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Passion Quilt Meme: Reading Sets You Free

So I was tagged for this meme by Sarah “LibrarianInBlack” Houghton, in which through captioning a photograph we meditate on what we’re passionate about “kids” learning.

The meme responses I’ve read are all well-intended, and I like Sarah’s caption, but — I am sorry, my bibliofriends and edubloggers, I realize this is not very affirming of your efforts — most responses to the “Passion Quilt Meme” traffic in Hallmarkian abstractions, to the point where I was tempted to respond with anti-platitudes such as “hide your Halloween candy where your mother can’t find it” and “Google Earth means you can never again pick your nose while walking down the street.”

But instead, I’ll say what first occurred to me, since no one else has said it.

“Kids” should be told to read widely and deeply their entire lives. Put down the cell phone, and read. Turn off the TV set, and read. Step away from Twitter and Facebook and World of Warcraft, and read.

I do not mean reading in tiny sips and nibbles, but long, sustained sessions where you are absorbed in a book or journal to the point where you do not hear family members asking you questions and the sun slides silently from from east to west and the cats give up on getting your attention and wander elsewhere, because you are deeply reading, reading, reading.

Judy's Kindle I don’t care if you read on dead trees or Kindles (that’s Judy from Manatee Community College, who told me that with her Kindle, she’ll never again run out of reading on a trip) or even on a computer — if you promise to keep your eyes glued to the book in hand — but I don’t mean skimming bippity-bop from word-snack to word-snack.

Nor do I mean gaming, which I am sure teaches you all kind of marvelous skills, and is a fine supplement to other activities in libraries (if we can hold programs about potting geraniums, what harm gaming?) but is still not reading.

It’s a different muscle, this reading muscle, as a writing student shared with me earlier this year, and you can’t fully exercise this muscle by the equivalent of walking to the end of the driveway 100 times a day; you need to sit down, focus, and let your brain engage actively and deeply in words on the page, a sustained marathon of reading that pulls you into new worlds. (I’ll even give you pictures — what is reading without Maus or Fun Home? — but no, you cannot substitute Guitar Hero.)

Reading — deeply, truly reading — is a wonderfully subversive act, one that undermines everything we are told about learning in this society. The world tells us that learning happens in boxes approved by government (school) and business (the commercial world). We are plopped in chairs for twelve or sixteen years and told how to think, and during that time and for the rest of our lives we are bathed in messages designed to shape our thoughts and actions.

Reading snaps smelling-salts under our noses, yanking us out of our cultural slumber with the sharp tingling scent of minds at work. Reading tells us that learning is a highly private and yet communal, idiosyncratic, lifelong adventure, one we can shape simply by picking up one book, and then another and another. Reading places us on a continuum with all other readers and the great chain of writers.

I suspect our core troubles — just to start with, a five-year war, longer than the U.S. Civil War; a planet in sharp physical decline; a near-broken political system — result in part because we are not reading enough. As a nation, too many of us skim the froth on the roiling info-ocean, our thoughts commandeered by the constant bombardment of flickering images and scrolling texts. We don’t focus. “Attention must be paid,” but not enough people pay it. The signs are around us, but we ignore them.

Reading is the real conversation.

Make room in your life for reading. If you are not reading at least several hundred pages a week, in at least one sustained reading session, you are not reading enough. Push out something that doesn’t matter, and read. Because you matter, and reading matters.

Read fully and deeply. Read fiction and nonfiction and history and poetry. Read newspapers and magazines and books and everything else. Read for pleasure and read for education and read to simply read.

When you particularly like a book, read it again and again, marking it up (if it is yours to mark up) and making notes. Find more like it and read those as well. Read in grocery lines and waiting rooms. Use sudden stolen hours for reading. Read on weekend afternoons and on evenings when you would otherwise surf from channel to channel, looking for something “good to watch.” Dedicate a vacation day to reading.

Be an apostle for reading. Talk about books with your friends. Share books you love. Start a book group, or join one in progress. Write about your reading. Keep track of what you read and think critically about the direction of your reading.

