Tag Archives: Reading

Canada Reads inspires the reader in all of us

7 Feb

Canada Reads is an annual competition where celebrities debate on the “best Canadian novel”. The goal of the Canada Reads debate is to put a spotlight on Canadian literature and, perhaps more importantly, it also ambitiously attempts to get Canadians to read more. It seems of course like a natural reaction for anyone who listens to an hour-long discussion/debate on the merits of a few specific books to then be enticed to go out and read them. The proof that Canada Reads truly does increase the readership of the selected titles is demonstrated by a noticeable increase in their book sales. Bookstores will usually jump on the promotional bandwagon and market these books as contestants on Canada Reads (in the bookstore where I used to work we would use special stickers to identify the Canada Reads titles). Equally from a public library perspective, the exposure creates a rush on these titles and consequently all of the copies in our provincial system are currently checked out and the reservation list grows longer as the debate intensifies.

Today was the first round of the three days of debates hosted by the amazing representative of culture in Canada Jian Ghomeshi. The five books voted to be included in this year’s competition and whose winner is supposed to represent the essential Canadian novel of the past 10 years are Essex County by Jeff Lemire, The Birth House by Ami McKay, The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou, Unless by Carol Shields, and The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis. Now here I must shamefully admit that I have not yet read any of these five books. In fact prior to Canada Reads, I had never even heard of Essex County or The Best Laid Plans. This is particularly embarrassing considering that I’m a public librarian and that prior to my MLIS I worked in the book industry and have always had a keen interest in promoting Canadian literature.

I perhaps should not be too embarrassed though considering that the whole point of Canada Reads is to say to all Canadians “Wake up! Canadian authors produce amazing literature and you should read their books!”. Apparently librarians are not to be exempted from this wake-up call. As librarians we should not pretend that we know everything about popular books and authors or what people should be reading. We are often too guilty of reading only the genres that interest us or we simply regurgitate the recommendations that we’ve heard from others. What I love about Canada Reads is that it entices people to explore books outside of their regular reading habits (this year for the first time a graphic novel was included in the competition).

Tanya Abramovitch, director of the Eleanor London Côte Saint-Luc library gave the assignment last year to her students in McGill’s School of Information Studies Public Libraries’ course to read three books from a genre that they would not normally chose. I think that this assignment is a brilliant idea and that more librarians should be encouraged to read outside of their comfort zone. Canada Reads provides a cultural spotlight for Canadians to discover amazing titles and authors that they might not have otherwise read but that are worthy of our attention. Librarians need to be actively promoting Canada Reads as a way of tapping into the media attention surrounding these titles to increase readership. However, we cannot simply rely on Canada Reads; we need to be at the forefront exploring publishing catalogues, literary magazines like the Quill and Quire, websites like Goodreads, and our own library’s book stacks searching for the next great book to recommend.

I encourage everyone, even those not in Canada, to follow Canada Reads on the CBC Canada Reads website.

I also would really love if people posted below their own recommendation of a book they feel is worthy of a national literary competition.

Happy reading!

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Too many books to read!

11 Oct

For three years during my undergrad, my homework every day was to read amazing literature. I got my degree in French and Quebec Literature at Université Laval and I would easily read over 20 books in one semester as part of my required reading. I never once complained about all the books I had to read (although admittedly I did complain about the essays I had to write following my readings). Now that I am a librarian one might assume that I get to read all day. However as other librarians know this is unfortunately completely untrue. In fact it is extremely difficult to be a librarian when you are a huge fan of reading because every day you are surrounded by amazing books that are crying out to be read but you must concentrate on responsibilities such as serving users, organizing events, and promoting the library. Who has time to read?

The past few weeks, I have made more of a point to spend my free time reading certain books. I am running two Hackmatack books clubs for preteens (one in English and one in French). Obviously as the leader of the book club, I need to have read the books that we’ll be discussing. Also last week I attended the award ceremony for the Prix Littéraire Antoinine-Maillet Acadie-Vie, a literary award that recognizes outstanding literature by Acadian authors. I felt obligated to read the shortlisted nominated titles especially since I knew that I would be meeting the authors at the cocktail reception and I wanted to be able to say that I’d read their books. I was extremely pleased that Mme Françoise Enguehard won for her novel L’archipel du docteur Thomas. I found this novel to be beautifully written and I wholeheartedly agreed that it deserved to win the award!  Of course not all of my reading has been work related. One of my guilty pleasures was that I “had” to read Mini-Shopaholic, the new Sophie Kinsella novel as soon as my order arrived before shipping it off to the Regional Office to be catalogued. Luckily Sophie Kinsella is pure brain candy and I was able to finish it within a few days.

