Why Read: What I Talk About When I Talk About “Pleasure”

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

Please note: This essay originally appeared in multiple parts but has been compiled on medium.com as one 21 minute read.

“Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn’t carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.”― Stephen King

Many of our teachers and schools have failed us. They took the fun out of reading by making it an assignment. They should have showed us another side to reading. The side that makes reading a superior form of entertainment. Yes, even superior to TV.

I’ve talked about how there are really only three reasons to read. I stand by that. I want to add, though, that in the hierarchy, fun ranks at the top. Reading is fun. Fun is the first reason to read. If you’re lucky, you won’t need another reason. If you always read for fun it won’t be work. You do enough work. You need release. Reading is release. Make fun your first goal. If you think you aren’t learning anything because you’re reading for fun, you’re wrong. Learning will come.

Why is Reading Fun?

I could offer an emotional appeal here. Books smell great. Their smell brings back memories. Their words remind you of a lost parent or grandparent. You may have been read to as a child. Those are good reasons to read, but they are not the primary reason.

Experience New Worlds

Reading is fun because it reminds you there is some part of the world you have not seen. New worlds are made in books. If you had the power to travel at a moments notice to any place you wanted without leaving the comfort of your living room, would you use it? If you answer yes, then you must read. Books are time travel devices. Books are transportation. Books are personal introductions to the greatest thinkers.

Books Are Workouts for Your Senses

You want to experience the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes the world offers. Books help you practice experiencing what your senses should enjoy in new places. Books introduce you to new sensations. They also give you words so you can share the sensation.

Writers are keen observers. They have been testing and naming sensations their whole lives. A book is a writer’s way to share a sensation she experienced.

Reading is Practice Being Present

Being present is being alive. Being alive is fun, right?  Have you ever tried to read without being present? If you are distracted you can’t read. Reading leaves you no choice in the matter. You will be present and enjoy yourself.

Reading is a More Difficult Pleasure

Not all pleasure comes from easy tasks. Reading is a more difficult pleasure. It is a more difficult pleasure, but there can be fun in understanding something that requires your full attention and effort. Like difficult exercise that tears muscle fibers to build them stronger, reading difficult material prepares the brain to tackle harder tasks. Have you ever felt satisfied by pushing yourself beyond your physical limits? That is fun. Experience the mental equivalent. Read.

Read to Uncover Plot

Reading can be as hard as struggling to understand an expertly written piece of imaginative literature or as easy as strumming the pages to gather the pieces of a simple plot. I’ve talked about uncovering plot. Uncovering an interesting plot is fun. We desire to see stories unfold. Our lives are stories unfolding.  A great book reveals the lives of others in the same way, right before our eyes and at your own pace.

Read to Laugh

Sometimes, you can even read to laugh when a laugh is what you need. Books deliver. If you let them, books read your mind and give you exactly what you need. Have you ever laughed from what you read? If you answered no, you should experience it. If you answered yes, share how much fun it is in the comments or with a friend.

There is a book for every sense of humor.

Read for Social Pleasure

There is social pleasure in reading. Pull out your favorite book on the subway. Let people see you read. Your reading communicates to the people around you some things about who you are. You are a reader. You read despite what others may think or say. You take advantage of your time on earth. Show off who you are.

Share what you read as well. Like a well-watered rose can’t wait to show its flower you can’t wait to share what you’ve read. Before you had nothing to share, you might have thought. Now, with reading, you have an entire library to share.

Read to Experience Multitudes

Walt Whitman says, we “contain multitudes.” True. A multitude of interests, a multitude of desires, a multitude of thoughts. Everything we do is in multitudes. Books satisfy some of those multitudes by being multitudes themselves. One day when we wake up we may have a very different interest than then one we had the day before. Books are there to satisfy those multitudes in the most efficient way we can imagine. Books satisfy multitudes, not at the surface level, but in enough depth that our thirst is quenched.

