Saturday, March 20, 2010

Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community by Catherine Sheldrick Ross, Lynne (E.F.) McKechnie, and Paulette M. Rothbauer

I've been perusing this book for the past couple of weeks and found a fount of information that is meaningful for me. I took notes as I was reading and here are the points that I'd like to share.

Why we read:

We read to learn

We read to assimilate what we read

Without reading we are in an intellectual wasteland

“We read to know we are not alone” (C. S. Lewis)

What contribution does imaginative literature bring to our lives?



Instruction/ practical knowledge/ mastery

Increased literacy/ vocabulary

Awakening/ mind opening

Cultural understanding

Insight into others’ lives and thoughts

Empathy for others/ understanding

Increased self identity

Insight for facing problems

Gives courage, sense of control, hope

Vicarious experience supplying pro/con application for our own lives without the risks

“It is a very efficient way to acquire valuable experience while keeping us relatively risk-free”

“We can map the insights gained from the experience of reading onto the terrain of our own lives.”

Help to make decisions

Insight into the world

Connection to the world – both historical and present-day

“Reading gives us vocabulary and insight for discussing moral, political & humorous issues” (Byatt, 1992. The Irreplaceable importance of Reading)

Reading gives a much greater internal world and richer imagination

(All of the above information was the type of list I had expected to find in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. See my blog posting from March 3rd.)

Types of Readers

Non-book readers usually see reading as hard work; they may read newspapers, Internet, or articles without extensive length

Book readers view them as having a smaller frame of reference

"Type A Readers: (p 175)

Read faster; don’t absorb or recall

Read for escape

Select highly formulaic material to meet their need for safety and predictability

Type B Readers:

Read more slowly for absorption

More discriminating in book choice

Read to enlarge experience

Read to heighten consciousness

Read to solve real-life problems

Read to live intensely

Negatives of Reading

Readers can distance themselves from non-readers

Retreat to their own world of books

Read rather than socialize with others

Good (“Quality”) vs. Bad (“Trash”) Literature

Some critics say:

We used to have consensus in order for a book to become a classic

Expansion of publishing; mountains to choose from today

Standards are lower

Anxiety over mass culture/ mass-produced/ mass-read books

“Threatens to cretinize our taste and brutalize our senses while paving the way to totalitarianism”

Created by the entertainment industry and sold for profit

Elitist intellectuals think that others do not have the proper cultural mastery to select the best books

Others reply:

“good literature” is whatever opinion-makers happen to think is worthy at the time

Book of the month clubs are created by publishers who are pushing their own titles

Best Sellers

Titles become best sellers because they resonate with the values of their readers

Book Discussion Groups

Quote from Florida librarian Sally Bissell on book discussion groups:

“It never ceases to amaze me how willing people are to open up in a group of strangers. This is the beauty of literature, isn’t it, that we find a common ground on which to meet?”

The advent of the Internet has provided a venue for reading groups to share their lists and their reactions with a wider audience. There are an estimated 500,000 book groups in the USA; approx 50,000 in the UK.

We "make sense of extended text in the context of interpretive communities… sharing a set of norms and procedures for making sense of the text".

The majority of reading groups today read ‘literary fiction’ – not westerns, romance, mysteries, science fiction, and seldom ‘the classics’.

Not all best-sellers make for good discussion.

An empathetic character is a high priority for a book that will allow for engaging discussion. The readers’ response to characters “become a prism for the interrogation of self, other selves, and society beyond the text.”

What is the draw for people to belong to a book group?

  • The people involved
  • It gives status to the act of reading
  • It validates your time spent reading and your choice of materials
  • It gets you out of the rut of your own reading choices
  • It helps you stretch and get a deeper understanding of the book
  • It helps you to read in a more reflective way
  • It provides diversity of perspective and opinions
  • It allows you to learn about the other people involved (and yourself)
  • It strengthens the bonds of friendship
  • It stimulates the mind and the senses
  • It provides social, intellectual and spiritual growth

How adults choose books:

Here’s a breakdown of the criteria adults use for choosing what to read when browsing:

1. Mood

familiarity vs. novelty

safety vs. risk

easy vs. challenge

upbeat vs. hard-hitting

reassuring vs. frightened/stimlulated

personal beliefs reassured vs. challenged

2. Sources


Recommendations from acquaintances

Review sources in newspapers, magazines, Oprah, etc

Viewing dramatized versions in film, tv, plays

Recommendations in blogs, publicity blurbs, lists, etc.

