Review: Recovering the Lost Art of Reading

Recovering the Lost Art of Reading, Leland Ryken and Glenda Faye Mathes. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021.

Summary: An invitation to artful reading, considering its decline, different kinds of literature and how we read them, and the art of reading well to discover goodness, truth, and beauty.

Much has been made over the supposed decline in reading, and contradictory statistics that show a rise in reading (especially during the pandemic). What is evident is that how and what we read has gone through changes. We read more on screens and audio and browse and scroll. There are questions about the loss of the ability to attend to longform writing.

The two authors of this book, one a literature professor, the other a professional writer, and both lovers of literature contend that what may be in decline is artful readers and have written this book to describe what it means to recover this art. They write:

Reading a book immerses oneself into an extensive work. When this is done receptively and thoughtfully, it becomes artful reading. Some people call it “deep reading” and believe it is in deep trouble” (p. 23).

The authors believe that in our loss of artful or deep reading, we have lost leisure, self transcendence, contact with the past and with essential human experience, edification and an enlarged vision. The writers advocate for participation that both receives and responds to what the author has written, both actively listening (“obeying” in its original sense) and responding. It discerns both one’s own perspective and that of the author. In Dorothy Sayers words, there is the Book as Thought, the Book as Written, and the Book as Read.

Moving on from this introduction to artful reading, the authors consider what literature is in its different kinds. They note with sadness the shift from “literature” to “texts” in contemporary literary studies, but maintain the language of literature, distinguishing it from expository writing as concerned with the concrete rather than the abstract. The axiom of literature is to “show, not tell.” They further describe literature as experiential, concrete, universal, interpretive, and artistic. They defend the importance of literature as a portrayal of human experience, for seeing ideas rightly, and for the enjoyment of beauty. It transports us into imagined worlds, giving us renewed perspective on our own as well as refreshment.

They consider how we read different types of literature: story, poetry, novels, fantasy, children’s books, creative non-fiction and the Bible as a literary work. I so valued their simple instruction for poetry–slow down! In the reading of fantasy, they distinguish between escape and escapism, noting with C.S. Lewis that reading is always an escape, but one that ought give fresh perspective on the human condition. They address how to choose good books for children and the vital importance of reading and talking about books together.

The last part of the book returns to the recovery of the art of reading. Fundamentally, we recover by discovering good books and the good, the true, and the beautiful within them. We discern and assess the truth-claims in a book. We consider the moral perspective of the book–does it make the good or the evil attractive and who is valorized? We notice the use of language to point toward beauty, and the beautiful God. They describe excellence in beginnings, middles and ends.

All of this only makes sense in the context of our reading choices. They encourage us to embrace our freedom to read and observe in very practical terms the time thieves that rob us of precious hours. They consider how we choose good books and the role good literature plays in creativity and in one’s spiritual life.

I think one of the most valuable aspects of this book is the encouragement of leisurely, slow, and reflective engagement with good works, whatever their genre. They help us attend to plot, character, setting, and behind all this, the perspective of the author and the insights we gain into our common human condition. Their invitation to be participants in the work with the author while continuing to discern strikes a good balance.

I would have liked to see some book recommendations for those wanting to recover the art. Certainly, the authors mention books throughout, and the ones mentioned are worthwhile, but some bibliographies might have helped. Also while the authors discuss goodness and evil in literature, they don’t discuss beauty and ugliness, only beauty. The ugliness of the post-nuclear world in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a crucial offset to the beauty of the love of father and son. Sometimes, Christian literature seems too beautiful, in ways trite and artificial. The beauty and the healing comfort of Lothlorien gains its power from the horrors of Moria and the loss of Gandalf.

Those who practice any art always have a sense they could be better at their art. Reading is also an art. This book reminded me of ways I may be ever-improving at that art. I can work to remove the distractions to attentive reading. I may slow down, especially to savor a poem. I may re-read great works. I may attend to the story and the questions it opens up about the universal human condition. I may allow the book to enlarge my perspective if I give myself to it both attentively and discerningly, both open and observant. Ryken and Mathes invite us, whether the neophyte or the seasoned reader, to an ever-growing practice of the art of reading. After all, it is not how much, but how well we read.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Why I Read

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Last week I wrote about reading and religion, which I could also have titled “reading as religion,” which I believe it to be for some people. Some may think that is so for me. While I would maintain that is not so, I’ll leave that judgment up to God and others. I’m too close to the subject. Quite simply, I do love reading.

