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The Omnivorous Reader - October, 2019


The Omnivorous Reader

October 2 · Issue #11 · View online

Recommendations, reviews, and assorted digital flotsam and jetsam

Hi, all.
Here’s what I’ve been reading this month.
Why You’re Getting This: This reading list is going out to old and new friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. If you’re receiving this, I thought you might appreciate it.
Feel free to unsubscribe–obligatory reading is the worst.
If you know a fellow reader who might enjoy it, please forward it along!

The Freedom Not To Read
I’ve seen a number of recent articles focusing on how to get your kids to like to read. One of the best was from the Atlantic and is included below. But all of them miss a critical, but somewhat paradoxical, point: To get kids to choose to read, you have to give them the choice not to read.
As far as I’m concerned, reading fiction is a form of imaginative play. It might take a more nuanced approach than, say, the preschoolers I sometimes see on the playground at my school, but at heart, is there really a difference between pretending to be a dinosaur and imagining Clarissa Dalloway setting off in the middle of June of 1923 to buy the flowers herself?
One of the key components of play is that it’s an activity conducted primarily for its own sake and on its own terms. Psychologist Peter Gray captures it perfectly when he explained, “Play is, first and foremost, an expression of freedom. It is what one wants to do as opposed to what one is obliged to do. The joy of play is the ecstatic feeling of liberty.” 
It follows, then, that one of the most critical elements of play is the ability to choose to play, and in particular, to have the option to stop. This is one of the most critical components helping your kids find the joy in reading: Let them stop reading something that no longer interests them. And while we’re at it, give yourself that same permission, too.
One of the most insidious components of literacy education is that it hammers into us a bizarre guilt around choosing to stop reading a book before you’ve finished it. It transforms reading from a “private pleasure delivery system” into an obligation.
It’s one of the reasons that I love the library so much: It keeps me from feeling even a shred of guilt if I abandon a book. There’s no way that I would possibly read as much as I do if I had to pay for all of the books I check out.
For some people, however, the experiences of formal education have a half-life that lingers, as though by not finishing a book, some imagined teacher is going to chide you for not completing your homework. We’re waiting for someone else to excuse us from the assignment, I guess.
So consider this a permission slip from me to you: If you’re not enjoying a book, put it down and find another. And give your kids permission to do so, too.
Work The Library Like A Pro
This will be a recurring section of the Omnivorous Reader going forward. Do yourself a favor and put your local library to work:
First, install the Chrome Library Extension–once it’s set up, a single click takes you from Amazon to the “Request Title” page of your library’s website. Since book-related hyperlinks inevitably take you to Amazon, you might as well click one more time and see whether you can check the book out for free.
Next, take two minutes to figure out how to make Interlibrary Loan requests on your library website: A few more clicks and you’ll be able to search and request books from the entire city or state.
Just to be clear, Interlibrary Loan requests are free of charge. That’s right: They’ll ship you the book you want for free and let you borrow it for free. About a third of the books I come across necessitate an interlibrary loan request. My local library is pretty good, but a statewide search nearly always finds me what I’m looking for. 
The Library Extension ensures budget isn’t a factor in reading the books you want to read; an Interlibrary Loan ensures you’re not limited by a local catalog. 
Finally, figure out what app your library uses to stream audiobooks and download it. Hoopla and RB Digital are two popular ones. There are lots of other features in the app, I guess, but free streaming audiobooks is all I’m interested in.
I love owning books, but I abandon them so frequently that it’s just not worth purchasing things until I know I’ll enjoy them. The library lets me do that.
The Memory Sessions
What is your earliest memory? How old are you in the memory?
Suzanne Farrell Smith’s latest book, The Memory Sessions, is a fascinating memoir that journeys into the murky waters of childhood memory in search of memories of her late father who passed away when she was little.
Suzanne’s only memories of her childhood were her father’s death and a house fire that occurred soon after. Through therapy, travel, and nostalgic exploration, Suzanne tries to regain memories of her lost childhood.
It’s a tough book to do justice to in a summary, but it was sad and provocative and beautiful. (A disclaimer: Suzanne is a friend, but I’ve abandoned books written by friends before. I sure didn’t abandon this one, though–I finished it the same weekend I started it. It’s wonderful.)
Firestarter Redux
I’ve finished but haven’t loved a lot of Stephen King’s most recent work. His trilogy starring retired detective Bill Hodges (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch) had some high points, but I definitely didn’t think much of The Outsider starring Bill’s quirky friend Holly.
But I’m a huge King fan, in general, and I really enjoyed his latest, The Institute. There are echoes of Firestarter and Carrie to the story, and while his prose still isn’t as tight as it was in his early novels, it’s still an enormously fun read. Nothing like psychic kids being manipulated by shady government organizations!
Pursuing Weird Hobbies and Interests
As someone who generally needs to hire someone to fix things in his house (and who feels weirdly guilty and diminished about that fact), I wasn’t immediately drawn to Adam Savage’s Every Tool Is A Hammer until I heard him talk about the book on a podcast.
This was an amazing read that had implications far, far beyond the nuts and bolts (as it were) of making things. Equal parts memoir and manifesto, Every Tool Is A Hammer is a wonderful examination of the act of creation and a deep dive into the “secret thrills” embedded within the hobbies and past times that capture our attention and interest.
As Adam puts it, “There is a belief…that to jump with both feet into [a hobby or interest] is to play hooky from the tangible, important details of life. But I would argue that these pursuits are the important parts of life. They are so much more than hobbies. They are passions. They have purpose. And I have learned to pay genuine respect to putting our energy in places like that, places that can serve us and give us joy.
This book was actually what motivated me to start up this newsletter again after a year’s hiatus. It reminded me of the simply joy I get in talking and writing about books and helped me to lean into it. It’s what great books can do if we only listen to them. And this was a great book.
Digital Clicks and Links
Why Do Some People Love Reading? - The Atlantic
The Story of Us: Full Series — Wait But Why
I hope you’re all doing well and that you can find (or make) the time to read whichever of these books catches your interest–and I hope that you quickly abandon it if it turns out to be something that’s not for you. And if you know of a good book that you’d recommend, please pass it along.
Take care,
Chris Cunningham
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