Why Read to a Child?

I am so moved by the story of a woman who passed away this week.  And I didn’t even know her.  Anna Dewdney was just 50 years old, the mother of two girls, and an author of the very popular picture book series Llama Llama.  This headline of a story in The Washington Post caught my eye: “This beloved children’s author didn’t want a funeral.  She said read to a child instead.”

The WAPO article refers to an opinion piece that Anna Dewdney wrote for the The Wall Street Journal in 2013.  It’s titled “How Books Can Teach Your Child To Care,” and it eloquently lays out the argument that we should read to our children, and promote their reading, not just for literacy’s sake, but because reading stories develops empathy in children.  Here is an excerpt:

“However, empathy is as important as literacy. When we read with a child, we are doing so much more than teaching him to read or instilling in her a love of language.  We are doing something that I believe is just as powerful, and it is something that we are losing as a culture: by reading with a child, we are teaching that child to be human.  When we open a book, and share our voice and imagination with a child, that child learns to see the world through someone else’s eyes.  I will go further and say that that child then learns to feel the world more deeply, becoming more aware of himself and others in a way that he simply cannot experience except in our laps, or in our classrooms, or in our reading circles.

We learn empathy as children, through our interactions with the people in our lives and by experiencing the world around us.  When we read books with children, we share other worlds, and even more importantly, we share ourselves.  Reading with children makes an intimate, human connection that teaches that child what it means to be alive as one of many beings on the planet. We are naming feelings, sharing experience, and expressing love and understanding, all in a safe environment.  When we read a book with children, then children – no matter how stressed, no matter how challenged – are drawn out of themselves to bond with other human beings, and to see and feel the experiences of others.  I believe that it is this moment that makes us human.  In this sense, reading makes us human.”

Perhaps this resonates with me so much because of what I do.  Time and again in our Literary Masters Parent/Child book groups, I see the ability of stories to open the eyes and minds of our members as we explore sometimes difficult issues via the safe space of fictional characters.  Time and again we try to ‘get inside the  head’ of the villain so we can understand his or her motivations.  Time and again we ask ourselves “What would we do in this situation?”  Having these discussions makes us think about ourselves in relation to others; we become more empathetic as we imagine how it must it feel, or how it would be.  We explore our own feelings and as we come to know ourselves better, we become more curious about others’ feelings.  In essence, we are learning to care.

You can read Anna Dewdney’s obituary here.  And yes, instead of a funeral, she asked that you read to a child.  Wow.  Talk about empathy.

Summer Reading!

Well, we’ve come to the end of another wonderful season of reading, sharing, and bonding over great books!  And now it’s time to kick our feet up at the beach–grab your sunscreen, your swimsuit, and don’t forget that most essential ingredient of all: your beach read!  Below you’ll find some titles to get you through the long summer wait until Literary Masters posts the 2016-17 season reading list!

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell: Ah…this may be a little unfair because this title hasn’t been released in the States yet.  However, by the end of July you should be able to get your hands on this wonderfully charming novel–highly recommended!  You’ll ponder marriage, parenthood, and the many selves each of us contain as you read what is, at its core, a thoroughly enjoyable love story.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: Another charmer, this time from a Swedish author, whose debut novel is taking the world by storm.  About a grumpy man.  Well, really about the stories each of us has hidden within, and about friendship, and connection.  Enjoy!


My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante:  If you’re one of the few people on the planet who hasn’t read this gorgeous book about two Italian friends, you have a treat in store!  Actually, four treats, because it’s the first of four sumptuous Neapolitan novels.  Be prepared to ignore loved ones for a long while.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan:  Well, we had to put this book as a beach read, right?  Even if you’re not a surfer, you’ll enjoy the journey this author takes you on in this autobiography that won the Pulitzer Prize.  He opens your eyes to new cultures and to, yes, the wonderful world of waves.  Have fun!

Disrupted by Dan Lyons:  No doubt you read an earlier WHIRL Books post about this hilarious memoir here.  For fans of the HBO series Silicon Valley (and if you’re not a fan, what is wrong with you???) and also for everyone who looks around the beach and thinks, “where did all these young people come from, and just how do they think they are making the world a better place?”  Laugh out loud with some serious questions explored.

The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan by Rafia Zakaria:  If you can’t visit Pakistan this summer, it can visit you.  Exploring the personal as well as the public aspects of life in Pakistan, this eye-opener is a great nonfiction choice for the summer.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng:  A gripping novel about a family whose daughter is found dead.  How much did they really know about her?  How much do they really know about each other?  One of those books that absolutely lingers for days after finishing it.