Multitudes are the opposite of monotony.

Read to Never Be Bored

I have never met a bored reader. Being bored is the opposite of fun. One day you may retire. You may have a day with nothing planned. One day you may need to escape day to day life.  Some days I joke about wanting a shed in the backyard with nothing in it. A place where I can go and sit. Some people have vacation houses or deer camps. All of these are “places all your own.” Books can be your “place all your own” until you get a real one. Then, when you get a real one you can take your books with you.

There are other reasons to read. We will talk about education and perspective, but this week do some reading for fun.

Why is reading fun to you? Leave a comment.

Photo by Paul Jarvis.

Writing Book Reviews—Well

This is an essay by Dianna L. Gunn.

You might think that writing a book review is as simple as reading a book and writing down what you think about it. I used to think the same thing. Then, as time went by and I spoke to some people who actually review books for money, I realized I had it all wrong.

To be a book reviewer, you can’t just read like anyone else would. Think about all the books you’ve read. Do you remember the great lines? Can you name almost all the characters? Can you actually write a synopsis that makes sense based on what you remember?

Probably not. If you are trying to write book reviews on your blog or for a publication, you might find yourself struggling to say something unique about the book you just read. Your brain might suddenly fog up when you’re trying to write a book review.

We can’t rely purely on memory if we’re trying to really help our readers. I’ve recently started paying more attention when I read a book that I’m planning to review. There are five basic things I’ve been doing to make the most of my book reviews.

Follow these steps, and you can make your book reviews even more interesting:

1. Read slowly. As tempting as it is to rush through a book and find out the ending at top speed, it’s not a good strategy when you’re going to review the book later. You need to make sure that you absorb everything that happens in the book, so read slowly. Re-read paragraphs or even whole chapters if you have to. Take your time and make sure you thoroughly understand what the book is about and how the plot works.

2. Take notes. I know that finishing high school English was a great moment. I bet you thought—aha, now I never have to take notes while I read again.

Wrong. In order to be a good book reviewer, you need to remember important things about the books: names of main characters, important parts of the plot, details of the setting. You need to be able to tell people why you thought it was a good book or a bad book. This means you have to take notes.

Your notes don’t have to be extensive, however. You may have had ten—or twenty—pages of notes for the last book you wrote an English essay on. The book you’re about to review, on the other hand, might be worth only two or three pages of notes. Write down only the most important, touching or interesting parts of the book so you don’t lose the joy of reading.

3. Deconstruct the book to figure out what works. As you’re getting ready to write a book review, think about why the book works. Figure out how the writer convinced you to like or not like a certain character and how they drew you into the world. Those are the things your reader is going to want to know. While you’re reading—or, at the latest, while you’re planning your book review—ask yourself the following:

  • Why do I like/dislike the main character?
  • Does the writer use all the senses well?
  • What makes the location of the story so interesting?
  • Did I learn anything from this book?
  • Who else would enjoy this book?

4. Figure out what you would have done differently. In other words, what do you think the writer should have included that they left out? Did they forget to develop one of the characters properly? Is their new culture too close to ours to be unique?

There can be a lot of things you might have done differently without you disliking the book. For example, I loved Dragon Night by Stephanie Campbell, but when I reviewed it on my blog, I mentioned that the culture could have been developed further. That’s not to say it hurt the book—it’s just to say a little more culture would have been nice.

5. Decide on a rating system. Not all book review blogs rate books, but some do. Before you start reviewing books, it’s a good idea to decide what sort of rating system you’re going to use. You can use basic numbers on a five or ten scale basis—i.e. 1/5 or 1/10—or you can go online and find a fancy star graphic to use. Of course, any other kind of graphic—moons, suns, cats—works too. Deciding against using a rating system is fine too. Just make sure you know what system you’re going to use before you start writing book reviews.

There are hundreds, probably thousands, of book bloggers. No matter what genre you review or how much advice I give you, it will be a struggle to make yourself heard. Armed with these five tips, however, you’ll be able to write a book review that should satisfy any curious reader.

