Monday, June 17, 2013

Stop Whining. Start Reading.

I have been meaning for weeks now to post about reading--but actually, what better time to discuss reading than right before Summer Reading assignments begin in earnest?

Every summer, I help kids tackle their summer reading, manage their reading schedules, understand the books they are reading, and fill out those dang homework packets or write summer reading-related essays and reports.  

Summer reading is, for many people (and their parents--mostly their parents), a chore. A bad thing. An unfair harshing of a student's blessed summer mellow.

So, all summer long (but especially in August--isn't it funny how that happens?),  I help kids with their summer reading.

I can't do the reading for them, and I wouldn't, anyway--although yes, I do read what they read if I am unfamiliar with the book, which isn't usually the case--but I always manage to work in a sneaky agenda.

It's not the agenda you might think it is.

My agenda is to show kids that reading is Incredible Fun.

It doesn't matter how boring the assigned book may be (and come on--teachers are not trying to purposely torture you by assigning dead boring books over the summer! Give teachers some credit, please!). 

Once you know how to read the right way, and how to remember what you've read, then there will never be a reading assignment that will be painful and difficult.

I am serious.  (The secret is being an active reader and following your own interests to find the point and the magic in everything that you read.)

Why read over the summer? 
  • Because every single thing you read, and I don't care if it's the back of a cereal box or the text on a carton of antacid, teaches you something.
  • The more you read, the more you know...
  • Wide reading makes for good writing...
  • Kids who read the most perform the best on standardized tests.
  • You can never be a smart person without being a well-read person. You just can't.
  • Sure, you might be smart about one thing, but you won't be a truly intelligent, truly literate person, one who is worthwhile for the rest of humanity and able to see the beauty in the world.
  • You won't be able to express yourself well without being well read; without lots of reading under your belt, your ability to communicate will be severely impaired. I see this all the time and it's really scary.
  • The world opens up when you read, so read as much as possible. Read every day. Read a book a week!

Your eyes did not deceive you. I wrote: READ A BOOK A WEEK. 

Read even more than that!

Now that I've given you my reading prescription, the one or two books you were assigned this summer seem rather pathetic, don't they?

Yes, they do. They are sad and pathetic and it's stupid to think that kids should only read one book all summer.

Don't get me started on the appalling lack of reading that is generally happening everywhere.

My own kids get ONE book assigned over the summer by their schools (but don't worry--I supplement like a madwoman). Because God forbid we ask children to read. How dare we?

Guess how many books I had to read over the summers? Try 40 books on the suggested (which really meant you had to do it) summer reading list in the 1980s.

I am not joking. Thank you, Kent Place School. 

I loved all the reading I did. Yes, it was a bit of a race to get the books read in those two and half months we had off, but it was also a joy. 

I read Ethan Frome in the back of my parents' Volkswagen as we drove to Nova Scotia. I read A Separate Peace at the Bay of Fundy.  I read The Outsiders on the way home. 

Thank you, also, to the Madison Public Library, which held uber-competitive summer reading challenges. Maybe everyone I grew up with was a little bit insane, but as children of professors, we already liked to read, and we liked to win.

As a kid, I would sometimes read 70 books over the summer. Again, I am not joking. I am not exaggerating.

I liked to read. I still do.

Even if you think you don't like reading now, try reading a really great book and see how your mind changes.

It's like trying a new food. You're scared, you're hesitant, you're whining and complaining that you don't want to do it, and then you finally give that suspicious new food a chance and you realize it's good.

For me, my whiny food was asparagus; I used to hate it, and now I really like it. (The first time I had asparagus that was grown in a garden, I thought I was going to die, that's how good it was.) I call this my asparagus revelation.

Asparagus will not, however, change the world. Books and reading will.

Have a Reading Revelation! Give reading a chance and open your mind. Change your mind.

Reading is SO much better than the movies, so much better than YouTube or Facebook or any of that other stupid, time-wasting garbage that now eats up our days and nights.

I suppose that if all that stuff existed when I was young (and don't get me wrong, I enjoy social media and use it all the time and need to limit my usage), I might not have read as much, either.

But enough with the excuses.


Suggested reading list coming soon...with new books on it. All new books.

**Also see my book, Too Cool for School: A Memoir, for a list of classics so you can get started. These are for all ages--I don't believe in dumbing down books for teenagers