In searching through the nearly eight years of posts on this blog, I’ve never directly talked about why I read. I’ve certainly touched on it or talked around it, but never directly spoken of why I read. Maybe it is like trying to answer why we love a person. We can give reasons, but then we realize we love someone apart from all those reasons. At our best, we love just because….

If you pressed me though, I could express some of the reasons why I read. I suspect there is more to it than what I write, as other bibliophiles will probably agree.

I love stories. I suspect for most of us, reading started with a love for stories, and that reading was a way to take in a story when there was no one to whom we could say, “tell me a story.” As we grow older, we think of our lives as a story, and perhaps a part of a larger story. Sometimes, reading serves to help me understand the story within which I live, and maybe how I might live within that story. I find that when I read the Bible, but also when I read fiction like Lord of the Rings or All the Light We Cannot See.

I read to understand the world. I love science writing that helps me understand the wonderful world I live in. Even gardening or home repair books can be interesting when I am trying to figure out how best to grow something or fix something. History helps me understand how we got here. Sometimes it is more indirect. It could be the history that led to a particular part of the world being the way it is today. History helps me understand the news–to set it in a bigger context.

Reading stretches and changes the way I view the world. I have a certain way of seeing things. All of us do. And because we are limited, so is my way of seeing the world. I will never be omniscient. The most I can hope for is to cultivate the mental flexibility and empathy to grasp how another might see the world differently, or even imagine a world unlike our own.

Reading also makes sense of my inner world. Perhaps it is a spiritual work that gives words to longings or perplexities. Sometimes a biography reveals a character of courage or grace I want to be more like. Sometimes a work of psychological insight reveals why I can be my own worst enemy.

I read to keep company with great thinkers, some who I’ll never have a chance to meet because they were dead before I was ever born. What a wonder that before recording technology, people wrote down their ideas, sometimes refining them in the process, and preserving them in books. Then there are some I’ve met or heard speak and was so intrigued by their ideas that I want to take a deep dive into them, deeper than a lecture or casual discussion.

When I read, I can travel the world without leaving home, a great advantage during a pandemic! If nothing else, I can appreciate how many different ways people approach this thing of making a life.

Then there are the times when I simply want to lose myself in a book. The detective fiction of Louise Penny has gotten me through the pandemic. Instead of all the fears a pandemic could summon, I could imagine for a few hours what it would be like to live in Three Pines. Or in Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. Or Lothlorien.

Ever since I learned to read, I’ve loved to read. If nothing else, it is a habit. At this point asking me why I read is like asking why I breathe or eat or sleep. It is that much a part of life. There are a number of other associated delightful habits–reading reviews, browsing book sites, wandering around bookstores and book sales, visiting libraries, or even just organizing my TBR pile.

I love that reading is both solitary and social. There are the quiet moments along with a great story or a new insight. Then there are book discussions with others who love the same things, and sometimes help me understand what still perplexes me.

Books and reading are a cultural good worth preserving (one of the objects of this blog!). Like other readers, the one thing that most baffles me is, why people don’t read. But why do I read? It’s all of the above, and yet there’s something beyond that I can’t fully explain. I guess I read just because…

Reading and Religion

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Have you ever noticed how some of the great libraries are not unlike the great cathedrals or other religious structures? The quest for knowledge and the quest for ultimate meaning are at least akin to each other, and I sense for some, are one and the same.

It may be a controversial idea, but in hanging out with many readers, I can’t help but wonder, if for some, reading is their religion. Oxford Languages includes this definition of religion: a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance. Consider these quotes for example:

  • “We lose ourselves in books, we find ourselves there too.”
  • “Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines–it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.” –Robin Sloan
  • “I didn’t choose the book life, the book life chose me.”
  • “Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on.” -Nora Ephron
  • “Reading was a way of trying to get control over a world that was out of control. I liked doing it. It’s your source of power.” -George Anders
  • “Books wash away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Certainly it is a risk to take these too seriously. They are memes and quotes that express the love of reading so many of us share. Yet the idea of losing oneself in books and finding ourselves there sounds much like Jesus’ words: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). “I didn’t choose the book life, the book life chose me” sounds eerily like Jesus statement: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (John 15:16).

“Reading is everything…” sounds like an interest of supreme importance. Touching the spines of books and feeling the presence of sleeping spirits sounds like a religious experience. Books washing away dust from the soul sounds like baptism or other ritual ablutions in various religions.

