Posts Tagged ‘reading books as a child’

In a cultural moment when we are hearing nothing but bad news, we have reassuring evidence that the dumbing down of our culture is not inevitable.

~Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts

Good news from the National Endowment for the Arts. According to a report it released today, “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy,” fiction reading increased for adults for the first time after a quarter-century of decline.

A New York Times article about the report stated that for the first time since 1982, which is when the US Census Bureau started collecting data on public participation in the arts,

…the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months has risen.

Wooo-hooo! People are reading again.

Fiction accounts for the new growth in adult readers (unfortunately, reading of poetry and drama specifically has continued to decline) and online book reading has gone up (something I personally can’t get into). Also up is reading among younger adults (ages 18-24) and Hispanics. ¡Viva!

Mr. Gioia attributed the increase in part to programs the NEA has underwritten, such as the “Big Read,” which is a library partnership to encourage communities to champion particular books, like The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

He also attributed the increase to things like Oprah Winfrey’s book club and the phenomenon of young adult fiction like Harry Potter or the Twilight Series. (I read the first five Harry Potter books out loud to my daughters and then got hooked and had to finish up the last two on my own.)

Not to put too much of the credit on our shoulders, but I think blogs that encourage reading (see our post “Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read” as one of many examples, and “The World According To Mr. Schminda (et al.)” for a list of about 100 must-read classics) have also played a small but vital role. Just peruse some of the links on our blogroll and you’ll see several fellow bloggers reviewing classic works of fiction or otherwise touting books and reading. And these are just a handful of the thousands of literary-minded blogs that have cropped up over the past couple of years.

I know I’m doing my part in countering the dumbing down of America. Right now, I’m reading the first Stephenie Meyers book in the Twilight series outloud to my youngest (one could argue it’s not exactly high literature nor age-appropriate for a nine-year-old, but hey, it took us more than three months to finish The Hobbit last year, and already in four nights we’re one-fourth of the way through Twilight).

Then on my own, I’m reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. (And yes, it is hard to switch between a 17-year-old in Forks, Oregon Washington who’s falling in love with a vampire versus a pair of Jewish escapists/cartoonists in 1930s Prague and Brooklyn.)

What about you? What book or books are you reading in this new year, and have you consumed more fiction of late than in the past? If so, what has compelled you read more?

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We weren’t readers in my family. Well, except Dad. He read books like In Cold Blood and Hawaii (which, at 937 pages, was too big for me to ever want to take on). Mom read The National Enquirer.

Why, then, is it so hard to come up with my list of all the books I’ve loved before…who traveled in and out my door…?? Probably because I’m not talking just the books I’ve loved before. I’m having to come up with a list of the ones that had the most impact on my life.

Well, here goes:

  1. There’s the small red book of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales that Aunt Sophie gave me when I was born. It sat in my room lonely and mostly unread. I don’t ever recall anyone reading a book out loud to me, so where I got my love of books from, I don’t know. But I have to imagine that somehow this little book of mostly scary fairy tales affected me, most likely through osmosis, and taught me something about the power of story.
  2. Naked Came I by David Weiss. Another book I never read, but it sat on Dad’s bookshelf in the den. I remember always wondering what it was about. If nothing else, this book awoke in me a desire to read (even if it was only to discover who in the book was naked and why).
  3. My Summer Diary, author unknown, published by Scholastic Books. Gift at age 12 from one of my older sisters. Started me writing.
  4. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Seventh grade, Miss Fiske, Valley High School. My first real inkling of what I was up against being female.
  5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tenth grade, Mrs. Rhodes, Valley High School. She cried through most of it, insisted the hobbits were real (can’t you see them?!?), and much as I was embarrassed for her (because in tenth grade you’re embarrassed by every nothing much less a teacher weeping in front of the entire class), she showed me that books were magic.
  6. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. Everyone in my little gang of high school “heads” read it and passed it around. We hung out at an abandoned corral-slash-slaughterhouse near the river (at least, we called it a slaughterhouse for dramatic effect) getting stoned and freaking ourselves out about Charles Manson.
  7. Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. Read it as an undergraduate at UNM. That whole experience–the book, the author, Chicano Studies, studying at the university–opened my eyes to the beauty and pride of being Chicana. 
  8. Cien Anos de Soledad by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I bought this book–the Spanish version–when I moved to Spain in 1986. It took me almost a year to read it. Then I came back to the U.S. , read the English version, fell in love with magical realism and everything else by Garcia Marquez (but especially Love in the Time of Cholera). 
  9. Watership Down by Richard Adam. I read this book for the first time recently and out loud to Dee. We both loved it. It had an impact because: one, she still loves for me to read out loud to her; two, what beautiful prose, especially descriptions of nature; and three, hours of lying in bed being present with my daughter.
  10. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. Elizabeth reminded me about this one. Explained why growing up was so painful.

Others I loved: Dona Flor and her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado, The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, In the Time of the Butterflies and How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, In Cold Blood and To Kill A Mockingbird, Unless by Carol Shields, and the list goes on. Oh, I know I’ve not separated out fiction and non-fiction, but a memoir that first made me fall in love with the genre: Looking for Mary by Beverly Donofrio.

 -from Topic post: Ten Slam Dunks.

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