into thinking about sex, was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress written by Robert Heinlein. It’s a science fiction novel about libertarian revolution on the moon.

It’s amazing how much a book can change your perspective on the world. When I read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I felt alive. I never understood how one book could make me feel alive or make me want to lead revolutionaries against a tyrannically government. I quickly devoured the book, I read every line and then I read it again and again and again until I had almost memorized the entire text. This was the first book that made me laugh, made me cry, made me angry, and made me sad. I will always remember the story and message it gave me: there is no substitute for freedom of knowledge.

Literacy is something that means many different things, but I think the overall benefit of any type of literacy is that it empowers and enlightens. Heinlein’s novel empowered me when I was 13, and it empowers me now because it is the book that set me on my current path in higher education. It helped me become who I am, so it will always have a special place in my heart.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, after reading Heinlein’s novel, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to evoke the same emotions through text that Heinlein had conjured in me. I set about writing in many genres: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I wrote short stories about ladybugs and fireflies, essays about my dad mowing the yard and my grandmother making fried chicken, and poetry about my striped socks and wishes of sweet lovers. Even today, I still write poetry of my colorful socks and my sweet lovers. I write fiction stories of my kitty, Gen. Sir Tanner Fitzgibbons (names pending), leading his balls of yarn into battle or pouncing on the poor defenseless moth that dared to invade his domain. I still write essays about life and compose poetry every Sunday morning at dawn. I dream of words and combine sentences that I think will be lovely in stories that I have yet to write, but like most of my students and many of my colleagues, I still have trouble saying I am a writer. They are four words but frequently difficult to say because we do not always think of ourselves as writers, but the other thing that also writes. Well, I most certainly must be something of a writer because I teach writing and the thousands of pages bulging from my file cabinet suggests I am a writer. I’ve often thought that writers would much rather be apart of WA: Writer’s Anonymous.

So, I’ll leave you with a rather simple thought as I end: I am a writer and so are you.


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