==========

Dianna L. Gunn is a young Canadian beginning her career as a freelance writer and blogger and hoping to someday soon begin her career as a fiction writer. She blogs about writing at Dianna’s Writing Den and is currently an editorial intern with Musa Publishing, working for the Penumbra speculative fiction eMagazine.

For further reading, please consider this essay by Brandon Monk which applies this process to the reading of a novel by Andrew Blackman: Writing Book Reviews – An Application

Photo: Some rights reserved by donovanhouse

Why Read: An Answer Painted in a Broad Stroke

This is an essay written by Brandon Monk.

Please note: This essay originally appeared in multiple parts but has been compiled on medium as one 21 minute read.

I have been thinking about the answer to the question, “Why Read,” for about two years. The question first became my focus as I reflected on why I had not read the first years out of formal education.

At the time, I think I was desperate for answers and lonely. I read for answers to the big questions like how to exist and even why exist.

As I started to read again I tried to think about why it was that I was reading what I was reading. Over time, I think I have boiled it down to three reasons.

We read for pleasure, for education, or for perspective. There is overlap. If you are reading for pleasure, education, and perspective you are reading at the highest level. This is the reader’s highest achievement.

For Pleasure

By this I mean read what you like.

Read for entertainment without worrying about any secondary gain.

The only focus you are aware of is your own amusement, diversion, or enjoyment.

For Education

By this I mean read to learn.

Read for knowledge. Develop your power of reason or judgment.

Read in preparation for life. Test your knowledge by making mature decisions.

For Perspective

By this I mean read to understand the state of one’s ideas.

Read to adjust the way you look at the world.

Read to understand how two people, places, things, or ideas interact.

Does it matter why we read?

In order to read, to have incentive to pick up a book, you have to start with the reasons why.

As a student I used to hate the teachers that used to explain things by saying, “Because I said so.” No response annoyed me more.

If I ever taught, I vowed, I would always explain why something was the case.

I realize we aren’t in class and I realize I’m not your teacher, but I wanted to put forward the reasons to read in a broad stroke. I will come back to these reasons in more detail in the future.

In the mean time, I want you to consider for yourself, why you read. Share your reason with me in the comments. If I’m missing something, tell me. I want to get this right and would love to hear what you think.

Photo: Some rights reserved by jenny downing.

Hungry for Books

This is an essay by Ruth Coe Chambers.

I grew up in a small Southern town that didn’t boast a library or a bookstore. My parents didn’t own books or appear to miss them. I longed for books. It was a hunger I could never satisfy, a true starvation diet.

And then I began first grade, my first true exposure to books. Oh, the joy of getting to know Dick and Jane. The picture of a doll with blond curls walking on the top rail of a fence. I never doubted that the doll could walk. She was in a book, wasn’t she!

My stepmother refused to tell me bedtime stories because, she told me, no one had done that for her. I was an adult before it occurred to me that having had an unhappy childhood, she probably didn’t know any stories. But my first grade teacher had books and read fairy tales to us. There was no library in the school, but she had a copy of Cinderella we could take home overnight. I wasn’t sure I could live long enough until it was my turn to borrow Cinderella. When the day came, I raced around the corner of the school building after our final recess, eager to take my place, dreaming of having Cinderella to myself for an entire evening. I waited after the last bell rang for the teacher to call my name. When she didn’t, I approached her desk to remind her it was my turn to borrow the book. I’ve never forgotten the nonchalant way she looked at me and said as though it was of no importance, “Oh, Ruth, the book is lost.” Just like that. Lost. So was I, unable to understand her lack of grief. When a favorite aunt sent me copies of Grimm’s and Andersen’s Fairy Tales for my birthday a few years later, I was dumbstruck at my good fortune. I can still remember where I was standing when I opened the package and the colored balloons on the wrapping paper.