High Dive by Jonathan Lee:  Suspenseful and thrilling in its blending of fact and fiction.  Remember the bomb that went off in Brighton, England, in 1984 in an attempt to assassinate the British Prime Minister and her cabinet?  Meet the characters (invented by Lee) who will take you back there.

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney:  We loved the writing in this debut novel, and the four siblings, negotiating their lives around a future inheritance (i.e. the ‘nest’) will make lots of our own families look better by comparison. 🙂  A quick, breezy, enjoyable read.

I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani:  This award-winning debut novel from Nigeria was part of our Literary Masters 2015-16 season, and it was a hit!  You may not think you want to read a story about email scamming, but you will change your mind as the pages fly by!  So funny but once again, important themes are mined.  The best novel that book clubs don’t know about.

Zero K by Don DeLillo:  Weird, yes, definitely.  But compelling and thought-provoking and different for sure.  Set in a cryogenics facility in central Asia where bodies can be frozen until cures for diseases are found, this novel will challenge you to think about those deep questions–about life, about death, about meaning.  Call it a cerebral beach read.

Well, this ought to take care of your page-turning needs until we post our list!  That should be some time in late August, so STAY TUNED!

 Do you have any titles you’d like to recommend for summer reading?  We’d love to hear from you!

Should Your Book Club Read Disrupted by Dan Lyons?

I don’t always have the time to post about every book that I think book clubs should read.  However, one book that I highly recommend is The Circle by Dave Eggers.  Everyone who uses the internet or is involved with technology should read that book.  Every night while reading it I would think, “This is science fiction,” and then the next morning I would read the newspaper and realize, “Actually, The Circle is realistic fiction–this is all happening right now!”

Another book that I think book clubs should read is Disrupted by Dan Lyons.  If you’re a fan of the series Silicon Valley (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), you may know that Lyons writes for that show.  I ‘binge-watched’ the entire series in one go and then ran around telling everyone I know to watch it.  So, when I saw that Lyons had written a book, I picked it up.

Warp-speed plot summary: This is a memoir about Lyons’ time after he gets fired from his job as an editor at Newsweek.  He’s 52 with a wife and two children and his career has suddenly come to a screeching halt.  He’s a journalist and the world of journalism is done–as is he.  So he does what many ‘older’ workers have to do: he reinvents himself and enters the unknown and surreal world of tech start-ups.  He lands a job at Hubspot, a ‘hot’ start-up, as “marketing fellow,” and his experiences there are what he writes about.  Lyons takes the reader on an hilarious and eye-popping journey as he acts as anthropologist and tour guide visiting an exotic and possibly dangerous tribe.

So, what can your book club discuss?

There is a lot to talk about, so in no particular order: 

  • You’ll want to discuss the company culture and what that means.  What kind of corporate culture is good?  It’s fascinating to think about how companies used to treat employees and how much that has changed, especially at technology companies in the Silicon Valley.  How did this happen?  What does it say about us as people, as a society?  Is the way things are now better than they used to be?  Is labor, as Lyons states, still being exploited by capital, but this time while wearing a big smiley face?
  • Related to the above, talk about how a company gets its employees to “drink the Kool Aid.” And then discuss how a company gets its customers to guzzle the same drink down.  Do you think many companies really DO make the world a better place?
  • Also related to the above, talk about the greed involved in all of this.  What is the motivation of the various characters involved?  Also discuss the flaunting of wealth.  What do you think of this?  Areas such as the San Francisco Bay Area have been greatly impacted by the tech companies, in both good and bad ways.  Talk about this.  We always hear about the housing prices making it unaffordable for ‘ordinary’ people to live in the area, but what about the values of the City?  Is the immense wealth and its unabashed display impacting citizens’ values and what they deem important, and how they behave?
    •  You’ll want to discuss ageism.  Well, you may not want to discuss it, but you should.  It’s real and it affects many people.  Are you part of the problem?  Do you think young people are smarter than old?  Are they naturally better at understanding technology?  Can they learn things that older people can’t?  How old is ‘old’ to you?  How can we stop ageism?  Or are the ageists right?
    • You’ll want to discuss the elephant in the room.  How stupid do tech executives, their spin doctors, venture capitalists, and their spin doctors, as portrayed by Lyons, think we are?  Do you think Lyons’ depiction of these people is accurate?  Is it high time someone pointed out the ridiculousness of the bubble, or is it, as a couple of execs claim in the story, not a bubble but “an unprecedented long boom”?  What about the business model as Lyons describes it: “grow fast, lost money, go public.”?    How are companies (which are made up of people) getting away with this?
    • You’ll want to discuss the idea of marketing, PR, spin, and sales.  Can truth exist in such an environment?  Where is the responsibility of the press in all of this?  Does an objective press even exist, or is every journalist also being ‘spun’? 
    • There is a LOT of psychology in this book.  People are playing ‘mind games’–manipulating employees, investors, and customers.  Other people seem to willingly let themselves be exploited.  You’ll want to discuss this.  What are the motivating factors behind the roles the characters elect to play?  What about the role you’re playing?  Lyons refers to a Silicon Valley adage--if we use online services, we are not the customers, we are the products–we exist solely to be packaged up and sold to advertisers.  How do you feel about that? 
    • You’ll want to discuss the author.  Clearly, this is HIS story, and no one at Hubspot has a chance to speak up for him or herself.  How much can we trust Lyons?  Although he can be self-deprecating and admittedly acerbic, is he being completely honest with us?  How about with himself?  He criticizes the frat-boy culture, but then whoops it up with writers who don’t seem any different.  Is this a case of “Do as I say, not as I do”?  Is the “tribe” that he feels more comfortable in vastly different when it comes to ageism, sexism, racism, and all the other –ism’s?  How much of what he goes through at Hubspot is his own fault?  Is he being fair to Hubspot?
    •  You should also talk about how vulnerable we all are with regard to our data being online.  How do you feel about Lyons’ statement: “Even the people who supposedly manage our data have no idea where all of it resides or who has access to it.”?  Does it make you want to bury your head in the sand further?