Often I have heard library school students and librarians lament about their lack of time to actually sit down and read. One of the best ways to keep reading is to join or run your own book club or have a reading buddy with whom you can share what you are reading. Despite our mountain of other responsibilities, I believe that reading a lot contributes to becoming a better librarian. The more books you have read the better you will be at readers’ advisory, an essential library service. Also, it helps to keep one grounded in what many people believe is one of the cornerstone responsibilities of libraries: the proliferation of a passion for reading.

Response to article “How to Raise Boys that Read”

26 Sep

The following blog post is my response to the article How to Raise Boys who Read by Thomas Spence published in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section. In this article, Spence comments on the tendency of publishers to promote “gross-out” books in an effort to get boys to read more. He argues against this current trend to “meet boys where they are” stating that these books do not support a valuable education of manners and taste and that ultimately “if you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn’t go very far”.

Anyone who knows me is well aware of my huge passion for Children’s Literature. Before returning to McGill’s School of Information Studies, I was the educational representative for the only English bookstore in eastern Quebec and was often invited to give presentations to teachers on how to integrate literature into the ESL classroom. It was my job to know all the new titles from different publishing companies and anticipate which books would be

a) able to capture a student’s interest

b) appropriate for a wide range of different ESL reading levels

Through my meetings with teachers across the province of Quebec, I encountered all sorts of opinions on what kids should be reading. The challenge of getting certain kids to read book is doubled when that book is written in the child’s second language. Most educators were of the opinion that if a student could read a particular book in English then he/she should be reading that book. Popular titles were Captain Underpants, Garfield comics and the high interest/low reading level Stone Arch books from Capstone Publishing.

Once I even had a high school teacher ask me to recommend a book for hersecondary 3 (grade 10) class that had sex in it. This teacher told me that the year before for individual reading one girl’s book with a sex scene chapter had been passed around because everyone was so curious to read that particular chapter. She thought if they were interested in reading about sex, then that would be what she would give them. I recommended Noughts and Crosses by Marjorie Blackman, an extremely well-written story of passion using the typical literary motif of star-crossed lovers. In this case, I guess I was sharing Thomas Spence’s perspective in that I was careful not to recommend just any book with a sex scene. I felt Noughts and Crosses would contribute to the students’ education because in addition to having the hot and steamy forbidden sex it also touches on interesting themes for high school students such as loyalty, racism, and terrorism.

Now that I am the director of a public library, I am truly happy to see young people checking out whatever books will make them happy. One series of comics that is extremely popular at my library is Kidpaddle, the latest title in this collection is “Le retour de la momie qui pue  qui tue” (The Return of the mummy who stinks and kills), definitely the type of book that Spence would categorize as a “gross-out book” but the other day a boy around 10 years old came into the library and was so incredibly excited when I showed him that there was a new Kidpaddle book. His face lit up into a huge smile and he exclaimed to his mom “I haven’t read this one yet, I want to borrow this book!” The boy’s excitement to read this comic was the most wonderful reaction to a book I’d ever seen. It completely made my day!

So in conclusion, I’m still on the fence about Thomas Spence’s article. I understand and respect his opinion but at the same time, I really do not think that reading always has to be about learning. I am not convinced that boys would be better off if they were all reading Treasure Island as he suggests. I am an advocate of reading and books and so I will continue to be happy to provide boys with whatever reading they might want.

Escape into a good story…do I dare?

