Are you part of a book club? Reading groups are a great way to meet fellow book nerds, discover new books, and exercise those analytical skills that might be a bit rusty since college graduation. If you’ve been curious about joining a book club, October is a great time to try it out. It’s National Reading Group Month, an event founded by the Women’s National Book Association focused on sharing the joy of group reading.
If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the cities hosting a chapter event for National Reading Group Month, these official celebrations would be a great way to get started in book clubbing. You can see a full list of events and the month’s featured books here.
Another great place to find a book club is the site MeetUp. After entering your city, you’ll be able to browse social groups for your area. Book clubs are typically easy to find on the site. If you live in a city like Austin you might find book clubs as varied and fun as “Beer & Cookies Book Club,” “Thrill Me! Book Club,” and “Young at Heart: YA for Adults Book Club.”
Most local libraries also host book clubs where you can meet your fellow bookish neighbors and great bookstores also usually have popular monthly reading groups. If you can’t seem to locate an ongoing local book club, you can always start your own as well. There are many sites (LitLovers, Book Club Girl, and Reading Group Guides to name a few) dedicated to helping book lovers find great book club reads and plan engaging discussion questions.
Of course, you don’t necessarily have to leave the comfort of your pajamas and living room to be a part of a reading group. There are plenty of active online book clubs. Huffington Post has a very active book club (they’re currently discussing Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) and Oprah’s Book Club also typically has great book picks and thorough discussion resources.
Reddit hosts several different book clubs, including a general one and many genre-specific clubs such as fantasy book club, science book club, and history book club. GoodReads has an impressive mix of online reading groups; you should be able to find a book club that interests you with options as wide as “19th Century Epic Romances,” “Books2Movies Club,” “Graphic Novel Reading Group,” and “The Study of the Mind: A Psychological Book Club.”
If joining a book club is something you’ve been curious about but haven’t acted on, take National Reading Group Month to explore the joys of collective reading. Just be sure to read BookRiot’s “Seven Ways to Fake it at Book Club” before you attend your first meeting.
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We’re guessing that you love books as much as we do if you’re sitting there at your house (or, ahem, office), reading this blog. But have you ever considered volunteering with a local or national reading and literacy nonprofit group? There are dozens of amazing organizations supporting literacy and reading throughout the nation. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites—large and small—below.
First Book (http://www.firstbook.org/)
First Book delivers books to children in low-income families across the US and Canada. The Washington, DC-based organization has been supporting literacy for more than twenty years and has donated more than ninety million books to date. In fact, the organization coordinates more than 35,000 book donations per day. First Book has plenty of ways to get involved, including volunteering, advisory boards, donations, virtual book drives, and more.
World Book Night (http://www.us.worldbooknight.org/)
World Book Night is an international annual celebration of reading, held every year in the US, UK, and Ireland on April 23. Tens of thousands of volunteers work in their communities to hand out free paperbacks. The organization, run by representatives of some of the largest publishing companies in the world, designates a few dozen adult and middlegrade books each year (to see 2012’s picks, click here). You can join the group’s mailing list now to sign up to be a giver in 2013.
Reading is Fundamental (http://www.rif.org/)
Reading is Fundamental is the nation’s largest literacy nonprofit group. The organization maintains a list of 400,000 volunteers across America to help deliver books and literary resources to families and communities that need them the most. The group’s highest priority is children from birth through the age of eight. According to RIF, nearly two-thirds of low-income families own zero books. Help change that statistic by volunteering for or donating to Reading is Fundamental.
Family Reading Partnership (http://www.familyreading.org/)
The Family Reading Partnership is a great example of a community-focused literacy nonprofit. Based in Ithaca, NY, the Family Reading Partnership promotes early literacy and group family reading. They have a number of ongoing projects, including Books Before Birth, in which expecting parents receive children’s books at prenatal visits to their doctors, the Bright Red Bookshelf, a collection of gently used books for free throughout the community, a fun and free annual Kid’s Book Fest, and a Story Walk 1k for parents and kids. You can support this great organization through a donation.
Located here in Austin, TX, the Inside Books Project is an all-volunteer organization that sends free books and educational resources to men and women incarcerated in the Texas Prison System. The IBP is the only organization of its kind in our state and they receive more than eight-hundred requests for books from Texas prisoners each month. Volunteer nights are currently held every Thursday and Sunday at Space 12. You can check out their volunteer page for more information.
Hopefully these great organizations inspired you as much as they inspire us to dedicate some extra time to helping our local, national, and international communities. Let us know of any organizations you love to volunteer with in the comments below!
