24 July 2015

Stop Reading Blog Posts - Go Read a Book! (Okay, Finish This Post First.)

The St. Louis County Library summer reading program is giving out free +Chipotle Mexican Grill for completion of the requirements, so a month or so ago, I was gently encouraged by +Beth Baker that I would definitely be pulling my weight around here and make sure to read 6 books by her birthday (Aug 1st).

I always characterize myself as a reader, but I spend a lot of time reading from from digital magazines and/or blogs over time reading ebooks or actual books, so the commitment (and light) required of me this summer completing the reading plan was a good stretching exercise!

Here's my shelf for the summer:

The CONTENT of these books is not necessarily anything different than what I would read typically from a blog post I found on social media, but the way you INTERACT with a book is different, in my opinion.

This isn't an argument for physical books, just long-form reading. I think its important for adults and for our students to take a break sometimes from the pace of social media and ICYMI (in case you missed it) internet publishing of the 21st century and settle longer on a book.

Here's what I've noticed that gives BOOK reading more transformative power on your attitudes, opinions, and beliefs:

  • You're more likely to take on a book at the suggestion of an close friend than someone you casually know on social media, so you prepare yourself mentally/emotionally to be able to discuss this book with that person in the future (which lends to the book having a greater impact on you)
  • Especially in physical books, we write in the margins, we take notes to make sure we remember parts that we liked. We remember so we can talk about it or think about it later on when the book is no longer with us
  • Because reading a book takes longer than a 5 minute blog post, you spend more time chewing on/meditating on the ideas in the book. The ideas I reflect on in books end up being "themes" for my summer/semester/winter break. The things I pick up in blogs I more frequently file away for later into a "someday" folder in my brain
  • Reading a book gives a more complete, detailed representation of an idea than a single (or even a few) blog posts might. Where we blog writers might lean toward publishing our own opinions on a topic and then moving on, filling a book requires the author to round out their thesis with counter-arguments. 
  • The internet is awesome, and blogs have democratized the ability to use your voice and tell your story, but getting a book published is still a cultural benchmark of having "made it" as a credible source of expertise, giving more reliability to what you're reading. 
  • There's an army of editors and copywriters making sure that what leaves the publishing house for the printers is the best possible product, so you could argue that book reading is word-for-word a more valuable use of your time. You know how many editors this blog has? 1 1/4 - sometimes I make my wife pre-read my posts. 

What's this mean for our students?

For as much as you're reading blog posts like this one, your students...probably aren't. I think we need to continue to TEACH them to value books (not so much the physical artifact, but the idea of a book as long-form reading), and we need to challenge them to form ideas and opinions that are book-worthy.

A book-worthy idea probably has several quotes that makes for a great tweet on Twitter or a grainy image with text over it on Instagram, but its more nuanced than that. It's going to be fuller, more round, more complete. A book-worthy idea is one that you as the author have dedicated the time to and poured out the passion to write, rewrite, edit, and revise into a work that is more enduring than a tweet in someone's feed.

In science class, this is the analysis of an experiment and data set that you've spent weeks designing, implementing, compiling, computing, and interpreting.
In film and literature, its an analysis of many themes throughout an author's work
In math, its the solution to a real problem that the student has identified, determined the variables in the situation, and begun to model with equations and graphs
In history, its exploring and relating to narratives from a dynamic range of sources, then reflecting on what it all means.

I believe we only maintain an appreciation for these deeper, richer, slower ideas and works as we read and write them. Tweets are good, let us continue to connect! You and I obviously both appreciate blogs, too, but educators have a concurrent responsibility of modeling and encouraging this appreciation and thoughtfulness of book-worthy ideas.