September 6 is National Read a Book Day!
As a kid I’d read constantly. My favorites were biographies; the local library had a series for young readers, the true life stories of various notable people in history. Statesmen, scientists, authors, teachers, I read and enjoyed them all. In fourth grade I read Farewell to Manzanar for a school book report and my obsession with memoir began. Prozac Nation, Girl Interrupted, and The Unquiet Mind shaped my interests and course of study. And on the flip side, my other love was for fantasy. Alice, Arthur, Narnia, Valdemar, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Game of Thrones, and the library also had all the tie-in novels to Star Trek and Star Wars.
But over the years it’s become harder to find the time — or allow myself the time — to read a book that’s not for school or research or work. And when I do read, for example, a new Star Wars novel, I worry that I should be writing about it, for example for Geek Mom, instead of just reading it because I like Star Wars. Or for fun. Or for no reason at all.
Part of my reading tension is Americans are taught to read for assignments. Even ‘free reading time’ in school is time assigned to read. Reading lists and challenges are provided for school breaks all the way through college. But as an adult I’ve found it harder to assign myself time to read. That’s why I like book clubs, online reading challenges, events like National Read a Book Day, and campaigns like The Great American Read. They give me context and assuage my anxiety. Plus they add a social element to something personal and individual — perfect for someone like me, who straddles the line between introvert and extrovert.
As you may recall The Great American Read debuted May 22 and introduced 100 finalists for the title of America’s Favorite Novel. The PBS series picks up again Tuesday, September 11 with episodes dedicated to themes including “Heroes,” “Villains & Monsters,” “Who Am I?,” “What We Do for Love,” and “Other Worlds.” Meanwhile the top forty of the contenders are available here. Over two million votes have been cast so far and the poll remains open. You can vote once a day now through October 18.
I have some strong opinions, both positive and negative, about the current top forty (and the full list of 100), and that’s what makes it fun. On the list are books I’ve read over and over and books I couldn’t get through the first time. Books I own more than one copy of and books I couldn’t get out of my house fast enough. Books I quote constantly and books I’ve described as the worst writing I’ve suffered through reading. Of course there are lesser known novels I wish had made the cut, so I could champion them, but the books that did make it into this friendly competition really run the gamut and I honestly appreciate that there is a novel I really, truly can’t stand right next to one I firmly believe reading made me a better person. It’s more a list for everybody that way.
And National Read a Book Day is for everyone, too. The purpose is not to read an entire book, nor to read a book considered to be ‘hard’, ‘acclaimed’, ‘scholarly’, or any other adjective. The purpose isn’t even, really, to celebrate reading, though it does and though reading should absolutely be celebrated. The purpose isn’t even quite to remind us to read a book in the midst of all the reading of blogs and Facebook posts and op-eds we do, or to give people like me permission to “just” read a book, though those also happen. The purpose is to promote reading. And it’s simple to participate: read a book. But if you, like me, like to have structure or suggestions, here are my additional ideas:
- Read to a child or senior
- Give a copy of your favorite book to someone else
- Listen to an audio book
- Visit your local library – thank your librarian!
- Post some of your favorite titles to social media and ask for related recommendations
- Pick something off your “To Be Read” shelf to start reading today
- Vote in The Great American Read
And if you, like me, sometimes struggle with deadlines, know that it’s okay to participate a day or a week late and it won’t affect your standing in the class of life.
The Great American Read returns to PBS next Tuesday, September 11, and in the meantime, I’d love to know what you’re reading!