These may be only figures of speech, or even hyperbole for the pleasure and enrichment we derive from books. I say “we” because I include myself in such experiences. It is part of why I am a reader and one who enjoys inviting others into the joy of reading. But can it become a religion? I think for some, it can be. I don’t want to pass any judgments here but simply invite some honesty among my reading friends.

If books and the reading life and the enrichment, insight, and joy this offers are indeed what we deem of supreme importance, to live that way is simply consistent with what one believes. I respectfully see things differently. I ascribe these joys of reading to the One who created in humans the love of story, the capacities of language to write and enjoy what is written, who in fact directed prophets to write down in books the stories and pronouncements that articulate how humans and the divine may engage each other. Books are one of the material artifacts, along with works of art, majestic buildings, music and song, and so much more that reflect the gifts of the Maker who made us to make. For me, the gifts point back to the Giver. To make reading everything is to shrink a much larger universe to something too small.

The question of whether reading is my religion is one I therefore need to ask of myself. It is possible to give it a place that is too large in my life, that de-centers not only God but human relationships and the enjoyment of other good things in life. My own conviction is that only when God is at the center do all these other things find their proper and good place for me. I think that is a too-tall order for reading. For me that actually saves reading from becoming an obsession or addiction to merely being a very good gift of enriching knowledge and delighting stories. Not a religion. Just a very good thing.

Reading Quotes

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I post a number of reading quotes on my Facebook page. Some of them verge on turning books and reading into a religion, which I sense it is for some, or serves that place in the lives of some. The ones I like the best are more modest. They speak to my own sense of the role books and reading play in my life–one of the cultural goods that enrich and enlarge my perception of the world and that point me to the greater goodness, truth, and beauty beyond the books. Here are some of my favorites:

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” – C.S. Lewis (substitute coffee in my case)

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” – Mortimer J. Adler

“Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one’s hand.” – Ezra Pound

“Wear the old coat and buy the new book.” – Austin Phelps (definitely me!)

“Reading brings us unknown friends” – Honoré de Balzac (Aslan, Gandalf, even Père Goriot)

“Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw (a rule in our house)

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” – Rainer Maria Rilke (yes, one of the goods of reading are conversations with other readers)

“Never put off till tomorrow the book you can read today.” – Holbrook Jackson (a sentiment of all us dedicated readers!)

“People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.” – Saul Bellow (or bookstores…although I suspect Bellow may also be talking about the dangerous power of books to change the course of our lives)

“We read to know we are not alone.” C. S. Lewis (I could probably fill a page just with Lewis quotes!)

“The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest (people) of the past centuries.” – Descartes (an idea many have suggested–sometimes they even talk to, or at least about each other)

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” – Italo Calvino

And finally, to round out this baker’s dozen of quotes:

“Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks.” – Dr. Seuss

This hardly exhausts the good things that may be said about books and reading. What is striking to me is that so many of these quotes come from the very people who bring us great books. Is it that great writers have filled their lives with the ideas of other great writers? Or is it that writers more than any know the worth of a book?

What are your favorite book quotes?

Reading During the Pandemic

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Image via Peakpx is licensed under CC0

The initial weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic absorbed much of the time and energy that I would give to reading. But it has been four months now, and, like many, I’ve settled into a “new normal” that has afforded many good opportunities around the world of books:

  • Reading a history of the Latina/o church in the Americas, Brown Church, and then doing an online interview with the author, Robert Chao Romero, a gentle and thoughtful scholar.
  • Discovering  the life of Nathaniel R. Jones, an African-American attorney and appellate court judge from Youngstown, and going on to his memoir that is opening my eyes to what my hometown was like for the African-American community and his courageous resistance.
  • Evenings reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, while listening to the piano concertos of Rachmaninoff.
  • A conversation with a college ministry work team on The Jesus Creed, reminding me both how clear Jesus was about what really matters–loving God and neighbor–and how challenging it is to really live that day.
  • Trying to figure out why the characters and plots of Kristin Hannah get into my head. It happened with The Nightingale. It happened again with The Great Alone.
  • Revisiting forty years of memories going back to the Jesus Movement as I read To Think Christianly, and sat in on a webinar with the author.
  • Revisiting the difficult memories of fifty years ago through Derk Backderf’s Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio. I grew up 35 miles from Kent, and the deaths of students, including a girl from my own town, stunned me as a high school student. I can never hear Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young without it catching me up.
  • Amid all of this a relative of my sister who follows the blog and Facebook page sent me a lovely book facemask. I wear it proudly. I’m not only Bob on Books but Bob Behind the Books!
  • I discovered Octavia Butler. Perhaps it was not the best time to read The Parable of the Sower, set in a dystopian America in the not-to-distant future, but it left me hungry to read more of her work.
  • I also discovered the world of Three Pines, and I have fourteen more Louise Penny’s (with another in September). The anticipation alone gladdens the heart.

