How community members can support parents and teachers by bringing literature into new contexts.
On September 28, 2018, I wrote a post expanding on my vision of how we might try to create a culture of reading by bringing books into new contexts, thus hopefully sparking conversations about them. I promised at the end of that post to write a little about my own experiences “making reading look cool.” Now, as a disclaimer, I suppose I cannot really know if anyone ever looked at me and thought, “Oh, wow! She’s so cool! I want to read just like her!” However, I do know that I have inspired people to read by bringing my own books out into the community–and reading them there.
And, really, that’s the story right there. I bring books out into public spaces and I read them where people can see me. Of course, this means that sometimes I have been approached by guys who made me extremely uncomfortable as they variously helped themselves to my bench or followed me down the street while trying to use my book as an opener so they could ask me out. I’m not here to talk about people like that. You obviously do not need to inspire them to read. You can remove yourself and your book to safety with a clear conscience.
The people I want to talk about are the ones you might already have a connection with. The ones who already know you from some context and respect you and your opinion. These are the types of people who, when they see you reading, eventually may stop to ask themselves why. “Why is she always reading? What does she see in it? Could I maybe do that?” These are the ones we might be able to reach when we show them that reading can be an engaging way to pass the time.
I have already reached two people this way. I was familiar with both and they saw me reading in my free time. It took awhile, but eventually both mentioned they saw me reading all the time and then asked about it. One wondered if reading more could help him reach his academic goals. The other already read a bit, but thought I might be able to recommend something she would really like. I didn’t have to do anything special in either case. All I did was read where they could see me and, because they knew me and were comfortable talking to me and asking me my opinion, they made the first approach.
This is how I think we can try to normalize reading. We bring books out in the community, we make them accessible, and then we use their presence to begin conversations about reading. I know that parents are the best ones to model reading to their children. But the reality is that not all parents like to read or have the time. And not all children have the best relationship with their parents. Bringing books out into contexts outside the home helps children see that all types of people enjoy reading. It helps them find other adults they like, trust, or admire who can also model reading for them. And it’s not difficult to do at all.