Friday, February 27, 2015

Intentional Reading

For a number of years now, I've embraced the word intentional. Until I realized the word was what drove me in my activities, I just did my daily tasks with intention and never thought anything about it. 

After homeschooling for twenty years and moving into a traditional classroom as a middle/upper school teacher, I recognized the need to embrace that word intentional with my job in the classroom. The word drove me. I was intentional, or aimed to be, about every single thought and action as I approached my job. I used that word while leading the few professional development meeting we had. In my opinion, intentional is the key to doing a job well, whatever that job may be. (I nod now when I hear that the head of school where I last worked uses the word intentional frequently. I don't know whether that came from me or elsewhere, but doing a job with intention should be encouraged.) 

So, if you are not intentional about cleaning a toilet, it will likely not be cleaned that well. If you are intentional about a student learning the countries of Europe, you as a teacher will figure out ways to help the student learn them. Likewise, if you are intentional about reading, you will plan ways to make room for reading, either planning time to read, or planning what to read, or both. 

Intention and planning go hand in hand. If I were not intentional about what I read, I would walk to my stuffed shelves and just pull out any book to read. But, I've never been like that. I like to plan. I like to make lists. And I daresay that those of you who are listmakers are ones who get much done throughout the day because you work with intention. Have you ever thought about reading with intention though? (A helpful list of things can be found here.)

Intentional reading can take several directions. Maybe you intend to read every book in a particular series such as the Harry Potter books, the Hunger Games series, or O'Brian's Aubrey and Maurin British naval books. Or maybe you intend to read every book written by a particular author like Pat Conroy, Alexander McCall Smith, or Gladys Taber. Another aim at intention could be to read all the Pulitzer prize or Newbery award books. Or maybe you have another take on intention like I do. 

Reading books from my own bookshelves is my overall goal of intentional reading. If I live twenty more years with enough eyesight and health to read consistently, I might come close to reading through my bookshelves. That's a stretch of the word might, too. Specifically, my intentional reading involves regularly reading different genres. Since I'm an avid listmaker, I've shelved my books according to topic. I have shelves for history, science, particular authors, particular countries, fluff fiction / beach reading, biography, Christianity, classic fiction, and books about books. Plus, I have a list of audiobooks I download from the library. It is from those "lists" or shelves that I rotate my reading. 

I also challenge myself in the cyber-presence of others through seasonal reading challenges. To choose books for that, I go through the shelves and pull a few books from some of the shelves so that my reading is varied for that challenge. I know myself well enough that I fear I could easily let myself fall into a pit of reading only fluff fiction just like one can fall into the pit of eating fast food for (unlikely and unhealthy) sustenance. I have a particular shelf that books accumulate for the next challenge. The shelf for the Spring Reading Challenge is pictured here, minus the book Gilead. The different genres range from juvenile historical fiction [Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons (Rinaldi)], history and biography [Unbroken (Hillenbrand), The Revolutionary Swamp Fox (Bodie), the Lewis & Clark books (Hamilton)]; fluff fiction [A Week in Winter (Binchy)]; notable fiction [Gone With the Wind (Mitchell), Crossing to Safety (Stegner)]; and reading through the works of a particular author [My Losing Season (Conroy)]. I have a number of audiobooks that are loaded on my iPod to listen while tasking and walking. When I finish a book, I add it to or mark it "read" on my Goodreads page after I finish it. 

If you would like to read with more intention, think about joining us for the Spring Reading Challenge through May. Just three months. If you are just starting out, don't over-think your intentions and get discouraged; pick only three to six books. When finished, pick another until the end of the challenge. If you do join us and also have a Facebook account, there is a private Facebook group you can be part of to share quotes and encouragement,  or ask questions. It's also a quick place to list your finished book. Many of us use Goodreads to keep track of our books to read and those read. Goodreads allows for you to virtually shelve your books anyway that's helpful to you. If you haven't already and would like to participate in the Spring Reading Challenge, please post that in a comment, and I will follow up with you.

Press on with intentional reading!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Good sentences, beautiful images

I do love a well-constructed sentence that leads to a beautiful image in my mind. Thus I spoke aloud as I indulged in James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small for re-read after twenty-some years. 

Back in the 1980s, I read all of the books and have watched all of the television episodes produced by the BBC. I rarely will re-read or re-watch anything, but Herriot's books are different for me. I enjoy all over again a quietude of spirit, no matter what might be wrong with the world and me. 

