Books on the Dissecting Table: Knowing your books, Knowing yourself, and Improving your Writing in the Process

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

Like so many other bookworms out there, I spend a lot of my free time with the written word.  Romances, young adult, classics, mysteries, poetry and science fiction tomes all have their place in my reading rotation. The only genre I absolutely will not pick up for pleasure is horror. I made an exception for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and had trouble sleeping for months.  Sleep is important, so horror is a no-go for me, my sincerest apologies to Stephen King.

Like so many readers, very rarely do I stop to ask myself why I read what I read.

That stops now, because why is a valid question that will help me understand more about books, as well as about myself, as a reader, a writer, and a human being. Chances are, careful examination of your reading preferences could shed some light on your life as well.

Step 1: Examining your taste in books

Instead of darting your eyes across the page as fast as you can, stuffing words and images into your brain without processing why, stop to think. Is there are a reason that Janet Evanovich’s stories of disaster-prone bounty hunters are sweeter to your literary taste-buds than say, the disturbing descriptions from Kafka’s “Metamorphosis?”

Is it about plot? Do you prefer a fast-moving, comedic storyline or a complicated metaphor for the human condition?

Or perhaps it’s about language. Some readers enjoy a text that reads like everyday life with some extra snark and “weird” factor (think Dave Sedaris) while others find a certain pleasure in delving into densely written historical tomes.

What is it about the text itself that draws you in, or makes you run away screaming? Identifying what is happening in the book, and figuring out what works for you (or doesn’t) is your first step.

Step 2: Examining your reactions and preferences as a reader

Now that you know what you like and how you respond to it, it’s time to think about why.

You’re gripping the arms of your chair. Maybe you have work to do around the house or a phone call to a friend to make. But you just can’t put that James Patterson thriller down. Even though you don’t consider yourself an adrenaline addict in your every day life, your reading habits point to a secret longing for adventure and serious risk-taking.  Not to mention your admiration for straightforward, clear-cut language.

Or maybe you’re dreaming about Frances Mayes’ life of recipes and renovations in Tuscany. Because even though you’ve been known to burn water, and use the clothes dryer as a wardrobe, you fantasize about cooking elaborate dishes, experiencing a new culture and restoring a beautiful old space to live in.  Besides, Mayes’ lushly embroidered phrases could make you fall in love with even the most mundane aspects of international living.

Whatever it is that links your reading habits, try to identify it. What do the books you read have in common? Do you read different styles depending on your mood? What do you read when you’re sad as opposed to when you’re happy? Do the rhymed verses of limericks and sonnets bring a smile to your face, or bring on a headache?

Turn post-book analysis into a learning experience that begins with the book, but ends with you. Don’t be afraid to reflect on your preferences and what those preferences mean about who you are, as a reader, and as a person. Are you limited in your experiences or merely limiting yourself?

Books are tools–don’t hesitate to explore alternative realities and try on new personas. New authors can help you expand your horizons –even outside your literary life.

Step 3:  Examining your reactions and preferences as a writer

You finally know what you prefer to read and why, but what does that mean for you as a writer? Identifying the stories and styles of writing you enjoy and why you like them is key for wordsmiths looking to improve on their craft. Because trying to write in a style or genre that you don’t enjoy reading is generally a losing battle. Even if for some strange reason, you enjoy writing stories and styles you wouldn’t personally read, that becomes problematic when it’s time to revise as you will be reading, and rereading your text, especially with longer writing projects like novels.

Beloved books and texts are role models writers can look up to. Which is not to say copy. But there is something to be said for learning by observation, as opposed to the hard way (trial, and train wreck). There are lessons to be gleaned from careful readings of your favorite writings. If a simple turn of phrase is good enough for Hemingway, maybe your ridiculous need to complicate syntax is unnecessary.

There is no escaping it, there are people who have written (and written well) before you, so you might as well take advantage of their existence as a potential learning experience. Read and reread their books until you’ve cracked the code of what they make you feel and why and how you can apply these newfound tactics to your own future masterpieces.


Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at, read about her travels at, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

Photo: Some rights reserved by State Records NSW.

[Audio] Sources of Greek and Roman Myth

This is an essay and audio recording by Brandon Monk.

This is a continuation of the myth discussion we started last week. I’m going to put one of these up a week for a while without interrupting the normal blog schedule. In this episode we will:

  • Mention the oral tradition.
  • Touch on the impact of the alphabet and writing in the Greek culture.
  • Cover several sources of Greek myth.
  • Cover several sources of Roman myth.


How Reading Makes You More Human

This is an essay by Christopher Hutton.

“To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” -AC Grayling

The one thing my mother taught above all others is that reading matters. The more one reads, the better they become. But she never said how I would become better; only that I would.

I’ve always been a natural book-lover since birth. It always felt like my bread and butter. However, my love of books came not from the benefits, but for the books themselves. It felt a bit odd. It was just like a hobby, where I do something for the sake of something, not because I acknowledge some form of benefit. But as I’ve grown into a young man, I began to see the benefits.

These benefits were not attributes based in objective terms (IE one’s reading ability, one’s IQ, etc), but in broad swaths that affected much of life; almost as though the essence of it was affecting the human soul. This description sounds abstract and obscure, but it is how I understand it.

But what were these benefits ? Over the years, I believe that my reading has helped me develop the following:

  • An expanded empathy: I was never easily phased or effected by emotional events of the day. (It’s why my siblings always liked calling me Mr. Spock) Through books, I came to better understand the emotional highs and lows that men have had. I have seen the joy of a father at birth, and the lows that often come through death and divorce. I wept with families who lose loved ones, and laughed with those who found joy in the simplicity of life. This wasn’t just some change of man, it came from a wider reading of the pains and joys of men. Authors like Flannery O’Connor and James Bradley vividly illustrated the everyday pains of life, and the atrocity that is war. My eyes were opened to the Truths of the human experience.
  • A deeper understanding of everyday life: I loved technology and all that it can do. But how does the technology work? What is the story that led to its development? There have been many books that have opened doors and illuminated my mind about these truths. Without them, I would be blind to the inner workings of life around me. I now know the Larger story.
  • A more critical opinion of my fellow-man: The two big perspectives of life is that of Optimism and Pessimism. We either expect the best, or expect the worst. I always expected the worst. But a wider reading of literature helped me to see the good and the bad in its natural habitat, and how they co-mingle in the hearts of men.
  • The ability to seek Truth: I’ve been a man who always saw things as simplistic. However, I’ve been blessed with the opportunities to read books that help one to seek Truth, wherever it may be. I’ve read both sides of arguments, and learned to rationally and critically think through them. In doing so, I’ve begun to understand why men do what they do, and how they do so.

Why these changes matter:

These benefits are things that seem good to our basic eyes, but why do they matter? Why should you care about any of this?

My answer? Because it’s beneficial in the long-term.

Most of us do focus primarily on now instead of on the long-term picture, involving all parts of our lives. The strongest benefits of reading comes from it educating and enlightening us to the human condition; the very thing that drives us from birth to death. This condition is driven by an interconnected sense of reason and emotion; something that is easy to use, but is hard to understand.

But it is through reading that we come to a stronger understanding of this. Through reading, we are able to become better humans than before. And as better human beings, we are able to serve our communities more, seek out Truth, and live in a way that will lead to the Greater Good.

Where do you need to grow? How can literature help you on that quest?


Christopher Hutton is a freelance writer and journalist who writes exclusively on the Human Condition. You can find his work located at Liter8 Ideas, as well as on Twitter at @liter8media.

Photo: Some rights reserved by perpetualplum.

A Direct Assault On 5 Pernicious Cop Outs

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

Through the course of running this site I have heard some interesting feedback from readers and paid more attention to the excuses offered by those who would read, or would read more, but don’t. I think it’s worth taking some of these excuses on.

I’ve dabbled in being a non-reader. I went through periods, particularly after law school, where I didn’t read much at all. I’ve used some of these excuses myself. From personal experience I can tell you they’re all just pernicious cop outs.

