Baratz-Logsted On Reading to One Person

From Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s delightful account of giving bookstours:

The second of my one-person-in-the-audience performances also came at a B&N, this time in Danbury. Id simply done far too many area performances at that point, plus it was pretty much well the most gorgeous fall day of the year. The World Series may have even been on. This meant the only person there was a nine-year-old girl with a notebook. She told me she wanted to be a writer too, but we both agreed that her mother probably wouldnt approve of her reading my novel just yet, so instead she had me autograph her journal. Then she proceeded to pump me with questions on the biz. It fast became clear that she was positive shed outshine me as a writer one day, just as soon as she got discovered. If shed been sitting behind that desk, thered have been a lot more people there than just one girl with a notebook! Still, despite the withering looks she gave me, I felt it was time well spent, since I always count it time well spent when I help out other writers, even if the only help Im providing is in giving them cause to tell themselves, Hey, if she can do it

Connecticut-based author Baratz-Logsted writes some light-hearted romantic tales, and her personal website includes (conveniently enough) a list of discussion questions for bookclub. That’s a nice idea (something Neil Pollack parodied in the Neil Pollack Anthology of American Literature). Here’s from her interview/faq:

Q: One of the more sour librarians, Pat, has the following to say to Scarlett at one point: Its only in books where you always see these uptight librarians who are repressed and never get laid. But in real life? Librarians are hot. Hell, we should have our own swimsuit calendar. (p. 163) Is she right?

A: God, yes! I think librarians are wonderful! You know, Scarlett, like with so many other things in her life, comes across as being ambivalent about her career: sometimes she disparages it, other times shes defensive about it, and on one notable occasion she proudly asserts that, to her, anything to do with books is the most noble profession of all. Im right with Scarlett on that one. OK, maybe working with books isnt quite up there with developing a cure for AIDS or negotiating peace in the Middle East. But as far as Im concerned, its still pretty high up on the list. And, yes, librarians should have their own swimsuit calendar!

I just had a flashback to teaching in Ukraine, where my students frequently cut class. There were numerous reasons: the students had too many lessons in the week, my class was an elective (and the grade did not count for their GPA), and plus the students were just not motivated. As a teacher of English as a foreign language, I introduced language and conversation lessons with a sprinkle of lessons about American culture. I also did “roadshows” of “model lessons” for pegagogical institutes all over Ukraine. I had about 10 lessons which were just absolutely dynamite (my normal lectures were fun too, but these 10 were my “greatest hits.)”

I spent 3 weeks gathering multimedia material to prepare a lesson titled, “History of American Rock and Roll Music.” I had intended it for my roadshow, so I went to great lengths to put together video and audio clips and lots of interesting analysis about pop music in general. I chose the pop culture topic on purpose because I knew it would generate a tremendous amount of interest among students on my roadshow (and indeed, that became my most popular lecture throughout the year).

First, however, I did the lesson for my normal students, and because the lesson was going to be special, I gave them a lot of advance notice (so they’d know not to skip it). I even invited one of the Ukrainian teachers to be a spectator. On the first time I did the lecture for my students, a total of 3 out of my 25 students showed up, something that left me flabbergasted (I had something similar happen to me once or twice during my Peace Corps stint in Albania). The teacher said to me afterwards, “Great lesson. Pity nobody was there to see it.”

By then, I began to sense the futility of trying to attract student interest for my lessons. If I couldn’t persuade my OWN students to attend a MULTIMEDIA lesson on POP MUSIC, then it was similarly futile to persuade them to attend lectures on writing resumes/Emily Dickinson/ or verb agreement. Either they came or they didn’t. My only consolation was that the students who showed up were motivated, curious and delightful to be around.

Sidenote: when performing my History of Rock and Roll lesson at several universities in Ukraine, I used to start out by asking students to write the name of their favorite Rock group on the chalkboard. Instead of mentioning a Russian or Ukrainian band, they wrote down, Rolling Stones or Metallica or the Beatles. In other words, they identified “Rock” with a national culture and not simply as a genre. I used to make a statement to the Ukrainian students that always shocked them: “You all know about Metallica and Madonna and Spice Girls, but you might be interested to know that the typical American university student could not give the name of a single Russian musical group or singer. Not one.”