Education Opinion

Feeding Your Reading Life

By Donalyn Miller — December 15, 2011 6 min read

Last month, I went to the ophthalmologist for an eye exam and new glasses. Describing my difficulties reading small print on menus, labels, and graphic novels (OK, I didn’t mention the graphic novels); my doctor suggested it was time for bifocals.

He asked, “Do you read a lot?”

Snorting with laughter, I said, “You could say I read for a living. I’m a reading teacher.”

He prescribed the bifocals.

I cannot imagine a day without reading in it. Reading for a living--discovering and sharing books with my students and colleagues, writing about books and reading--it’s a reader’s dream. Without question, I am a better teacher because I read. I pass books into my students’ hands and talk with them about what they read. I model what a reading life looks like and show my students how reading enriches my life, and can enrich theirs, too.

Professional benefits aside, I would still read because I love it. I am happiest with my nose in a book, curled up in a chair, with a blanket on my feet. Author John Green said at the recent ALAN conference, “Reading forces you to be quiet in a world that no longer makes a place for that.” The noise of my life demands that I find daily solitude within the pages of my books. I can think and grow and dream. Reading feeds me.

Captured in these quiet moments, reading seems like something I do alone, but it isn’t. Every book begins and ends with other people--the readers who suggest the book to me and encourage me to read it, the talented author who crafted the book, the fascinating individuals I meet inside the pages, and the readers I discuss and share the book with when I finish it.

My personal connections with other readers provide me with a model for creating a reading culture in my classroom by showing me what an organic, inclusive reading community looks like. I understand how relationships with other readers can support my students’ reading lives. So, how do reading communities benefit readers?

Reading communities

  • Foster connections with other readers who support you. Building relationships with other readers sustains our interest in reading because it reinforces to us that reading matters to a lot of people.
  • Challenge you to branch out and try new books, authors, and styles of writing. Talking with other readers about books broadens your horizons and exposes you to books you might not otherwise discover on your own.
  • Improve your enjoyment and appreciation of what you read. The only thing readers enjoy almost as much as reading is talking about books with other readers. Discussions with other readers help you clarify and deepen your understanding of what you read.
  • Increase how much you read. If everyone around you reads, you are more likely to read because reading is seen as a cultural norm.
  • Suggest titles for additional reading. What is the number one way readers discover books they would like to read? Recommendations from other readers.
  • Encourage mindfulness about what you read and share. Our fellow readers help us prioritize what we read. Hearing about a book from several readers heightens our interest in reading it and leads us to books that readers we trust have enjoyed. When suggesting books to others, we consider what we know about them as readers and how specific books meet their needs and interests, too.

Talking with readers of every age, many report that the absence of a supportive reading community reduces their reading enjoyment and how much they read. Additionally, I am often asked how I learn about books or connect with colleagues who like to read and promote reading to children. Here are some online reading communities that can feed your reading life:

Nerdy Book Club: Are you looking for a network of librarians, teachers, authors, reviewers and parents who share your unabashed joy for reading? Look no further than the Nerdy Book Club, a new blog that invites readers to write blog posts and reviews. The major beliefs of the Nerdy Book Club are:

If you read, you are already a member of the club.

Every reader has value and a voice in the community.

Vote for your favorite 2011 children’s and young adult books in the first annual Nerdy Book Club Awards (the Nerdies). Buy a nifty Nerdy Book Club coffee mug or t-shirt with an original logo designed by author Tom Angleberger (merchandise proceeds support literacy organizations), or skim the extensive blog roll for the best reviews and commentary about reading and books.

(Twitter hashtag: #nerdybookclub)

Book-a-Day Challenge: Long time readers of this blog are familiar with my summer Book-a-Day challenge, where readers set a personal goal to read one book for every day of summer. If you have a staggering pile of unread books around your house or feel that you have fallen behind in your reading, consider joining me for the second Holiday Break Book-a-Day challenge. Set a goal to read one book for every day of your holiday vacation. The rules for Book-a-Day are simple:

  • Set a personal start date and end date.
  • Read one book per day for each day of holiday vacation. This is an average, so if you read three books one day and none the next two, it counts.
  • Any book qualifies including picture books, nonfiction, professional books, poetry anthologies, or fiction--youth and adult titles.
  • Participants keep a list of the books you read and share them via social networking sites like goodreads or Shelfari, a blog, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. You do not have to post reviews, but you can if they wish. Titles will do.

(Twitter hashtag: #bookaday)

Titletalk: Titletalk is a monthly Twitter chat that takes place on the last Sunday of every month at 8 pm EST. Each monthly discussion explores one reading topic like reading alouds, picture books, or launching a year of reading. The first half of Titletalk involves a conversation about instructional practices, resources, and ideas for working with young readers. The second half of the chat is a flood of suggested books from participants that relate to the chat topic. The Titletalk wiki houses archives of every chat, so you can access the information when you cannot attend.

**Because the last Sunday of December this year is Christmas Day, this month’s Titletalk will take place on Sunday, December 18th.

For tips on how to participate in a Twitter chat, check out Colby Sharp’s tutorial at the Sharpread blog.

(Twitter hashtag: #titletalk)

The Centurions: At the end of each month, almost 800 Facebook users converge on the Centurions page to share the books they have read over the past month. Centurions challenged themselves to read 111 books in 2011, but the page provides an excellent source of book recommendations even if you don’t reach this goal. Growing beyond the monthly tallies, Centurions post book suggestions, opinions, and questions all month long. Add Centurions to your New Year’s resolution list and join the new challenge in 2012.

goodreads: A social networking site for readers, I consider goodreads my reading brain. I would never be able to track or categorize the books I read without my goodreads shelves and my goodreads friends provide an endless source of recommendations and reviews that inform my reading plans. You can also follow authors’ reviews and blogs, enter giveaways and contests, or create book discussion groups.

(Twitter user name: @goodreads)

While these resources represent my online reading communities, my reading tribe includes my husband and daughters, my students and colleagues at school, the members of my monthly book club, and countless reading friends. Our shared interest in reading adds another facet to our relationships and forges bonds between us. In a guest post on the Nerdy Book Club blog, author C. Alexander London writes, “It’s a fact: people can survive without books. People can even have wonderful, full lives without books. But they can’t long endure without community, and community is built on stories.”

Every book we read potentially connects us to other people. That’s the best part of the story--the part that lasts long after the book ends.

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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