Books seeped into my life in small bunches. A new girl would move to town with books. The first novel I ever read was a borrowed copy of A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter. A bit older and a new girl loaned me her Nancy Drew mysteries. I knew books would be wonderful, but I couldn’t imagine the way they transported me to other worlds, introduced me to things I’d never experienced. My impoverished life took on new dimensions.

By the time I graduated from high school, we not only had a modest school library, a public library took shape on one of the main streets in town. And the year I began college, Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, actually boasted its first public library. But for the prejudice that existed in those dark days, Andrew Carnegie would have built one for them years sooner. Mr. Carnegie didn’t believe the color of your skin should determine your access to books.

Settled in my dorm room, the first building I visited at Florida State University was the library. Above the door a message read: THE HALF OF KNOWLEDGE IS TO KNOW WHERE TO FIND KNOWLEDGE. I was disappointed to learn that when the new library was built years later, they omitted that important reminder. I wandered through the old library, mesmerized by so many books. I wanted to lose myself in the stacks, but it was a small library after all, and I never managed to get lost except in the wonderful pages of those books.

My financial situation was such that I dropped out of college and took a job one of my professors found for me at Florida State when she learned I had to leave school. I was able to take one free class each term. Such joy! Time passed and after my marriage, I began taking classes at the University of South Florida. One of those classes was in creative writing. No longer content just to read, I wanted to write myself. That class and others to follow were taught by Professor Wesley Ford Davis to whom I will always be grateful. He inspired one of the first major changes in my life. He talked about books, worthy books. I hadn’t read a one he mentioned, but I wrote the names down and eventually read them all. I discovered the worlds of Faulkner, Welty, McCullers, Williams, and on and on. Southern writers were my favorites. We were to learn from reading the works of luminaries and from having our writing critiqued by Professor Davis and our classmates. If we read really good books, he told us, we would no longer be able to enjoy mediocre material. He was right. My mental taste buds acquired a new diet.

Today books come in all forms. They have made the leap from pages to computers, Nooks, Kindles, etc. What hasn’t changed is the knowledge we gain, the experiences of people we will never meet, worlds we will never visit except in words and pictures. Interactive learning isn’t restricted to conversations with our teachers, colleagues, students, friends . . . To read is to learn. It’s a gift. Literacy is one of the greatest gifts of empowerment and enlightenment that I know. It’s a renewable resource but should never be wasted.

==================

Ruth Coe Chambers, author of The Chinaberry Album, has published short stories and articles. Two of her plays have taken first prize in contests, and she is currently seeking representation for two new novels. She lives in Florida with her husband, dogs Lili and Jade, and a couple of smart cockatiels. The dogs are smart too. Learn more about Ruth on her website at http://www.ruthcchambers.com or her nostalgic blog at www.OldFloridaonMyMind.blogspot.com

Photoe: Some rights reserved by donheffernan

On Teaching and Self-Worth

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

A post inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography

It is no surprise that Frank Lloyd Wright had teachers in his family. A great teacher impacts generations. My grandmother had that talent while she lived. I have had more than fifty grown adults approach me in my lifetime and describe how she profoundly affected their lives by being their teacher. Uniformly though, the impact came by not only what she taught, but how seriously she took her responsibility to the betterment of her students’ lives. Reading about Frank Lloyd Wright reminds me of her impact.

A true teacher leads one to knowledge more than anything, even if that is through inspiration. For Wright, nature often served as a teacher, and experience serves to carry out the education. For Wright work was education.

For an architect during the Great Depression there were often no paying clients looking to build. Wright tested his ideas by creating a school, which was really more akin to a modern-day apprenticeship program.

The students worked at building and planning and became a self-sufficient entity. They grew their own food and mended their own clothes. Wright’s idea was that to design a kitchen one had to know how to work in one. He took this to the extreme by having his students work in every area he could imagine. Under the motto “do something while resting,” the school grew to stand for the idea that there is no substitute for getting right into the mix and working.

