Choosing Books for Non-Readers

Choosing Books for Non-Readers

Often, when people think of reading, they automatically seem to think of reading fiction. Even individuals who enjoy reading informational articles online, or perhaps non-fiction books, might sometimes not describe themselves as “a reader.” Or there can be a sense that to be “a reader” one must be reading some nebulous (high) quota of books. But this is not the case! All reading is reading! And there is no magic number of books one must read each year to be considered a “real” reader.

So how do you go about choosing books for the “non-readers” in your life? Maybe you want to give them a gift from your favorite bookstore. Maybe you are convinced that, for some reason or other, they really need or deserve a book. Choosing a book for a non-reader need not be difficult! Just think of the things they already enjoy–and then find a book based around that. Below are some suggestions.

Star Divider

Non-Fiction

As mentioned above, many self-described “non-readers” actually do read, but they read non-fiction, and they may not associate themselves with the readers of fiction they know. But reading non-fiction books counts as reading! So if you know someone interested in a certain topic–maybe space or art or history or whatever–try finding them a non-fiction book on that topic. This can also work for individuals who are interested in a topic, but who consume information on that topic primarily through podcasts or documentaries. They may still enjoy reading up on it if you find an engaging book!

smaller star divider

Cookbooks

Cookbooks are a great type of book for a non-reader! Many individuals enjoy cooking and, even if the internet has made finding recipes easy, there is still value to be found in a curated collection of unique or perhaps hard-to-find recipes. Try looking for a cookbook especially appropriate for the individual you are thinking of–that may mean one with meals for two, one dedicated to vegetarian recipes, one for beginning cooks, or one that’s just full of desserts.

smaller star divider

How-To or Self-Help Books

How-to and self-help books can also be popular among self-described “non-readers.” These types of books are often written in a very accessible manner, with chunked text, short chapters, sidebars, and more–and perhaps that makes people feel as if they are not “really reading.” But, again, books are books! Try choosing a how-to book based around a person’s interests or hobbies, or a self-help book on a topic the person has previously expressed interest in (anything from parenting tips to financial literacy).

smaller star divider

Puzzle or Trivia Books

Perhaps the non-reader in your life would enjoy an activity book! Crossword books, word searches, Sudoku puzzles, or trivia books could all be welcome gifts for the person looking for a way to keep occupied.

smaller star divider

Books with Activities or Crafts

If you are not sure what hobbies your recipient enjoys, why not give them the materials to pick up a new hobby? You could try something like a paint-by-numbers or paint-by-stickers activity book, or a craft kit that comes with an instructional booklet.

smaller star divider

Graphic Novels

Some readers of comics have also absorbed the idea that reading comics does not constitute “real” reading and so may describe themselves as “non-readers.” Check in to see if the “non-reader” in your life is actually a comic book, manga, or anime fan–and then find them the perfect book.

The Reluctant Reader

The reluctant reader is a little different from the non-reader. Some individuals who do not consider themselves avid readers actually do read, and may even enjoy it! Reluctant readers tend to be individuals who do not enjoy reading, perhaps because they find it difficult but maybe because they just have not found the right book for them. Below are a few ideas for the reluctant reader in your life.

Star Divider

Non-fiction

Non-fiction books can work well for reluctant readers because many are separated into easily accessible chunks, with graphics, images, and sidebars. Try finding one related to an interest of the reader’s–perhaps a guide to a video game they place, a biography of a musician they like, etc.

smaller star divider

Graphic Novels

Graphic novels can engage reluctant readers who do not like seeing large chunks of text, or who may like to use the illustrations to provide context for what they are reading.

smaller star divider

Audiobooks

Audiobooks can engage readers by letting them hear the book read by someone who knows just when to pause, when to speed up or slow down, and how to add emotion–how to make the story come alive. You can also pair an audiobook with the text.

What books would you recommend for non-readers?

The Circus at the End of the Sea by Lori R. Snyder

The Circus at the End of the Sea Book Cover

Information

Goodreads: The Circus at the End of the Sea
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: October 2021

Summary

Maddy has never had a family or a place to call home. So when she feels the tug of magic calling her in Venice, California, she hops off the bus headed to her new group home. She discovers by the sea a magical circus, but, with the Ringmaster missing, the circus may soon have to close. Maddy offers to help, and suddenly finds herself on a wild adventure.

