Why Reading Should Be a Shared Activity

why you should read together

This essay was written by Julie Bates.

Why Share Reading?

Reading is a one person activity – right? Well, that depends.

Sometimes reading can be a wonderful escape from the real world and the tensions that send you seeking a universe far, far away. Other times nothing enriches the experience of a good read than sharing it with another.  Good shared reads allow you to share the wonder of exploring alien worlds, compare notes on exotic recipes or decide if the book the media suddenly adores is worth picking up or is exponentially overrated.

It Builds Intimacy

My husband and I read each other’s books. He’s learned to appreciate my eclectic taste in fiction and I appreciate his more scholarly interests.  We’ve had some wonderful discussions surrounding the plot of whatever book he has finished after me. Confession here – I read fast, and I tend to stay up late for a good story. He appreciates the need for eight or more hours of snoozing.

We’ve tried exotic foods read about in books and looked up places on the internet. I remember us looking at Turkey’s Hagia Sophia museum online after reading a richly textured description of it in Anne Perry’s The Sheen on the Silk.

You can partially quote a really good line and receive a grin of acknowledgement from your significant other while leaving others baffled. Jokes, inside information, favorite characters become fodder for your moments together.

Good reads promote good dialogue. We’ve discussed the plausibility of whodunnits, physics (which he understood and I didn’t and needed some explanations) and whether or not we would try recipe X. Confession here – I read the cookbooks. He agrees to be a guinea pig as long as I don’t get too weird. He now agrees that kale can be made edible.

Your Children Benefit

Everyone wants their kid to be smart right? Everyone wants that intimate connection that comes from shared moments. Reading builds that seamlessly. From the moment my son was born, my husband and I read to him. We read Dr. Seuss, We read Magic Tree House and the entire Little House on the Prairie Series.

It was the lifesaving component of the nighttime ritual. You know, the one where you say it’s bedtime and your kid replies in that whiny, tired voice, “I’m not sleepy,”  initiating bedtime guerrilla warfare.

Plunking a tired, cranky kid in bed doesn’t work. I’ve tried it, got the tee shirt and been back in his room 3 million times because, “I can’t sleep, I need water, it’s dark and I hear a weird noise.”   What saved my sanity, such as it existed, were books.   Bedtime was when we would pick a book, he would lie in bed and I or my husband would read, usually a chapter or less if he dropped off.

I read to my child until he took the book (Despereaux) out of my hands and said “I want to read it for myself!”  He went on to read all the Harry Potter books before fifth grade only to be bummed to discover he could not get AR (Advanced Reader) points, because all but the first volume are considered middle school books.  I discovered we could talk about The Lord of the Rings as well as Hatchet.

Even now that he is a teen, we talk books. We don’t always have the same taste. I’m not into Dr. Who, and he doesn’t really enjoy some of the history I read, but we still have wonderful, literate discussions born out of all the books we read together.

Shared reading experience opens your mind

I belong to a reading group. A lot of what is read is philosophy. which is not my area of expertise. Some of these individuals started talking about what these theories meant, and my mind was blown. What seemed simple on the printed page had interpretations that had never occurred to me.

Listening to my friends discuss subjects ranging from physics to religion made me contemplate deeper meanings that I normally wouldn’t have.  They made me think rather than blindly accept what was on the page. While I will never be a debater, I have benefited from being exposed to many points of view. Who doesn’t want to expand their mind?

Good books increase friendships

I’ve had lovely discussions about books with people I’ve never met before. One of us would see the other with a book and comment about it and conversation would ensue.

Sometimes I’ve had someone say, “If you like this author, try so-and-so.”  Scribbling down the name, I’ve gone to my local library and discovered a brand new read, which I could then share with someone else.

Good books are contagious.

So why share what you’re reading?

If all the reasons I’ve already stated are not enough, think about what it does for you.  You have something to share – your opinion. Some reads inspire passion, others curiosity, others are so excruciatingly bad, we never finish, but they all affect us in some way.

Why not share that feeling? Not everyone will want to listen, but someone will. That could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

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Julie Bates is a writer and former teacher living in North Carolina. She likes to read anything that is well written, entertaining or thought provoking.