Where did Wright get the idea that this type of education would work? During the summer he spent time at his uncle’s farm doing the labor necessary to keep animals and humans in good health. Wright developed as a child under the idea that “work is an adventure that makes strong men and finishes weak ones.” For Wright, work was truly educational. But, I think he got something out of his teaching, too. Something that helped get him through the Great Depression. Teaching others boosts our own self-worth.

Sometimes hard work forced upon us is life changing. Hard work can provide the capacity to endure and create as an immediate result.  The greatest value, however, may come in the realization that the process of learning to work provides self-worth. You can take the next step and multiply the effect if you teach someone else the same process. I think the same holds true with reading, which is why we have such a responsibility to share our reading experiences with others.

Photo: Some rights reserved by mach3

Being a Reader Makes You Part of a Community

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

“Readers aren’t ‘better’ or ‘healthier’ or, conversely, ‘sicker’ than nonreaders. We just happen to belong to a rather strange kind of community.” Jonathan Franzen from How to Be Alone.

I sometimes think about how it is that I came to read. My mother would read on occasion for fun. Something like a Grisham novel, if I recall. I was read to as a child quite a bit by my mother, father, and grandmother. We would take trips sometimes with my grandmother and stay for a weekend or so and when we would she would read to my cousins and I before bed at our request. There was clearly encouragement to read for fun.

In high school I did not read much, but do remember reading and actually finishing The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger as part of an extracurricular activity I was involved in. I may have read a few other things in high school but nothing I really remember. For the most part I tried to read the bare minimum. I read a book or two for fun and read the Bible out of a natural interest in the stories. Nothing more complicated than a Grisham book, though.

In college I had a few literature classes taught by excellent teachers. We were assigned several books throughout the semester and I think there I had my eyes opened to the fact that I might actually like to read. I made English my minor, not because it was marketable, but because I enjoyed it.

In law school I read because I had to. I also started to read other things out of personal interest for escape and relaxation.

The first few years after law school I read nothing and did very little to educate myself aside from studying for Bar Exams and learning how to practice law. This was the deadest reading period of my life.

Now, and for the past two years, I have read at least a book a week.  I read what I feel like at the time.

I recently read Franzen’s Essay, “Why Bother?” which appears in How to Be Alone. Franzen tries to explain how he got the courage to finish his third novel in the midst of a personal crisis he experienced. In process of averting the crisis he asks, what is the purpose behind writing another novel and particularly a social novel?

Franzen relies heavily on the work done by Shirley Brice Heath to explain what helped him rediscover the purpose behind his writing. Heath would follow readers into book stores and interview people reading or buying “substantive works of fiction.” She concluded that people begin to read when they have been shown how to read works of substance by an adult and when that adult encouraged the same behavior. Heath concluded that the child also had to find a person which whom they could share their interest in reading. As I read this explanation I wasn’t entirely sure that fit my own situation.

Heath goes on to explain, however, that there is a second kind of reader, what she calls the social isolate, that from any early age felt different from those around him. Heath explains that this type of reader will take their sense of being different into an imaginary world and create a dialogue with the authors of the books. In essence, the authors become your community. I tend to think this explains my recent reading binge.

According to Heath, the second type of reader is more likely to become a writer. Of course, this was of great interest to Franzen who must have found his motivation to write in this idea. The idea being that there was a community that needed him to write so that they could have that kind of dialogue. Franzen would have dealt with great guilt had he not written knowing that others needed from him what he had taken from the authors that had come before him.

Given Heath’s conclusion, that you find in reading a sense of being part of a community and a way to be both alone and still part of the social fabric that we crave as humans, I question how social media will change this group of social isolate readers? Will social media make the isolate reader more or less common? Possibly less common because there are now other sources for that sense of community. Possibly more common because these social networks will still not satisfy the desire to feel connected and part of a community after all. Time will tell. I don’t think we know yet.