Who cannot relish just these two quotes, of which, no doubt, I will add more?
Darrowby didn't get much space in the guide books but when it was mentioned it was described as a grey little town on the river Darrow with a cobbled market place and little of interest except its two ancient bridges. But when you looked at it, its setting was beautiful on the pebbly river where the houses clustered thickly and straggled unevenly along the lower slopes of Herne Fell. Everywhere in Darrowby, in the streets, through the windows of the houses you could see the Fell rearing its calm, green bulk more than two thousand feet above the huddled roofs
Many of the bottles were beautifully shaped, with heavy glass stoppers and their Latin names cut deeply into their sides; names familiar to physicians for centuries, gathering fables through the years.
Yes, James Herriot, pen name of James Alfred Wight, not only was a successful Yorkshire country vet for many years, he was able to chronicle details of his world into well-crafted stories that continue to be a joy to read.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Responses to "12 Reasons Why You Should Read at least 12 Books This Year"

If you know me, you know I'm a major advocate for reading. Books have come to mean a lot to me even though I did not grow up a reader. So, I enjoy good articles that advocate for reading and like to push those along to others.

Recently, the article "12 Reasons Why You Should Read at least 12 Books This Year" was circulating on the Internet. It encourages students in school to read beyond classroom requirements. But this article is good for anyone; all of us are busy with our whatevers, though we may not be in school. These reasons apply to everyone.

I've listed those twelve reasons in boldface and added my own two cents worth.  

1. Reading is good for your brain. Who isn't interested in something good for our brains, especially as we age into the fifty and sixth decades? Reading helps me focus and remember the storyline. It offers me new words to look up. And it offers conversation starters with my husband and close friends. 
2. Reading introduces you to new ideas and invites you to solve problems. This is especially true of mystery books, as the author points out. It's also true as you become absorbed with the story and cannot help but try to predict the outcome.
3. Reading makes you a better writer. I don't aspire to even be a writer, but I do marvel at good writers who use their techniques and vocabularies to turn a phrase and more. A recent book I read did this very thing:  Belong to Me (Santos). The metaphors she used were wonderful, and her descriptions were excellent.
4. Reading improves your conversational skills. I struggle with oral conversational skill. Often, my mind is still forming a response long after the conversation has ended. I love talking about books but I think I can write deeper and broader about them sometimes than I can talk about them. 
5. Reading strengthens worldview and convictions. Yes, it does. And when I read about an opposing worldview, I learn small ways in which others think. This is important to me to not just have a conviction, but also try to understand why someone else has a differing one. Many parts of a worldview are absolutes, but that doesn't mean everything is correct. We often are taught some viewpoint is absolute only to find years later that it is not necessarily so. Especially if it's not obviously based on Scripture.
6. Reading improves your self-discipline and consistency.  As I age, I realize my need for self-discipline and focus. I strive to be intentional in my reading.
7. Reading increases your knowledge of history. One reason I like historical fiction is because the story generated by the author using real historical events gives me the scaffolding I need to remember the history. When I taught, I always encouraged students to read good historical fiction. And I still like to read it myself. When I want to learn about new-to-me culture, vastly different from my own, historical fiction is always my introduction.
8. Reading increases cultural knowledge (without an expensive plane flight). Prior to and after any of our travels, I try to read something written by an author of that place. Not only do I expand my knowledge of the culture, I appreciate the similarities and differences more.
9. Reading challenges your imagination. Always and forever! Everyone who reads imagines the visual in his mind. Upon seeing the movies on The Hobbit, I found how vastly different Peter Jackson's imagination was from my own. Same story, different pictures. And usually, I'm fonder of my own images than someone else's.
10. Reading increases your skill in an area of interest. What is your experience with this? Mine has been broad. Just looking at the books on my shelves and remembering the books that I'm moved on to someone else's shelves, I see ones about family and schedules and raising children, basics of homeschooling and all manner of subject areas there, animal husbandry, farming, gardening, teaching, to name some.
11. Reading inspires you. One of the most inspiring books I've ever read was just last year, My Reading Life by Pat Conroy. It actually has changed books on my shelves for me. I've listened to the audio (and Conroy reads it -- double treat) about four times so far. He talks about growing up reading and how that led to significant books in his life. It is truly an inspiring book.
12. Reading reduces stress. I love to get lost in a book and be sorry when I turn the last page.  Reading is relaxing and such a treat to have unbroken amounts of time to indulge.

The author of the article goes on to list several "Tips to get you started." Suggestions include becoming a member of Goodreads where you can keep tract of your books read and want to read; finding a reading buddy, which is the point of many reading challenges around; and actually planning reading to make it a habit. One of the things that Pat Conroy, mentioned above, has done for years is read 250 pages per day. That goal is completely inaccessible ever for me, but it is his goal and he has become a better reader and writer because of it. One of my goals is to read intentionally, that is, choosing ahead of time particular books to read in a given three month period. I like to include biography, young adult, quality literature, history and/or science, and some fluff-fiction. 
Do you have reading goals? Do you organize your reading pursuits? What are your reading goals?