Star Divider

Review

The Circus at the End of the Sea seems like just the quirky kind of middle grade fantasy I would love. It is filled with plenty of heart as well as magic, and I yearned to connect with the characters and to immerse myself in the world. Ultimately, however, it felt like the story was trying just a little too hard to be quirky for me to find it truly delightful. And I never connected with the protagonist Maddy, who possesses an amazingly bland personality, yet still overcomes each obstacle thrown her way with relative ease, as the apparent Chosen One. The Circus at the End of the Sea may find more love from its target audience, but I never felt the enchantment.

The story begins, of course, with an assurance that the protagonist Maddy is not like the other kids–and that, frankly, was enough for me to start the book with skepticism. Maddy, you see, can feel the tug of magic. And she still believes, even though she has learned not to tell anyone else. Yet there seems to be nothing particularly special about Maddy. She is not particularly kind or wise or brave–she actually comes across as kind of unlikable in her aversion to other children and her seeming resentment at having to be nice to her seatmate on the bus, a young girl who is worried about going to a new group home, but who is unable to see magic and, thus, ultimately too boring for Maddy to want to engage with forever. When thinking about her potential future, Maddy actually thinks back on this girl with horror–she can’t go back to that life and to more kids like that! So it was kind of hard for me to buy into the idea that Maddy was the only one who could save the circus, the only one who could complete the special tasks. The only thing special about her is that she loves magic. While this is often a sign of some great insight or openness or love of life in story books, Maddy does not really have any of that, just a desire to escape her current world.

The actual plot somehow seems rushed, as Maddy passes each challenge on her journey with comparative ease. Yes, there are few times when Maddy is confused, or fails, or has to ask for help. Generally, however, after a brief hiccup, she finds her way. The stories that often really grip me, that make me remember them long after I finish reading, are the ones where the heroes are truly challenged and even suffer. Maddy does suffer from loneliness, of course–because she apparently does not like any of the kids she has ever met before finding one who is, gasp, part of a magical circus–but most of this comes from telling rather than showing. And it is only sometimes related to the journey she must make to find the Ringmaster. While the book ultimately has a heartwarming message about finding one’s self by accepting one’s self, the good as well as the bad, Maddy finds this acceptance without much struggle, and that weakens both the story and her characterization.

Ultimately, The Circus at the End of the Sea is not the kind of story that will stay with me. I enjoyed many of the characters, I was entertained briefly by the plot, and I approved (as a stuffy old grown-up, I suppose) of the Good Messages imparted to the intended child audience. However, I was not moved, and I do not foresee myself rereading this book, or even reading a sequel. It is a good book. Just not the gem I was hoping to find.

3 Stars

Do Bloggers Owe Their Readers? And Vice Versa? (Let’s Talk Bookish)

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books & Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

The Prompt:  Do bloggers owe their readers anything? Do bloggers deserve anything from their readers? Do you think there’s a specific etiquette that bloggers/readers should follow when interacting? Do you as a blogger pressure yourself to provide certain things to your readers? Do you do certain things when you read a blog post?

smaller star divider

This is an interesting question, but because book bloggers are almost 100% unpaid, I think the answer is short: bloggers and their readers owe each other nothing besides common courtesy. And because the book blogosphere is so good at this, I don’t feel it’s necessary to elaborate much on the topic either. In over 10 years of blogging at Pages Unbound, Krysta and I have very rarely received a rude comment; when we have, those comments were frequently from people who are not book bloggers but rather people who found our site from outside sources like search engines or Pinterest. In the book blogosphere as a whole, readers usually leave polite comments, even when disagreeing, and bloggers usually leave polite responses. I think that’s the most anyone of us “owe” anyone here.

If a book blogger managed to successfully monetize their blog (I haven’t seen this yet, in spite of seeing some attempts), I’d say they owed their readers more. If readers were paying to read certain posts or subscribe to the blog in some way, I’d say the blogger owed those readers quality content and whatever content they might have promised, whether they said they were going to publish two discussion posts a week or list all the middle grade books coming out in the summer or whatever.

But because blogs are free? There’s no kind of contract here. Sure, a blogger should strive to write interesting and comprehensible content — but they don’t have to. If readers don’t like the content on a blog or think it’s absolute gibberish they can just . . . not read that blog. There’s nothing stopping them from exiting the site and never visiting again.

