Essays and Reading Habits


The electric smell of hot aluminum from the Stahl’s foundry flavored the air as I crossed the parking lot to have lunch with my first-grader today. The news of Christopher Hitchens’ death caught in my mind like a hiccup. It just wouldn’t go away.

I admit not being an ardent Hitchens scholar – I haven’t even read any of his stuff. Hitch-22 bored me and I couldn’t finish it. Maybe because it was a library book? I don’t know, but there’s something more captivating about a book I own. Lately I’ve been enamored by the essay, and I intend on catching up with his collection.

I’ve been chided before for not being familiar with Hitchens’ work. I deserved it to a degree, but I simply chose other volumes. What bothers me more are the reading habits of students filing through our university – as if I were well-read at 18.


Still, I was at least interested in picking up different newspapers from time to time. Robert Anton Wilson, R. Buckminster Fuller and Aldous Huxley certainly had my full attention. In fact, Wilson’s wife, Arlene, paid me the greatest compliment with a favorable response to a poem I sent Mr. Wilson.

Anyway, during one my class periods, I sat everyone around a table and we talked about the New York Times. We critiqued. We discussed. Then I turned the conversation inward. I wanted to know what they read. Well, it’s pocket-sized, has a battery and serves multiple functions – phone, MP3 player, video player, game system, camera, video camera, Internet search engine and pocket vibrator.

The students are abstract readers at best and headline scanners at worst.

It doesn’t matter how much I coach and encourage, “Hey, you all need to read more.” A good teacher gives solid advice such as this. An excellent teacher kicks them in the pants and finds a way to make them suffer for not reading.

On the issue of suffering, it’s not every day you witness a stylebook addendum in action. I was cruising through Bill Keller’s page in the Times and read his exegesis on using “illegals” to describe illegal immigrants in a previous column. He included several frothy comments from readers. He even included a response from the Times’ stylemaster who said, “I had a feeling you would be hearing from folks on this one.”


It’s painful at times when, as a journalist, you get taken to the mat. You dish it out, you gotta take it. I certainly don’t make a habit of reveling in someone else’s shakeups, but I enjoyed how Keller handled the issue. His stylemaster apparently, and unwittingly, became part of his column (grammar boo-boo and all).

“It might be worth cautioning against ‘illegals’ in the style book entry, though if i do that, I will wait for a decent interval – otherwise some suspicious observer will assume the change is aimed at you.”

Here’s the full text:

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