“I am not smart enough to read.”

Genius Is Not a Prerequisite to Reading. The intellect you have when you come to a book means less than the experiences you bring to bear on your interpretation. It is a misconception that being a reader means being smart. One may eventually lead to the other the way the practice of any discipline sharpens the edge of intellect, but one is not a prerequisite for the other. To anyone that claims that they must be “more intelligent” to read, I say that’s like saying you must be more fit to start exercising. You’ll get no where with that attitude.

“I can’t afford to buy books.”

Access to Books is No Longer an Excuse. We have instant, cheap, and even free access to books of all difficulty levels. Libraries, Free Kindle reads, and friends looking for an excuse to lend books are valid ways to eliminate this mindset. Many have written here about their joy of reading children’s books. Start there, if you’re too intimidated by the rest. Work your way up the ladder enjoying each serene and rich rung as you climb. My bet is you can find a stash of children’s books in most attics in your city. Garage sales will be well stocked as well (they do have those in states other than Texas, right?). If you can’t find a free book, mention me on twitter @readlearnwrite and I will make a recommendation to a free book or send you one of my own.

“I don’t have the time to read.”

The Time to Read is Available if You Create It. To those that say they have no time to read, I don’t believe you. We all have the time and capacity to enjoy books. If you have time to watch TV you have time to read. If you have children you can read to your children and both be the better for it. If you have a lazy no good spouse make the time to explain in awkward conversation your passion for reading and if they don’t understand then simplify your life by deciding to be yourself and do something you enjoy despite what others may think. If you have to wait in line during the day, carry a small book or slip of poem in your pocket.

“I won’t understand what I read.”

Our Various Interests and Experiences Make Our Reading Experiences Unique. One of the things that worries me is when I hear people explain that they don’t read because they’re not going to “get it” anyway, so why bother. This is bull. There is no “getting it.” Your reading is just as good as a literary critics because you brought your own personal experience with you and deployed it to interpret the book through the lens of your life. We need your reading, your understanding, every bit as much as we need a critic’s.

“I read too slow.”

There is No Such Thing as Reading Too Slow. A brilliant sentence could be the subject of a lifetime of study. If you’re worried about how slow you read you can start one sentence from one poem. Read it thirty-two times and commit it to memory. Then, spend thirty-two minutes thinking about that sentence. When you’re ready to move on, move on, but don’t worry if that is the only sentence you read today.

Excuses are dangerous because they start to make sense. They burrow in deep and get rationalized to the point of being second nature. That’s why I’d rather take some of these head on, at the risk of offending someone, than let them continue to work their way into the depths of our minds.

What reading “excuses” have you overcome?

Photo by Paul Jarvis.

Reading and Writing in Relationships: How Partners Encourage Learning and Enjoyment

This is an essay by Sophie Lizard.

Have you ever heard the saying that education, for adults just as for children, is founded on the 3 Rs: Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic? When it comes to reading and writing in relationships, simple arithmetic goes out of the window, and you plus your partner can become more than the sum of your abilities.

In many relationships, reading and writing have become specialised tasks that are almost always handled by the same partner. If you read faster and understand a text more easily than your partner, then you may become the designated reader while your partner avoids most reading by simply handing it to you. That’s not good for either of you, and it can lead to resentment in your relationship.

Here are some simple ways to make reading and writing work for you as a couple:

Read Aloud Together

Couples in which one or both partners read aloud for the other say that it can be a rewarding romantic experience, creating a bond that wouldn’t quite be the same if you watched a movie or listened to an audiobook together. Hearing your partner’s voice and knowing that they’ve dedicated this time to you alone can be a turn-on for your relationship and for your learning skills.

Even if you’re only reading very short pieces together, hearing something read aloud stimulates your brain in a different way to reading it with your own eyes. This novelty of stimulus makes your brain pay more attention and absorb new learning more easily, so you can expect to see improvements in your vocabulary, creativity and overall learning ability when your partner reads to you.

