Dr. Zhivago is a tome many readers would find daunting, but even more so for a young reader with dyslexia. This continuation of my best books guest post series comes from Susan P. Cooper who blogs about wine, food, art, and life’s lessons on her blog Finding Our Way Now. She certainly has a knack for extracting insights from daily life that all readers can relate to. Susan’s tireless support and encouragement makes me proud to call her my friend.
Dr. Zhivago: To Love A Good Book
I am a storyteller. So when Jeri asked that I write a guest post related to books or literature this is what came to mind. My story begins when my father made a decision to move me to the high school where he taught upper-level math. He felt I would be given a better chance to excel without prejudiced by doing so. It was a large school, and I kind of got lost in its size. Being a bit shy and quiet didn’t help matters. I liked my teachers well enough, and all seemed to be going as my father had hoped. Except for my English class.
I have always struggled with reading and writing. That comes from being dyslexic. Which meant that as a young person in school, I became a very good auditory learner. That worked remarkably well and was a good thing until it came to my English classes. I was good in math and science, but English literature and writing were my bane.
Everyone loved my English teacher, Martha Hilgrass. She was pretty, funny, and would tell us some terrific stories about different books and their authors that we were to read. It was the reading part that I had the most difficult time with. A short time went by. One day Ms. Hilgrass asked if I would stop by to see her at the end of the day. I worried the rest of that day. What did she want? Was she going to tell me how bad I was doing? I was genuinely trying hard to keep up, couldn’t she see that? The worst thought of all was, does my dad know?
At the end of the school day, I reluctantly went to Ms. Hilgrass’s classroom. She said she knew I had to stay after school to wait for my dad. She thought it would be fun if we spent some time together just talking and maybe I could even help her with a few things. I was so surprised and much relieved. She wanted to spend time with me, of all people. I had a blast. Ms. Hilgrass was so much fun. I learned about her life, boyfriends, what she liked to do and all the fantastic places she had visited. I couldn’t wait till the end of each day to spend time with her.
One afternoon, she mentioned that she had an idea. She asked me not to judge what she had in mind. I was a bit puzzled by that, but I trusted her, so I asked what it was. She handed me book, a particularly large book. I stared at it and wondered what I was to do with it. I looked up at her with a questioning look. She laughed. She said, “I know what you’re thinking. Wow, how can I ever read something like that!” She went on to say how she had a fun idea. “I want you to read just one chapter a night, no more, and let’s talk about it the next day. Are you game?” I shrugged and reluctantly said yes. She laughed and said, “Aw, it’ll be fun, I promise.”
That night, after putting off reading my chapter, I finally picked up the extremely large book and read the preface. It was so boring. It took me a while, but I did it.
The next afternoon, she asked me about it, and we talked about what I had read and learned. She smiled and told me that I had done well. That felt remarkably good. This went on for a while. We talked about the book chapter by chapter. But then something started to happen. The whole story started to get truly entertaining, and I couldn’t help not reading more than one chapter a night.
I couldn’t wait to talk to Ms. Hilgrass about what I’d read. She was super-excited about that. I babbled on about what might happen next. When I finished the book, I experience something I had never felt before, a sense of loss like losing a friend. I wanted more. When I express how I felt to Ms. Hilgrass, she told me she wasn’t surprised.
What I learned from Ms. Hilgrass was it wasn’t how long it took for me to read the book but what I gained from the experience that mattered. She went on to explain that good literature would always give me that feeling and cause me to reach for more. And that it did. That book, the first book I had ever truly read was Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. That was huge accomplishment for a dyslexic like me.
What reading experiences changed your attitude toward reading? Have you ever read Doctor Zhivago?
You can connect with Susan P. Cooper and her social media websites via her website and blog Finding our Way Now.
Susan Cooper is a former teacher. She left teaching to go into sales and ultimately became an executive for marketing advertising at various companies in the print media industry.
As a very young child, Susan was a prolific dreamer, with clear images and in vivid color. Her father was a psychology major and used her as his case study for analyzing dreams. He taught her the various skills and tools to use to determine what her dreams were trying to tell her. As she grew so did her interest and her skill level. Susan is still analyzing her dreams today, along with helping others to do the same who are interested in what a dream may really mean.
It has always been her fervent hope that by helping others to gain a basic understanding of dream images and what they mean, that it will give an individual the opportunity to improve and understand their waking life in concert with their dream life
You can also read my guest post that appeared on Susan’s blog on using the Breville Mini Pie Maker. It was a prize given during her Christmas blog giveaway.
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2013.