And while I try to support book bloggers in general by reading their content, commenting, and liking their posts, I don’t actually owe that to them as a reader, and I understand no one owes that to me Book blogging is largely the realm of hobbyists, and when there’s no money exchanging hands, everything is just very casual.

Briana

Tidesong by Wendy Xu

Tidesong Book Cover

Information

GoodreadsTidesong
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: November 2021

Summary

Sophie longs to attend the prestigious Royal Academy of Magic, but instead is sent to learn her family’s special magic from her aunt and grandmother. But all her grandmother does is assign her chores! Determined to prove her power, Sophie attempts a difficult spell–and accidentally traps a dragon in human form. Can Sophie find a way to undo her magic?

Star Divider

Review

Tidesong is a gentle fantasy reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film. Young witch-in-training Sophie longs to prove herself, but her self doubt gets in the way of her ability to take direction. As a result, she creates a magical mishap that nearly results in disaster for both humans and dragons. The plot is simple, but also fast paced, so young readers can feel like they experienced a lot of action and growth in a short time.

The greatest strength of Tidesong just may be its illustrations, which are charming and sweet–and sure to appeal to the growing number of manga fans. The high stakes that are supposed to be a result of Sophie’s actions are not always effectively conveyed. However, Sophie’s emotions are–and those form the heart of the story.

Because, in the end, Tidesong is not really a book about human-dragon relationships, or magical training, or even finding one’s self. Tidesong is about a girl who seems to be experiencing anxiety, and who must learn not to listen to the voice in her head that tells her she is a failure. Every time someone offers constructive criticism, even in an encouraging and supportive way, Sophie hears that she is not good enough, and never will be. Her self-doubt is helpfully conveyed in red text boxes with jagged edges, showing struggle she experiences to believe in herself. But only by believing in herself can she undo the trouble she has caused with her magic.

Tidesong is not exactly the world’s most memorable story, or the most heartfelt. The action occurs too quickly, and so do the character arcs, to feel truly meaningful. It is, however, a sweet, feel-good book. Just the kind to cozy up with when one needs something uplifting.

Read Briana’s review of Tidesong.

3 Stars

The Works of Gwerful Mechain: A Broadview Anthology of British Literature Edition, Trans. by Katie Gramich

The Works of Gwerful Mechain Book Cover

Information

GoodreadsThe Works of Gwerful Mechain
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2018

Official Summary

Gwerful Mechain is the only Welsh female poet from the late middle ages whose poems have survived as a substantial body of work. One of the most immediately striking characteristics of her poetry is the easy coexistence in her oeuvre of devotional and erotic works. Even to those who may be familiar with the bawdiness of Chaucer or Boccaccio, Gwerful’s work is remarkably direct. Yet, as the introduction discusses, some coexistence of the erotic and the religious was not entirely untypical of medieval literary production in Wales; overall, indeed, one of the most important characteristics of Gwerful’s work is its position in the mainstream of medieval Welsh poetry. Her themes and techniques do not mark her as a marginal or isolated figure, participating in some putative female sub-culture; on the contrary, she engages in poetic dialogues with her male contemporaries, using the same forms, tropes, and vocabulary as they do, and jousting with them verbally as their equal. At the same time, she often speaks with a female voice, taking her peers to task for their male arrogance.

All of Gwerful’s known work is included here-as are several poems of uncertain authorship, and a number of other works that help to fill in the historical and literary context.

A unique feature of the volume is the provision, for each work of medieval Welsh poetry included, of two different translations. The first, a literal translation, is presented in facing page format opposite the original Welsh; a second, freer translation, with rhyme patterns approximating those of the original, follows.

Star Divider

Review

After I learned that there was a semi-famous female Welsh poet from the Middle Ages, I knew I had to track down Gwerful Mechain’s work. She is perhaps most noted for her poem celebrating her, um, lady parts, but she fascinated me because of how she wrote both erotic and religious poetry. It was her frank enjoyment of her sexuality that apparently led to her being erased from the canon, since her poems proved embarrassing to later, more prudish generations. (We should probably acknowledge here that male writers like Chaucer managed to live on, even if the more risqué parts of their writings were sometimes excised by later editors.) But that coexistence of the earthly and the heavenly is part of the Middle Ages, and many writers at that time apparently saw no reason to be ashamed of it. Mechain is a true poet of her time!

