ALONE – WITH SOMEONE ELSE
Daniel Coleman and In Bed with the Word
(LETTERS • BOOKS)
BY RACHEL HARVEY
When I started thinking on what to write about Daniel Coleman and his book In Bed With the Word, I decided it should be a personal and honest message about the type of relationships we form with the words we read.
To me, Daniel Coleman is a mentor. He is the kind of teacher who always makes the time to chat or look over his students’ work and to nurture their ideas, no matter how off the mark they may initially be. (I’m sure many of mine were!) He guides his students in a way that helps them along their path to intellectual adulthood, and gently nudges them in the right direction when needed. His unique and compassionate manner of teaching is an approach that, I believe, is severely lacking in today’s educational system. Having almost finished my first year of teaching secondary school, I have seen firsthand that not many teachers are like Daniel. There’s something about being in a position of power over others that seems to turn many teachers into dictators who (sometimes inadvertently) squash individuality rather than encourage it: Do this because you/me/we all have to, or fail! Daniel will never be like that.
It is his compassionate spirit, I think, threaded eloquently and purely throughout his book In Bed With the Word, that truly makes it a meaningful and powerful read. I first read this book when I was doing my undergraduate studies at McMaster, and I remember thinking, “Finally, an explanation for that feeling I get when, even though I’m alone when I’m reading, it’s like I’m having an intimate conversation with someone else!” The concept in itself is understated, and might, at first, not receive the kind of appreciation it deserves — quite like Daniel Coleman himself. There is a quiet elegance to the pure emphatic potential, the genius opportunity we have when we open the pages of a book to totally immerse ourselves in another’s point of view and to commune with them over ideas and experiences that he brings to light with his book. The process he describes is democratic magic.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to bring my copy of In Bed With The Word with me when I moved to England to teach, (I only had two suitcases to fit my life into!), so I can’t draw on quotes or come up with “masterful” interpretations of the text. Suffice it to say, when I think of this book now, in the midst of my novice teacher year of hell, I am comforted to mull over the message: To sit, and ponder, and consider and commune with the ideas of others, is an exercise that is extinguished by today’s constant distractions and mediated fluff. My life has become so full of fluff as of late. This book gently nudges me to get back to what I love doing: reading, consciously. Because reading is so much more than just escapism or a pastime. Reading is when I can truly be alone and yet with someone else, wholly, and without interruption.
Rachel Harvey has always been passionate about literature, and studied English at McMaster University for several years part time while working in administration there. She returned to McMaster full time to complete an Honours Bachelor of Arts in English (2012) and a Master of Arts in English (2013). She then went on to complete a Bachelor of Education in Northern Ontario (Lakehead University), and has been living in England this past year teaching secondary schoolers about the joys of literature and language. Her writing can be found in the Seraphim Editions anthology In the Wings: Stories of Forgotten Women, H Magazine, The Silhouette, TV Guide, and Greater Hamilton Musician. Rachel is a past Associate Editor and was HA&L’s first (ever) Intern.