Always have too many things to read. Fold library trips into as many activities as possible; even if you think you don’t “want” a book that day, pass through the new-book section or wander the stacks, and see if a book wants you. If you don’t live near a good library, buy cheap used books online and swap books with friends. Subscribe to good magazines and journals, and treat their arrival like the birth of a friend’s child: drop everything, and read.

Clear your brain of buzz; read. Chart your own course in life; read. Stick it to the Man, and read. Read, read, read as if your life depended on it — because it does.

I’m tagging Roy Tennant (slick URL there, Roy — LJ spared no expense), Gypsy Librarian, Ocean in View, Lipstick Librarian, and Michael Golrick.

The original meme:

1. Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.
2. Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
3. Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.”

Posted on this day, other years:

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  1. Greg wrote:

    Huh, I thought Hallmarkian abstractions were kind of the point. That’s all I’m good at providing anyway.

    So will you consider adding yours to the Flickr pool?

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 3:28 pm | Permalink
  2. Oh, right, pool… done, thanks.

    All of you could do much better than the Hallmarkian abstractions. You have a lot of wit and insight… I think the small scale tripped up a lot of potential contributors.

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  3. Kathy wrote:

    Karen –
    Long time fan – you are amazing with words. This is what should be said about reading. It’s what I wish most for my children. I have been making for reading again, between busy career and family, and it is so worth it.

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  4. Jon Gorman wrote:

    I think saccharine was the term I used to describe some of my reactions to the passion quilt images I’ve seen. Indeed, I had several ideas for anti-saccharine messages, but have forgotten almost all of them. The only one I can vaguely remember would be have a picture of Marx and a caption about “Revolutions from the printed page”.

    Or maybe I’m just a wizened, cranky old man whose cold stony heart has been robbed of naive and joy.


    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  5. Jon Gorman wrote:

    Actually, remembered one other…no caption, just a graphical node map of authority records/bib records.

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 4:24 pm | Permalink
  6. I totally agree with what you said; I just don’t care much for the “Reading sets you free” caption. For me, it’s always been, “Reading pokes you in the brain with a sharp stick.” And I mean that in the best possible way. –W

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  7. Nothing spells nurture like “a graphical node map of authority records/bib records”! ;-)

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  8. Eileen Daly wrote:

    “An apostle for reading” – I like that. And it justifies my Facebook listing for religion: Librarianism.

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 5:31 pm | Permalink
  9. Deb wrote:

    This should be posted in every public library! I’m sharing this with my director in the hopes of getting permission to do so here (

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 5:43 pm | Permalink
  10. Jon Gorman wrote:

    Well, I thought about just showing the raw marc for some particularly bad records with the title: “Just use Amazon and LibraryThing”, but thought that might be too subtle of a way to educate our young on the use of our libraries.

    Ok, it’s 4:45 on a Friday, I’m going home, walking the dog, and meeting with friends for food and drink and hope that I haven’t incited too much hate ;).

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  11. Thank you. Thank you, thank you , thank you, thank you. As a current grad student in library science I sometimes get a little overwhelmed with the lack of actual reading I get to do. Thank you.

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  12. Greg wrote:

    Perhaps I was just trying to be too earnest about it. My original ideas were more on the order of posters. To wit:

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 6:25 pm | Permalink
  13. Shrug. Mine was aimed at librarians, not kids, and if it’s Hallmarkian, woteva. It’s still what I try to live, breath, and teach.

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 11:01 pm | Permalink
  14. Often my most important ideas can sound Hallmarkian — so I push and knead them until they don’t.

    Saturday, May 3, 2008 at 9:23 am | Permalink
  15. Greg, your original ideas were playful — I love your original idea. That’s juicy full-tilt thinking, writing, and design!

    Saturday, May 3, 2008 at 9:24 am | Permalink
  16. Eileen, I love Librarianism! Sign me up!

    Walter, I like your tagline as well (though sometimes reading is my pink blanky). Hope you blog that.

    Saturday, May 3, 2008 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  17. Dorothea, I hadn’t looked at yours, though I heard about it. I respect your insights, but I’m increasingly drawn to blogs with engagement — it feels inherent to the genre.

    Saturday, May 3, 2008 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  18. Catherine wrote:

    Sigh. It’s memes like this that make me wish I had a blog.