And, as the book takes pains to note, Mechain’s work is not part of any female sub-culture. She was part of a number of Welsh writers who exchanged poems with each other. They apparently saw her as an equal. Sometimes our understanding of the past is a little more simplistic than what actually happened. Though female, Mechain, in her own day, was an active agent, a known poet. People collected her works and many were copied down for us to discover later. (Other poems in this collection are only suspected to be by Mechain, their authorship not definitively recorded.)

Part of what makes Mechain’s work so interesting is her female perspective on things–a perspective she shares in response to some of the sexist writings of her day. In one poem, Mechain pokes fun at the trope of the jealous husband by pretending to criticize wives who will not share their spouses with other women. In another, she defends a woman who was being attacked by a male poet (the woman’s one-time lover)–Mechain even goes as far to allude to the allegation that the man had raped the woman. And her famous poem to her female anatomy? A response to a male poet’s celebration of his, shall we say, member. But also a response to the male poets who celebrated every part of a woman’s body except, as Mechain playfully says, the most important part. Mechain was working within the poetic culture of her day, but also challenging and subverting it.

This Broadview anthology notes that the poetic form in which Mechain usually worked was extremely complicated–one that is perhaps not easily replicated outside of the Welsh Mechain wrote in. To give readers some idea of the spirit of the poem, one freer translation is provided, along with a more literal translation. (The original Welsh version is also given.) How well the translations work I cannot say, not being able to read Welsh. However, I still found that Mechain’s voice seemed to come through. Her intelligence. Her liveliness. Her wit.

That so few of Mechain’s poems remain is a shame. I loved the sheer breadth of them, from a reflection on Christ’s death on the cross to her exchanges with another Welsh poet thought to be her lover. Mechain never holds herself back, imbuing her poetry with raw emotion that sings out even today. Anyone interested in writings from the Middle Ages should not overlook Gwerful Mechain.

4 stars

The Silver Blonde by Elizabeth Ross

The Silver Blonde Book Cover

Information

Goodreads: The Silver Blonde
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Eighteen-year-old Clara Berg is a vault girl, running reels at Silver Pacific Studios in post-WWII Los Angeles. Then she finds a body in the vaults. It appears to Babe Bannon, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors. Clara finds herself drawn to the mystery, tracking down leads and trying to discover the culprit. But her investigation could jeopardize her life, as well.

Star Divider

Review

The Silver Blonde is an atmospheric historical fiction, inspired by film noir. Fans of classic Hollywood will not only adore all the references to old film, but also immerse themselves in Clara’s world, from the details about film storage to the magic of movie making. A twisty mystery will keep readers turning pages, but it may just be the setting that captures their imaginations.

The story follows eighteen-year-old Clara Berg, an immigrant from Germany who is now a vault girl at Silver Pacific Studios in Los Angeles. Her dream is to become a film editor, though rising through the ranks is not easy for women. Then the discovery of a body threatens to upend her world. The victim appears to be Hollywood star Babe Bannon, killed by a personal enemy, but Clara’s investigations lead her to a deeper mystery that goes back to before WWII. What she uncovers could have repercussions that rock the entire studio. History intertwines with fiction to create a story that feels entirely different from everything else on the YA market.

The setting is truly the star of this book. Clara as a character is rather bland, as is her intended love interest. Even a hint of her struggles being accepted in a post-WWII America, or a glimpse at the sexism she experiences at work, do not give her character arc much trajectory. Clara is sort of a passionless stand-in for the reader, who gets to experience Hollywood through the eyes of the Everywoman, the person who works behind the scenes to make the stars look good. What Clara sees feels like magic.

Readers looking for a memorable historical fiction will delight in The Silver Blonde. The setting–after WWII rather during–is unique, and captures a fascinating time in American history, when the people were trying to move on from a shared trauma, but also finding that the past continued to haunt them. It is always a pleasure to find a YA that feels different from the rest–and The Silver Blonde certainly has its own alluring voice.

4 stars

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Last Graduate bookstagram photo

Information

Goodreads: The Last Graduate
Series: The Scholomance #2
Age Category: Adult
Source: Gift
Published: September 28, 2021

Official Summary

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year–and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . .

Star Divider

Review

I loved the first Scholomance book, A Deadly Education, with its depiction of a mysteriously dangerous school and a protagonist with edges who secretly wants to do the right thing, even with the time it spends on info dumps. The Last Graduate continues in much the same vein, with a few minor changes in tone, so I was once again captivated by the world of the Scholomance.

I admit that while I defended the info dumps in book one because I just found them fascinating, I found them slightly more off-putting this time around. I would have expected that, since so much stuff had been explained in the other book that it wouldn’t be so necessary in The Last Graduate, but Novik is still going all-in on world building and making sure readers know every bit of it. Every time anything is introduced, a new mal, a new classroom, a new student, a new school tradition, etc., it gets paragraphs of background and explanation. It’s still interesting, but I can see how it’s not for every reader. And due to the ending of The Last Graduate, I know we’re going to get even more info dumps in book three.

But I did still love the book! Novik throws in new challenges for El and her friends to fight as they prepare for graduation, not exactly sure what they’ll be facing even with the cleansing mechanism in the graduation hall supposedly fixed, and as the school seems to change its modus operandi. El thought she knew how the Scholomance functions and how the mals target students, but everything she learned in three years gets turned on its head, and she has to adapt to continue to survive.

I do have slightly mixed feelings about the fact El seems genuinely nicer in this installment. I get its character development, but since so much of book one showcased her harsh exterior, her isolation, her instinct to mainly look out for herself even as she was kind of looking out for others by refusing to use her powers for evil, it’s weird to see her become basically the most altruistic character in the book. She’s still brusque, but she’s so often looking out for other people at her own expense that it’s a little jarring.

The romance is, as ever, meh. The nature of the school is, of course, that relationships are a distraction and getting pregnant (since there’s basically no birth control) is like a death sentence, so of course El tries to avoid the situation. But it’s hard for me as a reader to buy into any chemistry between the characters when El keep avoiding the love interest or insulting him. At least he’s interesting as an individual character.

Still, this is an amazing story. It still feels like something I haven’t read before and like something I desperately want to read more of when it comes out. If you got through book one because the info dumps weren’t a turn-off, you’ll enjoy this one, as well.

Briana
4 stars

The Wickeds by Gayle Forman

The Wickeds book cover

Information

GoodreadsThe Cleaners
Series: Faraway Collection (Amazon Original)
Age Category: Adult
Source: Free with Prime trial
Published: December 15, 2020

Official Summary

The reviled villainesses of Snow White, Cinderella, and Rapunzel team up to set the record straight in a subversively funny short story by the #1 New York Times bestselling author of If I Stay.

Envious queen? Evil stepmother? Kidnapping hag? Elsinora, Gwendolyn, and Marguerite are through with warts-and-all tabloids, ugly lies, and the three ungrateful brats who pitted them against each other and the world. But maybe there’s more to the stories than even the Wickeds know. Is it time to finally get revenge? After all, they’re due for a happily-enough-ever-after. Even if they have to write it themselves.

Star Divider

Review

One of 5 Amazon-exclusive short fairy tale retellings from beloved authors, The Wickeds is the only one in the collection I really felt was worth reading. (You can read my review of The Cleaners by Ken Liu here.) To start, The Wickeds is a bit longer than some of the authors, giving a little more time for character development; it also has an interesting premise– trying to make readers wonder if the wicked stepmothers of classic fairy tales might have been misunderstood or even sabotaged (Who made the magic mirror say mean things anyway?). Did they really behave badly? If they did, perhaps their position was understandable?

Now, I don’t think the story succeeds 100% at making the evil characters sympathetic. Many of them did, in fact, actually do things that were pretty horrible! But it was fun following them on their journey to unravel exactly how things played out in the lives, what parts were under their control and what parts weren’t, and which people were actually cruel to them but got away with having a clean reputation.

As with The Cleaners, I’m also not convinced the story is distinctly YA. After all, it follows a bunch of characters who must be in their fifties, and one of the defining characters of YA is that the story has a teen protagonist; however, there’s a lot of crossover appeal here. I see no reason why a YA reader wouldn’t enjoy it.