Photo:  Some rights reserved by stringer_bel

The Beauty of Every Word

This is an essay by Emi Howe.

Hello my name is Emi Howe and I am a wordaholic. The actual term for this is “Lexicographer” I know this recondite word, because it is esoteric to my addiction. Ok that’s enough.

I wear the same chestnut brown wingtip boots virtually every day of my life. I collect words in the way that some women collect shoes. I keep them safe in a fabric-bound book and alphabetise them. My Better Half jokes that eventually all I will have is another dictionary. But that’s not true. I only collect beautiful words: Dropsical, Lapidary, Bumptious, Truculent, Quixotic, Obsequious…

You wouldn’t know that I have this affliction. I talk in common words, knowing what people think of you when you go around peppering your vocab with such verbiage. I also constantly lose at Scrabble. I search for something more, there has got to be a better word… while Him Indoors puts “the” over a triple letter score. Game Over!

I collect my words from many places but in the main it is from books. You can imagine reading for me is not the relaxing pastime it might be for most. Pencil gripped, waiting with anticipation for something akin to a goal for football lovers. And I let books find me. I can be quite overwhelmed by the number of books out there that need reading, so this system works well for me.

Let me tell you about a couple of books that have reignited my reading passion of late. Let’s set the scene…

I am a mother of two young charges and in recent years, my reading quota has been replaced by sleep. However, emerging from the fog one day at the library I noticed that we could expect an author visit. The writer in question was Caroline Smailes and always eager to meet writers I set about reading her book. The only one left in the library was Black Boxes so off I went with it.

What I liked about this exercise is that I had a deadline, I needed to find time to squeeze the words from the pages into my consciousness before the visit, and this is where reading really comes to the fore. When a book starts to rule your life and makes a mockery of any to-do lists or responsibilities you may have. Of course the book needs to be quality, and it was. But what’s more is that I had inadvertently stumbled upon something quite new. The book is written largely as a single narrative, in effect a black box account of someone’s life.

Well that in itself is something to get excited about. I often think that words, language, books are so timeless. They are the one thing that through change, stays constant. They evolve; don’t get me wrong, I baulk on Facebook when I see “well jel”(abv. well jealous) replacing the more refined “truly coveted!”

But to succeed in doing something new and different with words, that’s an achievement. Something I hadn’t seen done since Darren King’s Boxy an Star in 1999 – written entirely in yoofspeak, it was astonishing, exciting and different. And “Black Boxes” beautiful words? Not just one, two… together: Bilabial Plosive. Score!

And so Black Boxes has kick-started me back into my reading world and the train only seems to be increasing in speed. Next I navigated towards The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

This I found in a magazine and immediately ripped the page out for safe-keeping. I was pulled in by the review’s almost tabloid-shocking headline that it was sold for a six figure sum after a nine-publisher auction. Big news indeed! Did it stand up? Well yes of course it did; I still mourn it now, weeks later. It is one of those books that you can’t put down – that sounds like a cliché, it isn’t meant to. What I mean is, once you’ve finished reading it you literally don’t want to put it down and sever the relationship you had, but instead clutch it to your chest.

What made this book so special for me is that it is a beautiful and engaging story with broken characters, ticking all the boxes, but is peppered with…the language of flowers! Traditionally a Victorian employ, the language of flowers was used as a message, daffodils meaning new beginnings, yellow roses meaning jealousy. A suitor had to choose his flowers very carefully for fear of offending the object of his affection, as their meaning would be pored over.

I have a certain passion for anything Victorian as, well… they knew how to do words: Orotund, Lubricious, Corpulence. They celebrated the beauty of words in a way that we seem to have forgotten. As for The Language of Flowers, there were so many beautiful names of flowers but my favourite word: Chartreuse.

All of this heady literature comes to me at a time when the first passion for words is being ignited in my two young children. Yesterday I was trying to explain to my son that the “u” in “duck” and the “oo” in “woof” make the same sound. At least they do in my middle English tones.