What a remarkable teacher you had, Susan! Teachers are awesome people. My third grade teacher, Miss Appelt, taught us about vowels by challenging us to find a word that did not have a vowel in it. Abbreviations were not allowed. She said she would pay $1 to whomever found such a word.
No one won the dollar.
I still think of her whenever I see the name Ng. I cannot recall if names were allowed. If they were, Miss Appelt owes me a buck. 🙂
Hi Lorraine. Thank you. I think teachers can have the most important affect in our lives, both good and bad. When you have a great one, such as your Miss Appelt, you never forget them and their lasting effect in your life.
Yep, she owes you ad dollar… LOL. 🙂
Thanks Jeri for allowing me to share my story. I will always be grateful to Ms. Hilgrass. Without her help and guidance, I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to really gain a love of reading. 🙂
Many times it takes some one else’s fire to spark our own loves. When we see the world through their eyes we are open to new possibilities.
That is so true Jon. It reminds me of a saying, “Never a prophet in our own town (or minds)”. 🙂
Wow, that is an incredible story. Your teacher had smarts and patience. I can’t believe it was Dr. Zhivago that got you to read. Must re-read that book.
I started with Back to School with Betsy – but I suppose that is more classic. My daughter, who is now an adamant bookworm, really got into reading with Harry Potter. She had these sessions at the library with Belle, a therapy dog. She would read Harry Potter segments to the dog! So I must thank the librarians for all their support!
Thanks Leora, She was a very improant figure in my life and I created her for helping to the success I am today. I think that is awesome about your daughter. BTW: I love the Harry Potter series.
While I do not share your dyslexia, I do read very slowly. Not sure why. Always have. It’s like I have to have the conversation in my head or I miss the context of the story. I love to read, albeit slowly. 🙂 Great story Susan!
I am a super slow reader too Cheryl. Of the two libraries I frequent one of them gives me a full month. Most times I can finish a book within that time frame.
We, you and I, I truly believe are from the same cloth. I have learned that no matter how long it takes to read something I love the joy seeing the unfolding story in my minds eye. 🙂
Stories like Susan’s remind of a similar story my dad always tells when it comes to reading. One of his high school teachers really took the time to help him get through Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. He hasn’t read many books in his life, but he really is proud of having read that one thanks to a patient teacher.
Jeri, What a great story about your dad and a patient teacher. A patient teacher is so improant in a child’s learning, whatever the subject. Thankfully there are many patient teachers.
Super cool post, Susan. Isn’t it wonderful that there are some teachers who really care about their students, and who are willing to go that extra mile to make a difference in our lives?
Oddly, as someone who is now a professional writer, I never read much as a child. It is only since becoming an adult that I read. But usually it’s non-fiction books that I can learn from vs novels. I love travel books and self-help books as I always learn something from them. Cheers!
Hi Doreen, I love it when I hear of that kind of teacher because I know how important they can be in a child’s life.
I can see why you have that interest in reading subject material. I so love where that interest have taken you. 🙂
Always nice to read a story where someone overcomes a great hurdle and wins in the end!! Fantastic that your teacher took so much time to help you out. Some of these people need to be better rewarded, but alas that is for another post I guess!!
Hi Ashley, Thanks. I agree, great teacher are unsung and under-compensated. The fact is they do what they do for the love of it and we are blessed that they do. 🙂
And you went on to become a teacher (for a while), too, Susan?! Was part of your inspiration from Ms. Hilgrass? She sounds wonderful and I love your story.
Hi Laura, Thanks so much and no she wasn’t. She was patient and understanding. Good teachers are like that, don’t you think? 🙂
As always, great story Susan – it’s so amazing to see the impact a good teacher can have on a student. The booked that changed my path the most was “Poor Charlie’s Almanac” – a book on the wisdom and wit of Charlie Munger. I read it in 2007 and it’s really set the trajectory of where I am today, and where I’m headed!
Thanks so much Dan, That is an awesome book. I can see why it would resonate with you. I love your course and look forward to your next adventure. 🙂
It was beautiful to read the story behing Pasternak´s book… I loved the way Susan Cooper told us about her reading experiences and approaches to the book itself. (By the way, the movie is truly outstanding).
Best wishes and thanks for the feature; Jeri and Susan …
Aquileana, as I mentioned on Twitter, I think this is one to add to my Netflix list, though I should probably read the book first.
What a blessing to have had that friendship with a teacher. I had that kind of teacher/student friendship twice when I was young. Teachers somehow have great instincts for some kids who need that extra little something in their lives.
And one of my favourite all time books and movie!
Debby, Susan also went on to work as an elementary teacher for a while and has many great stories of the students’ lives she touched.