So, this is fun. It doesn’t quite hit the mark with its message because things aren’t neatly separated into boxes of, “This person was nice and never did something cruel” and “This person was mean for no reason,” but it gives the reader a lot to think about, and the execution of the idea feels pretty original. I do hate that the book fell into the trap where an author seems to believe that a good short story has an ambiguous ending, though.

Briana
4 stars

Unearthing the Secret Garden: The Plants and Places That Inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett by Marta McDowell

Unearthing the Secret Garden Book Cover

Information

Goodreads: Unearthing the Secret Garden
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: October 2021

Official Summary

New York Times bestselling author Marta McDowell has revealed the way that plants have stirred some of our most cherished authors, including Beatrix Potter, Emily Dickinson, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. In her latest, she shares a moving account of how gardening deeply inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of the beloved children’s classic The Secret Garden.
 
In Unearthing The Secret Garden, best-selling author Marta McDowell delves into the professional and gardening life of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Complementing her fascinating account with charming period photographs and illustrations, McDowell paints an unforgettable portrait of a great artist and reminds us why The Secret Garden continues to touch readers after more than a century. This deeply moving and gift-worthy book is a must-read for fans of The Secret Garden and anyone who loves the story behind the story.

Star Divider

Review

I was not sure what to expect when I opened Unearthing the Secret Garden. I hoped for something like an account of the gardens Frances Hodgson Burnett knew, and how they inspired her. I also hoped for a book that is, well, as enchanting as Burnett’s own. Unearthing the Secret Garden does talk about some of Burnett’s gardens, but in an almost clinical way, listing plants and colors she liked to grow. And about half the book is not about Burnett, but some of Burnett’s lesser-known writings on gardening. These proved the most interesting parts of the book, though they seemed a bit out of place in a book that seems not to know what it wants to be, flitting about from biography to short stories to a list of plants you, too, can grow. Finally there is a note from one of Burnett’s descendants urging us all to grow kindness. Frankly, it seems like Marta McDowell did not have enough material for this book, so she created a hodgepodge. How well it works will vary be reader.

Initially, I was most struck by how little material we seem to have on Burnett and her gardens. The book notes three she cared for, but focuses most on one, the other two having disappeared to time. A bit of her biography is interspersed with accounts of the gardens, mainly so readers understand how Burnett arrived at such-and-such a place to start a garden there. But the biography is sparse, and the focus remains on what Burnett was planting. None of the magic prose that makes countless readers, myself included, feel inspired to grow something when I am engrossed in reading The Secret Garden. A lot of it is just lists of flower names and an observation that Burnett loved blue and white flowers, and hated magenta.

Photographs are scattered throughout the book, though I felt some were less relevant than others, and I wished they had had dates or photographer credits on them. The one garden Burnett grew is still around (though vastly changed) and all readers have for a guide as to when photos of it were taken is that some are in color and some are in black and white. And yet, does that mean the black and white ones are actual pictures of Burnett’s garden? Or just period photos? And if her son Vivian took some photos, it would be nice to have that more clearly stated on the photos he took. Photographs of Burnett herself are mostly undated.

The strongest part of the book were the writings Burnett herself did on gardens. One, admittedly a little scattered, is about an English garden feature called the ha-ha. It is short and not particularly inspired, but it is interesting. One is an encouragement for readers to garden, mainly focusing on how one can learn from experience and others and not be fearful. This is mainly interesting now because it was penned by a famous author. But the final piece, the one about the real-life robin that loved to keep Burnett company, and which inspired the robin in The Secret Garden casts Burnett’s magic spell all over again. One can tell she truly loves nature–and she makes readers love it, too.

The final pieces of the book almost seem present just to take up space. There is a lengthy list of plants Burnett actually grew or mentions in her books, for readers who want to grow them, too. (An earlier part of the book mentions that gardeners of the time were not interested in native species, so I suppose actually growing some of these might be counter to some contemporary gardening advice I have seen. But I’m no expert.) And then there is the final note by Burnett’s descendant. I’ve never really been a fan of hearing from descendants of famous people unless they really have a special connection to the writer or some special insight. This is just a note saying we all grow stuff and we should grow kindness. And, if we are honest, it would not be that remarkable except that the writer has a famous ancestor. So there’s that.

For me, Unearthing the Secret Garden is a really uneven book, a hodgepodge of information and selections thrown together to make it look like there is something here worth collecting. But, for me, the only really gripping part is Burnett’s story of the robin. Find a copy of that to read, and you can save yourself the trouble of the rest.

