FilthWhen I was in school we were treated to a movie version of Shakespeare’s MacBeth. Early on it became obvious that no one in the class (this was Los Angeles) could understand anything that was being said. Personally, I found that it didn’t take too long to get into the rhythm of the dialogue and it became easier and easier to understand. Scottish dialogue is just that way.

Have you ever heard Sean Connery speak in his natural Scottish brogue?

I have read a few books written in Scottish dialogue with much the same experience: start out slow and before you know it, even the most difficult dialogue makes sense. But when I stop to think about it, I am sounding out the words in my head as if they are dialogue in a movie. I wonder if my lips move.

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Understanding Shakespeare

Back in my early adult life (or was it my late childhood) I sat in the rec-room of one of the dorms at the UC and watched a movie version of Macbeth. I remember Maurice Evans using such a heavy Scottish brogue that I initially had a great deal of trouble understanding his words; but eventually my brain got into the right rhythm and what with my familiarity with the play, I was fully engaged in the drama and the acting. Unfortunately, the woman I was sitting with eventually confessed to not understanding a word of Shakespeare and heading out of the room searching for coffee. She was a Fine Arts major so it was understandable.

Macbeth holds a prominent position in my history. When I was in third grade I rummaged through my parents’ bookcase and found several books that looked interesting: one was Treasure Island with the N. C. Wyeth illustrations and another was this story about witches and battles and ghosts … Macbeth. I had never read a play before so I struggled through what turned out to be my first Shakespeare (I don’t remember but I suspect I didn’t know who William Shakespeare was unless he was on a card in my Authors pack … “give me all you Longfellows”). When I brought the book in to school for Show & Tell I was sent home with a note to my parents that I needed to be restricted to reading in my age group. When shall we three meet again … Dick and Jane and Spot.

But my experiences with Shakespeare are probably not typical. After all, I concentrated in English Drama in Graduate School (specifically William Wycherley). In fact, one of my tactics was discussing the difference between the drama on the stage and the play on the page (yes, I actually wrote that in my thesis). I was therefore interested in a weblog entry Tackling Shakespeare which was reprinted in Nation of Change.

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Is this a chapter I see before me?

Okay. I admit that I had to do a little research to learn what a chapter book was. I checked out several places online and I believe the best definition I found was that it was juvenile book which consisted of several chapters, depending on the length and complexity of the text. I also noticed that there were eager book sellers that were publishing small, simple books with totally unnecessary chapter breaks: I think the idea was to make it so simple that a trained chipmunk could puff up its self-esteem reading the book.

But let’s assume that chapter books are real and valuable and not just a publisher or educator scam to convince proud parents that their offspring are truly excelling in the 3rd grade reading class.

So what was the first chapter book I read, or at least the first chapter book I remember? Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question. I was into Jules Verne, Daniel Defoe and Gidget before they invented chapter books. We were less fortunate I guess:  we only had two kinds of books:  books with pictures and books without pictures. Oh that’s not true. Living just 14 miles from the Mexican border I also remember books in English and books in Spanish. Some books had chapters, some had capítulos, some had lots of pictures, some were sparsely illustrated.

Back then (in the dark ages of Max Rafferty) we were encouraged not to read above the state recommended reading level. I remember bringing Macbeth into school for a book report and coming home with a stern note. I’d like to say that the first time I got in trouble at school was for reading Macbeth in the 3rd grade but there was that incident in 2nd grade that I was still living down. How did I know you weren’t suppose to say those words in mixed company. Like Ralphie, I know the taste of Lifebuoy soap.