For further reading on making reading a shared activity please consider:  Reading and Writing in Relationships: How Partners Encourage Learning and Enjoyment ; How Reading Can Improve Your Love Life.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Michael Bentley.

Atypical Protagonists: Six Anti-Heroes From Great Works of Fiction

This essay was written by Chris Ciolli.

Everyone loves a hero. Except when we don’t.

Because let’s face it, sometimes heroes are hard to take. In a less-than-perfect world full of less-than-perfect people where right and wrong exist among so many shades of gray, sometimes traditionally heroic protagonists fall flat, even when they triumph against their “evil” foes.

That’s where anti-heroes come in. With fewer redeeming attributes and more Achilles heels than your typical protagonist, anti-heroes show readers another side of human character, however disagreeable.  Inspiring reactions ranging from sympathy to disgust, literary anti-heroes figure among the world’s most famous literary icons.

Who could forget the emotionally fragile but patently obnoxious Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye or creepy but strangely vulnerable Humbert Humbert in Lolita? If nothing else, such characters serve to remind us that it doesn’t take a good guy to go down in history, literary or otherwise.

Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Scarlett is much lauded as a spunky survivor, and a strong female protagonist by a lot of people who didn’t read the book, or don’t remember her racism, greed or generally thoughtless self-serving antics very well. Let’s face it; she’s exactly the type of ambitious, argumentative and social-ladder-climbing woman that most of us love to hate.

Anything goes to further her ends. Pursuing a married man while married herself, stealing her sister’s intended, anything goes when it serves her purposes.

Ignatius in A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

By far one of the most unlikeable book characters I’ve ever read about, Ignatius J. Reilly is a masterfully written, if hard to stomach anti-hero. He’s intelligent and educated but lazy and unmotivated, a sweaty thirty-year-old who hides from his numerous phobias in his room and takes advantage of his mother’s goodwill.

Ignatius is arrogant and judgmental and if you can’t laugh at his antics, this book is not for you because more often than not he’s too loathsome for words. Cruel, arrogant, and judgmental on a regular basis, Ignatius accepts no responsibility for his actions or personality. There’s always someone or something else to blame.

Disclaimer: Despite the fact that A Confederacy of Dunces is set in my favorite U.S. city (New Orleans) and won a Pulitzer, I was so revolted by Ignatius that I couldn’t even laugh at the scathing satire and comedy of errors that make the book shine for so many other readers.

Grendel in Grendel by John Gardner

In this retelling of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, monster Grendel is the star. Throughout the book, Grendel whines about…. ahem, reflects on the meaning of life, the nature of good and evil, and the power of literature and myth.

Somehow, despite his bad-humor, grouchiness, not to mention murderous and people-eating behavior, Grendel is a sympathetic anti-hero. We feel bad for him. He was raised by monsters, (okay, his mother) but somehow developed the power of speech. Which is all but useless, as his mother is mute and humans want nothing to do with him. Poor, lonely Grendel, on some occasions admiring the humans from afar, and still others killing and eating them.

Gatsby in the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

All that glitters isn’t gold in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece, and the book’s namesake, Jay Gatsby is far from admirable, despite his great wealth.  Of course the great majority of Fitzgerald’s cast of flappers and their male companions are varying degrees of despicable.

Jay Gatsby is the dark side of the excess of the Roaring Twenties personified. After making his fortune bootlegging, this anti-hero sets out to spend it on lavish get-togethers to impress a vapid and selfish woman (Daisy Buchanan) who is already married to someone else. Even so, Gatsby remains something of a mystery, and despite his many flaws, is much easier to like than Daisy’s husband Tom, or Daisy herself.

Lázaro in Lazarillo de Tormes by Anonymous

In this Spanish picaresque classic by an unknown author, Lázaro is born into a poor family and learns to wheel and deal to support himself from a young age.  Banned for a time during the Spanish Inquisition and later allowed to circulate in a censored version, the book describes the title character’s misadventures in the employ of a cast of outwardly respectable but corrupt masters that include a blind man, a priest, a squire and a friar, among others.  In many ways a victim of his circumstances, Lázaro learns the hard way that to survive, he will have to abandon any vestige of honor, scruples or respectability.

