July 2015

Summer reading

By David Feela

For a quarter century, I taught the classics, trained young minds to wade through literature in order to sit for Advanced Placement Exams. Students have thanked me and students have cursed me.

Now that I’ve retired from teaching, I must confess the urge still exists to impart an insight or two about something I’ve read that sticks with me. Lucky you.

Maybe you’re not a reader, though the fact that you’ve moved on to this second paragraph implies you underestimate yourself. I know, some say the study of literature should be sparked by scholarly interest, but truthfully, I hated James Joyce, and I can’t say Herman Melville did much to float my boat either. Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky, Louisa May Alcott, William Makepeace Thackeray, you get the picture. Not on my booket list.

If you’re searching for summer reading, let me suggest Sherman Alexie. Not his books, though if you have the time, they’re wonderful. Novels, short stories, poetry, you name it. What I’m becoming more and more enchanted by is Sherman Alexie’s Twitter feed. Tweets. 140-character messages. It’s a developing genre that hardly fits into what most people consider literature, but in the hands of an able writer like Alexie, I’d say social media can acquire the hue of haiku.

Here’s a sampling:

Thought I saw 8 kids praying together in food court. Turns out they were all looking down at their phones.

My airplane captain is walking the aisle & talking to passengers. Get back in the cockpit, Captain! Stop being so relaxed!

During an argument, never say to your romantic other, “Okay MOM!” or “Whatever DAD!” You never really recover from that.

If you find yourself agreeing with your friends all the time then you need to diversify your friendships.

Once you start following him, you can easily scroll backward in time for yourself to find more. Followers. Following. That’s the terminology of Twitter for those who aren’t following. Not friends, like Facebook presumes. Alexie has 80,200 followers, so he has no clue when he stares up into his data-driven sky that I’m one of the tiny dots out there in his galaxy, which is fine with me. I don’t have to interact with him. I am simply one of his readers.

In 2010 the Library of Congress began housing all of Twitter’s archives, beginning with the social media’s debut in 2006, but I’m not suggesting spending considerable time reading reams of what Twitter produces. I’m not even contending that most of the Library of Congress deserves your attention.

What I am recommending is that you open a Twitter account for the single purpose of following one writer, say, @ Sherman_Alexie. It will be like cracking the spine of the tiniest book imaginable every day, just to see if a new microchapter has appeared. Don’t feel obligated to tweet anything back.

I would further recommend that you don’t clutter your account with other Twitter tweeters. The social-networking service will of course suggest you choose a picture for your profile. Remain invisible. Other Twitter members will urge you to follow them. Don’t do it. Twitter will ask to access your address book, offering your other contacts the chance to follow you. Don’t allow it. The rest of the world will find its own way. It helps to spend a modicum of time away from your own thoughts.

So what are you waiting for? Unless you are involved with one of those paper things called a book, the opportunity to occasionally treat your eyes to something different might be a good idea, a mental bookmark to slip into some random page among the epic sequence of events contained by your memory.

Some might think joining a social media site without any intention of participating in the conversation is wrong. Even Twitter doesn’t think of itself as a reading library. It believes it serves its users by promoting a cat’s cradle of chatter.

Try to ignore the narrow rectangle at the top of the page where Twitter wants you to type, at any time of day, a response to its most provocative question, What’s happening? Really, it’s not important, and you’ve got better things to do than sharing what Twitter would like to trademark as the perpetual moment.If you simply can’t resist, just type, I’m reading.

David Feela, an award-winning poet and author, writes from Montezuma County, Colo. See more at http://feelasophy.weebly.com/.