The Art of Reading

Today, my mailbox presented me with a gift.  I bought it for myself – a DVD series from Great Courses (specializing in learning for the sheer joy of it).  It is amazing in its quality and depth of knowledge, and I can’t say enough good things about it.

Those who know me well can tell you that I adore education.  If I haven’t learned something new in a day, then it was a wasted day!  Had my bank account allowed it, I would never have left the university.  (As it is, I hardly leave the library.)  These college-level courses, sans credit or tests, are fantastic for feeding the brain…which is just what’s required during the winter months!

English: The main reading romm of Graz Univers...

The Art of Reading is shaping up to be an interesting survey of literature, both for readers and writers.  Presented by Timothy Spurgin, of Lawrence University, here are a few nuggets gleaned from the first lecture:

  1. When you think about reading as an art, you begin to take it a little more seriously.
  2. The idea of artful reading suggests that there is a difference between reading and reading well.
  3. Artful reading suggests that you are doing something for its own sake, and is its own reward.

As I fling myself into writing for the education market, writing for pleasure, reading with book discussion groups, and generally thinking about books for a good portion of my day, I appreciate Dr. Spurgin’s point that perhaps learning to read is not just a skill you acquire in 1st or 2nd grade.  Just maybe, it is a skill that develops over time, and deepens and changes with age.

Our society is obsessed with everyday reading – the kind I think of as “disposable literature”.  We read all day long, but it is only to glean pertinent information, then throw away the rest like garbage.  Even the daily paper is “disposable”, in that we seldom look at an article with a critical and appreciative eye for the author’s work.

Artful reading, according to the professor, is “what you do with a work of fiction – when you stop to take note of an elegant phrase or a striking image.”  Although, I would argue that artful reading can also be found in nonfiction.

  C.S. Lewis noted that devoted readers are willing to read some things more than once.  For devoted readers, books are not a last resort, when you have nothing better to do.  And for us, encounters with certain books can be momentous and life-changing experiences.

I especially like Dr. Spurgin’s belief that reading is fun – but we should expand our definition of fun to include thinking and talking.

Reader Tip:  Give every book the 50-Page Test.  Read the first fifty pages of a new book without making judgments, or giving up.  If you haven’t connected with the characters or language by then, feel free to set it aside.  But don’t write it off altogether – many readers return to a book they rejected earlier (even years before), only to find that now, they enjoy it immensely.

What do you think about artful reading?  If reading can be artful, then what about listening to music, or looking at a painting?

Visit Off The Shelf – the Goodreads Book Discussion group dedicated to expanding reader’s choices and exploring multiple genres.

Related Articles:

A Word About Authors

Narrators & Characters, or Who’s Telling This Story, Anyway?

Journaling Your Way to an Education

Lapbook Open

The Notebooking Method for Homeschool

I didn’t even realize this was an official method for homeschooling, until I came across it in several sites with its own category listing.  My kids and I have been notebooking (lapbooking) for a couple of years, and I can honestly say that it has taken on a life of its own.  I wouldn’t call it a full-fledged method for us, but it is a significant part of our education!

Notebooking allows children to process what they learn by creating a kind of interactive journal.  It is ideal for covering broad topics or literature units, as information can be disseminated into smaller parcels.  The emphasis is on collecting and organizing information, and documenting student learning.  It is very affordable – costing only the price of a few file folders, some paper and crayons, and your local library card.

Children who thrive with Notebooking:

  • love to follow their own interests
  • enjoy delving deep into an area of interest and exploring it more fully than their peers
  • have an interest in demonstrating or expanding their creativity
  • often enjoy hobbies or interests on their own
  • do not need to prove mastery of skills through written tests
  • are pleased with a tangible record of their achievements

More about the Notebooking Method –

Homeschool Notebooking – lots of free printables

HomeHearts – great ideas on how to use specific subjects in notebooking

The Homeschool House – a glimpse at how one homeschool mom successfully incorporates notebooking into their yearly schedule

Looking for other Homeschool methods? 

Try these other styles in my series:


Charlotte Mason

Unit Studies

Classical Method


“Crummy Pap” or Classic Prose?

Technology can make a person feel like they just got pushed in the deep end of the pool.  Every new software release or “cutting-edge” gadget screams for attention – but is it the wave of the future, or just a shallow puddle?

E-books and Self-publishing get a lot of press today.  And when I see that much buzz about a game-changer in a field I love, I have one response – Scepticism.  (Should I fork over the dough for a Kindle, or a Nook, or wait or the next great thing?  I don’t know!)  But, I’m an open-minded gal, so I do a little research, a bit of querying friends, and then I remember my favorite barometer…history itself.  I came across this little nugget via Writer’s Almanac:

Sir Allen Lane, (born 1902), managing editor of London’s The Bodley Head, and later creator of Penguin Books, didn’t have anything to read on the train.  He had a long ride back from visiting one of his author’s – Agatha Christie – and refused the magazines and cheap literary fare available at the depot.  He thought, “Why isn’t there something good to read for sale, that people can afford?”  Penguin Pocket Books was born, making the hardbound publications accessible to everyone.

Writer’s Almanac reports,  “Lane was determined that paperbacks, then mostly low-quality products of low-quality writing, could be the vehicles of great, contemporary fiction… Like most innovations, Lane’s idea — and his success — was initially regarded as a cause for concern by many other publishers and writers. It lowered the aesthetic value of great works of literature — a book like The Grapes of Wrath, for example, needn’t be a beautifully bound hardcover to last a lifetime, but could instead exist as a nearly disposable pocket-sized tome in bright orange, adorned with a funny little bird in mid-waddle. But Lane claimed paperbacks would effectively democratize literature, converting frequent library users to book buyers and readers of crummy pap into readers of classic prose.”

Sounds a little like the furor over E-Readers, doesn’t it? 

How about the uproar about self-publishing?

As Steven Anderson (of GoldMinds Publishing) stated recently in a presentation (read more here), the publishing world has a history of trends – the era of hardbacks was replaced by the era of dime novels, then mass market paperbacks (thanks Sir Allen!).  Now we are faced with a new epoch in the life of literature – digital access, for both readers and writers.

Where do you stand on the issue of digital publishing?  Love e-readers, but hate self-publishers?  Devoted to paper books no matter who writes them?  Has history proven that changes in format and accessibility eventually find a balance

– and does quality rise to the top?

  Leave your comments below and give us YOUR perspective on publishing!