Category: reading

Finishing Narnia

You’ll recall that I started reading aloud to my daughter over the summer in an effort to get her reading skills improving. It continues to go wonderfully. Her reading has gotten better by leaps and bounds. She’s not off the charts, skill-wise, but she’s right in line with where she should be reading, and I feel like my efforts have really helped get her there. Better yet, it’s become a tradition the two of us enjoy a lot. She reminds me when I forget, and it’s something she looks forward to every day.

We finished The Last Battle on Saturday, completing The Chronicles of Narnia at last. It’s always been one of my favorite series, and reading it with DC was a real treat, as I got to see it through her eyes for the first time. The Last Battle is one of my favorite books ever, and it especially hit home with me this time through.

For those of you who don’t know, the Last Battle is the story of how Narnia is destroyed. This place that you’ve been with through six books and loved dearly just gets completely wrecked by a stupid selfish monkey, and for what? He wanted some nuts. (I’m oversimplifying here.) The first half of the book is just brutal, as you see this place you love get ripped apart. Characters you’ve cherished get cut down, and awful, terrible things happen every page.

It’s painful to read, especially to a big fan of the series.

So you’d figure it would be a book I’d hate. But the thing is, just when you think it all can’t possibly get any worse, the heroes of the book die. And so that’s just the last straw, right? But when they die, what happens next is so lovely. The entire world ends up dying as well. Again, that sounds terrible. But CS Lewis basically sets out the whole final judgment, and you see the entire world of Narnia quickly get judged, and you follow the ones who pass to heaven.

DC, as I’m reading all of this to her, stopped me and looked at me with bright eyes. “This is heaven, Dad!” And I loved seeing that expression on her face as she figured it out. Because for how terrible the first half or even two-thirds of the book is, the last part is bliss. You see all the characters you loved come back. The world come back. Everyone is reunited with their families and friends. And it just keeps getting better and better. It’s one of the best presentations of what I hope heaven could and will be like.

At this time in our political history, it was very nice to me to remember that things can improve even when they look like they can’t possibly get worse. That even an unsalvageable situation can end up with a happy solution. True, it takes faith and divine intervention, but that’s some of the things that get me through a lot of my struggles.

Anyway. There’s your bright spot for the day. I’m off to work on library conferences some more. Thanks for reading!

How to Help Your Kids Improve Their Reading

There was a time, years ago, when TRC wasn’t a big reader. Granted, it was in Kindergarten, right after he’d learned to read in the first place, but still. I remember wanting him to read more, and so I started reading aloud with him in the evenings. This lasted all of two or three evenings, because after that, he decided he wanted to read the book faster so he could find out what happened, and he really hasn’t stopped reading since. Seriously.

So for four years or so, that’s what I thought “encouraging your kids to read” consisted of. (Come to think of it, I helped a bit earlier with him too. I told him he could start staying up a half hour later if he could read all of Green Eggs and Ham, way back at the very beginning stages of his reading. That worked easy peasy too.)

But one thing you learn as a parent is that each child is different. The time came for DC to learn to read, and I used the same approach I’d used with TRC. First, the Green Eggs and Ham bribe. But she didn’t jump all over it like TRC had. Where it had taken him days to do it, it took her months and much more coaxing.

Not to worry, I said to myself. It might just be a bit soon for her.

But the years passed, and things didn’t seem to improve. She was reading at her grade level, but she didn’t really have a love of reading at all. This is something I couldn’t really understand at all. I finished Lord of the Rings in second grade. I love me some reading. But I didn’t want to give DC a hard time. She’d grow into it. She looks much older than she actually is, so it’s easy to assume she’s farther along in her education than she is. That had to be it, right?

About two months ago, someone asked her to read something out loud on the spur of the moment. She happily agreed, and then did her best. It was a real struggle for her, and I saw that first hand and couldn’t really get around it. My daughter was struggling to read, and she was already through with second grade.

This wasn’t working.

Reading is such a huge part of school and life. If you can read quickly and read well, it’s so much easier to stay on top of your school work, to learn new things, to come across new ideas. I wanted that for my daughter, but I didn’t know how to get it.

