Wednesday, November 26, 2014
In the past I have mentioned that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. For me it is not the food that comes foremost in my mind. Even though I enjoy the turkey, my wife’s garlic ranch mashed potatoes and pie. The importance of being thankful is what has been most important in my thinking of the holiday. This year with one goal of finishing my book on reading (which is a goal I am still struggling with), I thought I should share why as a Bookhead, I am thankful for books and reading. I see reading as an important way to impact changes in the mind which of course affects our living. That is the aim is Living More Than OK -- the title of my blog. A reminder of continual growth on our life journey.
Dr. Edmond Huey in the book, The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading (1915), speaks of the unique development of reading through history. His research revealed how in the study of the eyes of those reading, it is not a natural aspect of human development. Early humankind passed information through oral tradition and storytelling. Reading takes work and effort and had to be taught and developed. As reading became habit new thought patterns developed. He mentions “ Among early peoples the mystery of reading naturally , led to reverence for the printed word and book and for reading and the reader. Reading became a holy office, performed by individuals who possessed divine powers, and the book became a fetish.” (Huey. p. 2). Reading was for a selected few until the invention of the printing press. Huey describes a wonder filled description of reading, to him it is “a wonderful process by which our thoughts and thought-wanderings to the finest shades of detail, the play of our inmost feelings and desires and will, the subtle image of the innermost that we are, are reflected from us to another soul who reads us through our book. (p. 6). What a powerful picture of the importance of reading and books. The thought that comes to my mind is of students I have had who are reading books that had movies made from them. Most of the time the student would tell me the book was better as there were more details in the book. That is what Huey is getting at with the phrase, “… finest shades of detail….”.
It is the power of reading I find in Dr. Huey’s research on reading that makes me thankful that my mother when I was young had me be involved in the Summer reading programs at my hometown library in Barberton, Ohio. I am also thankful my third grade teacher, Verna Clifford, read to us regularly in class, which helped fan the flames of enjoying reading. Books have been companions and advisors in my life over the years. Through times of depression when I secluded myself in my apartment in Chicago, it was books that would impact my mind back to reality. It was through books such as the Bible, the works of C.S. Lewis, Dr. Victor Frankl, Dr. William Glasser and others that helped me. So I have many reasons to be thankful for books and reading.
I have also been thankful for those who promote reading and books. Recently the author, James Patterson has had an emphasis on saving books that I would encourage all readers to be a part of. Underneath the reflection I have a link to his salon.com column where he is interviewed on his call to arms to promote reading and books. I wish more authors would join him in this. He rightly points out that our culture by moving away from reading is dumbing down. I have had some students at the college who are honest with me on the topic of reading. They have shared that they see the rise in just watching videos and video gaming is making their minds lazy so they don’t want to do the hard work of reading college level material. What I like about the Patterson interview, and I do hope you will click on the link and take the few minutes to read it, as he is saying we can reverse the trend. He speaks as well how fewer people go to bookstores and how there are fewer bookstores in the country which I also believe effects the lower emphasis on reading in society.
With Christmas nearing I would encourage you to bypass doing your book buying on Amazon. How about going to a bookstore in your area? Go to a Barnes & Noble, or another bookstore of choice. Here is Texas they have Hastings and some towns still have independent bookstores. Some people like Half Price bookstores. Go in and touch the books and flip through the books. There is nothing more personal than a gift of a book that has been chosen particularly for that individual on your gift list. Then of course get a book for yourself.
The day after I thought of writing about being thankful for books and reading, I came across on the Barnes and Noble book blog a post about being thankful for books by Ginni Chen. I list the link under the reflection. Do take the time to read her blogpost as it is an enjoyable read that will make you think of why you are thankful for books. Take time this Thanksgiving to be thankful and to do some personal reading.
Reflection - Who influenced your reading desire or habits? What is your fondest memories of book reading? What can you do to encourage reading just as author James Patterson is trying to get more people involved in reading?
Patterson on saving books
15 Reasons to be Thankful for books Barnes and Noble book blog by Ginni Chen
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Last week while I was at the Texas Counseling Association conference in Dallas, Texas, my wife, daughter and I went to hear the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. They were performing Concerto in E minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 85 by English composer Edward Elgar. They also performed Pavane, Op. 50 and Requiem, Op. 48 by French Composer Gabriel Faure’. I had never heard of these composers so we attended the lecture prior to the performance to learn more about the composers. I highly recommend taking advantage of any community lectures before a classical performance as the information adds to the enjoyment of the performing of the musical works.
With Edward Elgar I was surprised that I was familiar with one of his works. Matter of fact anyone who has graduated would be familiar with his Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 that is played as a march at most high school and university graduations. His cello concerto was composed in his later years. It is a dark emotional work reflecting the mindset of Elgar, who had become disillusioned like many after WWI with the atrocities of mass killings and mustard gas killings. Also his wife that he loved dearly was gravely ill and he was facing illness as well. The program listed a quote from a letter he wrote that showed Elgar’s mindset, “Everything good and nice and clean is far away never to return.”
Knowing what his mindset was, I was setting up myself to hear a depressing sad piece. Yet as the young cellist, Alisa Weilerstein, performed her magic on the piece, I was captured with the beauty of the notes and emotion rising from the music. Yes, melancholic and dark, but still beautiful at the same time. It made me think of the wonder of the creative mind of Elgar to be going through personal pain yet creating music that could showcase the beauty of the range of tones from the cello.