Narrator in Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

The female narrator in Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters is hard to sympathize with and even harder to trust, no matter how badly her face has been disfigured or how many ridiculous identities she takes on (Daisy St. Patience, really?). Instead of understanding her parents’ grief when they find out her brother died from AIDS, she acts out for attention.  Even after her face is shot off, she plays fast and loose with the lives of others, stealing and taking drugs, setting fire to houses, and doing as she pleases with no regard for the consequences.

Note: I read Invisible Monsters, not the newer Invisible Monsters Remix, which is said to be closer to the author’s original intentions for the book.

As readers, writers, and human beings, we are constantly surrounded by heroes and anti-heroes alike. For few people are purely one or the other. Thankfully most of us are quite the mix, only occasionally embodying either extreme.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Marya

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.

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.

How Do You Imagine Walt Whitman Pitched Leaves of Grass?

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”

“I exist as I am, that is enough.”

“I tramp a perpetual journey.” ― Walt Whitman

Today, Walt Whitman is an American literary icon. He is, perhaps, the greatest American writer. His voice is identified as uniquely American. Inspiring any number of writers since his passing, he is generally considered the father of truly American literature. So, he must have had an easy time during his life, right? Admired for his genius, wealthy beyond measure, able to hold his head up high in any American establishment, right? This couldn’t be more wrong. Whitman was ridiculed, criticized, and struggled financially for much of his life. Without the support of a publishing house he was left to fund and sell his own art door to door.

What do we think we know? Source: Callow, Philip. From Noon to Starry Night: A Life of Walt Whitman. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992.

Whitman continued to revise and edit Leaves of Grass until his death.

Whitman’s brother didn’t think Leaves of Grass was worth reading.

Whitman paid for the publication of the first edition of Leaves of Grass himself.

Whitman didn’t even really list himself as the author in the first printings.

Whitman started with only 795 copies and grew from there.

Whitman found one proponent in Ralph Waldo Emerson and that helped his efforts to spread the work.

Whitman’s father died with the book being called trashy and obscene and his son being called pretentious.

The work was, at first, unable to support itself, let alone Whitman.

Without a publisher and the backing a publishing house could provide a new author, Whitman had to print and pitch his work to influential individuals. He had some success in pitching the work to Emerson which surely bolstered his confidence, but mainstream acceptance would not come until much later in Whitman’s life. The work was ahead of its time and was creating a voice that had never existed before. The American poetic voice. For that reason, Whitman was all at once writer, publisher, the marketing department, and, at times, a door to door salesman for Leaves of Grass.

How do you imagine Walt Whitman pitched Leaves of Grass?

He must have read it out loud.

He must have invited people to buy it and read it.

He gave free copies to influential readers.

He revised it repeatedly.

He talked about it to anyone that would listen.

He tried to enlist help from publishing houses.

Leaves of Grass was Whitman’s life work. He had poured his entire energy and knowledge into it. It was not well received by all in the beginning. Every author must accept the possibility of rejection and most face real rejection at some point in their career. Even Whitman’s genius could not avoid this fate.

How do you think Walt Whitman dealt with rejection?

Did he lay awake at night, unable to sleep, wondering why he had failed?

Did he hide his face after particularly harsh criticism came out against his work?

Did he imagine the financial ruin that was inevitable if his work did not succeed?

The work received revisions, but Whitman never abandoned the idea. He never gave up his dream of having the work distributed and read.

Eventually…

The literary critic, Harold Bloom wrote, as the introduction for the 150th anniversary of Leaves of Grass:

If you are American, then Walt Whitman is your imaginative father and mother, even if, like myself, you have never composed a line of verse. You can nominate a fair number of literary works as candidates for the secular Scripture of the United States. They might include Melville’s Moby-Dick, Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Emerson’s two series of Essays and The Conduct of Life. None of those, not even Emerson’s, are as central as the first edition of Leaves of Grass. Bloom, Harold. Introduction to Leaves of Grass. Penguin Classics, 2005.

Success was a life time coming.

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A brief plug: Inspired by the work of Walt Whitman, I’m on the Board and am a founding member for a 501(c)(3) called the Walt Whitman Foundation. You can learn more here.

Photo: Some rights reserved by marcelo noah

Finally, I would love to hear how you, personally, imagine Walt Whitman pitched Leaves of Grass? Leave me a note in the comments.