Coming across an article by Will Schwalbe “The need to read” published in The Wall Street Journal late last year (November 25, 2016) I knew I’d hit a powerful article.
The start of his article tells the simple story of a grandmother desperately trying to connect with her grandson who lives far away from her home in Florida. When she asked the usual kinds of questions about school and his day during their phone conversations, his auto reply of ‘fine’ or ‘nothing’ led the conversation nowhere. So when she asked an alternate question: ‘What are you reading?’ and he replied “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, the grandmother decided to get hold of a copy and read it in the hope of using this as a springboard for conversation during their next phone conversation.
To her delight, it worked!
The book helped this grandmother cut through the superficialities of phone chat and engage her grandson on the most important questions that humans face about survival and destruction and loyalty and betrayal and good and evil, and about politics as well. Now her grandson couldn’t wait to talk to her when she called—to tell her where he was, to find out where she was and to speculate about what would happen next.
While flagging the danger to our well being and our lives by the constant connectivity enabled today by the Internet, Schwalbe discusses the power of reading. In short he notes that books are able to
- create connections between people
- create connections between people and events
- enable the reader to hear the expression of an individual/group of individuals
While recognizing that reading is a solitary activity, Schwalbe emphasizes that books creates connections with others in a most powerful way.
Books ….. speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. And they demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s. You can rant against a book, scribble in the margin or even chuck it out the window. Still, you won’t change the words on the page.
The technology of a book is genius: The order of the words is fixed, whether on the page or on the screen, but the speed at which you read them is entirely up to you. Sure, this allows you to skip ahead and jump around. But it also allows you to slow down, savor and ponder.
If you have the chance to read Schwalbe’s full article in The Wall Street Journal, do. It is a powerful treatise for the power of reading.
Working with young adults in school libraries over many years, I repeatedly tell my students how much they will gain from reading. Apart from the impact reading will have on their own ability to express themselves verbally and in writing, they will get to experience so much that they may never otherwise be able to explore: history, culture, social issues, love, horror, fantasy, art, passion ….. indeed all that life has to offer.
Read a book ….. learn about the world”
I tell them. This has forever been the mantra I’ve shared with all the kids I’ve worked with in both the classroom and in the world of school libraries.