Tag Archives: books

Happy International Literacy Day!!

The Literacy Site blog informs me that today is International literacy day, and in celebration I thought I would share my experience of the importance of literacy.

Now, I don’t remember my first book, but knowing my mother it was read to me and at a very young age.  By young, I mean before I had a conscious concept of myself much less something so abstract as a book.  I have no doubt that it was something like The Little Engine That Could, or Green Eggs and Ham, or some other childhood classic.  It is to this that I attest my obsession with growing my collection of children’s books.  That is in circles where the explanation, “Because I like children’s books” is not an acceptable enough reason for such a collection.

However, if I were to rely on the memory of my childhood bookshelves and boxes eventually given to the used bookstore, I would guess that I have read or been read, at least, the following:

  • Caps for Sale
  • How to Eat Fried Worms
  • The Velveteen Rabbit
  • Curious George      
  • Goodnight Moon
  • Charlotte’s Web    
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
  • The Giving Tree  
  • Madeline 
  • The Monster at the End of this Book
  • James and the Giant Peach   
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but I have no specific memory of reading these or any other childhood books.  None whatsoever.  I’m sure that I’ve read them, of course.  I mean they sat in my room until I was 10, but of most of them, I couldn’t recite a single line.  

My passion for the importance of reading and advocating for literacy education comes from the books that I do remember – the books that meant something, and continue to mean something today.  Some of them were integral to my understanding of human nature.  Some of them helped me cope with the challenges I have faced in my life.  Some of them touched me so deeply that I still carry with me the same feeling that I had when I shut the cover every time I think of them.  And some of them were just plain fun!  

It was recommended to me once that I write a memoir, and I remember thinking, who would read a memoir about me?  What would I write about?  I’m not that interesting, or at least nothing of interest has really happened to me.  A straight memoir about my life can be summed up in a few words: Born in suburbs; Attended public school; 2.5 adorable children and a dog (of which I was one – the children, not the dog).  As you can see, there isn’t a lot there.  Pretty much every other kid in suburbia has had my life.  We are not the Kennedys; we are not the Jacksons; we are not the Clintons; we’re not even the Joneses – although we were the first ones in my neighborhood to own a CD player and, I think, a computer.  So you see, I wasn’t even deprived of anything, except the Power Wheels I always wanted.   And why didn’t I get the Power Wheels?  Because my parents agreed that they wanted my brother and I to have self-propelling vehicles to encourage activity and exercise.  That’s right.  I don’t even have a weight problem.  What the could I possibly write about in a memoir?

But a trip to the bookstore made me see things in a different light. As I browsed the shelves, both in the children’s section and general fiction, I saw book after book which, for me, defined a certain experience or time in my life  As I walked out, and got in my car, I started thinking of my life in books, and when I did that I found remembering a book that I read made me remember a specific event, which for one reason or another, was tied to it.  Maybe it was because the book made an event more meaningful, or maybe I read the book during a secure or happy time and it brings me a contented feeling, or maybe I had to stand in line for an hour because all of a sudden Everybody In The World has to have the latest Harry Potter.  Whatever the reason, it turns out I can associate most of the memories I have with one book or another.  Just like one song can bring you back to your high school prom, so can one book touch you so deeply that it will remain with you forever.  That is the importance of literacy.

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Reading Helps Us Empathize

As writers, we must also be avid readers.  (What a shame, eh?) Yes, we use the excuse of improving our writing to explain the constant burying of our heads in books, but according to studies from 2012 and 2013 it seems reading improves us more than we may think.  It turns out that reading doesn’t just inform us on specific subjects or improve vocabulary and grammar.  It also makes us more emotionally intelligent; specifically empathetic.

Now, if there is anyone reading this wondering how reading can improve the sense of empathy, consider some of you favorite novels.  When I reflect on mine, I realize that The Little Prince has caused me to be more attune to taking notice of the smallest pleasures – a child’s laugh, the breeze brushing through my hair, that first sip of clean cool water when you feel a deep thirst.  I think of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – how easily I recognized the story as an allusion to substance abuse and addiction and felt the chronic strain on both the addict and his loved ones.  I think of how easy it was for me to relate to Steve Martin’s Shopgirl but just as easy to see the perspective of her companion.

One of the studies conducted by David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Costano explored further finding evidence distinguishing the “empathetic benefits” of literary fiction vs. “pop” fiction.  Due to the “complexity in stories and their characters”, literary fiction appears to be the clear winner here.  When I reflect on my reading of The Life of Pi, I can most certainly agree.  Not only the beautiful story of the loss at sea, which makes up the bulk of the story, but the final explanation of “what really happened” gave me such a rush of emotion and understanding of what the mind can do to compensate a horrible trauma.
But how does this inform our own writing.  Well, just as our personal experience of places and events serve to help us better describe a variety of settings and experiences, empathizing with well-written characters can only serve as a means of experience.  Perhaps there are many events, tragedies, and celebrations we will never experience, but when we read to exercise our empathetic muscles, we become better able to imagine ourselves in the minds and skins of our characters as we put them in these circumstances.

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K – Kindle: Oh Where, Oh Where Have My Paper Books Gone?

I’m not the first, and I’m certain I won’t be the last, to write about the trend of the E-Reader. I single out Kindle because it was one of the first that I remember really taking off, and turning ebooks into a thing. (It also happens to begin with “K”, and today is “K-day”, but that was really more of a coincidence than anything else.)

I’ve had several discussions with friends and family about the benefits of using an E-reader versus a paper book, and I understand them all. But for me, it just doesn’t feel like reading. It feels like reading from a computer, because that’s what it is. I’m reading from a screen, and it’s just not the same.

I’m one of those weird people who, not only delights in the touch and feel of a book, though I do!  But there’s more to it than that. I love opening a new book, and holding it in my hand, careful not to break the binding. I love the way a new book smells, as though the ink has it’s own unique scent that is simply not the same as other types of ink. And I love holding an old book – one that I’ve bought from a used bookstore, or borrowed from the library. To see all the dog-eared pages, and feel the soft binding that’s been opened so many times, it no longer wants to stay closed. And more than that; I’m the kind of person who sees all my books on their shelves as the best, most aesthetically pleasing decoration in my house. Sometimes, sitting on my couch just before I prepare to go to bed, I will look across the living room at my bookshelf and just smile, because they all look so pretty lined up just so.

Why would I want to trade all that in for yet another screen?

 

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