If you’re the one doing the reading then you’ll benefit from a similar mental boost, as well as developing public speaking skills like clear enunciation.

Read Together Without Impatience

Not everybody likes to read aloud. Not everybody can read aloud, for one reason or another. That’s not a problem! You can enjoy reading something together in silence, too, even if you read at different speeds.

You might be wondering how that’s going to work. What if one of you has already finished the page when the other is still working through the first paragraph? Well, there’s a simple solution to this: you both read at the speed of the slower reader.

If you’re the faster reader in your relationship, slowing down may sound like a drag. It isn’t! Reading more slowly gives you the chance to gain a greater appreciation of whatever text you’re taking in. If you rush ahead to the finish line, you’ll be missing some of the finer details. As you read, ask yourself questions like

  • What do I think of this writing?
  • Why did I form that opinion?
  • How did the writer work to influence my reading experience?

Taking this approach means that you, as the faster reader, get the time to gain a deeper understanding of the writer’s craft.

Read Together Without a Schedule

You don’t need to set aside special times to read together. Many relationships suffer from a shortage of free time for both partners, and this can make reading together seem like one more chore on an endless to-do list. It’s enough to read together when the opportunity presents itself.

Going to a restaurant? Read one menu together, instead of sitting with your faces hidden behind a menu apiece. Point out and read aloud the descriptions of dishes that you think might interest your partner. You can find other opportunities: read a letter together, or the local news, before discussing its contents. Reading like this is enhanced by the presence of your partner as a sounding-board for your thoughts, and you will both develop a greater understanding of each other as well as of the texts you read.

Read Alone, Together

You don’t have to read together to benefit your relationship. It’s easy to read on your own, but still companionably share that reading time with your partner.

If your partner read the newspaper already, but passes it to you so that you can read it too, then the two of you can talk over the stories together later on. This exercises your memory as well as your reading skills, while your relationship will reap the benefit of shared memories and conversation starters to bring you closer together.

If you both want to read completely different things, that can work too! Maybe you’re happier reading fiction while your partner reads the news. Maybe you read horror stories but your partner would rather read recipes. Differing tastes are a common complaint when you ask couples why they don’t read together more often.

The solution, again, is simple: spend the same time reading, but read different things. Take a comfortable seat with your partner and enjoy some quiet reading time.

When you read separate texts at a shared time, you’re likely to learn more than if you read alone. Why? Because people often perform better at all kinds of tasks, including reading and learning, when their partner (or a potential partner) is present. In short, your brain works harder to impress that gorgeous observer.

Write Together

Just like reading, writing often becomes the job of one partner instead of a shared activity you do as a couple. It’s easy to let the better writer tackle the task, but wait! Better writing is not that easy to define.

To share a personal example with you, let’s look at me and my partner. I’m a professional freelance writer, earning enough from my craft to support our family. He was diagnosed as dyslexic in school and has never gained any academic qualifications. But in the last 24 hours alone, he has improved my professional writing several times. How? By sharing his honest opinion.

When I’m struggling (and yes, even professional writers sometimes struggle) to find the right words, my partner listens to what I’m trying to say and offers me alternative ways to write it. When I’ve finished a draft, he’ll read it and point out anything that’s unclear. His feedback is beyond price: it’s thoughtful, kind, and freely available. It also brings us closer as we share in the creative experience of writing.

Don’t miss out on an opportunity to write together. There are lots of ways you could do this:

  • Collaborate on a message to write in a greetings card
  • Keep a journal together of your proudest moments and fondest memories as a couple or family
  • Write down descriptions of things you hope to do together in the future
  • Write joint letters or emails to your family and friends

Reading, Writing and Relationships

It really doesn’t matter if you have very different reading tastes, writing skills or literacy levels. By spending time together and supporting one another’s enjoyment of these activities, couples encourage an improvement in the reading, writing and learning of both partners. And let’s not forget the potential boost to your romantic life! The bond you build by reading and writing together can help to improve every aspect of your relationship.

What other ways can you and your partner find to enjoy reading, writing and learning together?