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If you’re anything like us, two of your favorite things in the world are probably vacations and reading. Combine them and we couldn’t be happier. (Well, unless you were to put a margarita into the mix, that is.) Luckily, there is a special kind of trip for book nerds like us—the literary vacation.
Writers’ homes can be a great way to pack some literary destinations into your trip. Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts is open to the public and visitors can view much of Louisa’s original possessions at the site where she wrote the iconic Little Women. Also in Massachusetts you can find the Emily Dickinson House and Museum, Thoreau’s cabin, and Edith Wharton’s estate. A few hours’ drive and you could also check out the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, as suggested by BookPage.
More interested in a southern reading road trip? To Kill a Mockingbird fans flock to Monroeville, Alabama, and the south is also home to the homes and museums of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and many more. Europe also offers a myriad of literary-inspired destinations, including, but certainly not limited to, the Bronte sisters home in Haworth, England and William Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon.
If you don’t feel like lugging your own books on your trip (and you don’t own an e-reader…yet), there are options out there for you, too. The Nines Hotel in Portland, Oregon has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with titles curated by the nearby staff at Powell’s Books. The luxury cruise line Ocean Marina also maintains a library for its patrons, complete with leather chairs and paneled mahogany walls. With ten floors dedicated to the ten Dewey Decimal System categories, the Library Hotel in New York has sixty rooms with books dedicated to their unique genre themes. (The New York Times also created thisinteresting map of literary locations in Manhattan in case you’re staying in the Big Apple this summer.)
While holing up in a beachside bungalow with a stack of great books does sound pleasant (according to Salon), Bill Gates even schedules two week-long “reading retreats” every year), sometimes vacations call for a bit more literary adventure. But even if you’re not ready to forego your trip to the beach in favor of a nerdy reading/writing tour, there are plenty of opportunities to blend the two (hey, Hemingway’s house and museum is located in Key West, after all). A little compromising can go a long way for your brain and your tan.
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I’ll premise this post with a caveat: I have a natural predilection for reading. I have never not been a reader. And I’m also a brutal reader. I read in swift, short strokes, page conquering, digging for humor and drama and eccentricity and meaning, and if I don’t find it, I’m an unforgiving critic. On the other hand, books I love make me glow, and babble with enthusiasm at anyone who will listen.
I’ve come to expect a certain something from books. I read them because I want to look beyond the confines of my life and my psyche. I can be somewhat of an escapist fanatic, and books are my fix. It comes as no surprise that despite my increasingly busy schedule in a post-college world, I have found time for more pleasure reading than I ever did during my college years. I graduated and began looking for work in the midst of a growing economic recession, and my outlook tumbled back and forth between hopeful enthusiasm and dark depression. Few things provide a more immediate cure for the latter than a good book.
The National Endowment of the Arts has reported that the percentage of adult Americans reading has increased from 47% to 50% as of 2008, the first increase in the over two and a half decades since the NEA began its survey of adult literacy. That being said, the American public still by and large does not read nearly enough (half of all adults reading means that the other half of adults aren’t reading). And in times such as these, there are five reasons they should:
- Reading Enlightens & Stimulates Your Mind. Pick a topic, any topic. There is a book out there about it. Regardless of genre, you are discovering something new, different, strange, interesting—be it a technique to save money, every yoga position that has ever existed, how to build a treehouse, or what it means to be a Wiccan. Reading also challenges you to think, to be actively engaged and to process information. It is learning, regardless of whether you are flipping through War and Peace or a Biology textbook or a Harlequin romance or a comic book. People have sometimes asked me why I am “smart.” It’s not because of an extremely high IQ or because I’m a prodigy. It’s because I read. A lot.
- Reading is Therapeutic. “Curling up with a good book” (books on e-readers and laptops most definitely included!) can be the epitome of rest and relaxation in what has become an increasingly hectic modern life. Reading lets you shut out the rest of the world and focus only on what is in front of you: an engaging story. I prefer sitting in a corner of the couch with a hot cup of tea and my cat at my side, but that’s me. There is much to be said for an evening of reading versus an evening of grim national news in bright red capital letters on CNN. We know things are bad. The question is, what can we do for ourselves to stay focused, healthy, and positive?
