Saturday, October 21, 2017

Reading Beyond Borders

In 2014, the Man Booker prize was opened to writers beyond the Commonwealth, Ireland and South Africa. Since then, 2 Americans have won the prize—Paul Beatty’ Sellout and George Saunders, for Lincoln in the Bardo. But America has been reluctant to reciprocate the Booker’s openness. The US’s National Book Award, the Pulitzer prize for fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction exclude foreign writers. This means American readers receive less exposure to foreign stories and foreign styles of English prose. Added to this, is the dismal statistic that only 3% of world literature is translated into English. Opening borders to literary awards would certainly help readers

As the world becomes smaller it becomes imperative for America to understand the outside world. Mere politics are not able to convey what stories convey— another country’s thought patterns, speech rhythms, historic ghosts and unconscious biases—all of which seep out from the stories a culture tells and the way it tells them. This brings to mind an idea from William Carlos William—It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.


To read another person’s story is to end up with a larger “circle of sympathy.” In all things, protectionism stifles. One of the greatest attributes of being a reader is how it encourages an open mind. Readers strive to stay out of a parochial mind set and opening up borders would be helpful to that endeavor.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Front porches & kitchen tables

While reading, “Finding Grace Around the Kitchen Table” (NYT 10.1.17) I found myself thinking about the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, where the powers that be did away with front porches in their effort to eliminate communication. Clarisse points out that porches were a place to sit and talk or merely contemplate life. It was claimed the architects didn't like the look of them but her Uncle said that the real reason was that it supported the "the wrong kind of social life." The state didn't want people debating and sharing ideas.

Here are a few ideas from the article to ponder—

~ Our Facebook friends are probably not going to water our flowers while we are on vacation and our Twitter followers will not bring us a meal if we are sick. But the actual human being next door might do both if we meet him.

~ Preparing a home cooked meal and inviting people over, both those we know and those we want to know, forces us to find common ground.

~ Every person has a story to tell. It is in our best interests to know the stranger next door has one too and that even if they disagree on much, they can still be friends.

This all filled me with gratitude that much of my life is spent in bringing people and books together—to know the stories of another, in the effort to better understand ourselves and others.  To read is to step inside the shoes of a person’s story, to practice radical hospitality in an attempt to understand and make connections with people we know and people we don’t yet know.  Telling and listening to one another’s stories is what makes us human.








Monday, September 4, 2017

Back to school for parents and children

The beginning of a new school year is full of opportunities and heralds a parent’s high expectations for their children’s academic success and well-being.
Eleanor Roosevelt said that if she could be a fairy godmother, she would endow the gift of curiosity to every child at birth. Curiosity is what drives learning and without it, life becomes very dull indeed.
It is a known fact of the importance for every child to have high literacy skills, to ensure their success in life, in and out of school. Today we know so much more about how reading affects and influences who we become.

Do you know—
Literary readers are more than twice as likely as nonreaders to vote, to volunteer, and to be active participants of the communities in which they live.
They are more likely to be healthy, to be hired, to create art, and to achieve both academic and economic success.
Reading encourages and develops empathy and emotional sophistication, logical thinking, clear expression of ideas, and the ability to comprehend complex and opposing thought systems.
Reading opens minds and changes lives.

Do you also know—
Studies show that literary reading is in trouble: more than half of Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four no longer read for pleasure, and less than one-third of thirteen-year-olds are daily readers of any book at all.


The best insurance for children to become lifelong readers is when they find pleasure in reading. The first and necessary step in building pleasure in reading is for children to be read to—children become readers on the laps of their parents. Children who see their parents reading are far more likely to be readers than children who are told they must read 15 minutes every day.

What to bring to the new school year?
An abundance of curiosity
An open mind
A spirit of wonder and adventure
A sense of humor