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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.”

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