Introduction: In this series, called On Reading, Middle School reading teacher Karen Suter interviews Haverford School community members on their reading habits and book recommendations. In this blog post, Ryan Meyer, Middle School mathematics teacher, three-sport coach, Math Counts advisor, participant in the inaugural year of Building Antiracist White Educators, husband to Colleen, and dad to Brody, discusses how he got his start as a reader, where he finds his next book, and how he stays motivated to keep reading. He also reminisces on what it meant to him when his colleague and students gifted books to his young son.
My wife Colleen and I have been married for a little over two years and our son Brody is 21 months old. Colleen and I went to the same grade school so we’ve known each other for a long time. I’m the oldest of four kids. As a kid, there were always books around, and my parents read to me a lot. What kinds of books do I like to read? I don’t have just one answer. I really do run the gamut. With regards to books, there are no limits. My youngest brother is a staunch nonfiction fan. If it didn’t really happen, he doesn’t want to read about it. Trying to find books for him as gifts for birthdays has helped me find new books for myself.
I’m a sucker for a good novel. If it’s all the rage or at the top of the charts, I’ll dive right in. There are a few authors I really like and I’ve read quite a few of their books. A good friend of mine and I dove into a lot of work by Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote Fight Club. It’s not G-rated, but I’ve read a lot of his books. I like how intricately he develops and describes his characters. The personality traits he includes for the main characters and supporting cast in his books are described with a fine-toothed comb. The neurotic behaviors he gives them continue to play out throughout the book and they are true to themselves at every point in time in the story. He gives them these quirky fascinations. For example, there was one character who knew everything and anything about mobile homes -- which brands were the best, the ratio of bathrooms to bedrooms, sizes and layouts. It was weird and had nothing to do with the story, but it was so interesting. It constantly makes me wonder what my peccadillos are. What do people see in me in a similar vein?
There was never a time when I didn’t like to read, but looking back on my school-age years, I rarely read for pleasure outside of school assignments. When I read, even for school, I really enjoyed what we were reading. Reading for me was, and is, laborious. It takes me a long time and I often have to re-read, and yet that doesn’t turn me off from reading. It makes me want to read more because I enjoy reading so much. It’s time-consuming for me and I need to focus. I’m not the kind of person who can read 3 books at one time. I’ve always been impressed by the boys I see at Haverford who have books with them that aren’t in our curriculum. I always think, “I never read like that.” But my father got me to really like reading. When I was 7 or 8 years old, he worked in a delivery drivers’ union in Philly. They delivered papers like the Daily News and the Inquirer, as well as magazines. He would deliver to all the corner stores and newsstands downtown. A lot of times, he would come home with a magazine for my mother and a comic book for me. I loved it. It got me really into comics and reading. I still think comics are super cool. Some comics I loved were about Superman, Spiderman, and the Hulk. Today I really enjoy the fantasy and science fiction genres.
Most of the books I read come from recommendations. When I hear about things I put them on my Amazon wish list. I get a lot of recommendations from other teachers. I go down the beach every summer with a group of educators (lifeguards I work with in Wildwood) who are both friends and mentors, and these guys are voracious readers. I look forward to seeing them and I always ask them first thing "So what'd you read?" when we get back together.
Colleen, my wife, reads a ton. She’ll recommend books to me based on what she thinks I'm interested in. I just finished Sing, Unburied, Sing. She recommended that to me when it first came out, and when the Form II students started reading it this spring and Mr. Pariano (Form II English teacher) recommended it too, I finally read it. It was unbelievable and I would highly recommend it.
Whenever I had a Read and Prep to proctor in my schedule, I really protected the reading time because I wanted to read for 30 minutes. It was selfish in nature but also served a purpose for the boys, and I hope that modeling that reading habit made it worthwhile for the boys. Our Tuesday reading time during community this year was just as serious for me. I wanted to read and I wanted the boys to want to read too.
My number one push for something to change at school would be to increase reading time. The more we can have everybody read, the better.
The first year that Colleen and I were together, she got me a Kindle, the first one they made, for Christmas. It does connect to the internet, but only to download books. It's just for reading. I love it. Something about the brown leather case she got for me makes me feel cool and educated when I read from it. Ever since Colleen got this for me I feel like I read much more. Carrying it around feels good, but also I love that it's just no frills, and I can highlight passages that I really like. I can annotate certain lines or quotes that are thought-provoking, and I love being able to look up a word by just putting a cursor in front of it. It helps me in the moment to better understand what I'm trying to read. I almost only read from my Kindle. If I can't get it from the library through my Kindle, then I'll buy it. I do feel like the Kindle slows me down more, though, with the way I annotate. I have all kinds of notes and highlights. I don't go back and revisit them usually, but I'm glad I take them. It's the only way I want to read.
To try to get myself to read more, I started a book club with my mother and my brother, the one who likes nonfiction. They read a ton. I asked them to start this at the beginning of this year, like a New Year's resolution. Each of us gets to pick a book that we all read and it will force us to get together for lunch or dinner to just chat about the book. My mom got first dibs. She picked Show Them You're Good: A Portrait of Boys in the City of Angels the Year Before College by Jeff Hobbs. It follows five or six boys in two different schools, in different zip codes, with demographically different students served, who have vastly different experiences. The author follows these boys during the same period of time, when they are juniors and seniors in high school. It’s an interesting personal portrait and also a look into education in America today.
When I was out on paternity leave when Brody was born, Mr. Pariano and I shared a homeroom. He and the boys in our advisories got together and bought a bunch of books for Brody. It meant a lot to me! When I tried to express my gratitude, what I said was, “This means a lot because it's personal and he's my son, but in my opinion giving someone the gift of literacy, teaching someone how to read, is the greatest gift. It enables them to do so much in their lifetime." I believe that if you can comprehend and analyze information, all that starts from just being able to read. Because of reading, you can do all kinds of things.