Sophie Lizard is the founder of Be A Freelance Blogger, a blog dedicated to helping everyday people earn more money and work from anywhere as a blogger-for-hire. She enjoys reading, learning and writing obsessively, as well as taking frequent travel breaks with her partner and their young daughter.

To learn more about how to earn money and win freedom as a blogger-for-hire, check out Sophie’s successful freelance blogging tips at

Sophie would love to hear from you with any comments, questions or suggestions you may have – get in touch with her on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, or email

Photo: Some rights reserved by Unlisted Sightings.

[Audio] 19 Ideas You Shouldn’t Miss from The Great Gatsby

You won’t get anything out of this if you haven’t read the book. If, on the other hand, you read the book and then listen to the audio and then read the book again you will have a very good handle on The Great Gatsby.

The audio runs about 32-33 minutes.

Here is what you can expect to hear briefly covered:

1. Nick Carraway’s father’s advice, the opening lines of the book.

2. The two Eggs, East and West (setting).

3. The description of Tom Buchanan.

4. The description of Daisy Buchanan.

5. The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.

6. Where does Gatsby get his money? Who is he?

7. Gatsby’s parties.

8. The automobile.

9. Jazz.

10. Fitgerald’s time in Paris.

11. George Wilson’s life in a heap of ashes.

12. The “lost generation.”

13. Time as a theme. Can you repeat the past?

14. Gatsby’s house as a symbol.

15. The dog for the apartment.

16. Women in The Great Gatsby.

17. Life starts all over in the fall.

18. The title of the novel.

19. The American myth.


[Audio] An Introduction (or Refresher) to Greek Mythology

This is an essay and audio recording by Brandon Monk.

When Alicia and I were in Greece we went into a little shop and were browsing for a gift for my mom. The attendant asked, in English, what we were doing while in Greece and I told her about our trip to Delphi and the Temple of Poseidon. She gave us a little chuckle. I think she was laughing at the fact that we were going to visit several sets of ruins during our trip. She’d never been to either spot despite living in Greece her entire life. If there’s a message there it’s either that I am far too interested in the archaeological sites or that you shouldn’t overlook the gems in your own backyard.

From the myths of the past we get a new appreciation for the present. I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to spend some time thinking about the nature of the myths of ancient cultures. If we’re lucky, and a trace of us remains, someday we may be thought of as an “ancient culture.” It’s humbling to know that you might not have all the answers. It’s educational to understand that our society is still struggling with many of the same problems that faced the citizens of Greece in 500 B.C.

Before Alicia and I left for our vacation I spent some time going over ancient Greek mythology because I knew we’d be visiting some archaeological sites in Greece. I re-read Mythology by Edith Hamilton and took out my old text-book from a mythology class I’d taken, Classical Mythology, Mark P.O. Morford and Robert J. Lenardon. To really get the stuff down before we left I decided to record a series of podcasts related to what I’d read. I want to put those up here over time and today I’m going to offer the first one to you. I think I have about six of these done and each one is at or less than 15 minutes long so you can listen to them pretty quickly.

In this podcast episode you’ll hear a 15 minute introduction to mythology. This will help set the stage for some later discussions. You can download the audio or access the audio at the bottom of this post.

The general content outline is as follows:

  • What is a myth?
  • What is a classical myth?
  • What is so special about Greek myths?
  • Myths aren’t religion.
  • 7 ways to read myths.

Why Can’t I Remember What I’ve Read?

This is an essay by Tucker Cummings.

Picture this: you’re out to dinner with friends, when the conversation turns to current events. You say, “Oh, I just read a fascinating article about that!” But then, you find yourself floundering when you try to remember the specific names of the people involved, or find that vital statistic trapped on the tip of your tongue.

You read the article with care just that afternoon, and you really enjoyed it. So why has all of the relevant information just slipped out of your memory? More importantly, what can you change about your reading habits to improve your reading recall?

Digital Media and Distractions

You’re not alone, particularly if you find that your mental recall is failing you after reading a story in a digital format. In one New York Times article, English professor Alan Liu argues that online reading environments can foster bad reading habits and poor mental focus.

