Trip of a Lifetime


I’ve written here before about my foray into digital production with my post-retirement “baby,” Shelf Life. This month I’ll mount my sixteenth edition, proud to say. My son bemoans the fact that, while I continue to produce content, I have yet to self-promote. Having said that, he also understands its inherent difficulty.

When he and his girlfriend visited me in Houston while I was at NCTE 2018, we sat around one night and discussed how I might get these book recommendations out to a wider public. “Mom, there are so many people who could use them.” In the fervor of brainstorming, I agreed to—at least—produce an audio-only version, in essence a podcast, and serve it up on SoundCloud. The kids were touting the benefits of podcasts, and I definitely saw why. So this March will be my third Shelf Life: The Podcast. As far as creating a teacher mailing list, posting actively on social media, and creating a website where products will be housed…not so much.

It’s hard to say, “Look at me. I have done something useful, valuable even. Pay attention to me!” What compounds this difficulty is when I see all the others who are producing much the same thing. Last June the New York  Times featured a story entitled “Meet the YouTube Stars Turning Viewers into Readers.”  On one hand, I was thrilled to see the enthusiasm for READING; on the other, I was overwhelmed by both the quantity of “BookTubers” and the quality of some of the productions. I say “some” because I spend hours each month writing a decent script and filming with my husband, a stickler with high standards. Not all of these #booktubers can say the same.

I began this experiment to maintain contact with my former colleague and school, the place where I had blossomed as a teacher for 26 years. Each time I filmed, I envision them, the eighth graders I’ve left behind, as my audience. At the end of 2018, my first complete year of monthly vlogs, Dana, my erstwhile and awesome team teacher, had arranged a Hangout Live, and the kids had given us feedback. Two of the suggestions, to make sure the featured titles were on hand (their teacher orchestrates that!) and invite comments at the conclusion, I’ve made sure to honor. And I think, “Okay. I’m upping my game.”

Honestly though, it’s a lot of work for 35 views. I realized that I needed a plan for next year, for me AND for the readers. Then I read this article from Book Riot.

map US Wiki
Wikimedia Commons

Immediately my wheels started spinning, imagining a year spent on an every-state reading trip. This was something new, different, and sounded like FUN. Reading does take us places after all, so why not highlight that?

When I was with my sisters in Mexico City recently, they were asking about Shelf Life, so I told them about my September 2019 idea. As we discussed it, my sister Mary observed that the goal of reading books from all fifty states seemed a bit unreachable. How about a bunch of cross-country treks, different routes, that led from sea-to-sea (including Hawaii, her home)? Instantly I saw the beauty in that. Depending on the route selected, a student might not have to complete an impossible number of texts. It was doable, and a challenge, and for those ambitious, heck, they could criss-cross, taking various journeys all through the pages of books! Now I had NEW DIRECTION. Shelf Life would provide the map.

Two truths emerge here: Change is good, and we are fed by the ideas of others. I know I have to finish this year, but I can’t wait for what’s ahead.

If you know any teachers who use independent reading in their classrooms, particularly eighth grade and above, maybe you’ll let them know. I WILL PROMOTE THIS, because it may encourage new readers to travel—Dickinson was right: “There is no frigate like a book…”



5 thoughts on “Trip of a Lifetime”

  1. I think it is human nature that we have a hard time promoting ourselves. Although I didn’t read, when we drove from Pennsylvania to California (I-80 out and I-40 home) we learned something new about each state we passed through. I like the idea of cross-country treks.

  2. I LOVE the idea of taking Shelf Life readers on a cross-country trek. The combination of two of my favorite things, reading and traveling, delivered by one of my favorite people. You have inspired me in countless ways and I love watching the continuous evolution of Shelf Life. Xo

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