We spend time encouraging him to search out letters on the page that are in his name. He frequently tries out words for their poetry, rolling made up words around in his mouth. And the beauty of it, he can’t even read! He’s so excited about words and the bag hasn’t even been opened for him yet. We use books a lot, their storylines as inspiration for play. Tony Mitton’s Sir Laughalot a firm favourite.

And my son too brings me new words, although perhaps not strictly in the dictionary. “Mummy, can you pass the car, you know, the one next to the squelcher.”

Squelcher. n. kitchen appliance used to remove juice from citrus fruit.

Or my favourite, the brilliant “Oh Bumpers!”

Bumpers. int. exclamation of annoyance.

What my daughter of two brings to the table is the knowledge that we don’t need words as much as we think we do. The average two year old knows fifty words, granted understands a lot more, but I can tell you she is perfectly equipped to make herself understood!

So there must be a natural affinity with developing your vocabulary. Perhaps not so obsessive as my closet hoarding of words, but an affinity nonetheless. I don’t know what the future brings but I do know that however much our world changes in the next 2, 10, 20,000 years, there will always be words. Hallelujah!

====================

Emi is an artist, embroiderer, ferocious scrapbooker, word hoarder and obsessive writer. She studies the books she reads and the films she watches and reviews every one. As author of No Fun Mum, a blog dedicated to finding the “Extraordinary in the Ordinary” world of parenting, Emily hopes to connect parents sharing similar experiences across the globe. Emily writes children’s stories and poems and is hoping to find a publisher before her children are too old to appreciate them! She shares a birthday with Lady Gaga. In her time working in the magazine world, she met many celebrities but was truly star struck on meeting the British Film Classification Director, David Cooke whose signature is one of the most viewed in the UK, appearing before every cinema screened film in the UK. “Me time” for Emi involves ice skating and film photography.

Winners Announced! A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bookstore/Library

As promised, here are the winners of the February writing contest:

First place: T. Lloyd Reilly

Second Place: Anita Dualeh

Most Outrageous/Honorable Mention: Angelo B. Ancheta

You can read their stories here.

I’m a sucker for a Faustian tale, what can I say. All three entries were great. It was extremely difficult to choose a winner. I probably won’t judge one of these again so I don’t have to be in the hot seat!

Winners, if you’ll email me at readlearnwrite@gmail.com I will get the information needed to award prizes. I can’t thank you enough for your participation.

===================

We have an exciting guest post lined up for tomorrow. This one comes from the UK (I think) and our author, Emi Howe, certainly introduced me to a few new words. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

===================

This weekend I will be in New York. If there are any reader recommendations for reading, learning, or writing activities in New York, I’m listening. Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

Photo: Some rights reserved by terren in Virginia

Writing Contest Entries: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bookstore/Library

On February 19th I announced a writing contest. The prompt was simple:

Prompt: In about 1000 words write a humorous short short story telling me “A funny thing that happened on the way to the bookstore/library.”

I promised to judge the entries by March 7th. The winners will receive prizes:  (1) First,  a $50 cash prize; (2) The second place winner will get a shirt of their choice from my T-shirt shop on skreened.com; (3) The most outrageous story will get a T-shirt of my choosing.

I was honored to receive three brilliant entries.  Here they are (in order of when I received them):

Continue reading “Writing Contest Entries: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bookstore/Library”

America’s Love Affair With Television

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

Inspired by A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace.

It was a coincidence that the first book I finished reading using an e-reader was A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.  I got a Nook for Christmas in 2010, and it lead me into a book reading binge. Recognizing how fast I was going through books with the device I made a resolution to write something down about each one so that I could take something from the reading experience. The ability to turn a page with a press of a thumb without adjusting or shifting your position made for a supremely convenient experience. Immediately, I declared that I would purchase all future books on the device. Later, I learned this statement was misguided because many publishers had not started releasing books in e-format.

