Great Writers on Reading
“When I am reading a book, whether wise or silly, it seems to me to be alive and talking to me. Sometimes I read a book with pleasure, and detest the author. It is easy enough for a man to walk who has a horse at his command. The invalid is not to be pitied who has a cure up his sleeve. And such is the advantage I receive from books.
“They relieve me from idleness, rescue me from company I dislike, and blunt the edge of my grief, it if is not too extreme. They are the comfort and solitude of my old age. When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as the running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind. And they don’t rebel because I use them only for lack of partimes more natural and alive. They always receive me with welcome.” ~Montaigne
“Let me read with method, and purpose to ourselves an end to what our studies may point. The use of reading is to aid us in thinking.” ~Edward Gibbon
“Books are to be called for and supplied on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep; but in the highest sense an exercise, a gymnastic struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself.” ~Walt Whitman
“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book. The book exists for us perchance which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered. These same questions that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to all the wise men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered them according to his ability, by his word, by his life.” ~Henry David Thoreau
“Book love, my friends, is your pass to the greatest, the purest, and the most perfect pleasure that God has prepared for His creatures. It lasts when all other pleasures fade. It will support you when all other recreations are gone. It will last you until your death. It will make your hours pleasant to you as long as you live.” ~Anthony Trollope
I found all the above quotes on the back of a book copyrighted in 1959, To Appomattox: Nine April Days. There was no information about the book at hand, just inspiring reading quotes from great writers.
In addition, I’ve been reading Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers, and I keep running across quotes I want to remember:
The goal is “to read for pleasure, but not for idleness; for pastime but not to kill time; to seek, and find, delight and enlargement of life in books.” ~Robertson Davies
In reading workshop, the delights are intrinsic, always: This week I got to experience a whole world with characters I loved; inside me I traveled, wondered, worried, laughed, cried, raged, triumphed. The passions aroused by stories and characters are the prize. ~Nancie Atwell
Frequent, voluminous, happy experiences with books — preferably in a room that’s filled with good ones and in the company of a teacher who knows how to invite and sustain a love of stories — are the way to teach and learn reading for a lifetime. ~Nancie Atwell
“The vicarious experience of reading can shape our essence, change us, just as firsthand experience can.” ~Sydney Jourard
The Reader’s Bill of Rights
- The right not to read something
- The right to skip pages
- The right not to finish
- The right to reread
- The right to read anything
- The right to escapism
- The right to read anywhere
- The right to browse
- The right to read out loud
- The right to not defend your tastes
This afternoon I decided to claim my rights as a reader and I did a little skipping and browsing of the rest of The Reading Zone. I was disappointed in Chapter 5 on Comprehension. She argued against what’s been written on reading comprehension since Pearson’s research in 1985. That would include some of my favorite writers — who write primarily about using the comprehension strategies good readers use — Ellin Keene, Susan Zimmerman, Cris Tovani, and Stephanie Harvey. The strategies from Mosaic of Thought have made it into the Iowa Core–one of just two additions Iowa added to the Common Core Standards.
Nancie talked about connections with self, text, and world mostly in the negative sense, about the “irrelevant bumps” that come in to disturb the reading zone. Certainly there are some of those, but good readers know when their understanding breaks down, and they have fix-up strategies for getting back in the zone.
It’s true that strategy instruction is only important for a certain population of readers–the ones with decoding skills but aren’t using comprehension strategies. Proficient readers don’t need to be taught the skills because they already have them. That’s why her students rebelled at the sticky notes she required them all to write.
Overall, however, I gleaned many good ideas from The Reading Zone. I’m going to make some fairly radical changes in my language arts curriculum next year. More choice. Less quizzes, tests, and book projects. More reading homework and accountability. I believe my classes will be more relevant and rigorous than they’ve been in the past. Atwell’s book has some great resources–a list of openers to help students write their letter/essays in response to books, a list of questions to ask students during individual conferences, and a great two-page reading survey for the first day. This was a book worth the read/browse.
I’ll report back next year about how it’s going!