Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Importance of Reading . . . and Writing! by Radine Trees Nehring

For more than 20 years, Radine Trees Nehring's magazine features, essays, newspaper articles, and radio broadcasts have shared colorful stories about people, places, events, and the natural world near her Arkansas home.

In 2002, Radine's first mystery novel, A VALLEY TO DIE FOR, was published, and in 2003 became a Macavity Award nominee.  Since then she has continued to enthrall her original fans and attract new ones with her signature blend of down-home Ozarks sightseeing and amateur sleuthing by lovable active retirees Henry King and Carrie McCrite King.  With her sixth novel, JOURNEY TO DIE FOR, which continues the series' pattern of earning "Best Mystery" awards,  Nehring takes her characters and readers for a ride on a historic train line into the middle of trouble, intrigue, and murder.          ALL ABOARD!

Radine Trees Nehring
The TO DIE FOR mystery series.
Now boarding: Take a JOURNEY TO DIE FOR

The Importance of Reading...and Writing!
by Radine Trees Nehring

I have several friends who are school teachers, and I've have heard their gripes that, these days, teaching has become a matter of preparing students for required tests to show whether or not they have mastered basic skills.  "Alas, no more processing of ideas, no more creative thinking," one said.

While I don't believe for a minute this is entirely true, still the trend is worrying, especially in light of what we see around us in the United States today.  I imagine everyone reading this has lamented over the decline in reading generally, especially among young people.  Oh, they can read and transmit brief bursts of information by tweeting, texting, and so on.  They can enjoy all kinds of video games and video-led interaction, plus today's version of the comic book.  (Lots of pictures telling a story.)  But, CAN THEY READ AND THINK?  Are they able to process ideas that require more than a quick grab of "mt u DQ, 8."?          

Well, as of yet, you won't find the abbreviated language of text messaging in books, whether read electronically or from paper pages.  Real reading requires a certain degree of quiet, of concentration, and of thought processing.  Even the wildest race-through-it thrillers demand this from a reader.

Most mature folks certainly read when they were in school, but many of them, (us?) too, have jumped through an information time warp and now find it easier to get news from TV sound bites, and Internet and radio rants.  Reading--and thinking about what we read--seems to be old-fashioned and too time-consuming.

My interest in this subject was enlivened recently by an article in the Spring, 2010 issue of the "Authors Guild Bulletin."  Katherine Paterson, author of THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, and other award-winning books for young people, was interviewed by Nicola Smith.  In the article Paterson is quoted as saying, "...unless people read, I don't think they are thinking deeply....  If you're going to have a democracy, you need thinking people."

Wow.  A link between sustaining democracy and reading?  That makes our efforts to promote what I will now call "Real Reading" doubly important.  So, what can you and I do?         

We can READ.  Newspapers, books, magazines.  (Does this seem too obvious?)        

We can carry a Kindle (or one of its cousins), or a printed-on-paper book in public as frequently as possible., and read on subways, airplanes, in waiting rooms, and while waiting in line.  (Might help create interest in reading if we aren't afraid to laugh or exclaim or even make comments while reading.  Honestly, no one will call the cops.  And, didn't you always want to be seen as  a bit different, and definitely above average?)        

READ TO KIDS.  (And ham it up if possible.)  If there are no kids in the home, how about volunteering to read anywhere kids gather.  In Christian Sunday School classes read entire stories directly from the Bible in book form.  (Basic Jewish and Muslim teachings require mastery of religious text by young people.)  Ask about volunteering to read children's books aloud in libraries, day care centers, clubs for youngsters.        

Broaden your reach!  PROMOTE TEACHING WOMEN AND GIRLS in far-away countries TO READ.  Donate to organizations supporting this.

GIVE BOOKS AS GIFTS.  Honor friends and family by picking books you're sure they'll enjoy.        

TALK ABOUT READING:  "Oh, is that what he said?  It's quite an idea, but just last week I read..."

Or maybe:  "I just finished a book about (fill blank--maybe taking care of your car?) and now I can change my oil with confidence."  (Perhaps more impressive:  "I just read this book and now I understand the International Monetary System--I think.")

OR:  "Have you read JOURNEY TO DIE FOR by Radine Trees Nehring?"  (Well, it could be ANY novel.)  "Loved the story, it seemed real, and the characters were like real people.  I was interested in seeing how they worked through problems."  Or:  "Great adventure."  Or, perhaps:  "Learned a lot about (again, fill the blank)." And so on.         

VOLUNTEER TO TEACH READING to young people and adults in your area who are struggling with this skill.  

WRITE.   If you're a writer, for heaven's sake keep doing it.  Let people know what you do and that you enjoy it.  (You do, don't you?)  Join a local writers' group and read your work aloud for critique.  If possible, meet in public places where your presence, as REAL writers, might draw passers-by to see what's going on.  And be sure others can tell what fun you're having!

Here's something else Katherine Paterson said during Smith's interview:   "If you don't read and you don't think about what you read, your ability to see other people's points of view is diminished, as is the ability to process complicated information or opinion."

Doesn't  this sound like something we really, truly need today? 


Vicki Lane said...

Wonderful post, Radine! And such great suggestions for promoting reading.It's hard to imagine a life without reading for fun.

Jill said...

Very nice post!

Radine said...

Dear Jill and Vicki,
Amen, Vicki--I don't even want to think about a life without reading for fun, (as well as information, available in newspapers, magazines, books, and...blogs). So, keep reading, gals!

Rev. Dr. Anthony Burton said...

I think the idea that some people have, that people have stopped reading, is untrue. However, the idea that people are reading less than they did 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago is probably accurate. People listen and watch more because these things are available now, and often it seems that when they read the newspaper or the latest news on the Internet, they are skimming. People are so hurried, so short of time, and I can relate to that!

That being said, though, I still see people immersed in books, and the local library still does a booming business. As both an author and a publisher, it is in my best interest to encourage reading, but it goes further than that. I was an educator for years, and I saw time after time the results of not having good reading skills. I think we all should follow the advice offered here by Radine, and encourage those around us to read every chance we can!

Radine said...

VERY encouraging, Tony. Recent opinion piece by David Brooks in the New York Times (7-9, I believe) opens with a report on an experiment. Researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books each to take home and read over the summer. They did this for three consecutive years. At the end of the period they found the students who were given the books had significantly higher reading scores than their peers. He also reports that another research (and I realize all these researches are subject to a "wavering" actuality no matter how scholarly or honest the method) showed that studying computer use by a half-million 5th-8th graders in North Carolina found that students who had easy access to high-speed Internet in their homes showed significant delines in math and reading scores. Brooks also mentions Nicholas Carr's recent book THE SHALLOWS, (entire page devoted to a review in the June 21 book section of The Christian Science Monitor) which argues that the Internet is leading to a short attention span culture world-wide.

Maybe, maybe not. But, as Brooks also affirms, "Books have tremendous power" and, as Tony supports, we still need to do all we can to encourage "real reading."