Archive for August, 2010

A Grab-Bag of Good Book News

August 22, 2010

Ever since the era of Slow Reading came along, sometime last Tuesday, readers from all over have been sending me the news.  Today, I open the ever-expanding goody bag to share a few shiny baubles with you.

Books help kids do better on bubble tests. It’s not every day that I like what I read in columns by David Brooks.  Still, he’s always smart and worth a read, and this time he brings good news.  Apparently, two recent studies confirm what book lovers already know.  In the first one, a bunch of underprivileged kids each got to choose 12 free books to read over the summer, and surprise, surprise, they ended up with higher reading scores than peers who didn’t get books.  Personally I would have dispensed with the study and just given every child a bag full of books.

The second study actually surprised me.  It tracked 500,000 kids in grades 5-8, and found that kids with high-speed internet at home are getting lower scores on math and reading tests.   That’s a lot of kids logging a lot of hours not reading books.

Who Needs a Monitor When You’ve Got Books on the School Bus? Remember those mornings on a school bus crammed full of laughing, screaming kids throwing sandwiches and hitting each other over the head?  Well, it never happens on one school bus in Florida. The driver Miss Kookyi (aka Rosemary Peterson) found a way to quiet her little charges: give them books.  They choose their own books and read all the way to school, then write book reports for prizes.   The competition is fierce, and every kid’s a winner.  I don’t know if anyone’s given Miss Kookyi a prize yet, but surely she deserves one.

Convicted Criminals Get Reading Time Instead of Jail. Judges in eight states now have an alternative to sending offenders to prison.   Instead, they put books in their hands and send them to reading groups.  I don’t know about you, but this makes my heart leap up.  Some participants have never read a book before, and through reading and discussion, their lives really do change. The program more than halves the rate of recidivism, and compared to the cost of throwing people in jail, it’s virtually free.  Let’s send a shout of thanks to the program that makes it possible: “Changing Lives Through Literature.”

And finally comes this little goody:

Study Hall for Grown-Ups. If you’re ever in Seattle on a lovely Wednesday evening, be sure to drop by the Fireside Room in the Sorrento Hotel.  It’s a reading party.   The place fills to the rafters with people who bring their books, sink down into posh chairs amid the velvet drapes, and proceed to read.  Silently, together.  There are waiters.  Lattes.  Adult beverages.  Snacks.   This may be the best book event ever.  And it happens every week.

So there you have a taste of what’s in the treasure box.  If we had to sum it up, we would say simply, Keep Reading.  Give Books to Kids.  To Criminals.  To Seattle-ites.  In short, to people everywhere and of all ages with nothing better to do, because, really.  IS there anything better?

Keep sending me the good news from wherever you are.

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William Least Heat-Moon Goes on a Mosey for Quoz

August 13, 2010

If you like your travels interesting and your books the best kind of slow, then ramble on out to find a copy of Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey. William Least Heat-Moon, who’s driven back roads and side roads and everything but Interstate roads for decades, may be the best traveling companion one could want.   What could be better on a mosey than the company of a well-read, curious, funny and brilliant raconteur?

A mosey, as you know, is a leisurely walk, and even though Heat-Moon travels mostly by car, the thing is, he’s not in a hurry.   Instead, he’s in search of quoz, defined as anything “strange, incongruous or peculiar.”   Quoz-finding comes easy if you know where to look, and Heat-Moon knows: off the main roads and in places that haven’t been mowed down by the uniformity, as he puts it, of “crapulent consumerism.”  In short, he seeks out locales with character.  And characters. (more…)

How to Talk About a Pie You Haven’t Eaten, or Why Read a Book?

August 3, 2010

This week, we contemplate M. Pierre Bayard’s book How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. The argument, as I understand it, is that deep reading is passé.  You know, reading sentences, turning pages, dwelling in the life a book from beginning to end…waste of time.  Instead, M. Bayard promotes faking it.  You read a review or two, perhaps you even skim the cover or first page, you snatch a few bon mots out of the ether (net), and voilà. You can smartly join the conversation at a cocktail party.

I think I could use a martini.

Intellectual subterfuge is hardly new.  In fact, M. Bayard’s particular genius may be that he’s grabbed the copyright on skills known to undergraduates everywhere.  Surely even a few of them (not any that I know) would even agree with Bayard’s proposition that “it is sometimes easier to do justice to a book if you haven’t read it in its entirety–or even opened it.”

In just this way, I hope to do justice to M. Bayard’s book.

Now I will grant that not every book is worth reading.  Not every book is even a book.  (I hear a certain Bieber has just signed a deal for his “memoirs”).  But I’m not quite sure the cocktail party standard will quite do it for me.

Let’s say, for example, that we substitute “eating” for “reading,” and “pie” for “book.”  So, the proposition becomes, “Eating pie is passé.  Instead, we’ll read a description of a pie, just enough to fake out our friends.”

Now this will work, no doubt.  You can go to your next dinner party and talk smartly about pies you have known.  Just to give you some material, here’s this:

  • It was peach, homemade, filled with sweet, juicy ripe Freestone peaches I picked at the local orchard.  I made the crust with two sticks of butter, put lots of cinnamon  in the peaches.  You should have smelled the house while it baked: all that hot buttery crust, bubbling peaches, warm cinnamon.  And the taste…mon dieu.  We ate it warm, a scoop of slow-churned vanilla ice cream melting slowly on top.

Now I ask you, would you rather read the Cliff’s Notes about pie?  Or eat the pie?