3 Stars

How to Write Compelling Discussion Questions That People–Including Yourself!–Will Want to Answer!

How to Write Compelling Discussion Questions

What makes a good discussion question? The kind that not only generates a conversation in others, but also makes you, the originator of the question, want to answer it, as well? Read on to find some of our tips for crafting discussion questions that get people talking!

Star Divider

Go beyond “yes” or “no” questions–or questions that will only generate a sentence response.

A compelling discussion question requires an answer that needs at least a few paragraphs to answer. On a basic level, this means going beyond questions such as, “Do you like to reread books?” (which could prompt one to answer simply, “Yes,” or “No”) and adding a little bit more, such as, “Why or why not?”

However, it also means avoiding questions that would generate easy responses that do not in turn generate more discussion. For example, a question such as, “Where do you like to store your books?” even though it is not a “yes or no” question, will likely receive simple answers such as, “On my bookshelf” or, “On the nightstand.” There is not a lot more to say in response, except perhaps why (“It’s convenient,” or, “I ran out of room on the shelf”) and even that requires only another sentence. Furthermore, these answers are unlikely to generate further discussion from other readers unless someone comes up with a really novel and useful way to store books. The conversation will end with each person saying where they keep books and no one really talking to each other.

In the same vein, questions with numerical answers may not necessarily generate much discussion, either. A question like, “How many times have you read your favorite book?” or, “How often do you visit the library?” again requires only a short answer: “X number of times.” A really thought-provoking question needs just a little bit more to get people talking.

Instead of asking questions that have an easy, one word or one sentence answer, try asking questions where respondents might have to think through different possible answers. For example, a “how” question would make people consider multiple outcomes. Take a question such as, “How could the library be improved?” or, “How do you decide what to read next?” Respondents can probably think of several changes they would love to see in their library. And they probably have various answers for how they decide what to read next because what they want to read might vary on their mood, their available free time, what reviewers and websites they have been reading, and more.

But thinking through possible answers might also mean that mean that, even though a respondent might immediately think of their answer, they can also imagine other people answering differently. For example, “Do you think the public library is still relevant? Why or not?” might automatically make many people want to scream, “YES!” But they probably also realize some people might want to scream, “No!” To write a convincing response, they will have to demonstrate why they think the library is still relevant by providing examples and anticipating counterarguments. Their answer will have to be at least a few paragraphs, and it will be easier for their answer to inspire a continuing conversation.

smaller star divider

Get controversial.

An easy way to generate discussions that continue for awhile is to think about questions that generate controversy. This could mean tackling trending topics (such as when Twitter get upset at people calling their book exchanges “libraries”) or responding to questions that still continue to energize and divide the bookish community (like whether Susan Pevensie was treated fairly by C. S. Lewis). Controversial questions do not have to be questions that make people angry–just questions that have multiple potential responses people might make. They are questions that do not necessarily have easy answers, but ones that might require some more research, thought, and nuance.

smaller star divider

Do some research.

The thought of doing research might make some bloggers cringe. They aren’t in school, after all! But looking up information is key not only to answering questions, but also to generating new ones. The internet will often take hold of an idea and present it as fact, and others will usually take that information at face value. Try questioning others’ takes! Reading up on the issues will often present new facets to be taken into account, which might raise thoughts such, as “But why?” or, “What if?” or, “How?” or, “Then what?” Follow these thoughts to generate new, invigorating questions that can in turn become a discussion post. The nuances of a question are often what make it fascinating, and these nuances are often only revealed after some research provides a fuller picture of the issue.

smaller star divider

Conclusion

Much of this advice boils down to one thing: when crafting a discussion question, try to imagine how other people might respond. If it seems like they might only have a reflexive one-word or one-sentence answer, that means either that they do not find the question interesting (They’re responding in a kind of, “Well, of course!” way) or that the question itself might not be that interesting (It happens.). Ask questions that require some analysis from responders, ones that make them consider different points of view than their own, or ones that enable them to imagine different possible answers. The types of questions without easy answers are the ones most likely to generate a conversation, since people will offer different perspectives, thus keeping the discussion going.

Star Divider

Additional Resources

What are your tips for writing a compelling discussion question?