Like with many things in my life, I prayed about what I could do to help. The answer I got was to start reading with her every evening. I’m a goal-oriented fellow, so I added that to my daily routine. I sat DC down and told her that she and I would be reading the Chronicles of Narnia every night. It was one of my favorite series growing up, and I thought she’d love it too. But there were some stipulations I made with her. First, she’d be reading over my shoulder. She had to be following along on the page with what I was reading. To help this, I used a piece of paper to underline each line as I went, moving the paper as the reading continued. Second, she’d have to read out loud herself, some on each page. To keep her honest, I told her that at any time, I might tell her that it was her turn to start reading, and she’d need to pick up from where I’d left off, right away.

It was new to her, but she liked the idea, so we started with Prince Caspian (the family had read Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe a while ago, and I wanted fresh material.) It went very well. She struggled reading out loud, but she really enjoyed the story. (I do voices, because how can you read out loud and not do voices?) It took a few days of effort to establish the pattern and the habit, but we hit our groove soon after.

We’ve now finished all of Prince Caspian and 2/3 of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, following that same pattern. A chapter a night. She reads with me, and she reads out loud on her own now and then too.

I’ve been amazed at how well this has worked. For one thing, she’s started reading a ton more in general, finishing many books in her summer reading program. Reading aloud has also become much more natural for her. She still struggles on longer words, but she handles shorter words like a champ and has improved so much. But even more importantly, it’s given me something to do with her every day that she really looks forward to and enjoys, and that I enjoy too.

In the end, it wasn’t anything earth shattering. I doubt I’m doing anything different than what most parents are doing, and it’s a shame it took me this long to come up with the basic idea of “just read to her more,” but such is life. Sometimes it takes time to come up with obvious solutions. And so I  thought I’d pass this obvious solution on to any of you who might need a little kick in the pants to follow suit.

Thanks for reading!

The Power of a Great Book

I love to read. That much should be pretty self-evident. But the fact is, I don’t always read great books. Don’t get me wrong: most of the books I read are good. If they weren’t, I’d give up on reading them. But it’s not every day that I come across a great book. What’s the difference?

A good book is fun to read. It’s diverting. But a great book demands to be read. When I’m in the middle of a great book, I lose sleep because I can’t put the book down. I think about it when I’m not reading it. I give up other things in order to get through it more quickly.

Ironically, good books last me a fairly long time. Great books are finished far too soon.

So what makes a book great for me personally? It’s a combination of things. It needs to have characters I really care about and can relate to. It needs to have a plot I can’t see coming. It needs to have consistency. The characters need to be true to themselves from beginning to end. That doesn’t mean they can’t surprise me or betray trusts, but when they do, it needs to be in a way that I can understand. The conflict needs to be over something I can understand and root for.

In a way, I can compare a great book to a great football game. The rules are well-defined. You know who’s on each team. You know what each team wants. And then you get to see it all unfold over the course of four quarters. What makes a great football game great isn’t that the rules change halfway through, or that one of the players suddenly switches sides for some bizarre reason. It’s that it’s all allowed to unfold organically, and yet it all goes according to those rules.

I’d love to read more great books, though I realize a great book varies by the reader. What’s great for me might not be great for you. That said, I’d love to hear two things from you all:

  1. What makes a book great for you?
  2. What are some great books you can recommend to me?

I’ve provided you all with the first. For the second, I’ll say that the great book I’m currently bleary-eyed over is Brent Weeks’ The Way of Shadows. It’s epic fantasy and intended for a mature audience. And I’ve been loving every minute so far.

How Keeping Track of My Reading Has Helped Me

Some of you might recall I set a goal back at the beginning of the year to keep track of my reading habits. (I know. Me and goals? What a surprise. /sarcasm) The purpose at the time was to help kick myself in the pants and start reading more than I had been. A librarian and an author, and I was barely getting a book a month in. Pitiful, right? So I started that spreadsheet, and I’ve dutifully been tracking my reading all year.

After the first 8 months, I’ve already read 28 books. Over 12,000 pages of reading.

Now, I know that for some of you, that’s chump change. But for me? I’m pretty proud of that. (Obviously. I mean, I’m writing a whole blog post about it, after all.) I’m already doing a fair bit in my life, so finding time to read is something I have to set as a priority, even though it sounds silly. Why prioritize something I like to do in my spare time and would voluntarily do tons of if left to my own devices?

It’s simple: because I have so many other things I’m doing, I need to make time for things that are also important and that I enjoy, or else they won’t happen.

When seen from this angle, it all seems so simple. I’m used to scheduling time to do the things I’m not really wanting to do. (Answer all those emails that built up while I was away on vacation, for one thing.) Why have all that practice on blocking off time if you never use it for something you enjoy?