3. Elements





physical size of book

4. Clues on the book




sample page



Genreflecting for kids: (using tools that provide lists of recommended books within various genres: NoveList,,

I'm falling behind in my blogging! I've finished Monday Morning Faith by Lori Copeland and Dream Angus by Alexander McCall-Smith and have yet to write on them.
I vaguely recall reading a book by Copeland many years ago at the urging of my niece. I didn't have gloriously high expectations for this novel, but decided to listen to it on my MP3 as I drove in the car or exercised, because the protagonist is a librarian in her 40's. Like all of Copeland's books (since the mid-90's) this story is written about a person struggling with issues of faith and discipleship. It is also a romance novel. I fail to see what the man in this story saw in the woman, who was whiney, irritable, and resistant to suggestions. Nevertheless, they finally end up planning to have some type of long-distance relationship (marriage was implied).
Although I am a Christian and regularly attend church, the market for these books is a different demographic than the one I belong to! I'll leave them to the type A readers. (More on that coming as soon as I finish reading my current book, Reading Matters.

Dream Angus: the Celtic God of Dreams was a lovely, short book of Celtic myths about the God Angus who brings dreams to humans. Those who see him might dream of their love or of something that is about to happen to them. McCall-Smith interperses his stories of Angus' birth, parentage, triumphs and woes with contemporary vignettes of people who are visited by Angus' dreams. I particularly liked the introduction to this book in which the author writes "Myth is a cloud based upon a shadow based upon the movement of a breeze."
It was the perfect book to read for St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Incontinent on the Continent: My Mother, Her Walker, and Our Grand Tour of Italy by Jane Christmas
I loved the title of this book so much I just had to buy it. I dream of traveling to Italy, but would not ever dream of taking my own incontinent mother with me.
She wouldn’t want to go, anyway; and she would tell me not to go!
The author describes the feeling she has of longing to go to this beautiful, romantic country and also her longing to repair the rifts in her relationship with her mom. Those feelings resonate in my own heart. I could feel the agony and ecstasy as Jane tried to enjoy the sights and sensations of the places she had spent months anticipating, while dealing with her sometimes unreasonable yet sympathetic parent.
We love our moms even when they drive us nuts!

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith
For the reader who likes to analyze, for the writers and readers who love words, for the American who loves Europe, this series about philosopher Isabell Dalhousie is perfect. I am completely drawn in by this character and her setting. I can’t wait for a BBC mini-series on these books to be produced! (I don’t have any clue; I’m just postulating)
Poor Isabell is so busy trying to reason through philosophical dilemmas and becoming duty-bound to resolve other people’s problems that she misses out on some personal excitement that is within reach. When she is helping her niece Cat she also meets the recipient of a heart transplant and becomes involved in helping him work through some issues. One impulsive assumption sends her off in the wrong direction, but her secret love (a much younger man) helps to set her straight.
Now I need to read book #3 in the series!

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, March 04, 2010

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

I truly enjoy the kind of book that offers pieces of a puzzle throughout and then pulls all the threads together at the end to reveal the whole picture. It isn’t a true mystery story, but a type of jigsaw puzzle that takes place supposedly over the course of a few months, but actually encompasses many years.

Time travel and references to Madeline L’Engle’s wonderful book A Wrinkle in Time are intriguing elements of this book.

It reminds me of the “Ah-ha” feeling I got from reading Holes by Louis Sachar.

Is it any wonder that When You Reach Me was just awarded the 2010 Newbery Medal?!

I would recommend it for middle school readers and good readers in grades 4-5 who have fairly well developed deductive reasoning abilities.