18 Nov

“All the best stories in the world are but one story in reality, the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape.” – Arthur Christopher Benson (1862-1925)

A few nights ago, a colleague from the public library where I work recommended to me a book called Literacy and Longing in L.A. by Jennifer Kaufman, Karen Mack. She told me that I would enjoy it and so against my good judgment, I borrowed it. I want to read it, I really do…just like I really wanted to read the last 3 books that I borrowed and then returned to the library, unread. I have so many things going on in my life right now, every day seems like a race against time. I feel that I could not possibly allow myself to escape into a good story, it would simply be irresponsible. Also, I honestly do not necessarily feel the urge to escape; I have chosen all of my commitments and I want to fulfill them to the best of my ability. However, I am torn, as a self-proclaimed bookworm and an aspiring librarian, I should be prioritizing my reading. How can I proclaim the merits of reading and encourage others to pick up a book when I do not even make time to do so myself?

So in the past few days I’ve started my new book. I have to admit, it is very interesting (the opening quote is found at the beginning of the first chapter). I won’t have time to devour it in a few days like I normally do with a good book. This could actually turn out to be a positive thing because, by reading it a little bit at a time, I will actually get to savour each chapter since I will be considering each one to be a special treat.

Do you always make time to read a good book even when you’ve got lots of other commitments? When and where do you find time to read? On public transportation? While eating meals? Before you fall asleep at night? I’m looking for suggestions!

How does what we read influence who we are?

25 Aug

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the act of reading and more specifically about the significance of the material that we choose to read. A recent OnFiction blog post compares the statement of “You are what you eat” to the idea that “You are what you read”. Do I really believe this? If I do, what does my lack of literary discrimination say about me?  When I was younger, I was an obsessed bookworm who would read anything that I could get my hands on : Anne of Green Gables, Kipling’s Just so Stories, the Babysitters’ Club, my mom’s Women’s Weekly magazine, etc. As long as I was reading then I was content. Over the years I haven’t changed, I went on to get a BA in French and Quebec literature at Université Laval. I am proud to say that I’ve not only read Marcel Proust but I understood him well enough to enjoy the experience. Yet, I love laughing out loud to Sophie Kinsella and *gasp*, have been known to read the occasional Harlequin. How is this possible??? Last summer, I went through a horrible break-up and read nothing but self-help books like Better Single than Sorry by Jen Schefft. This summer, I’m embracing my ecological side and my favourite summer read has been Car Sick : Solutions for a Car-addicted Culture by Lynn Sloman. Maybe the conclusion is that I’m a very complex person and that my schizophrenic-like taste in reading material responds to the diverse interests of my personality.

What does your reading say about you?

Defining Reading

3 Aug

For a final paper for a summer class at McGill’s School of Information Studies (SIS), I was asked to contemplate the question of the demise of reading. I argued that rather than the demise of reading, we should be considering the evolution of reading since forms of reading and writing have been evolving for longer than millennia. Even Socrates lamented an evolution in the popularity of writing that he felt ““[gave] only the semblance of truth; [students] will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality” .

The topic of my paper came about from “Reading at Risk” a report from 2004 on the decline of reading in America and in its 2007 follow-up report “To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence”.  In these reports the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) predicts the demise of literary reading as a leisure activity within half a century.  However, much like Socrates, the NEA’s reports rely on an obvious preference for the status quo; a narrow definition of reading that focuses on the reading of fiction in print format for leisure purposes.

I argued that with the incredible transformations that have occurred in the 21st century society due to the invention of the internet, it is unrealistic to expect that the concept of reading remain the same as it was in past centuries.  Thanks to the popularity of Web 2.0, the tendency of passive reading has evolved into a reading-writing relationship. People are now participating in communities of dialogue where formats like blogs and on-line editorials allow readers to interact with authors and with other readers.

Of course upon reading these comments my dad argued that when he read, he did not wish to participate in a dialogue but rather he reads as a form of escapism, to become lost in a good  story with intriguing characters.  I agree that there is a lot of be said for this act of escapism. Why else would I and so many other people be addicted to Sophie Kinsella books? However,  as a future librarian, I cannot assume that this form of reading will remain popular throughout my entire career.  I admit that I prefer a good novel like the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer to any blog posts I’ll read, but I recognize that librarians must be ready for whatever evolution in reading comes their way. Unlike the NEA, I will not sit back and cry that people aren’t “reading” anymore.  I will be ready to meet the needs of my future patrons, but perhaps I will keep a stack of good novels in my back room, just in case!