Why does keeping track of the books I read help me read more? I have no idea. I can’t imagine it’s unique to me, but I’ve found that when I track things, I pay more attention to them. There have been a few spots through the year where the reading has ebbed, and I’ve noticed it’s ebbed because I’m keeping track of it. That’s enough of a reminder for me that I step up my game some and get back on track. When I wasn’t following it closely, the reading would ebb, and I’d blink and find a few months had passed without me reading a book. (Also, it helps that I’ve tracked how much I’ve been watching. Balance in all things.)

Anyway. That’s my update for the day. Now it’s back into the fray with work backlog. Wish me luck!

Ten Books That Have Stayed with Me

Several of my friends have tagged me on Facebook the past week or so, which means I’m supposed to list the top ten books that have stayed with me over the years. I’m not very good at doing top ten lists, because I hate picking the best of anything. So don’t consider this list a definitive answer. Look at it as more of a list of the first ten books that seemed important enough to Bryce when he was tagged to do this assignment.

Fair enough?

Oh–and I’m going for fiction only on this list. Because that’s how I roll, yo. Here we go–in no particular order, other than the order the books happened to occur to me as I thought of them. (Don’t you love disclaimers? They let me function in everyday simple assignments like this.)

  1. The Chronicles of Narnia–Read this again and again as a child. My family has a Narnia-themed cabin in the mountains of Utah. Love love love it, though not as a Christian allegory or anything–I just love the story and the characters. (And I’ll sneak another series into here: Lev Grossman’s Magicians. Because a post-modern deconstructionist fantasy adaptation/response to Narnia is right up my alley.)
  2. Lord of the Rings–Sheesh. It feels like I’m just copping out here, going down a list of famous fantasies. I read the Hobbit in first or second grade, followed soon after by Fellowship of the Ring. Mainly because my brother was reading it at the time, and I figured anything he could read, I could read faster. Despite him being two years ahead of me and all. (It’s surprising how much of my life is the way it is because I’m a competitive person.) I’ve lost track how many times I read this series. Legion.
  3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn–Anytime you write a masters thesis on a book, it’s going to affect you. And when that thesis involves watching 19 adaptations of the book–most of them awful? It’ll stay with you even longer. I enjoy this book for how broken it is. How Twain seems to be doing one thing throughout the book, and then pulls the rug out from all the critics right at the end. Lots of food for thought here.
  4. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy–Did I say fiction only? It seems I lied. This was the textbook Dave Wolverton used for the class I took from him on that topic. I was fresh off my mission, and I had a blast. It’s clearly had an impact on my life, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it.
  5. The Wasteland and The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock–As long as I lied about fiction, I might as well cheat and throw in some poetry on this list. Because poetry. And it doesn’t get more poety than TS Eliot. Freshman year of college I used to go to the library, hole up in a carrel, and read books about the Wasteland. What? How did you spend your freshman year? Prufrock beats Wasteland, but they’re both awesome works.
  6. Vodnik–Yes. I just used my own book. But I get to do that, because this is my list, and my blog, and the first book I professionally published certainly deserves a spot on this list. The years spent writing and revising it are numerous.
  7. The Wheel of Time Series–I still remember coming across it at the library. Picking it up because it was one of the thickest books on the shelves. I grew up with this series, and then a good friend of mine finished it. Still crazy to me. Still love it, warts and all.
  8. Flatland–Read this in 10th grade geometry. Still think about it from time to time, and I use it regularly to illustrate various principles. I know a lot of the other students disliked it. That’s fine by me.
  9. The Screwtape Letters–What? Two listings for CS Lewis? Tough. Get over it. Read this in middle school and thought it was awesome. It took Lewis from just “some guy who wrote Narnia” to “an author and thinker I want to read more of.” Ended up taking a class on his literature in college, too. Loved it.
  10. The Monster at the End of This Book–The first book I can remember just adoring and rereading again and again. Couldn’t get enough of Grover trying to stop me from turning the pages. Take that, silly Grover! Love reading this one to my kids now, too.

And there you have it. It’s sort of a motley list, and more than a little stream of consciousness, but I suppose that sort of describes me as a reader and person. I’m not going to tag anyone else, because it feels a little too chain lettery to me. But if you’d like to do a similar list and have been waiting for someone to call you out publicly, consider this the call!

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