Nevertheless, I did read David Foster Wallace (DFW) early on and found his discussion of TV ironic given my new “addiction” to the Nook.  From his work I thought out a few realities of television which is a technology he struggled with most of his adult life, even admitting to intentionally avoiding the set while doing his most serious writing. Here are the ideas that I took away through his inspiration to think about the subject:

1.  TV caters to the lowest common denominator and strips away your ability to be unique.

TV is designed to appeal as many people as it possibly can so that advertisements are worth more and the revenue stream will steadily increase. The dollar rules and the collective dollars of the collective assembly is the target.  I don’t think it is a new idea, but it is one worth recognizing in the context that everyone one should realize that you aren’t going to set yourself apart from the masses by consuming TV.

2.  TV does not encourage the treatment of a particular subject with breadth or depth.

The aim of TV is to fit entertainment bang between commercials.  The creators of TV programs have limitations imposed by the format. Attention spans being what they are, it is impossible to cover any subject with the same breadth or depth that a book can.  Complicated ideas are typically discarded in favor of a hook that will drag you through the next commercial break.

3.  TV destroys focus and mutates attention span to fit its format.

Watching TV transforms your patience and your brain to a focus on the program, but the experience is completely passive.  It asks nothing of you, and as a result there is no need to give full attention to the material.  When you need not give full attention, you don’t practice that.  Lack of practice leads to lack of skill in this department.

4.  TV has a clear focus, consumption as opposed to creation.

In conjunction with the passive nature of the experience there is typically no call to action with TV.  Rarely is the suggestion that you leave with inspiration to go into the world and create or give something back.  Instead the call is to tune back in for more consumption or, through advertisement, to express your consumptive self on a given product.  Missing is the call to contribute.

These realities are not necessarily an argument to avoid TV completely.  TV is not going anywhere.  In order to create something that is going to be appreciated by the masses these days you have to be familiar enough with the effects of TV to be able to communicate given the reality of its huge impact.  I am not advocating abandoning TV, but while trying to create something new and unique or while working to explore something with a new depth and focus you may find TV is a poison.

AMENDMENT:

After reading this post, someone suggested I follow-up this article by reading Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson.  I finished it and wanted to add these thoughts.

Johnson asserts the basic hypothesis that IQ has risen as a whole over the past 20 or so years, and that one possible explanation is the increasing popularity and complexity of social media, including television.   By way of summary, Johnson sets out by stating that twenty-five years of increasingly complex television has honed our analytical skills.  He then moves on to argue that increasing IQ across society, known as the Flynn effect, provide some empiric evidence that his theory is correct.

Johnson paid particular attention to reality TV in setting forth the argument that these shows shift our brain toward focusing on  the emotional lives of the people around us.  The part of the brain that tracks subtle shifts in intonation, gesture, and facial expression, Johnson thought, were sent into overdrive while we watched these shows so that we could make judgments about whose side we wanted to be on.

After reading Johnson’s book I would echo his sentiment that there is need for more study to determine whether a true connection exists between the increasing popularity and complexity of television and some skill that translates to other areas of life. The reason I put the question that way is because if we just get better at watching TV by watching TV and the skill increase does not translate to other areas, there is limited value.

I believe the only point that is called into question by Johnson’s hypothesis would be point 3. above, TV destroys focus and mutates attention span to fit its format. The other conclusions inspired by DFW are not contradicted by Johnson’s conclusions.  I would consider amending the idea in point 3. if there were a study along the lines above.  I may even consider adding an additional sentence which would clarify that TV may, in fact, increase emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence probably can be practiced by watching humans interact with humans in a real way.  In that way, TV may increase our ability to read social cues.  This ability readily translates into success in the “real world.” In that way, it would be unfair of me to call watching TV a “completely passive” activity. This area is certainly one where scientific study would be worthwhile.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Kansir