I’ve been fortunate to have publishers who have kept me stocked up with books. All the news and fuss around the pandemic don’t add to my understanding of how we should live during this time. My Bible, my church (online), my family and friends, and my books help far more, and it is to these I want to give my time. I’ve concluded that the best thing I can do is to share the hope nurtured by my faith, and the goodness I find in books. Both will be around long after the pandemic is in the rear view mirror!

Trying to Read in a Crisis

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Image by FotoRieth from Pixabay

When the thought was raised of “physical distancing,” that sounded like heaven for a reader. And maybe it has been for some.

Not so far for me, and it may be you see less reviews from me. Typically, I’ll end up reading about 120 pages a day most days. This past week, if I can read 30, I’m doing good.

Some of it is work-related. I work in a collegiate ministry where we are making a rapid shift from face-to-face to digital. I happen to lead one of the digital areas of our ministry, and lots of time has been spent in Zoom calls figuring out how to do that. I just finished a nationwide call with university faculty trying to figure out how to convert their courses from face-to-face to online. We were using the some of the same software they will be using–and learning from each other in the process.

Some of it is just getting our household in order. We had the chance to move up a bathroom remodel. Now I wonder if a week later it would have even gotten done. In recent weeks we had been stocking up at the grocery–before the long lines. We had a sense this was coming, but there has been some extra time just getting our ducks in a row.

But a good part has just been distraction. I find myself checking the news reports more than is good for me and commenting with others online. Apart from finding out what the latest mandates are from our state, I don’t need to do too much more. I know it is going to keep getting worse for a while. I know I have to stay home and stay clean and not touch my face. It’s like it was in 9/11, except this won’t be done for awhile. The news coverage can draw you in, and agitate your thoughts and depress your heart. And it can distract from enjoying a good read.

Probably the best thing is to check in with my nightly news once a day, and stay away from news coverage the rest of the time. Sometimes I leave the phone in a different room so I’m less tempted to check it. Someone mentioned getting out for a walk. Haven’t done much of that recently, and I find that always clears my head. I sleep better and focus better. Replace screen time with walk time!

And maybe I just need to accept that my page count will drop for awhile. Maybe as things settle in that will change. I suspect in all sorts of way, this is a time where we need to be gentle with ourselves as well as with each other. It might even be a way where to get liberated from some compulsions. Some people waiting for me to review a book may have to wait longer. Right now, in the big scheme of things that doesn’t seem important.

These days, I find myself giving thanks that I’ve been preserved through another night, and at night through another day. I’m thankful to take a breath of air outside my door and scent the coming spring, which gives me hope. I give thanks for meals enjoyed at home. I give thanks for the quiet around me as I write. And when I can, I give thanks for the minutes I can spend with a book and a cup of coffee. The present crisis reminds me that all these things are gifts, gifts with which I may have become far too familiar.

Bibliophiles in an Age of Social Distancing

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Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com. [Comment: Advice is that masks should only be used by those who suspect they are infected, not the general population]

The rise and rapid spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus) has brought a new phrase into common usage–“social distancing.” This is the practice of literally keeping your distance from other people. It means avoiding large crowds or close contact with people, especially anyone manifesting symptoms of being ill. If one has been exposed to someone with the illness, it can mean self-quarantines, usually of 14 days, and longer, of course if you contract the illness. In some parts of the world (e.g. China, S. Korea, Italy), “lockdowns” have occurred enforcing social distancing on everyone. This is possible in any municipality, something most of us have never seen but probably ought prepare for. One piece of advice has been to stock up not only on essentials and non-perishables, but also on entertainment, including books.

I suspect for most bibliophiles, this is not a problem with our burgeoning TBR piles, although we are glad for the excuse to stock up (even though this is one “essential” we already have enough of). We might even whittle that pile down.

For most of us, “social distancing” is not a problem either. We have been using books for social distancing (particularly if we’re introverts) for most of our lives. Having our nose in a book usually is tantamount to hanging a “do not disturb” sign around your neck, except for the oblivious few who ask, “what are you reading.” Even then, all you have to do is hold up the cover or spine and show them (making an impromptu bioshield as well!).