With Gabriel Faure’ he was a contemporary of Elgar and the pre-performance lecture noted they had even met. Faure’ was trained in his schooling to go into church music and he started as a church organist. The requiem was a funeral mass piece Faure’ composed. So again at the lecture I was thinking another depressing piece about death. A difference was mentioned though compared to regular funeral mass music Faure’ wanted to take a different view of death. Most requiems that were popular at that time period, emphasized judgment in death. His requiem focused on solace and rest. The program notes listed a quote from Faure’ “It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that we see death: as a happy deliverance, an aspiration toward happiness above; rather than a painful experience.” What a powerful statement as a way to look at death. It caused me to think back to my mother’s death years ago and the joy that was expressed at her home-going celebration at her church, remembering hymns she enjoyed and also as people shared kind thoughts about her.
When we heard the Requiem performed the Dallas Symphony choir performed along with the piece. The piece was far from depressing instead sections were majestic and powerful and other sections where light and airy. The solo “Pie Jesu” was performed by soprano Susanna Phillips. Her voice was amazing in capturing the emotion and lightness of the piece. In the reflection section below I have a short video clip of Barbara Bonney performing this solo. Do give it a listen.
Pain and death are subjects we don’t like to consider but they are part and parcel of our life journey. It helps us to understand these negative aspects of life through the creative mind of the artist, poet, or music composer as they bring bring beauty and different ways to understand the topics.
Reflection - What solace do you turn to during times of pain or grief through loss? To these composers who lived in difficult times of the hardships right after WWI music was a solace to use as an outlet. Take a listen to “Pie Jesu” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJanc3-a320 and think over what you felt after listening to it
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
At the recent Texas Book Festival in Austin I found myself conversing with a librarian and a sales rep for Penguin Publishing while waiting in the long line for Crepes in the outdoor food court. Part of the discussion was the decline in reading in the country especially among young people. The reality of our discussion I read in an article I found online where Jordan Weissmann speaks in The Atlantic (2014) about the decline of reading. He pointed out that recent research showed that about 25% of American adults had done no book reading in the previous year. He pointed out a Gallup study that showed in 1978 that 42 % of adults read 11 books and then a recent Pew study showed that percentage had declined to 28%. He correctly points out that a major difference is that in this modern era there is an increase of technological gadgetry to sidetrack from reading. Students at the college level that I speak with in classes agree that most of their technology time is spent watching videos or chatting through texting not reading.
Weissmann is optimistic in his article, in that he shows that the statistic of readers had stabilized so he is not seeing further decline. Myself I would like to see the 28% go back up to 42%. His article ends with bar graphs in response to a question “How many Americans Read a Book for Pleasure Last Year?”. The years reported were 1992, 2002, 2008, and 2012. The last two years showed a stable mid 50s percentage. One problem I have is the question is stated in the singular “book”. How about working on getting people involved in their local library reading more than one book a year? I think that can happen if we encourage the importance of reading. That is why I promote reading in the classes I teach to college students.
I also came across a column by Dr. Howard Gardner back in 2008 he makes good points that even in our digital age that literacy will continue to grow. He doesn’t worry because “it’s essential to read and write fluently.” That is a point I discuss with my college students. They do get it. They will tell me they prefer just watching videos to entertain themselves and an easy way to get information. Yet they admit the work it takes to read pays off in a stronger thinking capacity and better creativity.
Gardner brings out important differences in our modern quick hi-tech media. One is that it limits authors’ ability to organize complex arguments that takes time for the reader to work through. He uses Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” as an example due to what he calls “The Web’s speedy browsing.” I see it more that the web makes the mind lazy in that everything has to be written in short sound bites of low mental fluff. I have actually had students admit to that point that the quick information and videos make them mentally lazy. That is why I encourage building up the mind with critical thinking skills.
Gardner also looks at another aspect of reading that is changing with technology and that is the solitude of reading where an individual would spend hours alone being absorbed in their book reading. I remember as a child enjoying hours of reading in the Summer. He points out rightly that young people today because of social media cannot enjoy solitude, but need to be continually connected with checking social media with their network of friends. I question whether this is really a good thing? Isn’t there a benefit to encouraging a break away from the connection to staring at the tech gadgets that control so many lives? Why not encourage a balance between using social media and web surfing to also include a 30 minutes a day of reading of a book?
I was encouraged on a recent Sunday evening at a Bible study where a young couple walked in and their little girl was holding several children books. She is just a one year old but they are incorporating books into her life by reading to her. They told the group about the 1,000 book challenge. It is a program to encourage parents to have their children starting at age 1 to be involved in reading to their child and having the child read up to 1,000 books before kindergarten. That sounds like a positive way to be creating future booklovers. If you want to know more information on the program here is the website for the organization behind it -- http://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org/
Reflection - How can you encourage others around you to read more? Do you enjoy reading a book in solitude? If you have difficulty finding time to read start out with reading a book just 30 minutes a day or even every other day.
Gardner, H, (Feb. 17. 2008) The End of Literacy? Don’t Stop Reading. In the washingtonpost.com
Weissmann, J. (Jan.21.2014) The Decline of the American Book Lover. The Atlantic.