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Want Not by Jonathan Miles

June 27th, 2014 | Posted by Lackey in My Reading Life - (0 Comments)

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Dave Eggers’ jacket blurb drew me to this gem of a book sitting on the shelf of our local library. Jonathan Miles’ literary dumpster dive into the world of anti-materialist, anti-capitalist, post-consumer dystopia reads like the third installment following Eggers Hologram for a King and The Circle, both not so thinly veiled critiques of the consequences of living in a semi-virtual, techno-saturated society. The characters in Want Not inhabit literal and metaphorical dumpsters overflowing with debris from Hologram’s failed capitalism and live beyond the reach of the Google/Amazon/Facebook virtual world of The Circle.

Want Not follows a handful of separate characters whose stories do not intersect until the last section. Each chapter reads like an independent short story. Talmadge and Micah are squatters in Manhattan who dumpster dive for food. Elwin Cross, Jr. is an overweight linguistics professor who is attempting to cope with his failed marriage and failing father who lives at an Alzheimer’s facility. Suburbanite Sarah, who became a widow on September 11th, has recently remarried, complicating the life of her daughter, Alexis. Each character regards waste differently.

I enjoyed the book so much, I convinced David to read it. I responded to the satiric humor and David its semi-tragic grotesqueness. Miles crafts long, detailed sentences and paragraphs which mimic Craigslist Yardsale ads, while at the same time imagining the lives of those who post them. We both agree, it makes you think for a second about what happens after you toss that black Hefty bag to the curb.

Last week, I travelled with my daughter and 16 others to serve some of the poorest school children in Honduras through a Cleveland, Ohio based organization called Hope for Honduran Children. Lovingly run by Karen and John Godt, Hope for Honduran Children sponsors more than a half dozen service trips throughout the year. Since my daughter had gone on one of these trips as a high school senior, she convinced me my teaching life would be changed forever if I came along on a trip with her this spring. And she was very, very right! An average day of the eight day trip was spent visiting a remote mountain school in the morning and spending time with the boys who live at Flor Azul in Neuvo Paraiso In the afternoons.  Each person in our group came to Honduras prepared to teach a lesson or share a craft. Of course, I wanted to combine literature with a craft that the children would enjoy.  Before we left, I zeroed in on Dr. Seuss, and after scouring Amazon for options, I found an a English/Spanish version of The Cat in the Hat to take along. A little bit of time spent on Pinterest and I located a template for making large red and white striped hats.  Card stock was printed, red stripes were traced, blue head bands were precut and red duct tape was packed in my carry on!

Karen suggested I save my activity for the day we were to visit Neguara, a remote mountain  village several hours east of Tegucigalpa.  Hope for Honduran Children takes every one of its service groups to visit this school, unless there has been recent rain, which makes the steep, rocky road to the school impassible.  We had a very long, bumpy bus ride and in addition to bringing lessons for the children, we had suitcases full of donated clothing, oatmeal, pasta, children’s vitamins and CANDY!

We were told the teacher at this school walks more than an hour each way from his home to the school.  Although he was offered a teaching job nearer to his home, he continues the daily walk to Neguara because if he didn’t teach there, he says no one else would.  And what a fine teacher!  He had the children lined up and ready to greet us as we got off the bus – smallest to tallest with boys on one side and girls on the other.  It brought tears to my eyes.

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The children hugged each of us and then hurried into their school, taking their seats to wait for the lessons to start. I paired up with my daughter’s friend Sammie, who is minoring in Spanish in college, to read the book first in Spanish and then in English.

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They listened with intent, and enjoyed when I passed the pictures around and acted it out a bit for them.

Reading Cat in the Hat – Neguara video

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The book is really quite long for the attention span of a small child, especially when it is being read twice. We decided to cut it short and move quickly on to the craft.

They loved making the hats, and with some assistance, we soon had a room full of Cats in Hats!
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Video – Showing off Hatsimage
It was a moving sight to see the whole school posing for a picture in their hats, and I was so tempted to leave the book behind as a donation, but my daughter had promised we had more kids to share Dr. Seuss with at Neuvo Paraiso. These boys go to school each morning and the return to the complex of buildings where they live, sleep and eat their meals. We had several afternoons to spend with them, playing games, making beautiful silk screened logo shirt thanks to the donations of an artist on our trip, and reading The Cat in the Hat. I was tickled to see 14, 15 and 16 year old boys working through the English text – sometimes laughing at the story and practicing their pronunciation in rhyme!

Video – Group Reading

Video of Christopher

Our very last day was spent with boys who live together at Casa Noble in Santa  Lucia.  They are mostly older boys – some attend classes at the university.  Their English is pretty good but The Cat in the Hat still presented a challenge.

Video – Alex Reading

One of my lasting memories of the week will always be of the group of us – moms, kids, new Honduran family members – huddled on the couch taking turns reading together with the a English speakers reading Spanish and vice versa. image
Video – Group Read featuring Jimmy

I ended up leaving the book at Casa Noble. I explained to them that the Dr. Seuss was commissioned by his publisher to write a primer using 225 “new reader” sight words. Ironically, I had come to Honduras with almost no words in my word bank. My teaching life was enriched forever by watching the story magically draw its own audience. That Cat in the Hat brings “Good fun that is funny” even when his name is El Gato Ensombrerato.