      There is, of course, much more to talk about, but this should get you started!  Have a great discussion, and let me know how it goes–if you get a chance!

       

      Vendela Vida at a Book Talk: Sign Me Up!

      I just returned from a local school’s book fair where the featured speaker was Vendela Vida, author of the recently released The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty.  What a lovely person Ms. Vida seems to be, which is, of course, irrelevant, but still–I think the world needs more lovely people.  She read from her new novel, and now I can’t wait to read it!

      You’ll remember from one of my earlier WHIRL posts that I loved her novel The Lovers. (Click here to see what I had to say about that.) This new book seems to be exploring themes of identity–of who we are and what shapes who we become.  Written in the second person, this sounds like a book Literary Masters members would love to ‘dig deep’ into!

      Have you read The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty?  What did you think? 

      Wonder–ful Paris!

      You all know how much I love the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio, right?  If not, here’s my post on it–and my call for you to read it!  There’s a part in the book where Auggie’s mom tells him that “…there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.”  I couldn’t stop thinking about this when I saw the following clip on the news.  A father is discussing the events of last Friday in Paris with his son near the site where people have been leaving flowers and candles:

      How WONDERFUL is this?  And WONDROUS!  He made me feel better, too.

      Brooklyn–the Book now Brooklyn–the Movie!

      This is exciting news!  I’ve often thought that it would be fun to devote an entire season of Literary Masters to reading books that have been made into movies.  That way, we could all enjoy a multimedia experience of each story.

      And how FUN to come up with the list!  One outstanding book that has recently been turned into a film is Brooklyn, which was written in 2009 by Irish author Colm Toibin.  I read it and loved it; I even blogged about it.  Click here for my original post.

      The book won many fans and much critical acclaim.  It won the 2009 Costa Novel Award, was shortlisted for the 2011 IMPAC Dublin Award, and made it onto the longlist for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.  And now, in 2015, it has been made into a film by Fox Searchlight Pictures.  It stars Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, and Julie Walters, among others.

      The film is already garnering great reviews.  Here’s one from Flavorwire:
      http://flavorwire.com/545905/brooklyn-is-a-portrait-of-leaving-and-finding-home-so-evocative-it-might-make-you-weep

      And another one from the New York Times:
       http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/04/movies/review-resettling-the-meaning-of-home-in-brooklyn-with-saoirse-ronan.html?_r=0

      And according to the Washington Post, even Colm Toibin loves the film:
       https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/colm-toibin-loves-the-new-movie-version-of-his-brooklyn/2015/11/02/14db7ce6-8103-11e5-8ba6-cec48b74b2a7_story.html

      I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see it!  Watch this trailer and I bet you’ll feel the same!

      Let me know if you go, and tell me what you think

      Literary Masters Reads I Am Malala!

      One of the books that Literary Masters members will be reading this month is I Am Malala, Young Readers Edition by the Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, actually even if you’ve been living under a rock, you know that in 2012, the Taliban shot this young Pakistani girl in an attempted assassination because she was advocating for girls’ rights to an education.

