Sunday, February 24, 2008

Get your read on

I am disheartened, but not surprised, by the report on reading, released in November by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The study, To Read or Not to Read, says:
The story the data tell is simple, consistent, and alarming. Although there
has been measurable progress in recent years in reading ability at the
elementary school level, all progress appears to halt as children enter their
teenage years. There is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult
Americans. Most alarming, both reading ability and the habit of regular
reading have greatly declined among college graduates. These negative trends
have more than literary importance. As this report makes clear, the declines
have demonstrable social, economic, cultural, and civic implications.

How does one summarize this disturbing story? As Americans, especially
younger Americans, read less, they read less well. Because they read less
well, they have lower levels of academic achievement. (The shameful fact that
nearly one-third of American teenagers drop out of school is deeply connected
to declining literacy and reading comprehension.) With lower levels of reading
and writing ability, people do less well in the job market. Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement. Significantly worse reading skills are found among prisoners than in the general adult population. And deficient readers are less likely to become active in civic and cultural life, most notably in volunteerism and voting. Read an executive summary of the report here.

It is news like this that worries me as we stand on the brink of a change-making presidential election. Change in this country won't come from one magical candidate. Change will only come from an educated and engaged citizenry. (More on this tomorrow) And how will we as citizens change this country if we are so incurious about the world, culture, politics, history and the arts, that we can't be bothered to read?

I am fortunate that my parents instilled in me a love of reading that continues to this day. I read anything and everything I can get my hands on, often to my family's chagrin. As a kid, I was often reprimanded for reading at the dinner table. And my reading while watching movies drives my husband to distraction. "You can't be paying attention to this," he often wails. But there is something alluring to me about a brand new book or magazine or journal with an uncracked spine and pristine pages. Something unread represents a sort of promise--a chance to expand my mind, an opportunity to find answers to life's questions, sometimes just a chance to escape reality. And I can't resist. Much of what I know today about the language, writing, politics, art, history and the world, did not come from the classroom, but from reading.

Announcing: The What Tami Said Read-Along
I hope some of you feel the way that I do. And in celebration of reading, I hope you will support a new project on this blog: a quarterly read-along.
The Details: Each week, join me in reading and discussing a couple chapters of a good book. I'll write my thoughts about covered material in a post, and other readers can share their thoughts and discuss the book in the comments section. If this is popular enough, I might consider doing some sort of live discussion on Blog Talk Radio.
Timing: The first read-along will take place April-June.
The Book: Inspired by my blog sister, Mes Deaux Cents' wonderful post on protecting oneself from the dangers of our food supply, the first book we will read will be The Food Revolution by John Robbins. This book is an easy, eye-opening and inspiring read.
Robbins is a scion of the family that founded the world's largest ice cream company, Baskin-Robbins. Robbins' family made billions selling sugary, processed treats to the masses. Meanwhile, the author shares: "many people in the family struggled with weight problems, my uncle died of a heart attack in his early fifties, my father developed serious diabetes and high blood pressure and I was sick more often than not." Instead of becoming part of the family business as expected, John Robbins took a different route and has become a bestselling author and activist.

Find out the truth about popular diets, genetically modified foods, Mad Cow
disease, and the health effects of the food you eat. In this long-awaited and
provocative book, bestselling author John Robbins exposes the dangers behind
many of today's foods and reveals the extraordinary benefits of healthy
alternatives. The Food Revolution will show you how to extend your
life, increase your vibrancy and vitality, and take a stand for a more
compassionate and sustainable world. --from The Food Revolution

If you care about what you eat, if you are concerned about world hunger and sustainability, then you have to read this book.
If the spring read-along works, we'll lighten up a bit and read Too Much Tuscan Sun by Dario Castagno over the summer. I have on good authority from my cousin Robin, another voracious reader, that this is a great book. In the fall, I'd like to tackle something provocative about race or politics. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Are you on board?

P.S. Can some Blogger wizard explain to me why formatting copy using the quote tool screws up the spacing on my entire post? It is driving me NUTS!

Image courtesy of Dan Robinson on Flickr


Symphony said...

Blogger does that sometimes. I fix it by going to the last word of each sentence and hitting delete. It gets rid of the spaces and weird format.

Good idea about the books. My new "save my sanity" task is to read a non-school book each month.

Its simple things we don't do, like read, and wonder what's wrong with us. One thing we can do is keep ourselves informed and engaged in educating ourselves.

Not only is it good for education, but its free entertainment too that really encourages imagination.

Yap Enquirer said...

Hi Tami,
I love the idea of a virtual book club! I don't know if I can make it for the first go (although I'd love to read Robbins book) but I'll try for summer and fall.

And I do have a few ideas about books on race and identity--one which I finished recently and thought was really provocative and stimulating was WE WHO ARE DARK by Tommie Shelby--he's a philosophy professor at Harvard. It is a bit dense, however. Of course, in honor of who I *hope* to be the democratic candidate (is it jinxing it to say this?) perhaps we could do Obama's DREAMS FROM MY FATHER--because he does speak quite eloquently and in a raw way about race and identity and the politics thereof, both in the U.S. and abroad.

slag said...

One thing I do is copy and paste my text into Notepad first and then copy and paste that text into blogger. It helps get rid of the original formatting that can mess things up.

Dig the read along idea! Already too many books in the queue for me, though. But I'll enjoy reading your take.

quarter-life-crisis said...

I love the ideal!! However I do not think that I am ready for the first book.

Also for book lovers, check out

I love this site. Its a myspace for book lovers.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...