I don’t want to make a self-quarantine or a lockdown sound like a “snow day.” But staying healthy includes emotional health, which is probably not enhanced by listening to constant news coverage about the virus. This can even prevent you from sleeping well or getting out and getting fresh air and exercise in the open air. If your state health department is on the ball, their daily bulletins are probably all you need (and we all probably can recite the basic guidelines in our sleep). You can take the rest of that time spent and instead of feeding the 24/7 news cycle to do all the other things I mentioned, plus work from home–and read!

This can be a time to find friends online, whether on Facebook or via video calls to talk about books we like. Pull up your computer, and a glass of wine, or other favorite beverage and chat with friends about books you like.

It may also be a time to explore new books you want to read. Look up your favorite review sites (hopefully including Bob on Books!), and make your list to reserve at the library, or order from your favorite indie (which may be struggling during this time). Put that “want list” together.

Some of us like film adaptations of books, especially those we have read. Perhaps you can make a plan to read or re-read the book, then watch the film and see how it measures up. Netflix subscriptions make this easy.

Reading can be a good way to practice both self-care and care for others during this time. We readers have long known that you don’t have to travel on a plane or car to travel the world (as well as other imagined worlds). Nor does physical isolation require social isolation. As long as we are in good health, we can interact with others in various online media, and turn our love of books into a shared love.

Stay safe out there, friends.

Remembering the Books That Have Made Me

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Southworth & Hawes, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Public Domain via Wikimedia

I came across a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson recently that rang partly true. He is reputed to have said, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so they have made me.”

I think of this ringing partly true in the sense that I read quite a few books, even in a given year, and part of the reason I began to write reviews on Goodreads, and this blog, is that otherwise, I do forget some of the books that I read. It also seems only partly true, because some of the books were not memorable. I don’t think they became a part of me. After all, not all the food I eat becomes part of me, or makes me!

At the same time, there are a number of books that I’ve read that I do remember. William Manchester’s biography  of Churchill helped me understand the extraordinary greatness and courage of this man. The Lord of the Rings captured my imagination with the idea of ordinary people caught up in a great adventure. Francis Schaeffer was the first Christian writer to demonstrate that Christian thought had any relevance to the wider culture. H. Richard Niebuhr shaped my thinking about how we might engage that culture. Wendell Berry helped me think about technology and the land and community and what it means to have a sense of place and to love that place. The writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. helped me understand the urgency of the civil rights movement, particularly his message, “Why We Can’t Wait.” John R.W. Stott showed me the power of careful study that brings forth the message of scripture. Science writers like Lewis Thomas, Brian Greene, and Stephen J. Gould have instilled wonder as I’ve considered the world around me. All these have shaped and made me, at least my mental furniture.

Still, this quote leaves me wondering. Memory is a funny thing. There are memories not at conscious recall that arise–in a dream, with a smell, or a sight, or a random comment. Sometimes the contribution of some books to my mental life may be no more than a piece of a thought. Sometimes, books simply remind me of what I’ve already understood, like a recipe I’ve enjoyed before and enjoy again. Sometimes a fictional character will stand out in a singular way, and at other times remind me of those I’ve known.

Speaking of Emerson, it strikes me that I’ve read little of him or the other American transcendentalist tradition. From what I know, I probably would not be in entire sympathy. But Emerson has helped shape the American mind, even among those who do not remember reading him. Perhaps it is time to read some of him, perhaps to be made, or to see what I make of him.

Reading for Human Flourishing

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Young Man Reading By Candelight, by Matthias Stom — Holland, Public Domain

Last week, I reviewed a new book, Mathematics for Human Flourishing by Dr. Francis Su. Yesterday afternoon, I had the chance to facilitate a conversation with him. One of the observations I’m thinking about from his presentation was that we often talk about math in terms of educational success and job skills. Rarely do we talk about how math answers to deep human desires and cultivates the virtues that enable us to flourish. It occurs to me that we often talk about reading in similar ways to math: important to educational success and good jobs.

No question that this is true. But I wonder if that is all we focus on, we miss some of the things that foster flourishing readers–children and adults who not only can read, but find that reading makes us more fully human. Reading connects to deep human desires and cultivates virtues, as does math.

“Tell me a story.” Human beings are story-shaped creatures. We love stories–hearing them, telling them, living them and making sense out of our lives through stories. Some of the very best stories have been written down in books, and we often find ourselves within those stories.