      This is an extraordinary story told by a truly remarkable young woman.  I encourage you to read the Young Readers Edition with your children; you will be amazed.  And you may even wonder, “What can I do to help?”  Indeed, a frequently asked question in the discussion of this book is “What can be done to help Malala in her quest to help get more girls an education?”

      Well, every little bit helps.  And as Malala is showing the world, one person really can make a difference!



      Literary Masters is thrilled to be teaming up with Schoola, the wonderful online school fundraising site, to benefit the Malala Fund.  Malala-Schoola bags will be distributed at our Literary Masters meetings, and if the girls choose, they can fill the postage-paid bags with used clothing and drop them off at the post office or leave them on their front doorsteps for the mail man to pick up and bring to the Schoola warehouse.  Schoola will sell the clothes online and donate 40% of the sale of every item to the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization whose aim is to empower girls through education.

      Now, this is all very exciting timing because the documentary film He Named Me Malala is premiering during September and October, so if you want to have a multi-media experience, watch out for the film coming to a theater near you.  Here is a  preview.

      I hope you’ll take the time to read this book with a young person, and even better–talk about it with them! 

      Find out more about Schoola here:

      and find out more about the Malala Fund here:


      The Literary Masters Reading List for the 2015/2016 Season is Posted!

      The 2015/2016 Season of Literary Masters is officially kicking off today with the announcement of the reading list on the Literary Masters website.  You can visit and learn all about Literary Masters book groups and salons by clicking here.  And if you just want to see the reading list, here it is below.  Why not read along with Literary Masters?  Enjoy!
      Controversy. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary app, controversy is “a discussion marked especially by the expression of opposing views.” Well, the 2015/2016 Literary Masters season is sure to be filled with all sorts of viewpoints! As always, our salons encourage debate and a spirited exchange of ideas. Our hope, of course, is that we come away from each meeting having learned from fellow members and with a more open, informed, and empathetic viewpoint. After all, isn’t that why we read and gather to talk about our books? Get ready to wade into a few controversies, fellow members!
      Literary Masters 2015/2016 Season
      October: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. To call the publication of this book a controversy is an understatement. Like it or hate it, Pulitzer Prize-winning Harper Lee’s second novel has generated one of the largest (and divisive) literary conversations in ages. And we’ll be taking part!

      November: Redeployment by Phil Klay. This time it’s the subject matter that is controversial; these stories written by an Iraq war veteran will take us to a place that none of us have been to—but where we’ve sent plenty of fellow Americans. We should talk about this, right? What’s not contested is the merit of this book; it won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, among others.

      December: The Children Act by Ian McEwan. Can you force a sick child to accept medical treatment? Should you? What if that child’s religion forbids it? And who gets to decide? These and other controversial topics will be covered in our salons during December.

      January: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.   The protagonist of this thought-provoking novel will undoubtedly make you look at the Viet Nam war (and America’s role in it) in a whole new light. Just how much responsibility does America bear, and how guilty should we feel? A controversial war, and a novel sure to generate a lot of debate.

      February: Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow. There is universal sentiment that the literary world lost a lion when E.L. Doctorow passed away this year. However, this novel is full of controversy, both in its structure and its themes. We will have fun “digging deep” into this literary treasure, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

      March: The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran by Nazila Fathi. Is there anything about Iran that isn’t controversial? This memoir is our nonfiction selection for the season, written by a native Iranian and NY Times correspondent. This is sure to open a few eyes. Ben Affleck isn’t the only one who can transport us to Iran and back!

      April: I Do Not Come to You By Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. This debut novel won its Nigerian author the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book as well as the Betty Trask First Book Award. Set in Nigeria, the hilarious story (with some serious undertones) pits education against corruption as we enter the world of Nigerian email scamming. With a controversial nod to Western affluence and influence, this novel will, if nothing else, make you look at your emails with new appreciation!

      May: Purity by Jonathan Franzen. Okay, just the author’s name generates controversy. But we’ll be closing out the season discussing the work of another literary…well, if not a lion, then at least a literary cub.   Perhaps we’ll have to don our feminist hats to decide once and for all whether Franzen is a misogynist. Perhaps we should invite Oprah to a salon?

      Well, just in case you needed more evidence that reading and being part of a book group are good for you, here’s an article by David Brooks of The New York Times that should satisfy you and set you looking for the nearest Literary Masters book group or salon!  Feel free to pass it along!