Our Reading Lives

Falling in Love with the Novel: The Moment Every Teacher Strives Toward

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Callie Ryan Brimberry

Staff Writer

Callie Ryan Brimberry is a teacher, writer, and editor in Virginia. She spends her free time leaving books on park benches and in random coffee houses hoping her margin notes read like love letters to those who’ve yet to fall in love with reading.

I hide receipts from my husband. When he found them last year, crumpled in between the laundry detergent and fabric softener, the last place I ever thought he would look, he was more amused than anything. Yet, when the laughter died down and his eyes found the total on all the receipts, his very ineloquent imitation of a fish led way to a very awkward conversation. I had no defense. What could I say? I need to see my students falling in love with the novel—it is the moment every teacher strives toward.  I managed to huff these statements indignantly in his direction in hopes of redirecting his anger toward my tone and away from my actions. He just rolled his eyes, knowing my intentions, and asked in an exasperated tone if my students really needed two class sets of novels. My response was that they really needed three.

Falling in Love with the Novel: The Moment Every Teacher Strives Toward | BookRiot.com

My students love reading. As a teacher, it is one of the few things that I take pride in having helped to develop. They really love reading. They devour novels as if starved for intellectual stimulation, which I suppose they are. One student, with an almost innate need for defiance, compared reading his first novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, to falling in love. Without guidance or prompting, he took copious notes on the fragile process of falling in love with the text: the infatuation, the need to know more, the passion, the dissent, the realization that maybe knowing more was more harmful to the soul than having simply walked away, the anger, the distrust, the resentment and the never-ending feeling of your “passion, faith, and sense of humanity being ripped from your heart in such a swift move that makes you wonder if your feelings were real in the first place did I do this to myself, or was this done to me?” When he completed the novel, all he had to say was “I wanted something different, but I got something more.” I had never been more proud. He said it felt like one of the worst experiences of his life. I said it changed him. He said it revived him.

His experience isn’t the same for every student. And I don’t want it to be the same…it would kind of defeat the purpose. But, when I start the first day of class with 35 sets of a novel and I leave on the last day of class with only a few copies left, I know that not all of my students got what they expected out of reading the novel, but I do know that they got something more.


Looking for more on reading in the classroom? Check out The Evolution of My Classroom Library, The Joys and Sorrows of Teaching Literature, and all of our discussions on teaching.