Reading fosters imagination. The words on the page become images in our minds, so powerful and real, that we are often disappointed that movie adaptations are not nearly as good as the story we’ve imagined. Imagination enables us to envision what is and what could be, and to capture the imaginations of others.

I learn to empathize with those whose experiences I may not have shared. I am neither a woman nor a person of color or a resident of any number of countries. I will never fully understand the experience of any of these. But reading their narratives with a openness to their lived experience  can help me understand a little better, or at least show me how much I don’t know, which is also progress.

Reading builds human connection, whether between a parent and child, or two friends who discover they both like a particular writer or series of books and love to talk about them together. Sometimes our differences in taste are interesting. Why someone liked something that left us cold or vice versa can be offer insight into ourselves or others.

Sometimes we have genuine questions about something we just don’t understand, whether it is the history of our home town, how to repair our car, or the fabric of the cosmos. Reading can enrich our understanding of our world, and empower us to engage more effectively with it.

Reading causes us to reflect on the human condition. What is admirable? What is despicable? And what kind of person do I want to be? How have people faced adversity? What makes the difference between those who become bitter and those who become better?

And lest we get too serious, reading can be fun. Silly rhymes can make us laugh. Stories can amuse us and bring us joy.

I wonder whether in the press to pass standardized reading tests, our children may miss the opportunity to discover these humanizing aspects of reading, that also make reading deeply satisfying. I also can’t help but wonder if parents and educators who are in touch with these deeply human longings and weave them into their practice will educate more highly motivated readers.

 

 

Holding Your Books

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Have you ever thought about how you hold your books? Most of the time, I suspect our book holding maneuvers are subconscious as we shift a book from one hand to another, or re-position a book or ourselves.

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Ladakh” by Christopher Michel is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I didn’t think about this so much in the past as I do now. Depending on the print size, my lap is too far away for these aging eyes and holding a large book in my hands gets tiring. Or I will cross my leg, and prop the book on my lower leg, until I uncross and recross my legs the other way. Resting the book on a table is another solution, but that means sitting at a table, hunch over if it is flat, or I hold the book propped up on the table

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Photo by r._.f from Pexels

I’ve always been a bit of a fidgeter. Sitting in a chair for very long and I have to move around. Sometimes I read standing. Sometimes laying down–until I fall asleep. Sometimes even laying on the floor.

Then there is the challenge of holding the book open. Many will not lie flat and so need to be held open.

Yet for some weird reason, I still usually prefer print to e-books, except for walking on my treadmill.

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Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Apparently people have been devising ways to cope with these challenges for years. Winston Churchill often worked and read at the standing desk pictured above–the original hands free reading. The desk here holds several open at once. I’ve seen some use drafting tables in this way. You just need some kind of ledge at the bottom to keep the books from sliding off.

Alternately, people have used book pillows to rest the book closer than a lap. There are acrylic book stands that can be placed on tables or wood book podiums that can be placed on a table.

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Photo via Pikrepo licensed under CC0 1.0

A variety of bookholders have been created for those who like to read in bed. These vary from lab desks and pillow desks to various bed tables, and even bedside tables like those whose in hospitals where the base is wheeled and slides under the bed and the stand tilts and can be adjusted to the ideal height and angle to “consume” your book. Here is a BookwormGadgets post that features a number of these products.

There is still the problem of holding your book open hands free, ideally in a way where it is easy to turn the page when you are ready, but secure. While some better books lie open of themselves, and are easily held, many either have to be held by one or two hands, and hardbound books can be awkward.

There is a Flipklip book holder that holds the book open but allows you to turn pages easily. There are various other page clips which are great at holding books open but need to be removed as you turn pages. If you are reading on flat surfaces, there are various types of bookweights, which probably work better than the stapler I sometimes use to hold a book open when I’m writing a review. Another BookwormGadgets post describes a number of these products.

Maybe this all seems fussy, and there are times when the book, the chair, the lighting are perfect, allowing us to lose ourselves. However, the existence of all these products suggest that I’m not the only one who finds holding a book in my hands or on my lap is not always optimal. All the items we have devised actually are quite ingenious, and many diehard readers end up using one or more.

It also reminds me of what an ergonomically exquisite thing an e-reader is–easily held, allowing one to set fonts. lightweight, and capable of holding not one book but thousands. It makes me wonder why so many of us still love print books–and reminds me what peculiar creatures we bibliophiles are.