On the one hand, reading in a digital environment can cause tunnel vision. You might click through to an article because of a keyword that interests you, and subsequently fail to grasp the sense of the article as a whole. Or, as Liu explains, you develop a habit of poor focus, caused by distractions on the margins of the page (like blogrolls or links to other sites, for example.)

In the same article, Sandra Aamodt, co-author of “Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life,” notes that multitasking on your computer can compromise your focus as well. One study she cites found that people working on computers switched tasks every three minutes, sometimes taking as long as 23 minutes to resume a previous task they had abandoned. In her opinion, “frequent task switching costs time and interferes with the concentration needed to think deeply about what you read.”

Unfamiliarity Breeds Contempt

Another issue that might be affecting your ability to recall information you’ve read is your level of familiarity with the subject in the first place.

Kate Garland, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Leicester, outlined one study where researchers decided to test whether print or computer information was the superior medium for learning. Students who had no familiarity with economics were presented with complex economics data. The study found that more repetition was required with computer reading to impart the same information. Not only that, but book readers seemed to digest the material more fully.

So for readers looking to improve their mental recall, it may make sense to read e-books when they are already somewhat familiar with the material, but splurge on a print edition when the information is complex and totally new to them.

Consider Your Fonts 

Numerous studies over the years have shown that the font you read in also has a measurable effect on your ability to recall information. Older adults are said to have a harder time comprehending passages which includes lots of italics or parenthetical statements. Even a difference of two font points can cause a memory meltdown, with one study finding that when faced with a choice of reading an article in 8 point or 10 point font, those who read the 8 point font read more slowly and had poorer recall.

The style of font matters a great deal as well, with some readers seeing as much as 9% improvement in recall when reading in a serif font, as opposed to a sans serif font. This seems to be because the markings on serif fonts can make rows of text more separated, much in the same way that underlining a row of text when studying can do. The next time you’re reading an article online, try copying it into Word and changing the font to improve your recall.


I had a French teacher who was fond of saying you had to repeat a vocab word 32 times before it would sink into your head. And you know what? He was right. Repetition might be as dull as dishwater, but it works. If you really want to improve your memory when it comes to what you’ve read, you need to start practicing your repetition skill. The more you force yourself to repeat a particular quote or statistic, the more likely it is to sink in (and the more likely you’ll recall similar info in the future, since you’re training your brain to expect these sorts of tests.)

Breathe Deep

Deep, slow breathing may be the most simple thing you can do to improve your memory of the written word. These cleansing breaths can trigger your brain to produce Theta waves, the same brain waves you produce during sleep. Putting yourself in this calm, relaxed mindset makes you more ready to process new information.

Hopefully, with practice and awareness, you will now be better equipped to retain those important facts, figures, and beautifully written passages from the next story you read.

What tricks do you use to commit things you’ve read to memory? Tell us in the comments below!


Tucker Cummings is the author of “The Strange Adventures of Margery Jones,” a microfiction serial about parallel universes. Her work has been featured on (where she took first prize in their Spooky-Kooky fiction competition),, and “The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities” (Harper Collins). Connect with her at or send a Tweet to @tuckercummings

Why I Don’t Collect Rare Books, Yet, Anyway

While in Paris, Alicia and I made it by the famous Shakespeare & Co. mentioned in Christina Hamlett’s wonderful guest post about browsing for books in Paris. I’d first heard about it in Hemingway’s Moveable Feast. Here, Hemingway borrowed English (language) books while he was living in writing in Paris. We had been hopping around, seeing sights from the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower. In my list of things to see in Paris, this was the first item on the list. I loved the store. It was particularly crowded because it had just started raining and people were taking cover inside to avoid the shower, but everyone was quiet and well-mannered. It’s easy to be that way when you’re in awe, I guess. Or maybe in the brotherhood/sisterhood of book lovers there is an unsurpassed bond which makes decent action the only action.