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

This story is a combination mystery and philosophical introspective by the main character, Isabel Dalhousie. I’ve already commented on book 4 from this series. I felt a bit like a clairvoyant while reading this book (#1 in the series) because I know how Isabel’s relationships with two other main characters will change dramatically by the 4th book. There is plenty in this book to inspire ethical thought, and my own Scots-Presbyterian influences are raising feelings of guilt as I read and considered Isabel’s thoughts and issues! I think I’ll look for book #2.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
Honestly, I don't love every book I read, even though this blog might make you think otherwise. But I truly did LOVE this book. I think I would have loved to know Mary Ann Shaffer personally. I certainly would have loved to know her characters personally!
I listened to the audio version of this title which was beautifully read by Juliet Mills along with a number of other professional actors. When I finished listening to it I drove to 'Books & Company' in Oconomowoc, WI (a locally owned independent bookstore) where I bought a copy so I could also read it in print! Then I started listening to the audio all over again. Needless to say, I was well-prepared for our book discussion!
How could I not love a book that is:
1 set in the 1940's - one of my favorite historical periods (to read about, not experience myself!)
2 centers around books and readers
3 shows how beneficial and influential books (and people meeting to discuss books) can be!

I decided to write to write to the author, but knew that Mary Ann Shaffer had died and left the finishing touches of writing and getting the book to publishers to her niece Annie Barrows. So I found an email address and sent a request and some comments. Here is what I wrote and her response:

Dear Annie,

I am a school librarian and also the organizer of an adult book discussion group. I have enjoyed reading and sharing your Ivy and Bean stories with children in the three Greendale (Wisconsin) elementary schools where I work. We haven’t read The Magic Half yet, but it is on my shopping list!

I have just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and absolutely fell in love with the characters, the style and the spirit of this book! I am so sorry that your aunt died before she could receive the thanks and admiration of her many readers. Please accept my gratitude for your part in finishing the creation of this beautifully written story.

Our book group will be discussing the book on Tuesday, Feb 16th and I know we will have a delightful time talking about the story and the joy and enlightenment of reading and sharing great books.

I have one burning question. In earlier drafts of the book, was the text for Juliet’s article for The Times about the value of reading ever actually written? I would absolutely love to read such an article.

I am currently one of hundreds of librarians in schools whose job is about to be eliminated. The acceleration of technology coupled with the poor economy is leading school boards and superintendents to believe that librarians are no longer pertinent staff. I wish I had the communication talent to convince them otherwise! If you and/or your aunt wrote Juliet’s article I would love to read it aloud as a means to speak with eloquence about the power of books and value of reading.

Too many of our children are being taught the skills but are not choosing to read. They sit at their computer screens or video games and are absorbed in virtual worlds without language. I fear for our/their future! We learn about and can come to understand other people, other cultures, other ideas, dreams and goals through reading. Through books we can learn the actual thoughts of people that are not just like us. I firmly believe that we have more hope for peace and harmony through the sharing of good books from around the world than through any other means. Unfortunately, even the few eager young readers will not pick up a book outside their favorite genre without a professional librarian to encourage them to try something new!

Today’s school librarians have to be more than just pushers of books. We also teach information literacy skills like the ‘Big 6’ and work with students to help them learn how to evaluate online resources. We think these are important skills, but the adults who make the money decisions seem to trust Google to make their evaluations for the children and themselves.

I am sorry to be sending my frustrations to your inbox. Please know that I only do so because I so admire the writing of your books and have hope that you may send words to slay dragons.

Most Sincerely,

Jan Jensen

Dear Jan,

I wish that I could tell you the article really exists. It doesn't, but it should. Nicholson Baker's fabulous essay about card catalogues might be persuasive, but school boards and superintendents would probably be more swayed by that statistic that documents something like a 98% correlation between attending a school with a full-time trained librarian and graduation from a four-year college.

I spend a lot of time reading to kids as part of my job, and my impression is that they all enjoy stories up until about third grade, when a portion of them peel away and declare that they hate reading. I think that many of the kids simply are not ready to read on their own at that age; as with so many educational markers, the appropriate age to read independently is much more various than the curriculum permits. I also think that they are frightened by much of what they are obliged to read. As you can see, I have plenty of ideas of my own about reading and children.

Like you, I despair of a future without libraries, but I think hopefully of what Winston Churchill said: "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other possibilities."



Labels: , , ,