John Wayne, Harry Potter, and Oscar Wilde

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September 14, 2016 by libroshombre

 

John Wayne once said, “I’ve loved reading all my life,” and on that score soul mates. However, I’m especially passionate about deep, involved, and informative books that I can sink my mental teeth into. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a little mental flossing on occasion. Then borrowing copies of Mental Floss magazine (“Random, Interesting, Amazing Facts and Fun Quizzes”) from the library is a pleasure. The November 2015 issue’s quiz recently informed me that the musical “Grease” is known as “Vaselina” in Mexico, Donald Trump used to hawk steaks through Sharper Image, and recently-defeated Democrat governors Ann Richards and Mario Cuomo described “the sweeping changes” of Dorito packaging in TV ads.

The cover of that issue of Mental Floss was irresistibly titled “83 Things Every Book Lover Must Know.” A typical example, “Literary Life Hacks.” offered modern do-it-yourself suggestions that would have eased the lots of sad characters in famous books, like, “During an ill-advised hike through the Yukon in the dead of winter, you fall through a sheet of ice, soaking your legs in freezing water. Building a fire now is crucial … Doritos make surprisingly good kindling.”

Especially intriguing was “6 Patron Saints of Books,” which included Cai Lun (inventor of paper around 100 CE), Ibn al-Nadim (compiled Kitab al_Fihrist, an “index of all the books of all nations” in the 10th century), Pi Shang (inventor of moveable type around 1025 CE), Andrew Carnegie (philanthropic builder of over 2,500 libraries), Mary Lemist Titcomb (mother of the bookmobile), and Caresse Crosby (publisher who helped the careers of Hemingway, James Joyce, and Charles Bukowski). There should have been a seventh entry, though: J. K. Rowling, creator of Harry Potter.

“Can Harry Potter Change the World?,” a 2014 NYTimes article by Hanna Kozlowska looked into the enduring popularity of the Harry Potter series, describing how Facebook’s staff surveyed their members to find what books strongly affected them, and Harry Potter “was on a whopping 21 percent of the 130,000 lists, making it what some have called ‘the most influential book in the world,’ topping such standards as Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’.”

Rowling’s books are unpopular with some Christian groups who consider them to be pro-witchcraft. However, Koslowska noted that “Researchers from several European universities found that reading Harry Potter may make young people more tolerant,” particularly “toward stigmatized groups, such as immigrants, gays, and refugees … Harry has meaningful contact with characters belonging to stigmatized groups. He tries to understand them and appreciate their difficulties, some of which stem from intergroup discrimination, and fights for a world free of social inequalities.” She adds that these studies support “earlier research suggesting that reading novels as a child – implying literary engagement with life’s social, cultural, and psychological complexities – can have a positive impact on personality development and social skills.”

A key element of encouraging the reading habit is making it fun, and that’s up to parents, not teachers or librarians, who can help, but are only advisors. Parents know best where their child’s interests lie, and can seek out amusingly engaging books with the help of a librarian (my first choice) or using a tool like William Patrick Martin’s “Mother of All Booklists: The 500 Most Recommended Nonfiction Reads For Ages 3-103.”

Graphic novels are a great place to kindle a child’s interest in pleasure reading. Scads of research support the theory that well-made comics can engage uninterested readers better than anything else. That’s why the Guys and Gals Read programs utilize heavily-illustrated books to demonstrate to fourth grade students how fun some books can be.

The local Guys Read program (GuysGalsRead.org) was created right here in Fairbanks, and has spread around Alaska and into libraries in the Lower 48. Its approach – reading to the kids at lunch while projecting the pages of illustrated books, and then donating copies of the books to the school libraries – has won two national awards. And volunteer readers are needed to prove to thousands of local children how much fun reading can be. As Oscar Wilde said, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

 

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