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Chuck Brooks' column: A very important point

I suspect you’ll understand this when I say there are those moments in our lives when we’re told something, and we never seem to let go of it, even though we don’t willfully hang on to it.

One that comes to mind is a neighbor of mine, when I was a junior in high school, who responded to my column I was writing for my high school in the local paper at the time. (I know. My desire to be heard was already starting. Some things never change.) She was being complimentary because I was young, and I’m sure she was all about encouragement, but then she added one piece of constructive criticism.

“Don’t use the word ‘very’ when you write. It’s useless. It doesn’t do anything for what it is you’re trying to say.” I have never forgotten that. Never. She was right. When I teach writing in my classroom, I refer to this as one of the smaller details to improving their papers. Show, don’t tell.

“Don’t use the word ‘very’ in your paper. It’s an empty word. If I wrote, ‘She was VERY pregnant,’ exactly what does that mean? She’s not JUST pregnant? She’s VERY pregnant? Exactly, what is that? Or, ‘It’s VERY hot. Not JUST hot, but VERY hot.’ “ Gen-erally I make my point. They still let the word creep into the essays, but I continue to fight the good fight.

Another professor told us he always keeps a book with him because he would never know when he was stuck in a situation where he could reach for the book and just read. He shared with us the fact he kept a book in his glove compartment. I’ve never forgotten that. When I go to the medical clinic for any reason, I know the wait can be ungodly long. Since I’m a hypochondriac, I tend to worry about what the doc will tell me is the cause of my problem. To get my mind off the entire experience, I always take a book with me because I know there will normally be a lot of waiting and with my mind idle, it’s best I fill that time with something productive. I’m always grateful I love to read. It’s made a difference in what could have been some unpleasant situations.

Which actually brings me to my point this week. I acquired a piece of information from a parent a week ago when we had parent/teacher conferences. I thought it was so cool. I knew I had to share it this week with you.

We had MCA tests not long ago. We were given two days of testing time from 7:30 until 10 each morning. Most kids were done extremely early. Then it became a question of how would they fill their time. Despite being told to bring something to fill the inevitable extra time most would experience, many did not. Actually, it’s amazing how many kids don’t seem to have homework or a reason to study for any course when given time to do so. Amazing.

In any case, this young man asked if he could take a book off the shelf in the back of my room to read and fill the time remaining. Over the years, I have brought in all my books I read and keep them in my room because many adults like to stop by and pick up a good read. I like hardcovers, and I share them when I’m done. Sometimes a stray student will find him/herself looking at them and ask to read one. I told my student, “Of course.” And so he read. That was day one of the test. He returned the book to the shelf, only to do the exact same thing day two of the test. At the end of the test, he asked me if he could take the book home with him to read. He was hooked by the plot, apparently. Again, I was most pleased to say “Yes.”

His mother came to conferences and shared something with me I never would have known had she not done so. She told me she was shocked when he pulled a book out of his backpack and was caught reading it. She said he used to love to read and then fell away from it, but this story seemed to reignite that pleasurable experience. He’s reading for fun again. Today, I noticed before class he was reading another book from the shelf. Folks, it doesn’t get any cooler than that. I take no credit for this. The books were there; he was bored after he finished the test; he instigated reading the book. And for now, all is right with the world.

Perhaps in 20 years, he’ll remember something from this stage of his life and he’ll pass it along. If so, it would be very cool. I mean really cool. I mean, er, uh, um … heck, it would awesome!