    Still, I respectfully disagree with this statement: “If you are not reading at least several hundred pages a week, in at least one sustained reading session, you are not reading enough. Push out something that doesn’t matter, and read.”

    My days are filled with my 8-month-old son, my full-time job, my husband, and the smallest possible amount of attention to food, clothing, cleanliness, and the physical needs of all three of us: the mortar that holds together the bricks of our lives, if you will.

    None of this doesn’t matter.

    Certainly I recognize that I am not reading enough. Certainly I wish I could read more, and more sustainedly, and I hold out hope that someday I will be able to again. But for now, for me, reading matters less than these things.

    Sunday, May 4, 2008 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  19. Catherine, I too have had periods in my life when I didn’t have time to read. (Military basic training, to start with! Household moves are also dawn-to-midnight physically consuming.) With a full-time job and an 8-month-old child, I’m impressed you even managed to read this blog and comment on it! Someday you’ll have time again to read.

    Monday, May 5, 2008 at 7:59 am | Permalink
  20. Sheila wrote:

    Leaving aside the whole meme thing, your passion that “kids” be told to read widely and deeply their entire lives sent me back to your post about teens and writing. My initial sense was that of a disconnect between the notion that “texting and email and Facebook postings [are ,of course] “real” writing and the characterization of a lot of online reading (“reading in tiny sips and nibbles”) as not being quite real enough.

    I agree completely and wholeheartedly with everything that you say about the importance of letting our brains “engage actively and deeply in words.” Nonetheless I wonder if there aren’t also ways that we can tell “kids” that the tiny texts can and should engage their minds deeply as well and that they can be read “fully and deeply.”

    There is no question that sustained reading is one of the simplest and most direct ways to keep our minds engaged and alert to all that should be capturing our attention, but I am also holding out the hope that there can be a depth of thought and attention that comes from the bits and pieces of reading as well.

    Monday, May 5, 2008 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  21. Robin wrote:

    Sheila, I think reading and writing in tiny texts and snippets is important, because it allows one to digest a wide, diverse range of ideas and information. However, there is no substitute for the intense, prolonged reading and writing that goes along with developing a thorough understanding of a subject. It tickles those hard-to-reach neurons which, especially in this day and age, are aching to be stimulated.

    Monday, May 5, 2008 at 11:20 pm | Permalink
  22. Sheila, what Robin said. I find it encouraging that the online environment has young people constantly writing and reading. But it’s not a substitute for exercising the sustained-reading muscle. It feels different and it is different.

    Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 6:35 am | Permalink
  23. Catherine wrote:

    Karen, thank you for your kind and thoughtful reply to my comment – the original quote caught me in a moment of, well, not “exhaustion” precisely, but more than simple new-parent tiredness, and happened to hit a few of my buttons. I should have followed the “wait 24 hours to comment” rule and didn’t, and you responded with grace and aplomb.

    As someone who was once “that kid” who couldn’t be called to dinner for reading, I absolutely agree with you on sustained reading. At this point, however, the extent of my ability to “sustain” is only as long as “Fox in Socks”! :-)

    Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 10:51 am | Permalink
  24. Catherine, if I could give you a gift, it would be 48 hours in a spa hotel with a pile of books. :-)

    Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 10:59 am | Permalink
  25. Robin wrote:

    I don’t think kids should be TOLD to read. Just model it for them and they will follow suit. I flinch when I hear parents tell their reluctant reader kids that they have to read such and such – making it a punishment… SIGH

    Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 1:58 pm | Permalink
  26. Wow, such an impassioned speech about reading. You really have a gift for words. I’m going to have my daughter read what you wrote. She’s not a reader (much to my dismay because I am a librarian) but maybe she will be inspired.

    Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  27. Robin, reading-as-punishment is terrible… but encouragement, even gentle bribes, a good thing. Though teachers SHOULD tell students to read.

    Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 3:28 pm | Permalink
  28. Rhonda wrote:

    My sister-in-law & I (5 kids & 2 full-time jobs between us) have often joked about booking a hotel room one weekend and bringing a pile of books. No seeing the sights, no spa services, nothing – just reading.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008 at 11:23 am | Permalink

6 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  6. Memes of Yesterday: Five blog heroes - Spurious Tuples on Friday, March 27, 2009 at 8:59 am

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