At one point, Alicia slipped out and went next door to the rare book room. She was trying to surprise me with a gift, I think. I clumsily stumbled over to the area where she was browsing and ruined the surprise. As we were talking about which book I might want I realized I don’t really have a desire to collect rare volumes. Despite how much I love books, I fall into the camp of rationalizing the purchase along these lines: for the cost of one rare book I could buy 5-10 or more paperbacks or e-books and they’ll mean just as much to me.

Now, I realize I am missing something that makes a collector want to collect anything, not just books. I collected baseball cards as a kid so I get the idea that there’s a nonutilitarian attachment that can come into play. I also get the idea that they can be investments if you research thoroughly and purchase smartly. I just couldn’t bring myself to start collecting books even though I was in the perfect place to start a collection.

I think the thing that had me scared is that I don’t want to make books so sacred a thing that I can’t enjoy them thoroughly. What I mean by that is that there is a chance that a thing can become too sacred, that it becomes more ritual than experience. I don’t want books to be that for me. I want books to be more like a good friend than a Catholic Cardinal. I want them to be more like a freshly baked loaf of bread than the Eucharist. I want them ultimately approachable even on the days when I don’t expect to be able to make myself presentable to the rest of the world. I want them available always and without an appointment. I want them impartial to me even if they have opinions of their own.

As we left I’ve reflected on that conversation quite a bit. I wonder if my attitudes will change over time. I wonder if I will, eventually, find a book that delves into the sacred. I can see my attitude changing somewhere down the road when my thoughts turn to what I’ll leave behind instead of what new adventure lies ahead. Maybe.

What are your thoughts? Do you collect books? Why or Why not?

Photo: Some rights reserved by Marcus Meissner.

Picture Books Can Enhance Adult Reading

This is an essay by Kendahl Cruver.

I was raised to have a life-long appreciation for so-called children’s picture books. My mom always loved to buy them, and it was clear that these purchases were as much for her as they were for me and my sister. She enjoyed all aspects of these treasured tomes, from the beauty of the illustrations to the poetic grace of the words. It was mesmerizing to listen to her talk about a particular phrase she relished or to watch her hand sweep across the page as she pointed out details in a picture.

As my sister and I grew older, and moved on to novels, my mom continued to occasionally buy picture books that caught her eye. When I started college, I did the same. It was our family tradition.

Favorite Titles

Just like mom, I think it’s a shame that picture books are solely marketed to children, because there are so many that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Anything by the prolific author Mo Willems entertains me, but his “Knuffle Bunny” books also move me personally. This series about a young girl’s love for her stuffed bunny are some of the most beautifully told tales of parenting I’ve ever read. They speak to the routines, frustration and elation of having children in a visceral, loving way. My daughter adores these books, but I feel like they have also been written for me.

“Owl Moon” by Jane Yoder is another skillfully-told tale with rich detail and a delicate sense of suspense. I giggle at the wit in the classic “Madeline” books by Ludwig Bemelmans. The sweet poetry of “Fredrick,” a story by Leo Lionni about a mouse who uses words to comfort his hungry, cold friends inspires me. I’ve got a board book edition of the rhythmically-told tale “Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb” by Al Perkins that always gets my blood pumping. It’s all great visual and verbal storytelling, suitable for any age.

The Family Tradition Continues

Now that I have kids of my own, my house is filled with dozens of beautiful picture books. Many of them are from my own childhood, the rest have been gradually accumulated via gifts, hand-me-downs and our own purchases. We also get a new stack of books from the library each week, and there are hundreds more to be explored.

When my daughters move on to more complex books, I will need to make space, but there will always be several favorite picture books on our shelves. These stories are an important part of my life. They started me on the path to more complex, expansive works, but they are much more than a means to an end, and always will be.

I would love it if you would share the titles of your favorite picture books in the comments. Are there any that you still like to read today? Have your children introduced you to new favorites or vice versa?


Kendahl Cruver is a writer and editor based in the Pacific Northwest. You can read more of her work at her website. Kendahl also writes a blog about classic Hollywood called Classic Movies (she has never had a knack for thinking up creative names).

Photo: Some rights reserved by montereypubliclibrary.