- Reading Saves Money. Think of the purchases that modern Americans make to entertain themselves, and how much it costs them to do so. Video games. DVDs. Movie tickets. Eating out. Or… books. My sister bought me a 400-page, $7.99 fiction paperback for my birthday. At an average of 1 page a minute, that’s over six hours of entertainment. The vast majority of books aren’t expensive, make great gifts to others or to yourself, and are recyclable (err, re-readable). Plus you can always check out books at the library for that magic word: free. The New York Times reports that even through a recession, book sales in Europe continue to grow. Shouldn’t it be the same here?
- Reading Supports the Arts & Education. You don’t have to be a patron for a famous museum to support the arts or donate millions to a school to support education. Buy a book (or ten, or a hundred, or a thousand), and you support not only the author, but the bookstore, the publisher, the agent—every member of the industry that works to bring you more books, including those written specifically for education and those read by people of all ages to increase their knowledge. The more you read, the more opportunities you are presenting for writers to create new works for you. It’s a cyclical process. The same applies for reading to children and having your teens read. They learn, they share what they learn, they encourage others to do the same, and pass on said traits when they become well-educated adults.
- Reading is Cool. No, seriously. As a culture we have become more accepting of nerdy, geeky, and intellectual pastimes. (Think Internet-surfing, blog-writing, videogame-playing, comic books, and the like). Reading is the penultimate expression of your interest in the new and unknown, in learning and discovering, in fantasizing and dreaming. When I was younger, toting a book in my oversized purse whenever I went out was the cause of much laughter among my friends. Now people scroll through books on their cellphones, no matter where they are. Reading evolves with us, and stays with us.
If you have any reasons we (should) read, comment and let us know!
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One of my favorite childhood stories was (and remains) The Neverending Story, the tale of a young outcast boy named Bastian who is drawn by proxy into the fantasy world of the book he is reading. What draws him there is a being known as the Childlike Empress, who lives in a literal ivory tower on high. Her role in the story, however, depended on which version you were most familiar with—Michael Ende’s book, or Wolfgang Petersen’s film adaptation (more later).
I bring up The Neverending Story, and more specifically the Childlike Empress, as a metaphor for the study of humanities—of which most authors have had some form of intimate encounter with over the years. I read an article by Patricia Cohen in the New York Times on the humanities in colleges, entitled “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” Cohen’s article suggests—in fact, outright states—that in our current global crisis, the humanities must fight for its very validity and continued existence:
questions about the importance of the humanities in a complex and technologically demanding world have taken on new urgency. Previous economic downturns have often led to decreased enrollment in the…“humanities”… Many in the field worry that in this current crisis those areas will be hit hardest.
In essence, why should we continue to study the theoretical, insubstantial, and creative elements of human nature and history when they give us no tangible skill set for dealing with reality?
Any writer could tell you why: because humanities are the backbone for our existence as complex creatures, the study of what it is to be human. And the arts, writing perhaps most profoundly, are created on the basis of this question. Fiction, nonfiction, biography or romance, horror or tragedy, self-help or satire, all great books rely upon the ability to find new answers or to ask new questions. I wax poetic, but the truth remains. Without humanities, writing becomes lost in translation.
This is not to say that a person studying engineering, or biology, or computer science, or a person who has never pursued higher education, cannot read and comprehend books. But school curriculums strive to place as much importance on humanities as sciences, occasionally even favoring the former. (While my classmates complained about major requirements, I happily signed up for two semesters of studies in Shakespeare—but I’m a book-reading nerd).
But the humanities have over the years come to represent something less tangible and more intellectual, something that exercises the brain but has no bearing outside of the circle of said intellectuals, growing ever-smaller with time. Cohen notes that the number of students pursuing degrees in the humanities has gradually shrunk since the 1960s, and the number of colleges hiring for positions within these fields of study is declining as well.
And here I finally return to my metaphor of the Childlike Empress in her tower. The outdated model of the study of humanities is like the Empress of the film, locked in her tower, a distant, mysterious and disconnected creature. She is the main element of the plot and yet she feels irrelevant—the very problem that students and their families, college administrators, and even professors themselves are finding with humanities today. Her book’s counterpart, however, recognizes the need to escape the tower and forge her own path, replete with danger and self-doubt, but inevitably the only way to save herself. And Cohen presents this as the humanities’ only option as well—to force its way into the world, to adapt its curriculum to tie classroom lessons in with real job opportunities, and to make the world understand why there must be a necessary unity between the arts and the sciences.
What are your thoughts on the subject? Has humanities-based intellectualism become a luxury? Will liberal arts colleges recover from the stress put on their programs by the economy? What elements of humanities are still important and relevant today?